Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bigger, Stronger, Faster


Anabolic steroids make your muscles bigger and give you quicker reflexes. That's the good part. In some people they also grow extra hair, shrink the testes, give them roid rage and, in athletes, an unfair competitive advantage.

So, what to do? Dunno. They seem like a bad idea to me but folks do lots of things that are a bad hang-gliding, ice climbing, etc...and we let them. Athletes in competition are a different story. It's gotta be 1-in...all-in. Do we really want our athletes to be grotesque freaks? Aren't they already?

Tough issues, nicely drawn here. This doc was informative but amateurish. Worth it.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Polly Walker, Kevin McKidd

HBO series...12 hours long...which brought the end of the Republic to life through the major players of the time. This was the best treatment of the period I've ever seen. They gave equal time to the working class, showed the religious beliefs and practices, mores and value system. This was a violent society...Rome was built by war and slaughter...and that was made vivid, but not in a gratuitous way.

Since this was a British production everyone spoke with a Brit accent...a flaw but not a serious one. Great sets and mise-en-scene.

This was a wonderful attempt at historical drama. They took a well-known turning point in history and made it live. Good stuff.


Sunday, December 27, 2009


A very difficult film to watch. The first half depicts the crushing of the spirit of a morbidly obese black teenager by her outrageously cruel and mean-spirited mother. She is also rejected by her peers. The second half focuses on her struggle to revive some of her humanity with the help of a sympathetic teacher.

The arc of this story moves toward the positive but the depth of the well of sadness, meanness is too great to be overcome in 45 minutes. I was left with the sense of having been battered comatose and coming to with a kindly hand stroking my helps some but not nearly enough...I'm still lying there battered.

Well done but an awful ordeal.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Eagle Has Landed

Michael Caine, Donald Sutherland

Nazis in a plot to capture Winston Churchill in the final days of the war. Well done action-adventure with a nice mise-en-scene. Some of the stuff here strained credibility a bit too far but the film easily held my attention, largely because of the skill of the players.

Special mention to Donald Pleasance for a spot-on portrayal of Himmler.

Good, diverting fun.


Friday, December 18, 2009



Two foul-mouthed 11 year olds who are abused at home hit the road and spend a night playing around the sometimes mean streets of Dublin. They have some good adventures, some bad and end up going home the following morning to face the music.

This was immediately engaging and pulled me in, largely because of the excellent performances by the two child actors. They were a lot of fun to watch together...shared an obvious rapport that wasn't at all hollywoodish...and seemed like real kids. It was the first film for both.

Some of the episodes strained credibility a bit but they were soon over and the focus on the kids resumed. It helped that the film was short - 72 minutes...just when it would have become tiresome it wrapped. Nice job.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Electric Edwardians


This was an oddball historical curiousity piece. Restored footage from 1900-1910 shot in England meant at the time to be shown locally in traveling exhibitions before the existence of permanent movie theaters. We got to see parades of people, mostly of the lower classes, in period dress staring at the camera and grinning like fools, acting silly, grimacing, etc. The school children scenes were poignant because we now know that many of the boys ended up as cannon fodder in the Great War.

The only real curiousity that stood out was the widespread use of shawls used as headscarves by the women. These British working women foreshadowed the present-day muslim women about whom there is so much controversy.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Rape of Europa


The story of the looting of the art treasures of Europe and Russia by Hitler, Goering and the other monsters of Germany during WW2. Most would see this as a minor sideshow to the wholesale slaughter these folks unleashed but it does demonstrate their venality and greed...two traits easier for the average person to understand.

Well done. Included trying to sort out the various return problems after the war was finished. Much research in evidence here.


Sin Nombre


Somewhat reminiscent of El Norte, this film didn't have the same level of humanism to offer the audience. This was partly due to its immersion in the extremely violent world of latin american gangs, with their crude rituals, ugly tattoos and overall despicable behavior. In fact it was closer to an action-adventure flick than an attempt to open the eyes of a complacent North American to the plight of economic refugees.

This was a jaundiced view of mankind. The grail at the end of the harrowing journey a Wal-Mart parking lot.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The International

Clive Owen, Naomi Watts

Tracking down nefarious doins by an international bank patterned after BCCI. This was well enough done but after so many of these I could sense mego. There was one spectacular shoot-out inside the Guggenheim that was not at all credible but nonetheless fun to watch.

This ranged all over the world...a device that has lost its novelty and wow value. In spite of the overall competence on display it seemed sameold, sameold...


Monday, December 14, 2009

Pirate Radio

w Nick Hornby

This was a lot of fun. Silly junk but fun. Great soundtrack. Cartoonish in most respects. A pleasant diversion on a snowy afternoon.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

THX 1138

w/d George Lucas Robert Duvall

His first and best far. What happened to this guy? He has spent his career putting out money-making junk when by the evidence shown here he had a real sense of film as art. This was imaginative, visually stunning and original, had outstanding sound design and used found locations brilliantly to create a futuristic mise-en-scene.

Watta shame. I'm sure he sees his as a successful career...I mean, look at all the money the Star Wars franchise brought in...but I'll bet deep down, in the middle of the night perhaps, he knows, he knows.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Loren Cass


Extremely unpleasant film. Set in St Petersburg after some riots in the 90's, it features a filthy assortment of punk wannabees, a slutty diner waitress, pointless and unexplained violence, no plot to speak of and, oh yes, florida, in all it's scuzzy glory.

Boring, repulsive, ugly. I think that covers it.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Lemon Tree

Israel Hiam Abbass

Very sensitive, poignant melodrama from this torn land. The defense minister moves in and his security demands that the lemon grove next door be demolished. It has been tended by a Palestinian widow her whole life.

This film digs deeply into the personal and psychological effects of this clash. The arrogance, superiority and intransigence of the Israelis was made crystal clear...a brave stance for this filmmaker.

Ms Abbass was superb. She conveyed an air of quiet strength, long term suffering, resolve and perspective. A prize-winning performance.


The Wind Journeys


A "road" movie of a different sort. Aging accordion player, with an acolyte in tow, treks through plains and mountains to return the instrument he had been given years ago by his mentor. Along the way they have an assortment of mishaps and adventures.

Slow, studied, episodic. Not much drama. Spectacular scenery. Interesting as anthro. They could have cast better-looking players as leads. Some scenes slid over into silly but when they were over it resumed its steady march to the end.

Worth it.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Waiting Room

Roger Goldby

Slice-of-life melodrama set in the London burbs. Several middle-class folk muddle around with each other seeking to satisfy their primal needs while always longing for something better. It ends with two of them "finding" each other but it looked to me that in seven or so years they'd be getting that restless itch too.

Well written, acted and directed. This was competent, intelligent filmmaking...nothing more. But that's plenty for an hour and a half diversion.


Monday, December 7, 2009

Return of the Idiot


A thirtyish man is released from an asylum, makes his way back to his home town and is instantly immersed in the madness of a love triangle and the lives of his relatives. His isolation has rendered him acutely empathic which shows in timely nosebleeds. He is a perceptive naif, a candide who serves as a mirror to real life.

Nicely done. Astute mix of humor, drama...good dialogue and overall direction. Very eastern European in tone...a compliment.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Monsieur Hire

Michel Blanc, Sandrine Bonnaire d/Patrice Leconte

Adaptation of a novel by Georges Simenon. Superbly done. Outstanding use of music (Brahms), luminous cine, stellar acting by the two leads, great script. This was as gripping as anything ever done by Hitchcock.

One of the treasures of French, and world cinema.


Baader-Meinhopf Complex

d/ Uli Edel

Very powerful fictionalized treatment of the far-left German group who decided to use violence to fight against the machine to stop its violence-for-profit scheme in Viet Nam and elsewhere. These folks have been relentlessly demonized by the media for was refreshing to have a clear-eyed treatment of who they were, what they thought, what their aims were, their tactics and their eventual demise and complete failure.

If you directly oppose the criminal state they will use whatever means at their disposal to crush you. cf. The so-called Symbionese Liberation Army.

One of the characters in the film says...These people make decisions that result in the suffering and death of thousands but they are shocked when violence is used against them in their own homes.

Twas ever thus.

This film tapped into a deep well of anger I have from that time wrapped in the sad understanding that things have gotten worse, much worse since then.

An important film that will get no exposure in this country. So it goes.


Friday, December 4, 2009

The Fantastic Mr. Fox

anime w/d Wes Anderson

Mixed feeling about this one. The story was fun, although a bit cartoonish (duh) but the animation seemed less advanced than I expected. Close-ups were striking at first but the trick of having the character's facial hair moving around came across as artificial. It looked for all the world like the inadvertent hair movement we saw in the original King Kong which was a result of the limitations of the technology at the time.

I also had trouble with the lead...voiced by George Clooney. He was an insufferable egotist. The script dealt directly with this but it didn't make it any easier to watch.

But it all raced along lickety split and was amusing enough for what it was.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Lilya 4-Ever

Sweden d/Lukas Moodyson

This was a heartbreaking story...about as sad as anything I've ever seen on film. Lilya is abandoned by her mother. She's 16. This takes her through the next three months. Her story is about as grim as it gets...eventually she is tricked and sold into sexual slavery.

This was taken from a true-life case. Stories like this became common in the European West after the Soviet Union collapsed and countries like Estonia were left to struggle to create new economies. During the adjustment period there was some human wreckage. This film shows one.

Starkly realistic, well acted and directed. This'll be a hard one to forget.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

When We Left Earth


Solid piece about the effort to reach the moon. This segment dealt with the early Mercury and Gemini programs. This material has been covered many times now. This one was well done.


Shall We Kiss


Sex comedy/farce for and about the chattering class. Just arch enough to avoid being enough to hold my interest wondering where they were going with the story.

Amusing fluff.


Monday, November 30, 2009

The Beaches of Agnes

documentary(?) France

This was a companion piece to Agnes Varda's wonderful homage to her late husband Jacques Demy. Oddly though it was a loving tribute to herself and what she apparently perceives as her overall wonderfulness. As a full-throttle celebration of self it is unmatched in cinema history. While it is true that she was present during France's film renaissance, it's not clear how much, or how little she contributed.

She is evidently a major arts figure in France and perhaps a hundred years from now film scholars will be grateful for this piece. I found it a little bit embarrassing. Not without some interest...but, really...


An Education

Peter Sarsgaard, Carey Mulligan, Alfred Molina

Pleasant, sweet, old-fashioned coming-of-age romance. This film, obviously and inoffensively, pushed all the right buttons without straining credibility (too much). Very skilled cast...with supporting players like Emma Thompson and Sally Hawkins....

Ms Mulligan carried the film. Her deft mix of sweetness, naivete and savvy knowingness...coupled with her ingenue-level loveliness seemed fresh and winning. She was a remarkable find and I only hope she finds future roles equal to this one.

Satisfying film experience.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Maid


Here we follow around a hateful, emotionally constricted servant whose foibles are openly tolerated by her employers. She does mean little things to everyone with no apparent fear of punishment or retaliation.

Eventually a new helper comes in who succeeds in humanizing her a bit...but just a bit. I found the film unpleasant to watch with her movement toward redemption TL,TL.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Half Nelson

Ryan Gosling

Here we get to watch the excruciating unraveling of a high school history teacher. He's hooked on some form of cocaine and like all druggies has become entirely self-absorbed...a user of drugs and people to satisfy his immediate needs or desires. Strong performance by RG easily carried the film.

Over-use of extreme close-up technique became wearying but it did contribute to the sense of immediacy which made the film so strong. I felt like taking a shower afterwards though...this guy was such a filthy scuzz I felt dirtied.

Powerful, unpleasant.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

House of the Devil

d/ Ti West

Babysitter-in-peril movie which looked for all the world like it had been made in 1984. Attractive heroine (Jocelin Donahue) conned into staying in a house where she really shouldn't be. Wonderful supporting cast...Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov...great house. This was well done in all respects. Pretty gory at the end but the build-up was a lot of fun.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Decalog #1

Kristov Kieslowski

A bright young boy and his father exult in their intelligence. They defeat a chess master, work on metaphysical theory and, tragically, calculate when the ice on the pond is safe to skate on.

The first of the hour-long pieces done for Polish television. Compact, skillfully done...heavy reliance on close-ups. This guy was a master filmmaker.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Le Trou

France 1945

Superior escape-from-prison yarn. Painstakingly detailed, very realistic depiction of the difficulty involved in digging your way out of a prison using primitive, makeshift tools. Ended on an unnecessarily melodramatic note but this wasn't problematic enough to hurt the overall impression left by the film.

Solid work.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

This Gun For Hire

Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake

Badly dated noir from the late 40's, when Hollywood made movies set in a peculiar reality that looked for all the world like a sound stage. Coincidences were so common they became the norm.

This was adapted from a novel by Graham Greene and displayed his trademark sour take on his fellow man but since this was set in this country it lacked the touch of exotica that made his best work palatable.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Every Little Step


A camera crew follows the production of a revival of The Chorus Line. We get to see the hopefuls dance and sing their hearts out hoping desperately for a part. We also get to hear the deliberations of those casting.

It was impossible not to be moved by this were these talented vulnerable young people laying their hearts on the line for a big break. Still...all this was for fame, recognition, ambition...the desire to be seen as somebody...instead of a bum, which is what we all are. I suppose this is an inevitable part of the human condition. This film puts that part of us nicely on display.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Red Cliff

John Woo

Outrageously over-the-top violent CGI masterpiece. Set in medieval China, this had many spectacular set pieces, battles, tea ceremonies, fields of flowers...everything this imaginative guy could think of. Plus a large budget.

The best thing he's done since he left Hong Kong. Catnip for 14 year old boys. Wonderful junk.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Summer Hours

France Juliette Binoche d/ Olivier Assayas

An old woman dies...her three children deal with that and each other. Her stuff...some of which is very valuable makes them pull in different directions...especially her large summer house. But everything gets dispersed, she and all her memories fade into the past and life, youth go on. Twas ever thus.

If I had to guess I'd have said that this was directed by Eric Rohmer. It was quiet, members acting in non-dramatic ways...just frabbing their way through life as best they can.

Well done but not particularly engaging.


Chasing Amy

Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams

Sharp, incisive take on the battle between the sexes. Good writing matched up with a very strong performance by JLA made this work. Easily held up on second viewing.




Perhaps the ultimate talking-head film. An extended interview with Mike Ruppert about peak oil, the deterioration of the political process and the bleak future facing all of us. I've read his book...Crossing the Rubicon...this film builds on those ideas. It looks bad but this guy's no fool. One can quibble with this detail or that but the direction we're headed in is pretty clear.

It was Mao who said...may you live in interesting times. The next thirty years should be one hell of a ride.


Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Bob Hoskins

A truly remarkable film. Easily the best blend of animation and live action ever done. The 40's setting, the noirish gumshoe theme, the whole concept of toons running around interacting with humans in their unique way was a delightful concept...brilliantly realized here. Plus it had a poignant message. Amazing.

The last frame said That's All Folks...and, sadly, that's been the case. When I think of all the worthless junk that has generated sequels...and this hasn' makes me lose faith in my fellow man. Again.

A great classic.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Herb and Dorothy


Sort-of charming story of a New York couple who spent forty years obsessively collecting "art." They seemed like wonderful people...all the artists shown spoke glowingly about friendly and lovable they were...but there was an underlying premise to their behavior that was unsettling.

Exactly what is the meaning or purpose of mindless acquisition? This is really unhealthy behavior. Their apartment was crammed with almost 5000 pieces of minimalist, post-abstract junk. They devoted their whole lives to this pursuit...hitting galleries and studios every day wanting more...always more. There's something seriously wrong with a value system that doesn't treat this kind of behavior as unfortunate, something to be treated and cured if possible.

Lionizing it in a film didn't work for me.


Sunday, November 8, 2009



A very intriguing film. Set in an indeterminate time at a girls' school somewhere in France in the modern era, we follow these little girls around as they practice ballet, take academic classes, play in the isolated grounds, live their nascent lives separated from the rest of society. Some of the older girls leave every night and return at dawn and herein lies the core metaphor which gives the film purpose.

Exquisitely photographed. Intelligent script. Languid pacing which perfectly suited the mood and thoughts conveyed. This was a quiet, well-thought-out parable...a fresh take on childhood and the emergence into the sometimes harsh world of adulthood.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Snow Angels

Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell

A really sad movie. We follow a group of working class folk who have made a collective hash of their lives. The director...David Green...cuts rapidly among their various threads, making it hard for us to follow for a long while but which serves to emphasize the interconnectedness among all of them. The main story ends very badly.

All the gloom is somewhat leavened by the interweaving of a young-love story between two outcast high school kids. I couldn't help but wonder how grim their future will be after the initial phase was over.

Well-acted. I found the editing unnecessarily annoying...especially after watching TA last night. Still, this was a solid effort which added to the CV of everyone involved.


Landscape in the Mist

Theo Angelopolous

A brilliant effort from 1988. Two children set out on a quest to find their (mythical) father who supposedly lives in Germany. Several unforgettable set pieces raise this far above the ordinary. Metaphors abound as TA continually tickles the mind while seemingly focused on the prosaic details of their journey.

This is one of the great works of world cinema and shows the hand of a master filmmaker at the peak of his powers.



Helen Gahagan, Randolf Scott

The "classic" from 1935. Taken from the H Rider Haggard novel. Nice set design and a couple of well-made effects scenes couldn't overcome the towering hokiness of the story, the acting styles, the dialogue, etc. This strove for the kind of pseudo-profundity reached by Frank Capra in Lost Horizon but missed it by a mile.

This has historical value only.


Head On


This was a German/Turkish love story. Sort of. He was a decrepit, filthy loser. She was a young woman desperate to get away from her stifling, traditional family. They both attempt suicide. And fail. So they "meet cute" in a psychiatric clinic. And get married. And continue their self-destructive ways. Just together now. Sort of.

I have a limited tolerance for following repulsive people around in a film. These two were past my limit. Constant smoking, drinking, filthy personal habits and outrageously bad behavior made me want to get away from them...just like they would in real life.

This was quite popular with the artsy crowd. Don't know why.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Liam Neeson

This was written by Luc Besson and it looked it. Extremely violent, fast-paced, completely preposterous story that raced along so quickly you had no time to think about the absurdity of it all. It was obvious formula product from minute 1 and in spite of myself I didn't turn it off...instead I got caught up in it for the full 93 minutes.

It vicarious thrills. It set out to do no more than that so I guess it was successful.


Monday, November 2, 2009



Lush film about man's connections with the plant world, with special emphasis on the healing power they contain. Beautifully photographed. Interesting talking heads. This flirted with New Age mawkishness all the way through, made some solid points about mainstream medicine and near the end finally slopped over into mush.

Too bad. If they had used a bit more restraint this would have been a gem.


Milton Glaser


Straightforward piece on the career of the extraordinarily talented and visionary graphic artist. He gave a look to a generation that was fresh, startling and original.

Turns out he is also reflective and articulate which makes the interviews with him here a special treat. Well worth the time. Outside the field he is almost entirely unknown.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dogtown and the Z Boys


Extremely well done piece on the birth...from the outlaw California surf culture...of skateboarding as an athletic activity and, eventually, an art form. Lots of insightful archival footage was integrated with contemporary interviews to tell a compelling story with strong human interest value.

Great cutting throughout with perfectly synched sound gave this a breathless feel and raced you right along. Nice work.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Visual Acoustics


Worshipful piece on Julius Shulman, who made his living photographing other peoples' architectural works. This was fawning to a major fault. He was narcissistic and by the end of the film I found myself really disliking him and his admirers.

It didn't help that I don't care for the type of architecture that was being lionized here. I see it as cold, stark, stripped of human warmth. The opposite of cuddly. Something dreamed up by Germans in the 20's.


Know Your Mushrooms


Fun, kind of primitive, roll-your-own style piece on shrooms. I found it informative, mostly entertaining and well put together although I would have liked to see more folks interviewed. I got the impression that this was put together by about four people who all agreed with each other.

Still, it re-kindled my interest in this topic and made me want to find someone locally who could teach me about where and how to find these guys.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Mary and Max

anime Australia

Delightfully outrageous, tongue-in-cheek claymation. Done with skill and a subversive sense of humor that never stopped tickling me.

Like Nick Park, Adam Eliott has managed to create characters out of plasticine that are real enough, in an offbeat way, to make us care for their stories. Max is an overweight, Jewish Aspie...Mary a socially rejected teenage Aussie...but they manage to find in each other enough human contact to help them survive.

For all its silliness, this is a profoundly humanist film. Nice work.


Friday, October 23, 2009


France Juliet Binoche

This was the latest in what seems like a string of hundreds of French films which feature the lives, loves, tragedies and foibles of the chattering classes of Paris. A half dozen characters go around doing ordinary life stuff and it's unclear to me why any of this should be considered interesting or informative. It's certainly not dramatic.

This one was well enough done but I had to struggle to get to the end. It seemed a better use of my time to stare at the opposite wall. If you've never seen one of these you might enjoy it. But after so many...


Thursday, October 22, 2009



This was a 90 minute infomercial apparently promoting Nicholas Kristof for the Nobel Prize, or, perhaps the Mother Theresa award for overall saintliness. He came across as a nice guy and I admire his work on behalf of the world's crushed peoples...but this was a bit much.

It amused me that he looked a bit and sounded a lot like Liberace. I know he can't help either but I found myself staring at his wedding ring wondering...

Out of all the well-paid hacks pushing the corporate line at the NY Times Kristof stands out as a notable exception...a principled man genuinely trying to make the world a better place. He deserves credit but this film was mostly an embarrassment. All MTV too.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Matter of Size


Sumo wrestling on the Mediterranean. Wax-on, wax-off for morbidly obese Israelis. They attempted to elicit sympathy and understanding for these fat guys (and one woman) and I could sort of see the point but the sight of these blubbery guys bouncing around just didn't do it for me. I know fat people need love too...but I'd like it better if they didn't get it in front of me.

The film was formula, feel-good. Cutesy pie for whales.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

William Kunstler


The great lion of liberalism...the man who took on and more often than not, slayed the establishment dragon on its own turf using its own weapons. He was an attention/glory hound and apparently not a good father to his daughters, whose film this is...but he achieved a lot of good deeds and that should be the true measure of a man.

Who today fights tenaciously for the oppressed, for those no one wants or likes?

Well done doc...a true and fitting tribute.



Harrod Blank

Sort of follow-up/remake of Wild Wheels...his entertaining 1991 piece on folks with outrageous cars. This was a bit more fleshed out and the emphasis was on art, performance or otherwise and not fitting in. There was also a strong streak of exhibitionism on display.

About half these people were likable, many of the cars were a hoot...the whole thing rode by tickling my subconscious. Worth


Monday, October 19, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

Spike Jonze

This one was a bit of a let down. SJ and Dave Eggers (!) adapted a classic kids' book, which had very little text so they had to make it up. What they came up with seemed to me a serious misreading of what a kid movie should be.

The protagonist was a jerk, both at home and in the imaginary world to which he escapes. The design and execution of the critters was very good...adults in muppet suits w/ CGI faces...but once the delight of novelty wore off even that got tedious.

It was short. That was good. Not short enough though. Would've made a great 15 minute film.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Quiet Earth

New Zealand Bruno Lawrence

What would it be like to wake up one morning and discover you were the last man on earth? Who hasn't had this dream? This film starts with this premise and was very engaging for a while. At one point the script went in an unexpected direction and while I could see why they did this I also felt that they lost the story.

Great ending, which was foreshadowed pretty clearly but still kept the ability to jolt the audience.




A very primitive film...shot with non-actors on location. The premise of the story was OK but the script, staging and photography were amateurish to a fault.

Not ready for the world market.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Lion's Den


A really unpleasant film. A college-age woman is (wrongfully?) accused of murder, thrown into prison and we get to watch her systematic degradation, humiliation and de-humanization in living color. Oh, and she was pregnant so we get a birth scene too.

This could stand as a refutation of all those women-in-cages sexploitation films from the 60's, 70's. All the prisoners except the lead were fact, real prisoners in the minimum-security prison where this was shot...which made a fight in the shower scene more grotesque than titillating.

What was the point here? It wasn't an expose because the women were mostly treated with consideration by the prison staff. The justice system was presented with a murder, two possible suspects who pointed the finger at each other.

I found this an ordeal to watch with no real saving grace.


Eye of God

Hal Holbrooke, Martha Plimpton, Nick Stahl, Richard Jenkins

Beautifully done amerindie. Lonely Oklahoma girl marries an ex-con and frightful consequences ensue.

Well written, acted, shot and edited. Made in 1997, this film was almost entirely ignored. It deserves to be seen and recognized for the skill and craftsmanship evident. Proof, again, that good films can be made with no money...just imagination.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

In the Loop


Fast-paced, scathingly satirical film on public service, the making of foreign policy in London and Washington and the insanity of the national political process.

Funny, profane, insightful, subliminally bitter. Everyone here gets ground up in a process that's presented as totally out of control. Fun to watch...probably no fun at all to live through. Nice job.


35 Shots of Rum

France Claire Denis

This was a slow, boring examination of a father/daughter relationship in the outskirts of Paris. He drives a commuter subway car, she is a college-age student. They touch and hug a lot in a quasi-incestuous manner. They have deeply suppressed relationships with two other people who live in the same building...a morose young white guy and a woman who has apparently been pining for the father for decades, which to me was inexplicable since he was almost totally inarticulate. He did a lot of quiet emoting.

This director has done some fine work in the past...but not this time.

I was also irritated that the titular practice(unexplained in the film) was held up as something cool, something to mark great events in one's life, when in fact it can easily lead to death from alcohol poisoning. So, what are we celebrating...a particularly stupid way to commit suicide?


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The North Face


A really outstanding film. Set in the 30's during the Nazi's rise the race is on to be the first two-man team to climb the Eiger mountain. The first hour sets up the premise, introduces the characters and gets them all in place. The second hour features what seemed to me the best climbing sequences ever put on film.

Many times I found myself marveling at what appeared to be real footage. If there was CGI it was invisible. The drama developed step by realistic step. Incredibly harrowing. How in the world did they do this? The interweaving stories of the idle rich in the plush inn and the climbers struggling with outrageously bad weather conditions was beautifully handled.

This sets a new standard for what an adventure film can achieve. Kudos all around.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Orgasm, Inc.


Another sharp expose of the pill pushers' frantic efforts to get ordinary women who don't always (or ever) have orgasms from regular intercourse declared sick so they can sell them expensive pills...a la viagra...and make fortunes.

More proof, if it was needed, that trying to blend capitalism and medicine is hazardous to our health.

Informative and entertaining doc.


Under Our Skin


Lacerating treatment of the medical establishment's treatment, or non treatment of Lyme disease. We were presented with a very one-sided view of the controversy so it was hard to form a fully-considered judgement but if the story is anything like what was here it covers the doctors, drug pushers and insurance companies with shame.

Powerful and unforgettable.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Lake Tahoe


This took a cue from Jim Jarmusch. Static camera...long, still shots...deadpan to a fault. Eventually this became charming in a raggedy-assed sort of way but it really was not much ado about nothing.

One point for compositions, which were clever.


Off the Grid


Short, sharp piece on about 400 folks who live on a mesa in northern New Mexico. They don't want no govmint nohow. Live primitive but seem to have worked out most stuff and to my mind are better off than the sheeple.

Didn't like living on the food handouts, though. If you're gonna break so...but don't rely on charity handouts...


Thursday, October 8, 2009



Biopic of the life of a cleaning woman/painter who lived in the first half of the 20th century. Beautifully photographed...shot and edited without any of the modern nonsense. Superb performance by the lead.

This was an old-fashioned film...solidly done which reminded me of Savage Messiah, All the Mornings of the World, Camille Claudel. etc


Unmistaken Child

documentary Tibet/Nepal

Well, you see this old guy died...a lama (not the animal kind)...and, of course he was reincarnated, so his valet/disciple had to go out and find the child into whose body the old guy went. Sounds difficult...but...there were clues...patterns in the dirt beneath his funeral pyre, fat pearls, etc.

Then when he found the kid the kid had to pass several rigorous tests...picking the right bell, rosary. When this kid did this stuff it was obvious to all that they'd found the old guy...just in a toddler's body now.

It seems that no matter how preposterous a belief system you can get people to believe it...and orient their lives around that belief. There's no hope.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Town Called Panic

France anime

This was a hoot. Stupid little plastic figures were animated and given an absurd story which was a parody of contemporary life. I could almost hear the collaborators laughing hysterically while they were making this.

Wonderful nonsense for children of all ages.


California Dreaming


This was a shambling, discursive, raggedy-assed movie that tried to tell too many stories and ended up not telling any with enough depth to really resonate with the audience. Most of the characters were unlikable. The basic set-up was irritating and felt contrived. But mostly the film suffered badly from the maddening camera work that has become fashionable among "modern" filmmakers.

Much too long at 2 1/2 hours. I felt he was trying to create an epic out of an incident. This eastern European backwater has produced some gems in the past few years. This isn't one of them.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Capitalism: A Love Story

documentary Michael Moore

His best film. He takes on the big kahuna...capitalism itself...and easily wrestles it to the ground, where I'd like to think it dies miserably and stays dead for the rest of human history.

Not strident or hectoring. He tells his story, using the lives of people who have been ground down or cheated by this monstrous system, whose only real purpose is to perpetuate the rule by and for the rich. Some of the practices shown here will be a revelation to a lot of people because the corporate-owned and controlled media don't tell this stuff. It's most unfortunate that those who don't go to see this because they "don't like Michael Moore" are the ones who should. He bypasses the corporate bullshit and skewers their usual arguments.

He even ends with a jazzy rendition of the Internationale. Thank you MM.


Still Walking


This was an Ozu-like examination of the inner workings of a contemporary Japanese family. The action centered around a one-day gathering of the clan. The filmmaker quietly unveiled the dynamic that motivated the action of the principals, giving just enough hints for us to understand them. Not all the characters were sympathetic but all were understandable. By the end we felt we knew these people and cared about their lives.

Nothing really happened...just life itself.

Nice work.




A really outstanding film. Beautiful looking...from the first shot all the way through. A strong drama built on custom and betrayal. Credible characters. Editing and pacing worked. Even the music chosen...vaguely middle eastern sound laced with new agey modernization...worked.

This is what you hope for when you watch an obscure foreign film. This is a major work of world cinema.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I Remember Me


Chronic fatigue syndrome -CFS - is the story here. The filmmaker has it which has prompted her to investigate other sufferers, past outbreaks, medical views, etc. This comes across as a thorough examination of a subject without reaching any conclusions about the cause(s) or even the reality of the disease.

Moving - intentionally so - but the lack of a satisfying resolution was frustrating. We know the the mind can cause paralysis and even death. Could it be causing these problems for these people? We really don't know at this point.

Well done doc.


The Ice People


Here we follow a group of geologists frabbing around the dry valleys of Antarctica looking for the past. Not as ambitious as Werner Herzog's recent effort but the steady focus on the same people gave me a more memorable film.

Some stunning shots of the magnificent landscape.


Shugendo Now


Beautifully shot, composed and edited, this was an attempt to enlighten Western audiences on the ancient Japanese rituals and superstitious beliefs revolving around mountain worship. These practices were banned during the Meiji Restoration but now are being revived and made relevant to Japanese who are becoming disillusioned by modern, materialistic life.

Superb use of locations. Some of the editing was too frenetic and some camera work too MTV but the respect shown the lives of the mountain followers came through clearly and was worthy of our time and consideration.

Inspirational, moving.


Cloud 9


If you enjoy watching old people (60's-70's) having sex this is the film for you. If you don't this one's a pretty hard slog.

Minimalist in style, this film can be seen as a breakthrough but other than that it really has nothing to offer. Filmed and lit in the modern European style.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Free Spirits


The story of the life and death of a commune in Massachusetts from the late 60's to the 80's. These folks got into it with the best of intentions...sincerely trying to create a new way of life...rejecting the stultifying conformity of the Eisenhower 50's. It went great for a time but, like all the others, fell victim to the ego of the founder and the sheer impossibility of establishing a new way of life while surrounded and eventually engulfed by the mainstream.

This touched a large nostalgic note in me. I never did this but strongly felt the need for a movement like this. Sad story. Well done film.


Monday, September 28, 2009


anime Miyazaki

A marvelous film...maybe his best in a long, fruitful career. He adapted elements of Japanese folk legends and melded them with a personal, contemporary story and hit all the right notes. There are elements of the fantastic and the supernatural which are very different from western ideas.

The look was fabulous...fluid, liquid pastels in the ocean scenes contrast with the sharp. primary colors on land. No villains...all heroes. A fairy-tale resolution that was pitch-perfect for me.

Truly a triumph...a landmark in international cinema.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

You the Living


Typical Swedish comedy (?). Extremely droll, black humor which mostly serves to illustrate the pointlessness of the struggle of life. Bleak, institutional interiors. Constant rain and thunderstorms outside. Humiliation, social pain and ostracism everywhere...interspersed with some genuinely funny moments.

For whatever reason, I have a taste for this stuff (see Songs from the Second Floor) and enjoyed this one, in a lop-sided, left-handed sort of way.


Friday, September 25, 2009

The Headless Woman


A middle-aged, middle class woman hits something in the road and goes into prolonged shock, ceasing to function, walking around almost catatonic while those in her family lead her around. They act behind the scenes to cover up her crime (she has apparently killed a young boy), say soothing things to her and by the end of the film have succeeded in sweeping the incident under the table.

The filming style was all tight close-ups, with out-of-focus action taking place in the background. The lead mastered a form of vague pleasantness which served to deflect attention from her. A traumatic event took place in the midst of ordinary life and was for the perpetrator eased its way back to normal...the emotional ripples were felt elsewhere, out of sight and apparently out of mind.

Disturbing message made more potent by the sheer ordinariness of the setting.


The Cove


Very powerful, slickly done account of the slaughter of dolphins in a remote cove in eastern Japan where the animals are herded and killed for food.

This was intended as a polemic and is very effective as a call-to-action to stop this practice. The Japanese have a cultural blind spot against admitting that cetaceans are intelligent creatures entitled to protection and need an international wake-up call. This film may provide just that.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Wedding Song


Set in 1942 during the German occupation, this tells the story of the friendship between two teenage girls, about Arab, one Jewish. They get caught up in the madness sweeping through the world at that time but eventually their love for each other prevails.

A major theme throughout was the oppressive nature of the lives of women in that time and culture. Not much room for joy or fun. All they had was each other and sometimes even that was taken away by men's decisions.

Nice camera work. A solid, if slow, work of international cinema.




This followed the David/Goliath case of some Ecuadorian Indians taking on the multi-national behemoth Texaco. Extracting oil from their lands and dumping the waste in their water has resulted in some truly horrible diseases for these people who end up drinking this stuff because it's the only water around. They are seeking a remedy from the courts there and here. Good luck.

Do we really need another documentary telling us that big oil is foul, corrupt, without a conscience and just overall bad for the human race and it's environment? For those who would argue that yes we do, here's another one.




This feature had a superb look and the animation was first-rate. I saw it likened to the work of Swankmeyer and I agreed.

Unfortunately, after a promising opening the film took a disastrous turn toward the ridiculous and became a mego. Lots of stupid "action" accompanied by loud sound effects wore very thin. What is the purpose of presenting us with physical peril to a toon? Didn't these people watch Roger Rabbit?

A waste of some great technical skills.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

500 Days of Summer

Zoey Deschanel

Amerindie about a lovestruck 20-something who has a girlfriend for a while and then doesn't but pines for a time.

Told in jumbled-up fashion which helped. The story was pretty conventional and would have been so-what if presented straight. I got a bit tired of him mooning around but many of the scenes of them together were fun and a nice depiction of early love. Her big cow-eyes were striking...easy for me to see how a man could get lost in them.

Average for this genre.



France Charlotte Rampling

Nifty little mystery/thriller. Intense focus on four people whose lives are dramatically changed by what happens here but we are kept safely in the dark as to exactly what happened to whom or what caused it all. Beautifully acted by all hands...all of whom had to use subtle changes in expression and body language to lead us through the emotional labyrinth.

Nicely shot in that clean, well-lighted look Europeans favor these days. Nice use of the critters.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Family Law


Unlikable thirty-something law professor learns life lessons from his scrabbling lawyer father before the latter dies but remains a self-absorbed jerk.

They tried to cute up this character by having him do things like sleep in a business suit but it didn't work for me.


The Cats of Mirikitani


Soho filmmaker notices a homeless man in her neighborhood who is always drawing so she approaches him and discovers a story. He had been an internee at Tule Lake during the war and was bitter and abandoned by life. She gradually draws him out and fixes his life.

Sweet little film. How many stories are there floating around a city like New York? Few with resolutions as satisfying as this one.


Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Woman in Berlin


Superb adaption of an anonymous memoir published in 1959 about the fate of the women who were stuck in Berlin in April/May 1945 when the Red Army rolled in. Rape and pillage were the order of the day as the Russians sought revenge for the atrocities visited on them by the Nazis.

Extremely well done in all respects. I had read this and many other books on this topic which may have enriched my perceptions of the film. I could find no flaws here. It told a part of the story of the war that all participants, perps and victims, would rather see buried.




This year's Oscar winner for BFF. It's the story of a cellist who loses his gig and takes a job preparing dead bodies for cremation. In Japan the cleaning, dressing and making up is done in front of the family and is typically ritualistic.

Well cast and acted, some broad humor centering on disgust and ostracism. Hurt some by the overweening sentimentality that plagues Eastern films that deal with emotional issues. But the direction and editing were first-rate and even at 2 hours, it raced by.

A mixed success.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

District 9

South Africa

This was a hoot. Aliens come to SA and instead of being frightening or all-powerful end up being a despised minority, living in a slum and disparagingly called Prawns because that's what they look like.

This was done for laughs and worked beautifully for me in my jr high school mode. Lots of gore, lickety split action, conventional, satisfying resolution. A good time was had by all.

Produced by Peter Jackson and it shared his sensibility. Great fun.


The Silence Before Bach

This was intended as an homage to JS Bach and was assembled like Don McKellar's 32 Short Films About Glen Gould. Not all of the segments here worked, though. Some were tedious and, even though the music this guy created was and is nonpareil I found my attention wandering.

This was an expensive production (even included throwing a piano in a lake from a crane) and lovingly intended but it really didn't work as a film. Too bad...he really was a genius whose music should last forever.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Burma VJ


Live footage smuggled out of Burma in 2007 during the uprising against the brutal military rule. All hand-held and difficult to watch. Not enough historical context or, especially, present-day geo-political context to make this whole story understandable.

At this point it's not news that those in power will use whatever force they have available to maintain their privileges. Who are they serving? Who is supporting them, and why?

There's a larger story here which is ignored, to this film's detriment.

Striking how the desire for fairness and democracy is universal and strong. Uprisings only work when the leadership says SHOOT and the thugs don't. Then you have change.


Monday, August 31, 2009

Taking Woodstock

d/ Ang Lee

This was a comic (?) telling of the coming together of the music festival that ever since has served as shorthand for the 60's, itself shorthand for the rejection of the rottenness and conformity of the overweening corporate culture.

The humor was too broadly played for my taste and even though it was based on a true story I thought they schlocked it up beyond the point of my limited tolerance for this kind of drivel. Too bad. The audience I saw it with seemed to respond, like sheep, to the programmed cues.

Every theme here has been done better. See A Walk on the Moon, for example.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Into the Wild

Emile Hirsch d/Sean Penn

Here we follow the adventures of a troubled young man who is unable to accept the hypocrisy of his parents and their way of life so he sets out to find a life which is more pure, more in accord with his ideals. He ends up in Alaska, living in an abandoned school bus and eventually starves to death.

Although he is presented to us as a likable, appealing guy, I found it difficult to avoid the idea that he was a jerk. Yes it's tragic that he died, and, yes his parents and the world are less than perfect but all bright people come to similar realizations at some point but don't head out into a hostile, uncaring environment completely unprepared. He suffered the consequences for his pig-headed impulsiveness. So it goes.

Beautifully directed...Penn's best work behind the camera so far.


The Iron Giant


Taken from a story by Ted Hughes, this was a delightful attempt to re-create the look and feel of 50's sci-fi films. You've got your big scary monster who is befriended by a misunderstood boy and together they fight off the evil forces who are running the world.

This was a winner in all respects. Great look, pacing, voice actors, storyline...everything. Fun for kids and adults.


Friday, August 28, 2009

The Lookout


Nice little film. We follow a brain-damaged 20-something as he gets unwittingly sucked in t0 a bank robbing scheme. His character's strengths and limitations were nicely established before the plot kicked in so we had a film that was half character study, half thriller.

Set in Kansas, it made good use of locations to convey the squalidness and limitations on the lead. Solid supporting players. Overall, nice work.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Abyss

Ed Harris, Michael Biehn w/d James Cameron

Outstanding adventure story with a nice alien twist. A bit too touchy-feely at the end but the trip getting there was so interesting and so well done that I was willing to forgive.

Kudos to the cast for what had to be an extremely demanding shoot.

The typed commentary was too fast to follow but what I could read really enhanced my appreciation for Cameron's imagination and dedication. This guy deserves the acclaim and clout he now receives from hollywood.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Goodbye Solo

Ramin Bahrani

A child-like Senegalese cab driver working the mean streets of Winston-Salem, NC takes an obsessive interest in a morose fare, decides the latter is bent on committing suicide (through an absurd plot contrivance) and decides to try and talk him out of it. His concern is rejected but he persists to the point of obnoxiousness.

Along the way we learn of the real-life troubles the cabbie faces. He was meant to be sympathetic but I had trouble accepting his behavior. If he got this involved with everybody he'd have no time for his own life.

I thought this was misconceived. Performances were good but the material was fatally flawed.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Twist and Shout

Denmark d/Bille August

Set in 1963, this was a coming-of-age film that featured the friendship between two young men separated by their new-found interest in young women but ultimately brought together in a resolution that had them battered but still bonded by their love for each other.

The film was released in 1983 and I don't think I've seen a drama with these themes done better before or since. Some of the specific conflicts were time/culture dependent but the universal nature of the process of growing up and facing adult realities made this applicable to all times and all countries.

Another feather for this director.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Lower Depths

Jean Renoir

Taken from a story by Maxim Gorky. This deals with a thief and his milieu in the bottom of French society, including a baron who has gambled away all his money. Too broadly played for my eye. This struck me as somewhere between real life and a cartoon. The grit, grime and ignorance of life at the bottom was glossed over. The attempt to end it as a fairy tale was reminiscent of the end of Modern Times, released the same year.

Very few films from this period (1936) hold up today. This wasn't one of them.


Saturday, August 22, 2009


Sam Rockwell

I really wanted to like this one. There are too few intelligent sci-fi efforts and I was hoping this would be thought-provoking and mind-expanding. It wasn't. It suffered from Near Dark syndrome for one...the protagonist became sick and as the story went along he got sicker and sicker. We in the audience don't want to identify with a sick lead.

I never really cared about the central mystery. I could see that the characters cared but I was emotionally detached all the way through. When it came the resolution was a lame cliche.

It didn't help that I just saw Aliens again. That film treated the theme of outer space adventure/ scummy corporation so much better than this one.

I thought the miniatures looked like miniatures. One good exterior shot couldn't rescue this one. Too bad.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009



The life and times of Iron Mike...arguably the greatest boxer of all time and the one who made complete hash of his life because of ignorance, hubris and towering stupidity. He sponsored this piece which means he got lots of screen time to present himself (he is strangely affecting with his soft-spoken, lisping delivery) in the best possible light but it's not possible to see him as other than a vicious violent monster who is distinguished by his ability to beat other men (and women) into senselessness.

Well done, captivating doc.


D W Griffith


Produced by Thames Television and done by Kevin Brownlow, this was typically first rate...gave a good sense of where he came from, what he produced in the course of his career, how he fit into film history and what remains of his legacy.

This could be used as a model for what a film documentary should contain.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Yankee Doodle Dandy

James Cagney

Big budget Hollywood extravaganza celebrating the life and career of George M. Cohan. Released in 1942 this also served to drum up flag-waving patriotism for WWII.

Many large scale production numbers, interspersed with quiet scenes from Cohan's family life. Cagney filled the screen with his presence and energy.

Great fun in an old-fashioned kind of way.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Glen Hansard

Sweet little film about two young Dubliners, he a native, she a Czech immigrant, who find each other and come together through music.

This was the best melding of music and film I've seen. Songs were written and performed by GH, a once-popular Irish pop star. The chemistry between the two principals seemed realistic and just plain right. All romantics believe they end up together.

A quiet triumph.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

My Blueberry Nights

Wong Kar Wei Norah Jones, Natalie Portman, Jude Law

This wasn't on the same level as his master works - In the Mood For Love, 2046 - but it had many of the same visual elements. That is his strength...his compositions, use of layering and particularly his use of color. His camera work is liquid, the cream flowing sensually over the blueberry pie in the film's visual motif.

The story meandered some and was partly hampered by a sense of contrivance but by the end it had won me over as a credible coming-of-age drama. NJ lacks on-screen charisma and couldn't really anchor the film. The supporting players were strong, especially NP in a dual role.

A solid effort with minor flaws.


Friday, August 7, 2009

The Wackness

Ben Kingsley, Josh Peck w/d Jonathan Levine

I thought this suffered from the same flaws that sunk Royal Tennenbaums for me: we were presented with unlikable people pursuing scuzzy occupations (drug dealer, fraudulent psychiatrist) and asked to care for them. I didn't find the sight of this kid pushing his ice cream cart filled with drugs around NYC funny or cute. His relationship with the shrink came across as phony. Most of the people on screen loathed themselves and each other and I pretty much agreed...they were loathsome.

The courtship had its moments...particularly the outdoor shower scene...and it rang true to life but at the end I didn't care about the resolution. At all. This was forgettable to me.


Tropic Thunder

Ben Stiller, Nick Nolte

This one was really terrible. Crude, sophomoric, ugly stupid. The premise was asinine and it went downhill from there. I read good reviews of this turkey. What the hell is wrong with those people?

Expensive...lots of explosions for the droolers.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Let's Get Lost


The life, times and music of Chet Baker, jazz trumpeter, breathy singer, junkie, rotten husband and father, user in all senses.

The guy was a pig but his music was wonderful. Once again a reminder that we have to judge great artists by their work and not their selves.

The present-day footage suffered from MTV, of course.


Monday, August 3, 2009

The Incredible Shrinking Man

Grant Williams

Written by Richard Matheson, this is one of the great classics from the 50's sci-fi era. Although the effects look pretty dated they still work to create a sense of the reality of what this guy was going through. Many wordless scenes. Great use of over-sized props and clever camera angles.

The resolution was outstanding...with Scott Carey, after all his trials and triumphs merging with the infinite.


Way Down Town

Fabrizio Filipo

This film played with the madness/insanity of life in the cube this case in Calgary. Four 20 somethings make a bet that they can live their entire lives without going outside.

Wildly exaggerated situations helped some by the imaginative camera/editing work. Some of this was pretty funny or at least amusing. Just not enough. Nice effort though.

Oh, those Canadians...


Friday, July 31, 2009

The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow

Outstanding film. We follow the lives of a squad of bomb disposal guys around Baghdad. Their job has intrinsic suspense but she was savvy enough to vary the situations and not lock into just one thing.

She succeeded in morphing the film from a war picture to a genuine human drama. The characters all had believable personalities, fears, lives. The hand-held camera irked at first but it was so appropriate to the subject that I withdrew my objection pretty early on. I read that they used a four-camera set-up and shot 200 hours of film which was then edited down to two hours.

Well constructed, shot, paced. Her best film.



James Cameron

Still my vote for the best monster movie ever made. This works on every level. The additional footage does help to flesh out the characters, particularly the scene with Ripley's past revealed.


The Union


Extremely well done Canadian piece on the marijuana issue...who grows it, who uses it, what harm, if any, it causes...all of it. An objective examination of this topic, which this is, comes up against the seeming irrationality of the public policy, which appears to be stupid in the extreme.

But, when someone else's behavior appears to be irrational, it's likely that he's marching to the sound of a drummer you can't hear. I think that's the case here. I don't know for sure who's beating the drum for criminalization but I do know that's it's not being done in the public interest.

Good stuff.


Monday, July 27, 2009

The Book Bag

Amerindie Chris Colt

focused inside the workings of an inner city high school. The theft of the titular bag is used as a device to get into the lives, motives, problems, yearnings, hypocrisy of teachers, administrators and students.

Surprisingly strong cast, particularly the lead, who conveyed a nice combination of caring, irony and naivete. A female student actor also shone. No-budget film was hurt by a dogma 95 look and feel but the story was so well constructed that I didn't care.

A sleeper.


Lassie Come Home

Roddy Mcdowell, Elizabeth Taylor

MGM 1943.

This was the first film made from the 1939 novel and it's a doozy. Spectacular locations, strong story (not overly sentimental!), good pacing, characters. Beautiful lighting all the way through. Excellent matte work.

I was prepared for treacle but found instead a sweet little story made with pride and skill.


Friday, July 24, 2009

Cama Adentro (Live-in Maid)


Because of Argentina's economic crisis recently some formerly wealthy folk lost everything and had to adapt. This story focuses on the changing relationship between a maid who had served a family for 28 years and her mistress who can't afford to pay her anymore.

Done with subtlety, looks, alterations in hair style, dress. An intelligent treatment of the shifting nature of social relationships.

Both players were excellent.


No End in Sight


Pretty standard, mainstream account of the etiology of the Iraq war and occupation. I didn't think these people really understood what was and is going on in that poor land but this was slick enough that it held my interest all the way through.

For a reality check see One of Peter Dale Scott's Deep Politics books or virtually anything by Michael Parenti.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

O Amor Natural

documentary Brazil/Holland

A Dutch film crew went around Rio and asked older people to read aloud for the camera the erotic verses of Carlos Drummond De Andrade, Brazil's poet laureate. The poems were explicit but not pornographic (whatever that is) and the people read them with no sign of self- consciousness.

The film ended up being a celebration of sensuality and sexuality, an affirmation of one of life's primal forces. I couldn't help but wonder what's wrong with our culture, what's wrong with us as a people that we see this topic as something dirty, something to be ashamed of, something to hide, to treat as unspeakable. Shame on us.


Birthday Girl

Britain Nicole Kidman, Ben Chaplin

Very charming little film with several unexpected twists and turns. We are led in one direction only to have it change abruptly and then switch again later on. It ended up being an unusual chase/thriller and unusually sweet love story.

NK was outstanding as the title gift. She reportedly learned Russian for the role, totally de-glamorized herself using poor makeup, awkward body language, etc. One of her best performances in a variegated career.

A sleeper gem.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Disappeared

documentary Argentina

Sad piece on one of the side effects of Argentina's dirty war of the 70's. After killing student leftists the military would steal their babies and give them to favored couples. In this film we follow the journey of a man in his late 20's as he discovers the truth of his parentage.

Film was sharpened by interviews of unreconstructed and unrepentant military guys who dismiss everything we just saw with scorn...didn't happen, wasn't true, etc.

This drive to dominance and repression seems to be universal, simply part of the human condition. It's now developing here and I see no hope that we will ever remove this behavior from the social mix.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Food, Inc.


This film confirms the messages in Omnivore's Dilemma and Fast Food Nation. The industrial food growing and delivery system is designed by and for bidness needs, the needs of the public be damned. Health, nutrition, safety...all that is just so much bother to be dealt with by PR.

The corporate model may be approaching its swan song soon. It is so corrupt and rotten...right to the core...that fixing it seems a fool's mission. And it's so foul that no matter how they try and pretty it up the stench comes through.

Time for "the people" to look to the only example for cleaning out rot that has ever worked...1789. Until then...somebody get me a cheeseburger.


Lili and the Baobab

France Romane Bohringer

A thirtyish, unmarried French woman goes to a sister village in West Africa to take some photographs and finds herself emotionally intertwined with one of the women living there. She ends up supporting this outcast and her illegitimate child.

Very slight story. Much screen time devoted to connecting shots. This had the flavor of an idea that was only partly developed. Not enough backstory to give us a sense of who these people really were and why we should care about them.

No cigar.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures


1942 Brazil's northeast hinterlands. A German national escapes the war traveling the barren wastes selling what was then a new, miracle product...aspirin. He hooks up with a local and the two make an odd couple going from town to town.

Film vaguely reminded me of Bye, Bye Brazil. The two leads played well off each other and though neither was particularly likable I found myself fond of both by journey's end.

Nice, modest little film.


Love, Actually

Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson

Sweeping romantic fantasy with a British twist. A roundelay of stories featuring several loosely connected characters all seeking, and sometimes finding love.

Beautiful-looking production. Not every story worked but enough did to trick the viewer into thinking that it was possible, even likely, that any of us could find true love, in some form, just around the next turn. Smartly leavened with enough disappointment to keep the film roughly within the realms of the real.

Fun and satisfying.


Sunday, July 12, 2009



Sad, sweet little film about loneliness, alienation, the difficulty in communication, connection in contemporary society.

We follow four characters who are frabbing around looking for...something. Leavened with a touch of surrealism, a dash of tragedy, some bitter sarcasm and pointed commentary on modern life.

Intelligent, winning, touching.


Milo and Otis


I see this as the best kids' movie ever. We follow the live action adventures of a dog and cat in the wilds of Australia. Some of the animal footage is astonishing. The story is engaging and perfectly suited to children of all ages.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Good Shepherd

Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie d/ Robert De Niro

The life and times of James Jesus Angleton, spy, counter-spy, privileged preppie, weirdo and all around creep. This guy was a Bonesman, travelled in the highest circles and represents the worst of us, ruthless, selfish, bloodless, cold...a murderer in a three piece suit.

Played absolutely deadpan by Damon which was off-putting but apparently true to character. Big budget film was expensive looking and overall, a pretty good look at the inner workings of the CIA. It easily held me for 2 1/2 hours.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Iron Man

Robert Downey w/d Jon Favreau

This was cartoon level material...essentially a variation on the batman theme: a richie decides to use his money to fight bad guys and creates some high tech gadgets to do it.

This had all the tools of modern filmmaking available and used them well. Lots of CGI, rapid-fire pacing, even a fearsome bad guy (Jeff Bridges?...a long way from Starman).

Loud, fun junk.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Last Kiss

Zach Braff

This was a remake of an Italian film I tried to watch once but couldn't get through because I thought all the characters were obnoxious assholes and I couldn't stand watching them screw up their lives, loudly.

Well, surprise, surprise this team managed to retain everything that sucked about the original and cast players who were even less attractive. Good old American know-how strikes again.


Monday, July 6, 2009

Open Hearts

Denmark Mads Mikkelson

Exceptional personal drama. A dogma 95 film but it didn't matter. Great script, performances and even the hand-held camera was done with intelligence and restraint.

A young man is crippled in an accident...we follow the aftermath for his girlfriend and the family of the car that hit him. Why are the Europeans so much better than we are with this kind of human story?

Good stuff.


Last Chance Harvey

Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson

Here we get to watch two old pros take on a script entirely constructed of cliches and make it work. Harvey comes across as something of a loser but the redemptive powers of a good woman bring him back to life. The magic here is that these two players make us believe, in spite of all the many roles we've seen them play, in their characters.

Set in a sunny London(!), this was sweet and satisfying.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Public Enemies

Johnny Depp, Marion Cotard d/ Michael Mann

I guess there's not much new you can do with a film about a notorious gangster. This has been a popular subject from the 30's and has been covered by some real talents. The peak achievement was surely the first two Godfather movies which dealt with all the familiar themes with such artistry that they transcended the genre and established a standard all who followed would have to equal or be seen as irrelevant.

Like Mann here. This film was slick in a razzle-dazzle surface sort of way but never became more than a series of loud, frantically edited shoot-em-ups strung between some pointless character-development scenes. After an hour I was bored and the damn thing went on for another hour and a half.

The players were all skilled but poorly directed. All spoke with a solemnity that reduced the film to a caricature. No one in real life has ever talked like these people.

I was dismayed to see that the modern plague of extreme close-ups, hand-held camera, and rapid fire editing has made its way to major feature films. It's become so pervasive that hereafter I'll abbreviate my criticism to MTV, which was apparently the source for this trend.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Other Side of the Tracks


An atmospheric ghost story. Beautiful lighting and cine all the way well done that that held my interest to the end.

The story was OK eventually but getting there was annoying. The writer/director deliberately withheld lots of information until over an hour most of the time we didn't know what the hell was going on. We were stuck with a protagonist who was inarticulate and mostly looked at the floor. I wanted to hit him up side the head. I was also confused about the film's view of the spirit world.

Everything was a little too enigmatic for a little too long. Still, a nice effort. Almost a cigar.




Here we follow a guy around who has ALS. He travels all over the world interacting with others who have the disease, looking for a cure and, perhaps, wisdom.

Hurt some by being narrated by the subject, whose speech has been changed by the disease so he speaks slowly and mushily.

Docked for the usual annoying camera bullshit.


The Onion Movie


A bunch of short bits, some of which were pretty funny. The usual mix of low comedy and political/social satire.

This team produces the most consistent comedy on the current scene.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I like Killing Flies


Shopsin's restaurant in Greenwich Village. Ken is a major character, larger than life, who starts out here as offensive but gradually becomes likable as the film progresses.

Yet another doc hurt by vertiginous camera work. Maybe we should ban zooms. And require tripods. This stuff gives me a headache and makes me seasick. Too bad.


Standard Operating Procedure

documentary Errol Morris

Abu Graib. In all its sordid, white trash ugliness. There wasn't anything particularly revealing in this film...all the salient facts had been released in 2004...but it was useful in giving us the thoughts, motivations and the sheer, utter banality of the bozos who tortured those Iraqis.

Morris made it clear that these people were following the wishes and orders of the military leadership, up to and including Rumsfeld. But he also made it clear how easy it is for the powerful to steer the sheep in a nasty direction. I was struck by the lack of remorse, the inability of the perps to understand just how evil they had been. They saw themselves as victims...which they were...scapegoats...but they were monsters to their victims.

Twas ever thus.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009


documentary Jessica Yu

Here we trace the life arc of four men who go through some extreme life trials, are changed and emerge wiser,or at least different in outlook. There was a gay christian, a German radical, a martial arts expert and Mex/Amer bank robber.

She used push puppets to illustrate the theme of Greek tragedy involved in these lives...a technique which was off-putting at first but did universalize the stories. That plus talking heads, family photos and videos told the story.

This was interesting and succeeded in stretching out the form.


Beauty in Trouble


Contemporary slice-of-life fairy tale. A beautiful woman with two kids whose husband goes to prison for car theft meets a richie who sweeps her of her feet and spirits her and the kids away to his estate in Tuscany. Extremely improbable story made a bit more palatable by having her deal with her outrageously annoying relatives. Does Czech culture allow some special license for people to be obnoxious?

This was well enough done to hold me all the way but other than the anthropological points the film was unmemorable.


Monday, June 29, 2009


Nicole Kidman w/d Lars von Trier

This was a big surprise. I had read when it was released that it was an anti-American screed but didn't find it so. It spoke more as a comment on the human condition.

Shot on a bare soundstage with a fabulous cast, it was a hybrid play/film. The dialogue, voiceover, staging and the skill of the actors created its own little world where the morality play believably unfolded. The scenario had a nice arc which only failed in my mind when it got to the resolution, which seemed too crude...bludgeoning the audience after gently leading them through the complex emotions of the story.

An obvious reference was Our Town, with which this film favorably compares.

His trademark, hand-held camera work occasionally became irritating to me but overall it succeeded in giving a sense of motion to a stage-bound story.

Long, at 3 hours, it easily held me. Special kudos to NK...this ranks with her finest film performances.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Windmill Movie

documentary (sort of)

This was a lifelong project by a solipsistic richie who taught film at Harvard for years.

It's a multi-decade whine about how hard it is to be born into a rich family but to have no sense of purpose or direction. There was no limit to his self-pity.

For a student of film this work was very poorly done...filled with whip-pans, out of focus shots, nervous camera movement, etc. Some "friend" assembled this mess after his death in what was apparently intended as an homage but in fact ends up holding Rogers up to ridicule and everlasting contempt.


Away We Go

d/ Sam Mendes

I really hated this one. It started with an unfunny sex scene and went downhill from there.

We follow an everycouple as they go from place to place and deal with absurd grotesques who are supposed to represent a cross-section of contemporary life. Very crude and heavy-handed. I constantly felt I was being treated like a moron. A couple of chuckles didn't help pull this off the dung heap. Written by Dave Eggers which explains a lot...I hated his book too.

Mendes three films show an unmistakable contempt for American society. He needs to deal with a subject with which he is at least a little more familiar.

The last ten minutes or so were a sweet grace note but he lost me long before then.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Philip Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei d/Sidney Lumet

Old-fashioned thriller, modernized by flash-forwards and flash-backs. Compelling drama involving a robbery, killings and the breakdown of a family.

Lumet at 83 has pulled off a real stinger. Excellent performances by the three leads. Good support from all except Albert Finney, whose open-mouthed, bug-eyed look got old.

This was so strong I didn't mind spending two hours with such disagreeable characters. Nice work.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Cherry Blossoms

Germany d/ Doris Dorrie

Nice film with some sweet visual touches. It was essentially a remake of Tokyo Story and as much as I tried not to I kept comparing it to that great work and, unfortunately, it consistently came up short. Ozu's film was subtler, more restrained, more intelligent and had a stronger impact.

This veered into fresh territory in the second half when it moved to Japan with some nice footage at the cherry blossom festival, shots highlighting the monstrousness of contemporary architecture and the Mount Fuji scenes. But the artifice of the lead's relationship with the traditional dancer and, especially, his on-cue death clunked badly for me.

The theme of parents' disappointment at the callousness and indifference of their grown children was played with too heavy a hand. Over and over I was thinking...OK, I got it, move on...but she didn't.

Too bad, but you really need to be careful remaking one of the great films of all time.


Monday, June 22, 2009



Austria's oscar nominee. Starts out with some chicanery in a Viennese brothel but shifts into a compelling psychodrama set in a small village. Personal drama and the stark contrast between the sleazy city and the peaceful, more healthy countryside make up the dominant themes.

Excellent acting by all hands. Strong mise-en-scene, several nice director's touches - all subtle - gave the film the breadth and depth that would satisfy any student of film.

A solid work of world cinema.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Stuff and Dough


Here we follow some twenty-something losers as they get caught up in some kind of smuggling racket. They encounter violence and unexpected difficulties in their crude introduction to real life.

Two problems for me: These three characters were such bone-headed morons, continually making the wrong, stupid decisions. It was hard for me to find sympathy for them. And the entire film was done with hand-held camera with loud ambient a crude dogma 95 film. Not fatal flaws but they did hurt. Strong sense of immediacy and verisimilitude helped make up for the second flaw. The two guys were meatheads though.

Turns out Romania is like a lower rent Central Falls.


Act of God


Pretty interesting film roughly based on the confluence of man and electricity. Lightening storms, stories of people hit and/or killed by strikes, lots of footage of raging storms culled from Youtube.

All this was juxtaposed with Fred Frith (experimental guitarist) playing some wild improvisations while hooked up to brain monitors which were keeping track of the electrical impulses shooting around his head.

The film had a New York sensibility but managed to avoid being arch or snide. Provocative and well done.


Monday, June 15, 2009

The Exiles


Made in 1961, this was a fictionalized treatment of the life of Indians living in LA, cut off from their culture, their land, their sense of purpose.

Nicely filmed in B/W. Marred some by the obvious post-production sound including all dialogue.
Voiceover helped in giving us these folks' inner thoughts. Interesting museum piece.


The Garden


The story of a group of mexican/americans who have cultivated a garden in South Central LA ever since the Rodney King riots. They get evicted by a sleazy developer and try to fight city hall and the powers that be. Guess who wins?

Well done, slanted piece. Nothing new here...just another day of the man pressing his boot in their face.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Revolutionary Road

Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio d/ Sam Mendes

Scabrous look at the time of the Organization Man, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. This was a two-hour diatribe, a shrieking in the face of the audience about the pointlessness of the American Dream. More of a polemical expression of outrage than a filmed drama.

Both players were so good I was able to overlook the grievous flaws in the screenplay...for a time, at least. Their comfortable lives of middle class 1950's mediocrity were painted with such a negative brush I was hoping the entire cast would commit seppuku.

A truth-telling crazy guy went too far over the top for me to accept, even as a dramatic device. He was one of the clumsiest characters I've seen on screen.

Mendes is British who seems to truly hate America and all it purports to stand for. I don't disagree with his political/social views but he might want to use some other type of forum for his screeds. They do not a movie make.

This was more an agonizing train wreck than a feature film. Spare us...


Souls Without Borders


The sad, sad story of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade...that group of Americans, many Jewish, who volunteered to go to Spain in 1937 to fight for the Republic and against the fascists, for the people, against the oligarchs, for freedom, liberty and the dignity of man, against tyranny and the rule of and for the few.

Well, they lost. They were slaughtered in large numbers, Franco reigned for forty years. More poignantly the fascists never gave up their mission to dominate the "people" and today have almost complete hegemony.

The notion of people laying their lives on the line for a proletarian ideal is so foreign to today's sensibilities it belongs to the time of the gavotte or even hand-hewn stone tools. Where are the heroes of today? Where is the belief in the betterment of mankind? Gone to flowers everyone...


Thursday, June 11, 2009



The story of the Uraguayan footballers whose plane crashed in the Andes in 1972 and survived by eating the bodies of their dead comrades. The film featured talking heads of the survivors, some actual photos and a bizarre attempt at re-creating the actual experience, using damaged film stock, excessive light flare, etc.

Moving story but I had some serious reservations about the reenactments which kept distracting me from the real story.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Horse Boy


Pretty graphic demonstration of the nightmare of trying to raise and socialize an autistic child, that mysterious ailment that has cropped up in recent times. This 4 year old was either disengaged or throwing an hours-long tantrum. He wasn't toilet trained and didn't respond to kindness, soothing, etc.

These parents, in desperation took him to be "treated" by a series of shaman in Mongolia. This film is about that trip. Not too many claims here about the effectiveness of the treatment although he did end up miraculously better by the end. Why? Who can say?

This film, like so many others these days featured aggravating camerawork, zoom pans, extremely restless editing. It became so irritating I had to avert my eyes from the screen and just listen which was too bad because the landscape was spectacular. I'd like to strap these directors in a chair, prop open their eyes and force them to watch films shot like this until they scream for mercy.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Greening of Southie


Building a green condo complex in the middle of Southie. Interesting step-by-step treatment of all the new materials used in a modern green building but it's also sad to think of that bunch of neighborhoods getting yuppified. I suppose if it can happen to Hoboken it can happen anywhere. But Southie? Next Charlestown? Oy!


Earth Days


Talking heads piece on the birth, growth and demise of the environmental movement in the US. Hey, what difference does it make if we foul our only nest as long as a few of us get even richer. Is this a great country or what?

Damn Reagan to hell.


Sunday, June 7, 2009

David and Fatima


A jewish boy and an arab girl fall in love in contemporary Israel with the expected complications, angry reaction from their families, friends, etc. Sort of like the Montagues with modern weaponry.

Well done in all respects...appealing leads, exceptional cine, realistic setting and dramatic movement...just good work all around. A troubling film with the specter of violence always present.




This film deals with the effect of the "dirty war" of the 70's on a marked family of dissidents. We follow them into hiding and the disruptions this status leads to in their daily life.

Solid work, well-written, acted. Unremarkable direction, cinematography. Just intelligent filmmaking of a time and a place.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Bad Faith


A thirtyish couple, she a Jew, he an Arab become pregnant and their blithe belief in the power of love gets tested. Problems with their families and the clash of their core cultures bring tension, sorrow, heartbreak. Montagues and Capulets.

Well-acted, chattering class film that led us down reality road until the final ten minutes brought us a breathless race against time and an irritatingly happy ending. Grrr.




Ah, the wonderful, incredible world of asparagus farmers in western Michigan. This was a window into a world that those of us who live on the East coast can't even imagine. While there were some serious issues dealt with here, it was the behavior of the citizenry in flyover country that was the real story.

Good folk, solid, hard-working people but I'm really glad they're there and I'm not. You haven't lived until you've seen asparagus disco.