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.