Monday, April 30, 2012


Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight   d/ John Boorman

Brilliant adaptation by James Dickey of his best-selling novel. Four suburban dads head out for a weekend on a soon-to-be-disappeared river in search of...well we're never really sure. Nature, lost connections, adventure, reality, their manhood, themselves... What they find is more ambiguous, more harrowing, more lethal than their coddled lives until then suggested.

The novel was an immense success and ended up ruining Dickey's life. But it was and is a stunner...and so is this film. One of the finest re-interpretations of a novel ever done.

This will be studied in film classes as long as such things exist. A great classic.


Sunday, April 29, 2012

The One Percent


Interesting piece on the ruling class by a maverick son. Jamie Johnson is an heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune so was able to attend and film in events not open to the average bear.

As expected, the folks at the top (except for the guy who started Kinkos) aren't very interesting...they mostly inherited money, haven't done anything to deserve their good fortune and strive mightily to keep the full extent of their unearned privilege from the little people.

They saw this kid as a traitor to his class and got quite exercised about his film project in several scenes...intriguing evidence that they are well aware that the system isn't quite kosher and that perhaps one day the darkies are going to come over the hill and wreak revenge...or something.

Good doc.


Saturday, April 28, 2012



Neat film. Eight people come into a room to take the final test for an unspecified job. The rules are simple but the questions are unstated...they must figure it out for themselves.

Intriguing idea...mostly well-scripted. We gradually learn who these people are but their conflict gets a bit melodramatic at times. Reminded me of Cube. After going over the top in intensity it resolved on a good note...which actually justified all the stuff we saw. Gripping throughout.


Friday, April 27, 2012


Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn

Hopeless hollywood schmaltz when "entertainment" meant getting two extremely good-looking actors together, putting them in fashionable clothes and locations and pretending that they are falling in love with each other. Even though one of them is a secret shit and a generation older.

This was done at the tail end of the studio era...when Doris Day/Rock Hudson comedies were boffo. The crack in the dike came two years later with The Pawnbroker...soon after that this so-called classy drivel came to be seen for the nonsense it always was.

Three years later she did Two For the Road...a big step up. Nice song by Henry Mancini.



The Well

A five year old black girl falls into a well on her way to school and precipitates a near-total societal breakdown in her typical American small town circa 1952.

Although some of this is dated now at the time it was a daring, hard-hitting drama that looked directly at the time bomb of racism in our culture. In a mere 45 minutes of screen time the scenario leads one step at a time to a full blown race riot with mobs of blacks and whites running all over town hunting each other.

It then changes course when the girl is found and they all bind together to construct an elaborate rescue. But the scars from the breakdown will last.

The patch-up was a little glib but this film was a landmark at the time...I saw it then and never forgot it. It deserves to be seen and remembered.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Kid With a Bike

Dardennes Brothers   Cecile de France

Powerhouse film about a young boy whose father deserts him and sells his bike. The kid is obsessive-borderline OCD-and does everything he can think of to get back with dad...including committing a violent crime to get the money to bribe dad.

This was a graphic presentation of someone with an open wound flailing about trying to close it. Very painful to watch. The character played by his carer seemed saintly...absorbing his abuse because she could see his overwhelming hurt.

Excellent lead performances, jittery camera worked well in this case. Wrenching, unforgettable film.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Sean Connery   w/d John Boorman

Period (1973) weirdness which at the time might have been seen as hip but today looks just embarrassing.

Set in a dystopian future which reminded me of Wells' warlocks/eloi symbiosis. SC gets to run around in a diaper-like thing essentially showing off his macho side. Of course Boorman threw in a serious dose of psychedelia to get your eyes spinning.

Mostly we got to see British actors behaving they are wont to do... Unexpectedly violent resolution. But then again...he did do Point Blank and Excalibur.

An oddball curiousity piece...with nudity.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012


L. deCaprio, Kate Winslet

I saw this on opening day in 1997 and last night. It held up very well...although I had forgotten all the melodrama involving Kate and Leo after the ship hit the berg.

The staging of the crash and sinking was superb, sets and models have never been topped. The cross-class story worked fine until the crash when it stepped into absurd land and became steadily more aggravating. But I enjoyed the framing device with Gloria Stuart, the class war details, in particular the coda which outlined the life Rose had after the tragedy.

It became fashionable to sneer at this film after its initial overwhelming success but the reactionaries cheated themselves out of a first-rate cinematic experience.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Not So Modern Times


Wry, sardonic take on modern life.

A sheepherder living in a remote region of the pampas receives a satellite TV from a government program and finds his life changing. He gets hooked on stupid soap operas and dating shows coming from Buenas Aires and pushes his native skills and sensibility to the background. The final scene shows him singing the theme song from the soap in the traditional manner...strumming his guitar with snow-capped mountains in the distance.

Nicely underplayed with a great lead actor.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Little Women

Katherine Hepburn

Very much of its time (1933). Heaps of sloppy sentimentality, studio sets, thirty year old women as teenagers, vaseline-lens close-ups, Max Steiner cue music, etc.

Still, the film was able to hold my attention and even got me to care...a bit anyway...about the fate of the characters. Beth's illness and eventual death was way overdone but by then I didn't mind.

The big disappointment was Kate's interpretation of Jo March. She couldn't play a tomboy well at all...relied on exaggerated gestures and obnoxious behavior while missing the crucial dimension of maintaining likability.

But the curious thing was that even with its obvious flaws I enjoyed watching it. Perhaps rightly regarded a classic.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy

Gary Oldman

Extremely slick, whiz-bang treatment of the 60's John Le Carre spy novel. Overdone in all respects...flashy editing, exaggerated sound design, impossible-to-follow story line. This film defines the triumph of modern technique over story.

The thing is...this is a powerful story in its own right...worth telling. But the whole spy-vs-spy genre was given a less frenzied and more poignant treatment in the Matt Damon film The Good Shepherd in 2006. If your story is good enough you really don't need all the bells and whistles stuck like barnacles on this one.

That said, this still easily held my attention although I was quite confused for the last 15 minutes (who was killing who...and why?). I ended up admiring the myriad skills on display but longing for a simpler the BBC version starring Alec Guiness.


Friday, April 20, 2012

3 Backyards


Poor film. We follow three individuals from a suburban neighborhood...a 10yo girl, a wandering husband and a star-struck housewife/painter. Nothing that happens to them is particularly interesting nor are their lives connected so this amounts to a portmanteau of pointless stories linked by some nice new age music.

Not enough guys. Some kind of point would be nice. I liked the sensibility on display here but the filmmakers need a better idea before starting.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Tokyo Sonata


A mid-level saririman has his job downsized and we get to watch his family life gradually come undone. Played for very black humor. At first this seems conventional but after an hour or so the weirdness sets in and takes us in directions we never would have predicted. In fact it is the very ordinariness of these people's lives and the changes they undergo that makes the humor work.

To cap it off the eventual resolution is a quite conventional sweet note...preposterous but sweet. Nice work.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Debt

Helen Mirren, Jessica Chastain

A team of Israeli commandos fail in their mission to capture one of Hitler's monsters and bring him back home for public trial and spend the next thirty years lying about it.

Standard hollywood-type scenario shaded uncomfortably close to an infomercial for Israel's militaristic attempts to hold Nazis responsible for their crimes against humanity. The stark simplicity of the characterizations here (good guy/bad guy) made the whole enterprise feel like propaganda.

Expensive, nice-looking production that I found ultimately unsatisfying.


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Jane Eyre

Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender

Very nice treatment of the Charlotte Bronte novel. Mostly told in flashbacks which allowed the economical telling of a complex story in just two hours.

Beautiful sets and locations brought us into the time/place. Both leads excelled in capturing the shaded personalities Bronte conjured up. MF even got me to forget Orson Welles...if only for a time. And MW looked and acted 19...something none of her predecessors managed. They were aided by a stellar supporting cast...Judi Dench, Sally Hawkins.

Solid classic adaptation.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Frozen Land


Ugly, uncomfortable trip through the nether reaches of Finnish society. Story said to be taken from one by Tolstoy but I can't remember the Russian wallowing in so much crud before. Loud, crude, nihilistic characters, depressing urban landscapes, humanity at its most piggish.

This used the hand-off structure which kept us from caring about any of the low-lifes on screen. No fun at all.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Separation


A brilliant script well executed. The film was immediately engaging and a short while in thoroughly absorbing. It provided a nuanced peek into the lives of some ordinary people faced with problems a little bit beyond their ken. They get caught up in a legal tangle that is understandable from all perspectives and once in there was no way out.

There were no good guys here, no bad guys...just real folks all doing the best they can and in spite of that they end up being tortured by life's vicissitudes.

This won best foreign film...yet another indictment of the the stupidity of the academy system. It was the best picture of the year by far and should have been recognized as such. Not especially cinematic...the film was all talking heads...but the intelligence and the humanity on display here shames anything that has come out of hollywood in recent years.

Thank god for films like this one. It justifies all the time and effort I put into this activity.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Descendants

George Clooney w/d Alexander Payne

Touching, well-written story of a family living on Hawaii dealing with a comatose cheating wife and the emotional wreckage she has left behind. Several of the players...particularly Clooney and Shailene Woodley, the young girl who played his troubled teenage a chance to display their talents in heart-wrenching scenes.

Nothing here clunked; the scenario, while clearly manipulative and calculating rang true, the location work shone...the whole production put it among the top five US films of the year.

Payne's done some fine films (Citizen Ruth, About Schmidt, Election) and some junk (Sideways) but this one is firmly in the former group. Nice job.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Song of Summer

Ken Russell

One of his early films for the beeb...this was the story of the final years of composer Frederick Delius taken from the memoir of Eric Fenby who assisted him in writing the unfinished music set aside because of his paralysis and blindness.

None of the flash of KR's later works. Successfully portrayed a difficult, cantankerous old man dying slowly of syphilis who nonetheless wrote beautiful, haunting music. KR later went on to do the lives of many composers.


Tuesday, After Christmas


This film began with an 8 minute, after-sex nude scene which I found off-putting and intrusive. The last film I can remember that started this way was Betty Blue all those years ago. This one too eventually redeemed itself.

We follow an affair and marriage break-up centered on a schlubby thirty-something. Many long scenes with no cuts - which made us feel we were peering closely into the reality of these peoples' lives. The two women were well-played...the guy was a cipher. Lots of declarations of love but he didn't succeed in making it seem like it was so. He seemed detached from everyone around him (except for the opening sequence) and maybe even from himself.

Overall this worked as a contemporary domestic melodrama...not a film you'd urge friends to watch but not a waste of time either.


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Panic Room

Jodie Foster d/ David Fincher

Competent modern thriller featuring damsels in distress threatened by three big bad wolves. Although this was by-the-numbers the mobile camera work and constantly shifting POV gave it a dynamic feel that easily held my interest.

Imaginatively executed hollywood product.