At the end of every month, Netflix jettisons a few movies to “make room” for new ones, even though it’s all digital, right? It’s not like deciding that my DVD copy of “Random Hearts” has to go because I need to make room for “Spectre.” (Yes, this is a true anecdote. Pretty sad all around.)
Monthly Archives: March 2016
Of teenage cavemen and deathstalkers: “Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. XXXV” on DVD
Roger Corman’s “Teenage Caveman” is one of the best movies ever made about teenage cavemen, and it is definitely the best movie ever made called “Teenage Caveman.” (In one of the strangest remakes ever, Larry Clark of “Kids” was commissioned to make a version for Cinemax in 2002. Surprisingly for a Larry Clark film, it featured a lot of teenagers getting high and having sex.)
The original “Teenage Caveman” is one of those movies where the title was more memorable than the film, which is why it made perfect fodder for “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” Shout! Factory included it on the 35th (!) installment of its four-movie DVD sets, out this month.
Instant Gratification: “Promised Land” and four other good movies new to streaming
“Promised Land” (Netflix) — I expected a drama centered around a small town deciding whether to allow fracking to be pretty didactic and one-sided. But Gus Van Sant has something slyer and more nuanced under his sleeve, casting Matt Damon as a likable fracking rep who really thinks he has the town’s best interests at heart, and John Krasinski as a rather jerkface environmental activist fighting for the hearts and minds of the townspeople.
“The Confirmation”: Proof that “Nebraska” was no fluke for writer-director Bob Nelson
“The Confirmation” is now playing at AMC Johnson Creek 16. R, 1:37, three stars out of four.
I want to live in the depressed Washington State town that’s the setting of Bob Nelson’s “The Confirmation,” because it seems to be populated entirely by great character actors. Clive Owen, Maria Bello, Robert Forster, Tim Blake Nelson, Patton Oswalt, Matthew Modine, and Stephen Tobolowsky all live here. While you don’t see him, you just know Paul Giamatti presides as mayor.
I’m guessing all these fine actors were drawn to the film by Nelson’s low-key but utterly convincing screenplay, which lets these performers convey a lot with just a little. Nelson wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay for Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska,” and there are definitely areas of overlap here — a focus on a strained father-son relationship, an unsentimental view of small-town town life. But “The Confirmation” might be a little less bleak, a little more forgiving of its characters and their shortcomings.
Blu-ray review: “Forbidden Room” opens Guy Maddin’s cabinet of wonders
“Squid Theft!” “Bones! Bones! Bones!” “Forced to wear a leotard!”
If you want to make a film critic smile, drop one of the intertitles to Guy Maddin’s phantasmagoric last film “The Forbidden Room” in the middle of a conversation. Maddin’s film, now out on DVD and Blu-ray from Kino Lorber is a cinephiliac’s dream and nightmare, as Maddin and co-director Evan Johnson took a treasure trove of plots from lost and never-made films and created giddy, eerie Russian nesting dolls of stories out of them.
Instant Gratification: “Dope” and four other good movies to watch on Netflix
Pick of the week: “Dope” — My full review is here. This high-energy comedy-drama is like an African-American twist on “Risky Business,” in which three so-called “nerdy” high schoolers in inner-city Los Angeles have to contend with a backpack full of drugs, hackers, and dangerous criminals. Along the way, the film boldly challenges some lazy assumptions about race and class in America — though you might be having too much fun to notice.
Sundance Screening Room series returns with “Krisha,” “Born to Be Blue” and “The Family Fang”
With all the ownership news going on around Sundance Cinemas, any signs that things haven’t changed is a welcome one. The Madison theater was bought by the Carmike Cinemas chain in October, but the theater’s new owners seemed willing to let the popular arthouse continue as it was.
But the news that AMC Theatres, the largest chain in the country, was buying Carmike is a little more troubling. AMC tends to own large urban and suburban theaters (like the 16-screen AMC Fitchburg) showing mainstream movies, and what they’ll do with a six-screen theater focused on independent movies is anybody’s guess.
But both Carmike and AMC says nothing will change until the deal is finalized, probably close to the end of 2016. In the meantime, things at Sundance look to stay as they are, and movie lovers that want to keep it that way might want to consider voting with their dollars and supporting the theater, and the kind of movies they want to see there, whenever they can.
Instant Gratification: “Digging For Fire” and four other good movies to watch on Netflix and Amazon Prime
“Digging for Fire” (Amazon Prime) — My full review is here. Writer-director Joe Swanberg assembled an all-star cast (Jake Johnson, Rosemary DeWitt, Sam Rockwell, and new Oscar winner Brie Larson) for this comedy about an L.A. couple who start digging into their marriage a little more deeply than they should, after the husband finds an antique gun buried on the property of the mansion they’re housesitting. The film has Swanberg’s loose, improv-heavy style, ending up becoming a generous and witty film about middle-aged ennui.
“I Knew Her Well”: Get to know this lost Italian masterpiece
First, let’s get this out of the way: “I Knew Her Well” is a masterpiece of ’60s Italian cinema. Never released in the United States when it came out in 1967 and only now available via a new Criterion Collection edition, Antonio Pietrangeli’s film deserves to stand alongside such classics as Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” and Dino Risi’s “Il Sorpasso.” All three films chronicle the good times of handsome young people enjoying a prospering, changing Italy — until the party ends, and they realize how hollow the good times have been.
“I Knew Her Well” screens at 7 p.m. Saturday at the UW-Cinematheque series at 4070 Vilas Hall, 821 University Ave. as part of a series of newly restored Italian films. It’s free, and one you won’t want to miss, if only to see the gorgeous black-and-white cinematography up on the big screen.
“The Boy and The Beast”: Troubled boy discovers beast mode in Japanese anime
“The Boy & The Beast” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. PG-13, 1:59, three stars out of four.
The Japanese anime film “The Boy & The Beast” begins with a thunderous intro, as we see part-human/part-animal warriors battling for supremacy, their silhouettes wreathed in fire.
It may seem a strange intro for a movie that, at heart, is as much a tender drama about blended families as it is a martial arts saga. Writer-director Mamoru Hosoda (“Wolf Children,” “Summer Wars”) expertly blends emotion and action into a gorgeous and enchanting anime film aimed at older children and adults.