Ozu, Polley, Sullivan, Tourneur, Zenovich

Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic (Marina Zenovich, 2013). Richard Pryor had a life that was singularly amazing (deeply troubled childhood, an impact on the art of stand-up comedy like no other, and a personal life fraught with peril and bad decisions), so much so that it seems almost impossible to contain it within a single film. He couldn’t do it with the thinly fictionalized Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling, and Marina Zenovich–inadvertently, no doubt–does her level best to prove that the documentary feature format similarly has no hope of containing the man’s unbalanced magnificence. She clicks through the … Continue reading Ozu, Polley, Sullivan, Tourneur, Zenovich

Donen and Kelly, Frankenheimer, Salina, Skolimowski, Téchiné

Flow: For Love of Water (Irena Salina, 2008). Because there are few things we enjoy in our house than watching documentaries that offer an assessment, in painful detail, of how humanity is engaged in self-inflicted extinction through carelessly destructive exploitation of one of the most necessary substances for human existence. It make for a fun night of movie-watching. Real popcorn fare. Irene Salina’s film is compelling and suitably frightening, although it occasionally tangles itself up because there’s simply so much ground to cover. As admirably as it presents the scope of the problem, there are definitely times when it seems … Continue reading Donen and Kelly, Frankenheimer, Salina, Skolimowski, Téchiné

Jason, Milestone, Minnelli, Scorsese, Shelton

Humpday (Lynn Shelton, 2009). While I don’t always give the background on my viewing choices, I will note that this finally made its way from out queue to our screen in preparation for watching Lynn Shelton’s excellent follow-up. I’m mostly sharing that to give myself a public chastisement. Humpday is pretty terrific, providing a surprisingly plausible narrative progression to an utterly implausible scenario. Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard play old college buddies whose reunion after several years apart winds up involving an odd pledge to make a man-on-man pornographic film together, in direct opposition to their heterosexual tendencies, for Seattle’s … Continue reading Jason, Milestone, Minnelli, Scorsese, Shelton

Brooks, Hansen-Løve, Noyce, Polanski, Teshigahara

The Quiet American (Phillip Noyce, 2002). Occasionally there will be a movie that adheres to a classic narrative structure that is also stolid, humorless and painfully dull that a small but vocal bundle of critics will tout as a dwindling example of cinematic material created for adults. I get that full-time critics were spending the end of 2002 gritting their teeth and covering their eyes while watching supposed comedies and franchise-killing sequels, but they still needed to grade on a helluva curve to find nice things to say about this dire adaptation of the Graham Greene novel. Michael Caine received … Continue reading Brooks, Hansen-Løve, Noyce, Polanski, Teshigahara

Arteta, Feig, Hayward, Malick, Ritchie

Youth in Revolt (Miguel Arteta, 2009). This was Arteta’s first film in almost a decade after some quick, buzzy success to kick off his career. All the time between features didn’t eliminate his slightly arid style, which has a tendency to deaden the drama after a while. More problematically, the film exhibits a offbeat pushiness as it heaps in quirky details and disaffected anguish. It simply tries to hard. Michael Cera plays a sweet, timidly pining young man who conjures up an imaginary tough-talking alter ego who drives him to get the girl while also slipping deeper into a quicksand … Continue reading Arteta, Feig, Hayward, Malick, Ritchie

Carpenter, Cronenberg, Ford, Truffaut, Wright

Hanna (Joe Wright, 2011). Well, I’ll say this for director Joe Wright: He’s not going to be pinned down. He made his feature debut with a Jane Austen adaptation and followed that with a prestige picture based on a Ian McEwan novel. Then came a fairly drab issues picture largely about the homeless community in Los Angeles. The bank shot away from that reunites him with Atonement Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan for a bizarre action film about a teenage girl who was raised in isolation to be an unstoppable assassin. The film is balanced awkwardly between stylish action and moody … Continue reading Carpenter, Cronenberg, Ford, Truffaut, Wright

Brooks, Buzzell, Freudenthal, Matzdorff, McKay

Best Foot Forward (Edward Buzzell, 1943). Less than a decade before a certain TV series elevated Lucille Ball to the stratosphere of stardom, she was merely the “Queen of the Bs,” which makes it a little odd to see her playing herself in this film about a cadet at a military academy who convinces the redhead to come be his date for a big dance. She’s also far removed from the ditzy whirligig persona that she’d soon be known for, playing scenes instead as the smartest person in the room with a disdainful, withering comment for everyone and everything she … Continue reading Brooks, Buzzell, Freudenthal, Matzdorff, McKay

Arnold, Coppola, Nadel, Smight, Wallace

Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, 2009). At it’s strongest, Arnold’s film is as scrappy as its protagonist, a teenage girl in lower class Britain who pushes against what little disinterested authority exists in her life. The film expertly gets at the way passion burns to the surface so quickly at that age, while also considering how simple, inelegant endeavors like hip hop dancing can fuel dreams of escape. As an observant, uncompromising character study, the film is sharp and sensational. As it gets more plot driven, especially in a misguided third act, it falters terribly. The one thing that’s consistent throughout … Continue reading Arnold, Coppola, Nadel, Smight, Wallace