Saturday, December 31, 2011

Super 8

d/ JJ Abrams

Spielberg-like, loud, kid heroes, obnoxious adults, too much CGI, evil military, alien who comes to see the kids as pals...

Manna for ten year olds and their adult equivalents. I just don't have the patience for this drivel anymore.


Friday, December 30, 2011

This is Not a Film

Iran d/ Jafar Panahi

Panahi has been forbidden by his government to make films so he filmed himself in his apartment talking about not being able to make films. He also tried to enact the last film he was forbidden to make. Oddball project which at first seemed like a one-note but as it went on I came to accept it as a crie de coeur by an artist raging against the machine in the only way he knows how.

Unforgettable but unlikely to start a genre.


Of Time and the City

documentary d/ Terrence Davies

Interesting nostalgic piece on Liverpool England in the 40's and 50's...the time of Davies' childhood. Much use of period footage helps to strip away the golden glows of remembrance...the past shown here was dirty, poor and cramped...row houses, children playing in streets, etc.

The film used a voiceover read by an actor with a stentorian voice which gave the project an odd tone. At first I was put off but the things he was reading were clever and insightful...mostly poetry and after a while I was willing to accept it. This serves as an off-kilter comparison to Canadian Guy Maddin's similarly oddball opus My Winnipeg.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Conversations With My Gardener


About what you'd expect from a movie with a title like this. A disaffected Parisian artist returns to his roots manse, hires a local guy as gardener and achieves sartori. Or something. Mostly he seems to enjoy hanging out with him and re-grounding his world view...contaminated by a lifetime in the big city.

Not overdone...which helped...but the predictable death ending was pretty mawkish. The two actors didn't seem to me to really click...I got no sense of real rapport between them. And what the hell did he plan on doing with all those vegetables?

A mixed bag.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Australia Ethen Hawke, Willem Defoe

In the near future a plague has turned 95% of the world's population into vampires. Now they are faced with the dwindling supply of human blood. It's always something...

Some of this was interesting...stylish, noirish look, extreme vamp deaths...but the structure was so conventional and predictable I found myself losing interest half way through. Nothing was really bad...but nothing was really good either. Might be better for young people who are still fascinated with the whole vampire thing. I'm at the point that I see it as pretty stupid.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Take Shelter

Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain

Intriguing character study. An ordinary blue-collar guy, living in Ohio, starts having troubling dreams, seeing, hearing things that aren't there. He has a family history of schizophrenia and fears he's losing his mind. Or is he seeing real premonitions? Of a storm, a monstrous storm coming...

Slow-developing story builds patiently and held my interest all the way. Both key players were excellent...realistically portraying the confusion and turmoil called for. Unusual and provocative film.


All That I Love


Nice coming-of-age drama set during the Solidarity movement. Poles wanted to be free from the Russian boot on their necks...but this urge created turmoil in families locked into the old system.

Our focus is on a teen musician whose punk band rattles the cages of the powers-that-be. His family suffers, ditto his relationship with his first real girlfriend. We get an acute sense of these people just trying to get through a fractious time.

Some nice cinematography but too much wavering camera bullshit as per the current fad. Still...a nice film with sympathetic characters.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Projectionist

amerindie Chuck McCann, Rodney Dangerfield

Neat film from 1970. A cross between Walter Mitty and The Projectionist. A schlubby guy lives out his fantasies through films he has worked or seen...silents, talkies through to when the film was made. Lots of clever editing of old footage was great. A super-hero thread used throughout wasn't. But overall the delight I found watching this out-weighed the bad.

Oddball project...preserved by MOMA.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

My Week With Marilyn

Michelle Williams

Wonderful film with a knockout performance by MW. With this role she cements her position at the top of her profession. When I look back at the roles she's had this year...Blue Valentine, Meek's Cutoff...and last year's Wendy and Lucy and one else is in her league. All these roles are wildly different from each other...all require completely different body language, voice, personalities.

If she doesn't win Best Actress for this it will be further proof that the oscars are deeply flawed as a vehicle for recognizing achievement.

The film was charming, touching, sad, heartwarming...a multi-dimensional portrait of a complex, troubled woman struggling to stay above the surface of the turmoil she has created about herself.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Natural Selection


A failed attempt at a comedy. Lower class Texas morons do some really stupid stuff...exaggerating their ignorance (Jesus bullshit) for laughs that never came. Lots of crude violence, filthy rutting around in the lower reaches of the American heartland, theft, break-ins, lying, etc.

An hour in there was an attempt to make us care about these cartoon characters by baring life secrets but by that point they had squandered any connection with reality so the attempt came up a mile short. After all you can't hurt a toon...

The female lead...Rachael Harris...had some winning qualities but she'd need a better vehicle than this to let them show.


Tony Manero


Really unpleasant film. We follow a scuzzy 52 year old guy whose sole ambition in life is to win a cheesy TV contest for a John Travolta look-alike circa Saturday Night Fever. White suit, stupid disco dance moves, etc. Now there's a worthy ambition.

On the way he steals, murders, cheats...fucks his wife's daughter. He is a man with no moral values. He's also completely inarticulate...affecting a dead-eyed stare throughout. Truly disgusting scenes are enacted on screen...degrading the actors and the audience. To what purpose? I guess so we'll know there are some real losers out there. Oh goody.



Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Les Diaboliques

France d/ Henri Clouzot Simone Signoret, Vera Clouzot

Great thriller/horror film from 1955. Often compared to the work of Hitchcock it draws you in and keeps you hooked all the way. Marvelously paced/constructed with one of the best endings in classic French cinema.

Well deserved reputation as a classic.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Japan anime Hayao Miyazaki

Early work by the Japanese master storyteller brings forward most of the themes he has used throughout his career: strong female heroine, visualization of ancient folk myths, the depredations man has caused to the land. This film also used violence and war as the only legitimate means to stop the dark forces intent on destroying the world.

So here was have a heroine who is a pacifist but who must fight to re-establish harmony in her world.

Beautifully drawn, well-realized characters, non-stop movement...this film helped establish HM as one of the greatest animators we have ever seen. He has gone on to be recognized as a world treasure who continues to produce first-rate work to this day.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Rebel Without a Cause

James Dean, Natalie Wood d/ Nicholas Ray

Explosive film when released today it still packs a punch. The whole mixed-up teen problem seems quaint from here but this was a high quality production with nice use of color and widescreen. The chicken race was very powerful. The scenes in the old mansion fit perfectly into the flow of the story.

JD was undeniably charismatic...riveting when on screen yet tender and sympathetic. The explanations for his torment seem facile but he managed to engage the audience in it even if they didn't know why.

Not many films from this era hold up today. This one does.


Harold and Maude

Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort d/Hal Ashby

This was a trip back to a time when we thought we could make major changes in the system we slave under...wipe away the stultifying conformity that drove us to living a shallow, materialist life.

We have a young, baby-faced rich kid, obsessed with death, suicide and funerals who meets the ultimate free spirit who helps him break free and teaches him to fly without a net. Wickedly satiric, completely unrealistic, fun in spite of itself. The role of a lifetime for Ruth Gordon, veteran character actor.

She eventually leaves him but he has been many of us were in those days...and we last see him playing his banjo as he saunters over the hill.

Dated but fondly remembered by those of us who were there.


Sunday, December 18, 2011


D/ Lukas Moodysson Michelle Williams, Gael Bernal

Very fine English-language film by the maker of Together and Lilya Forever. This deals with the human-scale problems of globalization...particularly the disruption in emotional lives caused by large-scale physical separation.

Extremely well written/ two hours it felt perfect...long enough to give us a true sense of the characters...but not so long we get tired of them and their problems. MW continues to shine in every disparate role she tackles...

Carefully crafted. A worthy entry into the ranks of world cinema.


Friday, December 16, 2011

La Ronde

Simone Signoret w/d Max Ophuls

Lavishly photographed evocation of Vienna, 1900 done on a soundstage in 1950. Taken from a novel, it features an Our Town-ish narrator who leads us from one story to another...each one dealing with sex. We keep switching focus from one character to another until we end with the woman with whom we started. It's usually called the Circle of Love but I saw very little love in here.

Knowing, wry, sophisticated, adult...visually splendid, heavily atmospheric, exquisite tracking shots... This film is considered a classic of modern French cinema...deservedly so.



The Housemaid


Stylish, carefully-paced re-make of a classic 1960 Korean film. Strong lead actress leads a talented ensemble in a twisted melodrama guaranteed to emotionally engage the viewer. We follow the fate of a young working-class woman who begins work at the home of a rich family and is completely unprepared for the depths of their selfish depravity.

Film is more sexually explicit than most films from the East. I found the eventual resolution unsatisfying but undeniably startling and unforgettable. Class/morality issues were sharply defined and memorable.

Korea has emerged recently as one of the leaders in the forefront of world cinema...this continues that skein.


Thursday, December 15, 2011


L. deCaprio, Kate Blanchette d/ Martin Scorcese

Slick, expensive, hollywoodish, superficial take on the life and times of Howard Hughes. Many admirable, elaborate shots and sets disguised the hollowness of this production. KB mostly pulled off her imitation of Kate Hepburn but LdC, with his trademark pinched eyebrows, came across more as a petulant teenager than a mega-tycoon who commanded a vast fortune.

Marty has the means and the chops to do great things with film but he needs to find topics that merit such lavish attention. This seemed more like splashy indulgence than art.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011


documentary Errol Morris

Here he tells the remarkable story of Joyce McKinney...kidnapper, former beauty queen, S&M mistress, dog cloner and all around self-absorbed nut. The British tabs had a ball with her in the 70's...she got her full 15 minutes and then some. Since then she's been chillin...with her five identical dogs.

An amazing story...well told.




Pretty mediocre doc on the guy who invented the popular musical instrument in the 60's. I think the central problem is that he isn't very interesting...a semi-articulate engineer...and the topic itself is an extremely minor chapter...even in the history of pop music. Could have been adequately covered in 20 minutes for those who care.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Chico and Rita


Cuban film which begins in 1948 and traces the relationship between the titular characters to the present. They live through changing times...he is a jazz pianist, she a singer...for Cuba, the US and themselves.

The early scenes contain some cartoonish stuff but as the film develops the story becomes more and more adult and ends being sadly reflective and elegiac. At one point it included a sex scene which actually worked. Definitely not Disney

Nicely drawn.


The Invasion

Nicole Kidman

This is the fourth adaption of Jack Finney's book Invasion of the Body Snatchers. All of them have been good films and all reflect the times in which they were made. My favorite is the Don Siegel...which scared the shit out of me as a ten year old but there's clearly something primal this idea taps because even though I no longer get frightened by the emotionless pod people I still find these scenarios engrossing.

This version did credit to the raced right along with more effects than the others and featured an excellent performance by of the best, most versatile actors working today.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Straight, No Chaser


Routine bio of the jazz pianist Thelonius Monk...the man with a great name who made "music" some people seem to like. I find it stripped of melody and rhythm, discordant and irritating.

As a man he went slowly mad and had to be institutionalized. Laughingly inarticulate he would wander around the stage while his band members were playing their solos, often turning round and round like an over-sized ballerina with a silly hat.


Sunday, December 11, 2011


Kirsten Dunst w/d Lars von Trier

This film asks the melancholy, or depression, tied to the ability to foresee the increasingly dismal future and thus is a sane, reasonable reaction to this knowledge? Or does it presage the literal end of the world? LvT's triumph here is making those questions seem legitimate.

As a metaphor Melancholia works brilliantly...forcing any thoughtful viewer to walk out thinking, turning ideas over and over in his mind. As a human drama it fails almost completely. The behavior of all the characters is stupid and inexplicable...I found them irritating throughout...even given the obvious skill of the players.

The film starts with ten minutes of striking images shown in ultra-slow motion. Loved this opening. The next hour strongly resembles Celebration in its embarrassing airing of ancient family grievances at a public gathering. We then move to the end of the world.

The entire film is crippled by the constantly wavering camera syndrome LvT and some pals inflicted on the world of cinema in 1995 (dogme) and in which he is now trapped. It was idiotic in this film and worked as a continual distraction. impatient and irritated as I was for nearly two hours...when the extended final sequence got cracking I found it riveting. And never has a film ended with such a glorious bang.


Saturday, December 10, 2011



This was another modern minimalist film that has drawn praise from apparently jaded European festival programmers. A sailor leaves his ship to travel back to his home town. Almost no dialogue. No drama. I had no idea where this was taking place. After watching it I went to IMDB and learned it was Tierra del Fuego. Really? Just knowing that would have created a glimmer of interest.

The film seems to act as a rorschach test...because it is so vague and formless reviewers project all sorts of meaning onto it...which says more about them than it.

I found it boring and pointless. If I were conducting a filmmaking class for high school students and this was submitted I'd tell the kid to find another career.


Thursday, December 8, 2011


Simon Pegg

Silly fun about two English comic nerds who happen upon an alien in the western US desert and have an adventure. Lots of film references...Sigourney Weaver, MIB's...helped me appreciate it. No out-loud laughs but a continual subliminal chuckle...just what the doctor ordered.



Hong Kong Johnny Hallyday d/ Johnnie To

I don't expect much when I watch a HK shoot-em-up but even by those low standards this film was pretty stupid. Stylized look couldn't come close to making up for the idiocy of the "human" behavior on display here. a gunfight the combatants all stand there ten feet apart and shoot.

The whole film seemed to be shot in slow motion. And attempts to include some softening scenes were childishly simple=minded.

One thing became clear...this guy's no John Woo. Take a hike, pal.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Women of the Sixth Floor


A wealthy bourgeois gets involved with the Spanish maids who live on the top floor of the building which belongs to the people they all serve.

Never particularly realistic the film had a charming, fairy-tale-ish quality I found endearing in spite of my better judgement. Once or twice it slipped into farce...groan...but came right back out and sauntered along to the very predictable happy ending.

Pleasant, amusing.


Paul Goodman Changed My Life


Straightforward treatment of the radical lefty whose books and lectures had a profound effect of what we now call "the 60's."

Growing Up Absurd rang a bell that resonated with that generation. For good? For ill? From this perspective it seems to have been a mixed bag. Hopes/expectations for a better world were ignited...the failure to achieve them led to disillusionment and an abandonment of even the idea that society can be changed by the idealistic young.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

O Henry's Full House

Charles Laughton

Portmanteau collection of the writer's stories done in the early 50's. Stellar casting...Richard Widmark, Farley Granger, Jean Peters, Oscar Levant, Fred Allen...nice B/W period look. The style and delivery was dated by today's standards but still fun to watch.

Each story was introduced by John Steinbeck.


Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

England Tom Courtenay d/ Tony Richardson

Kitchen-sink drama from 1962. A working class teen regularly steals, gets caught and ends up in a boys' reformatory. There he becomes a competitive runner.

This film is typical of the angry screed at the unfairness of the British class system. Quite one here is particularly likable or sympathetic...they are all just playing out their roles in an unequal set-up. Lead character does have in him a streak of rebelliousness but his futile gesture asserting himself is swiftly squashed...the implication at the end is that he will take his place eventually as just another cog in the machine.

Memorable work.


Monday, December 5, 2011

The Turin Horse

Hungary Bela Tarr

For two hours I sat there laughing at this film...wondering what the hell he thought he was doing...didn't he have any understanding of what people are willing to sit through?

And then the last two reels snapped the whole thing into focus with enough clarity to set my mind racing with possible interpretations. It takes courage, intelligence, maturity and vision to produce a work like this. Tarr is widely considered one of the world's great master filmmakers. After watching this brilliant film I agree.

Not for everyone...but for those with the patience to let a cinematic genius slowly unfold his mysteries...this was a triumph.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Without Limits

Billy Crudup, Donald Sutherland

Fictionalized treatment of the incredible story of Steve Prefontaine...the champion American runner.

The role of a lifetime for Crudup who looks and runs like an athlete...while skillfully acting the self-confidant boor who manages to be likable. Excellent racing scenes were genuinely thrilling. The treatment of the murders at Munich 1972 was simple-minded but that wasn't important.

As good a biopic of an athlete as it gets.


Mugabe and the White African


Very powerful story of the plight of a white family in Zimbabwe who are being systematically pushed from the land they have farmed for thirty years. They pursue a legal case while being threatened daily by armed thugs determined to rid the land of all whites.

Of course the story is one-sided and deals not at all with the history of European imperialism and the subjugation/humiliation of indigenous blacks but even so the crass corruption and use of violence by Mugabe's minions is hard to witness.

Strong film...well done.


Friday, December 2, 2011

Afternoons With Marguerite

France Gerard Depardieu

Charming love story between a barely literate handyman and a 95 year old woman he meets at the park. She is lonely, he is unloved...together they form a bond which meets their needs.

Filmed in sparkling sunshine in the south of France. Luminous, fresh, clean-looking. Germain has a young lover...which clunked a bit. He's forty years older and 300 pounds seemed too much of a stretch. But the town...village really...was lovely, the cafe was a place we all wish we had available and the love story was very touching.


Pale Flower

Japan M. Shinoda

Nifty noir from the New Wave in 1964. Low level gangster hooks up with a society princess looking for thrills. They gamble, race cars, wallow in the demimonde...all at night, with deep shadows, jazz music, artfully placed light.

The story wasn't engaging but I enjoyed the film as an artistic effort. A bit dated by today's sensibilities but avant-garde at the time.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Makioka Sisters

Japan Kon Ichikawa

Long, elaborate soap opera which traces the changes in the heirs of a wealthy family before and during the war years. All the problems of life surfaced and determined their fate. Much Like The Magnificent Ambersons .

Beautifully filmed in the various seasons but as the film wound by I found my attention wandering and ended up not really caring what happened to these characters. Hurt by some unfortunate 80's style music.