“20th Century Women” (Amazon Prime) — My full review is here. Mike Mills’ film is semi-autobiographical, but his ’70s teenage stand-in really fades into the background as his film looks at several strong, influential women in his orbit, including Annette Bening as his prickly, baffled mother and Greta Gerwig as one of her older, worldly tenants. Not for nothing, the film also serves as a potent reminder of the impact that Planned Parenthood has had on countless’ women’s lives over the decades.
At first it seems like miscasting. Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson are two of the most charismatic, playful, purely present actors working today, scarcely able to do a scene without some sort of spark.
So why would they be cast to play a plain, quiet, grieving, beaten-down German couple in World War II Berlin in “Alone in Berlin”?
It’s the absence of that spark we’re expecting that ends up being key to the performances, and to “Alone in Berlin,” out on DVD and Blu-ray from IFC Films. It makes us understand how much this couple has lost under the Nazi regime, and what it takes for them to foment a tiny rebellion from their dingy flat.
“I Am Not Your Negro” (Amazon Prime) — My full review is here. Author James Baldwin’s words on race in America come to fiery life in this documentary, which artfully puts ’60s civil rights struggles hand in hand with Black Lives Matter protests to show how a society in which one man is allowed to subjugate another has a moral sickness that infects both oppressed and oppressor.
On a recent trip to New Orleans, I did all the traditional New Orleans things – saw jazz, ate jambalaya, walked the French Quarter and bought music on Frenchman Street. It was fantastic.
One of the highlights was the Carousel Bar inside the Hotel Monteleone, a circular bar in which the patrons slowly revolve around the bartenders in the center. Two pieces of advice about the Carousel Bar. 1. Order a Vieux Carre, their specialty. 2. If you get to a point where you can no longer tell that the Carousel Bar is rotating, it is time to leave the Carousel Bar.
So, all in all, it was a typically great first visit in New Orleans. But, being a film critic, I just couldn’t resist. I had to see a movie while I was there. I almost felt guilty – this was New Orleans! – but it ended up being one of the most memorable experiences of the trip.
Sorry, “Cries and Whispers.” Too bad, “Breathless.” There’s only one film in the Criterion Collection that inspires a movie critic to use the word “fartiest,” and it’s Yasujiro Ozu’s 1959 comedy “Good Morning.”
“Good Morning,” recent re-released in a new Blu-ray edition from Criterion, earns the honor of being Ozu’s “fartiest” film honestly and loudly. In the 1959 comedy, flatulence is like fingerprints, with each character’s toots providing a different tone. In what I guess is the Japanese version of “pull my finger,” the boys in the village press each others’ foreheads, eliciting a variety of high-pitched squeaks. (One boy has trouble providing the required sound, and often has to run home to change his underwear after getting his forehead pressed.)
Netflix has been buying up and releasing a lot of original movies, which is great news for indie filmmakers looking to get good financing and get their work seen. But it may not be so great for viewers, who have to rely on Netflix’s algorithm to even know the movies are available. “Netflix Movie of the Week” is an occasional feature highlighting a new original Netflix movie you may not have heard about.
For those who like to skip ahead to the last page of a thriller to find out what happens, there’s Oren Uziel’s “Shimmer Lake.” Uziel begins the film on a Friday, at the end of the story, when a desperate man (Rainn Wilson) is trying to escape his small town with a bag full of cash. Then, day by day, Uziel works his way back to Tuesday, and the bank robbery that netted the money in the first place.
Pick of the Week: “Moonlight“ (Amazon Prime) — My full review is here. I still can’t quite believe that Barry Jenkins’ exquisitely observed drama won an Oscar for Best Picture. Because of the whole weirdness at the Academy Award ceremony, obviously, but also because it’s just not the sort of movie Oscar voters cotton to, telling the story of a gay black man in three stages of his life with such specificity and humanity. The film gives just a glimmer of hope at the end, but the fact that films like these could be seen and celebrated by the mainstream — could be a HIT — provides way more than a glimmer.