Ernest & Celestine – Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, and Benjamin Renner (2014)

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Love is love. It’s a simple idea that so many people can’t grasp. Love is nothing to be afraid of. Black and white, boy and boy, girl and girl — or indeed, mouse and bear — it’s never anything to be afraid of. But it seems to only make sense to one inquisitive mouse, Celestine (Mackenzie Foy), and one hungry Bear, Ernest (Forest Whitaker), who meet quite by accident when Ernest saves Celestine’s life only to then try and eat her for a snack.

In the film’s world that is inhabited by animals like Art Speigelman’s Maus, the other mice are afraid though, and the other bears. Mice live in underground, bears above ground, and the two share very little with each other. When Ernest and Celestine find themselves on the wrong side of the law in both the bear and mice world that notion is challenged in startlingly emotional ways and the unlikely pair find each other to be perfect protectors for each other in different ways.

The animation, done in a sumptuous broken-line storybook-style watercolor, is outstanding. Despite the rumors of its demise, 2D hand-drawn animation isn’t dead, in fact it’s becoming vital again in Europe, and this is a brilliant example of what it could be again.

The Most Underrated Movies of 2013 II: The Revenge

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http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/index.php/the-gist/for-reels/underrated-part-deux/

For the most part, I say good riddance to 2013. For me and my memory bank, it won’t be a good vintage. But my charge here is to write about movies, and 2013 did see its fair share of good ones. Like I’ve done the last couple of years, I’m going to piggyback the Underrated piece I had in the paper and empty my brain of more under-loved films that I didn’t have room to write about in print.

It wasn’t necessarily a great vintage for the top end of the spectrum of the moviegoing experience either, neither in arthouse nor mainstream films. There were certainly enough films to be satisfied by, but to look over the various top 10 lists is to be slightly disappointed. But what the top lacked, the middle had in abundance. Here are five more to keep an eye out for.

Enough Said – Nicole Holofcener (VOD out now, DVD 1/14)

Enough Said was probably not underrated upon its release as much as it was sent into the spotlight for the wrong reason, the unfortunate death of James Gandolfini. The bright side of this film is that Julia Louis-Dreyfus just keeps getting better and better in a way that’s completely unfair to other comedic actresses, but the downside is that the farther removed from Gandolfini’s death, the clearer it becomes that he will be perhaps one of the most missed actors ever. The two share such an easy on-screen chemistry that the film is a joy to watch even when they are fighting. Holofcener branches out too. Always one to make well observed dramas, this is a well observed drama with an earthy layer of comedy set upon it.

The Past – Asghar Farhadi (Coming Soon)

The twisting and turning of Farhadi’s The Past starts out so slow that you might be tempted to give up on it, but it’s a rewarding drama once the momentum is built up (about 40 minutes in, in my opinion). The story unfolds in a torrent of lies and omissions (still a sin, right?) that are not as fulfilling as guesswork as much as they lead to fulfilling dramatic scenes between Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) and the family of his ex-wife, Marie (Berenice Bejo), and her new fiance, Samir (Tahar Rahim). Melodrama is almost a lost artform but when it’s done right it’s so good.

Mud – Jeff Nichols (DVD/VOD out now)

Where has this Matthew McConaughey been all these years? Since The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past flopped in 2009 he’s done nothing but make risky, amazing films, starting with The Lincoln Lawyer through to his three films this year: Mud, The Dallas Buyer’s Club and The Wolf of Wall Street. Let his career be a light for others because we’re all better off because of it.

The Kings of Summer – Jordan Vogt-Roberts (DVD/VOD out now)

This is about as solid a coming-of-age film as you’re ever likely to find. It’s wish-fulfilling — who hasn’t wanted to run away and live in the woods after a particularly bad fight with their parents? But that’s a heat of the moment decision, not a well thought out plan for a life. The film shows both sides with equal care and weight, and it comes with bonus Ron Swanson rage.

Blue Caprice – Alexandre Moors (DVD 1/14)

This story about the Beltway snipers is told with a quality of paranoia that made New Hollywood such a vital experience. Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond are so good together in the first half of the film, while they are bonding, they make it so hard to look away once the film turns into a horror story.

The Most Underrated Movies of 2013

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http://orlandoweekly.com/film/the-most-underrated-movies-of-2013-1.1610113

Over the last few weeks, every paper, blog, magazine and friend on Facebook has probably offered you their list of the top 10 movies of 2013. Probably with some combination of Her, Gravity, 12 Years a Slave and Inside Llewyn Davis at the top. Probably, you’ve thought about beating the next person who offers a top 10 list to death with their own shoe. So with that in mind, we offer another kind of list. Not the top 10, but of the films that got lost in the cracks and crevices of critical and social appreciation. Films that deserve so much more.

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty – Terrence Nance

Told in flurry of live action, hand drawn animation and stop motion animation, the film is a half art piece/half documentary soap bubble of complexities, encapsulating the emotions and self-sabotage a young man of a certain lovesick, melancholy demeanor tends to put himself through, spilling the secrets of young men the same way Girls has for young women.

Boy – Taika Waititi

Though the film never takes anything about itself seriously, there is nothing frivolous about Boy. It’s a serious work that happens to be swaddled in a gauzy wrapping of oddball quirkiness like bubblegum flavored medicine, but there is a heartbreakingly relatable story of fathers and sons and disappointment underneath the bedrock of 80s jokes and the lyrical mix of tall tales and inventive cursing.

Short Term 12 – Destin Daniel Creton

It’s a tough thing these days to make a film about child abuse that doesn’t end up on the Lifetime movie of the week side of the ledger. The thematic pitfalls of the genre are many and hard to escape, but Creton embraces them here, even manipulates them to his will. He asks much of Brie Larson, but she delivers everything he asks for and then some as the counselor to broken kids who once was — and in too many ways still is — a broken kid herself.

The Broken Circle Breakdown – Felix Van Groeningen

This may be the greatest hillbilly film since Rip Torn starred in Payday, but there is a twist: it’s from Belgium. Didier is an America-obsessed bluegrass band leader, and Elise is a tattoo-obsessed artist who discovers a killer voice when she sits in with the band. They fall in love and have a child while the band flourishes. In the great tradition of country songs, you can probably guess where all of that happiness goes. Johan Heldenbergh and Veerle Baetens are electric on screen together.

The Great Beauty – Paolo Sorrentino

Jep Gambardella is a novelist who has given up his search for something new to write about 40 years after his modest hit of a novel, instead floating in his existential apathy through the labyrinthine Roman night life. But now he’s turn 65 and the returns on the night life are diminishing. Sorrentino’s sprawling and beautiful, but devilishly backhanded ode to Rome is the kind of love/hate letter that inherits the spirit and dismay Fellini imbued La Dolce Vita with.

The We and the I – Michel Gondry

If you ever took the bus home from school as a teenager, this film may be an unwanted kick in the head that brings back old horror stories and panic attacks. It’s every high school aged social nightmare stuffed into one slow moving, zit-filled bus. But it’s also brilliant and uncannily observed. The teenage actors are uneven, as you might expect, but the wit and horror make it easy to overlook. Gondry has made a true film that can sit aside The Science of Sleep and Eternal Sunshine.

Twixt – Francis Ford Coppola

Saddled with a terrible trailer and dumped onto VOD after a year of trying to attract a distributor, Twixt was destined to fail. But it’s an injustice, even if the film is campy as hell. Val Kilmer returns from a long vacation as the charming, chill Val Kilmer we used to know (albeit fatter), while  Elle Fanning continues to pad an already incredible resume as the little deal girl who haunts him.

The Grandmaster – Wong Kar Wai

So much was written about the alternate U.S. cut controversy that the film itself seemed to get lost in the shuffle. Having seen both versions of the film, I’m struck by the silliness of the controversy. They work so well together as companion pieces, telling the same story from slightly different vantage points. Scenes excised from each shed light on the other to the point that they feel like sibling films, though the U.S. cut is visually marred with an unfortunate amount of style-less screen text.

Paris 36 – Christophe Barratier (2009)

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http://www2.orlandoweekly.com/film/review.asp?rid=14281

French films that end up with general theatrical release in this country tend to exist as contented Oscar bait: beautifully shot, sentimental period pieces that are supposed to be uplifting and touching, but aren’t willing to take chances artistically to get there. What results are films that try to please everyone while failing to truly stimulate anyone.

Paris 36 is no exception in that regard. It tells an interesting story about an interesting time in history and does so in an interesting way, but it takes absolutely no chances. The film delves heavily into the push-pull interplay between Communism and Fascism and how the spirit of the times sucked even political atheists into the web in 1930s France, but the production comes off like an unseasoned steak: It’s good on its own, but a little salt and pepper would make all the difference.

The film follows roughly nine years in the life of a small Paris neighborhood, but concentrates mostly on one year, the titular 1936. It concerns the fates of the stagehands and performers of the Chansonia, a small vaudeville-style music hall that is struggling financially. When the owner falls behind on his payments to the local loan shark, he has to hand the hall over as forfeit; he ends up checking himself out of this life at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, while everyone else is downstairs celebrating.

The loan shark, Galapiat (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu), a politically corrupt Fascist who runs a violent team of strikebreakers, promptly closes the music hall and puts everyone out of a job, including Milou (Clovis Cornillac), a brash young Red constantly at odds with Galapiat and his strikebreakers, and Pigoil (Gérard Jugnot), the head stagehand, who turns to the bottle while his son Jojo (Maxence Perrin), an accordion prodigy, busks around Paris for money.

Meanwhile, the stagehands – led by Jacky Jouquet (Kad Merad) – attempt to occupy and reopen the music hall. That’s when Douce (Nora Arnezeder), a beautiful, blossoming singer, walks into their lives and changes everything.

Director Christophe Barratier has not crafted a film for the ages here, but it’s a workable, fun piece about family and friendship, full of wonderful songs and musical numbers performed on the Chansonia stage. Because Barratier refuses to play with the politics he presents, however, Paris 36 is more a slice of life than an important film. The in medias res opening tells us the plot culminates with a murder; in an hourlong TV drama, that would work just fine, but here the disclosure sucks every ounce of tension from the preceding events we’re about to see. We wait in suspense for the big shoe to drop (a letdown, naturally), thus rendering the smaller moments practically invisible. And a film like Paris 36 is nothing without its small moments.

The Last Metro – Francois Truffaut (1980)

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http://www2.orlandoweekly.com/film/story.asp?id=13067

Fifty years ago, François Truffaut brought The 400 Blows to Cannes and jump-started the French New Wave as a worldwide revolution. Almost 20 years after that, he made his last successful film, 10-time César Award-winner The Last Metro.

1980’s Metro was born out of Truffaut’s desire to make a film about occupied Paris, where he grew up and came of age, fitting neatly with his desire “to show a theater backstage, evoke the atmosphere of the German occupation and give Catherine Deneuve the role of a responsible woman.”

The film was made by a serious-minded Truffaut; far removed from (though in the natural progression of) the man who made Shoot the Piano Player. Part Diary of Anne Frank, part Phantom of the Opera, Truffaut brings us behind the curtain as a theater troupe learns a new play and breaks in a new actor, Bernard Granger (Gérard Depardieu).

The troupe’s leader is director Lucas Steiner (Heinz Bennent), a Jew in hiding beneath the grand stage. He listens to the daily rehearsals through an air duct and gives his gentile wife, Marion (Deneuve), notes every night when she sneaks down to visit him.

Daxiat (Jean-Louis Richard), a vocal, Jew-hating theater critic who is in league with the Vichy government, is a specter of evil looming outside, trying to seep its way through the doors. He skulks around the theater, offering support, trying to get closer to Marion. But she is getting closer to Bernard right under Lucas’ nose (or, rather, above it).

Making the vile critic the film’s villain is a curious play on Truffaut’s own film-critic past; he was known for his brutality, lashing out at those he deemed unworthy in the pages of Cahiers du cinéma. He backed away from that part of his life later in his career, printing only positive articles in his book The Films in My Life, but it is as much a part of his legacy as Jules and Jim, and the world of film (and criticism) would be a vastly different place without that oppositional voice.

His early death was a great loss, but The Last Metro is a great film, and he was probably OK with that tradeoff.

Holy Motors – Leos Carax (2012)

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http://orlandoweekly.com/film/holy-motors-1.1433326

If you’re looking for a movie that makes complete sense – something with a straight, clean narrative, maybe – then Holy Motors is not for you. This is Leos Carax’s first full-length film since 1999’s Pola X, and he treats it as if it were a testament – the last movie he will make before dying. As a result, Holy Motors feels like it comes straight from Carax’s head to the screen, and it calls upon the prodigious talents of his on-screen alter ego, Denis Lavant, to wind through this absurdly surreal masterpiece.

Lavant is a modern Lon Chaney here playing Mr. Oscar, a sort of roving performer who travels around Paris in a white stretch limo, making various “appointments” throughout the day, which are secretly recorded by a shadowy company. Each appointment involves a wildly different task that seems to make no sense – at least not to the audience. During his appointments, Mr. Oscar plays a dozen characters that cover a wide spectrum of oddities – a panhandling old babushka woman, an accordion band leader, a stern father who scolds his daughter for lying about being popular, old men and murderers – each with a different face, posture and concept to match the appointment.

The film has two interludes that seem more genuine than the others – one with Mr. Oscar’s boss and one with his old partner, Jean, wonderfully played by Aussie pop star Kylie Minogue, who sings the sentimental song “Who Were We?” as Mr. Oscar forlornly follows her around an abandoned building, perhaps thinking about the past. But it’s difficult to tell what these interludes mean to Mr. Oscar – they may just be mere appointments dressed up as more significant moments. It’s hard to tell.

Carax works his audience completely and with confidence, but he earns the audience’s trust before he toys with it. It takes a lot to put yourself completely in a director’s hands during a movie like this, but doing so makes Holy Motors deeply rewarding if you hang in with it and let Carax guide you.

It’s a strange journey. Take, for instance, the incomprehensible, flower-hungry Mr. Merde, one of Mr. Oscar’s characters, who kidnaps Eva Mendes from a fashion shoot in a Parisian cemetery and brings her underground. You might ask “why?” – and rightly so. But there is no real answer to that question. Mr. Merde is a role reprised by Levant from Carax’s entry in the short film collection Tokyo!; “strange” doesn’t quite fit as a descriptor for the character, but trying to figure him out is an intriguing exercise.

Most words fail to describe Holy Motors, actually. It’s a sensory film that depends on your willingness to have a surreal adventure. And an adventure like this one is cinema at its greatest and most pure – like the very first films, which were just snapshots of life taken out of context, Holy Motors reinvents itself as it unfolds, pushing limits, breaking boundaries and reforging the form of the movie along the way. In that regard, Carax is almost a time traveler, showing the past and the future of film at the same time.

Rust and Bone – Jacques Audiard (2012)

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http://orlandoweekly.com/film/39-rust-and-bone-39-1.1430048

With his new film Rust and Bone, French director Jacques Audiard returns to play in the same sandbox where he created his last film, the intense prison drama A Prophet. You could call them cousins, both films about trying to eke out a life in the margins of society, but Audiard goes about it in a slightly different way here than he did in his previous movie: Unlike Malik in A Prophet, Rust and Bone‘s Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) doesn’t begin the story in the margins; instead she is marginalized by a horrific accident at work, a small miscalculation that leaves her a double amputee. The loss of her legs becomes her movable prison.

Stephanie is a whale trainer and performer in a sea park in the south of France – a place much like SeaWorld here in Orlando. The orcas can be unpredictable, and the difference between a great show and calamity can be measured in inches with such large creatures. In the middle of a routine one day, something goes wrong. One of the whales slides onto the platform incorrectly and brings the whole thing down with him – on top of Stephanie, leaving her afloat in a cold pool of her own blood. There is no blame to apportion, it just happens, but Stephanie’s life will never be the same.

Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) meets Stephanie before the accident. He’s an immigrant from Belgium with a 10-year-old son, Sam (Armand Verdure), and he’s always lived life in the margins. He is poor; he crashes on his sister’s couch and works at odd jobs that don’t pay enough to provide for Sam. Ali and Stephanie meet when he is working as a bouncer at a club, where he pulls her out of a fight that she caused, rescuing her from harm. But their places in life are too different for Stephanie to see it as anything but a moment of calculated gallantry. She sees Ali as nothing but a tough guy who she can use to scare her abusive boyfriend.

But she is sunk in depression after her accident, unable to keep a connection to her old life alive. Suddenly, Ali is on her level – or rather, she is suddenly on his level – and the two begin to sort out their shortcomings. For Ali, it’s continuing the tough-guy persona as he reluctantly falls into a bloody back-alley kickboxing circuit, where he excels. The pay for winning is great, providing him with the means to a better life for his son, but the frenzy he builds himself up to for the fights keeps real growth in his life on pause. Stephanie grows, seemingly by force of will, but she also takes some painful steps back as the relationship she has with Ali evolves and plays on the edge between dependency and something more.

I suppose I could be excused for initially feeling somewhat cynical about the film, which, like Monster orThe Reader, seems to be designed less as a film than as a role to give Cotillard a chance at an Oscar run. It didn’t reach that objective – Cotillard was snubbed – but it’s still a compelling character piece framed impeccably by Audiard, whose flair for beautiful imagery comes to the fore here. So it works anyway, even if in spite of itself.

The Others: 2012’s Underrated Gems

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http://orlandoweekly.com/film/the-others-1.1421395

http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/index.php/2012/12/the-other-others-five-more-underrated-titles-from-2012/

It’s that time of year again – every magazine you read proffers its version of the “best” stuff of the year, juggling the order of mostly the same 15 or so films. But what about all of thoseother films we loved this year? Don’t those deserve a list, too? We think they do, so here’s ours. Needless to say, you’ll find no Lincolns here, nor any queens of Versailles or Bagginses, precious. Instead, you’ll find subtitles (lots!), a feel-good beat to dance to, kids becoming adults, adults becoming kids and considerable doses of badassery from both Willem Dafoe and Donnie Yen. Here’s our selection of 2012’s most underrated films from around the world.

Dragon (directed by Peter Chan, available on video on demand) Dragon didn’t need any title at all for fans of the actors in this film – “The movie with Donnie Yen and Takeshi Kaneshiro” would have been enough to make some of us plunk down the VOD money and get watching this Chinese martial arts flick. I could watch Donnie Yen’s stoic, almost heartbroken, fighting all day long, and his moves are as brilliant and unassuming – and deadly – here as they’ve ever been.

Girl Walk // All Day (directed by Jacob Krupnick, girlwalkallday.com) Girl Walk wasn’t something I ever envisioned myself watching, never mind loving. Set to the 2010 Girl Talk album All Day, this strange dance opera straddles the five boroughs of New York. It’s a pure, fluffy dose of cultural confectioner’s sugar to balance out all of those cultural vegetables we’ve consumed this year. Anyone who can sit through this film without a grin may be irredeemable.

Holy Motors (directed by Leos Carax, coming soon) Nothing makes a bit of sense in Carax’s surrealist-absurdist masterpiece, but if it did, it would almost be a crime against cinema, so brilliant is its outcome. This French film works better the less you know going into it, but rest assured: You’ll either love it for its left-field inventiveness, or hate it for its strange, reckless meandering.

I Wish (directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, available on DVD, Netflix) Koreeda is one of the best working directors in the world right now, especially when it comes to working with kids. In I Wish, a film about a boy separated from his brother after his parents divorce, he creates a delicate, free-wheeling adventure based around the power of believing in wishes – or at least the silliness that comes with wanting something so badly that believing in wishes seems worth the risk.

The Kid With a Bike (directed by the Dardenne brothers, coming soon) This Belgian directing duo just doesn’t do it for me – usually, anyway. I went to see Kid out of a sense of obligation and walked out crushed and astonished by the heartbreaking yet oddly uplifting story of an abandoned kid who lands on the wrong track, even when he’s rescued from a youth home.

Safety Not Guaranteed (directed by Colin Trevorrow, available on DVD and video on demand) From the producers of Little Miss Sunshine, this movie follows a reporter who goes out to interview a man who takes out an odd classified ad, seeking a companion for time travel. The film surprises with its heart and its unexpected turns.

The Story of Film: An Odyssey (directed by Mark Cousins, available on DVD) The sheer size and scope of this collection, running over 15 hours from the birth of film until today, deserves shouting from the rooftops. Cousins is no timid observer, calling early films out for their racism, and he picks apart the radical social, religious and emotional tides captured by the likes of Pasolini and Bergman as well as directors you’ve never heard of before. The Story of Film is stark and declarative in a way that doesn’t force you to agree with its findings, but it’s also authoritative in its overwhelming research. No mere history, it takes a stand about what great cinema is while helping the viewer to do the same.

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As we get set for the new year, we looked back at some of the most underrated films that came out this year in the paper. Time and space (and shitty writing) only allowed for a few of the many to be noted, so we take to the blog to point out a few more worthy candidates we want to scream from the top of the mountain about.

2 Days in New York – Julie Delpy (DVD, Netflix)
2 Days in New York doesn’t exactly continue where 2 Days in Paris left off, but takes us to a whole new story in Marion’s life, where she has broken up with Jack and moved in with Mingus, a liberal blogger and radio show host played by a perfectly subdued Chris Rock. Much like the subdued Adam Sandler inPunch Drunk Love, Rock works better as a toned down everyday guy. Marion’s family (and ex, Manu) are the only real carry overs from the story, but the comedy is exactly the same, though it is more developed and carries more of an American edge to it this time. It’s the better film of the two, as Delpy’s instincts as a filmmaker have grown a great deal over the years.

Beloved – Christophe Honore (Netflix)
Honore has never quite got back to the greatness he showed in Love Songs, but Beloved doesn’t miss by that much. There is a little bit too much too it in terms of scope, with the film trying to hit some heavy themes — like the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, AIDs and 9/11 – by skirting around them and falling back into song. My lone wish for the film would be that it either go harder at the musical genre or skip the songs altogether. There aren’t enough of them strung together to really make a satisfying musical, but it’s a satisfying drama and then there is a strange singing break. Still, it continues to grow in my head the more I think about it. Milos Forman does an interesting turn as the father, and two of my favorites, Louis Garrel and Paul Schneider, are featured, but it’s all about the women: Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve and Ludivine Sagnier are divine, all of them.

Bleak Night – Yoon Sung-hyun (Netflix)
This tough South Korean drama is a clever, wrenching take on the coming of age high school bully drama. I fucking loathe the word bully — it’s an adult word, I never heard anyone use it as a kid. We just said “that asshole” or something along those lines — but it is in its proper usage here. It’s a devastating film if you’ve ever been fucked with, maybe even if you were the one fucking with people. The film runs in roughly 3 commingling threads that are a little difficult to place in a timeline at first, but once you put it together makes perfect sense and becomes an engrossing film. Like most non-linear films, it’s better on the second viewing when you have everything in order, but there is something inescapably great about a first viewing where you are just trying to get your footing and the film won’t let you.

Goodbye First Love – Mia Hansen-Love (VOD, Netflix)
Though she’s been around for a few years already, director Mia Hansen-Love announced herself as a director of serious note with this coming of age drama set in and around the aftermath of a first love affair gone wrong, which leaves a shattered Lola Creton trying to pick up the pieces of her life. It’s an emotional epic that leaves the perfect gaps between the chapters of her life for us to fill in the blanks. Boy or girl, Creton is east to empathize with unless you’re some kind of monster who has never had your heart broken.

Killer Joe – William Friedkin (Coming Soon)
I don’t really want to say too much because I think this is exactly the kind of film you should go into with as little information as possible and just let the psychosis of the story wash over you. McConaughey is a madman genius (who knew? but what a great run going back to last year’s Lincoln Lawyer), and its great to see Billy Freidkin make another great film.

Monsieur Lazhar – Philippe Falardeau (DVD, Netflix)
If this were my actual top 10 list, Monsieur Lazhar would likely be at the top of the pile this year. Indeed, this powerful film can boasts two 5-star reviews from this paper alone, something we don’t usually do. Mohamed Fellag and the young Sophie Nélisse take turns stealing scenes from the rest of the cast in this French-Canadian drama about the different forms being spiritually lost can take.

Oslo, August 31st – Joachim Trier (DVD, Netflix)
Originally, I thought this was a quickie film about Anders Brevik, but it very much isn’t. Loosely based off the same Pierre Drieu La Rochelle novel as Louis Malle’s The Fire Within, Oslo features a startling performance from Anders Danielsen Lie as a newly reformed junkie wading back into his old life, getting a withering taste of it from a new perspective, and finding out how difficult it is to change, especially to go back.

Red Hook Summer – Spike Lee (DVD, Netflix)
While I absolutely loved Red Hook Summer (as much as you can “love” something that contains as fucked up but kind of lame and expected a plot twist as this), it would be something I would hesitate to recommend to others. Nevermind all of the “Mookie is back” stuff — he’s barely in it — but this is the old, old school Spike Lee that’s come back. The film is shot quick and off the cuff, mixing various DV sources (like the Sony F3 and the iPad2) that really captures Brooklyn at its most colorful self, the spirit that exists in each neighborhood and the diversity within the similarity. Even though that spirit is different for each neighborhood, someone from Flatlands or Bensonhurst can still recognize it as being a smaller part of the whole. So it’s probably more of a birthplace pro bias working on me, which is why I’d hesitate to recommend it.

Your Sister’s Sister – Lynn Shelton (DVD, Amazon)
Everyone is calling it the year of Channing Tatum, and it’s hard to argue that, but just by sheer force and the number of projects he’s been involved with this year, it’s sort of the year of Mark Duplass too. He’s been everywhere this year, from the low-key Do-Deca-Pentathon through to the Oscar-favorite Zero Dark Thirty (which opens Orlando in mid-January). He’s a little more toned down in Your Sister’s Sister than he is in Saftey Not Guaranteed, but he’s the same charming, bumbling dude’s dude that steals your affection with his dopey smile. Lynn Shelton just keeps getting better with every film she makes, and it’s it’s kind of a shame that the success of Moonrise Kingdom knocked this out of Enzian’s schedule over the summer.

Turn Me On, Dammit! – Jannicke Systad Jacobsen (DVD)
It’s actually kind of an embarrassing blindspot in the film world that there are so few straight up sex comedies about girls, and while that isn’t totally remedied by this one film, it’s a great start. Half of me wants to call it brave, but its more that its just an honest film from an unfamiliar perspective. Honesty is bravery a lot of the time, but I’m not sure it applies here. It’s just that Jacobsen’s adaptation of Olaug Nilssen’s novel finally lets boys into the conversation that’s existed the whole time by a particularly smart move (from a boy’s point of view anyway), having a boy be the villain but not having boys in general be the enemy.

2 Days in New York – Julie Delpy (2012)

http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/index.php/2012/07/vod-review-2-days-in-ny-julie-delpy-4-stars/

Sometimes you can’t move forward without going backwards, as the saying goes. In Julie Delpy’s 2 Days in New York, the unprompted but not unwelcome continuation of the charming-but-flat 2 Days in Paris, that saying comes to life.

2 Days in New York continues the story of Delpy’s barely-hinged-lunatic photographer, Marion, and her adorably psychotic family a few years later, as the dust has finally settled from Marion and Jack’s nightmare visit to Paris.

Jack (Adam Goldberg) is old news by now, replaced by the solid and comforting would-be radical liberal journalist Mingus (Chris Rock). Though Jack  and Marion had a child together before his departure, his biggest contribution to their lives of late is teaching their son, Lulu (Owen Shipman), to call Mingus “fake daddy” in a petulant bid for revenge for the balloon picture, if not other things.

If Mingus has posed for the balloon picture during his time with Marion, it escapes us, but it’s not needed anyway. Rock brings enough to the table without succumbing to the cheap laugh. Like Adam Sandler before him, Rock is a perfect fit for the dramatic-comedic role and, again like Sandler, you sort of wonder why he’s wasted his time on so many bad comedies in the past. Money, of course, since even his biggest flop will dramatically outgross this brave little effort, but there is an injustice in that.

Marion’s family is in town this time, visiting for her latest photography exhibit, and the same type of mayhem ensues as happened in Paris as her family, especially her papa Jeannot (Albert Delpy) descends on the island smuggling sausage and keying expensive cars again.

The exhibit centers around a showpiece of Marion selling her soul to the highest bidder — I won’t spoil the buyer, but it’s a supremely interesting cameo — to gain some publicity for her photographs. It’s a bit blunt, of course, but a worthwhile scene as Marion drives towards the edge of her sanity and she and Mingus begin to drift apart as he wonders if the woman he’s been living with for years is the shame and Marion is really this mad lady.

Like Days in Paris before it, there is something ever so slightly off about 2 Days in NY, something holding it back from actually achieving the small, indie greatness it strives for, instead landing comfortably at very good. It’s a dedication to laughs, or family, or dialogue perhaps, or just an inclination to the small bits of life rather than the sweeping moments that holds it back, but Days in New York feels different than 2 Days in Paris too. It feels necessary, as a story, as a statement about Julie Delpy’s position as an artist, and Marion’s, and as an extension of grief from the loss of her mother, Marie, who featured so prominently in 2 Nights in Paris. That need is conveyed clearly, both directly in Marion’s grief, and indirectly by her father’s presence, seeing a man not quite lost, but only because he has no time for nostalgia. But it’s landing at very good may be more meaningful and true to Delpy’s story anyway.

DVDs NUTS – Goodbye First Love/Tomboy/Harold and Maude

http://orlandoweekly.com/film/dvds-nuts-1.1329468

Goodbye First Love

First love is not an un-essayed topic in film. It may be the most over-essayed, in fact, but French director Mia Hansen-Love brings a delicate combination of immediacy and an arm’s-length distance to the screen as she traces almost a decade’s worth of scar tissue built up on a young girl’s heart. Minutes become hours, hours become days, days become weeks as 16-year-old Camille (the lovely Lola Creton) breaks apart emotionally while waiting for a letter from her first love, Sullivan, who seems to have forgotten her as he backpacks around South America. But Hansen-Love doesn’t hold Camille up for ridicule for her love-sick teen silliness in this fly-on-the-wall drama. Everyone’s been there, so instead, the picture painted almost causes a collective sigh of relief at a shared, intimate moment of helpless awkwardness. (available now through video on demand)

Tomboy

Celine Sciamma’s unflinching childhood drama stars newcomer Zoe Heran as a 10-year-old girl named Laure who, upon moving with her family to a new city, convinces the new group of kids that she falls in with that she’s really a boy named Michael. She disguises herself with short hair and boyish tank tops and a little sister who is good at fibbing, but carefree summers always have to be paid for eventually. Tomboy is a tough and often uncomfortable film to watch (think My Life as a Dog commingled with a less aggressive Fat Girl), but it’s a thoroughly rewarding look outside of the walls of the normal emotional prisons that adolescence constructs around us. (available now)
Special Features: Behind-the-scenes featurette

Harold and Maude

Criterion Collection Cocaine is a hell of a drug, and it did a hell of a number on director Hal Ashby, who ruled the 1970s with a solid decade of eccentric brilliance, earning seven Oscars from 24 nominations for films like Shampoo, The Last Detail and Being There. But perhaps the best of the bunch is the one that received no Oscar nominations at all: 1971’s beautifully delicate Harold and Maude, featuring Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon as the most unlikely couple to ever be in cahoots together. Gordon’s Maude is the Grand Dame of the Manic Pixie Dream Girls, one that none have ever lived up to, and Cort sets his world on fire with a pair of wickedly bright downcast eyes to match a wicked sense of the macabre. Modern auteurs like Wes Anderson and Gus Van Sant owe an awful lot to Ashby for making this film. (available now)
Special Features: Audio commentary, Hal Ashby seminar, Cat Stevens interview