Monday, May 30, 2011

Blue Valentine

Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams

Painful examination of the deterioration of a marriage. When they met she was vulnerable, he seemed caring and fun but as time went by their core characters emerged and the stark reality of their life together became unbearable. Bleak, hard-to-watch film had an air of truth. The scenes switched between present-day and early-on with increasing frequency as the film progressed which intensified the sadness we feel.

This was a tour de force of acting...both players were excellent and seemed to completely inhabit their roles. All of us know couples like this and can only shake our heads watching their train-wreck lives unfold.

Unpleasant but worth it.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Of Gods and Men


In 1996 seven French trappist monks were killed by radical muslims in Algeria. In this film we follow their lives, doing their catholic thing, providing medical care to the community, growing crops, honey, etc. They are then presented with the threat and the focus shifts to their coping with fear...each in his own way.

The characters were well drawn and sympathetic. Strong sense of place. They were strangers in a strange land...leftover colonial hangers-on...loved by some, hated by others. They could have left...but to what?

I was thoroughly engaged but the film went on too long. By the end of the second hour I had become restless, fidgeting in my seat and had stopped caring about these men. Too bad. At 90 minutes it would have been a masterpiece.


The Stoning of Saroya M.


Extremely powerful, well-made film about the plight of an "inconvenient" wife when her husband wants to dump her and marry a 14 year old. Taken from a true story which took place in modern-day Iran and reported by a French journalist.

Every aspect of the film was world class: cine, editing, casting... This serves as a useful cautionary tale of the peril to a society when half the population is disenfranchised. Also the barbarity of this woman's execution...with her buried to her chest in sand while family and villagers throw stones at her head...made me question the concept of "civilization."

It was an ordeal getting through this film but it's unlikely I'll ever forget it. This should be shown in high schools the world over to force young people to think about who they are and how to, and not to, find justice.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Quatermass and the Pit

England Andrew Keir

Nifty sci-fi film from 1967. Workers extending a subway line encounter an alien spaceship which had been buried for 5 million years.

Intelligent script with some nice ideas, good cast, cartoon bad guys representing authority (they never see the truth until it's too late), lickety split pacing which escalates in excitement level as it races along.

BEM (bug-eyed monster) flick made by and for adults. Watta concept.


Friday, May 27, 2011


d/Francis Coppola Vincent Gallo

I wish I could have liked this more. I wish I had loved it. Technically top-notch...great mix of B/W and color...editing was spot work perfect for each scene. This guy showed us forty years ago that he could make outstanding films.

The theme here...a generational father/son conflict...was fine but the entire enterprise was overblown. Too operatic without the intense emotional connection. Part of the problem was Vincent Gallo, a former model who just doesn't project enough to the audience. I found him, as usual, annoying rather than sympathetic. The rest of the supporting cast was very good but the center didn't hold.

It also became clear that the over-cooked excess of Godfather 3 and One From the Heart wasn't an aberration. The climax here in Patagonia made me groan out loud.

Too bad. Coppola's got the chops...he needs to find a story and a lead actor with whom an audience can connect.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Sea is Watching


Here we follow the travails of a geisha house, the four women who work there and the men who come into and pass out of their lives. Exceptional lighting, use of color and cinematography. Well-developed characters, one of whom falls in love with hard-luck men she services. She had a wide-eyed innocence and credulity that seemed unrealistic for a prostitute but her character and all the others who lived and worked there were likable and sympathetic. Even the madam and her swain.

Somewhat melodramatic toward the end although the staging of the catastrophic flood was very impressive. Nice use of the sea as backdrop, metaphor and cleansing agent.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Hidden Blade


Set at the beginning of Japan's modern era (1860) this story deals with the travails of a samurai who is caught up in the machinations of his klan and is forced into a duel with his old friend. Meanwhile he loves his family's servant girl but caste strictures forbid this match.

The film successfully humanized the medieval warrior class and showed that corrupt officials thrive everywhere there is a disparity of power. One minor flaw was the clumsy slapstick used when the retainers were learning western methods of war. But once they got it the foundation for Japan's crazed 20th century militarism was firmly in place.

The film worked as sociology and as a personal story.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Company of Wolves

England w/d Neil Jordan

This is the film that put him on the international map. I saw it 25 years ago and thought it was great...this time I thought it was better than great. Brilliant visually, thematically, musically...every aspect of this production sparkled with vision and intelligence. The cast was splendid...especially Sarah Patterson and Angela Lansbury.

Wonderfully imaginative treatment of an ancient folk tale...this is what the movies can do best.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Some Days Are Better Than Others


Pretty lame title for a film that only says a little bit and does so quietly. We follow three loosely connected young people living in Portland, Oregon who live at the bottom of the economic ladder. They do their jobs, frab around with relationships...just lurch their way through life with no sense of purpose or direction.

Two of the characters were well drawn and I was curious where the story was going but it ended not going much of anywhere. The film wasn't bad but it wasn't good either. It was just kind of these people.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston w/d John Huston

This classic from 1948 holds up well. Bogie plays a mean little shit...a guy whose love for gold overrides his better nature. Fine pacing, use of locations, casting...the whole thing works much better than almost all the films from that period.


I Am


Former Hollywood director of schlock comedies has a bike accident, sees the emptiness and futility of the consumerist lifestyle and looks for a better way.

Some of the recent science of neurobiology presented here was fascinating and the overall message was spot on but I came to these realizations thirty years ago...I just didn't have the money/connections to make a high-budget film about it.

If this film causes people to change their lives for the better it wasn't a waste of time and resources. My suspicion though is that he will be preaching to the choir.


Thursday, May 19, 2011


Japan w/d Takeshi Kitano

This may be his best film...faint praise since his others, while being inexplicably popular in Japan, are juvenile and asinine.

This tells three stories, loosely interlocked, in a very slow, measured manner. The premise for each doesn't work and illustrates the lack of human understanding shown in all his films. But, along the way he creates some stunning images which, coupled with the pacing acted to pull me in and even to win me over. Or at least to ponder the meaning of what he was attempting to say.

So I'm not sorry I watched it...and that's a first for this guy.


Tamara Drewe

England Stephen Frears

Taken from a graphic novel which in turn was a rough adaptation of Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd. Impossibly lovely depiction of the English countryside...a perfect little village. Unsettlingly mean-spirited humor throughout.

The titular character, returning to her native village, has had a nose job and is now transformed into a beautiful, sophisticated reporter who can't seem to keep her knickers on. Although there's a love interest set up right at the start, this thread is ignored while she gets involved in two stupid affairs...thus losing our sympathy/allegiance and leading me to question her sanity.

There's cheating, deception by a pair of slutty, foul-mouthed teenage girls and general hatefulness by most parties presented. And an extremely obnoxious dog, who, miraculously for an English film, ends up getting shot.

I guess this was meant to be modern, knowing and clever. It wasn't.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Rabbit Hole

Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart

A couple's son is killed in an accident and this film deals with their trying to re-assemble their lives 8 months later.

The subject matter was pretty grim but the script gave both of these fine actors a variety of scenes that gave them a chance to display the range of their talent and create three dimensional characters...both sympathetic and believable. The resolution was always in doubt...a tribute to all parties.

Solid domestic drama.


Twenty Four Eyes

Japan Hideko Takamine

Great post war film from 1954 traced the effects of the Depression and WW2 on the folks who stayed home. The story is that of a young teacher and her students and the changes that a tumultuous historical time brought to their lives. Most were bad. Suffering ruled in this film, which used Western music, epic filming techniques, wonderful casting and Japan's most beloved actress to convey...even to a modern viewer...the sad, tragic struggle of the common man.

Unique in cinema history. Unforgettable.


Monday, May 16, 2011


France d/ Alan Renais

From 1963. This was one of the most successful avant garde films done in an era when experimentation was in the air. He had previously jolted the world of cinema with Hiroshima Mon Amour and Marienbad. This film deals with's fractured nature, it's persistence in driving current and future events and the inability of people to break free of its constraints.

This was quite engaging as an intellectual exercise...less so as pure cinema. He made little effort to make us care about his characters...they were illustrations, avatars, for his ideas. The human interactions weren't true-to-life. People switched moods in an instant, several times in one conversation, got up abruptly and left a dinner party. The editing scheme was memory itself.

He is still working, at an advanced age, and is still tweaking our minds if not our hearts in his fascinating dissection of the human animal.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Mondays in the Sun

Spain Javier Bardem

A group of shipyard workers get laid off when the yard closes. We follow their lives two years later. They are broken, left behind and spend their days, and nights, drinking at a bar one of them has opened with his severance.

Slow-paced, suffused with ennui and despair...this isn't a feel-good winner. But it is a sympathetic portrayal of the detritus tossed overboard by global capitalism.

Worth it for the social sensibility.


Nang Nak


Film based on a traditional Thai legend. A husband and wife are separated by war. When he returns to resume their life together things are a bit strange. A friend tells him that his wife died in childbirth while he was away. Odd signs and symbols begin to appear.

Sumptuously shot along a jungle canal. Supernatural scenes used rapid editing and other-worldly music. Imaginative cine made up for the crude acting technique. This became worth it as anthro more than world-class cinema. Still, it held me all the way.


Mouth to Mouth

Ellen Page

Hard-to-watch film about a troubled young girl who gets caught up in a street people cult. As in all these cases the approach is first to "love bomb" the recruits...the control and megalomania of the leader emerges gradually once they are cut off from normal life.

This theme has been done many times (Ticket to Heaven) but the cast and script here were solid enough to pull it off. Great soundtrack. Stupid final sequence.


Do You Remember Dolly Bell?

Yugoslavia w/d Emir Kusterica

His first film. A bit awkward and primitive but it did work on some levels as a coming-of-age piece in a constrictive communist regime. Helped by the lead actor who managed to be sympathetic and endearing in spite of the poor production values. His naive courtship of the titular stripper/prostitute was charming.

Many of the secondary characters were played by either non-actors or pros so untalented that it didn't matter. It rained a lot...which seemed a comedic attempt to emulate Bela Tarr.

Curiosity value only.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Monsieur Vincent


Biopic of the man now known as Saint Vincent de Paul who lived in the early 1600's and spent his life tending to the poor. In feudal France there were plenty of these to be found.

Beautifully photographed in luscious B/W, excellent sets/locations, well acted by the lead... As the film went on I became tired of the delicate saintliness and reverence which suffused it. He may have been this angelic but even if he was (unlikely) it didn't work for a modern-day sensibility like mine.

A great film as a realistic bio...not so much.


Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Rocketeer

Jennifer Connolly

Light-hearted evocation of late 30's time and attitudes, when the sky was beckoning to right-thinking young men and the music was smooth and danceable, the architecture curved and the girls painted, high-shouldered and virtuous.

The premise was preposterous but all was tongue-in-cheek. This tickled me twenty years ago and it still does. Great fun.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Spirit of the Beehive

Spain Ana Torrent d/ Victor Erice

One of the finest films about childhood ever made. From 1973. Ana and her sister Isobel see Frankenstein and she becomes obsessed with the monster after Isobel tells her he's real and lives in their area. We watch as she tries to figure out what's real from fantasy, good from evil...all while her family seems to be fractured and broken.

AT has large, dark eyes and seems to take in everything with a knowing air. She is trusting, ingenuous, kindly...unprepared for a world which is none of those things.

Beautiful landscapes, cinematography, writing, pacing. One of the treasures of world cinema.


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Win Win

Paul Giamatti w/d Thomas McCarthy

Another win for this writer/director. Both his previous films...The Station Agent and The Visitor...were small, focused indies that avoided cliches, had sympathetic, realistic characters and touched discerning audiences in a way that felt real, uncontrived.

This one does all that with perhaps a bit more obvious contrivance. Still, by the end we feel we know these people, forgive their faults like we do the real people in our lives and care about their welfare. There are ups, downs, laughs, conflicts, some sadness...pretty much the stuff of life.

Good stuff.


Million Dollar Hotel

Wim Wenders

Truly awful film. All takes place in an SRO for down-and-outers who act like aggravating, demented 12 year olds. What the hell was he thinking with this project? There were some talented people involved did he get them to participate in such obvious nonsense? Did somebody think this was profound or had some significance?

This is the price I pay for watching so many movies...I occasionally stumble on a real turkey.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Oyster Farmer


Average drama about a young man who takes a job in a remote area working in a small, tight community of misfits farming and harvesting oysters. The work looked unpleasant...physically difficult and dirty...the people were the usual mixed lot with the usual problems...and the lead was an ambivalent character.

The film gave us a strong sense of the place...some lovely ariel shots...but not somewhere I'd ever care to visit. Included a romance...sort of.

Undistinguished and ultimately forgettable.


Friday, May 6, 2011

City Island

Andy Garcia

Ethnic/class humor. Clever, convoluted script, strong performances, some belly laughs and a sense of genuine affection for a group more often treated as buffoons.

AG shone...his best role in years. Nicely supported by Emily Mortimer and Julianna Margulies. This even included a young character fixated on fat women...and this thread was only partially played for laughs.

Good solid comedy.


Perhaps Love


This was a real treat...a lavish, high-budget, old-fashioned romance done as a musical with great music, direction, dance, non-stop brio. It was truly an astonishing display of cinematic imagination.

The story was over-egged and trite but with a film like what? The only complaint I had was that the editing pulse was too fast. Most cuts were a second or so long...too short to fully enjoy the incredible set designs.

This film shames recent attempts at reviving the musical form by American studios.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Trench

England Daniel Craig

Standard treatment of the days leading up to the battle of the Somme...July 1, 1916...the day 60,000 British soldiers took one for the team.

All the usual types were included...the weasel, the coward, the closet drunk, the queen...and an assortment of good men doomed to fail marching into machine guns. This was billed as the war to end all wars. Good thing it worked. Days like that one were right nasty.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Bride of Frankenstein

James Whale

All he wanted was a friend.

She looked...she saw...she screamed.

Back to the drawing board.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Small Change

France d/ Francois Truffaut

Episodic tribute to the young people living in a small town in France. Their lives are inter-related but the film has no narrative arc. We watch events that are typical for children anywhere in the western world. Some good stuff, some painful to watch, some naughtiness, a couple of crimes, one abused child, one kiss.

The film displays a deep and sensitive understanding of what it's like to be young. It is polished and well-directed...a fine effort.




Picaresque yarn about two oddball Spanish, the other Russian/Italian...who meet cute and spend three weeks together wandering aimlessly around Brittany. They are both fixated on love...finding it or keeping it...and go through several semi-comic misadventures in their mutual search. Neither guy is very likable or attractive or even behaves very nicely toward the women they therein lies the story.

For a while this was fun...unpredictable and loopy. Some of the things they did were cruel and insensitive but they mostly seemed like a couple of life's losers doing the best they could while rooting around at the bottom of the food chain. The film was too long (2 1/4 hours) but I held on all the way to the extremely unlikely happy (?) ending.

Overall a pleasant diversion.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

White Material

France Isabelle Huppert d/ Claire Denis

Very different take on the French African colonial experience than her Chocolat. Here we follow a middle-aged white woman who struggles to hold on to her coffee plantation in the midst of insurrection. She denies the obvious threats which flare around in the apparent belief that she, they(whites) will prevail as they always have.

Intense drama of people caught in a place where they don't belong in a time of great peril. Edited a bit out of time to add to the uncertainty we and they feel about what is happening. Strong performance by IH who uses her trademark blankness to suggest roiling undercurrents.

Ms Denis shows once again her incredible versatility and deep understanding of human nature.