What to Rent

Blue Valentine (2010)

Blue ValentineWe’re not sure we can recall an American film with as much credibility and stark realism as director-co-writer Derek Cianfrance’s examination of two people struggling to hold a young marriage together. Usually it’s the French who nail this kind of film, so maybe it’s not coincidence that the director’s last name contains the country. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are so close to perfection in their roles we started thinking they had a real-life relationship. “Valentine” is disturbing at times, but if you’re looking for a movie with some meat on it, don’t skip this one.

— Mal Karman



Upstream Color (2013)

At its heart, the film is at once a science fiction story and a sort of romance about Kris (Amy Seimetz) and Jeff (Shane Carruth), shattered individuals who somehow seem to complete each other. They are inexorably drawn, often together and always forward, by a force at once within and outside themselves, one that seems to flow not only through them but through nature in its entirety. As not only actor but also writer, director, and just about everything else, Carruth delivers a spellbinding and unusual film that plays like a beautiful poetry translated to screen. Once you accept its unconventional narrative and simply allow its powerful imagery wash over you, “Upstream Color” is nothing short of a wonder to behold.

— Jeremy Venook



Moon (2009)

After nearly three years alone mining helium-3, a vital energy resource, on the dark side of the moon, Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) finds himself in an existential crisis when a freak accident puts him in contact with his incoming replacement. Once the newcomer arrives, the film begins to deal not only with Bell’s utter isolation but also with much deeper issues of identity, replaceability, and the value of progress if it means putting people into situations like Bell’s. Anchored by Rockwell’s career-defining, Oscar-worthy performance, Nathan Parker’s stellar screenplay, and first-timer Duncan Jones’ sure-handed direction, “Moon” may just be one of the most compelling pieces of science fiction you’ve never seen.

— Jeremy Venook



Forbidden Planet (1956)

This reworking of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” is arguably the greatest science fiction film ever made. Long before computer graphics took over virtually every scene in a sci-fi movie, Hollywood wizards found a way to startle us, not only with visuals but with disturbing psychological undercurrents. Walter Pidgeon, Leslie Neilson and the stunning Anne Francis in a miniskirt eight years before they were invented.

— Mal Karman



Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Writer-director Giuseppe Tornatore’s story of a boy’s passion for movies and his quirky friendship with the projectionist in their small Italian village is as engrossing, joyful and heart-wrenching as film ever gets. You will fall in love with the irresistible kid Toto (Salvatore Cascio) and his pal Alfredo (the ever-charming Philippe Noiret), and the friendship that endures decades. A masterpiece in spite of some roughly hewn scenes and winner of Best Foreign Film Academy Award.

— Mal Karman



Brothers Bloom (2008), The

Con man Stephen Bloom (Mark Ruffalo) has one goal in life — to pull the perfect job, the one where “everyone involved gets just what they want.”  The same could be said of writer-director Rian Johnson, who has crafted a caper that belongs alongside classics like “The Sting” and “The Italian Job.”  Stephen’s younger brother and partner-in-crime Bloom (Adrien Brody) wants out, but Stephen has one final masterpiece in mind, a globe-trotting endeavor that may or may not involve Bloom falling in love with their beautiful mark Penelope (Rachel Weisz).  “The Brothers Bloom” is an ingenious and stylish film that has as many tricks up its sleeves as its protagonists do, plus romance, adventure, and wonderfully witty dialogue so everyone really can get just what they want.

— Jeremy Venook



In Bruges (2008)

When Irish hit men Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) botch a job, the last thing they expect is for their foul-tempered boss (Ralph Fiennes) to send them to Bruges (it’s in Belgium). Once they arrive, writer-director Martin McDonagh’s offbeat drama becomes one of the most satisfying movies in recent memory, mixing excitement, introspection, and fantastic performances and scenery. There’s also plenty of pitch-black comedy as Ken and Ray find themselves in increasingly bizarre circumstances awaiting a fate that may involve their deaths. With everything from a coked-up dwarf (Jordan Prentice) spewing profanity to discussion of the purgatorial paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, “In Bruges” delivers on so many fronts that there’s nothing left to do but sit back and enjoy the trip.

— Jeremy Venook



Children of Men (2006)

Director Alfonso Cuarón’s dystopian sci-fi drama begins with a report that the world’s youngest person has just died at age 18, a devastating reminder of the decades of infertility that have plagued society. Amidst mounting violence and constant chaos, ex-revolutionary Theo Faron (Clive Owen) finds himself escorting Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), a young African refugee who may be humanity’s only hope. Though nominally an action movie, the film delivers something infinitely greater by finding intense pathos, emotion, and even hope, particularly in a climactic sequence so breathtaking you just might forget to exhale. “Children of Men” is a masterpiece if there ever was one, a riveting and harrowing experience that reminds us just how powerful a film can be.ting and harrowing film that defies genres and reminds us just how good a movie can be.

— Jeremy Venook



Primer (2004)

Half an hour into this maze of a movie, engineers Aaron (Shane Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan) deduce that the box they built in Aaron’s garage is a time machine. What happens next, and how, and why, gets. . . confusing, to say the least. What’s perfectly clear throughout, though, is Carruth’s immense talent as writer-director as he constructs a puzzle that unwinds, rewinds, loops back, and ultimately leaves itself for the audience to solve. “Primer” is the best kind of enigma, a labyrinthine science fiction geekfest you’ll want to watch again, and again, and again, until all of the pieces finally, masterfully, fall into place.

— Jeremy Venook



Pleasantville (1998)

Two 1990’s high schoolers (Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon) are magically transported into the black-and-white world of a ‘50’s sitcom where the sun is always shining, the home team always wins, and mom and pop sleep in separate beds. Soon, the nostalgia filter begins to falter, and color begins creeping in as the real problems of the era surface and upset the townspeople’s way of life. With a stellar supporting cast that includes William H. Macy, Joan Allen, and Jeff Daniels, this film is a frank and fantastic examination of the unpleasant truth underneath the idyllic way we view the past.

— Jeremy Venook



Last Night (1998)

The premise here is simple: We’ve known for months that the world is ending tonight, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. The riots and orgies you might expect have more or less subsided. instead, writer-director and star Don McKellar explores how people spend their final evening, checking off bucket list items, reconnecting with loved ones, or settling in for one last meal. Given its apocalyptic subject matter, it is by nature a somber movie, but the picture of humanity it paints is touching, bittersweet, and, most of all, quite unique. The world the film depicts may not be built to last, but the tender melancholy it evokes will stay with you well beyond its final moments. Not to be confused with a Keira Knightley romantic drama of the same name.

— Jeremy Venook



Happy Together (1997)

This drama from Hong Kong master Kar-Wai Wong follows Yiu-Fai (Tony Leung) and Po-Wing (Leslie Cheung), a gay couple from Hong Kong living together in Argentina. Contrary to the title, their relationship is anything but smooth, largely thanks to Po-Wing’s tendency toward destructive and sometimes outright abusive behavior, and soon Yiu-Fai is struggling to rebuild life on his own. The film, a visually lush and emotionally rich study of relationships, solitude, and whether or not people living apart can come to be happy together, won Wong Best Director at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival.

— Jeremy Venook



Killing Fields (1984), The

Roland Joffe directed this nail-biting drama about the ruthless Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia and its tyrannical leader Pol Pot, who set about murdering two million countrymen he considered undesirable. Based on a true story, we follow New York Times correspondent Sydney Schanberg’s reporting of the Cambodian War as he relies on his friendship with translator Dith Pran to navigate the precarious day-to-day terrain. But Schanberg opts to put his ambition before his friend’s safety and what plays out will keep you frozen in your seat. Only the fact that “Amadeus” was released the same year prevented this from winning a Best Feature Film Academy Award.

— Mal Karman



Spartacus (1960)

From a screenplay by Dalton Trumbo, this Stanley Kubrick-directed spectacular is, hand’s down, the greatest Roman-era drama ever made.  Kirk Douglas, in the title role about a true slave revolt shortly before Julius Cesar came to power, is vulnerable, charismatic, and at the top of his lance, sword and net.  Supported by an all-star cast that includes Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton, Jean Simmons, Tony Curtis, John Ireland, Nina Foch, Charles McGraw, Woody Strode and Peter Ustinov (who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar), you’ll know what it felt like to fight to the death as a gladiator or to argue with adversaries in the Roman Senate.  Edge-of-your-seat drama with romance, humor, pathos and an amazing score by Alex North.  Truly a masterpiece.

— Mal Karman



For Me and My Gal (1942)


With three of the biggest names in movie musical history — director Busy Berkeley, Judy Garland, and Gene Kelly in his screen debut — this movie was destined to become a classic. It’s the story of two ambitious vaudeville hoofers (Garland and Kelly) looking to make it big time, which is as good an excuse as any to throw in plenty of wonderful song-and-dance numbers like the title tune and the fantastic “Ballin’ the Jack.” Full of heart, wit, great music, and Garland and Kelly doing what they do best, this film is a little slice of Hollywood heaven.

— Jeremy Venook



« Post 1 »