Monday, February 28, 2011

It's Kind of a Funny Story

Zach Galifianakis

Mainstream hollywood teen film that sort of worked. Cliched in almost all aspects but for some reason I didn't mind. A 16 year old boy suffering from depression checks himself into a psych ward. Since this is a romcom by film's end he is all better, acquired a cute girlfriend, become wildly popular with the crazies (after 5 days!), and re-charted the course of his life.

As always the inmates in the hospital/asylum were more lovable than crazy/ rigeur if anyone is going to watch it.

Well played by the three leads which clearly helped its watchability. A pleasant diversion I'll likely forget completely in two weeks.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Where the Sidewalk ends

Dana Andrews d/ Otto Preminger

Tightly constructed noir. DA plays a stern, violent cop who does a bad thing and spends the rest of the story trying to deal with the consequences.

Intelligent dialogue, the usual great lighting...a mix of soundstage and location work. Marred a bit by a too tight resolution which had to follow the Hays code. Still, a solid example of the genre.




Nicely done doc on the atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese in China's capital in 1937. Sanitized some...a least compared to Iris Chang's book...but enough detail was included to convey the nature and scale of what happened.

Amazing that many Japanese still deny the truth about who they were (are) and what they did. Just like us.

The film mixed original footage with testimony read by actors on a stage. The technique worked very well.

It is good to remember.


Sisters of Gion

Japan K. Mizoguchi

An early (1936) work that was lean, sharp and to the point. The women in a male-dominated society must resort to guile and dishonest machinations simply to survive. They may even turn against each other.

Two poor sisters, living as geishas in the red light district, connive to secure a "patron"...a man who will provide them with minimal support. One truly loves a man who summarily abandons her...the other ends up being thrown from a car by a man she has cheated. The men show contempt for all women...the women for themselves.

If this was a true portrait of Japan's attitudes at this period it's no wonder they raced to self-destruction in the following ten years...invading China in 1937, attacking the US four years later. Overweening male arrogance will do terrible things to a culture.

A powerful film.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Tato (Daddy)


Engrossing story of a wicked custody battle that goes terribly wrong. Dad's a philanderer, mom's psychotic, granny is a horrid witch...and that's just the start. This film threw in everything but the kitchen sink and managed a nail-biting finish.

A cross between Kramer vs. Kramer, and The Princess and the Warrior.

The child strongly resembled a young Jessica Harper with large staring eyes. She was great. The film was a hoot to watch. That's entertainment!


Goodbye Momo


Here we follow an 8 year old newsie as he makes his way through a sometimes harsh, sometimes benevolent urban jungle. He gets mugged, hooks up with a night watchman who teaches him to read, joins a crewe playing Uruguay's 40-day carnival...generally frabs his way through life.

Exceptional use of lighting and color throughout. The carnival music was lame compared to that of Brazil in Black Orpheus.

The film wanted very hard to be charming and lovable but fell a bit short of the mark. The feelgood didn't make me feel good enough so it just seemed randomly episodic with a light wash of nice.

Just barely a 5.

Elegy of a Voyage

Russia/Holland w/d Alexander Sukorov

Abstract/poetic work that stretched the notion of what a film could be. We see ethereal visuals accompanied by a voiceover which only loosely connects with what we are watching. It talks of a mythical voyage which in fact ends up in a Dutch art museum. The camera slowly pans various artworks all the while intoning (to me) unintelligible thoughts.

Great looking film but mego all the way. It would serve nicely as wallpaper at a dinner party but failed as a film.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

All About Lily Chou-Chou


This came across as a film made by a precocious 14 year old...still thrilled to be aggravating his parents and teachers, rhapsodizing about the latest pop star, stealing CDs from the local shop, featuring his friends being tormented by the seemingly pointless violence visited upon them by the bigger kids...etc

The titular Lily is an enigmatic pop star whose "wisdom" is treated as scripture by her fans...we get dozens of their missives along the way pondering the true nature of her revelations. We also get a lot of very violent scenes including what appears to be a brutal rape...but we're not really sure.

As fits the age group we also have to endure tons of swooping you-are-there (where?) camera work which gave me a headache.

The point of all this was, I guess, it sucks being a kid. Hey kid, I've got a secret for's not so great being an adult either. At all stages ya got the good, ya got the bad. Live with it.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The King of Hearts

Alan Bates, Genevieve Bujold

Philippe de Broca's ode to gentle anarchy circa 1966. This film struck a chord with American college-aged students back then. It's theme of anti-war, anti-conformity, anti-authority mirrored the zeitgeist and became one of the greatest cult films ever.

It still worked for me. The film's sweet spirit and message are no less appealing for me now than it was then. War is madness, authority should be mocked. Great music throughout, excellent use of color...most importantly...the film celebrates that sense of play, of delight that all children have and too many adults forget.


Monday, February 21, 2011

The Missing Person

Michael Shannon

Modern noir involving a PI, tailing a subject on a train, a femme fatale and enough booze and cigarettes to kill an elephant. Languid jazz in the story sets the tone which is slow, enigmatic and deliberately confusing for most of the film. The story eventually comes around to its point...which ends up being quite benign. It even comes with a happy ending.

I thought MS overplayed the character's decrepitude but the use of shadows and interesting camera movement held my interest until the end. This was a solid re-creation of a genre modern filmmakers look back on with fondness...and justifiably so.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Street of Shame

Japan K. Mizoguchi

Powerful depiction of the life of prostitutes in Tokyo 1955. The film was coarser, harsher than we're used to which rattled the sensibilities of the country enough that they banned the practice the following year.

This reminded me of Lizzie Borden's Working Girls in its realistic depiction of that trade although all the sexual stuff happened off camera.

Strong characters, straightforward acting and direction made this a very effective piece of agitprop.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Electric Shadows


Lovely film which, like Cinema Paradiso, celebrates the love of film, its effect on the young, its usefulness as a distraction from unpleasant realities and its role in connecting people across time.

Although many of the incidents depicted were painful to watch, this pain was always leavened with beauty, caring or some other positive force to keep the tone up. There was a strong sociopolitical context...the meanness of ordinary people during the so-called Cultural Revolution was horrifying close-up...but the focus throughout was on the characters, their struggles, loves, disappointments, etc.

This film proves that "Eastern" doesn't necessarily mean histrionic over-acting and exaggerated melodrama. It was realistic, dramatic, emotionally compelling and, finally, human. Kudos.


Friday, February 18, 2011

The Champagne Safari


Well done piece on the man who brought efficiency and dehumanization to the world's factories in the early 20th century. He became fabulously rich making other rich people even richer and as a result became the usual arrogant megalomaniac that plagues the capitalist world.

This film centered on a safari he organized and led which went from Edmonton over the Rockies in 1934 using horses and half-tracks. There were no roads but at that point in his life he believed there was nothing he could not do. He was wrong. He also hobnobbed with kings, ex-kings, nazis, captains of industry and other slime until they turned on him.

He ended up dying in North Africa after his luck and money ran out.

Except for period details this guy could have been one of France's Louis. Watta jerk.


The Coronation


This was something of an ordeal to watch. Set in a decaying mansion in Santiago...the mater is 90, crazy and foul-mouthed...middle-aged son is deeply repressed and going servant girl hooks up with some criminals... I could tell in 10 minutes this wasn't going to end well. It didn't.

Said to be the most popular movie in Chilean history. Great looking but all the characters were either repulsive or stupid or both and I had to struggle to get to the end. Even had a scene in a drag queen bar. Religious symbolism all over the place. Maybe this was liberating for a country still mired in catholicism.

Grand Guignol without the gore.


Keetje Tippel

Holland Paul Verhoeven

An early work (1975) before he came to the US. Adapted from a prize-winning account written by a woman whose family moved to Amsterdam in the late 1800's. They were poor and outrageously abused by nearly everyone they dealt with...the girls usually sexually. The first hour seemed like a never-ending litany of people being mean to Katie. Was this accurate or her imaginative exaggeration looking back?

While streetwalking she solicits a man who needs a model for painting and her life takes a better turn.

The production was first rate in all respects. It's easy to see why hollywood wanted him but by far his better work was done before he left home.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Matchmaker


Charming coming-of-age drama. Learning life's lessons from a professional matchmaker who makes his living from smuggling but helps others find the mate he himself will always be denied.

Lots of local (Haifa) flavor, good cast...a solid work all around.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011


France Catherine Deneuve, Gerard Depardieu d/ Francois Ozon

Labor strife in an umbrella factory run for several generations by the subject family. Unfortunately the film was played as broad farce and lost me in the first five minutes. Seemed more like a cartoon than anything approaching real life. But it wasn't funny...or even amusing.

It's very hard to feel anything toward characters who behave like idiots. And I hate to say it but the two leads really should hang it up. To my eye they both degraded themselves in this mess and took away from the otherwise fine careers they both had. And what's up with this director? He's done several interesting films in past years. Maybe next time...


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Boats out of Watermelon Rinds


Pleasant coming-of-age story of two friends in a small town who are infatuated with cinema and try to fashion a projector out of wood and scrap film. Also deals with first love, a madman neighbor and the general powerlessness of being 12 years old.

Said to be autobiographical the film was beautifully lit and had a number of scenes that were imaginatively shot. Many of the adults were unnecessarily mean to the kids but that may have been cultural.

Vaguely similar to Cinema Paradiso but without the charm or heart-touching incidents.



William Holden, Faye Dunaway

Triumphantly scathing depiction of the greed and moral rot at the center of the television industry circa 1976. By all accounts it's gotten worse since then.

The acting here was outstanding, the dialogue (Paddy Chayefsky) as well-written as anything I've ever seen. The film raced along, thanks to Sidney Lumet.

When released the film was attacked for being exaggerated but now seems prescient...sadly so. The rants by Peter Finch ring as true today as they did then. The problem is deeper and wider than's the world created by predatory capitalism and until that system is eliminated it's unlikely things will improve.

This was advocacy filmmaking at its best.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Tokyo Twilight

Japan Y. Ozu Chishu Ryu Setsuko Hara

This was done late in his career and stands with the best of his work. The focus is on a family but their trials have been harsher than in his earlier films. We deal with abandonment, abortion, divorce...and the emotional consequences are ramped up as well. Half the film takes place in public houses and the tinkly music acts as a fine counterpoint to the drama.

All seasoned players and a great director at the top of his game. Another classic.


Troubled Water

Norway Erik Poppe

A great of the best done in recent years. The spark of the story is a child's murder, the theme is how to deal with atonement, forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption.

Brilliantly shot, edited, acted. The music...mostly organ since the protagonist is a church used to allow for emotional expression. The entire production radiated intelligence and was a serious attempt to examine one of the most vexing intellectual/philosophical dilemmas we can ever face.


Please Vote for Me


A class of 8 year olds in Wuhan are told that they will elect class monitors for the first time. Three candidates were selected by the teacher and the kids let it rip. Meanness, conniving, back and double-dealing, humiliation...all the usual techniques of "democracy" come down on these kids' their shock and horror.

Since these kids were too young to be fully empathetic their behavior was predictable and understandable. But the raw ugliness they displayed still took me aback.

The kid who won was an aggressive bully. Twas ever thus.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Encounter at Raven's Gate

Australia Rolf de Heer

Interesting, highly skilled take on an alien invasion concept. Shot mostly in the dark, which served to disguise a low budget, heighten suspense and acted as a perfect metaphor for how little of the subject aliens was shown. All here was hidden, mysterious, but somehow menacing.

The actual focus of the story was the human relationships...that was OK for a while, filled out screen time...but became tiresome 2/3 through.

Still, this was a good effort by a filmmaker who has gone on to many solid projects.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Not Quite Hollywood


This film showcased the bottom half of the Australian renaissance of the 70's and 80's. Turns out the Aussies produced trashy movies every bit as loathsome and asinine as the ones we did...most of which mercifully stayed there. A Mad Max...went international.

Many of the folks interviewed here seemed proud of what they did then but I suppose they have to. Hosted by Q. Tarantino...a big minus.


Friday, February 11, 2011

OT: Our Town


Nice piece on a high school English class in Compton, Ca who put on a production of the Wilder play. These were all black and hispanic kids and at first the connection between them and the doings of Grovers Corners, NH seemed extremely us and to them.

But the play deals with universal truths and they gradually come to realize that. A heartwarming story which broke through the easy cynicism of the naysayers.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Exit Through the Gift Shop

??? Banksy

Snide, hip piece on a new phase of graffiti artists whose work, while much more clever than what we had to look at in the 70's, is still an imposition on all those who don't want buildings and public spaces marked up by self-centered individuals.

I thought the work on display was very imaginative and provocative when shown at a designated gallery of warehouse space but we're confronted with this stuff every day around here and, to me, it just degrades our common environment.

This film took an imaginary character and got stuck in this construction past the point when it was clever...which is sort of a perfect metaphor for the phenomenon itself. One image from an old video game might be provocative but these bozos plaster them all over town, thus becoming an ugly blot on the commons.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

South of the Border

documentary Oliver Stone

OS visits several lefty leaders of SA countries. The Bolivarian movement is big news...a major sea change in the international chess/power game...and it was good to see all these people at the same time. They represent the first sign of hope that US hegemony has cracked.

That said, OS is a poor interviewer and having a translator reciting the comments in English was a bad idea. So the presentation didn't work and should have been better thought out.

I wish it had been better.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Passion of Anna

Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann w/d I. Bergman

Sophisticated, cerebral melodrama about love relationships on a small island off the coast of Sweden. Folks love, or at least screw, fight, leave, cheat, stay. There are occasional moments of tenderness, some of which are delusional.

Also, odd interviews with members of the cast interpreting their characters. Plus animal mutilations signifying an undercurrent of overt nastiness on the isle which result in the beating and suicide of an innocent man.

At his point in his career he had it down and even though his films were depressing they were head and shoulders above what others were doing. This one bears repeated viewing, reflecting.


The Man Who Would Be King

Michael Caine, Sean Connery w/d John Huston

Taken from a story by Kipling this epitomized the idea of militant imperialism. Here native people were depicted as childlike morons, easily led by a couple of ex army sergeants. While the scheme eventually falls apart most of the film was pretty offensive looking through contemporary eyes.

This was a boy's adventure tale, the kind of story that would have thrilled a lad in 1925. It appears that JH never really grew up.

Nice production with great sets and locations, lots of local and period color.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Zeitgeist: Moving Forward

documentary Peter Joseph

Long (3hrs) exegesis on the current state of things, the apparent future we collectively face and what we need to do about that...but we won't. Some of this was excellent, some less so. The tricky part is discerning which was which.


Stranger With a Camera


Sad story of the murder of a Canadian TV producer by a psycho from eastern Kentucky who resented photos being taken of the poverty in his region. And was supported by his neighbors. And mostly got away with it. And died unrepentant.

Watta country. Watta world.



France Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Gallic charm at its best. Audrey Tautou was perfect.

A gem.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Magician

Ingmar Bergman

The Swede's revenge against all those critics who sneered at his work in the 50's. Nice looking but very affected film that let him sneer back.

Max von Sydow's character was pretty hard to take as he spent most of the film glowering as a mute...radiating hatred and scorn. All the other characters came across as caricatures...the whole project was too stylized to reflect reality as we know it.

Not one of the master's better efforts.


Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

Michael Sera

Formula teen romcom that added more gross-out material to the mix than most. Nothing here was particularly plausible and as it went by I found myself baffled by the praise it had received in the reviews. Haven't said reviewers seen all the product churned out by John Hughes and Chris Columbus in the 80's?

MS has such a vague, nowhere affect I found it unlikely that any girl/woman would be passionately attracted to him. But what do I know about how beat the hearts of women?

Not an insult but for me just barely tolerable entertainment.


Friday, February 4, 2011

The Story of a Prostitute

Japan S. Suzuki

Mixed feelings about this film. On the plus side it was beautifully lit, composed and shot in stunning b/w...could have been done by James Wong Howe at his peak.

The story...of a prostitute working with the Japanese army in China during the war who falls in love with a young officer...was a good one.

But the problem was the wild over-acting we've seen in so many of the Eastern films. In this one it was so overdone it destroyed the credibility of the story.

Too bad. This guy showed some real talent.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Le Quattro Volte


Very affecting study of an aging goatherd who lives in a mountain village, his flock and the culture going on around him. It was difficult to tell how much of this was staged...some of the footage was extraordinary. Regardless, it gave an interesting and informative portrait of a lifestyle that was in part medieval in part modern.

This would make a nice companion piece to The Tree of Wooden Clogs.


The Thing

Howard Hawks

Monster film that thrilled me in my youth (1951) now seems like a window into a misbegotten time...when the military ruled, science was to be mistrusted and the best response to encountering an alien being was to shoot it, blow it up, fry it, etc.

Typical of Hawks, this raced along lickety split with overlapping dialogue and excitement at just the right beats. Credit said it was based on the John W Campbell story but those ideas were deeply buried in cold war idiocy.

Historical plus entertainment value today.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011



Taken from a true episode...a young Japanese, volunteering in Iraq is taken hostage. When she returns home she is hated and ostracized by everyone...for being different. She and her family are harassed constantly, leading to her father's suicide.

The film was all hand-held which worked as we follow her around. The lead was excellent. The extreme behavior with which she was treated was impossible for me to understand or accept...but there it was.

An interesting window into another, alien culture.


Crazy Love


Boy I'll say. The story runs for forty years. In the 50's an arrogant young Bronx ambulance chaser falls in love with a beautiful girl. He is married. She tries to dump him. He hires some low-lifes to throw acid in her face, blinding her. He goes to prison for 14 years. When he gets out he continues to pursue her. They marry.

The sad part is that after she was blinded she saw herself as damaged goods and was left alone. He offered financial security and companionship so she went for it. Their relationship since has been extremely antagonistic...she continues to punish him every day for what he did to her.

Sad and sordid story. Straight-up doc.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011



This film took an asinine premise, sunk its teeth in hard, wagged its head and tried to hold on for an hour and a half. It failed.

Tiresome in the extreme. Nice b/w photography of Paris though.


The Scent of Green Papaya

Vietnam Tran Anh Hung

An exquisite film. The character of Mui epitomized the thinking of buddhism...she was quiet, serene, focused on the tasks in front of her and brought out the best traits in the people around her. She was an enlightened one.

The film was beautifully lit and shot...all in a studio in France. The sound design, with its constant buzzing and chirping of insects, helped considerably in creating the atmosphere of life being lived in a tropical land. The music score also excelled.

This was his first film...a fine calling card to the world of international cinema.