A New York City bike messenger (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) picks up an envelope for a rush delivery. A crooked cop (Michael Shannon) wants said envelope. The cop spends the next hour and a half chasing the messenger. That’s essentially all there is to David Koepp’s Premium Rush. Does there need to be anything more? Most of the early reviews suggest not.
This year may go down in history as the year in which filmmakers remembered the best action films don’t need to be overthought. Simplicity is the way to go with these flicks. So we have films like Steven Soderbergh’s excellent Haywire, which has little more plot than “double-crossed secret government operative beats up a bunch of people” and the incendiary Indonesian martial arts flick The Raid: Redemption, which is nothing more than “cop tries to fight his way out of a high rise full of criminals.” In keeping with that tradition, Koepp uses that flimsy envelope as an equally flimsy excuse for lots of high-speed biking through the streets of New York. If the chases are good enough, that’s all that’s really necessary for a solidly entertaining end-of-summer popcorn flick.
One of the most uncomfortable thrillers you’ll see this year, Craig Zobel’s new film tells a story that would be completely unbelievable but for the fact that all the most shocking elements of it happened in real life. Taking the so-called “strip-search prank-call scam” of the ’90s and early ’00s, in which a man made calls to mostly fast-food establishments pretending to be a police officer and convinced dozens of managers to strip-search young female employees, Zobel concentrates on one of the most awful of the 70 reported incidents that happened over the course of a dozen years. The film is a chilling look at just how easily we are swayed by perceived authority, and while the film does offer viewers a reprieve by allowing them some distance from events, the fact is that many people would do the same thing put in the movie’s scenario, which makes it all the more uncomfortable.
You can read my full review over at NPR.
View the trailer. Opens tomorrow at E
An elderly former burglar, played by Frank Langella, is given a robot to help him out as he gets further into old age and is less able to care for himself, but winds up training his new companion to help him pull minor heists around his small upstate New York town. What sounds like a goofy premise is actually the foundation for a surprisingly emotional look at aging, loneliness, and the ways we interact with technology. It’s also a fantastic showcase for Langella, who perfectly conveys the confusion and sadness of man who is all too aware of the ways his once-sharp mind is beginning to fail him.
The Chauvet Cave in southern France is home to some of the oldest cave paintings known to man, as well as some of the most well-preserved, thanks to the cave being completely sealed off from the outside world for thousands of years, until its discovery in 1994. Werner Herzog was given access to the caves in 2010 to make a documentary, and in typically contrarian Herzogian fashion, he reversed his formerly stated opposition to 3D filmmaking and shot the caves in 3D in order to demonstrate the depth and contours of the cave in ways 2D doesn’t allow for. The Goethe-Institut’s presentation isn’t the 3D version, but this is Herzog, so the 3D is hardly the only attraction. As is his habit, he finds oddball characters associated with the cave to interview and waxes philosophical about the people who made the paintings. But he also knows when to let the images speak for themselves, and allows Ernst Reijseger’s gorgeous soundtrack to be the only sounds heard as his cameras gracefully track along the cave walls. Also in typically Herzogian fashion, he can’t resist a bit of his trademark “ecstatic truth” approach to documentary filmmaking, adding a not-quite-factual postscript about albino alligators near both Chauvet and a local nuclear plant, suggesting that their lack of coloration is a mutation caused by the nuclear plant. Tying this left-field flight of fancy back in to the rest of the film is part of the usual intellectual fun of watching a Herzog documentary.
This French-Canadian production attracted a number of awards north of the border last year, including top prize at the Vancouver Film Festival, and the award for best film by a first-time director at the Canadian version of the Oscars, the Genie Awards. The film looks at a couple who meet at a rave, have a one-night stand, and, as the night goes on, begin revealing more and deeper secrets to one another.
Blu-ray/DVD Pick of the Week: A Separation
One of the very best movies of 2011 finally is available on disc in the US this week: Asghar Farhadi’s fantastic, multilayered drama, A Separation. The film picked up the Best Foreign Language Academy Award earlier this year and was on practically every top ten list out there, honors that were hugely deserved. Farhadi takes the story of an Iranian couple who are splitting up and manages to make a film that touches on issues of politics and religion in that country without ever losing sight of the emotional core of the film. It’s deceptively simple, and deeply moving. You can read my full review from last year over at DCist.
Special Features: Commentary from director Asghar Farhadi as well as two interviews with the filmmaker, one a 30-minute post-screening Q&A, and the other an eight-minute one-on-one interview in which he talks more generally about how he became a filmmaker and his overall approach to filmmaking.
View the trailer.