I’ve been so busy with the SFFilm Festival and life itself, I forgot about The Criterion Channel. Anyway, a lot of good movies will disappear from the Channel when May comes along. Try to catch some of these while it’s still April.
A A Separation (2011)
Writer/director Asghar Farhadi demonstrates how good people can turn against each other in this harrowing tale from Iran. A middle-class couple break up over irreconcilable differences, and divorce seems inevitable. The man hires a housekeeper to care for his senile father. That housekeeper – poor, pregnant, with a young daughter in tow and a husband who doesn’t know she’s working – is clearly not up for the task. When disaster strikes, everyone ends up in court, where people are soon doubting their own words. This one will stick with you. Read my full review.
A The Lives of Others (2006)
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck creates a very intimate, human story about the horrors of Communism and all forms of totalitarianism, and turns it into a suspenseful thriller. In East Germany, an up-and-coming secret police officer must gather dirt on a playwright for reasons that are utterly absurd. Slowly, bit by bit, the secret policeman comes to identify with his prey and lose faith in the Socialist ideal.
A- Watermelon Man (1970)
Melvin Van Peebles’ only Hollywood movie is a very funny movie, and a very pointed one. A white, middle-aged, middle-class bigot wakes up in the middle of the night to discover he’s suddenly black. Everything changes. His wife doesn’t want him. His kids are afraid of him. He can’t jog without neighbors calling the police. Godfrey Cambridge gives a remarkable performance, both comic and serious, including a first act in whiteface. Watermelon Man is howlingly funny at times, but absolutely serious in its intent.
B+ Stormy Weather (1943)
There’s no real plot, even though there are several attempts to create one. But Stormy Weather isn’t about story. The movie is simply an excuse to showcase some of the greatest African American entertainers of its time. The all-black cast include Lena Horne, Bill Robinson, Fats Waller, Cab Calloway, and Dooley Wilson. Louis Armstrong is sadly missing. The Nicholas Brothers close the picture with one of the greatest dance performances in cinema history. Warning: There’s a scene with black entertainers in blackface.
B+ Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)
This suspenseful heist movie, written by blacklisted screenwriters and directed by Robert Wise, puts you on the edge of your chair. Three desperate men set out to rob a small-town bank. The big problem is that one of them is black (Harry Belafonte), and another is a horrible racist (Robert Ryan). Ed Begley plays the leader who tries to keep them together. The climax gets a little silly, and the last line of dialog is absurdly preachy.
B+ Mulholland Dr. (2001)
The plot is both extremely conventional and almost non-existent, and I’m not even going to try to explain it. And yet almost every individual scene seems to feel like a masterpiece. As you expect from writer/director David Lynch, it’s heavy on atmosphere, complexity, and erotica. You can almost reach out and touch the weirdness. Naomi Watts is just amazing. Even Ann Miller of the old MGM musicals plays a part.
B+ The Learning Tree (1969)
Gordon Parks became the first African American to direct a Hollywood feature film with this picture. He also adapted the screenplay from his own novel and scored the music. The Learning Tree follows the experiences of a very well-behaved teenage boy in a small Kansas town in the 1920s. Along with the normal problems of every teenager, he must deal with poverty, racism, and segregation. The film is beautifully photographed by Burnett Guffey, which shouldn’t be a surprise since Parks himself was a noted photographer before he became a writer and filmmaker. However, he should have hired someone else to do the music, which is overly melodramatic.
Likable films I don’t remember well
I’ve seen, and liked, all these films, but that was long ago. I don’t remember them well enough for me to write about them now.
- The Age of Innocence
- Carmen Jones
- Citizen Ruth
- Island in the Sun
- Mississippi Mermaid
- Passion Fish
- Rambling Rose
- Uptown Saturday Night
You can also see all the films that will go away come April.