Thursday, April 30, 2009



Nicely done small film about the unravelling of a marriage on its tenth anniversary. Good use of locations and close focus on the principals gave this a solid air of truth. Painful to watch at times...a little too much like peering in someone's window and checking out their family secrets...but that's what made it worth watching.

Good job.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sunshine Cleaning

Alan Arkin, Amy Adams, Emily Blunt

American indie which focuses on the inner working of a damaged family. Played somewhat for laughs but overall this wasn't very funny. The business of cleaning up after messy deaths is a useful metaphor but I didn't think this film used it very well. It all seemed to me like sort-of clever hollywood screenwriting.

The players were uniformly good...better than the material they had to work with. I kept wanting it to be better. I'm not sure how and I suspect the filmmakers weren't either.


Wrong Move

Germany   Wim Wenders  Hanna Schygulla, Natassia Kinski

A 70's effort that is almost a parody of bleak, European existential angst. None of the relationships here bore any resemblance to those in real life. There were several scenes that were so incongruous I laughed aloud. 

There was one spectacular dolly shot up a winding mountain road that alone made the film worth watching. 

Unengaging, wreathed in irony, disillusionment, alienation, abstract intellectualism. Capped by suicide.

What's not to like?


Monday, April 27, 2009

The Necessities of Life


Set in 1952, we follow an Eskimo who is taken from his home and shipped to a TB hospital in Quebec as part of a government program to "help" native peoples. No one speaks his language, he is isolated, away from his family and suffering from the disease.

For a while this seemed like insensitive cruelty, even if well intentioned but the lead was so dignified and fundamentally decent that the film won me over. His connection with a kindly nurse transforms the experience for him and for us. The eventual resolution was cliched but acceptable. 

Canada's oscar entry.




This dealt exclusively, indeed myopically, with Italy's criminal underclass. Every scene was set in a scuzzy location. Every character was somehow involved in criminal activity. Every so often extreme violence would burst wasn't always clear who was killing whom and in the end it didn't really matter.  One character says...we've gotta make some corpses...and so they do.

There was nothing new here, nothing to learn. No insight. Just ugly people doing unspeakable things to each other for two hours. And counting money, seeing prostitutes, shooting guns and playing video games.

It just doesn't get bleaker or less hopeful than this.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Everlasting Moments

Sweden   d/ Jan Troell

Another solid work by this overlooked Swedish Master. For thirty years now he has been producing world class films but remains unknown to American audiences.

Here we follow the fortunes of a lower class family with many (7) children, a proud mother with an artistic bent and a crude, unlettered, sometime violent father. Her refuge is photography which at the time this is set...early 20th uncommon. JT builds a complete portrait, step by careful step, which satisfies in the same way a novel by Trollope does. These people seem real, have substance and their eventual fate matters to us.

It pleases me that he continues to produce work of this caliber.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Revolt of Job


An aging Jewish couple adopt a christian boy and raise him as their heir to ensure that they leave behind a descendant. Set in the late 1930's, the rise of the Nazis ensures that their demise comes about sooner than they thought.

Nicely cast with solid acting all around. Strong mise-en-scene accurately portrayed the mud-splattered quality of rural Hungarian life. Loving take on Jewish culture which I found interesting as anthropology. Very touching resolution.

Overall, a successful evocation of a time and a place.



Japan  Kurosawa

This is the film the brought Japanese cinema to a world audience and became so well known that the word has entered the lexicon, meaning the unknowability of truth.

Beautifully photographed and structured. We "witness" a crime from four different perspectives and never really learn what happened. Each teller shades his account to make himself look better and hide his failings. K's point is that this is elemental human behavior and that the search for an absolute such as truth isn't possible given who/what we are.

Marred somewhat by the histrionic overacting endemic to Eastern films. Still, an intelligent treatment of a profound truth.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

OSS 117


Spoof of the James Bond films from the sixties. 

As a comedy this was a little thin...after all, it was basically one joke...but the lead was terrific and it moved along quickly enough that I was never tempted to turn it off. And it made me laugh aloud several times. Not bad for a French comedy. Much better than the Michael Myers nonsense.


Sacco and Vanzetti


Solid, professional piece on the trial and execution of two Italian immigrants who came to the promised land, saw the ugly face of capitalism from the bottom, found themselves morally repulsed and took up with a movement that, naively, thought the system could be reformed. Quels fools.

The "evidence" against them was non-existent so the Brahmins made some up and killed them anyway. That'll teach em to seek justice or fairness from the ruling class.

Twas ever thus...and so it continues to this day...


Monday, April 20, 2009

The Violin


A story about some peasants fighting against government oppressors in an unstated area of contemporary Mexico. We follow an old violin player who uses wile as his part of the struggle. 

Beautiful B/W photography and camera movement throughout. Strong casting and an intelligent script kept this out of the cliche ranks. The link with legend was subtle and gave the film an heroic quality which stories like this strive for and seldom achieve.

Good stuff.


The Class


The daily life of a teacher of French in a present-day Paris school. This was a fictionalized treatment of the protagonist's own experience and was done with such verisimilitude that for the entire film I thought it was a documentary. 

This showed the nature of an ongoing dynamic that is teaching...the thrust and parry, the engagement that teachers go through trying to "educate" teenagers in a traditional system. It succeeded in making me glad I'm not a teacher.

Outstanding work.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Close Up

Iran   Abbas Kiarostami

This may be the ultimate pick-up film. AK saw an item in the paper about a guy who was being prosecuted for impersonating a famous Iranian film director, so he dropped the project he was working on, filmed this guy's arraignment and court hearing and then reenacted several scenes which lead up to the guy's arrest for fraud. Presto...instant film.

The line between fiction and reality was often muddled here which served to give the film added weight. It's not a documentary...some scenes were obviously staged...but it all had the flavor of real life. The guy was likably pathetic, which helped.

An oddball novelty which I felt was worth my time, if only for the view into the Iranian judicial system.


Thursday, April 16, 2009


Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber

Jews living in the forest and fighting Nazis as partisans in Belarus in WW2. This was based on a true story but was so hollywoodized that by the end I was fighting off a sense of scorn for what was obviously intended as an homage. There was even a cavalry-coming-over-the-hill- scene at the end to save all the beatific people we've been following for two hours.

Both leads were excellent...everything they do is...and they managed to raise the film above eye-rolling dismissal. But just being well-meaning and roughly factual doesn't make for a successful moviegoing experience.


The Last Mistress

France  Asia Argento

This tells the story of a long term love affair in 19th century Paris. It was nice looking in a conventional sort of way and I pretty much bought the level of passion between the two leads which was necessary to drive the story but I didn't really care how this resolved. The lies and machinations of over-privileged French twits just doesn't reach me.

The film was burdened by some soft core sex scenes which were unimaginative and poorly lit. AA has an earthy, almost trashy quality which helped give her character credibility while at the same time placing her outside the upper class.

A professional film which I'll likely forget completely in a month.


Monday, April 13, 2009



The writings of Hunter Thompson in the early 70's were a tonic to my eyes. His over-the-top rage against the machine echoed mine, made me laugh and made me feel that I wasn't alone. FOUR MORE YEARS! Of course he was greatly aided by Ralph Steadman.

Well, it turns out that Hunter was a complete jerk...a drunken, mean-spirited, self-absorbed guy with a misplaced sense of the value of celebrity. He was rotten to his wife and his kids, lapped up all the attention he got from assorted hangers-on and finally, shot himself in the head.

Sad to say, he should have done it thirty years sooner. He boxed himself into a persona that devoured him. But those two books still sing.




This was a good one. A 15 year old hermaphrodite is at the center of this story. He/she is at the age when a choice must be made so he/she can be surgically altered to fit one of the prevailing norms. Not a problem you encounter every day. 

His relations with parents, friends, people who try to help and people in the community all come into play here. The script is intelligent and the acting is first rate, most notably the girl who plays the lead. Her dealings with her father develop depth and meaning before our eyes. 

This film isn't for everyone, but for those willing to endure some psychic pain, it's an enormously satisfying experience.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Under the Tuscan Sun

Diane Lane

Fortyish writer is hit with a divorce, takes a trip to Italy and impulsively buys a house in Tuscany.

The film is about the usual travails facing a woman alone in a foreign country...renovation hassles, integrating, etc.

This film distinguished itself with an uncommonly intelligent script that didn't go down all the expected paths. DL shone here with a believable, sympathetic characterization. The pleasant resolutions fell into clicheworld but since this was a romcom there really wasn't any other place for it to go.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Breaking and Entering

Jude Law, Juliette Binoche   w/d  Anthony Minghella

This was an odd sort of legacy for AM to leave behind. The story was cross-class/cross-culture set in modern London...a Brit yuppie architect gets involved with a Bosnian immigrant which leads to expected complications in both of their lives. There is thievery, an American actress playing an ethnic prostitute, a daughter developing autism who manages (barely) not to be aggravating, and a teen boy who thieves using his parcour skills.

This is a pretty rich mix but somehow it didn't all mesh into a believable story. It all seemed contrived, held up by the fast pace and the overall professionalism. 

AM will be remembered for The English Patient...a truly marvelous film...and this one will be forgotten.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Raintree County

Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, Eva Marie Saint

From 1957, this was an attempt to bring to the screen Ross Lockridge's brilliant 1948 novel. 

All they did here was strip the story to its bones, remove all the lyricism and get a bunch of Hollywood stars to walk around in fancy costumes pretending to talk funny. Clift couldn't act at all. His wooden line readings and body language were an embarrassment. In several scenes it seemed that EMS was playing opposite a mannequin.

The novel wasn't film-able...not in 1957 anyway. Today it would take a gifted writer(s) and the kind of time given to The Wire.


Natural Born Killers

w/d  Oliver Stone

Outrageous, completely over-the-top treatment of our media culture. He threw in every idea he could think of in an attempt to parody something which is so extreme in reality that it's beyond satire.

I read at the time that when Stone was editing this film they were watching the OJ "chase" unfolding on TV and realized they hadn't gone far enough. Still, this stands as an amazing work. He even threw in a visual homage to Kwaidan.

Powerful, sickening stuff.




For the love of water. 

This is another reminder of the monstrousness of unchecked international capitalism.  Global corporations show up with the blessing of a few corrupted leaders, steal the peoples' water and sell it back to them at a hefty profit. Hey, it's business! And business is good, right?

There's no hope.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Flight of the Red Balloon

France   d/ Hou Hsiao-Hsien

Can you make a successful film from a few shots of a red balloon floating over Paris in obvious homage to the classic 1956 film and a bunch of quotidian scenes from the lives of a contemporary French family? Apparently yes.

This meandered along without any sense of dramatic direction but I found at the end that I had come to know and like these folks, felt that my life had been made a little brighter for having gotten to know them. This guy's got a very delicate touch which works. I particularly liked the notion that children take things like magic and the reality of puppetry for idea that will soon come into play with the development of personal robotics.

An unexpected little treasure.


Monday, April 6, 2009

The Bubble


Slightly different take on the perils and pleasures of young people trying to cope with the insanity of life in today's Middle East. Hatred lies all around, ready to break out into violence at any time.

This film had a large gay presence which only increased the danger to everyone we followed. Competent filmmaking but difficult to watch. Good performances all around.



Norway   d/ Joachim Trier

Two young men, both writers, submit manuscripts to publishers at the beginning of this film and we follow the arc of the next few years of their lives. Both go through painful experiences as they stagger their way free from the prison of adolescence into...well, whatever comes after that.

One steps through the looking glass into madness...his recovery is achingly realistic, particularly the loss of his lover. The other achieves instant fame, which comes with smackdowns he never anticipated.

Nice modernistic editing and sound design gave the film a sophisticated aura. Intelligent and moving drama of passage.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Conversation

Gene Hackman   w/d  Francis Coppola

Still an extraordinary film. The technology is dated of course but the specter of someone looking, listening is even more relevant today that it was in 1973.

GH was great as the anal, repressed, suspicious,  snooper. The use of repetition to develop the story was slick and powerful. I also loved the reversals at the plot resolution: the final sequence of Harry Caul's meltdown was outstanding. 

Why didn't Coppola make more of this type of film...small, personal, based on character? After Godfather 2 he squandered his gift on forgettable fare. 


Friday, April 3, 2009



The life and times of Barney Rosset, owner and proprietor of Grove Press and The Evergreen Review. He was, and is, a first amendment hero who fought for the rights of all of us to write and publish any damn thing we wanted.

He did Lady Chatterly, Henry Miller, Sam Beckett and a host of others. He ended up losing his shirt but enriched the lives of all of us in unmeasurable ways.

Where are the heroes of today? 

Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear???


Waltz With Bashir


This animated feature was beautiful to look at but very painful to absorb. It concerns the slaughter at Sabra and Shatila during one of the wars between Israel and its Arab neighbors. We follow a soldier who has repressed the memory of his participation in the massacre and after we see what he saw, even in stylized form, we can see why.

Included the first hard core porn I've seen in a mainstream film.

I  continually marveled at the tech and artistic achievement on display all through the film but the final 15 minutes wiped all that away and flooded the senses with the enormity of the crimes. Switching to real life at the end was enormously powerful.

I'm glad I saw it but I couldn't honestly recommend it to anyone.


Of Time and the City

UK   Terence Davies   

I really wanted to love this one but after the initial novelty of watching archival footage played over someone (Davies?) reading various poems from different ages wore out my mind gradually went mego.

I thought Distant Voices, Still Lives was extraordinary in its capture of lower class English postwar life. Insightful, lyrical and moving. Plus beautiful to look at. To my eye he's never equaled work that since. Too bad. On the other hand, producing one masterwork justifies a career.


Thursday, April 2, 2009


Jean Tierney, Clifton Webb    d/Otto Preminger

This one's getting a little creaky at this point but it still held me, barely. Webb's character has lots of great lines (sim to Sweet Smell...) and he plays the supercilious bastard nicely but the scenario and, particularly the details of how this story was supposed to unfold, took place squarely in pretend reality. 

The song is still sweet. The budding "love affair" between Dana Andrews and JT was preposterous; it played like a studio requirement rather than something that might have sprung from life.

I should have left this a pleasant memory.