- A week’s run of the deliriously cataclysmic and violent “Drug War” by Johnnie To is simply not enough. But Cinefamily, bless ‘em, has it through Sept. 26. It’s easily the best of the week’s new releases—and certainly one of the year’s most essential movies. To’s incredible achievement in action mise-en-scene must be seen to be believed, and marks a quantum leap beyond this Hong Kong master’s past cop-and-gangster genre masterworks. What’s especially remarkable about “Drug War” is that To applied his take-no-prisoners energies (all well and good when contained to the freewheeling HK atmosphere) and then shot in Mainland China, his first production to do so. A director who happily dances between rom-coms, Hawksian-slapstick comedies, social satires, policiers and gangland epics, To is here at the height of his powers.
- Mexico is in a new golden age of its rocky cinema history, and what it shares with its previous golden eras of the 1940s and 1950s is an exceptional attention to the expressive possibilities of the image. LACMA film program curator Bernardo Rondeau (LACMA’s best and most relevant film programmer) surveys the first era in “The Golden Age of Mexican Cinema,” as part of LACMA’s Art + Film program on cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa running to February 2014. Saturday’s bill represent a fine sample of two features shot by Figueroa for the Mexican industry’s busiest post-war director, Emilio “El Indio” Fernandez, and both starring the dashing Rodolfo Acosta: 1948’s “Salon Mexico” (5 p.m.), the first Fernandez in the smoky, melodramatic “cabaretera” genre, and the intensely expressive 1951 “Victimas del Pecado” (7:30 p.m.), which Rondeau’s notes rightly refer to as “a masterpiece of Mexican noir.”
- Chris Marker fans have a treat in store. With Pierre Lhomme, and close to the time he filmed his short classic, “La jetee,” Marker filmed life on the streets of Paris. It became “Le joli mai,” which was unveiled at this year’s Cannes film festival in a restored print, and which Icarus Films is now giving the lavish theatrical release treatment. Unlike some of Marker’s most experimental work (“Sans Soliel”), this one includes the presence of French icons such as composer Michel Legrand contributing a lovely score and Simone Signoret narrating. It opened Friday at Laemmle’s Royal and Pasadena 7.
- Los Angeles cinema continues to be home to a wealth of adventurous filmmakers who work and teach at Cal Arts (my previous column’s focus on Thom Andersen is just one example). Cal Arts’ Adele Horne has garnered worldwide acclaim for her unique observational non-fiction movies, and none more so than her new “Maintenance” (Sunday 7:30 p.m.) LA Filmforum is providing its Los Angeles premiere, suitable to a work comprising 15 portraits of people cleaning residences of various shapes and sizes in Los Angeles—some their own, some for work. Horne is an especially sensitive filmmaker, and she ponders not only why and how we clean, but who does it, and at what price.
- When compiling my Sight & Sound magazine poll in 2012 for the best ten films of all time, only three Hollywood movies made the list: Raoul Walsh’s “Objective, Burma!”, Anthony Mann’s “Winchester ‘73” and Buster Keaton’s “The General,” with the latter as the only comedy. Not that I have anything against comedies. It’s just that “The General” is the greatest comedy ever made; I’ll take that to my deathbed. Hard to imagine a better way to see it than this weekend at El Segundo’s charming Old Town Music Hall (Saturday 2:30 and 8:15 p.m.; Sunday 2:30 p.m.), which always presents their many silent movies with live Wurlitzer organ accompaniment. Not unlike Johnnie To’s best movies (like “Drug War”), I’ll never quite fathom how Keaton made “The General,” one of the joyous, breathtaking miracles of cinema history.
Robert Koehler, a film critic for Film Comment, Cinema Scope and Cineaste, blogs about movies on arts·meme.