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 sound...like 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.


Is Anyone There?

Michael Caine

Formula British piece which skated between mostly mean-spirited humor, pathos, lovable old codger convention, and marital strife. The humor here was at the expense of the elderly and it wasn't funny. Everything else seemed like it came out of scriptwriting 101.

Caine had several good scenes...he always manages to be believable in his roles...but this one smelled more like product to me than anything else.


Monday, June 1, 2009

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy

This was the second try at the Jack Finney novel. Flashier than the first, this had more jump cuts, tight close-ups, distorting camera angles, etc. I thought the 1956 version worked better...it focused solely on the human interactions which were the story.

Still, once you got past the modern touches, the strength of the story took hold and we were propelled forward to a neat resolution.

The two leads were great with special mention to BA who had a natural, believable manner that grounded the film. A big bronx cheer to Jeff Goldblum for one of the least credible characters in film history. How in the world did Phil Kaufman (director) let him get away with it?


The Cake Eaters

Bruce Dern, Melissa Leo   d/ Mary Stuart Masterson

Nice amerindie set in upstate New York and centering on the interactions of two families in a small town. They touched on love, both young and old, disability, sex, lost chances, reconciliation...many of the touchstones that constitute life.

Solid performances by mostly experienced players, intelligent script, straightforward direction. Nothing exceptional here...just good, professional work by all hands.



Pixar   Ed Asner

Another triumph by this team. I saw this at a Sunday matinee packed with kids and they were rapt. The opening ten minutes was touching and settled everybody down. The adventure was magical, preposterous, visually stunning, loud and fun.

Asner deserves an oscar for the depth and sensitivity of his characterization. Every button was pushed, including mine. A great way to spend an afternoon.