Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Who Killed Pixote?


Fictionalized treatment of the story of the young actor who played a street urchin in the 80's hit film only to see his life turn sour after he had outgrown child roles. He turned to crime and eventually was murdered.

The film was carefully done but the arc of the story was obvious from the beginning so it lacked dramatic impact. Sad story. All Brazilian society played a part.


A Dangerous Method

Viggo Mortenson, Keira Knightly d/ David Cronenberg

Freud and Jung at the dawn of the 20th century...when psychoanalysis was emerging onto the world scene. Some of this was focused on the theoretical or procedural differences between them but most of the film centered on KK's character and her relationships with the two men.

KK played a Russian who at first was raving and for me she was acting out of her range. I was never able to see her as a person...she was always an actor trying to pretend. This was true even when she was just being a Russian woman. This was a fatal blow to this film since she was on screen most of the time.

The two male leads were OK but their conflict was so restrained it seemed to evanesce into nothingness. By the end I just didn't care about any of this and was glad when it was over.


Monday, January 30, 2012


New Zealand

Maori comedy. That alone makes it fresh...sort of...but once you get used to the players' appearance and the setting it became just another trite attempt to be silly enough to be amusing.

It wasn't.

And to think that these people once were warriors...


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Wah Do Dem


Silly, lightweight amateur production. A 20-something guy wins a cruise ship tour, his girl bails on him, he ends up in Jamaica where a pair of scammers steal his stuff and leave him to fend for himself among the natives.

The screenplay was a bit thin, the lead was just barely OK, the footage of Jamaica interesting, ditto the cruise ship faux luxury...

Watchable...but right on the edge...


Saturday, January 28, 2012

In A Better World

Denmark d/ Susanne Bier

Compelling story of two 12 year old boys who are embedded in troubled families and as a result spin off into a destructive direction. Excellent performances by the two boys.

All aspects of this film...with the exception of a clumsy plot contrivance...were first rate and deserve to be seen by a world-wide audience.


Friday, January 27, 2012

All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace

documentary Adam Curtis

His latest analysis of the forces that shape world events. Done for the BBC and, unfortunately, crippled by accepting as truth the "news" put forward by the corporate media. Still, as always, he assembles a provocative bunch of facts and couples them with the whiz-bang rapid-fire visuals that create interest and disallow reflection.

Worth watching but not good enough to serve as the first draft of history.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Monsieur Lazhar


Really fine, sensitive, intelligent film about an Algerian refugee in Montreal who finds work teaching at a school...replacing a teacher who had committed suicide.

Many issues are touched on...usually obliquely, always in an understated way. Remarkable performances by the children...who were 11 or so.

You would think nothing new could be done with a classroom drama. But this film felt fresh, insightful and quite moving. First rate work.


Monday, January 23, 2012



Straightforward piece on Steven Jones, the Utah physicist who became the first world-class scientist to publicly question the official explanation for the collapse of the three towers in Manhattan in 2001. Of course he was labeled a nut, crazy, a conspiracist but no one was able to challenge the data he developed to support his hypothesis-that pre-planted explosives were what actually brought the buildings down.

It took courage and intellectual conviction to do what he did. He lost his professorship at BYU and was ostracized by the mainstream but history may judge him very differently.

This doc was too short and by itself won't be enough to persuade believers in the OCT but it does serve as a nice supplement to other films created in recent years.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Making of West Side Story


In 1984 Deutsche Grammaphone asked Leonard Bernstein to re-record the entire score to his classic 1957 musical. He hired Kiri Te Kanawa and Jose Careras to sing the leads. This film records the four-day session.

Fascinating view of the remarkable musical genius in action. No wonder he was so revered by his contemporaries. Hearing the music done by such talented performers brought it to life again...made it seem fresh and timeless. A great project...a great film.


Friday, January 20, 2012


Roman Polanski

Very fine treatment of the great tragedy. Shot in Wales, the film feels gritty, muddy, grungy...a realistic portrayal of a more brutal time. From 1971. Financed by Hugh Hefner of all people.



Austria w/d Ulrich Seidl

Another extremely unpleasant film from this guy (Dog Days). Here we follow two immigrants...a woman who moves from Ukraine to Austria and a man who reverses this path. Both have degrading work experiences at home, move to a land they hope holds promise and discover even more humiliation, mistreatment and degradation.

Slow story development, long, static shots, many scenes that make the viewer cringe in sympathy for the actors. What exactly is the message here? Life sucks and then you die?

This bozo needs to wash out his mind with soap.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Kristen Wiig

Considered by some to be the comedy of the year.

I found it mean-spirited, vulgar and not funny.

Oh well...


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison

Sweet, unusual love story from the late 40's. Although the arc of the story was very predictable it didn't matter...the two players were both interesting to watch and their chemistry together worked. I found the resolution perfect.

George Sanders played his usual slimy cad in a supporting role. Film is widely considered a sentimental classic...justifiably so.


Monday, January 16, 2012


d/ Steven Soderbergh

Nicely done mainstream what if? drama. All star cast. Realistic portrayal of how people would react to a virulent pandemic. This kind of story has been done several times before which didn't really detract from this one.

Solid, engrossing.


Sunday, January 15, 2012


Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, John C Reilly w/d Roman Polanski

A four-hander adapted from an award winning play. Two couples begin to deal with a confrontation their sons had with calm and civility and gradually the thin veneer of civilization gets peeled away and we see the ugliness lurking within. And it really was the funniest film I've seen in a long while. Laughed out loud several times.

Masterfully directed by Polanski. His framing and pacing kept interest high in the confines of one apartment. Excellent writing and each of the four players got a chance to shine using every emotion in the actors' box of tricks.

Short, fun and sweet.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Eclipse

Ireland Cieran Hinds

This was sort of a ghost story. A widower dealing with two children and a literary festival begins hearing/seeing things that may or may not be there. He sort of hooks up with the author he's driving around...but not really. In fact that was the central problem with this film...it was all a bit too tentative. It lacked commitment.

There have been many ghost stories made that were genuinely scary or creepy and forced the viewer to consider the possible reality of the spirit world. This wasn't one of them.


Friday, January 13, 2012

The City of Life and Death


Fictionalized treatment of the horrific Rape of Nanking, China's capitol city, in 1937 by the invading Japanese. Although this was intended as propaganda the film actually soft-peddles the range of atrocities committed in fact as documented in Iris Chang's book. But enough was included to cause the same head-shaking bewilderment at the behavior on display here that the Nazi phenomenon evokes.

How could an obviously civilized nation carry out such acts? What hope does this leave us for the future of mankind? Stay tuned.


Nostalgia For the Light

documentary Chile

Very fine doc which examines three different searches for the truth in the past history in the Atacama desert: the deep past using telescopes which take advantage of the clear sighting, the archeological study of glyphs left by passing shepherds in rock formations 1000 years ago and the search for bodies dumped in the desert by the Pinochet regime.

The film skillfully weaves these threads together into a compelling meditation on man's continual search for truth.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Light Bulb Conspiracy


Well done German screed against planned obsolescence and the throwaway society. This system was a conscious decision reached by capitalist leaders in the 1920's to ensure a continuing flow of profits. It worked beautifully for them...for us...not so good.

In a finite world an economic plan that relies on infinite growth cannot last.


Mystic Ball


Interesting piece on the national sport of Burma...similar to hacky-sack it involves standing in a circle and keeping a reed ball in the air using only feet and knees. It is non-competitive and allows for some amazing feats of skill and agility.


Happy, Happy


Title is ironic. Two couples, one newcomers, live in adjacent houses in rural Norway. Their lives become intertwined in predictable ways. Early on we learn of tensions in their marriages which leads to cheating, family disruptions, recriminations, reconciliations, etc.

It seems the whole of the human drama is enacted on screen in miniature. The focus on these four people is so close that we get no sense of what the community is like or the other people in it.

One of the players...Agnes Gittelson...lights up the screen. This film should serve as a break-out role for her internationally. A sub-plot involving their children clunks badly and should have been cut.

Other than AG there was nothing fresh, innovative or interesting about this film.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Attack the Block


Scruffy war-against-the-hairy-aliens film. Off-putting at first because we follow around some street scum who mug a young nurse in the opening scenes. Gradually (too gradually) we come to see these jerks as not as repulsive as they first appeared. But they're still kids and the righteous fight is theirs alone since the police, and apparently every other adult in London are elsewhere that night.

By the end I was liking it...but just barely.


Another Earth


Proof that sometimes less is just...well less. Another planet is approaching Earth but other than some nice shots of it in the sky it's superfluous to what's going on here. The focus is on a young woman who caused a fatal car accident and her weak attempts to atone several years later.

Scuzzy look hurt...made it seem like an amateur production. The story, its arc and resolution were OK but I kept feeling that there wasn't enough going on here to justify my time. And the notion that the other earth was populated by all the people here on this one - with maybe little differences - was an asinine attempt at metaphor.

Not bad but not good enough either.


The Boy Friend

Twiggy, Tommy Tune w/d Ken Russell

Wonderful tribute to the stupid musicals that dazzled rubes in the early thirties. Twiggy is adorable (and a good dancer), the tone is appropriately hokey, the costumes incredible (done by KR's wife), the elaborate choreography a fine tribute to the best of Busby Berkeley.

Fast-paced, wildly colorful, silly...this is one of his best. A treat for all cinephiles...


Monday, January 9, 2012


Zoe Saldana

This is the latest in the female superwoman/action hero genre (Hanna, Salt). All these characters perform skeins of just-barely-possible stunts while eluding bad guys and continue unscathed on their mission to deliver justice...as they see it. Large numbers of bodies are strewn along the way but no one particularly notices or cares about this collateral damage.

I'm sure these films say something about our times...as we become more oppressed and controlled by forces we can't even name the desire for revenge and retribution will produce more of these wish-fulfillment outlets.

That said this heroine was easy on the eyes and skilled in what she had to do on screen. This was a very professional production but the whole phenomenon is troubling.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

You Got To Move


Outstanding doc on the Highlander School in Tennessee which has provided learning and seminars for poor people throughout the South and has served as a stepping stone for local activists working to make their communities better places for all people. Opened in 1932 it has been on the right side of major social issues ever since and serves as inspiration for those of us today who are faced with militarism and monstrous inequalities.

Maybe, just maybe there is hope...




Biopic of the French singer. Lavish, expensive production. Some clever, imaginative features...especially in the first half hour.

Gainsbourg may have been a colossal egotist, self-centered jerk and extremely obnoxious person to be around but one thing you can say for him...he really could smoke. And he did...or at least the poor actor portraying him did...non-stop for the entire film.

It would be hard to conjure up a more repulsive human being. He epitomizes the idea that unwarranted celebrity destroys decency in a person. Getting through this film was an ordeal.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Savage Messiah

England d/Ken Russell

Typically over-the-top portrait of wild, free-thinking, extremely emotive, unstable, all around asshole sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska in 1914. After spending 1 1/2 hours with this guy as portrayed here I was willing to put a bullet in his head...it turned out someone did on the Western Front in 1915. The last scenes were a slow pan over some of his work left behind...which was marvelous.

I suppose the message is that the most interesting, creative work is produced by folks who make poor dinner guests and even worse domestic partners. No surprise there.

Meticulously done, as always by Russell...in 1972.


Friday, January 6, 2012


England Paul Bettany

Well-meaning but hopeless treatment of the agony endured by Charles Darwin before writing and publishing his monumental work. Bettany spent two hours angst-ing, whimpering, mewling, wringing his hands, caving in to the demands of his wife and minister... It may all have been true but who wants to follow someone like this around for two hours? After ten minutes I wanted to slap him in the face and tell him to develop a backbone.

Nice-looking production but very irritating to experience.


Empire of Passion

Japan Nagisa Oshima

Unsuccessful amalgam of several disparate film themes/styles. Beautifully lit and shot. Over-the-top acting style which hurt. James Cain-like storyline done in a very primitive way. Ghost story with dead characters appearing in white face. Nudity...unusual for a Japanese film.

Although it won an award at Cannes in 1978 for its look this mishmash ached for a little subtlety.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Hit So Hard


Doc on the gay woman drummer for the punk band Hole. Sordid story of self-abuse, addiction, suicide, drug overdose, shitty music, useless, wasted lives. This kind of story was done best in the film Sid and Nancy 20 years ago. This is just a more recent generation doing the same tired stuff and thinking they were oh so cool. But...as John Lennon wrote...they're still fuckin peasants as far as I can see...

Not worth it.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

An African Election


Straightforward doc on Ghana's 2008 election. It is one of the few countries in Africa to transition to some semblance of democratic rule but as is the case everywhere chicanery and corruption are always ready to foul the process. This begins in Ghana as here with a 2-party system. Are there really only two competing interests in a nation of 20M?

Still, they largely avoided violence and that was seen as a success. They will learn, as former president Jerry Rawlings hints at, that once the international economic vampires sink their teeth into your country's vitals you will never escape.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012



Wonderfully intriguing film. We follow a frumpy grandma as she tends to her somewhat domineering husband and her feckless son and his brood of low-lifes. She moves between these two worlds easily...maintaining the same stoic affect in each. The drama begins when hubby has a heart attack.

Clean, nice-looking production. Some sociological hints here but the focus is primarily on the human drama. Slow to develop it became more and more intriguing as it went along. At the end I was filled with admiration for the intelligence, sophistication and maturity that went into its production.


Monday, January 2, 2012

The Price of Sex


Sad piece on the sex trafficking of women from Eastern Europe to Turkey, Dubai etc. This is about as low as man gets...these women were duped using economic promises, forced to prostitute themselves with violence and threats of violence and then dumped back home when they were used up.


The Lincoln Lawyer

Matthew McConnaghey, Marisa Tomei

This film is just ridiculous. The drama is so speeded up it felt like everyone on screen had overdosed on speed. This is a lawyer who operates out of his car since he's in such a hurry at all times...he is superman without the flying part. He's always right, figures out every twist and resolves what really was a complicated story in record time...even takes a bullet from the bad girl and recovers before the two hours are up.

American TV and film have continually moved to a faster and faster pace in recent years...this film is stark evidence of that. But now they're at the level of absurdity. Where do they go from here? I know where I'm going...to films from other countries...

Too bad...there was a good cast here...wasted from my perspective...


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Anton Chekhov's The Duel

Andrew Scott

Boredom, fecklessness, ennui among the Russian upper middle class in the Caucasus in the 19th century. Our protagonist(?) is a disaffected bureaucrat who has come to despise his mistress, wants to dump her but is trapped by social pressures. He behaved like such a jerk toward her and everyone else I found it inexplicable why anyone would associate with him.

Eventually he is challenged to the titular duel which leads to a bafflingly unreal happy ending.

Sumptuously photographed...both interiors and exteriors. Scathing portrait of a people and a place/time. In spite of all the beauty on display we're left with the question...what is all this for?

What indeed...