Who’s Minding the Store: 22 May, 2007

[21 May 2007]

By Bill Gibron

PopMatters Contributing Editor

Aren’t you sick of the Summer Movie Season already? Granted, it’s only been three weeks, but with its rollercoaster conceit of overly hyped/underwhelming tre-quels and box office browbeating over whose unnecessary retreat will reign supreme, it seems like the next three months will be one massive misfire after another. And it’s already getting very old. While there is some legitimate relief on the way in the guise of Judd Apatow’s amazing Knocked Up (more on that in future sections), anyone hoping for a little artistry among the artifice is barking up the wrong bush. Still, there’s always the digital domain to save us from Hollywood’s annual hog and phony show, and this week’s offerings are consistently excellent (with one shockingly lame farcical flop excluded). So save yourself a trip to the Cineplex and revel in one of the many memorable picks for 22 May, including SE&L‘s solid selection:

Apocalypto

Had stumbling superstar Mel Gibson not ruined his reputation by giving in to his inner racist ideals, he would probably have had another massive mainstream hit on his hands with this incredibly adept period piece. As much about the setting as the stunt work, Gibson turned an ancient Mayan civilization with its rituals and superstitions into a kind of organic science fiction. He drops us directly into the middle of a mesmerizing, slightly surreal locale and then leaves us with very little that is recognizable or real. Instead, we must piece together the reigning realities like fragments of an ancient puzzle. With its direct from digital glow (Gibson avoided film for cost considerations) and sublime art direction, we never once doubt the authenticity or accuracy of the tale (though scholars have frowned on some of the historical errors). Besides, it’s one of the best movies ever to attempt the lo-tech action genre.

Other Titles of Interest

Epic Movie

Someone forgot to tell the makers of these meaningless spoof movies that the comedy only works when the target has become a part of the legitimate pop cultural lexicon, not merely some flash in the pan fad that’s here today and forgotten a fortnight from now. Whatever the case, as long as there are ADD addled audiences willing to support such drivel, Tinsel Town will keep churning them out.

Prince of the City: Special Edition

Some consider this to be Sidney Lumet’s last great film (with the occasionally manipulative The Verdict riding in a close second), and in some ways, they’re right. It was the last time Lumet would let his material do the talking, permitting this story of police corruption and the officer/whistleblower who risked his career – and life - to reveal it, develop organically without contrivance. Thanks to a terrific turn by lead Treat Williams, it remains a forgotten gem.

Sansho the Bailiff: The Criterion Collection

Japanese cinema doesn’t get more beautiful or heartbreaking than this stellar drama from Ugetsu director Kenji Mizoguchi. In a career that spanned nearly 50 years (he began making silent films in 1923), this tale of an exiled governor and the family desperate to reunite with him is considered a creative crowning achievement. Thanks to those experts at Criterion, the proof is there for all to see.

The Third Man: The Criterion Collection

Carol Reed’s signature film is also his most unabashedly brilliant work. Mixing a flawlessly crafted combination of acting, story, setting and subtext, what starts out as a standard thriller becomes an existential exercise in identity and duty. If you don’t already own a copy (shame on you), now’s your chance to get the latest treasure trove treatment from DVDs’ best preservationists. Apparently, modern director Steven Soderbergh is on hand to deliver a definitive commentary.

Venus

It’s sad, when you think about it. Longtime Oscar bridesmaid Peter O’Toole was practically guaranteed an Academy Award for this supposed swansong performance as an aging actor who falls for a troubled gal 50 years his younger. No one could deny the grand thespian’s presence, but when placed alongside work from Leonardo DiCaprio, Ryan Gosling, and eventual winner Forest Whitaker, he just couldn’t compete. Not the brightest way to end a stellar cinematic career.

And Now for Something Completely Different
Straight Time

It seems like an odd combination at first: intense New York actor Dustin Hoffman playing a recently paroled LA ex-con looking to change his life and mend his ways. But thanks to the impressive artistic approach taken by experimental director Ulu Grosbard – call it ‘languid legitimacy’ – what we end up with is one of the two time Oscar winner’s strongest performances. Naturally, Hoffman’s Max Dembo is a tormented man who can’t stay out of crime’s way (thanks in part to a power mad probation officer played by M. Emmet Walsh) and he’s soon on a rampage to repay society for having such unflinching faith in its penal system. Long forgotten by supporters of ‘70s cinema, this new to DVD release should function as a way of rediscovering this legitimate motion picture classic.

 

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/whos-minding-the-store-22-may-2007/