Sunday, July 25, 2021

Capsule Reviews - July 25, 2021

Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989) - A Finnish musical / comedy directed by Aki Kaurismaki, Leningrad Cowboys Go America is a road movie of sorts, centering on a band from a rural district of Siberia whose shifty manager drags them to America , forcing them to play a variety of nightclubs as they travel from New York City to Mexico. It’s a quirky, sometimes darkly funny expose of a less-than-average band that learns to play everything from country to Rock and Roll (depending on the audience), and doing so just well enough to get paid (though it’s quite telling that the band is never invited to perform a second night). Though more amusing than laugh-out-loud funny, Leningrad Cowboys Go America did feature a few moments that made me chuckle (the band’s “traveling companion” is a former member who froze to death in Siberia during an outdoor rehearsal). This movie spawned a series of films, and the band even toured together for a while. Also, keep an eye out for director Jim Jarmusch, who makes a cameo appearance as a used car salesman. Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Man of a Thousand Faces (1957) – James Cagney delivers a fine performance as silent film star Lon Chaney, taking us from the actor’s early vaudeville days and his tumultuous marriage to dancer Clara Creighton (Dorothy Malone) through to his screen career, when his skills with a make-up brush landed him a number of memorable roles (most notably the title characters in The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera). There are times when Man of a Thousand Faces crosses into schmaltzy melodrama (especially the scenes involving Chaney’s relationship with his son Creighton, aka Lon Chaney Jr.), but it’s handled well enough, and Cagney’s performance, coupled with a strong supporting cast (Jane Greer is quite good as Chaney’s second wife Hazel, though it’s Malone’s turn as the self-centered Clara that stands out) and some nifty recreations of moments from the actor’s more noteworthy films do their part to make this a worthwhile biopic. Rating: 7.5 out of 10

The Wolf House (2018) – A vibrant, fascinating animated film produced in Chile, The Wolf House introduces us to Maria (voiced by Amalia Kassai), a young girl who escapes from a German religious cult and seeks refuge in an abandoned house. There, she befriends two pigs, which are also hiding out, but neither Maria nor her new pals are safe because a hungry wolf (Rainer Krause) is prowling just outside , ready to make a meal out of them all. A stop-motion movie co-directed by Joaquín Cociña and Cristóbal León, The Wolf House was inspired by actual events; the cult that Maria flees is based on a commune in central Chile, founded in 1961 by former Nazi Paul Scahfer and rumored to have abused some of its younger members. This fact alone brings an added layer of intrigue to The Wolf House, but it’s the animation itself – chock full of imagination and not afraid to take the story in some dark directions – that will keep your eyes glued to the screen (rooms morph, as do several characters, and you’re never quite sure what you’ll find when the action switches from one locale to the next). A truly brilliant piece of work! Don’t miss it! Rating: 9.5 out of 10

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