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.