When rating a film I ask myself these three questions: What is the director’s goal or purpose? How does the director try to achieve it? Is the director successful? Hence a big box office hit may get a “5” while a Eurosleaze sexploitation flick gets a “7”. My rating system in a nutshell:

10 = Brilliant!
9 = Exceptional
8 = Very Good
7 = Good
6 = Average
5 = Forgettable
4 = Bad
3 = Dismal
2 = Dog Barf
1 = Beyond Awful


~ ~ ~ ~


Gods of Egypt (USA 2016) (6): Two-dimensional characters, lukewarm CGI effects, and a plot thinner than a comic book is not much to go on but somehow director Alex Proyas manages to churn out something entertaining enough thanks to a bit of star power and sheer chutzpah. The gods of ancient Egypt love the Nile kingdom so much they’ve taken up residence among mortals despite being nine-feet tall and having liquid gold for blood. Osiris, the current god-king, is about to pass the crown to his layabout son Horus (Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) when he is usurped by his wicked brother Set (Gerard Butler looking buffed but sounding like he’s in the middle of a Glaswegian pub crawl). Robbed of most of his powers and sent into exile, Horus joins forces with master thief Bek (an annoyingly cocky Brentan Thwaites) in order to wrest the throne of Egypt back from his uncle Set whose tyrannical rule threatens to destroy the world. But Set’s evil runs deeper than either mortal or immortal anticipated and as the remaining gods join in the fray the future of humanity hangs by a thread. Or something like that. Reducing the Egyptian pantheon to a swashbuckling sitcom of bickering couples and colourful eccentrics then throwing in a pair of doe-eyed adolescent lovers—Bek wants to retrieve his girlfriend from the Netherworld—and dropping them all into a make-believe world culled from every DVD fantasy game ever invented (with more than a passing nod to Indiana Jones) should have yielded more groans than smiles yet it is this very cheesiness that ends up making the film so darn watchable. Everyone delivers their lines with a smirk—Geoffrey Rush as supreme god Ra looks like he’s about to break into giggles—and the flashy effects combined with that grandiose music makes two hours fly by in a whirl of gilded wings and computer-generated monsters. Let’s just pray there isn’t a sequel.

My Favourite Wife
(USA 1940) (7): Seven years after his wife Ellen (Irene Dunne) was swept out to sea and presumed drowned, attorney Nick Arden (Cary Grant) is embarking on a honeymoon with his new wife Bianca (Gail Patrick). But before he can even get Bianca’s garters off Ellen miraculously crosses the threshold instead, alive and eager to resume her spousal duties even though she is now legally dead. Romantic hijinks ensue as Nick goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid consummating his new marriage to an increasingly frustrated Bianca while at the same time secretly reconnecting with an increasingly amused Ellen. But Ellen has a little secret of her own and as the tables turn—and turn again—Nick’s predicament goes from problematic to monumental. A light and frothy confection which compensates for its lack of logic with pure Hollywood star power and plenty of screwball antics (a hotel mix-up is classic). In this their second of three pairings, Grant and Dunne have the perfect onscreen chemistry—his neurotic fidgeting playing foil to her wry, slightly mocking humour. Patrick, on the other hand, shows that while her heavy presence makes for a mean femme fatale she lacks the levity and timing essential to a comedic role. One unintentionally amusing aside is the casting of Randolph Scott as Stephen Burkett, Nick’s wannabe competition for Ellen’s attentions. Rumour has it that Grant and Scott were more than just friends in real life and watching them eyeing one another—ostensibly as rivals—is terribly funny, if only in hindsight.

Oedipus Rex
[Edipo Re] (Italy 1967) (6): Sophocle’s tragedy about Oedipus, the foundling who gained the throne of Thebes then discovered he’d unwittingly murdered his father and married his mother, is given a slight contemporary twist by Pier Paolo Pasolini. Initially set during Mussolini’s reign with an Italian officer consumed by murderous jealousy over his wife’s attention to their newborn son, it abruptly shifts into an antique daydream set in ancient times where an abandoned baby, left to die in the desert, is rescued and raised by King Polybus and Queen Merope in the palace at Corinth. Growing into a handsome young man, Oedipus is horrified to learn of his incestuous fate from the Oracle at Delphi and so leaves home before it can come true. But a combination of cruel fate and personal weakness eventually leads him to ruin… With a cast of unknown professionals and fidgeting amateurs, and a jerky handheld cinematography that tries to make the most of those sun-drenched Moroccan locations, Pasolini’s enigmatic film is part autobiography—his own childhood was not exemplary—and part social critique, though the lines between the Fall of Thebes and pre-Fascist Italy are sketchy at best. One does not try to decipher a Pasolini film however, best to simply revel in it’s esoteric mix of poetry, myth, and politics. His actors emote as if on a Greek stage (Silvana Mangano is brilliant as the Queen, Franco Citti less so as Oedipus) while extras parade around in outrageous costumes ranging from indigo thawbs to elaborate headdresses made from plaster, scrap metal, and branches. But it’s those sere desert locations that ultimately make up for much of the movie’s potholes with mud cities baking beneath a blinding sun which glares down upon kings and peasants like an impersonal eye. A low-budget pageant and a worthy addition to Pasolini’s omnibus.

November
(Estonia 2017) (9): Once upon a time in a magical Eastern European village where witches and werewolves roam the night and clockwork demons made out of willow branches and cow skulls clunk their way through the woods, a peasant girl named Liina falls in love with Hans. But Hans only has eyes for the lovely baroness, a haunted woman who barely knows he even exists. This doomed love triangle forms the backbone of Rainer Sarnet’s bleak yet visually arresting fairy tale based on a popular Estonian novel and set in a quasi-medieval countryside where superstitious farmers prepare for the coming Winter by whatever means necessary—stealing from each other, from the ruling Lord, from the church, and even from the Devil himself. No sin goes unpunished however, whether it be the theft of a silver brooch or Liina’s revenge spell aimed at her female rival, and as ice and darkness encroach upon the land there will be Hell to pay…literally. Not since Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast has B&W cinematography elicited such surreal beauty and Sarnet wastes no opportunity to flood the screen with fog and moonlight or cheerless sunshine—tree branches stand out in stark contrast while entire forests erupt in a riot of brilliant white, and a jilted lover floats serenely through shafts of watery sunlight as two mythical sweethearts glide down an impossibly beautiful Venetian canal. And it’s all set to a gorgeous score of classic chorales and ethereal rhythms. Here the sacred and profane mix with Old World folk tales to create a pagan dreamscape at once disjointed and oddly exuberant—the Dead come home for supper, the Plague arrives in the form of a white goat, and a dying snowman dispenses sad poetry. Wickedly blasphemous with an underlying vein that runs hot and cold between heartbreak and dark humour (spiced with a bit of Baltic politics), Sarnet’s crazy imaginative adult fable is impossible to pin down—a true feast for the senses.

The Man With the Golden Arm
(USA 1955) (7): Otto Preminger’s sanitized screen adaptation of Nelson Algren’s novel almost didn’t make it into American theatres due to its graphic portrayal of heroin addiction, including a cold turkey sequence that helped garner a Best Actor nomination for star Frank Sinatra. Fresh out of rehab, Frankie Machine (Sinatra) returns to his old Chicago haunts with ambitions of joining a big band using the drumming skills he learned while incarcerated. But the forces which drove him to the needle in the first place have not gone away—in fact they seem determined to put the monkey right back on his shoulders. His clingy wheelchair-bound wife Zosh (Eleanor Parker overdoing it a bit) is still a manipulative shrew intent on destroying his every hope, and temptations in the form of a dope pusher and two-bit card shark (Darren McGavin and dough-faced character actor Robert Strauss) stick to him like twin shadows. Only his one-time mistress Molly (Kim Novak) offers him any reprieve but she is weighed down by co-dependency issues of her own. With his dreams exploding around him and his crumbling tenement neighbourhood closing in like a maze, the siren call of a quick fix becomes more and more unbearable… Tainted in parts by Preminger’s predilection for lurid details and carrying a script that too often slips into pulp magazine tropes, this is nevertheless one of cinema’s first serious forays into the mind of an addict with Sinatra proving he is up for the task as he sweats and trembles his way towards a final catharsis that arrives a little too conveniently for all its emotional build-up. Besides his Oscar nomination, the film was also nominated for Best Art Direction and Best Musical Score and for good reason. Shot in dreary B&W on RKO backlots and studio sound stages, Preminger and cinematographer Sam Leavitt create a world of stifling apartments, sleazy nightclubs, and smoky backrooms while Shorty Rogers’ manic jazz numbers underscore the film’s pall of desperation. Stuck in the style of 50s melodrama but still worthwhile viewing.

The Last Circus
[Balada Triste de Trompeta] (Spain 2010) (8): The circus becomes a metaphor in Álex de la Iglesia’s hyperkinetic nightmare—both a straight-up horror show and a demented allegory on the sad legacies of Franco’s regime. A prologue set in 1937 as Spanish rebels clash with fascists has a children’s carnival show interrupted by a ragtag team of guerrillas who draft the performers (still in greasepaint and floppy shoes) to help them wipe out a platoon of government troops—the vision of a bellowing clown mowing down soldiers with a machete is not soon forgotten. Cut to 1973 and the waning years of fascism with Javier, the orphaned son of the aforementioned clown, now performing as a nebbishy “sad clown” in a flea-bitten circus ruled by Sergio, a “happy clown” whose insane temper and alcoholic rages have the other performers cowed and terrified. But when both men fall in love with trapeze artist Natalia their mounting rivalry leaves each one scarred both inside and out while the beautiful but masochistic Natalia gets the short end of the stick. It doesn’t take a a lot of imagination to see the parallels between two crazy clowns fighting over a hysterical woman and two clashing ideologies vying fo control a country slowly being ripped apart and Iglesia wastes no time on subtlety—television and newsreel snippets mix pop culture with propaganda and religious symbols loom everywhere with a hair-raising confrontation atop the giant cross at Spain’s Civil War memorial calling to mind a similar scene in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. Although they start out as direct opposites (peaceful vs violent) Javier and Sergio gradually become indistinguishable from one another. In one surreal laugh-out-loud scene a psychotic Javier—whose dying father once told him his only happiness will come from revenge—actually bites an aging General Franco on the hand. Told with chutzpah and drenched in bloody and brio, Iglesia’s wild ride is as tame as a tiger and as nuanced as a pie in the face.

The Royal Tenenbaums
(USA 2001) (6): After an absence of seven years Royal Tenenbaum, the curmudgeonly patriarch of an eccentric New York family (Gene Hackman), tries to reconnect with his estranged loved ones. But wife Etheline (Anjelica Huston) has a new career and a new paramour and his three grown children—once child prodigies and now neurotic adults—hardly know him and prefer to keep it that way. There’s failed playwright Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) a chain-smoking recluse, Wall Street whiz Chas (Ben Stiller) now an overly obsessive single father of two charming mopheads, Richie (Luke Wilson) a former tennis pro now living in disgrace; and longtime family friend Eli (Owen Wilson) a mediocre author and coke head with designs on the married Margot. Aided by his would-be assassin and now loyal sidekick Pagoda, Royal resorts to subterfuge and emotional manipulation in order to regain his family’s love but the Tenenbaum clan proves to be a tougher bunch of nuts to crack than he bargained for. Directed and co-written by Wes Anderson, this kaleidoscopic montage of quirky visuals and stilted dialogue moves at such a breakneck pace you hardly notice the dearth of emotional content beneath all the gimmickry. The all-star cast (including Bill Murray as Margot’s doormat husband) emote and grimace on cue but aside from Hackman and Huston they’re all idiosyncrasy without much substance. Royal was a terrible father and his children are paying the price, that much is clear, but without more illumination the scars they bear are just so much cinematic excess—Stiller rants and pouts, Paltrow stares and pouts, Wilson just pouts. Anderson’s signature panache is in full evidence however as New York is given a capricious fairy tale sheen and everyone seems suspended in a retro time bubble. Unfortunately this is a film in need of an anchor, or at least a cohesive point of reference, and without either one its actors are left in limbo and all those final resolutions seem pat and dry.

Double Love
r [Amant Double] (France 2017) (7): Transference becomes crazy sexy (but mostly crazy) in François Ozon’s psycho-erotic mindfuck that manages to take 1988s Dead Ringers down a twisty path that even Cronenberg would find hard to follow. Suffering from years of phantom abdominal pain, twenty-four year old Chloé takes the advice of her gynaecologist and seeks psychiatric help. But after several sessions with Paul, her handsome therapist, a mutual attraction leads to a live-in relationship—and that’s when things take a distinctly bizarre turn, for Paul has a family secret and Chloé’s already fragile mind is about to take a nose dive even as her libido takes off… Obsessed with the idea of duality (darkness and light, love and hate, illusion and reality) Ozon fills the screen with mirrors and painstakingly symmetrical set designs as a progressively panic-stricken Chloé tries to sort clues from psychosis. And as if her world isn’t topsy-turvy enough the crazy cat lady next door is becoming more sinister each day, the museum where she works is featuring an exhibit of mutated grotesques, and Paul’s maddeningly elusive behaviour has her convinced that at least one of them is mad. A slick and stylish presentation helps to hide what is essentially a series of silly plot devices followed by a psychologically suspect final twist that is nevertheless satisfying in a daft sort of way. If you follow the clues you can pretty well guess the ending, or you can just sit back and watch it all unravel.

Foxtrot (Israel 2017) (9): Fate and Grief take to the dance floor while God claps his hands in Samuel Maoz’s bitter pill of a film, at once gently compassionate and blisteringly cynical. When they’re told that their son Jonathan was killed while on military duty, Michael and Daphna Feldman’s solid middle class life falls to pieces. While she lays sedated in bed, he wanders aimlessly through his apartment complex unable to mourn yet desperately needing to feel something. And then there’s another knock at the door and their life takes yet one more turn. Cut to Jonathan the day before, stuck with manning a roadside checkpoint in the middle of nowhere with a crew of slackers. Trying to alleviate the crushing boredom by sketching in his notebook, Jonathan’s life takes a few turns of its own when a routine traffic stop goes terribly wrong… Framed with geometric precision and a palette of colours that range from candy pastels to sober blues and greys, Maoz’s beautifully realized film offsets harsh reality with surreal passages that call to mind the best of European arthouse. With a disorienting POV that hovers over people’s heads, crawls through a muddied puddle, or careens down a desert highway, he is constantly catching us off guard—Michael’s dazed wandering takes him to a dance class where seniors twirl in shafts of sunlight, images of women (on truck panels, magazine covers, and tattoos) seem to mock the men around them, and a lone camel comes and goes like a divine portent. Much like the protagonists in Eran Kolirin’s Beyond the Mountains and Hills, Maoz’s characters are obsessed with their own sharply delineated circle of reality and unable to grasp the bigger picture—in one wry passage Jonathan’s grungy roadside bunker, ironically adorned with a tropical motif mural, is slowly sinking into a mud puddle yet no one seems unduly concerned. A film about sorrow, disconnect, and the need for absolution (both Michael and Daphna are burdened with guilt for very different reasons)—there is also a vein of sarcasm running through Maoz’s work, an angry fatalism heaped with cruel twists that takes no prisoners either civilian or military which prompted Israel’s Minister of Culture to condemn it out of hand even as it received accolades from Los Angels to Venice.

Pacific Rim
(USA 2013) (7): In the near future an inter-dimensional rift under the Pacific Ocean allows mammoth aquatic beasts called “Kaiju” to enter our world and wreak havoc from San Francisco to Manila. Mankind responds to this extraterrestrial threat by building skyscraper-sized killer robots called “Jaegers”, each controlled by two human pilots. And Earthlings appear to be gaining the upper hand until the Kaiju start morphing into something bigger, meaner, and even more destructive. Now, with the fate of the planet hanging in the balance, it’s up to ace pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam practically choking on his own testosterone) and a small cadre of sweaty meatheads to kick some alien butt before they kick ours… It’s easy to dismiss Guillermo del Toro’s crazy-stupid sci-fi thriller at first glance—after all the derivative storyline is preposterous and the script never rises above adolescent comic book schlock. But then you realize that beneath the glaring neon gewgaws and flash-bang effects this is actually a lovingly cheeky homage to every Japanese monster movie ever made. Sure, the hokey neoprene body suits have been replaced by high-tech models and CGI (the multi-eyed Kaiju resemble scaly King Kongs with the noggin of a Joe Dante gremlin), and the old cardboard and balsa wood mock-ups of downtown Tokyo have given way to digitally rendered cityscapes and elaborate Toronto sound stages, but this is still a universe in which Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan would feel right at home. Emoting seems to be the cardinal rule here and del Toro’s over-the-top special effects are paired with equally exaggerated performances especially by Idris Elba as a stone cold commander, Rinko Kikuchi as the little Japanese girl who could (and Becket’s squeeze), and the team of Charlie Day and Burn Gorman camping it up as a pair of slapstick scientists who couldn’t have been sillier had they been played by Laurel & Hardy. Even B-Movie mainstay Ron Perlman has a cameo of sorts playing a black market entrepreneur pimped out in gold-plated shoes and wire goggles. The destruction is awesome, the fight sequences hilarious, and the whole production makes you feel like a kid sitting through a super cool Saturday afternoon matinee. Either take it for what it is or give it a pass because del Toro offers no middle ground.

Ex Machina
(UK 2014) (7): When the reclusive multi-millionaire CEO of a computer research firm invites ace programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson, Brendan’s son) to his high-tech Alaskan compound the young whiz is understandably delighted. Once there however, his delight turns to fascination when he discovers he’s been chosen to evaluate the latest model of artificial intelligence, a beautiful robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander, all transparent baubles and glowing wires). Tasked with determining whether Ava truly has a mind of her own or is merely mimicking human reactions, Caleb’s initial awe turns dubious when he begins to suspect his benefactor of having much darker motives… A breath of Stanley Kubrick blows through writer/director Alex Garland’s sci-fi brain teaser, a satisfying if occasionally predictable marriage of Oscar-winning CGI effects and compelling story that draws its inspiration from such diverse sources as Shelley’s Frankenstein and the Prometheus legend to Bluebeard and Christian Creation mythology. Gleeson and Vikander definitely share onscreen chemistry with his post-adolescent zeal offset by her computerized intensity. But Vikander is especially brilliant given the fact the special effects team rendered half her body as gears and blinking motherboards—her not-quite-mechanical delivery hinting at a self-awareness that may or may not spring from mere binary code. It’s the conversations between man and machine which ultimately provide the film’s backbone, so reminiscent of HAL from Kubrick’s Space Odyssey, as they proceed from data exchange to deeper waters. Unfortunately Oscar Isaac’s performance as the company CEO is a glaring misfire, his obnoxious character coming across as more of a slimy lounge lizard than either an aging prodigy or mad scientist. But given the film’s ultra-hip appearance (that house!) and a script that rarely stoops to clichés, one sour note is easy to overlook.

Heat
(USA 1995) (10): Fresh from pulling off a violent yet brilliantly executed armoured car robbery, criminal genius Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) sets his sights on one last heist that will leave him set for life. Dogging his every step however is equally savvy LAPD detective Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) who is determined to see that McCauley spends the rest of his life back in prison. But despite the film’s ample artillery and a crackling pace that rarely rests for a moment, writer/director Michael Mann’s 3-hour policier epic is not as concerned with hardware and strategy as it is with focusing on the psychological landscape between the good guys and the bad. McCauley and Hanna are two sides of a very dark coin and Mann drives this symmetry home every chance he gets—both men are obsessive perfectionists well versed in society’s underside; both are ruthless in their pursuits; and although one has chosen the high road and one the low road, both of their paths come with dire personal consequences starting with an inability to love unconditionally as attested to by Hanna’s string of divorces and McCauley’s sadly hesitant affair with a graphic artist. Yet there exists a grudging respect between the two adversaries, as if each recognizes in the other his own mirror image, leading to one of cinema’s most perfectly ad-libbed scenes when they sit down for a coffee after calling an unofficial truce. Stylishly shot in midnight colours with a moody soundtrack that stretches from Brian Eno and Moby to Hungarian composer Györy Ligeti and the Kronos Quartet, this is a film weighted with pessimism and broken dreams where long passages of introspection are shattered by scenes of grim violence including a deadly shoot-out in downtown Los Angeles so realistic it’s been used to train soldiers and police officers alike. Val Kilmer co-stars as McCauley’s right-hand man—a jarring combination of cold-blooded thief and emotionally needy husband—and Diane Venora plays Hanna’s live-in girlfriend, a woman who weathers his many absences with sour grace while her daughter (a teen-aged Natalie Portman) slowly comes undone. Mesmerizing from those brutal opening scenes to an unexpectedly moving coda.

The Age of Innocence
(USA 1993) (9): Set among the ornate brownstones and gilded ballrooms of 1870s New York society, Martin Scorsese’s sumptuous adaptation of Edith Wharton’s story is one of his most restrained and therefore most powerful films. An epic period drama about star-crossed lovers, it follows the fortunes of stalwart attorney Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) whose happy engagement to mousy debutante May Welland (Winona Ryder, Best Supporting Actress nominee) is threatened when he meets her cousin Ellen (Michelle Pfeiffer), a disgraced countess fleeing from an unhappy marriage in Europe and now ostracized by New York’s elite for her “unconventional ways”. Finding in Ellen a kindred rebel spirit which sees the world as it truly is—so unlike May’s timid domesticity and naïve conviction that all is harmony and order—the two are gradually drawn to one another. But this is Victorian Era America and beneath all the gold leaf and rococo trappings the privileged gentry are confined by a rigid set of social codes more impenetrable than that of any primitive tribe so it isn’t long before gossip and innuendo ensure that any action taken by Newland or Ellen will come at a cost. Apparently Scorsese deemed this his “most violent film” not for any physical action but for its sheer depth of emotion. indeed, despite their waxed moustaches and butterfly dresses, the refined gentlemen and ladies depicted here are able to flash the most dazzling of smiles even as they twist their knives further in. A wistful, heartbreaking, and deeply romantic piece with a baroque score and erudite script—partially narrated by Joanne Woodward—all set off by Michael Ballhaus’ golden cinematography, Gabriela Pescucci’s Oscar-winning costume designs, and set decorations which make old New York’s monied class come to life once more, if only for a few hours.

The Cloverfield Paradox
(USA 2018) (5): With every country on Earth poised to go to war over dwindling energy resources, the multinational crew of on orbiting space station risk everything in a desperate experiment which, if successful, will harness the unlimited power of the universe itself. Unfortunately their unstable particle beam rips a hole in space-time propelling them into an alternate reality instead where an alternate Earth is having problems of its own. Will they be able to get back to their own planet before this new dimension traps them forever? And what other unpleasant side effects could this botched experiment have unleashed? Hint: a television interview with a luddite author warns of “demons”…ooooooh! Of course if you’ve seen the first two Cloverfield movies you already know what’s going to happen and if you haven’t then skip this farcical prequel altogether and consider yourself fortunate. Ultra-cool special effects and futuristic gewgaws fail to mask a comic book script so patently ridiculous that even if you do succeed in suspending your disbelief you’re going to find it all but impossible to suspend your IQ as well. Lots of flashing lights and buttons replace actual science (even if it’s only fiction); running, shouting, and sweaty close-ups stand in for drama; and crazy poltergeist stuff happens with only a few lame hints to give it any perspective (my favourite—a severed arm crawls in search of a magic marker). And what’s with casting Chinese superstar Ziyi Zhang as the vitally important and indispensable engineer who only speaks Mandarin? The interpersonal tensions—love, resentment, sacrifice, betrayal—seem like afterthoughts and that ridiculous resolution offers the film’s only real tie-in with its far superior successors. The slick effects and sheer momentum keep it just entertaining enough for a popcorn night, but you might want to rent Disney’s The Black Hole as a bad movie back-up.

Bone Tomahawk
(USA 2015) (8): Writer/director S. Craig Zahler takes a handful of tried and true horror tropes and twists them into something chillingly fresh, if not quite original. The Wild Wild West is about to become ferocious when a tribe of cave-dwelling cannibals begin picking off the hapless residents of Bright Hope, an otherwise peaceful frontier town. When the savage troglodytes make off with a couple of well known citizens a four man posse led by the erudite, no-nonsense sheriff Hunt (an impeccably bewhiskered Kurt Russell) give chase—but their would-be rescue mission quickly spirals into the stuff of nightmares when the quarry becomes the hunter. With dialogue that is oddly formal verging on stilted and brief flashes of grisly bloodletting, Zahler’s monstrous Western has the feel of a graphic novel especially with those howling sound effects echoing over the sagebrush and hungry fiends all decked out in grey body paint and grotesque piercings. Russell brings his usual intensity to the role of Hunt, a man bound by honour as much as the law, while a supporting cast of ne’er-do-wells and cowpokes flesh the story out, notably Matthew Fox as the town’s dapper yet deadly Lothario; Patrick Wilson as a husband eager to find his captured wife despite hobbling with a broken leg; and Richard Jenkins whose scene-stealing deputy Chicory—a perfect blend of addled geriatric and loyal sidekick—throws some much needed humour into all the gore and tension. And gore, both implied and explicit, arrives in due course including one particularly brutal scene in which a trio of cannibals prepare their struggling evening meal. John Wayne would have pissed his pants.

Wall Street
(USA 1987) (6): David worships Goliath in Oliver Stone’s corporate fable, an edgy mix of wheeling, dealing, and nagging consciences. Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen all nerves and piss) is an eager young stockbroker living on the brink of poverty for whom the promise of easy cash is like blood in the water. Enter Manhattan kingpin Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas earning that Oscar) who takes the naïve Fox under his wing and teaches him that making it on Wall Street requires some sacrifices—starting with one’s sense of personal integrity. But, like any other drug, money comes with its own side effects and despite his rising star and Gekko’s oily assurance that “Greed is Good” Fox eventually finds out that in the world of high stakes finance there are too many pawns in play and too few ethical lines left uncrossed. Using skittish camerawork that taps into the nervous energy of New York’s stock exchange crowd both at work and at play, Stone fashions a hip Faustian melodrama in which Sheen’s exuberant youth is slowly corrupted by Douglas’ Mephistophelean tutelage. Boardrooms come to resemble luxurious aeries in which millionaire traders perch like birds of prey (or cunning parasites), fortunes are made and lost with the roll of a computer mouse or a whispered rumour, and everyone and everything can be expressed in terms of monetary value. Stone also throws in a few clever touches such as an eclectic background score that goes from Frank Sinatra to The Talking Heads and an oversized mural in Fox’s newly acquired penthouse that consists of distorted heads which seem to leer at him from every angle—even the names, Gekko and Fox, drip with irony. But the plot is an old cliché that has been retold under so many different guises that you just know how it’s all going to end and those “high tech” 80’s touches are distractingly retro (remember when portable phones were the size of bricks and onscreen computer text was livid green?). Then there’s Daryl Hannah’s monotone performance as Sheen’s opportunistic bedmate, a casting mistake so glaringly bad that it shadows an otherwise capable ensemble that includes Terence Stamp as a British shark, Sheen Sr. as Fox’s working class dad, and Hal Holbrook as an honest broker providing counterpoint to Douglas’ conniving.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
(USA 2015) (6): It’s been almost forty years since I was a teenager and I never was much of a slacker. Unfortunately those two qualities seem mandatory requirements in order to enjoy Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s teenage slacker comedy-tearjerker so it’s understandable that I really wanted to dislike it. But this adolescent dramedy has a way of drawing you in despite the corny one-liners, packaged angst, and blatantly manipulative plot devices—or perhaps it is precisely these flaws that lend it a certain awkward gravitas? Greg is a geeky highschool loner who, along with his only bud Earl, delights in recording no-budget spoofs of classic movies (their cinematic omnibus includes such titles as A Sockwork Orange and Gross Encounters of the Turd Kind….haha….get it??). But when his mom insists he befriend Rachel, a class acquaintance newly diagnosed with leukemia, in order to “cheer her up” a tenuous friendship develops between dweeb and dying girl, a friendship that will force Greg to grow up just a little especially after he’s talked into making a personal film just for her… “This isn’t a touching romantic story…” insists Greg in retrospect even though Gomez-Rejon draws upon every weepy cinematic cliché from Love Story to Beaches in order to yank our heartstrings. And yet there is a certain lopsided freshness to his approach that forces us to see these kleenex moments in a different light. Perhaps it’s those doses of millennial humour—part harebrained non-sequiturs, part cynical commentary—that defuse the pathos and cause a double take. Maybe it’s the loving yet ineffectual adults that reminded me of my own age—Greg’s dad (Nick Offerman!) is an intellectual dilettante; Rachel’s mom is a lonely cougar full of regrets; an outspoken history teacher is a thirty-something anarchist. Or perhaps it was the unexpectedly surreal ending, bolstered by Brian Eno’s eclectic score, that jolted me out of my middle-aged rut and made me realize that this movie speaks to a different generation than my own (nowadays I even view The Breakfast Club with the same sense of puzzlement—was I ever that young?) A fine cast play off each other with expert precision as Greg’s self-obsessed pessimism bounces off Earl’s urban smarts and Rachel’s angry fatalism, and Gomez-Rejon keeps the narrative flowing with energetic camerawork, a bit of animation, and some cutesy intertitles that could have been lifted from any highschool essay. Not a perfect film by any stretch, but one not afraid to wear its fresh young heart on its sophomore sleeve.

Everlasting Moments
(Sweden 2008) (6): Based on a series of memoirs, Sweden’s official entry for the 2008 Oscar is a mishmash of biopic, history lesson, and period drama that never seems to sit comfortably in any genre. Married to a violent, drunken lout, Maria Larrson tries to keep her family clothed and sheltered by shoring up her husband’s paycheques with money raised from housecleaning and sewing—but this is 1907 and opportunities open to women are already severely restricted. And then she takes an interest in photography using a camera she won in a lottery and suddenly her world opens up as the beauty around her comes into sharper focus, a beauty she now has the ability to capture forever. Or so the movie’s synopsis suggests. The acting is impeccable and the attention to period details is convincing enough, but Jan Troell’s film lacks any momentum or focus of its own: Maria and her husband Sigge move from one hot-tempered spat to another (taking time out for his affairs and her conceptions) while the kids go from puppy-eyed children to puppy-eyed adolescents and the only way one can mark the time is when the furniture gets rearranged, Sigge dons a WWI uniform, and intertitles occasional give us the year. Even the central theme (Liberation through art? The preservation of memory?) is consigned to Maria taking a couple of snapshots while the owner of a local camera shop fawns over her. Clocking in at over two hours in which not a whole lot happens one begins to wonder whether those memoirs were missing a few pages.

The Enemy Below
(USA 1957) (9): In the middle of WWII the new commander of a navy destroyer (a square-jawed Robert Mitchum) picks up the scent of a German U-boat in the south Atlantic and gives chase. Meanwhile the German commander (Curd Jürgens making his impressive American debut), sensing the pursuit, begins evasive action. What follows is a tense game of cat-and-mouse between ship and submarine as the two seasoned and battle savvy foes try to outguess, outsmart, and outmanoeuvre one another over the course of twenty-four hours. Amazing cinematography both above and below the waves couples with explosive Oscar-winning special effects and a script both sharp and literate to produce a film that abandons the usual “guts’n glory” flag-waving in favour of darker, psychological insights. Although the commanders have become inured to the dogs of war they are not without their individual scars for both men have suffered personal tragedies because of it and both have begun questioning the wisdom of armed conflict. The American sees warfare as something humans carry within themselves, the German laments the loss of honour among warriors, yet both have a mission to carry out despite their grudging respect for one another. Notable for its sympathetic portrayal of the enemy (no bloodthirsty Huns here), the intriguing plot was later recycled for an episode of Star Trek in which Captain Kirk squares off against an elusive Romulan commander.

Citizen Kane
(USA 1941) (8): A scandalous box office flop upon its initial release, co-writer/director Orson Welles’ signature opus is now considered one of the benchmarks in modern American cinema launching the careers of such stars as Agnes Moorehead and Joseph Cotten. If the story is simple enough—mega-billionaire Charles Foster Kane (Welles libelling William Randolph Hearst) spends his entire life amassing material possessions only to make a deathbed discovery that the one thing he truly desired was never for sale—its execution is pure cinema magic. Deep focus techniques render backgrounds and foregrounds with crystal clarity, cameras seem to melt through ceilings and table tops, and B&W matte paintings give Xanadu, Kane’s gaudy Florida estate, the aura of a haunted house. Told in post mortem flashbacks as a roving reporter anxious to decipher the meaning of “rosebud”, Kane’s final word, interviews everyone from the tycoon’s best friend to his business associates, butlers, and a drunken ex-wife (Dorothy Comingore libelling Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies), all of whom offer a different glimpse into the man behind the legend beginning with his impoverished childhood and ending with the lonely septuagenarian as decayed as his empty mansion. Big, brash, and unapologetic—much like its creator—and impressively filmed even if the cinematography does occasionally resort to flashy gimmicks and that much anticipated final reveal proves something of a let-down. An interesting pop-psychology foray into what makes a megalomaniac tick (Kane’s brush with politics seems frighteningly contemporary) and the fact that Welles was only twenty-five years old at the time is almost unbelievable.