Rob Harmon’s Picks 6/10/14

Rob_Harmon_image_for_picksAh, summertime. Do you remember warm nights as a kid, spending hours in the yard after dark catching fireflies, looking at the stars, or watching fireworks? Do you remember what it felt like to step back inside again: the shock of the tungsten light and how you would blink your eyes and all of your other senses would struggle to readjust to the feeling—the safety—of being “home” again?

As a metaphor, there is no better way to describe what it is like to walk into Best Video, especially in today’s media environment: We are a haven, an oasis, civilization, home… if you are thinking “I must be in heaven,” you must be in Best Video!

So, with the theme of summertime in mind, and movies on my mind (as if they ever aren’t!), I move on to this week’s recommendation entitled…

DOUBLE YOUR PLEASURE: THE FINE ART OF THE DOUBLE FEATURE

During the summer that I turned 21 I was living in New York City when, on a sweltering afternoon, I went to Lincoln Center to see back-to-back movies: John Carpenter’s taut, low-budget exercise in claustrophobic atmosphere and action ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976) and David Cronenberg’s masterfully sick, McLuhan-esque body horror nightmare VIDEODROME (1983). After being cloistered in the air-conditioned darkness all day—my senses assaulted by Carpenter’s and Cronenberg’s twin nihilistic visions—I virtually staggered out of the theater into the sunlight and heat.

I had seen double features before and I have seen them since but that one sticks out in my mind, partly because the films were new to me but also because I admire the unknown genius who thought to pair them up. It took a leap of faith to connect the two and it is in that stretch of the imagination that a good double feature can deliver so much satisfaction, beyond even what movies individually will provide.

No other medium lends itself as well to doubling and the number “2.” For example, film history is filled with genres that explore the idea of couples and marriage—melodrama, romantic comedy, screwball comedy—while others explicitly examine the duality of human nature—horror, film noir, and crime. Some movies, like Hitchcock’s SHADOW OF A DOUBT or Lynch’s MULHOLLAND DRIVE, even foreground this theme of duality and the ambiguity of identity, making it the film’s primary focus. But most important, of course is the fact that movie promoters early on learned to package feature films in pairs: the aptly named “double feature.”

At Best Video it is very natural to rent two movies at a time (Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are 2-for-1 for full-benefits members, after all) and I love to observe how people pair them up: sometimes there is a theme (World War II, Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, New York, L.A., renowned Czech animator Jan Švankmajer, carnivorous fish, etc.) and sometimes the connections seem to be purely random, which is a kind of theme as well. Yes, the couplings that can be made between movies are infinite (think: Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon) and provide for endless reflection and fun. It is true that one is the loneliest number: after all, watching movies is so nice, why not do it twice?

Here are ten suggested double features:

42nd_Street_DVD42ND STREET or FOOTLIGHT PARADE (both 1933)/THE BOY FRIEND (1971): Try pairing up a Busby Berkeley kaleidoscopic song-and-dance original with Ken Russell’s acid-tinged tribute to the great “Buzz” himself, starring none other than Twiggy!

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958)/JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963): What’s better than a Ray Harryhausen double feature? One which features lots of sword-wielding skeletons, of course!

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962)/THE PARALLAX VIEW (1974): How about a little conspiracy and paranoia, American style?

HERE COMES MR. JORDAN (1941)/A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (1946): During the dark years of World War II it is no surprise that films set in Heaven became commonplace. These are probably the two very best.

GLORIA (1980)/ALIENS (1986): A fun double bill of butt-kicking, feminist-tinged action flicks!

HIGH SIERRA (1941)/COLORADO TERRITORY (1949): The first is well-known as an important early gangster role for Humphrey Bogart, but director Raoul Walsh later re-made his own film as an excellent Western starring Joel McCrea.

LOVE ME TONIGHT/ONE HOUR WITH YOU (both 1932): Two sensational early, innovative Paramount musicals; the former is directed by Rouben Mamoulian, and the latter by Ernst Lubitsch. Each stars Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier and each is set in Paris (via Hollywood, U.S.A.)!

BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945)/THE APARTMENT (1960): Director Billy Wilder based his character C.C. Baxter’s (Jack Lemmon) tendency to lend out his apartment to philanderers on a character who appears in a single scene of David Lean’s classic weepie, about an English housewife and doctor (each happily married) who meet by accident, fall in love, and then decide to part.

SLAP SHOT (1977)/NORTH DALLAS FORTY (1979): Two vintage late 1970’s sports flicks, representing ice hockey and football—gritty, insightful and completely hilarious!

THE LAVENDER HILL MOB (1951)/THE LADYKILLERS (1955): Alec Guinness, ‘nuff said!

New releases 6/10/14

Top Hits
Non-Stop (action, Liam Neeson. Rotten Tomatoes: 59%. Metacritic: 56. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “A satisfying, primitive bluntness distinguishes Non-Stop, an action thriller that makes good on its title. In the 1950s, its star might have been Edmond O’Brien, a character actor who landed a few leading roles, including, in D.O.A., as a poisoned man racing against the clock to find his murderer. With escalating clammy desperation he hurtles toward his fate, ticktock, ticktock. Liam Neeson runs a similarly frantic circuit in “Non-Stop,” as an air marshal trying to outwit a villain vowing to knock off a passenger every 20 minutes, ticktock, ticktock.” Read more…)

True Detective: Season 1 (HBO mystery series, Matthew McConaughey. Rotten Tomatoes: 84%. Metacritic: 87. From Mike Hale’s New York Times television review: “The success of HBO’s new Sunday night crime drama, True Detective, depends on two pairs of men, a couple of veterans and a couple of relative rookies. Upfront, and drawing all the attention, are the movie stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, playing a mismatched team of Louisiana state cops. And if there’s a compelling reason to watch True Detective, they provide it, particularly Mr. McConaughey, who continues the recent winning streak he began with the 2011 film The incoln Lawyer. His contained, assured, watchful performance as Rust Cohle, a former narcotics detective from Texas whose cynicism and single-mindedness make him a pariah among his new colleagues, is a pleasure to watch.” Read more…)

Visitors (nature/art/spiritual documentary. Rotten Tomatoes: 69%. Metacritic: 63. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “Visitors arrives nearly 12 years after the conclusion of Mr. Reggio’s experimental ‘Qatsi’ trilogy: Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance (1982), Powaqqatsi: Life in Transformation (1988) and Naqoyqatsi: Life as War (2002). Like those films, Visitors has a sober, churning score by Philip Glass that evokes ceaseless turbulence and profound ambiguity. Some of the music is neither in a major nor a minor key, but the harmonies still tilt toward minor. There is no overall narrative arc to imagery that might be described as a very sophisticated Rorschach test with an environmentalist subtext.” Read more…)

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (nature doc, Neil deGrasse Tyson. Metacritic: 82. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times review: “It’s like trying to remake “Citizen Kane. In Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, which begins on Sunday, Neil deGrasse Tyson takes the guide-to-the-universe role filled in the original Cosmos by Carl Sagan, a man who was so good at popularizing science that the American Astronomical Society awards an annual public-communication medal in his name… But, at least from the first episode, ‘Standing Up in the Milky Way,’ it’s hard to see the new program’s having the impact of the original. Dr. Tyson is genial and comfortable on camera, just as Sagan was. Yet the vehicle he is given doesn’t initially soar the way Cosmos 1 did.” Read more…)

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (action/espionage, Chris Pine. Rotten Tomatoes: 56%. Metacritic: 57. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Say what you will about Vladimir V. Putin, but he seems to have been very, very good for screen villainy. Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, Soviet-style skulduggery has remained a durable narrative cliché in recent movies that feature Russian bad guys doing their dastardly worst at home or abroad, from Iron Man 2 to Jack Reacher, Safe, A Good Day to Die Hard. In Kick-Ass 2, one sadistic sicko, a former K.G.B. agent, is even called Mother Russia and wears a red bikini top with a hammer and sickle over each breast. The Ruskie heavy in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit played by Kenneth Branagh may be less stacked, but he’s scarcely subtler.” Read more…)

Tim’s Vermeer (art doc, Tim Jenison. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%. Metacritic: 76. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Tim’s Vermeer is a little documentary that tracks how one man’s love turned into revenge. The title figure — well, one, anyway — is Tim Jenison, a scientist, inventor and restless hobbyist with deep pockets and famous friends, including Penn Jillette, who produced the movie, and Teller, who directed. In the 1980s, Mr. Jenison founded NewTek, a hardware and software company that scored an early success with the creation of Video Toaster, an affordable desktop video-production tool. Since then, this autodidact, now in his late 50s, has done this and that, including embarking on a multiyear odyssey to discover whether the movie’s other, better-known, subject, the Dutch master Johannes Vermeer [1632-75], used any kind of optical tools when he created his extraordinary paintings. In other words, what they seem to be asking, though no one in the movie is so gauche to say it bluntly: Did Vermeer cheat his way into history?” Read more…)

Devil’s Knot (drama, Colin Firth. Rotten Tomatoes: 24%. Metacritic: 42. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “The question is why. Why would the gifted Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan choose to make Devil’s Knot, a feature film about a notorious unsolved 1993 murder case that has been exhaustively investigated in several well-regarded documentaries? Had Devil’s Knot dared to spin out a bizarre conspiracy theory, the way Oliver Stone’s JFK did, it probably would have been more compelling than this workmanlike recapitulation of the so-called West Memphis Three case. Because the movie, based on a book by Mara Leveritt, stays within the facts, its reticence reinforces the notion that truth is stranger than fiction. The real-life characters, as shown in the documentaries, are far more colorful and quirky than they appear in these well-acted but comparatively safe performances.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Non-Stop
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
True Detective: Season 1
Tim’s Vermeer

New Foreign
Stranger By the Lake (France, thriller, Jerome Chappatte. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 82. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “The motives for the crime are never established, but the real mystery is everything that happens in its wake. Mr. Guiraudie, a French filmmaker whose earlier movies include The King of Escape and That Old Dream That Moves [and who is the subject of a welcome retrospective starting on Friday at The Film Society of Lincoln Center], creates an atmosphere of dread and suspense out of the simplest narrative elements.” Read more…)

New TV
True Detective: Season 1 (HBO mystery series, Woody Harrelson, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 84%. Metacritic: 87. From Mike Hale’s New York Times television review: “The success of HBO’s new Sunday night crime drama, True Detective, depends on two pairs of men, a couple of veterans and a couple of relative rookies. Upfront, and drawing all the attention, are the movie stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, playing a mismatched team of Louisiana state cops. And if there’s a compelling reason to watch True Detective, they provide it, particularly Mr. McConaughey, who continues the recent winning streak he began with the 2011 film The incoln Lawyer. His contained, assured, watchful performance as Rust Cohle, a former narcotics detective from Texas whose cynicism and single-mindedness make him a pariah among his new colleagues, is a pleasure to watch.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
Tim’s Vermeer (art doc, Tim Jenison, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%. Metacritic: 76. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Tim’s Vermeer is a little documentary that tracks how one man’s love turned into revenge. The title figure — well, one, anyway — is Tim Jenison, a scientist, inventor and restless hobbyist with deep pockets and famous friends, including Penn Jillette, who produced the movie, and Teller, who directed. In the 1980s, Mr. Jenison founded NewTek, a hardware and software company that scored an early success with the creation of Video Toaster, an affordable desktop video-production tool. Since then, this autodidact, now in his late 50s, has done this and that, including embarking on a multiyear odyssey to discover whether the movie’s other, better-known, subject, the Dutch master Johannes Vermeer [1632-75], used any kind of optical tools when he created his extraordinary paintings. In other words, what they seem to be asking, though no one in the movie is so gauche to say it bluntly: Did Vermeer cheat his way into history?” Read more…)

Visitors (nature/art/spiritual documentary, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 69%. Metacritic: 63. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “Visitors arrives nearly 12 years after the conclusion of Mr. Reggio’s experimental ‘Qatsi’ trilogy: Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance (1982), Powaqqatsi: Life in Transformation (1988) and Naqoyqatsi: Life as War (2002). Like those films, Visitors has a sober, churning score by Philip Glass that evokes ceaseless turbulence and profound ambiguity. Some of the music is neither in a major nor a minor key, but the harmonies still tilt toward minor. There is no overall narrative arc to imagery that might be described as a very sophisticated Rorschach test with an environmentalist subtext.” Read more…)

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (nature doc, Neil deGrasse Tyson, in Top Hits. Metacritic: 82. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times review: “It’s like trying to remake “Citizen Kane. In Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, which begins on Sunday, Neil deGrasse Tyson takes the guide-to-the-universe role filled in the original Cosmos by Carl Sagan, a man who was so good at popularizing science that the American Astronomical Society awards an annual public-communication medal in his name… But, at least from the first episode, ‘Standing Up in the Milky Way,’ it’s hard to see the new program’s having the impact of the original. Dr. Tyson is genial and comfortable on camera, just as Sagan was. Yet the vehicle he is given doesn’t initially soar the way Cosmos 1 did.” Read more…)

New Gay & Lesbian
Stranger By the Lake (France, thriller, Jerome Chappatte, in New Foreign. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 82. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “The motives for the crime are never established, but the real mystery is everything that happens in its wake. Mr. Guiraudie, a French filmmaker whose earlier movies include The King of Escape and That Old Dream That Moves [and who is the subject of a welcome retrospective starting on Friday at The Film Society of Lincoln Center], creates an atmosphere of dread and suspense out of the simplest narrative elements.” Read more…)