Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cold Weather


Very slick, entertaining low-budget film. A former forensics student comes back to Portland and gets involved in a mystery involving his former girlfriend. He uses his knowledge from school and reading Sherlock Holmes to get deeper into the labyrinth.

Schlubby-looking lead who underplayed his character was perfect. Everybody looked and acted real. No melodrama. Reminded me of The Zero Effect.

Nice job.


Oranges and Sunshine

Australia Emily Watson

Fictionalized treatment of yet another monstrous government program from the 40's and 50's. Social service agencies in England took children away from poor parents and shipped them en masse to Australia where they were placed in orphans' homes and badly mistreated. They told the parents the children had been adopted by good people; the children were told their parents were dead. The rationale seems to have been some sort of slum-clearance idea, giving the kids a better chance in life, etc.

This film follows a British social worker as she tries to deal with this humanitarian mess forty years later...with no help from either state.

It's enough to make you want to quit the race...the human race.


Monday, November 28, 2011


Martin Scorcese

Visually dazzling adaptation of the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Scene after scene of exceptional imagination on display...re-creating the look, spirit, sound and sensibility of 1920's Paris. Wonderful tribute to Georges Melies...one of the original founders of the medium.

The film wasn't without its flaws though...a cartoon-like policeman was a poor attempt at comic relief. But overall this was a giant step forward for Scorcese who lately seems to me to be resting comfortably on the praise he receives for work done thirty years ago. Not this time...this was a winner.


The Wise Kids


Nicely done film on growing up in a christian fundamentalist community. Many of the ordinary wants and needs are strenuously suppressed and replaced with ritual words and stagings. But the human spirit...which includes intelligence...is hard to squash and keeps poking through this overlay of idiotic dogma.

We follow a group of teens who are all sympathetic and likable...even the girl who is struggling hardest to hold on to childhood beliefs. The film's biggest fault is that it soft-peddles the struggle this breaking free involves in real life...particularly the meanness of the true believers...which gave the film the sense of an after-school special.

Still, this was carefully done and easily held my interest.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cold Fish


Crude, loud attempt at a black comedy. Wildly over-acted (is this what constitutes humor in Japan?), degrading sex scenes, asinine behavior all around...mixed with vomiting, cannibalism, murder...I mean...what's not to like?



Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Unloved

w/d Samantha Morton

Excellent debut directing effort by this outstanding British actress. An autobiographical film focusing on a young girl forced into a children's home by dysfunctional parents. It's not the hellish vision of Dickens' era but these kids are unwanted, unloved, troubled...so they act out in various ways. Watched over by incompetent staff and an indifferent bureaucracy, their physical needs are met but emotionally they are on their own.

Sophisticated direction, editing, mise-en-scene. This was a world-class work that avoided polemics, starred an 11 year old girl who radiated thoughtful intelligence and presented a social issue in such a way to inspire change. Nice job.


Friday, November 25, 2011

The Invention of Lying

Ricky Gervais

Ar first this seemed like a gimmick film but the comic potential of the core idea was nicely realized. It was funny and provoked thought...not a common feat. Like Harold Ramis's Groundhog Day but a wee bit shy of that profundity of that masterpiece.

Still this was a pleasant and occasionally stimulating evening's entertainment.


Burn After Reading

Coen Brothers

Stellar cast tried hard to make something worthwhile out of this idiocy but like the saying goes...you can't weave a silk purse from a sow's ear.

Terminally stupid script tried to cash in on the CIA/FBI meme but failed completely. These guys have been exorbitantly praised for their films...some of which deserved it (Blood Simple, Fargo, Miller's Crossing). But they've dished out some real stinkers too...and this was one of them.

Not funny, clever or interesting in any way.


Once Upon a Time in Anatolia


This is the latest effort by Nuri Bilge Ceylan...Turkey's best know filmmaker. The title is puzzling since this film seems to be the exact opposite of anything ever done by Sergio Leone. It is very slow...a painstaking step-by-step account of a night-long search by police for a murder victim. We gradually get to know the players, the motive for the killing and the sense of the society where the events take place. But at three hours it takes much too long to get there. The film is best watched in segments.

That said the skill and professionalism on display is very high...great casting, cinematography, editing. World class work which should have been cut by an hour. Perhaps he's been watching too many Romanian films lately?


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hey Boo


Very fine piece on Harper Lee and To Kill A Mockingbird. The book touched something deep in the American psyche...still does...and gave us a portrait of who we are...and who we can strive to become.

This film is a loving, almost worshipful approach to the book, the film and Ms Lee which seemed to me to be appropriate, fitting. It's the only book she ever wrote. She said what she had to say and stepped down. Good for her.


Bury the Hatchet


Routine doc about the "tribes" of black men (actually gangs) who dress up in elaborate Indian costumes and parade around New Orleans during Mardi Gras and other holidays. The origins of the practice are said to be rooted in the help Indians gave escaped slaves and is meant to be a tribute. For years the gangs fought each other physically but in recent years the competition has been over who has the prettiest costume.

It all seemed pretty silly but the film got some depth from being filmed in 2005...the year of Katrina...and afterward.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Last Station

Christopher Plummer, Helen Mirren

The sad end of life story of Leo Tolstoy. Hailed as the world's greatest writer he was revered and inspired a cult following whose machinations soiled his memory.

The film was a wonderful showcase for the huge talents of the leads...many great scenes gave each of them something to chew on. Unfortunately the screenplay hinged on a secondary character who was unnecessary to the story and acted(to me) as an irritant throughout.

Nice locations and mise-en-scene. Noble but flawed effort.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Give Me the Banjo


Interesting history of America's only indigenous musical instrument. Brought here by slaves, used widely in minstrel shows during the nineteenth century it has moved to the mainstream with the revival of folk music in the 1920's.

I love the sound of finger-picking but after 1 1/2 hours of extremely rapid arpeggios I began to yearn for something a little slower. Still, this was a nice production and well worth the time.



Sam Shepard

Nice re-imagining of the Western. The premise is simple: Butch Cassidy survived and lived on in Bolivia. Now in old age he wants to return to the US but on the way he gets caught up in an adventure.

Spectacular locations elevated this film above the ordinary. They put Monument Valley to shame. Shepard is excellent in the role...he has limited range but does have the grizzled look necessary. The story is engrossing and easily carried me along. Elegiac in tone, ambiguous resolution.

Lots of care and thought in this one.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mothers of Bedford


Bedford Hills, that is...New York's maximum security prison. The half dozen women featured here have all done bad things when young and now they and their children pay the extremely lengthy price our society demands.

This nation's prison system has gotten way out of whack in recent decades...we incarcerate more people per capita than any other country...even the ones we label cruel or primitive. The American people are manipulated by misinformation which generates fear...and this fear leads them to abandon reason, fairness and common sense in favor of a lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key mentality.

We could do better...but we won't.

This film highlights some of the victims of this mindlessness...the children who are forced to grow up wondering why. Sad but well done.


Friday, November 18, 2011



Powerful drama about two brothers, one a foundling, playing soccer and trying to survive in one of the barrios of Caracas.

Everything about this film worked: camera, editing, casting, story structure, pacing, music. None of the drama felt contrived, the characters were fully drawn and the resolution had deep resonance.

This film has won several festival awards in Europe and deserves a world-wide audience.


Thursday, November 17, 2011



Nicely done tongue-in-cheek drama about some college kids hooking up with a secret government trollhunter in the wilds of northern Norway. Blair witchy in look...presented as found footage, hand-held camera, etc.

The effects were very good...much emphasis on sound...and the story was as convincing as something like this can be. Lotsa fun.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Germany Tom Tykwer

Another winner by the maker of Run Lola Run and The Princess and the Warrior. This time he painstakingly develops three characters as they frab around in their hectic lives, all uneasy and looking for something to give themselves meaning. Through a series of chance encounters, some sexual cheating, a pregnancy and some pain they end up forming a trio.

Will it last? Will they be happy in this arrangement? Who knows...but it's a measure of the success of this film that we end up rooting for them...and their soon-to-be-born twins. The film is a comment on the re-inventing of contemporary life many in the Western world are undergoing. Out with the old...in with the new. Twas ever thus.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011



Interesting Canadian riff on the life of a waitress in Canada, Europe and Japan. The three cultures are quite different...partly due to class and tradition. The survey runs the gamut from truck stops on the prairie to a topless joint in Montreal to a high end gourmet restaurant in Paris to a "maid bar" in Tokyo.

Some penetrating insights along the way.


Monday, November 14, 2011

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth


Thorough telling of the story of public housing in St Louis. Opened with high hopes and fanfare in 1954 the massive slum-clearing project was hated by commercial interests, starved for maintenance funds, fell victim to the post-war abandonment of the city for the burbs and ended up blasted into oblivion in 1972. Oh, and it was almost exclusively black.

We were (are) a hateful people crippled by the dogma of selfishness foisted on us by the capitalist few. These people were deliberately victimized by moneyed interests and then blamed for the failure of the project. It's astonishing that many were able to maintain their dignity and pride after such oppression.

This is a sad story that no one cares about.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Animal Kingdom


Unpleasant story about a 17 yo boy whose family are drug addicts and criminals. He joins them after his mother od's...and then his troubles begin.

I couldn't help but get caught up in this character's dilemma but sitting through this film was an ordeal. Ugly behavior, continuous violence, corruption, double-dealing...enough. The film was well done but it made me wonder again why I put myself through this kind of abuse.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Kings of the Ring


No, not the Wagner cycle...the boxing ring. Solid survey of most of the heavyweight champions of the 20th century. Lots of ring footage and newsreels shot in boxers' homes etc.

Ended on a sad note by showing the eventual fate of these men.


Star Trek

d/JJ Abrams

This took the franchise back to the beginning of the Enterprise and the crew we all know and love(?). Fast-paced, noisy and slick with lots of CGI and stunts that went waaaay beyond possible. For some reason none of the flaws mattered...we all knew these characters would survive (a big drawback to the set-up) and it was kinda fun seeing how they incorporated known facts.

It helped that the new Kirk was much more appealing than Shatner. Leonard Nimoy made an appearance in a preposterous plot device.

They've been riding this pony for 40 years now...I guess it'll just go on forever.


Il Mare: Love Across Time


Lusciously photographed oddity...a couple separated by two years in time connect with each other via a magic mailbox. Pretty silly premise but this film had so much eye candy I was willing to overlook a lot.

Nice entry into the underused field of magical realism.




Loud, colorful, formulaic children's feature. Computer-generated. Fun for sub-eights but tiresomely familiar to adults.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune


Well done doc on the great folk/protest singer. He and Dylan provided the background music for our generation's attempt to make this a better world. We failed and he was unable to accept that, fell into a bottle and ended up a suicide.

If he had lived until today he would be even more despairing watching as the greedy reactionaries he struggled against took power and led us into a time of endless war, vast wealth for the few and little hope for the working class.

I ain't marchin anymore either.


On Golden Pond

Henry Fonda, Katherine Hepburn, Jane Fonda

Family melodrama whose principal value was in providing a showcase to two of Hollywood's great veteran stars. They both acquitted themselves admirably although the script called for Fonda's character to be a bit too much of a shit. But they're interaction on screen was lively and fun.

Interesting watching the real-life drama of Henry and his daughter played out on camera. The sub-plot of the 13 year old boy was OK as filler but seemed peripheral to the story.



Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Snake Pit

Olivia deHavilland

Groundbreaking film from 1948. When it was released the topic of mental illness and psychiatric hospitals was not mentioned in polite company...they were dumping grounds for troubled people of all sorts who were kept hidden from public view. This film was a serious attempt to depict realistically what went on inside these places.

Brilliant performance by OdH...easily the best reason the film holds up so well today. She slides from one mental state to another mercurially while never overacting or alienating the viewer. The staff isn't demonized...they seem to be trying to help the patients even though they have no idea what will work.

This was an intelligent treatment of a taboo subject and showed courage and commitment by all concerned.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Bill Cunningham New York


Very nice piece on the guy who bikes around NYC photographing people's outfits. He came across as likable and hard-working...a bit of an odd duck but totally dedicated to his work.

Pleasant and informative.




Charming, fresh take on the coming-of-age theme...first kiss, etc. Both leads look refreshingly realistic and are nerdy/quirkish enough to endear...not enough to sicken.

Wonderful supporting cast led by Sally Hawkins and a wildly over-the-top Paddy Considine.

Proof that even a little bit of originality can take a tired idea and make it a winner.


Friday, November 4, 2011


Ryan Gosling d/ Nicholas Winding Refn

Conventional but oddly compelling crime drama. Very violent. RG underplayed his part which for a time seemed artificial but as the story opened up he loosened some and became more believable. His character had no backstory which hurt.

Great supporting cast...Carey Mulligan who has one of the most expressive faces in film...Albert Brooks in a strong bad-guy role...Ron Perlman...

Unusual sound design, use of slow motion and choice of music gave the film an off-kilter air.

This was a step up by Refn...more polished than his previous films. Nor for everyone though.


Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo


At times interesting doc on the Japanese fascination with collecting and studying insects. There are several reasons given for this...mostly mythical/mystical. I dunno. Insects are intrinsically interesting and who knows what cultural forces moved them in that direction?

Film was much too long...they had maybe a half hour of material. Also it was badly hurt by hyper-kinetic camera work and editing.



Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Silent House


Nifty horror thriller shot in one continuous take. A young woman and her father are hired to clean an abandoned house...and there their troubles began.

Striking cine...all hand-held, lit by lanterns or flashlights in the scary dark house. The cast quickly reduced to the woman and she spent most of the film whimpering...which got old...but late in the film there were revelations which gave the story some substance. And the final, post-credit sequence rocked.

Nice variation on an oft-used theme.




Poor follow-up to the intriguing Dogtooth. This one has the same flat, affect-less acting, plain locations, abstract central premise, emotionless sex scenes and general degradation of its players. But this one has no compelling subtext pulling you in which made watching it an ordeal.

Oddly enough this film like other recent Greek attempts at "art" featured female actors with dirty greasy hair tied in unkempt tails. Is this supposed to mean something?

Dogtooth had deep resonance. This didn't.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

In Time

Justin Timberlake w/d Andrew Niccol

This film was based on a neat idea...that in the near future wealth would be measured and traded in time...minutes, hours, etc. The structure of the story was conventional but the premise forced me to continue comparing what was on the screen with present day reality.

The action/chase scenes, pretty tiresome at this point in most films, were given new life by being integral to the fabric of the world created. JT is just barely adequate as a lead but his female co-star...Amanda Seyfried...is a real star and helped carry the film...even though she had many scenes running in high heels.

Niccols' previous film Gattaca also had a good premise but fell short in drama. This one corrected that fault and ended up a winner.