Tuesday, March 30, 2010

3:10 to Yuma

Russell Crowe, Christian Bale

Re-make of a fifties western. The updates were mainly two: much more violence and a quicker pace. Set in the mythical Hollywood reality which really doesn't work for me anymore.

Well acted and put together but I found it impossible for me to care about any of this.


Monday, March 29, 2010

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith

Fred Shepisi

Brutal, heartbreaking story of an aborigine in the 19th century who tries hard to win acceptance in white society but is continually thwarted by vicious, overt prejudice. He finally snaps...declares "war" by committing an act of horrific violence and ends his days as a man on the run.

Well done film...wonderful use of outback locations...strong lead and secondary characters. The whites were shown as cruel bigots...like those in the American South...and seemed exaggerated but may not have been. The axe-killing scene was truly awful and hard to watch.

This was one of the early triumphs of the short-lived Australian film renaissance.


Friday, March 26, 2010

War and Peace (part 4)


The final episode contained a brilliant depiction of the burning of Moscow...just stunningly staged, shot and directed. I doubt anything to equal this has ever been done.

After this though the film came unglued. Disparate sequences wrapped up the story but they were so jumbled up he lost my attention. Too bad. He should have moved back to the human interest thread and brought the film to an emotionally satisfying conclusion.

So...a bit of a disappointment but this nearly 7-hour film remains a masterwork...and up there in the ranks of world cinema.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

McCabe and Mrs. Miller

Robert Altman Warren Beatty, Julie Christie

For me, RA's best film. The entire thing works. Truly outstanding.


Band of Outsiders

Goddard Anna Karina

I know many cinephiles admire this guy's films but they miss me completely. I found this to be crude, amateurish, self-indulgent...not even good enough for a student project. It was obvious the actors didn't have a script to use...their inane prattlings quickly became annoying.

The camera work was high school level. Scenes were held too long. The characters constantly moved around to no apparent purpose except that, hey this is a motion picture, isn't it? What is it others see? Goddard is famously quoted as saying all one needs to make a movie is a girl and a gun. No my friend...you also need a brain and some sense of what an audience is willing to sit through.



Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Red and the White

miklos Jancso

A fresh, startling anti-war film. Set in southern Russia during the civil war, we are presented with scene after scene of soldiers and irregulars coming into camera range, committing different atrocities and then, in their turn, being victimized by some other group who shows up. This doesn't allow us to care about any of these people but very effectively demonstrates the stupidity, the pointlessness, the arbitrariness of war.

This guy was an international treasure. This early work stands out from its contemporaries in a striking way.


Monday, March 22, 2010


Mel Gibson

Action/adventure set among the Maya just before the invasion by the Spanish in 1519. Extremely violent film which felt like an attempt to depict a violent society rather than anything gratuitous. Told in three chapters...a traditional form which worked very well. The last chapter was a 45 minute harrowing chase sequence...a exciting as the last chapter of Aliens.

This was engaging and seemed like an honest attempt to give us a window into a world and a time which has been long forgotten. Nice job.


Sunday, March 21, 2010


Scott McGehee

Sweet little movie. A couple meet on the Brooklyn Bridge, split and go in two directions and we follow them as they live two separate stories...one a thriller, the other a domestic drama.

Neat idea...sort of like Sliding Doors. Very well acted, shot and edited. I found both stories engaging, liked the way the two actors shaded their characters differently and was intrigued to see how this guy was going to resolve the stories. A very nice indie film.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Red Riding


This was the first film in a trilogy about a serial killer in northern England who kidnapped, tortured and strangled little girls in the early 70's. We follow a young reporter who tries to uncover the truth of the story and runs into many, sometimes violent obstacles.

Bleak, gray, downbeat, violent, depressing, cynical...have I missed anything? Also true. I can't bring myself to watch any more of these. Just too ugly and I don't care how it all resolves.


Friday, March 19, 2010

War and Peace (parts 2&3)


Part 2 centered on the flowering of Natasha, her first ball, first love, first heartache. She was played by a stunning young actress who epitomized a tempestuous young Russian princess.

The ballroom sequence was the best directed I've ever seen. Sumptuous, moving...satisfying in every way.

Part 3 reenacted the Battle of Borodino in amazing detail with the proverbial cast of thousands. I don't think anything more spectacular has ever graced the screen.

This film is truly a masterwork...one of the great works of world cinema.


Mr Hulot's Holiday

Jacques Tati

This guy had an oddball schtick. He plays a bumbling naif who causes all sorts of problems for the people around him but is child-like enough to be found lovable and endearing by his victims. Not many of his gags made me laugh but some were a little amusing and I found myself as indulgent toward him as the characters on screen.

Only the French...


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Winter Light

Sweden d/ Ingmar Bergman

Stark, austere to the point of self parody. This is what people think of when they think of Bergman...a minister wracked with doubt about his religious faith, viciously rejecting the only person who could offer hum succor, failing in his attempt to counsel a man who seems suicidal...and then the guy does blow his head off, so the minister has to go tell the guy's wife...who has 3 1/2 children. And it's cold, gray, snowing throughout.

What's the point? We'd all be better off ending it all. At least all our suffering/angst would be over...


Wednesday, March 17, 2010



This was an attempt to bring to life the nightmare Cambodia suffered 1975-79. The focus was on a particular facility where people were brought, tortured and murdered...all for the same mysterious reasons people everywhere do these things. I suppose because they can.

The whole film was interviews and confrontations between guards and former prisoners who miraculously survived. Some of this would have been good but it didn't work for a whole film. An audience who didn't know this story already would have been unenlightened as to what this was all about. It would have seemed like yet another recital of personal atrocities.

Too bad. There's a helluva story here.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Nous La Liberte


Delightful French comedy/satire/farce from 1931. Similar themes were picked up by Chaplin in his later piece Modern Times, which generated a plagiarism lawsuit.

This looked like it had been shot as a silent with voices dubbed in later. Nice production values. Lotsa fun to watch.


Monday, March 15, 2010

The White Dove


From 1960. This was a visually stunning treatment of an allegorical children's story. Brilliantly composed, edited and paced. Short at 68 minutes. Almost no dialogue in a way similar to The Red Balloon...and this worked as well.

Some of the symbolic imagery was a bit heavy-handed but didn't detract from the film. The only flaw to me was the use of some post-bebop in the middle which dated it badly. Insert some better music there and you'd have a true masterpiece.

Good stuff.


Alice in Wonderland

Johnny Depp d/ Tim Burton

Visually splendid treatment of this story. They used quite a bit of artistic license but that was fine with me since the story is designed to be fantastical anyway. A framing device was added that didn't help at all but it was short so didn't hurt too badly.

I found the film unengaging though. While it was fun watching all the neat stuff go by I didn't care at all about the fate of the characters or the resolution of the story (which, of course I knew).

This played as a grotesque which I thought was fine.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Anna Karenina

Vivian Leigh

British production from 1948. This was the perfect role for her...she was every inch the movie star...in elaborate costumes, sweeping through beautiful sets and bringing to life one of fiction's great characters. The Britishness of the production seemed odd at first...they could have retained the story and changed the names and still had a good film...but I quickly got used to it.

This was a legitimate treatment of Tolstoy's novel. The staging of the death scene was particularly effective. Nice work.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Looking for Eric

Ken Loach

Really bad. This guy has done some nice work in the past depicting life for the lower orders in Britain but this was an asinine concept, crudely executed. I thought it was a complete failure.



James Cameron

This was my third time seeing this and its power and appeal were undiminished. This is a brilliant piece of work and seeing it again on the big screen in 3D was just as intense, awe-inspiring and moving as the first time.

I can't imagine a more satisfying cinematic experience.


Tokyo Story

Yasujiro Ozu

The crowning achievement by Japan's great master of the warp and woof of real life. Unpretentious, undramatic, subtle, sensitive, realistic, warm, tender, touching, insightful...all these describe what he presents us on the screen. Powerful emotional forces are driving events here but they are all subliminal, all hidden beneath a surface of polite congeniality.

The fate of the aging couple who come to realize that their life's effort, the raising of their four children...has been something of a failure...is agonizing for us to witness. In a final ironic turn their daughter-in-law turns out to be the only person in their family who is a decent, caring, loving person and she seems to be fated for a lonely, sad life.

"Life is disappointing, isn't it? Yes, it is."

One of the great works of world cinema.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Art of the Steal


This told the story of the theft of the Barnes collection by the city of Philadelphia over a period of twenty years or so. The film was clearly on the side of the original trust but I thought the conflict somewhat more ambiguous. Barnes was an arrogant jerk who liked sticking his finger in the eye of the local satraps and continuing his will perpetuated this.

Besides he had been dead for fifty years and the issue of controlling human affairs long after one's death isn't necessarily a social good. On the other hand, the people who orchestrated this theft were jerks too...richies and their lackeys who wanted more...always more.

A pox on all their houses.

It didn't help my attitude that they were fighting about paintings that once were considered worthless, now are "worth" billions and one day will be seen as worthless again. We need to re-think the nature, purpose and value of art. Reducing it to a valuable commodity strikes me as asinine.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Fish Tank

England Kate Jarvis w/d Andrea Arnold

This one was a sleeper. We follow a trashy, foul-mouthed, angry 15 year old girl, all with a hand-held camera and ambient sound. I found myself irritated for the first hour but as the cause for her anger is subtly revealed to us the story becomes engaging...helped enormously by the skill of the players and the sensibility of the director.

It eventually slides into an engrossing drama and slowly comes to a resolution that works beautifully.

KJ, whose first acting turn this is, was stunning. Hers was an incredibly brave performance...she was in every scene...and she made the film work. Nice job.


War and Peace

Russia 1967 (part 1)

A truly stunning adaptation of Tolstoy's great novel. Incredibly lavish with the full resources of the Russian government behind the production. Battle scenes with thousands of costumed extras. Ballroom scenes, banquets, spectacular sets. At first I found it a bit too reverential, not engaging enough, but as the film unfolded I couldn't help but be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the spectacle.

Watching this I felt like one of Tolstoy's peasants, staring in open-mouthed awe at the magnitude of this wonderful production.

Without doubt, one of the world's great films.


Monday, March 8, 2010

The Aura

Argentina Ricardo Darin

Nifty film. Our protagonist is a deluded taxidermist who suffers from epilepsy and imagines himself to be a criminal mastermind. Through some screenwriter contrivances he gets involved with some real-life criminals and gets to dabble in the real thing...with real consequences.

Mysterious and atmospheric throughout which made the film work. Almost blank, enigmatic performance by RD was off-putting at first but the sheer unknowability of the character held my interest all the way. Nice resolution. Was it all a daydream?


Friday, March 5, 2010

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence

Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne d/John Ford

One of the last gasps of studio Hollywood. If you were willing to surrender your critical judgement it was a lot of fun to watch. Many character actors from the 40's and 50's...including Andy Devine!

The story was fine...everybody overacted and the resolution tied it all up in a neat little bow. And Jimmy Stewart got to win the West for law and order and democracy. Oddly, for John Ford, most of the film was shot in a soundstage. Studio Westerns created their own, special reality...a place where chairs break over people's heads, folks thrown through glass windows don't get cut and a full roundhouse punch just makes the recipient rub his jaw for a second. They were fun but I'm not sorry they've passed.


They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

Jane Fonda, Gig Young d/Sidney Pollack

A devastating film. One of the rawest, most lacerating portraits of humanity in extremis ever put on film. Set in 1932 but applicable anytime resources become inadequate to provide for the population.

Very strong character development, brilliant direction and outstanding performances all around (special mention to Susannah York for her Harlow-to-meltdown turn). An unforgettable film that hasn't aged at all.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

It Might Get Loud


Three guitarists...one rock, one punk, one post both of these...ruminate on their careers and celebrate themselves in a way that skirts uncomfortably close to Spinal Tap. The big surprise to me was that Jimmy Page, the big hair, tight pants god of Led Zeppelin seemed to be a nice guy.

The guy from U2 was an inarticulate, stone-faced mick who bragged about his inability to play his instrument when the band first burst on the scene. He has since learned and acquired a vast collection of electronic doodads.

Jack White was an embarrassing mess...a grown man with a silly hat and a bad haircut who played really obnoxious variations on 12-bar blues. His screeching "singing" could easily remove paint from walls.

The tone here was worshipful but it was close enough to parody to tickle me. And Stairway to Heaven is still a great song.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

An Autumn Afternoon


One of the last films from this master. Typically understated, this revolved around the decision of a widower to sacrifice his own well-being and marry off his 24 year old daughter. As always, the emotions of the characters are intense but subtly played...real-life happiness and misery are at stake here but it's all depicted under the surface.

All his usual techniques, actors and tropes are here and serve as a fitting summary of his oeuvre. He has been called the depictor of the Japanese soul...whether true or not he has left us a priceless body of work.