Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mademoiselle Chambon

France Vincent Lindon

Exquisite variation on Brief Encounter. Told through the eyes, glances, body language, subtle camera work. Everything here was understated which made the underlying emotions all the more prominent.

I don't like the expression...less is more...but here it was. A lovely, moving film.


Friday, October 29, 2010


Japan Naruse

A marvelous film. Ensemble piece which traces the ups and downs of the five women who work at a failing geisha house in Tokyo. While they are all struggling in their various ways with debts, men and other obligations daily life goes on and carries them along. Nothing really gets resolved...we just get to witness a bit of their lives. Who knows what tomorrow will bring for any of them? Or any of us?

Naruse is an overlooked master. He is looser than Ozu...not as cinematically inventive as Kurosawa...quintessentially Japanese.

Very moving, satisfying.


Cry of the City

Victor Mature, Richard Conte 1948

Classic noir...two neighborhood a cop, the other a crook...shot at night with wet streets and long shadows.

Unexceptional but well enough done to easily hold my interest. I was surprised at how good both leads were.




Spy vs. Spy at the tail end of the cold war. Very strong film highlighted the human cost of the constant deception that was these peoples' lives.

The film was conventional in all respects...solid cast, script, cine, etc. A winner.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Paranormal Activity


This was the latest in the faux home movie genre a la Blair Witch and it worked beautifully. A young couple have been plagued by ghoolies, ghosties and decide to film their hauntings. This leads to the usual annoying camera work but at least it was integral to the plot.

The film uses sound, you-are-there effects and the best use of silence I've seen recently. It gradually builds tension and I found the payoff just perfect.

Engrossing. Kudos.


Mic Macs

France Jean Pierre Jeunet

A truly delightful film. This took the visual inventiveness shown in all his pictures, added a cast of lovable quirky characters (a contortionist, a calculator, a human cannonball) and a righteous cause et voila!

Light-hearted, fun and silly. There's not enough silly in the world.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Bow

Korea Kim Ki-Duk

Another intriguing film from this guy. He has a knack for creating characters and situations that on the surface seem to be ordinary but are actually mysterious and filled with layers of symbolic meaning. Witness The Isle, 3-Iron...

Here we have an old man and a young girl who live on a decrepit fishing boat anchored somewhere at sea. He has raised her since childhood and intends to marry her when she reaches legal age. He keeps rivals away with his bow skills and also uses this instrument to tell fortunes and to play music. Throughout the music is beautiful and haunting.

The story seems straightforward (akin to The Collector) until the final fourth when it takes on a supernatural tone.

I found it involving and delightful. Makes me want to see everything else he has done.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Kings of Pastry


Centered on a quadrennial competition to be included among the best pastry chefs of France.

Like so many of these competition films the success of this one hinged on our being able to focus and care about one of the competitors. Once pulled in the actual footage became compelling. The skill on display here was truly remarkable and in spite of the apparently fey nature of the topic these men easily gained my respect before it was over. Why were there no women in the competition?

The film was marred...not too-tight closeups and the usual swing pans, zoom racks, etc. I do wish this fad would pass. It gives me a headache

Even with this flaw the film was a winner.


Strangers on a Train

Alfred Hitchcock 1951

This is one of the master's great films. The scenario was taken from a novel by Patricia Highsmith and written by Raymond Chandler. The story is laid out quickly and once set in motion the plot races along building suspense and tension all the way. The final resolution is wonderfully executed with multiple themes and references but undeniably over-the-top.

Featured the masterful cross-cutting sequence of the tennis match with the rescue of the cigarette lighter.

Unforgettable performance by Robert Walker. Even a small part by my childhood favorite Marion Lorne!

Hitchcock at his best.


Nine Nation Animation

An assortment of recent animated works...utilizing many different styles...from all over the world. Some were striking and was annoying.

The mixed bag one would expect from a compilation like this but well worth while.


Floating Weeds

Y. Ozu Japan

Late work by the of only four in color. He makes glorious use of color here...particularly red. The story is of a traveling theatrical troupe who come to a remote seaside village in search of an audience. The leader has a former lover...and a and the film revolves around this fact. Re-done by Gillian Armstrong in High Tide.

A great film by any measure.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Fiend Without a Face


Wonderfully cheesy sci-fi junque from 1957. You got your invisible monster which turns out to be stop-motion brains with antennae at the end, atomic radiation, mad scientist and military hero who fixes everything. What's not to like?


Thursday, October 21, 2010



Some unearthed footage of the post-war trial served as the basis for this film. There was nothing here which hasn't been rehashed dozens of was hard for me to see why it was made/released.

Yes the Nazis were really awful. But if that's all you have to say...some 65 years later then maybe you shouldn't be saying it.


For All Mankind


The best doc I've seen of the Apollo moon flights. Great selection of footage gleaned from the NASA archives.

Although this feat is now seriously downplayed it remains, in my opinion, mankind's single greatest achievement. And this film does it justice.


The Call Girl


Simply told story of a college girl from the provinces who works as a call girl to finance the life style she prefers. Her decision leads to serious complications in her personal relationships...and continuing disillusionment. At one point she is one big disappointment after another.

After a thorough whacking from reality she returns home to a loving, if inept father...sadder and wiser.

Strong film helped by the fine lead performance. Her mostly passive exterior would occasionally crack allowing the scared little girl inside to peek through.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Red Desert

Italy M. Antonioni

Grim disjointed portrait of the monstrousness of modern industrial life and, apparently, its effect on the human inhabitants who stagger through this hideous landscape.

This guy was very big in the 60's because his films were enigmatic and he dealt with larger themes than earlier films. Today they still seem fresh in some ways...dated in others.

He captures some startling images here...giant ship looming in the background, enormous tanks and other industrial scenes a la Gary, Indiana or Perth Amboy NJ. The lead actress gave a terrific, if opaque performance.

Watching it all these years later it seemed an intellectual exercise more than a fully realized, coherent film. has a strong impact on the viewer...remarkable since it is entirely unengaging.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Eye of Vichy

France Claude Chabrol

This was a compilation of the propaganda films which were shown to the French populace during the German occupation. It was interesting to see the different slant on the war and also interesting to contrast these lies with the lies told by the allied press.

In war truth is the first casualty...


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Edvard Munch

Norway Peter Watkins 1976

A truly extraordinary film...maybe the best attempt at an artist biopic I've ever seen. Extremely well assembled...shots ranged back and forth in time to illustrate the effect of the past on present psyche. He had many of the players look directly into the camera...often...which created a sense of intimacy and complicity in the audience.

At three hours it was too dense to absorb in one sitting. Breaking it up into two worked beautifully.

These pseudo-documentaries he has created are stunning and unique in the world of cinema. Pity he isn't better known to the general public.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Cell 211


Tight, powerful prison drama. Just when I thought there was nothing new you could possibly do with this form here came a film with a fresh twist.

Very tense situation guaranteed audience involvement. Cine and pacing enhanced the drama. Two excellent leads. At times it pulled a bit too hard on the heartstrings but quickly found its footing and went off in an unexpected direction.

A winner.


Where Mountains Fly

documentary Japan

Another piece on the confluence of buddhism, animism and shinto. Far too much voiceover. Sprawling, unfocused, silly. Apparently done by a French team.

Much inferior to last year's Shugendo Now. Some very beautiful landscape shots couldn't save this one.



A very stupid...but ultimately engaging teen comedy about a comic book nerd who turns himself (sort of) into a superhero with the help of a foul-mouthed 11 year old girl.

This is about as dumbed-down as a movie can go and stay above the drooling level. Is there any hope for a generation that makes something like this a hit?


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Black Gold


This was about coffee. I was hoping for a comprehensive historical view of this ubiquitous drink but what I got here was a single-minded...and simple-minded...polemic on how the world economic system screws the little guy...the guy who actually does the work. I already knew this and after an hour of having this film preach the obvious at me I got sick of it and turned it off.

Gee, I wonder how it ended?


Our Daily Bread

Germany documentary

Carefully composed, mostly static shots of the modern industrial food production system. Some of this was mind-boggling...millions of chickens in an enormous building, sunflowers stretching to the horizon, etc. Because this was Germany everything was clean, modern, slick and sanitized. Even the imported slaves lived in clean slums.

Interesting...but where are we going with this?


Monday, October 11, 2010

Land of Promise


Several short pieces produced in England in the 1930's extolling the marvelous benefits of...well...England. This included coal mines, a shipyard, factories of various stripe, slum clearance.

Much of what was highlighted seemed dickensian to me...but hey...what do I know?

The films were nicely framed and shot but the narration was idiotic from my point of view.




A family with three grown children are held in total isolation in a walled compound. The parents are apparently trying to shelter their children from the corruption of the outside world. They teach them the wrong words for things, tell them they have a brother who has been expelled for disobeying, that cats are a physical threat and that they are stuck there until they lose a non-existent dogtooth.

As it will in adolescence sex rears its head. The woman colleague brought into the compound to service the son spreads the behavior and threatens stability.

The themes were patiently laid out here. Lots of scenes were designed to make the audience squirm...including some explicit sex. Several scenes of violence were quite realistically done.

The overall effect was powerful and unforgettable. No matter how many years go by mention of this title's name will instantly bring it back. That alone marks it as a successful film.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Who is Harry Nilsson?


Nicely done piece on a fine pop singer/songwriter who wrestled with the demons in his closet and lost. He had a beautiful voice, great sense of melody and gentle irony. After watching this I found myself singing his songs in my head for hours.

Moving and informative...I hope this helps people remember him. I know I will.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Enlightenment Guaranteed


"Comedy" about two buffoons who travel to Japan to spend time in a monastery but get sidetracked in Tokyo with no money, passport, etc.

Not funny.




Another wrinkle on the hopelessly corrupt American political system. Single focus here hurt in my eyes...not a mention of vote count rigging, bribery...the very nature of the elite "republic" set up by the rich, white property owners in 1787.


Friday, October 8, 2010

How I Ended the Summer


This one took quite a while to get going but turned into an oddball thriller after more than an hour of build-up. Two men work at a remote island weather station in the high is a grizzled veteran...the other is a recent college grad. They have a troubled say the least.

I had a lot of trouble understanding the motivation of the young guy...which was crucial to the plot. Are Russians just thick-headed dolts? May be...

After two hours the resolution was enigmatic...which I can live with...but...what really was the point of all this? And did a helicopter crash?


America's Atomic Bomb Tests


De-classified films of open-air tests conducted in Nevada in the 50's. Knowing what we do now it was chilling watching footage of soldiers being marched to ground zero sites shortly after the blasts. Many have died from residual effects of radiation.

The rah-rah naivete on display here also grated. We're #1 and all that. Pride comes before the fall...


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Army of Crime


This was a dramatization of a group of foreign-born resistance fighters in France during WW2. Fast-paced/edited...solid cast...nice use of locations...overall an excellent work of cinema/history. Modernized the great classic Army of Shadows without diminishing either.

Good stuff.


Winnebago Man


Outtakes from a 1989 industrial film shoot went viral on youtube and made Jack Rebney famous. This filmmaker tries here to make himself famous by riding on the coattails of the crotchety 76 year old blind guy Jack has become.

I found myself a bit irritated most of the way through this film but got sucked in to the feel-good ending. Eliminate the last ten minutes and it would be awful. With came up to OK.

I kept having the sense that Jack may actually be a thoughtful, interesting man with something to say but the filmmaker repeatedly steered him away from a message of any substance.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Queen of the Sun


No, this isn't about spending the summer on Fire Island. It's about bees...their essential role in the web of life in which we forget we live. And they're dying...sometimes in large numbers. Without them our food supply would be in deep peril.

This was a beautiful film...sugar-coated(no pun)...but watch-able and intelligent. Made me want to put a hive or two in the back yard.



India S. Ray

This is the middle of the Apu trilogy and I found it not as strong as the first. We follow a boy from youth through adolescence as he develops his education and breaks away from home. This leaves his mother alone which causes both of them great distress.

The opening third set in Benares was beautifully photographed and shot. After the father's death the film seemed to lose focus and meandered toward its resolution. If seen on its own it was part of the trilogy it fit.


Sunday, October 3, 2010



A swimming instructor gets involved with a 17 yo Kurdish youth who is trying to get to England to re-unite with his girlfriend.

Strong characters and story. This had the air of truth. Nice work all around dealing with a topic -illegal immigration- with murky moral issues.


Friday, October 1, 2010

One Wonderful Sunday

Japan Akira Kurosawa 1947

Title is somewhat ironic. We accompany a 30ish couple who are destitute in the post-war devastation as they try to create some hope for themselves in an increasingly cruel world.

Beautifully photographed and composed...AK had reached the peak of his skills by this point. The characters were likable but the screenplay slipped into maudlin every now and then. Still there were some outstanding sequences...most notably a race in the rain to a concert.

The eventual resolution was much too drawn out and detracted from the overall impression made by the film. Too good to dismiss...too flawed to cheer, this was a building block in his stellar career.