Friday, December 31, 2010



This has been highly acclaimed in the international press and some, but not all, of that praise is warranted. A retarded young man is accused of a murder and his mother devotes her life to proving his innocence...a pretty standard premise.

The story goes in unexpected the time of the final fade-out my head was spinning from the twists that had unfolded. So as a plot this was a winner.

But as a film it was marred by the hammy, overdone, asinine behavior that cripples so many of these films from the far east. Why do they do this? I'm pretty certain that in real life Koreans don't act like that. Aren't they watching films from other parts of the world? It's time for them to grow up or risk not being taken seriously.

Worth watching with a standout lead performance.


Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Pope's Toilet


Based on a true story. In 1988 the pope came to a small town on the Brazil border and the residents set up over 300 stands to capitalize. We follow a family who use all their assets to build a public toilet for the expected crowd. The crowds stayed away so everyone lost their money.

This was meant to be a charming moral lesson on the destructive power of greed...even among the very poor. But the film was badly marred by the protagonist presented as a blustering a bad TV sitcom from the 50's (eg. Life of Riley). Idiots do idiotic is their nature and once the story was set up it was obvious it wouldn't end well.

Marginally interesting.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Palm Beach Story

Claudette Colbert, Joel McRae w/d Preston Sturges

Madcap screwball comedy from 1942. Lickety-split dialogue...preposterous plot developments...unrealistic characters...and, sometimes, a lot of fun. But not always. I thought JM's character was annoyingly contentious and the richies were too absurd for a modern eye.

But Rudy Vallee was quite good as the Rockefelleresque heir and I enjoyed watching Mary Astor in such an over-the-top role.

Not my favorite among Sturges' films.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

General Della Rovere

Italy V. de Sica d/R. Rosellini

From 1959. Our protagonist is a small time hustler whose gambling habits drive his sleazy doins. He gets forced into playing an Italian war hero and gradually finds a nobler side to himself...even to the point of giving up his life to inspire his fellow countrymen.

Intelligent character study which took plenty of time to develop and ended on a moving note. de Sica was excellent in the lead. His wrestling with his fears...and overcoming them...was a fine display of real courage.

The Nazi Colonel was too new agey. A couple of terrible process shots made me wince but overall the sets and locations worked nicely. The film moved away from neorealism which RR had championed. It didn't matter.

This is seen as one of the great post-war classics. I see it as a notch below several of the others...Shoeshine, Bicycle Thieves, La Strada...but still a very fine film that holds up well today.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Indiscretion of an American Wife

Italy V. de Sica Jennifer Jones, Montgomery Clift

Pure...or should I say impure schmaltz. One of the least successful attempts to make adultery seem OK.

Both were too pretty. She wildly overacted mostly just using her face. He wasn't believable for a second as an Italian although he tried hard...too hard.

This was presented as tragic romance but these two bozos mostly looked silly to me. Good use of the location and the kaleidoscopic swirl of humanity surrounding them. But to my eye this was pretty bad.

A three-hankie flick in 1948. Nice b/w by James Wong Howe.


The Father of My Children


Very well done film. Dad is a harried film producer with a loving wife and three daughters. We watch as the pressures from his company get heavier and heavier until he finally pops.

The heart of the story is how the family members cope with dad's loss.

The kids were terrific. I can't imagine how they get such naturalistic performances out of ten year olds. The cutting was quicker than I like but it did move the story right along. Beautiful use of locations. Good music choices.

A first rate film that I hope finds an audience.


Letters to Father Joseph


After-school level material. A bitter woman is released from prison to the custody of a blind priest to help him read letters sent to him from petitioners.

Confrontation, revelation, catharsis, resolution. The End.

It wasn't clear to me who was the intended audience for this. It was competently done but that's not enough to make it on the world stage.


The War You Don't See


John Pilger talked to many prominent journalists and editors trying to learn why war and especially pre-war reporting is so misleading. He lets people do a mea culpa (Dan Rather) or squirm in denial on screen. He doesn't get into the economics of predatory capitalism which is the real story but simply focuses on the failures of the messenger class.

Solid work but nothing presented here was new or unexpected.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Black Swan

Natalie Portman d/Darren Aronofsky

This was as unpleasant a movie experience as anything I've ever seen. We follow a pinched, emotionally constipated young woman as she vies for the lead role in Swan Lake. She has nasty hallucinations that get nastier as the film proceeds. Eventually we're forced to watch scenes better suited to David Cronenberg's The Fly.

The ugliness and negativity never lets up culminating in the final resolution. I felt I had been cruelly abused when I walked out and that I had to purge the memory of this film from my mind.

What were these people thinking? This seems to me male junior high school mentality/behavior...let's do something really gross and ugly and the adults will be so pissed...

A lot of work went into this production which meant that a lot of people thought producing it was a good idea. Technically it was state-of-the-art. Some are touting it for major awards. What does this say about the current state of our society that such a sour work gains such prominence?

Not my idea of a swell time.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Spring in a Small Town

China 1949

A very primitive melodrama. Done just before the communist takeover it reveals the physical and emotional destruction left by WW2.

The filmmaking was amateurish and not ready for the world market. Scenes were broken up by multiple takes...the whole film had a restricted, claustrophobic feel. Badly hampered by the extreme reticence of the players to express a putatively emotional story. Compares poorly to the work of Japanese filmmakers (Ozu, Naruse) of the period.

Re-made in the 90's as Springtime in a Small Town.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010



Nifty little no-budget monster flick. Aliens land near the tex/mex border creating an infected zone which our protagonists have to get through. Nice camera work...great use of locations, good suspense and inspiring, non-violent resolution.

The guy was too irritating for the first hour but redeemed his character by the end. An imaginative film that worked as a B movie by focusing on character and unseen menace.

Nice job.


Here is Always Somewhere Else


Bio of a Dutch "artist" who died 30 years ago trying to sail a 12 foot boat across the Atlantic. His art consisted of performance pieces mostly based on in...if you push something hard enough, it will fall over. Interviews here of his friends...all of whom strove to intellectualize this silliness...without succeeding.

It seemed to me that this guy had "issues" and simply climbed out of the gene pool in a novel way.


No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson

documentary Steve James

Interesting piece on race and justice when applied to a young black athlete in Virginia's peninsula region. Life isn't fair...


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

La Strada

Italy Anthony Quinn, G. Messina d/F. Fellini

One of the great classics in film history. Zampano the strongman, his elfin assistant and The Fool careen down Italy's back roads searching for ???

She was marvelous and should have won best actress. Rota's music was wonderful. Quinn gave one of his best performances in a long career.


Inglorious Basterds

Brad Pitt d/Tarantino

I expected junk with this one and I got it but I also got an entertaining 2 1/2 hours too. Call it good junk.

At first I was put off by the distortion of history but after a while I realized it didn't really matter. Structured as a series of slowly developing set pieces - each almost independent of the other. It's a form he's used before (Pulp Fiction) and works well this time at creating a periodic sense of tension.

Very high production values...he has a lot of money to work with now so sets/props are first rate. Pure, violent entertainment...perfect for teenaged boys.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Jack Cardiff


Straightforward piece on the great cameraman who worked on such films as Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, The African Queen.

He also directed a dozen films which didn't make much of a splash.

Nice tribute.


Honor of the Knights


Odd treatment of the story of the quest of Don Quixote and his pal Sancho Panza. The film consisted of slow, quiet scenes of the two men making their way through an unspoiled landscape, pausing to rest, cool off. The Don would harangue Sancho with his insights into social order, religion and the nature of life. Then they would continue.

Many contemplative shots of the characters staring into nothingness. The overall effect was one of peaceful a film I can't imagine very many people appreciating it.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Hole


A unique idea. Incessant rain, water leaks in walls and floors in a scruffy apartment building. Plumber knocks hole in floor thus connecting two lonely, forlorn urban residents. Minimalist style/dialogue. Cockroach disease strikes population. Occasional songbursts a la Pennies From Heaven.

Incredibly bleak film that nonetheless tickled me. It was a picture of urban decay and social alienation that managed to avoid despair and actually ended on a positive note.

One of a kind.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Les Enfants Terribles

France Jean Pierre Melville 1950

This was truly bad I'm surprised anyone here ever found work in films again. The absurdly contentious relationship between teen brother and sister was completely over-the-top. They slept in the same room and fought nonstop...physically, sometimes throwing stuff at each other.

Then she...about as butch as a woman can be...marries a fabulously rich guy who dies the next day, leaving her a rich widow. There's more but it's not worth telling.

What on earth were these people thinking? Adapted from a script by Jean Cocteau, complete with stupidly poetic voiceover.

Some camera work was interesting but the endless fighting got real old real fast. A terrible movie that irritated throughout.


Chicago 10


Not bad attempt to recreate the madness of August 1968 when the yippies came to town, the police rioted, broke a bunch of heads and everybody went home satisfied they had played their roles.

Listening to the revolutionary rhetoric at this point makes me sad...these people didn't want a revolution...they had no idea what to put into place...they were just furious with anger, resentment and hollered their rage in the face of bayonets.

I don't know what it will take to tear down this rotten system but neither did they...and now things are much worse. The film stirred the old anger in me...but to what purpose?

The mix of animation/rotoscoping worked pretty well to vary the look of old footage.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work


The subtitle says it all. We follow the botoxed comedienne around for a year as she compulsively goes from gig to gig in a frantic search for...well, we're really not sure. Money, recognition, acclaim, acceptance, laughs... She seems to have a giant hole in her heart and nothing she can find or achieve will fill it.

She came out of the time when a woman saying fuck on stage was a scream and she's pretty much stayed there. Coarse scatological humor...sometimes pretty funny...relies mainly on shock and it's really not all that shocking anymore.

Her life seems to have been a mixed bag...husband committed suicide...and her principle response has been to press on doing what she does.

A living embodiment of What Makes Joanie Run...

I found her repulsive at first...warmed some by the end but I'm really glad she's not a part of my life.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Black Orpheus

France Marcel Camus

Lively, imaginative transfer of the Greek myth to carnival in Rio. Dazzling colors, costumes...excellent camera work. Non-stop music, mostly samba, gave the film a propulsive dynamic that never let up.

Both leads were beautiful...the dancing exciting...the whole effect was a magical visit to a place where camaraderie and fun were the currency of the day. Some of the interactions were silly but they fit right in with the rest.

An amazing production that stands the test of time.


Monday, December 13, 2010

The Virgin Spring

Sweden Max von Sydow w/d Ingmar Bergman

Quite simply one of the finest films ever made. Stark, simple in structure, exquisitely lit and in thematic layers that go to to the question of the very nature of humanity.

We enter the world of medieval Europe with its harsh but beautiful landscapes, crude, coarse people, animals, mud and a guiding belief in a supernatural reality that governs the thoughts and behaviors of some.

The film packs more power...both emotional and intellectual...than 99% of the films ever made. It was the film that convinced me that this medium was a legitimate art form when I first saw it at 18 and it still does.

A world treasure.


The Human Condition: No Greater Love

Japan 1959 Kobayashi

The first part of a grand nine-hour epic dealing with Japan's role and behavior in the war. Enormously popular in the country at the time of acted as a purgative for conflicted feelings of the defeated people and their immense suffering.

As a film it was truly epic...large-scale in locations, extras, etc. Excellent cinematography. But to my eye everything about the characters/situations was overstated, overegged. Many Asian films from this era suffer from this this case it ruined the experience for me. Odd that a culture so restrained in most matters goes so overboard in its films.

I expected more from the director of the magnificent Hara Kiri.


Sunday, December 12, 2010


Argentina Ricardo Darin

Sordid story of an ambulance chaser (vulture or carancho) trapped in a criminal group, disgusted with himself who meets a new female doctor and tries to get free. Very gritty and realistic settings. Many ambulance/ER locations with trauma patients being treated gave a strong sense of verisimilitude.

Even though the climax was predictable (duh...this was a movie about a guy who made his living off terrible traffic accidents) the film, ugly as it was in many scenes, easily belongs on the world stage.


Heartbeat Detector

France Mathieu Almaric 2000

Set in a modern corporation this meanders around for much too long with lots of enigmatic scenes. After a couple of hours we arrive at the core and it turns out to be WW2, Nazis, the holocaust...yet again.

Poor character development strained my patience. By the time of the great reveal I was so sick of this movie I wanted to throw it out the window. Maybe someday we'll have a serious French movie that doesn't circle back to the 40's...but I doubt it.

And what exactly is that title supposed to mean?


Saturday, December 11, 2010

If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle


Idiotic title for a typically grim, depressing film from Eastern Europe. Set in a boy's reformatory we follow a taciturn 18 year old, learn the awful forces, inner and outer, that are making him boil and then watch the inevitable explosion.

All hand-held, wavering camera which has come to mean filmmaking these days. The kid was inexpressive, spent lots of screen time staring at the floor, had one blistering confrontation with his monster mother before popping and ruining the rest of his life.

Not a bad film but if the ultimate message is that if you pile on enough outrage and humiliation you can get someone to explode...well, who doesn't know that?


Friday, December 10, 2010

Wild Grass

France Alan Renais

Playful, beautifully shot film from an old master. This guy's been making films...including some groundbreakers...since 1936!

This one begins with a stolen wallet, a resulting contact, some puzzling stalking, eventual connection and, I guess ultimately romance although this is not at all clear. Lots of cinematic tricks used but more realistic, at least in setting/locations than his last film...Private Fears. Public Places. Same players were used.

This seemed designed to keep the audience off balance but intrigued and for me it succeeded wonderfully. Notable camera work. Lotsa fun.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Forsaken Land

Sri Lanka

Very slow opaque film. Mostly short, isolated scenes set in a beach-like area. We never learn who these people are, what their relationships are, what country this is, what's up with the soldiers...really anything that would give the film some context.

The first ten minutes was shot in near darkness which tellingly set the tone for what was to follow. Near the end a woman hanged herself...I wasn't even sure which character she was.

I learned it was from Sri Lanka by looking on the web.

This just doesn't make it as a film. It may have expressed some private anguish but nothing I saw on screen had any meaning to me.


Waste Land


A conceptual photographer goes to a massive dump in Brazil, shoots a half dozen of the pickers in imaginative settings and changes their lives...some.

This turned out to be a win-win project...Muniz got to be santa and the subjects got the money from the sale of the photos at Sothebys. Moving and inspiring story about giving back plus an interesting look at people at the very bottom, how they actually live, rationalize their plight and support each other.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010


France Beineix

Wonderful confection from 1981. Dazzling visuals, stunning sets and location work, excellently executed chase scene, strong characters, silly plot, great music. What more can you ask of a film?

Cinema du look indeed...


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Inside Job


This skimmed over the Wall Street crash of 2008 and concluded that the scum high up in the financial sector gamed the system and screwed everybody else. No surprise there. Well done but I'd wager that most of the people who would go to see a film like this know this stuff already.


A Somewhat Gentle Man

Norway Stellan Skarsgard

Nordic comedy (?) A man gets out of prison after 12 years and has to decide how he will live his life...either straight or back to a life of crime.

This was played in that unique style of Scandinavian humor which is just amusing enough to register faintly as a comedy but stops miles short of even a chuckle. SS was excellent as a lunkheaded dolt, slowly trying to cope with the predatory women and puzzling social situations he was called upon to muddle through. Contrast this with his character in Timecode or Goya's Ghost.

An amusing diversion not ready for prime time.


Saturday, December 4, 2010


Italy Taviani Brothers

Four separate stories...three hours long. Sumptuous cine, locations (Sicily), camera work. All the stories seemed like folk legends including the framing device of the belled crow.

Each story was captivating and held my interest but nothing here was emotionally engaging. Some of the scenes were played for broad farce...not my favorite.

Overall I had to admire the obvious skill these two guys brought to this project but nothing here would make me recommend it to others.


Friday, December 3, 2010

Tender Mercies

Robert Duvall d/Bruce Beresford

Written by Horton Foote this was an intelligent, sensitive story of a former country singer putting his life together somewhere in rural Texas.

Outstanding performance by RD who deservedly won the oscar. Ditto for Foote. This film puts to shame the film Crazy Heart which dealt with similar themes.

An American classic.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Parking Lot Movie


Over educated graduate students and others work at a downtown parking lot in Charlottesville Virginia. Maybe the ultimate slacker job.

The movie was amusing, brought in class issues and also the social contract. It might have been better at 45 minutes or so but easily held me for its feature length. Fun.


Annie Hall

Woody Allen, Diane Keaton

Delightful film filled with good lines/ideas. Voted by AFI the #2 best romcom ever made. I've loved it every time.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

When You're Strange

documentary Tom DiCillo

Jim Morrison and the Doors and their magical mystery tour as they helped create the Summer of Love and then rode it into increasing depravity...finally into death at 27.

Lots of period footage plus some artsy, unnecessary footage of a lookalike in a mustang cruising the California desert. He got all the important stuff in here but I still felt it was pretty superficial and mostly served as an introduction to those too young or not yet born when all this was taking place.



Yves Montand, Jean-Louis Trintignant d/Costa-Gavras

Maybe the best political thriller ever made. Winner of the best foreign film award in 1969, it was taut, fast-paced, exciting...brought the audience to an emotional peak and at the very end slammed them with a surprise.

This made his name internationally and remains his best film to date. A great film.



Czech Frantisek Vlacil

A returning Czech soldier inherits a mansion and finds the previous owner's daughter working there as a servant. Of course they get a complex problematic relationship.

Very slow and uninteresting. This film showed a little of his cine brilliance but not nearly enough to hold me. I didn't care about the fate of these characters.


Doctor Zhivago

Omar Sharif, Julie Christie D/David Lean

The last and maybe the best of the grand sweeping epics. Characters caught up in historical processes beyond their control are carried here and there, powerless to determine their fate.

Luscious cine, the unforgettable music of Maurice Jarre, a cast of thousands. They just don't make them like this anymore.


Monday, November 29, 2010

The Two Escobars


The incredible story of Columbia in the 80's, the rise of Pablo and the cocaine trade, his subsequent sponsorship of the national soccer team and the way that all played out.

Other than the too-fast editing sports has become addicted to this was interesting, informative and ultimately sad. Lots of murky moral issues too which they chose not to explore.

Good Stuff.


12 Angry Men

Henry Fonda d/ Sidney Lumet

Great film from 1957. Almost all the action takes place in the deliberation room as the jurors wrestle with themselves and each other trying to find justice.

Outstanding cast made up of New York actors who hadn't appeared in films before but then became familiar character players for the next 30 years.

Tense taut drama which has aged well. A classic.


Sunday, November 28, 2010



Inspired by the Grimm Bros tales, this started in a conifer forest with a brother and sister abandoned by destitute parents and went in directions no one but the twisted writer/director could have thought of.

Several good laughs in the first third before it got darker in tone if not in lighting. Fun. Original. Done by the maker of The Dress.


The Battle of Chile


Chile 1973. This told of the months-long struggle to hold things together in the Allende period while under constant mean, vicious opposition by the angry oligarchy...with the full support of the US.

On their September 11 they used full military force ending 150 years of electoral rule and bringing Chile into the fascist nightmare so many of us share today. Of course eventually Pinochet was ousted but not before doing permanent damage to that country and its poor.

So it goes. This was much too long to have the impact it should have had.


On The Waterfront

Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint d/Elia Kazan

One of the best films ever made. Brando's oscar. Tight, taut direction, gritty, realistic locations, b/w photography. This was almost two hours long but raced by so fast it seemed half that.

People will watch this as long as there are movies.


The African Queen

Bogart, K Hepburn d/John Huston

Great classic from 1951. Bogie's oscar. The story is preposterous but the dynamic between the two leads works so well that the implausibilities of the plot fade into insignificance. It's a love story, a rom-com, an adventure. Much beloved movie that marks a high point in traditional hollywood studio-era product.


Friday, November 26, 2010

A Face in the Crowd

Elia Kazan Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal

An early cautionary tale about the power of television that was ahead of its time but all too prescient to describe the US today. A drunken bum catapults to fame based on his country, home-spun persona and step-by-step becomes a dangerous megalomaniac.

AG was towering in this part...his first film. He overdid it a bit...indeed the entire film was over-egged some trying to make the point. Ms Neal was perfect...moving from enthusiastic girl reporter to sadder, wiser woman.

The story raced along dragging me with it in spite of my reservations.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

71 Fragments of the Chronology of Chance

Austria Michael Haneke

An early film that vividly demonstrated the role of chance in our lives. We watch a half-dozen people do the mundane things people do for 1 1/2 hours then they all end up in a bank at the same is a shooter, the others victims.

The chopped up editing style he used here worked well. As we got to know the various characters there was no obvious connection among them until the last scene. This took some courage since they were very ordinary and the scenes we were forced to watch were banal.

But when it all snapped into place it did so with a resounding click that'll stay in my mind.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow

documentary Sophie Fiennes

Slow pans down corridors in an abandoned factory in southern France sprinkled with objets d'art made of concrete, lead, broken glass and various pieces of metallic junk. The scale was enormous...this was a very large factory. And it was one man's project.

I alternated between wondrous delight at the rebellious spirit it took to create something this in-your-face junky on this scale. Then I would wonder how this guy got money for this project. Then I would think this is very stupid...who in the world wants to see nonsense like this? Then I would be bored with the sameness of decrepit ruins.

His interview was predictably abstract...filled with meaningless verbiage...a schtick he seems to have mastered long ago.

Does this kind of work have any value? Each of us has to decide that. For


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Nothing Personal

Ireland Stephen Rea

A bitter Dutch woman with a strong sensuous side travels Western Ireland searching for ?...finds Rea living alone in a picturesque house way out on the coast...they reach an accommodation and gradually warm to each other.

Lovely locations. Both players were excellent. They never revealed either of their stories which I thought made it work...they became stand-ins for lonely people everywhere.

Slight but sweet...ultimately satisfying.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Samson and Delilah


Extremely grim drama set in the Northern Territory. Two young aboriginal teens, a boy and a girl, live in a squalid outback village. He is addicted to sniffing gasoline which has addled his brain. She is inexplicably attacked by the village women after her grandmother dies. So they hit the road by stealing the village truck. They come to a modern city, live under a bridge, steal food until she gets gang-raped and then hit by a car. Then a kindly abo man takes them to a remote squalid cabin where they apparently live happily ever after.

This may have been intended to cast a light on the plight on Australia's natives but they were presented in such an unfavorable way here it may have backfired. They were portrayed as filthy, heartless, ignorant...people with no sense of pride or dignity. Perhaps victims but one wonders what their lives were like before the white invasion?

I suspect a similar film could be made about native Americans but would anyone want to watch it?


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Happily Ever After

France Charlotte Gainsbourg

Nice little story set in Paris' chattering class. The men here were pretty callow, the women all-suffering...until things turned. Fast-paced...nicely shot...several memorable scenes...lovely resolution with a surprise appearance by Johnny Depp.

Even though I've seen what seems like thousands of these if they're well done like this one I get sucked in and end up enjoying them. Especially nice performances by CG and her husband/director Yvan Attal.


La Soufriere

documentary Werner Herzog

This was one of three early documentaries by WH on this disc. His oddness was firmly in place by this time...early 70's. There was a film about a ski flyer(jumper), a competition for livestock auctioneers and a volcano on the Caribbean island of Guadalupe which threatened to erupt...but didn't. So he took his camera on eerie tours of an emptied city and up to the caldera evading poisonous sulfur clouds.

Compelling docs on unusual subjects.


Friday, November 19, 2010

From Russia With Love

Sean Connery

Early entry into this series...often touted as one of the best so I was curious. Just seemed like the usual nonsense to me. This was before they became ever more preposterous so Bond seemed almost human...maybe just a little superhuman.

There was never any suspense since we knew he wouldn't get killed or even really harmed. The aim here was to contrive stunts that would dazzle the audience, seduce the women and make the men envious. It clearly had that effect in 1963 but from today's perspective this seems pretty silly. Spectre indeed.


Green Snake

China Tsui Hark Maggie Cheung

A trip into the fantastical with lots of flying around, shape-changing, animal-to-people and back again etc. The whole purpose of films like this is spectacle and this one delivered...big time. It was eye-popping and imaginative from frame one and never let up.

Fun, diverting.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Uncle Boonmee


Very unusual film centered around a man dying of kidney failure, his interactions with family members and various ghosts from his past. Slow paced and abstract. Some stunning locations/imagery. Featured the unusual sight of a woman raped by a fish...all done discreetly.

I had the strong sense that there was folkloric resonance here for a Thai audience that completely missed me. The final scenes, after his funeral struck me as similar to Bunuel in Simon of the Desert.

Worth seeing but this would have a very limited audience in the West.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

No Regrets for our Youth

Japan Akira Kurosawa

Early post-war (1946) film is decidedly anti-war and highlights the way those who saw it that way were persecuted and tormented during the period of madness which seized Japan from the 20's until 1945.

Setsuko Hara plays the lead and she was magnificent...moving from a callow, self-centered brat to a long-suffering woman. Her features seemed to change with the story. It was hard to believe she later played the serene saint-like woman in Ozu's films.

There were some gaps in the story which didn't matter much since AK was focused on the emotional toll the war had on individuals and this came through very clearly.


Tropical Malady


Typical fare from this guy...the man with the unpronounceable name.

It took quite a while for him to identify a protagonist. It turned out to be a soldier...possibly gay...infatuated with a man who repels his overtures. After an hour of noodling he goes into the forest at night, stays there, has a fight with a naked ghost and eventually a confrontation with a tiger.

As the film developed it became more abstract/opaque. There may have been cultural/folkloric meanings that I missed. The "resolution" didn't, for me at least. This was one of his less interesting films in spite of some startling imagery.




Herding sheep up to mountain meadows in Montana. The scenery was spectacular but the trials of the men who do this stripped it of its romance. This is harsh, demanding work...constantly fighting the elements, predators and the sheep themselves.

The unnaturalness of the enterprise was starkly featured. Organized herding and indeed agriculture in general is a distortion of the natural order and can only be maintained by constant struggle. Makes me wonder about "civilization" itself.

Interesting and provocative.


Tales of Hoffmann


Imaginatively filmed opera...done on a sound stage in England. Incredible use of color...great sets. Some of the music was nice (hardly transcendent) but eventually the visual splendor of this production couldn't overcome the artificiality of this form.

This is someone else's cup of tea.


Monday, November 15, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest


This was the third and concluding entry in this series. Everything was tidily wrapped up...all ended well...the bad guys were all found and punished and the good guys won. This fairy-tailish flavor was the main complaint I had. It came across like too many hollywood resolutions.

Still, these characters were unforgettable...especially the "girl" played by Noomi Rapace whose character was almost entirely non-verbal...she conveyed her thoughts with her eyes.

World class commercial thriller fare.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Change of Plans


Ensemble piece set among the chattering class in Paris. The first half was hyperkinetically edited which I found wearing...but it settled down a bit after that and featured several scenes that allowed for some character development.

The characters were the usual self-absorbed verbal types who can be pretty annoying but for some reason I found myself liking them here and consequently enjoying the film.




A man and his 11 yo son are on the road to the Crimea. They have little money and have a range of encounters...some good, some not so good along the way.

Episodic, sometimes nasty, sometimes lyrical...imaginatively directed with occasional long takes or clever camera moves. Well enough shot and acted to hold my interest...not quite good enough to soar.


Friday, November 12, 2010

When A Woman Ascends the Stairs

Japan Mikio Naruse

A great good as anything from the classic, post-war period.

A Ginza bar hostess navigates her way through a male-dominated world...trying to maintain her integrity, her dignity. Film was helped immensely by the lead performance of Hideko Takamine. Her grace, intelligence, beauty and ability to subtly convey the full range of human emotions was world-class.

Naruse has been unknown in the West which is really unfortunate...he is at least the equal of the big three...Kurosawa, Ozu, Mizoguchi...and in this film...perhaps his masterwork...he surpasses them.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Treeless Mountain


Two small girls...sisters 7 and 4...are left by mom with an uncaring aunt. We follow their adjustment, their yearning, their sense of abandonment and how they cope with such a serious loss. Autobiographical scenario by the filmmaker...a Korean-raised woman.

This ranks among the very best performances by children I've seen. As good as Ponette. The kids were natural with each other, with other kids and with adults. It was impossible for me not to feel for their plight.

Outstanding work.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Vendredi Soir

France Claire Denis Vincent Lindon

Interesting experimental film. Through a simple contrivance a man and a woman get together one night, have dinner, go to a hotel, spend the night and split in the morning.

Done with very tight close-ups...thus personalizing the story. They are in a context but it's far in the background. Unusual cutting/editing gave the film a happenstance sensibility. Strong performances by both leads. Stark, spare in tone. Intimate.

This was a successful notch in her ouevre.


Monday, November 8, 2010

The Girl Who Played with Fire


The second installment in this trilogy. Fast-paced, sometimes violent, compelling story and characters...this was an up-to-date thriller.

The lead actress - Noomi Rapace - dominates here even though her performance is mostly non verbal. The scenario of a small woman who has been horribly abused tracking down her abusers has great resonance and has been used many times. It still works.

Well done.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Breath Made Visible


Straightforward piece on Anna Halprin...avant-garde dancer/choreographer. She came across very well as an intelligent, sensitive artist. Her works presented here were interesting...sometimes pretty out there.

The problem I have with this form is that it strikes me the same way as's deeply narcissistic. There was footage of Anna as a little could almost hear her shouting...look at me! look at me! Abstract, interpretive dance may be satisfying to the performer but it misses me as an observer.

Still, this was well done.


Broken Embraces

Spain P. Almodovar Penelope Cruz

Typical fare from this guy: cheating, jealousy, homophobia, possessiveness, passion-fake and real, tragic accident, blindness and death. All done in sparkling colors.

I never have warmed up to his films...some have been better than others. This one was middling.


Saturday, November 6, 2010



This tells the story of Mussolini's first wife and child. Highly stylized, particularly for the first 20 minutes which has many dark/shadow scenes and was quite effective. Unfortunately the flash became wearisome after a while and I found the presentation as well as the story an ordeal.

Very impressive film but it didn't work for me.


Friday, November 5, 2010



Here we follow a father and his 6yo son as they travel to a preserve off Mexico's coast to fish and lead an idyllic life before mom takes the kid off to Italy and the horrors of civilization.

We were supposed to like this guy but I didn't which ruined the film for me. He struck me as crude, ignorant...maybe loving but a life with him...spearing animals, dragging fish around by the lips, etc...would be extremely limited and would prepare the boy poorly for the life ahead.

It was short though...that was good.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Last Train Home

documentary China

Very sad film. We follow a family as they go through the nightmare of trying to get home during the Spring Festival. Arduous as that is it's the least of their problems. The family has been torn apart by globalization...parents living 1500 miles away from their children...who are understandably angry, resentful.

So the scum who run international economics and the great race to the bottom are ruining the Chinese as well as the American working class. Excellent. Abandon hope...etc

Powerful drama.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Nora's Will


Sweet little film. An aging woman commits suicide (after 14 attempts) and leaves behind problems for her ex (agnostic) and son (Jewish). This was done with a light touch...gently poked fun at religious belief generally...and in the last 1/2 hour moved toward nostalgia and emotional healing...without histrionics. Excellent lead actor.

Nice job.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Carmo, Hit the Road


Very unpleasant road movie. In this one we get to watch some unattractive people piss, throw up, butt, knife and shoot each other, rape...all with lots of gore and ugly sound design. What music there is was rap. To top it off all this was shot in the extremely annoying camera style that is now apparently an international fad/plague.

I only endured this one because I was screening it for the festival. I felt sorry for the players.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mademoiselle Chambon

France Vincent Lindon

Exquisite variation on Brief Encounter. Told through the eyes, glances, body language, subtle camera work. Everything here was understated which made the underlying emotions all the more prominent.

I don't like the expression...less is more...but here it was. A lovely, moving film.


Friday, October 29, 2010


Japan Naruse

A marvelous film. Ensemble piece which traces the ups and downs of the five women who work at a failing geisha house in Tokyo. While they are all struggling in their various ways with debts, men and other obligations daily life goes on and carries them along. Nothing really gets resolved...we just get to witness a bit of their lives. Who knows what tomorrow will bring for any of them? Or any of us?

Naruse is an overlooked master. He is looser than Ozu...not as cinematically inventive as Kurosawa...quintessentially Japanese.

Very moving, satisfying.


Cry of the City

Victor Mature, Richard Conte 1948

Classic noir...two neighborhood a cop, the other a crook...shot at night with wet streets and long shadows.

Unexceptional but well enough done to easily hold my interest. I was surprised at how good both leads were.




Spy vs. Spy at the tail end of the cold war. Very strong film highlighted the human cost of the constant deception that was these peoples' lives.

The film was conventional in all respects...solid cast, script, cine, etc. A winner.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Paranormal Activity


This was the latest in the faux home movie genre a la Blair Witch and it worked beautifully. A young couple have been plagued by ghoolies, ghosties and decide to film their hauntings. This leads to the usual annoying camera work but at least it was integral to the plot.

The film uses sound, you-are-there effects and the best use of silence I've seen recently. It gradually builds tension and I found the payoff just perfect.

Engrossing. Kudos.


Mic Macs

France Jean Pierre Jeunet

A truly delightful film. This took the visual inventiveness shown in all his pictures, added a cast of lovable quirky characters (a contortionist, a calculator, a human cannonball) and a righteous cause et voila!

Light-hearted, fun and silly. There's not enough silly in the world.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Bow

Korea Kim Ki-Duk

Another intriguing film from this guy. He has a knack for creating characters and situations that on the surface seem to be ordinary but are actually mysterious and filled with layers of symbolic meaning. Witness The Isle, 3-Iron...

Here we have an old man and a young girl who live on a decrepit fishing boat anchored somewhere at sea. He has raised her since childhood and intends to marry her when she reaches legal age. He keeps rivals away with his bow skills and also uses this instrument to tell fortunes and to play music. Throughout the music is beautiful and haunting.

The story seems straightforward (akin to The Collector) until the final fourth when it takes on a supernatural tone.

I found it involving and delightful. Makes me want to see everything else he has done.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Kings of Pastry


Centered on a quadrennial competition to be included among the best pastry chefs of France.

Like so many of these competition films the success of this one hinged on our being able to focus and care about one of the competitors. Once pulled in the actual footage became compelling. The skill on display here was truly remarkable and in spite of the apparently fey nature of the topic these men easily gained my respect before it was over. Why were there no women in the competition?

The film was marred...not too-tight closeups and the usual swing pans, zoom racks, etc. I do wish this fad would pass. It gives me a headache

Even with this flaw the film was a winner.


Strangers on a Train

Alfred Hitchcock 1951

This is one of the master's great films. The scenario was taken from a novel by Patricia Highsmith and written by Raymond Chandler. The story is laid out quickly and once set in motion the plot races along building suspense and tension all the way. The final resolution is wonderfully executed with multiple themes and references but undeniably over-the-top.

Featured the masterful cross-cutting sequence of the tennis match with the rescue of the cigarette lighter.

Unforgettable performance by Robert Walker. Even a small part by my childhood favorite Marion Lorne!

Hitchcock at his best.


Nine Nation Animation

An assortment of recent animated works...utilizing many different styles...from all over the world. Some were striking and was annoying.

The mixed bag one would expect from a compilation like this but well worth while.


Floating Weeds

Y. Ozu Japan

Late work by the of only four in color. He makes glorious use of color here...particularly red. The story is of a traveling theatrical troupe who come to a remote seaside village in search of an audience. The leader has a former lover...and a and the film revolves around this fact. Re-done by Gillian Armstrong in High Tide.

A great film by any measure.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Fiend Without a Face


Wonderfully cheesy sci-fi junque from 1957. You got your invisible monster which turns out to be stop-motion brains with antennae at the end, atomic radiation, mad scientist and military hero who fixes everything. What's not to like?


Thursday, October 21, 2010



Some unearthed footage of the post-war trial served as the basis for this film. There was nothing here which hasn't been rehashed dozens of was hard for me to see why it was made/released.

Yes the Nazis were really awful. But if that's all you have to say...some 65 years later then maybe you shouldn't be saying it.


For All Mankind


The best doc I've seen of the Apollo moon flights. Great selection of footage gleaned from the NASA archives.

Although this feat is now seriously downplayed it remains, in my opinion, mankind's single greatest achievement. And this film does it justice.


The Call Girl


Simply told story of a college girl from the provinces who works as a call girl to finance the life style she prefers. Her decision leads to serious complications in her personal relationships...and continuing disillusionment. At one point she is one big disappointment after another.

After a thorough whacking from reality she returns home to a loving, if inept father...sadder and wiser.

Strong film helped by the fine lead performance. Her mostly passive exterior would occasionally crack allowing the scared little girl inside to peek through.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Red Desert

Italy M. Antonioni

Grim disjointed portrait of the monstrousness of modern industrial life and, apparently, its effect on the human inhabitants who stagger through this hideous landscape.

This guy was very big in the 60's because his films were enigmatic and he dealt with larger themes than earlier films. Today they still seem fresh in some ways...dated in others.

He captures some startling images here...giant ship looming in the background, enormous tanks and other industrial scenes a la Gary, Indiana or Perth Amboy NJ. The lead actress gave a terrific, if opaque performance.

Watching it all these years later it seemed an intellectual exercise more than a fully realized, coherent film. has a strong impact on the viewer...remarkable since it is entirely unengaging.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Eye of Vichy

France Claude Chabrol

This was a compilation of the propaganda films which were shown to the French populace during the German occupation. It was interesting to see the different slant on the war and also interesting to contrast these lies with the lies told by the allied press.

In war truth is the first casualty...


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Edvard Munch

Norway Peter Watkins 1976

A truly extraordinary film...maybe the best attempt at an artist biopic I've ever seen. Extremely well assembled...shots ranged back and forth in time to illustrate the effect of the past on present psyche. He had many of the players look directly into the camera...often...which created a sense of intimacy and complicity in the audience.

At three hours it was too dense to absorb in one sitting. Breaking it up into two worked beautifully.

These pseudo-documentaries he has created are stunning and unique in the world of cinema. Pity he isn't better known to the general public.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Cell 211


Tight, powerful prison drama. Just when I thought there was nothing new you could possibly do with this form here came a film with a fresh twist.

Very tense situation guaranteed audience involvement. Cine and pacing enhanced the drama. Two excellent leads. At times it pulled a bit too hard on the heartstrings but quickly found its footing and went off in an unexpected direction.

A winner.


Where Mountains Fly

documentary Japan

Another piece on the confluence of buddhism, animism and shinto. Far too much voiceover. Sprawling, unfocused, silly. Apparently done by a French team.

Much inferior to last year's Shugendo Now. Some very beautiful landscape shots couldn't save this one.



A very stupid...but ultimately engaging teen comedy about a comic book nerd who turns himself (sort of) into a superhero with the help of a foul-mouthed 11 year old girl.

This is about as dumbed-down as a movie can go and stay above the drooling level. Is there any hope for a generation that makes something like this a hit?


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Black Gold


This was about coffee. I was hoping for a comprehensive historical view of this ubiquitous drink but what I got here was a single-minded...and simple-minded...polemic on how the world economic system screws the little guy...the guy who actually does the work. I already knew this and after an hour of having this film preach the obvious at me I got sick of it and turned it off.

Gee, I wonder how it ended?


Our Daily Bread

Germany documentary

Carefully composed, mostly static shots of the modern industrial food production system. Some of this was mind-boggling...millions of chickens in an enormous building, sunflowers stretching to the horizon, etc. Because this was Germany everything was clean, modern, slick and sanitized. Even the imported slaves lived in clean slums.

Interesting...but where are we going with this?


Monday, October 11, 2010

Land of Promise


Several short pieces produced in England in the 1930's extolling the marvelous benefits of...well...England. This included coal mines, a shipyard, factories of various stripe, slum clearance.

Much of what was highlighted seemed dickensian to me...but hey...what do I know?

The films were nicely framed and shot but the narration was idiotic from my point of view.




A family with three grown children are held in total isolation in a walled compound. The parents are apparently trying to shelter their children from the corruption of the outside world. They teach them the wrong words for things, tell them they have a brother who has been expelled for disobeying, that cats are a physical threat and that they are stuck there until they lose a non-existent dogtooth.

As it will in adolescence sex rears its head. The woman colleague brought into the compound to service the son spreads the behavior and threatens stability.

The themes were patiently laid out here. Lots of scenes were designed to make the audience squirm...including some explicit sex. Several scenes of violence were quite realistically done.

The overall effect was powerful and unforgettable. No matter how many years go by mention of this title's name will instantly bring it back. That alone marks it as a successful film.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Who is Harry Nilsson?


Nicely done piece on a fine pop singer/songwriter who wrestled with the demons in his closet and lost. He had a beautiful voice, great sense of melody and gentle irony. After watching this I found myself singing his songs in my head for hours.

Moving and informative...I hope this helps people remember him. I know I will.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Enlightenment Guaranteed


"Comedy" about two buffoons who travel to Japan to spend time in a monastery but get sidetracked in Tokyo with no money, passport, etc.

Not funny.




Another wrinkle on the hopelessly corrupt American political system. Single focus here hurt in my eyes...not a mention of vote count rigging, bribery...the very nature of the elite "republic" set up by the rich, white property owners in 1787.


Friday, October 8, 2010

How I Ended the Summer


This one took quite a while to get going but turned into an oddball thriller after more than an hour of build-up. Two men work at a remote island weather station in the high is a grizzled veteran...the other is a recent college grad. They have a troubled say the least.

I had a lot of trouble understanding the motivation of the young guy...which was crucial to the plot. Are Russians just thick-headed dolts? May be...

After two hours the resolution was enigmatic...which I can live with...but...what really was the point of all this? And did a helicopter crash?


America's Atomic Bomb Tests


De-classified films of open-air tests conducted in Nevada in the 50's. Knowing what we do now it was chilling watching footage of soldiers being marched to ground zero sites shortly after the blasts. Many have died from residual effects of radiation.

The rah-rah naivete on display here also grated. We're #1 and all that. Pride comes before the fall...


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Army of Crime


This was a dramatization of a group of foreign-born resistance fighters in France during WW2. Fast-paced/edited...solid cast...nice use of locations...overall an excellent work of cinema/history. Modernized the great classic Army of Shadows without diminishing either.

Good stuff.


Winnebago Man


Outtakes from a 1989 industrial film shoot went viral on youtube and made Jack Rebney famous. This filmmaker tries here to make himself famous by riding on the coattails of the crotchety 76 year old blind guy Jack has become.

I found myself a bit irritated most of the way through this film but got sucked in to the feel-good ending. Eliminate the last ten minutes and it would be awful. With came up to OK.

I kept having the sense that Jack may actually be a thoughtful, interesting man with something to say but the filmmaker repeatedly steered him away from a message of any substance.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Queen of the Sun


No, this isn't about spending the summer on Fire Island. It's about bees...their essential role in the web of life in which we forget we live. And they're dying...sometimes in large numbers. Without them our food supply would be in deep peril.

This was a beautiful film...sugar-coated(no pun)...but watch-able and intelligent. Made me want to put a hive or two in the back yard.



India S. Ray

This is the middle of the Apu trilogy and I found it not as strong as the first. We follow a boy from youth through adolescence as he develops his education and breaks away from home. This leaves his mother alone which causes both of them great distress.

The opening third set in Benares was beautifully photographed and shot. After the father's death the film seemed to lose focus and meandered toward its resolution. If seen on its own it was part of the trilogy it fit.


Sunday, October 3, 2010



A swimming instructor gets involved with a 17 yo Kurdish youth who is trying to get to England to re-unite with his girlfriend.

Strong characters and story. This had the air of truth. Nice work all around dealing with a topic -illegal immigration- with murky moral issues.


Friday, October 1, 2010

One Wonderful Sunday

Japan Akira Kurosawa 1947

Title is somewhat ironic. We accompany a 30ish couple who are destitute in the post-war devastation as they try to create some hope for themselves in an increasingly cruel world.

Beautifully photographed and composed...AK had reached the peak of his skills by this point. The characters were likable but the screenplay slipped into maudlin every now and then. Still there were some outstanding sequences...most notably a race in the rain to a concert.

The eventual resolution was much too drawn out and detracted from the overall impression made by the film. Too good to dismiss...too flawed to cheer, this was a building block in his stellar career.


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Five Girls


A film crew followed five girls around for two years recording the turmoil of their lives and allowing us to watch the decisions they made. The problems they faced were real, sometimes serious, but the overall impression we get is that the kids are all right. Don't know how representative these girls were but they seemed to be getting through a bewildering time pretty much intact.

Solid interesting piece.


Breaker Morant

Australia Edward Woodward, Bryan Brown

Nasty cynical doins in the British army during the Boer War in 1901. Three "colonials" are being sacrificed to try and bring about a peace settlement but their attorney mounts a defense which makes crystal clear the injustice of their case.

Originally a play set in a courtroom...those scenes are still the film's strongest although the exterior scenes...flashbacks mostly...are beautifully interwoven to create a tense drama.

Excellent acting, writing, editing...another fondly remembered...and rightly so...entry in Au's national filmography.


Picnic at Hanging Rock

Australia Peter Weir

To my mind the crowning achievement of the renaissance the Au film industry went through from 1973 to 1985.

Weir's film was beautiful to look at, thoughtful, mysterious, pregnant with meaning. The editing, tone, music...all facets of filmmaking came together here to create an experience that has lasted with me for 35 years. I was thrilled that it has stood up as well as it has. It remains a great work of world cinema.


Monday, September 27, 2010


Rod Steiger w/d Sergei Bondarchuk

Very similar to his masterpiece (War and Peace) in look, tone and in many of the details. Steiger was plausible as Napoleon although doing the whole thing in English hurt some. The Napoleon I saw in The Emperor's Last Island was better...dynamic, charismatic.

There was a cast of costume...for the battle scenes. If I hadn't seen the other I would have been dazzled but to my eye he was really repeating what he had done better...this time for a western audience.

A solid historical epic drama.


Winter's Bone


Stark drama set in the Ozarks of Missouri. This wouldn't work very well for the tourist bureau...everything we saw here was broken, ugly, foul, decrepit. Including the humans.

It was a strong story with a constant air of menace...nice story arc...great lead and plausible supporting characters. It should, but won't, win awards.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Valhalla Rising

Denmark Mads Mikkelson

A unique film. Set in medieval times, we follow a one-eyed psychotic killer through misty mountain landscapes as he searches for...? After killing those who had held him captive he joins a group headed for the holy land...wherever that is.

Very other-worldly. Stunning cine and look. Lots of swirling mist. Striking music and sound design. Much posing and highly stylized tableaux. Extreme violence enhanced by sound effects.

Overall an unpleasant film but done with great care and imagination.


The Dress


Black comedy. We follow a dress from its initial design and manufacture to the various women who end up with it as it passes from hand to hand. All the women suffer terrible consequences from wearing the dress...ranging from criminal invasion to rape and death.

Therein lies the problem of this film for me: the consequences were too ugly, too extreme. The initial sense of fun with the idea got too nasty for my taste. Turned out the most repellant character...who kept turning up...was played by the director himself making the film a really perverse ego trip.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Ascent


Another blistering drama involving partisans fighting behind the lines against the Germans during the occupation of WW2 (see Come and See). Vividly depicted the harshness of the conditions under which these people fought...suffering was the order of the day. The shoot itself looks like it was a haul.

Strongly acted (overacted?)...creatively framed and shot...deeply involving scenario with a devastating resolution.

A little-known masterwork of Russian cinema.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Stray Dog

Japan Kurosawa 1948

This was his first major film. A rookie policeman has his gun stolen while traveling on a crowded bus and we go along with him while he scours Tokyo's underworld trying to retrieve it.

Extremely accomplished work with consistently imaginative camera/framing work. Many familiar actors appear who would later become members of his collective...including Takeshi Shimura.

A bit overacted in some scenes but overall this was way ahead of anything that was coming out of Hollywood that year.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Shoot the Piano Player

Francois Truffault Charles Azvanour

An early entry into the French New Wave. Shot on the fly with many scenes of improvised dialogue. An apparent homage to American gangster/noir films from the 40's and 50's.

Sharp camera work and editing...nice use of humor to leaven the seriousness...wild changes in tone throughout...dangling characters...some genuine pathos...solid acting...a bit of nudity.

Overall a smorgasbord of this and that with an abrupt, unsatisfying ending.


Silent Star

East Germany/Poland

Big budget film from 1959. Though obviously dated this was a good attempt to envision a trip to Venus and bring to life a novel by S. Lem.

Imaginative sets and visuals generally. Cardboard characters. The tech stuff was laughable seen from today but it was as good as Forbidden Planet.

Just a curiousity piece now.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Dot the i

England Gael Garcia Marquez

Fun little puzzler with several unexpected twists. It came across as the kind of contrivance which makes good movie entertainment but strayed pretty far from reality. held my interest and the cleverness made me smile.


Friday, September 17, 2010


Bruce Willis

Nifty premise and expensive production values raised this up from junky actioner to satisfying entertainment. The story raced along...there were some good chase sequences...neat robot-things and a not-bad attempt at emotional engagement.

Not a classic but not a dud either. If this sounds like faint is...but not a bronx cheer either.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

His and Hers


Short interviews of women at every stage of their lives...from infant all the way to doddering crone.

Touching, sweet...quietly documented life itself. A unique idea and presentation...beautifully done.


In The Dust of the Stars

East Germany 1975

This was completely hopeless...on the level of a Doris Wishman movie. Ludicrous sets, dialogue, plot, "aliens."

Much worse than anything Roger Corman ever did. Sort of comical.



East Germany

Very cheesy sci-fi flick from the other side of the Iron Curtain. These folks made a real attempt here but it still fell far short of what others did at this time...three years after 2001.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I Am Love

Tilda Swinton

Grand, sweeping melodrama set in the evolving upper industrial class of Milan. Loving camera work...superb editing rhythm...classic story structure...marvelous cast. This played like an update of a Douglas Sirk film from the 50's.

When I left the theater the word that kept coming into my mind was "exquisite."


The Good, The Bad and The Weird

South Korea

And the very silly. Completely over-the-top tribute to the great spaghetti western of Sergio Leone. Extremely slick and accomplished filmmaking...some crude attempts at historical significance (set in the 40's)...but all done for what I hope was a lot of fun for the cast and crew.

I love seeing trashy western memes transposed to the Orient. This one did it as well as anyone could.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Wages of Fear

France Yves Montand d/George-Henri Clouzot

The story of four down-and-out guys hired to take two truckloads of nitro 300 miles to a blown-out well site.

This took a full hour to set the stage and introduce the characters...once the drive gets going it's still a riveting experience. It's as much a character study as an adventure story and holds up well because of it.

A great classic of French cinema.


Death of a Cyclist

Spain 1956

A couple having an affair strike and kill a cyclist, scoot away and are forced to deal with the guilt and other social ramifications as the days go by. This film exposed the ugly underbelly of the upper caste in Spanish society under Franco...the decadence that long-term privilege brings to a class.

Very sharp cine/camera work. Imaginative editing...a solid work of world cinema. Appears to have been an influence on Polanski and the French New Wave.



Julia Stiles

Nifty re-telling of Othello...transferred to a American high school located somewhere in the south. They had to strain a bit to make it work...the resolution in particular seemed too adult for high school...but it's such a strong story it easily held my interest.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010



Tightly focused film about an illegal Chinese man who works as a delivery man for a restaurant. He owes a loan shark...must make a bunch of money fast. We follow him for what seems like the whole day as he delivers food to all sorts of the rain.

Marred by the usual hand-held bullshit...constant zooms, tight close-ups. This style gives me a headache and I wish it would fall out of fashion soon.

That said this was a nice little drama which gave a small peek into another world.


Monday, September 6, 2010

The Adventures of Mark Twain

Frederic March

Creaker from 1944. The film hits many of the high notes of Twain's life but was done so simple-mindedly that it frequently made me cringe. Artificial (studio-bound) in the extreme. Cartoon-like scenes. This is exactly the kind of film the Italian neo-realists were rebelling against.


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Ellie Parker

Naomi Watts

Tour de force performance by this Australian actress. She plays a struggling actress and we follow her from audition to audition as she lays out her soul in desperate attempts to get a part. Her life is equally chaotic.

All filmed in DV...which got annoying but didn't detract from her display. Lots of inside jokes and references. Fast-paced, fun and incisive.


7/7: Seeds of Deconstruction


Solid, calm attempt to lay out the lies/inconsistencies of what happened in London on the day of the "terrorist" attacks. It appears that the British government has lied, changed its story, covered up with idiotic "investigations" etc, etc...all the usual bullshit.

So it goes...and I guess always will...


Early Spring

Japan Yasujiro Ozu

Another masterpiece. From the height of his powers.

Here we deal with marital infidelity and disillusionment with life in general. The characters play their roles, suffer their losses and carry on. What else is there? It is our fate. We endure.

All his normal tics are in place. After Tokyo Story this may be his greatest film.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Come Early Morning

Ashley Judd w/d Joey Lauren Adams

Set in the American south, we follow a 40ish woman around, learn her life and watch her start to come to some necessary changes.

Another very fine performance by AJ. She seems to have a corner on this type of character and always makes her seem believable, flawed but underneath a good person and worth getting to know. Sort of an updated Ruby. Nice job.


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Countdown to Zero


Nuclear weapons. Nothing in this film was new to me but placed all together anew it painted a devastating picture of our hopes as a species.

Give up.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Hong Kong Johnnie To

Slick, stylish, beautifully lit/shot/edited. This comes off as a tribute to Sergio Leone and his marvelous spaghetti westerns.

Idiotic story of course but who cares? This was made for fun and it succeeded.



Italy Gillo Pontecarvo

Very powerful story of a young Jewish girl who manages to hide her identity after being arrested with her family, survives as a sex slave to a German officer and becomes a kapo...whose job it is to keep a tight rein on her fellow prisoners.

Marred somewhat by everyone speaking and behaving like Italians. All players were too fit and fed. Still this was a major production with excellent production values, sets, numbers, etc. The personal drama was quite moving and the final sequence was wrenching...would have been doubly so in 1959 when this film was originally released.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Clay Bird


Very fine film...much like the work of Satyarjit Ray, only in glorious color. It tells the story of the turmoil in one family in the 60's when East Pakistan was entering the period that let to civil war and eventual independence. Religion, culture, village and family issues were all dealt with simply and honestly.

We rarely get an up-close view into this remote people and their country. This one was well done and memorable.


Friday, August 27, 2010



Nice historical overview of the use of propaganda throughout American history. The film included not only the techniques used but the underlying reasons why this systematic use of deceit and lies by the economic elite are necessary in the first place.

Very strong film which could/should be used in schools.




Straightforward take on Disney's model little town in Florida. The topic screams for ridicule but the filmmakers wisely chose to let the people who live there speak for themselves...knowing they would indict themselves. It was striking how banal, overweight and generally bland these folks were. The place comes complete with its own garden police.

The physical layout and architecture were very pretty but for me being stuck in such a place would confirm Satre's dictum.


A Chinese Ghost Story


Outrageous, over-the-top special effects extravaganza. Some very impressive pre-CGI work, preposterous story, sweet love interest, excellent framing/pacing. Marred, as usual, by wild overacting.

Still, great fun...would've been a hoot to watch with beered-up friends.


Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family

Japan Y. Ozu

An early effort (1940) that dealt with the changing fortunes and shifting power relationships within a family. At the start they are very prosperous but pater dies and their economic fortunes decline...mother and little sister are forced to move between their siblings' homes and much unhappiness ensues. It all resolves in the end when elder son returns, chastises the bad, rescues mom and gets a wife.

This was the first of the type of films for which he became an international, fixed camera angle, landscape interludes, etc.

Very satisfying.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Double Take


Oddball film which incorporated lots of 50's footage of Alfred Hitchcock introducing his TV show, Folgers TV ads from the same era, cold war and presidential newsreel stuff and a doppelganger who was close to Hitch but not really.

If there was a point to all this I missed it. Still it was fun to watch...especially the ads. They must have thought we were stupid. They were right.


Bird People in China

Japan Takashi Miike

A sarariman and a yakuza travel to a remote mountain in Yunan in search of jade and find one of those magical villages where the folks are sweet and the lifestyle stands in stark contrast to modernity.

Greatly enhanced by spectacular scenery throughout. Docked some for overacting...which was really unfortunate but seems to be endemic in Eastern films. Loved the use of "Annie Laurie."


The Betrayal


Outstanding piece on the fate of a Laotian family after being abandoned by the US in the 70's. They were pariahs at home, emigrated to Brooklyn, and there their troubles continued.

Intimate, poetic, expressive...this was shot over a period of 23 years. Great care went into editing and selecting the footage.

One of the best.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Net

documentary Germany

Interesting piece on the development of modern technology using as a starting point and thread throughout the writings and thoughts of Ted Kaczynski, Unabomber.

Their research was thorough enough to uncover the CIA mind control experiments to which he was exposed in the early 60's and which, by all accounts did significant damage to an already fragile psyche. Loved hearing Stewart Brand look back on the seismic changes which rocked the land back then...and where the conflict between back-to-basics and advancing tech resolved.

Good stuff.


Friday, August 20, 2010

The Ghost Writer

Roman Polanski

Hitchcockian thriller based on the master's well-developed idea of an ordinary man caught up in nefarious doins that are far beyond his level of expertise.

Well done in all raced along ticking all the usual boxes in a follow-the-numbers sort of way. My only problem was that we were kept mostly in the dark for two the protagonist...which seemed artificial and strained...only to be clued in at the very end. Then immediately we watch the prot get killed. It all worked OK but just barely.


Monday, August 16, 2010

The Book of Eli

Denzel Washington w/d Hughes brothers

Post- apocalypse yarn featuring a drifting superwarrior who kills everyone he chooses and it turns out is on a mission. Once the mission is revealed it turns out to be an asinine affirmation of the present ideological bullshit that plagues contemporary man. So there really is no hope.

Extremely stylish look...set design and the stunning use of de-saturated color...made this very watchable but throughout the filmmakers relied on superwarrior cliches. Other than the look there was very little to distinguish the film. It would be great for 12 year olds.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sanshiro Sugata

Japan Akira Kurosawa

This was his first film...1943. The story was pretty generic but throughout he used crane shots and imaginative tableaux that would have stood out sharply from what else was being done at that time.

Much footage was destroyed by the wartime government so we only see a truncated version but it is enough to see the future genius developing.


Friday, August 13, 2010

24 City


Moving documentary on one of the state-run factories that pre-existed the move toward predatory capitalism in the 90's. They made parts for planes, missiles and ammunition. We learn the impact this large facility has had on peoples' lives...good and bad.

Many innovative touches...interesting camera movement, use of music. Thoroughly modern in all aspects. Nice opening/titles. World class work.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Roman de Gare

Claude LeLouche Dominique Pinon

Slick, enjoyable mystery/thriller with several unexpected twists and turns that didn't feel contrived but kept me wondering. Set in the literary world of Paris.

Excellent performances all around...expensive-looking locations...just a well-crafted example of modern film entertainment.


Whisper of the Heart

Japan anime

Another wonderful animated feature from Japan...this time the story of a young girl's coming of age, falling in love and finding her calling as a writer.

Outstanding drawings/ good as anything being produced anywhere in the world.


Friday, August 6, 2010


Dennis Quaid

Seeder/deep space ship is in trouble. Something has gone awry...crew who are awakened can't get the ship up and operating because of wild humanoid critters who are intent on eating them.

Elements of Alien, Cube abound here. Too much of the film was shot in near darkness...easy on the budget but hard on the viewer. I kept wanting it to be better than it was. Gory, grubby. its detriment.

Nice resolution but it seemed to come out of left field...after 2 hours of darkness, monsters, peril...the heroes emerge to a beautiful, sun-filled paradise. Somehow it seemed too much. Similar to The Abyss.


Thursday, August 5, 2010


Ben Stiller w/d Noah Baumbach

Another one of this guy's films about neurotic, unpleasant people and their dealings with the other people in their lives. He (NB) seems to think you can simply portray ordinariness and the audience will be taken with its universal appeal. Maybe he's right but this simple-minded junk doesn't work for me.


Monday, August 2, 2010

The Rabbit Hunters

Portugal Pedro Costa

One of a collection of short films from a slum area in Portugal. Elegant, angled visuals...long scenes with people staring or talking slowly. He portrays the problems and life-style of those at the bottom of the food chain.

Not particularly engaging but high quality work. I've just become tired of films with this theme.


Fata Morgana

Germany Werner Herzog

Abstract early film (1969) that was so poor I'm surprised he was able to continue a film career. Footage shot in the Sahara was married to some bad poetry...and...voila! Instant movie!

It didn't make any sense or provide any insight. Some of the shots were striking but so what?


Sunday, August 1, 2010



Very intense, harrowing account of an innocent woman arrested and questioned/tortured by the secret police. Her ordeal goes on for five years during which she loses her youth, her beauty, her innocence...but maintains a core of independence and pride that stands as an act of defiance toward her persecutors.

Extremely well done in all respects with a special nod to the lead actress who gives an incredible, unforgettable performance.

It would be nice to see this film as a swan song for amoral tyranny but it lives and thrives to this day.


Saturday, July 31, 2010



Low budget indie that didn't look it. After the town falls asleep competing forces work to control good, one evil. Who will prevail in the struggle for the soul of a little blonde girl? Do you really have to ask? But getting there was imaginative and exciting.

This film could serve as classroom material in film school as an example of getting the most bang for your limited bucks. All threads were neatly tied up at the end...the world was saved...we can sleep in peace.


Friday, July 30, 2010

La Moustache


This one was a puzzler...made deliberately complex and enigmatic...with no apparent resolution to all the mysteries the script provides. Nice looking film, sympathetic players, good use of locations all hid from the audience the fact that this is a movie about nothing more than puzzling the audience.

Of course, it's always possible to ascribe meaning to anything and I could probably write 10,000 words interpreting the film but I don't think it deserves that level of attention or analysis. Sometimes it's best to just say there's no there there and move on. Like now.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Flavour of Green Tea over Rice

Japan Yasujiro Ozu

From 1951, this is the story of a discontented wife of an arranged marriage who sees her husband as boring and ignorant, leaves to take on a lover but returns home recognizing the value in her husband's steadfastness and reliability.

This used all the characteristic touches that make his work so recognizable but the sarcasm, anger and discontent were harsher than in his later films.

A solid effort.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Please Give

Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt w/d Nicole Holofcener

Here we follow some very ordinary people as they do ordinary things, make some of the usual mistakes people make and end up pretty much where they were at the beginning. The end.


The White Ribbon

Germany d/Michael Haneke

Provocative, disturbing story which centered on the swirling undercurrents in German provincial life just prior to WW1. The children of the village here did some really nasty things to adults or to each other and no one wanted to face it. The adults also carried grudges. The film demolishes the notion that country, small-town life was pleasant and bucolic.

Haneke eschews his trademark shock technique here and creates a conventional story which resonates deeply in the viewer's mind long after it is over. This could be his best film yet.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Last Images of the Shipwreck


Odd, lightly surrealistic film by the maker of Man Facing Southeast. This had an artificial-seeming premise with deliberately oddball characters and several scenes which stretched plausibility but the whole thing never really came together.


Saturday, July 24, 2010


Germany w/d Ivan Fila

A young Czech girl witnesses the brutal death of her parents, becomes mute and is raised by foster parents. She is sold at 21 to a German ex-soldier with some issues and his own troubled past. This is their story.

In spite of the painful emotions this film generated I thought it was extremely well directed/edited and well worth the discomfort. Exquisite framing, camera movement, lighting. Strong performances by both leads. The resolution was a bit unsatisfying but not enough to detract from the excellence of the entire production.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Good Hair


Comedian Chris Rock takes us on a tour of the world of black women's hair. Some of this material is horrifying (relaxers), some is interesting (weaves), some is pretty funny and it all ends up at a bizarre competition in Atlanta where "star" hairdressers stage little shows and style hair on stage in front of an audience.

This was amusing and informative but there was an underlying aura of sadness at the self-loathing that forms the basis of this industry.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Joke

Czech 1968

A young man writes a post card to his girlfriend containing some sarcasm about communism and is sent to ten years of hard labor. Angry, bitter film made during the height of the Prague Spring and squashed immediately when that window closed.

The sentiments here were heartfelt but the film was primitive and poorly done. Abrupt, unsatisfying ending.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Toy Story 2


This continues the adventures of a bunch of toys who do all sorts of amusing things when humans aren't around. The look was startling when the first one came out but seems ho-hum now.

Good children's fare.


The September Issue


Slick, fast-paced window on the world of Vogue, Anna Wintour and high fashion. This whole topic has always baffled and amused me in a disdainful way. It seems somehow wrong that so much effort and energy is spent on what is really so superficial. It's often been noted that you can put the finest clothes on a fool and he, or she is still a fool.

Nothing particularly new here.



Christopher Nolan

Loud, complex...even bewildering mind-fuck about industrial spies who sneak into peoples' dreams to steal their thoughts or, in this case, implant memories.

Far too much shooting/violence which wasn't at all necessary to the story. Some great visuals. Clumsy use of cue music. Strong characters...well acted.

This was an attempt to do a summer blockbuster which contained all the usual elements but with some added intelligence. It mostly succeeded.


Stonewall Uprising


Solid piece on the night in the Village that changed life for gays in this country...perhaps for good.


Friday, July 16, 2010



Fascinating piece on a typeface. Who knew? Turns out that such a thing has planetary sociological significance and can be seen as emblematic of the time.

Clean, unadorned, sans-serif, readable. What's not to like?

Lots and lots of shots all over the world showing the ubiquity of H.

But the urge to decorate, to improve, to do something just a little bit different is so human, so irresistible. It won't reign forever. Nothing lasts. Or does it...?


Wednesday, July 14, 2010



Very interesting piece on a Spaniard who ended up in London during WW2 and spent four years feeding false information to the German high command...ending up with their swallowing the false D-Day scenario that ensured its success.

Imaginative use of historical footage/music/interviews. Just when I thought there was nothing new in the doc format this comes along and re-writes the form.

Good Stuff...mostly for WW2 buffs.


Andromeda Strain

Robert Wise

Adaptation of a novel by Michael Crichton. From 1971. The first hour was largely exposition...educating the audience on biowarfare and the facility that is the set. I'll bet this was pretty futuristic when released but that was forty years ago and most of this "high tech" is retro now. They even used dial phones.

The story was formulaic with the obligatory grousing by the characters and artificial tension. Lots of whiz-bang cuts. For all its faults it did hold me easily and came to a satisfying resolution.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010


w/d Jim Finn

Oddball amerindie. A mockumentary about an imaginary space mission by the soviets in the early 70's to land cosmonauts on various moons in the outer solar system. Stock footage, weird sound effects, re-enactments and general silliness made it fun to watch. Mercifully short.


An Image


Interesting half hour piece on a Playboy photoshoot in Germany. The film showed all the work that went into the process of producing "glamour." And of course totally de-glamourized it.


Sunday, July 11, 2010


France w/d Jean Vigo

This film, from 1937, has been called one of the greatest films ever made. Not to me. I found it puerile, clumsy and stupid. Not ready for the world stage. The characters acted like those in a cartoon drawn by a child.

It took me three tries to finish it over a period of four years. It wasn't worth it.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired


Nicely done piece for the general viewer on this guy's life and body of work. His films were shown by clips but no discussion. It would have helped show his significance if a film historian had been interviewed. Still, his has been an extraordinary life and this doc was a good introduction.


Thursday, July 8, 2010


Neil Jordan

Another trip to the selkie legends of the western British Isles. This time a fisherman pulls a woman from his nets and sets the story in motion.

I found this to be a charming entertainment...not without its flaws...many formula touches like a precocious child, ominous bad guy, incoherent dialogue, happy ending. But the two leads were pretty, the premise was fun...the whole thing raced right along with nary a skip. It was a nice way to spend two hours inside on a steamy hot day.