Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Skin I Live In

Spain   Almodovar

This guy's done some sick shit in his long career but this one tops them all. He's a darling of the New York trendy crowd and can count on sparkling reviews in the NY Times, New Yorker, New York Magazine, etc. I've never understood why. Granted he uses bright colors and for quite a while has commanded large enough budgets to get his vision on the screen...but what a vision,

Matador, Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down, Dark Habits, Law of Desire. He's like the Lou Reed of filmmaking...wildly over-praised because he takes on oh so outre topics. So forbidden...so on the edge. He has a continuing interest in bondage...another leisure activity that escapes me.

Well this time he went over the edge and fell into the fetid swamp of his own imagination. This one was truly cruel, not cool. He should have his mind washed out with soap.

2 ( solely for production values and the solid performances he was able to elicit from skilled players who had to wallow in this mess)

Monday, July 30, 2012



Very fine film which dealt with some of the wreckage left behind after the US-sponsored military junta was overthrown in the 80's. The focus is on a 15 year old girl who was the child of a leftie couple who were murdered after giving birth to her. She was 'adopted' by a powerful police official and his wife and never told.

The film was designed to pull your heartstrings and it did. The young actress was very effective - she was quiet, thoughtful and determined to find out the truth. All the supporting players were well cast. Occasional cue music grated a bit but not enough to temper the force of the story.

A good example of an effective message movie.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Elite Squad


The war between the drug gangs of Rio's favelas and a special unit of the police. Violent, hyper and gritty the film races along occasionally taking the time to examine the personal toll on the players involved in this endless struggle.

Very effective film which echoes the themes used in many contemporary dramas...just ratchets up the pace to blistering.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

w/d   Duplass Brothers

Sweet, affecting comedy/drama based on a quirky interpretation of the concept of destiny. The film focuses mainly on two thirty-something overgrown children as they go through a series of misadventures plus a sub-plot involving their lonely and long-suffering mother.

The lead - Jeff, played by Jason Segal - carried the film. He was likable, believably abstract, a pacifist and remarkably tolerant of the foibles of the people around him. The film plays like a silly slacker comedy for an hour when it shifts to melodrama in the last 15 minutes, thereby changing the tone and overall effect on the audience. And it worked.

Pretty amazing.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

These Are The Damned

England   Oliver Reed   d/ Joseph Losey

Odd film from 1961. Nine children who have been exposed to radiation and thus are immune to a nuclear holocaust (so saith the scriptwriter) are being kept in isolation so when that great day comes they can emerge and take over the earth. Or something like that.

"Futuristic" use of TV, teddy boys, improbable romance, hints of incest, motorcycles galore, seaside setting, avant-garde sculpturess...pretty much the whole kitchen sink. Might have been exciting at the time but hopelessly corny now. Strictly a curiousity piece...


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Silence

Sweden   d/ Ingmar Bergman

Two women and a boy are traveling in an unnamed country. Their relationship is undefined...sisters? lovers? For an hour unspoken angst fills the screen with tension. Then the dam bursts and out comes resentment, hate, long-repressed ugliness, suffering, aggressive promiscuity...perhaps death.

Along the way were a troupe of dwarfs, tanks, a mute concierge, tight intrusive close-ups. The film was like a parody of a Bergman film...nobody's idea of a swell time.

Historical value only.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Jurassic Park

Sam Neill, Laura Dern

Spielberg at his best. Neat concept (Michael Crichton), great effects, humor, fat villain, muddled scientist...every cliche ever used in 50's monster movies updated and brought to you in living color. The children-in-peril theme was brilliantly used to create tension.

The two-hour film raced by and even though I've seen this several times it still easily held me - a testament to his truly tapping the loves of our shared youth sitting in darkened theaters staring at a movie screen.

Wonderful, timeless junk.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Crisis of Civilization


A lot of effort went into this production...many old clips, animation, etc...but it may have tried to tackle too large a topic with too many complex facets to give any of them adequate exposure. It covered peak oil, energy in general, climate change, food and soil depletion, banking, militarization, international terror, loss of civil liberties...

Any one of these could easily fill a movie...even then not fully. As a polemic it fell short because it didn't really engage the viewer...it simply seemed like a prolonged recitation of various things that were going badly with no visceral sense of how this has come about, what social processes are acting to drive society in this self-destructive direction. Prescriptions offered were tacked on at the end and seemed pro forma, almost childlike in their simplicity.

Nice try but the whole project needed to be re-thought. People should see this but it won't persuade anyone who doesn't already believe its conclusions.


My Joy


Ironic title. beautifully photographed and directed film which presents as bleak and depressing a view of humanity, its values and contemporary life as I've ever seen. Unrelated sequences invariably end in degradation, violence and death for someone.

The first character's story goes on for a half hour...he seems to be a good person, a truck driver who behaves well in several situations...but he is set upon in the dark by some low-lifes and murdered for his cargo which it turns out is useless for his killers. So it goes...

It's hard to reconcile the high level of film-making skill shown here with the message...life sucks and then you die...violently.


Friday, July 20, 2012

Life, Above All

South Africa

Outstanding film dealing with the AIDS plague in Africa and its effects on its victims. The film focuses on a 12 year old girl whose life is completely upended when two members of her family come down with the disease. Because of the social stigma involved everyone tries hard (too hard) to hide its reality, thus increasing the suffering.

The lead was terrific...playing a bright, assertive child who fights against the hypocrisy of the adult world. She is motivated by her sense of caring and a commitment to the truth. Underlying attitudes are subtly hinted at...not explicitly stated by the characters which brings the audience in as participants trying to figure out what motivates the action on screen.

Involving from the first...then gripping with a beautiful climactic scene which acted as catharsis for the audience. World-class film.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Pieces of April

Katie Holmes, Patricia Clarkson

Fun little film about a black sheep girl making Thanksgiving dinner for her estranged family. She lives in a dump, her oven doesn't work so she is forced to turn for help to the residents of her building.

This played like a TV sitcom with quirky, unrealistic characters but the overall effect was charming...greatly helped by the appeal of all the actors involved. Pleasant well-made entertainment.


Monday, July 16, 2012

The Runaways

Kristen Stewart, Michael Shannon, Dakota Fanning

Solid, well done film about the creation of an all-girl rock group from the San Fernando Valley in the 70's. DF's character was fully fleshed out as was the evolving dynamic within the band as they became famous. Shannon was terrific as an over-the-top producer who punked up five suburban girls so they looked and sounded like the Sex Pistols.

Snappy direction and especially editing made it look and sound modern and slick without annoying me...a notable feat. There haven't been too many successful films about rock and roll...this was one of them.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Cria Cuervos

Spain    Ana Torrent

Wonderful film directed by Carlos Saura in 1975. Three sisters are left as orphans when mom, then dad dies. The middle child...brilliantly played by the sphinx-like Torrent...thinks she is responsible for the latter's death and this film focuses on her dealing with the changes in her life.

Subtle, continual shifts between reality and dream states...Saura makes his points gently, trusting in the intelligence of the audience. Lovingly photographed, fine performances by the children. Widely recognized as one of the best films to emerge from Europe in the 70's.


The Haunting

Spain   Ana Torrent

Couple in crisis move to a remote house to re-charge but in time-honored fashion are soon faced with the usual creepies and crawlies and things that go bump in the night. The story was tied up in catholic church nonsense plus a smidgeon of Franco-era atrocity but the details don't really matter.

Expensive production, nice looking, well acted and presented...but there have been many of these over the years and to stand out you have to do something original which this film didn't.

Raised to watchable by AT - Spain's best actress.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

To Rome With Love

Woody Allen

This was embarrassing. The woodman's lost it completely. He had a couple of ideas here...not very clever or funny...and he milked them and milked them until I just wanted all four of his little scenarios to stop. Even his own performance was over-egged. The schtick that worked when he was thirty simply doesn't cut it anymore.

Whatever happened to the auteur who brought us Annie Hall, Sleeper, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors? Even little gems like Sweet and Lowdown, Another Woman, Broadway Danny Rose, The Purple Rose of Cairo?

Gone to graveyards every one...oh when will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?

Throw him on the back of the wagon, boys...he's done.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Oliver Stone

Appropriate title for this violent, drug-fueled tour of the underbelly of Southern California. We follow a trio - two men and a woman- who sell and use high quality pot. They get muscled by a Mexican gang and complications ensue.

This played like Scarface ramped up a couple of notches. Stone uses every trick he knows to spice the film,  gives us a crackerjack editing job and left me with the sense that more was less. The story was generic and I didn't really care about the fate of any of the characters.

But I enjoyed the skill on display...especially John Revolting as a crooked DEA agent. He's become portly in his dotage but burned up the screen when he was on. Also, nice turns from Salma Hayek and Benicio del Toro.

Overall a mixed bag...worth seeing but mainly for the tech dazzles of a real master.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Buddha


Reverential look at the life of Siddharta G...a man for all seasons.

At first the commenters said little or nothing was known for sure about his life since the first bio wasn't written until 500 years (!) after his death but for the rest of the film that qualifier was forgotten and stuff was recited as hard fact with multiple sectarian interpretations, etc. Ah...myth...humanity's curse.

This isn't as hateful a body of thought as the abrahamic desert nonsense but it still strikes me as pathetic bullshit, the main purpose of which is to make the swallower feel superior...er...enlightened.

There's no hope. Richard Gere narrated. Oy!


Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Heiress

Olivia deHavilland, Ralph Richardson, Montgomery Clift

Brilliant adaptation of the Henry James story Washington Square...from 1949. OdH was at her very best...acting with her whole body...her extremely expressive face changing as her character's arc developed. She won the oscar and deserved it.

Sumptuous production with great sets, costumes (Edith Head) and supporting players. This was among the best of old hollywood...a true classic.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Safety Not Guaranteed

Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass

Three magazine writers track down a man who placed an ad seeking a companion for time travel. Based on a true story.

I really wanted to like this film more. The two leads shared a nice chemistry...he a little over the top, she a little under. The flaws were gaping though: everyone else was an absurd exaggeration - especially the lead writer, who out-pigged Belushi's Bluto. At least Bluto was funny.

The resolution was telegraphed to anyone who's watched films like this but I did find the CGI sweetly done. The fault here was in the script...it should have been upgraded by an adult. Still, the core story was sweet.


Monday, July 2, 2012

Safe House

Denzel Washington

CIA spy vs. spy thriller/actioner. Some really remarkable chase scenes, shooting scenes in a soccer stadium, township shootout, etc, etc. If you've got a taste for this kind of material this film delivers.

Extremely cynical storyline somehow (clumsily) morphs into a preposterously happy ending. Still I don't suppose anyone watches something like this for its verisimilitude.

Slick well-done junk.


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Night and Day


In the last ten years or so Korea has produced some world-class provocative films. This wasn't one of them.

Thirty-something burly guy evades arrest for pot-smoking by flying to Paris and frabbing around aimlessly day by day, not doing much of anything except annoying some Korean ex-pats, especially women. This guy started out annoying and got steadily worse as it rolled along.

Lots of shots of him standing in front of buildings smoking...whatever that was supposed to mean. A couple of nice tourist-type shots couldn't save this underdeveloped mess. This film defines the term unengaging.