Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail

Japan w/d A. Kurosawa

Early (1945) work set in medieval era. We follow a deposed shogun as he winds his perilous way to a sanctuary to escape a murderous brother. Typically well-composed. Hammy overacting throughout especially one character who behaves like a demented idiot.

Not up to the later masterworks...historical interest only.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Blow Out

John Travolta d/ Brian De Palma

Solid artifact of the (justifiable) era of paranoid filmmaking that flourished in the aftermath of the assassinations that rocked the world in the 60's. The film was a bit overdone...particularly during the "Liberty Day" grand finale but he did capture the sense of dismayed cynicism that was pervasive then...and that should be now.

Nice supporting role by Nancy Allen who played a likable airhead caught up in machinations beyond her ken.

In this film the bad guys won...just like real life.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Best Years of our Lives

Dana Andrews, Frederic March d/ William Wyler

Academy award winner in 1946 this film documents the bitterness, the disillusionment felt by returning veterans who came back to try and pick up their lives after the trauma of WW2. We follow three guys, one of whom lost both hands, who live in a typical town. The experiences they had overseas, the responsibilities, the magnitude of what they went through were all irrelevant now.

The film must have captured the zeitgeist of that time. Watched today it stings with the unfairness of it all. What was all that heroism, that suffering for?

The film isn't without flaws: cue music throughout grates today, an encounter with a war doubter is extremely clumsy, the sentimentality of the treatment of Harold Russell is overdone.'s unforgettable. I haven't seen it for forty years and several scenes were fresh in my mind. It's an iconic relic of its time and will always be considered a classic of American cinema.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Cuba: An African Odyssey


Well done doc on the efforts made by Cuba to bring various countries on the African continent to a socialist system from the 60's to the 90's. Their approach was mostly haphazard and while they had a temporary success in Angola as soon as the major capitalist powers saw the threat they used the resources they needed to crush them. Twas ever thus...


Hula Girls


1965 Coal mining town in northern Japan is facing economic decline. They decide to use local hot springs to build a Hawaiian-themed resort. So...they need hula girls. They hire a dancer to train local girls...a very controversial plan in this backward area.

A bit like The Full Monty and Billy Eliot. At times quite others hopelessly maudlin. Even though it was predictable and flawed by the usual over-egging I enjoyed watching it for what it was.


Thursday, June 23, 2011



Engaging but off-putting story of a NY photographer who gets drawn in to an on-line romance. As this film went by I had mixed feelings...always felt I was being cleverly manipulated a la Blair Witch. The ostensible theme was the unreliability of on-line personae but so are screen documentaries. There was no way to ultimately judge what was true here...and maybe that was the final message.

Irritating jittery camera work...yet again. I can't wait until this fad passes. It's meant to convey a sense of realism but it just gets on my nerves. In this case it was so overly done that that helped raise my level of skepticism. But it did hold me all the way...I even watched the interviews afterwards.


Thirteen Assassins


Medieval samurai epic done with modern camera techniques/makeup/editing. Very slick. Very violent. Came across as an update on Kurosawa's Seven Samurai.

I admired the skill on display here but this kind of film is comic-book level material. The crude demonization of the evil lord was laughable.

Catnip for teen boys.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Hong Kong w/d Pang Brothers

Failed attempt at a horror film. Elaborate CGI throughout couldn't disguise the lameness of the idea driving the story. An author wrestling with a new novel is forced to travel through a frightening land of her discarded ideas. This theme has been done much better in The Mystery of Rampo.

Lots of imaginative visuals/props, overdone big sound, heroine who hardly speaks...just looks frightened or bewildered. It wasn't a story that pulled me just sort of went by and eventually bored me. Kicker twist at the end but tl-tl.


Monday, June 20, 2011

The Hitch-hiker

Frank Lovejoy, Edmund O'Brien, William Talmadge w/d Ida Lupino

Tight little noir from 1953. Two old friends on a fishing trip pick up a hitch-hiker who turns out to be an escaped killer. The three-day cat and mouse game between them is tense and well-directed. Some facets creak by today's standards but in its day this film went a long way toward discouraging the practice for most people.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Hill

Sean Connery d/ Sidney Lumet

Powerful film set in an British prison camp in Egypt during WW2. From 1964. This was Connery's first film after the initial James Bond smashes and he proves his success there wasn't a fluke. Great script, supporting cast, camera of the forgotten gems of world cinema.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Man Who Could Work Miracles


Oddball curiousity from the pen of H.G. Wells-1937. The gods decide to give one person nearly unlimited power to see what happens. While staying very English, the story takes a predictable course ending as a morality tale.

Good effects for the time. Fun to watch. Lead very much like EG Carroll.


Sundays and Cybele


Great classic from 1962. Wounded former pilot suffering from PTSD connects with abandoned 11 yo girl and each help to support the other. Their relationship, which they keep secret, is misunderstood by the people around them leading to tragic consequences.

This film couldn't be made today with the current extreme fear of paedophilia. Most people would be creeped out. But Pierre is child-like and meets Cybele on equal ground. Their gambols together are therapeutic for both. Both leads excelled, the girl especially. B/W photography perfectly suited the mood. Strong script and supporting players.

One of the treasures that emerged from the New Wave.


Friday, June 17, 2011


w/d Olivier Assayas

Very impressive production. 5 1/2 hours long, deeply engrossing, strong lead actor, location shooting all over Europe and the ME, rapid editing rhythm which work nicely to compress several decades of material...

I would have liked more on the motivations of these revolutionaries...they were disgusted with the status quo for legitimate fact I agree with their revulsion at the domineering system of predatory capitalism...but little of that was presented here.

Still this was an excellent treatment of a complex story and returns this filmmaker to the front ranks of world cinema after several recent stumbles.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Illusionist


Taken from a script by Jacques Tati, French animator Sylvain Chomet creates a magical treatment of the life of an itinerant entertainer. He travels through England and Scotland, eventually settling in Edinburgh. Along the way he acquires a female companion which leads to predictable problems.

A wonderful film...beautiful to look at, sad, moving in tone, great characters...overall a fine evocation of this type of life. This film follows Triplets of Belleville and establishes Chomet as one of the best practitioners of the art of animation operating in the world today.

A treasure.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Jason Statham

Action junk. Great stunt work, lots of explosions, insane violence...all typical of the genre...just more of it.

The more repressive the society, the more constrained the males feel, the bigger the market for this kind of film. This sure doesn't look like Kansas anymore. In fact Kansas doesn't look like Kansas anymore. Fasten seat belts everyone...we're in for a hell of a ride.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Cranes Are Flying


Great classic from 1957. The first post-war film that got world-wide attention from that devastated country. Splendid cinematography, lighting, unforgettable tracking shots, excellent lead performance...operatic in style and impact.

This will be watched as long as film exists.


Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen

Midnight in a great filmmaking career. It's time to put away the lights, camera, etc...maybe write another book, take up water skiing, macrame...really anything.

This film had one idea...a pretty stupid one at that...and milked it for 90 minutes. Not clever, funny or worth it.

Take him away men...


Saturday, June 11, 2011

House of Fools


1995...Russia's border with Chechnya. We see the war from the perspective of the patients of a mental hospital. The obvious message is...where does the madness lie?

It's tricky using mental patients in films...hard to get the right mix between crazy, entertaining and avoid being offensive. There have been many who tried...the most successful was The King of Hearts in 1966...but even there the inmates didn't seem really crazy.

Here there were legitimate actors and what looked like real inmates...a strategy that worked. The story was amusing, harrowing and ultimately worked to make the point. The lead actress was quite impressive as she tread the line with skill.


Thursday, June 9, 2011



1982 Lebanon war. We spend an hour and a half inside an Israeli tank as it mucks about helping to bring death and destruction to mostly civilians. The drama was poor...with too much hysterical over-acting...but the mise-en-scene was very impressive...gave a strong sense of being trapped, mostly blind in this steel, stinking, industrial killing machine.

Not a lot of fun to watch but a legitimate entry into the roster of memorable war films. Should have been called "tank."


Last Night

Don McKellar, Sandra Oh

What would you do if this was the last night on earth? Canada's wunderkind came up with this treatment and to my eye he captured the essence of humanity and the range of responses likely to occur.

Many memorable scenes with one of the finest endings in film history. History ends with a kiss. What a sweet idea.



Rachel Weisz

Very nice historical drama. Set in Alexandria in 400CE this tells the story of Hypatia, scientific thinker/philosopher amid the turmoil surrounding the triumph of Christianity in the middle east. Jews and pagans were contesting for control of the city and as is usual in religious conflict bloodshed and hypocrisy reigned.

The film had a great look...aided by judicious use of CGI...which gave a splendid sense of the city and life at that time. RW played her character beautifully...shading her between towering, inquisitive intellect and submissive female when required.

This is what studios attempted, and failed at, in the 50's with period dramas like The Robe, Ben Hur, etc. It was good to watch one done well.


Monday, June 6, 2011



Important work about the severe pollution caused by fracking for natural gas in various parts of the US. The information presented here should be known by everyone. The practice endangers health for animals, plants and humans.

Unfortunately the film was the poorest example of amateur filmmaking I've ever seen. Constant zooming, jittery camera work, rapid editing made it unwatchable. After 40 minutes I resorted to turning away from the screen and listening to the soundtrack. I swear if I gave a five year old a camera and told him to make a film he'd come back with something better produced than this.

What is wrong with these people? Do they have so little regard for an audience...even a sympathetic one like me...that they can't present their information in a way that isn't continuously jarring? What's wrong with a stable camera? It seemed ironic to me that this guy is trying to stir our empathy for the victims of fracking while showing no empathy for his audience.

Very irritating.


Never Let Me Go

Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightly

Superb adaptation of an exceptional novel. I didn't think it was possible to capture the tone, the delicacy, the sensitivity of Ishiguro's masterpiece but they did it. This is as fine a literary adaptation as any I've ever seen. Great work. Many thanks.


Saturday, June 4, 2011

Meek's Cut-off

Kelly Reichardt Michelle Williams

1845 Oregon it says in the opening frame. We follow three families making their way to the promised land. But first they pass through endless desert, worry and suffer along the way. They have placed their trust, their lives in a lying blowhard and they are lost.

Minimalist plot. The starkest, most realistic example of the Great Western Migration ever put on screen. The trek is hard, dirty and dangerous and these characters show it. No real drama except the base question...will they survive?

Tonal, epic. The film filled me with admiration for the folks who actually did this...heading out on a hope and a prayer...tempting the fates with their lives, seeking out a better life. She captured their determination and grit and made it cinematic. Groundbreaking.



w/d Sophia Coppola Stephen Dorff

This was an intriguing film. More a tone poem which follows the life of a movie star as he staggers along in the fast lane tasting the increasingly stale rewards offered by a materialist society. For a long while this seemed aimless but gradually the point emerged and it was worth it. Very European in style.

SD's character came across as a decent guy caught up in the high life, accepts it all but sees it for the hollow emptiness it really is. His interaction with his daughter (Elle Fanning) rang true and gave the film its resonance.

Powerful film which could only have been made by a major player. Kudos.


Friday, June 3, 2011

The Transcendent Man


Whiz-bang bio of Ray Kurzweil...inventor, futurist/visionary, possible crackpot who seems to be driven by an intense fear of death. While I admire his accomplishments and think he is correct about our eventual future his death fixation came across as pathetic. Like a not-funny Woody Allen.

I do wish the editing pace had been a bit slower...rapid-fire snippets racing by don't lend themselves to reasoned reflection. And this guy's ideas warrant careful thought. But what will the future bring? Assuming predictable projections based on past trends is iffy. The only thing certain is that there will be surprises.

Still there were many provocative ideas presented here. It might be best to read his book.


An Inn in Tokyo

Japan d/ Yasujiro Ozu

An early silent (1935) that follows a young father and his two sons as they roam the industrial countryside looking for work and sustenance. Filmed mostly outdoors this still showed his trademark techniques and other than the enhanced expressions required by the lack of dialogue to convey emotions could have been made at any time in his career.

The film reflected his deep humanism and sympathy for the average person. He was unique in Japanese, and world cinema.


Thursday, June 2, 2011



Silly sort of comedy centering on a disaffected postal worker who re-writes people's letters to fix their lives. Mostly B/W but in each scene there was one colorful effect similar to Pleasantville.

The problem was that the film was too silly to be taken seriously but not silly enough to be funny. So it ended up asinine and irritating.

Not ready for prime time.