Saturday, December 31, 2011

Super 8

d/ JJ Abrams

Spielberg-like, loud, kid heroes, obnoxious adults, too much CGI, evil military, alien who comes to see the kids as pals...

Manna for ten year olds and their adult equivalents. I just don't have the patience for this drivel anymore.


Friday, December 30, 2011

This is Not a Film

Iran d/ Jafar Panahi

Panahi has been forbidden by his government to make films so he filmed himself in his apartment talking about not being able to make films. He also tried to enact the last film he was forbidden to make. Oddball project which at first seemed like a one-note but as it went on I came to accept it as a crie de coeur by an artist raging against the machine in the only way he knows how.

Unforgettable but unlikely to start a genre.


Of Time and the City

documentary d/ Terrence Davies

Interesting nostalgic piece on Liverpool England in the 40's and 50's...the time of Davies' childhood. Much use of period footage helps to strip away the golden glows of remembrance...the past shown here was dirty, poor and cramped...row houses, children playing in streets, etc.

The film used a voiceover read by an actor with a stentorian voice which gave the project an odd tone. At first I was put off but the things he was reading were clever and insightful...mostly poetry and after a while I was willing to accept it. This serves as an off-kilter comparison to Canadian Guy Maddin's similarly oddball opus My Winnipeg.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Conversations With My Gardener


About what you'd expect from a movie with a title like this. A disaffected Parisian artist returns to his roots manse, hires a local guy as gardener and achieves sartori. Or something. Mostly he seems to enjoy hanging out with him and re-grounding his world view...contaminated by a lifetime in the big city.

Not overdone...which helped...but the predictable death ending was pretty mawkish. The two actors didn't seem to me to really click...I got no sense of real rapport between them. And what the hell did he plan on doing with all those vegetables?

A mixed bag.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Australia Ethen Hawke, Willem Defoe

In the near future a plague has turned 95% of the world's population into vampires. Now they are faced with the dwindling supply of human blood. It's always something...

Some of this was interesting...stylish, noirish look, extreme vamp deaths...but the structure was so conventional and predictable I found myself losing interest half way through. Nothing was really bad...but nothing was really good either. Might be better for young people who are still fascinated with the whole vampire thing. I'm at the point that I see it as pretty stupid.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Take Shelter

Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain

Intriguing character study. An ordinary blue-collar guy, living in Ohio, starts having troubling dreams, seeing, hearing things that aren't there. He has a family history of schizophrenia and fears he's losing his mind. Or is he seeing real premonitions? Of a storm, a monstrous storm coming...

Slow-developing story builds patiently and held my interest all the way. Both key players were excellent...realistically portraying the confusion and turmoil called for. Unusual and provocative film.


All That I Love


Nice coming-of-age drama set during the Solidarity movement. Poles wanted to be free from the Russian boot on their necks...but this urge created turmoil in families locked into the old system.

Our focus is on a teen musician whose punk band rattles the cages of the powers-that-be. His family suffers, ditto his relationship with his first real girlfriend. We get an acute sense of these people just trying to get through a fractious time.

Some nice cinematography but too much wavering camera bullshit as per the current fad. Still...a nice film with sympathetic characters.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Projectionist

amerindie Chuck McCann, Rodney Dangerfield

Neat film from 1970. A cross between Walter Mitty and The Projectionist. A schlubby guy lives out his fantasies through films he has worked or seen...silents, talkies through to when the film was made. Lots of clever editing of old footage was great. A super-hero thread used throughout wasn't. But overall the delight I found watching this out-weighed the bad.

Oddball project...preserved by MOMA.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

My Week With Marilyn

Michelle Williams

Wonderful film with a knockout performance by MW. With this role she cements her position at the top of her profession. When I look back at the roles she's had this year...Blue Valentine, Meek's Cutoff...and last year's Wendy and Lucy and one else is in her league. All these roles are wildly different from each other...all require completely different body language, voice, personalities.

If she doesn't win Best Actress for this it will be further proof that the oscars are deeply flawed as a vehicle for recognizing achievement.

The film was charming, touching, sad, heartwarming...a multi-dimensional portrait of a complex, troubled woman struggling to stay above the surface of the turmoil she has created about herself.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Natural Selection


A failed attempt at a comedy. Lower class Texas morons do some really stupid stuff...exaggerating their ignorance (Jesus bullshit) for laughs that never came. Lots of crude violence, filthy rutting around in the lower reaches of the American heartland, theft, break-ins, lying, etc.

An hour in there was an attempt to make us care about these cartoon characters by baring life secrets but by that point they had squandered any connection with reality so the attempt came up a mile short. After all you can't hurt a toon...

The female lead...Rachael Harris...had some winning qualities but she'd need a better vehicle than this to let them show.


Tony Manero


Really unpleasant film. We follow a scuzzy 52 year old guy whose sole ambition in life is to win a cheesy TV contest for a John Travolta look-alike circa Saturday Night Fever. White suit, stupid disco dance moves, etc. Now there's a worthy ambition.

On the way he steals, murders, cheats...fucks his wife's daughter. He is a man with no moral values. He's also completely inarticulate...affecting a dead-eyed stare throughout. Truly disgusting scenes are enacted on screen...degrading the actors and the audience. To what purpose? I guess so we'll know there are some real losers out there. Oh goody.



Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Les Diaboliques

France d/ Henri Clouzot Simone Signoret, Vera Clouzot

Great thriller/horror film from 1955. Often compared to the work of Hitchcock it draws you in and keeps you hooked all the way. Marvelously paced/constructed with one of the best endings in classic French cinema.

Well deserved reputation as a classic.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Japan anime Hayao Miyazaki

Early work by the Japanese master storyteller brings forward most of the themes he has used throughout his career: strong female heroine, visualization of ancient folk myths, the depredations man has caused to the land. This film also used violence and war as the only legitimate means to stop the dark forces intent on destroying the world.

So here was have a heroine who is a pacifist but who must fight to re-establish harmony in her world.

Beautifully drawn, well-realized characters, non-stop movement...this film helped establish HM as one of the greatest animators we have ever seen. He has gone on to be recognized as a world treasure who continues to produce first-rate work to this day.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Rebel Without a Cause

James Dean, Natalie Wood d/ Nicholas Ray

Explosive film when released today it still packs a punch. The whole mixed-up teen problem seems quaint from here but this was a high quality production with nice use of color and widescreen. The chicken race was very powerful. The scenes in the old mansion fit perfectly into the flow of the story.

JD was undeniably charismatic...riveting when on screen yet tender and sympathetic. The explanations for his torment seem facile but he managed to engage the audience in it even if they didn't know why.

Not many films from this era hold up today. This one does.


Harold and Maude

Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort d/Hal Ashby

This was a trip back to a time when we thought we could make major changes in the system we slave under...wipe away the stultifying conformity that drove us to living a shallow, materialist life.

We have a young, baby-faced rich kid, obsessed with death, suicide and funerals who meets the ultimate free spirit who helps him break free and teaches him to fly without a net. Wickedly satiric, completely unrealistic, fun in spite of itself. The role of a lifetime for Ruth Gordon, veteran character actor.

She eventually leaves him but he has been many of us were in those days...and we last see him playing his banjo as he saunters over the hill.

Dated but fondly remembered by those of us who were there.


Sunday, December 18, 2011


D/ Lukas Moodysson Michelle Williams, Gael Bernal

Very fine English-language film by the maker of Together and Lilya Forever. This deals with the human-scale problems of globalization...particularly the disruption in emotional lives caused by large-scale physical separation.

Extremely well written/ two hours it felt perfect...long enough to give us a true sense of the characters...but not so long we get tired of them and their problems. MW continues to shine in every disparate role she tackles...

Carefully crafted. A worthy entry into the ranks of world cinema.


Friday, December 16, 2011

La Ronde

Simone Signoret w/d Max Ophuls

Lavishly photographed evocation of Vienna, 1900 done on a soundstage in 1950. Taken from a novel, it features an Our Town-ish narrator who leads us from one story to another...each one dealing with sex. We keep switching focus from one character to another until we end with the woman with whom we started. It's usually called the Circle of Love but I saw very little love in here.

Knowing, wry, sophisticated, adult...visually splendid, heavily atmospheric, exquisite tracking shots... This film is considered a classic of modern French cinema...deservedly so.



The Housemaid


Stylish, carefully-paced re-make of a classic 1960 Korean film. Strong lead actress leads a talented ensemble in a twisted melodrama guaranteed to emotionally engage the viewer. We follow the fate of a young working-class woman who begins work at the home of a rich family and is completely unprepared for the depths of their selfish depravity.

Film is more sexually explicit than most films from the East. I found the eventual resolution unsatisfying but undeniably startling and unforgettable. Class/morality issues were sharply defined and memorable.

Korea has emerged recently as one of the leaders in the forefront of world cinema...this continues that skein.


Thursday, December 15, 2011


L. deCaprio, Kate Blanchette d/ Martin Scorcese

Slick, expensive, hollywoodish, superficial take on the life and times of Howard Hughes. Many admirable, elaborate shots and sets disguised the hollowness of this production. KB mostly pulled off her imitation of Kate Hepburn but LdC, with his trademark pinched eyebrows, came across more as a petulant teenager than a mega-tycoon who commanded a vast fortune.

Marty has the means and the chops to do great things with film but he needs to find topics that merit such lavish attention. This seemed more like splashy indulgence than art.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011


documentary Errol Morris

Here he tells the remarkable story of Joyce McKinney...kidnapper, former beauty queen, S&M mistress, dog cloner and all around self-absorbed nut. The British tabs had a ball with her in the 70's...she got her full 15 minutes and then some. Since then she's been chillin...with her five identical dogs.

An amazing story...well told.




Pretty mediocre doc on the guy who invented the popular musical instrument in the 60's. I think the central problem is that he isn't very interesting...a semi-articulate engineer...and the topic itself is an extremely minor chapter...even in the history of pop music. Could have been adequately covered in 20 minutes for those who care.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Chico and Rita


Cuban film which begins in 1948 and traces the relationship between the titular characters to the present. They live through changing times...he is a jazz pianist, she a singer...for Cuba, the US and themselves.

The early scenes contain some cartoonish stuff but as the film develops the story becomes more and more adult and ends being sadly reflective and elegiac. At one point it included a sex scene which actually worked. Definitely not Disney

Nicely drawn.


The Invasion

Nicole Kidman

This is the fourth adaption of Jack Finney's book Invasion of the Body Snatchers. All of them have been good films and all reflect the times in which they were made. My favorite is the Don Siegel...which scared the shit out of me as a ten year old but there's clearly something primal this idea taps because even though I no longer get frightened by the emotionless pod people I still find these scenarios engrossing.

This version did credit to the raced right along with more effects than the others and featured an excellent performance by of the best, most versatile actors working today.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Straight, No Chaser


Routine bio of the jazz pianist Thelonius Monk...the man with a great name who made "music" some people seem to like. I find it stripped of melody and rhythm, discordant and irritating.

As a man he went slowly mad and had to be institutionalized. Laughingly inarticulate he would wander around the stage while his band members were playing their solos, often turning round and round like an over-sized ballerina with a silly hat.


Sunday, December 11, 2011


Kirsten Dunst w/d Lars von Trier

This film asks the melancholy, or depression, tied to the ability to foresee the increasingly dismal future and thus is a sane, reasonable reaction to this knowledge? Or does it presage the literal end of the world? LvT's triumph here is making those questions seem legitimate.

As a metaphor Melancholia works brilliantly...forcing any thoughtful viewer to walk out thinking, turning ideas over and over in his mind. As a human drama it fails almost completely. The behavior of all the characters is stupid and inexplicable...I found them irritating throughout...even given the obvious skill of the players.

The film starts with ten minutes of striking images shown in ultra-slow motion. Loved this opening. The next hour strongly resembles Celebration in its embarrassing airing of ancient family grievances at a public gathering. We then move to the end of the world.

The entire film is crippled by the constantly wavering camera syndrome LvT and some pals inflicted on the world of cinema in 1995 (dogme) and in which he is now trapped. It was idiotic in this film and worked as a continual distraction. impatient and irritated as I was for nearly two hours...when the extended final sequence got cracking I found it riveting. And never has a film ended with such a glorious bang.


Saturday, December 10, 2011



This was another modern minimalist film that has drawn praise from apparently jaded European festival programmers. A sailor leaves his ship to travel back to his home town. Almost no dialogue. No drama. I had no idea where this was taking place. After watching it I went to IMDB and learned it was Tierra del Fuego. Really? Just knowing that would have created a glimmer of interest.

The film seems to act as a rorschach test...because it is so vague and formless reviewers project all sorts of meaning onto it...which says more about them than it.

I found it boring and pointless. If I were conducting a filmmaking class for high school students and this was submitted I'd tell the kid to find another career.


Thursday, December 8, 2011


Simon Pegg

Silly fun about two English comic nerds who happen upon an alien in the western US desert and have an adventure. Lots of film references...Sigourney Weaver, MIB's...helped me appreciate it. No out-loud laughs but a continual subliminal chuckle...just what the doctor ordered.



Hong Kong Johnny Hallyday d/ Johnnie To

I don't expect much when I watch a HK shoot-em-up but even by those low standards this film was pretty stupid. Stylized look couldn't come close to making up for the idiocy of the "human" behavior on display here. a gunfight the combatants all stand there ten feet apart and shoot.

The whole film seemed to be shot in slow motion. And attempts to include some softening scenes were childishly simple=minded.

One thing became clear...this guy's no John Woo. Take a hike, pal.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Women of the Sixth Floor


A wealthy bourgeois gets involved with the Spanish maids who live on the top floor of the building which belongs to the people they all serve.

Never particularly realistic the film had a charming, fairy-tale-ish quality I found endearing in spite of my better judgement. Once or twice it slipped into farce...groan...but came right back out and sauntered along to the very predictable happy ending.

Pleasant, amusing.


Paul Goodman Changed My Life


Straightforward treatment of the radical lefty whose books and lectures had a profound effect of what we now call "the 60's."

Growing Up Absurd rang a bell that resonated with that generation. For good? For ill? From this perspective it seems to have been a mixed bag. Hopes/expectations for a better world were ignited...the failure to achieve them led to disillusionment and an abandonment of even the idea that society can be changed by the idealistic young.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

O Henry's Full House

Charles Laughton

Portmanteau collection of the writer's stories done in the early 50's. Stellar casting...Richard Widmark, Farley Granger, Jean Peters, Oscar Levant, Fred Allen...nice B/W period look. The style and delivery was dated by today's standards but still fun to watch.

Each story was introduced by John Steinbeck.


Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

England Tom Courtenay d/ Tony Richardson

Kitchen-sink drama from 1962. A working class teen regularly steals, gets caught and ends up in a boys' reformatory. There he becomes a competitive runner.

This film is typical of the angry screed at the unfairness of the British class system. Quite one here is particularly likable or sympathetic...they are all just playing out their roles in an unequal set-up. Lead character does have in him a streak of rebelliousness but his futile gesture asserting himself is swiftly squashed...the implication at the end is that he will take his place eventually as just another cog in the machine.

Memorable work.


Monday, December 5, 2011

The Turin Horse

Hungary Bela Tarr

For two hours I sat there laughing at this film...wondering what the hell he thought he was doing...didn't he have any understanding of what people are willing to sit through?

And then the last two reels snapped the whole thing into focus with enough clarity to set my mind racing with possible interpretations. It takes courage, intelligence, maturity and vision to produce a work like this. Tarr is widely considered one of the world's great master filmmakers. After watching this brilliant film I agree.

Not for everyone...but for those with the patience to let a cinematic genius slowly unfold his mysteries...this was a triumph.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Without Limits

Billy Crudup, Donald Sutherland

Fictionalized treatment of the incredible story of Steve Prefontaine...the champion American runner.

The role of a lifetime for Crudup who looks and runs like an athlete...while skillfully acting the self-confidant boor who manages to be likable. Excellent racing scenes were genuinely thrilling. The treatment of the murders at Munich 1972 was simple-minded but that wasn't important.

As good a biopic of an athlete as it gets.


Mugabe and the White African


Very powerful story of the plight of a white family in Zimbabwe who are being systematically pushed from the land they have farmed for thirty years. They pursue a legal case while being threatened daily by armed thugs determined to rid the land of all whites.

Of course the story is one-sided and deals not at all with the history of European imperialism and the subjugation/humiliation of indigenous blacks but even so the crass corruption and use of violence by Mugabe's minions is hard to witness.

Strong film...well done.


Friday, December 2, 2011

Afternoons With Marguerite

France Gerard Depardieu

Charming love story between a barely literate handyman and a 95 year old woman he meets at the park. She is lonely, he is unloved...together they form a bond which meets their needs.

Filmed in sparkling sunshine in the south of France. Luminous, fresh, clean-looking. Germain has a young lover...which clunked a bit. He's forty years older and 300 pounds seemed too much of a stretch. But the town...village really...was lovely, the cafe was a place we all wish we had available and the love story was very touching.


Pale Flower

Japan M. Shinoda

Nifty noir from the New Wave in 1964. Low level gangster hooks up with a society princess looking for thrills. They gamble, race cars, wallow in the demimonde...all at night, with deep shadows, jazz music, artfully placed light.

The story wasn't engaging but I enjoyed the film as an artistic effort. A bit dated by today's sensibilities but avant-garde at the time.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Makioka Sisters

Japan Kon Ichikawa

Long, elaborate soap opera which traces the changes in the heirs of a wealthy family before and during the war years. All the problems of life surfaced and determined their fate. Much Like The Magnificent Ambersons .

Beautifully filmed in the various seasons but as the film wound by I found my attention wandering and ended up not really caring what happened to these characters. Hurt by some unfortunate 80's style music.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cold Weather


Very slick, entertaining low-budget film. A former forensics student comes back to Portland and gets involved in a mystery involving his former girlfriend. He uses his knowledge from school and reading Sherlock Holmes to get deeper into the labyrinth.

Schlubby-looking lead who underplayed his character was perfect. Everybody looked and acted real. No melodrama. Reminded me of The Zero Effect.

Nice job.


Oranges and Sunshine

Australia Emily Watson

Fictionalized treatment of yet another monstrous government program from the 40's and 50's. Social service agencies in England took children away from poor parents and shipped them en masse to Australia where they were placed in orphans' homes and badly mistreated. They told the parents the children had been adopted by good people; the children were told their parents were dead. The rationale seems to have been some sort of slum-clearance idea, giving the kids a better chance in life, etc.

This film follows a British social worker as she tries to deal with this humanitarian mess forty years later...with no help from either state.

It's enough to make you want to quit the race...the human race.


Monday, November 28, 2011


Martin Scorcese

Visually dazzling adaptation of the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Scene after scene of exceptional imagination on the look, spirit, sound and sensibility of 1920's Paris. Wonderful tribute to Georges of the original founders of the medium.

The film wasn't without its flaws though...a cartoon-like policeman was a poor attempt at comic relief. But overall this was a giant step forward for Scorcese who lately seems to me to be resting comfortably on the praise he receives for work done thirty years ago. Not this time...this was a winner.


The Wise Kids


Nicely done film on growing up in a christian fundamentalist community. Many of the ordinary wants and needs are strenuously suppressed and replaced with ritual words and stagings. But the human spirit...which includes hard to squash and keeps poking through this overlay of idiotic dogma.

We follow a group of teens who are all sympathetic and likable...even the girl who is struggling hardest to hold on to childhood beliefs. The film's biggest fault is that it soft-peddles the struggle this breaking free involves in real life...particularly the meanness of the true believers...which gave the film the sense of an after-school special.

Still, this was carefully done and easily held my interest.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cold Fish


Crude, loud attempt at a black comedy. Wildly over-acted (is this what constitutes humor in Japan?), degrading sex scenes, asinine behavior all around...mixed with vomiting, cannibalism, murder...I mean...what's not to like?



Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Unloved

w/d Samantha Morton

Excellent debut directing effort by this outstanding British actress. An autobiographical film focusing on a young girl forced into a children's home by dysfunctional parents. It's not the hellish vision of Dickens' era but these kids are unwanted, unloved, they act out in various ways. Watched over by incompetent staff and an indifferent bureaucracy, their physical needs are met but emotionally they are on their own.

Sophisticated direction, editing, mise-en-scene. This was a world-class work that avoided polemics, starred an 11 year old girl who radiated thoughtful intelligence and presented a social issue in such a way to inspire change. Nice job.


Friday, November 25, 2011

The Invention of Lying

Ricky Gervais

Ar first this seemed like a gimmick film but the comic potential of the core idea was nicely realized. It was funny and provoked thought...not a common feat. Like Harold Ramis's Groundhog Day but a wee bit shy of that profundity of that masterpiece.

Still this was a pleasant and occasionally stimulating evening's entertainment.


Burn After Reading

Coen Brothers

Stellar cast tried hard to make something worthwhile out of this idiocy but like the saying can't weave a silk purse from a sow's ear.

Terminally stupid script tried to cash in on the CIA/FBI meme but failed completely. These guys have been exorbitantly praised for their films...some of which deserved it (Blood Simple, Fargo, Miller's Crossing). But they've dished out some real stinkers too...and this was one of them.

Not funny, clever or interesting in any way.


Once Upon a Time in Anatolia


This is the latest effort by Nuri Bilge Ceylan...Turkey's best know filmmaker. The title is puzzling since this film seems to be the exact opposite of anything ever done by Sergio Leone. It is very slow...a painstaking step-by-step account of a night-long search by police for a murder victim. We gradually get to know the players, the motive for the killing and the sense of the society where the events take place. But at three hours it takes much too long to get there. The film is best watched in segments.

That said the skill and professionalism on display is very high...great casting, cinematography, editing. World class work which should have been cut by an hour. Perhaps he's been watching too many Romanian films lately?


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hey Boo


Very fine piece on Harper Lee and To Kill A Mockingbird. The book touched something deep in the American psyche...still does...and gave us a portrait of who we are...and who we can strive to become.

This film is a loving, almost worshipful approach to the book, the film and Ms Lee which seemed to me to be appropriate, fitting. It's the only book she ever wrote. She said what she had to say and stepped down. Good for her.


Bury the Hatchet


Routine doc about the "tribes" of black men (actually gangs) who dress up in elaborate Indian costumes and parade around New Orleans during Mardi Gras and other holidays. The origins of the practice are said to be rooted in the help Indians gave escaped slaves and is meant to be a tribute. For years the gangs fought each other physically but in recent years the competition has been over who has the prettiest costume.

It all seemed pretty silly but the film got some depth from being filmed in 2005...the year of Katrina...and afterward.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Last Station

Christopher Plummer, Helen Mirren

The sad end of life story of Leo Tolstoy. Hailed as the world's greatest writer he was revered and inspired a cult following whose machinations soiled his memory.

The film was a wonderful showcase for the huge talents of the leads...many great scenes gave each of them something to chew on. Unfortunately the screenplay hinged on a secondary character who was unnecessary to the story and acted(to me) as an irritant throughout.

Nice locations and mise-en-scene. Noble but flawed effort.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Give Me the Banjo


Interesting history of America's only indigenous musical instrument. Brought here by slaves, used widely in minstrel shows during the nineteenth century it has moved to the mainstream with the revival of folk music in the 1920's.

I love the sound of finger-picking but after 1 1/2 hours of extremely rapid arpeggios I began to yearn for something a little slower. Still, this was a nice production and well worth the time.



Sam Shepard

Nice re-imagining of the Western. The premise is simple: Butch Cassidy survived and lived on in Bolivia. Now in old age he wants to return to the US but on the way he gets caught up in an adventure.

Spectacular locations elevated this film above the ordinary. They put Monument Valley to shame. Shepard is excellent in the role...he has limited range but does have the grizzled look necessary. The story is engrossing and easily carried me along. Elegiac in tone, ambiguous resolution.

Lots of care and thought in this one.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mothers of Bedford


Bedford Hills, that is...New York's maximum security prison. The half dozen women featured here have all done bad things when young and now they and their children pay the extremely lengthy price our society demands.

This nation's prison system has gotten way out of whack in recent decades...we incarcerate more people per capita than any other country...even the ones we label cruel or primitive. The American people are manipulated by misinformation which generates fear...and this fear leads them to abandon reason, fairness and common sense in favor of a lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key mentality.

We could do better...but we won't.

This film highlights some of the victims of this mindlessness...the children who are forced to grow up wondering why. Sad but well done.


Friday, November 18, 2011



Powerful drama about two brothers, one a foundling, playing soccer and trying to survive in one of the barrios of Caracas.

Everything about this film worked: camera, editing, casting, story structure, pacing, music. None of the drama felt contrived, the characters were fully drawn and the resolution had deep resonance.

This film has won several festival awards in Europe and deserves a world-wide audience.


Thursday, November 17, 2011



Nicely done tongue-in-cheek drama about some college kids hooking up with a secret government trollhunter in the wilds of northern Norway. Blair witchy in look...presented as found footage, hand-held camera, etc.

The effects were very good...much emphasis on sound...and the story was as convincing as something like this can be. Lotsa fun.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Germany Tom Tykwer

Another winner by the maker of Run Lola Run and The Princess and the Warrior. This time he painstakingly develops three characters as they frab around in their hectic lives, all uneasy and looking for something to give themselves meaning. Through a series of chance encounters, some sexual cheating, a pregnancy and some pain they end up forming a trio.

Will it last? Will they be happy in this arrangement? Who knows...but it's a measure of the success of this film that we end up rooting for them...and their soon-to-be-born twins. The film is a comment on the re-inventing of contemporary life many in the Western world are undergoing. Out with the with the new. Twas ever thus.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011



Interesting Canadian riff on the life of a waitress in Canada, Europe and Japan. The three cultures are quite different...partly due to class and tradition. The survey runs the gamut from truck stops on the prairie to a topless joint in Montreal to a high end gourmet restaurant in Paris to a "maid bar" in Tokyo.

Some penetrating insights along the way.


Monday, November 14, 2011

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth


Thorough telling of the story of public housing in St Louis. Opened with high hopes and fanfare in 1954 the massive slum-clearing project was hated by commercial interests, starved for maintenance funds, fell victim to the post-war abandonment of the city for the burbs and ended up blasted into oblivion in 1972. Oh, and it was almost exclusively black.

We were (are) a hateful people crippled by the dogma of selfishness foisted on us by the capitalist few. These people were deliberately victimized by moneyed interests and then blamed for the failure of the project. It's astonishing that many were able to maintain their dignity and pride after such oppression.

This is a sad story that no one cares about.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Animal Kingdom


Unpleasant story about a 17 yo boy whose family are drug addicts and criminals. He joins them after his mother od's...and then his troubles begin.

I couldn't help but get caught up in this character's dilemma but sitting through this film was an ordeal. Ugly behavior, continuous violence, corruption, double-dealing...enough. The film was well done but it made me wonder again why I put myself through this kind of abuse.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Kings of the Ring


No, not the Wagner cycle...the boxing ring. Solid survey of most of the heavyweight champions of the 20th century. Lots of ring footage and newsreels shot in boxers' homes etc.

Ended on a sad note by showing the eventual fate of these men.


Star Trek

d/JJ Abrams

This took the franchise back to the beginning of the Enterprise and the crew we all know and love(?). Fast-paced, noisy and slick with lots of CGI and stunts that went waaaay beyond possible. For some reason none of the flaws mattered...we all knew these characters would survive (a big drawback to the set-up) and it was kinda fun seeing how they incorporated known facts.

It helped that the new Kirk was much more appealing than Shatner. Leonard Nimoy made an appearance in a preposterous plot device.

They've been riding this pony for 40 years now...I guess it'll just go on forever.


Il Mare: Love Across Time


Lusciously photographed oddity...a couple separated by two years in time connect with each other via a magic mailbox. Pretty silly premise but this film had so much eye candy I was willing to overlook a lot.

Nice entry into the underused field of magical realism.




Loud, colorful, formulaic children's feature. Computer-generated. Fun for sub-eights but tiresomely familiar to adults.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune


Well done doc on the great folk/protest singer. He and Dylan provided the background music for our generation's attempt to make this a better world. We failed and he was unable to accept that, fell into a bottle and ended up a suicide.

If he had lived until today he would be even more despairing watching as the greedy reactionaries he struggled against took power and led us into a time of endless war, vast wealth for the few and little hope for the working class.

I ain't marchin anymore either.


On Golden Pond

Henry Fonda, Katherine Hepburn, Jane Fonda

Family melodrama whose principal value was in providing a showcase to two of Hollywood's great veteran stars. They both acquitted themselves admirably although the script called for Fonda's character to be a bit too much of a shit. But they're interaction on screen was lively and fun.

Interesting watching the real-life drama of Henry and his daughter played out on camera. The sub-plot of the 13 year old boy was OK as filler but seemed peripheral to the story.



Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Snake Pit

Olivia deHavilland

Groundbreaking film from 1948. When it was released the topic of mental illness and psychiatric hospitals was not mentioned in polite company...they were dumping grounds for troubled people of all sorts who were kept hidden from public view. This film was a serious attempt to depict realistically what went on inside these places.

Brilliant performance by OdH...easily the best reason the film holds up so well today. She slides from one mental state to another mercurially while never overacting or alienating the viewer. The staff isn't demonized...they seem to be trying to help the patients even though they have no idea what will work.

This was an intelligent treatment of a taboo subject and showed courage and commitment by all concerned.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Bill Cunningham New York


Very nice piece on the guy who bikes around NYC photographing people's outfits. He came across as likable and hard-working...a bit of an odd duck but totally dedicated to his work.

Pleasant and informative.




Charming, fresh take on the coming-of-age theme...first kiss, etc. Both leads look refreshingly realistic and are nerdy/quirkish enough to endear...not enough to sicken.

Wonderful supporting cast led by Sally Hawkins and a wildly over-the-top Paddy Considine.

Proof that even a little bit of originality can take a tired idea and make it a winner.


Friday, November 4, 2011


Ryan Gosling d/ Nicholas Winding Refn

Conventional but oddly compelling crime drama. Very violent. RG underplayed his part which for a time seemed artificial but as the story opened up he loosened some and became more believable. His character had no backstory which hurt.

Great supporting cast...Carey Mulligan who has one of the most expressive faces in film...Albert Brooks in a strong bad-guy role...Ron Perlman...

Unusual sound design, use of slow motion and choice of music gave the film an off-kilter air.

This was a step up by Refn...more polished than his previous films. Nor for everyone though.


Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo


At times interesting doc on the Japanese fascination with collecting and studying insects. There are several reasons given for this...mostly mythical/mystical. I dunno. Insects are intrinsically interesting and who knows what cultural forces moved them in that direction?

Film was much too long...they had maybe a half hour of material. Also it was badly hurt by hyper-kinetic camera work and editing.



Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Silent House


Nifty horror thriller shot in one continuous take. A young woman and her father are hired to clean an abandoned house...and there their troubles began.

Striking cine...all hand-held, lit by lanterns or flashlights in the scary dark house. The cast quickly reduced to the woman and she spent most of the film whimpering...which got old...but late in the film there were revelations which gave the story some substance. And the final, post-credit sequence rocked.

Nice variation on an oft-used theme.




Poor follow-up to the intriguing Dogtooth. This one has the same flat, affect-less acting, plain locations, abstract central premise, emotionless sex scenes and general degradation of its players. But this one has no compelling subtext pulling you in which made watching it an ordeal.

Oddly enough this film like other recent Greek attempts at "art" featured female actors with dirty greasy hair tied in unkempt tails. Is this supposed to mean something?

Dogtooth had deep resonance. This didn't.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

In Time

Justin Timberlake w/d Andrew Niccol

This film was based on a neat idea...that in the near future wealth would be measured and traded in time...minutes, hours, etc. The structure of the story was conventional but the premise forced me to continue comparing what was on the screen with present day reality.

The action/chase scenes, pretty tiresome at this point in most films, were given new life by being integral to the fabric of the world created. JT is just barely adequate as a lead but his female co-star...Amanda a real star and helped carry the film...even though she had many scenes running in high heels.

Niccols' previous film Gattaca also had a good premise but fell short in drama. This one corrected that fault and ended up a winner.


Monday, October 31, 2011

The Last Mountain


Coal...the ugliest of all the fossil fuels. Very disturbing treatment of the raping of Appalachia, its mountains and its people by corporate slime and their enforcers. This film presents predatory capitalism at its worst. Something's got to go...or humanity won't survive.

Effective and well done.


A Cat in Paris


Juvenile adventure involving burglars, little girls, police detectives and a group (gaggle) of clownish bad guys.

This may have appeal to young folks but it's an ordeal for their parents. Lovely drawings though.


Sunday, October 30, 2011



Reviewers have called this one of the worse movies ever. They have a point. The script could have been written by a ten year old, the "effects" were ludicrously awful, the main actor terrible, etc. But I grew up watching cheesy 50's monster movies and this was just like one of those but in color. Plus the female lead was quite good...even reading idiotic lines.

It would've been more fun watching this with a group of drunken friends. The laughs were there.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Blow Up

David Hemmings w/d M. Antonioni

The Italian master's intriguing mystery set squarely in the middle of swinging London. This time I found the lead to be an arrogant, self-absorbed jerk...insufferable for the first 1/2 hour. But when the story kicked in the tone shifted dramatically, his character was submerged in the plot and the film raced along toward its enigmatic conclusion.

This film was a major cross-over in 1966 and it's easy to see why. It's titillating, engrossing and leaves the viewer with an unresolved mystery that seems to have larger, more profound overtones.


Friday, October 28, 2011

How Much Does Your Building Weigh Mr Foster?


Stupid title to a routine biography of British architect Norman Foster. He and his huge firm are responsible for many amazing projects all over the world but I found the worshipful treatment here to be tiresome and irritating.

Shades of John Galt.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Salt of the Earth

H. Biberman

Great classic film from 1953 about a mining strike in New Mexico which was eventually won with Anglos, Hispanics and women working together to defeat the forces of greed. Done by a group of blacklisted writers, directors on location under extremely difficult conditions. Other that some poor sound and occasional bad cutting it looked great and still worked beautifully in rousing the audience.

Powerful, emotionally engaging and unforgettable.


Last Year at Marienbad

Alan Renais

Mysterioso puzzler from 1960. What the hell was he attempting to do here? This was my second viewing...this time I was able to focus my attention on the film for forty minutes...after that mego. I was intrigued by the card game/puzzle and might play with that some time but the elegant posing of elegant people in an elegant old hotel wore off half way through.

Brilliant camera work, stunning locations simply aren't enough to make a film. There must be some audience involvement. I suppose this was seen as ground-breaking at the time but at this point it's just an irritating curiousity.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Girl


A nine year old girl is left alone in a rural area while her parents are away. She explores her freedom, has several adventures typical of her age group, gets lonely and learns that she really isn't ready to take care of herself.

Quiet, sensitive, contemplative film. Nicely shot. Appealing lead. No melodrama...just real life.

Worth it.




Sleek, intelligent take on the lives of several twenty-somethings in Buenos Aires. Nice visuals, voiceover(!), characters, music. These folks were frabbing around while the filmmaker teased us with the thought that eventually they would get together and complete the circle.

Unusual number of architectural shots and references gave the film a strong sense of place and time. A subliminal romcom.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Bobby Fischer Against the World


The sad story of America's greatest chess genius. After winning the world championship against Spassky in 1972 he went off the deep end, gave up chess and became a raging anti-semite and all around nutcase.

It is often said that genius is close to was in this case...poor Bobby.


Saturday, October 22, 2011


Bradley Cooper

The lowest kind of wish-fulfillment junk. Absurd cynical story should have great appeal to those unwashed, slovenly nerds sitting in their parents' basements knowing, just knowing that they are really supermen if only they had one little pill that would unleash their inner Ivan Boesky.

Ugly, violent...too much CGI. This film evidences the decline of western civilization. Or something.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Narrow Margin

Richard Fleischer

Short tight film noir from 1952. All the action takes place on a train or in confined spaces lending a sense of claustrophobia to the viewer. Fast-paced, gritty with a couple of nice surprises. Everybody smokes, they send telegraphs, ride trains...a real trip into the past.

Film has historical value and holds up very well today.



France w/d Tony Gatlif

Excellent treatment of a story from the WW2 era that's not often told...the persecution by the Nazis of gypsies. Here we follow a traveling family of Romany who are forced to settle in a provincial town which brings them all sorts of trouble...from the Germans, the French bureaucracy and the ignorant townspeople.

Good locations and mise-en-scene. Outstanding direction and editing...unusual sound design, good music...up there in the first rank of world cinema.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Viva Riva


Ugly, violent gangsta garbage from Africa. Turns out that setting this type of low-brow trash in an exotic location doesn't raise it up one iota.

Really awful.




First rate telling of the story of a champion Formula 1 race car driver. Lots of footage shot from in the cars going around the tracks. He came across as fiercely committed, focused and dedicated...received incredible acclaim during his lifetime.

I knew nothing about this topic but the film held my interest all the way. It's a tough way to make a living.


Circus Columbia


Very fine film set at the beginning of the break-up of Yugoslavia. Croats and Serbs reversed roles and those new to power used it to settle decades-old scores. This film dealt with some of the human wreckage that stress generated.

Excellent casting/acting, smart directing, pacing. The characters were aggravating throughout...acting like out-of-control adolescents but when the serious trouble starts the whole film snaps into place and becomes a moving, intelligent drama.

World-class work.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mia and the Migoos


Routine quest film for children. Average look, theme, animation, characters etc.

Children may enjoy this but adults will find it a mego.


Monday, October 17, 2011

The L-Shaped Room

Britain Leslie Caron

Outstanding good as any ever out of England. A young French woman, pregnant, takes a room in a ramshackle boarding house, meets the assorted inhabitants, finds love for the first time, loses it and moves on.

Exquisitely acted by LC...ably supported by a host of talented British character actors. Great, economical direction...nice use of Brahms as musical motif. Lean, tight, engaging.

One of the forgotten gems of world cinema.


Iron Island


Splendid, intelligent film...a metaphor for Iran itself. An abandoned oil tanker is inhabited by an assortment of people ruled by a self-appointed captain...who tends to their needs, enforces discipline, maintains order. The ship is sinking...only the schoolmaster goes on...eating, love, work, play...all taking place on this rusting hulk.

The people are portrayed as some of the most excitable of any on earth. A small problem has them running about screaming. Not an admirable trait.

Eventually they come to the promised land...dry land of their very own. But first they must build it themselves...houses, schools, parks.

Very fine film. Slipped under the watchful eyes of the dimwitted censors.


Steamboat Bill Jr.

Buster Keaton

Great silent classic from 1928. Big budget MGM production featured the always remarkable stunts by the master of deadpan. The imagination and daring of the things he did during the cyclone sequence still astonish a modern audience. And no CGI.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Black Power Mix Tape 1967-1975


A Swedish film crew spent time in the US tracking the struggle by civil rights leaders for equality. These included MLK, SNCC and the Black Panthers. While they were here most of the leaders of the movement were murdered or jailed by the white power structure...the push for change got weaker and weaker.

Some great interview footage which could only have been gotten by a foreign crew. This film is a valuable record of that time and what happens to you if you openly challenge the ruling elite.

Very depressing.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Nos Amours

France Sandrine Bonnaire d/ Maurice Pialat

This film concerns the troubled adolescence of a 15 year old girl stuck in a dysfunctional family. Verbal and physical abuse at home every day drives her to seek solace elsewhere...she becomes promiscuous and at one point says she is only happy in the arms of a man. She finds many who are willing to accommodate her.

Dynamite performance by SD who was only 16 at the time but easily takes center stage and holds our interest. Powerful supporting role by Pialat who plays her wise, cynical father...the cause of her confusion.

Very fine work all around.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Billy Liar

England Tom Courtenay d/ John Schlesinger

Fine classic film set in the bitter, disillusioned time when England was still recovering from war's devastation, the loss of empire and world standing. Billy is a fabulist who lives in a dream world in which he is a hero, a figure of admiration and derring-do instead of a lowly clerk in a mortuary.

England wallowed in this collective funk until the swinging 60's came along...coincidentally led by an actress in a supporting role here...Julie Christie.

Elements of Walter Mitty, blended with It's a Wonderful Life gave this film resonance. Sharply directed by JS and featuring a tour-de-force performance by Courtenay.


Thursday, October 13, 2011



The action here centers around a furniture restoration workshop and the people whose lives hover around it. The old restorer's partner dies, he takes in a young guy with questionable morals and various complications unfold. Helped enormously by the actor playing the old man...he had a wonderful hangdog look...a man who has seen and experienced all life's slings and arrows.

The film was hurt by all the other assortment of unlikable people...each in his own way. Featured the unusual spectacle of a woman 8 1/2 months pregnant starting a love affair.

In the end all was restored to of the meanings of the title...but it felt contrived. These people will continue to be miserable...perhaps in new ways but, yes, definitely miserable.

Not fun or edifying. Depressing.


Magic Trip


The once hopeful now sad story of the bus trip led by Ken Kesey across the US in 1964 that helped kick off the 60's. They did acid, smoked pot and broke rules in an attempt to break out of the confining strictures imposed on them by the times. They wanted to change the world but the world is big and didn't care what they just kept rolling along.

Most of this was footage shot at the time. As I watched this my heart was with them but my head knows that theirs was a fool's errand...the playing of some rebellious children caught up in their solipsistic notions of freedom. They thought they were the vanguard of a profound revolution but now are seen as an oddball footnote...soon to be forgotten as the greater society grinds away individuality, differentness.

I'm glad I saw this but it left me depressed. And a bit nauseous from the swirly camera work and too-rapid cutting. Good depiction of one of Kesey's acid trips...


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Being Elmo


The story of puppeteer Kevin Clash who grew up loving Sesame Street and through focus and dedication eventually joined Jim Hensen's team and created one of the most-loved creatures on the show.

Moving, fast-paced film which easily held my interest.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011



A film based on legends, magic, rituals, folk tales of all sort. Pretty silly to my eye. Good looking color photography took full advantage of the sere landscapes. Lead warrior was quite striking and played his rather wooden part well. It did have value as anthropology.

But while this held my interest as exotica, as a modern-day film it was pretty far short of the mark.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Sheherezade Tell Me a Story


Nice idea for a film. Women's stories featured for a popular television show re-create stories from the classic compilation and illustrate the unchanging problems in Arab society. Smooth, modern production with good music, imaginative camera work/staging. The lead wore too much makeup but easily carried her role.

At first I found it a bit corny but the sincerity and intensity of the stories told pulled me in and it ended being quite emotionally satisfying.

Nice work.


To Kill a Mockingbird

Gregory Peck

Classic from 1962. I don't think there ever has been a sweeter confluence between an actor and a role. Peck radiates all the personal characteristics called for in the role of Atticus Finch. He epitomizes rectitude, steadfastness, honesty, integrity, decency...etc.

Beautifully shot (b/w) on a soundstage in Hollywood the film richly deserves the praise it has received.


Sunday, October 9, 2011


w/d John Sayles

Another fine film from the preeminent American indie filmmaker. This story is set during the invasion of the Philippines at the beginning of the last century...this country's first foray into imperial conquest and slaughter. The focus is on one village, its internal dynamics and how all that is altered by the presence of the foreign soldiers.

Beautifully shot, good use of music, strong, well-drawn and acted characters, imaginative editing. The contrast between the naivete of the American soldiers and the locals who are just trying to survive was sharp and left a lasting impression.

Solid, sad.


Friday, October 7, 2011

Into Eternity


Mind-boggling piece on the world's first nuclear waste depository now being built in Finland. It will have to be stable and safe for 100,000 years. Mankind has never constructed anything that has lasted 1/10 that long. The pyramids were built 4,500 years ago.

How should you keep people out? Is that possible? Should you install warnings? What if they can't read? What about human curiousity? It's not possible for us to think in those time frames.

Thoughtful film. What the hell are we doing?


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Nicky's Family


Moving story of a British businessman who rescued 700 Czech children from the German death machine in 1939. He made it all up on the spot and then kept his role secret for 50 years. What makes the story so special is that he is now 100 and is still alive to receive thanks from his rescued, their children and grandchildren. In addition his charity has been used by thousands as inspiration for continuing that kind of work all over the world.

Guaranteed to bring a tear. And provide a ray of hope in troubled times.

The film was very slickly and intelligently produced with thoughtful touches throughout.


Mysteries of Lisbon

Portugal d/Raul Ruiz

Long (4 1/2 hours) elaborate costume drama (1700's) involving the ups and downs of an interrelated group of characters over several generations. Exceptional use of beautiful locations...mainly chateaux and accompanying gardens. Great costumes, camera work and music. Complicated enough that I had trouble keeping the characters straight.

Even though this amounted to a period soap opera it was so well mounted that I was drawn in and found it quite satisfying.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Saoirse Ronan, Kate Blanchette

Action film starring a 16 year old girl. Preposterous premise...set firmly in movie reality...but quite engaging nonetheless. Nice filmed and edited stunts/chase sequences, europop music (chemical bros), amusing supporting characters, great locations, good lead. Standard structure but it raced by so quickly I never had time to reflect on its cliches/failings.

Solid, action-packed, violent entertainment.




Crude, hopelessly amateurish film. Lively and enthusiastic cast, costumes but to me it was like watching a poorly written high school play when none of the players was my child...excruciating.

Great music though.


Sunday, October 2, 2011



Nice three-part piece on the genocide in Guatemala in the 80's...supported by the US and carried out against the native Mayan people by the rich elite who coveted their land and resources. Although there has been some progress bringing the evil perps to justice the biggest fish still swim freely.

The film was done by a woman who covered the war as a young idealist. She has shed her ideals at this point but still works for justice. Each person is a grain of sand. Individually they mean nothing but collectively can effect real change.

Solid, well done.


The Colors of the Mountain


Here we follow the life of an irritating 9 year old boy as he lives his little life playing with his friends while around him a civil war rages which eventually sweeps over his family.

There were some lovely moments in the film...and fine locations...but the main adult characters weren't very sympathetic which affected my emotional response to the story. Father was a pig-headed moron who beat his was no wonder he fell afoul of the warring parties. Also an attempt at dramatic suspense using a soccer ball in a minefield was overdone and eventually fell completely flat.



The Mill and the Cross

Sweden/Poland Rutger Hauer, Charlotte Rampling

An extraordinary film that illuminates and brings to life a painting done by Brueghel the Elder 500 years ago. The work is "The Way to Calvary." Incredible lighting and special effects techniques make each frame jump out at the viewer and reproduce the look of the Dutch masters in real life.

The intent was to take the thoughts imbedded in the painting, its characters and scenes and humanize them using actors, locations, costumes, folk traditions, music and...most importantly...imagination.

An astonishing amount of thought and effort went into this film. Unique in world cinema.


Saturday, October 1, 2011



Stylish, sometimes surreal portrait of life under Nazi occupation 1938-1942. We follow a popular radio reporter with a Jewish wife who collaborates with the Germans until he just can't stand it any longer.

Slick-looking production with an unusual sound design/musical soundtrack. The characters were well drawn, complex rather than sympathetic...fully formed people with flaws but retaining their fundamental decency in the face of monstrous circumstances.

Intelligent, adult film.


The Rice People


Fine film which worked on several levels: as an anthropological study of subsistence rice growers in an isolated flood plain and as a study of the trials and tribulations of one particular family as they deal with the various calamities that befall folks in that region. The dynamics of small-village life was quite well drawn.

Beautiful cine throughout. Some of the players were amateurish but the young woman who emerged as the lead had a calm presence that added greatly to the overall impact of the film.


Viva Cuba


Sweet coming-of-age story. Two pre-teens, a boy and a girl, are best friends and set out on a picaresque journey across the country to stop her from being taken away by her mother. They have various adventures, mostly benign along the way. The portrait of Cuba was very positive...almost propagandist.

The two leads were good but not as good as the extraordinary child actors I've seen in many productions lately from all over the world. The landscape was appealing...the resolution fairy tale-ish. Overall a pleasant diversion.


Sunday, September 25, 2011



CGI fest. Story taken from a Japanese legend similar to Robin Hood. So over-the-top with the effects that for five minutes or so I wasn't sure this wasn't an animated film. eg in a swordfight characters leap hundreds of feet over opposing armies...

Still...many scenes of overwhelming beauty kept me was like a well-drawn disney cartoon feature with extreme violence.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Future

amerindie w/d Miranda July, Hamish Linklater

Another quirky, off-kilter reflection on relationships, time (!?), trees, friendship, dance...etc. She creates a surreal atmosphere and has the courage to underplay everything...even at the risk of losing her audience. Her pacing and tone are unique.

I found myself laughing sometimes, sad others...genuinely hurt at the eventual resolution...a fine achievement when presenting a film and characters so far removed from real life.

I really liked this one...wouldn't recommend it to may be because I see so many movies...but it worked for me.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Le Havre

France d/ Aki Kurismaki

Uncharacteristically sweet, straightforward story from the Finnish master of odd. Rather like last year's Welcome...a French national in a seaport town risks arrest by sheltering an illegal immigrant and helping him on to England.

The protagonist is a shoeshine man...handsome, formal and polite to everyone. The film's charm comes from the working class neighborhood in which the story takes place. Everyone is kindly, gentle and supportive of his rescue.

Told in a stiff formal a film from the 30's. This one was a winner.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Fairy


Very silly movie. Several good laughs...a few annoying things. I mostly sat there wondering what they were going to come up with next. A bit like watching a Mack Sennett comedy. In color. With sound.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Overture


Sumptuously beautiful film about a master musician who plays a xylophone-like instrument. We follow his development from childhood, his struggles, his triumphs.

Standard biopic structure...almost to a fault...but played sweetly enough to stay this side of the line. Very high level of musicianship, dramatic staging, handsome players, beautiful locations all contribute to making this a success.



France Sylvie Testud

Subtle, intelligent treatment of a place where some believe miracles happen. Ailing folk of all kinds...some believers, others more cynical...go there to be cured of what ails them. They go for physical cures but the place and its staff trade more in psychic healing.

Heavy emphasis on the ritual behavior and its effect on the pilgrims which, since it was part of my childhood, I found familiar and comforting. The story focuses on a young woman with MS. She experiences a remission but the film leaves open the question whether this is temporary.

The story is underplayed nicely. They even manage to weave in a love interest...also obliquely played. Strangely satisfying.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Our Disappeared


A close-up, personal look at the atrocities committed by the military junta during the 70's. Lefties of all stripe were hunted down, incarcerated, tortured in heinous ways, stripped of their children and eventually thrown alive out of helicopters into the sea. No one was ever called to account for this stuff. Actively supported by the US.

Whatever the force is that compels people to dominate their fellows leads them to abandon all concepts of decency and humanity. Good thing that can never happen the land of the free, the home of the brave.

Their look back...our look forward.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Point Blank


Extremely tense, fast-paced thriller that races by so fast you really have no time to think about the convoluted plotline. It starts with a chase and maintains that tone all the way through.

Great fun to watch in spite of all the violence. Strong characters, all the right buttons old-fashioned, honest-to-god, pulse-raising kick.

Nice job.


Ne Change Rien

Portugal Documentary

Fascinating, beautifully shot piece on the work of French singer Jeanne Balibar. We see her performing and both French and English. Shot in stark, heavily shadowed B/W which gave an artistic look to the film.

She seemed to have infinite patience in rehearsals...we watch her being interrupted every few seconds by the director of a farcical musical...she never reacts...just tries to follow his instructions.

The film gives us a strong sense of how hard this woman works to create a finished performance...which to the eventual audience seems effortless and smooth. The film is a valued addition to our understanding of the creative process.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

9/11 Explosive evidence: Experts Speak Out


New film by Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth. Rough cut which should be trimmed for general release but still a clear and impossible to refute compilation of facts destroying the official conspiracy theory. The qualifications of the people interviewed are irrefutable, the evidence conclusive that the OCT is a lie but it will be decades before the American people wake up and by then it will be too one will care.

This should be shown in high schools all over the country...but it won't be...dommage...


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sound of Noise


Scandinavian humor. Preposterous premise, outrageously executed in straightforward linear if it were possible. Gave me several laugh-out-loud moments and a continuous feeling of delight that they had the nerve to do this project.

For fans of this type of work this was a winner.




Ironic title. A spoiled, bratty young female political candidate and an immature ignorant male fisherman are marooned on a deserted island (...a 3-hour tour...). Sparks fly but not in the same direction as Lina Wertmuller's classic. This was also a biting satire but went in unexpected directions. Several really ugly scenes...mostly involving rape provided an unsettling tone.

By the end I was on board with the film but question some of the decisions made. The shifting tone worked against the film's main goal. Easy to remember though...


Thursday, September 15, 2011


documentary Germany

The trials, travails and triumphs of a piano technician/tuner working for Steinway in Austria. He must satisfy the extremely demanding, finicky needs of the world's most renowned pianists.

This guy seemed likable and was obviously dedicated to his work but a half hour was enough for me and I wonder how much universal interest there is in such an arcane topic?

Interesting...but not for 1 1/2 hours.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Human Resources Manager


A worker in a Jerusalem bakery dies in an attack and the HR manager is tapped to bring her body home to Russia. It turns out to be a picaresque journey with humor, bureaucratic obstructionism, pathos, annoying characters, physical problems...just about every monkey wrench you can think of. After a while I came to expect the unexpected.

Often annoying I eventually fell into the sway of the film and ended up enjoying it...especially the perfectly cast HR guy with his sad sack face, endless patience and air of resigned acceptance of the foibles of those around him.

Offbeat and fun.


Monday, September 12, 2011

The King of Devil's Island

Norway Stellan Skarsgard

Powerful drama set at an island prison for boys in the early 1900's. The set-up was pretty standard...tough new guy, cruel prison staff...but the story (based on true events) took several twists and turns and became something other than what I expected.

All aspects of the film were top draw. Nice work.


Seven Days in May

Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas d/ John Frankenheimer

Fast-paced thriller about a possible military takeover of the US government. Great cast, direction, editing...this thing raced along until it was stopped cold by the predictable speech by the president that democracy...etc, etc.

Of course now that we're in a state of perpetual war there's no need for a coup...that already happened in December 2000.

Excellent classic.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Andy Serkis

CGI, button-pushing movie. Slow to get going, once it kicked in the action was irresistible. The manipulation was crude and's easy to see why it has been so popular with teens. More a comic book than literature like Boule's seminal novel.

That said...the action sequences were extremely impressive display of just what they're capable of doing these days. The only limit now is in the imagination of the filmmaker.

Satisfying junk.


Thursday, September 8, 2011



Extremely unpleasant, ugly film about some scruffy twenty-somethings in LA who are doing a very bad job of it. They smoke, cheat, drink, have unlimited amounts of one works...two of the men are fixated on Road Warrior and spend the film sporadically building similar cars and toys.

How did they ever get money for this project? This came across as a wet dream for a 14 year old. Not helped at all by the off-center framing and constant jittery camera work. Or the jumbled-up time.

Proof that anyone can make a film. Also proof than not everyone should.




A well-dressed but poor grandmother, raising her grandson alone, learns of his involvement in a terrible crime and this film follows her as she enrolls in a poetry class, carries on her part-time job as a nurse/housemaid, tries to deal with incipient Alzheimer's and the emotional repercussions of this crime.

Very powerful film easily carried by the lead actress. She managed to convey fragility and strength, confusion and understanding, deference and resolve in a tour de force performance. I don't know what else she has done but this was the performance of a lifetime.

The only quibble I had was the composition and staging of the climactic poem. It didn't have the force it should have had based on the stellar two-hour build-up and reading it as a voiceover while cutting among various scenes was distracting and diluted all that had gone before.

Still, this was a marvelous film and well deserves the international praise it has received.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011



This was a rarity...a Japanese comedy. Subtle and based largely on the violation of social norms, it started slowly, letting us learn the characters, and then began piling up absurdities until the climactic scene had me laughing out loud.

Excellent cast...the scruffy con man who sets it all in motion...the hangdog husband who can't say no...and best of all the young wife whose wide-eyed look of stupefied amazement when things got really silly tickled me every time.

Underplayed to perfection...great fun.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Queen of Hearts


Truly idiotic sex farce. I suppose there are some who would enjoy watching something like this but I can't imagine why. Sub-moronic.


Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Screaming Man


Set during the civil war. An aging pool attendant gets his son drafted into the army to protect his job and suffers guilt for his betrayal.

The lead spent most of the film mute and staring at the ground...I understand he was wracked with guilt but this isn't really a performance. At some point you have to express something. The film was nicely shot, supporting characters were strong, social customs were interesting...overall it was well worth the watching.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

If a Tree Falls


The sad, ultimately pathetic story of the ELF...the Earth Liberation Front. Horrified by the scorched-earth policies of the timber companies operating in the northwest they tried protesting, were met by police violence so they responded by torching several facilities and eventually got caught. They were powerless individuals and were completely unprepared for the full weight of the ruling class coming down on their heads.

Never threaten the money flow to the economic elite. They will use anything to squash you like a bug. Like these people. I don't know what it will take to stop predatory capitalism but I do know it will take more than burning down a few buildings.

Straightforward piece...competently done.


Friday, September 2, 2011

Peep TV Show


Post punk take on the deterioration of modern culture after 9/11/01. We follow a skinny young man in a shiny coat as he surreptitiously films people living ordinary lives and posts them on a website. Highlights the distancing facing the young, skewers reality TV, focuses on the pointlessness and ennui felt by the young.

Irritating at first it gradually became clear that the film had something meaningful to say...just said it in an irritating way.

Worth it.




An American geographer working in Armenia/Karabakh hooks up with a local woman who travels with him, translates, becomes his lover. He is a constricted jerk...she is more forthcoming and open but like all of us carries some baggage. The question we care about these people?

The film starts off very badly with several minutes of light effects a la 2001 overlaid with pretentious voiceover. It reverts to this mode sporadically throughout. It baffles me what they thought this added to the mix. I found it pointlessly irritating.

Splendid scenery and a nice introduction to a part of the world that gets little exposure in the west. As a film...a mixed bag.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

North By Northwest

Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint d/ A. Hitchcock

Hitch in a goofy mode. An ordinary man (ordinary? Cary Grant?) gets caught up in some cold war shenanigans and has a high adventure. Scenes at the UN, an Indiana wheat field and Mount Rushmore are the spicing on this cake.

Great fun, great look, silly story, fifties lighting and character actors. Entertainment in the best sense.


Wednesday, August 31, 2011



A story told in two times in a young man's in his early 20's...the other 8 years later. In the first he is wrapped up with a the second they have parted but he is writing a novel based on their time together and the lessons he learned therefrom.

Told in drastic jumbled-up sequence...other than his beard it was hard keeping them straight. But eventually I got it sorted out and it turned out to be the usual sad tale of regrets, things learned too late...of all the thoughts to trouble men, the saddest are "it might have been."

Too many sex scenes in both times. Still, the universality of the message made it ring true in the end.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011



A pre-pubescent girl would rather be a boy. She moves into a new neighborhood, tells her playmates her name is Michael...and complications ensue.

Quiet, focused little drama. Slight for a feature but the individual scenes worked...the kids seemed very realistic and the story played out without unnecessary melodrama. Solid unpretentious film. Good lead.


Good Morning, Night


The sad, sad story of the kidnapping and eventual murder of Aldo Moro by the Red Brigades in the late 70's. The focus of the film is the only female captor as she evolves in her feelings about the rightness of the course they have embarked upon.

Constant use of tight close-ups worked in this case to heighten in the audience the sense of claustrophobic captivity. Moro was presented as a sympathetic character...his captors as rigid idealists, outraged at the depredations of capitalism but with no clear idea of what to substitute.

Powerful political film with emotional impact.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Choose Me

Keith Carradine, Genevieve Bujold, Lesley Ann Warren w/d Alan Rudolph

Delightful comedy/parody of the mating game from 1984. This also skewered film noir, detective dramas, films from the 50's, talk radio, sex/love advice, etc. Complex plot, beautifully acted scenes, great look and mise-en-scene.

This film tickled me in 1984 and it still does. Loved the final scene which referenced The Graduate. His most successful film.


Sunday, August 28, 2011



Here we follow a self-centered, morose, inarticulate pawnbroker around as he conducts his grubby little affairs and lives his grubby little life. A hooker/girlfriend dumps a baby on him which provides some semblance of a plot...but not much.

This guy seemed to be detached from the people around him...he attempted a pathetic connection near the end but it was too late. And I didn't care. He was so unsympathetic I couldn't wait to move on to something more staring at the wall.

The whole film was muddy because of the locations used. Not pleasant or enlightening. Just sort of there. Like this guy.


Project Nim


The sad, sad story of Nim Chimpsky, the chimp raised as a child in the hope of teaching him sign language. This highlights human arrogance...really the name of science. All the teachers and carers seem to have had kindly motives and genuinely loved Nim but the psychologist, whose experiment this was, came across as cold, insensitive and hungry for glory...regardless of the cost to anyone or anything.

Hubris and ambition run wild. Shame...


Friday, August 26, 2011



Another deliberately weird film from Greece (See Dogtooth) that had even less point or purpose. There was a story in here but it was slight...the film was gussied up with stupidly embarrassing scenes like two young women walking eccentrically down a paved walkway, arch sex scenes, the two women trying to kiss...

The title comes from the David Attenborough nature videos they were sporadically watching.

This was a failed attempt at an art film. Not even close.




First rate kidnapping drama. A prominent industrialist is taken...most of the attention is on the effects on his family, friends, business, the police. When he is freed the focus shifts to him and the type of person he is...making this an intelligent psychological study.

This film raced by...should hold the interest of even the most jaded moviegoer.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Four Minutes


Well done but sad film about a young woman prisoner, wrongfully jailed, incest victim, who nevertheless plays the piano well enough for an elderly staffer to take her under her wing. She continues to suffer injustice for most of the film but our attention is directed to a contest at the end.

Conventional structure, both lead actors were strong, predictable arc...felt a bit manipulative but not enough to trouble me. Solid work.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Mexico documentary

Here we follow a ramshackle family circus as they ply the backwaters of Mexico, struggling to find audiences and hold the whole thing together. The film wisely focuses on the internal dynamics which threaten to tear the circus apart...siblings who have left to live a "settled" life, and a wife who is fed up with an itinerant lifestyle where someone else controls the finances.

Sad, intelligent and well done.


Monday, August 22, 2011

The City Dark


Interesting if slight film about light pollution...its effects on our perception of our place in the scheme of things, its effects on wildlife, etc. I thought they had a 30 minute film here but it was well done enough that I was never tempted to turn it off.


Sunday, August 21, 2011



Well done film on the divisions that split a town in rural New York State when an Irish company came looking to install wind turbines on some failing farms.

My initial reaction was anger at those opposed...after all, who's opposed to an energy source that does away with carbon emissions?...but after listening to all the information presented here I was swayed. This movement appears to be a play by companies like Goldman, Sachs to take advantage of government subsidies and scoot...modern-day carpetbaggers...leaving a mess behind for the poor duped townsfolk to clean up.

Greed is good...not.


Jane's Journey


The life and times of Jane Goodall...who started by watching chimps and in the 80's switched to trying to awake the chumps fouling this nest we call earth. Extremely well done doc with beautiful images, use of color, music and a truly inspirational subject. She emerges as a secular saint and like all saints features a tragic estranged son who scorned her world, her values and dove headlong into the swamp of commercial exploitation.

She stands, like Nelson Mandela, above the mass of humanity, exhorting others to do a little better before it's too late. Of course we all know she won't change the direction of the great engine racing us toward disaster but it makes us feel a bit better about ourselves to know that such a person exists.

First rate work.


Saturday, August 20, 2011



The titular character is a downs her twenties but child-like in awareness and perception. Her mother is killed in a terrorist bombing and Anita is thrown into the city dependent on the kindness of strangers...wandering Buenos Ares with no idea where to go or what to do. She finds a mixed bag but eventually re-unites with kin.

This was a feel-good project. We see the story from her POV...even though she suffers some privation and humiliation her needs are mostly met by those she encounters, thus affirming the essential goodness of humanity.

Solid film even if a bit after-schoolish.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Forbidden Art


Solid doc about Igor Savitsky...who founded a museum for avant-garde art in the desert waste of Uzbekistan in the 1930's, when such an act risked execution. Because of his courage and dedication many striking paintings were saved and now take their place in the story of modern art.

Traditional, respectful doc which tells the story well using talking heads, archival footage, old movies...both Soviet and home...and Ken Burns-like slow pans over the art itself.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011



By now I've grown accustomed to the slow Romanian "dramas" which focus far too much attention on the quotidian, eventually coming to a point of interest and/or explanation which just barely makes the preceding worth it. This one goes Police, Adjective one's an hour longer which makes the build-up even more excruciatingly boring.

Here we follow a deeply repressed, passive-aggressive loser around as he plots to kill people who have annoyed him in his life. Almost no dialogue. What there is is pointless and boring and seems to have no bearing on the murders this guy commits.

No one seems to know how to deal with this character...even though his behavior is way off in several scenes no one calls the police. When he does turn himself in the scenes in the police station do act as a commentary on the hopeless inefficiency of the bureaucracy but everyone we see has the same deadened affect. Is this the way people in Romania behave? Have they become this brain-dead as a people?

This film was a struggle to get through and although I found watching it an unpleasant experience I doubt if I'll forget it. Faint praise that.


Double Hour


Nifty mystery/thriller. Complex mixing of real vs. dream states which forced me to continually re-evaluate what I was seeing on screen. Afterward four of us had to talk for twenty minutes to sort it all out in our minds. That plus a very fine performance by the lead actress in a difficult, subtle role put this one firmly in the plus column.


Monday, August 15, 2011

The Sleeping Beauty

France d/ Catherine Breillat

Another unusual interpretation of a classic children's story. Like her others this featured some wonderful locations, costumes and set design. It also had the same choppy feel to some of the editing.

As an exploration of adolescent sexuality it worked. As a was a little off. Overall the film was worth watching. Maybe she should seek out a new collaborator to help her bring a flow to these adaptations.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Woman With Five Elephants

documentary Germany

A Ukrainian woman came to Germany in 1943 fleeing the re-imposition of Stalinism in Kiev and stayed on...working as a scholar, teacher and translator of major novels by Dostoevsky...the five elephants of the title. At this point she is quite old, feeble, bent, but seems to have her marbles.

It was unclear to me why this person was chosen for a doc. Her story was moving but unexceptional...representative rather than compelling. I also had the nagging thought that we were told only a portion of the real story...she was canny about revealing only what she chose.

It did serve as a poignant reminder that all that suffering (Babi Yar, et al) will soon be forgotten, swept up in the dustbin of history. So it goes.


The Man Nobody Knew


Life of William Colby, former head of the CIA...done by his son. Heavily sanitized. Almost hagiographic. It was astonishing to me that this guy was ably to muster so many high-level, totally unreconstructed cold warriors to defend Colby, the Phoenix program, the Vietnam War, the CIA, secrecy in government, etc.

On screen were such champions of US and world freedom and democracy as Donald Rumsfeld, Madame Nhu, Henry Kissinger.

An outrageous and unforgivable whitewash at this date. I don't care if Colby was his father. Truth is truth, lies are lies, torture and murder are bad things and it's time Colby junior came to grips with that. The CIA is a foul excrescence that has done immeasurable harm to this country's moral fiber and standing in the world since its founding and should be torn into tiny little pieces and scattered to the four winds.




Truly oddball film. A father in rural Quebec shelters his 12 year old daughter from...well, everything. He won't let her go to school...keeps her stuck in their remote house 24/7. She finds a stash of dead bodies frozen in the snow nearby and they become her only companions.

Troubling undertones throughout this film although nothing overt ever surfaces. Mom may be in prison. We're given no explanation for this guy's behavior...and no resolution when it's over.

The film falls into the enigmatic area of indie films...meant to be provocative and, in this case, succeeding. Reminiscent of last year's Dogtooth. I got hooked early and couldn't turn it off before I saw how it resolved.


Saturday, August 13, 2011


England w/d Paddy Considine Peter Mullen, Eddie Marsan

Hard-to-watch film about two lost souls coming together in mutual support after being battered by life in England's lower reaches. The opening scene featured one of the leads kicking his dog to death in a drunken rage. Much violence...actual and verbal...throughout.

Although it was very well acted and ended on a positive note this one was an ordeal to get through. If you witnessed any of these scenes in real life it would be traumatic and would haunt you for years.

I had trouble understanding the muttered language and would have liked English subtitles. This was more a film to admire than to like.