Monday, December 31, 2012

11 Flowers


We follow the live of several bourgeoisie who have been sent to the western provinces during the madness of the cultural revolution. Mostly we focus on the effect on children.

It was a hard time...the cruelty and instability led some to desperate acts of violence which shaped and warped their lives. Strong film with an excellent mise-en-scene.


Lady Vengence


What in the world are they putting in the water in Korea? This was another entry into the highly stylized, deeply disturbing, mostly crazed, violent, bloody films that have been oozing out of this country in recent years. They get praised on film sites but to me are atavistic displays of depravity and should make their creators eligible for free psychiatric treatment.

This one seemed even more pointless than most. I never did figure out what this was supposed to be saying...other than gore is good...and more gore is better.

Sick stuff.


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Over the Edge

Matt Dillon

Sharp critical film which highlighted the alienation of young people living in a planned suburban "utopia" in 1979. Many of these projects at the time fed on peoples' desire for a better life...the protected isolation of the remote burbs was seen as the best place to raise children. But it turned out that isolating teens led them to turn against each other and the adult world which had failed them.

Very successful film which shocked many at the time and served as a wake-up call to the bourgeoisie that perhaps their notions of the good life were false.



Friday, December 28, 2012

Tell Me Something


OK I'll tell you something: if you want to make a successful policier cool it with the excessive blood and gore, cast a lead who can be more than a pretty face, give him a backstory to humanize him a bit, have your heroine act like a real human instead of a gorgeous remote icon, establish real working relationships among the cops, don't do the obvious and kill off the sidekick and create a villain who's sort of believable.

Of course if you do all that you wouldn't have this movie. Which would be a good thing.

Slick and very stylish but hollow at its core.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart

This was the third interpretation this year of the Grimm Brothers story that I've seen. I love that the same story can serve as the framework for films with such different tones, looks. This one was dark, violent, used obvious and sometimes clumsy CGI and overall was the weakest of the three. I was also troubled by the extreme amount of killing, particularly during the final battle sequence.

The problem for me was KS whose blank, bland performance failed to engage me. Not for a second did I see her as as heroic or even an interesting character. And calling her the fairest in the land was me she looks like an average high school girl.

This was the most conventional of the three and the least interesting. Just grittying up the story isn't have to re-imagine it to excite the interest of a contemporary audience.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Central Park Five


The deeply troubling story of the rape and near-murder of a white female jogger in 1989 and the railroading of five minority teenagers who were in the park that night doing nasty things but not to her. The NYPD and DA were desperate for perps so they browbeat and tricked these kids into making confessions that eventually proved to be false...but only after they had served years in prison.

Even after the real culprit was found and his guilt confirmed by forensics the cops and DA refused to admit their mistake.

Another tour through the "justice" system.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Room 237


Five fringe dwellers go on and on about the various portents and hidden meanings in Stanley Kubrick's adaption of the Stephen King horror novel The Shining. 

Very much like listening to people tell you in excruciating detail their theories of date perhaps the greatest waste of intelligence yet devised. I was reminded of the standard reply Arthur C Clarke gave to those who sent him their ideas...dear sir...there may be something in what you say. Regards...


Friday, December 21, 2012

The Bad and the Beautiful

Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner    d/ Vincent Minelli

Old fashioned potboiler about the inner workings of the movie business. Hollywoodized of course but still quite watchable. Both leads had intense emotive scenes which they pulled off nicely. Good supporting cast included Gloria Grahame and Walter Pidgeon.

This is now considered a classic of 50's era melodrama and deservedly so.


The Yellow Sea


Over-the-top violent action thriller. Long (over 2 hours), impossibly complicated plot which eventually didn't matter since the whole point of this film was the chases, fights (with knives and hatchets) and mayhem. Extremely bloody. Amazing stunt work, vehicle crashes, etc.

By the time I realized what I was watching it was too late to turn it off. It mattered to me that this poor taxi driver turned reluctant hit man got through his extraordinary ordeal. Plus one of the supporting characters was such a hoot I had to witness his ultimate fate.

They weren't making films like this when I was fifteen. Good thing.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Life of Pi

d/ Ang Lee

Dazzling transfer of the gimmick novel to the big (3D) screen. A young man gets shipwrecked and ends up on a life raft with a bengal tiger. Much of the film is the battle for survival between the two.

The clash between the two protagonists is made starkly believable. The tiger in particular looks as good  as I could have imagined. His body movements, reactions to the boy, flying fish, etc are astounding. But in addition Lee provides us with startlingly beautiful scenes filled with luminous imagery...none of which are at all realistic but serve to transport us to a realm of myth and magic. They help us believe that what we are watching could possibly be.

A sequence on a floating mangrove island...filled with chattering meerkats was transcendent in it's ethereal, otherworldly beauty.

This was one of the best uses of CGI I've seen. The only limit is the imagination.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine

Engaging fictionalization of a true incident that took place in a small Texas town. A genial undertaker's assistant gets ensnared in the grip of a mean-spirited widow. She torments him beyond his breaking point and he ends up shooting her to death.

Film was helped enormously by Black's performance and by numerous interviews of the town's citizens expressing their views on the entire case. The story was played as realistically as possible. By the end I felt sympathy for this guy and marveled at the film's ability to invoke large-scale moral issues from this tawdry little story.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I Wish


Sweet story of some children who travel to a town west of Tokyo so they can be present when two fast trains pass each other creating a vortex that they believe will allow their wishes to come true. We mostly follow the two sons of a divorced couple who are living apart and wish their parents could reconcile and bring the family together again.

The summary sounds twee but it works...largely because of the delicate touch used throughout. There is nothing melodramatic here...just a simple story, simply told which shows life from a child's perspective.

This joins the ranks of other successful childhood films...Small Change, Treeless Mountain, Ponette...


Monday, December 17, 2012

A Fierce Green Fire


A traipse through the mammoth topic of environmentalism...just a light dance, touching on several little victories (Love Canal, Greenpeace/whales) whilst completely ignoring the values of capitalism which create such monstrous, destructive behavior in the first place. Call it environmentalism lite.

Narrated by Redford and Meryl Streep this is a cleaned-up, safe look at where we are and where we're going. Don't worry...soon we'll have solar power and everything will be all right. Now go back to sleep my pretties...


The Waiting Room


The perfect movie for those who would like to spend a couple of hours watching poor people (ie those without 'health insurance') suffer, both stoically and loudly in a hospital waiting room. For variety every once in a while several people get wheeled in who have been are bleeding and dying. All staff race to save these people which makes the wait for the ones who are dying more slowly even longer. And presumably if the shot ones recover after heroic work they will get to go back out and maybe, if they are lucky and skilled, dodge the bullets next time.

Hobbes' observation still holds true...the lives of the poor are nasty, brutish and short.

If a poor person dies on a gurney in a public hospital...does it make a sound?


Sunday, December 16, 2012

You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet

France    d/ Alan Renais

The old master keeps on chuggin. He's into his 90's now and still comes up with interesting, provocative films that defy convention and stereotypes.

Here he gathers a group of well-known French actors...Michel Piccoli, Sabine Azema, Mathieu Almaric and others...into a large room and has them re-enact a version of the classic Greek tragedy Orpheus and Eurydice. The story, as always, is compelling and in spite of the mind-bending changes in perspective he uses it works to make us care about these two characters and their fate.

Fresh, original, imaginative...genre-spanning art. Good for him.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

My Perestroika


Interesting but ultimately severely limited account of the changes that happened in Russia because of the collapse of the Soviet Union. We focus on a few individuals which I suppose is a legitimate tactic but the real story was immense in scope, profound in its implications and its effect on the course of world history and this film scratched timidly on the surface of a tiny bit of it.

While these people were sort of interesting they couldn't begin to satisfy someone curious about how this societal implosion affected those caught up in its tsunami. This would have had value as one episode of a 100 part series but as a stand-alone it was worthless.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Blancanieves (Snow White)


Brilliant re-imagining of the Snow White story...transported to Spain with flamenco, mantillas, bullfights...the whole shebang. The requisite dwarfs were itinerant bullfighting entertainers.

Silent, high-contrast black and white photography, outstanding compositions, cine, editing. After last year's The Artist this just might mean a resurgence of silents to the mainstream. Since we were dealing with a Grimm tale here the story was easily reduced to forms easily understood with gestures, facial expressions, body language.

A triumph of imagination, and cinematic skill.


Letters to Juliet

Amanda Seyfried, Vanessa Regrave

Disney-level romantic schmaltz helped by the skill of the two female leads. VR in particular lends a solidity, a realness that the script doesn't deserve.

The cine was marvelous, Verona and the Tuscan countryside spectacular, the story at times amusing but mostly predictable...there is no doubt whatsoever how this film's fairy tale plot will resolve. Still at the right moments the right buttons were pushed and I responded...against my better judgement.

Good date movie.


Thursday, December 13, 2012



A young American man, born and raised in New Jersey with Indian antecedents, decides to become a fake guru for this movie project. He travels to Arizona, picks up some sad acolytes, deceives them for a time...while filming all encounters...leaves and eventually reveals himself to them. Some are angry and leave. But most accept and embrace this acknowledged fraud.

There are a plethora of messages in this film...most not at all complimentary to peoples' credulity. Or the future of mankind. It was fascinating but painful to watch.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Norwegian Wood

Japan     d/ Tran Anh Hung

Well this was a pleasant surprise. An adaptation of a mediocre novel by Japanese author H. Murakami this translation into cinematic language greatly surpassed the book. Luminous visuals, elegant, quiet compositions, just-in-time editing rhythms, strong cast raised this to good, perhaps very good status.

The novel is all interiority but Tran succeeds in bringing these people to life and making us care about their fate. Handsome, skilled actors seem inseparable from their parts. Tran's skill at lighting interior scenes is second to none.

After this I'll make it a point to see everything this director chooses to do.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Loving Story


Very moving story of the Lovings of Virginia, a mixed race couple who were prosecuted under the miscegenation laws and banned from the state. Their case eventually went to the US Supreme Court where those laws were overturned.

It was interesting listening to the arguments of the state baring the crassest racism. During that period people looked to the federal courts for ultimate justice. That view seems naive today.

The film showed archival footage of the Lovings. He was a redneck bricklayer who loved his wife. Simple as that. Good stuff.


Chasing Ice


Record of a project by photographer James Balog to document the shrinking of the glaciers at the top of the world. Many great photos...some harrowing video footage of the crew rappelling down moulins in Greenland, extreme weather conditions.

More a cri de coeur than a scientific argument for doing something about AGW but quite effective nonetheless.


The Imposter


Mind-bending story of a 23 yo French man who successfully pretended to be a 16 yo missing Texas boy even though he spoke with a strong French accent, had the wrong color eyes, wrong physical features and didn't know anything about American life.

As this went on it became clear that the scam artist being interviewed was likely the only honest person in this story. This family of trailer trash had some serious splainin to do. It is left unexplained but we can make our own conclusions about what went on here. Proof once again that truth is stranger than fiction.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

In the Fog


Unusual story about partisans and resistance fighters in Belarus during WW2. While the Germans are indisputably the bad guys the focus of this film is the in-fighting among the partisans themselves. The Germans have mastered the trick of turning these guys against each other.

What's odd is that all the Slavs appear to be slow-witted, slow-moving...not primitive so much as just slow. In everything they do. It gives the film an odd pacing. The Germans seem normal though so the effect is deliberate.

This inevitably called Klimov's Come and See to mind...a much better film involving the same struggle. Still this had its good qualities and held me to its (slow) resolution.


Friday, December 7, 2012

Miss Bala


A young woman trying to escape poverty enrolls in a beauty contest, witnesses a gang mass slaying and finds herself entrapped in the violent, crazed world of Mexican drug lords.

Astonishing you-are-there effect of POV and tracking shots. Also the film seems to be shot in real time. And no one is glamorized. Our sympathy for this woman grows as her  life gets totally upended...she sees no way out and after a while neither do we.

Powerful film which hammers home its message while focusing all our attention on this poor young woman and her plight. She (Stephanie Sigman) is terrific.




East Germany 1980. A female doctor has applied to go to the west so she is sent to the provinces and constantly harassed/tormented by the Stasi. She gets involved in local peoples' lives and plans her escape with a lover.

Great set-up for a tense, suspenseful melodrama. Played with restraint and intensity by Nina Hoss. The resolution was in doubt until the very end. Good film.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

White Elephant

Argentina    Ricardo Darin, Jeremie Renier

Well-produced story of the trials of two priests. long-time friends, who are trying to make a difference in a notorious Buenos Ares slum. Apparently shot on location with many excellent steadicam tracking shots through the warren of hovels that had originally been built to be latin America's largest hospital. The project was abandoned so the poor moved in.

Nothing particularly new or fresh here (see one slum you've seen them all) but the actors were first rate and every element of the film was slick and professional. The problematic love story was handled with restraint and grace...except for an unfortunate over-extended sex scene.

Solid social-issue film.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How Would You Feel?


Well-meaning and very clever student-type film but this went on way too long and eventually came across as solipsistic and off-putting. A 20-something guy agonizes over his non-relationship with a woman, examines it from every possible angle, uses mucho animation, slick music, stentorian voice-over...every gimmick and trick he can think of to express his pain at not getting the girl.

I wanted to like this but it was too much. Might have worked for 30 minutes or so but at 90 minutes it became an agonizing ordeal.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Beijing Besieged by Trash


This is what happens when a city grows too fast for its infrastructure to keep pace. Truly horrifying scenes of filth and squalor polluting the air and water in a ring around China's capitol city. They'll probably fix this...or at least try...but the damage shown here to the people and the water table is irreversible and will resonate for quite some time.


Monday, December 3, 2012

The Enemy Below

Robert Mitchum, Curt Jurgens

Big budget realistic (for 1957 hollywood) story of the cat and mouse game between a US destroyer and a German sub in the South Atlantic in WW2. Crisply paced the film built nicely one step at a time to the final sequence.

The resolution was pretty hokey and overall the entire film paled compared to Das Boot...which sets the standard against which all sub movies will be measured. Still, for its time it was a solid effort and remains gripping. Mitchum's presence helped immensely.


Sunday, December 2, 2012


New Zealand   Ray Winstone

Nice adventure film which made excellent use of the stunning NZ landscape.

The story is based on a maori man unjustly accused of murder who goes on the run and is pursued by a bitter, disaffected former Boer. The dynamic between them and their common contempt for the Brit imperialists gave the film depth and historical resonance.

RW underplayed his part which worked beautifully...his enigmatic persona helped create a real aura of suspense. Solid film.