Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Women Without Men


Complex, sometimes mind-bending film set at the time of the Western overthrow of the Mossadegh government. We follow five women from disparate backgrounds who all have suffered from an outrageously patriarchal society and find their way to a garden oasis for shelter and to re-create themselves.

Nice use of surrealism here and there. Very moving once I had the characters sorted out. Many beautiful images. Not a story...more a vaguely linear impressionistic take on a time and a place.

Another forgotten gem...from 2009.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012



Unusual film. Minimal dialogue/exposition. Father is a honey-hunter. Mom is an enigma. son (6ish) is a troubled bag of neuroses who can read well until called upon to do so in class.

In the opening scene Dad falls from a tree when a branch breaks but stops half-way down when it holds. Or does it?

Beautiful locations in rain-soaked mountains. But it was never clear what the filmmaker was attempting here. It was too minimalist to get us to care for anyone or even take an interest in their lives. Because of the location/culture there was some exotic appeal but that dissipated and we were left with not much more than idle curiousity about these people.

Not quite worth it. But close.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Making The Boys


Interesting doc on the making of the 1968 play The Boys in the Band. It was ground-breaking at the time...released a year before the Stonewall riots...and helped pave the way to bringing basic civil rights to the gay community.

Sadly, many of the people involved in the play and subsequent film used their new-found liberation in the seventies to have indiscriminate sex and ended up dying in the first wave of the AIDS epidemic. Life is filled with little cruelties.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Princess of Montpensier

France d/ Bertrand Tavernier

First-rate historical melodrama which successfully brought to life folks who lived, fought, schemed, loved, cheated and died 500 years ago.

A fine effort by any measure...costumes, acting, sets and locations, writing(!), editing. Too often costume dramas seem stiff, unengaging. This one pulled me in early and held me easily for over two hours.

Kudos to Tavernier who is now in his 80's and has been directing excellent films for decades.


Friday, February 24, 2012

Secrets and Lies

Brenda Blethyn w/d Mike Leigh

Leigh's finest film. Brenda Blethyn's performance as a fragile, emotionally devastated working class factory worker who wants to do the right thing as she fights through the wreckage of her ruined life is the standout role of the 90's. Unforgettable.



Martin Sheen Sissy Spacek w/d Terrence Malick

His first film...from 1973. Interpretative take on the Starkweather murders of the late 50's. This put him on every film buff's radar and deservedly's a brilliant example of intelligent, artistic filmmaking.

Both leads excel. Mise-en-scene, pacing, camera placement, rhythm all place it among the very best. Now seen as one of filmdom's great calling cards.


Secret Sunshine


Extremely powerful film with a courageous, devastating lead performance. A woman whose husband has died in a car crash moves to his hometown with her young son to start a new life. She is hit with another trauma...this film focuses on her trying to deal with everything life has thrown at her.

This was an intelligent, realistic script that showed a deep understanding of human we act in the face of adversity by clinging to each other as lifelines, regardless of the thoughts involved. The story was mercifully leavened by a comical suitor who always seemed to show up when things had gotten too heavy.

Nice work on all levels. Korea continues to produce world-class films...largely unnoticed in the Western world.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Company Men

Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper

Understated drama dealing with some of the human casualties of the corporate state.

Rope em in, chew em up, spit em out. Sounds about right.



Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Naked Prey

Cornel Wilde

Zinger chase flick from 1965. Wilde plays a safari boss who runs afoul of a certain tribe in Africa in the 1800's and spends the next hour and a half running for his life. Well thought out, staged. Great landscapes. Filler shots of wildlife work to make it real.

I saw this upon release, loved it then and am pleased that it has held up so well. Wilde had a middling career in B movies in the 40's and 50's. He produced, directed and starred.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Inside the Perfect Circle


Routine bio of avant-garde composer Joel Thome. He came across as a decent, if obsessive guy who creates music some enjoy experiencing. He achieved fame by collaborating with Frank Zappa in several rock/orchestral performances.

Interesting but I don't think the kids can dance to it.


Monday, February 20, 2012

The Deep Blue Sea

England Rachael Weisz d/ Terrence Davies

Typically sumptuous-looking effort by one of England's best filmmakers. This story is about a woman who obsessively loves a man who doesn't love her and treats her badly...not because he's mean...but because he can.

I found following a heroine around who is so craven irritating after a while. I wanted to slap her and tell her to wake up...get over him. But, of course, in matters of the heart it's easier said than done.

Still I appreciated the great skill on display here...beautiful lighting, compositions, camera movement. I'll willingly watch anything this guy does. And here he does touch truth.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Useful Life


Minimalist film about the manager of an art cinema which is sinking into oblivion. The lead was a schlubby, likable sort of guy who has lived for the movies and is unprepared for any other kind of life.

The big climax is him asking a woman for a a movie.

Not ready for the world stage.


Beautiful Boy

Michael Sheen, Maria Bello

How would you react if it was your son who committed a Columbine-like slaughter?

Realistic, intelligent script, well acted and staged...painful to watch as this tormented couple go through the various stages of attempting to deal with the unknowable.

Solid film.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Artist


Wonderful re-creation of silent-era films. The story was a tried-and-true melodrama formula, the male lead perfect for the, cine, framing and story structure spot on.

This film has received acclaim all over the world, tapping into a nostalgia for a cinema from and for what is now perceived as a simpler time...and it deserves it. A rare and precious cinematic jewel.


The Light Thief


Interesting, somewhat primitive film about the travails of a rural village fighting to retain it's sense of community in the face of encroaching modernity. The hero is the local electrician whose main job is helping neighbors steal electricity from the grid.

The film is saved by the lead. He has a cherubic face, is helpful, lovable, always smiling...the kind of guy anyone would like to have around. He represents the best of the common folk. His life and, by extension all our lives, takes a nasty turn when he thwarts the plans of the local big man.

Worth it.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Kansas City Confidential

John Payne

Post-war noirish crime/thriller. Strong story with Payne as a patsy trying to clear his name. His character is morally ambivalent which leant some depth to an otherwise soundstage-bound melodrama.

Helped by some classic hollywood character actors...Jack Elam, Lee van Cleef, Neville Brand.

Routine but a bit above the usual B movie of the time.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

The White Meadows


An extraordinary film. A middle-aged man rows his boat on a placid inland sea, visits small islands where he listens to peoples' woes and collects their tears in a glass bottle.

Engaging, poetic, beautifully photographed, enigmatic. A multi-layered metaphor that by the end seemed to summarize the human condition. As rich as any work of literature. This deserves to be seen.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Invisible Eye


Slow-building powerful film. A 23 yo woman working in the rigidly militaristic national school becomes obsessed with one of the male students. She also has to fend off the attentions of her superior. She handles both badly.

The film ends up being a political metaphor. Set in 1982 during the period of military rule and just before the Falklands War.

Brilliantly acted. Great locations, pacing. It succeeded beautifully in drawing me in, making me feel for this character, then broadening my perspective to the larger message.

Good stuff. No commercial potential.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Winter in Wartime


January 1945. The war is nearing an end. We follow a 14 yo boy after he discovers a downed British pilot and shelters him. He is well-meaning but naive-all sorts of complications ensue.

This film held me for an hour or so but then it took a disastrous turn toward a Disney-like sensibility which made it seem like an after-school special. It didn't help that the lead was directed to hardly speak...he spent most of the film staring at the floor. This may have had some justification...this was a young boy dealing with forces beyond his ken...but it came across as a black hole at the center of the story.

And either this character was uniquely blessed by fate or the Germans stationed in this town were unusually stupid...somewhere on the level of the ones in Hogan's Heroes.

Overall...not good enough for anyone over 15.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Goodbye Mr Chips

Robert Donat, Greer Garson

Wonderfully done British schmaltz from just before the war. Donat shines as he moves from young Latin scholar to doddering master emeritus. Chips spends 63 years at a "public" school - at first scorned by the student body, later a much-beloved institution.

His romance with GG is hopelessly cute but mercifully short...the treacle would have been unbearable without some leavening.

The down side of this educational system is ignored...loneliness, beatings, buggery. It's all presented as hail-fellows-well-met. But it works...beautifully. It is widely seen as a classic and deservedly so. A sentimental favorite.


Friday, February 10, 2012

Oscar Nominated Shorts - Documentaries - 2012

Another solid program.

The second and longest film dealt with the practice in Pakistan of men throwing acid into the faces of women who have angered them...I found this very hard to watch. The specter of mutilated women trying to carry on in a culture which denies them any freedom or justice became too painful after a time.

The third film - The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom - was outstanding and, for me, the pick of the lot. The aftermath of last year's devastating tsunami was interwoven with the Japanese spring celebration of the cherry blossoms and all it means to Japanese culture. Poetry, music, interviews, photography all were used to give deep insight into that culture. As fine a doc as any I have ever seen.

Well worth it.


The Arbor


Depressing tour through the lower reaches of Merrie Olde England. The focus is on one family living in a council estate (low-income public housing). The matriarch wrote a popular play in 1980 which was turned into a film (Rita, Sue and Bob Too) but she was a drunken bum and her eldest daughter, born of her union with a Paki, ends up having a horrible life. She is the main subject of the film.

The technique used here was fresh. Actual interviews were lip-synched by actors...who were easier on the eyes than the real people. The story was told in jumbled-up time. This helped to maintain interest...for a time. But the problem was that, minor details aside, life stories of the extreme lower class have a monotonous sameness to them. In the immortal words of Spiro Agnew...if you've seen one slum you've seen them all.

Once I had it sorted out it became a mego. Too bad. Kudos for the effort but this paled beside last year's Fish Tank.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Oscar Nominated Shorts - Live Action - 2012

This was an exceptional program. Films ranging from 7 to 31 minutes long from all over the world. Some were amusing, some touching, thought-provoking...There wasn't a weak entry in the lot.

This form is alive and well. I hope that with the new methods of distribution...primarily streaming via the internet...that those who have a 20 minute story to tell can find an audience and not be frozen out.


Oscar Nominated Shorts - Animated - 2012


The usual assortment of creative/provocative works. Two really stood out...a Canadian entry about a British immigrant to Alberta in 1910 and a magical story which becomes a tribute to books and those who read them.

Several nice entries financed by the Canadian Film Board...makes me wonder why this country isn't doing something similar...


Mesrine pt2

France Vincent Cassel

This completes the story of one of France's most notorious criminals. His success gave Mesrine an enormously swelled head and his behavior became more and more outrageous. By the end of his life he wanted to overthrow the government...for personal reasons. He foresaw his else could it end?...but played out his predetermined role.

Cassel shines in this film. He has a limited range but within here...he towers over the other performers. In this half of the story he changes his body language, voice tone, his whole bearing to reflect Mesrine's megalomania.

Powerful film...well presented.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Nick Nolte

Crowd-pleasing variant on the BIG GAME model of filmmaking. This one dealt with a type of fighting that includes boxing/wrestling features conducted within a wire mesh cage.

There was professional skill on display here on all levels but it was just another film using a formula that's been over-used. A button-pusher.


Monday, February 6, 2012



Very powerful film. A mother's will starts a pair of adult siblings on to a trip into her past with devastating results.

The quest was presented with minimal information to the audience which was OK but I never did learn what country they started from or where most of the action took place. Perhaps it was intended to be generic but I did find it frustrating. The mother was badly mistreated in several parts of the narrative...almost to the point where I wasn't willing to watch any more. Torture, suffering get old fast.

Still this was a major production with a complicated story, set in different parts of the world that came together brilliantly at the conclusion.


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Mesrine Pt 1

France Vincent Cassel

Biopic of one of France's more notorious criminals. Great role for VC and he nails it. The story ranges far and wide and reminded me of Carlos in its overall excellence, look and pace.

For fans of this kind of story this is a winner.


Saturday, February 4, 2012



Vermont filmmaker casts Anna Nicole Smith in his low-budget film...and then his troubles begin.

He thought he would benefit from all the tabloid publicity she generated but she was a nightmare to deal with during the shoot...during post her son died of an overdose...and then she did too. An object lesson...get too close to the fire and you'll get burned.

Interesting, sad and well done doc.


Friday, February 3, 2012

The Ides of March

George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman

Topical, realistic political drama set during a presidential campaign. There was nothing cartoonish about the sell-outs and chicanery was people losing their integrity, their pride, one small step at a time, hoping for a chance at the golden ring.

Solid script, performances, direction.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

La Pivellina


Wonderful film. An itinerant circus family find a toddler abandoned in a winter playground, take her in in spite of their fears of official consequences if they are found out, come to love her and dread the time when her mother returns to take her back.

An astonishing performance by this 2 year old. How in the world did they get this child to do this stuff? She seemed completely in sync with the story line.

I also liked the focus on the lower reaches of Italian society and how their warmth and solidarity gets them through. But this film is primarily a human drama and it succeeds superbly.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Mighty Joe Young

Terry Thomas, Ben Johnson

Cornball follow-up to King Kong by the same Cooper/Shoedsack team. Essentially the same story. All soundstage - with one very good set. Good ape effects by Ray Harryhausen.

The film was crippled by the doofus-level material. I loved it as a child and should have left it as a fond memory. I did enjoy the re-make done in 1998.