Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Review: The Pawnbroker (1964)

* * * *

Director: Sidney Lumet
Starring: Rod Steiger

For a landmark film from one of the major American directors of the latter half of the 20th century, Sidney Lumet's The Pawnbroker seems to be woefully underseen and underappreciated. The first American film to deal with the Holocaust and a film credited with providing a chink in the armor that would lead to the dismantling of the Production Code, The Pawnbroker is a historically important film, but it's also an incredibly good one. A character driven film about the enduring trauma of the Holocaust told from the point-of-view of a survivor who has attempted to segregate himself from the rest of the world as a mode of protection against further pain, The Pawnbroker features one of star Rod Steiger's best performances (and earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor). An enthralling and emotionally wrenching film, The Pawnbroker is a film worth seeking out.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday's Top 5... The Family's Back Under One Roof Movies

#5: The Family Stone

In a lot of ways Thomas Bezucha's The Family Stone is a cookie-cutter movie of this type, with character types and situations that are typical for the genre. It's a very familiar movie, but what makes it work is how everything clicks together - particularly the stellar cast which includes Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Luke Wilson, and Sarah Jessica Parker.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Canadian Film Review: Twilight of the Ice Nymphs (1997)

* * 1/2

Director: Guy Maddin
Starring: Pascale Bussieres, Shelly Duvall, Alice Krige

Twilight of the Ice Nymphs is arguably the most important film in Guy Maddin's filmography, not because it's good, but because the difficulties Maddin encountered in making it, and his ultimate disappointment in the final product, put him on a track to make the series of acclaimed films that followed. Before Twilight, Maddin was flirting with the possibility of a move to Hollywood and entering a "director for hire" phase. After Twilight, which is the least "Maddin-like" of his films yet still nowhere near a mainstream Hollywood movie, he would retreat from feature films for several years and then emerge, creatively recharged, to make such films as Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary, Cowards Bend the Knee, The Saddest Music in the World, Brand Upon the Brain! and My Winnipeg. The disillusionment Maddin felt with the process of making Twilight can be felt throughout the film, which has some typical Maddin touches of weirdness but also possesses an odd feeling of disconnect between what's occurring onscreen and the man behind the camera. Still, while Twilight of the Ice Nymphs may be the least of Maddin's features, it's not a film wholly lacking in value.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Netflix Recommends... The Italian Job (2003)

* * *

Director: F. Gary Gray
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton, Jason Statham, Mos Def, Seth Green

This week Netflix apparently thinks I'm super into Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington, putting 3 films starring each (though, curiously, not that one movie that stars both) in my Top Picks. I went with Wahlberg and was rewarded with the 2003 version of The Italian Job, a slick heist movie loosely based on the 1969 Michael Caine movie of the same name. I had never seen this one before, but vaguely recalled the advertising for it which highlighted the chase involving three mini Coopers and a showdown between one of the minis and a helicopter. What I'd forgotten was that Wahlberg, at that phase in his career, was a much lighter onscreen presence, more twinkly-eyed than glowering - though in the twinkly-eye department he's got nothing on Donald Sutherland, who shows up just long enough to look like he's having a blast and provide the film with its inciting incident. The Italian Job may not be the sort of transcendent caper that raises it above its genre, but it's near-perfect as a genre movie and pretty damn entertaining.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

* * * 1/2

Director: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel

Late to the party, I have no excuse. The biggest movie of the year (so far; last year's champ, Katniss Everdeen, returns to theaters in November), Guardians of the Galaxy continues Marvel Studios' solid run of films that have not only raked in a fortune but also garnered critical acclaim. I already thought that Warner Bros.' rumored "no jokes" rule for its forthcoming attempt to create a shared DC comics movie universe was kind of dumb, but it seems more so after seeing this film, which relies heavily on humor and succeeds in large part because of it, too. The effects are, of course, as spectacular as expected but it takes more than good special effects to make a good movie, and the fact that the film is too long, too over-stuffed, and ends in pretty much the same way as every Marvel movie since The Avengers (there has to be other ways to end these movies than with a protracted sky battle) is alleviated by how much fun it is. I realize that Warner Bros./DC is probably a little concerned that if they start working humor into their product they might tip back into the high camp of the Joel Schumacher Batman movies, but a few jokes can go a long way.