Friday, September 18, 2015

Review | "Breathe"

Mélanie Laurent is perhaps best known to American audiences as Shoshonna, the Jewish girl who burns the Nazi high command alive in her theater from Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds. But after Breathe, her sophomore effort behind the camera, she has established herself as quite an accomplished director as well.

Based on the novel by Anne-Sophie Brasme, Breathe has the sheen of your typical coming of age high school film. You have your quiet high school senior named Charlie (Joséphine Japy), who becomes infatuated with the free spirited new girl in school, Sarah (Lou de Laâge). Over the course of a weekend at the lake, Charlie and Sarah become fast friends, completely inseparable, to the point that you never see one without the other.

After their return to reality, however, things begin to change for Charlie and Sarah, and they slowly begin to grow apart. Sarah's troubled home life threatens to catch up with her, and Charlie's intense obsession with her begins to push her away.

On the other hand, Sarah begins spending more time with another friend, leaving Charlie behind. Yet Charlie still feels an intense attraction to Sarah, even though it becomes increasingly apparent those affections are not returned. Charlie soon finds herself an outcast at school, a constant target of Sarah's mean-spirited bullying. It comes down to Charlie to decide how deep her love for her former friend runs, and just how much abuse her selfless devotion can take.

Breathe is not your typical coming of age melodrama. There's something unusually incisive at work here. It is neither a love story nor a tale of platonic friendship, instead it exists somewhere in that confusing gray area in which teenage friendships often exist. It begins passionately, the kind of immediate attraction that bonds them together with a shared intensity, and then flames out just as quickly. Such is the nature of high school relationships, but Charlie just isn't ready to let go, and Sarah means so much more to her than she means to Sarah. Sarah is the alpha female, the cool girl, who isn't afraid to cast Charlie aside when it becomes convenient to her social advancement. Laurent displays a keen understanding of teenage friendships - of the intense emotions and the painful inevitability of growing apart. She directs in languid long takes, to the point that the camera feels as if it is a part of the action. It feels as if it were captured live rather than directed, a testament to Laurent's considerable skills. Even when the actions of the protagonists don't quite make sense, we are reminded that the actions of teenagers don't always make sense. They're volatile, finnicky, and emotionally unstable. Breathe delves deep into that, and doesn't pull punches. Its emotional timbre rings of truth at every turn.

This is a painfully honest examination of young love and the sometimes predatory nature of friendship, that tests how far even the deepest devotion can be tested. Like The Tree of Life's "way of grace" and "way of nature" pitted against each other, it is an assured coming of age tale that takes us down dark and unexpected paths, into testing the very fabric of human relationships.

GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)

BREATHE | Directed by Mélanie Laurent | Stars Joséphine Japy, Lou de Laâge | In French w/English subtitles | Now playing in NYC, opens today in Los Angeles.

On "Black Mass"

From The Dispatch:
Through it all, Depp retains his icy calm, the seething rage always lurking just below the surface. It’s a terrifying performance for the ages, one that reminds us once and for all why Depp is one of our finest actors. He manages to be charming and horrifying all at once, both magnetic and repulsive, while the film skirts the usual cliches of its genre with a nimble and sure hand. 
Click here to read my full review.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

From the Repertory - 8/27/15

It's been a while since I've dug into the latest classic Blu-ray and DVD releases, and there have been quite a few goodies to catch up, so let's dig right in.

BEYOND ZERO: 1914-1918 (Bill Morrison, 2014, Icarus)

Bill Morrison turns history into the stuff of dreams. Or maybe, in this case, nightmares. Using original, decaying nitrate footage from WWI, Morrison stitches together a portrait of human folly with an eerie score by Aleksandra Vrebalov, performed by the Kronos Quartet. The footage may be distorted, but it's imperfections give it a haunting, dream-like quality, as if we are watching the very decay of the human race. Beyond Zero presents never before seen images from World War I, and while the very idea of watching images from the front lines is enough to raise the hair on the back of your neck, as if we are watching history unfold before our very eyes, Morrison lends it a kind of terrifying beauty. It's a mesmerizing, chilling portrait of a nearly forgotten war, through images degenerated almost beyond repair, that despite their degradation are just as immediate and just as powerful as ever.

HIROSHIMA, MON AMOUR (Alain Resnais, 1959, Criterion Collection)

There is a special and unique beauty about Alain Resnais' Hiroshima, Mon Amour, a landmark of the French New Wave and the film that put the legendary director on the map. Set in post-war Japan, the film is a love story between a French woman and a Japanese man with very different perspectives on the war. Resnais splinters the narrative with an almost Rashomon, disregard for time and truth, capturing the essence of a foreign love affair with a delicacy that recalls David Lean's Brief Encounter. But unlike that film, Resnais experiments with the form (some refer to the film as the first modern sound film), incorporating the theories of Sergei Eisenstein into something that feels thrillingly contemporary even today. Resnais uses the setting of Hiroshima, now a commercialized tourist destination a mere 14 years after it was destroyed by a nuclear bomb, as a hub for the disorienting collision of tradition and modernity, love and war, peace and chaos, to deliver a jarring yet strangely familiar narrative of deep, passionate longing.

JAUJA (Lisandro Alonso, 2015, Cinema Guild)

Lisandro Alonso's enigmatic Jauja plays like an Argentinian art house re-imaging of John Ford's The Searchers, starring Viggo Mortensen as a Danish military man traveling in a foreign desert with his daughter, searching for the mythical paradise of Jauja, a land many have tried to find, but all have been lost. When his daughter runs away with a young soldier, he sets off to find her, only to become lost himself in a world that seems to exist completely outside of time and civilization. A haunting existential work, often obfuscating, always fascinating, Jauja is a dazzling experiment that never fully reveals itself, always hiding its meanings and ideas behind long takes and metaphors, but the result is undeniably mesmerizing, and Mortensen is tremendous in the lead role.

The new Cinema Guild Blu-Ray also includes to equally fascinating short films by Alonso (who also directed the unmissable Liverpool), as well as a top notch essay by Quintin.

MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA (Dziga Vertov, 1929, Flicker Alley)

"This experimental work aims at creating a truly international absolute language of cinema based on its complete separation from the language of theatre and literature."

So begins Dziga Vertov's pioneering work of documentary cinema, Man with a Movie Camera, which chronicles Vertov's journey across the Soviet Union armed with his trusty movie camera. A wildly kinetic, experimental work that captures the pulsing rhythms of the city and championing the ideas of the Soviet Montage movement pioneered by Sergei Eisenstein, Man with a Movie Camera remains one of the most astonishing works of art in cinematic history. It's a shame that the score it is most often presented with, composed and performed by the Alloy Orchestra (based on notes by Vertov), often feels too modern and grating, which distracts from Vertov's stunning imagery. Still, it's hard to deny Vertov's genius, and even with the grating score it still shines through, capturing the humming city and progress of technology in often glorious fashion.

Flicker Alley's typically excellent Blu-Ray presentation actually improves on their stellar Landmarks of Early Soviet Film box set, as it also presents gloriously restored prints of other Vertov films such as Kino-Eye, Enthusiasm: Symphony of the Donbass, and Three Songs About Lenin. Essential stuff.


I'm a sucker for old B-movies like this, and while The Monster that Challenged the World is very much of the "1950s nuclear scare" vein of sci-fi monster films that were so prevalent during the decade (ie Godzilla, Them!, and Attack of the Fifty-Foot Woman), it's also better than many of its brethren. It's a pretty standard premise - nuclear testing awakens prehistoric snails (!) from and underground cave who proceed to wreak havoc near a military base at the Salton Sea. So while the monstrous mollusks don't exactly "challenge the world," they leave a nice little slimy trail of destruction in their wake. Director Arnold Laven manages to create quite a bit of tension, largely due to the fact that we rarely see the creatures (which actually look pretty good for the time, but are still pretty goofy). It's not Godzilla level, but it's still an entertaining slice of 50s sci-fi cheese that understood the maxim that less is definitely more.

MY DINNER WITH ANDRE (Louis Malle, 1981, Criterion Collection)

Louis Malle's classic (infamous?) chronicle of a dinner between two colleagues is almost anti-cinematic. Two playwrights sitting at a table discussing theatre, philosophy, religion, and politics for two hours doesn't necessarily sound like riveting cinema. And while it is visually rather flat (a fact that even the new Criterion Blu-Ray can't really help), Malle nevertheless turns a dinner conversation into riveting cinema. Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory keep the conversation lively and engaging, and somewhere amid the seemingly humdrum motions of sharing a meal, Malle discovers something deeply profound in the stripped down simplicity, as two men search for authenticity in a world filled with dishonesty.

PLACES IN THE HEART (Robert Benson, 1984, Twilight Time)

It's pretty remarkable that Robert Benson's semi-autobiographical film about growing up poor in the rural south turned out to be so spare and unsentimental. It's an unblinking yet tender look at race relations during the Depression that packs a pretty powerful punch, mostly due to the strong central performance by Sally Field (for which she won her second Oscar - "you like me! You really like me!"), and Benson's subtle directorial restraint. Leaves lots of ends untied, but then, that is life. The film refuses to tack on unearned resolution, instead leaving us with the sense that the struggle will continue. It's a beautiful, deliberately paced work that still resonates today. Limited edition of 3,000 units.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

On "Sinister II"

From The Dispatch:
Ultimately, director Ciaran Foy shows too much, and focuses too much on the ghostly children and the demonic Bughuul, who were used so sparingly and so effectively the first go round. A few chilling images and a terrific score by tomandandy can't make up for lackluster performances (mainly from a completely miscast lead), over-reliance on jump scares and an overall sense of ennui.
Click here to read my full review.

Monday, August 17, 2015

On "Fantastic Four"

From The Dispatch:
"Fantastic Four" is dour and joyless, the victim of a trend toward "realism" in comic book movies when they should be focusing on giving the audience a good time. There's nothing fun or fresh about this film. It's lackluster and lazy, taking narrative shortcuts that leave it feeling strangely incomplete.
Click here to read my full review.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

On "Southpaw"

From The Dispatch:
While the trajectory the film takes may be familiar, Gyllenhaal and Horner certainly took the road less travelled. Fuqua has inspired great work from his collaborators before (Denzel Washington won an Oscar for his performance in the director’s “Training Day” in 2001), and “Southpaw” is no different. It may be less than the sum of its parts, but taken on their own, those parts often hit all the right notes.
Click here to read my full review.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

On "Minions"

From The Dispatch:
The problem isn't with the Minions, though, it's with the story. There's just not that much going on here. Everything about it is a weak excuse to give the Minions something outlandish to do, but there isn't a particularly strong thread running through any of it. This is why, perhaps, the Minions are better off working as supporting characters. Their constant pratfalls and gibberish chatter can only carry them so far in a traditional narrative structure, and "Minions" the film doesn't quite seem to know what to do with them.
Click here to read my full review.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

On "Terminator Genisys"

From The Dispatch:
It’s as if studios have finally figured out a way to balance pleasing fans and pleasing casual viewers, while not alienating either group. Sure it leans heavily on nostalgia and one’s love for the property, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If done well, which “Terminator Genisys” certainly is, it cane make for an entertaining trip down memory lane that can still deliver new thrills. Arnold is back, and it’s great to see him prove once and for all that he may be old – but he’s definitely not obsolete. 
Click here to read my full review.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

On "I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story"

From The Dispatch:
Big Bird has had a bigger impact on our society than perhaps we realized (witness the uproar over Mitt Romney's controversial comments about defunding PBS during the 2012 election). In "I Am Big Bird," all those childhood memories come flooding back, making us appreciate them in completely new ways. It is a truly magical experience from start to finish, with a heart as big and kind as the bird himself. 
Click here to read my full review.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

On "Aloha"

From The Dispatch:
Crowe clearly has the chops, but he just doesn't seem to be that inspired by the film's Hawaiian setting, turning in a film that feels more like a tourist's emulation of the Aloha State than an authentic evocation of its culture. It's all surface beauty with no real depth. Crowe paints with a broad and often heavy-handed brush, leaving us with a film that seems strangely unsure of itself and what it wants to be. 
Click here to read my full review.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Blu-Ray Review | "Scarecrows"

I'm not sure how old I was when I first saw Scarecrows (1988), but I do know I was too young. It was one of those movies I knew I wasn't supposed to watch, but rented anyway one night while staying at my grandparents' house. It was a decision I regretted for months afterword.

Scarecrows terrified me. I couldn't sleep (even in my parents' bed, where I sought refuge), I often laid awake at night staring at the ceiling, afraid to even look at the door for fear a scarecrow would come bursting through it any minute. For years I considered Scarecrows to be the scariest movie I had ever seen. To this day, there hasn't been a horror movie that has affected me quite like this one.

Watching it as an adult, its power is somewhat dulled, but it is also easy to see how this film had such a profound impact on my young mind. There is something deeply primal about it. Maybe it's the ingenuity brought on by the shoestring budget. Maybe its the abject refusal to play by any traditional rules of filmmaking. Either way, Scarecrows is something special. Not a great film certainly. It's a movie made by teenagers who had never made a movie before. But that amateur quality lends it a unique kind of charm that sets it apart from other B slasher films of the 80s.

The plot, such as it is, centers around a group of bank robbers who commandeer a small plane and kidnap the pilot and his daughter in order to make their escape. When one of their members goes rouge and parachutes from their plane with all their stolen money, they forced to make an emergency landing in a cornfield. They soon discover, however, that this is no ordinary cornfield, as the scarecrows that surround a nearby farmhouse come to life, possessed by the spirits of three dead farmers, and begin to pick them off one by one.

First time director William Wesley conjures up an eerie, almost hallucinatory atmosphere (his use of night vision is especially creepy), as the scarecrows have the ability to mimic people's voices, meaning the audience doesn't always know who is talking and when. It's deliberately disorienting, for the characters and for the audience, and while this isn't always effective as it could be, Scarecrows is nevertheless a mean piece of work. It's short, fast paced, and perhaps most disquieting of all, doesn't go out of its way to explain itself and the origins of its demonic scarecrows, which make them all the more terrifying. Their zombified victims often don't know they're dead, carrying on conversations with their new victims while trying to kill them as if nothing is wrong. The deaths scenes are still pretty graphic, even by today's standards. There's just something particularly disturbing about being gutted, stuffed, and turned into a living scarecrow.

Killer scarecrow movies aren't exactly a very expansive genre, but Scarecrows is easily the strongest of the pack. Shout Factory's new Blu-Ray at long last brings the film back into wide release, which will hopefully shine a spotlight on this often overlooked horror gem. It doesn't always make sense, but that's one big reason why it works so well. In our prequel obsessed culture, modern horror films often spend too much time trying to explain the origins of their antagonists. Scarecrows flatly refuses to engage in such nonsense, driving headlong into an action/horror mashup that focuses on atmosphere over plot. And surprisingly it mostly works. Wesley doesn't belabor the plot details, and instead gives us a film that operates on a purely visceral level. Sure, parts of it feel dated and even goofy now, but it still hasn't lost its wicked edge over the last 30 years. The new Blu-Ray features audio commentaries and making-of docs that illuminate the rather unconventional process that lead to its creation. And while I'm not a huge fan of polishing up horror movies that benefit from their grainy haze, the darkness of the film remains intact and terrifying. Shout Factory has resurrected yet another cult classic, giving a whole new generation the opportunity to discover its  multitude of B-grade riches.

GRADE - ★★★ (out of four)

Scarecrows is available today on Blu-Ray from Shout! Factory.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

From the Repertory: May 2015

For several years now, I have written monthly home video columns for The Dispatch in which I reviewed new Blu-Ray and DVD releases that I may not have otherwise been able to review in print. This will continue, but unfortunately limitations on space have forced me to cut back the amount of discs I am able to review. So I have decided to introduce a new feature here at From the Front Row called From the Repertory. This will allow me to review new releases of classic films, rereleases, and even some current independent and foreign films, while focusing on major Hollywood releases at The Dispatch.

Ideally, this will expand my ability to discuss older films in greater depth, and create my own version of a repertory cinema here at From the Front Row, spotlighting worthwhile releases from specialty outlets like Criterion, Kino, Flicker Alley, and Twilight Time.

Flicker Alley recently unveiled their new manufactured on demand program through their website, with 20 discs available for purchase. It's a great idea, allowing many classic silent works to be available on home video in affordable, cost effective ways. While they may not have the same quality or special features we have come to expect from Flicker Alley's other efforts, this program is a fantastic way to make some forgotten gems available for the first time. One of the highlights of this program is The Best Arbuckle/Keaton Collection, which gathers some of the best of the comedy pair's short films, before Buster Keaton struck out on his own in 1920. Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle was far better at creating individual gags than he was at sustaining their manic energy over the course of an entire film (something his apprentice, Keaton, would later perfect). Instead, his films play like training grounds for talented comedians, bouncing ideas off each other and trying out new gags. The films themselves are a mixed bag, but it's fascinating, especially for fans of Keaton, to watch him grow, along with Arbuckle's skills as a director. ★★★

CRIES AND WHISPERS (The Criterion Collection, 1972)
One of Ingmar Bergman's most deeply introspective films, Cries and Whispers is a hushed and devastating exploration of death, as two sisters hold vigil over the deathbed of their dying third sister. While not quite the psychological rabbit hole that is Persona, Cries and Whispers is nevertheless a film very much preoccupied with the inner life of the sisters, as well as their faithful servant, who, in the end, is more of a family to the dying woman than her own flesh and blood. It is a boldly abstract (with a striking color palate dominated by the color red) and hauntingly emotional emulation of the threshold of death, that is often incredibly beautiful, often obfuscating, but always completely fascinating. The special features on the new Blu-Ray may not offer any greater insight into Bergman's process than other Criterion discs of the director's films already have, but Sven Nyqvist's Oscar-winning cinematography is absolutely stunning in the new 2K digital restoration. ★★★½

In 1967, Jean-Luc Godard infamously declared the "end of cinema" at the close of his most radical masterpiece, Weekend, before descending into a period of underground, Marxist filmmaking from which he never quite emerged. In his latest film, he bids farewell to language, but rather than seek to bury has his younger self did, the 84 year old raconteur seeks to expand, dismantling then rebuilding the cinematic language into something thrillingly new. Goodbye to Language is less a deliberate provocation like his last film, Film Socialisme, and more of a bold, purposeful cinematic experiment. Yet Godard refuses to give us anything familiar to hang on to. Every time it seems like he may give us something resembling traditional or familiar film form, he yanks it out from underneath us, forcing us to reevaluate the very way we watch and engage with movies. He explores philosophies of language and human communication while singlehandedly revolutionizing the medium and how movies are made. With a breathtaking use of multiple planes of space and its vibrant, oversaturated color palate, Goodbye to Language bids adieu to old modes of expression and through the use of modern tools and technologies strips down (literally and figuratively) the art form to its barest essence, before reconstructing it into a wholly unique and groundbreaking work. If this is the future of cinema - I'm in. For those who aren't convinced, the essay by David Bordwell that is included in the 2-disc Kino Blu-Ray (which features both the 2D and the 3D versions of the film) is almost worth the price of the disc alone. Bordwell cannily dissects the film in such a way that a second viewing actually seems even more fresh. ★★★½

MAD MAX (Shout Factory, 1979)
George Miller's nihilistic vision of the future launched the career of young Mel Gibson, and set the tone for the every post-apocalyptic movie that followed. It's interesting to see now just how little Max is actually in this film, as parts of it seem to be a little too easily distracted by its own grim universe. Still, the quiet, grittiness is reminiscent of Sergio Leone, and the stunts remain incredible to this day. Miller's hard edged take on the future took us away from the optimistic view of the future we had so often seen, and took us directly into a bleak, post-Vietnam wasteland, setting up a superior sequel that would build on the foundations that Miller lays here. ★★★

SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS (The Criterion Collection, 1941)
"There's a lot to be said for making people laugh. Did you know that that's all some people have? It isn't much, but it's better than nothing in this cockeyed caravan." A famous Hollywood director, sick of making what he considers frivolous comedies, wants to make the ultimate cinematic examination of poverty (in the form of a film called O Brother, Where Art Thou?), decides to head out amongst the less fortunate disguised as a tramp in order to better depict the plight of the poor. Along the way, however, he discovers that the poor don't want to be reminded of their poverty, they just want to laugh. In Sullivan's Travels, director Preston Sturges gives us perhaps the quintessential defense of comedy the movies have ever seen. Released in December 1941, the film arrived at the end of the Depression and the beginning of WWII, and at no time in our history was there a moment more perfect to escape, if only for a moment, and be able to laugh. Fans of Sturges will want to pick up the disc to check out  Preston Sturges: The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer, a full length American Masters doc that provides an indispensable look at the legendary director. ★★★★

WINTER SLEEP (Kino, 2014)
Nuri Bilge Ceylan's sublimely autumnal Palme d'Or winner follows a former actor whose new life as a hotel manager no longer feels as safe and comfortable as it once did, leading to conflict with his sister and his idealistic young wife. Has a laid back, lived in quality, but also an urgency and vitality that his hard to shake. The screenplay, written by Nuri Bilge and Ebru Ceylan, adapted by a short short by Anton Chekhov, is a remarkable piece of work, exploring the depths of its characters discontent on a personal, political, and spiritual level. Ceylan deftly juggles these themes into his most vital work, a massive 3 hour plus epic that turns a personal journey and crisis of self into a haunting sort of poetry. There are no extras on the new Kino Blu-Ray, which is a shame given that the film was so widely hailed. But the ravishing cinematography really shines, and losing yourself in this beautiful film is now easier than ever. ★★★½

ZARDOZ (1979, Twilight Time)
After directed the Oscar-nominated film, Deliverance, John Boorman turned his attention to this bizarre sci-fi epic about a dystopian future where the wealthy have separated themselves from the poor, and use a giant floating machine head "god" named Zardoz to control the barbaric masses. Sean Connery stars as one of their barbarian enforcers, charged with killing those who still breed, stows away inside the god head, he infiltrates the world of the rich, where they have achieved immortality, only to long for the release of death. Filled with philosophical musings on religion (especially as a tool to control and subjugate) and sexuality, Zardoz is a wholly singular experience that has become something of a cult classic. Boorman is clearly fascinated with the idea of searching for god, finding him, and ultimately destroying him to embrace mortality rather than everlasting life. While not all of the ideas explored in Zardoz ultimately work, it alternates between silly and profound, I think Boorman was onto something here. It's a wildly experimental work that certainly leaves a lasting impression. ★★★

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Review | "The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared"

After the death of his beloved cat, 99 year old Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson) sets a dynamite trap for the fox that killed him. The trap kills the fox, but lands Allan in a nursing home. Never the type to be cooped up, Allan escapes out the window on his 100th birthday, heading anywhere but back to the nursing home. But a bag mixup at the train station leaves Allan in possession of a suitcase full of stolen money, making him the target of an international mob who will stop at nothing to get their money back.

Along the way, Allan makes friends with an elderly train station keeper, a zoology student, a mobster's ex-girlfriend, and an elephant named Sonya who help him on his journey. Pursued by the mob, each mobster more incompetent than the last, the motley crew inadvertently does battle with an international crime syndicate through a series of accidents and misunderstandings, while all Allan wants to do is be free to live his life and blow things up.

Allan (Robert Gustafsson) in THE 100-YEAR-OLD MAN...
Courtesy of Music Box Films.
As they travel, Allan recounts his life story, one that lead him through many of the great events of the 20th century. Whether it was saving the life of General Franco, helping Robert Oppenheimer with the Manhattan project, or becoming a double agent for Russia and the USA during the Cold War, eventually helping bring down the Berlin Wall, Allan always seemed to accidentally move history forward. You'd be forgiven if you thought it sounded a bit like Forrest Gump, because it absolutely is. And while Allan's history doesn't have that much to do with the main plot, it adds to the film's droll sense of humor. Allan rarely seems to understand the gravity of any situation, blithely recounting stories from his past to anyone who will listen, even at the most inopportune times.

It all has the feel of a tall tale spun by an old man exaggerating events from his life. It's whimsical and consistently amusing, managing to get by on good old fashioned charm even in its similarities to Forrest Gump. Gustafsson is a delight in the lead role, playing Allan from young man to old in such a way that I was almost reminded more of Powell and Pressburger's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp than Forrest Gump. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared never overplays its hand, it never feels schmaltzy or forced, and has just enough dark humor to keep from being maudlin. Director Felix Herngren knows better than to take such an inherently absurd tale and turn it into a weepie. He lets the simple charms of the story speak for themselves. The result is an irresistible and endearing adventure that is pure escapism, a rare type of cinema magic that is as transporting as it is captivating. This one is a real diamond in the rough.

GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)

THE 100-YEAR-OLD MAN WHO CLIMBED OUT THE WINDOW AND DISAPPEARED  | Directed by Felix Herngren | Stars Robert Gustafsson, Iwar Wiklander, David Wiberg, Mia Skäringer, Jens Hultén | Rated R for language and some violence | In Swedish & English w/English subtitles | Opens tomorrow, May 8, in NYC, LA, San Diego, and Atlanta. Opens nationwide soon.

On "Avengers: Age of Ultron"

From The Dispatch:
A film that works on a scene-by-scene basis, but doesn't quite add up to a satisfying whole. It lacks focus, favoring spectacle over efficient plotting, assaulting us with CGI set pieces but rarely taking the time to place them in greater context or service to the story. 
Click here to read my full review.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Review | "The Salt of the Earth"

Conventional wisdom dictates that photography is inherently non-cinematic. Static where film is kinetic, photography may be beautiful to look at, but it isn't necessarily as involving as cinema can be because it isn't moving.

Conventional wisdom, it turns out, is sometimes wrong.

Case in point, Wim Wenders' mesmerizing new documentary, The Salt of the Earth. Nominated for Best Documentary Feature at this year's Academy Awards, The Salt of the Earth is the story of renowned Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, a man known the world over for capturing the story of humanity in striking black and white.

Co-directed by Salgado's son, Juliano Ribeiro, The Salt of the Earth is a deeply personal chronicle of one man's lifelong quest to document the story of this earth and the people who make it what it is. From miners to merchants to endangered species, Salgado's warmth and love for his fellow man, and the fellow inhabitants of planet Earth, radiate from each glorious photograph.

Wenders wisely steps back and allows the photographs to speak for themselves. And while a film comprised mostly of photographs may not sound very visually appealing, Wenders has crafted something completely breathtaking and wholly beautiful. Each photograph tells a story, some poignant, some funny, some tragic, each a portrait of a specific moment in time that seems to reverberate through the years. Salgado doesn't need moving images to tell his story, and neither, in turn, does Wenders. Through Salgado's own words and the lyrical eye of his camera, Wenders captures a singular document of our world - with all our joys, tragedies, triumphs, and failures intact. Salgado tackles subjects from the Gulf War (memorably capturing the the burning oil wells of Iraq) to deforestation in South America, telling stories that need to be heard through a series of unforgettable images.

Salgado documents human existence with remarkable sensitivity and profound insight into the mysteries of life, and so too does Wenders. The Salt of the Earth is a tremendous testament from one artist to another, speaking volumes through the art of photography in ways you may not have even realized were possible.

GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four) 

THE SALT OF THE EARTH | Directed by Wim Wenders & Juliano Ribeiro Salgado | Not Rated | Now playing in select cities. Opens today, May 1, at the Manor Twin in Charlotte, NC.