Thursday, June 20, 2013

Submitted for Your Approval - Movies and Related Items to Seek Out

I frequently look at what's going on at (especially the deals) and noticed a new review of Criterion's new release of Marketa Lazarová. It's not often I see a perfect 5 rating in every category, but that's the case here. I've never seen this famous Czech film from 1967, but this review is very intriguing. 

I'd like to thank my friend, science fiction writer Andy Duncan, who recently told me about an out-of-print book series by Danny Peary called Cult Movies (in three volumes). I found a used copy of the first volume online and recently started reading it. (I know, the cover is to yak for, but I think you can find better covers with later printings.) This first volume includes essays on 100 films in a variety of genres from the silents until the then present time of the early 80s. Peary's writing is intelligent, engaging, and wonderfully informative. If you don't see me for long stretches of time, it's probably because I'm reading this book. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Criterion Titles for September

Although it’s old news now, the titles for September 2013 were recently announced. Here’s what to look for this fall:

La Cage aux Folles (1978) Edouard Molinaro
New to the collection
Spine #671

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) Martin Ritt
Spine #452

Slacker (1991) Richard Linklater
Spine #247

Autumn Sonata (1978) Ingmar Bergman
Spine #60

3 Films by Roberto Rossellini Starring Ingrid Bergman 
New to the collection
Spine #672

Set includes:

Stromboli (1950)
Europe ’51 (1952)
Journey to Italy (1954)

I recently saw Slackers and although I enjoyed it, I don’t plan to see it again. I am interested in revisiting The Spy Who Came in from the Cold after 20+ years. I have (sadly) never seen any of the Ingrid Bergman films, so these are my biggest temptations for September. 

So what do you think about the September releases? 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Purple Noon (1960) René Clément

Purple Noon (1960) René Clément  [1:57]
Criterion Collection Blu-ray and DVD
Spine #637

Purple Noon is a film that suffers only from it’s Americanized title. The French title, Plein Soleil (In Broad Sunlight) is more fitting. You just can’t help feeling a little exotic as you watch three carefree, beautiful people sailing a yacht along the Mediterranean underneath a sun that exposes the underlying evils and passions of human nature, the darkness and deceit that lie hidden, waiting for just the right moment to emerge. 

But I get ahead of myself. Purple Noon is an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s famous 1955 suspense novel The Talented Mr. Ripley. Most people are probably familiar with the more recent film version from 1999, The Talented Mr. Ripley, directed by Anthony Minghella, starring Matt Damon, Jude Law, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Gwyneth Paltrow. The 1999 version is a good film, but far less subtle in its handling of Highsmith’s material. Alain Delon (in only his third film) as Tom Ripley is mostly quiet, calculating, and unhesitatingly cold-blooded. And good-looking. Handsome has never been so dangerous. 

Ripley is in Italy, trying to persuade his friend Philippe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet) to return to San Francisco where he can take over the family business. Philippe has no intention of doing so. Why should he, when he can sail the Mediterranean with his girlfriend Marge (Marie Laforêt) on his yacht? Ripley begins to grow envious of Philippe and plots how he could possibly steal Philippe’s money, woman, and lifestyle.

In his excellent essay from The Criterion Collection, Geoffrey O’Brien points out that Clément’s version is stylistically about as far away from film noir as you can get. Everything is bright, exposed and out in the open, laid out before the glaring sunlight, which makes Ripley’s crimes even more chilling. There’s no (or very little) effort to hide the darker desires of human nature as they emerge in Ripley. Ripley is slick, holding no regard for laws, rules, or even society’s conventions of right and wrong. Obviously he doesn’t want to get caught, but the fact that he flaunts his evils in the midst of such a well-illuminated, beautifully atmospheric landscape makes his brazen transgressions practically in-your-face. 

Purple Noon works as a character study, a thriller, an utterly fascinating examination of coveting, and as an example of gorgeous cinematography. This is an extraordinarily beautiful film, and I say that having only seen it streaming on my computer. (I can only imagine what the blu-ray must look like. Maybe I'm coveting it? Hmmm....) The film also proves that Alain Delon is far more than just a pretty face, giving a performance of Tom Ripley that’s filled with subtlety, depth, and of course, charisma. This is a must-see if not a must-own. 

(In French with English subtitles)


Monday, June 10, 2013

A Late Quartet (2012) Yaron Zilberman

A Late Quartet (2012) Yaron Zilberman [1:45]

When you’ve got a cast as talented as this one (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken, Catherine Keener, and Mark Ivanir), you’d better make sure you’ve given them a script that allows their talents to soar. Unfortunately, the script of A Late Quartet does not do this. 

On the eve of the 25th anniversary of a world-renowned string quartet, its cellist (Walken) begins showing signs of Parkinson’s Disease. Wanting to do what’s best for the ensemble, he announces his retirement so that the group can find a replacement. We have the makings of a better-than-average (although somewhat formulaic) drama here. You’ve got classical musicians, you’ve got egos, you’ve got an obstacle to overcome, and you’ve got New York. All is well.

Then the shenanigans ensue. Jealousy, bitterness, lust, betrayal, family issues, musical issues, you name it. Not that these things wouldn’t happen in the real world with real musicians; they would. But after a time, the level of ridiculousness reached in A Late Quartet becomes just too much to ask an audience to accept. 

Well-produced drama is great. I can even handle melodrama when it’s done right. What I can’t handle is waste and wasted opportunities. A Late Quartet sets up an interesting premise with outstanding actors and works reasonably well for about 3/4 of a hour before taking the easy way out, descending into the realm of soap opera. These actors do their best with the material, but you’re asking them to provide depth to what are largely surface characters. The least recognizable name here, Mark Ivanir, provides what is probably the best written character of the bunch. There’s little more disheartening at the movies than seeing great actors trying to overcome weak material. Unfortunately, that’s the case here.


Sunday, June 09, 2013

A Man Escaped (1956) Robert Bresson

A Man Escaped (1956) Robert Bresson [1:39]
Criterion Collection Blu-ray and DVD
Spine #650

Anyone approaching Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped with any thoughts of films like The Shawshank Redemption, The Great Escape, Cool Hand Luke, The Defiant Ones, or just about any other famous prison film will be sorely disappointed. It’s not really our fault. We’ve been fed so many prison escape flicks over the past century or so that we’ve come to expect big stars, excitement, sensationalism and seconds-from-being-caught heroics. 

By contrast, A Man Escaped contains no-name actors. (They really weren’t even actors, just people Bresson thought were genuine for their roles.) The majority of the film takes place in one jail cell. Most of the dialogue consists of voice-overs. And almost all of the violence takes place off-screen. 

What kind of a prison-break flick is that?

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

May Movies

My apologies for Arts of Darkness being pretty much silent for the past few weeks. My school work is almost finished for this quarter, so look for more frequent posts for the next few weeks. In the meantime, here are the films I saw last month. Not a lot of commentary, but some of these I’d love to re-watch and talk about in greater depth.  

Holy Motors (2012) Leos Carax [1:54]

You may love it or hate it (and I have friends on both sides), but Holy Motors is hard to ignore. Very French, very experimental, very polarizing. I hope to see this one again and delve deeper into it, but for now I’ll just have to tell you that I’m in the “love it” camp. 


The Most Dangerous Game (1932) Irving Pichel, Ernest B. Schoedsack [1:03]

I’ve known of this film for years and was reminded of it while watching David Fincher’s Zodiac not long ago. This 1932 film still holds up quite well - the creepy factor is high, the adventure and suspense good, and the villain superb. I’m hoping Criterion will give this one a blu-ray upgrade in the near future. 


Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) Kerry Conran [1:46] 

An absolute mess. A very pretty absolute mess, but still a mess.


The Lives of Others (2006) Florian Henckel von Donnersmarch [2:17]

Winner of the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2007, The Lives of Others is an exceptional look at surveillance in the early 80s in the former East Germany. Although I thought one of the major plot points developed a bit too easily, that doesn’t stop me from highly recommending the film. 


Waitress (2007) Adrienne Shelly [1:48]

A film I’d never heard of, loaned to me by my friend Juan. Waitress is a quirky, odd little comedy that works most of the time, thanks to good performances by everyone involved. If you watch the film on DVD and enjoy it, make it a point to watch the extras, although be forewarned that parts of them are heartbreaking....


Silver Linings Playbook (2012) David O. Russell [2:02]

Due to all the hype, I really didn’t expect to like this one, but I did. The performances are quite good, but despite that, Jennifer Lawrence did not (IMO) deserve the Best Actress Oscar. (Her performance in Winter’s Bone was more Oscar-worthy.) Silver Linings is all over the place and there’s a lot going on, but somehow it works. Yet from what I’ve heard, those who loved the book hate the movie. I don’t know about the book, but I’d certainly see the movie again.


Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) J.J. Abrams [2:12]


Zero Dark Thirty (2012) Kathryn Bigelow [2:37]

If Jennifer Lawrence didn’t deserve the Best Actress Oscar for 2012, here’s who did: Jessica Chastain. Wow. Of course the hunt for bin Laden is a gripping tale all by itself, but it’s Chastain’s portrayal of Maya, a young CIA operative just learning the ropes after 9/11, that’s simply incredible.  


Saturday, June 01, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) J.J. Abrams

Because there's been so much written about Star Trek Into Darkness and it's still fairly early in the game, I won't give away many spoilers, no major ones, anyway. I think it's fairly safe to say that long-time fans of the original TV show and movies will find much to like and, perhaps, much to dislike. Fans who came on board with the 2009 movie: much the same.

Star Trek Into Darkness is good, but certainly not great. I won't get into the plot here, but I will say that the first 3/4 of the film is just plain good, fun storytelling. It's not necessary to have watched the first film, but it helps. The main trio of characters (Kirk, Spock, McCoy) are developed further and the normal goings-on in the Trek universe are continued as well.

All is good, if not air-tight. Plot holes and inconsistencies abound, but we're watching a movie here, not debating philosophy or performing surgery. We're having a good time.

Until the last 1/4 of the film, where Abrams either thinks he's giving us a legitimate tribute to the old-school Trek or descends into full-blown silliness. I just kept shaking my head, thinking, "Really? You're really doing this?"

Abrams, with the first film, took our historic Trek, rebooted it, and recreated an exciting franchise, keeping just enough of the traditional while expanding outward to something fresh and vibrant. Yet Into Darkness, instead of breaking the bonds of tradition, clutches even more tightly around it's mother's apron strings, refusing to venture out into a life of its own.