CO-PICKS OF THE WEEK
Michael Clayton (A)
U.S.; Tony Gilroy, 2007, Warner
A slick, brainy George Clooney thriller-drama and one of this year's five Best Picture Oscar nominees, director-writer Tony Gilroy's Michael Clayton digs into contemporary corporate malfeasance and legal compromise with swift pace, wit and a wicked thrust. Gilroy, making his directorial debut, wrote much of the Bourne movie series, and this film is just as fast and a little smarter. It's about a huge legal corporation's Mr. Fix-It: Clooney as Clayton, who gets enmeshed in a corporate mega-lawsuit that suddenly plunges into dirty tricks and murder -- with himself at the sucker's end.
The cast includes two other 2007 Oscar nominees: Tom Wilkinson as a brilliant lawyer who goes bonkers, nudist and honest at the same time (a fatal combination for a corporate mouthpiece) and Tilda Swinton as a corporate rep who is nasty stuff: the kind of cold and crooked gal whom Hillary Clinton's worst enemies try to paint her. The rest of the cast, flawless all, includes Sydney Pollack in the kind of role he owns: the ambiguous fatherly boss man.
Clooney has just the right part too: a sexy, weary, wised-up smart-aleck with heart. This role fits Clooney as Casablanca's Rick fit Bogart. Michael Clayton is maybe just an extremely clever contemporary legal thriller, a John Grisham/Three Days of the Condor-style movie with extra spin on the ball. But, of its kind, it's almost flawless. And I defy you not to get a kick out of Clooney's ultimate payback scene. (Extras: commentary with Gilroy, additional scenes.)
Pierrot le Fou (A)
France; Jean-Luc Godard, 1965, Criterion
A classic. The wildly experimental Pierrot le Fou, a 1965 French New Wave gem by the great rebel Jean-Luc-Godard, is based on Lionel White's American hard-boiled novel, Obsession. But -- like those earlier Godard fusions of pulp and poetry, Bande a Part and Breathless -- it leaves its source far behind.
In a way, it's the quintessential nouvelle vague picture and an ultimate love-on-the-run tale, with moody hard guy Jean-Paul Belmondo and Godard's wayward muse Anna Karina on a doomward race in the South of France. But it's also a meditation on Vietnam-era France and its ties to the U.S., on sexual politics and political sex, and, of course, on cinema itself. Pierrot is the movie where Sam Fuller appears to growl out Godard's line about what the movies are -- with his own gruff final addition "Emotion!"
Emotion is what Godard gives us in Pierrot: wistful, scary, impudent, drenched with longing. Back in the '60s and '70s, Pierrot le Fou was a required text for radical cinephiles. It still should be. In French, with English subtitles. (Extras: Documentary (by Luc Lagier); interview with Karina; interview excerpts with Godard, Belmondo and Karina; video program by Jean-Pierre Gorin; trailer; booklet with Andrew Sarris review and Richard Brady essay.)
BOX SET PICK OF THE WEEK
The Joan Crawford Collection, Vol. 2 (A)
U. S.; Various directors, 1933-53, Warner
She was Bette Davis' great rival and one of the real movie icons of her age: a salty dame who made it to the top, and knew how to put on a great glamour face and get men eating out of her silken paws. That was the kind of role she played too, and nobody did it better, which this set demonstrates in silver spades.
If you're a Joan Crawford fan, and she still has quite a few, you can't miss this set. If you're not, give her a whirl. She's at her peak, and the extras are top-notch. (Extras: Documentaries; vintage shorts, cartoons and radio adaptations; trailers, Joan Crawford recording session.)
Sadie McKee (B-)
Clarence Brown, 1933
Crawford girl-on-the-rise saga, co-starring Franchot Tone (the wise-cracking beau), Edward Arnold (the sugar daddy) and Gene Raymond (the wastrel). We see a snatch of Sadie in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
A Woman's Face (B)
George Cukor, 1941
An ultra-polished noirish romance/trial melodrama, with Crawford as disfigured thief Anna, whose soul changes when her face is repaired -- the role played in the Swedish original by young Ingrid Bergman. With Melvyn Douglas, Conrad Veidt (at his most evil) and Reginald Owen. The extras include radio performances of the Crawford/Bergman role by both rival Davis and Ida Lupino.
Strange Cargo (B+)
Frank Borzage, 1940
Weirdo mystical Devil's Island prison escape picture, with frequent co-stars Clark Gable and Crawford as a tough-cookie couple and Ian Hunter as a Christ figure, by God; beautifully directed and produced by super-romantic Borzage and Joseph Mankiewicz) and strange as sin.
Flamingo Road (A-)
Michael Curtiz, 1949
Crawford is a carnival dancer stranded in a Southern city, who falls in love with a weakling local deputy (Zachary Scott), runs afoul of his slimy corrupt sheriff boss (Sydney Greenstreet, oozing malice) and rises to the top and to more trouble, thanks to another smitten political boss (David Brian). This rags-to-riches Crawford romantic/political saga was a great favorite of German movie prodigy R.W. Fassbinder; he ranked it number two on his all-time best movie list (right behind Luchino Visconti's The Damned). Inspiration for a later TV series, it was based on a Robert Wilder bestseller; Wilder wrote the script.
Torch Song (C+)
Charles Walters, 1953
Crawford as a super-tough Broadway musical diva who falls for Michael Wilding as an intellectual blind British pianist (probably modeled after George Shearing). She's dubbed, but, in the extras, you can hear her singing in an actual recording session.
OTHER NEW AND RECENT RELEASES
American Gangster (B+)
U.S. Ridley Scott, 2007, Universal
Denzel Washington plays rich Harlem gangster kingpin Frank Lucas; Russell Crowe is Richie Roberts, the frowsy middle-class cop hot on his trail. I'm not sure the split story works -- it seems designed mainly to accommodate Crowe's star profile -- but this gaudy, brutal, well-directed gangster epic stays in your mind. With Chiwetel Ojiofor, Josh Brolin, Cuba Gooding Jr. and the great Ruby Dee, who burns up the screen in some short scenes as Denzel's mother. (Extras: Theatrical and extended versions, commentary by Scott and writer Steve Zaillian, futurities, trailers, deleted scenes.)
Lust, Caution (B+)
Taiwan, Ang Lee, 2007, Universal
Long, complex but absorbing tale of crime, love and revolutionary politics. Lee is something of a chameleon, but this movie suggests he should go back to Taiwan, the land of directorial colleagues Hou Hsiao-hsien and Edward Yang more often. With Tony Leung (super), Wei Tang and Joan Chen. In Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Shanghai, English and Hindi, with English subtitles. (Extra: featurette.)
In the Valley of Elah (B)
U.S.; Paul Haggis, 2007, Warner
Tommy Lee Jones gives one of his more melancholy, moving performances as a dad who loses his soldier son in a mysterious army camp episode; Charlize Theron is the cop helping him uncover the truth. Not as good as writer Haggis' Clint Eastwood-directed movies or his own Crash, but it grips and sometimes shakes you. Also in the cast: Jason Patric, Susan Sarandon and Josh Brolin.
U.S.; Brian De Palma, 2007, Magnolia
De Palma tries to make another Casualties of War for the Iraq mess. But his own script does him in -- even though this film was a top prize-winner at Venice. A gutsy job, though.
Margot at the Wedding (B)
U.S.; Noah Baumbach, 2007, Paramount
Some smart movie critics tendered to overrate this acerbic, literate family drama, made by the only American moviemaker who has ex-movie critics for both mom and dad. Eric Rohmer it ain't. But it has good roles for Nicole Kidman, Jack Black and, especially, Jennifer Jason Leigh. (Extras: conversation with Baumbach and Leigh, trailer.)
Love Unto Death (B+)
France; Alain Resnais, 1984, Kino/Kimstim
This dark, almost unbearably sad romantic drama, imagines what would happen if a fatalistic husband (Pierre Arditi) were magically saved from death by his love-mad wife (Sabine Azema). Written by Jean Gruault, co-starring Fanny Ardant and Andre Dussollier. In French, with English subtitles. (Extras: Interview with Arditi, trailer.)
Life Is a Bed of Roses (La Vie Est un Roman) (A)
France; Alain Resnais, 1963, Kino/Kimstim
A brilliant fairytale, which blends three ages and three directorial styles -- inspired by fantasist Georges Melies, romantic Marcel l'Herbier and philosopher Rohmer -- into a utopian/dystopian dance. Written by Gruault; starring Vittorio Gassmann, Geraldine Chaplin, Azema, Arditi, Dussollier and operatic Ruggeri Raimondi. In French, with English subtitles. (Extras: "Making of" documentary, trailer.)
U.S.; Sam Peckinpah, 1978
It's very sad to see the great Sam Peckinpah reduced to making a movie like this: a comical trucking action farce semi-western based on the hit C&W song. But it moves along, and at least it put some money in his pocket -- and those of Kris Kristofferson, Ali MacGraw, Ernest Borgnine and Burt Young.