Monday, October 31, 2011

The Last Mountain


Coal...the ugliest of all the fossil fuels. Very disturbing treatment of the raping of Appalachia, its mountains and its people by corporate slime and their enforcers. This film presents predatory capitalism at its worst. Something's got to go...or humanity won't survive.

Effective and well done.


A Cat in Paris


Juvenile adventure involving burglars, little girls, police detectives and a group (gaggle) of clownish bad guys.

This may have appeal to young folks but it's an ordeal for their parents. Lovely drawings though.


Sunday, October 30, 2011



Reviewers have called this one of the worse movies ever. They have a point. The script could have been written by a ten year old, the "effects" were ludicrously awful, the main actor terrible, etc. But I grew up watching cheesy 50's monster movies and this was just like one of those but in color. Plus the female lead was quite good...even reading idiotic lines.

It would've been more fun watching this with a group of drunken friends. The laughs were there.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Blow Up

David Hemmings w/d M. Antonioni

The Italian master's intriguing mystery set squarely in the middle of swinging London. This time I found the lead to be an arrogant, self-absorbed jerk...insufferable for the first 1/2 hour. But when the story kicked in the tone shifted dramatically, his character was submerged in the plot and the film raced along toward its enigmatic conclusion.

This film was a major cross-over in 1966 and it's easy to see why. It's titillating, engrossing and leaves the viewer with an unresolved mystery that seems to have larger, more profound overtones.


Friday, October 28, 2011

How Much Does Your Building Weigh Mr Foster?


Stupid title to a routine biography of British architect Norman Foster. He and his huge firm are responsible for many amazing projects all over the world but I found the worshipful treatment here to be tiresome and irritating.

Shades of John Galt.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Salt of the Earth

H. Biberman

Great classic film from 1953 about a mining strike in New Mexico which was eventually won with Anglos, Hispanics and women working together to defeat the forces of greed. Done by a group of blacklisted writers, directors on location under extremely difficult conditions. Other that some poor sound and occasional bad cutting it looked great and still worked beautifully in rousing the audience.

Powerful, emotionally engaging and unforgettable.


Last Year at Marienbad

Alan Renais

Mysterioso puzzler from 1960. What the hell was he attempting to do here? This was my second viewing...this time I was able to focus my attention on the film for forty minutes...after that mego. I was intrigued by the card game/puzzle and might play with that some time but the elegant posing of elegant people in an elegant old hotel wore off half way through.

Brilliant camera work, stunning locations simply aren't enough to make a film. There must be some audience involvement. I suppose this was seen as ground-breaking at the time but at this point it's just an irritating curiousity.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Girl


A nine year old girl is left alone in a rural area while her parents are away. She explores her freedom, has several adventures typical of her age group, gets lonely and learns that she really isn't ready to take care of herself.

Quiet, sensitive, contemplative film. Nicely shot. Appealing lead. No melodrama...just real life.

Worth it.




Sleek, intelligent take on the lives of several twenty-somethings in Buenos Aires. Nice visuals, voiceover(!), characters, music. These folks were frabbing around while the filmmaker teased us with the thought that eventually they would get together and complete the circle.

Unusual number of architectural shots and references gave the film a strong sense of place and time. A subliminal romcom.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Bobby Fischer Against the World


The sad story of America's greatest chess genius. After winning the world championship against Spassky in 1972 he went off the deep end, gave up chess and became a raging anti-semite and all around nutcase.

It is often said that genius is close to was in this case...poor Bobby.


Saturday, October 22, 2011


Bradley Cooper

The lowest kind of wish-fulfillment junk. Absurd cynical story should have great appeal to those unwashed, slovenly nerds sitting in their parents' basements knowing, just knowing that they are really supermen if only they had one little pill that would unleash their inner Ivan Boesky.

Ugly, violent...too much CGI. This film evidences the decline of western civilization. Or something.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Narrow Margin

Richard Fleischer

Short tight film noir from 1952. All the action takes place on a train or in confined spaces lending a sense of claustrophobia to the viewer. Fast-paced, gritty with a couple of nice surprises. Everybody smokes, they send telegraphs, ride trains...a real trip into the past.

Film has historical value and holds up very well today.



France w/d Tony Gatlif

Excellent treatment of a story from the WW2 era that's not often told...the persecution by the Nazis of gypsies. Here we follow a traveling family of Romany who are forced to settle in a provincial town which brings them all sorts of trouble...from the Germans, the French bureaucracy and the ignorant townspeople.

Good locations and mise-en-scene. Outstanding direction and editing...unusual sound design, good music...up there in the first rank of world cinema.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Viva Riva


Ugly, violent gangsta garbage from Africa. Turns out that setting this type of low-brow trash in an exotic location doesn't raise it up one iota.

Really awful.




First rate telling of the story of a champion Formula 1 race car driver. Lots of footage shot from in the cars going around the tracks. He came across as fiercely committed, focused and dedicated...received incredible acclaim during his lifetime.

I knew nothing about this topic but the film held my interest all the way. It's a tough way to make a living.


Circus Columbia


Very fine film set at the beginning of the break-up of Yugoslavia. Croats and Serbs reversed roles and those new to power used it to settle decades-old scores. This film dealt with some of the human wreckage that stress generated.

Excellent casting/acting, smart directing, pacing. The characters were aggravating throughout...acting like out-of-control adolescents but when the serious trouble starts the whole film snaps into place and becomes a moving, intelligent drama.

World-class work.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mia and the Migoos


Routine quest film for children. Average look, theme, animation, characters etc.

Children may enjoy this but adults will find it a mego.


Monday, October 17, 2011

The L-Shaped Room

Britain Leslie Caron

Outstanding good as any ever out of England. A young French woman, pregnant, takes a room in a ramshackle boarding house, meets the assorted inhabitants, finds love for the first time, loses it and moves on.

Exquisitely acted by LC...ably supported by a host of talented British character actors. Great, economical direction...nice use of Brahms as musical motif. Lean, tight, engaging.

One of the forgotten gems of world cinema.


Iron Island


Splendid, intelligent film...a metaphor for Iran itself. An abandoned oil tanker is inhabited by an assortment of people ruled by a self-appointed captain...who tends to their needs, enforces discipline, maintains order. The ship is sinking...only the schoolmaster goes on...eating, love, work, play...all taking place on this rusting hulk.

The people are portrayed as some of the most excitable of any on earth. A small problem has them running about screaming. Not an admirable trait.

Eventually they come to the promised land...dry land of their very own. But first they must build it themselves...houses, schools, parks.

Very fine film. Slipped under the watchful eyes of the dimwitted censors.


Steamboat Bill Jr.

Buster Keaton

Great silent classic from 1928. Big budget MGM production featured the always remarkable stunts by the master of deadpan. The imagination and daring of the things he did during the cyclone sequence still astonish a modern audience. And no CGI.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Black Power Mix Tape 1967-1975


A Swedish film crew spent time in the US tracking the struggle by civil rights leaders for equality. These included MLK, SNCC and the Black Panthers. While they were here most of the leaders of the movement were murdered or jailed by the white power structure...the push for change got weaker and weaker.

Some great interview footage which could only have been gotten by a foreign crew. This film is a valuable record of that time and what happens to you if you openly challenge the ruling elite.

Very depressing.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Nos Amours

France Sandrine Bonnaire d/ Maurice Pialat

This film concerns the troubled adolescence of a 15 year old girl stuck in a dysfunctional family. Verbal and physical abuse at home every day drives her to seek solace elsewhere...she becomes promiscuous and at one point says she is only happy in the arms of a man. She finds many who are willing to accommodate her.

Dynamite performance by SD who was only 16 at the time but easily takes center stage and holds our interest. Powerful supporting role by Pialat who plays her wise, cynical father...the cause of her confusion.

Very fine work all around.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Billy Liar

England Tom Courtenay d/ John Schlesinger

Fine classic film set in the bitter, disillusioned time when England was still recovering from war's devastation, the loss of empire and world standing. Billy is a fabulist who lives in a dream world in which he is a hero, a figure of admiration and derring-do instead of a lowly clerk in a mortuary.

England wallowed in this collective funk until the swinging 60's came along...coincidentally led by an actress in a supporting role here...Julie Christie.

Elements of Walter Mitty, blended with It's a Wonderful Life gave this film resonance. Sharply directed by JS and featuring a tour-de-force performance by Courtenay.


Thursday, October 13, 2011



The action here centers around a furniture restoration workshop and the people whose lives hover around it. The old restorer's partner dies, he takes in a young guy with questionable morals and various complications unfold. Helped enormously by the actor playing the old man...he had a wonderful hangdog look...a man who has seen and experienced all life's slings and arrows.

The film was hurt by all the other assortment of unlikable people...each in his own way. Featured the unusual spectacle of a woman 8 1/2 months pregnant starting a love affair.

In the end all was restored to of the meanings of the title...but it felt contrived. These people will continue to be miserable...perhaps in new ways but, yes, definitely miserable.

Not fun or edifying. Depressing.


Magic Trip


The once hopeful now sad story of the bus trip led by Ken Kesey across the US in 1964 that helped kick off the 60's. They did acid, smoked pot and broke rules in an attempt to break out of the confining strictures imposed on them by the times. They wanted to change the world but the world is big and didn't care what they just kept rolling along.

Most of this was footage shot at the time. As I watched this my heart was with them but my head knows that theirs was a fool's errand...the playing of some rebellious children caught up in their solipsistic notions of freedom. They thought they were the vanguard of a profound revolution but now are seen as an oddball footnote...soon to be forgotten as the greater society grinds away individuality, differentness.

I'm glad I saw this but it left me depressed. And a bit nauseous from the swirly camera work and too-rapid cutting. Good depiction of one of Kesey's acid trips...


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Being Elmo


The story of puppeteer Kevin Clash who grew up loving Sesame Street and through focus and dedication eventually joined Jim Hensen's team and created one of the most-loved creatures on the show.

Moving, fast-paced film which easily held my interest.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011



A film based on legends, magic, rituals, folk tales of all sort. Pretty silly to my eye. Good looking color photography took full advantage of the sere landscapes. Lead warrior was quite striking and played his rather wooden part well. It did have value as anthropology.

But while this held my interest as exotica, as a modern-day film it was pretty far short of the mark.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Sheherezade Tell Me a Story


Nice idea for a film. Women's stories featured for a popular television show re-create stories from the classic compilation and illustrate the unchanging problems in Arab society. Smooth, modern production with good music, imaginative camera work/staging. The lead wore too much makeup but easily carried her role.

At first I found it a bit corny but the sincerity and intensity of the stories told pulled me in and it ended being quite emotionally satisfying.

Nice work.


To Kill a Mockingbird

Gregory Peck

Classic from 1962. I don't think there ever has been a sweeter confluence between an actor and a role. Peck radiates all the personal characteristics called for in the role of Atticus Finch. He epitomizes rectitude, steadfastness, honesty, integrity, decency...etc.

Beautifully shot (b/w) on a soundstage in Hollywood the film richly deserves the praise it has received.


Sunday, October 9, 2011


w/d John Sayles

Another fine film from the preeminent American indie filmmaker. This story is set during the invasion of the Philippines at the beginning of the last century...this country's first foray into imperial conquest and slaughter. The focus is on one village, its internal dynamics and how all that is altered by the presence of the foreign soldiers.

Beautifully shot, good use of music, strong, well-drawn and acted characters, imaginative editing. The contrast between the naivete of the American soldiers and the locals who are just trying to survive was sharp and left a lasting impression.

Solid, sad.


Friday, October 7, 2011

Into Eternity


Mind-boggling piece on the world's first nuclear waste depository now being built in Finland. It will have to be stable and safe for 100,000 years. Mankind has never constructed anything that has lasted 1/10 that long. The pyramids were built 4,500 years ago.

How should you keep people out? Is that possible? Should you install warnings? What if they can't read? What about human curiousity? It's not possible for us to think in those time frames.

Thoughtful film. What the hell are we doing?


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Nicky's Family


Moving story of a British businessman who rescued 700 Czech children from the German death machine in 1939. He made it all up on the spot and then kept his role secret for 50 years. What makes the story so special is that he is now 100 and is still alive to receive thanks from his rescued, their children and grandchildren. In addition his charity has been used by thousands as inspiration for continuing that kind of work all over the world.

Guaranteed to bring a tear. And provide a ray of hope in troubled times.

The film was very slickly and intelligently produced with thoughtful touches throughout.


Mysteries of Lisbon

Portugal d/Raul Ruiz

Long (4 1/2 hours) elaborate costume drama (1700's) involving the ups and downs of an interrelated group of characters over several generations. Exceptional use of beautiful locations...mainly chateaux and accompanying gardens. Great costumes, camera work and music. Complicated enough that I had trouble keeping the characters straight.

Even though this amounted to a period soap opera it was so well mounted that I was drawn in and found it quite satisfying.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Saoirse Ronan, Kate Blanchette

Action film starring a 16 year old girl. Preposterous premise...set firmly in movie reality...but quite engaging nonetheless. Nice filmed and edited stunts/chase sequences, europop music (chemical bros), amusing supporting characters, great locations, good lead. Standard structure but it raced by so quickly I never had time to reflect on its cliches/failings.

Solid, action-packed, violent entertainment.




Crude, hopelessly amateurish film. Lively and enthusiastic cast, costumes but to me it was like watching a poorly written high school play when none of the players was my child...excruciating.

Great music though.


Sunday, October 2, 2011



Nice three-part piece on the genocide in Guatemala in the 80's...supported by the US and carried out against the native Mayan people by the rich elite who coveted their land and resources. Although there has been some progress bringing the evil perps to justice the biggest fish still swim freely.

The film was done by a woman who covered the war as a young idealist. She has shed her ideals at this point but still works for justice. Each person is a grain of sand. Individually they mean nothing but collectively can effect real change.

Solid, well done.


The Colors of the Mountain


Here we follow the life of an irritating 9 year old boy as he lives his little life playing with his friends while around him a civil war rages which eventually sweeps over his family.

There were some lovely moments in the film...and fine locations...but the main adult characters weren't very sympathetic which affected my emotional response to the story. Father was a pig-headed moron who beat his was no wonder he fell afoul of the warring parties. Also an attempt at dramatic suspense using a soccer ball in a minefield was overdone and eventually fell completely flat.



The Mill and the Cross

Sweden/Poland Rutger Hauer, Charlotte Rampling

An extraordinary film that illuminates and brings to life a painting done by Brueghel the Elder 500 years ago. The work is "The Way to Calvary." Incredible lighting and special effects techniques make each frame jump out at the viewer and reproduce the look of the Dutch masters in real life.

The intent was to take the thoughts imbedded in the painting, its characters and scenes and humanize them using actors, locations, costumes, folk traditions, music and...most importantly...imagination.

An astonishing amount of thought and effort went into this film. Unique in world cinema.


Saturday, October 1, 2011



Stylish, sometimes surreal portrait of life under Nazi occupation 1938-1942. We follow a popular radio reporter with a Jewish wife who collaborates with the Germans until he just can't stand it any longer.

Slick-looking production with an unusual sound design/musical soundtrack. The characters were well drawn, complex rather than sympathetic...fully formed people with flaws but retaining their fundamental decency in the face of monstrous circumstances.

Intelligent, adult film.


The Rice People


Fine film which worked on several levels: as an anthropological study of subsistence rice growers in an isolated flood plain and as a study of the trials and tribulations of one particular family as they deal with the various calamities that befall folks in that region. The dynamics of small-village life was quite well drawn.

Beautiful cine throughout. Some of the players were amateurish but the young woman who emerged as the lead had a calm presence that added greatly to the overall impact of the film.


Viva Cuba


Sweet coming-of-age story. Two pre-teens, a boy and a girl, are best friends and set out on a picaresque journey across the country to stop her from being taken away by her mother. They have various adventures, mostly benign along the way. The portrait of Cuba was very positive...almost propagandist.

The two leads were good but not as good as the extraordinary child actors I've seen in many productions lately from all over the world. The landscape was appealing...the resolution fairy tale-ish. Overall a pleasant diversion.