Monday, November 30, 2009

The Beaches of Agnes

documentary(?) France

This was a companion piece to Agnes Varda's wonderful homage to her late husband Jacques Demy. Oddly though it was a loving tribute to herself and what she apparently perceives as her overall wonderfulness. As a full-throttle celebration of self it is unmatched in cinema history. While it is true that she was present during France's film renaissance, it's not clear how much, or how little she contributed.

She is evidently a major arts figure in France and perhaps a hundred years from now film scholars will be grateful for this piece. I found it a little bit embarrassing. Not without some interest...but, really...


An Education

Peter Sarsgaard, Carey Mulligan, Alfred Molina

Pleasant, sweet, old-fashioned coming-of-age romance. This film, obviously and inoffensively, pushed all the right buttons without straining credibility (too much). Very skilled cast...with supporting players like Emma Thompson and Sally Hawkins....

Ms Mulligan carried the film. Her deft mix of sweetness, naivete and savvy knowingness...coupled with her ingenue-level loveliness seemed fresh and winning. She was a remarkable find and I only hope she finds future roles equal to this one.

Satisfying film experience.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Maid


Here we follow around a hateful, emotionally constricted servant whose foibles are openly tolerated by her employers. She does mean little things to everyone with no apparent fear of punishment or retaliation.

Eventually a new helper comes in who succeeds in humanizing her a bit...but just a bit. I found the film unpleasant to watch with her movement toward redemption TL,TL.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Half Nelson

Ryan Gosling

Here we get to watch the excruciating unraveling of a high school history teacher. He's hooked on some form of cocaine and like all druggies has become entirely self-absorbed...a user of drugs and people to satisfy his immediate needs or desires. Strong performance by RG easily carried the film.

Over-use of extreme close-up technique became wearying but it did contribute to the sense of immediacy which made the film so strong. I felt like taking a shower afterwards though...this guy was such a filthy scuzz I felt dirtied.

Powerful, unpleasant.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

House of the Devil

d/ Ti West

Babysitter-in-peril movie which looked for all the world like it had been made in 1984. Attractive heroine (Jocelin Donahue) conned into staying in a house where she really shouldn't be. Wonderful supporting cast...Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov...great house. This was well done in all respects. Pretty gory at the end but the build-up was a lot of fun.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Decalog #1

Kristov Kieslowski

A bright young boy and his father exult in their intelligence. They defeat a chess master, work on metaphysical theory and, tragically, calculate when the ice on the pond is safe to skate on.

The first of the hour-long pieces done for Polish television. Compact, skillfully done...heavy reliance on close-ups. This guy was a master filmmaker.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Le Trou

France 1945

Superior escape-from-prison yarn. Painstakingly detailed, very realistic depiction of the difficulty involved in digging your way out of a prison using primitive, makeshift tools. Ended on an unnecessarily melodramatic note but this wasn't problematic enough to hurt the overall impression left by the film.

Solid work.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

This Gun For Hire

Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake

Badly dated noir from the late 40's, when Hollywood made movies set in a peculiar reality that looked for all the world like a sound stage. Coincidences were so common they became the norm.

This was adapted from a novel by Graham Greene and displayed his trademark sour take on his fellow man but since this was set in this country it lacked the touch of exotica that made his best work palatable.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Every Little Step


A camera crew follows the production of a revival of The Chorus Line. We get to see the hopefuls dance and sing their hearts out hoping desperately for a part. We also get to hear the deliberations of those casting.

It was impossible not to be moved by this were these talented vulnerable young people laying their hearts on the line for a big break. Still...all this was for fame, recognition, ambition...the desire to be seen as somebody...instead of a bum, which is what we all are. I suppose this is an inevitable part of the human condition. This film puts that part of us nicely on display.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Red Cliff

John Woo

Outrageously over-the-top violent CGI masterpiece. Set in medieval China, this had many spectacular set pieces, battles, tea ceremonies, fields of flowers...everything this imaginative guy could think of. Plus a large budget.

The best thing he's done since he left Hong Kong. Catnip for 14 year old boys. Wonderful junk.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Summer Hours

France Juliette Binoche d/ Olivier Assayas

An old woman dies...her three children deal with that and each other. Her stuff...some of which is very valuable makes them pull in different directions...especially her large summer house. But everything gets dispersed, she and all her memories fade into the past and life, youth go on. Twas ever thus.

If I had to guess I'd have said that this was directed by Eric Rohmer. It was quiet, members acting in non-dramatic ways...just frabbing their way through life as best they can.

Well done but not particularly engaging.


Chasing Amy

Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams

Sharp, incisive take on the battle between the sexes. Good writing matched up with a very strong performance by JLA made this work. Easily held up on second viewing.




Perhaps the ultimate talking-head film. An extended interview with Mike Ruppert about peak oil, the deterioration of the political process and the bleak future facing all of us. I've read his book...Crossing the Rubicon...this film builds on those ideas. It looks bad but this guy's no fool. One can quibble with this detail or that but the direction we're headed in is pretty clear.

It was Mao who said...may you live in interesting times. The next thirty years should be one hell of a ride.


Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Bob Hoskins

A truly remarkable film. Easily the best blend of animation and live action ever done. The 40's setting, the noirish gumshoe theme, the whole concept of toons running around interacting with humans in their unique way was a delightful concept...brilliantly realized here. Plus it had a poignant message. Amazing.

The last frame said That's All Folks...and, sadly, that's been the case. When I think of all the worthless junk that has generated sequels...and this hasn' makes me lose faith in my fellow man. Again.

A great classic.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Herb and Dorothy


Sort-of charming story of a New York couple who spent forty years obsessively collecting "art." They seemed like wonderful people...all the artists shown spoke glowingly about friendly and lovable they were...but there was an underlying premise to their behavior that was unsettling.

Exactly what is the meaning or purpose of mindless acquisition? This is really unhealthy behavior. Their apartment was crammed with almost 5000 pieces of minimalist, post-abstract junk. They devoted their whole lives to this pursuit...hitting galleries and studios every day wanting more...always more. There's something seriously wrong with a value system that doesn't treat this kind of behavior as unfortunate, something to be treated and cured if possible.

Lionizing it in a film didn't work for me.


Sunday, November 8, 2009



A very intriguing film. Set in an indeterminate time at a girls' school somewhere in France in the modern era, we follow these little girls around as they practice ballet, take academic classes, play in the isolated grounds, live their nascent lives separated from the rest of society. Some of the older girls leave every night and return at dawn and herein lies the core metaphor which gives the film purpose.

Exquisitely photographed. Intelligent script. Languid pacing which perfectly suited the mood and thoughts conveyed. This was a quiet, well-thought-out parable...a fresh take on childhood and the emergence into the sometimes harsh world of adulthood.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Snow Angels

Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell

A really sad movie. We follow a group of working class folk who have made a collective hash of their lives. The director...David Green...cuts rapidly among their various threads, making it hard for us to follow for a long while but which serves to emphasize the interconnectedness among all of them. The main story ends very badly.

All the gloom is somewhat leavened by the interweaving of a young-love story between two outcast high school kids. I couldn't help but wonder how grim their future will be after the initial phase was over.

Well-acted. I found the editing unnecessarily annoying...especially after watching TA last night. Still, this was a solid effort which added to the CV of everyone involved.


Landscape in the Mist

Theo Angelopolous

A brilliant effort from 1988. Two children set out on a quest to find their (mythical) father who supposedly lives in Germany. Several unforgettable set pieces raise this far above the ordinary. Metaphors abound as TA continually tickles the mind while seemingly focused on the prosaic details of their journey.

This is one of the great works of world cinema and shows the hand of a master filmmaker at the peak of his powers.



Helen Gahagan, Randolf Scott

The "classic" from 1935. Taken from the H Rider Haggard novel. Nice set design and a couple of well-made effects scenes couldn't overcome the towering hokiness of the story, the acting styles, the dialogue, etc. This strove for the kind of pseudo-profundity reached by Frank Capra in Lost Horizon but missed it by a mile.

This has historical value only.


Head On


This was a German/Turkish love story. Sort of. He was a decrepit, filthy loser. She was a young woman desperate to get away from her stifling, traditional family. They both attempt suicide. And fail. So they "meet cute" in a psychiatric clinic. And get married. And continue their self-destructive ways. Just together now. Sort of.

I have a limited tolerance for following repulsive people around in a film. These two were past my limit. Constant smoking, drinking, filthy personal habits and outrageously bad behavior made me want to get away from them...just like they would in real life.

This was quite popular with the artsy crowd. Don't know why.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Liam Neeson

This was written by Luc Besson and it looked it. Extremely violent, fast-paced, completely preposterous story that raced along so quickly you had no time to think about the absurdity of it all. It was obvious formula product from minute 1 and in spite of myself I didn't turn it off...instead I got caught up in it for the full 93 minutes.

It vicarious thrills. It set out to do no more than that so I guess it was successful.


Monday, November 2, 2009



Lush film about man's connections with the plant world, with special emphasis on the healing power they contain. Beautifully photographed. Interesting talking heads. This flirted with New Age mawkishness all the way through, made some solid points about mainstream medicine and near the end finally slopped over into mush.

Too bad. If they had used a bit more restraint this would have been a gem.


Milton Glaser


Straightforward piece on the career of the extraordinarily talented and visionary graphic artist. He gave a look to a generation that was fresh, startling and original.

Turns out he is also reflective and articulate which makes the interviews with him here a special treat. Well worth the time. Outside the field he is almost entirely unknown.