James Karen is one of those actors who, as soon as you see him, you think something along the lines of, “Oh yeah, I know that guy. He is in so many things.” On May 20, at Film Forum, the man himself made an appearance at an event honoring him with a screening of his 1985 horror movie/comedy “The Return of the Living Dead.”
Film Fourm Director of Repertory Programming, Bruce Goldstein, introduced Karen by mentioning that in addition to having been in the original Broadway cast of “A Street Car Named Desire” in 1947, Karen had performed in over 200 films and had done lots of television work. Karen is probably most recognizable from his numerous TV commercials for Pathmark supermarkets, made between 1969 and 1979.
A quick collection of film clips showed Karen in many diverse roles including his feature film debut in “Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster” (1965). Karen’s filmography also includes “The China Syndrome” (1979), “Wall Street” (1987), “Mulholland Drive” (2001) and “Poltergeist” (1982) among many others. Goldstein asked Karen why, with over 200 movies, had he picked “The Return of the Living Dead” for the evening’s screening? “Because it was the most fun I had making a movie,” Karen replied. Read the rest of this entry
From Israel, the new film “Fill the Void” opens at Landmark Theatres Sunshine Cinema (143 East Houston Street) and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas (Broadway between 62nd and 63rd Streets) on Friday, May 24. I attended a press screening of “Fill the Void,” as part of the New York Film Festival, last October. The preview included a post screening Skype conversation with the film’s director, Rama Burshtein, from her home (her kitchen actually) in Israel. “Fill the Void” shows the emergence of an interesting new filmmaking talent, showing the point of view of an orthodox Jewish woman filmmaker. Read the rest of this entry
There are many levels to director and actress Sarah Polley’s new documentary, “Stories We Tell.” In fact, now, having seen the film, I think that its trailer, while certainly intriguing, tells more than it should (as do most trailers these days). I recommend going in cold to see this compelling documentary, playing locally at Angelika Film Center (18 west Houston Street). Now having said this, my challenge is to convey my thoughts and feelings about “Stories We Tell” without giving away more than I should about the film.
“Every family has a story. This one thing that happened.” This quote from early on in “Stories We Tell” sets in motion a story about Polley’s parents. Her mother, Diane, who died when Polley was 11, was larger than life and full of fun. She fell in love with Sarah’s father, Michael, not so much with the man himself, but with a character he portrayed in a play in which the two of them performed. The mother and father were very different people, as Sarah’s father, Michael, frankly recounts. From there the story is launched and flies off at a trajectory somewhere between melodrama and thriller. Read the rest of this entry
“Scarecrow,” the 1973 road movie directed by Jerry Schatzberg, will be having a run at Film Forum from May 17 – 23. The film stars Al Pacino (fresh off “The Godfather”) and Gene Hackman, both in their primes.
“Scarecrow” will be shown in a clean, beautiful, anamorphic (really wide screen) print which, for me, was a revelation. I first saw “Scarecrow” many years ago when I taped it off of channel 5 at 2:00 am using the EP (lowest picture quality, but more time on a VHS tape) setting on my VCR. The film’s original wide screen dimensions were blown up to fill the space of square shaped TVs. In other words I was losing 50% of the picture. Now that home video users are used to the concept of letterboxing this problem has become less and less frequent. Commercial breaks were thrown in for good measure but, despite all of this, I liked the film. Now, seeing “Scarecrow” in its correct, widescreen aspect ratio, I can properly appreciate Schatzberg’s use of long takes as the characters amble about aimlessly toward objectives that they are probably not going to achieve, dwarfed by the wide open spaces through which they travel. Read the rest of this entry
“What Maisie Knew,” is an absorbing, well acted and uniquely told story of a family breakup. What sets it apart from other dysfunctional family stories (if that could be called a genre) is that it is seen entirely from the point of view of Maisie, an only child, who looks to be about four or five-years-old.
Maisie is played by Onata Aprile. It is a performance simultaneously rich in depth, childhood naivete and yet one that also displays great strength as Maisie tries to come to grips with, and make sense of, what is happening around her. How directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel got such a performance from this young actress, without relying on easy sentiment, is a real credit to them. Read the rest of this entry
New to home video is Oscar winner (Best Actress, Jennifer Lawrence) “Silver Linings Playbook.” The film is a comedy with serious undertones about mental illness, obsession, family dynamics, football and dancing. It stars Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro. It has been directed by David O. Russell (“The Fighter” 2010, “Three Kings” 1999).
Cooper plays Pat, a man emerging from a mental institution who comes home to live with his parents, but who refuses to take his medication. Needless to say complications follow. Pat soon meets Tiffany (Lawrence), a woman dealing with her own emotional traumas. The push and pull of their relationship forms the core of the story and both Cooper and Lawrence are quite engaging.
The supporting cast is quite good, De Niro in particular. It is not often, lately, that this great actor chooses to be in good movies. It is nice to see De Niro get off of his “Meet the Fockers” kick and play an interesting character in a good script. As Pat Senior, Pat’s football obsessed father, De Niro provides strong clues to his son’s problems.
“Silver Linings Playbook” is an intelligent, observant and funny movie that respects its characters. Based on the cookie cutter, over the top comedies, featuring the same actors, with which we are often deluged, this is a refreshing break.
Use the search box, on the right, to look up my full length critique of “Silver Linings Playbook” when it was originally released.
In any good film you need a character, or characters, who want something and want it very badly. Then there have to be road blocks put in their way. This creates conflict, which moves the story along while, hopefully, holding audience attention.
In “Django Unchained” writer/director Quentin Tarantino sort of does this, but not to the extent that he could have, at least not to the point of keeping interest for a movie that is two hours and 45 minutes in length. Yes, the main characters, Django (Jamie Foxx) and Dr. King Schultz (Waltz), do have an objective toward which they are striving. My issue is that there seemed to be a rather simple way to achieve this goal. However, the characters did not take the obvious route. Granted, every story is a contrivance. The key though is to not make the story look contrived. There needs to be logical, believable reasons as to why characters are making, or not making, certain choices. When I found myself, during “Django,” wondering why the characters are not doing what, to me, seems obvious, I was ahead of the story and, as a result, bought out of what was happening on the screen.
The character, Django, has been the subject of many an Italian Western, in which Django was frequently played by actor Franco Nero. In Tarantino’s vision, Django has been transported to the antebellum south and turned into a slave, nicely played by Foxx. So perhaps “Django” should be more accurately called a “southern” rather than a western. “Django Unchained” has a stellar cast which, in addition to Foxx and Waltz, also includes Leonardo Di Caprio, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Johnson (of TV’s “Miami Vice” fame) and Russ Tamblyn (yes, Riff from “West Side Story!”).
Be warned, “Django Unchained” is rather talky in parts, but, rest assured, Tarantino does reward our patience with bloodier than bloody shoot outs.
Use the search box, on the right, to look up my complete review of “Django Unchained” when it first was released.
The trailer for “Paradise: Love” gives the impression that this film is a comedy. Yes, there is humor, something played up in the movie’s trailer. Director Ulrich Seidl, who co-wrote the screenplay with Veronika Franz, favors deadpan humor using long takes, a technique that I enjoy.
The ancient Greeks gave us a short menu when it came to drama: comedy or tragedy. The strict definition of a comedy is that the main character has failure, then success and learns something along the way. In a tragedy the main character has success, then failure and learns nothing.
How then to categorize this tale of Teresa (Margarete Tiesel) a middle aged, over weight Austrian woman who leads a less than exciting life running a bumper car concession and dealing with an unresponsive teenaged daughter? Teresa takes a vacation at a resort in Kenya where other women of her ilk curry sexual favors from fit Kenyan males who work at or near the resort. Read the rest of this entry
Premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, “Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia” is a wild ride through the life of the eponymous, critic, author, play-write, raconteur, screenwriter, essayist, novelist and probably a few other things that I am leaving out. Director Nicholas Wrathall managed to capture Vidal on camera during his final years, during which Vidal had lost none of his very acerbic bite. Read the rest of this entry
I have been attending this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which, conveniently, has been taking place, at least partially, in our neighborhood. Many of the screenings are at the AMC Loews Village 7, at 66 Third Avenue.
When attending film festivals, I usually stick with the documentaries. In my experience, the documentaries are almost always very good. The narrative (fiction) films tend to be uneven. Some are good, while some are not. In either category it can be hard to tell which films are worthwhile seeing. The reason for this is that, at film festivals, viewers are always dealing with untested commodities – new films, many of which do not yet have distribution.
While I still adhere to my “documentaries only” strategy, as a rule, I am nothing if not open-minded. As a result, this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, now through April 28, has thrown me two very different, thought provoking exceptions to my documentary-centric point of view. Each of these films involves teenagers dealing with choices and both have stayed with me. Read the rest of this entry