A Movie A Day #226: Citizen X (1995, directed by Chris Gerolmo)


How do you solve a crime in a society that refuses to admit that crime exists?

That is the dilemma faced by Viktor Burakov (Stephen Rea) in the fact-based film, Citizen X.  Burakov is a forensic expert in the Soviet Union.  In 1982, when a dead body is found on a collective farm, Burakov is assigned to investigate.  When seven more bodies are discovered, Burakov is convinced that he is dealing with a serial killer.  The problem is that the official Soviet position is that crime and, especially, serial murder are a product of western decadence.  With his superiors refusing to accept that a serial killer could be active in the USSR, Burakov is driven to the point of insanity as he both tries to stop the murders and keep his job.  Fortunately, he has the Machiavellian Col. Fetisov (Donald Sutherland) on his side but, even with Fetisov’s protection, Burakov is no closer to tracking down the murderer.

Citizen X is based on the crimes of Andrei Chikatilo.  From 1978 to 1990, Chikatilo committed at least 57 murders, with several of his victims being young children.  Though many were suspicious of him, Chikatilo was protected by both his membership in the Communist party and the government’s refusal to allow most of his crimes to be publicly reported.  It was only during the reforms of Perestroika that authorities were allowed to thoroughly investigate Chikatilo’s crimes.  Chikatilo was arrested in 1992 and executed, via a gunshot to the back of his head, in 1994.  In Citizen X, Chikatilo is played by Jeffrey DeMunn, who gives a very good and disturbingly plausible performance as the monstrous killer.

Made for HBO, Citizen X is a low-key but thought-provoking recreations of not just Chikatilo’s crimes but the atmosphere that allowed him to go undetected,  Along with DeMunn, both Rea and Sutherland give great performances.  (Sutherland won an Emmy.)  Max Von Sydow also appears, playing a psychologist who is given the unenviable task of trying to enter Chikatilo’s mind.

Horror on TV: Tales From the Crypt 7.10 “About Face” (dir by Thomas E. Sanders)


For tonight’s excursion, we have one final episodes from HBO’s Tales From The Crypt.

About Face is the 10th episode from the 7th and final season.  It deals with a Victorian-era minister who discovers that he has not one but two daughters.  And one of the daughters might be a little disturbed…

For the most part, the 7th season of Tales From the Crypt has a fairly bad reputation but About Face is better than the average 7th season episode.  Anthony Andrews does a good job as the hypocritical Anglican.

This episode first aired on June 28th, 1996.

Enjoy!

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Sense and Sensibility (dir by Ang Lee)


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I just finished watching the 1995 best picture nominee Sense and Sensibility on TCM and, despite the fact that I’ve watched it several times in the past, I’m glad that I took time to rewatch it.  Sense and Sensibility is one of those very special films that you should rewatch every few months just to be reminded of how good it is.  There’s no CGI in Sense and Sensibility.  Instead, there’s just some very good writing, some excellent performances, and some lushly wonderful images of the English countryside, courtesy of director Ang Lee.  It’s a deliberately paced film, one that proves the virtue of a subtle touch.

The film tells the story of the Dashwoods.  As Mr. Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) dies, he tells his son by his first wife, John (James Fleet), to take care of his second wife (Gemma Jones) and their three daughters, Elinor (Emma Thompson), Marianne (Kate Winslet), and Margaret (Emilie Francois).  Naturally enough, John does the exact opposite and soon the Dashwood sisters are forced to leave their large estate and fend for themselves.

The film centers on the practical Elinor and the passionate Marianne.  Elinor meets and falls in love with Edward (a surprisingly restrained Hugh Grant), an aspiring clergyman who is also John’s brother-in-law.  Edward comes from a wealthy family but will be disinherited if he marries someone who has neither money nor social prominence.  Marianne, meanwhile, has fallen in love with John Willoughby (Greg Wise), who is handsome, dashing, rich, and a bit of a cad.  (Cad is such a cool word.  People should start using it more.)  Marianne is so in love with the unworthy Willoughby that she misses the fact that the kindly Col. Brandon (Alan Rickman) has also fallen in love with her.

Sense and Sensibility is based on a Jane Austen novel and, in its very British way, it’s a wonderfully romantic film.  Tonight, when viewed in the shadow of the recent passing of Alan Rickman, the scenes featuring Col. Brandon were even more poignant than usual.  His love for Marianne is perhaps the most pure and selfless love to be found in the entire film.  There’s a scene where Col. Brandon is speaking to Elinor and Marianne, inviting them to his estate.  Marianne ignores him until Brandon mentions that Willoughby is also inspected.  Suddenly, Marianne looks up and smiles and Alan Rickman allows just a hint of pain to enter his voice.  It’s a masterful performance.

But really, the reason why I love this film is because it’s about sisters. I am the youngest of four sisters and, whenever I see this film, it’s hard for me not to see the Bowman sisters in the Dashwood sisters.  There is so much about Marianne that I relate to, from her passionate pursuit of “true love” to her artistic sensibility to her somewhat dangerous habit of wandering around in the middle of thunderstorm.  You never doubt for a second that Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet could be related and this film always makes me appreciate my own sisters.

Sense and Sensibility was nominated for Best Picture of 1995 but it lost to a film that is its total opposite, Mel Gibson’s Braveheart.

Quick Review: Paddington (dir. by Paul King)


paddington_character-poster-4Hello there, and Happy New Year!

When I was little, I owned a stuffed Paddington Bear. When I found out Heyday Films was working on a movie for the character, I immediately added it to my watch list. From the audience’s reaction, made up mostly of families and a few dates, it seemed to be well received. American audiences may not be familiar with Paddington, even though the Orange Marmalade eating bear has had tons of books, toys and cartoons in the UK over the last 50 years. He even has his own float in the Holiday parades we have here in New York City.

The movie, directed by Paul King, finds young Paddington (Ben Wishaw – Layer Cake, Skyfall) traveling to London after an Earthquake destroys his home in Darkest Peru. His Aunt and Uncle (played by Imelda Staunton and Michael Gambon, respectively) have told him of how wonderful London is, but he finds it’s not exactly as kind as he was led to believe. While Wishaw wouldn’t be my first through to voice Paddington, he fits the role quite well, giving the character a sense of polite innocence that’s spot on to how I recalled him.

The Brown family discovers Paddington and takes him in, in the hopes that they can locate the individual who discovered Paddington’s Aunt and Uncle during an expedition many years ago. When an evil taxidermist (played by Nicole Kidman in a turn that feels eerily similar to what she did in The Golden Compass) discovers Paddington, she makes it her goal to have him added to her collection.

Paddington’s supporting cast seems to either have former Harry Potter or Layer Cake stars. Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville plays the overprotective Brown father. Sally Hawkins (Layer Cake, Godzilla) plays Mary, who helps Paddington along his trip. Weasley mom Julie Walters has a fun role as the house nanny, and finally, Doctor Who’s Peter Capaldi is the nosy next door neighbor that doesn’t take too kindly to having furry neighbors around town. It looks like everyone enjoyed themselves on the production, and seeing Capaldi play someone so odd was a little weird.

For young viewers, Paddington is a treat, with a focus on acceptance, family and the notion that sometimes one can hold on too tight to children in an effort to keep them safe. It might a gross out in some ways, depending on some of the scenes that include earwax licking and passing gas. Some may find the notion of a taxidermist a little scary, but my audience seemed to be okay with it. There are very few elements of violence – most of it the playful type found in films like Home Alone. Nicole Kidman may appear scary to some, but at it’s heart, Paddington tries to keep everything as accessible as it can for everyone.

Musically, Sigur Ros provides some great music that flows with the scenes, and the production itself moves almost in the same fashion as Alfonso Cuaron’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, via the use of screen wipes and subtle season changes. The CGI for the film is done well, though I can’t say it’s very subtle. A casual view could probably spot what’s CGI and what isn’t, but since it’s for kids, they won’t really care.

Overall, it was fun to revisit Paddington. I didn’t have much in the way of expectations, but was a little amazed at how well it actually held up. I found myself smiling more often than I thought I would, honestly.

For Your Consideration #3: Angelina Jolie in Maleficent


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Way back in March, when people like me first started to ask ourselves what and who would be nominated for Oscars in January, a lot of us assumed that 2014 would be the year of Angelina Jolie.  We predicted that her film Unbroken would be an Oscar front-runner and quite a few people felt that Angelina herself would become the second woman to win the Academy Award for directing.

And, it could still happen!

However, with Angelina being pretty much ignored by most of the traditional Oscar precursors and Unbroken getting positive but hardly rapturous reviews, it’s starting to look more and more like Unbroken will be lucky to receive a picture nomination, much less a mention for Jolie.

Now, I haven’t seen Unbroken yet so I can’t really judge whether it deserves any awards consideration or not.  However, I can say that Unbroken is not the only film for which Angelina Jolie deserves consideration.

Maleficent came out this summer and did quite well at the box office but it seems to have been forgotten and that’s a shame because it features one of Angelina Jolie’s best performances.  The film itself is a revisionist take on Sleeping Beauty, re-telling the story from the point-of-view of the fairy queen Maleficent (played, of course, by Angelina.)

In this version of the story, we see that the true villain was Sleeping Beauty’s father, Stefan (Sharlto Copley).  When they were younger, Stefan and Maleficent were lovers but the Stefan eventually abandoned her, knowing that having a relationship with a winged fairy would only serve to thwart his own ambitions.  Years later, when the humans attempt to conquer Maleficent’s kingdom, it is announced that whoever slays Maleficent will become the new king.  Knowing that Maleficent is still in love with him, Stefan drugs her and then cuts her wings off.  Using her wings as evidence to back up his claim that he has killed her, Stefan becomes the new king.  The now wingless Maleficent is left alone and embittered.  When Stefan’s daughter, Princess Aurora, is born, Maleficent announces that, on her sixteenth birthday, Aurora will sink into a deep sleep and will only be awaken by the kiss of someone who truly loves her.

Maleficent was one of those films that truly divided critics.  Male viewers tended to rightfully criticize the film for being tonally inconsistent and for relying too much on CGI.  Female critics, however, understood that none of that mattered.  As flawed as the film may have been, we knew that the most important thing was Angelina Jolie’s performance.  She may have been playing a fairy and she may have been appearing in a movie that was dominated by CGI but Angelina Jolie brought such strength and complexity to the role that she transcended all of the film’s flaws and instead created a thoroughly real character.  We understood and we related to Maleficent’s fury.  When she first woke up to discover that her wings had been stolen from her, it was devastating because the moment was real.  We all knew what had truly happened to Maleficent.  When she sought revenge, we sought it with her.  When she regretted her actions, we shared her regrets.  Her pain was our pain and her triumph was our triumph.

Angelina Jolie gave one of the best performances of the year in Maleficent and she certainly deserves your consideration.

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Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “Maleficent”


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Is it just me, or is this year’s summer blockbuster season incredibly front-loaded?  Not only did it get off to a ridiculously early start in April with the release of Captain America : The Winter Soldier, but it seems that, with the notable exception of Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, which is slated for a July release, everything that I was interested in seeing came out prior to the Memorial Day weekend — which was, in years past, the time when Hollywood’s blockbuster onslaught usually began.

Oh well. I guess there’s still some stuff I have some sort of low-level semi-interest in hitting theaters, with Disney’s Maleficent being a prime example of what I’m talking about. I wasn’t “hyped” for it, per se, but on a rainy Saturday afternoon with nothing else going on, what the hell — it’ll do in a pinch. Anybody with a functioning neural cortex pretty much knows what they’re getting into with something like this — a purportedly “modern re-telling” of a classic fairy tale (in this case Sleeping Beauty) that’s also, perhaps paradoxically, billed as being “truer to the roots” of the story than the universally-known animated version. Maybe everything that’s old really is new again.

In any case, the pattern these kinds of thing inevitably follow was set fairly firmly by Snow White And The Huntsman a couple summers back, and with a live (well, okay, live plus lots of CGI) action version of Cinderella already in the pipeline, it looks like “modernized fairy tales” (that are, again, supposedly “closer” to the “source material”) is a full-blown trend in Tinseltown. At least until one flops spectacularly.

Maleficent is too precise, clinical, and by-the-numbers to be that first big flop, of course, as this is thoroughly audience-tested material from start to finish, and while that same uber-conservative approach definitely sucks any sort of life or individuality from the proceedings, it does ensure that Disney will almost certainly turn a healthy profit off this thing, even with a budget estimated in the neighborhood of $200 million. It is, for all intents and purposes,  a can’t-miss investment, and that’s what it plays out as.

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Which isn’t the same thing as me saying that Maleficent is actively bad — it’s just that it’s not particularly good, either. Oh, sure, Angelina Jolie is perfect in the title role (there’s already Oscar talk) and it really does feel like it’s a part she was born to play, and the CGI work is spectacular and breathtaking and jaw-dropping and all that, and yeah, Elle Fanning as Aurora ( that’s what we call her now, folks, not “Sleeping Beauty”) leads a very talented supporting case that also includes the likes of Imelda Staunton, Sharlto Copley, Juno Temple, and Brenton Thwaites, all of whom do good work, but it’s all in service to the most pedestrian, production-line cinematic engineering possible. First-time director Robert Stromberg, who hails from a CG effects background, most likely knows what he’s doing here, but he’s given so little room to maneuver that failure just simply isn’t an option. This is a film that literally could have been directed by nearly anyone with at least some sort of cinematic background and turned out okay.

And maybe that’s what bugged me about it the most : just that sort of hyper-aggressive okay-ness. Given the opportunity to completely re-set the table, the Disney execs who originated and then green-lit this idea were more than happy to just tinker around the edges and “update” things without actually changing them. We all know the story, and while we’re admittedly getting a heavily-padded version of it told from the perspective of the “bad guy,” the fact remains that at the end of the day, all we’re left with is a more expensive, glitzier take on what we’ve already seen.

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Maybe I missed a bit by just seeing this in 2-D, but let’s face it : any flick that leans upon the crutches of 3-D,Imax, and all that crap to “get the most from it” is one that’s entirely reliant upon bells and whistles — and while those bells and whistles are, no two ways about it, most impressive in this case, there’s just no substitute for a genuinely involving script, and Maleficent doesn’t have one. Mind you, it doesn’t have a bad script, either, it just — has a script. And the job of that script is to provide some sort of plausible set-up for one admittedly magnificent effects sequence after another. It’s cool and all for about a half hour, but after two full hours of Stromberg and company having to top themselves every five to ten minutes, you just end up feeling sort of worn down by events rather than invested in them.

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Still, I suspect that Maleficent is going to prove to be pretty well “review-proof” and enjoy a healthy run in theaters before going on to do equal, if not even greater, business on home video. This is a film that’s precisely engineered to do exactly what it’s supposed to and nothing less (or more). Kinda like a robot. And it’s that robotic, auto-pilot, cruise control sensation that prevents this movie from being at all memorable — for good or ill.