Vier Minuten

Two women, one piano.

Set in a dreary prison, this transcendent tale pits a tightly-wound taskmaster against a convicted murder with serious anger issues.

Making an auspicious debut, Hannah Herzsprung blisters as the battered prisoner, a woman whose tentative connection with her teacher is built on a mutual loathing of everyone else.

I dig the film’s refusal to slip into a maudlin story of a “bad” girl changed by the power of music, and an uptight teacher mellowing.

Two hours aren’t enough time for all wounds to heal, and there are no fake happy endings.

But there is hope.

Exiled

Violent and poetic.

Director Johnnie To is one of the best active filmmakers in the world, a man who mixes and mashes genres, creating bullet-strewn masterpieces.

One of his best is this tale of hardened hit men, bound by honor, beset by greed, coming full tilt in a battle to obtain a literal ton of ill-gotten gold.

Making most American action films seem like child’s play, it pays homage to spaghetti westerns and Martin Scorsese in equal measure, and the result is like a series of rapid-fire punches to the kidneys.

Prepare to be entertained and left breathless.

 

Vikaren

Don’t get detention.

When your substitute teacher is actually a killer alien from outer space, spending as little time alone with her as possible is probably highly recommended.

A crackling little thriller from Denmark, this flick, also known as The Substitute, pits a group of savvy but slightly overwhelmed sixth-graders against the perpetually-in-a-bad-mood woman claiming to be their new instructor.

Their parents don’t believe their wild-eyed tales (duh, it’s a movie), which leaves the preteens to defend themselves and save the universe.

You’re not gonna call the Ghostbusters, but you are going to call the alien busters this time around.

Seven Samurai

“The victory belongs to the peasants, not to us.”

The heroes in Akira Kurosawa’s landmark action film are battle-hardened warriors now roaming the countryside as rōnin — samurai without a master to call their own.

That’s part of the reason they come to fight to protect a village against the bandits plundering their crops.

But there’s something bigger at play for these men, who realize deep down in their souls, that most of them won’t survive the siege.

They fight because it’s the only path they know, and the only way they have left to live a life of honor.

 

Like Water for Chocolate

The kitchen’s all steamy.

One of the sultriest films of the ’90s, this Mexican masterpiece combines sex and food, swirling the flavors together to create a savory dish to remember.

At the center of this tale of brooding romance is the absolutely wonderful Lumi Cavazos, who roared on to my radar thanks to this film and Bottle Rocket.

Like Bridget Fonda and Phoebe Cates, she seems to have retired early, with no IMDB credits after 2005.

Cavazos is greatly missed, but hopefully happy in this stage of her life, and will always be appreciated for the films she left behind.