Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dogtown and the Z Boys


Extremely well done piece on the birth...from the outlaw California surf culture...of skateboarding as an athletic activity and, eventually, an art form. Lots of insightful archival footage was integrated with contemporary interviews to tell a compelling story with strong human interest value.

Great cutting throughout with perfectly synched sound gave this a breathless feel and raced you right along. Nice work.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Visual Acoustics


Worshipful piece on Julius Shulman, who made his living photographing other peoples' architectural works. This was fawning to a major fault. He was narcissistic and by the end of the film I found myself really disliking him and his admirers.

It didn't help that I don't care for the type of architecture that was being lionized here. I see it as cold, stark, stripped of human warmth. The opposite of cuddly. Something dreamed up by Germans in the 20's.


Know Your Mushrooms


Fun, kind of primitive, roll-your-own style piece on shrooms. I found it informative, mostly entertaining and well put together although I would have liked to see more folks interviewed. I got the impression that this was put together by about four people who all agreed with each other.

Still, it re-kindled my interest in this topic and made me want to find someone locally who could teach me about where and how to find these guys.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Mary and Max

anime Australia

Delightfully outrageous, tongue-in-cheek claymation. Done with skill and a subversive sense of humor that never stopped tickling me.

Like Nick Park, Adam Eliott has managed to create characters out of plasticine that are real enough, in an offbeat way, to make us care for their stories. Max is an overweight, Jewish Aspie...Mary a socially rejected teenage Aussie...but they manage to find in each other enough human contact to help them survive.

For all its silliness, this is a profoundly humanist film. Nice work.


Friday, October 23, 2009


France Juliet Binoche

This was the latest in what seems like a string of hundreds of French films which feature the lives, loves, tragedies and foibles of the chattering classes of Paris. A half dozen characters go around doing ordinary life stuff and it's unclear to me why any of this should be considered interesting or informative. It's certainly not dramatic.

This one was well enough done but I had to struggle to get to the end. It seemed a better use of my time to stare at the opposite wall. If you've never seen one of these you might enjoy it. But after so many...


Thursday, October 22, 2009



This was a 90 minute infomercial apparently promoting Nicholas Kristof for the Nobel Prize, or, perhaps the Mother Theresa award for overall saintliness. He came across as a nice guy and I admire his work on behalf of the world's crushed peoples...but this was a bit much.

It amused me that he looked a bit and sounded a lot like Liberace. I know he can't help either but I found myself staring at his wedding ring wondering...

Out of all the well-paid hacks pushing the corporate line at the NY Times Kristof stands out as a notable exception...a principled man genuinely trying to make the world a better place. He deserves credit but this film was mostly an embarrassment. All MTV too.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Matter of Size


Sumo wrestling on the Mediterranean. Wax-on, wax-off for morbidly obese Israelis. They attempted to elicit sympathy and understanding for these fat guys (and one woman) and I could sort of see the point but the sight of these blubbery guys bouncing around just didn't do it for me. I know fat people need love too...but I'd like it better if they didn't get it in front of me.

The film was formula, feel-good. Cutesy pie for whales.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

William Kunstler


The great lion of liberalism...the man who took on and more often than not, slayed the establishment dragon on its own turf using its own weapons. He was an attention/glory hound and apparently not a good father to his daughters, whose film this is...but he achieved a lot of good deeds and that should be the true measure of a man.

Who today fights tenaciously for the oppressed, for those no one wants or likes?

Well done doc...a true and fitting tribute.



Harrod Blank

Sort of follow-up/remake of Wild Wheels...his entertaining 1991 piece on folks with outrageous cars. This was a bit more fleshed out and the emphasis was on art, performance or otherwise and not fitting in. There was also a strong streak of exhibitionism on display.

About half these people were likable, many of the cars were a hoot...the whole thing rode by tickling my subconscious. Worth


Monday, October 19, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

Spike Jonze

This one was a bit of a let down. SJ and Dave Eggers (!) adapted a classic kids' book, which had very little text so they had to make it up. What they came up with seemed to me a serious misreading of what a kid movie should be.

The protagonist was a jerk, both at home and in the imaginary world to which he escapes. The design and execution of the critters was very good...adults in muppet suits w/ CGI faces...but once the delight of novelty wore off even that got tedious.

It was short. That was good. Not short enough though. Would've made a great 15 minute film.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Quiet Earth

New Zealand Bruno Lawrence

What would it be like to wake up one morning and discover you were the last man on earth? Who hasn't had this dream? This film starts with this premise and was very engaging for a while. At one point the script went in an unexpected direction and while I could see why they did this I also felt that they lost the story.

Great ending, which was foreshadowed pretty clearly but still kept the ability to jolt the audience.




A very primitive film...shot with non-actors on location. The premise of the story was OK but the script, staging and photography were amateurish to a fault.

Not ready for the world market.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Lion's Den


A really unpleasant film. A college-age woman is (wrongfully?) accused of murder, thrown into prison and we get to watch her systematic degradation, humiliation and de-humanization in living color. Oh, and she was pregnant so we get a birth scene too.

This could stand as a refutation of all those women-in-cages sexploitation films from the 60's, 70's. All the prisoners except the lead were fact, real prisoners in the minimum-security prison where this was shot...which made a fight in the shower scene more grotesque than titillating.

What was the point here? It wasn't an expose because the women were mostly treated with consideration by the prison staff. The justice system was presented with a murder, two possible suspects who pointed the finger at each other.

I found this an ordeal to watch with no real saving grace.


Eye of God

Hal Holbrooke, Martha Plimpton, Nick Stahl, Richard Jenkins

Beautifully done amerindie. Lonely Oklahoma girl marries an ex-con and frightful consequences ensue.

Well written, acted, shot and edited. Made in 1997, this film was almost entirely ignored. It deserves to be seen and recognized for the skill and craftsmanship evident. Proof, again, that good films can be made with no money...just imagination.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

In the Loop


Fast-paced, scathingly satirical film on public service, the making of foreign policy in London and Washington and the insanity of the national political process.

Funny, profane, insightful, subliminally bitter. Everyone here gets ground up in a process that's presented as totally out of control. Fun to watch...probably no fun at all to live through. Nice job.


35 Shots of Rum

France Claire Denis

This was a slow, boring examination of a father/daughter relationship in the outskirts of Paris. He drives a commuter subway car, she is a college-age student. They touch and hug a lot in a quasi-incestuous manner. They have deeply suppressed relationships with two other people who live in the same building...a morose young white guy and a woman who has apparently been pining for the father for decades, which to me was inexplicable since he was almost totally inarticulate. He did a lot of quiet emoting.

This director has done some fine work in the past...but not this time.

I was also irritated that the titular practice(unexplained in the film) was held up as something cool, something to mark great events in one's life, when in fact it can easily lead to death from alcohol poisoning. So, what are we celebrating...a particularly stupid way to commit suicide?


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The North Face


A really outstanding film. Set in the 30's during the Nazi's rise the race is on to be the first two-man team to climb the Eiger mountain. The first hour sets up the premise, introduces the characters and gets them all in place. The second hour features what seemed to me the best climbing sequences ever put on film.

Many times I found myself marveling at what appeared to be real footage. If there was CGI it was invisible. The drama developed step by realistic step. Incredibly harrowing. How in the world did they do this? The interweaving stories of the idle rich in the plush inn and the climbers struggling with outrageously bad weather conditions was beautifully handled.

This sets a new standard for what an adventure film can achieve. Kudos all around.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Orgasm, Inc.


Another sharp expose of the pill pushers' frantic efforts to get ordinary women who don't always (or ever) have orgasms from regular intercourse declared sick so they can sell them expensive pills...a la viagra...and make fortunes.

More proof, if it was needed, that trying to blend capitalism and medicine is hazardous to our health.

Informative and entertaining doc.


Under Our Skin


Lacerating treatment of the medical establishment's treatment, or non treatment of Lyme disease. We were presented with a very one-sided view of the controversy so it was hard to form a fully-considered judgement but if the story is anything like what was here it covers the doctors, drug pushers and insurance companies with shame.

Powerful and unforgettable.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Lake Tahoe


This took a cue from Jim Jarmusch. Static camera...long, still shots...deadpan to a fault. Eventually this became charming in a raggedy-assed sort of way but it really was not much ado about nothing.

One point for compositions, which were clever.


Off the Grid


Short, sharp piece on about 400 folks who live on a mesa in northern New Mexico. They don't want no govmint nohow. Live primitive but seem to have worked out most stuff and to my mind are better off than the sheeple.

Didn't like living on the food handouts, though. If you're gonna break so...but don't rely on charity handouts...


Thursday, October 8, 2009



Biopic of the life of a cleaning woman/painter who lived in the first half of the 20th century. Beautifully photographed...shot and edited without any of the modern nonsense. Superb performance by the lead.

This was an old-fashioned film...solidly done which reminded me of Savage Messiah, All the Mornings of the World, Camille Claudel. etc


Unmistaken Child

documentary Tibet/Nepal

Well, you see this old guy died...a lama (not the animal kind)...and, of course he was reincarnated, so his valet/disciple had to go out and find the child into whose body the old guy went. Sounds difficult...but...there were clues...patterns in the dirt beneath his funeral pyre, fat pearls, etc.

Then when he found the kid the kid had to pass several rigorous tests...picking the right bell, rosary. When this kid did this stuff it was obvious to all that they'd found the old guy...just in a toddler's body now.

It seems that no matter how preposterous a belief system you can get people to believe it...and orient their lives around that belief. There's no hope.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Town Called Panic

France anime

This was a hoot. Stupid little plastic figures were animated and given an absurd story which was a parody of contemporary life. I could almost hear the collaborators laughing hysterically while they were making this.

Wonderful nonsense for children of all ages.


California Dreaming


This was a shambling, discursive, raggedy-assed movie that tried to tell too many stories and ended up not telling any with enough depth to really resonate with the audience. Most of the characters were unlikable. The basic set-up was irritating and felt contrived. But mostly the film suffered badly from the maddening camera work that has become fashionable among "modern" filmmakers.

Much too long at 2 1/2 hours. I felt he was trying to create an epic out of an incident. This eastern European backwater has produced some gems in the past few years. This isn't one of them.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Capitalism: A Love Story

documentary Michael Moore

His best film. He takes on the big kahuna...capitalism itself...and easily wrestles it to the ground, where I'd like to think it dies miserably and stays dead for the rest of human history.

Not strident or hectoring. He tells his story, using the lives of people who have been ground down or cheated by this monstrous system, whose only real purpose is to perpetuate the rule by and for the rich. Some of the practices shown here will be a revelation to a lot of people because the corporate-owned and controlled media don't tell this stuff. It's most unfortunate that those who don't go to see this because they "don't like Michael Moore" are the ones who should. He bypasses the corporate bullshit and skewers their usual arguments.

He even ends with a jazzy rendition of the Internationale. Thank you MM.


Still Walking


This was an Ozu-like examination of the inner workings of a contemporary Japanese family. The action centered around a one-day gathering of the clan. The filmmaker quietly unveiled the dynamic that motivated the action of the principals, giving just enough hints for us to understand them. Not all the characters were sympathetic but all were understandable. By the end we felt we knew these people and cared about their lives.

Nothing really happened...just life itself.

Nice work.




A really outstanding film. Beautiful looking...from the first shot all the way through. A strong drama built on custom and betrayal. Credible characters. Editing and pacing worked. Even the music chosen...vaguely middle eastern sound laced with new agey modernization...worked.

This is what you hope for when you watch an obscure foreign film. This is a major work of world cinema.