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 3/11/14

Top Hits
Inside Llewyn Davis (drama/comedy, Oscar Isaac. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 92. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “‘If it was never new, and it never gets old, then it’s a folk song,’ Llewyn Davis says, brandishing his guitar during a set at the Gaslight. That’s a pretty good definition, one that certainly applies to ‘Hang Me, Oh Hang Me,’ the chestnut that opens Inside Llewyn Davis, Joel and Ethan Coen’s intoxicating ramble through Greenwich Village in 1961, before the neighborhood was annexed by New York University and Starbucks. Llewyn’s repertoire and some aspects of his background are borrowed from Dave Van Ronk, who loomed large on the New York folk scene in its pre-Bob Dylan hootenanny-and-autoharp phase. Oscar Isaac, who plays both Llewyn and the guitar with offhand virtuosity, is slighter of build and scowlier of mien than Van Ronk, with a fine, clear tenor singing voice. But in any case, this is not a biopic, it’s a Coen brothers movie, which is to say a brilliant magpie’s nest of surrealism, period detail and pop-culture scholarship.” Read more…)

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Homefront (thriller, Jason Statham. Rotten Tomatoes: 42%. Metacritic: 39. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Nothing says Thanksgiving like a beat-’em-up written by Sylvester Stallone in which Jason Statham gets to knock the stuffing out of James Franco.If you think that’s a spoiler, you’ve either never seen an audience-pandering movie or the poster for Homefront, which shows a snake-eyed Mr. Franco glowering, in what appears to be hell, under an image of the stern-looking Mr. Statham overlaid with an American flag and embracing a child. The movie is as blunt an instrument as the poster, but it’s also crammed with enough moving parts and unexpected distractions [Winona Ryder as a ‘meth whore’] to make it an indefensibly enjoyable piece of exploitation hackwork.” Read more…)

The Book Thief (World War II-era drama, Geoffrey Rush. Rotten Tomatoes: 46%. Metacritic: 53. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “Speaking in the honeyed, insinuating tone of the Wolf cajoling Little Red Riding Hood to do his bidding, the narrator of The Book Thief is none other than Death himself [Roger Allam], although he coyly refuses to disclose his identity. This irritating know-it-all regularly interrupts the story of Liesel [Sophie Nelisse], a bright-eyed girl living with foster parents in a fictional German town during World War II, to comment obliquely on human nature and mortality.” Read more…)

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Out of the Furnace (thriller, Woody Harrelson. Rotten Tomatoes: 53%. Metacritic: 63. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “In movies, the working class often serves as a sacrificial emblem of the failure of the American dream, one that these days is often embellished with lovingly photographed decay and an elegiac air. Set in a corroded stretch of the Rust Belt, Out of the Furnace ups the ante with a story of two blue-collar brothers — a steel mill welder and a former soldier — who are as totemic as the figures immortalized in a Works Progress Administration mural. It’s a heavy, solemn tale of blood ties that turns into a melodramatic gusher filled with abstractions about masculinity, America and violence, but brought to specific, exciting life by Christian Bale, Casey Affleck and Woody Harrelson.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Inside Llewyn Davis
The Book Thief
Homefront
Out of the Furnace

New Foreign
The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium, drama/romance,music, Veerle Bsetens. Rotten Tomatoes: 79%. Metacritic: 71. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Much like the tattoos etched on the beautiful body of one character and the beard sprouting on the face of another, the narrative two-step performed in The Broken Circle Breakdown goes a long way toward distracting you from the familiarity of the story. The ink adorns Elise (Veerle Baetens), a tattoo artist, who lives with her bearded partner, Didier [Johan Heldenbergh], a bluegrass musician, and their young daughter, Maybelle [Nell Cattrysse], in the kind of picturesque country spread where a dog chases chickens that roost in a pickup truck. It looks like a slice of hillbilly heaven, except that this isn’t Kentucky but a pastoral corner near the Flemish city of Ghent in Belgium.” Read more…)

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The Patience Stone (Afghanistan/France, drama/war, Golshifteh Farahani. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%. Metacritic: 64. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Life and death circle each other restlessly and then furiously in the Afghan-set movie The Patience Stone. Life takes the form of an unnamed beautiful young woman [the fine Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani] who, when the story opens, is caring for her wounded, much older husband, also unnamed [Hamidrez Javdan], an immobilized Mujahedeen fighter with a bullet in his neck and the slender tube of a medical drip bag snaked into his mouth. They’re simply two people inside an austere room. Yet, as bombs shake the walls and she places a bloodied compress on his head, they are quickly transformed into a time-tested, outwardly reassuring vision of a woman heroically ministering to a wounded, possibly dying man.” Read more…)

New TV
Treme: Season 4

New Documentaries
Come Back, Africa (South Africa, apartheid, Miriam Makeba, in Hot Docs. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From Bosley Crowther’s 1960 New York Times review [log-in required]: The strength of this picture is the same as was the strength of Mr. Rogosin’s previous film, On the Bowery, which caught a segment of futile life in New York. That is its candid, forceful and offen poignant pictorial quality—its distinction of catching the image in sharp and relentless terms. Whether Mr. Rogosin is filming a swarm of men going down into the mines or a band of urchins with penny whistles and steel drums beating it out in dusty Sophia-town, he gets his picture in clear and usually exciting form so that one gets a sense of the vividness and reality of the scene.” Read more…
From J. Hoberman’s New York Times review on the occasion of Come Back, Africa‘s DVD/Blu-Ray release: “An early champion of Italian Neorealism, André Bazin praised movies like Rome Open City and Paisan for the immediacy of their ‘re-enacted reportage.’ Lionel Rogosin’s 1959 Come Back, Africa, a clandestinely made exposé of South African apartheid, is more like reportage re-enacted under fire. The people of a Sicilian fishing village played themselves in Luchino Visconti’s Neorealist epic La Terra Trema. Rogosin employed a similar strategy, but unlike Visconti, he was obliged to keep his intentions a secret. South African authorities were told he was filming a musical travelogue to promote tourism. Dramatizing the oppression of South African blacks was dangerous for Rogosin and far more so for the people who appeared in his movie. Among the extras included in Milestone’s newly released two-disc set is a documentary on the chances taken and a brief introduction by Martin Scorsese extolling the film’s heroism.” Read more…)

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Girl Rising (education, female empowerment. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. Metacritic: 59. From Nicolas Rapold’s New York Times review: “If Girl Rising is wholly a vehicle furthering the cause of girls’ education across the globe, it’s more of a multicolored bus to worthy destinations than a pace car. In this twist on the social-issue documentary, girls act out stories adapted from their own lives by writers from their own countries, including Edwidge Danticat, Aminatta Forna and Manjushree Thapa. The hybrid results feature occasional bold strokes alongside ad-pitch eye candy and sleeve-tugging.” Read more…)