November Short Takes: Film

When it rains it pours. All of a sudden there’s a plethora of worthy films available — some in theaters and some via streaming.

by Michael Bergeron

Your humble scribe has personally attended movies at two of the Houston, TX inside-the-loop theaters currently open (at least on weekends,) in the last month: the Landmark River Oaks and the Houston IPIC. A companion and myself were the only viewers in the 500-seat auditorium at the River Oaks, and the IPIC observed social distancing in seating and took your temperature upon entry.

With the temporary closing of the Regal theaters, plus the permanent shutter of the AMC Studio 30, which frankly had devolved from its illustrious opening complete with a water fountain entrance to its current state of griminess, there’s not a lot until you hit the suburbs with its Studio Grills.

The competition is actually quite stiff for new movies. A streaming title that nobody has ever heard has as much credibility as a film with a couple of recognizable stars. I got an email from a publicist begging for a critic who was “certified” on Rotten Tomatoes® to give their film a positive review because they needed just one more vote in order to achieve a “fresh” rating.

Personally I demand a recount.

Let Him Go

Focus Features Wins Box Office With Let Him Go and Come Play | IndieWire

Sometimes a movie has the right spirit at the right time. Originally set for release last Spring, “Let Him Go” carries a burden of nihilism that fits snug into the current zeitgeist. 

A revenge thriller that leaves no easy answers “Let Him Go” stars Kevin Costner and Diane Lane with some meaty supporting performances by Lesley Manville as a powerful matriarch and Booboo Stewart who helps navigate the Dakota landscape.

Tightly constructed with its evocation of an unsullied America circa early-1960s, yet there’re some glaring continuity issues during a final climatic showdown.

“Let Him Go” from Focus Features is currently in theaters.

Ammonite

Ammonite: Critics praise Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan's lesbian drama

Stuffy society in mid-19th century England explodes from repression in the form of an explicit love affair. Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan star in “Ammonite.”

Winslet lives in a shack with her ailing mother yet thrives on the nearby beach where her fossil excavations have brought her acclaim in London scientific societies and museum exhibits. Upper class Ronan suffers from what was then termed melancholia and in a series of circumstances becomes a kind of apprentice. The women first at odds with each other’s temperament soon become lovers.

The sex scenes in “Ammonite” ignite with a contemporary abandon while the lifestyle of the characters otherwise dwell in a static restraint indicative of the era.

Writer/director Francis Lee doesn’t want to remake “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” nor does he emulate the equally erotic “Blue is the Warmest Color.” Lee has created something quite new and engaging. The clothes and rooms change from year to year but passion never changes in human relations.

“Ammonite” from NEON opens in exclusive runs at the River Oaks and the Woodlands Cinemark this weekend.

The Climb

The Climb' Review: A Brilliant Reinvention of the Buddy Comedy | IndieWire

“The Climb” will be remembered for its technical skill at the cost of its comedic examination of a buddy friendship. Writer/Producer/Director/Star/Set P.A. Michael Angelo Covino has fashioned a timeless bit of cinema that unfolds in superbly choreographed lengthy one-take camera shots.

There’s a heavy French influence of movie references and constant Gallic pop songs as well as a brief role by Judith Godrèche. One particular smart use of music is Gilbert Bécaud’s “What Now My Love,” which Bécaud wrote in 1961 (“Et maintenant”). But that isn’t even the most amazing thing that Covino has up his sleeve.

Throughout film history an artsy camera point-of-view has usually been associated with film noir in films like “The Lady in the Lake” (1947) or more recently “Too Late” (2015). While Covino wants you to laugh you’re too busy trying to grasp the nuance of his vision accentuated by cinematographer Zach Kuperstein’s smooth handheld framing.

For instance a long sequence at a holiday family dinner starts in the house and at 4-minutes the camera has to pass the dog, or at 7-minutes the camera has moved outside and has to pass a car in such a way that the filmmakers aren’t reflected in the windows. You simply marvel at what this film has to offer.

“The Climb” from Sony Pictures Classics opens this weekend at a handful of AMC theaters and the River Oaks.

Hillbilly Elegy & The Life Ahead

Hillbilly Elegy Review: Toothless Melodrama Fails to Live Up to Its Elegiac  Title - That Shelf

Netflix continues with an array of titles that serve as comfort food and on occasion Award darlings.

“”The Life Ahead” teams Sophia Loren in her first movie role in a decade as a increasingly ailing woman with a past that includes the Holocaust and a need to care for abandoned children. The film was directed by her son Edoardo Ponti.

The source novel “Madame Rosa” was previous made in 1977 as “La vie devant soi” with Simone Signoret and won acclaim as the Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film.

Ron Howard doesn’t fare as well with his adaptation of “Hillbilly Elegy,” based on a growing up poor to successful Ivy League lawyer book by J. D. Vance. Gabriel Basso who plays Vance certainly garners more respect for his portrayal as a conflicted son who returns to a prodigal family than the hammy if occasionally illuminating performances by Amy Adams and Glenn Close.

“The Life Ahead” is currently streaming on Netflix. “Hillbilly Elegy” opens locally at the IPIC this Friday before landing on Netflix later in the month.

Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds

Fireball' review: Werner Herzog's Apple TV+ doc will fill you with wonder

Leave it to Werner Herzog, along with collaborator Clive Oppenheimer, to craft yet another documentary that grasps you by the collar with its deft mix of science, myth and wanderlust.

Herzog has made his most accessible film since “Encounters at the End of the World” where he traveled to Antarctica. In “Fireball” Herzog and Oppenheimer journey to the locations of the biggest meteor and asteroid impact sites on the planet. Along the way Herzog finds the correct words to express how stray dogs in Chicxulub, Mexico will never understand the meaning of the impact crater where they live and its relation to the data it has generated.

“Fireball” starts with a montage of the 2013 Russian meteor as it was captured on car cams. Before long we’re standing at the site of Australian and Indian impact sites as well as analyzing the influence on their religions. In a similar way Herzog presents a clip from the 1998 movie “Deep Impact” and examines how it’s influenced our own culture.

Herzog takes us by the hand from the plains of the remote arctic where the only rocks are meteorites to a Norwegian slanted roof where a noted jazz musician has created his own niche in the scientific arena by discovering a novel way to detect cosmic debris. “Fireball” has a way of staying with you after you’ve seen it.

“Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds” stream exclusively on Apple TV starting this weekend.

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