Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Secret Life of Words

Sarah Polley, Tim Robbins

An outstanding film. An actors' showcase...both leads excel in an intense, understated drama of people with terrible secrets they are trying to forget. But there is no forgetting...there is the reality of remembering and somehow continuing on.

Beautifully acted and directed, with a fine sensitivity to the importance of letting the story breathe...moving around the oil rig, touching the supporting players just enough to let the main thread set in our minds...then returning for more revelations.

This is what I hope for when I pick up a small film. This is a jewel. I won't forget this one...ever.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Matrix

Keanu Reeves, Lawrence Fishburne

It had been ten years since this was released and I was curious to see if it held up. It did. Easily. Great concept and while I thought a lot of the gunplay was over-the-top, the action raced along lickety-split and easily held me.

Nice use of CGI, especially the robot-monsters. I never did understand who the agents were though or what their capacities were...but it really didn't matter. KR was perfect as the blank-faced hero who seems bewildered throughout...not a stretch for this guy.

Lotsa fun.



Tilda Swinton

Tour de force performance By TS. Julia is a mess...a trashy alcoholic living in San Diego who hits upon a scheme to lurch herself out of debt and decrepitude. It's an extremely stupid one of course and things go wrong from the beginning.

This was a painful film to was obvious that this was going in one direction...but she was so compelling and believable (and TS a Scot no less!) that I felt compelled to watch the train wreck her life had become. From Orlando on she has compiled an impressive CV and now stands as one of the most skilled actors in world cinema.


Thursday, February 25, 2010


Lawrence Olivier, Joan Fontaine d/Alfred Hitchcock

The master's first film in America. Although he had to continually wrestle on the floor with Selznick he crafted a beautiful, atmospheric gothic melodrama. JF and Judith Anderson were perfect in their respective roles...LO less so. I found him stiff, overly reserved and almost completely unsympathetic. Her "love" for him was entirely inexplicable to me. This guy was the opposite of passionate...just a cold fish.

Nice sets and camera work.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bombay Summer


Sweet little movie which focused on the lives of three 20 somethings frabbing around modern day Mumbai. Lovely use of color and locations. GREAT music throughout. Realistic, plausible plot.

I had mixed feelings about the deus ex machina resolution but it wasn't hard to accept. I had the feeling throughout that things were going to end badly for these folks but life just keeps on going...and so do we, changed but still standing.

The film conveyed a sense of the teeming masses of this city...which helped place our story in its true context.


Forbidden Zone

amerindie Susan Tyrell

One of a kind film. Deliberately outrageous...the sensibility and tone were exaggerated Rocky Horror.

This is a very difficult maneuver to pull off but these guys did it using animation, crazy sets and humor that made me laugh. I have to wonder what their grandchildren will make of this when they find a copy at the bottom of grandma's trunk in the attic...

A lot of fun to watch. Thanks, guys...


Monday, February 22, 2010

Shutter Island

L DiCaprio d/ Martin Scorcese

Expensive, over-produced adaptation of yet another novel by Dennis Lahane. This guy writes slick, sleazy stories set in Boston (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone) which for some reason attract major talent. They strike me as upper low-brow material which I guess is what sells to the public.

Many scenes here looked very expensive to shoot...especially the storm scenes and the dream sequences. I shouldn't be sitting there in the theater thinking...boy, this was an expensive shoot. I found the main action all sort of unfolded one click at a time and I didn't really care how it all resolved.

Everyone involved here was skilled but to my eye there was a fatal over-doneness that stopped me from getting into the story.

Scorcese is now being hugely praised for his work but I think it's because he wasn't sufficiently recognized when he was coming up and producing great, iconic films. His last several have been overdone and over-praised.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

No End

K. Kieslowski Poland

Enigmatic, uninvolving film. A 30ish lawyer dies...this film deals with how his wife copes. She gets involved with a political case he was handling...this took place during the Solidarity uprisings. Although their marriage was rocky she appears to be deeply shaken to realize too late how good she had it. After frabbing around for two hours she leaves her 8 year old son with her mother, goes home and sticks her head in the oven.

Some scenes were strikingly framed and lit but the tone became exasperating after a while and by the end I couldn't wait for it to end. KK has been called a master, and sometimes he was...just not this time.


Saturday, February 20, 2010



Sweet little movie about some contemporary middle-class folks living the usual muddled modern lives. They change partners, drink, love (sometimes inappropriately) and generally frab around trying to figure it out, doing the best they can.

The people were likable but the main male character was boorish, thick-headed and ignorant...something I've seen in other Czech films. Is this how they see their men? Is this supposed to be funny or amusing to a Czech audience? In this case he wasn't a bad guy...just a buffoon. To me it took something away from the movie.

Still it was fun to watch.


Quiet Flows the Don

Russia 1957

A magnificent film. This has been called Russia's GWTW and that's not a foolish comparison. Six hours long. The proverbial cast of thousands. Extremely well-shot battle scenes and camerawork throughout. Strong characters. Beautiful color photography.

The story of Russian Cossacks from 1912 to 1922. The film captured the turmoil, the chaos that tore this land and the people living along the Don river on a time when age-old traditions were overthrown...not once, but over and over. Alliances changed constantly, things were done that could never be forgiven, death was everywhere...the few who made it through alive were faced with a new order.

An incredible achievement. One of the great films of Russian and world cinema.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Warm Water Under a Red Bridge

Shohei Imamura

Original, delightful sex comedy/parody. Shot on DV, this was beautifully composed. Good use of locations. The tone was sort of like a Japanese version of Local Hero.

Delightful treatment of sex as one of the primal forces of nature to which all living creatures (including men) respond. Another feather in this great contemporary director's cap.




An honest, reasonably accurate account of the titanic battle that turned the tide of WW2. Produced by German television it had the usual mix of archival footage, talking heads and voiceover.

For me this was hurt by the use of extreme close-ups in the interview scenes. The people being interviewed were all elderly so the technique gave us a screen-filling view of any facial moles, wrinkles or other defects. What is the point of this? Do the filmmakers think this contributes to verisimilitude? I find it distracting, intrusive and annoying but it seems to be universal now.

Other than that this was a solid effort.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010



Nifty little piece that capitalized on the paradoxes inherent in time travel. It was fun watching the whole thing unfold, step by step, with the inevitability of a Bach fugue.

The story was preposterous but complex enough that it made my head hurt trying to follow or, especially, anticipate it. Very enjoyable.


Don't Look Down


Soft-core film with a few quirky touches and beautifully lit interiors but this is an asinine form that lost its ability to hold my interest decades ago.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Goodbye Dragon Inn


A decrepit old movie theater plays its last show (a Hong Kong period epic) and then closes...presumably forever.

I tried to watch this a few years ago but gave up because I thought it was a contender for the most boring movie ever made. It still is. Long, artfully composed takes of people doing not much...watching the movie, walking around the building, watching each other. There wasn't one word of dialogue for the first 45 minutes.

Cinema for the comatose.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Lady Vanishes

Hitchcock 1938

Pretty hokey. Not even close for me. Silly, asinine story...many of the details that he used were contrived, juvenile.

From the opening shot of the toy train it went downhill. The first half hour was an attempt at humor as farce and it didn't work. Made me squirm with its ineptitude. He was great at some material but not this.


Sword of Lancelot

Cornel Wilde

Today this is a little-seen film from the 50's and perhaps it's for the best. Pretty clunky treatment of the Arthurian legends which looks and sounds like the era from which it sprang.

Wilde went on to do The Naked Prey...a much sharper legacy which should be seen by all buffs.




The one and only. I hadn't seen this gem in 30 years and was very pleased at how well it's passed the test of time. Marvelously crafted horror/thriller. The man was an absolute master at manipulating the emotions of the audience.

He had an evil, perverse mind at times...never more evident than in this one...but he raised the bar of popular filmmaking and changed what we see and how we see it forever.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Under the Same Moon


A 9 year old boy travels from Mexico to the US to rejoin his mother. Things go wrong (of course) and he has adventures along the way.

Standard-issue drama with an outstanding performance by the boy.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Cozy Dens


Comedy (?) set in 1968 at the time of the Russian invasion. ALL the male characters in this film were bumbling, stupid blowhards and fools. Really just total assholes. The women were submissive, silent, long-suffering. Nothing I saw was remotely funny...or even tinged with that kind of subliminal humor that infuses Scandinavian films.

Although there was something of a political context it was all in the background and only tangentially touched the characters. Everyone was a jerk. Came across as scathing anti-Czech propaganda.

The filmmaker seemed to hold these people in complete contempt so by the end I did too.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Andrei Rublev

Russia A. Tarkovsky

One of the great Russian epics. Truly stunning b/w cine. A cast of thousands...sometimes all of them mucking about in the mud. Several unforgettable set pieces...including the opening faux-balloon POV.

Still, this was MUCH too long at 3 1/2 hours. Also far too much excessive emoting. I had trouble keeping the characters straight and even when I could I didn't identify with them or care about their fate.

The payoff was the icons Rublev left behind...we had 5 minutes of slow pan over them at the end...but by today's standards they seemed unexceptional...not nearly as impressive as the works of the Italian Renaissance.

This should be seen by all serious film students but for historical interest only.


Before the Fall


No, this wasn't about summer. This was a bizarre conflation of an end-of-the-world disaster film (think Armageddon) and a serial killer from hell thriller. Trying to be both it didn't work as either but not because of a lack of skill. Camera work was very sharp, the characters were well-defined and overall a distinct filmmaking skill was evident.

But the two stories resisted melding which left us whipsawing between the disparate scenarios, uncertain what to feel or think.

Too bad. Should've been two movies.


Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Soul Haunted by Painting

China Gong Li

Sumptuous biopic of the first Chinese artist whose work was recognized in the West. She started as a girl sold into prostitution, found a patron and began pursuing her muse. Her work was rejected by an extremely repressive, backward Chinese culture...she ended up spending most of her life in France.

Outstanding cine. The acting style shaded too far toward the overacting favored in the East but Ms Gong was credible all the way through. This played as melodrama which, given the facts of her life, was appropriate.


Friday, February 5, 2010

Crazy Heart

Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal

Nice little movie about an aging, alcoholic country/western singer. He hooks up with a young single mom but the reality of who he is ruins that. Still, in movies, and sometimes in life, there's room for redemption.

Nice, focused little film. Compared favorably with Tender Mercies...not nearly as powerful or searing as Payday. As always, the weak spot in films on this topic is the music which is simple-minded formula drivel. Here several ballads were featured which helped.

Solid performances and believable script put this in the win column.


That Hamilton Woman

Lawrence Olivier, Vivien Leigh w/d Alexander Korda

Wonderfully done old-fashioned tragic romance sprinkled with a healthy dose of jingoism. This was intended as an inspirational propaganda piece in the early days of WW2 but the beautiful sets and sweeping romanticism typical of the era raise it to the status of classic.

She was fabulous...a true movie star at a time when that meant something. He was more wooden...perhaps constrained by the maimed character and the ethic of the time. The staging of the climactic battle scene is still impressive in this day of wall-to-wall CGI.

A very high quality production that deserves to be seen.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Secret of Kells


Fanciful treatment of the origin of Ireland's Book of Kells. At first this seemed very juvenile to me but as the story moved along the use of color and imaginative animation raised it up some...just not enough.

It still seemed too childish a story for an adult audience.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Bourne Ultimatum

Matt Damon d/Paul Greenglass

Action/thriller entertainment for the ADD crowd. The entire film was paced as if there was a prize for who could get to the end the fastest. Hyper-kinetic editing and camera work - there wasn't a shot in this film longer than 2 seconds.

Even though the story was preposterous the techniques used held my eyeballs for the whole time...mesmerized by all the movement. The first big chase sequence in Tangier was the time we got to the last one in NYC I was as exhausted as the characters would have been if they had any semblance of reality.

Where do they find those guys who willingly race to get maimed or killed by the superhuman protagonist? There are dozens of them and most end up very badly. Guess they get paid a lot...


Monday, February 1, 2010

For the Love of Movies


Nice light piece on the emergence of film criticism during the 20th century. Feature interviews with all the important living specimens talking about themselves and their forebears.

Probably only interesting to a film geek.