The Coen brothers may be cinema’s best-known fraternal directors, but Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have quietly built one of the most respected bodies of work of any living filmmakers. Since 1999, they’ve made five features, and each one has managed to win a major award at Cannes, including the festival’s top prize twice–an award rarely given to the same directors more than once. Their films are contemplative and quiet–hence their tendency to fly under the radar here even by the standards of foreign films–but richly detailed and gorgeous things to watch. The Kid With a Bike, their latest, follows a 12-year-old child who escapes foster care to go looking for his father and a lost bike, and in the process becomes attached to the woman who ends up getting the bike back for him.
In 1990, a low-budget sequel was made to the only-slightly-higher-budget 1986 horror flick Troll. It was a sequel in name only: Italian horror director Claudio Fragasso‘s film has nothing to do with its predecessor apart from the title, a relatively common practice among Euro-horror films years ago to try to capitalize on the association with existing films. Fragasso’s film wasn’t just bad; it was legendarily bad. It currently resides at number 85 on the IMDB list of the worst films of all time, and earned a cult following on the strength of its weaknesses.
That prompted one of the stars of that film, Michael Stephenson, to film a documentary in 2009 about his experience making the film, and the unusually devoted fans who inexplicably love it. That film, Best Worst Movie, was a minor hit on the festival circuit, gaining many fans for itself while also increasing the visibility of its inspiration in the process. It’s only natural, then, that double features of the two films have become popular. The AFI offers one this weekend, and follows the screenings with a Skype Q&A with a key player in both films, George Hardy.
Director Tarsem Singh knows to strike when the iron is hot, and after the financial success of The Immortals last year, he’s right back at it with a new movie just a year later–as opposed to the five- and six-year spans that separated his earlier features. He ventures even further into mainstream territory with Mirror Mirror, one of two Snow White adaptations out this year, with Lily Collins as the pale princess and Julia Roberts as the evil witch. Square-jawed Armie Hammer steps into the role genetics has predestined him to play, as the charming prince. With a consummate visual stylist such asTarsem at the helm, expect eye-popping and fantastical visuals even as he goes for greater accessibility here than he ever has before.
Harper Lee’s classic, Pulitzer Prize-winning 1960 novel was quickly adapted into a film that managed the improbable feat of matching its source material in prestige and stature. Gregory Peck won the Academy Award for what probably remains his most remembered performance as Atticus Finch, a small-town lawyer who steps up to defend a black man, Tom Robinson, accused of a rape he didn’t commit purely because of the prejudices of the community. Robert Duvall also made his screen debut as the Finches’ mysterious shut-in neighbor, Boo Radley, a job he got after having worked in the theater with the film’s screenwriter, the playwright Horton Foote (who also collected an Oscar for his efforts with the screenplay).
New Zealand director Taika Waititi scored a minor cult hit in 2007 with his quirky love story Eagle vs. Shark, which was helped along by the sudden popularity of its star, Jemaine Clement, in the HBO series Flight of the Conchords. (Waititi also directed four episodes of that series.) The director retains the off-kilter, pop-culture-heavy appeal of his previous work here, in the story of an 11-year-old Maori boy in 1984 New Zealand nursing a consuming obsession with Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
DVD/Blu-ray Pick of the Week: A Night to Remember
Just over two weeks from now is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, and there are two cinematic revivals happening time to coincide with the date. One is next week’s 3D re-release of James Cameron’s 1997 juggernaut, Titanic. The retrofitted 3D effects add even more gloss to a film already swimming in its own technical advances, but for a subtler, less bombastic look at the event, nothing beats Roy Ward Baker’s 1958 docudrama A Night to Remember.
Baker’s film is adapted from the Walter Lord book of the same name, which combined a number of historical accounts of stories from the ship’s doomed maiden voyage to create a realistic and multilayered portrait of the disaster. While Cameron’s work mostly features a singular romance that happens to take place on the vessel, Baker’s docudrama is broader in scope, encompassing many storylines, but the keen eye for adapting the realistic stories from Lord’s book on display from Baker and the screenwriter Eric Ambler results in a much more intimate feel, with emotions that are more genuine and less manipulated than the more recent film.
Special Features: An audio commentary with the writer and illustrator of a history of the Titanic, a making-of documentary, an archival interview with a Titanic survivor, a 1962 Swedish documentary about survivors of the event, and a 2006 BBC documentary about the tragedy.