|by Peter Sobczynski
Please enjoy short reviews of ''Loving'' and ''The Monster'' as well as a look at a few recent Blu-ray releases of note.
At a time when everything from political rhetoric to popular entertainment seems to be dangerously overheated, it almost seems silly to complain that a movie feels too subtle and restrained for its own good. And yet, that is precisely to problem with ''Loving'', a well-made and well-meaning drama that comes across as being just a little too subdued, which is especially odd considering the subject matter. The film recounts the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga), a couple living in Virginia in the late 1950s who decide to get married. Alas, they are an interracial and Virginia was a state that still considered such unions to be illegal so when they return from taking their vows in Washington D.C., they are almost immediately arrested and eventually barred from being in the state together for the next 25 years. They relocate to D.C. and spend the next few years quietly going about their lives and raising a family until they are contacted by a couple of ACLU attorneys (Nick Kroll and Jon Bass) who want to use their arrest as the basis for a legal case that they hope will eventually lead to the overturning of such laws by the Supreme Court itself. Although both agree to allow their case to be used, the Lovings are split on their attitudes towards what is going on—the taciturn Richard fears that any publicity will have a detrimental effect on the safety of his family while the more outgoing Mildred is more willing to put herself forward if it will help them to win a victory for the cause of civil rights.
The film was written and directed by Jeff Nicholas, whose previous films have included such well-regarded efforts as ''Shotgun Stories,'' ''Take Shelter,'' ''Mud'' and ''Midnight Special,'' ''Loving'' eschews the narrative ambitions that he displayed in his previous works for a more straightforward and direct storytelling approach that is a good fit for the material. The problem is that while there is nothing outrageously wrong with it, there is a certain lack of fire and fervor in the film that is a bit puzzling--aside from one gripping sequence when the Loving sneak back to their birthplace in order to have their first child be born their with the assistance of his midwife mother, everything is recounted in a manner so restrained that the significance of the story winds up getting subsumed as well. The result is a film that is too dramatically inert at times to really pack the emotional punch that it clearly wants to possess. What ultimately saves ''Loving'' and makes it worth watching are the stellar central performances from Edgerton and Negga as the Lovings--the latter is especially good at conveying Mildred’s strength, resilience and determination to do her part to help the burgeoning civil rights movement as well as the tensions that develop between her and her husband as the result of that determination. Although ''Loving'' as a whole lacks the kind of urgency that one might expect from a film of this type, their performances still make it worth a look.
As the dark horror/psychodrama ''The Monster'' begins, the fraught relationship between alcoholic young mother Kathy (Zoe Kazan) and headstrong daughter Lizzy (Ella Ballentine) has deteriorated to the point where Lizzy is heading off to stay with her father for a temporary visit that, although unsaid, will almost certainly become permanent. After hitting the road late while Kathy sleep off another bender, the two find themselves on a dark and stormy road during a rainstorm when their car hits a wolf that runs out of the nearby woods straight at them. Stuck in the middle of nowhere, the two eventually realize that they are not the only ones out there--you saw the title--and find themselves struggling to come together in the hopes of defeating the monster, which can clearly be read as a manifestation of the damage they have done to each other over the years through their toxic relationship, and making it to the morning. The film was written and directed by Bryan Bertino, best known for the slickly made but largely detestable home invasion thriller ''The Strangers,'' and this one is a marked improvement over that earlier effort. The horror beats are done in a relatively strong and sure manner but he is even better at observing the tensions between Kathy and Lizzy and their efforts to overcome them in the face of a truly unimaginable threat. In this regard, he is aided immeasurably by the excellent performances from Kazan and Ballentine, which create one of the more convincing (at times painfully so) mother-daughter relationships to appear in any movie, regardless of genre, in a while. The only real problem with the film is actually with the monster itsel--while it works as a metaphor (although Bertino hits that aspect perhaps a little too hard at times), it is somewhat less convincing in its physical manifestation and the more it is seen, the more it merely looks like a guy in a creature suit than a real threat. (That said, kudos for going the practical route instead of merely dishing up another forgettable CGI beast.) That quibble aside, ''The Monster'' is a surprisingly effective horror film that proves that an intelligent screenplay can do more for that kind of filmmaking than simply deploying gallons of fake blood.
By coincidence--or maybe something else--this month marks the tenth anniversary of the passing of legendary filmmaker Robert Altman, the passing of legendary singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen and the return of legendary actor Warren Beatty to the big screen after a 15-year absence. (Yes, I realize that I may have hit ''legendary'' a bit much but would you argue that description in any of those cases?) What better way to commemorate this than with a viewing of the one film that managed to make beautiful use of their respective talents. That would be the hypnotic 1971 classic ''McCabe & Mrs. Miller'' (The Criterion Collection. $39.95), a gorgeous dream of a movie that is now making its Blu-ray debut through the Criterion Collection. In the film, Beatty plays a gambler who decides to settle in the mining town of Presbyterian Church and open up a bordello to service the local workers. With the help of the enigmatic Constance Miller (Julie Christie), it becomes a success and representatives from the mining company offer to buy McCabe out. He decides to hold out, gambling that he can get a better price from them but only too late does he realize that these are people more likely to come back with a gun than a counter-offer. Like most of Altman’s best films--and this is certainly one of them--the film is less interested in telling a straightforward story (though it does) than in taking viewers into a new and unfamiliar world and allowing them to observe their day-to-day existence ranging from the small incidental pleasures to the horrors to the mundane realities. Utilizing gorgeous cinematography from Villas Zsigmond, incredible performances across the board (with Beatty and Christie at their best) and the brilliant deployment of Cohen’s moody tunes as a loose commentary on the action, Altman made a film that both subverted the Western genre and gave it a much-needed breath of fresh air and the result, at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, is one of the few movies I can think of that I would describe as being absolutely perfect. For the Blu-ray, Criterion has put together a wonderful package of new and archival materials than start with a stunning new 4K transfer of the film. Altman himself can be heard with producer David Foster on a commentary track recorded in 2002 for the original DVD release and other features from the archives include a making-of featurette from 1970, a 1999 Q&A with production designer Leon Erickson, interviews with Zsigmond and parts of two episodes of ''The Dick Cavett Show'' featuring Altman and critic Pauline Kael, whose rapturous review of the film became one of her most famous pieces. The new material includes a full making-of documentary and a discussion of Altman’s career with historians Carl Beauchamp and Rick Jewell. All together, it makes for one of the best Blu-rays to come out this year and one that belongs on every film fan’s shelf.
Among other notable titles that are newly available on Bl-ray, Criterion has just issued another Robert Altman classic with ''Short Cuts'' (The Criterion Collection. $39.95), his epic-length 1993 study of the lives of 22 disparate people living in contemporary Los Angeles that was based on several short stories by the late Raymond Carver and which featured an all-star cast including Julianne Moore, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Penn, Tim Robbins, Madeline Stowe, Jack Lemmon, Lili Taylor and, perhaps inevitably, Huey Lewis. The company has also give the full bells-and-whistles treatment to Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning 2006 ''Pan’s Labyrinth''’ (The Criterion Collection. $39.95), a dark fable in which a young girl (Ivana Baquero) comes face to face with horrors of both a fantastical nature and of a more realistic variety in the former of her cruel new stepfather (Sergi Lopez), a fascist captain in the army of General Francisco Franco charged with rooting out rebels in the wake of the Spanish Civil War. Finally, for laughs (which we could probably all use about now), the greatest comedy team of all time makes their Blu-ray debut with ''The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection'' (Universal Home Entertainment), a three-disc set collecting their first five movies--''The Cocoanuts'' (1929), a newly restored edition of ''Animal Crackers'' (1930), ''Monkey Business'' (1931) and the newly relevant masterpiece ''Duck Soup'' (1933--along with newly recorded audio commentaries for each one featuring the likes of Harpo’s son Bill Marx and critics. F.X. Feeney and Leonard Maltin, a documentary chronicling the Marxs rise to fame in Hollywood and archival footage of appearances by Harpo and Groucho on ''The Today Show.''
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=4008
originally posted: 11/13/16 09:46:19
last updated: 11/15/16 04:52:44