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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Jean-Pierre Melville's brooding cinema surveyed on FilmStruck

Posted By on 07.31.18 at 06:00 AM

Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai
  • Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai
French director Jean-Pierre Melville is featured this week on the streaming channel FilmStruck. Beginning in the 1940s, he created a body of work that furthers the brooding quality of American film noir, and his films influenced everyone from the French New Wave directors to Martin Scorsese to Quentin Tarantino. Check out these five key Melville features:

The Silence of the Sea
Melville made this film, his first, in 1948 on a minuscule budget and without securing the rights to the famous resistance novel (by Vercors) it was based on. It's an allegory of French-German relations during the occupation, played out largely in a single sitting room where a German officer (Howard Vernon) bares his soul in endless monologues for his silent, unwilling French "hosts" (Nicole Stephane and Jean-Marie Robain). The minimalism of the material anticipates Bresson, while the theatrical dash of the staging suggests the strong influence of Orson Welles. Though too often abstract and rhetorical, the film is sustained by mood and visual resourcefulness; it's a strong debut for Melville, who went on to become one of the great eccentrics of the French cinema (Bob le Flambeur, Le Samourai). In French with subtitles. 88 min. —Dave Kehr

Bob le Flambeur
This light, breezy 1955 heist film is probably the least characteristic movie Melville ever made. It replaces his sternly fatalistic philosophizing with a benign, genuinely comic spirit, and his rigidly classical style yields to a pleasant informality. Yet the characters—professional gamblers, craftsmanly safecrackers—and their code are recognizably Melvillian, and the portrait of Pigalle after dark is superbly evocative and romantic. The plot—a gambler on a streak of bad luck plans the robbery of the Deauville casino—is largely lifted from The Asphalt Jungle, though the suspense has been wittily inverted: we're made to hope that the robbery doesn't come off. In French with subtitles. 100 min. —Dave Kehr

Two Men in Manhattan
Melville brings his particular brand of moral rot to New York City for this hard-boiled mystery (1959), which feels like a Hollywood release but trades in such taboo elements as prostitution, lesbianism, and full-frontal nudity. A reporter from the French press agency (Melville in his only starring role) is dispatched to track down a vanished delegate to the United Nations; accompanied by a greedy and unfeeling paparazzo (Pierre Grasset), he follows a trail of sexually available women back to the missing diplomat, but the truth is unpublishable. The story is full of Melville's ethical shadings and complications, and the nighttime street scenes, shot by Nicolas Hayer, are dazzling, a foreigner's delirious vision of Manhattan after dark. 85 min. —J.R. Jones

Le Samourai
Melville's 1967 story of a lonely hit man (Alain Delon) is stylish and elegant, though not really the holy writ that Quentin Tarantino and John Woo have claimed. Though Melville sustained himself with American-style thrillers in the last decade of his life, his best versions of American noir arguably remain the earlier ones in black and white (my own favorite is 1966's Le Deuxieme Souffle). This one certainly has its moments (particularly the coordinated police chase through the Paris Métro), but its women characters are faintly ridiculous, while the men are mainly suave icons. Henri Decae's brilliant color cinematography finds something metallic blue gray in virtually every shot, and the film is alluring as long as one remains captivated by its mannerist and slightly monotonous style. Despite a hefty (and fabricated) quote from The Book of Bushido about the loneliness of the samurai, this is all about attitude and machismo rather than soul, which is why it winds up feeling somewhat flat. Based on Joan McLeod's novel The Ronin. In French with subtitles. 101 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

Le Cercle Rouge
Melville's austere heist film, made in 1970, was his next to last; it opens with a Buddhist aphorism about fate binding two men to meet again, and ends with a police chief pronouncing all men ultimately guilty. Two prisoners return to society—Corey (Alain Delon) has served his sentence and is released, while Vogel (Gian Maria Volontè) escapes from a speeding train. They team up with a sharpshooting ex-cop to mount an exquisite jewel theft. Melville renders the taciturn crooks and corrupt inspectors with the nocturnal blue palette that is his signature. Key action points are edited with finesse, but the denouement, with its dutiful hail of gunfire, is heartless and mechanical. With Yves Montand, André Bourvil, and François Périer. In French with subtitles. 140 min. —Bill Stamets

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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Five big-screen movies obsessed with the small screen

Posted By on 07.24.18 at 06:30 AM

DAVID CRONENBERG'S VIDEODROME
  • David Cronenberg's Videodrome
Even as Unfriended and other computer-screen-focused films continue to reflect our new media-consumption reality, the Film Center's upcoming shows of the satirical 1994 Czech sci-fi movie Accumulator 1 remind us that big-screen filmmakers have long been interested in the small screen. Here are five prime examples.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

FilmStruck spotlights the sophisticated cinema of George Cukor

Posted By on 07.18.18 at 06:00 AM

George Cukor's Les Girls
  • George Cukor's Les Girls
George Cukor often seems like the great Hollywood auteur hiding in plain sight, obscured on the one hand by international icons such as John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock and, on the other hand, by cult heroes such as Raoul Walsh and Allan Dwan. A filmmaker of greater refinement than many of his contemporaries, he made elegant, sophisticated films with an unmistakable visual style. This week the streaming channel FilmStruck moves Cukor front and center as its featured director, offering up a generous selection of his films; we've bypassed the three most iconic (The Women, The Philadelphia Story, and A Star Is Born) in favor of five others that demonstrate his artistry and range.

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Friday, June 22, 2018

An interview with cinematographer turned director Ernest Dickerson

Posted By on 06.22.18 at 06:00 AM

Dickerson's directorial debut, Juice (1992), screens at the Music Box Theatre on Sunday.
  • Dickerson's directorial debut, Juice (1992), screens at the Music Box Theatre on Sunday.
This weekend, as part of the Cinepocalypse festival of genre films, Ernest Dickerson will appear at the Music Box Theatre to introduce revival screenings of two movies he directed, the horror comedy Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995) on Saturday at 5 PM, and the adolescent crime drama Juice (1992) on Sunday at 2:15 PM. Dickerson has enjoyed a long career in both film and television. He began as a cinematographer in the early 1980s and shot over two dozen films, the most famous being Spike Lee’s first six features (among them She’s Gotta Have It and Do the Right Thing). In the same year that he shot Lee’s Malcolm X, Dickerson made his directorial debut with Juice; the film has developed a large fan base over the years, earning its place alongside such beloved modern crime movies as Brian De Palma’s Scarface and Mario van Peebles’s New Jack City. After directing several other features, Dickerson made the transition to TV, where he’s been steadily employed ever since. (Some of his high-profile credits include multiple episodes of The Wire, Dexter, and The Walking Dead.) When I spoke with Dickerson last week, he reflected on the differences between directing movies and television, making the transition from cinematography to directing, and the legacy of his more famous films.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Queer filmmaker Derek Jarman gets a Pride Month retrospective at FilmStruck

Posted By on 06.20.18 at 06:00 AM

Derek Jarman's Caravaggio
  • Derek Jarman's Caravaggio
The queer British filmmaker Derek Jarman, who died of an AIDS-related illness in 1994, is one of the artists featured by the streaming channel FilmStruck during Pride Month. We spotlight five of his eclectic and highly original films.

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Monday, June 4, 2018

Truth, belief, and The Americans

Posted By on 06.04.18 at 06:00 AM

Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell in The Americans
  • Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell in The Americans

When The Americans—which I came to think of as possibly the best TV show I'd ever watched—came to its conclusion last week, I looked back at what I'd written in 2013 when it was new and, in my view, pretty silly.

Real spies in deep cover couldn't gallivant around town in funny wigs sleeping with their sources and butchering their enemies but making it home in time for dinner and survive for even six weeks, I was thinking—yet Philip and Elizabeth Jennings had been at it for decades. Predicting more "misunderstandings, reversals, and high jinks" in season two, I allowed that "I can't describe this plot without my imagination hearing boudoir doors slam open and shut as dissipated nobles shove nubile maids under beds."

But over time the show—set in the 1980s—grew up and my wife and I, thank God, never stopped watching it. Car chases wear out their welcome, but the show runners understood that the drama of trying to hold a marriage and a family together never gets tiresome. And they understood that the ending to The Americans we required was one that focused on the fate of the family. We all know what happened to the cold war; but Philip and Elizabeth Jennings and the two fine kids they'd raised had me lying in bed dreaming up likely scenarios.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

John Huston, FilmStruck's Director of the Week, had a way with actors

Posted By on 05.23.18 at 06:00 AM

Brad Dourif in John Huston's Wise Blood
  • Brad Dourif in John Huston's Wise Blood
Considering that director John Huston was related to three noted actors (his father, Walter Huston; his daughter, Angelica Huston; and his son Danny Huston) and acted in more than 50 films himself (including Chinatown and The Misfits), it's no surprise that his films offer consistently strong performances. The streaming channel FilmStruck is currently featuring a selection from Huston's nearly 50-year career, and we've picked five with some particularly fine acting.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Undercover cops infiltrate FilmStruck this week

Posted By on 04.10.18 at 06:00 AM

Anthony Mann's T-Men
  • Anthony Mann's T-Men
The streaming-video channel FilmStruck is currently featuring a small but potent package of crime films and thrillers focused on undercover cops. The fact that two are directed by Anthony Mann did not affect our decision to select this grouping for our list this week. Nope. Not one bit.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Five low-budget (but still amazing) science-fiction films

Posted By on 04.03.18 at 06:00 AM

Mario Bava's Planet of the Vampires
  • Mario Bava's Planet of the Vampires
Money isn't everything. As an antidote to the mega-budget spectacles Ready Player One and Pacific Rim: Uprising, and with a nod to Chicago Film Society's April 10 screening of Edgar G. Ulmer's dirt-cheap The Man from Planet X, we suggest five more low-budget, low-low-budget, and almost-no-budget science-fiction classics (yes, with more Ulmer).

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Nautical thrillers and mysteries set sail on FilmStruck this week

Posted By on 03.27.18 at 06:00 AM

Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water
  • Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water
"Troubled Waters," an eclectic package of films currently streaming on FilmStruck, collects eight crime, mystery, and thriller stories set (at least partially) on boats. We've scuttled three of them, leaving five to set sail for dark waters and on-screen squalls.

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