PICKS OF THE WEEK
Germany; Carl-Theodor Dreyer, 1932, Criterion
A masterpiece of poetic gloom and mystical dread, this 1932 German classic by Danish director Carl Dreyer takes the stuff of supernatural literary horror (Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla) and turns it into a symphony of blood and anxiety, a vampire film that ranks with Murnau's Nosferatu, Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula and very few others.
The movie is shot in a wash of blacks, whites and grays that immerse you in a nightmare world; the many unforgettable moments -- including the corpse-eye-view burial and the terrifying last vampire mill scene -- can truly mesmerize you. It's one of the essential film classics. One version in the package is in German, with English subtitles; the other one has an English text. (Extras: Audio commentary by Tony Rayns; Jorgen Roos 1966 documentary Carl Th. Dreyer; radio broadcast by Dreyer; visual essay on Vampyr; booklet with essays by critics Mark Le Fanu and Kim Newman and 1964 interview with producer-star Nicolas de Gunzburg; and accompanying book containing Dreyer's screenplay and Sheridan Le Fanu's original novel Carmilla.)
U.S.; Clint Eastwood, 1988, Warner
Clint Eastwood's love of jazz is responsible for this dark, cool, heartbreaking film -- and for the dramatic change in Eastwood's directorial image that it wrought. Though American critics were mixed on Bird, it's an obviously ambitious, very impressive achievement: a song in blood, junk and tears of alto sax genius Charlie ("Yardbird") Parker (Forest Whitaker), his music, his heroin, his wife Chan (Diane Venora) and his sad, soaring life.
Winner of two prizes at Cannes (for Whitaker and the sound), it's a classic portrait of the artist as doomed hipster. It's also one of Clint's best. The film co-stars Sam Wright (as Dizzy Gillespie), Michael Zelniker (as Red Rodney), Keith David -- and, on alto sax solos, Bird (who lives).
Heartbeat Detector (B-)
France; Nicolas Klotz, 2007, New Yorker
An intelligent, relentlessly dour and gloomy thriller about a corporate spy (Mathieu Almaric of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), who's assigned to snoop into the life of a CEO (the great Michel Lonsdale, who once chased Edward Fox's Jackal), a boss whom the company flacks and movers suspect of a breakdown. Almaric is hovering on the edge himself -- through booze and dance club orgies -- and he soon finds a whole dark underpinning to the spying: a link to the evils of the Holocaust.
This film certainly held my attention. But, despite its Melvillean understatement, it lacks the full wrench of surprise and the chill of history it needs. Still, it's a kick to find a thriller that, like this one and The Lives of Others, works with human and social issues, and that doesn't depend for its impact on putting us into adrenaline overdrive.
OTHER NEW AND RECENT RELEASES
Round Midnight (A-)
France; Bertrand Tavernier, 1982, Warner
Tavernier's ode to jazz, this film co-stars Francois Cluzet as an obsessed Parisian jazz fan and Dexter Gordon as the object of his obsession, a dying alcoholic genius saxophonist. It's set to jazz music composed and directed by Herbie Hancock, leading a brilliant ensemble that includes Gordon and Wayne Shorter.
Dirty Money (Le Flic) (B)
France; Jean-Pierre Melville, 1972, Lionsgate
Melville's last noir is a fine moody heist thriller, co-starring Catherine Deneuve (la belle), Richard Crenna (le crook) and Alain Delon (le flic).
Blues in the Night (B-)
U.S.; Anatole Litvak, 1941, Warner
This fitfully good jazz drama uses the swinging Mercer-Arlen title song (never sung completely in the film) as a frame for the story of a troubled ensemble, headed by actor (and later director) Richard Whorf, and co-starring Priscilla Lane, Jack Carson, Lloyd Nolan, Betty Field and, on clarinet, Elia "Gadge" Kazan.