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...