Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Good Soldier


Anti-war piece that relied on lots of stock footage along with interviews of men who served in various wars. Well-meaning and nicely edited but there was nothing fresh here. Even to the anti-war crowd this was samo,samo. To the others...well, there's really no hope for them is there?

So who was this intended for? I guess there's value in an exercise like this but if you really want to change things you have to get into why these wars came about, who pulled the trigger and, most importantly...cui bono?


Friday, January 29, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo


Beautifully done mystery/thriller. A disgraced investigative reporter is hired by a rich capitalist to try and solve a 40 year old disappearance. He eventually teams up with an emo in one of the unlikeliest pairs I can remember.

Several very harrowing/violent scenes were off-putting to me but ended up working thematically so I was OK with them. Great cine/landscapes brought out the stark, sterile beauty of wintertime Scandinavia. Solid acting with special mention to Noomi Rapace as the female lead.

This is what I hope for when I try a film I know nothing about.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Messenger

Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton

A film about two soldiers whose job it is to inform NOK of their loved-one's death.

When I first read about this film I was afraid it would be scene after scene of people melting down hysterically interspersed with episodes from the deeply fucked up lives of the guys who had to do this work.

I was right.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010



Here we follow an entertainment troupe around China in 1979. It's still Mao's China although things like blue jeans and rock and roll have appeared.

There were some good scenes in this film but on the whole it was a disjointed mess. This guy has no idea how to tell a story, engage an audience or create characters who are identifiable or who matter. One thing you couldn't miss though...these people sure know how to smoke. Scene after scene showed them smoking and not doing much else. Smoking even served in a courtship scene.

The China shown here was ugly, dirty, repressive. People were loud, ignorant and crude. I wonder how much has changed with all the sleek new skyscrapers.

At 2 1/2 hours this was about 2 hours too long. I kept waiting for the movie to start but it never did.


Monday, January 25, 2010



Amusing, sly piece on anti-semitism by an Israeli filmmaker. His unspoken premise is that that concept is being exaggerated by some Jews and has become a mini-industry whose purpose is to give Jews greater leverage in dealing in the world community.

I'd be curious to see how the film played in Israel, if indeed it played at all.


Friday, January 22, 2010


Kerry Fox

Solid thriller set in the international court...the tangled prosecution of a Serbian general. We follow the prosecution team as they uncover evidence of atrocities.

Well done in every respect. An intelligent well-crafted film.




This is a film that you'd think wouldn't work...but it does. A security guard working the midnight shift at a supermarket begins fixating on a female cleaner. He moves to following her around, stalking really. We see him as benign, just shy, but that's unclear throughout.

The pacing is very slow...minimal dialogue...several cringe-inducing moments...but the filmmaker succeeds in pulling us in and making us care about this guy and whether or not he ever succeeds in getting the girl.

Decidedly Un-Hollywood.


It Came From Kuchar


Amusing piece about twin brothers who grew up in the Bronx in the 50's and spent their lives making John Waters-level movies ever since. The clips they showed here placed these guys way down in the basement of film history. Like Waters they never grew out of that pre-teen desire to shock/horrify their parents.

While it looked like the brothers and their acolytes were having a lot of fun, this type of primitive scatology is pretty pathetic and raises in me feelings of condescending pity more than anything else. Oh well, chacun a son gout. At least it keeps them from molesting children.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Before Tomorrow


Nice depiction of life in the extreme north just as whites were appearing. This worked beautifully as anthropology and presented a cleaned-up version of what these people had to go through to live in such a hostile environment. Cine was very beautiful. All interiors were lit by oil lamps which cast a golden glow.

The story was really just a frame for the anthro but it was involving enough to hold my interest. Film was sponsored by the Canadian government. Good for them.




This was an extraordinary relic from 1959. A film team went to a remote area of the Venezuelan coast and recorded the life-style of a people who had worked there as either fishermen or salt workers since the Spanish invasion. The cine was exquisite and alone worth the price of admission. Some scenes were obviously staged...not really a problem.

Voiceover was used throughout which mostly worked even though some was self-consciously poetic. Near the end footage of the machines that were even then taking over provided a pang in the viewer...the lives of these folks we just got to know were about to change forever. Such is "progress."


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ghost Bird


The quest for the big woodpecker. Some see it as a great commercial opportunity, some a pathetic joke, some the end of civilization. All are correct...sort of. We (humans) are changing the world around us in ways that are unprecedented. This film touches on this thought but buries it in the sometimes farcical controversy over this one particular bird. It doesn't help that it takes place in Arkansas.

Amusing, sad, an oblique way. Where are we going?



d/ Jason Reitman

Fun little movie. Precocious 16 year old girl finds herself preggers after a one-time fling with her boyfriend. We follow the complications that ensue.

The film depended on the main character's quirkiness and lovability and they pulled it off. She was unconventional, slangy, preternaturally observant and knowing. None of this seemed like real all took place in some parallel reality that we all wished was the one we lived in. The scenes when she walked down the corridors of her school brushed up against the reality we live in.

Likable, diverting, clever. A success.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Woody Allen

Nice little film which had a great cast and made fine use of some locations around Barcelona. He seems to have completely abandoned substance in his films but this one was well enough done that it raced along and told a solid, adult story. That's plenty.


The Most Dangerous Man in America


The story of Daniel Ellsberg, whistleblower who uncovered the rot underlying the Pentagon which lead up to the war against Vietnam. He had been a Rand Corp insider who developed a conscience, did the right thing and was vilified for it...still is in some circles.

This was a little too Daniel-centric...the impression given was that he stopped the war with his Xerox...not true...but he does deserve accolades for revealing the emperor's nakedness for all to see. Unfortunately, nothing's changed since fact it's gotten worse...much worse. So, instead of leading us out of darkness DE lit a candle which then slowly went out.

Twas ever thus.


Police, Adjective


An intriguing film. Very slow for the first hour. We follow a policeman who has been assigned to watch some teens who have been smoking pot. The film brings out the tedium in real-world police work.

The heart of the film is the interview/dialectic between the cop and his captain over whether or not they should arrest these kids. That scene was riveting and unforgettable and raised the whole project up from ho-hum to wow.

This is the latest cool effort to come from Europe's benighted backwater.


Friday, January 15, 2010

Word Wars


This was a window into the world of competitive scrabble players. We follow four top players...geeks they prepare for the national championships in 2001. These guys were so ragged, socially inept and generally pathetic that I found it impossible to get into the thrill and drama (such as it was) of their competition.

This kind of doc worked with the spelling kids but the Donkey Kong guys and these people are so sad I felt I was watching a demolition derby featuring junky, shitty cars. Who really cares which one wins?


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Up in the Air

George Clooney, Vera Farmiga

Slick, extremely well-written piece on a road warrior whose job is firing (oops...downsizing) people. Lots of scenes crackled with sarcastic wit.

The three main characters were terrific. Clooney was perfect as a smooth, detached, above-it-all professional hit man. VF shone again, as always. The arc of the story was predictable but so what? This film captured the current zeitgeist. It was entertaining, bitter, funny. As good as mainstream films get.


Monday, January 11, 2010



This was a biopic of Ian Curtis, a pasty-skinned Brit who was the lead singer for a group called Joy Division. Much of the appeal of this film depended on your opinion of the music the band made. I found it irritating, loud, generic post-Sex Pistols Brit-punk. The music screeches unfocused rage and I suppose if I grew up in Manchester I'd feel more sympathy for these guys but I didn't and I don't.

Other than the music the film was uninteresting. Curtis came across as an ordinary bloke with epilepsy who killed himself at 23. So did Nick Drake but he at least left behind music which is still beautiful to enjoy.


Friday, January 8, 2010

Terribly Happy


A new policeman comes to an isolated town in Jutland and finds that the folks there like to tend to their own affairs...which has major consequences for him.

Subdued, deadpan...nicely shot and framed...filled with that inscrutability I've come to expect in Scandinavian films. The protagonist was a typical anti-hero...facing off against a united community who manipulate him to their benefit.

Intelligent and well-done.


Four Seasons Lodge


Present-day study of a colony of Jewish survivors from Europe who bought a camp in the Catskills and gathered every summer to find sustenance and support from each other. At this point they are very aged. It was vaguely unpleasant following a group of elders around as they tried to dance, cavort and play in sad attempts to re-create the pleasures of youth.

This is a world that's dying with the participants. Filming them like this has historical value but I didn't find it entertaining or particularly informative.


One Day You'll Understand


This follows the obsessive search of a middle-aged man, half Jewish, who is trying to trace the details of the fate of his family during the occupation in the 40's, a fate which has been hidden from him by his mother.

I found it very difficult to sympathize with this character. I could (sort of) understand his quest but all this happened 60 years ago and I've become tired of this theme. It's been used in dozens of films at this point. Cruelty and unfairness exist, indeed's part of the human mix.

I'm sick of the fixation on jack-booted Nazis as the embodiment of evil. Genocide has become an endemic part of our reality. It always has been. Why so many films about Nazis and so few about the atrocities in Cambodia, Rwanda, Indonesia, Vietnam or all the other cases where good people have been made to suffer because of someone else's sense of reality?



James Cameron

A wonderful film. JC has created a world rich in color and imagery, lush in plant and animal life, stunning in geology that was an utter delight to fall into and visit for a while.

His indigenous people were obviously modeled on our own native americans, his corporate marines on the same forces he used in Aliens but this time we rooted against the ones with the high-tech, destructive attitudes and weaponry. Echoes of many cultural tropes were used along with familiar sine-wave structure which gave us a familiar frame in which to experience the wonder Cameron and his team have created to delight our eyes and our minds.

I found this to be a transcendent experience. I was overwhelmed by the creative mastery on display here.

It astonishes me that at this age, with all the films I've seen over the course of my life, that a film can still do this to me so effectively. Thank you James Cameron for having the vision, the courage, the fortitude and the desire to achieve such such an outstanding result.


Monday, January 4, 2010


Steven Soderberg Benecio Del Toro

Very nice portrayal of the career of the Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara. Somewhat sanitized but not nearly as bad as The Motorcycle Diaries. The real Che was a nasty sucka who killed men who got in the way of what he saw as the righteous path...beware of true believers.

Still, this was beautifully staged, shot and paced. I appreciated the fact that SS used his clout in Hollywood to get a biopic of a serious lefty on the screen. Like Warren Beatty with Reds he has raised the level of dialogue in the country a notch or two.


Smiley's People

Alec Guinness

Dirty dealings in the cold war. Taken from a novel by John Le Carre this was a BBC production from the 80's.

Fast-paced, well-acted. This seemed a bit dated at this point but still was well enough done to hold my interest for 2 hours.


Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Midwinter's Tale

w/d Kenneth Branagh

This was a wonderfully literate piece on the efforts of a ragtag group of British thespians who struggle to stage Hamlet in a remote village. The players were uniformly excellent. The pacing, editing, humor all stood out.

We got to know these people in quickly-sketched scenes that seemed to race by but by the end I felt I knew them well enough that I cared about their lives and really hated to see them go.

Kudos to KB for this one. He is a national (British) treasure.