Hank’s Recommendations 12/11/12

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD — This deceptively simple film, seen through a young girl’s eyes, about the taming of the “beasts of the southern wild”—storms and flood, environmental pollution, the daily struggle of a marginal existence—takes place in a Louisiana bayou. Its uncanny acting (by non-actor locals) and imaginatively vivid camerawork conveys the strengths of parental teaching in the midst of adversity and the yearning for community in a failing world: dramatic illustrations it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of in our own current time. Mrs. Video dubbed it the “film of the year.” It also reminds me of another great film, in part seen through a child’s eyes, about how the world works in harmony toward it’s own good end until interfered with by evil (in this case the widow-slaying preacher played by Robert Mitchum) in the Charles Laughton/James Agee film, NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, which, now that I think of it, is a great film to share with the family on these holidays. Both poetically lyrical films offer suspense and enlightenment in equal measures.

QUEEN OF VERSAILLES — This outrageous and inadvertently funny documentary filmed before and after the crash of 2008 offers another fable for our current times: the attainment and loss of the American Dream. Tiffany, a meat-and-potatoes middleclass former Ms. Florida, becomes ersatz royalty when she marries a time-share resort magnate who’s thirty-one years her senior. Waxing rhapsodically about their eight children and the largest house in America they’re having built, Tiffany continues to shop even after the market drops. Blithely and mostly unblinkingly she faces the monetary and family dysfunction around her as the dark underside of their privileged lives becomes as exposed as the rafters in their unfinished mansion. Fittingly taking place in Las Vegas, this is the kind of film that makes you laugh and shake your head in wonderment about how, indeed, the other half lives.

THE BOURNE LEGACY — In order to avoid scandalous exposure, a clandestine intelligence program needs to be erased, along with all its agents, one of whom, Aaron Cross, must use his genetically engineered skills to survive. In fact, this “Bourne”-again film actually has nothing to do with Jason Bourne (although we do get a fleeting glimpse of Matt Damon’s photograph), though it does offer similar state-of-the-art flight/pursuit action. Rachel Weisz (DREAM HOUSE, PAGE EIGHT, THE WHISTLEBLOWER, THE LOVELY BONES, AGORA) as an unknowing scientist on the project who becomes Aaron’s ally plays her familiarly imperiled role, the intelligent actor Edward Norton seems oddly miscast as the head of Intelligence while the rest of an otherwise amazing cast (Scott Glenn, Stacy Keach, Donna Murphy, Joan Allen, Albert Finney) seems figuratively if not literally wasted. But otherwise the movie offers an intriguing and suspenseful first half with some beautiful Alaskan footage, a fantastic motorcycle chase at the end and a good performance by THE HURT LOCKER’s Jeremy Renner. It’s true they don’t know how to end this film, but then this is a franchise that will probably have no end. It’s a movie that will fill the bill if you’re in the mood.

New Releases 11/13/12

Top Hits

Savages (action, Taylor Kitsch. Rotten Tomatoes: 51%. Metacritic: 59. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “One of the jokes in Savages, Oliver Stone’s feverish, fully baked, half-great adaptation of Don Winslow’s ferocious and funny drug-war novel of the same name, is that the film’s title is flung back and forth between north and south — an epithet that is also eventually claimed as a badge of honor. The Southern California marijuana dealers on one side of the conflict that energizes the film’s zigzagging narrative are appalled by the brutality of the Mexican narco-traffickers, for whom torture and mutilation are routine ways of doing business. Some of the Mexicans, in turn, are disgusted by the sloth and shallowness of the gringos, who seem to lack any sense of dignity, tradition, family or honor. Savagery is in the eye of the beholder.” Read more…)

The Watch (comedy, Ben Stiller. Rotten Tomatoes: 17%. Metacritic: 36. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “Directed by Akiva Schaffer from a screenplay by Jared Stern, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the movie clumsily juggles two loosely connected concepts. In the spirit of  The Hangover, it is a whimsical, potty-mouthed buddy movie that lunges for laughs with bursts of profanity; it is also a spoof of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in which the aliens disguise themselves as humans.” Read more…)

Dark Horse (drama, Jordan Gelber. Rotten Tomatoes: 73%. Metacritic: 66. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “Abe [Jordan Gelber] is a tubby underachiever in his 30s who lives with his parents, sleeping in a bedroom full of action figures, movie posters and other emblems of interminable childhood. In other words he is, in the context of recent American cinema, not unusual. But Dark Horse is a Todd Solondz movie, which means, among other things, that Abe is neither a sweet Apatovian schlub nor a stoner saint like the title character in Mark and Jay Duplass’s Jeff, Who Lives at Home. He is, instead, an emblem of loneliness and failure, whose cocoon of self-delusion and misplaced vanity is carefully dismantled by the sharp, remorseless tweezers of Mr. Solondz’s sensibility.” Read more…)

Brave (Pixar/Disney animated feature, Kelly Macdonald. Rotten Tomatoes: 78%. Metacritic: 69. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “From her wild and woolly locks to her Clydesdale, the gorgeous high-stepper Angus on whom she races across the softly rendered Scottish hills and glens, Merida has been created as something of an anti-Rapunzel [at least before Rapunzel received a girl-power makeover for Disney’s 2010 movie Tangled]. Merida is active instead of passive, a doer rather than a gal who hangs around the castle waiting for Prince Charming to rescue her. More to the point and to the movie’s marketing, she is Pixar’s first female protagonist, which means that there’s a lot more riding on her head than that ginger mop. After 17 years of feature filmmaking and 12 box-office hits, Pixar has — ta-da! — entered the big business of little girls.” Read more…)

2 Days in New York (romantic comedy, Chris Rock. Rotten Tomatoes: 67%. Metacritic: 62. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “At the opening of her photography show, Marion, the high-strung heroine of 2 Days in New York, has an awkward encounter with a critic. Frustrated by his poker face and his noncommittal responses, and stressed out by everything else going on in her life [about which more shortly], Marion launches into an unhinged, obscene tirade at the poor man. Later in the film a karmically empowered pigeon drops an airborne excretory insult on him. Since Marion is played by the director of the film, Julie Delpy, I will take this as a warning.” Read more…)

Vamps (horror/comedy, Alicia Silverstone. Rotten Tomatoes: 50%. Metacritic: 57. From Rachel Saltz’s New York Times review: “Nice girls don’t drink human blood. But they can still be vampires. Just give them a rat and a straw, and they’re good to go. The image of Alicia Silverstone and Krysten Ritter slurping away at furry beverages is probably the grossest thing in Vamps, written and directed by Amy Heckerling. It’s also probably the funniest.” Read more…)

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 (animated comic book feature, Peter Weller [voice])

New Blu-Ray

Brave

Savages

The Watch

Lawrence of Arabia

New Foreign

A Burning Hot Summer (France, drama, Louis Garrel. Rotten Tomatoes: 50%. Metacritic: 62. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Philippe Garrel, whose films include Regular Lovers [set against the turmoil of France in May 1968] and Frontier of Dawn [a love story involving one man and two women], creates worlds that spring from a poetic, deeply personal sense of life rather than a screenwriting manual. People find and lose love, make up or don’t. They pass the time, time passes them by. In A Burning Hot Summer [a pulpy title that sounds better in the original, Un Été Brûlant], two men fall into friendship, and while little happens, everything is at stake.” Read more…)

Weekend (France, 1967, Godard satire, Mirielle Darc. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. From Renata Adler’s 1968 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend, which was shown last night at the New York Film Festival, is a fantastic film, in which all of life becomes a weekend, and the weekend is a cataclysmic, seismic traffic jam—with cars running pedestrians and cyclists off the road, only to collide and leave blood and corpses everywhere.” Read more…)

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life:

The Decameron (1971, comedy/drama based on Boccaccio, Franco Citti. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. From Vincent Canby’s 1971 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Taking 10 tales out of the 100 in Boccaccio’s Decameron, Pasolini has created one of the most beautiful, turbulent and uproarious panoramas of early Renaissance life ever put on film. It is also one of the most obscene, if obscene defines something that is offensive to ordinary concepts of chastity, delicacy and decency, although I’d hardly call the film offensive to morals.” Read more…)

    The Canterbury Tales (1972, comedy/drama based on Chaucer, Hugh Griffith. Rotten Tomatoes: 71%.)

    Arabian Nights (1974, comedy/fantasy, Ninetto Davoli. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%.)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)

Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977, thriller, Burt Lancaster. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. From a Nicolas Rapold New York Times article about Twilight’s Last Gleaming‘s recent re-release: “Twilight’s Last Gleaming epitomized a paranoid, quintessentially ’70s moment in American history and imagination. As a thriller, it is a nerve-racking procedural. Its parallel strands of action shatter into two, three and four split-screens that observe the silo, the White House and the special-assault squads outside the missile base. All of this is enhanced by a raft of old-guard stars: Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Joseph Cotten, Melvyn Douglas.” Read more…)

Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate (1980, western, Kris Kristofferson. Rotten Tomatoes: 43%. Heaven’s Gate is a legenday film. Assailed upon its 1980 release as an expensive disaster, over the past three decades a critical re-examination has led to the film now being seen in a far more positive light. This new DVD release is a painstakingly remastered Criterion edition. New York Times critic Vincent Canby wrote in 1980 [requires log-in]: “Heaven’s Gate is something quite rare in movies these days – an unqualified disaster.” [Read more of Canby’s review…] But this past September in the New York Times “Arts & Leisure” section, Dennis Lim wrote of the contemporary reappraisal: “Present-day viewers may well find that time has been kind to Heaven’s Gate, which plays more than ever like a fittingly bleak apotheosis of the New Hollywood, an eccentric yet elegiac rethinking of the myths of the West and the western, with an uncommonly blunt take on class in America. [‘It’s getting dangerous to be poor in this country,’ someone says. The rejoinder: ‘It always was.’] But this defiant last gasp of the downbeat ’70s, opening two weeks after Ronald Reagan was elected president, was plainly a movie at odds with its time. Reached at his home in Hawaii, [the film’s star Kris] Kristofferson said he believes the themes of the film, with its grim view of American capitalism, were what made it so unpalatable.” Read more…)

New British DVDs

Call the Midwife: Season 1

New Documentaries

The Queen of Versailles (travails of fallen billionaires. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 80. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “It has been said that we live in a new gilded age, in which the rich take it as their sovereign right and civic duty to get richer, while the rest of us look on in envy, simmer with resentment or dream of rebellion. The Queen of Versailles, a new documentary by Lauren Greenfield about life on the thin, fragile, sugarcoated top layer of the upper crust, captures the tone of the times with a clear, surprisingly compassionate eye.” Read more…)

Last Call at the Oasis (environment, water resources, Erin Brockovich. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%. Metacritic: 64. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Jay Famiglietti, one of a handful of expert witnesses in Jessica Yu’s Last Call at the Oasis, is a thoughtful scientist with an engaging manner who specializes in water. In particular, he studies — and tries to raise public awareness about — the rapid depletion of water supplies caused by agricultural overuse, rampant development and global climate change. His analyses are thorough and clear, and he presents them, at public meetings and straight to Ms. Yu’s camera, with good-natured patience. For the most part, that is. At one point, contemplating a future of unchecked consumption and political paralysis, he sums it all up in blunt layman’s terms: ‘We’re screwed.'” Read more…)

Half the Sky (women’s human rights, Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn)

New Children’s DVDs

Pixar Short Films Collection: Vol. 2