Branded to Kill (Seijun Suzuki) *** - This one is tough. First of all, I think Seijun Suzuki is an excellent director with such wonderfully pulpy works like Gate of Flesh and Tokyo Drifter. This one seems like it would be in one of those veins but, I don't know, if I didn't know any better I would think whoever edited this might have been high or drunk or something. The plot involves a association of hit men. After one of them botches an assignment, the rest of the hit men all try to kill him. This film has a lot of great moments and great scenes but it seems strangely put together. It seems trying to be a Godard flick when it's not. Don't get me wrong: I liked it a hell of a lot. It has moments of pure brilliance but the too avant-garde editing which made me confused at certain points prevented me from completely loving it. I may change my mind in a few days after thinking about it.
Venus in Fur (Roman Polanski) *** - This is a French version of David Ives' Broadway play about a director on the tail end of a day of auditioning actresses for his stage adaptation of the 19th century erotic novel Venus in Furs when a very late auditioner barges in and somehow talks the director into a read-through of the play and soon the line between the play and their reality become more and more blurry. Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric are both excellent in their roles because well, they have to be since they're the only two characters on-screen. Roman Polanski does his very best in cinematically translating what is, based on what I saw, a rather stage-y two-person play. It still is rather stage-y. I think material is better seen as a play, seems more enjoyable in that format. It's far from Polanski's best but still a highly entertaining watchable film.
Blue Ruin (Jeremy Saulnier) ***1/2 - It doesn't have the most original plot ever: A homeless man finds out that the man who is in prison for killing his parents is being released and then proceeds to plot his revenge. This film went the violence begets violence route. However, it manages to have surprises up its sleeves. The film is surprisingly quiet. It also takes its time to build its suspense and further the narrative which makes its shocking burst of violence all that much startling and effective (and unpleasant to watch, in this case, a compliment). Writer-director Jeremy Saulnier is a talent to watch. Seek this film out. (P.S. the original Jan Brady shows up with a machine gun, if that doesn't convince you to see it...)
The Immigrant (James Gray) **** - James Gray is probably one of the most underrated and under seen independent American directors out there. I happen to really love and admire all the films I've seen from him. The streak continues with this film. Marion Cotillard gives one of her career-best performances as a Polish immigrant caught in a love triangle between two cousins in New York city in the early 20th century. Joaquin Phoenix is also outstanding as one of the cousins who started out by pimping but falls in love with her. The plot may sound like pure melodrama but Gray's treatment of it is anything but. It is compelling, surprising and unexpectedly moving by the end. Add to that the outstanding cinematography and design and you have, I must say, one of the best films of the year so far.