CLOSE (2019) Noomi Rapace, cinema's most durable woman, in a slickly made, smart chase thriller. She's a professional bodyguard trying to work herself and her client free of a cabal of killers intent on killing them both. Some solid cliffhangers and thrilling action set pieces. I don't buy for a single second that 5'4" Noomi could take down men twice her size but that conceit is part of the price of admission when you watch flicks like this. And I got to hand to her, she takes a beating like no other actress. From the near-constant brutality in the "Girl" movies, the self-inflicted C-section in Prometheus, and What Happened To Monday where she plays six characters who get their fair share of abuse.
ADAPTATION (2002) Charlie Kaufman is assigned to write a screenplay adaption of The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. The impossible task of turning this extended essay, that contemplates the value of flowers and human relationships, into a movie drives poor Charlie both mad and meta. A dark and funny plumbing of the creative mind of a writer with Nick Cage playing the real-life Charlie as well as his fictitious twin brother Donald. Cage is uncharacteristically restrained here and the effect is properly awkward and squirm-inducing. The movie goes off the rails as Charlie's life as a writer becomes inextricably immersed in his current work-in-progress. My personal favorite is the perfectly-cast Brian Cox as the real-life screenwriting seminar bully Bob McKee.
ELYSIUM (2013) This movie makes cinema history with the only bad performance I've ever seen from Jodie Foster. After the excellent and edgy DISTRICT 9, writer/director Neil Blomkamp falls into the sophomore feature "an idea I had in film school" trap. Disjointed, contrived and heavily reliant on coincidence, this wannabe "meaningful" sci-fi actioner comes off as an over-earnest cartoon. Basically all the rich folks leave the despoiled and poisoned Earth to live on an impossibly huge space station where they restrict illegal immigration. Get it? DO you? The imponderables that ensue mount up until they create an un-breachable wall between the viewer and the strident entertainment desperately trying to teach us all something. My advice? Watch it choosing the French or Portuguese language option.
DIE BRUCKE/THE BRIDGE (1959) Every great war film is an anti-war film. This classic (made over the objections of the German film industry) tells the story of a group of teenage soldiers left behind to defend the only bridge that leads to their hometown against an American armored unit in the final days of the war. The film does a terrific job of letting us into the boys' lives and building up each as an individual so that the devastating final act has maximum emotional impact. Heartbreaking as well as inspiring as the boys start by fighting for what their believe is the honor of the Fatherland but wind up fighting for one another.
ZELIG (1983) This mockumentary by Woody Allen imagines the life of Leonard Zelig, famous in the 1920s as the human Chameleon, using period film snippets, photos and wonderfully crafted faux footage. I can imagine this was Allen's most fun project to write. His newsreel narrations, songs and dialogue sequences are pitch perfect for the period. The conceit is that Zelig (Allen) has the ability to "become" whoever he's in the company of. Mia Farrow plays the intrepid psychiatrist who delves into the depths of the compulsive mimic's psyche to learn the origins of his strange affliction. As Zelig says, "...it shows exactly what you can do, if you're a total psychotic!"
HONEYMOON IN BALI (1939) Excellently crafted romantic comedy that deals with grown-up issues like ambition and loneliness. In a classic rom/com trope, department store exec Madeline Carroll has to choose between the man who's safe (Allan Jones) and the guy she has the hots for (Fred MacMurray). The movie digs deeper into this scenario than we usually see to pose questions we've all asked ourselves now and then. Snappy dialogue and a few "air force" exchanges created to be as risque as the Hays Office would allow.
KINGDOM (2018) Korean drama series currently on Netflix. In 16th Century Korea, a disease spreads across the land causing the dead to rise. Without ever using the "z" word, this horror/action epic takes a a fresh look at the sub-genre with classic period intrigue, well-delineated characters and a cast we care about. And some seriously creepy imagery. Absolutely compulsive viewing. Don't start it late in the evening (yawwwwwwwwn) like I did,
VELVET BUZZSAW (2019) An atmospheric, slow-burn horror parable set in the world of modern art. Jake Gyllenhal and Rene Russo lead a cast of art critics, dealers, agents and curators who all fall victim to their own greed and pretensions when a vast collection of paintings is found in the apartment of a dead artist. I was reminded of Roman Polanski more than once as this story built itself deliberately toward scenes as inventive as they were disturbing and deft touches of the darkest humor. I was surprised that I got so engaged in this story considering how unsympathetic most of the characters are. As well as an effective spookfest, this movie savagely exposes this universe of charlatans devising new strategies to either draw attention to themselves or invent new ways to bilk the wealthy. On Netflix.
THE BRIDE WORE BOOTS (1946) Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Cummings are battling spouses in this divorce comedy set among the horsie set in Virginia. After seven years of marriage, Bob confesses that he hates horses. SHE: "You told me on our honeymoon that you loved horses." HE: "We were on a boat!" It's downhill from there as misstep follows mishap and their marriage doesn't look like it's going to make it to the finish line. Not a classic by any means but fun nonetheless with Robert Benchley, Willie Best and a seven-year-old Natalie Wood all in fine form.
SEVEN GOLDEN MEN (1965) A VERY 60s Euro heist flick with a cast from all over the continent. A gang of professionals works under the direction of a criminal genius to loot several tons of gold bars from the vault at Credit Suisse in Geneva. But the Swiss cops know the gang is in town somewhere and doing everything they can to find them. The movie is ALL heist and double and triple crosses and moves along at the pace of a getaway car. And as hard as the robbers work for their payday, the gang's mascot chippie works even harder changing her outfit every five minutes.
THE SUBSTITUTE (1996) I had entirely forgotten how fun much this movie was. Tom Berenger is a special forces badass who takes over his girlfriend's high school class after she's been mugged. What follows is a Punisher story basically. Terrific supporting cast with Diane Venora, Ernie Hudson, Richard Brooks, Luiz Guzman and William Forsythe thinner than I've ever seen him. Totally gonzo action flick with lots of fully delineated bad guys getting what's coming to them. Though the gunfights are 80s crazy, the fistfights are played straight with Berenger made to really work hard at coming out on top.
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