PICKS OF THE WEEK
Lorna's Silence (A)
Belgium: Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, 2009, Sony
Lorna's Silence is the latest from Belgium's Dardenne Brothers (La Promesse, Rosetta, The Son), masters of the new documentary-style neorealism that gives us life in the raw, captured without sentimentality or melodrama (but not without suspense or drama), artfully composed to resemble the evanescent flow of reality -- caught by the kind of cinema verite camera the Dardennes used to wield as younger movie documentarians.
In the film, Albanian émigré Lorna (Arta Debrishi) marries a nice, weakling dope addict, Claudy of Liege, (played by Dardenne regular Jeremie Renier), in order to get Belgian citizenship, and then is pressured by her crooked taxi-driver patron Fabio (Fabrizio Rangione) to help kill Claudy and then marry a Russian mobster to get him Belgian citizenship. The Dardennes are experts at this kind of tense realism, and Lorna's Silence is an engrossing, lacerating mix of neo-noir and contemporary socio-psychological drama. The ending is dark, sad, memorable. With Alban Ukaj and another Dardenne regular, Olivier Gourmet. (In Belgian with English subtitles.)
Mother Joan of the Angels (A)
Poland; Jerzy Kawalerowicz, 1961, Facets
Jerzy Kawalerowicz's stunning Polish period drama about a real-life 17th-century convent, whose nuns erupted in hedonistic revolt and erotic mania, is based on the same story as Aldous Huxley's "The Devils of Loudon," and its shocking adaptations for stage (by John Whiting) and film (by Ken Russell). Kawalerowicz's film version, though now neglected, may be the most powerful and brilliant of them all: a stark black-and-white descent into evil and madness, with the possessed and fatally attractive Mother Joan (Lucynna Wimmicka) and the tormented exorcist Father Surin (Miecczyslaw Voit) in their dance of desire of death, back-dropped by bleak landscapes, the gloomy medieval stone convent and a rowdy tavern where nuns, priests and ruffians seek out the devil in the flesh. If you haven't seen this, it's an art-film must. (In Polish, with English subtitles.)
Dogtown and Z-Boys (B)
U.S.; Stacy Peralta, 2001, Sony, Blu-ray
A definitive documentary look at the legendary Venice Beach, Calif., skateboard scene, as recalled by the original participants, with plenty of footage of their fantastic skills. Directed by a man who knows it all well: ex-scene member and primo Venice skateboarder Stacy Peralta.
BOX SET PICK OF THE WEEK
On the Road with Charles Kuralt (A-)
U.S.; various directors, 1967-1986, Acorn Media
One of the great continuing segments in the history of TV news, Charles Kuralt's On the Road took us all over the country by van and camera, showing us a huge gallery of the kind of incredible everyday people, enterprises and events mostly ignored then and now by the rest of mainstream media -- recording, in Kurault's deceptively simple, unforgettable words, the deceptively simple heroism, genius and artistry of the common people of our country: a major part of what made and makes American great.
Kuralt himself was a pudgy, eloquent, Southern sort of guy, from Wilmington, N.C., and a magnificent reporter-writer (and narrator), a man who was able to relate to nearly everyone and to speak to us like the friendly, all-knowing neighbor we all want to have.
Among his subjects on this 3-disc set: "The Golden Gate Bridge Workers," "The Super Shoe Salesman," "The 80-Year-Old Cook" (this one may make you weep with joy), "The Black Diamond Railroad Car," "Shipbuilders of Maine," "The Piney Woods Thoreau," "The One-Room Schoolhouse," "The Greenup High School Cheerleaders" and "South Dakota's Cowboys of Deadwood." Wonderful, all of them. And all the others too. (Extras: Featurette, updates, Kuralt biography.)
OTHER NEW AND RECENT RELEASES
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (C)
U.S.; Peter Hyams, 2008, Anchor Bay
Writer-director-screenwriter Peter Hyams remakes, to little positive effect, Fritz Lang's grim 1956 anti-capital-punishment trial noir, about the guy who frames himself for murder to reveal the flaws of the judicial system -- with Jesse Metcalfe in Dana Andrews' old role, playing a TV reporter on that dangerous game, Amber Tamblyn as his sweetie in the prosecutor's office, and Michael Douglas as the star prosecutor, who may be pulling some Hank Quinlans with the DNA evidence.
Predictably, Douglas steals the movie, albeit with too few scenes. Serious question: Why not have cast Douglas in the lead and gotten a good movie, instead of casting Metcalfe and getting a mediocre one? And, if the theory is advanced that Douglas just wouldn't be acceptable as Amber Tamblyn's love interest, then why not cast opposite him an older female star (say, someone in Meryl Streep's generation, or even a decade or so younger)? Unless the movie industry is so sunk in ageism and similar bigotries, it can't think straight any more, it's hard to see why anyone would try to slant a movie like this toward the youth crowd anyway. Does It's Complicated need Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox to make it click? (Extras: Commentary with Hyams and Metcalfe, Featurettes.)
Brava Italia (C+)
U.K.; Sam Toperoff, 2008, Acorn
Three beautifully shot, but not very interestingly written or directed travelogue/documentaries about Italy, its social rituals, culture and history. The photography and the locations make it worthwhile. Narrated by Paul Sorvino -- and Francis Ford Coppola pops up early on.
The Headless Woman (B-)
Argentina; Lucretius Martel, 2008, Strand Releasing
One of Argentina's premier living directors (The Holy Fool) goes minimalist in this spare, somewhat opaque tale of the tortured drifting of a suffering woman (who believes she killed a passerby in a hit-and-run accident. Only for extreme art film buffs, among whom I count myself. (In Spanish, with English subtitles.)
The Missing/The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (A-)
U.S., French; Ron Howard, 2003, Tommy Lee Jones, 2005, Sony
The Western lives. Two high-quality examples (one period, one modern), both starring that estimable ex-Harvard football and academic star, Tommy Lee Jones, from two of America's best and brightest actors-turned-directors (Ronny Howard and Jones).
In Howard's The Missing, Jones and Cate Blanchett are father-and-daughter equivalents of John Wayne and Jeffrey Hunter's Searchers in this variation on the Fordian theme of a quest to rescue a girl (Evan Rachel Wood) kidnapped by an Indian tribe. (Apaches in this case.)
Strong, memorable. Val Kilmer, Max Perlich and Aaron Eckhart are in the supporting cast.
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is a great modern western, a kind of quest-in-reverse. Jones plays an embittered Westerner who avenges the killing of his Mexican buddy by a trigger-happy cop (Barry Pepper) by forcibly carrying both the body and the killer to an isolated burial site. Texan Jones knows this territory and these people, and so does writer Guillermo Arriaga (Amores Perros). The result is the closest we may get to a contemporary Peckinpah Western. With Julio Cesar Cedillo, Dwight Yoakam, Melissa Leo and Levon Helm.
Rich in Love (B)
U.S.; Bruce Beresford, 1993, MGM
Good Southern splintered-family drama, with a really fine cast: Albert Finney (tops), Jill Clayburgh, Kathryn Erbe, Piper Laurie, Ethan Hawke and Alfre Woodard. From Josephine Humphreys' novel.