Monday, December 31, 2012

11 Flowers


We follow the live of several bourgeoisie who have been sent to the western provinces during the madness of the cultural revolution. Mostly we focus on the effect on children.

It was a hard time...the cruelty and instability led some to desperate acts of violence which shaped and warped their lives. Strong film with an excellent mise-en-scene.


Lady Vengence


What in the world are they putting in the water in Korea? This was another entry into the highly stylized, deeply disturbing, mostly crazed, violent, bloody films that have been oozing out of this country in recent years. They get praised on film sites but to me are atavistic displays of depravity and should make their creators eligible for free psychiatric treatment.

This one seemed even more pointless than most. I never did figure out what this was supposed to be saying...other than gore is good...and more gore is better.

Sick stuff.


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Over the Edge

Matt Dillon

Sharp critical film which highlighted the alienation of young people living in a planned suburban "utopia" in 1979. Many of these projects at the time fed on peoples' desire for a better life...the protected isolation of the remote burbs was seen as the best place to raise children. But it turned out that isolating teens led them to turn against each other and the adult world which had failed them.

Very successful film which shocked many at the time and served as a wake-up call to the bourgeoisie that perhaps their notions of the good life were false.



Friday, December 28, 2012

Tell Me Something


OK I'll tell you something: if you want to make a successful policier cool it with the excessive blood and gore, cast a lead who can be more than a pretty face, give him a backstory to humanize him a bit, have your heroine act like a real human instead of a gorgeous remote icon, establish real working relationships among the cops, don't do the obvious and kill off the sidekick and create a villain who's sort of believable.

Of course if you do all that you wouldn't have this movie. Which would be a good thing.

Slick and very stylish but hollow at its core.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart

This was the third interpretation this year of the Grimm Brothers story that I've seen. I love that the same story can serve as the framework for films with such different tones, looks. This one was dark, violent, used obvious and sometimes clumsy CGI and overall was the weakest of the three. I was also troubled by the extreme amount of killing, particularly during the final battle sequence.

The problem for me was KS whose blank, bland performance failed to engage me. Not for a second did I see her as as heroic or even an interesting character. And calling her the fairest in the land was me she looks like an average high school girl.

This was the most conventional of the three and the least interesting. Just grittying up the story isn't have to re-imagine it to excite the interest of a contemporary audience.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Central Park Five


The deeply troubling story of the rape and near-murder of a white female jogger in 1989 and the railroading of five minority teenagers who were in the park that night doing nasty things but not to her. The NYPD and DA were desperate for perps so they browbeat and tricked these kids into making confessions that eventually proved to be false...but only after they had served years in prison.

Even after the real culprit was found and his guilt confirmed by forensics the cops and DA refused to admit their mistake.

Another tour through the "justice" system.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Room 237


Five fringe dwellers go on and on about the various portents and hidden meanings in Stanley Kubrick's adaption of the Stephen King horror novel The Shining. 

Very much like listening to people tell you in excruciating detail their theories of date perhaps the greatest waste of intelligence yet devised. I was reminded of the standard reply Arthur C Clarke gave to those who sent him their ideas...dear sir...there may be something in what you say. Regards...


Friday, December 21, 2012

The Bad and the Beautiful

Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner    d/ Vincent Minelli

Old fashioned potboiler about the inner workings of the movie business. Hollywoodized of course but still quite watchable. Both leads had intense emotive scenes which they pulled off nicely. Good supporting cast included Gloria Grahame and Walter Pidgeon.

This is now considered a classic of 50's era melodrama and deservedly so.


The Yellow Sea


Over-the-top violent action thriller. Long (over 2 hours), impossibly complicated plot which eventually didn't matter since the whole point of this film was the chases, fights (with knives and hatchets) and mayhem. Extremely bloody. Amazing stunt work, vehicle crashes, etc.

By the time I realized what I was watching it was too late to turn it off. It mattered to me that this poor taxi driver turned reluctant hit man got through his extraordinary ordeal. Plus one of the supporting characters was such a hoot I had to witness his ultimate fate.

They weren't making films like this when I was fifteen. Good thing.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Life of Pi

d/ Ang Lee

Dazzling transfer of the gimmick novel to the big (3D) screen. A young man gets shipwrecked and ends up on a life raft with a bengal tiger. Much of the film is the battle for survival between the two.

The clash between the two protagonists is made starkly believable. The tiger in particular looks as good  as I could have imagined. His body movements, reactions to the boy, flying fish, etc are astounding. But in addition Lee provides us with startlingly beautiful scenes filled with luminous imagery...none of which are at all realistic but serve to transport us to a realm of myth and magic. They help us believe that what we are watching could possibly be.

A sequence on a floating mangrove island...filled with chattering meerkats was transcendent in it's ethereal, otherworldly beauty.

This was one of the best uses of CGI I've seen. The only limit is the imagination.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine

Engaging fictionalization of a true incident that took place in a small Texas town. A genial undertaker's assistant gets ensnared in the grip of a mean-spirited widow. She torments him beyond his breaking point and he ends up shooting her to death.

Film was helped enormously by Black's performance and by numerous interviews of the town's citizens expressing their views on the entire case. The story was played as realistically as possible. By the end I felt sympathy for this guy and marveled at the film's ability to invoke large-scale moral issues from this tawdry little story.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I Wish


Sweet story of some children who travel to a town west of Tokyo so they can be present when two fast trains pass each other creating a vortex that they believe will allow their wishes to come true. We mostly follow the two sons of a divorced couple who are living apart and wish their parents could reconcile and bring the family together again.

The summary sounds twee but it works...largely because of the delicate touch used throughout. There is nothing melodramatic here...just a simple story, simply told which shows life from a child's perspective.

This joins the ranks of other successful childhood films...Small Change, Treeless Mountain, Ponette...


Monday, December 17, 2012

A Fierce Green Fire


A traipse through the mammoth topic of environmentalism...just a light dance, touching on several little victories (Love Canal, Greenpeace/whales) whilst completely ignoring the values of capitalism which create such monstrous, destructive behavior in the first place. Call it environmentalism lite.

Narrated by Redford and Meryl Streep this is a cleaned-up, safe look at where we are and where we're going. Don't worry...soon we'll have solar power and everything will be all right. Now go back to sleep my pretties...


The Waiting Room


The perfect movie for those who would like to spend a couple of hours watching poor people (ie those without 'health insurance') suffer, both stoically and loudly in a hospital waiting room. For variety every once in a while several people get wheeled in who have been are bleeding and dying. All staff race to save these people which makes the wait for the ones who are dying more slowly even longer. And presumably if the shot ones recover after heroic work they will get to go back out and maybe, if they are lucky and skilled, dodge the bullets next time.

Hobbes' observation still holds true...the lives of the poor are nasty, brutish and short.

If a poor person dies on a gurney in a public hospital...does it make a sound?


Sunday, December 16, 2012

You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet

France    d/ Alan Renais

The old master keeps on chuggin. He's into his 90's now and still comes up with interesting, provocative films that defy convention and stereotypes.

Here he gathers a group of well-known French actors...Michel Piccoli, Sabine Azema, Mathieu Almaric and others...into a large room and has them re-enact a version of the classic Greek tragedy Orpheus and Eurydice. The story, as always, is compelling and in spite of the mind-bending changes in perspective he uses it works to make us care about these two characters and their fate.

Fresh, original, imaginative...genre-spanning art. Good for him.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

My Perestroika


Interesting but ultimately severely limited account of the changes that happened in Russia because of the collapse of the Soviet Union. We focus on a few individuals which I suppose is a legitimate tactic but the real story was immense in scope, profound in its implications and its effect on the course of world history and this film scratched timidly on the surface of a tiny bit of it.

While these people were sort of interesting they couldn't begin to satisfy someone curious about how this societal implosion affected those caught up in its tsunami. This would have had value as one episode of a 100 part series but as a stand-alone it was worthless.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Blancanieves (Snow White)


Brilliant re-imagining of the Snow White story...transported to Spain with flamenco, mantillas, bullfights...the whole shebang. The requisite dwarfs were itinerant bullfighting entertainers.

Silent, high-contrast black and white photography, outstanding compositions, cine, editing. After last year's The Artist this just might mean a resurgence of silents to the mainstream. Since we were dealing with a Grimm tale here the story was easily reduced to forms easily understood with gestures, facial expressions, body language.

A triumph of imagination, and cinematic skill.


Letters to Juliet

Amanda Seyfried, Vanessa Regrave

Disney-level romantic schmaltz helped by the skill of the two female leads. VR in particular lends a solidity, a realness that the script doesn't deserve.

The cine was marvelous, Verona and the Tuscan countryside spectacular, the story at times amusing but mostly predictable...there is no doubt whatsoever how this film's fairy tale plot will resolve. Still at the right moments the right buttons were pushed and I responded...against my better judgement.

Good date movie.


Thursday, December 13, 2012



A young American man, born and raised in New Jersey with Indian antecedents, decides to become a fake guru for this movie project. He travels to Arizona, picks up some sad acolytes, deceives them for a time...while filming all encounters...leaves and eventually reveals himself to them. Some are angry and leave. But most accept and embrace this acknowledged fraud.

There are a plethora of messages in this film...most not at all complimentary to peoples' credulity. Or the future of mankind. It was fascinating but painful to watch.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Norwegian Wood

Japan     d/ Tran Anh Hung

Well this was a pleasant surprise. An adaptation of a mediocre novel by Japanese author H. Murakami this translation into cinematic language greatly surpassed the book. Luminous visuals, elegant, quiet compositions, just-in-time editing rhythms, strong cast raised this to good, perhaps very good status.

The novel is all interiority but Tran succeeds in bringing these people to life and making us care about their fate. Handsome, skilled actors seem inseparable from their parts. Tran's skill at lighting interior scenes is second to none.

After this I'll make it a point to see everything this director chooses to do.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Loving Story


Very moving story of the Lovings of Virginia, a mixed race couple who were prosecuted under the miscegenation laws and banned from the state. Their case eventually went to the US Supreme Court where those laws were overturned.

It was interesting listening to the arguments of the state baring the crassest racism. During that period people looked to the federal courts for ultimate justice. That view seems naive today.

The film showed archival footage of the Lovings. He was a redneck bricklayer who loved his wife. Simple as that. Good stuff.


Chasing Ice


Record of a project by photographer James Balog to document the shrinking of the glaciers at the top of the world. Many great photos...some harrowing video footage of the crew rappelling down moulins in Greenland, extreme weather conditions.

More a cri de coeur than a scientific argument for doing something about AGW but quite effective nonetheless.


The Imposter


Mind-bending story of a 23 yo French man who successfully pretended to be a 16 yo missing Texas boy even though he spoke with a strong French accent, had the wrong color eyes, wrong physical features and didn't know anything about American life.

As this went on it became clear that the scam artist being interviewed was likely the only honest person in this story. This family of trailer trash had some serious splainin to do. It is left unexplained but we can make our own conclusions about what went on here. Proof once again that truth is stranger than fiction.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

In the Fog


Unusual story about partisans and resistance fighters in Belarus during WW2. While the Germans are indisputably the bad guys the focus of this film is the in-fighting among the partisans themselves. The Germans have mastered the trick of turning these guys against each other.

What's odd is that all the Slavs appear to be slow-witted, slow-moving...not primitive so much as just slow. In everything they do. It gives the film an odd pacing. The Germans seem normal though so the effect is deliberate.

This inevitably called Klimov's Come and See to mind...a much better film involving the same struggle. Still this had its good qualities and held me to its (slow) resolution.


Friday, December 7, 2012

Miss Bala


A young woman trying to escape poverty enrolls in a beauty contest, witnesses a gang mass slaying and finds herself entrapped in the violent, crazed world of Mexican drug lords.

Astonishing you-are-there effect of POV and tracking shots. Also the film seems to be shot in real time. And no one is glamorized. Our sympathy for this woman grows as her  life gets totally upended...she sees no way out and after a while neither do we.

Powerful film which hammers home its message while focusing all our attention on this poor young woman and her plight. She (Stephanie Sigman) is terrific.




East Germany 1980. A female doctor has applied to go to the west so she is sent to the provinces and constantly harassed/tormented by the Stasi. She gets involved in local peoples' lives and plans her escape with a lover.

Great set-up for a tense, suspenseful melodrama. Played with restraint and intensity by Nina Hoss. The resolution was in doubt until the very end. Good film.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

White Elephant

Argentina    Ricardo Darin, Jeremie Renier

Well-produced story of the trials of two priests. long-time friends, who are trying to make a difference in a notorious Buenos Ares slum. Apparently shot on location with many excellent steadicam tracking shots through the warren of hovels that had originally been built to be latin America's largest hospital. The project was abandoned so the poor moved in.

Nothing particularly new or fresh here (see one slum you've seen them all) but the actors were first rate and every element of the film was slick and professional. The problematic love story was handled with restraint and grace...except for an unfortunate over-extended sex scene.

Solid social-issue film.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How Would You Feel?


Well-meaning and very clever student-type film but this went on way too long and eventually came across as solipsistic and off-putting. A 20-something guy agonizes over his non-relationship with a woman, examines it from every possible angle, uses mucho animation, slick music, stentorian voice-over...every gimmick and trick he can think of to express his pain at not getting the girl.

I wanted to like this but it was too much. Might have worked for 30 minutes or so but at 90 minutes it became an agonizing ordeal.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Beijing Besieged by Trash


This is what happens when a city grows too fast for its infrastructure to keep pace. Truly horrifying scenes of filth and squalor polluting the air and water in a ring around China's capitol city. They'll probably fix this...or at least try...but the damage shown here to the people and the water table is irreversible and will resonate for quite some time.


Monday, December 3, 2012

The Enemy Below

Robert Mitchum, Curt Jurgens

Big budget realistic (for 1957 hollywood) story of the cat and mouse game between a US destroyer and a German sub in the South Atlantic in WW2. Crisply paced the film built nicely one step at a time to the final sequence.

The resolution was pretty hokey and overall the entire film paled compared to Das Boot...which sets the standard against which all sub movies will be measured. Still, for its time it was a solid effort and remains gripping. Mitchum's presence helped immensely.


Sunday, December 2, 2012


New Zealand   Ray Winstone

Nice adventure film which made excellent use of the stunning NZ landscape.

The story is based on a maori man unjustly accused of murder who goes on the run and is pursued by a bitter, disaffected former Boer. The dynamic between them and their common contempt for the Brit imperialists gave the film depth and historical resonance.

RW underplayed his part which worked beautifully...his enigmatic persona helped create a real aura of suspense. Solid film.


Friday, November 30, 2012



Wonderful animated feature about a young African slave who escapes and finds himself on a mission to 19th century Paris...accompanied by his beloved pet giraffe. In a hot air balloon.

Nicely drawn and a sweet story that should appeal to children of all ages.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

9000 Needles


Pretty interesting piece on an athlete who suffers a brain stem bleed, loses most of his faculties, runs out of insurance and heads to China for a 12 week acupuncture treatment. Which helps. By the end of the program he has regained much of what he lost and appears to be well on the road to recovery.

This film forces us to question the easy assumptions about traditional medicine we have been taught. Central to the program was the caring supportive attitude conveyed by the staff of this institution...a more holistic approach to healing than pills.

Thought provoking.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012



Lighthearted, very funny piece on several people who have become obsessed with returning to and colonizing the moon. Clever, slick, gently mocking in tone it gave these folks the time and space to expose themselves to us as well-meaning fringe-dwellers...a but deluded perhaps but decent nonetheless.

Nice use of music and intertitles. A fun freak show.




The story of a young man on work release from prison who is assigned to help pick up bodies of the recently dead. He was abandoned shortly after birth and wrestles with demons and rage mostly by shutting down and dealing with the world with a detached affect.

Strong lead performance, nice, tight pacing and cine showcases the humane treatment of troubled youth in a Europe seemingly more civilized than the US. Solid film.


All Together

France     Jane Fonda, Geraldine Chaplin

A group of elderly long-term friends decide to move in together to share the perils of old age with people who care instead of strangers. Problems arise which are used in the film for comedic effect.

Charming, breezy, light-hearted look at aging among the upper middle class. Helped a bit by the two female leads and the novelty of them performing in French.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Me and You and Everyone We Know

Miranda July

This is my second time through this one. Her films are called precious and twee...and they are...but...there's something about her sensibility that draws me in. Her on-screen persona either attracts or repels viewers (the former for me). It's also obvious to me that she isn't this person...she has written, directed and starred in two feature films...which requires focus and fierce dedication.

The world she creates is one I'd like to be living in...where confused but well-meaning people muddle through the shoals of sexual desire and connection as best they can...with malice toward none.

There's a self-conscious oddness to her work (films and short stories) that should be off-putting but isn't. I hope she continues.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tomorrow When the War Began


Aussie Red Dawn. This seemed a bit more juvenile than its inspiration. It took a lot more screen time for the kids to get with the guerrilla program...which felt like filler.

But I'm carping because this film was idiotic at its core and nothing they could have done would make it anything other than light entertainment. With killing.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Cafe de Flore


Unusually sophisticated drama involving a breaking family intercut masterfully with another story involving a single mother and her downs son set decades ago.

Quite confusing for much of the film wasn't until the latter part that the situation became clear. Fine performances all around. compelling stories. outstanding editing with several nice montages. A first rate film with a realistic take on divorce, separation, life changes.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Wagner and Me


Stephen Fry leads us around the rehearsals and production of the Ring cycle in Germany. Strictly for fans of either.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Escape Fire


Yet another well done indictment of America's 'health care' system. This touched on all the usual topics and did a good job but nothing will change the fundamental problems until we address the perils of living in a greed-based value system.


Hitler's Children


An original notion: Israeli filmmakers dredge up the holocaust yet by featuring the children and grandchildren of the top monsters of Nazidom. These included Himmler, Goering, Hoess, Hans Frank. The unique slant cast a certain complexity to the over-familiar story which gave it a resonance lacking in so many of the others. The reverberations of evil spread more widely than we normally think.

That complexity was undercut with scenes at Auschwitz with Israeli schoolchildren weeping in a patent attempt to sway the audience's perceptions. The story of WW2 is getting ended over 65 years ago...but there exists a minor industry churning out these 'remembrances' - several a year - ensuring the centrality of Jewish suffering in the world's eye in spite of the fact that far more Russians were killed by the Nazis.

This film was extremely well produced but ultimately couldn't escape the taint of propaganda.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012



A young art student suffers a breakup and consequent insomnia so he takes a job at an all night supermarket where he acquires the ability to stop time, undress all the pretty girls in the market and sketch them...without them knowing.

This was like a pre-adolescent daydream...puerile and embarrassing. It didn't help that the protagonist was a wimpy, mewling 'boy' in the truest sense. I felt badly for the actors who were called upon to stand stock still naked for the various scenes. I also found it offensive that everyone in the market looked like a playboy model.

This will be a big hit with adolescent boys...and their older ilk.


Young Adult

Charlize Theron

This was written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman...the team that gave us the successful Juno. This film doesn't come close to that one in appeal. It's an attempted black comedy about a 37 yo self-centered prom queen who learns that her high school sweetheart has ended up with a better she goes back home to screw his up.

Asinine premise...unpleasant to watch. CT hit the right notes for her character but the setup worked against her. Not funny. At all. Or amusing. Just unpleasant. An unnecessary ordeal for the viewer.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Rear Window


The core idea here holds up very well but this time I found Stewart's character something less than endearing. In fact I thought he was a self-centered jerk. Rotten toward Grace, dismissive toward Thelma...just a cruel asshole. This greatly tempered my enthusiasm for the film.

On the other hand the voyeurism, camera positioning and the thrilling sense of mystery and danger was very effective and allowed me to watch all the way through.

I suppose we were meant to forgive Stewart because he had been incapacitated for weeks and it was hot but mostly because he was Jimmy Stewart for god sake...who could hate this guy? I could for one. Grace epitomized her name and anyone who was mean to her moved to my shitlist.


Saturday, November 17, 2012



This was really bad. Clearly more Disney than Pixar. Loud, crass, stupid. A cartoon for 7 year olds. Any attempt to create a spunky female heroine was abandoned somewhere along the way. Completely lacking in charm, whimsey. Every character shouted or hammed it up.

Much was made of her hair. Yup...great hair. So what?

Pixar looked like it was going to create a new form...intelligent American animation. But the disneys have dragged it down to their lowest level. Damned shame.


Friday, November 16, 2012



Fine piece on a real-life horse whisperer. This guy comes across as a secular saint...having overcome a horrendous childhood to become a firm but gentle and understanding adult. He's on screen and talking for much of the film and when it was over I wished it could have continued. Now there's a recommendation.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Assassination Games

Jean-Claude van Damme

Expensive, well-produced and shot 'action' film. This was formulaic but slick enough that I didn't care. Satisfying diversion for a rainy day.


Deadline at Dawn

Susan Hayward

Interesting back-lot mystery from 1944. A nasty woman is found dead and a growing coterie of night people schlep around NYC trying to find the killer. A naive sailor is initially suspected but nobody believes this including him.

During this period studios were pumping out dozens of B pictures like this one. This had snappy dialogue, not very believable storyline, good acting and a happy ending. It could serve as the quintessential 40's noir.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

No Place on Earth


True, re-enacted story of a group of Ukrainian Jews who hid in a cave underground for an extended period during WW2 and thus survived. Almost the whole film was shot in the dark....a serious flaw. Plus the survivors were interviewed on camera so there was no drama.

A marginally interesting film about survival under extreme circumstances.


Finding North


Solid, disturbing report on the level of hunger in America. Echoes the famed 1968 CBS documentary and shows how since that time it has gotten steadily worse. This kind of doc will only be seen and internalized by those who already care...the ruling class will continue their savagely predatory ways until they are forcibly stopped. And this is one issue that could prompt a rebellion. When people watch their children starve they act.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Gregory Crewdson


Straightforward doc on a photographer who stages elaborate scenarios meant to be mysterious and provocative. And they are. Interesting and informative.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid

Steve Martin, Carl Reiner, Rachel Ward

Wonderful film. These guys lovingly create a 40's Sam Spade-like private eye yarn and sprinkle in cleverly done interactions between Martin and various classic films. Both a tribute and a terrific piece of entertainment. Made me laugh out loud many times.

Just a gem.




Odd case of a man who was beaten badly in a bar fight, lost most faculties, had to re-learn to talk, walk, etc. During his long semi-recovery he took to photographing military stories using stills of plastic toy figures.  The work was nicely done but this guy's pretty fucked up, if no longer dangerous or violent.

Interesting peek into a damaged mind...a bit too long though.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Dirty Girl

Juno Temple

Fun teen comedy that started out being outrageous and smoothly shifted to sappy and touching. JT easily carried the film which gave her a wide range of emotions, attitudes in which to shine.

Great supporting cast...Mary Steenburgen, Milla Jovovich, DwightYoakam...looked like everyone had a good time with this project. Silly, stupid and cliched but for some reason I didn't care. Even had a ridiculous happy ending.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Satellite Boy


Two young Aboriginal boys set out on a quest, have a series of adventures in the outback, achieve their goal, make it home and set out on the rest of their lives.

Almost an after-school special. The kids were likable, the scenery outstanding but this was targeted at an audience much younger than me.


Dormant Beauty


Fast paced, hyper-modern treatment of the "pulling the plug" controversy a la Terry Schiavo. The first hour was shot in the dark with long lenses and speed editing. Gave me a headache. Eventually though the director settled down and focused on his characters and came up with several scenes that soared.

There were political elements, Catholic church influences, personal histories and one lamo love affair tossed into the mix. Plus a woman junkie...who provided a knockout scene.

So overall a mixed bag. An intelligent, complex film with a real payoff.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Radio Unnameable


Straightforward piece on Bob Fass and WBAI...New York's hippie dippie free form station. He started a late night show in the late 50's and was a pivotal figure in shepherding the 60's into being.

Many events shown trace the history of the counter-culture movement...from the sweet "fly-in" at Kennedy airport in the early 60's to the brutal Chicago and NYC police riots that represented the establishment kicking back and stomping the young peoples' dreams into the pavement.

Times changed, the station changed. At this point it all looks so glowy and nostalgic...but there was a time, a brief time, when many thought the world could be wrestled from the militarists and set on a better path. Twas so long ago...


Tuesday, November 6, 2012



This is the story of a sad, tormented 34 yo closeted gay doctor. People around him try to help but he prefers moping around, closed in and hurt. There was nothing new or interesting about the film. Many of these gay-themed films emerged starting in the 80's and by now it's all been said. This one didn't add anything to the mix.

Very appealing lead.


The Well-Diggers Daughter

France   Daniel Auteuill

Lovely, old-fashioned story taken from a novel by Marcel Pagnol. It's a cross-class romance set just before the start of WW1. Scenes and events unfold patiently - one careful step at a time - which gives the film a resonance missing in these hyper-quick-edited times.

Exterior scenes glowed with magic hour light. The innocence and naivete of the female lead may have been exaggerated but may also have represented the reality of rural France in that era. Her swain was presented as a selfish, heartless pig until the very last minute...a jarring note which came across as a flaw.

Still...I was willing to accept the resolution of the story because of all that had gone before. Akin to My Father's Glory and My Mother's Castle. Wonderful stuff.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Like Crazy

Felicity Jones

Nice take on a young couple trying to maintain a long distance relationship. Separated by a continent, an ocean and bureaucracy they try but it proves too difficult to keep a hot flame burning when most of their time is spent apart.

Interesting time jumps made the film seem compact...just the important scenes were shown in a five year relationship. Asymmetric affair had her committed...him not so much. His character was passive and vague. She was the initiator at every stage...he just sort of moped along. The ending was very doesn't conquer all...not even its participants.

Star-making turn by Ms Jones. She is beautiful and charismatic. She lights up the screen in every scene.  He (Anton Yelchin) didn't.

A movie love affair that hewed closely to real life.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

In Another Country

Korea   Isabelle Huppert

A really idiotic film. Several short stories, all featuring the same players in different personae frabbing around a holiday resort.

Pointless and stupid. I kept waiting for something intelligent or insightful or worthwhile to kick in. It never did. A waste of time and a good actress.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

God Bless America

Bobcat Goldthwaite

Sharp, lacerating take on the current state of the media nation. We follow a schlub who's had enough takes on the task of killing folks who deserve it. Along the way he picks up a demented, violent 17 yo female sidekick with a long list of possible victims. Somewhere near NBK, Falling Down and Bonnie and Clyde. But played for laughs and wicked satire.

Much of this was pointed and effective: TV clips showing crude behavior served up as entertainment, mean political pundits, people talking in movie theaters or who take up two parking spaces(?)...

Some great rants every now and then by both leads that really hit the target. The many killings are absurd and weirdly satisfying. Who doesn't want to murder those ubiquitous protesters from that Baptist church who hate gays and jews?

This guy's made several films that didn't work. This one has some weak moments but taps successfully into the disgust many feel toward the dominant media-saturated "culture."

Killing Kardashian anyone?


Friday, November 2, 2012

I Killed My Mother


No he doesn't actually kill his mother but the extremely contentious relationship between the teenaged protagonist and his mother is as disturbing as any ever put on screen. Written and performed by Xavier Dolan...this is a semi-autobiographical film about a coming-out 16 yo gay kid with some issues.

The fights here are more extreme than those between George and Martha in Virginia Woolf. Very hard for the viewer to evoke sympathy for either character. By exaggerating their behavior beyond believability Dolan highlights his own perception of psychic pain at the risk of alienating his audience...all of whom walked in willingly to a film with this title.

No fun to experience...but unforgettable.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Long Shot


This follows the trials and tribulations of a young man who was born with only one hand and wants to pursue a basketball career. Although true the film follows a traditional dramatic fictional arc and will satisfy those for whom this structure is fresh.

He came across as a good kid but I do wonder what it was like being followed around by a camera crew for several years while in high school...


A Matter of Life and Death

David Niven    Powell/Pressberger

This was done at the end of WW2 and it reflects the preoccupations and concerns of that time: mass death and the likelihood of an afterlife.

DN is a pilot who jumps from his plane w/o a parachute but before he does he connects with a Yank radio operator and 'falls in love.' He survives the fall by mistake which creates a problem in heaven...proper accounting and all that. It all comes down to a trial in heaven with the opposing counsel being Raymond Massey and Roger Livesy. Guess how it resolves?

Some neat sets and matte work. There's a stairway to heaven that's a giant escalator with statues of historical notables (Plato, Newton, etc) along the way. Beautiful Technicolor in the earth-bound scenes. But this is so idiotic, so painfully naive, so sadly revelatory of British sensibility at the time that it's impossible to take seriously today. It lives as a curiousity.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Kristen Stewart

Nicely done melodrama about a 14 yo high school girl who is raped at a party and becomes a pariah among her peers for trying to report it. She tells no one, buries her pain inside and struggles to continue.

Much of this played like an after-school special...with caricatures of adults, teachers and parents, as teens would see them. But KS turns in a strong performance that easily carries the film. Since she is nearly mute she must do with posture and facial expressions.

Cartoonish last 15 minutes was crowd-pleasing but unrealistic. But by that point the film had won me over.


Monday, October 29, 2012

The End of Time


Intriguing, partly successful film. Unfocused, discursive provocative...many stunning visuals, interesting, creative sound design...

We start out at Cern and muck about the LHC. Then we trip all over the world...India, Hawaii, tropical forests, telescope installations...get mind-blowing close-ups of volcanoes complete with sound, lava flows, bizarre landscapes. We get to watch a corpse burn in India...for some reason...

Roughly similar to Samsara...the viewer participates in finding the meaning of all this. What is time? What is its purpose?

A bit too artsy for a film posing serious questions. Idiotic final scene where the filmmaker interviews his own mother about the meaning of time. She hasn't a clue. Me neither.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Diversionaries


This film shows the struggle for what should be included in text books used in the public schools in Texas. Evolution and history are the two main battlegrounds.

It's essentially educated, thoughtful people against reactionary religious morons. This being Texas the troglodytes win, thus condemning a generation of schoolchildren to ignorance.

Stories like this make me feel there's no hope for mankind. True believers of all stripe, political, social or religious, have been mankind's curse since forever. Their absolute certainty in whatever belief system  they espouse leads to suppression, violence and social retardation. I find it grimly amusing that they demonize secular humanism... arranging society for the good of humanity.

One guy here says the combination of ignorance and arrogance is deadly. Yes it is.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Wall Street Conspiracy


Particulars and details of several fraudulent tricks the 1% dreamed up when the oversight of regulators (adults) was removed in the 90's. They lied, cheated, stole peoples' pensions, bankrupted small companues and generally behaved like demented 6 year olds. Because they could.

So it goes...


Friday, October 26, 2012

The Hunter

Willem Dafoe

Pretty engaging Australian film set in Tasmania. A man is sent to hunt one of the last Tasmanian Tigers for a multi-national. He runs afoul of locals, gets involved with his host family, gradually loses his sense of mission and ends up fighting for his life in the wilderness.

Great scenery and sense of place. The arc of the story was predictable...well done but felt like it had been done before...many times. Watching it moved me from curiousity to engagement to what was becoming indifference by the end. A good film...solid, competent...but ultimately forgettable.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Searching for Sugar Man


A perfect story...told perfectly.

This is the way we all wish life worked.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Orchestra of Exiles


The story of B Huberman...Polish violin prodigy who escaped from Germany in 1935 and founded the Palestine symphony orchestra. Inspirational but I suppose of necessity very pro zionist which cast a dark shadow on the celebration.

Minimal mention of the people who were already living there, who are depicted as mindless  obstructionists...similar to the attitude of the europeans who came to North America. Also no note taken of the violence it took, and takes, for the settlers to maintain their hegemony over this troubled land. The focus was entirely on music. Selective history lesson.



Ron Fricke

Another gorgeous travelogue/social commentary by the maker of Baraka. He seems to have found a comfortable range of images...from the exotic to the pedestrian (usually speeded up) accompanied by some lovely music.

These two films are nothing more than eye/ear candy...but stand as the equivalent of Lindt chocolates - truly exquisite works that can be appreciated by anyone, anywhere. That said, I found my attention wandering when the focus was on landscapes after a while. When he brought human faces in it worked better.

Still this was a luscious pleases me that there's room in pop culture for something like this film.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Photographic Memory


Another Ross McElwee home movie. This guy has spent most of his life with a camera lens pointed squarely at his own navel and periodically releases "films" taken from that footage. I guess he thinks others will share his fascination. Maybe they do.

He comes across as a nice guy...a bit wimpy perhaps but decent. This time he features footage of his son who has become a sullen, obnoxious 20 yo and dad laments that they are no longer pals. I wonder why. No I don't.

We also get to France to re-trace his adventurous years tooling around in a microbus, smoking pot and screwing an exciting French girl. But forty years on she's an old lady...dommage.

His career is a never-ending display of solipsism.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Girl Model


Very sad piece on the recruitment and abuse of young Russian girls in the Japanese modeling industry. These young girls (we follow a thirteen yo) are promised wealth, exotic travel, glamour but are housed in tiny cubicles, shuffled around to auditions and if they don't connect with designers are shipped back home penniless and wiser about the ways of the world.

It's a cruel, shallow meat-market business and even the people who are making a living at it see it for what it is. We also follow the recruiter here who is a piece of work. She hated the business when she modeled and now she lies to innocents to bring them in because it gives her the means to pay for a glass-walled house in Connecticut.

After this and the doc on Anna Wintour it's hard not to feel contempt for the whole fashion industry...where the superficial rules.


Saturday, October 20, 2012


Christian Bale, Emily Watson

Futuristic society which looked for all the world like the one conjured by Orwell. "Feelings" were criminal because they lead to wars, etc. So everyone had to take drugs to stifle their emotions. The state had exclusive right to use violence (duh)...our hero is one of the enforcers...charmingly called clerics.

Pretty simple-minded...very Matrix-like in look and tone...over-the-top shoot-outs where dozens get killed. The film was well done but would appeal mostly to 12 year old boys. Helped some by the skill of the players and slick direction/effects but still adolescent.


The Big Picture


Slick modern-looking film with an intriguing story line. A sarariman finds out his wife is cheating, accidentally kills her lover, disposes of the body and takes over his identity because that guy was a photographer and this is what he always wanted to do.

The filmmaker then takes the story in unexpected directions...some of which hinge on the adage...oh what a tangled web we weave...

Nice locations, strong secondary characters, sharp editing rhythms. Well done film for adults.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Forks Over Knives


Hard core advocacy/propaganda piece for a vegan lifestyle. No animal-derived foods. Period. Only plant food allowed. No meat, fish, dairy, eggs. Essentially humans as ruminants.

I dunno. I don't doubt that what's called here the western diet is stupid and harmful but these guys go too far in this film. The claims made seem up to 80% of all disease would be eliminated if we all just switched.

I still think moderation in all things is a saner life course. Balance, harmony...that's the ticket.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Toy Story 3


I had heard that this was the best of the series and damned if it wasn't true. This team captured magic here...tapping into the poignance of the stages we pass through in our lives and the things left well as comedy, intrigue, adventure, romance...innovative animation, brilliant colors, suspense and an ending that touched the heart.

Together the three films in this series rank among the finest animation ever done.


Monday, October 15, 2012

When the Sea Rises


Unusual, ultimately charming story about an itinerant entertainer, plying the small towns of northern France, who picks up an admirer who follows her from show to show and eventually becomes her lover. She is middle-aged, well past her prime, with a stable family somewhere...he is an overgrown child with some apparent issues.

This works because of the skill and appeal of the lead...Yolande Moreau. It also intrigues because of the folkways on display...from parades with papier-mache giants to her bizarre act which to my eyes was incomprehensible. She wore a half-mask and broadly enacted a post-crime scenario that had audiences laughing and me bewildered.

But the scenery was lovely and the lovers' dynamic worked so the time was well spent.


Sunday, October 14, 2012


Matthew McConaughey, Harvey Keitel

Nicely done WW2 action flick. Not as good as Das Boot but just a notch or so down from what is easily the best submarine film ever made.

Packed with incident but they still managed to create characters with individual identities. Based on several true cases of efforts by the allies to steal the German enigma secrets. Excellent effects, exaggerated pyro, nice sound design, sets and tracking shots through the sub.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Vanishing on 7th Street

Thandie Newton, John Leguizamo

This started with a good premise...something caused most of the people in the world to disappear leaving behind only their clothes, glasses, false teeth, etc...but never really came together to tell an intelligible story. Whatever caused the disappearance also took away electricity, battery power but left little exceptions otherwise the entire film would have been shot in the dark...which it largely was.

Four were left alive but we never find out how or why. In fact the puzzle of the film is why we would want to watch something kept so deliberately vague and unresolved? I'm fine with ambiguity but this went too far. Couldn't fault the cast who gamely tried the best they could with inadequate material.

This script needed some help. Too bad...everything else was solid.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Largo Winch

France   Kristen Scott Thomas

Slick professional international thriller. Most of the film is one long chase of one kind or another...all of them beautifully staged and shot. Occasional quiet moments are used to explain what the hell is going on...lots of complications, double cross, triple cross, etc.

The lead (Tomer Sisley) was great. In the new standard meme he can take an enormous level of punishment and keep on ticking. Several spectacular locations, stunts. Of course there was never any doubt about the outcome but it was fun getting there.


Thursday, October 11, 2012


Guy Pearce

Great trash. Absurd story, non-stop violence, damsel-in-distress storyline, outrageous locations and villains, incredible escape, lotsa funny lines that had me LOL.

Who could ask for anything more?


The Sound of My Voice

Brit Marling

Interesting take on cults by the writer of Another Earth.

We follow a couple who secretly join and tape a cult built around a woman who claims to be from the future. This played like an over-extended Twilight Zone episode and would have packed more punch if it ran 45 minutes or so. Still it was engrossing and featured an end sequence that justified the time spent.

BM also stars and easily commands the screen. She's talented but may need to find a writing collaborator to bring her films up into the higher ranks. As is there are some good ideas but her films lack the zing they need to be really compelling.


Damsels in Distress

Greta Gerwig   w/d   Whit Stillman

Another delightful oddball satire from that dissector of preppie-class absurdity. Comedy from America's chattering class by one of its sons.

In this film he stretches out into the surreal and will alienate many but if you are willing to give his characters time they become more and more endearing. GG pulls off a very difficult feat...treading the line just short of obnoxious. A few laughs in here but mostly the kind of subliminal chuckles that tickle just beneath the surface.

He ends the film with a wonderful full-on song and dance homage to the Astaire/Rogers silliness from the 30's. Kudos.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Art of Getting By

Emma Roberts

Generic formulaic NYC teen yarn. Built on the completely new...boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl...trope. Brilliant! How do they come up with such fresh ideas? I guess that's a good way to generate suspense: use a formula that's been done a billion times and keep the audience guessing...are they nervy enough to do that again?

Tune in and find out. Now for the weather...


Monday, October 8, 2012

Whisper of the Heart


Superb work produced in the 90's by Studio Ghibli. It captures the essence of adolescence...its questing, insecurities, false hopes, crushes, fascinations, sense of beauty, injustice...the whole shebang. All wrapped in a visually delightful package.

This is as fine a work as animation has yet produced. Moving, insightful...a recognition and celebration of life itself.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Times and Winds


Poetic, pointed examination of life in a rural, isolated mountain village. We follow three pre-teens as they suffer the injustices heaped upon them by the older generation who have suffered the same fate by their own parents. The film is organized around the five daily calls to prayer...we get the sense that these lives, these fates are timeless, ever repeating as the wheel of time turns.

Spectacular cinematography coupled with a dramatic score by Finland's Arvo Part gave the film a depth and universality that took it out of the realm of anthropology into philosophical ruminations of the meaning and purpose of life. Frequent shots of the various characters lying apparently dead in natural settings helped root the film in the metaphysical. As did the excellent steadicam shots following characters as they wove their way through the cobbled streets and between broken stone walls. These people were seamlessly presented as part of their landscape.

Not much plot. Character development was scattered and sometimes confusing. But for those with the patience and an interest in serious artistic filmmaking this is a winner.


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Only Angels Have Wings

Cary Grant, Jean Arthur     d/   Howard Hawkes

Fast-paced, event-packed melodrama from the Columbia studio machine in 1939. Set in an unnamed South American hellhole, this tells the story of a ragtag flying operation trying to win a mail delivery contract. If only they didn't have to go over that pass...

Nothing in this film was believable but that wasn't the point. The point was delivering exotic entertainment to a nation weary from ten years of economic suffering and anxious about the forthcoming war. The film fairly dripped were men and women were accessories...death, broken limbs, shootings...nothing stopped these guys from completing their appointed rounds.


Friday, October 5, 2012

Water Lilies


Quiet, intelligent treatment of adolescent female sexuality. We follow three 15 yo girls as they muddle through a confusing period in their lives...a time of inchoate desires, shifting alliances, unrequited loves and experimentation. The nexus is a girls' synchronized swim team...a smart choice by the writer since the near-nudity exacerbates their desires.

Almost no adults appear on screen and very few boys. The focus on these characters is intense and revealing. Their individual personalities are clearly drawn. Red herrings are used to surprise us...and them.

This kind of film would never get made here. Not enough "action." Just real life.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Hunger Games

Jennifer Lawrence

Engaging film with many nice touches but the way the game was actually played out was puzzlingly at odds with its terms. This was presented as a game of all-against-all lasting for a set time which meant each contestant had to try and kill any other he/she encountered. Or be killed. Yet almost from the start some formed alliances and tracked down others. How in the hell did they think this was going to play out? There had to be mass betrayal. Who could possibly trust whom?

Also...there were many quiet moments in the film after the game began when Catniss seemed to be oblivious to her surroundings...tending a wounded friend, sleeping for two days. Wouldn't a game like this require extreme vigilance? How could anyone possibly relax...even for a minute?

The first hour was a broad parody/condemnation of centralized control and media. Much of this worked in an obvious sort of way. Stanley Tucci's MC was fun as he wildly exaggerated a game show host. The mocking of fashion and design trends also made me laugh.

But focusing our attention on this one girl made the outcome inevitable and took away any real suspense. Did anyone in the audience think she wouldn't survive?

For a better, if far more violent treatment of this same concept see Japan's Battle Royale. This is games-light compared to that.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Lily Collins, Taylor Lautner      d/ John Singleton

This was a totally preposterous movie. Even for a contemporary action film. The plot was absurd, chases, escapes, romance, climactic scenes, plot resolution and final sweet moment...all ditto. Nothing about this film was even remotely believable. Even as a cartoon it pushed past the limits of credibility.

This was not a cheap production and I find it dismaying that someone (Singleton?) was able to raise the money to get it made, marketed and distributed. If this is where the American movie audience is then I'm living in the wrong place. Or maybe, quoting Brian Wilson...I just wasn't made for these times...


Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt    w/d Rian Johnson

Time travel film which relies heavily on big sound, car chases, explosions, etc. That said, within the narrow range of workable scenarios available to this type of story this one eventually settles down and tells a compelling yarn which builds to a spectacular climax.

About a third of this film should have been eliminated and the introduction of the premise presented to the audience in a better way. Once we got past the SOS dystopian near-future and moved the story to a remote farmhouse the script focused on people and personalities and began to come together. Unfortunately the lead was played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt who projects almost nothing and is unsuitable for this type of action-oriented film. Nice supporting work by EB and BW with a bizarre, unnecessary part contributed by Jeff Daniels, of all people,  as the bad guy. And an extraordinary performance by a young boy named Pierce Gagnon who rocks the screen in a few well-chosen scenes...helped of course by BIG SOUND. Great staging of the CGI scenes.

Nice film overall...quite a ways from Brick.


Monday, October 1, 2012



Fair to poor treatment of the major lies fed to the sheeple for the last 100 years...the Fed, 9/11, wmd, etc. While everything this guy said was true the presentation was jumbled up to the point of incoherence. This film would only make sense to those who already knew and believed what he was saying.

Note to would-be filmmakers: if you have a speech impediment have someone else do the narration for your magnum opus. You'll alienate fewer people.


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Innocent Voices

Mexico  d/ Luis Mandoki

Lush, moving account of one family's struggle to survive in the war against the people of El Salvador sponsored by multi-nationals and the Reagan gang.

Based on one boy's true story the film was unabashedly pro-little guy propaganda but who in the world would have been rooting for the billionaires in New York and London who profited from this mass atrocity? In the 80's this was where the knife edge of capitalism was cutting. Get rid of the pesky people and the land and its resources are available for plunder.

Highly professional camera work and tech details raised the film above many of its well-meaning peers. A fine film with a strong message.


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Baby Doll

Carroll Baker, Eli Wallach, Karl Malden     d/ Elia Kazan

Tennessee Williams yarn set in delta country where cotton is king and marrying an underage nymphet is guaranteed to bring trouble.

High quality production with superb direction by Kazan. The extended seduction sequence on the swing and elsewhere was brilliantly staged and shot. Wallach skirted the line but never quite slid over into sleaze. CB was excellent as the child-woman who meets her match. Malden's character was overplayed but he was supposed to be a bellowing, sexually frustrated buffoon...and he was...annoyingly.

This shocked when it was released (1955) and still packs some heat. Well worth watching for the excellence on display.


Friday, September 28, 2012

Ugetsu Monogatari

Japan   K Mizoguchi

Classic from Japan's golden age of film - 1953. Two brothers feel the clarion call to riches and fame, use the current conflict to ditch their wives and head off for adventure. Things don't go according to daydreams.

Morality tale with supernatural elements that tap into ancient Japanese well as Noh theater. Fluid camera work and overall look, beautiful b/w especially in the lake/fog scenes. Marred a bit by the overacting endemic in Japanese films of that era.

Still this is a lean, taut drama which deserves its status.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Three Monkeys

Turkey    Nuri Bilge Ceylon

Very fine film by Turkey's most prominent filmmaker. A rich businessman/politician kills a pedestrian and rather than fess up persuades his chauffeur to take the rap and serve the time. This leads to unforeseen complications in the latter's dysfunctional family.

What we got here is a failure to communicate. Long pauses, glances, inner turmoil hinted at, unspoken grievances simmer beneath the surface. The film is a masterpiece of things left unsaid. The characters have an air of sad, knowing resignation alien to the can-do mindset.

This wouldn't work for most western audiences but for those willing to accept the pace and tone it packs a tremendous punch. Kudos.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Karl Urban, Olivia Trilby

Extremely violent cartoon-based film which carries on the idea that wholesale slaughter in the name of the state against the bad guys is OK.

This made an interesting contrast with The Raid. In that film the cops were lithe hand fighters who used their bodies as well as their guns to kill. In this one the "hero" is a lumbering, heavy-footed thug who thuds around corridors and kills with different weaponry. He also speaks in a Clint-like hoarse whisper (are you feeling lucky punk?) which seems a bit arch.

The standout feature of the film was the ultra-slow motion used sparingly and effectively. But I remember this trick used in Goodbye Columbus oh those many years ago. Still it added something coupled to the CGI.

Frankly I was hoping for a bit more here. Dommage.


Monday, September 24, 2012


Spain     Louis Tosar

Intelligent, extremely well-produced farce...set in 1913...based around freudian ideas with wonderfully lush sets, nice transitions, beautiful lighting, camera work...just the right amount of absurdity...great cast.

This genre isn't among my favorite because it so seldom works but this was so well done it held, and tickled me all the way through. Another completely different character for Tosar and he pulled it off with ease. Fun.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels


Jokey (adolescent) story of criminal low-lifes in London. Done for laughs...not funny. Lots of whoop-de-do camera work attempted to give it a now look but just made it aggravating to watch.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Rain Man

Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise    w/d  Barry Levinson

Twenty years on it still works...largely because of Hoffman's performance. As the film goes by it becomes impossible to think he is an actor playing a part...he so inhabits the role.

That said it did seem that TC's character was overcooked...he was so solipsistic and mean-spirited he came across as a caricature rather than a three dimensional human. And it seemed improbable that Valeria Golino would stay with such a self-absorbed jerk.

But there was never a moment when I felt like shutting it off even after multiple viewings. That says volumes...


Friday, September 21, 2012

The Master

Joaquim Phoenix, Phillip Seymour Hoffman    d/ Paul Thomas Anderson

This may be the most unpleasant, big-budget movie I've seen in years. Ostensibly built around a cult leader who emerges in the 50's...a la L Ron...this scratched around the surface without reaching deeply enough to give us a sense of revelation or enlightenment.

We follow a deeply damaged ex-sailor (brilliantly played by JP) running from his demons into the arms of a benign (?) monster who has created an organization designed to serve him...the others be damned. All hail his mumbo-jumbo as revealed wisdom...those who don't are treated to violence.

Tech aspects were first rate...particularly lighting, set design and creative use of music...but the overall tone was nasty, squirmy and never let up. No release just sucks.

Anderson's films get high praise in some circles but to me they always fall short...he doesn't have the deep understanding of human nature that makes serious films resonate. His insight is surface-deep and fails to satisfy. Too bad...there's a great film here lurking in this topic...this one didn't find it.


When the Cat's Away


A young single woman, living in a working-class neighborhood in Paris, loses her cat while away on vacation. To find it she enlists all the help she can find from her neighbors...the old women, the immigrants, the damaged...and through her efforts we discover with her the character of this small part of the yuppifying city. We also watch as she frabs around, desperately at times, seeking love and companionship.

Sweet, intelligent film. Sometimes painful, realistic, ultimately enlightening and the main character and to us. This is one of those quiet little gems that sneak by unnoticed.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Even the Rain

Spain/Mexico   Gael Bernal, Louis Tosar

Intricate interweaving of two stories: a movie company come to Bolivia to film an historical epic about the outrageous exploitation by Columbus of the native population of Santo Domingo and the fight by present-day natives against the privatization (stealing) of their water supplies by foreign multi-nationals. The issues are different but the thoughts are the same: the strong take from the weak wherever and whenever they can. The only thing that will stop them is an equal level of violence.

First rate production in every sense. Tosar (Malamadre in Cell 211) shines as the embattled executive producer forced to drop his cynical detachment and fully engage with a people he once scorned.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Scotland    w/d  Lynne Ramsey

Her calling-card film packed a real punch at the time, still does and always will. Up close and personal examination of life in the Glasgow slums...their squalor exacerbated by a trash collectors strike.

In the opening scenes two boys wrestle in a filthy canal, one drowns and we follow the other as he tries to deal with his guilt in the face of constant reminders and a dysfunctional family. He dreams of moving to new housing as a cure for all his troubles but we know, and he doesn't, that wherever you go...there you are...

A fine update to the kitchen sink genre of the early 60's.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Two Days in Paris

France   w/d Julie Delpy

Not a reprise of her Linklater films. Here she and her extremely neurotic NYC boyfriend have a series of encounters with her rude, crude, potty-mouthed family and a string of her former swains in her native Paris, all of which lead to embarrassing scenes, conflicts and some scattered laughs.

This was fast-paced and had the fascination of a train wreck. She has them reconciling at the end although why either of these people would choose the other as a life partner seems more than a little bit insane. Ah...but such is love. Or is it?

Amusing and held me so it succeeded as a film but as life lesson...not so much.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Real Life

Albert Brooks

Comedic take on the PBS series on the Loud family show broadcast in 1973. This envisions a movie version...following a family's life for a year on association with a fictional Psych institute.

Some laugh-out-loud scenes in here but Brooks' hyper-vocal character in charge of the filming process got pretty old. Still, nothing presented in this film could have predicted the overwhelming importance of "reality TV" in the current media landscape. But it does nail the absurdity of the concept.

A forgotten milestone.


Saturday, September 15, 2012



This is the second time I've seen this and it held my interest each time. The story revolves around a research lab that has come up with a device that allows people to meld their slip in and out of them at will.

This gives the filmmaker license to play with our sense of reality (relevant in anime?) and have fun with the audience's perceptions. Very imaginative visually, fast-paced engrossing script...this as much as anything produced in recent years represents the future of animation. Played like a Wachowski brothers film.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Bombay Beach


I tried pretty hard to like this...edge city at the Salton Sea is intrinsically interesting and could easily carry a film...but the camera work and editing were so off-putting to me I couldn't continue.

Too bad. there could have been a neat film in here somewhere.



Gus van Sant

More than slightly twee story about a pair of death-obsessed teens who meet at a stranger's funeral (shades of Harold and Maude) and fall in love. She (Mia Wasikowska) is actually dying which sets a time limit on their courtship but they do manage to get in a montage of them doing all sorts of teen dating stuff in neat outfits. Oh and he has a dead Japanese kamikaze pilot as a friend and games-playing companion.

In spite of the absurdity of everything on display I found myself enjoying it...cliches and all. They hit the right buttons and I salivated on cue. Oh well...


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Certified Copy

Juliet Binoche   w/d Abbas Kiarostami

This was a bewildering mind-fuck. Two characters meet at a talk, go off together as apparent strangers in awkward circumstances and slowly slide into the role of disillusioned married people striving unsuccessfully to re-kindle their relationship. Or maybe not.

We are never really clear on who these people are or how they are related. Perhaps they are meant to represent all couples and this film traces the arc of all relationships. Or perhaps they were play-acting for the early part of the story...or perhaps the later part. Nothing is resolved...we are left to parse it out on our own.

Both leads were excellent. Many outstanding director's touches ( car-cam, mirror shots). This was an intellectual puzzle, an intriguing enigma. A high order of intelligence and artistic vision on display here.
Fine casting - stars and supporting players. I particularly liked a scene between Binoche and an older woman at a cafe.

The kind of film that would never get made in hollywood.


The Crimson Rivers

France    Jean Reno, Vincent Cassel

Modern, well-done action/thriller with perfect stars, great locations, sufficiently complicated plot to engage the mind...everything one could ask for in this type of film.

These two guys play world-weary cops engaged in a difficult case...each brings a different personality to the problem and together they cover all the bases for a crime thriller. Directed by Mattieu Kassovitz in fast-paced, rockem sockem excess.

Great fun.


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Robot and Frank

Frank Langella

Sweet little movie, masterfully played by FL. It's the near future, machines are routinely tending oldsters which brings on various wrinkles in the social fabric.

Here, Frank is a jewel thief...a second storey he recruits his tender to help. The problem is Frank is losing his mind/memory so this endeavor leads to complications. FL is charming and believable in his role. Susan Sarandon has a nice supporting role. The film works in its own quiet way.




ESP thriller which clicked right along for an hour or so and then the script took a wrong turn (for dramatic reasons) and lost me completely.

It doesn't work to have your characters make idiotic choices profoundly affecting their lives without providing a plausible explanation for it. Too bad...this was an intelligent treatment of a subject usually given short shrift in film.


Friday, September 7, 2012

La Balance


Policier from 1982 seems badly dated to my eye. Average-looking French guys acting tough with criminals and prostitutes came across as...well...average white guys acting tough. Instead of being menacing or intimidating they seemed a little sad...not quite pathetic.

Nice star turn by Nathalie Baye wasn't enough to carry the film.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Raid: Redemption


Extremely violent action film about a police raid on a twenty storey building that goes wrong from the get-go. Fast-paced with elaborately worked out choreography...some of the hand-to-hand fight sequences were spectacular and evidenced care and preparation, great editing. The addition of some softer moments an hour in seemed pro forma but even this thread found its way into the main story line and contributed to an amazing final fight.

For those with a taste for this sort of thing...this was a winner.


The World in Claire's Classroom


Fascinating look at the workings of a small elementary school in Vermont which is blessed by a savvy, saintly teacher. People often look nostalgically at the old one-room schoolhouse...especially compared to the oversized, dehumanized examples today...but in fact their effectiveness depended entirely on the quality of the teachers. If you had a good one you got a good start. If not...well...

solid, engaging documentary.


Monday, September 3, 2012

Billy Budd

Terrence Stamp, Robert Ryan   w/d  Peter Ustinov

Herman Melville's morality play brought gloriously to the screen in 1962. Has here ever been a more saintly character than Billy? Or a more twisted, evil villain than Claggert?

Big budget film holds up very well. Exteriors on the ship are convincing...the focus on the characters in the interiors distracts from the artifice of the sets. Stamp was beautiful and his portrayal of the simple, honest, charming seaman made the film work. PU brought his trademark actor's tics, Ryan his glowering, inner-tortured self and the rest of the cast excelled.

All here but Budd wrestled with intense moral decisions. His inhuman perfection...the goal men strive toward...had to be destroyed because he stood as a living reminder of the our failure to transcend our very selves.

A classic.


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Myth of the American Sleepover


Slow, quiet film centering on a group of Michigan teens gathering in several houses just before the end of summer. For an hour or so I found this to be so subdued in tone that I never became interested in the characters. Then the various stories we had been following started to jell and not only caught my interest but touched me intellectually and emotionally.

The filmmakers showed a true understanding of teen behavior...the posturing, false starts, the lurching toward adult behavior and scuttling back to kidship typical of real-life teens. Not hollywood. The resolution of the several stories seemed right to me. The players looked and acted like real kids.

Nice film...a pleasant surprise.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Rules of the Game

France    d/ Jean Renoir

This film has consistently been judged one of the ten best films ever made in Sight and Sound magazine's poll of film buffs around the world.

This is the third time I've tried to watch it but it is so asinine and irrelevant to my life...including my life in film...that I've never been able to get past half way. Chaotic scenes of repulsive bourgeoisie talking loudly at one another while trying to screw each other's wives just doesn't reach me...and I guess never will.

I remain baffled by the praise handed out to these early French films...L'Atalante, Children of Paradise, Grand Illusion. Oh it goes...


Friday, August 31, 2012

Flight of the Innocent


Crackerjack thriller about a ten year old boy whose family is murdered in the opening scenes and spends most of the rest of the film being chased by the bad guys. Fast-paced and credible, the story was an amalgam of the many kidnapping cases that plagued Italy in the 90's.

Beautiful locations, top notch camera work, solid and imaginative big budget film.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Kissed By Winter


A female doctor's son dies, she feels responsible, flees to a remote northern town to re-start, gets involved in a murder mystery investigation, takes on a lover (sort of) and doesn't find peace.

Slow, studied, evenly paced drama feels eventless in spite of all the events listed above. The lead is deeply withdrawn...her personality sets the tone for the film...and the cold snowy landscape amplifies this sense of people frozen in time and place.

Everything here was competently done but I found it unengaging. A novelist would have filled the story with interiority fleshing out the characters...without that element we are reduced to watching people act through a window with no sound reaching our ears.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Sarah's Key

Kristen Scott Thomas

Fine film based on the notorious velodrome round-up in Paris in 1942. The story of a family of victims is interwoven with that of a modern-day journalist tracking down the truth of her husband's family history. All things connect.

The sparkling quality of every aspect of this production succeeds in making an over-familiar story fresh.  Obviously manipulative, it carries us along from highlight to highlight in an emotionally satisfying arc.

Nice example of skilled filmmaking.


Sunday, August 26, 2012



Ghost story set in a private boys school. This might work as a semi-scary film for the 10 to 12 yo set but for me it was a juvenile bore.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild


Engaging film (sort of) with some serious problems. We follow a six year old girl who lives in the bayou country of the Louisiana a community of broken down shacks...scavenges for food...everybody is a drunkard (where do they get the money for all the booze?) only yells, screams and hits...their lives are total squalor but we are supposed to believe that they're better off because they're independent and resourceful.

I dunno.

Pluses: the kid was great...a real find. Sound design and occasional visual interludes gave the film a broader scope that the filth and slime we're actually watching.

Minuses: everything else...including ultimately the giant tusked pigs that show up from time to time representing the kid's id or something but even with the scary sound look like a bunch of pigs.

I'm not sure what they were trying for here. I do know the happy-ending music and the image of the cast walking down a water-washed road toward ? struck me as idiotic.



Anna Paquin    w/d Kenneth Lonergan

Powerful, disturbing story. A tour de force performance by AP. This is a dream role for a talented, ambitious actor: she had many emotive scenes with different characters and she was borderline offensive as a person but had to be sympathetic enough to carry the audience along with her on a 2 1/2 hour ordeal.

A young girl is involved in a traumatic event and we watch as she tries to deal with the emotional impact of it, including her own guilt, while being too immature and too arrogant to know what she is dealing with.

The staging of the incident was poor and hurt the rest of the film. That aside, this was a haunting, painful experience for the character and for us but another feather in Lonergan's cap.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry


Pretty inspiring piece on the Chinese artist/activist who took on the might of the 'communist' government in Beijing and won...for a while.

We didn't see enough of his art to judge it properly but we did see an extraordinary display of courage and sheer chutzpah in the many filmed confrontations he had with petty authorities who obviously weren't used to being told no. I have no doubt if he continues his ways he will be crushed under the weight of the state but it still was inspirational watching this guy fighting back.

A modern day hero.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Mirror, Mirror

Julia Roberts, Lily Collins     d/ Tarsem Singh

Wonderful film which fractures the traditional fairy tale, tried to achieve the same jokey, ironic tone as The Princess Bride and succeeded. It also featured spectacular costumes, CGI and brilliant set design. This guy burst onto the international scene with The Fall with its outrageously impressive visuals and here he continues with a creative, stunning re-imagining of Snow White.

LC looks like and is just as charming as Audrey Hepburn, the supporting cast included Nathan Lane, Mare Winningham, Sean Bean and seven great dwarfs. What more can anyone ask? This movie was about true love...that doesn't happen every day...


Saturday, August 18, 2012



Complicated story about a serial killer and a rural policeman who gets drawn into his orbit. The script throws out red herrings for two hours and resolves around a reenactment of the Abraham and Isaac story.

At times I found this exasperating but it held me and the resolution, while being preposterous and all, still worked, sort of. Stories like this only happen in the movies.

Occasional interesting camera work...overall nice look.


Friday, August 17, 2012



A professional assassin plays cat and mouse with a police investigator while courting a woman who had been sleeping beside his last victim and while planning his next hit.

High tech, ultra modern look/editing. A bit cold and distancing but so slickly done that I was with it all the way. I just didn't care about the resolution.




OK to lame attempt at a contemporary romantic comedy. A couples' marriage is getting stale so they try to re-create the life they had when they first met. Absurd complications ensue.

Some good lines and two appealing unknowns in the leads but too much of this was cringe-worthy to make it into the big leagues.




Well done feel-good flick based on a tired old formula but so well executed that it worked. A paralyzed richie hires an exuberant criminal-class black guy as his carer and begins to have riotous, crowd-pleasing adventures. That's about it.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Chinese Heavyweight


Routine piece on the introduction and rise of Western style boxing to China. We follow a 30-something former champion who has been hired by the state to bring along young people in the sport for future olympic competitions. Some of these kids -boys and girls - look about 8 years old.

Doc was sugar-coated - presented more as a Rocky story than the spread of a dubious athletic sport to a population outside it's traditional range. In fact boxing is anathema to confucian values so youngsters have to be re-indoctrinated before they can take it up.

Professionally produced film in every sense but it left me uneasy in its ramifications.


Monday, August 13, 2012



Interesting doc based on a book written by Canada's Margaret Atwood on debt. Not debt as personal financial obligation so much. Debt as in paying a debt to society by a prisoner, BP's debt to all of us for its massive pollution of the Gulf, blood feuds in Albania...

The grand scope of the project provided its own interest for a while but after an hour or so the film lost focus...even though each of the segments was clear and righteous presenting them as linked conceptually made all of them too diffuse and amorphous to resonate.

Nice try though. First rate production values.


Sunday, August 12, 2012



A young man enters Denmark's harshest prison and then his troubles begin.

Well done prison drama which like so many others depicts life at its most savage. Our protagonist tries his best to navigate the treacherous shoals of competing gangs but eventually gets chewed up and discarded...unwanted, unloved, not strong or ruthless enough to survive. Because we follow him and because he is young and good-looking we root for him to survive/thrive (a la The Prophet) but this film has a bleaker message. As if to emphasize this it's always raining and the lives of these men.

Nobody's idea of a swell time...stark, harsh, unforgiving.


Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Queen of Versailles


Sometimes amusing but ultimately sad story of a couple of nouveau riche bozos in Florida who were building the largest house in America before the great bust of 2008. The laughter was all condescending...the sadness was for the value system in this country that produces people who think stuff and its accumulation are what it's all about.

A bit long...I got really sick of these people after 45 minutes or so...but the piling up of the details of their extreme cluelessness held my attention. The 'queen' with her rigid posture, botox face and fake boobs was grotesque...a modern day freak show deluded into thinking she was the embodiment of the American dream. And the taste on display was a scream. But I ended up feeling sorry for their kids who will have received such a distorted sense of what matters in life.

This would work as a propaganda piece for the Occupy movement.


Friday, August 10, 2012

La Bete Humaine

France   Jean Gabin   d/  Jean Renoir

Love triangle melodrama from the 30's which stands out for its dynamic train footage. The scenes shot on the moving trains complete with the sound of engines, whistles and the constant shaking gave us a visceral sense of the power of these great rolling machines.

The drama was pretty creaky by today's standards but Gabin and Simone Simon showed what movie stars from that era looked and sounded like. He was taciturn and exuded inner strength...she had all the good lines and a wider range of emotional expression. He moved like a tree trunk with legs...she slinked around with grace and seductive class.

Together they took a hackneyed story (novel by Emile Zola) and made it compelling.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Before Tomorrow


Very authentic-seeming film set around the time of the first encounters between native people and Europeans. All characters are Inuit, the arctic landscapes haunting, beautiful, mostly by oil lamp...luscious...folk tales abound. This was as realistic an Inuit-set film as has been done.

That said, it had its faults. The pace slowed more and more as it went on...enough that by the end I had lost all interest in the point, if there was one. The song opening and closing the film by the McGonigle sisters was cloying and idiotic and didn't really apply to this film.

As a work of applied anthropology it shone. As a dramatic film...not so much.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Take This Waltz

Michele Williams, Seth Rogen    w/d Sarah Polley

I tried hard to like this film...after all MW has become my favorite working actress and Ms Polley garnered a bunch of praise for Away From Her...but...this one didn't work for me. MW's character wasn't written well enough to get me to sympathize with her behavior or her decisions. As a result she was reduced to actor's tics and tricks...sidelong glances, overt signals of inner stress, etc. to play the role.

And the set-up didn't work. The 'lover' was an artist, drove a rickshaw(! in Toronto!) and wasn't as appealing as her loving, doting husband. It seemed to me that she was just an immature jerk...hankering for...what? Something better? So for two hours I watched this ninny ruin her life, slowly. And since we follow her exclusively watching this was unpleasant with no reward to the viewer...just an inner sense of I-told-you-so. Whoopee.

The film was beautifully lit throughout, camera placement and editing first rate. It needed a better script.


Monday, August 6, 2012

All In


Hagiographic attempt to elevate poker to the heights of human achievement and a modern-day emblem of the essence of America. You know...risk-taking and all that...

I was with this for a was fast-paced and informative about a topic I knew nothing about...and I enjoyed Rounders. But soon the reality of overweight, under-exercised bozos from middle America sitting for hours drinking whiskey, smoking cigars and trying to scam each other out of money none of them has earned became repulsive. I suppose it's nice that some people enjoy this activity but this film tried much too hard to make more of it than it is. And it's really hard for me to ignore the slime element many of these people exude.

Interesting for a while.


Friday, August 3, 2012

Love Crime

France   Ludivine Sagnier, Kristine Scott Thomas

Sleek murder story. While this was engaging and easily held me because of its unusual plot there was a distancing air of artificiality about it that took away any real emotional response. Clever but contrived scheme could only happen in a screenwriter's mind.

Some of the boardroom dialogue was very amateurish and should have been vetted by someone who had actually been in one. Modern look. KST was solid as usual. LV couldn't pull off tiger woman executive the script called for. She sometimes affected a deer-in-the-headlights look that was meant to indicate churning gears inside but just made her look like a bewildered girl.

Not a failure...not a success either.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Death Note


Manga-derived yarn which much to my surprise held my attention for two hours. A young law student finds a notebook dropped by the god of death...any person's name written in it dies.

What worked was the theme: creeping megalomania a la Chronicle, The Man Who Could Work Miracles, etc. filtered through a Japanese sensibility. Nice looking film, well cast and shot. I even accepted the CGI death god who fluttered around this kid providing some visual interest. Several completely unexpected plot developments helped too.

A solid guilty pleasure.


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Skin I Live In

Spain   Almodovar

This guy's done some sick shit in his long career but this one tops them all. He's a darling of the New York trendy crowd and can count on sparkling reviews in the NY Times, New Yorker, New York Magazine, etc. I've never understood why. Granted he uses bright colors and for quite a while has commanded large enough budgets to get his vision on the screen...but what a vision,

Matador, Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down, Dark Habits, Law of Desire. He's like the Lou Reed of filmmaking...wildly over-praised because he takes on oh so outre topics. So on the edge. He has a continuing interest in bondage...another leisure activity that escapes me.

Well this time he went over the edge and fell into the fetid swamp of his own imagination. This one was truly cruel, not cool. He should have his mind washed out with soap.

2 ( solely for production values and the solid performances he was able to elicit from skilled players who had to wallow in this mess)

Monday, July 30, 2012



Very fine film which dealt with some of the wreckage left behind after the US-sponsored military junta was overthrown in the 80's. The focus is on a 15 year old girl who was the child of a leftie couple who were murdered after giving birth to her. She was 'adopted' by a powerful police official and his wife and never told.

The film was designed to pull your heartstrings and it did. The young actress was very effective - she was quiet, thoughtful and determined to find out the truth. All the supporting players were well cast. Occasional cue music grated a bit but not enough to temper the force of the story.

A good example of an effective message movie.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Elite Squad


The war between the drug gangs of Rio's favelas and a special unit of the police. Violent, hyper and gritty the film races along occasionally taking the time to examine the personal toll on the players involved in this endless struggle.

Very effective film which echoes the themes used in many contemporary dramas...just ratchets up the pace to blistering.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

w/d   Duplass Brothers

Sweet, affecting comedy/drama based on a quirky interpretation of the concept of destiny. The film focuses mainly on two thirty-something overgrown children as they go through a series of misadventures plus a sub-plot involving their lonely and long-suffering mother.

The lead - Jeff, played by Jason Segal - carried the film. He was likable, believably abstract, a pacifist and remarkably tolerant of the foibles of the people around him. The film plays like a silly slacker comedy for an hour when it shifts to melodrama in the last 15 minutes, thereby changing the tone and overall effect on the audience. And it worked.

Pretty amazing.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

These Are The Damned

England   Oliver Reed   d/ Joseph Losey

Odd film from 1961. Nine children who have been exposed to radiation and thus are immune to a nuclear holocaust (so saith the scriptwriter) are being kept in isolation so when that great day comes they can emerge and take over the earth. Or something like that.

"Futuristic" use of TV, teddy boys, improbable romance, hints of incest, motorcycles galore, seaside setting, avant-garde sculpturess...pretty much the whole kitchen sink. Might have been exciting at the time but hopelessly corny now. Strictly a curiousity piece...


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Silence

Sweden   d/ Ingmar Bergman

Two women and a boy are traveling in an unnamed country. Their relationship is undefined...sisters? lovers? For an hour unspoken angst fills the screen with tension. Then the dam bursts and out comes resentment, hate, long-repressed ugliness, suffering, aggressive promiscuity...perhaps death.

Along the way were a troupe of dwarfs, tanks, a mute concierge, tight intrusive close-ups. The film was like a parody of a Bergman film...nobody's idea of a swell time.

Historical value only.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Jurassic Park

Sam Neill, Laura Dern

Spielberg at his best. Neat concept (Michael Crichton), great effects, humor, fat villain, muddled scientist...every cliche ever used in 50's monster movies updated and brought to you in living color. The children-in-peril theme was brilliantly used to create tension.

The two-hour film raced by and even though I've seen this several times it still easily held me - a testament to his truly tapping the loves of our shared youth sitting in darkened theaters staring at a movie screen.

Wonderful, timeless junk.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Crisis of Civilization


A lot of effort went into this production...many old clips, animation, etc...but it may have tried to tackle too large a topic with too many complex facets to give any of them adequate exposure. It covered peak oil, energy in general, climate change, food and soil depletion, banking, militarization, international terror, loss of civil liberties...

Any one of these could easily fill a movie...even then not fully. As a polemic it fell short because it didn't really engage the simply seemed like a prolonged recitation of various things that were going badly with no visceral sense of how this has come about, what social processes are acting to drive society in this self-destructive direction. Prescriptions offered were tacked on at the end and seemed pro forma, almost childlike in their simplicity.

Nice try but the whole project needed to be re-thought. People should see this but it won't persuade anyone who doesn't already believe its conclusions.


My Joy


Ironic title. beautifully photographed and directed film which presents as bleak and depressing a view of humanity, its values and contemporary life as I've ever seen. Unrelated sequences invariably end in degradation, violence and death for someone.

The first character's story goes on for a half hour...he seems to be a good person, a truck driver who behaves well in several situations...but he is set upon in the dark by some low-lifes and murdered for his cargo which it turns out is useless for his killers. So it goes...

It's hard to reconcile the high level of film-making skill shown here with the sucks and then you die...violently.


Friday, July 20, 2012

Life, Above All

South Africa

Outstanding film dealing with the AIDS plague in Africa and its effects on its victims. The film focuses on a 12 year old girl whose life is completely upended when two members of her family come down with the disease. Because of the social stigma involved everyone tries hard (too hard) to hide its reality, thus increasing the suffering.

The lead was terrific...playing a bright, assertive child who fights against the hypocrisy of the adult world. She is motivated by her sense of caring and a commitment to the truth. Underlying attitudes are subtly hinted at...not explicitly stated by the characters which brings the audience in as participants trying to figure out what motivates the action on screen.

Involving from the first...then gripping with a beautiful climactic scene which acted as catharsis for the audience. World-class film.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Pieces of April

Katie Holmes, Patricia Clarkson

Fun little film about a black sheep girl making Thanksgiving dinner for her estranged family. She lives in a dump, her oven doesn't work so she is forced to turn for help to the residents of her building.

This played like a TV sitcom with quirky, unrealistic characters but the overall effect was charming...greatly helped by the appeal of all the actors involved. Pleasant well-made entertainment.


Monday, July 16, 2012

The Runaways

Kristen Stewart, Michael Shannon, Dakota Fanning

Solid, well done film about the creation of an all-girl rock group from the San Fernando Valley in the 70's. DF's character was fully fleshed out as was the evolving dynamic within the band as they became famous. Shannon was terrific as an over-the-top producer who punked up five suburban girls so they looked and sounded like the Sex Pistols.

Snappy direction and especially editing made it look and sound modern and slick without annoying me...a notable feat. There haven't been too many successful films about rock and roll...this was one of them.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Cria Cuervos

Spain    Ana Torrent

Wonderful film directed by Carlos Saura in 1975. Three sisters are left as orphans when mom, then dad dies. The middle child...brilliantly played by the sphinx-like Torrent...thinks she is responsible for the latter's death and this film focuses on her dealing with the changes in her life.

Subtle, continual shifts between reality and dream states...Saura makes his points gently, trusting in the intelligence of the audience. Lovingly photographed, fine performances by the children. Widely recognized as one of the best films to emerge from Europe in the 70's.


The Haunting

Spain   Ana Torrent

Couple in crisis move to a remote house to re-charge but in time-honored fashion are soon faced with the usual creepies and crawlies and things that go bump in the night. The story was tied up in catholic church nonsense plus a smidgeon of Franco-era atrocity but the details don't really matter.

Expensive production, nice looking, well acted and presented...but there have been many of these over the years and to stand out you have to do something original which this film didn't.

Raised to watchable by AT - Spain's best actress.