Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bigger, Stronger, Faster


Anabolic steroids make your muscles bigger and give you quicker reflexes. That's the good part. In some people they also grow extra hair, shrink the testes, give them roid rage and, in athletes, an unfair competitive advantage.

So, what to do? Dunno. They seem like a bad idea to me but folks do lots of things that are a bad hang-gliding, ice climbing, etc...and we let them. Athletes in competition are a different story. It's gotta be 1-in...all-in. Do we really want our athletes to be grotesque freaks? Aren't they already?

Tough issues, nicely drawn here. This doc was informative but amateurish. Worth it.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Polly Walker, Kevin McKidd

HBO series...12 hours long...which brought the end of the Republic to life through the major players of the time. This was the best treatment of the period I've ever seen. They gave equal time to the working class, showed the religious beliefs and practices, mores and value system. This was a violent society...Rome was built by war and slaughter...and that was made vivid, but not in a gratuitous way.

Since this was a British production everyone spoke with a Brit accent...a flaw but not a serious one. Great sets and mise-en-scene.

This was a wonderful attempt at historical drama. They took a well-known turning point in history and made it live. Good stuff.


Sunday, December 27, 2009


A very difficult film to watch. The first half depicts the crushing of the spirit of a morbidly obese black teenager by her outrageously cruel and mean-spirited mother. She is also rejected by her peers. The second half focuses on her struggle to revive some of her humanity with the help of a sympathetic teacher.

The arc of this story moves toward the positive but the depth of the well of sadness, meanness is too great to be overcome in 45 minutes. I was left with the sense of having been battered comatose and coming to with a kindly hand stroking my helps some but not nearly enough...I'm still lying there battered.

Well done but an awful ordeal.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Eagle Has Landed

Michael Caine, Donald Sutherland

Nazis in a plot to capture Winston Churchill in the final days of the war. Well done action-adventure with a nice mise-en-scene. Some of the stuff here strained credibility a bit too far but the film easily held my attention, largely because of the skill of the players.

Special mention to Donald Pleasance for a spot-on portrayal of Himmler.

Good, diverting fun.


Friday, December 18, 2009



Two foul-mouthed 11 year olds who are abused at home hit the road and spend a night playing around the sometimes mean streets of Dublin. They have some good adventures, some bad and end up going home the following morning to face the music.

This was immediately engaging and pulled me in, largely because of the excellent performances by the two child actors. They were a lot of fun to watch together...shared an obvious rapport that wasn't at all hollywoodish...and seemed like real kids. It was the first film for both.

Some of the episodes strained credibility a bit but they were soon over and the focus on the kids resumed. It helped that the film was short - 72 minutes...just when it would have become tiresome it wrapped. Nice job.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Electric Edwardians


This was an oddball historical curiousity piece. Restored footage from 1900-1910 shot in England meant at the time to be shown locally in traveling exhibitions before the existence of permanent movie theaters. We got to see parades of people, mostly of the lower classes, in period dress staring at the camera and grinning like fools, acting silly, grimacing, etc. The school children scenes were poignant because we now know that many of the boys ended up as cannon fodder in the Great War.

The only real curiousity that stood out was the widespread use of shawls used as headscarves by the women. These British working women foreshadowed the present-day muslim women about whom there is so much controversy.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Rape of Europa


The story of the looting of the art treasures of Europe and Russia by Hitler, Goering and the other monsters of Germany during WW2. Most would see this as a minor sideshow to the wholesale slaughter these folks unleashed but it does demonstrate their venality and greed...two traits easier for the average person to understand.

Well done. Included trying to sort out the various return problems after the war was finished. Much research in evidence here.


Sin Nombre


Somewhat reminiscent of El Norte, this film didn't have the same level of humanism to offer the audience. This was partly due to its immersion in the extremely violent world of latin american gangs, with their crude rituals, ugly tattoos and overall despicable behavior. In fact it was closer to an action-adventure flick than an attempt to open the eyes of a complacent North American to the plight of economic refugees.

This was a jaundiced view of mankind. The grail at the end of the harrowing journey a Wal-Mart parking lot.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The International

Clive Owen, Naomi Watts

Tracking down nefarious doins by an international bank patterned after BCCI. This was well enough done but after so many of these I could sense mego. There was one spectacular shoot-out inside the Guggenheim that was not at all credible but nonetheless fun to watch.

This ranged all over the world...a device that has lost its novelty and wow value. In spite of the overall competence on display it seemed sameold, sameold...


Monday, December 14, 2009

Pirate Radio

w Nick Hornby

This was a lot of fun. Silly junk but fun. Great soundtrack. Cartoonish in most respects. A pleasant diversion on a snowy afternoon.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

THX 1138

w/d George Lucas Robert Duvall

His first and best far. What happened to this guy? He has spent his career putting out money-making junk when by the evidence shown here he had a real sense of film as art. This was imaginative, visually stunning and original, had outstanding sound design and used found locations brilliantly to create a futuristic mise-en-scene.

Watta shame. I'm sure he sees his as a successful career...I mean, look at all the money the Star Wars franchise brought in...but I'll bet deep down, in the middle of the night perhaps, he knows, he knows.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Loren Cass


Extremely unpleasant film. Set in St Petersburg after some riots in the 90's, it features a filthy assortment of punk wannabees, a slutty diner waitress, pointless and unexplained violence, no plot to speak of and, oh yes, florida, in all it's scuzzy glory.

Boring, repulsive, ugly. I think that covers it.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Lemon Tree

Israel Hiam Abbass

Very sensitive, poignant melodrama from this torn land. The defense minister moves in and his security demands that the lemon grove next door be demolished. It has been tended by a Palestinian widow her whole life.

This film digs deeply into the personal and psychological effects of this clash. The arrogance, superiority and intransigence of the Israelis was made crystal clear...a brave stance for this filmmaker.

Ms Abbass was superb. She conveyed an air of quiet strength, long term suffering, resolve and perspective. A prize-winning performance.


The Wind Journeys


A "road" movie of a different sort. Aging accordion player, with an acolyte in tow, treks through plains and mountains to return the instrument he had been given years ago by his mentor. Along the way they have an assortment of mishaps and adventures.

Slow, studied, episodic. Not much drama. Spectacular scenery. Interesting as anthro. They could have cast better-looking players as leads. Some scenes slid over into silly but when they were over it resumed its steady march to the end.

Worth it.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Waiting Room

Roger Goldby

Slice-of-life melodrama set in the London burbs. Several middle-class folk muddle around with each other seeking to satisfy their primal needs while always longing for something better. It ends with two of them "finding" each other but it looked to me that in seven or so years they'd be getting that restless itch too.

Well written, acted and directed. This was competent, intelligent filmmaking...nothing more. But that's plenty for an hour and a half diversion.


Monday, December 7, 2009

Return of the Idiot


A thirtyish man is released from an asylum, makes his way back to his home town and is instantly immersed in the madness of a love triangle and the lives of his relatives. His isolation has rendered him acutely empathic which shows in timely nosebleeds. He is a perceptive naif, a candide who serves as a mirror to real life.

Nicely done. Astute mix of humor, drama...good dialogue and overall direction. Very eastern European in tone...a compliment.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Monsieur Hire

Michel Blanc, Sandrine Bonnaire d/Patrice Leconte

Adaptation of a novel by Georges Simenon. Superbly done. Outstanding use of music (Brahms), luminous cine, stellar acting by the two leads, great script. This was as gripping as anything ever done by Hitchcock.

One of the treasures of French, and world cinema.


Baader-Meinhopf Complex

d/ Uli Edel

Very powerful fictionalized treatment of the far-left German group who decided to use violence to fight against the machine to stop its violence-for-profit scheme in Viet Nam and elsewhere. These folks have been relentlessly demonized by the media for was refreshing to have a clear-eyed treatment of who they were, what they thought, what their aims were, their tactics and their eventual demise and complete failure.

If you directly oppose the criminal state they will use whatever means at their disposal to crush you. cf. The so-called Symbionese Liberation Army.

One of the characters in the film says...These people make decisions that result in the suffering and death of thousands but they are shocked when violence is used against them in their own homes.

Twas ever thus.

This film tapped into a deep well of anger I have from that time wrapped in the sad understanding that things have gotten worse, much worse since then.

An important film that will get no exposure in this country. So it goes.


Friday, December 4, 2009

The Fantastic Mr. Fox

anime w/d Wes Anderson

Mixed feeling about this one. The story was fun, although a bit cartoonish (duh) but the animation seemed less advanced than I expected. Close-ups were striking at first but the trick of having the character's facial hair moving around came across as artificial. It looked for all the world like the inadvertent hair movement we saw in the original King Kong which was a result of the limitations of the technology at the time.

I also had trouble with the lead...voiced by George Clooney. He was an insufferable egotist. The script dealt directly with this but it didn't make it any easier to watch.

But it all raced along lickety split and was amusing enough for what it was.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Lilya 4-Ever

Sweden d/Lukas Moodyson

This was a heartbreaking story...about as sad as anything I've ever seen on film. Lilya is abandoned by her mother. She's 16. This takes her through the next three months. Her story is about as grim as it gets...eventually she is tricked and sold into sexual slavery.

This was taken from a true-life case. Stories like this became common in the European West after the Soviet Union collapsed and countries like Estonia were left to struggle to create new economies. During the adjustment period there was some human wreckage. This film shows one.

Starkly realistic, well acted and directed. This'll be a hard one to forget.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

When We Left Earth


Solid piece about the effort to reach the moon. This segment dealt with the early Mercury and Gemini programs. This material has been covered many times now. This one was well done.


Shall We Kiss


Sex comedy/farce for and about the chattering class. Just arch enough to avoid being enough to hold my interest wondering where they were going with the story.

Amusing fluff.