Friday, August 31, 2012

Flight of the Innocent


Crackerjack thriller about a ten year old boy whose family is murdered in the opening scenes and spends most of the rest of the film being chased by the bad guys. Fast-paced and credible, the story was an amalgam of the many kidnapping cases that plagued Italy in the 90's.

Beautiful locations, top notch camera work, solid and imaginative big budget film.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Kissed By Winter


A female doctor's son dies, she feels responsible, flees to a remote northern town to re-start, gets involved in a murder mystery investigation, takes on a lover (sort of) and doesn't find peace.

Slow, studied, evenly paced drama feels eventless in spite of all the events listed above. The lead is deeply withdrawn...her personality sets the tone for the film...and the cold snowy landscape amplifies this sense of people frozen in time and place.

Everything here was competently done but I found it unengaging. A novelist would have filled the story with interiority fleshing out the characters...without that element we are reduced to watching people act through a window with no sound reaching our ears.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Sarah's Key

Kristen Scott Thomas

Fine film based on the notorious velodrome round-up in Paris in 1942. The story of a family of victims is interwoven with that of a modern-day journalist tracking down the truth of her husband's family history. All things connect.

The sparkling quality of every aspect of this production succeeds in making an over-familiar story fresh.  Obviously manipulative, it carries us along from highlight to highlight in an emotionally satisfying arc.

Nice example of skilled filmmaking.


Sunday, August 26, 2012



Ghost story set in a private boys school. This might work as a semi-scary film for the 10 to 12 yo set but for me it was a juvenile bore.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild


Engaging film (sort of) with some serious problems. We follow a six year old girl who lives in the bayou country of the Louisiana a community of broken down shacks...scavenges for food...everybody is a drunkard (where do they get the money for all the booze?) only yells, screams and hits...their lives are total squalor but we are supposed to believe that they're better off because they're independent and resourceful.

I dunno.

Pluses: the kid was great...a real find. Sound design and occasional visual interludes gave the film a broader scope that the filth and slime we're actually watching.

Minuses: everything else...including ultimately the giant tusked pigs that show up from time to time representing the kid's id or something but even with the scary sound look like a bunch of pigs.

I'm not sure what they were trying for here. I do know the happy-ending music and the image of the cast walking down a water-washed road toward ? struck me as idiotic.



Anna Paquin    w/d Kenneth Lonergan

Powerful, disturbing story. A tour de force performance by AP. This is a dream role for a talented, ambitious actor: she had many emotive scenes with different characters and she was borderline offensive as a person but had to be sympathetic enough to carry the audience along with her on a 2 1/2 hour ordeal.

A young girl is involved in a traumatic event and we watch as she tries to deal with the emotional impact of it, including her own guilt, while being too immature and too arrogant to know what she is dealing with.

The staging of the incident was poor and hurt the rest of the film. That aside, this was a haunting, painful experience for the character and for us but another feather in Lonergan's cap.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry


Pretty inspiring piece on the Chinese artist/activist who took on the might of the 'communist' government in Beijing and won...for a while.

We didn't see enough of his art to judge it properly but we did see an extraordinary display of courage and sheer chutzpah in the many filmed confrontations he had with petty authorities who obviously weren't used to being told no. I have no doubt if he continues his ways he will be crushed under the weight of the state but it still was inspirational watching this guy fighting back.

A modern day hero.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Mirror, Mirror

Julia Roberts, Lily Collins     d/ Tarsem Singh

Wonderful film which fractures the traditional fairy tale, tried to achieve the same jokey, ironic tone as The Princess Bride and succeeded. It also featured spectacular costumes, CGI and brilliant set design. This guy burst onto the international scene with The Fall with its outrageously impressive visuals and here he continues with a creative, stunning re-imagining of Snow White.

LC looks like and is just as charming as Audrey Hepburn, the supporting cast included Nathan Lane, Mare Winningham, Sean Bean and seven great dwarfs. What more can anyone ask? This movie was about true love...that doesn't happen every day...


Saturday, August 18, 2012



Complicated story about a serial killer and a rural policeman who gets drawn into his orbit. The script throws out red herrings for two hours and resolves around a reenactment of the Abraham and Isaac story.

At times I found this exasperating but it held me and the resolution, while being preposterous and all, still worked, sort of. Stories like this only happen in the movies.

Occasional interesting camera work...overall nice look.


Friday, August 17, 2012



A professional assassin plays cat and mouse with a police investigator while courting a woman who had been sleeping beside his last victim and while planning his next hit.

High tech, ultra modern look/editing. A bit cold and distancing but so slickly done that I was with it all the way. I just didn't care about the resolution.




OK to lame attempt at a contemporary romantic comedy. A couples' marriage is getting stale so they try to re-create the life they had when they first met. Absurd complications ensue.

Some good lines and two appealing unknowns in the leads but too much of this was cringe-worthy to make it into the big leagues.




Well done feel-good flick based on a tired old formula but so well executed that it worked. A paralyzed richie hires an exuberant criminal-class black guy as his carer and begins to have riotous, crowd-pleasing adventures. That's about it.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Chinese Heavyweight


Routine piece on the introduction and rise of Western style boxing to China. We follow a 30-something former champion who has been hired by the state to bring along young people in the sport for future olympic competitions. Some of these kids -boys and girls - look about 8 years old.

Doc was sugar-coated - presented more as a Rocky story than the spread of a dubious athletic sport to a population outside it's traditional range. In fact boxing is anathema to confucian values so youngsters have to be re-indoctrinated before they can take it up.

Professionally produced film in every sense but it left me uneasy in its ramifications.


Monday, August 13, 2012



Interesting doc based on a book written by Canada's Margaret Atwood on debt. Not debt as personal financial obligation so much. Debt as in paying a debt to society by a prisoner, BP's debt to all of us for its massive pollution of the Gulf, blood feuds in Albania...

The grand scope of the project provided its own interest for a while but after an hour or so the film lost focus...even though each of the segments was clear and righteous presenting them as linked conceptually made all of them too diffuse and amorphous to resonate.

Nice try though. First rate production values.


Sunday, August 12, 2012



A young man enters Denmark's harshest prison and then his troubles begin.

Well done prison drama which like so many others depicts life at its most savage. Our protagonist tries his best to navigate the treacherous shoals of competing gangs but eventually gets chewed up and discarded...unwanted, unloved, not strong or ruthless enough to survive. Because we follow him and because he is young and good-looking we root for him to survive/thrive (a la The Prophet) but this film has a bleaker message. As if to emphasize this it's always raining and the lives of these men.

Nobody's idea of a swell time...stark, harsh, unforgiving.


Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Queen of Versailles


Sometimes amusing but ultimately sad story of a couple of nouveau riche bozos in Florida who were building the largest house in America before the great bust of 2008. The laughter was all condescending...the sadness was for the value system in this country that produces people who think stuff and its accumulation are what it's all about.

A bit long...I got really sick of these people after 45 minutes or so...but the piling up of the details of their extreme cluelessness held my attention. The 'queen' with her rigid posture, botox face and fake boobs was grotesque...a modern day freak show deluded into thinking she was the embodiment of the American dream. And the taste on display was a scream. But I ended up feeling sorry for their kids who will have received such a distorted sense of what matters in life.

This would work as a propaganda piece for the Occupy movement.


Friday, August 10, 2012

La Bete Humaine

France   Jean Gabin   d/  Jean Renoir

Love triangle melodrama from the 30's which stands out for its dynamic train footage. The scenes shot on the moving trains complete with the sound of engines, whistles and the constant shaking gave us a visceral sense of the power of these great rolling machines.

The drama was pretty creaky by today's standards but Gabin and Simone Simon showed what movie stars from that era looked and sounded like. He was taciturn and exuded inner strength...she had all the good lines and a wider range of emotional expression. He moved like a tree trunk with legs...she slinked around with grace and seductive class.

Together they took a hackneyed story (novel by Emile Zola) and made it compelling.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Before Tomorrow


Very authentic-seeming film set around the time of the first encounters between native people and Europeans. All characters are Inuit, the arctic landscapes haunting, beautiful, mostly by oil lamp...luscious...folk tales abound. This was as realistic an Inuit-set film as has been done.

That said, it had its faults. The pace slowed more and more as it went on...enough that by the end I had lost all interest in the point, if there was one. The song opening and closing the film by the McGonigle sisters was cloying and idiotic and didn't really apply to this film.

As a work of applied anthropology it shone. As a dramatic film...not so much.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Take This Waltz

Michele Williams, Seth Rogen    w/d Sarah Polley

I tried hard to like this film...after all MW has become my favorite working actress and Ms Polley garnered a bunch of praise for Away From Her...but...this one didn't work for me. MW's character wasn't written well enough to get me to sympathize with her behavior or her decisions. As a result she was reduced to actor's tics and tricks...sidelong glances, overt signals of inner stress, etc. to play the role.

And the set-up didn't work. The 'lover' was an artist, drove a rickshaw(! in Toronto!) and wasn't as appealing as her loving, doting husband. It seemed to me that she was just an immature jerk...hankering for...what? Something better? So for two hours I watched this ninny ruin her life, slowly. And since we follow her exclusively watching this was unpleasant with no reward to the viewer...just an inner sense of I-told-you-so. Whoopee.

The film was beautifully lit throughout, camera placement and editing first rate. It needed a better script.


Monday, August 6, 2012

All In


Hagiographic attempt to elevate poker to the heights of human achievement and a modern-day emblem of the essence of America. You know...risk-taking and all that...

I was with this for a was fast-paced and informative about a topic I knew nothing about...and I enjoyed Rounders. But soon the reality of overweight, under-exercised bozos from middle America sitting for hours drinking whiskey, smoking cigars and trying to scam each other out of money none of them has earned became repulsive. I suppose it's nice that some people enjoy this activity but this film tried much too hard to make more of it than it is. And it's really hard for me to ignore the slime element many of these people exude.

Interesting for a while.


Friday, August 3, 2012

Love Crime

France   Ludivine Sagnier, Kristine Scott Thomas

Sleek murder story. While this was engaging and easily held me because of its unusual plot there was a distancing air of artificiality about it that took away any real emotional response. Clever but contrived scheme could only happen in a screenwriter's mind.

Some of the boardroom dialogue was very amateurish and should have been vetted by someone who had actually been in one. Modern look. KST was solid as usual. LV couldn't pull off tiger woman executive the script called for. She sometimes affected a deer-in-the-headlights look that was meant to indicate churning gears inside but just made her look like a bewildered girl.

Not a failure...not a success either.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Death Note


Manga-derived yarn which much to my surprise held my attention for two hours. A young law student finds a notebook dropped by the god of death...any person's name written in it dies.

What worked was the theme: creeping megalomania a la Chronicle, The Man Who Could Work Miracles, etc. filtered through a Japanese sensibility. Nice looking film, well cast and shot. I even accepted the CGI death god who fluttered around this kid providing some visual interest. Several completely unexpected plot developments helped too.

A solid guilty pleasure.