New This Week
Your Name., not to be confused with the current Call Me by Your Name, was the highest grossing film in Japan in 2016 and the fourth highest grossing film in Japanese history. Less successful in the U.S., the film earned the 2016 Los Angeles Film Critics Award for Best Animated Feature, and was released in the U.S. in an English-dubbed version this past summer.
Directed by Makoto Shinkai, the film is visually stunning but somewhat dramatically confusing as it weaves though country farms and city landscapes, much of it taking place on trains.
Though not the instantly relatable story the animated work of Japan’s Hayao Miyazaki and his successors at Studio Ghibli have gotten us used to with such films as Spirited Away and When Marnie Was Here, it is nevertheless compelling. The story of a teenage boy and girl who switch personalities and then spend the next five years of their lives trying to find one another takes concentration, but ultimately proves rewarding. It is one of those films, however, that you might have to see a second time to get all its nuances.
Your Name. is available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD.
Steven Soderbergh has had an interesting career, earning an Oscar nomination for his direction of 1989’s sex, lies, and videotape and subsequent nominations for directing both 2000’s Erin Brockovich and Traffic, winning for the latter. After a short-lived retirement, he came back at full steam to wins Emmys for editing and directing 2013’s Behind the Candelabra. His latest theatrical release, Logan Lucky, is in the vein of his lighter works.
Channing Tatum, whose career took a giant leap with Soderbergh’s 2012 film Magic Mike, stars as a down-on-his-luck divorced father of a growing girl who loses his job working in the tunnels beneath the Charlotte Motor Speedway because he failed to list his bad leg as a pre-existing condition on his job application. His brother, Adam Driver, is a bartender who lost an arm in Iraq. The two hatch a plan to rob the Speedway with the aid of an incarcerated convict/demolitions expert (Clive Owen). The set-up is intricate, but never confusing, and the supporting cast including Seth MacFarlane, Sebastian Stan, Katherine Waterston, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, and Dwight Yoakam is well utilized.
The characters may be dumb, they may be poor, but they are never treated with condescension by either the script, the director, or the actors playing them.
John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” is used to good effect in what otherwise might have been a throwaway school concert scene near the end of the film.
Logan Lucky is available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD.
Deborah Moggach’s 1999 novel Tulip Fever took a long time to be filmed and a long time sitting on the shelf after it was completed, but has reached home video in under three months from its theatrical debut.
Steven Spielberg originally planned to produce the film in 2004 with John Madden directing a cast headed by Jude Law, Keira Knightley, and Jim Broadbent, but changes in tax rules in film production in the U.K. changed drastically and the production was abandoned. It finally went before the cameras ten years later with Harvey Weinstein producing and Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl) directing a cast that included Alicia Vikander, Dane DeHaan, Jack O’Connell, Holliday Grainger, Christoph Waltz, and Judi Dench. Weinstein was reportedly unhappy with the finished product and kept cutting away at the film until it was finally released in September of this year.
Whether it was the notoriety surrounding the making of the film or something else, I don’t know, but the film’s tepid box-office and lowly 38 rating on MetaCritic and the even more lowly 10 rating on Rotten Tomatoes were more than a bit unfair. Granted, the politics of the wagering built around the 17th Century tulip market was poorly explained, but the film’s production design, costume design, and score by Danny Elfman were first rate. Alicia Vikander as the straying wife, Dane De Haan as her painter-lover, and Christoph Waltz as the cuckolded husband were quite good. Holliday Grainger as Vikander and Waltz’s servant and Jack O’Connell as her fishmonger-lover were even better. Also popping in now and then were the likes of Zack Galifianakis, Tom Hollander, and the always welcome Judi Dench as the all-knowing Abbess of St. Ursula. The film’s very satisfying conclusion is clearly the handiwork of Dench’s Abbess, or as her character would put it, the hand of God.
Tulip Fever is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.
A two-time Best Actor Oscar winner for 2003’s Mystic River and 2008’s Milk, Sean Penn has been acting since his childhood in the mid-1970s. An accomplished director as well, he made his directorial debut with 1991’s The Indian Runner, newly released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.
The film, which was also written by Penn, is the story of two small-town brothers, one a local policeman and the other a troubled Vietnam vet. They’re played by David Morse and Viggo Mortensen, with Valeria Golina as Morse’s wife, Patricia Arquette as Mortensen’s pregnant girlfriend, and, in smaller roles, Dennis Hopper as a weirded-out bartender, Charles Bronson as the boys’ father, and Sandy Dennis, in her last film, as their mother. Morse, Golina, Bronson, and Dennis are outstanding. Moretensen, Arquette, and Hopper are a matter of taste.
The film is dedicated to actor-writer-director John Cassavetes, but whereas Penn may have Cassavestes’ independent spirit, his story is more tightly controlled with no obvious improvisational scenes, although most of the scenes with Mortensen and Arquette do go on a bit longer than seems necessary.
Penn’s later films as a director, 1995’s The Crossing Guard, 2005’s The Pledge, and 2007’s Into the Wild would meet with more success, but his most recent film, 2016’s The Last Face, was a critical and box-office failure.
This week’s new releases include Despicable Me 3 and long-requested Blu-ray release of Auntie Mame.