One of two re-releases from Criterion, the last film before David Lean went into his epic film phase was a colorful romantic comedy starring the great Katherine Hepburn as an American tourist who visits Italy and soon falls for a charming native (Rossano Brazzi). Hepburn is a single woman breaking out of her dull life in Ohio, yet is fearful of changing her ways and the Italianness of it all. In the middle of Venice, Lean shot the film on location, providing as authentic an Italian setting as can be, and Lean himself later bought a home in the city. It’s not the traditional formula for a romance film, but Lean does not desire to make it traditional.
Raging Bull (1980)
Martin Scorsese came out of a near-fatal drug overdose with a film he thought would be his last, the 4th ranked film from AFI’s Top 100 (2007) movies in American history. He did not know anything about boxing but was convinced by Robert DeNiro to make a movie from Jake LaMotta’s biography in which the former middleweight champion tells of his turbulent life with his brother/manager (Joe Pesci) and his wife, Vicky (Cathy Moriarty). It was as violent outside the ring as it was in it with legendary battles against Sugar Ray Robertson and Marcel Cerdan, giving us a portrait of a man whose whole life was built around brutality.
Devil In A Blue Dress (1995)
Denzel Washington plays Easy Rawlins, an unemployed WWII vet who gets hired to search for a woman (Jennifer Beals) that is involved with a gangster. Now as an improvised private eye, Rawlins needs to know what this woman is doing and what happened to her friend later found murdered. Carl Franklin’s neo-noir is hard-boiled and filled with moods of disillusionment in Los Angeles, especially for a man of color in a society still socially segregated; yet the implications Rawlins discovers cross those boundaries. This movie also was the breakout for Don Cheadle in his scene-stealing role as Rowlins’ sidekick Mouse.
The Virgin Suicides (1999)
Getting a re-release in 4K is Sofia Coppola’s debut feature about teenage suburbia in the 70s when a group of boys becomes fascinated with a family of all daughters, the eldest being played by Kristen Dunst. After the suicide of one daughter, the girls are kept in isolation from engaging with others, making them mysterious yet seductive from afar. It was a tone-setter for Coppola in paving her own path as a director, putting down her own style later seen in Lost In Translation, Somewhere, and The Beguiled.
Before Parasite, Bong Joon-ho had his Netflix effort in this fantasy-adventure film about a South Korean girl and her super pig, the source of a GMO experiment. When it is taken away from her to the United States, she sets out to save it, with the help of an animal rights organization and its rambling leader (Paul Dano). In true Bong form, it’s a dark satire mixed with action; targeting big industries and meat packaging. Tilda Swinton is great as the eccentric CEO who wants to use the super pig for her own profits while Jake Gyllenhaal is the crazed zoologist by her side.
Drive My Car (2021)
Our recent Oscar winner for Best International Feature, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s three-hour drama of Chekov and the difficulties of human connection did not miss connecting with audiences and critics. The relationship between a stage director (Hidetoshi Nishijima), his leading actor (Masaki Okada), and his personal driver (Toko Miura) is told with care and without judgment of their own frailties as people. Like in Uncle Vanya, the theme of unrequited feelings haunts the leads, reflecting the line at the play’s end, “You’ve had no joy in your life, but wait… We shall rest.”