Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Sacrifice

Andrei Tarkovsky

For an hour or so he had me with him...slow camera movement around an ocean-front home, learning the relationships of the various characters. It reminded me of Woody Allen's October, with its privileged characters and end-of-the-season air of melancholy.

But then he went off the rails with some inexplicable overacted angst and the film degenerated into the kind of morose, indeterminate suffering that gives European "art" films a bad name. There were hints of war...possibly nuclear. All very distant, intellectual and existential. We never do learn who these people are, what they do, where they come from...why we should care for their fate.

The final sacrifice...the burning of the house...was unforgettable but by that point I was so fed up with this stupid movie I couldn't wait for it to end. Why this guy's films get such high praise is a mystery to me. They're about as insightful, and fun, as reading Being and Nothingness. Like having metaphorical slivers of wood being shoved under one's fingernails.

An ordeal.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Sansho the Bailiff

Japan d/ K. Mizoguchi

Classic from 1954. A lord loses favor because of a kind decision, he is exiled, on their way to join him his wife and two children are captured by slavers...and then their troubles begin.

Beautifully composed, lit. Overacted like almost all of these classic films. The story is wildly overwrought by today's standards but the role of victim/sufferer resonated with a Japanese audience in 1954.

A title at the beginning says this is an ancient legend set in the time before the Japanese had become "human." I think they meant humane although the cruelty shown here bordered on the inhuman. Very sad story.


Thursday, July 28, 2011


Farley Granger d/ Luchino Visconti

One of cinema's classics (1953) which in some ways has dated badly.

Great looking film...sets, locations, costumes, lighting...can't compensate for the story of an aristocratic Italian woman in the 1850's, during Italy's tumultuous transition to a unified state, who falls in love with a callow young officer in the occupying Austrian army. Their behavior is so overwrought...she crazy/blind in love, he sly/calculating...the film reminded me of the melodramas done in the 20's silents.

Granger's lines were all dubbed in Italian which didn't help. Visconti dealt with this time period to much greater effect ten years later with The Leopard.


Monday, July 25, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

Matt Damon, Emily Blunt

Another successful adaptation of a story by Philip Dick. Here we posit "angels" whose job it is to keep mankind from going off the rails and annihilating the world. Set against a love story which isn't in the plan but whose participants insist on continuing.

Good fantasy helped by lots of chase scenes, unexpected twists and an appealing cast. Solid entertainment from start to finish.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

This Charming Girl


Nice film. We follow a pretty young woman who goes through life's at a post office, takes in a stray cat, has lunch with co-workers...but seems detached, uninvolved, isolated even though she lives in a crowded urban environment.

It turns out she has a secret and this film reveals it in as understated manner as possible. Very sympathetic character. The actress conveys much with silence...her large, sorrowful eyes hide depths of feeling that only warily surface.

Intelligent, moving filmmaking. Korean film is now a legitimate player in world cinema.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Tree of Life

Terrence Malick

For about 40 minutes I watched cinematic poetry unfold before my eyes. Stunning imagery, music, thoughts, exquisite editing rhythm...this was as good as cinema gets.

Then he slowed the pace down and got bogged down in the story of the family going through their trials in Waco Texas in the 50's...almost certainly autobiographical. Nothing here all served as a superb evocation of that time and place...but the momentum was lost...never regained.

He tried to pick it up again toward the end but it didn't work. Neither did the whole sequence with Sean Penn as one of the children all grown.

So it didn't completely work. Too bad. Re-edited he could assemble a 90 minute film that would be among the very best ever made. But a fine effort as is.


Selling God


This started as a screed against modern-day evangelical salesmanship but evolved into a general indictment of organized religion. Nothing particularly new in here but it is important that the truth behind the false piety of these people be brought out from time to time. These slime (Haggard, Falwell, et al) would gain a lot more credibility if they eschewed all wealth and material accumulation and spent their days ministering to the needs of folks at the bottom of the food chain. Not bloody likely.


Friday, July 22, 2011


South Africa

A young mother whose husband works in the mines near J-burg comes down with a cough which turns out to be life-changing.

A lovely evocation of the tension between town and country, modernity vs. tradition in present day SA. Excellent use of landscape. Quiet in tone...powerful in impact. Beautifully shot and acted. A treasure which deserves a larger audience.


Thursday, July 21, 2011


Zach Snyder

Another film based on a graphic novel with spectacular images, extreme violence, lop-sided political theorizing, poor line readings...what has now become typical fare. This one threw in several sex scenes to add to the spice. To my eye these come across as the wet dreams of computer hackers/nerds and their popularity is worrisome.

I suppose as long as there has been mass media...100 years or so...there's been some pandering to the lowest common denominator. During the newspaper era it was comics. Radio had crime drama. etc... But this stuff is borderline sick. If this material fulfills the wishes of millions of viewers we're further along the road to degradation than I realized.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Woman is the Future of Man


Oddball film. Two former college friends reunite and decide to visit a woman they were both involved with once upon a time. Both men are arrogant jerks. In fact every male in this film is a jerk. The women are patient, subservient, sexually available, wise and treat these overgrown children with a respect and deference I found bewildering.

Pointless story line which meandered and eventually went nowhere in particular. What were they trying to do here? Beats me.


Sunday, July 17, 2011


Switzerland Bruno Ganz

Sweet story of an exceptional boy and his struggle to live the life he chooses in the face of well-meaning but clueless adults. The two children who play the prodigy were amazing...again I marvel at the incredible talent of these kids. These had to play the piano...and very difficult pieces at that.

The film was well done in all respects. Engrossing, moving and fun.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Captain Abu Raed


Well done story of a lonely airport janitor who spins tales for the neighborhood children telling them of his adventures all over the world. He gets involved in several of their lives...helping some with problems...failing with others.

Strong lead carried the film. He had an air of sad knowingness which gave the character depth.


Friday, July 15, 2011

I Saw the Devil


Basic revenge story presented as a series of extremely violent episodes. Like a long (2 1/2 hours), slick I Spit on Your Grave.

Cine was very every scene. Acting, editing, camera work were world-class. But the fact that there's a market for this kind of material is very troubling. Move over David Fincher...we're headed for the glorious world of snuff films.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Celebration

Denmark d/ Thomas Vinterberg

The original dogme 95 film. Hand-held depiction of a family gathering from hell. Terrible, dark secrets emerge, hatred, scorn and contempt reign and the Danish bourgeoisie will never be the same.

Rules...for filmmakers or anyone else...are made to be broken. Establishing yourself as a rebel by making a rigid set of rules governing an art form is an oxymoron which doesn't deserve the attention this has received.

The film was disturbing. The "movement" idiotic.


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Sucker Punch

Zack Snyder

A pretty bizarre film. Owl-Creek-like extended dream in the mind of a woman about to be lobotomized...unfairly. Splendid production design and CGI work throughout but this was all very stupid. Even though he had my attention all the way I was shaking my metaphorical head the while wondering where this was going...and why?

It didn't help that the lead actress and several principle players couldn't act at all. Line readings were sometimes embarrassingly bad. But the video-game-style ultra violence was so well executed (pun) I couldn't look away. Like watching a train wreck that takes an hour and a half.

He even managed a (sort of) happy ending. Credit ZS for getting such a crazy project made.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles

Aaron Eckhart

Pretty extreme example of militarist propaganda. Non-stop fighting/killing, exotic weaponry, brave heroes defending the homeland against faceless, cruel, disgusting aliens. The premise is that there is no choice except violence. And even though the good guys (us) take some knocks...getting our hair mussed, as they say...we prevail in the end.

Love song to the MIC.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The In-Laws

Alan Arkin, Peter Falk

Over-the-top comedy from 1979. It started slowly but built and got more and more preposterous as it went along. Fun watching these two guys interact. Several good laughs.

Serpentine Sheldon!


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

documentary w/d Werner Herzog

Great film. A trip through a cave in southern France discovered in 1994 where the oldest human paintings were found on the walls. You couldn't help but be awed by the stretch of time that separated us from the men who did this work. The quality of the artwork was high...mostly animals, but some other images too.

As usual, the music chosen by WH was excellent, his narration was quirky and pseudo-profound, the camera work top notch. One of his most successful docs.


Friday, July 1, 2011

Phyllis and Harold


Sad story of a couple married for over 50 years...she loved another and spent those years in detached unhappiness. He was persistent and domineering so he got her but they bickered and picked at each other for all those years. They were locked together in a system that didn't readily allow for divorce.

They traveled extensively, raised two daughters (with a nanny), socialized and had normal suburban lives but beneath the surface affluence unhappiness reigned...for her at least. He seemed to be completely self-centered to the end.