Sunday, September 30, 2012

Innocent Voices

Mexico  d/ Luis Mandoki

Lush, moving account of one family's struggle to survive in the war against the people of El Salvador sponsored by multi-nationals and the Reagan gang.

Based on one boy's true story the film was unabashedly pro-little guy propaganda but who in the world would have been rooting for the billionaires in New York and London who profited from this mass atrocity? In the 80's this was where the knife edge of capitalism was cutting. Get rid of the pesky people and the land and its resources are available for plunder.

Highly professional camera work and tech details raised the film above many of its well-meaning peers. A fine film with a strong message.


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Baby Doll

Carroll Baker, Eli Wallach, Karl Malden     d/ Elia Kazan

Tennessee Williams yarn set in delta country where cotton is king and marrying an underage nymphet is guaranteed to bring trouble.

High quality production with superb direction by Kazan. The extended seduction sequence on the swing and elsewhere was brilliantly staged and shot. Wallach skirted the line but never quite slid over into sleaze. CB was excellent as the child-woman who meets her match. Malden's character was overplayed but he was supposed to be a bellowing, sexually frustrated buffoon...and he was...annoyingly.

This shocked when it was released (1955) and still packs some heat. Well worth watching for the excellence on display.


Friday, September 28, 2012

Ugetsu Monogatari

Japan   K Mizoguchi

Classic from Japan's golden age of film - 1953. Two brothers feel the clarion call to riches and fame, use the current conflict to ditch their wives and head off for adventure. Things don't go according to daydreams.

Morality tale with supernatural elements that tap into ancient Japanese well as Noh theater. Fluid camera work and overall look, beautiful b/w especially in the lake/fog scenes. Marred a bit by the overacting endemic in Japanese films of that era.

Still this is a lean, taut drama which deserves its status.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Three Monkeys

Turkey    Nuri Bilge Ceylon

Very fine film by Turkey's most prominent filmmaker. A rich businessman/politician kills a pedestrian and rather than fess up persuades his chauffeur to take the rap and serve the time. This leads to unforeseen complications in the latter's dysfunctional family.

What we got here is a failure to communicate. Long pauses, glances, inner turmoil hinted at, unspoken grievances simmer beneath the surface. The film is a masterpiece of things left unsaid. The characters have an air of sad, knowing resignation alien to the can-do mindset.

This wouldn't work for most western audiences but for those willing to accept the pace and tone it packs a tremendous punch. Kudos.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Karl Urban, Olivia Trilby

Extremely violent cartoon-based film which carries on the idea that wholesale slaughter in the name of the state against the bad guys is OK.

This made an interesting contrast with The Raid. In that film the cops were lithe hand fighters who used their bodies as well as their guns to kill. In this one the "hero" is a lumbering, heavy-footed thug who thuds around corridors and kills with different weaponry. He also speaks in a Clint-like hoarse whisper (are you feeling lucky punk?) which seems a bit arch.

The standout feature of the film was the ultra-slow motion used sparingly and effectively. But I remember this trick used in Goodbye Columbus oh those many years ago. Still it added something coupled to the CGI.

Frankly I was hoping for a bit more here. Dommage.


Monday, September 24, 2012


Spain     Louis Tosar

Intelligent, extremely well-produced farce...set in 1913...based around freudian ideas with wonderfully lush sets, nice transitions, beautiful lighting, camera work...just the right amount of absurdity...great cast.

This genre isn't among my favorite because it so seldom works but this was so well done it held, and tickled me all the way through. Another completely different character for Tosar and he pulled it off with ease. Fun.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels


Jokey (adolescent) story of criminal low-lifes in London. Done for laughs...not funny. Lots of whoop-de-do camera work attempted to give it a now look but just made it aggravating to watch.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Rain Man

Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise    w/d  Barry Levinson

Twenty years on it still works...largely because of Hoffman's performance. As the film goes by it becomes impossible to think he is an actor playing a part...he so inhabits the role.

That said it did seem that TC's character was overcooked...he was so solipsistic and mean-spirited he came across as a caricature rather than a three dimensional human. And it seemed improbable that Valeria Golino would stay with such a self-absorbed jerk.

But there was never a moment when I felt like shutting it off even after multiple viewings. That says volumes...


Friday, September 21, 2012

The Master

Joaquim Phoenix, Phillip Seymour Hoffman    d/ Paul Thomas Anderson

This may be the most unpleasant, big-budget movie I've seen in years. Ostensibly built around a cult leader who emerges in the 50's...a la L Ron...this scratched around the surface without reaching deeply enough to give us a sense of revelation or enlightenment.

We follow a deeply damaged ex-sailor (brilliantly played by JP) running from his demons into the arms of a benign (?) monster who has created an organization designed to serve him...the others be damned. All hail his mumbo-jumbo as revealed wisdom...those who don't are treated to violence.

Tech aspects were first rate...particularly lighting, set design and creative use of music...but the overall tone was nasty, squirmy and never let up. No release just sucks.

Anderson's films get high praise in some circles but to me they always fall short...he doesn't have the deep understanding of human nature that makes serious films resonate. His insight is surface-deep and fails to satisfy. Too bad...there's a great film here lurking in this topic...this one didn't find it.


When the Cat's Away


A young single woman, living in a working-class neighborhood in Paris, loses her cat while away on vacation. To find it she enlists all the help she can find from her neighbors...the old women, the immigrants, the damaged...and through her efforts we discover with her the character of this small part of the yuppifying city. We also watch as she frabs around, desperately at times, seeking love and companionship.

Sweet, intelligent film. Sometimes painful, realistic, ultimately enlightening and the main character and to us. This is one of those quiet little gems that sneak by unnoticed.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Even the Rain

Spain/Mexico   Gael Bernal, Louis Tosar

Intricate interweaving of two stories: a movie company come to Bolivia to film an historical epic about the outrageous exploitation by Columbus of the native population of Santo Domingo and the fight by present-day natives against the privatization (stealing) of their water supplies by foreign multi-nationals. The issues are different but the thoughts are the same: the strong take from the weak wherever and whenever they can. The only thing that will stop them is an equal level of violence.

First rate production in every sense. Tosar (Malamadre in Cell 211) shines as the embattled executive producer forced to drop his cynical detachment and fully engage with a people he once scorned.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Scotland    w/d  Lynne Ramsey

Her calling-card film packed a real punch at the time, still does and always will. Up close and personal examination of life in the Glasgow slums...their squalor exacerbated by a trash collectors strike.

In the opening scenes two boys wrestle in a filthy canal, one drowns and we follow the other as he tries to deal with his guilt in the face of constant reminders and a dysfunctional family. He dreams of moving to new housing as a cure for all his troubles but we know, and he doesn't, that wherever you go...there you are...

A fine update to the kitchen sink genre of the early 60's.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Two Days in Paris

France   w/d Julie Delpy

Not a reprise of her Linklater films. Here she and her extremely neurotic NYC boyfriend have a series of encounters with her rude, crude, potty-mouthed family and a string of her former swains in her native Paris, all of which lead to embarrassing scenes, conflicts and some scattered laughs.

This was fast-paced and had the fascination of a train wreck. She has them reconciling at the end although why either of these people would choose the other as a life partner seems more than a little bit insane. Ah...but such is love. Or is it?

Amusing and held me so it succeeded as a film but as life lesson...not so much.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Real Life

Albert Brooks

Comedic take on the PBS series on the Loud family show broadcast in 1973. This envisions a movie version...following a family's life for a year on association with a fictional Psych institute.

Some laugh-out-loud scenes in here but Brooks' hyper-vocal character in charge of the filming process got pretty old. Still, nothing presented in this film could have predicted the overwhelming importance of "reality TV" in the current media landscape. But it does nail the absurdity of the concept.

A forgotten milestone.


Saturday, September 15, 2012



This is the second time I've seen this and it held my interest each time. The story revolves around a research lab that has come up with a device that allows people to meld their slip in and out of them at will.

This gives the filmmaker license to play with our sense of reality (relevant in anime?) and have fun with the audience's perceptions. Very imaginative visually, fast-paced engrossing script...this as much as anything produced in recent years represents the future of animation. Played like a Wachowski brothers film.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Bombay Beach


I tried pretty hard to like this...edge city at the Salton Sea is intrinsically interesting and could easily carry a film...but the camera work and editing were so off-putting to me I couldn't continue.

Too bad. there could have been a neat film in here somewhere.



Gus van Sant

More than slightly twee story about a pair of death-obsessed teens who meet at a stranger's funeral (shades of Harold and Maude) and fall in love. She (Mia Wasikowska) is actually dying which sets a time limit on their courtship but they do manage to get in a montage of them doing all sorts of teen dating stuff in neat outfits. Oh and he has a dead Japanese kamikaze pilot as a friend and games-playing companion.

In spite of the absurdity of everything on display I found myself enjoying it...cliches and all. They hit the right buttons and I salivated on cue. Oh well...


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Certified Copy

Juliet Binoche   w/d Abbas Kiarostami

This was a bewildering mind-fuck. Two characters meet at a talk, go off together as apparent strangers in awkward circumstances and slowly slide into the role of disillusioned married people striving unsuccessfully to re-kindle their relationship. Or maybe not.

We are never really clear on who these people are or how they are related. Perhaps they are meant to represent all couples and this film traces the arc of all relationships. Or perhaps they were play-acting for the early part of the story...or perhaps the later part. Nothing is resolved...we are left to parse it out on our own.

Both leads were excellent. Many outstanding director's touches ( car-cam, mirror shots). This was an intellectual puzzle, an intriguing enigma. A high order of intelligence and artistic vision on display here.
Fine casting - stars and supporting players. I particularly liked a scene between Binoche and an older woman at a cafe.

The kind of film that would never get made in hollywood.


The Crimson Rivers

France    Jean Reno, Vincent Cassel

Modern, well-done action/thriller with perfect stars, great locations, sufficiently complicated plot to engage the mind...everything one could ask for in this type of film.

These two guys play world-weary cops engaged in a difficult case...each brings a different personality to the problem and together they cover all the bases for a crime thriller. Directed by Mattieu Kassovitz in fast-paced, rockem sockem excess.

Great fun.


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Robot and Frank

Frank Langella

Sweet little movie, masterfully played by FL. It's the near future, machines are routinely tending oldsters which brings on various wrinkles in the social fabric.

Here, Frank is a jewel thief...a second storey he recruits his tender to help. The problem is Frank is losing his mind/memory so this endeavor leads to complications. FL is charming and believable in his role. Susan Sarandon has a nice supporting role. The film works in its own quiet way.




ESP thriller which clicked right along for an hour or so and then the script took a wrong turn (for dramatic reasons) and lost me completely.

It doesn't work to have your characters make idiotic choices profoundly affecting their lives without providing a plausible explanation for it. Too bad...this was an intelligent treatment of a subject usually given short shrift in film.


Friday, September 7, 2012

La Balance


Policier from 1982 seems badly dated to my eye. Average-looking French guys acting tough with criminals and prostitutes came across as...well...average white guys acting tough. Instead of being menacing or intimidating they seemed a little sad...not quite pathetic.

Nice star turn by Nathalie Baye wasn't enough to carry the film.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Raid: Redemption


Extremely violent action film about a police raid on a twenty storey building that goes wrong from the get-go. Fast-paced with elaborately worked out choreography...some of the hand-to-hand fight sequences were spectacular and evidenced care and preparation, great editing. The addition of some softer moments an hour in seemed pro forma but even this thread found its way into the main story line and contributed to an amazing final fight.

For those with a taste for this sort of thing...this was a winner.


The World in Claire's Classroom


Fascinating look at the workings of a small elementary school in Vermont which is blessed by a savvy, saintly teacher. People often look nostalgically at the old one-room schoolhouse...especially compared to the oversized, dehumanized examples today...but in fact their effectiveness depended entirely on the quality of the teachers. If you had a good one you got a good start. If not...well...

solid, engaging documentary.


Monday, September 3, 2012

Billy Budd

Terrence Stamp, Robert Ryan   w/d  Peter Ustinov

Herman Melville's morality play brought gloriously to the screen in 1962. Has here ever been a more saintly character than Billy? Or a more twisted, evil villain than Claggert?

Big budget film holds up very well. Exteriors on the ship are convincing...the focus on the characters in the interiors distracts from the artifice of the sets. Stamp was beautiful and his portrayal of the simple, honest, charming seaman made the film work. PU brought his trademark actor's tics, Ryan his glowering, inner-tortured self and the rest of the cast excelled.

All here but Budd wrestled with intense moral decisions. His inhuman perfection...the goal men strive toward...had to be destroyed because he stood as a living reminder of the our failure to transcend our very selves.

A classic.


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Myth of the American Sleepover


Slow, quiet film centering on a group of Michigan teens gathering in several houses just before the end of summer. For an hour or so I found this to be so subdued in tone that I never became interested in the characters. Then the various stories we had been following started to jell and not only caught my interest but touched me intellectually and emotionally.

The filmmakers showed a true understanding of teen behavior...the posturing, false starts, the lurching toward adult behavior and scuttling back to kidship typical of real-life teens. Not hollywood. The resolution of the several stories seemed right to me. The players looked and acted like real kids.

Nice film...a pleasant surprise.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Rules of the Game

France    d/ Jean Renoir

This film has consistently been judged one of the ten best films ever made in Sight and Sound magazine's poll of film buffs around the world.

This is the third time I've tried to watch it but it is so asinine and irrelevant to my life...including my life in film...that I've never been able to get past half way. Chaotic scenes of repulsive bourgeoisie talking loudly at one another while trying to screw each other's wives just doesn't reach me...and I guess never will.

I remain baffled by the praise handed out to these early French films...L'Atalante, Children of Paradise, Grand Illusion. Oh it goes...