Adam Thas: Tracks (2013, dir. John Curran) This movie was probably a publicist's nightmare. Here is the direct plot synopsis from IMDB: “A young woman goes on a 1700-mile trek across the deserts of West Australia with four camels and her faithful dog.” How the fuck are you supposed to get anyone excited to see that movie? Judging by the poster, they tried desperately to market it as a love story, even though it had little to do with the plot. I found myself very engrossed in the movie and Mia Wasikowska was very successful in a role that puts almost the entire burden of the movie on her. It is a quiet movie, but is well paced and doesn’t feel like a movie that is just about “a girl walking across the desert.” Tracks is based on a true story, and from what I have read does not take a huge amount of artistic license with the plot. The beauty of this movie comes from the exploration of each of our own motivations for doing the things we do, no matter how crazy they seem, and some beautiful cinematography that takes advantage of great locations. I did have some problems with the narration of the movie and wonder if it was added later, as it would have been just as good without it. If you see Mad Max this weekend, I’d suggest watching Tracks afterwards to bring your heart rate down.Fruitvale Station (2013, dir. Ryan Cooler) When we saw this movie in the theater, the audience was speechless when it ended. No one spoke; no one moved. I'm not sure why this film wasn't more popular. Well, maybe I do know why. It's based on a true story and it's sad, and people don't want to be sad. But this story is so important and the performances are so moving that it's hard not to connect to it in some way. From Emmett Till in 1955 to the many men shot just in the last three months, we're not solving this problem quickly enough, and people are losing their lives because of it. If we can't figure it out quickly enough, we at least need to pay tribute to some of the victims. This movie does that.
Bandolero! (1968, dir. Andrew V. McLagen) Even though the official death of the western was still a few years away, 1968's Bandolero! feels like one of the last of its breed. You have the first (and I believe the only) pairing of Jimmy Stewart and Dean Martin, both nearing the end of their run as leading men, while relative-newcomer Raquel Welch holds her own as the film's fresh face. We get supporting performances from George Kennedy, Denver Pyle (of The Dukes of Hazzard fame), Robert Mitchum's younger brother John, and even some uncredited stunt work from Wilford Brimley, a former rodeo rider. The scope of the film is fairly large and the cinematography rises to the occasion with beautiful shots of Arizona and Utah; a great score by Jerry Goldsmith reminds us where we are and what's at stake. Bandolero! is one of the last of the notable American westerns of the era: elsewhere the spaghetti western was doing big business (its gritty influence can be felt here), and the revisionist western was just around the corner. There would be a few more notable entries in the genre before it got packed up in mothballs, but the rousing action and sense of adventure that we see in this western would soon give way to a different kind of western.
Nobody's Fool (1994, dir. Robert Benton) This film is a small, unsung gem. Paul Newman plays Donald "Sully" Sullivan, a handyman in one of those small, upstate New York towns that only exists in the movies. Sully has a dark secret in his past that gradually comes to light as the film progresses. Paul Newman gives a performance here for the ages that demonstrates what a great film actor he was: specific, understated, precise, but with an underlying sense of his pure joy at performing. Robert Benton directed; he also directed The Late Show (another unsung favorite), Kramer Vs. Kramer, Places in the Heart, and co-wrote Bonnie and Clyde. To the best of my knowledge, this was Bruce Willis's first foray (if we don't count Look Who's Talking) into supporting character roles; this film was released the same year as Pulp Fiction. Nobody's Fool also features Jessica Tandy, Melanie Griffith, Dylan Walsh, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Newman delivers one of the saddest movie monologues near the end of the film; it will tear your heart out.
Late Phases (2014, dir. Adrián García Bogliano) It's pretty great that so many of last year's best indie horror films have slowly been trickling on to Netflix Instant, as it's going to get all of them much larger audiences than they had in their limited theatrical and VOD runs. It's an audience they deserve. I was a fan of this werewolf movie starring Nick Damici, Ethan Embry and Lance Guest when I saw it last year, and its charms have only grown in my memory since then. It's got a great concept -- werewolf runs loose in a retirement community -- a great performance by Damici and great practical effects. No CGI werewolf bullshit here.