Saturday, May 31, 2014

Música Campesina (2011) ✭✭✭✭

Música Campesina, currently showing on HBO Signature, is a rough hewn marvel of a film. Made for $20,000 and shot on a Panasonic DSLR, Música Campesina (Country Music) is the story of a Chilean tourist named Alejandro (Pablo Cerda) who makes a poorly planned trip to America and eventually ends up in Nashville. Friendless and flat broke, Alejandro wanders the surreal landscape of cheap motels and country music dives that line bustling Interstate 40. As we learn more about this enigmatic figure, a comical and poignant backstory is revealed and Alejandro becomes a living symbol of the rustic romantic ideals found in many country music ballads.

Written and directed by Chilean filmmaker Alberto Fuget, at the time an Artist-in-Residence at Vanderbilt University, the film has a mood similar to RIchard Linklater’s early work, with a few darker doses of Michael Haneke’s alienation thrown into the mix. Think Slacker meets Code Unknown and you’re in the ballpark. The editing is intentionally arrhythmic, giving viewers plenty of time to appreciate the film’s subtle eccentricities. The bulk of the film’s first act consists of telephone conversations that cleverly establish Alejandro’s lack of options, and give us the first hint that there’s more going on here than just a character study of an aimless drifter.

Along the way, Alejandro befriends two young hipsters (James Cathcart and Cole Kinnear) and their largely improvised conversations are often hilarious while having an undeniable ring of truth. These scenes, filmed on a ramshackle front porch where you can almost feel the global warming, are among the film’s best and presage an upward turn in Alejandro’s dour prospects. Fuget captures naturalist moments without a trace of that smug ironic stammering that passes for realist performances in so many recent Hollywood films. Perhaps it takes an outsider’s eye to truly appreciate the humidity laced quirks of post-millennial red state America.

If you enjoyed the somber yet amusing flavors of recent films like Inside Llewyn Davis and Nebraska, you’ll find Música Campesina cut from similar cloth. Its ending feels a bit removed from the real world - perhaps an evocation of a dream - yet it brings the film’s allegorical thesis full circle in a satisfying way. As Alejandro adjusts to his new world, and vice-versa, he learns an important lesson. None of life’s inevitable setbacks are ever wasted, especially on Country Western singers.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

TCM for June 2014

TCM kicks off summer with a mix of the silly and the sublime. Bad sci-fi and a Rock Hudson - Doris Day festival stand along side such heavyweights as Night and Fog and Kieslowski's Colors trilogy. Truly something for everyone this month. My picks below. All times Eastern. Full schedule HERE


8:00 PM
A typical day in the life of the Beatles.
BW-87 mins, Letterbox Format

9:45 PM
This film looks at the British pop music scene in 1964, featuring performances by The Beatles, The Animals, and more.
C-70 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

The DC5 are Having a Wild Weekend

11:15 PM
Advertising executives turn a model's romance with a stunt man into a publicity stunt.
BW-92 mins,

1:00 AM
Rocket scientists consider naming a space ship after Herman's Hermits.
C-86 mins, Letterbox Format

2:45 AM
Herman's Hermits travel to England for a high-stakes greyhound race.
C-95 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

Night and Fog. A tough watch but everyone should see it.


6:45 AM

Documentary cameras contrast the horrors of Auschwitz with the peaceful countryside surrounding it.
C-31 mins, CC,

7:15 AM
A college professor uses the crises in three lives to illustrate his theories about human behavior.
C-127 mins, Letterbox Format

6:15 PM
A swimming-pool salesman gets mixed up with beauty queens and bodybuilders when he falls in love.
C-97 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

8:00 PM
Classic sci-fi epic about a mysterious monolith that seems to play a key role in human evolution.
C-149 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

10:45 PM
The crew of a broken down space ship accidentally picks up a deadly alien life form.
C-116 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

Destination Moon was quite the deal in its day.

1:00 AM
A crusading scientist defies the government to launch an expedition to the moon.
C-90 mins,

2:30 AM
Three U.S. astronauts face a slow death when their rockets fail during a space voyage.
C-129 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

4:45 AM
A space mission to Venus discovers a society of Amazons.
C-80 mins, Letterbox Format

An early, silent version of Wizard of Oz


12:30 AM

In this silent film, a farm girl learns she is a princess and is swept away by a tornado to the land of Oz.
BW-72 mins,

2:00 AM
A streetcar conductor loses his true love during Brazil's carnival season.
C-108 mins,

4:00 AM
A poet follows his dead wife into the underworld, only to fall in love with Death.
BW-96 mins,


10:00 AM

A group of zanies tries to save a pretty girl's sanitarium.
BW-109 mins, CC,


Marilyn at her best in The Misfits

4:00 PM
A sensitive divorcee gets mixed up with modern cowboys roping mustangs in the desert.
BW-125 mins, CC, Letterbox Format


8:00 PM

A man and woman carry their feud over the telephone line they share into their real lives.
C-102 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

10:00 PM
An ad exec in disguise courts his pretty female competitor.
C-107 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

12:00 AM
When he mistakenly thinks he's dying, a hypochondriac tries to choose his wife's next husband.
C-100 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

Come September with fun in the Italian sun.

1:45 AM
A womanizing tycoon ends up chaperoning a group of American girls who have rented his Italian villa.
C-113 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

3:45 AM
A sporting goods salesman who knows nothing about fishing must enter an angling contest.
C-120 mins, CC, Letterbox Format


5:30 AM

Celebrities reveal the classic movies that influenced their lives in interviews with acclaimed film critic/interviewer Elvis Mitchell.
C-29 mins, CC, Letterbox Format


Alan Bates and Charlotte Rampling in Georgy Girl

10:00 PM

A misfit fights for happiness in the world of swinging London.
BW-99 mins, CC,

12:00 AM
A photographer discovers a murder in the background of a candid photo.
C-111 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

2:00 AM
A woman struggles to find a way to live her life after the death of her husband and child.
C-98 mins,

3:45 AM
A Polish immigrant wants to get even with his former wife.
C-90 mins,

Jacob and Trintignant in Red

5:30 AM
An accident creates a relationship between a model and a retired judge who spies on his neighbors.
C-99 mins, Letterbox Format


2:00 PM
An adulterous couple discovers that their children are sexually involved.
C-130 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

4:30 PM
A San Francisco couple travels to France in search of Pablo Picasso.
C-94 mins, CC, Letterbox Format


6:15 AM
The mob sets out to catch a child killer whose crimes are attracting too much police attention.
BW-111 mins,

Rock and Angie get friendly in Pretty Maids all in a Row

12:30 AM
A young man's first sexual explorations are threatened by a string of murders.
C-91 mins,

2:15 AM
A bored rich man buys a new life from a secret organization.
BW-106 mins, Letterbox Format


2:00 AM

A lonely widow turns to prostitution to make ends meet.
C-202 mins, Letterbox Format

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Results from Cannes 2014

Palme d’Or: "Winter Sleep," Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Grand Prix: "The Wonders," Director: Alice Rohrwacher
Prix de la Mise en Scene (best director): Bennett Miller, "Foxcatcher"
Prix du Scenario (best screenplay): "Leviathan," Writers: Andrey Zvyaginstev and Oleg Negin
Camera d’Or (best first feature): "Party Girl," Directors: Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis
Prix du Jury (jury prize): "Mommy," Director: Xavier Dolan; and "Goodbye to Language," Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Prix d’interpretation feminine (best actress): Julianne Moore, "Maps to the Stars"
Prix d’interpretation masculine (best actor):  Timothy Spall, "Mr. Turner"

Monday, May 19, 2014

Gordon Willis 1931 - 2014

The great cinematographer Gordon Willis has passed away at age 82. His images defined American filmmaking in the 1970s.

Klute (1971)

The Godfather (1972)

All the President's Men (1976)

Annie Hall (1976)

Interiors (1978)

Manhattan (1979)

 Radio interview with Willis from 2002

Friday, May 16, 2014

Million Dollar Arm (2014) ✭✭✭1/2

Million Dollar Arm (2014) is a feel good, underdog, fish out of water (or whatever additional cliche you choose) movie that’s entirely predictable. But it’s so well executed even the most cynical viewer will succumb to its seductive charms. The film boasts an impressive pedigree. Written by Thomas McCarty (The Station Agent, The Visitor) and directed by Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl), Million Dollar Arm doesn’t suffer from lack of creative talent, and the subtle touches and skillful flourishes of these artisans lift the material beyond its family-friendly genre origins.

Jon Hamm stars as an ultra-slick sports agent who botches the signing of an elite NFL linebacker, sending his firm into a financial tailspin. With the help of a wealthy investor (veteran character actor Tzi Ma), Hamm hatches a scheme to recruit two cricket bowlers from India, convert them into pitching prospects and popularize Major League Baseball in the world’s second most populous nation. After an exhaustive search, Hamm discovers Rinko (Suraj Sharma from Life of Pi) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal from Slumdog Millionaire) and brings these two athletic bumpkins from rural India to L.A. where a stunning dose of culture shock awaits.

From there the proceedings strike a familiar tone, as the young men work with USC’s baseball coach (Bill Paxton) and struggle mightily to prepare themselves for their Big League tryout; a regimen complete with small victories, major setbacks and deepening personal relationships. Throughout it all, Hamm thankfully embraces his inner Don Draper, and applies that character’s fascinating ethos of honorable sleaze in a winning fashion. In his recent big screen appearances, Hamm has attempted to run away from his Draper history, and obscure the iconic Mad Men character in a swirl of forced enthusiasm and eccentric line readings. Million Dollar Arm shows us the alternate universe Don Draper, a talented but deeply flawed man who may have selected sports agency over advertising, but uses equally fine-honed instincts to overcome adversity and survive.

In support are strong performances from Lake Bell (In a World) as Hamm’s slowly developing love interest, Pitobash (Slumdog Millionaire) as  India’s biggest baseball fan and Alan Arkin who, as usual, nearly steals the movie as a grumpy, eccentric old-school baseball scout (Note to self: Be Alan Arkin when you grow up). Million Dollar Arm accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do: provide a pleasant and ultimately lovable afternoon at the movies. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Fassbinder's Fear of Fear (1975) ✭✭✭✭

Fear of Fear is an entertaining Fassbinder made-for-TV ditty that offers a skewed glimpse into German family life in the 1970s. Margit Carstensen, perennial Fassbinder favorite and a sort of Teutonic Faye Dunaway, stars as Margot; a young hausfrau and mother. For reasons that are never made clear, Margot fears she is going insane. Actually, the dreadful wallpaper in Margot’s apartment is enough to drive anyone stark raving looney, but I digress.

Margot’s paranoia begins a downward spiral in her behavior, characterized by drug abuse, alcohol addiction, infidelity and, worst of all, a complete disinterest in fresh vegetables. The film has a creepy feel leavened by melodrama as Margot is constantly bombarded by her meddling mother-in-law (Brigitte Mira) and the icy disinterest of her engineer husband Kurt (Ulrich Falhaber). For some reason, these suffering German housewives always seem to have a disinterested husband named Kurt. We follow Margot through a life-altering chain of events that starts quite small, but ultimately blooms into life-threatening issues.

We experience the horrors of socialized medicine, as Margot has one doctor who makes housecalls in the middle of the night and another who will give her any medication she requires at a moment’s notice. However those meds come at a very high moral price. The production values are no better or worse than American TV of this era - everyone seems to cast three shadows and zoom lenses are used and abused – but Carstensen’s mysterious dramatic textures do a fine job of holding our interest for the duration.

Background music is used in ways that are startling, yet strangely appropriate, and reminds us that at the helm of this pulpy potboiler is a director with unique sensibilities.  These little German TV soaps almost qualify as a distinct genre. Fassbinder, Wenders and Herzog all made a living from them, and they can justifiably be considered minor-league art films. Like homemade wine, Fear of Fear has a harsh first bite, but eventually delivers a pleasing diversion.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Field Guide to Cannes 2014: Films in Competition N-Z

The 67th annual Festival de Cannes opens May 14. Here's part two of a look at the films selected for the main competition. Also included are the latest betting odds (yes there are bookies who take action on Cannes) for entertainment purposes only.

Saint Laurent (Bertrand Bonello, France)

This biopic of the iconic French designer stars Gaspard Ulliel, Louis Garrel and Lea Seydoux. Musician turned director Bonello has been in competition twice previously, with House of Pleasures (2011) and Tiresia (2003).
Odds 40/1

The Search (Michel Hazanavicius, France)

A remake of Fred Zinnemann’s 1948 Oscar winner of the same title, this film stars Berenice Bejo and Annette Bening. Set amid the violence of Chechnya, expect a much darker tone than Hazanavicius’ previous hit The Artist (2011).
Odds 28/1

Still the Water (Naomi Kawase, Japan)

Kawase and Alice Rohrwacher are the only female directors with films in competition this year. Still the Waters is a mystery/romance set on the Japanese island of Amami-Oshima. No stranger to Cannes, Kawase won the Grand Prix for 2007’s The Mourning Forest and the Camera d’Or for her 1997 debut, Suzaku.
Odds 10/1

Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako, France)

Set in northern Mali, this film is all about a young couple who were stoned to death for "not being married before God." Sissako was previously selected for competition in 2006 for Baranko.

Odds 5/1

Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgium)

The Belgian brothers are back with another tale of working class strife. Marion Cotillard stars as a woman trying to convince her colleagues to give up their bonuses so she can keep her job. Olivier Gourmet and Fabrizio Rongione round out the cast. The film marks the Dardennes' sixth entry in Cannes competition and they've won the Palme d'Or twice; for Rosetta (1999) and L'enfant (2006). 
Odds 16/1

Wild Tales (Damian Szifron, Argentina-Spain)

Szifron's first film to be selected by Cannes, Wild Tales is described as a series of comic sketches. Pedro Almodovar is one of the film's producers.

Odds 33/1

Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey-Germany-France)

Festival - and betting - favorite Ceylan is once again in competition with what appears to be another beautifully photographed drama set in the mysterious landscapes of rural Turkey. Ceylan won Best Director in 2008 for Three Monkeys and has taken the Grand Prix twice: in 2002 for Distant and in 2011 for Once Upon a Time in Anatolia but the Palme d'Or has thus far eluded him. Could this be the year?

Odds 3/1

Monday, May 12, 2014

Field Guide to Cannes 2014: Films in Competition A-M

The 67th annual Festival de Cannes opens May 14. Here's part one of a look at the films selected for the main competition. Also included are the latest betting odds (yes there are bookies who take action on Cannes) for entertainment purposes only.

The Captive (Atom Egoyan, Canada) 

A kidnapping thriller starring Ryan Reynolds, Scott Speedman and Rosario Dawson, Egoyan previously won the Grand Prix in 1997 for The Sweet Hereafter.

Odds 35/1

Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas, France-Switzerland-Germany)

This English-language film is all about a famous actress who withdraws to a town in Switzerland and stars Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chloe Grace Moretz. Assayas has been in competition at Cannes several times but has yet to win.

Odds 16/1

Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller, U.S.)

Starring Channing Tatum, Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo, this bio-pic deals with the tragic true story of the Schultz brothers, and their deadly involvement with eccentric millionaire John duPont. From the director of Capote and Moneyball.

Odds 22/1

Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard, Switzerland)

This film marks the seventh time the 83 year-old director has been up for the Palme d'Or. Shot in 3D, Goodbye to Language is the sort of oddity that might have a special appeal to the jury.

Odds 10/1

The Homesman (Tommy Lee Jones, U.S.)

Tommy Lee Jones makes a welcome return to directing with this off beat western, concerning the transportation of a group of insane women to a hospital in Iowa. Hilary Swank, Meryl Streep and Grace Gummer are among the cast of notables.
Odds 18/1 

Jimmy’s Hall (Ken Loach, U.K.-Ireland-France)

The legendary social-realist director makes his 12th trip to Cannes with this docudrama about Irish communist leader James Grafton. The 78 year-old Loach has hinted this may be his last feature. He won the Palme d’Or in 2006 for The Wind That Shakes the Barley.

Odds 25/1

Leviathan (Andrei Zvyagintsev, Russia)

The moody Russian minimalist returns with a drama that promises elements of class struggle and sci-fi. Zvyagintsev's previous film Elena closed Un Certain Regard in 2011. Expect it to be on the short list for the Palme d'Or.

Odds 5/1

Le Meraviglie (Alice Rohrwacher, Italy-Switzerland-Germany) 

Rohrwacher is one of two female directors selected for competition this year. Le Meraviglie is a coming of age story set in the Umbrian countryside. It features a 14-year-old girl whose sheltered life is disrupted by a young German ex-con. Monica Bellucci has a supporting role.

Odds 16/1

Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg, Canada-U.S.-France-Germany)

This satire of Hollywood lifestyles has generated lots of good buzz, and it marks the 5th time a Cronenberg film has screened in competition. Carrie Fisher, Julianne Moore and Robert Pattinson star. It's the type of story that should resonate with the judges.

Odds 11/2

Mommy (Xavier Dolan, France-Canada)

L'enfant terrible Xavier Dolan is back with the story of a single mom struggling to raise her troubled teenage son. Dolan regulars Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Anne Dorval and Suzanne Clément return for this latest outing.

Odds 35/1

Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh, U.K.)

Cannes veteran Leigh, who won the Palme d’Or for 1996’s Secrets & Lies, returns with this biopic of the 19th-century landscape painter J.M.W. Turner. Timothy Spall, Lesley Manville and Tom Wlaschiha star.
Odds 10/1