There’s a magic in Frank Borzage’s “Moonrise”


Sometimes we don’t expect or even deserve a happy ending, and get one anyway. Frank Borzage was one of the most talented filmmakers working in Hollywood’s silent and early sound period, churning out an astonishing number of movies in the ‘20s and ‘30s.

But by 1948, when he made “Moonrise,” he was all but forgotten, dutifully churning out pictures for studios like B-movie house Republic Pictures for little acclaim. But “Moonrise,” now out in a new Blu-ray edition from the Criterion Collection, was an unexpected masterpiece, melding the romantic expressionism of Borzage’s silent films while setting film noir tropes on their head. Instead of following an innocent man trapped in a web of intrigue, we follow a guilty man, redeemed when he least expects it.

Continue reading

Shout! Factory saves the best for last (and the last for last) with “Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. XXXIX”


It’s fitting that, as we all settle in to celebrate Turkey Day, Shout! Factory has saved the best for last when it comes to its “Mystery Science Theater 3000” DVD sets. And also saved the last for last.

The new “Vol. XXXIX,” which came out this week, is the last scheduled of the four-disc sets to be released by Shout! Factory. They’ve now put all of the original “MST3K” episodes they have the rights to out on disc, ending with this set.

Continue reading

Kristen Stewart haunts “Personal Shopper,” a very French ghost story


In her last collaboration with director Oliver Assayas, “Clouds of Sils Maria,” Kristen Stewart’s character literally disappeared halfway through the movie.

While watching the pair’s next film, the haunting “Personal Shopper,” one half-expects her to vanish before our eyes in this movie, too.

“Personal Shopper” is a ghost story, elliptical and surprising, and it’s not always clear that Stewart isn’t the ghost. The film is out now in a new Blu-ray edition from the Criterion Collection.

Assayas says in an interview on the Criterion disc that he wanted to make a ghost story that was quintessentially French. That included the Paris setting, and references back to the 19th century, when Europeans would regularly hold seances and even craft crude portraits in which their deceased loved ones “appeared.” In “Personal Shopper,” the ghosts seem to be all around us.

Stewart plays Maureen Cartwright, an American living in Paris who works as a personal shopper to a wealthy celebrity philanthropist, Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz). Since Lara is too famous to go out in public, Maureen goes out and buys expensive clothes and jewelry for her. We hardly see Lara in the film, and she hardly sees Maureen, and each is an almost spectral presence in the life of the other.

Continue reading

James Ivory’s “Maurice” and “Moonlight” would have a lot to talk about


If nothing else, “Maurice” has the British’s gift for not talking about what they’re talking about on full display. Being gay is referred to, famously, as “the unspeakable vice of the Greeks” by one character, and in other instances we hear a gay love affair referred to as a “muddle” or “messiness.” As Ben Kingsley, playing an American hypnotist, says in what may be E.M. Forster’s novel’s most quotable line, “England has always been discinclined to accept human nature.”

Continue reading

Kelly Reichardt’s “Certain Women” presents a triptych of loneliness on the frontier


Sure, it would have been nice to have a lavish Criterion Collection Blu-ray edition of Kelly Reichardt’s “Certain Women.” Multiple commentary tracks, behind the scenes footage, maybe even some animated storyboards for the sequence when the Rancher (Lily Gladstone) cleans out the barn.

But that’s not really the way Reichardt, who makes crisp, economical and devastating indie drams like “Wendy & Lucy” and “Old Joy,” rolls. No shot, no line of dialogue exists in her films without a purpose. So, it’s perhaps fitting that for “Certain Women,” which adapts three short stories by author Maile Meloy, the Criterion disc only has a triptych of short interviews with Reichardt, Meloy and producer Todd Haynes.

Continue reading

“Heal the Living” is a heart-tugging French drama about life and death


How do you make a movie about a heart transplant and not make it a medical drama?

Katell Quillevere’s “Heal the Living,” out on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber, achieves this by giving equal weight to the donor and to the recipient as well as the doctors. The result is a humane triptych of a film which, although it lacks real suspense or drama, contains moments of stunning beauty and enveloping empathy.

Continue reading

“Obit” is an entertaining film about journalists facing the ultimate deadline


Those of us on social media know the feeling; that sense of dread when everybody in your feed is suddenly talking about a famous person you hadn’t thought of in a while. Go back far enough in your timeline and you see why.

A lot of us are amateur obituarists now, posting our remembrances and recollections in 140-character bites on Twitter or a little more on Facebook. That collective outpouring can be a fine and even necessary way to mourn – at least until the point when people in your feed start making inappropriate jokes. But the documentary “Obit,” now out on DVD from Kino Lorber, makes the case for leaving it to the pros.

Continue reading

“Hopscotch”: His name is Matthau. Walter Matthau.


If Jim Broadbent had been hired to play the next James Bond (and that idea sounds better and better with every word I write), the result might be something like Walter Matthau in “Hopscotch.”

He’s an international secret agent who jets from Germany to Bermuda to London, a master of secret identities who catches the bad guys and stays one step ahead of his pursuers. All while wearing grandpa sweaters and reading glasses.

Continue reading

“In This Corner of the World”: A family struggles to survive in Hiroshima’s shadow


History is the ultimate spoiler in the Japanese anime “In This Corner of the World,” which follows an ordinary Japanese family as they eke out a simple but happy existence in a seaside village. But as we watch their day-to-day life, we feel a mounting sense of dread, because this is the 1930s and 1940s, and the bay they live by is Hiroshima Bay.

Writer-director Sunao Katabuchi is mostly circumspect about showing the devastation of war, instead focusing on its effect on these characters. But this poignant and heartbreaking film is definitely for older kids and adults only.

“In This Corner of the World,” distributed in the United States by Shout! Factory, is now playing at Marcus Point.

The film follows Suzu (Rena Nounen), a young woman from the village of Hiroshima. As a girl, she loves to draw, and the film brings her pencil drawings and watercolors playfully to life. When she looks out at the bay, the whitecaps look like hopping white rabbits to her, and so they go into the painting.

At 18, Suzu is forced to move to the neighboring village of Kure and marry a quiet young clerk, living with his family. At first, this seems like a hard and unfair life, as the family requires Suzu to do all the cooking and cleaning for them, and Suzu’s new husband seems distant.  But she gradually warms to this new life, and her husband and in-laws prove to be kind people.


As the film moves slowly forward, we see how the war impacts this little family before the first bomb is even dropped. Sugar and soy sauce are rationed, forcing them to get creative at mealtime. The authorities, hunting for spies, are suspicious of Suzu’s artwork, and forbid her from painting.

Then the planes come, and we feel the true terror of life during wartime, the endless air raid drills, the loss of family and neighbors, the destruction everywhere. The film focuses on the resilience of these people, their determination to help each other and keep living their lives as best they can.

The hand-drawn two-dimensional animation is stunning. It captures both the flights of fancy of Suzu’s imagination and the reality of her life in Kure. The animators drew from actual photos of the village to make the world they drew as realistic as possible – even the brands of the candy bars in the store are accurate.

“In This Corner of the World” is a low-key, at times slow-moving film. But it builds cumulative power because we spend so much time, day in and day out, with this family. Their story, and their survival, becomes important to us.