Monday, November 29, 2010

The Two Escobars


The incredible story of Columbia in the 80's, the rise of Pablo and the cocaine trade, his subsequent sponsorship of the national soccer team and the way that all played out.

Other than the too-fast editing sports has become addicted to this was interesting, informative and ultimately sad. Lots of murky moral issues too which they chose not to explore.

Good Stuff.


12 Angry Men

Henry Fonda d/ Sidney Lumet

Great film from 1957. Almost all the action takes place in the deliberation room as the jurors wrestle with themselves and each other trying to find justice.

Outstanding cast made up of New York actors who hadn't appeared in films before but then became familiar character players for the next 30 years.

Tense taut drama which has aged well. A classic.


Sunday, November 28, 2010



Inspired by the Grimm Bros tales, this started in a conifer forest with a brother and sister abandoned by destitute parents and went in directions no one but the twisted writer/director could have thought of.

Several good laughs in the first third before it got darker in tone if not in lighting. Fun. Original. Done by the maker of The Dress.


The Battle of Chile


Chile 1973. This told of the months-long struggle to hold things together in the Allende period while under constant mean, vicious opposition by the angry oligarchy...with the full support of the US.

On their September 11 they used full military force ending 150 years of electoral rule and bringing Chile into the fascist nightmare so many of us share today. Of course eventually Pinochet was ousted but not before doing permanent damage to that country and its poor.

So it goes. This was much too long to have the impact it should have had.


On The Waterfront

Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint d/Elia Kazan

One of the best films ever made. Brando's oscar. Tight, taut direction, gritty, realistic locations, b/w photography. This was almost two hours long but raced by so fast it seemed half that.

People will watch this as long as there are movies.


The African Queen

Bogart, K Hepburn d/John Huston

Great classic from 1951. Bogie's oscar. The story is preposterous but the dynamic between the two leads works so well that the implausibilities of the plot fade into insignificance. It's a love story, a rom-com, an adventure. Much beloved movie that marks a high point in traditional hollywood studio-era product.


Friday, November 26, 2010

A Face in the Crowd

Elia Kazan Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal

An early cautionary tale about the power of television that was ahead of its time but all too prescient to describe the US today. A drunken bum catapults to fame based on his country, home-spun persona and step-by-step becomes a dangerous megalomaniac.

AG was towering in this part...his first film. He overdid it a bit...indeed the entire film was over-egged some trying to make the point. Ms Neal was perfect...moving from enthusiastic girl reporter to sadder, wiser woman.

The story raced along dragging me with it in spite of my reservations.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

71 Fragments of the Chronology of Chance

Austria Michael Haneke

An early film that vividly demonstrated the role of chance in our lives. We watch a half-dozen people do the mundane things people do for 1 1/2 hours then they all end up in a bank at the same is a shooter, the others victims.

The chopped up editing style he used here worked well. As we got to know the various characters there was no obvious connection among them until the last scene. This took some courage since they were very ordinary and the scenes we were forced to watch were banal.

But when it all snapped into place it did so with a resounding click that'll stay in my mind.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow

documentary Sophie Fiennes

Slow pans down corridors in an abandoned factory in southern France sprinkled with objets d'art made of concrete, lead, broken glass and various pieces of metallic junk. The scale was enormous...this was a very large factory. And it was one man's project.

I alternated between wondrous delight at the rebellious spirit it took to create something this in-your-face junky on this scale. Then I would wonder how this guy got money for this project. Then I would think this is very stupid...who in the world wants to see nonsense like this? Then I would be bored with the sameness of decrepit ruins.

His interview was predictably abstract...filled with meaningless verbiage...a schtick he seems to have mastered long ago.

Does this kind of work have any value? Each of us has to decide that. For


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Nothing Personal

Ireland Stephen Rea

A bitter Dutch woman with a strong sensuous side travels Western Ireland searching for ?...finds Rea living alone in a picturesque house way out on the coast...they reach an accommodation and gradually warm to each other.

Lovely locations. Both players were excellent. They never revealed either of their stories which I thought made it work...they became stand-ins for lonely people everywhere.

Slight but sweet...ultimately satisfying.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Samson and Delilah


Extremely grim drama set in the Northern Territory. Two young aboriginal teens, a boy and a girl, live in a squalid outback village. He is addicted to sniffing gasoline which has addled his brain. She is inexplicably attacked by the village women after her grandmother dies. So they hit the road by stealing the village truck. They come to a modern city, live under a bridge, steal food until she gets gang-raped and then hit by a car. Then a kindly abo man takes them to a remote squalid cabin where they apparently live happily ever after.

This may have been intended to cast a light on the plight on Australia's natives but they were presented in such an unfavorable way here it may have backfired. They were portrayed as filthy, heartless, ignorant...people with no sense of pride or dignity. Perhaps victims but one wonders what their lives were like before the white invasion?

I suspect a similar film could be made about native Americans but would anyone want to watch it?


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Happily Ever After

France Charlotte Gainsbourg

Nice little story set in Paris' chattering class. The men here were pretty callow, the women all-suffering...until things turned. Fast-paced...nicely shot...several memorable scenes...lovely resolution with a surprise appearance by Johnny Depp.

Even though I've seen what seems like thousands of these if they're well done like this one I get sucked in and end up enjoying them. Especially nice performances by CG and her husband/director Yvan Attal.


La Soufriere

documentary Werner Herzog

This was one of three early documentaries by WH on this disc. His oddness was firmly in place by this time...early 70's. There was a film about a ski flyer(jumper), a competition for livestock auctioneers and a volcano on the Caribbean island of Guadalupe which threatened to erupt...but didn't. So he took his camera on eerie tours of an emptied city and up to the caldera evading poisonous sulfur clouds.

Compelling docs on unusual subjects.


Friday, November 19, 2010

From Russia With Love

Sean Connery

Early entry into this series...often touted as one of the best so I was curious. Just seemed like the usual nonsense to me. This was before they became ever more preposterous so Bond seemed almost human...maybe just a little superhuman.

There was never any suspense since we knew he wouldn't get killed or even really harmed. The aim here was to contrive stunts that would dazzle the audience, seduce the women and make the men envious. It clearly had that effect in 1963 but from today's perspective this seems pretty silly. Spectre indeed.


Green Snake

China Tsui Hark Maggie Cheung

A trip into the fantastical with lots of flying around, shape-changing, animal-to-people and back again etc. The whole purpose of films like this is spectacle and this one delivered...big time. It was eye-popping and imaginative from frame one and never let up.

Fun, diverting.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Uncle Boonmee


Very unusual film centered around a man dying of kidney failure, his interactions with family members and various ghosts from his past. Slow paced and abstract. Some stunning locations/imagery. Featured the unusual sight of a woman raped by a fish...all done discreetly.

I had the strong sense that there was folkloric resonance here for a Thai audience that completely missed me. The final scenes, after his funeral struck me as similar to Bunuel in Simon of the Desert.

Worth seeing but this would have a very limited audience in the West.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

No Regrets for our Youth

Japan Akira Kurosawa

Early post-war (1946) film is decidedly anti-war and highlights the way those who saw it that way were persecuted and tormented during the period of madness which seized Japan from the 20's until 1945.

Setsuko Hara plays the lead and she was magnificent...moving from a callow, self-centered brat to a long-suffering woman. Her features seemed to change with the story. It was hard to believe she later played the serene saint-like woman in Ozu's films.

There were some gaps in the story which didn't matter much since AK was focused on the emotional toll the war had on individuals and this came through very clearly.


Tropical Malady


Typical fare from this guy...the man with the unpronounceable name.

It took quite a while for him to identify a protagonist. It turned out to be a soldier...possibly gay...infatuated with a man who repels his overtures. After an hour of noodling he goes into the forest at night, stays there, has a fight with a naked ghost and eventually a confrontation with a tiger.

As the film developed it became more abstract/opaque. There may have been cultural/folkloric meanings that I missed. The "resolution" didn't, for me at least. This was one of his less interesting films in spite of some startling imagery.




Herding sheep up to mountain meadows in Montana. The scenery was spectacular but the trials of the men who do this stripped it of its romance. This is harsh, demanding work...constantly fighting the elements, predators and the sheep themselves.

The unnaturalness of the enterprise was starkly featured. Organized herding and indeed agriculture in general is a distortion of the natural order and can only be maintained by constant struggle. Makes me wonder about "civilization" itself.

Interesting and provocative.


Tales of Hoffmann


Imaginatively filmed opera...done on a sound stage in England. Incredible use of color...great sets. Some of the music was nice (hardly transcendent) but eventually the visual splendor of this production couldn't overcome the artificiality of this form.

This is someone else's cup of tea.


Monday, November 15, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest


This was the third and concluding entry in this series. Everything was tidily wrapped up...all ended well...the bad guys were all found and punished and the good guys won. This fairy-tailish flavor was the main complaint I had. It came across like too many hollywood resolutions.

Still, these characters were unforgettable...especially the "girl" played by Noomi Rapace whose character was almost entirely non-verbal...she conveyed her thoughts with her eyes.

World class commercial thriller fare.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Change of Plans


Ensemble piece set among the chattering class in Paris. The first half was hyperkinetically edited which I found wearing...but it settled down a bit after that and featured several scenes that allowed for some character development.

The characters were the usual self-absorbed verbal types who can be pretty annoying but for some reason I found myself liking them here and consequently enjoying the film.




A man and his 11 yo son are on the road to the Crimea. They have little money and have a range of encounters...some good, some not so good along the way.

Episodic, sometimes nasty, sometimes lyrical...imaginatively directed with occasional long takes or clever camera moves. Well enough shot and acted to hold my interest...not quite good enough to soar.


Friday, November 12, 2010

When A Woman Ascends the Stairs

Japan Mikio Naruse

A great good as anything from the classic, post-war period.

A Ginza bar hostess navigates her way through a male-dominated world...trying to maintain her integrity, her dignity. Film was helped immensely by the lead performance of Hideko Takamine. Her grace, intelligence, beauty and ability to subtly convey the full range of human emotions was world-class.

Naruse has been unknown in the West which is really unfortunate...he is at least the equal of the big three...Kurosawa, Ozu, Mizoguchi...and in this film...perhaps his masterwork...he surpasses them.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Treeless Mountain


Two small girls...sisters 7 and 4...are left by mom with an uncaring aunt. We follow their adjustment, their yearning, their sense of abandonment and how they cope with such a serious loss. Autobiographical scenario by the filmmaker...a Korean-raised woman.

This ranks among the very best performances by children I've seen. As good as Ponette. The kids were natural with each other, with other kids and with adults. It was impossible for me not to feel for their plight.

Outstanding work.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Vendredi Soir

France Claire Denis Vincent Lindon

Interesting experimental film. Through a simple contrivance a man and a woman get together one night, have dinner, go to a hotel, spend the night and split in the morning.

Done with very tight close-ups...thus personalizing the story. They are in a context but it's far in the background. Unusual cutting/editing gave the film a happenstance sensibility. Strong performances by both leads. Stark, spare in tone. Intimate.

This was a successful notch in her ouevre.


Monday, November 8, 2010

The Girl Who Played with Fire


The second installment in this trilogy. Fast-paced, sometimes violent, compelling story and characters...this was an up-to-date thriller.

The lead actress - Noomi Rapace - dominates here even though her performance is mostly non verbal. The scenario of a small woman who has been horribly abused tracking down her abusers has great resonance and has been used many times. It still works.

Well done.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Breath Made Visible


Straightforward piece on Anna Halprin...avant-garde dancer/choreographer. She came across very well as an intelligent, sensitive artist. Her works presented here were interesting...sometimes pretty out there.

The problem I have with this form is that it strikes me the same way as's deeply narcissistic. There was footage of Anna as a little could almost hear her shouting...look at me! look at me! Abstract, interpretive dance may be satisfying to the performer but it misses me as an observer.

Still, this was well done.


Broken Embraces

Spain P. Almodovar Penelope Cruz

Typical fare from this guy: cheating, jealousy, homophobia, possessiveness, passion-fake and real, tragic accident, blindness and death. All done in sparkling colors.

I never have warmed up to his films...some have been better than others. This one was middling.


Saturday, November 6, 2010



This tells the story of Mussolini's first wife and child. Highly stylized, particularly for the first 20 minutes which has many dark/shadow scenes and was quite effective. Unfortunately the flash became wearisome after a while and I found the presentation as well as the story an ordeal.

Very impressive film but it didn't work for me.


Friday, November 5, 2010



Here we follow a father and his 6yo son as they travel to a preserve off Mexico's coast to fish and lead an idyllic life before mom takes the kid off to Italy and the horrors of civilization.

We were supposed to like this guy but I didn't which ruined the film for me. He struck me as crude, ignorant...maybe loving but a life with him...spearing animals, dragging fish around by the lips, etc...would be extremely limited and would prepare the boy poorly for the life ahead.

It was short though...that was good.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Last Train Home

documentary China

Very sad film. We follow a family as they go through the nightmare of trying to get home during the Spring Festival. Arduous as that is it's the least of their problems. The family has been torn apart by globalization...parents living 1500 miles away from their children...who are understandably angry, resentful.

So the scum who run international economics and the great race to the bottom are ruining the Chinese as well as the American working class. Excellent. Abandon hope...etc

Powerful drama.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Nora's Will


Sweet little film. An aging woman commits suicide (after 14 attempts) and leaves behind problems for her ex (agnostic) and son (Jewish). This was done with a light touch...gently poked fun at religious belief generally...and in the last 1/2 hour moved toward nostalgia and emotional healing...without histrionics. Excellent lead actor.

Nice job.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Carmo, Hit the Road


Very unpleasant road movie. In this one we get to watch some unattractive people piss, throw up, butt, knife and shoot each other, rape...all with lots of gore and ugly sound design. What music there is was rap. To top it off all this was shot in the extremely annoying camera style that is now apparently an international fad/plague.

I only endured this one because I was screening it for the festival. I felt sorry for the players.