New Releases 08/20/13

Top Hits
Amour (France, drama, Jean-Louis Trintignant. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 94. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “A masterpiece about life, death and everything in between, Michael Haneke’s Amour takes a long, hard, tender look at an elderly French couple, Georges and Anne — played by two titans of French cinema, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva — in their final days. Set in contemporary Paris, it begins with the couple’s front door being breached by a group of firemen. One moves through the rooms, delicately raising a hand to his nose before throwing open several large windows. He may be trying to erase the smell that probably brought the firemen there in the first place and which has transformed this light, graceful, enviable apartment into a crypt.” Read more…)

Scary Movie 5 (comedy/horror, Mike Tyson. Rotten Tomatoes: 4%. Metacritic: 11. From Andy Webster’s New York Times review: “The ‘Scary’ movies are noted for its cameo appearances, and ‘V’ is no exception: Molly Shannon, Snoop Dogg [I thought he was Snoop Lion!], Heather Locklear, Usher, Mike Tyson and Tyler Perry as his Madea character parade through the scattershot skits. Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan have a faintly amusing bit at the start in which they’re in bed and Mr. Sheen mocks his sexual appetites as Ms. Lohan gamely pokes fun at her arrest record.” Read more…)

Shadow Dancer (thriller, Clive Owen. Rotten Tomatoes: 82%. Metacritic: 71. A New York Times Critic’s pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “In the prologue of James Marsh’s taut, somber conspiracy thriller “Shadow Dancer,” the 12-year-old Collette McVeigh (Maria Laird), idly stringing beads into a necklace, ignores her father’s request to go out and buy cigarettes. It is 1973 in Belfast, and the city is a powder keg. Her younger brother goes instead, and is shot to death outside the house in cross-fire between British and Irish Republican Army forces. As the McVeigh home erupts in anguished chaos, the father casts a recriminatory glare at Collette, who is guilt-stricken.” Read more…)

Epic (animated feature, Amanda Seyfried. Rotten Tomatoes: 64%. Metacritic: 52. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “Epic [from the creators of the Ice Age movies and Rio] is much better at visualizing the woods and its residents than at constructing a resonant pop allegory. The best it can come up with is the motto ‘Many leaves, one tree,’ about all things being connected. You can read whatever else you like into a soothing fable for flower children that gently preaches that nature is good and its destruction bad. There is no suggestion of political axes being sharpened.” Read more…)

Highland Park (comedy/drama, Parker Posey)
Boardwalk Empire: Season 3 (in Top Hits)

New Blu-Ray
Amour
The War Within

New Foreign
Post Tenebras Lux (Mexico, drama, Adolfo Jimenez Castro. Rotten Tomatoes: 53%. Metacritic: 69. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “The film’s title is Latin for ‘after darkness, light,’ which, after the Reformation, became a motto of Geneva. Post Tenebras Lux isn’t an overtly religious film, but it is — as its opposing scenes of the luminous child and that red-hot devil suggest — a deeply personal, intermittently hermetic exploration of innocence and sin, good and evil. The vessel for much of this metaphysical investigation is an architect, Juan [Adolfo Jiménez Castro], who with his wife, Natalia [Nathalia Acevedo]; their somewhat older son, Eleazar; and the toddler, Rut, lives in rural splendor in an isolated house. It looks like a little bit of paradise, though one that needs an armed guard.” Read more…)

The Big City (India, 1963, drama, Madhabi Mukherjee. Rotten Tomatoes: 87%. From Bosley Crowther’s 1964 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “The second New York Film Festival was concluded Saturday night with the showing of the latest production of the distinguished Indian director, Satyajit Ray. It is Mahanagar [The Big City], a comedy-drama of modern Indian life, and it served as a commendable finale for the not-always-commendable program of festival showings in Philharmonic Hall. In contrast to several other of the highly touted festival films, there is nothing obscure or over-stylized about this characteristic work by Mr. Ray. It is another of his beautifully fashioned and emotionally balanced contemplations of change in the thinking, the customs and the manners of the Indian middle-class.” Rread more…)

Charulata (India, 1964, romance/drama, Madhabi Mukherjee. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. From Howard Thompson’s 1965 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “In a sense, the very opening shot—Miss Mukherjee’s hands darting a needle into an embroidery hoop—keys all that follows. Arranging every single camera frame to convey nuance, mood or tension, Mr. Ray has photographically embroidered a steady flow of quiet images with precise, striking acuity. One montage—when the day-dreaming wife, in a garden swing, rocks to and fro like a pendulum—is unforgettable. And the final shot in the film—a stop-motion close-up of two hands—is a memorable period to Mr. Ray’s structure.” Read more…)

The Inspector Vivaldi Mysteries (Italy, mystery series, Lando Buzzanca)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1958, sci-fi/drama, Harry Belafonte. From Bosley Crowther’s 1959 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “In this Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer picture, made in black-and-white CinemaScope and directed by Ranald MacDougall, the initial assumption is that most of the people in the world have been destroyed—apparently disintegrated—by some sort of radioactive salt. There are only three evident survivors, two men and a beautiful girl, who eventually find themselves together and isolated in a completely deserted and dehumanized New York. Up to this point, the drama is graphic and interesting, presenting a science-fiction idea in good, vivid cinematic style. The arrival of the first man in the city to find the George Washington Bridge clogged with hundreds of empty and silent automobiles, the barren streets flecked with telltale litter, the buildings and apartment houses stark and still, stabs the imagination and gives the viewer the creeps. Mr. MacDougall has portrayed this awesome phenomenon with pictorial force and clarity.” Read more…)

New British DVDs
George Gently: Series 5

New TV
Boardwalk Empire: Season 3 (in Top Hits)
The Good Wife: Season 4

New Documentaries
No Place on Earth (Holocaust survival story. Rotten Tomatoes: 77%. Metacritic: 58. From Nicolas Rapold’s New York Times review: “For the Ukrainian Jews in Janet Tobias’s No Place on Earth, going underground was both a brute necessity and a literal reality. After the Nazi invasion their families sought improbable refuge in caves outside their village. There they stayed and lived — without sunlight — for more than 500 days. Some emerged at night to forage; at one point hostile villagers sealed an entrance with dirt.” Read more…)

New Children’s DVDs
Epic (animated feature, Amanda Seyfried, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 64%. Metacritic: 52. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “Epic [from the creators of the Ice Age movies and Rio] is much better at visualizing the woods and its residents than at constructing a resonant pop allegory. The best it can come up with is the motto ‘Many leaves, one tree,’ about all things being connected. You can read whatever else you like into a soothing fable for flower children that gently preaches that nature is good and its destruction bad. There is no suggestion of political axes being sharpened.” Read more…)

Scooby-Doo: Stage Fright (animated movie)

Rob Harmon’s recommendations 08/20/13

Rob_Harmon_image_for_picksROB HARMON’S PICKS

AMOUR (dir. Michael Haneke, 2012)

Due to the commercial demands of filmmaking movies have traditionally tended to focus on stories about young people, and relationships, when they are depicted, are conventionally shown from their inception—think of the classic screwball set-up, “meeting cute,” for example, and how many films end with the central couple in a clinch, if not standing at the altar, itself. There are films which analyze the malaise of middle-age and the politics of divorce but relatively few which cast an unflinching eye on what might be called the “back-end” of a married relationship: the inevitable approach of old age and death. Among this limited pool Leo McCarey’s three-hanky classic MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW (1937), Yasujiro Ozu’s studied and rapturous TOKYO STORY (1953) (loosely inspired by the former), and Mark Rydell’s ON GOLDEN POND (1981) immediately jump to mind, as well as a touching, though brief, segment towards the end of Terence Davies’ recent THE DEEP BLUE SEA (2011).

With the exception of saccharine—though enjoyable—fantasies like COCOON, these movies depicting the twilight years of marriage are rare, and few, indeed, are the filmmakers willing to cast a meaningful, unsentimental eye on the subject.

Enter Austrian-born Michael Haneke—this generation’s Francisco Goya—a director whose probings into the dark recesses of human behavior (FUNNY GAMES, THE PIANO TEACHER) and the machinations of fate (CACHÉ, THE WHITE RIBBON) are capable of singeing indelible, haunting images on the backsides of moviegoers’ eyeballs.

His Amour begins with authorities discovering an elderly woman dead in her Paris apartment and questions being asked about her death. Months earlier the woman, Anne Laurent (Emmanuelle Riva), and her husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), both retired piano teachers in their eighties, are shown attending a concert one evening of a former pupil. All seems normal until the next morning when, in the midst of breakfast, Anne suddenly begins staring blankly off into space. At first imagining that Anne is playing some sort of a game with him Georges eventually becomes worried and prepares to call for help when, suddenly, he finds his wife up and about again, although not recognizant of the events of a few minutes before. She claims to be fine at first before admitting to the loss of memory and ultimately proving to be highly unsteady, almost incapable of pouring herself a cup of tea.

Anne has suffered a stroke and surgery performed on a blocked artery eventually results in paralysis to her right side and her being confined to a wheelchair. Upon arriving home Anne, who has a life-long fear of doctors, makes Georges promise to never take her back to the hospital again. This promise becomes the crux of the remainder of the film as Georges aims to stay true to his word, becoming, essentially, the sole companion of his beloved wife during their difficult final months together.

Viewers who are unused to this subject matter and to Haneke’s searing filmmaking-style may find the material dark, at times, and a little unsettling. One of the director’s trademark themes, paranoia, even plays a role, after the couple find that someone has attempted to break into their flat and Georges’ fears begin to close in on him in a particularly eerie and unexpected sequence. Haneke, as usual, makes no attempt to varnish the world around him, his vision at times cold and bleak.

But there are life and beauty to be found here, as well. “Amour” is French for “love,” after all, and, though a film depicting a husband standing by his wife while she fades away can make for difficult viewing, it is important to keep that fact in mind. The final scenes of this film, when Georges attempts to keep his word to Anne, are particularly heartbreaking.

Emmanuelle Riva (HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR; LÉON MORIN, PRIEST; and THREE COLORS: BLUE) and Jean-Louis Trintignant (A MAN AND A WOMAN, Z, MY NIGHT AT MAUD’S, THE CONFORMIST, CONFIDENTIALLY YOURS, THREE COLORS: RED) are both legends of the French screen and their faces, associated particularly with the French New Wave and years afterwards, here lend an extra poignancy to Haneke’s twilight tale. Trintignant, as the stalwart-yet-vulnerable Georges, reveals multiple layers of emotion, even during a long and unexpectedly moving sequence towards the end of the film when he attempts to capture a pigeon which has flown into the apartment. Riva, in a part which must have been physically very difficult for her to play, is magnificent. Not to be overlooked, the estimable Isabelle Huppert (a frequent presence in the films of Haneke) is excellent as Georges and Anne’s loving but busy and sometimes distant daughter.

Haneke, who has made his name in film with paranoid delusions, ominous gloom, and sudden, unexpected bursts of violence, here in this memento mori tells an unexpectedly restrained and touching story of an elderly man and woman’s deep love for one another, close to the end.