The recent events in Ferguson, Cleveland, Staten Island, and elsewhere only serve to emphasize the content and significance of a powerful new documentary that has just earned theatrical play. It is TALES OF THE GRIM SLEEPER, and it is directed by veteran documentarian Nick Broomfield.
If you plan a trip into Manhattan this holiday season, be sure to take a look at the beautiful Fifth Avenue windows and see the live Radio City Christmas Spectacular if you have a mind to do so. But if the film lover in you is bursting to come to the surface, be sure to leave some time to experience a holiday treat designed especially for pop culturists, American entertainment historians and film enthusiasts.
WHIPLASH is one of the season’s justifiably lauded new films. It is the story of a young music prodigy, played by Miles Teller, who is studying at a first-class conservatory. Here, he is intimidated-- and that is no over-exaggeration-- by a brutal, bullying, sociopathic instructor, who is played by character actor J.K. Simmons in what just may be this year’s runaway Best Supporting Actor Oscar winning performance.
Exactly one year ago, Flicker Alley released to DVD and Blu-Ray CINERAMA HOLIDAY, which came to theaters in 1955, and SOUTH SEAS ADVENTURE, which dates from 1958. These titles were filmed in a three-panel widescreen process known as Cinerama. At the time, movie attendance was in sharp decline and this and other widescreen processes were employed to lure audiences away from their TV sets and back into theaters.
Since its recent theatrical release, Jon Stewart’s ROSEWATER has been receiving oodles of publicity. The primary reason has nothing to do with the film’s content or quality. Instead, it mirrors Stewart’s celebrity. Still, ROSEWATER is a serious, sobering film that reflects on our deeply troubled and divided world. It is based on the true story of Maziar Bahari (played by Gael Garcia Bernal), an Iranian journalist who was arrested, blindfolded, and brutally grilled by the authorities for four months.
Some film are worth seeing because they are, well... worth seeing. They are artfully directed, excellently acted, thoughtfully scripted. But on occasion, a film comes along that is not just good or very good. Such words as superlative and even groundbreaking are more than fitting adjectives. Back in the 1970s, such films as 5 EASY PIECES and TAXI DRIVER were better than good and very good. I vividly recall seeing them and being stunned by their uniqueness, the depictions of their central characters, and their singular views of the world. Last year, two very special films-- Spike Jonze’s HER and Alfonso Cuaron’s GRAVITY-- both were audacious and original.
One of the pleasures of film-going is the chance to discover and savor filmmakers whose creative output is deeply personal and challenging to the willing viewer. But not all such moviemakers are young and unproven. Take for example Joanna Hogg, a British writer-director who previously had helmed experimental super-8 films, music videos, and episodes of TV series. Hogg was in her late forties when she directed UNRELATED, her first theatrical feature. UNRELATED dates from 2007. She has since made two additional features: ARCHIPELAGO, released in 2010; and EXHIBITION, from 2013. All enjoyed theatrical play in the U.S. earlier this year, and Kino Lorber has just released them to DVD.
These days, with all the awards hype that defines the movie industry at this time of the year for a host of high-profile films, other titles that are earning theatrical play are in danger of being overlooked. These are not big-budget movies with big name stars. Far from it. Some are documentaries, and two of them have just earned theatrical play.
Tis the season to celebrate Bill Murray, that enduringly popular and, yes, beloved SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE alumnus who in recent years has morphed into a top-of-the-line movie star. Murray’s singular presence uplifts and makes special his latest film, ST. VINCENT, in which he plays a smart-mouthed, alcohol-loving scallywag who resides in Brooklyn (which these days has replaced Manhattan as the hip New York City locale). The core of the story involves what happens when Vincent becomes the unlikely mentor to a pre-teen boy whose mother is divorced and who is in desperate need of a role model.
It’s been way too long since Al Pacino has had a movie role that matches his talent. Perhaps his best work in recent years has been for the small screen, playing such controversial real-life figures as Phil Spector, Jack Kevorkian, and Roy Cohn in PHIL SPECTOR, YOU DON’T KNOW JACK, and ANGELS IN AMERICA. But this is about to change. His two latest theatrical films were screened at the Toronto Film Festival and, in each, he delights as he gives carefully observed, refreshingly low-key performances.