Monday, January 31, 2011


James Franco, David Straithairn

Remarkably effective treatment of the Allen Ginsberg poem which was first performed in San Francisco in 1955 and subjected to an obscenity trial in 1957. The film weaves scenes of JF reciting the poem in front of an audience, being interviewed, scenes reenacted from the trial and animated sequences interpreting the lines being read.

I've never cared for this poem but this film brought it, and its writer, to life. Nice work.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Client 9


The fall of Eliott Spitzer, Wall street scourge. He took on some of the biggest pigs in capitalism and they brought him down. It still boggles my mind that in the public mind paying a consenting adult for occasional sex is just as bad as stealing the savings of millions of people. What a country.

One of the interviewees says for the same act he'd be elected president of France.

The film was a little too long but told the story well.



France Alan Renais

Another oddity from France's master of the unexpected. This was an adaptation of a play and looked it...few sets, few players. The set-up and dialogue was very artificial and for a while I was intrigued by the dynamics among the characters but after an hour or so the exaggerated behavior became tiresome and I lost interest. From 1986.

This one was a miss but I admire AR for his long history of stretching the boundaries of cinema.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Coco and Igor

France Mads Mikkelson, Anna Mouglalis

Lush treatment of the love affair between Igor Stravinsky and Coco Chanel in the 20's. She invites him and his family (including a sickly wife) to live in her villa so he can compose in peace. Of course this leads to complications in his marriage...which are dealt with subtly, with sensitivity and intelligence.

The cinematography and camera work were outstanding...just watching the visuals here was a treat...from the titles on. Both leads were excellent...hers was the more difficult role since she had to convey elegance and class in every shot.

Set design was breathtaking. The staging of the initial performance of Rite, which began the film, crackled with drama. Intriguing series of short shots at the end left the eventual resolution of this relationship ambiguous...a plus.

Overall a fine work...period history at its best.


Friday, January 28, 2011

His Girl Friday

Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell d/Howard Hawks

A re-make of The Front Page where all the reporters talk lickety split and the story goes by so fast you hardly have time to think. Great fun...probably the best of the screwball comedies.

So fast that you hardly even realize that one of the characters commits suicide right in front of us. Amazing timing in the exchanges between the two leads. I wonder how many rehearsals it took?


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Le Bonheur(Happiness)

Agnes Varda 1965

An unusual, intriguing film. A happily married man meets another woman, commences an affair with her, convinced the love he has for both of them won't result in any of them being unhappy.

Filmed in luscious color. The two children and wife were, in fact, the actor's which accounted for the naturalness the kids displayed. The resolution of the story was deliberately provocative and left me with a sense of head-shaking wonder at the audacity this took in 1965.

Well worth it.


The Fighter

Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg, Melissa Leo d/David Russell

Great cast took on the (mostly) true story of a boxer from Lowell, Mass who overcame his own limitations and the weight of his crazy family to become a champion.

For an hour I thought this was badly over-egged...the grotesque family dynamics were apparently played for cheap laughs at the expense of the story's credibility...but once the real story kicked in it had the same pull as all the Rocky films. I couldn't help but root for this guy.

It was fun watching these highly skilled actors chew on their realistic Boston accents and lower working-class characters. The direction/camera work also helped rescue this from the trash heap. Overall...a spite of itself.


Letter From an Unknown Woman


Lushly filmed melodrama adapted from a German novel. While the story eventually became more and more improbable the care with which the film was made consistently overcame logic and ended as a satisfying experience.

In the 40's this would have been called a three-hankie picture.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Autumn Ball (Sugisball)


Bleakness, despair, gloom, violence, drunkenness. I think that about covers it. Some of the scenes may have faintly suggested that inimitable Baltic way...but I couldn't be sure.

Episodic, depressing...about as negative a view of contemporary life as you'll find.

What were they trying to do here?



Chris Cooper w/d John Sayles

Exemplary take on American labor strife in the coal mines of Appalachia circa 1920. Strong characters, complex dealings among the unionists illustrated the realistic muddle of daily life. He drew the mine company goons as quintessentially evil...a minor drawback...but even here he gave us a nuanced conversation late in the film.

Sayles may be the finest independent filmmaker working in the US. His political leanings are clear but his films are never as reductionist as conventional hollywood.


Monday, January 24, 2011



Fictionalized treatment of a slave revolt in Brazil in the 1600's and the establishment of an independent colony by the runaways. Exceptional use of color and costumes raised this stylized story to the level of art.

Of course the story is a tragic one (we all know how few successful slave rebellions there were in history) but the characters were so well drawn and the settings so idealized that I couldn't help rooting for these people.

A forgotten gem.


Eternity and a Day

Bruno Ganz d/ Theo Angelopoulos

Another gem by the Greek who may be the greatest living director in the world. This was a meditation on the end of the life of a writer as he looks back on life's events/characters all the while dealing with the present. He befriends a young illegal alien...and uses him as a springboard for memories and reflections.

Filled with his trademark visual poetry and the carefully orchestrated tableaux that define his films.

The film featured regrets and sorrows but also hope and belief in the future. How long does tomorrow last? An eternity and a day...


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Vassilisa the Beautiful

Russia 1939

Imaginative treatment of a traditional Russian fairy tale. The effects were OK for the time but pretty primitive now. In one scene with a flying dragon you could easily see the wires holding up the contraption.

Still it was fun to watch and has historical value.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Seventh Continent

Michael Haneke

His first film and the first in a trilogy that continued his dystopian views. Here we follow the daily lives of a seemingly average middle-class family who, individually and collectively come undone.

Unusual framing which focused on things rather than faces...the things they used, that made up their lifestyle. This emphasized their context, the society in which they lived rather than their personalities or their individuality. The comment was particularly strong when they destroyed all their stuff before destroying themselves.

MH has been criticized for being too negative...nothing in this film contradicts that idea. This was a sour, extremely bleak portrait of contemporary life...realized with great skill and care.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Jimmy Stewart, Kim Novak d/A. Hitchcock

Ranked #2 on Sight & Sound's greatest films of all time list. Extremely engrossing and tense. A masterwork in pulling in the audience...even if they find the characters repellent...and never letting them go for a minute. Great performance by JS...I think his best. Exceptional use of San Francisco locations. Eerie, dreamlike quality to the scenes where the two leads are alone.

A film about obsession, illusion, guilt, intrigue, deception, murder. Now considered his greatest film and deservedly so.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Genius Within


The life and times of Glenn Gould, pianist and troubled soul. Early in his career he consciously cultivated eccentricities and as time went on they became him. He hated concerts and abandoned them at 31...died at 50.

Those in the know thought his musicianship was extraordinary. This film was almost worshipful but I found it to be too the end I really didn't like this guy and preferred the indirect approach to his life used by Don McKellar in his 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould.


Saturday, January 15, 2011


Greece Irene Pappas w/d Michael Cocayannis

This may be the best adaptation of an ancient Greek play ever done. Set on the eve of the Trojan war, the Greek army is becalmed and the gods require a blood sacrifice before the winds will come. The priest declares it must be the daughter of Agamemnon, Iphigenia.

Filmed on location...not glamorized at all...the focus is on the intense human drama. Larger issues hover over the story (religion, war, revenge, greed, pride) but the atrocity of a young girl being murdered at the will of her father trumps all. IP is brilliant as Clytemnestra...perhaps her finest performance. She radiates strength, pain, despair, anguish. Tatiana Papamoschou also excels as the virginal victim.

By humanizing the story Cocayannis brings its impact from the head of the viewer into the heart and gives it a resonance seldom seen in a classic.

A great film.


Friday, January 14, 2011


Japan Setsuko Hara d/M. Naruse

Lovely drama which focused on the inner working of a marriage. After five years the bloom is off the rose and a crisis develops when a young niece comes for an extended visit.

Quiet realistic film with the superb Hara stepping a bit out of her usual persona and giving a nuanced performance as a woman facing the end of her illusions.

Another gem from a master.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

In Search of Beethoeven


Respectful doc about the musical genius...about half narration/talking heads and half selections from his music.

His was a troubled life but the music is sublime and 200 years later it's part of the fabric of our lives...perhaps the ultimate accolade.

Lovingly done.


The Music Man

Robert Preston, Shirley Jones

Cornball schmaltz from the golden age of Broadway musicals. Set in an imaginary reality and populated by a large number of child-like adults this either rose or fell on the musical/dance numbers. For a while it failed but an exuberant dance sequence in a library worked for me.

After that the characters had some reasonably human-like scenes so I was able to watch and enjoy it.

RP was a revelation. Very smooth and polished in all his movements he exuded a professionalism that had me fascinated.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Eleanor's Secret


Well-meaning feature length piece that contained all the usual elements...brave but weak protagonist, quest journey, triumphant resolution.

Very nicely drawn but this would only satisfy a young crowd.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

My Queen Karo


The trials and travails of living in a communal squat in Amsterdam in the 70's. Once "free love" came up against ordinary human jealousy the mirror of ecstatic bliss broke into shards.

The main character here was a ten year old girl...her dad was a committed "revolutionary" and mom was in a quandary on how to balance all the interests in their loft/dump. Much of this was painful to watch and frankly I preferred the comedic approach used for the same topic in Together but it was undeniably well done once the director learned how to use a tripod.


Dersu Uzala

Russia/Japan A. Kurosawa

Taken from the published journals of a Russian surveyor who worked in Siberia in the early 1900's...met and came to love a Goldi native.

Dersu was a man of the tune with the natural world...and fated to extinction once the modern world reached his realm. Ironically he was assisting in this inevitable process.

A moving tribute to a remarkable man. First rate work by one of cinema's masters.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Kawasaki's Rose


Meticulously done film which dealt with some of the human wreckage left behind in the wake of the toppling of the tyrannical government which ruled for forty years. It took a meandering path to get to the point...looking back after it finished I wondered how many scenes I had watched were filler to make it last 1 1/2 hours...but the players were all good and it was a first-class production. took a long time to make a pretty obvious point...when tyranny rules people will do things out of fear/selfishness that they will later regret.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Music Makes a City


This was a history of the symphony orchestra of Louisville, Kentucky. Begun just before WW2, in the 50's, using a grant from Rockfeller, they commissioned many avant-garde works by contemporary composers.

I'm sure work like this has great cultural value for someone but for me it was and is mego. Lovingly produced.


Bride Flight


Wonderful old-fashioned film which spans generations and encapsulates issues that typify the times.

The launching point is a flight from Holland to New Zealand in the 40's bringing mostly women to meet pre-arranged mates. We are immediately focused on a couple who meet during the flight but she has been married by proxy so that doesn't happen...not then. Eventually the story settles on three of the women and we follow their lives and interrelations.

There were some surprises but the film got its strength from the scope of its perspective rather than any particular plot points. There was some happiness, much sadness, regret...just like life.

Aided by the glorious scenery of the South Island. I found this to be a deeply satisfying filmgoing experience. It pleases me that films like this are still being made.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Silent Souls


A very intriguing film. Set in Russia's North among an ethnic group that hasn't fully assimilated into the mainstream. They retain their own beliefs and customs and this film seems designed to lay out some of them for us.

One man's wife dies so he enlists the help of a friend and together they prepare her body and burn it on a beach in accordance with their cultural practice. This is all done with respect...not quite reverence. The film would be a nice companion to Departures.

As cinema the film is minimalist. As anthro it was fascinating and easily held my attention.


Friday, January 7, 2011

Mighty Uke


Wonderful film about that most humble of musical instruments...the ukulele. This was in part an historical originated in Portugal...came to Hawaii in the late 1800's...and has been denigrated ever since.

But the film quickly became a celebration...making the point that when people see, hear or play a uke they smile. It looks like a toy. It can be used to play most anything. It brings people together and gives folks the means to make their own music...which is what everyone did before the invention of recording devices.

This was shot all over the world and I hope will lead to a resurgence of interest in this delightful tool for fun.


Tiny Furniture


Here we get to follow a frumpy twenty-something as she tries to adapt to real life in lower Manhattan after graduating in film studies from a college in the midwest. She is vain, insecure, self-centered, sometimes thoughtful, sometimes narcissistic, immature...all the traits you'll find in the undeveloped-human mix.

She frabs around with no sense of direction or purpose and it was unclear to me why we would want to follow her around as she commits the usual screw-ups for 2 hours.

Since the "star" was also the writer/director this was navel-gazing at its worst.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Middle of the World


A father, mother and their five children hit the road Okie style...but on bikes... looking for a better life. They have an assortment of adventures, lose one son along the way and after six months end up in Rio...still penniless but ready to start a new life.

Taken from a true story. Well done in all respects. The actors playing the parents were much too pretty but acted the parts well.

Good commercial film.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Woody Allen, Diane Keaton

Comic masterpiece from 1973. Lots of then-topical jokes, some funny slapstick/keystone scenes, the usual self-deprecating humor...and of course the orgasmatron.

The timing between the two of them was delightful.



Germany Barbara Sukowa

Interesting treatment of the life and times of Hildegard von Bingen...nun, poet, seer, intellectual, composer who lived in the 10th century.

These were still the "dark ages" and she faced some extraordinary obstacles achieving what she did...not least the strictures against physical/emotional pleasures denied to religious at the least officially. She comes to love a young acolyte and pays a price.

BS was excellent as usual...a bit less towering than her performance in Rosa Luxemburg. The production was expensive and well assembled.

Overall, a solid, illuminating biopic.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Robert Altman

A kaleidoscopic swirl of Americana which marks the peak of his style. We meet some 20 characters centered on the country music scene in 1975 and get a picture...a snapshot in time...of where this country stood on the eve of its bicentennial.

The film is bitterly satirical, sometimes funny...mocks pretension and self-importance and the entire celebrity culture. It remains relevant...maybe even more relevant today. An accomplished work of a master.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Helena at the Wedding


A group of friends in their 30's gather at a mountain cabin for New Years. During the two days many of their failures and illusions are revealed in subtle, drunken ways. Sort of an update on The Big Chill. It also reminded me of The Four Seasons.

A good cast, working from a good script pulled this off without it becoming melodramatic. The overall effect was to highlight just how temporary and fragile contemporary relationships are. A celebration of the time in life of great disillusionment and how people either cope or not.

Worth it.




Welcome to the only country in the world which has officially proclaimed the happiness of its people the primary purpose of the state. And actually practices it.

Watch might be contagious...


Intimate Strangers

France Sandrine Bonnaire d/Patrice Leconte

This seemed very contrived for a while but the interactions of the two main characters grew on me and I managed to fall into the story. A troubled woman goes to a shrink, gets the wrong office and ends up talking to a repressed tax lawyer.

Both players gave subdued performances...which worked. At times the camera work was too wavery but not often enough to be intrusive. Once I got hooked it became intriguing right to the end...which was unexpectedly satisfying.

A quiet pleasure.


Sunday, January 2, 2011


Richard Dreyfuss, Veronica Cartwright

This is a very strange period piece...the closest mainstream Hollywood has come to porn. RD plays a washed-up director in the early 30's who was unable to survive the change to talkies and has resorted to making skin flicks in his mansion. The characters' behavior is exaggerated for humor but the underlying themes aren't funny...failure, impotence, the willingness of people to do anything to make it in the film...or any other business.

This was as explicit as they could go in 1974. Some of the scenes/dialogue cut close enough to make me squirm but the film did have an impact and was unforgettable. It was released with an X rating which buried it at the box office. Too bad. Imaginatively shot in what looked like three-strip technicolor.

One of the industry's forgotten gems.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Song of Sparrows


This film featured the ups and downs of an uneducated common laborer as he frabs his way through life. He starts off working at an ostrich farm...which provides some striking visuals. In fact the whole film is nicely shot with a good flair for interesting angles, perspectives.

Unfortunately the protagonist is another lower-class bonehead who richly deserves his failures. He, and most every other male in the film, is highly excitable and all of them...of whatever class...shout at each other continuously. Is this a cultural trait? It makes them seem like overgrown children to me. The children also shout.

The story, such as it is, shows the lead slowly coming to realize some life lessons but when we fade to black I had no sense he was going to be any better at dealing with life's vicissitudes than he was at the beginning.