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Thumbnails Jul 16

by Tony Medley

Our Kind of Traitor (10/10): This is the type of thriller that Eric Ambler used to write, where an ordinary man suddenly finds himself involved with all kinds of international intrigue. I loved Ambler’s books and I loved this movie just as much. High tension is enhanced by terrific performances by Ewan McGregor, Damian Lewis, and Naomie Harris. But they are overshadowed by an over the top tour de force by Stellan Skarsgärd as a flamboyant Russian who lures Ewan and Naomie into his problems, and who should get an Oscar® nomination. So should Marcello Zarvos for some of the best background music I’ve heard and Anthony Dod Mantle for wonderful cinematography.

Septembers of Shiraz (9/10): While everybody knows what happened when the Islamic Radicals took over Iran and held a bunch of Americans hostage, knowing that the weak and feckless President Carter would be helpless, nobody thinks what happened to the millions of Iranians who were not Islamic, and especially the Jews in Iran. This is that story. It captures what it must be like to have your life suddenly turned around into total chaos, the hopelessness, the helplessness, and the despair that descends when thrown into a dungeon where people all around you are being executed on a daily basis. Fine performances by Adrian Brody and Selma Hayek highlight this film of high tension.

Diary of a Chambermaid (8/10): Octave Mirbeau’s 1900 novel has already been made into two classic films, one by Jean Renoir in 1946 starring Paulette Goddard as Céléstine, and another by Luis Buñuel in 1964 starring Jeanne Moreau playing the same character. All are different, but this one, starring Léa Seydoux in the titular role, is probably the best. Directed by Benoit Jacquot, this captures the difficult world and cast of distasteful characters in which the lovely Céléstine finds herself trapped. In French.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (7/10): Despite its hackneyed Hollywood Ending, the story is secondary to what make this film diverting which are, in order, the production values, the music, the satire, and the acting. Even better, it’s mercifully short.

Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words (7/10): Like Hemingway, Zappa’s life and personality are a lot more entertaining than his music. Although he died in 1993, he tells his story himself in innumerable archival interviews.

De Palma (7/10): If you ever wonder why movies are too long, listen to a director talk about himself for almost two hours, which is what you do in this documentary about filmmaker Brian De Palma. His is the only voice you hear and it is a one shot of him talking about himself for almost half the movie. Oh, there are clips of his films, but nobody is interviewed; nobody tells what it was like to be directed by him; nobody tells what it was like to collaborate with him. This is Brian De Palma on Brian De Palma. His 20 best-known films average just under two hours, like this film. Cut it by a half hour and you’d have enough.

The Duel (2/10): As if westerns didn’t have enough trouble getting an audience, along comes this brutal bunch of nonsense that does nothing more than defame the Texas Rangers. It pictures Ranger Liam Hemsworth as a cold-blooded killer and goofy preacher Woody Harrelson as a guy who deserves killing. Ho hum.

The Neon Demon (0/10): Intended as a scathing indictment of the fashion world, it’s basically a horror film that includes graphic scenes of perversions like necrophilia and cannibalism. It’s mind-numbingly slow (made slower by slow motion) and stomach-turning disgusting. Why it’s not rated NC-17 is puzzling.