Sunday, September 27, 2015


The scars of the past linger within us, both physically and emotionally. We can put on a smile, laugh at a joke or be in the company of others but the painful sensation of those memories stay with you for all eternity.

Christian Petzhold's Phoenix is set in the aftermath of World War II, and the wounds of of the battle resonate within the characters, especially Nelly (Nina Hoss). Set within the rubble-filled remains of Germany, the film follows Nelly as she tries to regain the life she had before the war. (It's easier said than done.)

In a similar way to what Robert Krasker did with Odd Man Out and The Third Man decades earlier, Hans Fromm's work for Phoenix features night scenes with looming shadows, making them look like the ghosts of the destroyed city. To quote Isaiah 26:19, "Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead."

There's another detail of Fromm's cinematography that's worth mentioning. Many of the shots capturing Nelly have her face hidden whether it be concealed by shadows or a veil or being shot from behind. It's as if both Petzhold and Fromm are doing their own take on Vertigo and its mysterious woman. (Also the title has a nice double meaning behind it.)

Phoenix is a deeply stunning film. Much like Ida the previous year, the film focuses on the aftermath of one of history's many atrocities. And that final scene. God, that's a work of art in of itself.

My Rating: *****

Friday, September 25, 2015


There's something decidedly more reassuring when a film stars someone who's been in the business for decades. Granted, stars of the 1970s don't often make as big of a splash once they're in their seventies but there are a few names from that time in Hollywood have managed to maintain a somewhat steady career since then.

One such name is Lily Tomlin. Since her big break in Nashville, she's had a considerably solid career. Some might say her peak was during the 1980s but she has steadily been working since then (even reuniting with Robert Altman a few times over the years). But her work couldn't compare to what she did in Nashville.

That is until Paul Weitz's Grandma. With this film, Tomlin proves she's just as good as she was forty years ago. (It also proves that good roles for women of a certain age are out there if writers are willing to write them.) Not that often you see the role of an older woman and it isn't reduced to a flimsy supporting role.

Grandma is clearly Tomlin's show but all of its actors are worthy of a mention. Weitz provides well-rounded roles for all of his actors, even those with only one scene. Of the many supporting actors, Sam Elliott stands out the most.

Grandma is easily one of the year's best. It's well-scripted, well-acted and just damn good. And it's possibly safe to say that these last few months have been pretty good movie-wise for actors in (or approaching) their seventies. (See also I'll See You in My Dreams, Mr. Holmes and Ricki and the Flash.) This needs to be more common.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Ricki and the Flash

Over the last thirty-plus years, Meryl Streep has made herself one of the biggest names in Hollywood. Three Academy Awards out of nineteen nominations, one of the few actresses over 50 still getting steady's clear as to why she's basically a living legend.

So does her work in Jonathan Demme's Ricki and the Flash compare to her earlier performances? Well, it's a far cry from her usual fare (read: awards bait) but it's still a delight to see her in action. (Well, she does do these lighter roles every few years for a change of pace.)

But Streep isn't the only woman of Ricki and the Flash worth mentioning. There's Diablo Cody, who wrote the wonderfully diverse script. (No surprise to anyone familiar with Juno or Young Adult.) And there's also Mamie Gummer (Streep's daughter both in the film and real life) who certainly inherited some of her mother's talents. (Oh, the work from the men is good too. Also, Kevin Kline needs to be in more stuff.)

Yes, the whole "parent who abandoned their family is trying to make amends" plotline is swiftly approaching overused territory but thanks to Demme, Cody and Streep, they put some new life into it. They show that Ricki is flawed and they don't immediately make her sympathetic when she's with her estranged family. Then again, when a film is in the hands of three Oscar winners, it's hard to go wrong.

Ricki and the Flash is a very sweet film. (Certainly not something you'd expect from the director of The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia and Rachel Getting Married.) It also proves that there needs to be more lady writers in Hollywood. (Well, it's one way to get better roles for actresses.)

My Rating: ****1/2

Mistress America

A noted trait amongst various Noah Baumbach films is that there isn't a single likable character among the roster. The noted exception is Frances Ha but with other titles like The Squid and the Whale, you find yourself fighting the urge to punch those characters in the face.

So what's the situation with Baumbach's latest Mistress America? Perhaps to no one's surprise, many of the characters throughout rub you the wrong way. Though perhaps that's Baumbach's intention. People aren't perfect (far from it), and he wants to highlight each and every flaw that's humanly possible.

One has to admit that even with this regular feature, Baumbach knows how to write complex characters. (Mistress America was co-written with star Greta Gerwig.) He and Gerwig don't sugarcoat any detail within the characters' lives though there's a tendency to glorify the bad more than the good. And what appears to be the makings of the now-overused manic pixie dream girl archetype is promptly destroyed as the film wears on.

And the work from Gerwig and Lola Kirke prove that there are well-written roles for actresses if writers are up for the task. (Often times they aren't.) Honestly, we live in an era where progress for equality is still ongoing. You'd think by now there would be better opportunities for women in various fields of profession. (Guess not.)

Anyway, back to Mistress America. It's no Frances Ha but it does have its moments. The dialogue's quick pace is reminiscent of Howard Hawks and the characters' antics could be likened to those in your average Ernst Lubitsch film. It's nothing groundbreaking but Mistress America is certainly worth a look.

My Rating: ****

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Lauren Bacall Blogathon

Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood is hosting a blogathon where the subject is a Miss Betty Joan Perske, better known to moviegoers as Lauren Bacall. To celebrate what would've been her ninety-first birthday, I decided to talk about the four films she did with her first husband Humphrey Bogart. For reference, those films are:

(1944, dir. Howard Hawks)
(1946, dir. Howard Hawks)
(1947, dir. Delmar Daves)
(1948, dir. John Huston)
(More after the jump.)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The William Wellman Blogathon

Now Voyaging is hosting their very first blogathon, and its subject is one I'll admit I'm not deeply familiar with. That said, I have seen one film by Wellman. The film in question?

(1943, dir. William A. Wellman)

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

You ever notice how most of the acclaimed films churned out on a yearly basis are frequently told from the male perspective? Quite frankly, it's utter bullshit because honestly. It's 2015. Don't you think a little diversity should be commonplace by now?

Thank God for Marielle Heller's The Diary of a Teenage Girl. Finally a coming of age film that focus on a girl's emerging sexuality, and they aren't shamed as a result for their behavior. (Also worth mentioning that the whole sex as a rite of passage thing is mainly reserved for fiction from the male perspective. Almost never for women until now because God forbid women should actually enjoy sex.)

The sexual awakening of Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley, a very promising newcomer) is by no means reduced to something to shock an older generation or titillate a younger one. No, Minnie is becoming an independent woman during these scenes, not being treated as shock value or exploitation. When was the last time you saw that?

And it's worth noting that this is a film set in 1970s San Francisco, basically the bohemian mecca of its day. One could simply view Minnie's actions as a means of rebellion. Not in the slightest. As mentioned earlier, her behavior is viewed as nothing more than her first step into adulthood. (As any sexual awakening of a young woman should be treated as.)

The Diary of a Teenage Girl should be required viewing for those of a certain age. (Forget John Hughes; this is a better glimpse into the adolescent mind.) And the performances from Powley, Alexander Skarsgard and Kristen Wiig (she's really flourishing post-Saturday Night Live, isn't she?), this is one film that must not be missed.

My Rating: *****

The End of the Tour

What runs through someone's mind? Often times we can never be certain until we actually talk to that person. They can be clever, they can be boring. But many times, they can reveal depths no one knew about before.

James Ponsoldt's The End of the Tour is one of the latest films to focus on such a simple connection. Set during the last final days of Infinite Jest's book tour (as the title so obviously implies), it highlights the minds of two men: the famous interviewee and the less famous interviewer. (To be honest, this would make for a good double feature with Frost/Nixon.)

In the role of the interviewer  is Jesse Eisenberg as David Lipsky. Lipsky is a journalist and a writer in his own right but has yet to have his moment in the spotlight. Eisenberg plays Lipsky as someone who feels he's overdue for that moment but is willing to wait (though there are shades of his work from The Social Network).

In the role of the interviewee is Jason Segel as David Foster Wallace, and it's clear that this role is a step up from Segel's past work like How I Met Your Mother and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. He portrays Wallace as someone with dark demons but not to the point where they consume him. He keeps them hidden but it's clear he's suffering. In the last moments where we see him, you want to tell him that even when things are looking bleak there are a few bright moments amid them.

The End of the Tour shines a light on two men  with their own successes and flaws. (Side note: maybe more films of this nature but with women?) The work from Eisenberg and especially Segel make up for the film's weak spots, though the script does read like a (cleaner) David Mamet play. All in all, this is a film about two different yet similar men.

My Rating: ****1/2