****/**** starring Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik screenplay by Bong Joon-ho, Han Jin-won directed by Bong Joon-ho
by Walter Chaw SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) has a plan. He lives with his family at the end of an alley on the bottom-level of a tri-level apartment building--meaning they're halfway underground and the drunks have a tendency to pee right outside their windows. Ki-woo's dad, Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), insists on leaving the windows open anyway. He likes the fresh air. Ki-woo's buddy Min (Park Seo-joon), a University kid as smooth as Ki-woo is rumpled, gives the family a large, decorative river rock mounted on a base. You know, for luck. He also gives Ki-woo a reference for a gig as an English tutor to a rich girl, Da-hye (Jung Ziso), whose neurotic mom, Mrs. Park (Jo Yeo-jeong), is desperate to maintain her own household's equilibrium, such as it is. Most of that involves managing Da-hye and Da-hye's hyperactive little brother, Da-song (Jung Hyun-jun), who, between pretending to be a Native American launching plastic arrows at housekeeper Moon-gwang (Lee Jeong-eun), does the usual things a hyperactive little kid does. His mom thinks he's a genius, but she worries about that thing that happened to him in first grade when they found him catatonic and foaming at the mouth. "When they're that age, you have fifteen minutes," she says. She's never been the same. Ki-woo, meanwhile, is sick of living in poverty--his entire family is out of work in a brutal economy. His plan is that once he's inculcated himself into the Park family household, he's going to get the rest of his family jobs there, too.
by Bill Chambers In the interest of full disclosure, I've yet to see three of the major Academy Award™ contenders, Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird, or Phantom Thread. Fortunately, they've all been discussed on Twitter with the fanatical zeal of that machine that stuffs corn down a duck's gullet to make foie gras, so I felt I could bluff my way through this year's scorecard. I for one look forward to enjoying Michael Stuhlbarg's Call Me By Your Name monologue once I've forgotten how good it's supposed to be.
CLEOPATRA **/**** Image A Sound A Extras A+ starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, Pamela Brown screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Ranald MacDougall and Sidney Buchman directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
LAWRENCE OF ARABIA ****/**** ELE DVD - Image A Sound A Extras B Superbit DVD - Image A Sound A starring Peter O'Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Omar Sharif screenplay by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson directed by David Lean
THE MUMMY **/**** Image A Sound A (DD)/A+ (DTS) Extras A- starring Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, Arnold Vosloo screenplay by Stephen Sommers directed by Stephen Sommers
by Bill Chambers Cleopatra, meet T.E. Lawrence. Now allow me to introduce the two of you to...Rick O'Connell?
THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965) *½/**** Image B Sound B Extras B+ starring Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Richard Haydn, Eleanor Parker screenplay by Ernest Lehman directed by Robert Wise
THE KING AND I (1956) ****/**** Image A Sound A Extras A starring Deborah Kerr, Yul Brynner, Rita Moreno, Martin Benson screenplay by Ernest Lehman, based on Margaret Landon's play "Anna and the King of Siam" directed by Walter Lang
SOUTH PACIFIC (1958) *½/**** Image A+(Theatrical) A (Roadshow) Sound B Extras C+ starring Rossano Brazzi, Mitzi Gaynor, John Kerr, Ray Walston screenplay by Paul Osborn, based on Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener directed by Joshua Logan
CAROUSEL (1956) **/**** Image A Sound A Extras C starring Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones, Cameron Mitchell, Barbara Ruick screenplay by Phoebe and Henry Ephron, based on the Ferenc Molnár's play "Liliom" directed by Henry King
LILIOM (1934) ****/**** Image B Sound B Extras B+ starring Charles Boyer, Madeleine Ozeray, Robert Arnoux, Roland Toutain screenplay by Robert Liebmann, dialogue by Bernard Zimmer, based on the play by Franz (a.k.a. Ferenc) Molnár directed by Fritz Lang
STATE FAIR (1945) ½*/**** Image B- Sound B- Extras A starring Jeanne Crain, Dana Andrews, Dick Haymes, Vivian Blaine screenplay by Oscar Hammerstein II, based on the novel by Philip Strong directed by Walter Lang
STATE FAIR (1962) **/**** Image A Sound A Extras C starring Pat Boone, Bobby Darin, Pamela Tiffin, Alice Faye screenplay by Richard Breen; adaptation by Oscar Hammerstein II, Sonya Levien, Paul Green directed by José Ferrer
OKLAHOMA! (1955) ***/**** Image A(CinemaScope) C (Todd-AO) Sound B+ Extras B- starring Gordon MacRae, Gloria Grahame, Shirley Jones, Gene Nelson screenplay by Sonya Levien and William Ludwig directed by Fred Zinnemann
by Walter Chaw God, The Sound of Music is so freakin' nice. Nazis are the bad guys, no controversy there; raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens--have you no heart, man? But when I like Rodgers & Hammerstein--and I like them quite a lot, truth be wrenched--I like their ambiguity, their irony, their goddamned fatalism in the face of eternal romantic verities. Consider the animal (jungle?) heat of "Shall We Dance," cut off like a faucet by the fascistic abortion of The King and I's secondary love story; or the persistence of love despite abuse and abandonment in Carousel; or the slapdash kangaroo court that justifies love in Oklahoma!. This is all so much more than the slightly shady (and ultimately redeemed) shyster of The Music Man--this is reality in the midst of the un-, sur-, hyper-reality of the musical form. Yet what The Sound of Music offers up is a military man shtupping an ex-nun with no corresponding sense of fetishistic eroticism. How is it that the two most popular adult Halloween costumes engaged in naughty Alpine sexcapades could be totally free of va-va-va-voom? It's so relentlessly wholesome that of course it's the most beloved artifact of its kind in the short history of the movie musical: If you're of a certain age, the plot of the thing is almost family mythology, resurrected every holiday like a dusty corpse at a decades-long Irish wake gone tragically awry. That ain't a grin, baby, it's a rictus.
***/**** Image B+ Sound B+ starring Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed screenplay by Daniel Taradash, based on the novel by James Jones directed by Fred Zinnemann
by Bill Chambers Lovelorn soldiers stationed in Hawaii have their romantic lives torn asunder when the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor: You can add remaking Fred Zinnemann's Oscar-winning From Here to Eternity without due credit to the tally of Pearl Harbor's sins, although a picture as cool and sensitive--the two qualities exactly lacking from Pearl Harbor--as From Here to Eternity would hardly want the acknowledgment. Based on the novel by James Jones, a veteran wounded at Guadalcanal who also wrote the book on which Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line is based, the film finds the director of High Noon following his didactic muse into an allegory that is considerably less paint-by-numbers, even arcane. From Here to Eternity is a sudser, ultimately, albeit one that may be of more significance to those who've served. That's a step up from Pearl Harbor, at least, which will most directly appeal to chimpanzees.
***/**** starring Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Mahershala Ali screenplay by Barry Jenkins directed by Barry Jenkins
by Walter Chaw Barry Jenkins's sophomore feature is lovely. It deals with ideas of masculinity and black culture with sensitivity and a dedicated Romanticism. It's buoyed by a trio of remarkable performers--all playing the same character, Chiron, at three different stages of his life: troubled child, troubled teen, and troubled adult. They share mannerisms. They have the same vulnerable quiver to their lip. I don't know how Jenkins and his team put that together, but there it is and it's among the most affecting things I've seen in a film. It's overwhelming. Visually, Moonlight reminds me a lot of David Gordon Green's similarly lyrical George Washington. It captures a certain reflective poetry in the poverty and privation it depicts. There's a moment in the second section, "ii. Chiron," that finds the teen incarnation (Ashton Sanders), all elbows and gawkiness, alone on a beach with his only friend, Kevin (Jharrel Jerome), looking up at the stars and discovering for a second who it is that he really is. Jenkins demonstrates patience with medium shots. He frames the boys against the water before them and the city behind them like Eliot's hero, in liminal spaces, experiencing catastrophic change.
BEST PICTURE The Big Short = sure Bridge of Spies = um... Brooklyn = yay Mad Max: Fury Road = yay The Martian = always nice to see a musical comedy get nominated The Revenant = sometimes you eat the bear... Room = whatevs Spotlight = yay
***/**** starring Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci screenplay by Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy directed by Tom McCarthy
by Walter Chaw Michael Keaton's a handsome guy. Not movie-star handsome in the traditional sense but, you know, not a dog. Everyday-guy handsome. Like Gene Hackman or Dustin Hoffman or Al Pacino. I think fans responded the way they did when Keaton was cast in Tim Burton's Batman (i.e., violently) because Keaton doesn't look like a superhero. He has an attractively average physique. His chin is soft and that's the bit you see under the mask. But then he puts on the suit and plays the role and you understand that Keaton is who he is for the chaos of his energy. Burton used him as muse before turning to Johnny Depp, I think, because of the mania of his persona. There is no other actor the equal of Beetlejuice. He replaced Pee-Wee Herman in Burton's progression through men-children. He's doomed to eternally be smarter than the characters he plays, and more interesting. He's the boy version of Illeana Douglas. Keaton in motion is a thing of wonder and danger. He's a perfect Batman because Batman's story arc inevitably leads to the place where he's seen as the Superego to Joker's Id--as the opposite side of the same Arkham coin. Keaton is Grant Morrison's Batman. He is the average-looking Warren Beatty. If he were making movies in the '70s, he would be Robert De Niro. There aren't a lot of movie stars I like better than Michael Keaton. He is the embodiment of aspiration and stick-to-it-iveness.
Picture “American Sniper” Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper and Peter Morgan, Producers = yay “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher and James W. Skotchdopole, Producers = barf “Boyhood” Richard Linklater and Cathleen Sutherland, Producers = okay “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales and Jeremy Dawson, Producers = ugh “The Imitation Game” Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman, Producers = whatevs “Selma” Christian Colson, Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, Producers = yay “The Theory of Everything” Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce and Anthony McCarten, Producers = lol “Whiplash” Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook and David Lancaster, Producers = lol
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) */**** starring Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough screenplay Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
by Walter Chaw A benighted, gangly thing midway between a mid-life crisis Black Swan and the Noises Off version of Brazil, Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman is the lonesome yawp of a limited, one-trick-pony given now to defensiveness and self-consciousness. Assailing the tale of a washed-up former mega-star of superhero blockbusters, Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton, check), who's trying to gain a measure of self-respect on Broadway in a Raymond Carver adaptation he wrote, directed, and is starring in, the picture doesn't do anything it doesn't warn us about first and then apologize for after. It covers the three preview performances leading to opening night in one, digitally-unbroken take, making room along the way for Method asshole Michael Shiner (Method asshole Edward Norton)--who steals both the play Birdman is about and the play-within-a-play conceit of the movie by stealing the movie--and tons of narrative melodramatics, including a neurotic leading lady (Naomi Watts), Riggan's burnout daughter (Emma Stone), and his stressed-out lawyer/manager (Zach Galifianakis). The whole story roils with desperation and disappointment, and the film-as-object does the same--the transparency between those two things (cine-reality and sad-truth-of-it reality) cited repeatedly in the screenplay-by-committee in exhausting, self-abnegating fashion. Birdman is an incredible bore. The closest analogue in feel is Todd Solondz's unfortunate riposte to his detractors, Storytelling, but at least that one wasn't all tarted up in attention-grabbing technical pandering. Birdman is about as clever as that Blues Traveler song: the tedious offense of idiots calling you an idiot.
GIGI (1958) **½/**** Image A Sound A- Extras A- starring Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan, Hermione Gingold screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner, based on the novel by Colette directed by Vincente Minnelli
GIGI (1949) **/**** Image C+ Sound C starring Gaby Morlay, Danièle Delorme, Jean Tissier, Yvonne de Bray scteenplay by Pierre Laroche, based on the novel by Colette directed by Jacqueline Audry
by Alex Jackson How weird is it that Vincente Minnelli's Gigi won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1958, when four years later Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Lolita barely got the seal of approval? I suppose we shouldn't underestimate the power of sex to scandalize when it isn't disguised as love. In Gigi, wealthy Parisian playboy Gaston Lachaille (Louis Jourdan) is fixated on 15-year-old Gigi (27-year-old Leslie Caron), the granddaughter of family friend Madame Alvarez (Hermione Gingold). He likes her precisely because she is still a child. Most of the women Gaston goes with are accustomed and entitled to a certain standard of living. By contrast, Gigi can appreciate being spoiled. Gaston also admires her irreverence--how she can cheat at cards and tease him about it, or how she can effortlessly tell him off after he insults her dress. She hasn't learned how to be a lady yet; her rough edges haven't been smoothed out and she's capable of challenging him. There's a life to her that's drained out of most of the other women he meets long before he gets there.
**½/**** starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano screenplay by John Ridley, based on the book by Solomon Northrup directed by Steve McQueen
by Walter Chaw With performances this good, with a
director this astonishing, the only thing that could make it less than
transcendent, I'm afraid, is source material so well-respected, so revered truth
be known, that it limits the places the cast and director might otherwise go. What
I'm saying is that the prospect of Steve McQueen making a slave narrative is
one to savour, celebrate, induce chills in the hearts of every serious scholar
of cinema as experiential philosophy--and the prospect of Steve McQueen adapting
Solomon Northrup's (as related to white lawyer David Wilson) 12 Years a
Slave is one to inspire some level of inevitable disappointment. What I
expected was to be blown away by Michael Fassbender and Chiwetel Ejiofor's
performances--and I was. What I didn't expect was to be disturbed by a few
instances of manipulation of the document that seem driven by something other
than good faith. Why, for instance, would one portray the death of a black
conspirator on a slaver ship bound for Louisiana at the hand of a white crewman
about to rape a sympathetic figure, when the document reveals this conspirator
was taken by smallpox? For the sake of drama? Were the roles reversed, this
kind of narrative manipulation would take on a decidedly different hue.
***/**** DVD - Image A+ Sound A Extras A BD (Ultimate Collector's Edition) - Image A- Sound B+ Extras A BD (70th Anniversary Edition) - Image A Sound A Extras A starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains screenplay by Julius J. Epstein & Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch, based on a play by Murray Burnett, Joan Alison directed by Michael Curtiz
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by Walter Chaw Whenever I watch Casablanca (and there's a lot of pressure that comes with watching Casablanca (the chorus from Freaks
rings in my head: "One of us, one of us, we accept you, one of us")),
I'm stricken by what the film would have been had Orson Welles or John
Huston (or even Billy Wilder--Rick is, of course, the prototypical
Wilder outsider) sat at the helm instead of the madly prolific Michael
Curtiz. Schooled in German Expressionism, Curtiz, by the time of Casablanca,
had lost much of anything like a distinctive visual style, and on this
film, a troubled production from the start, there's a lack of
imagination to the direction that contributes, at least in part, to the
way that Casablanca just sort of sits there for long stretches.
For all of its magnificent performances (Claude Rains, best here or in
Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious; Peter Lorre, a personal favourite; and let's not forget Sydney Greenstreet), Casablanca
is curiously sterile: its politics are topical, but its love story is
passionate by dint of history rather than proximate ardour. Ingrid
Bergman arguably gave off more heat in Victor Fleming's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and inarguably did so in Gregory Ratoff's Intermezzo. Casablanca is legendary, and that forgives a lot of its blemishes.
starring Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, Haya Harareet, Stephen Boyd screenplay
by Karl Tunberg, based on the novel by Lew Wallace directed
by William Wyler
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Editor's Note: Warner has just reissued Ben-Hur on Blu-ray minus the third disc and material bonuses of the box set, although this release does include the commentary and isolated music score. Technical specs remain unchanged.
Jefferson Robbins Charlton Heston's Judah Ben-Hur is a Jew
in a Roman world, but his emotional journey is all Greek. It's 26 AD,
and Judah's bond of friendship, his philia, with
Roman noble Messala (Stephen Boyd), is sorely tested. When this bond
breaks and Judah's entire family suffers under the Roman version of
justice, his romantic love, eros, for his
servant's daughter, Esther (Haya Harareet), is smothered by hate and
vengefulness. What is left him? Only a really bitchin' chariot
race--the paramount action-chase scene in movie history, not matched
for twenty years (see below) and still never bettered--and the hope of agape,
the love and yearning between Man and God. This faithful but frustrated
son of the Torah must learn that path through brushing contact with the
new rabbi in town: a humble carpenter's son, bound for glory on the
Hill of Skulls.