The Rice Media Center presents a weekend of Taiwan films under the banner Taiwan New Cinema: 30 Years On. The series focuses on the work of directors like Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Edward Yang and Chang Yi and the titles include A Time To Live, A Time To Die (February 22, 7 pm.). A reception precedes the opening film Friday night.
The 100th year celebration of Universal films continues at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston with High Plains Drifter (Friday, 7:30 pm.) and Cobra Woman (Saturday, 7 pm.). Your humble scribe will introduce the latter, a 1944 Technicolor island adventure today noted for its camp value.
Mark Snitch down as a go-to movie for Dwayne Johnson. There’s nary an arched eyebrow or gag line uttered in this very serious and occasionally violent thriller. Johnson plays the owner of a construction company whose son faces a Draconian prison term as a result of dealing large amounts of pills. Only the lad was set up by one of his friends in order to reduce his sentence for his own drug rap. Dad goes undercover and eventually hooks up with a drug cartel overlord at which point the DEA and federal prosecutors get involved. The whole affair is like an episode of Frontline only with some heightened moments of disbelief and lots of gunfire. In fact Snitch credits an episode of Frontline as its spine. Susan Sarandon, Barry Pepper, Benjamin Bratt and (from Walking Dead) Jon Bernthal co-star.
Bless Me, Ultima shows so much conviction to its source that it feels very old fashioned. A young boy in New Mexico during WWII comes of age while learning about values and good magic from an old woman who’s come to live with his family. Other than the fact that the other villagers want to lynch the woman and refer to her as a “bruja” Bless Me, Ultima has a very homespun attitude. The lives of the boy, the magic lady and others are quietly observed in a family oriented manner. Based on a hugely successful novel (by Rudolfo Anaya) the film celebrates Chicano culture without deigning. Director Carl Franklin has done way more salacious films (One False Move) but his helming here is mannered and paced slowly. Frankly I would’ve liked more of the dark side, but this is like an art film for kids.
A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III has a heart and soul derived from hours of watching 70s era films, in particular such comedy dramas as Who is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? (1971). Mix with a few of Fellini’s more surreal movies. Charlie Sheen is Charles Swan a man whose already fragile grasp on reality has loosened. What we see are his fantasies fueled by a kind of adolescent imagery. It’s as if all the characters in the movie were acting out childhood playground fantasies and getting to dress up in sexy outfits or even as cowboys and secret agents. As helmed by Roman Coppola the film is more of a lark and a pastiche of movie conventions both in front of and behind the camera. Jason Schwarzman, Bill Murray, and Aubrey Plaza co-star but it’s a large recognizable cast on display, all of them obviously having fun. Charles Swan plays exclusively at the Sundance Cinemas Houston.
– Michael Bergeron