Hank’s Recommendations 12/16/14

hank_paperHANK’S PICKS 12/16/14

WINTER’S BONE

WINTER’S BONE was my favorite movie of 2011. An independent film that only grossed seven million dollars, it rocketed Jennifer Lawrence to fame (SILVER LINING PLAYBOOK, THE HUNGER GAMES franchise) and made a supporting star of John Hawkes. I saw it three times (a recommendation right there). Nothing can be as perfect (to my mind) as this film, but all of the films below partake, to some good extent, of its setting and virtues. (Yes, even — and perhaps especially — Jerry Lee Lewis.)

JOE

Nicholas Cage has had, as they say, a storied career. For the last ten years, due to personal financial trouble, he’s been an action hero in second-rate films that — since they don’t rely heavily on character and dialogue — play well in international markets. But do you remember LEAVING LAS VEGAS (he won the Best Actor Oscar for that), MOONSTRUCK, ADAPTATION, GUARDING TESS, RED ROCK WEST, WILD AT HEART, RAISING ARIZONA (The Coen Brother’s second movie), PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED, BIRDY? All Nicholas Cage headliners that feature his great acting range.

Well, Nicholas Cage is back — in JOE, a small independent film about a hard-drinking ex-con with anger management issues who finds himself taking on a 15 year old boy trying to escape a violent father. In this emotionally powerful drama, Cage is a firm but empathetic foreman of a Mississippi crew that clandestinely poisons trees for a lumber company that wants to plant stronger pines. But he’s got a decent stake and a shot at redemption. Can he make a move toward a stronger self?

OUT OF THE FURNACE

A beautiful rural part of the country is disintegrating under war and the economy in OUT OF THE FURNACE, and so is Christian Bale, a decent man with a violent past trying to lead a life of integrity. He’s abiding by his own work ethic through a meaningless job at a steel mill while loyally trying to protect his impulsive, self-destructive brother (Casey Affleck) — just returned from Iraq — from his involvement in a crime gang. Unfortunately for Bale, decency, integrity and loyalty only seem to point him to an act of revenge he doesn’t want to take.

Made by Scott Cooper, the writer/director of CRAZY HEART, the film features an amazing cast that includes Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe, the ubiquitous Sam Shepard, and Woody Harrelson as a bad-to-the-bone crime gang leader whose very presence on the screen raises anxiety.

LAST MAN STANDING

Rick Bragg just came out with a biography of Jerry Lee Lewis (reviewed in this week’s NYTimes Book Review by Stephen King), but, in a sense, the real bio is this DVD, JERRY LEE LEWIS: LAST MAN STANDING. Boogieing through a wide selection of material, this generous live show features on-the-money performances of his hits along with duets with a dozen top tier music stars (including Willie Nelson, Ron Wood, Buddy Guy, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, John Fogerty and Kid Rock).

Some of these pairings, as with Tom Jones, and with Norah Jones, would seem to be unlikely, which only proves the point of his talent: “the Killer” is smooth as silk with whomever he plays with and whatever the material. His voice styling is unique and his piano playing pyrotechnic and, yes, gorgeous (he never even glances at the keys, only at his partners).

The man is an iconic confluence of boogie-woogie, country, rock ‘n’ roll and gospel, all drenched in the blues; he even invests fresh feeling in old chestnuts such as “The Green, Green Grass of Home,” “Over the Rainbow, and “That Lucky Old Sun.” He may not literally be “the last man standing” of his generation of greats (there’s Mick Jagger, for one), but his resilience is unpredictable and explosive.

And since it’s the holiday season, you can special order a copy from Best Video for your favorite cousin.

New releases 6/24/14

Top Hits
Winter’s Tale (romance/drama, Colin Farrell. Rotten Tomatoes: 13%. Metacritic: 31. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Winter’s Tale, Mark Helprin’s 1983 best seller, was the Goldfinch of its time: fat and ambitious, with a romantic view of New York City and an unabashed commitment to the kind of old-fashioned narrative abundance that seemed, then as now, to be missing from too much literary fiction. It is a bit surprising that the movie adaptation [written and directed by Akiva Goldsman] has taken so long to arrive, though perhaps less surprising that it should be so clumsy and inert, a lumbering white elephant rather than the flying white horse that is the novel’s magical mascot.” Read more…)

Rob the Mob (thriller, Michael Pitt. Rotten Tomatoes: 83%. Metacritic: 31. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Bright and fleet, Rob the Mob is a firm step up from the undiluted corn of Mr. De Felitta’s 2010 feature, City Island. This time he has delegated the script to Jonathan Fernandez, who writes tight scenes that don’t peter out and dialogue that gives Tommy and Rosie’s dumb-and-dumber partnership a chipper charm. Vividly painting Queens in the early 1990s as a landscape of crack and graffiti, the filmmakers go on to smother any menace with a swoony-upbeat soundtrack and an ‘oh, those kooky kids’ tone.” Read more…)

Some Velvet Morning (romance/drama, Stanley Tucci. Rotten Tomatoes: 57%. Metacritic: 54. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “It’s difficult to discuss Some Velvet Morning, the latest movie from Neil LaBute, without giving away too much. This is by design. Set entirely inside a Brooklyn brownstone — with a brief trip to the backyard — this gendered gabfest has been constructed along familiar LaButian lines. A man and a woman pace like inmates, jawing and clawing and drawing metaphoric [or not] blood, and then Mr. LaBute, rather like a mean O. Henry, tosses in a detonating surprise that either changes what you’ve thought until that moment or ticks you off. This audience baiting is also very much by design, of course, and can be playful or sadistic or both, or neither.” Read more…)

300: Rise of an Empire (warrior war action, Sullivan Stapleton. Rotten Tomatoes: 41%. Metacritic: 48. From Nicolas Rapold’s New York Times review: “Classical historians disagree, but it was probably Herodotus who first posed a question that would ring out across the ages, unanswered till now: Wouldn’t Eva Green look awesome kissing the severed head of an insolent captive? 300: Rise of an Empire puts the issue to rest [the answer: yes, but it’ll never last] and strives to uphold the rah-rah style of visuals and rhetoric established by its popular predecessor, 300.” Read more…)

What Richard Did (Ireland, drama, Jack Reynor. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 80. A New York Times critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “This brilliantly acted movie, a loose adaptation of Kevin Power’s book Bad Day in Blackrock, directed by Lenny Abrahamson from a screenplay by Malcolm Campbell, confronts the implications for both Richard and for the tightly knit community that reflexively protects one of its own. The film scrutinizes this affluent milieu with a nonjudgmental attitude that makes its impact all the more devastating. Everyone just wishes the situation would go away.” Read more…)

Blood Ties (crime drama, Clive Owen. Rotten Tomatoes: 49%. Metacritic: 46. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “Hollywood gangster movies, especially those directed by Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, have conditioned us to expect every film in the genre to follow particular guidelines or risk feeling inauthentic. That’s the obstacle that the French director Guillaume Canet [Tell No One] cannot surmount in Blood Ties, his laborious, tonally wobbly attempt at an American crime epic. If it’s unfair to expect a reputable European director to follow that template, so be it. But by now, those expectations have been programmed into us. Every wrong note, of which there are dozens in Blood Ties, feels almost traitorous.” Read more…)

Joe (drama, Nicolas Cage. Rotten Tomatoes: 83%. Metacritic: 73. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “The most indelible scenes in David Gordon Green’s Joe, filmed in the backwoods of Texas, have the fierce clarity of illuminations glimpsed in a lightning flash. In one lingering afterimage, a team of mostly African-American laborers, toiling in a desiccated pine forest, methodically poison sickly trees with ‘juice hatchets’ [small axes that squirt deadly herbicide] to kill them off and make room for the planting of hardier species. These woodsmen, played by nonprofessionals, share an easy, rough-hewn camaraderie. They are the least tormented characters in Joe, a punishing exercise in Southern miserablism.” Read more…)

Enemy (drama, Jake Gyllenhaal. Rotten Tomatoes: 74%. Metacritic: 60. From A.O. Scott’s New York times review: “In Enemy, Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of a novella by the Nobel Prize-winning Portuguese novelist José Saramago, Jake Gyllenhaal plays two uncannily identical residents of an unnamed Canadian city. They are physically identical, in any case, but temperamentally distinct in ways that begin to suggest Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, to name another famous literary pair. And the question that haunts the film is whether they are really different people at all, or just sides of a single disordered personality.” Read more…)

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (actor profile, show business, Elaine Stritch. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%. Metacritic: 80. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “‘A Molotov cocktail of madness, sanity and genius.’ That is one description of the great Broadway and cabaret entertainer Elaine Stritch in Chiemi Karasawa’s acutely intimate documentary portrait, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me. It was filmed as Ms. Stritch was preparing her cabaret show ‘Elaine Stritch Singin’ Sondheim … One Song at a Time,’ while coping with diabetes and worsening memory loss. Her fierce lust for life mirrors Dylan Thomas’s dictum ‘Old age should burn and rave at close of day.'” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Winter’s Tale
300: Rise of An Empire

The Beatles: A Hard Day’s Night (1964, remastered pop culture masterpiece, The Beatles. Rotten Tomatoes: 99%. Metacritic: 95.)

New Foreign
What Richard Did (Ireland, drama, Jack Reynor, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 80. A New York Times critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “This brilliantly acted movie, a loose adaptation of Kevin Power’s book Bad Day in Blackrock, directed by Lenny Abrahamson from a screenplay by Malcolm Campbell, confronts the implications for both Richard and for the tightly knit community that reflexively protects one of its own. The film scrutinizes this affluent milieu with a nonjudgmental attitude that makes its impact all the more devastating. Everyone just wishes the situation would go away.” Read more…)

Two Lives (Norway, drama, Liv Ullmann. Rotten Tomatoes: 85%. Metacritic: 62. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “The anxious, melancholic drama Two Lives is the story of a woman caught up in the toxic backwash of long-ago events that exert a fearful grip on the present. Unholy forces shaped the double life of this woman, Katrine [Juliane Köhler, Nowhere in Africa]. Happily married and living in Norway, she has a secret past that merges two of the darker chapters of 20th-century European history.” Read more…)

New TV
Masters of Sex: Season 1 (Showtime historical drama, Michael Sheen. Rotten Tomatoes: 90%. Metacritic: 85. From Alessandra Stanley’s New York Times television review: “Masters of Sex isn’t everything you wanted to know about Masters and Johnson but were afraid to ask. This Showtime series remystifies the sex researchers famous for demystifying sex. William H. Masters and his collaborator, Virginia Johnson, sought to deconstruct the physiology of pleasure during the dark ages before the sexual revolution. Masters of Sex, starting on Sunday, does an elegant job of reframing their strange, complicated and at times deeply cynical partnership into a twisted but intriguing love story.” Read more…)

The Bridge: Season 1 (crime thriller series, Diane Kruger. Rotten Tomatoes: 90%. Metacritic: 77. From Alessandra Stanley’s New York Times television review: “The Scandinavian version of The Bridge  [Bron/Broen] begins with a body laid across the halfway point on a bridge between Denmark and Sweden. The American adaptation of The Bridge puts the corpse on the border between Mexico and the United States. This FX series, which starts on Wednesday, should be as good or better than the original. Danish television, in particular, is known for sinister, psychologically dense crime series, but it’s hard to imagine that there is much to the cultural collision between Copenhagen and Malmo, except for maybe the narcissism of small differences. [Swedish detectives snicker at the accent of an inspector from Copenhagen.] Ciudad Juárez and El Paso, on the other hand, are rich in cultural divides and social discord.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (actor profile, show business, Elaine Stritch, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%. Metacritic: 80.)