Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Secret World of Arietty

Japan Hayao Miyazaki

Another great animated film from the acknowledged world master. Based on the book The Borrowers it creates a strikingly beautiful world we all wish really existed...where little people share our lives hidden underneath the floors and in the walls.

The drawings and other technical details were splendid...the "love story" perfect in tone and detail...even the villain was gently drawn. Entertaining for children and adults...a very fine film.


Friday, March 30, 2012

L'Enfance Nue

France w/d Maurice Pialat

His first film is pretty primitive...a seemingly disconnected series of individual scenes show the life of a 10 yo foster child. We get very little backstory on this boy but watch him commit many stupid, angry, destructive acts which exasperate and bewilder the adults trying to help him.

The young actor displays a blank face to us and to the world...this gives us the sense that his particular story isn't what's on display here but the social service system itself. As a former foster parent I found it easy to identify with the poor people trying to reach this kid with kindness...and failing completely for reasons they will never know.

Worth watching but not as developed in technique as his later, excellent films.


Thursday, March 29, 2012



Very strong film which dealt with the story of one family torn apart by the catastrophic earthquake in Tangshan in 1976. Effects were excellent. Family members were realistically presented. The history of the radical changes in China for the past 30 years was the background story.

The last few scenes leaned toward maudlin but by then I was so impressed by the entire film I was willing to forgive. First rate production in every respect.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Matt Damon, Cecile deFrance d/ Clint Eastwood

This was a real surprise...a thoughtful, not-hokey examination of what happens after we die. Three disparate people have close brushes with death which sends them on a quest. They eventually end up in London at the same time.

The film started with an incredibly realistic re-creation of the 2005 tsunami in Thailand. MD was subdued, likable. Ms deFrance credible as a woman who undergoes a life-changing experience. And they even managed to throw in a nascent love interest.

Eastwood's career has been spotty but in recent years he's hit a tone in his films that speaks of a deeper intelligence than I formerly gave him credit for. This was engaging and will stick with me.



Steve Buscemi, Sienna Miller

Re-make of a film made in Holland by Theo van Gogh before his murder. Apparently he wanted three of his films to be done in America...thus this one.

Pretty intriguing script...cynical, jaded reporter who has lost the confidence of his editors is assigned to do fluff pieces...including this interview with a pretty, vacuous TV actress. They ended up spending quite an evening together with reveals coming on the beats.

Two major problems here: Buscemi the director should have cast someone else for the lead. His odd, vaguely degenerate screen persona didn't fit this character and/or situation. I kept yearning for a different male lead. And frankly the script wasn't good enough. Too artificial and I never believed the connection between these two lost souls.

I kept remembering back to Tom Noonan's What Happened Was... this one didn't measure up.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Union Station

William Holden

Noirish melodrama from 1950. Fast pacing helped save an improbable kidnapping scenario. WH was young, handsome and trying a bit too hard. Nice location work.

Solid, professional entertainment of the era.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Margin Call

Kevin Spacey

Tight, well-crafted treatment of a financial meltdown told from the inside of a Goldman-like company. Intelligent script, solid cast and good sense of pacing easily held my interest. Slick, gleaming surfaces nicely captured the value system that produces these kinds of people.

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded...everybody rolls with their fingers crossed...everybody knows the fight is fixed... the poor stay poor the rich get rich...that's how it goes...and everybody knows.

There's no fix for this...we all just get to ride it all the way to the bottom.


Friday, March 23, 2012

The Changeling

Angelina Jolie d/ Clint Eastwood

Pretty amazing story taken from a true incident in 1928. A missing 9 yo boy leads to his single mother being persecuted by the LAPD for refusing to accept the substitute they proffered. AJ again shines as a working class mom faced with the ultimate nightmare - her son is missing and no one will help find him.

Great period look. The story raced along and even at 2 1/2 hours seemed too short. Engaging drama which would have been unbelievable as fiction.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Grave of the Fireflies

Japan anime

This is the animated film that changed how people saw the medium. Released in 1988 it tells of two victims of the Kobe firebombing in 1945. Adapted from a 1967 semi-auto-biographical novel.

The film depicts the suffering of war, the degeneration of a society in extremis and stands as one of the most moving depictions of love ever put on the screen.

Roger Ebert calls it the greatest anti-war film ever made. He may be right. Enormously sad and unforgettable.


Sunday, March 18, 2012


amerindie John C Reilly

Terri is a high school fat kid who mopes around in his pajamas in a semi-catatonic state. He develops several relationships as the film goes along, stays detached (rejected?) from most of humanity and gives no sign that the rest of his life will be much better.

I was reminded of Heavy (1995) which also featured an overweight protagonist who spent most of the film silent, looking at the floor. Similarly Terri gets us to feel sympathy for him but mostly because he's the one we follow around for two hours. I kept waiting for this kid to develop a backbone because if he's going to rely solely on understanding in the world his life will be miserable indeed.

Just barely worth it. Loved the hawk scene though.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Elevator to the Gallows

France w/d Louis Malle

Clever well-executed thriller. Jeanne Moreau and her ex-soldier lover conspire to murder her husband and take over his corporation. But things go wrong...big time.

Malle packed a lot of incident in 90 minutes with fine, fluid camera work, fast editing and intricate plotting. Great resolution the old-fashioned tradition.

Solid classic that holds together very well.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Murmur of the Heart

France w/d Louis Malle

A very daring film when released...1971. It's a coming-of-age film focusing on a 15 yo boy...the youngest of three sons in an affluent, rambunctious family. Mom is youthful, uninhibited, frankly sexual, older sons are wildly hedonistic, self-absorbed jerks, dad is a repressed gynecologist. So our hero is having a tough time navigating the throes of adolescence.

The first hour is fast-paced and sets the unsettling tone that eventually leads to the incestuous act that defines the film. It's the overall structure and the completely out-of-control, over-privileged, over-indulged characters that make it work.



Thursday, March 15, 2012

Nowhere Boy

England Aaron Johnson, Kristin Scott-Thomas

Nicely done re-creation of the early, formative years of John Lennon. He ricocheted between the stern controlling force of his aunt Mimi who raised him and the free-spirited irresponsible mother who abandoned him. To escape this conflict he turned to music...the early rock and roll that transformed so many of us.

Engrossing film which seemed to race along while still giving an in-depth understanding of one of the iconic figures of the 20th century.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard

Great old-fashioned thriller. Took the time to introduce the characters, set them in a realistic context and gradually ratcheted up the suspense. Story was a variation on The Bad Seed. Maybe...the really, really bad seed...

The resolution was so extreme it made me laugh (where were all those cops?) but they succeeded in keeping me guessing all the way.

Fun, scary, tense...


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Real Steel

Hugh Jackman

This was really junk. It got some good reviews which is why I was curious but all it did was take the "big game" formula, dumb it down to the lowest possible level, make it louder with deafening sound design and wait for the droolers to come in the doors.

Embarrassing, stupid, cynical, condescending, etc...


Monday, March 12, 2012

This Happy Breed

England Robert Newton, Celia Johnson

1944 film by Noel Coward meant to reinforce the goodness of the English people in the time of their gravest peril. We follow the day-to-day fortunes of a suburban family from 1919 to 1939...the eve of war.

Other than some understandable jingoism the film was well-written and brilliantly played by all. The trials of extended family life are made real as well as the comforts. Directed by David Lean .

A classic of British cinema.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Crazy, Stupid, Love

Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Julianne Moore

Clever, amusing script which takes us on an improbable tour through the vagaries of contemporary love. The story spins off in wild directions before coming together in a classic (sort 0f) happy ending. All takes place in movie a singles bar where everyone is good-looking...but I didn't care.

The only real misstep was a minor character (Marisa Tomei) directed to be way over the top. Also featured a preternaturally sophisticated 13 year old...a la Juno.

Good, crowd-pleasing junk.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan


Here we get to watch generations of Chinese women being severely oppressed and tortured (foot-binding) by a massively ignorant, superstitious patriarchal culture. In response they form intense bonds with each other similar to those experienced by soldiers under the extreme stress of combat.

The film was professionally done but hard to watch...sort of like the torture porn (Saw) currently fashionable among teens. Not my idea of a swell time. Not particularly enlightening either.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Patrik 1.5


A gay couple apply to adopt a child...through a bureaucratic mix-up instead of a 1 year old they end up with a homophobic, angry teenager.

From the opening moments it seemed obvious where this was going but the filmmaker inserted enough surprises to keep the audience off guard, wondering how it would resolve. Very smart decision to focus on one character...the sensitive, kindly guy...and show the turbulent story from his perspective. Some of the conflicts were cartoonish but I was willing to forgive because of the overall high quality of the film.

The apparently rampart homophobia was surprising in light of our sense of Sweden as an enlightened, liberal culture. Plus the residential (gated?) community where these guys lived looked a lot like either a disney town or the burb in Edward Scissorhands.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012



Routine piece on several abduction/murders of children on Staten Island in the 70's and 80's. Tied into the infamous Willow Brook mental hospital of Gerry Rivers fame.

The people interviewed sounded like Melanie Griffiths in Working Girl.


Monday, March 5, 2012

Radio Days

Woody Allen

The woodman's nostalgic piece on growing up in the 30's and 40's when the sounds of radio were ubiquitous, the music and drama shaped peoples' lives, colored their perceptions and created the concept of mass media. The film was mostly cast in the golden glow of memory...war, suffering, privation carefully kept in the background.

Great ensemble cast...amusing little vignettes but ultimately fluff material.


Sunday, March 4, 2012

American Grindhouse


Quick tour through the lower reaches of film history. They used a broad brush defining grind which gave them license to show clips from all sorts of trash. The most interesting interview was Hershel Gordon Lewis who saw himself purely as a businessman exploiting the new genre of gore after Psycho to make a buck.

Just barely worth it.


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes

Pretty unpleasant film. Deeply repressed, inarticulate young woman escapes from a manson-like cult...goes to her sister's and acts like a jerk for two hours(our time). She apparently has been with the group so long that she no longer knows you can't skinny dip in daylight or climb into bed with her sister and her husband while they're having sex...even though the script tells us she's been missing for two years.

I suppose we are to believe she has been traumatized and damaged so badly she can no longer function in society. OK...maybe... It doesn't help that her sister and her husband are uptight, conventional and very square.

The film has been criticized for its ambiguous ending but for me the script fell way short of good enough well before that point. It failed to give us enough to make us care about this girl, this victim. This theme has been done before...and much better. see, eg...Ticket to Heaven, Holy Smoke...


Friday, March 2, 2012

The Trip

Steve Coogan, Rob Dryden

Two British TV performers tour northern England sampling expensive restaurants. They spend their time constantly competing mostly using impressions. Since they're both quite good at it the two hours is very entertaining but the underlying nastiness soured the mix for me. Coogan in particular came across as a shit...deeply unhappy...always with a bitter edge. This could have been the personae they adopted for this film. Who knows? I've never heard of either of them before this.

Still it was good to watch a film about two guys with no violence, car chases, etc. A distant variation of My Dinner With Andre.