Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Killer Inside Me

Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba d/ Michael Winterbottom

Hard-to-watch noir taken from a 50's novel by Jim Thompson. In this film we had to watch two women being beaten to death by a cold-blooded, deeply troubled killer. Not my idea of a swell time.

CA excelled here following his dynamite performance in the Jesse James film. His high-pitched, whiny voice is perfect for masking demons swirling inside. The look of the film was spot on...golden yellow glows evoked a West Texas that never was. The supporting cast was solid except Elias Koteas who overplayed his scenes.

Compelling dramatic momentum led to an explosive climax. Strong stuff.


You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

Woody Allen

London-based drama that seemed particularly nasty minded compared to his recent output. Humor, even of the mocking sort, has gone completely now. Instead we are presented with selfish, duplicitous characters who make bad decisions that hurt themselves and those in their lives. Even though people are connected they ignore each other's needs, do what they want the consequences be damned.

The title comes from one of the characters...a moronically credulous dumped wife...seeing a fortune obvious fraud...and taking her as a believable seer. None of this is funny or clever.

Allen seems to have contempt for his characters in this film who, while being hyper articulate, nevertheless do very stupid things. He's become quite dyspeptic with age...maybe cynical is the better term. Too bad. Without the leavening of wit life is just ugly.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Kids Are All Right

Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo

Teen children of a pair of lesbian mothers seek out their biological father and complications ensue. The emotional interplay among these five people is extremely complex and the director/writer...Lisa Cholodenko...provides us with an intelligent script and performances that do the premise justice.

No one here is reduced to anything less than a multi-dimensional person...all have good traits and bad. They navigate their way through this unusual trial following instincts and needs that ring true to me. Some of their decisions are foolish but she shows how most mistakes can be redeemed among people who genuinely care for each other.

Nice, intelligent, well-written, well-acted film.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Avenue Montaigne

France Cecile de France

Charming film set in a world we all wish we could live in...the center of Paris where all the denizens are artists, musicians or rich, everyone is friendly and all turns out right in the end. Where a poor girl from the provinces can push her way in with no effort and within a week be beloved by all.

This one created the magic so many filmmakers strive for but fail. It joins the Paris of Amelie, Celestial Clockwork, When the Cat's Away...

Pure pleasure.


Her Name is Sabine


Vanity project by the French actress Sandrine Bonnaire who followed her retarded/autistic sister around and recorded her life.


Freedom Riders


Excellent film on one of the signature events of the civil rights movement in the 60's. It took real courage to face the hatred and violent bigotry in the American south...these people had it and prevailed.

With the murder of the leaders who helped inspire these changes the nation lost that spirit...of the best of us working together to make life better for all of us...and we've never gotten it back. So the bad guys eventually did a determined and deliberate campaign to take away the sense of "we." Now fragmentation, selfishness reign.

Moving, inspiring...ultimately sad...


Monday, March 28, 2011

Lola Montes

Max Ophuls

Extremely elaborate, expensive, lavish attempt to tell the story of a famous 19th century courtesan through the device of circus. This was my second attempt at watching this supposed classic (Andrew Sarris) and again I failed. Or it did.

I found it annoying, loud, asinine, disjointed...basically wrongly conceived. There are many ways to tell the story of a life...even creative ones...that don't rely on Peter Ustinov screaming out the chapters every five minutes in front of a non-existent audience. It didn't help that a woman pushing 40 was asked to play an ingenue in the early sequences...but that's a minor quibble. Mostly I just couldn't stand this film and lasted an hour before running screaming across the room to make it stop.

3...for costumes and set design

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Invisible Man

Claude Rains d/ James Whale

Horror done as gothic melodrama from 1933. Effects were state-of-the-art at the time but look silly today. Invisible guy was reduced to voice acting and, unfortunately, used the exaggerated villain tone familiar to us now from saturday morning cartoons.

Several scenes/lighting were as striking as those in Frankenstein which served to remind us that Whale was primarily an outstanding visual artist. As a dramatist...not so much...

historical interest only...


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Peeping Tom

Michael Powell

This was the film that ruined a great career. Shocking then, tame now...over-acted by the lead which made it seem stilted and artificial by today's standards. Some creative camera work and lighting (nice colors!) raised it above the heap but when compared to Psycho which was released the same year (1960) it seems almost quaint.

An obvious influence on John Carpenter, Toby Hooper, Wes Craven and all the never-weres who followed trying to scare the pants off audiences sitting there in the dark...voyeurs all.


Friday, March 25, 2011

The Italian Job

England Michael Caine, Noel Coward

Farcical caper film that was so well done it ended up being exciting and enjoyable. The staging of the heist and subsequent chase sequences were as good as anyone has ever done. Love those Minis.

NC got a wonderful star turn as England's premier crime boss who orchestrated the whole thing from prison.

The film was pure fun...great entertainment. And no one got hurt.


Devil Doll

Lionel Barrymore d/Tod Browning

A bit of a creaky relic from 1936 but the scenes when the little people are sneaking through bedrooms at night with murderous intent probably caused many a lingering nightmare in audiences of the time. I never forgot it and watching those scenes again confirmed my memory...they're very creepy and effective.

LB shone here...he played half the film as a woman and showed why he was considered one of the finest actors of his day.


La Grande Bouffe

France Philippe Noiret, Michel Piccoli, Marcello Mastrianni

Four friends-gourmands all-retire to an aging mansion one weekend and proceed to eat themselves to death. This was as painful to watch as Leaving Las Vegas. There wasn't a scene when they weren't stuffing food into their mouths. But that's not all.

They also hired prostitutes, enticed a local schoolteacher to take part so sex was on the menu too. Also flatulence, drink, even an exploding shit storm.

A bitter allegory for the decadence of bourgeois values...the emptiness of hedonism which only leads to to a lonely death. More isn't necessarily more.

A difficult film to watch but I suppose if it had been shorter the point wouldn't have been bludgeoned home quite so forcefully.



Thursday, March 24, 2011

Kabei: Our Mother


Soapy melodrama which follows the misfortunes of the family of a humanist who is arrested in 1940 for treason (read:decency). Lovely production with fine acting by the three leads...a woman and her two daughters, nice locations and camera work throughout. Marred by hammy overacting by several supporting characters...enough to seriously detract from the overall quality of the production.

Film ended with a sobbing scene when the lead character died...a bizarre choice from a hollywood standpoint but consistent with its tone.

Worth it but I wish it had been better.


Monday, March 21, 2011

The Lady and the Duke

France d/Eric Rohmer

Unusual sort of docudrama taken from the diary of a Scottish aristocrat living in Paris during the time of the revolution.

All exterior scenes were done with CGI which gave the film an unreal quality but because the tableaux were so beautiful...the way we wished Paris looked in worked to put us back in a time and place which is unreal to us anyway.

The melodrama centered on the approaching danger the aristos refuse to acknowledge. They continue to believe their traditional privileges will eventually prevail and feel betrayed when the people(les citoyens) see it differently. The love interest between the two principals seemed forced/artificial to me which took away any emotional involvement I might have had.

As it was presented I still with their heads.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Who the Hell is Juliet?

documentary(?) Cuba

Aggressively transgressive film about a wildly exuberant 16 year old girl intertwined with the life story of a faintly lookalike Mexican model. All zoom-pans, talking to the camera, rapid-fire cutting, idiotic stories, attempts at humor, sexual content, scenes of Havana, Mexican pyramids, NYC, etc. It looked like the filmmaker was as immature as Juliet or, perhaps, was trying to capture her spirit with film tricks.

I normally dislike these techniques but this girl was so compelling in her emotional nakedness that I couldn't turn it off. Her mother burned herself to death after father abandoned them to go to the US...this kid was raised by a toothless grandma and was streetwise but vulnerable in the extreme...and so likable I was riveted and hated to see the last of her when the credits began rolling.

The girl reminded me of Angelo in R. Duvall's film...but more so.

An unforgettable character.



France d/ Catherine Breillat

Carefully staged but lifeless treatment of the classic French fairy tale by Charles Perreault. The film was faithful to the source...using fine locations/sets, costumes. The titular character was a strangely amorphous large man who projected nothing to the camera.

I was willing to go along with the film until the final scenes which were outrageously amateurish...did she run out of money? Time? I also didn't see the usefulness of the modern-day little girls as a framing device...the story spoke for itself and cutting sporadically to them merely distracted.

Overall a miss...not terrible but not good enough either.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Whoever says the Truth Shall Die


Well done doc on the life and times of Pier Paulo Pasolini...poet, filmmaker, communist, homosexual.

His was a tumultuous life...along the way he made many enemies. He was murdered in 1975 but by whom? At this point it doesn't really matter. He left behind some first-rate books of poetry and several groundbreaking films.


Blind Spot


Peak everything laid out for all to see. This will only be seen by those who already know these things and are powerless to stop it. We're on a collision course with reality and my hope is that I'm dead before the shit hits the fan. It will be ugly.

Repent...the end is nigh...


Friday, March 18, 2011

Five Wives, Three Secretaries and Me


This was essentially a home movie...done by a rich heiress as a tribute/remembrance for her father. He had been married five times, inherited great wealth and nourished it throughout his life.

He was a strutting little peacock of a man, very full of himself and proud of his prowess with women. A rich Texan, an overt my mind the kind of arrogant ass capitalism has a knack of producing and inflicting on the rest of us. It was quite a while into the film before she revealed this guy's true nature which I thought was smart because if I had picked this up early I'd have turned it off and flung it across the room.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Reel Paradise


Indie film producer buys a theater in Fiji...spends a year there with his family and provides free movies to the natives. Sounds like a dream gig...adventures in paradise.

The problems were many. John Pierson stepped all over the sensibilities of the local forces who undermined him at every step. His stuff was stolen over and over. His staff showed up when they chose to. But the biggest problem for me with this film was his two children...a boy 8 and a girl 16...who were insolent, rude, foul-mouthed brats...which both parents seemed unable to see, understand or deal with.

This couple presented themselves on this film as self-absorbed fools...arrogant jackasses who had no idea why things went so bad. They saw themselves as benevolent secular saints and were baffled and angry when people loathed them. A word folks...humility...try it.

I lasted an hour and a half...testimony to my devotion to this medium.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

And Baby Makes Two


Interesting and provocative film on single women in their late 30's taking on the burdens of parenthood without a partner. All the women featured are thoughtful and articulate, their families' feelings are aired, ditto friends, medical professionals, etc. Different methods are used by the women...artificial insemination, friend donors, adoption...

This is an extremely complex issue which the film handles well. The thing that raises it above an ordinary doc is that they interview these women ten years later...after the intense emotionalism of new motherhood has passed and they have had to deal with their children by themselves for that time. All say they hadn't appreciated how difficult it would be raising a child alone. None in these follow-up interviews voiced the glowing idealization of parenting that has seeped into our culture. None voiced regret but they weren't asked if they would do it again either.

The overall impression is that the women were sad, tired, wiser than they had been earlier in the film. The children seemed fine...the women had clearly been able to cope with their demands/needs. But I got the impression that they saw their "success" as less satisfying than anticipated.

This one will stick with me. The film touched on something profound...about desire, responsibility, social expectations...what it takes to have a satisfying life and even if such a concept is legitimate...or realistic. When I was young "old maid aunts" were common. Now, with economic liberation, women can create their own lives, without men. But solving one problem creates others.

The film takes us on an emotional roller coaster ride...we share their joy and their disillusionment. And at the end, like Alfie I wonder what it's all about.


Monday, March 14, 2011

The Lost World

This was an adaptation of A. Conan Doyle's novel...previously done as one of the great silents in the 20's. I was hoping for a more modern treatment of the story with up-to-date special effects.

Instead what we had here was a juvenile dumbing down with no-budget effects. It was roughly on a level with the Tarzan movies from the 30's. This may have been done with ten year olds in mind. For me it was an embarrassment which made me regret wasting my time.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Videograms of a Revolution


A compilation of raw footage of the events surrounding the overthrow of the Ceaucescu regime in Romania in 1989.

It was sad to watch the enthusiasm of the people caught up in the excitement of that moment knowing that for the vast majority of them very little has improved since them. "Freedom" meant changing one apparachik for another.

Perhaps this is just the nature of things...


Lifting The Veil


Hard-hitting up-to-date piece on the extent of the current rot in the system that runs the country. Lots of good testimony, thoughts and observations and even an attempt at rallying the people but there's no way to fix this without a major convulsion(s) so this film mostly serves to keep us all abreast on the state of our decline into...what???

Of course it won't be seen by those who need to the most...they're watching it goes.

Nice job though.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Valley of the Bees

Czech w/d F. Vlacil

This was something of a disappointment. Medieval story beautifully lit, composed and shot, the plot and its resolution eventually turned on religious idiocy.

I had followed the story about personal enlightenment and freeing oneself from the tight strictures and hypocrisy of the ruling religious class but felt dismay when the protagonist returned to it after a trauma. Did he not see any alternatives? Didn't anyone during that time think for themselves? If not, why should we watch a story about one of them when the end is predetermined?

A waste of good talent.


Friday, March 11, 2011



CGI parody of American-style westerns...especially the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone.

At first this seemed pretty juvenile but once the story kicked in it continually tickled me with references no child would ever understand. The visuals were wonderfully imaginative, characters so silly the sight of them made me chuckle, the scenario simply a twisted version of all those cliches that eventually buried the genre.

This was like an up-to-date Lemonade Joe...done by world-class talent. For me...pure entertainment.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Year of the Pig


Well done doc from 1968 by Emile de Antonio about the post-WW2 history of western involvement in Vietnam. Lots of period footage, interviews and a genuine sense of anger and outrage made this film ring with the injustice of what we did to that tortured land.

To date there has been no accountability for all that. So it goes...


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

All Good Things

Ryan Gosling, Kirsten Dunst

Sad, creepy film, taken from a true story, of a real estate heir who murders his wife and several other people and gets away with it.

Both leads were excellent, as always. The script and direction were well done although there were a couple of tidbits that the writer threw in that couldn't be known unless you were the guilty party.

Overall a solid production but one likely to fade from memory over time.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Tilda Swinton w/d Sally Potter

One of a kind. SP interpreted a gender-bending novel published in 1928 by Virginia Woolf.

Outstanding set and art design, locations and costumes. As ravishing and sumptuous as any film ever made on such a low budget.

TS was very impressive in this, her first performance that made it to a world audience. She radiated intelligence, beauty and a calm knowingness that acted as the glue that held the film together through its wild machinations. The lines she directed to the us complicit in what we, and she, knew was all a bit silly.

This was one of the great idiosyncratic, independent film productions made...a special treat for the film-jaded.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Ip Man


This was the best kung fu film I've ever seen. Within the limits of the genre this was outstanding filmmaking at all levels.

Great central character, scenario, choreography, set design, sound design and amazingly...message. Set during the Japanese occupation which was unspeakably cruel this (real life) man fought to re-instill a sense of pride in Chinese men.

The lead actor's quiet dignity, presence, body control made it work. His lack of flamboyance or flashiness gave the film a gravitas so few of this type have. He came across as a humble man who embodied the ideals of the discipline.

Very satisfying film.


Notting Hill

Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts

This was almost a perfect romantic comedy. The set-up rivaled Roman Holiday in its delightfulness. The two leads were perfect. Grant's friends and family were the kinds of people we all wish we had in our lives. Notting Hill, as presented here, became one of those dream habitats like the village in Local Hero or Amelie's Paris that seemed (and are) too good to be true but we wish they were anyway.

It was obvious from the opening credits how the story would resolve but the script was so well written that it didn't matter. Lots of wit, great pacing to the story. I particularly liked the press conference finale...tickled at the RH reference.

The only minus to me was Rhys Ifans' character...the flatmate from hell. He was badly absurd that he broke through the possible reality barrier. When he came on screen I cringed...nothing he did or said was funny...just wildly asinine...not the same thing.

Still, this was a completely satisfying film. Richard Curtis scored prior to this project with Four Weddings but this surpassed that one and stands a high point for the genre until a better one comes along.


The Blackboard Jungle

Glenn Ford

Pretty dated film from 1955. The theme of new teacher/rough kids has been taken up many times since. At the time this must have been very powerful and even though the slang seems corny the menace of the kids still came across.

Ford was excellent...dedicated, a bit unsure of himself, strong sometimes, other times bewildered by the task in front of him. His one-on-one scenes with Sidney Poitier rang true...well-written and played.

Louis Calhern played a one-dimensional cynic, Anne Francis Ford's wife. Some of this slid into melodrama and because the code was still in effect the resolution was simple-minded and pat. The film has historical value only at this point.


Sunday, March 6, 2011



This was one of those sweet, quiet Baltic films about an oafish (reserved?) man whose wife moves out, he takes to eating Chinese every night, becomes involves with the restauranteur to the point of marrying his sister to get her a green card.

So it became a (very subdued) love story. The language barrier was used for comedic effect. It walked right on the line of believability. Everyone here was likable and pleasant. No fierce conflicts arose. The resolution worked...barely. Overall a pleasant, satisfying film.

The title means "chinaman" in Danish.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Noriko's Dinner Table


This was an extraordinary film...sometimes in a good way, sometimes not. Much too long...nearly three hours...but so rich in ideas that it might have been better if it had been even longer and broken up into watch-able segments.

The themes here were identity, alienation, prostitution, teen suicide, loneliness, role-playing, family dynamics and probably a few more. This film acted as back, side and fore story to the director's previous film Suicide Club. There was gore but it was so stylized and cartoonish it didn't offend me.

This guy - Shion Sono - is someone to watch. He needs discipline and focus and he needs to tone down his actors but his compositions, ideas and perspective are startling, disturbing, perhaps profound.


The Brothers Warner


Interesting but candy-coated history of the four brothers who created one of filmland's major studios. This film was done by one of their granddaughters and was for the most part warm and celebratory although Jack came off very badly. But she gave us no sense of how these uneducated guys were able to create something so successful when so many others failed.

The introduction of sound in 1927 was important to the company but this business like any other is composed of thousands of decisions made under pressure every day and when this was over I had no better sense of how these men thrived.


Friday, March 4, 2011

Indie Sex


Three one-hour docs on how sex has been treated in cinema from the beginning to the present. The first dealt with censorship, the second with teen sex, the third with what it called extreme sex...meaning S&M and other type practices.

Good project. Intelligent interviews and a generous selection of clips. They advocate for the idea of social progress and maturity. I'm not sure about that notion overall but in this limited field they had a pretty good case. The censorship battles of the past look particularly childish from today's perspective.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Lemonade Joe


Spoof of American westerns...done in 1964. Completely over-the-top approach reminded me of last year's animated A Town Called Panic...and made me laugh. This would've been a real hoot if I had seen it in 1964 but there was no way to see something like this back then.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Los Muertos


Very unusual film. We follow a middle-aged man as he is released from prison. He makes his way back home and we go along with him every step of the way. Home is deep in the jungle and as he gets further away from civilization he sheds his clothes and reverts back to a more primitive state. At one point he sees a goat on the shore so he stops, kills it and dresses it...all on camera. No disclaimers here.

The journey he follows is mesmerizing...the sound of birds and insects fills the soundtrack, the outrageously garish greenery fills our eyes. There is almost no dialogue...just the polite, necessary exchanges he has. We don't know what he did, why, where he is going, what awaits him there...really anything.

Most of the takes were long and lingered after the actors had gone. This imparted a timeless quality to the film. Home, when he finally arrives is a primitive plastic tarpaulin in the jungle. Just as he connects with a grandson the film ends abruptly.

I'm not sure what the intent of the filmmaker was here...I enjoyed my immersion in his world while it lasted but don't see a wide audience for work like this.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Gods Must Be Crazy

South Africa

Delightful revisiting of the Mack Sennett-like comedies of the 1920's. Slapstick, pratfalls, speeded-up car scenes (every one!). To this classic mix was added some funny/ironic voiceover giving us an idealized take on Kalahari Bushmen culture.

This film became a worldwide hit when it was released in the 80's and I was pleased to see that it had lost none of its charm.