Thursday, February 28, 2013

Favorite Film Discoveries: January/February 2013

Inspired by Brian Saur hosting my picks for my favorite first-time watches of 2012 over at his site, I decided to keep closer track of the great films I watched for the first time this year. And given January's general lack of enticing new releases (and my own budgetary reasons for not even exploring some of the potentially intriguing options), I already saw so many great older films that I couldn't let some inevitably slip off the full year later without a mention. That I tried to catch up on some favorite auteurs and discover some new directors to feed my obsessions may account for just how many quality films I saw in the year's first 31 days. And then, I forgot to post it, so now it can account for February, too! Hey, what are you going to do? Anyway, here are the movies I finally got around to at the start of the year:

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Blu-Ray Review: The Terminator

I've been waiting for a good-quality Blu-Ray of The Terminator, my favorite James Cameron film and one of my favorite genre pictures of the '80s, for literally years now, and happily MGM has finally remastered their soft, wan transfer and put out a terrific new disc. Well, image-wise at least; the audio will forever be a thorny issue for this film for reasons outside the control of any home video production, but the lack of extras that have already been put on past DVDs put out by MGM is odd indeed. Nevertheless, I fully recommend this new disc in a review up now at Movie Mezzanine. Check it out here.

Young Mr. Lincoln (John Ford, 1939)

I was exhilarated by John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln when I saw it recently, finding all the things I loved about Steven Spielberg's own Lincoln but without some of my nagging reservations about the film. In fairness, the same issues that gave me pause in Spielberg's film (the optimism making the cynicism a bit too well, the way arduous political scheming is presented as heroic) exist in Ford's, but Ford casts everything in a tone of his trademark ambivalence, finding the divine and all too mortal in his protagonist and those around him and not forcing his interpretation on an audience. In many ways, Henry Fonda's fresh-faced, breakthrough performance contains even stronger hints of Machiavellian maneuvering than Daniel Day-Lewis' war-weathered mastermind, and various contrasts of mise-en-scene and tone subvert every image just as soon as it tries to take root. A masterpiece, and truly one of the finest Ford films I've yet seen.

I wrote a longer review of the film over at Spectrum Culture. Check it out.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Inescapable (Ruba Nadda, 2013)

A Taken ripoff without the action? It could work, I suppose, but the replacement of Pierre Morel's demented but fluid vision of post-9/11 America condensed and exploded back out once more with wan character drama and an obvious sense of moral superiority makes for an oppressively dull film. The film almost seems afraid of itself, shrinking back from its intermittent moments of action of any kind so as not to do anything that might undermine its simplicity of vision. Garishly awful cinematography should give anti-digital types fodder for weeks; the Arri Alexa has, to my awareness, never been used to produce such an awful image, textureless and soullessly lit. The best that can be said for it is that it doesn't attach a dreary political message to these dim proceedings. Or maybe it does: the dialogue in this movie is so stiff and so dispassionately rendered that I couldn't remember any of it even minutes later. Taken may flirt with self-parody, but at least it has a point of view. This tries to be thriller, melodrama, humanist study and social corrective, and it fails at all of them.

My full review is up now at Spectrum Culture.

Shelf Life: A Matter of Life and Death

I love this inverse Wizard of Oz romance from the Archers, and as an introduction to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, it hooked me instantly. And since I will take just about any opportunity to rep my favorite filmmaking team of all time, I wrote just a few words about A Matter of Life and Death for Movie Mezzanine. It's on DVD (that is, of course, the point of this column), and I cannot recommend it enough.

My full piece is up at Movie Mezzanine.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Netflix Instant Picks 2/22/13—2/28/13

Corey and I have our latest Netflix Instant picks for US and Canadian subscribers. I'm on a Johnnie To kick, so you know I gotta recommend one of a handful of his excellent films up on streaming, as well as one of the silent films that hooked me on silent cinema, as well as a graceful Korean film from Lee Chang-dong.

My picks are up now at Movie Mezzanine.

Special Giveaway: Fandango Gift Card (NOW CLOSED)

Recently, I was invited by 20th Century Fox's Fan Network to participate in some social media promotion in advance of A Good Day to Die Hard with #DieHard and #spon hastags. This week, 20th Century Fox sent me a $25 gift card from Fandango to give away to a lucky reader. Here's how to win:

Just Another Day

In the comments section below, tell me your favorite Die Hard sequel, and why. A winner will be selected at random from the commenters, so be sure to leave a Twitter name or email address I can use to contact you if you win.

I will be accepting comments for the giveaway until Monday, Feb. 25, 2013 at 11:59 EST. A winner will be selected shortly thereafter and notified. Good luck!

UPDATE: Congratulations to Tabathia, who was the randomly selected winner! She will be contacted shortly. Thanks everyone else for your comments.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Like Someone in Love (Abbas Kiarostami, 2013)

Abbas Kiarostami continues to work wonders outside Iran, bringing all the masterful techniques he developed and perfected in his homeland while adapting them to new settings. Like Someone in Love almost feels like the antithesis of his usual work, though the irreconcilable differences of false identities, idealized perspectives and a technology that distances by bringing people together are all quintessential elements of his cinema. Here, though, they amount to something disturbing and claustrophobic instead of warm and far-reaching. It feels like Kiarostami's bleakest, from a devastating car ride set to the sad voicemails of a grandmother missing her grandchild to a downright suspenseful conclusion that repeats the final shot framing the window in Certified Copy but now highlights how the portal obscures and blinds instead of revealing in quiet grace. The density of its visual and aural construction makes it worth intense study, but this is one of the few Kiarostami features I've seen I did not want to instantly rewatch upon completion, for I was so unsettled.

My full review is up now at Spectrum Culture.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Bullet to the Head (Walter Hill, 2013)

Walter Hill's Bullet to the Head may be a middling feature, but it offers a thrilling glimpse at how a great talent can elevate even mediocre material. In his hands, an inconsistent script and an empty Sly Stallone vehicle becomes a collision of incompatible codes, a pit of violence with a nastiness that cannot be enjoyed mindlessly. Stallone's severe performance, in keeping with his 'roid-hardened physique, bests the winking referential humor of Arnold's return to star roles in Kim Jee-woon's underwhelming The Last Stand. Likewise, Hill's direction, which adheres to modern action filmmaking tics but finds ways to genuinely communicate their visceral intent, actually confronts the violence rather than playing it for wan satire. A few too many bad one-liners and thinly sketched characters leave the film frustratingly weighed down by some conventions, but if Hill is well past his glory years, Bullet to the Head shows he still has a spark within him most cannot replicate at their best.

My full piece is up at Movie Mezzanine.

The Fire (Brigitte Bertele, 2013)

When it attempts to be a thriller, Brigitte Bertele's The Fire falls flat; what's more, it seems to know this, as these attempts prove fleeting indeed. Far better, and more viscerally effective, is the running outrage less at the protagonist's rape than how society does everything it can to avoid confronting such a crime, even placing all blame upon her. So white-hot does the righteous fury burn that even the increasingly staid European distance cannot mask the emotions that raise the film above its austere severity.

Check out my full review at Movie Mezzanine.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Shelf Life: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

I have a fondness for Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and did a brief review of it  at Movie Mezzanine for my weekly recommendation. Weighed down by some integral flaws, sure, but the film is nevertheless a giddy display of imagination from an artist who knows that the fakeness of CGI cannot ever be fully hidden and thus can offer bold new visual treats by embracing its falsity.For that and its surprisingly touching tribute to the late Heath Ledger, it belongs closer to the top of Gilliam's films than the bottom.

Head over to Movie Mezzanine and check out my piece.

Netflix Instant Picks 2/15/13—2/21/13

It's that of week again where Corey and I post our favorite picks for Netflix Instant. This week, I celebrate finally getting the chance to watch the Comedy Bang Bang show, big up my favorite PTA movie and remind myself to finally watch Me and Orson Welles before it drops off streaming.

Check out our full post at Movie Mezzanine.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Man of the West (Anthony Mann, 1958)

Over at Movie Mezzanine, I wrote some thoughts about Anthony Mann's stirring 1958 masterpiece, Man of the West, starring a perfectly cast Gary Cooper as a man whose attempts to leave behind a life of crime will only bring him back from whence he came. It is a harrowing film, one of the bleakest in a viciously bleak filmography, a vision of violence as a self-perpetuating cycle that consumes all who fall in it and offers escape only in a bloody death. One of the greatest Westerns of all time.

My full piece is up now at Movie Mezzanine.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Something Old, Something New: Déjà Vu / Resident Evil: Retribution

More belated links. At Movie Mezzanine, I compare two great Vulgar Auteurist pieces, Tony Scott's Déjà Vu and Paul W.S. Anderson's Resident Evil: Retribution. Check it out.

Night Across the Street (Raúl Ruiz, 2013)

Raúl Ruiz's final completed feature (another is being finished by his widow) is as cryptic as the few other Ruiz films I've seen, with a host of modernist references to obscure literature and music at every turn. Yet the sense of playfulness and mourning that informs the whole feature needs no familiarity with the director. Taking Beethoven to the cinema, following ghosts as they peer in on each other, Ruiz finds sad but hilarious ways to handle his impending death. And he films it all with immaculate precision, his constantly shifting but always pristine mise-en-scène enriched to deliberately artificial degree by his use of DV. Admittedly a neophyte when it comes to the late Chilean director, I nevertheless have adored what little I've seen of his, and I suspect I might treasure Night Across the Street even more with subsequent viewings and a deeper immersion into such a tantalizing filmography. If nothing else, it's a hell of a swan song.

My full piece is up at Spectrum Culture.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Criminally Underrated: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

I wrote about the weakest (but still delightful) Neveldine/Taylor feature to date, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance for Spectrum Culture's Criminally Underrated series. After vastly overrating The Dark Knight Rises last year and even cooling on my more muted enjoyment of The Avengers, Ghost Rider 2 feels like the best of last year's crop of comic book films (close second: Dredd), and its ingenuity impresses me where the increasing severity of the tentpole super flicks is becoming more facile and stylistically dull.

My full piece is up now at Spectrum Culture.

Netflix Instant Picks 2/1/13—2/7/13 and 2/8/13—214/13

Since I forgot to link to last week's Netflix picks, I'll just post links for that one and the one that went up this morning.

Netflix picks 2/1/13—2/7/13

Netflix picks 2/8/13—2/14/13

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Oscar-Nominated Shorts

I have capsule reviews for each of the animated and live-action shorts nominated for this year's Oscars at Spectrum Culture. They are mostly a wan bunch, lacking the spark of the best short-form artistry and in some cases feeling like mere fragments where a good short feels as if it contains the world. Even so, a few here and there piqued my curiosity, and some even entertained me.

The post with capsules is up now at Spectrum Culture.

Trash (Paul Morrissey, 1970)

Man, I've got to get better about updating this place with links. My review for Paul Morrissey's excellent, transgressive Trash (my first Blindspot entry of the year) has been up for some time at Movie Mezzanine, but I forgot to link to it here. Suffice to say, it's a brilliant, blistering film that also finds an empathy through its actors that the camera otherwise would not communicate. Highly recommended.

My full piece is up at Movie Mezzanine.