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.