Saturday, April 30, 2011


Angelina Jolie

This seems to be the next generation of action hero movies. This features a super-woman who is capable of outrageous stunts while still living in present-day reality. She fights, leaps from tall buildings, truck-to-truck on busy highways, breaks in to the White House, shoots the Russian premier...etc. Scene followed scene topping the last. It was eye-popping and fun but I wonder where they go from here.

This blending of cartoons (Batman, Spiderman) with real life appeals to the teenaged boys who make up much of the commercial audience and now live in their parents' basements well into their 30's. These feats on screen seem to be wish fulfillment for their powerless lives. This kind of extreme rule-breaking appeals to a people who feel themselves severely constrained.

I't's often said that films reflect their culture. If so, we're in trouble.


Friday, April 29, 2011

The Lovers

France Jeanne Moreau d/Louis Malle

Controversial film when went to US Supreme Court when that was an actual judicial body...but remarkably tame today.

For an hour this irked as we followed an over-privileged twit around while she lead her empty, cheating life. Spoiled and dissatisfied she whined and acted like a demanding jerk.

But beginning with the night garden scene the film soared...beautifully lit and shot. The sex scenes were lovely and discreet. This third of the film made me forget the attitudes towards the characters I had forged. The dawn brought reality to them and to me...this affair was doomed...but that lovers-coming-together sequence is what I'll remember.

A landmark film.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

My Life as a Dog

Sweden d/ Lasse Halstrom

A young boy's mother is ill and his shenanigans don't help. He gets sent to live with a relative in a small town filled with eccentrics.

The film is very charming although I had forgotten how much pain is inflicted on this kid from all sides. He identifies with the dog Laika who was sent into space by the Russians with only enough food for a while.

But the townspeople, for all their quirks are endearing and we are left with the sense that his life there will work out after all.


Cairo Time

Patricia Clarkson

Very nice film. Old-fashioned romance that slowly evolves in a believable way. The two leads were appealing and played their duet beautifully. The Cairo setting added color, lots of visual interest and a tinge of suspense.

It takes courage to make a slow, subdued film, filled with meaningful silence. This one worked.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mozart's Sister


Nice period piece about...guess who? She had musical talent but her father, indeed the times would not allow a woman to pursue an independent career as a composer so she curbed her own needs, served those of her precocious brother and now has become a footnote.

Interesting look at the lives of the French aristocracy during the late 18th century. Also, a believable portrait of the child genius and his family life. Dad needed glory at any price...all other needs be damned. The film cleansed the palette after the execrable Amadeus.



Germany Peter Lorre d/ Fritz Lang

Voted the greatest film Germany has ever produced. From 1931. A child-killer is on the loose in Berlin and the entire population mobilizes to stop him.

Intricate interweaving of the official and decidedly unofficial efforts to catch the madman. Fine use of light and shadow to create atmosphere. Nice use of music and ambient sound. Stunning performance by PL in the final trial scene pulled the whole film together and gave it deep resonance and meaning.

One of the classics of world cinema. Unforgettable.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

La Rafle

France Jean Reno

Powerful fictional account of the seizure, evacuation and eventual murder of thousands of Parisian Jews in 1942. Their first stop was the Velodrome which was beautifully wrought here.

The film was designed to tug at your heartstrings and it did. Even the French collaborateurs were given several dimensions. A quality production by any measure.

Aspects of this story have been told many times but this one miraculously made it seem fresh. Kudos.



John Wayne d/John Ford

Very creaky artifact from 1939. A disparate group of cliches ride through Monument Valley hoping to escape from the last hellhole and find salvation in the next...meanwhile dodging bloodthirsty savages en route.

Ford's trademark simple-mindedness sinks this film for a modern audience. The chase across the dried lake bed still worked but too many horses were forced to take nasty spills. Apparently retarded indians kept approaching blazing guns and most died. The blustering banker got his comeuppance, Wayne got to kill the bad guys and rode off into the sunset with the pretty girl. All is right with the world.

Historical interest only.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Blazing Saddles

Mel Brooks

His 1973 mockery of Western cliches. Some funny bits here and there but much sophomoric filler too. Best was probably Madeleine Kahn's spot-on impersonation of Marlene Dietreich.

This guy is second or even third tier jewish humor...far behind Woody Allen, Robert Klein, Buddy Hackett and many others. Somewhere around Jerry Lewis.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

I Live in Fear (1955)

Japan Toshiro Mifune w/d A. Kurosawa

An autocratic paterfamilias fears the Bomb so badly he wants to re-locate his extended family to Brazil. They think he's mad and fight his plans in family court.

This film dealt directly with the psychological and emotional effects of Hiroshima on the Japanese population. Who is crazy...the person who fears the Bomb or the society that produces it?

This featured K's usual stable of players...less camera trickery than his other films...and more over-acting in several scenes. In particular TM chewed the scenery a bit too much for my taste. But K deserves credit for dealing so openly with a topic that must have been radioactive (sorry) in Japanese society at that time.


Leon Morin, Priest

France JP Belmondo d/ JP Melville

Very interesting film. Mostly a two-hander tracing the evolution of the relationship between a widow and a young priest. Set during WW2 the war and the resistance burble along in the background but have only peripheral effect on the drama.

She starts as a communist/atheist and gradually moves toward his beliefs...perhaps for emotional/sexual reasons...the transformation is so subtly done it's never clear. The dialogue during this first phase was sharp...beautifully written, staged, played. As the story slid into one of unrequited love it became less compelling. Still, this was a first-rate production and stands as one of the finest of his 13 films.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Night of the Demon

Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins d/Jacques Tourneur

British witch movie from 1957. Nicely atmospheric and creepy...strong use of shadows and sound effects. Solid cast. The producers forced him to include demon images, which he resisted...instead preferring his usual suggestion. He was right. Without the f/x the film would have been more powerful. Nothing frightens more than the imagination...

Still, this was an intelligent and well-crafted film that has held its appeal.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Giant Claw

Jeff Morrow

This was another blast from my past. From 1957. A very large bird, made of anti-matter (seemed plausible to me...I was 12) flies all over the world wreaking havoc. But the good guys come up with a weapon and destroy it in the nick of time.

Whew! I was worried there for a minute.

This was as cheesy as they get. Papier mache monster, ludicrous dialogue. The players' readings were much better than the material deserved and saved the film from the trash heap.



Rock Hudson d/John Frankenheimer

The last entry in his paranoia trilogy...from 1966. What if you could live your life over again?

Taken from a 1963 novel by David Ely, this follows the fate of a middle-aged businessman who leaves his old life behind, becomes Rock Hudson and finds that happiness/contentment comes from within.

Brilliantly put together. JF worked closely with James Wong Howe to create an unsettling experience...many fish eye shots, odd angles, pov. The film was a failure upon release but has since gained a devoted fan base and is now seen as one of the great innovative films that heralded Hollywood's second golden age.

Intelligent, disturbing, piercing social commentary.


Monday, April 18, 2011

The Town

w/d Ben Affleck

The town is Charlestown, Boston's tight enclave of lower class resentment, ignorance, violence and crime. Townies have been much-featured in film lately...before this film the best was probably Monument Ave...and I wonder if it's because it's the same scenario as The Wire but with white people.

Affleck grew up in Boston so at least he gets the accents right. Here, adapting a novel, he has created a crime film that's as slick, fast-paced and engrossing as any I've seen. He even manages to create a semi-sympathetic character who learns he is trapped in his home town web and won't be allowed to escape. These guys even try to rob Fenway Park...described in the film as the cathedral of Boston.

I have to admire the skill on display here...even if it serves an over-familiar story.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Another Year

England Jim Broadbent w/d Mike Leigh

Another good one from the best purveyor of kitchen-sink realism out there. He's been making focused, intelligent tributes to ordinary people for forty years now and hasn't lost his touch.

His characters are as flawed, interesting, lovable, needy, as real as the people who live on your block. Because they're so unaffected we slip easily into their lives and before two hours has passed we find that we care about them, their fate matters to us, their failures and sorrows make us hurt. The steadiness of the principle couple here reassures us as much as it does the other characters in the film.

The film wasn't just felt right.


The Legend of 1900

Tim Roth d/G. Tornatore

This high-budget film had an idiotic premise which the director chose to present as mild farce. It didn't work. It wasn't funny, or amusing or cutesy pie or really anything but stupid.

Too bad. This guy gave us Cinema Paradiso, one of the great love songs to the wonderful world of movies and now it looks like he was a one-shot wonder. Not a crime but he should have stopped and left us hungering for another instead of pumping out rubbish like he has for twenty years.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Le Doulos

France w/d Jean-Pierre Melville

Typically bleak, noirish treatment of the criminal underclass where everyone is a cynic, doublecrosser, smoker, drinker...where the women function only as sex toys and where the only exit is a bullet in the back. Black and white nihilism brought into the half-light for us to peer at in fascination and revulsion.

By this point in his career (1962) he had the formula down pat. Jim Thompson/Ed McBain brought to the mean streets of Paris. These films had a compelling draw to film buffs back then and still work quite well because of the excellence of his craft. And who knows...the way things are going, maybe nihilism will have its own renaissance.


Friday, April 15, 2011

The Changeling

George C Scott

Pretty good ghost story from the late 70's. Creepy sounds were used effectively to chill your bones like in The Haunting. Half way through the tone shifted to a sort of morality play...righting old wrongs...affirming the inevitability of justice...hollywood reality stuff. This hurt but not as much as GS in the lead...his barrel-chested stiffness and formality seemed all wrong for the role. Cast as a great composer...I didn't think so.

I had fond memories of the chills this film provided but had forgotten its flaws.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Melina Mercouri, Anthony Perkins w/d Jules Dassin

Modern-day (1962) adaptation of the Greek myth. Towering tragedy brilliantly realized by Dassin. Wonderful compositions, luminous b/w lighting, the great face of MM...seemingly built to play tragic parts. Traditional music, stunning locations, camera movement...

There was a stateliness to the pacing...everyone knew where this story was going...that felt just right. The consummation scene between Phaedra and her stepson should serve as a model to contemporary filmmakers.

Perkins was the only weak link...not in all his scenes but one that took place at a party on a yacht clunked. He was too vague, especially compared with his co-star who radiated angst.

Still, this stands as one of the great adaptations of classical tragedy. Love and death intertwined.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Beast from 20.000 Fathoms

Sentimental favorite from my childhood (1953), this featured the stop-motion of Hollywood's great animator Ray Harryhausen. It was his first feature film and set a standard that wasn't surpassed until the advent of computer animation decades later.

The story was based on the notion that atomic testing unleashed critters, forces, that had lain dormant for millennia and we were now paying the price for our arrogance. It was an idea used many times during that era and isn't all that foolish...


Monday, April 11, 2011

The Owl and the Sparrow


Ten yo girl leaves her abusive uncle's factory, heads to Saigon where she tries to make it on the mean streets on her own. This film rises or falls with the lead it worked beautifully. How do they find/direct these remarkable children?

She acts as a go-between for an animal keeper and flight attendant...all three, in the course of a busy week, come together to find love, togetherness and security. Fairy tale-ish but so what? I was thoroughly charmed.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cedar Rapids

John C Reilly, Ann Heche

Silly comedy about a naive insurance salesman who goes to the big city of Cedar Rapids to compete for an industry award.

Even though I knew it was stupid as it was going by I still was amused and didn't mind as these likable performers went through the motions of their characters without losing their dignity too badly by the end. A surprise supporting role by Sigourney Weaver was perfect. AH was hugely appealing too.


Soul Kitchen


Lowbrow German humor.

Slick and well done but really...German Humor???


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Saint Misbehavin


The life and times of the poet/jester/ clown Wavy Gravy. He began in the beat clubs in NYC in the 50's, rode Kesey's Magic Bus, was a mover at Woodstock, formed a commune and a camp for poor children designed to teach them circus skills, spirituality and the oneness of all life.

His was an extraordinary life...this film is a nice memorial to a man who never gave up the dream so many shared that we could make the world a better place.


Friday, April 8, 2011

Fish Tank

England d/ Andrea Arnold

This was my second time with this film and, if anything, it was even more powerful. Rich, incisive look at the life of a 15 yo girl, living in a council flat with a sister and an unloving mother who is desperate for love/affection and finds it in a place that is not OK.

Astonishing lead performance, hand-held camera work that actually served the story well...agonizing tension throughout as the director plays with our fears for this out-of-control girl.

This was as fine a first film as I've ever seen.


How to Draw a Bunny


Routine piece on an original, avant-garde artist who did some pretty neat stuff in the last half of the 20th century. He had a playful, original attitude...was wildly prolific...much of the work that was shown here tickled me. I loved the idea of him distributing his work through the mail and encouraging people to add to it and forward it on.

Later in his career he moved toward "performance" art which, as always, seemed snide and self-indulgent to me. But it was somewhat amusing watching him bash a cardboard box in front of some art patrons. For ten seconds or so.

Interesting guy...solid doc.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Last Bolshevik

France Chris Marker

Stylized doc on the Russian filmmaker Alexandr Medvedkin, who produced an innovative work - Happiness - in the 20's and then seems to have succumbed to the pressures of the state "security" apparatus and generated pro-communist propaganda for the rest of his life.

That one film was a revelation to the French where he is considered one of the great pioneers of cinema in the same league as Eisenstein and Vertov. He is virtually unknown in the US.

Marker's voiceover was more grounded in this film than in his others and actually helped me understand the subject...instead of spiraling into metaphysics and scrambling my brain.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Adrian Brody

Slick, violent, up-to-date variant of The Most Dangerous Game...with aliens. We start with eight folks transported to an alien game preserve (they're the game) and get to watch which ones will survive.

Escapist entertainment for teenaged boys...and anyone else in that mindset.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Robert Duvall, Olga Bellin

Adapted by Horton Foote from a story by William Faulkner, this was a simple, very moving film about the unsuspected depths of love present in an unlettered cotton farmer. The project was put together by the two leads and Foote as a labor of love and is the finest treatment of a Faulkner ever done. It is also one of the best performances ever by Duvall...who affects a voice and body language he never used again.

From 1972 this is one of cinema's forgotten gems...a great film with a timeless message that deserves a much larger audience.


Monday, April 4, 2011

The Tree

Australia Charlotte Gainsbourg

Family melodrama. Dad dies at the beginning leaving mom with four kids. Eight yo daughter is convinced dad's spirit lives in the huge tree on their property. The film centers on their collective coping and moving on.

This theme has been done many times (Men Don't Leave). The only thing exceptional about this one is the beautiful Aussie locations. Nice role for and performance by CG.


The Sicilian Girl


The true-life story of a willful girl who, after watching her father and brother murdered by the mafia, turns states evidence and fights back against the deeply entrenched system.

Strong film. Helped by casting an actress who actually looks like the real-life girl even though she was ordinary looking. Structured as a thriller and, since I didn't know how it resolved, it worked as one. Solid in all respects.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Hour of the Wolf

Sweden I bergman, Max von Sydow, Liv Ullman

This played like a self-parody...suffering, torment, angst, horrible memories, mean hateful richies, all leading to humiliation and death.

It was so grim it made me laugh.


Queen To Play

France Sandrine Bonnaire, Kevin Kline

A hotel maid living and working on a resort island watches a vacationing couple playing chess on the patio and becomes obsessed with the game. It becomes her way to escape the grinding humdrum of her existence. Through pluck and practice she increases her skill, risking gossip and family pressure, and eventually plays in a local tournament.

Sweet little story well told. Nice mise-en-scene and supporting cast.


Source Code

Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga

Techno whiz-bang flick that gave new meaning to the notion of plot contrivance. This sought to slip into the same niche as last year's Inception but the premise was too weak to be sci-fi or just seemed dumb. The Groundhog Day scenario was fun at first but when it wore off the underlying human drama was me at least.

This genre, which relies on CGI and BIG SOUND stopped satisfying years ago. This one also irritated by using the "terrorist" theme and ticking bomb meme.

A waste of time, money and attention.


Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Elephant in the Living Room


Straightforward piece on the burgeoning phenomenon of Americans keeping "exotic" pets...lions, poisonous snakes, bears, etc. The film attributes this to so-called reality TV but it also seems to stem from the culture of extreme individualism into which we have devolved plus a misguided desire to seem cool. These folks don't care about the effect these animals have on their community...they are only interested in their own desires and passionately resent any imposed limitations.

We are presented with various escapes which injure and/or traumatize if the story needed such.

Mostly we follow an animal control officer in Ohio who has to deal with these problems when they arise and his lengthy interactions with some trailer trash who keep two full-grown lions in a horse trailer. These people, ignorant and repulsive, are treated somewhat sympathetically which makes the film a very effective work of agitprop.