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.
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.)
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.
There’s been a lot of talk among film critics lately about how, while Netflix TV shows get a lot of attention, the original movies released every week seem to fall through the cracks. And that’s a shame given that Netflix has been busy buying up a lot of good indie movies at film festivals like Sundance and Toronto.
So, I want to contribute in my own small way to highlighting the original movies that Netflix (and, to a lesser extent, other sites like Hulu and Amazon Prime) premiere each week. The “Netflix Movie of the Week” will showcase a worthy original streaming film that could use your attention. The rest is up to you.
Although, you may have actually heard of this week’s Netflix Movie of the Week, “War Machine.” It is by far the biggest movie Netflix has ever released, a $60 million fact-based satire of the war in Afghanistan starring none other than Brad Pitt. It’s clearly Netflix’s attempt to show it can compete with the big studios, not just the indie distributors.
Netflix giveth, and Netflix taketh away. The start of a new month means a whole mess of new movies and TV shows premiering on the streaming service. And it inevitably means that a few movies and TV shows are leaving the service for unexplained reasons.
At least Netflix is starting to spread the pain out a little in June, yanking a few movies every week rather than ripping the Band-Aid off entirely on June 1. But, unless otherwise noted, you have 48 hours to watch or re-watch these movies before they leave Netflix.
Pick of the week: “Manchester by the Sea” (Amazon Prime) — My full review is here. Kenneth Lonergan justifiably won Best Original Screenplay for this achingly sad, acutely observed drama about a blocked-off man (Casey Affleck) who returns to his hometown and the scene of an immense tragedy that he can’t get past. What saves the viewer from total despair is the humanity of the performances and Lonergan’s writing, which offers empathy and forgiveness even to those who don’t deserve it or can’t accept it.