Welcome to The Penny-Pinching Cinephile, a weekly spotlight of the best free flicks on the web. ‘Cuz sometimes you gotta eat.
Terence Davies’ adaptation of the 1952 Terence Rattigan play is the second filmed version of The Deep Blue Sea. The first starred Vivien Leigh, who, after earning her second Best Actress Oscar for A Streetcar Named Desire, became the screen’s go-to choice for the quietly suffering mature heroine. Davies’ lead actress is Rachel Weisz, another Oscar winner (and perhaps not coincidentally, another Blanche DuBois). In the film, Weisz is mesmerizing as Hester, the middle(ish)-aged wife of a much older judge (played by Simon Russell Beale) who engages in a doomed but passionate affair with Freddie, a young RAF pilot (played by Tom Hiddleston). Rattigan’s play is pure melodrama–the chain-smoking housewife, the tortured and repressed British sexuality–and Davies’ adaptation is unabashedly, luxuriously old-fashioned. The period reconstruction of post-war Britain is meticulous, from Freddie’s ascots, to the rather sparse and sad mood of the entire piece, reflecting a country struggling to recover from a devastating war amidst harsh rationing. Worth singling out is composer Samuel Barber’s lushly romantic, violin-heavy score. It’s not often a movie goes for broke in the swoon department, but here, all of elements work together to create an achingly beautiful film. Weisz’ performance is certainly one of the best of the last five years. Recalling Brief Encounter and the films of Douglas Sirk, The Deep Blue Sea is the kind of melancholy romance they don’t really make anymore–at least not as skillfully as Terence Davies does here.
Every few years, there comes a feel-good foreign film that sets the American art house circuit abuzz. These films vary in quality from the schmaltzy to the predictable, but the critical acclaim around the 2011 French-Canadian import Monsieur Lazhar, nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, is definitely earned. It stars French-Algerian comedian Mohamed Fellag in a decidedly non-comedic role, as Bashir Lazhar, an Algerian immigrant who takes over teaching duties in a Montreal elementary school after the previous much-beloved teacher hangs herself in the classroom. Monsieur Lazhar, written and directed by Philippe Falardeau, is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen in dealing with grief, guilt and bereavement. Focusing as much on Lazhar’s demons as it does with the two young students who witnessed their teachers’ suicide, Falardeau manages a delicate balance between deep tragedy and the everyday dynamics between teacher and student. It’s a lovely slice of life film that soars on the strength of the performances and the finely observed screenplay, which never seems to put a foot out of place. Unlike many Hollywood films about teachers and students, Monsieur Lazhar resists a happy ending, instead emphasizing the real world consequences of issues like immigration, bureaucracy and death.
Although it seems to have been overshadowed by that other crime epic starring Al Pacino and directed by Brian de Palma, Carlito’s Way is more than worth seeing; in fact, at the risk of sounding sacrilegious, it’s probably even more impressive than Scarface. Unlike Tony Montana, Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino) wants nothing to do with the life of crime that got him locked up in prison for five years. After his lawyer (an incredibly slimy Sean Penn) gets him off early, Carlito vows to go straight, but like keeps getting embroiled in the criminal machinations of old associates. The theme of Carlito’s Way can easily be summed up by another Pacino character: “Just when I think I’m out…they pull me back in!” But it’s not the by-the-numbers storyline that makes Carlito’s Way a classic: it’s the way de Palma films it. This movie is pure tragedy, pure doomed film noir from the very beginning. Starting with Carlito’s assassination and flashing back to the events that lead up to it, Carlito’s Way is structured like a classic film noir and filmed with such palpable claustrophobia, encroaching camera angles and skittish framing, it gives even classics like Detour and The Set-Up a run for its money in the visual entrapment department. The film climaxes with a thrilling chase and shoot-out in a train station (echoing de Palma’s The Untouchables) and ends with a punch-in-the-gut that hurts even though we know it’s inevitable. Named by Cahiers du cinema the #1 film of the 1990s (yes, the whole decade!), Carlito’s Way is something of an underrated masterpiece and definitely worth discovering or revisiting.
This German film from 2009 sort of flew under the radar when it was released, although it made several critics’ year-end best of lists. Directed by Maren Ade, Everyone Else is a relationship drama following Chris (Lars Eidinger) and his girlfriend Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr) as they vacation in the Mediterranean. There they meet another couple on holiday and begin to re-examine their relationship. This is one of those films where nothing really happens, but the “nothing” consists of everything between two people who are clearly in love but unable to cope with the responsibilities of their lives as a couple. The “couple falling apart in paradise” genre is a rich one: from Voyage to Italy to Certified Copy and Before Midnight, there seems to be something about the old world wonders of Europe that provokes romantic resentments and uncomfortable truths. Everyone Else also reminds me of Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine, although it’s much less dramatic and covers less time than that film. But like Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in that film, Eidinger and Minichmayr have a comfortable, romantic and almost spontaneous rapport that makes the film consistently engaging. They seem like a real couple. As much as Chris and Gitti are accessible, their quirks and particularities are also ultimately unknowable, both to the audience, and to each other. Ade’s film probes at the seams of discord and astutely observes the communication problems that necessarily arise in intimate relationships. It’s a complex and sometimes difficult film, but very rewarding, too.
5) Miami Vice
If there is a controversial movie in Michael Mann’s filmography, it has to be 2006’s Miami Vice, which was marketed and released as a summer blockbuster, but in actuality resembles something more like a two and half hour tactical SWAT training video. Also contested at the time (and still) is Mann’s use of digital photography, especially in low-light situations. The cinematography by Dion Beebe (who also shoot Mann’s Collateral), vacillates between the blue waters and skies of daytime Miami, to the shadowy and neon-streaked city’s criminal underworld. Of course, the film is an adaptation of the ’80s TV show, which was produced by Mann. The film combines some of that series’ most critically acclaimed storylines, involving Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Tubbs (Jaime Foxx) going undercover as drug smugglers to supply a Colombian cartel, as well as a romantic subplot between Crockett and the drug trafficker’s financial adviser (Gong Li). All the usual Miami Vice/Michael Mann hallmarks are present and accounted for: slick, tailored suits, fast cars and boats, stylish sunglasses, impressive firearms, and finely choreographed, lengthy action sequences. So, it seems unfair to complain about a director doing what he does well, although I wish there was just a little more going on with the film. It is perhaps too straightforward for its own good: a well-executed police procedural but nothing really beneath the surface.
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