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.