Movie night: A Most Violent Year

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 8.15.43 AMWe went out to see A Most Violent Year last night, directed by J.C. Chandor with Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain. I think this one was just released around here, but it apparently is a 2014 film. The fact that this excellent film failed to score any Oscar nods says more about awards institutions that about this movie.

The film is set in 1981, a violent year in NYC. It’s about a couple who are in the fuel oil business, attempting to buy a significant property which will help their business grow. The backdrop is that the business is corrupt and there are various levels of corruption among the competitors. Somebody is highjacking our protagonists’ oil trucks and there is significant pressure on them to arm the drivers. Meanwhile the District Attorney is set to indict on 14 charges. They are guilty, but feel they are following standard industry practices. The female lead is the daughter of a crime boss, but the male lead wants wants to avoid being a gangster.

This film is about a tainted American dream. The character of Abel prides himself on his ideals but operates in a world in which ideals are almost always compromised. In fact he is willing to compromise his own ideals as well – faced with limited options.

I loved the drab colours and the ordinariness of the industrial scenes. Action sequences are filmed without music and with a generous dose of real-life awkwardness. I also loved the tension between the Abel and Anna characters – a compelling sexual tension complicated by Abel’s idealism and Anna’s pragmatism.

Excellent film. Go see this one!

Kill Me Again

Yesterday we watched the 1989 Jon Dahl film, Kill Me Again. We’ve both seen it before. I may have actually seen it twice but it has been quite a number of years. I wanted to see how well it holds up 25 years after its release.

This movie is very much like an old time “noir” film. Watching it now, it seems almost as if Mr. Dahl was learning his chops by working through the noir genre. This film was touted as “neo-noir” when it was released, but in the fullness of time, I think we can dispense with the neo.

For those who haven’t seen it, Kill Me Again features Val Kilmer as a loser small-time Reno detective. He get hired by (you guessed it) a femme fatale, who has ripped off stolen mob money from her boy friend. She wants Jack, the Kilmer character, to fake her death. Naturally, bad things happen and both the boyfriend and the mob get involved.

For me the film holds up as a well-crafted if highly derivative B-movie. Other noir-type films by this director include The Last Seduction (with a great performance by Linda Fiorentino) and Red Rock West (punctuated by Dennis Hopper’s appearance). I wonder how well they would hold up to another viewing today?

Five Easy Pieces

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 6.48.06 AMSo, it’s 2015. Last night we followed our usual New Years strategy – take-out bad food (we went with fish n chips) and a movie at home. We like it that way. We watched Five Easy Pieces. Amazingly, unbelievably, I had never seen this film.

I loved the rawness and the awkwardness of the film, and Jack Nicholson’s performance was fantastic. His character was at once so unlikable yet so compelling. Haven’t we all felt at some time or another that we don’t belong, that we can’t live up to expectations, that we’d much rather avoid responsibilities and live totally in the moment?

What a collection of peculiar characters, simplified and amplified. And yes I loved the famous diner scene in which Bobby attempts to order what he wants against all odds.

On a roll, today we’re going to watch The King of Marvin Gardens.

Gone Girl – a good B movie with high budget actors

As we were watching Gone Girl tonight, I was thinking it was a quality B movie – the scheming Amy reminded me some of the Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction. The film  almost lost me until we started to get more information about what was going on. At that point I started to appreciate it. The last half-hour was a let down for me, though.  It simply wasn’t convincing enough. I confess I laughed out loud when Amy drove home soaked in blood.

One thing in this movie drove me crazy – and that was the actress who played the Detective – Kim Dickens. She seemed so familiar to me but I just couldn’t figure out what else I had seen her in. Of course as soon as we got home Google kindly reminded me she played Joanie Stubbs in Deadwood and also the Chef in Treme.

The thing about a really great B movie is the script delivers all the way through, and I think that’s what held back this film. Still, it was entertaining and it had some very good bits.

The Drop

We watched a matinee screening of The Drop this afternoon, a crime drama starring Tom Hardy, the late James Gandolfini and Noomi Rapace. The film is about a Brooklyn bartender, underworld nasties, a waitress with a super-cute puppy in her trash can, and a guy named Cousin Marv with a desperate plan to score.

Unusual film, well written and acted, capturing plenty of neighbourhood atmosphere. I enjoyed the understated chemistry between Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace. As well, James Gandolfini did a great job in what must have been his last role, as Cousin Marv.

Recommended

Get on Up

We saw Get on Up this afternoon – the James Brown movie. This film is a blast to watch, on the strength of a wonderful performance by Chadwick Boseman as JB. In seconds you forget it’s an actor playing Brown.

The story, which seems to be somewhat santitized, takes a back seat to the music. That’s OK with me. I don’t need a studied analysis of James Brown’s life. I need the groove, and Get on Up does offers up plenty of groove.

 

 

The Intouchables

Last night we watched a 2011 film called The Intouchables on DVD (French with English subtitles). This is a 2011 film directed by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano. Now, I don’t know French directors – I hardly know North American directors for that matter (and don’t even ask me about actors)- but I mention them because they did a wonderful job on this movie.

The film is about the relationship between an unlikely caregiver, Driss and a rich quadriplegic, Philippe. Driss has a unique qualification – he doesn’t pity Philippe.  The film is charming and funny and irreverent and thoroughly enjoyable. It could have been a much darker film but instead it’s a movie about human possibility in the face of mountains of adversity.

I suppose The Intouchables is really simply a “buddy” movie, but it’s a really well crafted buddy movie and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Pressure Cooker

We watched a delightful documentary tonight called Pressure Cooker. It’s a film by Mark Becker and Jennifer Grausman, and it follows a Philadelphia high school Culinary Arts class as they get ready for a competition for major college scholarships. The kids come from a variety of circumstances and have some difficult family stories. The teacher is a remarkable woman named Wilma Stephenson. She is tough but tremendously generous of spirit toward her students. Watching the film, you get a chance to get to know the kids – before long I was cheering them on. This film is 27th Street recommended.

Muscle Shoals

We watched the 2013 documentary Muscle Shoals last night on DVD. The film features FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Muscle Shoals Alabama and has appearances from (among others) Gregg Allman, Bono, Clarence Carter, Jimmy Cliff, Aretha Franklin, Rick Hall, Mick Jagger,  Alicia Keys, Spooner Oldham, Keith Richards, Percy Sledge, and Steve Winwood, with lots of commentary by the members of The Swampers, the back-up band on so many hits, who started with FAME Studios and later left to form Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.

There is some great historical footage, as well recent commentary by many of the performers who recorded there. An amazing amount of excellent music was recorded in this town over the years and it was fascinating to learn about how FAME was started, the affiliation with Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records and all the performers who traveled to this community in Alabama to get a taste of the funky and soulful Muscle Shoals sound.

If you’re a music lover, I think you’ll like this documentary a lot.

Ain’t in it for my Health

We watched Ain’t in it for my Health tonight, the documentary about Levon Helm, directed by Jacob Hatley. It’s a lovely, intimate look at Levon Helm in the midst of his late career resurgence, spawned by two great recordings, Dirt Farmer and Electric Dirt. His voice came back years after radiation therapy for cancer left him whispering, but the film shows it is a voice that is very precarious (it can’t have helped that he appeared to be smoking weed all the time). Levon was a survivor – of drugs, cancer and bankruptcy, making some of the best music of his career in his last years.

Excellent film – recommended!