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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Ida

Before she can take her vows to become a nun, Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska) is told by her mother superior to go out into the world and seek out the last remaining member of her family, an aunt named Wanda (Agata Kulesza) to make sure there is nothing holding her back from devoting her life to the church. What follows for Ida is a series of adventures and revelations that make her truly question every aspect of her life, from her roots to her religion. Although the film can be frustrating to watch, especially in the choices made to often frame the background and not the characters in it, Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski (My Summer of Love) has crafted a daring look into family dynamics – race, religion, nature and nurture – that takes the audience on a compelling journey that’s bound to stay with them for a long, long time. Kudos to both actresses for their bold performances.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Eraserhead

David Lynch’s big screen debut stunned audiences when it was released in theaters back in 1977. It wasn’t just that they didn’t understand what the story was about; the experience of sitting through it made them so uncomfortable that they never wanted to think of it again once they left the theatre, which is a shame because this is a film worth thinking about. Thanks to this new edition from Criterion, that’s just what you can do. Not only is the movie itself in pristine condition, but the Blu-ray set is filled with extras, including a hefty tome of critical essays and analysis, to get you started. But what’s the movie about? On the surface, it’s the story of a printer named Henry Spencer (John Nance) who, after spending a night with his girlfriend Mary (Charlotte Stewart), discovers he is about to become a father to a…well, to a something. Visually stunning, with gorgeous cinematography by Herbert Cardwell and Frederick Elmes, the movie hasn’t lost any of its power to confuse, confound and agitate it’s audience, which is part of the beauty of watching it again.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Xingu

Bored with their relatively easy lives, three brothers disguise themselves as peons (Brazilian slang for poor laborers) and join a 1940s government operation to map and explore the uncharted wilderness of the rain forest. What starts as a lark soon turns into a cause as the brothers meet, then become friends with the natives who, if the government has their way, will soon be relocated and indoctrinated into becoming ‘civilized.’ Directed by Cao Hamburger (The Year My Parents Went on Vacation) the film manages to avoid the usual pitfalls of cause movies like this by giving us three lead characters well developed enough to stand on their own. He also gives the natives of the story plenty of their own camera time to be more than figureheads for the brothers to fight for. The film falters a bit when it doesn’t call the brothers out on their not so humane behavior -- one brother is exiled for sleeping with a native girl, and 20 minutes later the brother who kicked him out is doing the same thing with no consequences – but such inconsistencies can be forgiven for a film that has its heart in the right place like this one does.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Borgman

This chilling cinematic nightmare from writer/director Alex van Warmerdam (The Last Days of Emma Blank) tells the story of an odd little vagrant named Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet) who worms his way into the house, and the lives, of a snobby upper crust suburban Dutch family.  Although he is definitely strange, and strangely charismatic, Borgman seems harmless enough until his friends start showing up at the house and things start going incredibly badly for the family. The story of a stranger biting the hand of the family that feeds him has been told many times before, but almost none of those other films are quite as terrifying as this one is primarily because of Bijvoet. His performance is so cold and calculating, so bereft of human emotion, that you feel both attracted and repelled by what he does, and it’s impossible not to watch him do it. The rest of the cast is good, although none are given as much to do as Bijvoet – they are there to support him as he creates one of the finest villains caught on film in years.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Panic Roon

Freshly divorced from her rich bastard of a husband, Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) decides to spend a chunk of her ex’s money buying a fancy West Side mansion for her and her daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) to live in. The fact that their new home comes with its own iron and concrete bunker just off the master bedroom seems more of a conversation piece than anything they’ll ever need until a trio of armed men break in to rob them. The film plods along for the first half, giving director David Fincher (Fight Club) plenty of time to delve into his bag of cinematic trickery to fill the screen with interesting, if a bit self indulgent shots. The heat gets turned up once the crooks start fighting among each other over the best way to get the mom and her daughter out of the panic room, thanks in large part to some fine performance from Forrest Whitaker and Jared Leto, as well as some truly demented work from country singer/actor Dwight Yoakam. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Father Brown: Season One

At times it feels a bit too much like the producers of this series had some sort of British Mystery checklist that they keep going to throughout each episode: Tea party… check ... upper class snobs and lower class ‘good’ people … check … bumbling coppers … check. It’s almost enough to make you stop watching because you’re sure all their heavy handed clues are leading you in one direction. But hang on. This isn’t the series you are expecting, particularly when the lead is played by the delightful Mark Williams, best known now as Arthur Weasley, Ron’s dad from all those Harry Potter movies. It’s a finely tuned performance, all smiles and charm when it comes to setting up the case, but Williams gives the father a bit of a bite when push comes to shove that can be downright exciting. The cases are generally well plotted, leaving plenty of clues along the way to keep you guessing whodunit. Only don’t be too embarrassed when you find out you’re wrong in the end.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Doctor Who: Deep Breath

The fact that they showed this episode of the long running British television series in movie theaters  -- to sell-out crowds dressed in all their Doctor Who finery – will give you some indication on just how wildly anticipated the arrival of the twelfth doctor was by fans. Was it worth all the hype? Definitely. Given the fierce popularity of the two men preceding him – David Tennant and Matt Smith – the new Doctor, played by Scottish actor Peter Capaldi, had some pretty huge shoes to fill. The joy of watching Deep Breath is that he doesn’t really seem concerned at the Doctors who came before him: Capaldi steps out of the Tardis as his own man the first time we see him and takes over the screen from that moment on. The script has plenty of references for him to help make the transition easy for those in denial, particularly the presence of Clara (Jenna Coleman) to add continuity (and a bit of confusion), but it isn’t too long into the episode before Capaldi stands on his own and becomes The Doctor. The story, about mechanized people trying to make themselves more human by taking body parts from living people, is a cracker, too.