Tuesday, December 10, 2013

RECENTLY BEHELD: DECEMBER 2-9, 2013

Here's what I beheld last week...
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(2013)




There's much familiarity to be found in the subject matter of Out of the Furnace: Christian Bale aims recover his brother who has fallen in with a bad lot up in the mountains of their Steel Belt town. The wayward blood is played by Casey Affleck. Anytime Bale and Affleck square off expect marvelous sparks to fly. The film's all-star cast (also including Willem Dafoe, Woody Harrelson, Zoe Saldana, Sam Shepard and Forest Whitaker) take great length's to shed their celebrity and embrace the gritty of this realistic drama/thriller. It's one of the finer American achievements of the year.

★★★★

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(2013)



Alexander Payne returns to his element and home state for a hilarious outing in the form of a road-trip taken by David Grant (Will Forte) and his estranged father, Woody (a Cannes-winning performance by Bruce Dern). The black-and-white photography proves to be essential for this mid-West story of broken-down people. Beneath Payne's visual gags and deadpanned deliveries is a deeply human story. The alcoholic Woody is slowly redeemable even if his relatives and the rest of the desolate town's denizens are not. Payne's priorities make this possibly his best directorial effort to date.


★★★★½
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(1978)





Two years after Nagisa Ôshima's notorious In the Realm of the Senses he returned to tell a story set in turn-of-the-century Japan. The wife of a rickshaw driver has been taken into an affair with a younger man and together they plot to murder her husband. The adultery and potential murder is too much for the wife's conscious to handle as this slowly turns into a ghost story in the vein of Kuroneko, though a nice reversal of roles to Kaneto Shindô's classic. Empire of Passion is just as visually striking and reaches as high a status in its brutal resolution.


★★★★★
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(1966)





Revisiting one of my favorite films of all-time on the big screen for the first time was a welcome delicacy. Sergio Leone and Tonino Delli Colli envisioned the American West like nobody else and achieved their epic ecstasy in culmination of "The Man with No Name" trilogy. It's drawn out, takes its time and unapologetically leans on Morricone's original score (how can you not?), but when that "wa-wa-wa-wa-wa" sounds for the last time as the Indian drums kick in it's all too clear you've just sat through something remarkable. It's only second to when it's heard during the opening credits and knowing what lies before you.


★★★★★
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2013 (2014)




The samurai film and the Western are so entangled throughout filmdom of the 20th Century that it only seems natural that the tradition continue into the 21st. This time around Lee Sang-il has adapted Eastwood's modern masterpiece into a surprisingly rich version of its own. Some scenes feel merely like faithful adaption service, whether merited or not. There's few storytelling techniques that feel as arduous as hitting the clear bases. Despite this rather slow-paced hoop-jumping Unforgiven boasts a strong texture and lead performance (Ken Watanabe in the Eastwood) role that will someday be one helluva double-feature with its originator.

★★★★
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(2013)




Paolo Sorrentino's contemporary examination of the high life in Rome has been called by some to be a spiritual successor to La Dolce Vita. While I cannot (yet) confirm such for myself, I can still stand behind this imaginative and inspiring examination of the socialites led by Jep Gambardella (a knockout performance by Toni Servillo). Luca Bigazzi be praised for an exhaustive flurry of images that went into making this allegory such a treat to sit through. The scenes are an exciting shuffling of cards, you never know what you're about to be dealt next. The Great Beauty, indeed.


★★★★★

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Seen any of these films? What did you see last week? Please feel free to share your thoughts or your own recently beheld in the comments below!


Also, see what else I've seen this year in my Letterboxd diary.

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