Tag Archives: MUBI Mondays

Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2010)

Director Kelly Reichardt’s 2008 drama Wendy and Lucy was concerned with the tribulations faced by a young woman setting her sights on a new life in Alaska, travelling with limited funds and supplies. Meek’s Cutoff, her 2010 follow-up, retains similar narrative elements for its tale of settlers in 1845 travelling through the Oregon Trail that guided wagon trains through dangerous terrains to the remote Pacific Northwest. It retains Wendy and Lucy stars Michelle Williams and Will Patton, who deliver fine performances in this unusual Western, as do Bruce Greenwood, Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan and Shirley Henderson…

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The Hitch-Hiker (Ida Lupino, 1953)

Released the same year as her film The Bigamist, 1953’s The Hitch-Hiker would be one of Ida Lupino’s final features in the directing chair, ahead of a prolific career working in television. When working in front of the camera, the actor-turned-director appeared in a number of notable noir thrillers, including the prior year’s On Dangerous Ground, which she also co-directed (uncredited) for a few days when Nicholas Ray fell ill. The Hitch-Hiker is widely regarded as the first American film noir to be directed by a woman…

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Four Flies on Grey Velvet (Dario Argento, 1971)

Dario Argento’s first three features as director – The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The Cat o’ Nine Tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet – are commonly referred to as his “Animal Trilogy”. They are not connected by recurring story threads or characters, but by visual and thematic motifs in their mystery narratives about murder most foul, many involving voyeurism. And each of the three’s titles contains a species’ name, in case you somehow missed that…

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Amateur (Hal Hartley, 1994)

Breaking through with early features The Unbelievable Truth (1989), Trust (1990) and Simple Men (1992), writer-director Hal Hartley was one of the key figures of the tail end of the 1980s/early 1990s boom of American independent cinema, alongside the likes of Steven Soderbergh and Jim Jarmusch, before that landscape became altogether different in the wake of the success of films such as Pulp Fiction (1994) and Clerks (1994).

Hartley’s early tragicomic dramas – which explore such topics as class, the nature of love, and foolhardy ambition in the face of absurd reality – are immediately recognisable through the specific deadpan cadence to the dialogue and his performers’ delivery of it, whereby emotional duress or ecstatic highs are largely conveyed with a relatively expressionless affect, outside of a few select scenes. Hartley’s regular actors around that time included such talents as Martin Donovan, Edie Falco, Robert John Burke, Bill Sage and the late Adrienne Shelly. Hartley can also attest to being one of the earliest directors to regularly employ Parker Posey’s particularly unique screen presence.

Amateur (1994) is a key transitional work for Hartley. For one thing, it’s a decidedly more violent offering than anything he’d presented before; while relatively free of actual onscreen blood, multiple characters are shot and one is tortured to near-death and driven mad. Secondly, while his later studio foray and prosthetics-heavy oddity No Such Thing (2001) likely cost more, Amateur certainly looks like the most expensive film of Hartley’s career at that point, thanks to use of varied New York City locations (Long Island was his favoured locale before this) and the mere presence of a particular actor (more on that in a moment). Among the production company credits in the gorgeous opening title sequence, set to the score by Jeffrey Taylor and Hartley himself (under the pseudonym Ned Rifle), are the likes of UGC and what was then Channel Four Films (now Film4 Productions), a reflection of Hartley’s growing status as a hot commodity in European arthouse markets…

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Something in the Air (Olivier Assayas, 2012)

The French title of Olivier Assayas’ 2012 film, Après mai, translates as “After May”, referring to the famous uprisings in the country during May of 1968. It was a period of revolutionary zeal that is also evoked by the film’s UK title, if one recalls the lyrics of Thunderclap Newman’s 1969 hit single Something in the Air: “We’ve got to get together sooner or later, because the revolution’s here.”

Assayas is no stranger to the revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s himself, and Something in the Air is semi-autobiographical. Rather than providing a historical exposé of the revolutionary ideals of the time, the film is instead a coming-of-age narrative set against that backdrop of demonstrations and fervour; it is more in line with a film like Dazed and Confused (1993) than any overtly politically charged work…

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Monsieur Lazhar (Philippe Falardeau, 2011)

Monsieur Lazhar was Canada’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars ceremony of 2012, making it to the final five nominees but losing to Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation. On a surface level, that Monsieur Lazhar concerns a new teacher changing the perceptions and lives of a group of students may make it seem like an ideal, easy target to which the Academy might take a shine. Philippe Falardeau’s film, though, is a much different – and better – beast…

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The Bigamist (Ida Lupino, 1953)

Alongside noir The Hitch-Hiker earlier that same year, 1953’s The Bigamist would be actor Ida Lupino’s final big screen credit as a director until the Hayley Mills family comedy The Trouble with Angels (1966) over a decade later, though she became a fixture of directing rosters for major television series of the time, including Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller and The Untouchables. Lupino’s work as an actor in thrillers and comedies remains well remembered and regarded, but just as much of her filmmaking career was driven by a passion for writing, producing and directing. An independent production company she established facilitated much of this before it closed shop and the TV work started, and its existence outside the traditional studio system factored into the unique body of work produced…

Full review for VODzilla.co’s MUBI Mondays column