Pick of the Week:
10 Cloverfield Lane (Paramount)
It seems a little off that we’re already talking about the home video release of 10 Cloverfield Lane, a movie whose very existence was a well-kept secret until a few months ago. That fits the film itself, which is more a companion piece than a sequel to the 2008 found-footage monster movie directed by Matt Reeves and produced, like this film, by J.J. Abrams. Really, it’s one of those films about which the less you know the better. So assuming you managed to avoid spoilers when it was released in March, let’s just say this: Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays a woman fleeing a relationship gone sour.
After a car accident, she wakes up in the bunker of a man named Howard (John Goodman), which he shares with a younger guy named Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.). Howard tells her she’s lucky since he was able to get her to the bunker before she, like everyone else above the surface, would have died in an attack that made the air unbreathable. Is he telling the truth? That question gets answered fairly early on, but it’s just one twist in a clever thriller that makes the most of its claustrophobic setting and performances that capture the terror, boredom, and annoyance of being trapped in close quarters and not knowing who to believe. The feature debut of Dan Trachtenberg, it’s a neat study in mounting tension that would be memorable even without an ending that answers some questions while raising even more.
Here Comes Mr. Jordan (Criterion)
Movie trends are nothing new, even fairly niche-seeming movie trends like the run of afterlife-themed comedies ushered in by Here Comes Mr. Jordan in 1941. Robert Montgomery stars as a boxer who dies in an airplane accident shortly before a big prizefight. The only problem: The angels took him too soon. So, with the help of the heavenly administrator Mr. Jordan (Claude Rains), he’s returned to Earth in the body of a just-murdered millionaire and sets upon trying to win the prize anyway. In the process, he falls in love, which complicates matters a bit.
The film inspired a sequel and imitators like A Guy Named Joe and the Powell/Pressburger masterpiece A Matter of Life and Death and has been remade twice, first as Heaven Can Wait starring Warren Beatty then as Down to Earth starring Chris Rock. Yet for all its influence, the original remains a uniquely charming movie. Montgomery delivers a fun, slightly bewildered performance as a guy who’s not about to let death get in his way, and Rains embodies a comforting notion of the afterlife as a place that cares for our happiness and well being, and where everything works out for the best in the end, even if that sometimes means leaving friends and loved ones behind. Released as war engulfed the world and America’s involvement seemed inevitable, it’s a fantasy with real-world roots, and one whose appeal hasn’t been dimmed by the years.
Hello, My Name Is Doris (Sony)
Directed by Michael Showalter, this comedy about a senior citizen inching her way out into the world after years of isolation provides a nice spotlight for star Sally Field, even if it veers all over the place tonally.
45 Years (Paramount)
Some ill-considered words pretty much torpedoed any chance Charlotte Rampling had at winning a Best Actress Oscar for Andrew Haigh’s second film. Still, Rampling’s terrific opposite her equally iconic British co-star Tom Courtenay in the story of a long-lasting marriage (see the title for how long) whose easy comforts start to crack when a seemingly forgotten chapter from the past comes to the surface. Haigh, who made his debut with the terrific Weekend and created HBO’s Looking, lets small moments tell the story as the film builds to a quietly devastating conclusion.
La Chienne (Criterion)
Criterion’s other vintage offering released this week is an early Jean Renoir film later remade as Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street that is sometimes known as Isn’t Life a Bitch?
Eddie the Eagle (Fox)
Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman star in this story of an unlikely Olympian who became a favorite in the 1988 winter games more for his enthusiasm than his ability.
Victor/Victoria (Warner Archive)
A late-career triumph from Blake Edwards making its Blu-ray debut, Victor Victoria casts Edwards’ wife Julie Andrews as the central figure in a farce as a woman pretending to be a female impersonator. If you’re following that, you’re one step ahead of most of the characters in the movie.