Screening Room: ‘In the Intense Now’

In Joao Moreira Salles’ beautifully wrought documentary, In the Intense Now, an impressionistic flow of amateur footage captures the joy and despair of the revolutionary movements of the 1960s. It’s an incredible trip.

My review is at PopMatters:

The movie’s first half (“Back to the Factory”) starts with the street battles that ripped through Paris in May 1968. As far as Salles tries to explain it, narrating with a sonorous moodiness and marveling wonder, the protests were a sudden flaring crucible in which all the ferment of the Sixties burned white-hot over a few short weeks…

Here is the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Virgin Spring’

My review of the Criterion Blu-ray edition of The Virgin Spring is at PopMatters:

You can easily imagine the characters in Ingmar Bergman’s devastating The Virgin Spring (Jungfrukällan, 1961) calling where they live “God’s country”. Their farm is situated in a kind of pristine wonderland of thick pine forests and gurgling streams. Religion plays a central role in most of their lives as well, with the mother, Mareta (Birgitta Valberg), seeming to spend her every waking moment in contemplation of God, and her husband, Tore (Max von Sydow), only slightly less fervent in his faith. They are certain of their place in the world, and God’s gifts to them…

Here’s a clip:

Screening Room: ‘A Matter of Life and Death’

There’s a new Criterion Blu-ray edition out with a gorgeous presentation of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1946 wartime afterlife romance A Matter of Life and Death. And yes, it’s pretty much required viewing.

My review is at PopMatters:

After making a run of cheery but subversive movies during World War II, always under the watchful eye of Winston Churchill — who refused to shut down the film industry as it was during the Great War — the Ministry of War came to [Powell and Pressburger] with a request: Could they make a movie that would make the British and Americans love each other? A seemingly odd request, given that the nations were at the time fighting tooth and nail to dislodge the Nazis from Western Europe…

Here’s a trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Baby Driver’

So here’s the pitch for the unlikely summer blockbuster Baby Driver: There’s this getaway driver who’s creepy good at his job. Only he has this thing where he listens to music all the time and doesn’t really talk to people. This annoys the bank robbers he works with. Sound good? Well, the soundtrack is, at least.

Baby Driver is out now on DVD. My review is at PopMatters:

In the desultory extras accompanying the DVD of Baby Driver, there isn’t much to explain the movie’s genesis besides the obvious. Writer/director Edgar Wright was obsessed with Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms” and thought it would be a great song for a car chase. So, like the eager fanboy that Wright is, he doesn’t wait any longer than the opening scene to drop that sequence…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Ghost in the Shell’

The Scarlett Johansson live-action remake of the classic 1995 anime Ghost in the Shell hit DVD and Blu-ray this week. My review is at PopMatters:

For a movie ostensibly about uniqueness and what makes us human, Ghost in the Shell doesn’t make a strong argument for either. This is a story in which the technology fascinates and the people bore. Sense memories of other movies proliferate until you forget quite what it was you were watching in the first place. That’s the sort of thing bound to happen when the star (Scarlett Johansson) is playing a role she can sleepwalk through and the story was only groundbreaking when first filmed over 20 years ago…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’

manwhofelltoearth-dvdIn 1976, David Bowie was a rock star, but pretty much still just that. Then Nicolas Roeg cast the singer/songwriter with the alien alter ego(s) as an alien wandering around Earth and having an existential crisis. The film was remembered less for itself

My review of The Man Who Fell to Earth, now out in a deluxe new Blu-ray/DVD release with fab new digital transfer, is at PopMatters:

The Man Who Fell to Earth is one of those curious sci-fi projects that are occasionally indulged in by filmmakers who didn’t have any particular interest in the genre per se, but found it a useful springboard for their ideas. David Bowie plays an alien who’s come to Earth looking for a water supply for his drought-ravaged planet. Calling himself Thomas Jerome Newton and looking like some kind of spectral hipster in his sunglasses and anorak, he’s first spotted wandering through a small New Mexico town, pawning a ring and drinking stagnant water as though it were the nectar of the gods…

Here’s the trailer.

Screening Room: ‘His Girl Friday’

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Criterion’s two-disc edition of Howard Hawks’s His Girl Friday hit stores last week and it’s a real pip. Packaged with all the usual supplemental features and interviews, you’ve also got the full edition of Lewis Milestone’s first film adaptation of the play The Front Page from 1931. But all you really need is the film itself, a sparkling new 4K restoration that makes every gag from this whirlwind-speed screwball comedy ring clear.

his-girl-friday-dvdMy review of His Girl Friday is at PopMatters:

Unlike his lionized peers Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford, Hawks didn’t stick to one genre. He made some crime and war dramas like Scarface and The Road to Glory, but was better known for romances and screwball comedies like Bringing Up Baby and Twentieth Century. His defining characteristic, though, served him in good stead for his newest project: speed…

Check out the trailer here.

Screening Room: ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’

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A young boy with one eye and a magical way with his guitar. A monkey sage with a wicked sneer. A giant beetle samurai. Moon gods and legend and beautiful vistas. You can find all that and more in the magical Kubo and the Two Strings, one of the year’s great films, available this week on DVD.

My review is at Eyes Wide Open:

Coming of age stories are a dime a dozen in the animated movie business. Or at least, they used to be. In 2016, it’s all about animals. From Finding Dory to The Secret Life of Pets, The Angry Birds Movie, Storks, Zootopia and the forthcoming Sing, anthropomorphized animals riddled with highly adult worries and neuroses (particularly about their jobs; a lot of these critters work) rule the screen. Travis Knight’s mythological quest, the stop-motion animation Kubo and the Two Strings, though, ignores this trend entirely and blazes its own fabulist trail…

Screening Room: ‘A Touch of Zen’

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In 1971, former martial-arts director King Hu embarked on an epic reimagination of what the genre would look like. The three-hour A Touch of Zen was magical, weird, and breathtaking, often in the same scene. It was mostly ignored in its butchered release, except for some brief acclaim after finally getting a proper showing at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival.

touchofzen-dvdSince then, the film—which deeply influenced Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon—has been mostly confined to obscurity. Thankfully, Janus Films gave it a proper release earlier this year, and now there’s also a beautiful new Criterion DVD edition.

My review is at PopMatters:

The film’s second third comes as a relief after the deliberate mannerisms and fussy perfectionism of the first third. Here, A Touch of Zen pivots from quiet pastoral with supernatural elements to more John Sturges Western. As villainous forces marshal against Yang and the two fugitive generals who came to her aid, Ku uses his study of classic works of strategy to plan their defense. The set-piece battle in which the small army of guards are lured into the supposedly haunted fort for a spectacular night-time ambush is a marvel of geometric precision and subterfuge…

Here’s the trailer:

Rewind: ‘Winter Soldier’

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In early 1971, a group of Vietnam veterans (future senator and Secretary of State John Kerry among them) gave several days of public testimony about the atrocities they had witnessed or, in some cases, participated in during the war. The results were filmed by a collective that included future Oscar winner Barbara Kopple and released as the stunning, grueling documentary Winter Soldier.

My essay on Winter Soldier is at Eyes Wide Open:

… the film is essentially a parade of grainy, black-and-white footage of morose, shaggy-headed vets talking in confession-booth tones about laying waste to villages and butchering civilians; this is not a fun night out at the movies (but, then, neither is Shoah). In general, we as a country have preferred to have our Vietnam horror stories served up to us as part of thrilling wartime adventure tales, like Apocalypse Now and Platoon, or used as nihilistic punch lines in the morbidly inhumane Full Metal Jacket. And yet it remains well-nigh unconscionable that Winter Soldier, a burningly crucial missive delivered straight from the frontline, never become one of the standard texts on the Vietnam War and didn’t receive its first proper theatrical release until 2005.

Here’s the trailer:

Rewind: Bill Murray’s Moonage Daydream in ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’

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As the first in an occasional set of posts that look to some great (or even not so great) films from years or even decades ago that are worth going back to revisit, let’s start off with a real gem: Wes Anderson’s Bowie dream of a Bill Murray acid trip, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

“Bill Murray’s Moonage Daydream in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” is at Medium:

Murray ambles through his performance as oceanographer Steve Zissou, whose longtime partner was just eaten by a rare species of shark (“which may or may not exist”) and is determined to set off on an expedition to find the shark and kill it. When asked what scientific purpose this would satisfy, Zissou gives an almost imperceptible shrug and says, “revenge”…

Here’s Seu Jorge in the film, covering Bowie’s “Life on Mars”:

Screening Room: Human and Machine in ‘Ex Machina’

exmachina-mv-5Theaters were full of science fiction this year. However, it was mostly of the post-apocalyptic YA (Hunger Games) or space opera (Star Wars) variety. Alex Garland’s Ex Machina was something different. It’s available on DVD now.

“The Year’s Best Science Fiction Movie Wasn’t Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was published at Short Ends & Leader:

In the final reckoning, people are never that creative. That’s true even when they think they’re changing history. The explorer who goes to the ends of the earth is usually after fame, money, or both. The investor will ignore every warning sign about a too-good-to-be-true opportunity until it’s too late and he’s lost everything. The genius inventor announcing that he’s creating an epochal advancement in technology will turn out to have some fairly mundane reasons for doing so.

That last scenario is what Alex Garland digs into for his directorial debut Ex Machina. It’s a chilly investigation of the ethical consequences of artificial intelligence wrapped up in the skin of a sleek and increasingly horrific thriller…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’

holygrail1Back in 1975, Monty Python was just starting to get a name for themselves outside of the UK. That was the year their first proper film landed in theaters, and comedy just wasn’t the same after that. Killer rabbits and all.

My review of the 40th anniversary DVD / Blu-ray release of Monty Python and the Holy Grail is at PopMatters:

Shot by a ramshackle Dadaist comedy troupe over a chaotic and fairly drunken month in Scotland in 1974, right around the time that their Flying Circus TV show was coming to an end, and funded primarily by having some rock star friends of the troupe (Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin) throw in a few thousand pounds each, the film should have been one of those debacles where everybody wishes they had just packed it up and retired instead. Among the extras on the anniversary edition—including outtakes and some newly unearthed animations by Terry Gilliam—is an on-the-set BBC piece where Gilliam seems more chuckle-headed college joker than co-director, John Cleese barely able to contain his irritation with being directed and all the last-minute rewrites, and set mechanics so primitive they could be out-done by an early Doctor Who episode…

Here’s the original trailer:

Department of Awards: ‘Whiplash’ Gets Bloody

Miles Teller drums and J.K. Simmons berates in 'Whiplash' (Sony Pictures Classics"
Miles Teller drums and J.K. Simmons berates in ‘Whiplash’ (Sony Pictures Classics)

A brutal and (literally) bloody musician’s tale that’s about many, many other things besides music (surprise), Whiplash was the little awards film that could. While never quite making a splash along the lines of a Boyhood or The Imitation Game, it plugged along for months on little more than sheer word of mouth. Just like movies used to do.

Whiplash, which was ultimately nominated for five Oscars, will be available next week on DVD and Blu-ray. My review is at Film Racket:

In Damien Chazelle’s steam-heated pressure cooker, socially maladroit student Andrew (Miles Teller) is determined to be a brilliant jazz drummer. Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), the demon-teacher at a New York music conservatory who Andrew thinks guards the entrance to greatness, sees potential in this student but won’t let him past without a serious flaying. From the second Andrew steps into Fletcher’s studio band, the insults and cutting remarks fly from Fletcher’s lips. The only question seems to be how long Andrew can tough it out. But since he and Fletcher have a surprising amount in common, the story then becomes more about who will outlast the other…

You can see the trailer here: