Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Devil Wears Prada

Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway

Even though this was formulaic in structure and deals with a world (high fashion) I disdain and has as a lead a character who is truly repulsive and cruel...I found myself swept along and quite enjoyed the ride. The direction, camera work and editing rhythms were slick, the acting by all hands first rate - especially Stanley Tucci as a fashion queen.

Intellectually this was close to an Andy Hardy production but they all worked in spite of that...and so did this. Go figure.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012



First rate doc on the man who brought reggae, rasta, ganja, silly hats, togetherness and Trenchtown culture to the world. He was a complex man...a poor father, husband...but his healing influence provided many with the hope, however faint, that we just might find a way to come together and feel all right.

Sadly, it hasn't ended up that way...we now seem to be impossibly far from that idea as the sociopathic plutocrats pulling the strings strive with great success to divide us for their personal benefit. His end was sad and with it ended one of the forms of hope so many of us harbored at the time.

"don't worry bout a thing...cause every little thing's gonna be all right..."

No it isn't...


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Dream House

Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, Naomi Watts

Great cast and good direction (Jim Sheridan) couldn't plug up the holes in this script. It was an attempt at a psychological thriller but once the situation became clear...after 40 minutes or so...the scenario was just too preposterous to hold me. Even moving past the premise the climax and resolution was so hollywood it was an insult to the audience.

Too bad. Next!


Friday, May 25, 2012

Like Dandelion Dust

Mira Sorvino, Barry Pepper

Very fine film about a complicated adoption conflict which could have been ripped from the docket of any family court in the country. Top-notch performances by all hands...but especially the two leads...raised this above the routine domestic melodrama.

Pro-life folks toss out adoption as an easy alternative to abortion but the reality and the ramifications of it are profound and long-lasting. This story also featured class issues (see The Babydance) but the focus throughout was the personal toll...the filmmakers succeeded in getting us to care about the fate of these people caught in a bind none of them could have foreseen.

Powerful juju.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Power Principle: Empire


Another hard-hitting doc from Scott Noble which traces the history of fascism in the West from the second world war to the present. As usual he pierces the veil of official lies and propaganda and reveals the foulness of the elite's power plays. This focused on Iran, Guatemala, Congo, Indonesia, Greece, Grenada, etc.

The elite fear most an enlightened populace working for its own benefit. They pay loud homage to demos while subverting it anywhere it threatens their control of resources and/or people.

Is there a fix for this? Stay tuned...


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Thing

Ulrich Thomsen

Another take on John W Campbell's Who Goes There? This was framed as the prequel to John Carpenter's film of the same name done in the early 80's. Here they were able to use CGI to enhance the reality of the monster stuff which was very convincing and dramatic.

Too much of the film was shot in the dark which I eventually found annoying. One character waving around a flashlight gets old after a while. But the premise and, for the most part, the execution of the story did justice to the story. But I'll always have a warm spot for the Howard Hawks version (1951) starring James Arness. It scared the shit out of me when I was a kid and I've since seen it many times.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Last Holiday

Alec Guinness

An ordinary man learns he has a fatal disease, heads for a posh resort for a final fling and finds the richies are just as despicable as he always imagined.

Clever, subtle satire which holds up remarkably well for its age...1950. AC excels as an everyman juggling a complex of emotions. Nice screenwriter's twist at the end brought the theme into sharp focus. Intelligent, entertaining film.


Monday, May 21, 2012

The Weight of Water

Sean Penn, Sarah Polley

Over-the-top melodrama which interwove a contemporary story with a century-old murder mystery. Although the film used modern production techniques, obnoxious close-ups, jagged editing rhythms and the like it played for all the world like a silent from the twenties...complete with cast-purging storm at the climax.

I was with this for a while but by the end they lost me. Best feature was the scene of the original crime...Smuttynose Island. Now there's a name to remember.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

David Copperfield

Freddie Bartholomew

Another relic from the MGM vaults (1935). Thalberg and Mayer were trying to take the high road and elevate what film could do during that period...their efforts were laudable but hopelessly dated by modern standards. This was done squarely in the time when lapping was king...carefully placing everything right in the audience's lap so they'll get it...poor ignorant souls...meaning cue music, exaggerated villains, etc.

Today it makes these films unwatchable save for historical value...and to see all the lovable old characters floating around in the background.


Friday, May 18, 2012

A Tale of Two Cities

Ronald Coleman

Pretty creaky adaptation of the Dickens novel. Elaborate staging of the storming of the Bastille was worth the price of admission. But the aristocrat-wannabe leanings of Louis B Mayer came through clearly in the treatment of the citoyen who were treated as resentful monsters. The centuries-long depredations of the aristocrats were reduced to the cartoon-level character played by Basil Rathbone...all-England's favorite baddie.

But Coleman turned in his trademark gravitas performance and MGM provided the proles with a grand spectacle worthy of Irving Thalberg. The film is well remembered by those who saw it at the time. For me...historical value only.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Lost Horizon

Ronald Coleman   d/ Frank Capra

Shangri-la! The very word conjures up a never-never land feeling of contentment, peace, security. It started with a novel by James Hilton and was brought to the big screen in 1937 as a big budget extravaganza.

Coleman is perfect...radiating calm, measured intelligence...a steadying force amid the chaos of his fellow travelers. Jane Wyatt provides the love interest, Sam Jaffe the High Lama. Although parts of the film are hokey by today's standards it holds up remarkably well. The dream...for a peaceful just world hasn't changed. If anything it's become even more desperately longed for.

Great sets, costumes, second unit work. The best of Capra-corn.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Easy A

Emma Stone

Hyper-modern attempt to update the teen comedy. Roughly echoes The Scarlet Letter.

Maybe I'm just too old for this kind of material. I found this to be crude, dumbed down...sort of an exaggerated Ferris Bueller or 16 Candles without the wit or loopy charm. ES, while demonstrating undeniable star quality, came across as a 35 year old woman stuck in a retro nightmare.

This is how decadence works...trying to out-do predecessors like John Hughes or Chris Columbus 25 years later but completely missing the sensibility that made their films work.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Imax: Hubble


Great capsule history of the neatest telescope yet devised. Short (45 minutes) skim over the instrument's ups and downs but the film features some stunning footage shot by well as the usual launch stuff.

It took ten years and 10,000 people to build this thing...someone here called it the most magnificent machine ever created. Perhaps the pinnacle of western civilization...the tech baton we now hand off to whoever comes next.


Friday, May 11, 2012

The Whistleblower

Rachael Weisz

Hard-hitting account of a female cop sent to Bosnia by a private "security" company after NATO's demolition of Yugoslavia and encountering atrocities against young women. Her struggle against virtually everyone (except Vanessa Redgrave who shows up now and then as an enigmatic but sympathetic UN official) becomes very hard to watch as the level of abuse goes up and somewhere beyond what I was willing to watch.

RW was superb as usual. She buried her British punctiliousness and believably played a working class American law enforcement person.

The film was a bit of an ordeal, intended to bring attention to a wrong but really became an exercise in stamina for this viewer. Still...well done.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Mystery of Rampo


Extremely imaginative treatment of a writer, emulating the style of Edgar Allan Poe, wrestling with the creation of a new story. His ricocheting back and forth between several different versions of reality and the story as he envisions it present us with one of cinema's finest attempts to depict the creative process.

Beautifully photographed, lovely orchestral score, luminously beautiful lead actress, compelling scenario all combine to produce a classic that deserves a wider audience. An overlooked jewel.



Liam Neeson

Well done thriller/actioner set in Berlin. LM plays an apparent everyman caught up in a bizarre plot that, it turns out, is much more complicated than first appears. While the story is wildly preposterous the film is so well put together it just carries you along to the even more absurd happy ending. State of the art production values all the way through.

Very a hollywoodish sort of way.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Before the Fall

Germany   d/ Daniel Gansel

Another fine effort by the director of The Wave. Here he tells the story of a young boxer who, in 1942 is invited to enroll in an elite military academy. Various events take place which disillusion him and at the end gets expelled.

Solid lead, supporting cast, locations, mise-en-scene all made a strong impression. But I couldn't shake the notion that this history was being witnessed from present attitudes. I never sensed that the filmmakers re-entered the time and gave us the story from the perspective of those who were living it at the time...when the Germans couldn't even conceive of a future when they didn't win, when they didn't bludgeon their way into control.

Still this was a very handsome, engaging production that easily held me...wondering what would be the fate of our young aryan.


Sunday, May 6, 2012


Klaus Kinski, Bruno Ganz   w/d Werner Herzog

Perhaps the most interesting adaptation of Bram Stoker's crypto-sexual novel. Easily KK's most weird performance...he plays Drac beyond creepy...closer to an alien being than anything remotely human.

Film is too long. It would have had more punch at an hour or so. Still, there were many striking scenes...who could ever forget the horde of rats emerging from the transport ship?

Thankless supporting role by Isabel Adjani as the loyal, supportive wife. Nice locations and mise-en-scene.

Not suitable for children.


Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Wave

Germany   d/  Daniel Gansel

Tough, realistic film taken from an incident which took place in California in 1967. A high school social studies teacher is given a week to teach about autocracy so he creates a neo-nazi structure and the kids fall  in willingly. The group gives them a strong sense of community, identity and, most importantly, superiority over non-members.

In just a few days the kids vandalize and resort to violence to deal with outsiders.

This film was very successful in Germany and rightfully so. German youth have heard enough about the Nazi period and thought it could never happen again but this episode proved that the social dynamic that made it work then could happen again...given the right spark. Powerful juju.


The Island of Lost Souls

Charles Laughton

Early (1932) adaptation of H.G. Wells' Island of Doctor Moreau.

Surprisingly effective for a studio-bound film. Set design looked like King Kong, Most Dangerous Game... CL hit the mark between menace and jaded erudition. The panther woman was a hoot. Love interest featured a blonde with marcelled do and perfect makeup. Even a supporting role by an unrecognizable Bela Lugosi! What more could you want?


Friday, May 4, 2012



Amer = bitterness. This film is a hyper-stylized look at a woman's fraught history/sexual imagination. Non-stop use of extreme close-ups, odd angles, bizarre colors. No dialogue throughout...therefore no engagement. We're invited to spend an hour and a half inside the brain of a deeply troubled woman and feel the fear and loathing she feels for all things sensual.

No thanks. While I admired the technical skill shown here the idea seemed to be...if some is good, more is better and the most is best. No it isn't.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Miracle Mile

Anthony Edwards, Mare Winningham

Ambitious, low-budget treatment of the day-they-dropped-the-big-one trope. AE, while well cast as an everyman, still got pretty annoying as he whined his way into control of the crisis. The prevalence of "characters" on screen took away from the stark immediacy of the situation.

Still the scenes showing the collapse of civilization were pretty convincing...I particularly liked the tar pits location...but I couldn't help think of better treatments of this same theme...Threads, The Day After, When the Wind Blows.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

These Amazing Shadows


Nice piece on the National Film Registry. Established in 1989 as a branch of the Library of Congress it was a reaction to the colorizing despoliation being carried out by Ted Turner at the time. Each year 25 films are chosen for preservation and recognition as part of the country's cultural heritage.

Interesting that it took almost to the end of the century for the country to realize that films were important and worth preserving.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sleeping Beauty


Very creepy, disturbing film. A pretty college-age woman who seems to be lost and directionless gets involved with a high-roller quasi-prostitution ring. She serves as a waitress wearing revealing negligees and eventually agrees to a scheme where she is given a sleeping potion and placed in a bedroom where men come in and do whatever they like with her body while she is comatose.

We have no backstory on her which makes the scenario universal rather than personal. It's pretty easy to concoct ideas for which this story serves as metaphor. The men who partake in her services are rich...some are cruel or impotent.

Major kudos to Emily Browning, the actress who played the lead. She had to perform various degrading acts and still create a character who we the audience cared about even though we learn almost nothing about her. Several times she visits a male friend who is hurting in some way but their relationship is never explained. She encounters a former swain at a party who despises her now after she asks him to marry her. Who is this girl? What is her problem?

The whole film uses elegant locations, elegant clothes, elegant lighting, food. Class issues abound.

I wonder if this kind of service exists and, if not, if this film will help create it? Troubling stuff indeed.