Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) or HuluPlus (US only), we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.
2010. Director: Clint Eastwood. Starring: Matt Damon, Cecile De France, Bryce Dallas Howard, Thiery Neuvic, Jay Mohr, Frankie McLaren, George McLaren, Richard Kind.
Clint Eastwood is perhaps more known now for being a director than an actor and he almost always delivers a handsomely made film, even if they don’t break any sort of new ground. But Hereafter sticks out like a sore thumb in his modern directorial repertoire – a too often overly sentimental, emotionally manipulative three-way story about death and what might come after. To be fair the blame falls on the script (by the usually excellent writer Peter Morgan, of such films as Frost/Nixon and The Last King of Scotland) and not on Eastwood’s direction, and the performances across the board are all very solid. But aside from a surprisingly bold but arguably entirely unnecessary (and tasteless?) Tsunami scene at the start, Hereafter follows the path you’d expect pretty much from start to finish. And the fact it had so much potential makes it all the more frustrating.
1986 USA. Director: James Cameron. Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Hendrickson, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein.
And with this I scratch another off my List of Shame, one that many many people have been nagging me to watch for a very long time. I had put it off after being less than enthused with the first film when I saw it ages ago (but I do want to rewatch it now), and because the shift from sci-fi to action that I’d heard about the second film didn’t really intrigue me. But I ended up quite enjoying it. It’s a great example of how to build a good and suspenseful action story; it says high-octane for most of the time, but it never loses sight of Ripley, and it allows her to gradually build into the action heroine she is at the end by using traits and skills established early on. The emotional throughline involving Newt is predictable, but effective. It’s interesting to compare this movie to Avatar, because lots of details from here turn up again, except here they all work much better within the narrative, with no over-earnest message-picture pandering. Similarly, this is a much better female empowerment narrative than a lot of so-called girl power movies in recent years, although my one complaint with the film is the over-determined machismo of the marines – I got the point, but some of those early boasting scenes went on far too long. Overall, though, a more than solid film that more sci-fi actioners should learn from.
1971 USA. Director: Milos Forman. Starring: Lynn Carlin, Buck Henry, Linnea Heacock, Georgia Engel, Tony Harvey.
I went into this not knowing anything about it other than it was directed by Milos Forman and presumably somewhat trippy, since it was programmed as part of the Cinefamily/Cinespia “Fun with Your Head” series. Turns out it was Forman’s first film in the United States, made when he still couldn’t really speak English, relying on actor Buck Henry to help him determine whether the dialogue part of each take was good or not. But it doesn’t much matter in the long run, as the story of a teenager “taking off” to live with her hippie friends and leaving her parents to search for her plays out in a combination of wistful musical numbers (by such up and comers as Carly Simon and Kathy Bates; Ike and Tina Turner show up for a more rousing tune) and dryly absurd scenarios involving the parents. In fact, we spend most of our time with the parents, played by Buck Henry and Lynn Carlin, as they stumble around trying to figure out what to do and how to make sense of the changing world – a scene where they go to a meeting of parents of runaway children and learn to smoke marijuana is priceless. But infused in all the hilarity and absurdity is a very real sense of yearning, a need to connect both across generations and within your own. It’s a fascinating film – often ridiculous, but just as often genuinely moving. I went into it miffed that Cinefamily keeps programming other things on the nights that used to be reserved for silents, but came out very glad that I’d happened to be there on the night Taking Off was screening.
The Man From Earth
2007 US. Director: Richard Schenkman. Starring: David Lee Smith, Tony Todd, John Billingsley.
The Man From Earth is a throwback of sorts, a sci-fi flick that doesn’t rely on special effects and pretense to tell a story. Instead, a fantastic storyline supported by engaging characters and metaphysical ideas drew me in immediately and never let go. The film tackles topics ranging from death and immortality to religion and time travel, and does so in a thoughtful, thought-provoking manner. There is never a dull moment, and the progression of the story is far from predictable, oftentimes staying a step ahead of even the most astute viewer. It is certainly a challenging film, in that it essentially boils down to a single-setting conversation revolving around questioning perceptions of reality, but it is incredibly rewarding and endlessly debatable. [Also see Andrew’s review] -DOMENIC
Alone In The Dark
1982 USA. Director: Jack Sholder. Starring: Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Donald Pleasance.
By just about any measure, this is not a good movie. If memory serves, it wasn’t overly scary either. However, it’s one of those early 80s horror films that still somehow manages to be fast-paced, create memorable scenes (even a few “thrills”) and allow “creative” and entertaining acting choices – even if it is far from being horrific or even spooky. That point about the acting isn’t completely meant sarcastically – sure there’s some poor acting here, but the actors seemed to relish their roles and really put forth a variety of approaches (granted, many of those approaches defaulted to “big”). Given that the cast consists of Jack Palance, Martin Landau and Donald Pleasance playing insane asylum patients and doctors, you’ve got the makings for an interesting brew. The basic premise is that a power outage allows a group of 4 inmates to escape the asylum and terrorize the family of one of the new doctors in town. I can’t really pretend that the “punk rock” concert and the no nukes rally weren’t ridiculous, but Carol Levy’s blond babysitter – in particular when in peril – was hands down the low point of the film. Then again, it had Jack Palance with a cross bow. The 80s had their moments…
2009 Spain. Director: Jaume Balaguero, Paco Plaza. Starring: Jonathan Mellor, Oscar Zafra, Ariel Casas.
Though this sequel (and I do mean immediate sequel) to 2007’s pretty damn wonderful [rec] took an unexpected plot path and was likely far better than anyone had a right to expect, it still remains a disappointment to me. I suppose that’s partially because of elevated expectations after I heard some very high praise, but it’s mostly due to the fact that it left much of its previous creepy atmosphere behind and went with a more full blown EXPERIENCE. What I assume was designed to be more of an intense ride eventually became a bit tiring and, if not dull, at least rather ho hum (it’s actually not a bad example of Chaos Cinema). The tension from the first film felt drained in spots as they tried to bring in more effects, focus on some of the demon-like beasts and really shake the hell out of that camera during the in your face attacks. The shifting plot was also a problem – every interesting tweak or new revelation was usually followed pretty closely by an eye-rolling moment. A mixed bag overall, but in the end simply not that scary. Or fun. [Also seeAndrew’s review] -BOB
2010 UK. Director: Asif Kapadia. Starring: Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost.
I remember the year Ayrton Senna died. I was young and F1 was never a sport I followed closely but when the young Brazilian driver arrived on the scene it seemed that everyone who shared a common tongue adopted him as their own. It was hard not to: Senna was smart, well spoken and he had a pride in his heritage that was inspiring. I was initially surprised that so many people, even those not familiar with the sport or the man, seemed taken with Asif Kapadia’s documentary on the legendary driver but having seen it, it’s clear to see why. Using archival footage of Ayrton intercut with home video from the Senna family and voice-overs from other drivers, officials, reporters and family, Kapadia builds a fascinating and informative look at the icon that took the racing world by storm and his appeal is as contagious now as it was when he was alive. A fascinating and entertaining look at the too-short life of an icon. [Also see David’s capsule] -MARINA
1971 USA/UK. Director: Sam Peckinpah. Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Susan George, Peter Vaughan.
With a remake (argh) near release, the time was ripe to catch up with Sam Peckinpah’s original. Dustin Hoffman and Susan George star as the happy couple who head to England so Hoffman can work on his new book until a group of locals attempts to break into their house, pushing Hoffman from quiet professor type to defender of his fortress – by any means necessary. I love the editing of Peckinpah’s film which effectively builds suspense and the slow motion which is effectively used (more-so than any other film that comes to mind). I love the banter between Hoffman and George and the growing strain on their relationship is both realistic and beautifully portrayed. This is definitely one to see but not for the faint of heart. There are a few scenes which are difficult to watch but none quite as troubling as the rape scene which had me stirring uncomfortably as it played out.