Hank’s Recommendations 12/30/14

hank_paperIDA

This is an eloquent film whose spare dialogue is as brief and succinct as its title, IDA, a Polish film where a picture (a scene, even a frame) is worth a thousand scripted words.

On the cusp of her ordination, Anna, an eighteen-year old novice, is sent by her prioress on a final journey into the “real” world to visit an aunt, her only known family. The aunt, it turns out, is a cynical, cigarette-smoking, alcoholic former judge who reveals “Anna” is Jewish and that her real name is Ida.

Partly out of curiosity and partly out of whim, the aunt takes Ida on a further journey to their old family home to locate the circumstances of Ida’s parents’ death during the Nazi era. The ensuing revelations, along with the collision of innocence and newly found experience, lead to the suspense of whether or not Ida will take her vows. Stunningly filmed in black and white (another kind of brevity), the film portrays a world where things are not simply black and white — certainly not the black and white of a nun’s habit. Or are they?

VISION

Two weeks ago in our Performance Space we had a screening, along with a lively discussion led by Fairfield University professor Elizabeth Dreyer, of a staggeringly beautiful film — VISION, by famed German director Margarethe von Trotta. The movie portrays the life of early twelfth century Benedictine nun, Hildegard von Bingen, a Christian mystic, composer, playwright, poet, painter, physician, herbalist and ecological activist, who iconoclastically was determined to expand the role of women in the religious order she led. Touching on feminism, power, sexuality and art, this unexpectedly modern film about a medieval subject envelops the audience not only in the light of Hildegard’s visions but in the lushly exquisite lighting of a movie that brings us back to a woman whose thinking was centuries ahead of it time.

THE DEAD

His final movie, which he directed on a respirator from a wheelchair while half blind, THE DEAD is one of John Huston’s most beautiful films, and certainly his most intimate. This largely interior and poetic yet unsentimental drama, a long way from the scope and adventure of THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE and THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING, portrays a turn-of-the century Christmas dinner in Dublin where the snow falls ceaselessly and the conversation ranges widely. The dinner, in the end, leads to a ravishing revelation in an upper middle-class couple (Anjelica Huston and Frank Patterson) about the difference between existing and living. This film, a paean to his Irish homeland, is Huston’s valedictory to his enduring theme of the fickleness of time and fate and, above all, the difference between existing and living.

New releases 9/23/14

Top Hits
Neighbors (comedy, Seth Rogen. Rotten Tomatoes: 73%. Metacritic: 68. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “‘Neighbors’ is not a great film and does not really aspire to be. It is more a status report on mainstream American movie comedy, operating in a sweet spot between the friendly and the nasty, and not straining to be daring, obnoxious or even especially original. It knows how to have fun. How very grown-up.” Read more…)

Words and Pictures (romance, Clive Owen. Rotten Tomatoes: 42%. Metacritic: 49. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “‘Words and Pictures’ has a host of flaws, but the performances by Mr. Owen and Ms. Binoche have a crackling vitality, and the screenplay’s strongest moments set off the kind of trains of thought that dedicated teachers hope to spur in their students. Cantankerous though these two teachers can be, you would be lucky to have them in your classroom.” Read more…)

The Signal (sci-fi, Laurence Fishburne. Rotten Tomatoes: 55%. Metacritic: 53. From Nicolas Rapold’s New York Times review: “William Eubank’s ‘The Signal’ demonstrates the fine line between paranoid science-fiction fantasy and demo reel. Both involve impressive visions of reality reimagined, and both defy logic extravagantly and yet somehow casually, too. Mr. Eubank’s diverting but disconnected film might fairly be described as a little bit of each.” Read more…)

Ida (Poland, drama, Agata Trzebuchowska. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 89. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “[Director Pawel] Pawlikowski, a Polish-born writer and director who has spent most of his career in England, has reached into his country’s past and grabbed hold of a handful of nettles. “Ida” is a breathtakingly concise film — just 80 minutes long — with a clear, simple narrative line. But within its relatively brief duration and its narrow black-and-white frames, the movie somehow contains a cosmos of guilt, violence and pain. Its intimate drama unfolds at the crossroads where the Catholic, Jewish and Communist strains of Poland’s endlessly and bitterly contested national identity intersect.” Read more…)

The Rover (dystopia drama, Guy Pearce. Rotten Tomatoes: 66%. Metacritic: 64. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: :[Director David] Michôd’s first feature, ‘Animal Kingdom,’ was a brutal and pungent tour of the Melbourne underworld, brought alive by spring-loaded performances [Jacki Weaver’s, supremely and a gamy, violent sense of humor. This time, he demonstrates once again that he has a knack for violence and suspense. [The sound design in particular is brilliantly sinister.] But he can’t find much of interest beyond the puffed-up, stripped-down glumness that is this genre’s default mood.” Read more…)

Romeo + Juliet (Shakespeare play in modern dress, Hailee Steinfeld. Rotten Tomatoes: 22%. Metacritic: 41. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Passions and nostrils flare in the latest screen version of ‘Romeo & Juliet,’ a sufficiently entertaining, adamantly old-fashioned adaptation that follows the play’s general outline without ever rising to the passionate intensity of its star-cross’d crazy kids. Adapted by Julian Fellowes, who’s taken liberties with the original text, and dutifully directed by Carlo Carlei, it deploys the familiar emotional beats — if not all the lines — along with the usual mixture of comedy, romance and tragedy. Shot in the actual Verona and at other Italian attractions, it looks pretty, feels light and moves fast, with a 118-minute running time that’s in keeping with the original’s “two hours’ traffic of our stage.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Neighbors
The Signal

New Foreign
Ida (Poland, drama, Agata Trzebuchowska, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 89. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “[Director Pawel] Pawlikowski, a Polish-born writer and director who has spent most of his career in England, has reached into his country’s past and grabbed hold of a handful of nettles. “Ida” is a breathtakingly concise film — just 80 minutes long — with a clear, simple narrative line. But within its relatively brief duration and its narrow black-and-white frames, the movie somehow contains a cosmos of guilt, violence and pain. Its intimate drama unfolds at the crossroads where the Catholic, Jewish and Communist strains of Poland’s endlessly and bitterly contested national identity intersect.” Read more…)

Like Father Like Son (Japan, drama, Fukiyama Masaharu. Rotten Tomatoes: 87%. Metacritic: 73. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “The Japanese melodrama ‘Like Father, Like Son’ turns on the kind of cruel twist — children switched at birth — that’s the stuff of tear-wringing headlines and fiction. It begins with the revelation that two 6-year-old boys were given at birth to the wrong families, which now need to decide on the best thing to do. For one set of parents, Ryota [Masaharu Fukuyama] and Midorino [Machiko Ono], a comfortably middle-class couple nestled high in a glass tower, the revelation that their only son, Keita [Keita Ninomiya], isn’t a blood relation is a blow to their tiny family. It’s also a wedge that — day by day, hurt by hurt — transforms these loving parents into sparring partners.” Read more…)

The Last of the Unjust (France, Holocaust documentary, Claude Lanzmann. Rotten Tomatoes: 97%. Metacritic: 78. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “This challenge weighs heavily on his latest offering, ‘The Last of the Unjust,’ which seems to focus, for nearly four hours, on the actions and reminiscences of a single man, Benjamin Murmelstein, a prominent rabbi in Vienna who became the last Jewish ‘elder’ of the Theresienstadt ghetto. I say ‘seems’ because while Murmelstein’s animated, high-pitched speech and cherubic, bespectacled face dominate the screen, ‘The Last of the Unjust’ is also, unmistakably, about Mr. Lanzmann himself, and about his status as a leading interpreter of the Holocaust. It feels more personal than ‘Shoah,’ ‘Sobibor, Oct. 14, 1943, 4 P.M.’ or ‘The Karski Report’ in ways that are both fascinating and troubling.” Read more…)

New Television
Modern Family: Season 4
Modern Family: Season 5
Scandal: Season 3

New Documentaries
The Last of the Unjust (Holocaust documentary, Claude Lanzmann, in New Foreign. Rotten Tomatoes: 97%. Metacritic: 78. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “This challenge weighs heavily on his latest offering, ‘The Last of the Unjust,’ which seems to focus, for nearly four hours, on the actions and reminiscences of a single man, Benjamin Murmelstein, a prominent rabbi in Vienna who became the last Jewish ‘elder’ of the Theresienstadt ghetto. I say ‘seems’ because while Murmelstein’s animated, high-pitched speech and cherubic, bespectacled face dominate the screen, ‘The Last of the Unjust’ is also, unmistakably, about Mr. Lanzmann himself, and about his status as a leading interpreter of the Holocaust. It feels more personal than ‘Shoah,’ ‘Sobibor, Oct. 14, 1943, 4 P.M.’ or ‘The Karski Report’ in ways that are both fascinating and troubling.” Read more…)