‘Bullhead’ (Drafthouse Films)
Pick of the week:
- Bullhead. A punishing drama that explores the psyche of a man who was damaged physically in his younger years, and who continues to bear his emotional scars visibly as he travels through the underground drug scene in Europe. As difficult as it is to watch, it’s shot through with streaks of dark visual artistry by first-time feature director and writer Michael Roskam, which makes it somewhat more bearable.
Also out today on DVD and/or Blu-ray, with links to my reviews (here or at Twitch), as available:
- 21 Jump Street. Mostly positive reviews make me curious about this comedy from the guys who made ‘Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.’
- The Artist. A loving pastiche and tribute to the Silent Era, the Academy Award-winning film has received a healthy degree of critical backlash. While it’s not a great film on its own merits, it is affectionate and resonates pleasantly in the memory.
- Deliverance. John Boorman’s haunting fable of masculinity and quiet terrors serves as an apt counterpoint to ‘Bullhead’ (see above). Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ronny Cox, and Ned Beatty star.
- Mirror Mirror. The better of the two Snow White films this year, Tarsem’s oft-delirious visual inclinations make this a fun watch.
- Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. Described as a “Turkish Western,” and the receipient of glowing reviews, this “slow cinema” picture follows a criminal investigation, but is much more interested in painting a portrait of characters and landscapes.
Bryan Cranston in ‘Breaking Bad’ Season 4 (AMC TV)
Pick of the week:
- Breaking Bad, Season 4. I came to the show oddly, in that the pilot felt too grungy, off-putting, and disconsolate to capture my attention, and it was only through a friend’s continued recommendation that I sampled a show or two in the midst of Season 3 — and then I realized the error of my ways, and immediately caught up. The characters and plot turns continue to zip and hum and upend as a former high school chemistry teacher / family man continues to become more and more enmeshed in the drug trade. The first three seasons are available on Netflix Instant, so if you have that service, sample the first three episodes to decide if it’s worth your time. The fourth season is rather incredible. And you still have time to catch up; the new season begins on July 15. [A]
Also out today on DVD and/or Blu-ray, with grades and links to reviews (here or at Twitch), as available:
- Act of Valor. [C-]
- John Carter. Missed this during theatrical, but very curious due to nature of mixed reviews..
- Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. [C]
- Safe House. Denzel Washington; slightly less curious.
- Sea of Love. Pacino. Barkin. Goodman. Great script by Richard Price. [B+]
- The Sting. Newman. Redford. Shaw. Great script by David Ward. [B+]
- Under African Skies. Well-received doc about Paul Simon.
- Yellow Submarine. For Beatles completists / fans of 60s animation.
Big, diverse batch of films. We’ll go alphabetically this week:
The Crazies – Given it’s dead zone February release date, one would likely think this remake of George Romero’s low-fi Seventies flick didn’t have much going for it. Turns out, it was a solid, well-made genre piece that made good on all that it promised in its eerie trailer. Another nice outing by Timothy Olyphant, who is fast becoming the new aww-shucks/everyman action hero. Check it out.
The Eclipse – Moody ghost story about several writers at a literary conference. Far better than that sentence reads.
Hot Tub Time Machine – Remember raunchy comedy? Here you go. Good times, especially if you were at the movies in the Eighties.
Percy Jackson and the Something Something – Tired of Harry Potter? Or just waiting on the next Harry Potter? Maybe give this Olympian tale of kids and gods and lightning and such.
Pretty Bird – Something from the I Never Heard Of That Before Department: Paul Giamatti, Billy Crudup and Kristin Wiig in a tale of three entrepreneurs who set out to create a rocket belt.
The Warlords – Andy Lau, Jet Li and Takeshi Kaneshiro. Do I need to say anything else?
The White Ribbon – Michael Haneke’s latest. This kid’s face should say it all.
Three big releases this week, but if you want something to prep for The A-Team (opening Friday), the complete TV series releases this week on DVD, as well as UFC’s Rampage: Greatest Hits. So something for the kids, too.
From Paris with Love – John Travolta continues his downward spiral with a loud and annoying spy thriller/action flick that was roundly panned upon release. But hey, what do I know? I thought Look Who’s Talking would have ended his career.
Another slow week, but at least what you get is mostly fun stuff:
But first the serious one. North Face is based on real events. Set in 1938 as Nazi propaganda urges climbers to attempt to scale the treacherous north face of the Eiger in the Alps, two reluctant German soldiers ascend the mountain in a competition that seems fruitless, but shows the endurance and humanity of the men, for better or worse. The climbing scenes are harsh and convincing, while the film itself is beautifully shot.
Three notable films this week, just not all for the same reasons:
Tokyo Sonata, one of 2009′s finest films (domestic or international) is about a family out of sync. From director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, best known for thrillers like Cure and Pulse/Kairo, this very quiet and intricate domestic drama is powerful and affecting.
Nine should have been great; it was, at best, something of a diversion.
Tetro is the latest from Francis Ford Coppola, whose Youth Without Youth indicated a unique and exciting change of direction in his filmmaking style. Tetro has a more straightforward story than Youth, but is just as highly stylized. Another terrific piece of work.
Big week, for the fun and serious:
The big story this week is not the usual releases, but that Netflix has obtained Andrei Konchalovsky’s Runaway Train, a powerful film based on an Akira Kurosawa story. With Jon Voight playing the best role of his career, mining the depths of brutal existentialism while teaching young Eric Roberts how to not be a “sucka”, this is one for anybody who loves depth with their action. A wonderful, hard-to-find film.
Milton Glaser: To Inform & Delight: an affectionate portrait of the NYC artist by director Wendy Keys.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Terry Gilliam’s whimsical Faustian fantasy, deserves better than it got. Check it out; you won’t be disappointed.
District 13: Ultimatum is not too different from the original District 13…lots of jumping, racing against the clock, and social message hammers to the skull. Still, pretty fun if you haven’t seen the first one.
The Descent: Part 2 also mirrors its predecessor, but requires the attention of hardcore fans. Nothing new here, but if you need a brutal, claustrophobic fix, you’ve come to the right place.
Disgrace showcases John Malkovich as a South African professor caught up in an affair with one of his students while coming to grips with the changes impacting the country.
Five Minutes of Heaven finds Liam Neeson facing an old vendetta in Northern Ireland; with James Nesbitt (Bloody Sunday).
Still so tired from the Dallas International Film Festival; here are your DVD releases for the week:
Mammoth, directed by Lukas Moodysson, starring Michelle Williams, is about a butterfly effect of events around the world, involving a successful businessman, his surgeon wife and their Filipino nanny.
The Lovely Bones, the much-derided Peter Jackson adaptation of a book a lot of people read, is at least visually impressive and Stanley Tucci gives an Oscar-nominated performance as the bad guy (spoiler!).
The Young Victoria is the kind of film a terrific actress (Emily Blunt) should make after too many supporting roles where she outshines the leading cast. Note: Prince Albert is apparently never found to be “in the can.”
The Blind Side stars Sandra Bullock as a Southern booster who takes in a homeless dude and makes him part of their family. Based on a true story, and Bullock won an award recently for her performance.
Old Partner was one of the top documentaries at the 2009 Asian Film Festival of Dallas, and in all seriousness, it’s a terrific little film. It follows a farmer, his wife and his beloved ox. A bittersweet examination of progress and aging.
As DIFF rolls on, there are some light entertainments coming to DVD this week to fill the gaps. Check out these three films:
The Slammin’ Salmon is the latest from comedy team Broken Lizard (Super Troopers), detailing the shenanigans at a Miami restaurant run by a former heavyweight boxing champ (Michael Clarke Duncan). Indebted to the mob, he sets up a contest to see which of his waiters can bring in the most money in one night. Hilarity ensues.
Far more consistently funny than Beerfest or Club Dread, the Lizard team are in fine form in Salmon. But it may be April Bowlby as wide-eyed and sexy waitress Mia, who steals the show as she tries to work through severe third-degree burns from a misplaced bowl of soup. As I read back over that it doesn’t sound half as funny as it actually is, so just trust me. The film is great fun.
A weird week for DVD releases, as we await the Dallas International Film Festival’s opening night, Thursday April 8th.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, director Werner Herzog’s strangely pedestrian-looking police procedural, benefits from one of Nicolas Cage’s most profoundly bizarre performances. He looks stooped over, like a marionette missing a crucial string. His character’s drug use allows Cage to act out in ways that usually would be frowned upon in theater class. As he goes about solving a drug-related murder case, he hallucinates, threatens old women and actually gets a promotion for his efforts. It is a gloriously bent performance, and makes for the most interesting DVD release this week.