Pick of the Week:
The Look of Silence (Cinedigm)
It seemed unlikely that Joshua Oppenheimer could ever make a film more upsetting than The Act of Killing, in which he revisited those unpunished for their roles in the Indonesian massacres of the mid-1960s — in which an estimated 500,000 people were killed by the government for real or imagined communist sympathies — and coaxed them to relive their crimes. Yet this companion piece is just that thanks to the personal connection it makes between the events and one man, an unnamed optometrist who interviews those responsible for the deaths of his brother. There’s a lot going on here, all of it unsettling. Some of the subjects act remorseful — particularly the family of a dead perpetrator — while others are evasive. One digs in and begins threatening the interviewer, a legitimate danger because he still holds a position of authority in the Indonesian government. The film’s not just compelling viewing, it’s essential. This is what it looks like when the bad guys win, and survive to rewrite history.
The Martian (Fox)
A half-hearted defense of categorizing The Martian as a comedy, as the Golden Globes did, leading to its win in that category this past Sunday along with a Best Actor – Comedy or Musical award for star Matt Damon: It is funny, at times. As played by Damon, the film’s hero is defined by his indefatigable spirit. He’d rather make a joke, even a bad one, than give into despair. Humor allows him to keep the awfulness of his situation at arm’s length. Beyond that, nah, it’s not a comedy. It is, however, a rousing tale of survival grounded in the real science of Andy Weir’s surprise hit novel and brought to life by Ridley Scott’s remarkable direction. It’s certainly worthy of honors, if not necessarily the honors it’s earned.
The American Friend (Criterion)
Wim Wenders had already helped define what was known as the New German Cinema — the films of the country’s first generation of filmmakers to come of age after the war — via films of alienation and travel in modern Germany. With The American Friend in 1977, he placed one foot in the world of American genre filmmaking with this loose adaptation of Ripley’s Game, Patricia Highsmith’s second sequel to The Talented Mr. Ripley. Bruno Ganz stars as a frame-maker and art restorer suffering from a serious illness who gets dragged into the criminal world when his path crosses Tom Ripley (Dennis Hopper), who’s in the midst of making money selling “lost” paintings from an artist who’s faked his death. Wenders fills the film with references to other films — Nicholas Ray, Sam Fuller and other directors play key roles — and though it has its tense moments, it’s a film more about tapping into the mood of noir and crime thrillers than punchy storytelling. Ganz plays a man who loses his humanity over the course of the film, drifting through a world of shadowy men and vivid, sickly colors (courtesy of Wenders’ expert cinematographer Robby Müller). The haunting film gets supplemented by some nice extras in this new Criterion edition, but one of the best features is from an older DVD release: a commentary track that includes both Wenders and the late Hopper.
Bitter Rice (Criterion)
Also from Criterion this week, this 1949 film, which became one of the biggest hits for Italian neorealist director Giuseppe De Santis. He’s now better known in Italy, where his death in 1997 at the age of 80 became a day of national mourning, than the U.S. This release should help change that a bit.
Out 1 (Carlotta Films)
But the greatest act of cinematic archaeology this week belongs to Carlotta Films, whose 13-disc Out 1 box set collects both the full 773-minute (!) version of Rivette’s most ambitious film and the shorter four-and-a-half-hour version. Long considered a Holy Grail item among cinephiles, the full version, only screened once upon its first release in 1971, enjoyed a bit of a revival last year thanks to screenings in London and New York. This set should make it easier to see — even if it removes some of the air of mystery from the film — and comes accompanied by a new documentary.
The Stanford Prison Experiment (MPI)
Between this film and Experimenter, the very good Stanley Milgram biopic starring Peter Sarsgaard, 2015 was a busy year for stories ripped from Psych 101 textbooks. This one retells the famous experiment in which roleplaying went terribly awry at Stanford and stars Ezra Miller, Tye Sheridan, and Billy Crudup.
Hotel Transylvania 2 (Sony)
Sinister 2 (Universal)
Horror sequel fans of all ages have something to look forward to this week.
Mr. Robot: Season 1 (Universal)
And so do fans of cult TV shows that seemingly came out of nowhere to earn acclaim, as this politically charged techno thriller did last year.
Irrational Man (Sony)
There’s scarcely a believable moment in Woody Allen’s story of a troubled philosophy prof (Joaquin Phoenix), the student who’s infatuated with him (Emma Stone), and the true-crime story that obsesses them, in much different ways. As with most late-period Allen films, it’s not without its charms, though, especially a nice supporting turn from Parker Posey.
The Knack… And How To Get It (KL Studio Classics)
How I Won The War (KL Studio Classics)
The Bed Sitting Room (KL Studio Classics)
Richard Lester won the Palme d’Or at Cannes for his 1965 film The Knack… And How To Get It, yet it’s overshadowed by the two films he made on either side of it: A Hard Day’s Night and Help! That’s understandable, but still something of a shame, because The Knack is as lively and fascinating as both of those films, even if it features no Beatles. It brings Lester’s signature touch — part French New Wave, part slapstick comedy, part pulsing humanity — to Swinging London and the young, liberated, confused people who live there. There is a Beatle, however, in another Lester film making it to Blu-ray this week: 1967’s World War II-set black comedy How I Won The War, which features John Lennon in a supporting role. It’s uneven, but worth a look, if only for the way the Quaker-raised Lester creates a sense of repulsion for any war, even a just one. Finally, the post-apocalyptic 1969 comedy The Bed Sitting Room features British comedy luminaries like Dudley Moore, Peter Cook, and Spike Milligan. Hard to catch for years, it’s exciting to see it resurface.