Friday, December 31, 2010



This has been highly acclaimed in the international press and some, but not all, of that praise is warranted. A retarded young man is accused of a murder and his mother devotes her life to proving his innocence...a pretty standard premise.

The story goes in unexpected the time of the final fade-out my head was spinning from the twists that had unfolded. So as a plot this was a winner.

But as a film it was marred by the hammy, overdone, asinine behavior that cripples so many of these films from the far east. Why do they do this? I'm pretty certain that in real life Koreans don't act like that. Aren't they watching films from other parts of the world? It's time for them to grow up or risk not being taken seriously.

Worth watching with a standout lead performance.


Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Pope's Toilet


Based on a true story. In 1988 the pope came to a small town on the Brazil border and the residents set up over 300 stands to capitalize. We follow a family who use all their assets to build a public toilet for the expected crowd. The crowds stayed away so everyone lost their money.

This was meant to be a charming moral lesson on the destructive power of greed...even among the very poor. But the film was badly marred by the protagonist presented as a blustering a bad TV sitcom from the 50's (eg. Life of Riley). Idiots do idiotic is their nature and once the story was set up it was obvious it wouldn't end well.

Marginally interesting.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Palm Beach Story

Claudette Colbert, Joel McRae w/d Preston Sturges

Madcap screwball comedy from 1942. Lickety-split dialogue...preposterous plot developments...unrealistic characters...and, sometimes, a lot of fun. But not always. I thought JM's character was annoyingly contentious and the richies were too absurd for a modern eye.

But Rudy Vallee was quite good as the Rockefelleresque heir and I enjoyed watching Mary Astor in such an over-the-top role.

Not my favorite among Sturges' films.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

General Della Rovere

Italy V. de Sica d/R. Rosellini

From 1959. Our protagonist is a small time hustler whose gambling habits drive his sleazy doins. He gets forced into playing an Italian war hero and gradually finds a nobler side to himself...even to the point of giving up his life to inspire his fellow countrymen.

Intelligent character study which took plenty of time to develop and ended on a moving note. de Sica was excellent in the lead. His wrestling with his fears...and overcoming them...was a fine display of real courage.

The Nazi Colonel was too new agey. A couple of terrible process shots made me wince but overall the sets and locations worked nicely. The film moved away from neorealism which RR had championed. It didn't matter.

This is seen as one of the great post-war classics. I see it as a notch below several of the others...Shoeshine, Bicycle Thieves, La Strada...but still a very fine film that holds up well today.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Indiscretion of an American Wife

Italy V. de Sica Jennifer Jones, Montgomery Clift

Pure...or should I say impure schmaltz. One of the least successful attempts to make adultery seem OK.

Both were too pretty. She wildly overacted mostly just using her face. He wasn't believable for a second as an Italian although he tried hard...too hard.

This was presented as tragic romance but these two bozos mostly looked silly to me. Good use of the location and the kaleidoscopic swirl of humanity surrounding them. But to my eye this was pretty bad.

A three-hankie flick in 1948. Nice b/w by James Wong Howe.


The Father of My Children


Very well done film. Dad is a harried film producer with a loving wife and three daughters. We watch as the pressures from his company get heavier and heavier until he finally pops.

The heart of the story is how the family members cope with dad's loss.

The kids were terrific. I can't imagine how they get such naturalistic performances out of ten year olds. The cutting was quicker than I like but it did move the story right along. Beautiful use of locations. Good music choices.

A first rate film that I hope finds an audience.


Letters to Father Joseph


After-school level material. A bitter woman is released from prison to the custody of a blind priest to help him read letters sent to him from petitioners.

Confrontation, revelation, catharsis, resolution. The End.

It wasn't clear to me who was the intended audience for this. It was competently done but that's not enough to make it on the world stage.


The War You Don't See


John Pilger talked to many prominent journalists and editors trying to learn why war and especially pre-war reporting is so misleading. He lets people do a mea culpa (Dan Rather) or squirm in denial on screen. He doesn't get into the economics of predatory capitalism which is the real story but simply focuses on the failures of the messenger class.

Solid work but nothing presented here was new or unexpected.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Black Swan

Natalie Portman d/Darren Aronofsky

This was as unpleasant a movie experience as anything I've ever seen. We follow a pinched, emotionally constipated young woman as she vies for the lead role in Swan Lake. She has nasty hallucinations that get nastier as the film proceeds. Eventually we're forced to watch scenes better suited to David Cronenberg's The Fly.

The ugliness and negativity never lets up culminating in the final resolution. I felt I had been cruelly abused when I walked out and that I had to purge the memory of this film from my mind.

What were these people thinking? This seems to me male junior high school mentality/behavior...let's do something really gross and ugly and the adults will be so pissed...

A lot of work went into this production which meant that a lot of people thought producing it was a good idea. Technically it was state-of-the-art. Some are touting it for major awards. What does this say about the current state of our society that such a sour work gains such prominence?

Not my idea of a swell time.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Spring in a Small Town

China 1949

A very primitive melodrama. Done just before the communist takeover it reveals the physical and emotional destruction left by WW2.

The filmmaking was amateurish and not ready for the world market. Scenes were broken up by multiple takes...the whole film had a restricted, claustrophobic feel. Badly hampered by the extreme reticence of the players to express a putatively emotional story. Compares poorly to the work of Japanese filmmakers (Ozu, Naruse) of the period.

Re-made in the 90's as Springtime in a Small Town.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010



Nifty little no-budget monster flick. Aliens land near the tex/mex border creating an infected zone which our protagonists have to get through. Nice camera work...great use of locations, good suspense and inspiring, non-violent resolution.

The guy was too irritating for the first hour but redeemed his character by the end. An imaginative film that worked as a B movie by focusing on character and unseen menace.

Nice job.


Here is Always Somewhere Else


Bio of a Dutch "artist" who died 30 years ago trying to sail a 12 foot boat across the Atlantic. His art consisted of performance pieces mostly based on in...if you push something hard enough, it will fall over. Interviews here of his friends...all of whom strove to intellectualize this silliness...without succeeding.

It seemed to me that this guy had "issues" and simply climbed out of the gene pool in a novel way.


No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson

documentary Steve James

Interesting piece on race and justice when applied to a young black athlete in Virginia's peninsula region. Life isn't fair...


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

La Strada

Italy Anthony Quinn, G. Messina d/F. Fellini

One of the great classics in film history. Zampano the strongman, his elfin assistant and The Fool careen down Italy's back roads searching for ???

She was marvelous and should have won best actress. Rota's music was wonderful. Quinn gave one of his best performances in a long career.


Inglorious Basterds

Brad Pitt d/Tarantino

I expected junk with this one and I got it but I also got an entertaining 2 1/2 hours too. Call it good junk.

At first I was put off by the distortion of history but after a while I realized it didn't really matter. Structured as a series of slowly developing set pieces - each almost independent of the other. It's a form he's used before (Pulp Fiction) and works well this time at creating a periodic sense of tension.

Very high production values...he has a lot of money to work with now so sets/props are first rate. Pure, violent entertainment...perfect for teenaged boys.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Jack Cardiff


Straightforward piece on the great cameraman who worked on such films as Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, The African Queen.

He also directed a dozen films which didn't make much of a splash.

Nice tribute.


Honor of the Knights


Odd treatment of the story of the quest of Don Quixote and his pal Sancho Panza. The film consisted of slow, quiet scenes of the two men making their way through an unspoiled landscape, pausing to rest, cool off. The Don would harangue Sancho with his insights into social order, religion and the nature of life. Then they would continue.

Many contemplative shots of the characters staring into nothingness. The overall effect was one of peaceful a film I can't imagine very many people appreciating it.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Hole


A unique idea. Incessant rain, water leaks in walls and floors in a scruffy apartment building. Plumber knocks hole in floor thus connecting two lonely, forlorn urban residents. Minimalist style/dialogue. Cockroach disease strikes population. Occasional songbursts a la Pennies From Heaven.

Incredibly bleak film that nonetheless tickled me. It was a picture of urban decay and social alienation that managed to avoid despair and actually ended on a positive note.

One of a kind.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Les Enfants Terribles

France Jean Pierre Melville 1950

This was truly bad I'm surprised anyone here ever found work in films again. The absurdly contentious relationship between teen brother and sister was completely over-the-top. They slept in the same room and fought nonstop...physically, sometimes throwing stuff at each other.

Then she...about as butch as a woman can be...marries a fabulously rich guy who dies the next day, leaving her a rich widow. There's more but it's not worth telling.

What on earth were these people thinking? Adapted from a script by Jean Cocteau, complete with stupidly poetic voiceover.

Some camera work was interesting but the endless fighting got real old real fast. A terrible movie that irritated throughout.


Chicago 10


Not bad attempt to recreate the madness of August 1968 when the yippies came to town, the police rioted, broke a bunch of heads and everybody went home satisfied they had played their roles.

Listening to the revolutionary rhetoric at this point makes me sad...these people didn't want a revolution...they had no idea what to put into place...they were just furious with anger, resentment and hollered their rage in the face of bayonets.

I don't know what it will take to tear down this rotten system but neither did they...and now things are much worse. The film stirred the old anger in me...but to what purpose?

The mix of animation/rotoscoping worked pretty well to vary the look of old footage.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work


The subtitle says it all. We follow the botoxed comedienne around for a year as she compulsively goes from gig to gig in a frantic search for...well, we're really not sure. Money, recognition, acclaim, acceptance, laughs... She seems to have a giant hole in her heart and nothing she can find or achieve will fill it.

She came out of the time when a woman saying fuck on stage was a scream and she's pretty much stayed there. Coarse scatological humor...sometimes pretty funny...relies mainly on shock and it's really not all that shocking anymore.

Her life seems to have been a mixed bag...husband committed suicide...and her principle response has been to press on doing what she does.

A living embodiment of What Makes Joanie Run...

I found her repulsive at first...warmed some by the end but I'm really glad she's not a part of my life.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Black Orpheus

France Marcel Camus

Lively, imaginative transfer of the Greek myth to carnival in Rio. Dazzling colors, costumes...excellent camera work. Non-stop music, mostly samba, gave the film a propulsive dynamic that never let up.

Both leads were beautiful...the dancing exciting...the whole effect was a magical visit to a place where camaraderie and fun were the currency of the day. Some of the interactions were silly but they fit right in with the rest.

An amazing production that stands the test of time.


Monday, December 13, 2010

The Virgin Spring

Sweden Max von Sydow w/d Ingmar Bergman

Quite simply one of the finest films ever made. Stark, simple in structure, exquisitely lit and in thematic layers that go to to the question of the very nature of humanity.

We enter the world of medieval Europe with its harsh but beautiful landscapes, crude, coarse people, animals, mud and a guiding belief in a supernatural reality that governs the thoughts and behaviors of some.

The film packs more power...both emotional and intellectual...than 99% of the films ever made. It was the film that convinced me that this medium was a legitimate art form when I first saw it at 18 and it still does.

A world treasure.


The Human Condition: No Greater Love

Japan 1959 Kobayashi

The first part of a grand nine-hour epic dealing with Japan's role and behavior in the war. Enormously popular in the country at the time of acted as a purgative for conflicted feelings of the defeated people and their immense suffering.

As a film it was truly epic...large-scale in locations, extras, etc. Excellent cinematography. But to my eye everything about the characters/situations was overstated, overegged. Many Asian films from this era suffer from this this case it ruined the experience for me. Odd that a culture so restrained in most matters goes so overboard in its films.

I expected more from the director of the magnificent Hara Kiri.


Sunday, December 12, 2010


Argentina Ricardo Darin

Sordid story of an ambulance chaser (vulture or carancho) trapped in a criminal group, disgusted with himself who meets a new female doctor and tries to get free. Very gritty and realistic settings. Many ambulance/ER locations with trauma patients being treated gave a strong sense of verisimilitude.

Even though the climax was predictable (duh...this was a movie about a guy who made his living off terrible traffic accidents) the film, ugly as it was in many scenes, easily belongs on the world stage.


Heartbeat Detector

France Mathieu Almaric 2000

Set in a modern corporation this meanders around for much too long with lots of enigmatic scenes. After a couple of hours we arrive at the core and it turns out to be WW2, Nazis, the holocaust...yet again.

Poor character development strained my patience. By the time of the great reveal I was so sick of this movie I wanted to throw it out the window. Maybe someday we'll have a serious French movie that doesn't circle back to the 40's...but I doubt it.

And what exactly is that title supposed to mean?


Saturday, December 11, 2010

If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle


Idiotic title for a typically grim, depressing film from Eastern Europe. Set in a boy's reformatory we follow a taciturn 18 year old, learn the awful forces, inner and outer, that are making him boil and then watch the inevitable explosion.

All hand-held, wavering camera which has come to mean filmmaking these days. The kid was inexpressive, spent lots of screen time staring at the floor, had one blistering confrontation with his monster mother before popping and ruining the rest of his life.

Not a bad film but if the ultimate message is that if you pile on enough outrage and humiliation you can get someone to explode...well, who doesn't know that?


Friday, December 10, 2010

Wild Grass

France Alan Renais

Playful, beautifully shot film from an old master. This guy's been making films...including some groundbreakers...since 1936!

This one begins with a stolen wallet, a resulting contact, some puzzling stalking, eventual connection and, I guess ultimately romance although this is not at all clear. Lots of cinematic tricks used but more realistic, at least in setting/locations than his last film...Private Fears. Public Places. Same players were used.

This seemed designed to keep the audience off balance but intrigued and for me it succeeded wonderfully. Notable camera work. Lotsa fun.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Forsaken Land

Sri Lanka

Very slow opaque film. Mostly short, isolated scenes set in a beach-like area. We never learn who these people are, what their relationships are, what country this is, what's up with the soldiers...really anything that would give the film some context.

The first ten minutes was shot in near darkness which tellingly set the tone for what was to follow. Near the end a woman hanged herself...I wasn't even sure which character she was.

I learned it was from Sri Lanka by looking on the web.

This just doesn't make it as a film. It may have expressed some private anguish but nothing I saw on screen had any meaning to me.


Waste Land


A conceptual photographer goes to a massive dump in Brazil, shoots a half dozen of the pickers in imaginative settings and changes their lives...some.

This turned out to be a win-win project...Muniz got to be santa and the subjects got the money from the sale of the photos at Sothebys. Moving and inspiring story about giving back plus an interesting look at people at the very bottom, how they actually live, rationalize their plight and support each other.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010


France Beineix

Wonderful confection from 1981. Dazzling visuals, stunning sets and location work, excellently executed chase scene, strong characters, silly plot, great music. What more can you ask of a film?

Cinema du look indeed...


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Inside Job


This skimmed over the Wall Street crash of 2008 and concluded that the scum high up in the financial sector gamed the system and screwed everybody else. No surprise there. Well done but I'd wager that most of the people who would go to see a film like this know this stuff already.


A Somewhat Gentle Man

Norway Stellan Skarsgard

Nordic comedy (?) A man gets out of prison after 12 years and has to decide how he will live his life...either straight or back to a life of crime.

This was played in that unique style of Scandinavian humor which is just amusing enough to register faintly as a comedy but stops miles short of even a chuckle. SS was excellent as a lunkheaded dolt, slowly trying to cope with the predatory women and puzzling social situations he was called upon to muddle through. Contrast this with his character in Timecode or Goya's Ghost.

An amusing diversion not ready for prime time.


Saturday, December 4, 2010


Italy Taviani Brothers

Four separate stories...three hours long. Sumptuous cine, locations (Sicily), camera work. All the stories seemed like folk legends including the framing device of the belled crow.

Each story was captivating and held my interest but nothing here was emotionally engaging. Some of the scenes were played for broad farce...not my favorite.

Overall I had to admire the obvious skill these two guys brought to this project but nothing here would make me recommend it to others.


Friday, December 3, 2010

Tender Mercies

Robert Duvall d/Bruce Beresford

Written by Horton Foote this was an intelligent, sensitive story of a former country singer putting his life together somewhere in rural Texas.

Outstanding performance by RD who deservedly won the oscar. Ditto for Foote. This film puts to shame the film Crazy Heart which dealt with similar themes.

An American classic.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Parking Lot Movie


Over educated graduate students and others work at a downtown parking lot in Charlottesville Virginia. Maybe the ultimate slacker job.

The movie was amusing, brought in class issues and also the social contract. It might have been better at 45 minutes or so but easily held me for its feature length. Fun.


Annie Hall

Woody Allen, Diane Keaton

Delightful film filled with good lines/ideas. Voted by AFI the #2 best romcom ever made. I've loved it every time.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

When You're Strange

documentary Tom DiCillo

Jim Morrison and the Doors and their magical mystery tour as they helped create the Summer of Love and then rode it into increasing depravity...finally into death at 27.

Lots of period footage plus some artsy, unnecessary footage of a lookalike in a mustang cruising the California desert. He got all the important stuff in here but I still felt it was pretty superficial and mostly served as an introduction to those too young or not yet born when all this was taking place.



Yves Montand, Jean-Louis Trintignant d/Costa-Gavras

Maybe the best political thriller ever made. Winner of the best foreign film award in 1969, it was taut, fast-paced, exciting...brought the audience to an emotional peak and at the very end slammed them with a surprise.

This made his name internationally and remains his best film to date. A great film.



Czech Frantisek Vlacil

A returning Czech soldier inherits a mansion and finds the previous owner's daughter working there as a servant. Of course they get a complex problematic relationship.

Very slow and uninteresting. This film showed a little of his cine brilliance but not nearly enough to hold me. I didn't care about the fate of these characters.


Doctor Zhivago

Omar Sharif, Julie Christie D/David Lean

The last and maybe the best of the grand sweeping epics. Characters caught up in historical processes beyond their control are carried here and there, powerless to determine their fate.

Luscious cine, the unforgettable music of Maurice Jarre, a cast of thousands. They just don't make them like this anymore.