Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Prince Avalanche

Mark Rudd, Emile Hirsch   w/d David Gordon Green

We follow two guys on a road crew in central Texas re-painting yellow lines after a devastating fire. They're both losers, but each in his own way. One's stupid and seems to know it; the other is too but doesn't.

Slow-moving and quiet in tone. Not funny, or even amusing. I guess it's brave to make an entire film of boring losers. I guess... They clash, fight, bond. At the end one's lost his woman but neither has changed at all. These two will be losers for life. There're plenty like them out there. Plenty. So what?


The Black Camel

Warner Oland, Bela Lugosi

Charlie Chan film from 1931. Pretty early in the talkie era, this was stilted and primitive. BL was quite effective as a red herring. The mystery was complex enough that I had trouble following it in the second half.

Chan's aphorisms were a hoot...far too similar to the 'listen grasshopper' pearls David Carradine gave us in the 70's to be taken seriously. I do wish they had chosen a Chinese actor though. Casting a Swede just doesn't cut it folks...


Monday, December 30, 2013

Kick Ass 2

Chloe Moretz

Silly bordering on too-stupid-to-watch. For a while. Then it crossed over...

For me at 45 min.



Spain    w/d  Pablo Berger

This was the fourth time in a year that I've seen this film on the big screen. It is one of a half dozen films that have had such a strong emotional/aesthetic effect on me in my lifetime.

It's such a shame that it failed to find an audience in this country. I guess after The Artist people felt...well I've seen a silent film and don't need to see another. But this film was not just a pleasant novelty. It re-interprets a folk tale, re-imagines it, adapts the Grimm Brothers story to 1920's Spain, centers around bullfighting and brings in all the jealousy, hatred, opportunism that makes such a story resonate across generations.

The cinematography, framing and camera work were superb. The two leads couldn't have been better cast or shot. Ditto the supporting characters, sets, musical accompaniment. This, to me, is one of the great works of world cinema...it should move people from all cultures, all times.

Each time I've watched it I've been deeply moved...this time I quietly wept throughout, as did the friends I invited to watch with me. I've no doubt I'll see it again...and again...whenever I can muster a group of friends I think might appreciate this wonderful work.


A Hijacking


Outstanding film. A Danish cargo ship is hijacked in the middle of the Indian Ocean. We follow the months-long negotiations to free the ship and crew...from the perspective of the managers back in Denmark and the sailors stuck on the ship with the armed pirates.

Many harrowing, tense scenes. The balance between the two stories was well handled. Over time the conditions aboard the ship deteriorated, the men became listless and enervated. Meanwhile in the corporate boardroom the execs suffered their own price for this drama.

The entire thing was intelligently handled...with a takeaway being that all these peoples' lives would be changed from this ordeal.


People of the Feather


Routine doc with some beautiful landscape photography. The subject is the plight of an Inuit people living on the shores of Hudson Bay who depend on the eider duck for just about everything. Their waters are warming because of dams that are being built to provide carbon-free electricity to Canada and the US. Because of physics this is killing the ducks so they want it to stop.

Good luck with that. It does point out that no matter what is done, even for the best of reasons, someone will be hurt.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Nat Hentoff


Fine treatment of America's best, and best-known, jazz critic. He's also championed civil rights and other worthy lefty causes his whole life. This film serves as a nice recognition of his work for the last 60 years.


War Witch


A 12 yo girl in francophone West Africa is impressed into a rebel army...and there her troubles begin. The film is a 90 minute litany of the horrors that can be inflicted on a young girl. She suffers...we suffer watching her tribulations...and then the movie ends.

Other than displaying graphically man's potential for inhumanity I couldn't see any point to this film. Yup...some people get a really shitty deal. Got it. But I knew that already (remember Babi Yar?) and this film didn't add anything fresh. I'm past the point when just watching somebody suffer a terrible injustice is enough to make a successful film.

That being said this was well done. Good hand-held camera work. It didn't help that the lead spent most of the film mute, looking at the ground. Except during the requisite birth scene.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Great Beauty

Italy   d/  Paolo Sorrentino

A stunning film...as beautifully photographed as anything I've ever seen. Constant, fluid camera work, brilliant framing, editing...this film is a technical marvel. Even the crawl is run over a slow trip down the Tiber. And the theme is an intelligent examination of the values of modern-day affluent society.

At 65 the writer/journalist protagonist  gets an emotional jolt which causes him to reflect on the superficial life he has elected...nightclubs, parties, seducing women. Wry commentary on contemporary society, at least among the monied class, abounds.

A bit too long for my bum...maybe two hours instead of 142 minutes would have been more merciful...but nothing was superfluous or unnecessary. This is one of the great works of world cinema.


Captains Courageous

Spencer Tracy, Freddie Bartholomew

MGM's adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling story. A 10 yo spoiled brat falls off an ocean liner and is picked up by a fishing schooner out of Gloucester, Mass. He is condemned to stay with the vessel for the three-month season. Not surprisingly, he learns some valuable life lessons.

This film from the height of MGM's dynasty years holds up quite well. The working class guys are over-cooked of course...Lionel Barrymoore in particular does a very poor job with a New England accent/demeanor. And for a half hour I had a lot of trouble accepting ST as an illiterate Portuguese fisherman. But young Freddie was captivating and his transition from jerk to OK kid worked. His tearful reaction to the death of his mentor was very moving.

One of the better movies to come out of LB Mayer's empire.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Ain't Them Bodies Saints

Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara

Odd sort of low-key thriller. To my eye CA's least effective role to date. His Bobcat-like whiney vocals made his character very unsympathetic. He was a Clyde Barrow wannabe without Warren Beatty's looks or charm. Who in the world would fall in love with this creep? And who would hold on to that attachment while he rotted in prison?

Rooney, I guess. She too was very subdued here...to the point of near-invisibility. Even though she was on screen she faded before your eyes into the nondescript production design. An aged Keith Carradine provided a semblance of character but even he was subdued.

Don't know what was intended here. The story held me but after it ended it began fading in my mind like the scruffy wallpaper used in the sets.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Game

Michael Douglas, Sean Penn   d/ David Fincher

Fast pacing, sharp editing saved this completely preposterous story from the trash heap. An over-privileged 'investment banker' gets a birthday gift like no other: the chance to participate in a game which involves many life-threatening activities to himself and many others. To what purpose? Hard to say. Alleviate boredom, vary the routine of a Master of the Universe, get back in touch with his inner child...?

Because of the pacing it was easy to follow along with the story. It was only when we got to the happy ending that this Rube Goldberg construct collapsed of its own weight. Fun to watch but forgettable.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

The War Game

England   w/d Peter Watkins

This is the BBC-produced mock-doc that was so explosive (sorry) that it was banned in Britain for twenty years. It tried to answer the question: what would it be like if England got involved in a nuclear scrape? And the answer was...pretty fuckin horrible.

Watkins used a doc style which was extremely effective and became his signature technique for forty years...culminating in the superb La Commune (2001).

This was a landmark film which still brings a chill. It was one-upped in the 80's by Threads which made it as clear as possible that nuke war meant the end of the world as we've known it. Good thing we've since gotten rid of all the nukes, innit?


For a Woman


Two brothers, separated by WW2, re-unite in the late 40's on opposite ends of the political spectrum. One is a mindless apparatchik, the other a secret nazi-killer. They clash over the former's movie-star beautiful wife.

Well done production was so similar to so many other films covering this period that I found it impossible to keep my attention on it. Nothing clunked here...but...could we move on? Please? Yup, nazis were bad. And yup, there was a lot of societal disruption in Europe in the forties. Got it.



Thursday, December 19, 2013

Liberal Arts

amerindie   Elizabeth Olsen,  Josh Radnor

Enjoyable low-key story of a thirty-something struggling free of his adolescence with the help of a pretty, spirited college girl. JR is pretty blank here; EO has gravitas and star quality which blows him off the screen.

Film features an embarrassing role/performance by Richard Jenkins which brings the whole project down. Another supporting character played by Alison Janney contributes to the overall sense of funk. The film needed more laughs, more play, more life. There was even a character who attempts suicide, inspired by David Foster Wallace.

In spite of its dispiriting tone I found myself caring for these people. Why? Who knows. Maybe because they were readers.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The World's End

England   Simon Pegg, Nick Frost

The third in the trilogy which deconstructs, re-imagines standard film genres; the others were Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. This one too starts as a normal sort of film and then leaps off the rails, carving its own path through our consciousness.

These guys are clever and funny. Laughs abound here. Pegg's character was really obnoxious in this film and hard to take. Here we were watching a group of middle-aged men getting drunk at the behest of an apparent madman. I was just about to shut it off when...bang!...the universe took a tilt. What came next was unexpected and unpredictable. Remarkably enough it turned into a saving-the-earth sci-fi flick. Mucho kudos, guys. Never grow up...


Tuesday, December 17, 2013


England   Peter O'Toole

I wish he hadn't done this one. O'Toole had a marvelous career but this left a sour taste. He played an aged thespian who behaved in a pig-like manner with his pals and gloms on to a young woman...not for sex since they make it very clear he was impotent...but to smell her, fondle her, absorb her youthful essence.

Even though POT had star quality he was indistinguishable in this scenario from a garden variety DOM. Too bad. I'll try to forget this one and try to remember El Laurent instead.


The Hunt

Denmark   Mads Mikkelsen

Gripping story of a divorced kindergarten teacher who is accused of molesting a little girl. It's all based on a misunderstanding but skillfully traces the kind of hysteria we've seen in so many real-life cases (cf Capturing the Friedmans). Once accused he becomes a pariah in his small town...he is physically attacked, his dog is killed, etc.

The film works because MM, who is in every scene, pulls us in to his dilemma...what can you say or do that will free you from this stigma? Even when the girl (who was outstanding...on a level with Victoria Thivisol in Ponette) retracts her story no one believes her. All men in the audience sit there wondering what we would do? For a while I was impatient that MM didn't protest more loudly. But I realized it didn't matter what he said...no one believed him.

I had a real problem with the last ten minutes of the film. Two things happened...both of which I thought were ill-conceived. It didn't ruin the film but took away from the overall excellence.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Zig Zag Kid


Fun bit of cinematic whimsey. A 12 yo boy, facing his bar mitzvah in two days is given an assignment which will make him the greatest detective in the world.

Film combines slapstick, action/adventure, magical realism and winning characters into a delightful package which should warm the heart of any film buff out there. The story is preposterous, of course, but so what? It takes you on a rollicking ride, the complexity of which is made clear when you watch the clips shown over the crawl.

This was a real treat. Very clever.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Shotgun Stories

Michael Shannon   w/d Jeff Nichols

Nice little indie. Set in Arkansas the story deals with a family feud that plays out in what seems like slow motion. The women seem normal but the men are all slow-walking, slow-talking, slow-thinking louts. Events play out one measured step at a time with a calm, inexorable inevitability.

Performances were subdued. I got the sense that Nichols tried, and succeeded, in capturing the tone of life in his native Arkansas among a certain class of folk, where it's too damn hot to move any faster or think any harder. Nice job.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Me Without You

Michele Williams, Anna Friel

This film traces the troublesome relationship between two young women, from pre-teen solidarity to contentious young adulthood. AF was seriously messed up and continually undermined MW's character for neurotically selfish reasons. MW was sweet, passive, intimidated and dominated by her 'friend.'

Well played and shot but very aggravating to watch. I kept wishing MW would speak up for herself, be a bit more assertive...but that would be a different film. Realistic, courageous performances by both leads; they were willing to look scuzzy and act badly. Credit to them but no fun to watch.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Monsoon Wedding

Mira Nair

Wonderful film. Colorful, sharply drawn characters, an intelligent, knowing peek into another culture's practices and beliefs. We witness the five-day wedding celebration of upper-middle class Delhi Indians...where the wedding planner has a cell phone and eats marigolds.

There are personal conflicts, group dancing and celebration, airing of old grievances, nascent love, infidelity...the warp and woof of life. Beautifully photographed with great music. Kudos.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Middle of Nowhere

Amerindie   Eva Amurri, Anton Yelchin

Very sweet little film largely about the trials of growing up fatherless (suicide) in a small town. Two sisters wrestle, sometimes successfully, with universal problems.

EA is Susan Sarandon's daughter, who also appears. Together they have several juicy scenes. EA has a comfortable, natural air about her. She and Yelchin really stand out here....carrying the drama effortlessly.

Intelligent, well-written and shot. A fine low-budget production.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Free the Mind


Pretty lame no-budget doc on using meditation to treat PTSD. It's a good idea but before you try to make a feature-length doc on the subject you're gonna need more material. The project came across as well-meaning but not ready for prime time.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Closet


Silly French comedy. A corporate accountant is about to be fired for general dweebness. His neighbor persuades him to try and pass as a homosexual...he suddenly gets cache, is seen as cool by co-workers and family.

Some good laughs in here and a wonderful cast (Auteuil, Depardieu, Rochefort) kept this from falling into asinine. Given the topic that was quite a feat. Amusing fluff.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

TWA Flight 800


These folks put together a convincing case that the plane was shot down with three missiles. Strong testimony offered on screen by the bitter, side-tracked veteran investigators of the NTSB.

The interesting part of the story is...who has worked to keep this from the public? It's always the cover-up that gives it away. Once again it was mostly the FBI which took complete control of the investigation...disappearing crucial evidence, keeping NTSB people in the dark. They had some help from the CIA, which provided a misleading cartoon that appeared on all networks.

The question unaddressed was a big one: who shot this plane down, and why? Unlikely we'll ever know. Some project by the bad guys. Another brick in the wall.


Friday, December 6, 2013

17 Girls


The leader of a tight-knit group of high school girls gets pregnant and persuades many of the others to do it too...so they can stay together in an ill-conceived world of togetherness. Parents, teachers are bewildered and at a loss. Eventually 15 girls succumb. Adapted from a real incident.

These girls were rebelling against what they saw as the stultifying world of the adults. But their rebellion was idiotic...they knew nothing about parenting or what that level of responsibility brought. They were infused with ideals, dreams. This stunt was what served to bring them in tune with reality.

Concise, well done film. All the girls were good...their acting naturalistic, their characters diverse.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Way Way Back

Steve Carrell, Toni Colette

Formulaic but ultimately successful story of a shy 14 yo boy who has been dragged by his mother and her new boyfriend to his beach cottage for the summer. Intra-family conflict is the name of this game: the protagonist uses mobility to find refuge in a water park with a man/boy manager.

Several major scenes clunked badly (breakdance, water tube) but somehow it didn't seem to matter. When it ended I found they had pushed the right buttons...I found myself touched...in spite of my best judgement.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013


France/Belgium, etc   Emmanuelle Beart, Rufus Sewell

A European couple lose a son in the 2005 tsunami, perhaps see him in a video 6 mos. later, engage with a gangster and set off into forbidden territory in Burma to rescue him.

Very stylishly filmed and solid performances couldn't overcome the sameness of this story. Paled in comparison to The Impossible last year. There the obsessive driven mom captured our hearts...here she seemed demented.

Beautiful locations and one splendid scene on the beach with paper hot-air thingies wafting into the night. Nice try...no cigar.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013



This film focused on the dramatic evisceration of Detroit by the big three auto manufacturers. It could have (should have) been much harder-hitting but this team wasted about half the screen time with useless artsy-fartsy shots...back-lit, no light, etc.

They should have decided what they wanted to do here. Showing off your cine chops is OK in a calling card reel. In a serious doc on an important, world-changing process...not so smart. Also, spending all your time with the same people evidences a lack of industriousness.

But my main complaint with this doc is the complete lack of understanding of the financial factors, the decisions and the deciders who are causing this phenomenon. It's all presented as if this all just happened. Not helpful.


Monday, December 2, 2013

A Simple Life

Hong Kong   Andy Lau

And a simple movie. Simple but not insignificant. A woman who has served as a maid for 60 years to a family has a stroke and announces she wants to retire and live in an old folks home. She is tended to by the last son living in HK. He has taken her ministrations for granted all his life. Now, when the table is turned, he returns the loving care she deserves but never expected.

A wonderful film; a tribute to decency, kindness, selflessness...an exploration of a kind of love uncommon today...particularly in Hong Kong with its money-uber-alles mentality. The lead - played by Deannie Yip - was superb. Her character radiated caring and a kind of benign stoicism...someone who always wanted to do for others, no matter their faults and refused attention to her needs. She epitomized the buddhist ideal...a truly enlightened person.

This film is an unexpected gem.


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Design is One


Very fine doc on the husband/wife team of Leila and Massimo Vignelli...designers of all sorts of things that impact on our daily lives. For the past fifty years they have designed buildings, furniture, signage, fonts, household kit and on and on. Their work features a kind of clear minimalism...cutting away anything that interferes with the message or purpose of the object.

Touching that they have lived, thrived, long enough to be richly rewarded late in life for all their work.


Friday, November 29, 2013


Anna Paquin   w/d  Kenneth lonergan

This was the director's cut 3 hour 9 minute version of this powerhouse film. AP should have received an award for this performance...she is in every scene and her character's plight is intense. We watch this over-privileged, over-educated spoiled Jewish princess cause a fatal accident which wrenches her out of her cocoon on the upper West side into the grit of reality...real feelings, real people, real trauma.

She spends most of the film floundering; turns to sex, anger, the law...anything she can think of to assuage her deep-felt guilt.

For stupid reasons this film never received the acclaim it deserved. It excelled in every respect. Special mention to the supporting performance of J. Smith-Cameron as the protagonist's mother.

I hope enough buffs pick up on this masterpiece and raise it to the stature it deserves.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Muscle Shoals


Outstanding doc on the little recording studio that could. Beginning in the early 60's musicians from all over the world converged on this dinky little town in Alabama and created some of the greatest funk, R&B, southern rock, reggae...the music that filled the background in the lives of people my age. Some of it was magical (Duane Allman) some annoying (Aretha Franklin) but all of it was done with heart and conviction and lives on long after the players have left the stage.


The Red Shoes

Powell/Pressberger    Moira Shearer

The British team's magnificent staging of HC Anderson's typically twisted story. For my taste ballet...a stilted, limited form...has never been presented better...with extravagant use of color, brilliant camera work, various forms of trickery and, most importantly the skill and charm of Moira Shearer.

The love story vs. career was a little creaky but the resolution worked thematically. This is seen as one of the great films produced in post-war England and rightfully so. A classic.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Fairy Tale: A True Story

Peter O'Toole, Harvey Keitel

Outstanding children's film set during WW1 in England when death was ubiquitous and folks were hungry for some sign that there was something beyond the life that they knew. Seances, mediums, quackery of all kind sprang up pulling in credulous, suffering people.

Also...fairies. The idea that there were little flying folk who lived in gardens and helped those they liked was irresistible to some. This film deals beautifully with that idea. Two girls photograph fairies in their garden and become major celebrities. Exquisitely done in all respects.

A treasure.


The Night the Blackbirds Fell


On New Years Eve 2011 5,000 red-wing blackbirds fell from the sky in a small town in Arkansas. Also, the same night thousands of fish died along the banks of the Arkansas river. This filmmaker lived there, desperately needed a thesis project and latched on to this event. Out of that came this film.

There's just not much there. It was eventually determined that the fishkill was a result of natural causes and the birds were killed by fireworks. Faced with these pedestrian explanations this guy strains mightily to create interest. He uses primitive animation, talking heads and area footage to produce a short (45 minutes) doc of minimal interest with a dramatic arc that fizzles.

OK. I guess...


Monday, November 25, 2013

The Vanished Empire


Breznev-era college students act out their rebellion by buying Western jeans and music.

These kids were such broadly played jerks that I found myself exasperated with them in short order and eventually gave up. They weren't interesting, intelligent, curious...none of the traits that would have made them worth watching or thinking about.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Cave of the Yellow Dog


Minimalist filmmaking. We follow the various members of a family living on the steppes in a yurt as they go about their daily chores. The focus is on a six yo girl, who finds a stray dog who then becomes part of the only drama the film offers.

This was captivating...more as anthropology than as a story. Life was shown here...with the fears, concerns and most importantly the landscape...endless lush grassy prairie, mountains, streams...both inspiring and daunting. The striking thing was how much responsibility was placed on these very small children.

Interesting and informative.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Beautiful Person


Only the French would have produced this one. A beautiful high school girl comes to a new school and immediately hooks up with a student and finds herself madly pursued by an Italian teacher who is already screwing another teacher and a student.

Is this OK behavior in France? This gets you fired and shamed here. Even this guy's colleagues smiled and shook their heads at his predilections. It made me feel pretty squirmy.

Must be a cultural thing.


Friday, November 22, 2013

All is Lost

Robert Redford

Simple, engrossing man-against-the-sea drama. The perils of the sea and the will to survive are front-row here in this extraordinarily demanding (for Redford) script. He looks pretty grizzled now but he successfully convinced as a capable, methodical man who uses all his resources to battle back against enormous indifferent forces.

The arc of the story is determined by the title...so suspense wasn't an issue. It was more a demonstration of how much a man can endure and just how tenacious is the hold on life...and what a man can do to stay alive if he keeps his wits about him.

Kudos to Redford for this one. An award perhaps? This film raises the bar for sea-survival dramas.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fire in the Blood


The sordid story of how Western Big Pharma kept the prices of AIDS-fighting antivirals high for profits even though this meant thousands of third world people suffered and died.  Drugs which cost pennies to make sold for $30-$40. But. hey, isn't that what capitalism's all about?

The great irony is that more than 70% of the drugs sold by these companies were actually developed and paid for by government agencies so the standard rationale for high prices is completely false. Greed is not good. Greed doesn't work. Time for change.




When you put on a movie with a title like this you don't expect MacBeth. You do hope that the humor promised is delivered. This one does...in a satisfyingly offbeat way.

The film is really silly (duh) but because it's Turkish it's silly in a non-Western way. Reminded me very much of Where Do We Go Now? without the political undertones. It easily held me all the way...even drew several chuckles. Creative, circusy entertainment.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Behind the Candelabra

Michael Douglas, Matt Damon

Nice lead performances made this worth watching. The story is the story of all relationships...the first flush of love and excitement, the gradual fading into comfortable familiarity, finally degenerating into open resentment and hostility. The difference here is one is an aging closet queen who is a world-renowned performer, the other a lost young pretty boy.

The sets/locations with their 'palatial kitsch' vibe was fun at first but quickly became normal, like they would in life. This was billed as Steven Soderbergh's last film...it was a good one to finish with.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Viva Zapata

Marlon Brando   d/ Elia Kazan

I wish I hadn't seen this. How could you take a story about a Mexican revolutionary, cast the most dynamic, charismatic actor of his generation, get a screenplay written by John Steinbeck and hire one of hollywood's best directors...and come up with schlock?

I suppose this was a product of the time (1952)...but still... This was four years after The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and that one still resonates. This wasn't bad so much...it was just lame, corny and a bit embarrassing...sigh...


Sunday, November 17, 2013



Home movie about a 14 yo Dutch girl who sails alone around the world in a 40 foot yacht.

While the story had inherent interest she didn't. She mostly came across as unformed (duh), occasionally petulant, certainly brave and competent as a sailor but not as a videographer. Since she was the only person on board she had to do all the filming which mostly consisted of her setting the camera down somewhere shooting her as she looked around. This isn't to take away from her courage or achievement but this would best be kept as a home movie for the family.


Trainforming America


Simple-minded polemic arguing the obvious: this country would be better with a modern train network. No shit.  Instead of tracing the corrupt system that gave us this car-only transportation network these folks ride around on better systems in Europe and ask natives banal questions.

This is completely ineffective and came across as adolescent, silly.



Eva Green, Juno Temple   d/ Jordan Scott

Excellent English boarding school drama. Like Jean Brodie, EG's character is a fabulist, filling her young charges with imaginary voyages and ideals she has cribbed from popular novels. A Spanish princess is sent to the school as punishment...she excels in every way and stirs up a witches brew of longing and resentment.

Scott is the daughter of Ridley, who produced the film...she shares his visual sense and camera fluidity but her skill with character development evidences a greater understanding of the subtleties of human interaction. JT is unrecognizable from her role in Dirty Girl. 

First rate work which made me wonder why I'd never heard of it.


Friday, November 15, 2013



Another film dealing with the ugly reverberations left behind by the Nazis. Here we learn the secret a village has hidden from the outside world since WW2. A Polish-American returnee stirs the pot and exposes the past...against the popular will.

The film is largely one of conflict. The scenes and the characters were awkward, clumsy. I wonder if this was intentional...after all this was rural Poland...or simply a reflection of Baltic traits of which the director was unaware. Regardless, this effected the tone and impact...not necessarily for the better.

There have been hundreds of films centered on German monstrousness. This was another.



Jeremy Northum, Lucy Liu

Sharp little mystery about corporate spying in a dystopian future. We follow a schlubby everyman as he gets sucked into the world of corporate intrigue. As he gradually learns what's going on...so do we.

Flashy direction from Canada's Vincenzo Natali (Cube) that works beautifully to enhance his small budget. There's no substitute for imagination.

Both leads were solid. Nifty indie.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Starship Troopers

d/ Paul Verhoeven

I've been reading that this film has become a cult item in some circles so I wanted to see why. I don't get it. It's a lot of fun to watch...a mix of strident militarism and self-mocking humor...lots of action, great antagonist...I mean big, ugly bugs and spiders. And who can forget the shower scene?

But other than being a retro-goof there's nothing there...nothing that would justify close study or reflection. You can't really laugh at it...it laughs at itself. It's a big, noisy bug hunt.

Do you want to know more?


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

From Up on Poppy Hill


Nice film from Ghibli Studios which greatly resembles the early work of Hayao Miyazaki. Aimed at the early and pre-teen crowd it was beautifully drawn but a tad too childish and simple-minded for an adult audience.

Paled beside Whisper of the Heart.


First Comes Love


Then comes a solipsistic 41 yo filmmaker who treats us to her ticking biological time clock agony and her decision to have a child solo...with all details in glorious color.

This has been done...And Baby Makes Two...and I wonder how many of these we need. I'm not interested in watching someone getting stuck with needles, visiting doctors, seeking a sperm donor, etc. And I really don't need to witness another birth scene.

This kind of film would best be kept as a home movie...to be shown to the eventual progeny when old enough to appreciate. For the general audience...spare us.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013


France   d/ Francois Ozon

Provocative, surrealistic kitchen-sink drama from France's answer to John Waters. A struggling single mother discovers that her baby boy has sprouted functioning wings and flies himself around the house. She takes him shopping one day with unfortunate consequences.

Of course Ozon is alluding to something here...it's just not clear what. The opening scene is either an important clue or a red herring...we never learn which. Is the story a flashback? A dream? An escape from cruel reality?

Months later she takes the child outside to show the media, lets his restraining string go and he flies away. This can easily be seen as a metaphor...interpretations are many, none definitive or obvious. The film is meant to spark discussion. Good job.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Romantics Anonymous


Silly, delightful French farce about two pathologically shy people falling in love.

The film was carried by the wonderful skill of the two principals...Benoit Poelvoorde and Isabel Carre. The director's scene timing also was perfect. This is a difficult genre to get right...they had to tread a very fine line stopping just short of absurd.

Not for everyone but a treat for me.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Silent Chaos


Doc on the plight of deaf people in Congo. They are seen through the lens of idiotic superstitions and suffer social discrimination, rejection and isolation.

Unfortunately the film attempted an artistic presentation with endless footage of the landscapes and cityscapes of that part of the world. At first this was interesting but it quickly paled and came across as meaningless filler. After a half hour I found it impossible to keep my attention focused on the film and gave up.


Friday, November 8, 2013

American Drive-in Movie


This film dealt with something close to my heart. I too remember going with my whole family to the drive-in in the fifties, in pajamas, falling asleep in the back seat, etc. Lots and lots of footage and stills from drive-ins all over the country.

Unfortunately the film was plagued by too-rapid cutting. In particular sequences the cuts were a half-second or less. This isn't enough time to focus my attention before we're off to a new image. Too bad because they covered the topic beautifully...I even learned things about the industry I didn't know...but for too much of the time I had to avert my eyes to avoid a headache.

Watta shame. It could have been outstanding nostalgia.


Thursday, November 7, 2013


Gemma Arterton,  Saoirse Ronan   d/ Neil Jordan

Yet another vamp flick. Does anybody really give a shit about this stuff? Vampires, werewolves, zombies...this junk is fun scaring children with over a campfire but what on earth are adults doing putting so much time, money and effort into creating films like this?

I enjoyed some of these...Klaus Kinski's Nosferatu, Near Dark, American Werewolf in London...but once or twice is plenty. None of this means anything. One could come with some rationalizing metaphor for these films but is that what they're really about?

This one was stylish and well-acted...but why? Jordan's The Company of Wolves was at least interesting. This was just regurgitating other peoples' ideas.


Sunday, November 3, 2013


Kevin Smith

When this came out it seemed fresh and funny and kicked off the mainstream love of truly independent films. Now it seems crudely made, not so fresh and an obvious step in making films as coarse as the folks at the bottom rung of society's ladder talk and behave.

Some of the material was amusing but without the shock value a constant flood of 'fucks' once brought it comes across as adolescent, maybe even juvenile. It will retain its place as a landmark in the history of film but won't ever be seen as good, or even adequate cinema.


Fruitvale Station

Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz

Fictionalized account of the shooting of a young, unarmed black man by transit authority police on New Years Day 2009.

The film presents a sympathetic portrait of Oscar Grant - loving father, son, boyfriend - who has had a checkered life but is presented as trying to go straight. Steadicam, you-are-there approach worked perfectly to place this guy and his circle in a social context. The film confirms my sense that MD has star quality...this was a meaty role she easily carried. Kudos also to Octavia Butler in a strong supporting role.

I wish they had split screen time between Oscar and the cop who shot him. Both of these people were trapped in roles that have reduced choices and guaranteed bad results. Somewhere basic humanity has gotten lost.

This came across as agitprop - irresistibly done.


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Turn Me On, Dammit!


Only Sweden could have produced this one.

An extremely horny 15 yo girl is obsessed with sex...she does some stupid things and gets ostracized by her peers at school, loses her job (which she had to get because of her phone sex habit), alienates her mother and just about everyone else in her small remote town. Hey...girl just wants to have fun!

It played as a subtle comedy but had no laughs per se...it's very faintly amusing but I stayed with it because I wondered where they were going and the lead was engaging...sort of.

An oddball curiosity piece.


Friday, November 1, 2013


Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Robert Sean Leonard

Taut drama adapted from a play. Three characters act out the fallout from things that happened ten years before when they were in high school. EH drives the story and even though the part is atypical for him he pulls it off.

There are enough surprises and tension to grip the viewer all the way to the satisfying resolution. And as usual the woman has all the cards. Good work using one set only. All three players were solid.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Hit Man

Chuck Norris

I couldn't remember ever having seen a movie by this guy so I was curious. Now I'm not anymore.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Where Do We Go Now?

Lebanon    w/d  Nadine Labaki

Wonderful film. Set in a small, remote village which is evenly divided between Christians and Muslims. There is constant strife, hatred, injuries, deaths. The women of the village despair and try several ways to change all this.

This is a rare film that successfully combines tragedy and humor. She uses light farce and even an occasional musical number, combined with tragic death to tell a story that demonstrates the power of women. The village women even hire a troupe of strippers, give their men hashish sweets so they are distracted while they bury the men's weapons.

Her first feature - Caramel - also centered on women...this one is better...heartwarming, sad, funny, insightful and warm. Nice work.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Nobody Knows

Japan   d/ H Koreeda

A feckless mother abandons her four children in a small apartment, leaving them under the care of her twelve year old boy. He does the best he can but it's too much responsibility for such a youngster. The money runs out and they are forced to fend for themselves...with nasty consequences.

Film was done in a stark, realistic style, using fixed and mobile camera. It presents a view of contemporary Japanese society somewhat at odds with the clean, efficient image commonly held. The kids were isolated completely from society...the busy indifference of the crowds in which they moved became painful to watch. They wanted to go to school but were forbidden to leave the apartment.

HK's handling of the child actors was as good as you'll ever see. The lead boy, who was only 12 at the time of filming was enormously sympathetic...with an expressive face and sad, knowing eyes. This is one of the all-time great films about children...on a par with Forbidden Games and Ponette and Treeless Mountain.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Orphanage

Guillermo Del Toro

I saw this four years ago and was only mildly impressed. I was too harsh. After reading references to the film in various places I decided to give it another look.

It's beautifully assembled, the story is compelling with a strong performance by the lead Belen Rueda who is in nearly every scene. The pacing is spot on, the sets appropriately atmospheric, and the resolution is unexpected and satisfying.

This film belongs in the front ranks of ghost stories.


Friday, October 25, 2013

Pitch Perfect

Anna Kendrick

Tongue-in-cheek comedy/drama revolving around college a capella competitions.

There are times when I wonder why I do this to myself. This was one of them. Nothing here was bad...if it had been I could rail against it...it was all just stupid and lame. Nothing original, interesting, challenging. Just SOS.

I'm sure the people involved in this project thought they were creating an entertaining film. Maybe it did work for anyone out there who hadn't seen any of the hundreds (thousands?) of films that were just like this one. But not for me.

It didn't help that I knew none of the songs...which the characters saw as great oldies...from the 90's.


Thursday, October 24, 2013


James Caan, Tuesday Weld   d/ Michael Mann

Top notch character piece/thriller. Caan is a professional thief beleagured on all sides...by the crooked cops who want a piece of his action and the mob who want to control his life. He is solid technically but something of an stonehead otherwise. We follow his adventures wondering who or what will trip him up.

Caan was perfect for this role...continuing the character he played in The Godfather...tough, headstrong, fearless. Perhaps fatally so. TW was largely wasted. She was one of the most talented actors of her generation but was poorly used by hollywood which relegated her to pretty-girl roles like this one.

Film was beautifully constructed with a genuine mastery of suspense. This should be a classic.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Bad News Bears

Walter Matthau, Tatum O'Neal

Much nastier and less charming than I remembered. Matthau's character is a real pig...pretty much on a par with most of the adults depicted.

The director, Michael Ritchie, made a specialty of skewering American middle-class 'culture' (eg Smile); here he focuses on the adult fixation with winning little league games. The trouble was that he exaggerated too much. This wasn't rooted in any semblance of real life - purely movie reality - and lost any real bite as a result. It came across as mean-spirited and stupid.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing

Emma Thompson, Kenneth Branagh, Michael Keaton

Lively version of one of Shakespeare's sillier comedies. Helped enormously by the energetic pacing, great locations, fine camera work and exceptional cast (KB also directed); hurt badly by the hammy police chief nonsense. Those scenes...I suppose meant for comic relief were terrible and stopped the film (and the play) cold.

Some wonderful lines and repartee make this memorable. The 'conflict' between the two leads is fun and worth the price of admission.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Anna Karenina

England    Keira Knightly, Jude Law

Very nice job translating one of the world's finest novels into film. Some of this was shot on an elaborate stage, some on location. Costumes, choreography and editing were superb.  The techniques used gave an air of freshness and discovery to a story that's become overly familiar.

The cast? Law was quite good as the cuckold. KK...I dunno. Too skinny, too young, too British. She read her lines well but I found it hard to believe that a man would throw away his life, his career, his privileged place in society for this woman. She's no Vivian Leigh.

So it really was a Joe Wright show...he took a monster of a book deeply loved by people the world over and made it sing. Kudos.


United Red Army


Ambitious (3 hours long) docudrama which attempted to depict the social upheaval Japan went through in the 60's and 70's. Little-noticed here in the US, it took on the same tone as the Baader-Meinhof rebellions in Europe...for all the same reasons....anti-nuke, Vietnam, piggy oligarchy, etc.

Their rebellion featured the same hard-eyed radicals backed by a bunch of starry-eyed idealists. They were picked off one by one with the state using ever-escalating violence and today are seen as deluded fools. Like ours, and Europe's they knew what they wanted, sort of, but had no idea how to get there.

I only got through half of this because...well, really... Like Frank Zappa said...ultimately, who gives a fuck anyway?


Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Magnificent Ambersons

Joseph Cotton, Agnes Moorehead   d/  Orson Welles

His second film was an adaptation of a novel by Booth Tarkington. Working again with Greg Toland he created a masterpiece that was tighter than Kane, a rich and satisfying portrait of wealth, changing times, love and devotion, intra-family conflict and shifting social values.

Several times the acting got too...well just too. AM's meltdown went on too long and Tim Holt's spoiled brat was...too spoiled, too obvious, too unreflective, too unaware. Even as a child of privilege he would have been more subtle in his selfishness. And of course the studio-forced end scene was idiotic.

But JC was excellent and the arc of the story engaging. We care about these people and wonder how their lives will evolve. Tarkington was a master chronicler of American small town life. And Welles was a master showman. Together they produced a film that will last forever.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Bling Ring

Sophia Coppola

A group of over-privileged teens in LA break in to celebrities' homes and steal stuff. Stuff they don't need or even want. One scene shows them selling plunder at a sidewalk sale.

This was a blistering indictment of the values of contemporary culture, at least among the upper middle class. Expensive labels, surface flash matter...all else is irrelevant. Of course the celebs epitomize this world.

This would have been better at 45 minutes or so. There was a strong element of repetition after a while. Also, I question the use of the kids' music...it was mostly abrasive and loud...another style might have provided counterpoint to what was a one-dimensional perspective.

Still, all her films have something in them that makes watching and thinking about them worthwhile. This was no exception.


The Razor's Edge

Bill Murray, Theresa Russell

This was a vanity project Murray foisted on the suits before he would make more silly comedies for them that made lots of money. It's an adaptation of the novel by Somerset Maugham. They gave him plenty of money to do this...the film looks great...outstanding locations from the US to Paris, India and Tibet, convincing sets, excellent supporting cast, etc.

One big problem though. Murray can't act. He was so out of his range here I was embarrassed for him. He mostly stood there, poker-faced, as if that projected depth or seriousness or something. I see now that his total lack of affect is what makes his comedy work...a la Keaton.

It is testimony to the strength of the story that I watched all two hours of this film in spite of the lead's incompetence. Loved seeing TR again.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Witness For the Prosecution

Charles Laughton, Marlene Dietrich

Courtroom drama easily carried by CL's immense talent. Some of this was pretty creaky even for its time (1957). In particular the lame attempts at humor clunked badly. But the story was well-constructed and the surprise ending really surprised.

Loved seeing the wonderful Una O'Connor whose witch-like appearance and exaggerated oiyrish accent always delights. MD was also quite effective...so much better that she was in Welles' Touch of Evil the following year. But this really was a one-man show and Laughton filled the screen with his presence. Rightly considered a classic.



Keira Knightly    d/ Tony Scott

Supposedly the 'true' story of Lawrence Harvey's daughter and her career as a bail bondsman in Los Angeles.

Unfortunately the editing was so fast-paced it hurt my brain...3 to 5 clips a second...I had to turn it off after 1/2 hour. But what I did manage to see was so idiotic I doubt I could've watched it even if a more serene tone was used. Odd coloration, camera angles, superhuman feats, Big Sound, etc.

I was curious what Scott was doing toward the end of his career. I fear he died too late.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Adventures of Tintin


I never read any of the books by Herge so didn't know what to expect. I got a boys adventure yarn, filled with peril, intrigue, dramatic escapes, big sound, lots of yelling, etc. Like a gussied up serial from the 40's.

The film had a great CGI look and ended up being a lot of fun. Nice project which I assume was a labor of love...


For a Few Dollars More

Lee van Cleef, Clint Eastwood    d/ Sergio Leone

This was the first spaghetti western I saw back in 1966 and loved it at the time. Re-visiting it after all these years was fun. I wasn't as blown away but still saw a beautifully staged, edited and acted film which wore its age well. LVC was a great character actor and fit this film like a glove. It was easily the best role of his career.

The man with no name was still appealing too. Over two hours long but held me easily. Leone perfected his operatic style in the last of the series...The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. And who can ever forget the music by Morricone? Just superb.

These films will always have a place in my heart.


Monday, October 14, 2013


Samuel Jackson, Sean Nelson   w/d Boaz Yakim

Riveting story of a young black man trying to survive on the mean streets of NYC. He's a drug runner, schoolboy, chess hustler and, after his girlfriend is shot in a playground incident, an unsuspected avenger who works to rid his hood of the parasites sucking out the life blood of the community.

Beautifully done in all respects...this remains one of the best of the new black cinema releases of the 80's, 90's.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Low Life

Sean Astin, Kyra Sedgewick    w/d George Hickenlooper.

Pretty bad. We follow a group of ex-ivies as they frab their way through real life in contemporary LA. None of them are interesting. The film is uncertain how we are supposed to regard these fools...should they be pitied? admired? seen as contemptible?

They drink, work at nowhere temp jobs, get in fights, abuse some people...generally just mope around, despising themselves (justifiably) and the world around them.

Did anyone involved with this project think this had any value?


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Portrait of Jennie

Joseph Cotton, Jennifer Jones

Nice sort-of ghost story from 1949. JC meets a young girl in the park, sees her as a muse and eventually learns that she had died many years before. But she keeps appearing, older each time and the story is that they were two lonely people made for each other but born out of sync.

Pretty silly scenario but in spite of that I enjoyed this hollywood hokum. Both players were good and the production (David Selznick) first rate.  Similar to the later Somewhere in Time. There should always be a place for stories like this.


The War of the Worlds

Gene Barry

1953 treatment of the HG Wells story kicked off the sci-fi mania in the 50's. Good effects for the time, wooden performance by GB, nice structure. I saw this as a child and it scared the shit out of me...this time not so much.

But the fast pace and inherent interest in the scenario pulled me right along and made it easy for me to see why this was such a big hit.


Friday, October 11, 2013

East of Eden

James Dean, Julie Harris    d/  Elia Kazan

John Steinbeck's tortured story of sibling rivalry.

This was one of Dean's three films and I have to say I found his acting nearly unbearable. I can see how his characterization would have been fresh at the time (1955) but to my (perhaps jaundiced) eye it seemed much too self-indulgent and constantly drew attention to the performance rather than the character. It just seemed fake. He failed to portray an actual person. It was like watching an over-indulged spoiled brat...demanding constant attention.

Since JD made up the bulk of the film there's not much else to judge. I did think Raymond Massey was good as the father...and Julie Harris believable as the fragile, uncertain temptress. But overall the intended towering biblical-themed masterwork failed to tower, or even rise up to the level of making me care about these people.


Thursday, October 10, 2013


Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

Gravity pulls you down...and so did this film. It began with spectacular space photography, showing many views of Earth from orbit. If it had ended after 1/2 hour it would have been brilliant. But then it degenerated into the Perils of Pauline: Space Adventure and gradually lost me. Far too much whiz-bang, too many crises...as they added up it became less and less credible.

By the end I was impatient for this nonsense to be over. Tarted up Armegeddon. You couldn't fault the players...they were both appealing as usual. The scenario was preposterous and thoroughly sunk the film. Dommage.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Wake in Fright

Australia    Donald Pleasance

Here we follow the reversion of a mild-mannered schoolteacher to a primitive, savage state simply by being exposed to the dominant behavior pattern of males in the outback. Apparently all the men in these isolated towns do is drink, gamble, drink, sing bawdy songs, drink some more, go out in trashed-out cars and shoot roos, collapse in the early morn, get up and start drinking again. Occasionally they will rut with a willing female but even then are prone to vomiting in the middle of the act.

This is about as ugly a depiction of male culture as I've ever seen. I was astonished to learn that to Australians when this was released (1971) it was considered a largely true indictment. Away from the cities and their civilizing influence boys will be boys. Actually, boys will be pigs.

This theme was picked up in a later film - Shame (1988) - which focused on the outback's rape culture.

Who knew? Unforgettable.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013



Nicely done look at working class hispanic life in LA. A young girl gets pregnant (hey, it's a virgin birth!), moves in with grandfather and gay brother and they all navigate the dangerous shoals of life on a turbulent sea.

Engaging, intelligent and (mostly) well-acted...this is what I hope for from a low-budget production: characters I care about in unpredictable life situations.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Love, Peace and Misunderstanding

Catherine Keener, Jane Fonda     d/ Bruce Beresford

This film was chock full of cliches, stereotypes, unrealistic scenes...some of them quite embarrassing, but in spite of all its obvious flaws I enjoyed it.

An uptight lawyer has been estranged from her mother for twenty years for being an irresponsible hippie. This film is the slow, painful process of reconciliation between them. There are two teens involved who provide romantic side stories; peace rallies, full moon celebrations.

Jane Fonda wasn't a good choice for the mom. Frances McDormand or Patricia Clarkson would've been better. Jane was physically awkward and not believable as a free spirit.

But Beresford kept the film moving, it was lovely to look at and when it was over I was glad I had watched it.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

My Son, My Son Whay Have You Done?

Michael Shannon, Chloe Sevigny     d/Werner Herzog,

A psychotic man kills his mother with a sword and the film tells the story through a series of clumsy flashbacks.

I found myself baffled by this one. Flat, unengaging, interminable. Where was the great filmmaker when this was being shot and edited? Getting coffee? Shannon's character was crazier than hell yet no one in the flashbacks suggested he get help or even that there might be something wrong with him.

Willem Dafoe was here too but his talent was completely wasted. A near total failure.


Friday, October 4, 2013

A Better Tomorrow


Slick but uninvolving re-make of the John Woo actioner from the 80's. The stiffness and overacting of the players never let me forget that I was watching actors performing...

The shooting scenes were nicely cut and helped hide the fact that they were preposterous but if you don't care about the fate of the characters this becomes a technical exercise...which isn't good enough.

When Woo's films first appeared here in the West they were startling in their originality. Soon however they were widely copied and became just another cliche. Too bad but so it goes...


Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

France   w/d Jacques Demy

This film is sui generis...one of the great works of world cinema.

An operetta, a love story bathed in froth, unmatched set design and use of color, beautiful stars (a young and radiant Catherine Deneuve). All the dialogue is sung, Michel Legrand's score soaring and magnificent...pure romantic schmaltz.

But there is also truth, pain, disappointment, sad resignation, life itself. A celebration of first love as we wish it were; a recognition of life as it really is. Timeless and unforgettable.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Company You Keep

Robert Redford, Julie Christie

Solid mainstream treatment of the capture/surrender of Weathermen radicals in the oughts.

Every aspect of this production was slick and shiny. The two leads are definitely showing their age but still have the presence that made them stars way back when. The real surprise to me was the major role played by Shia LaBeouf, an actor who has failed to impress me in the past. Here he convincingly does an obsessed young journalist who sees this story as career-making and runs with it.

Not as moving as Running on Empty but what is?


Monday, September 30, 2013

The Hidden Face


Nifty, if contrived, thriller. A young orchestra conductor's wife accidentally locks herself in a safe room in his mansion. To him she just disappeared. He finds solace with another woman, brings her back to the house, setting the stage for a tense drama.

Both women were beautiful...which helped. Cine, cutting and lighting were first rate. He was handsome but wooden...a real flaw. Fine sense of dramatic tension pulled me along in spite of myself. How was this going to resolve?

Not great cinema but worth a two hour investment.


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Now You See Me

Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo

Hyper-paced big-budget/effects entertainment.

Four magicians are anonymously recruited to put on a three part show...all leading to a major heist. Plot line was completely implausible...nothing here took place in the reality we live in but it was so glitzy, loud and fast that it just carried you along on this giant wave of froth.

There's a place in film world for escapist fare like this...especially when it's done this well.


Friday, September 27, 2013


Daniel Craig   d/Sam Mendes

Hadn't seen a James Bond film in many years. Friends said...you should see this one. It's really good. So I gird my loins and turned it on. Opening sequence...wildly absurd chase nonsense which ends in JB seemingly killed. But, no...of course he wasn't...the movie just started. So we're now at the level of all those wonderful serials I saw at Saturday matinees as a kid. Perils of Pauline, Rocketman, et al.

Thereafter unfolds cynical handlers, bleached blond supervillain, a fight in a komodo dragon pit, attacks which kill hundreds including a parliamentary hearing in progress, blowing up a Scottish castle and Judi Dench dying. How many building guards were shot in this movie? How much did the blond guy pay those morons to get shot dead my JB-superman?

What is all this about? This is James Bond #23. All have the same arc. JB never dies. Cubby Broccoli died years ago. Sean Connery has gotten old. The cold war is over 20 years now. And yet this 'series' continues unchanged.

Well, now I know. Never again.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Erin Brockovich

Julia Roberts   d/ Steven Soderbergh

Formula mainstream fare...helped immensely by a going-against-the-grain performance by JR. She is completely convincing as a foul-mouthed, trashy striver who pulls a by-her-bootstraps transformation using aggression and (justified) self-righteousness.

Incidentally, her foe, PG&E, was the same outfit that made millions by knowingly bilking people in the Enron casino ten years ago. The much-deserved prosecutions never happened because the SEC records needed to prove the court case were stored in WTC 7 and were destroyed when that building exploded into dust on 9/11.

Soderbergh does his usual professional job putting together a moneymaker for the suits. This hit all the right buttons and carried forward the myth that one good person can turn the tide against the corporate mudslide.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013



Silly movie which ends up working better than I thought it would at the beginning. A poor boy, going to a richie school, gets a ball from his father, a dump-picker. The ball is an alien lifeform with some magical powers...broad comedy ensues.

Very broadly played this was helped enormously by the personality of the lead actor...who appeared around 10. He was a skinny little sparkplug, quite endearing and helped me overlook the obvious flaws in the production. I think kids would love this one.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Jake Gyllenhall, Hugh Jackman

Absorbing mainstream thriller. Two young girls are kidnapped, the police work to find them before it's too late and, meanwhile, one of the fathers sets out on his own to track down the bad guys.

Many brutal torture scenes. Our perceptions of this are continually manipulated..in the end it turns out it was all justified...which places this film squarely in the modern genre of torture porn legitimizing that behavior by the forces of righteousness.

JG excelled as the relentless cop...poker-faced, never losing focus.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Punishment Park

d/Peter Watkins

Another powerful screed by England's most original agitpropmeister. In 1970 he was in Los Angeles and wanted to capture the turmoil in the US typified by the Chicago police riots, Kent State, Black Power, etc. This film was a fictionalized distillation of that time...a metaphor so incendiary it was only shown in one theater in NYC for four days and then withdrawn.

Young people, dissidents, protestors,  are brought to a remote desert location in chains, surrounded by armed military and forced to run a 50 mile course for three days in 100 degree heat with no water.

There have been many films made over the years about tyranny and its effects...none as stark or topical as this one. It's sadly ironic that now, forty years later, it is even more relevant. But you can be sure it will never air on NBC, CNN, etc.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

One False Move

Bill Paxton   d/ Carl Franklin

This nasty little movie holds up well. Three violent thieves rob some drug dealers and then head across country to a small town in Arkansas where BP is the local police chief. He hungers for the big time but finds more than he can handle in this case.

Written by Billy Bob Thornton before he hit it big with Sling Blade. Cynda Williams, as one of the bad guys shines here in a complex role: she's with this gang but is using them to get back to her child back home.

Well directed and acted. A forgotten gem.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Short Term 12


Very fine drama set in a residential facility for troubled teens. The kids are abuse victims and it turns out so are many of the staff (who are in their 20's); the drama is the complex interaction of these two groups.

Nicely written and acted by all players. The filmmaker - Destin Crettin - succeeds in getting us to care about the fate of these flailing young people. Many predictable crises develop along the way but he has managed not only to keep it real but to leave us with a surprisingly satisfying ending.

Good work.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale


A most unusual film. Dark, subtle Finnish humor.

Long ago Santa Claus was a mean sucka so the Sami people encased him in ice and buried him under a man-made mountain 1500 meters high. Well some Americans heard about this so they came and began to drill down seeking to kidnap the actual Santa and use him to make money. Somehow.

Nice locations in the high arctic.

I knew nothing of this when I sat down and as it went by I sat in frozen disbelief wondering where they were going to take this idea. And they took it to a pretty good place when all was said and done.

Nice original take on what you can do with a 'Christmas' movie.


Thursday, September 19, 2013


Woody Allen

I really liked this when it came out but after watching it now, 25 years later,  I wonder if I had been blinded by the magic that was Annie Hall. This time I found Allen's endless kvetching insufferable. Who could possibly like this guy? Whiny, self-absorbed, seemingly indifferent to the needs of the people around him he wasn't even an anti-hero, he was just a mess.

His behavior toward Tracy, his 17 yo 'girlfriend' was painful to watch. All his other relationships were train wrecks. Some of his lines were funny in that tossed-off self-deprecating way he has but the final scene, where he's gently told by Tracy that he should grow up a bit was less poignant or insightful than pointing out the obvious. It was also obvious that this character couldn't possibly do it either.

Nice cine (Gordon Willis) and use of music.


Chicken With Plums

France   Matthieu Amalric

This was written by Marjane Satrapi as a follow-up to her renowned debut Persepolis. The story is set in 1950's Teheran and involves a musician who has lost his love for playing music and decides to will himself to die, even though he is (un)happily married with two small children.

Pretty dumb premise isn't helped by the quasi-farcical tone the filmmaker uses. Exaggerated behavior distances the audience from the emotional possibilities of the scenario...who can give a shit about a guy who behaves like a cartoonish buffoon? And if you don't care...then why watch? 

It might have worked as a comedy but as presented it wasn't funny. At all. Shame...the cinematography, art direction, lighting and camera work were all world class. Watta waste.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Winter Kills

Jeff Bridges

Paranoid thriller(?) roughly based on the Kennedy assassination. Intended as a black comedy I think...but way over the top performances tell me this director didn't have a clear idea how to get what he wanted. Absurd cartoon-like touches alienated me from the beginning and eventually became unbearable.

Black comedy must be underplayed or it becomes farce...like this film. Interesting cast...John Huston, Sterling Hayden, Anthony Perkins, Richard Boone et al...couldn't pull this mess out of the dumpster where it rightly belongs.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Despicable Me


I wondered what the fuss was about this film's sequel. I can see why this one became popular with children and some adults. It's fast, filled with imaginative toon violence. Following three adorable little girls is a nice touch...their physical peril is never very threatening or realistic but their emotional hurt is and will resonate with an audience.

Characters with grotesque looks, absurd scenario, Roger Rabbit stunts and a heartwarming ending. Solid entertainment for the under 12 crowd.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

What Maisie Knew

Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgard

Excellent adaptation of the novel by Henry James...transferred to present day NYC.

Daisie is seven yo and has two self-absorbed divorced parents...both of whom miss pick-up dates, times with her and generally treat her as disposable. They profess love but as soon as something comes up in their lives they dump her on their new spouses, or really just anyone.

Painful film to watch. Our hearts go out to this child ( beautifully played by Onata Aprile); we want her to find stability with adults who genuinely care.

First rate acting and direction kept this from melodrama. The whole story is told from Maisie's POV which works. Nice work all around.




Interesting animated dystopian future film. It's a tired genre but the animation here was distinctive enough and the characters well enough realized that the whole film worked for me.

All travel in future Europe is by underground rail and in this environment voices, thoughts are placed in peoples' minds by the authorities as a means of social control. Not unlike the NY Times or NPR today.

We follow an everyman who tries to avoid this nightmare but his bicycle is vandalized so down the rathole he goes. Intriguing and well done.


Friday, September 13, 2013


w/d Whit Stillman

An oddly successful film. It deals with a pack of preppies who attend parties and formal dances every evening during the Christmas school break in NYC. They talk and talk...and then they talk some more...but it never gets boring or seems stage bound.

They voice their insecurities, fears, jealousies...really just about all that they are at that tender age. They dramatize their predicaments, fall in and out of love and somehow get through it and return to real life when it's over.

And in spite of my class hostility at these wastrels...I liked it. Go figure.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

That Day

France    Raoul Ruiz

What a surprise this was: a French black absurdist comedy from the mad Chilean Ruiz. And it was funny...or at least amusing. All the way through.

The story involves the deliberate release of a homicidal madman to kill an heiress but, as so often happens...things go wrong. The corpses pile up but she (delightfully played by Elsa Zylberstein) and the crazy guy form an alliance and thwart her evil relatives. Not knowingly but by following their own stars.

She carried the film with her spot-on performance. Too silly and the whole thing would have collapsed. Very nice direction.


The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo

Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig

This was another European (read:foreign language) hit that was re-made in English for all the droolers out there. But this is one of those rare cases when the re-make equaled or even exceeded the original.

Credit director David Fincher who opens the film with a credit sequence that sets a fluid, ambiguous tone and maintains it throughout. Daniel Craig is a better lead than his Swedish counterpart and Ms Mara nails her Noomi Rapace imitation...even making her character a bit softer and multi-dimensional. The film races along for nearly three hours and I never was tempted to pause for a break.

Great supporting cast...Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgaard, Robin Wright...and luminous cine helped raise this to the highest level of mystery/drama.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Taxi Driver

Robert De Niro

Powerhouse project written by Paul Schrader and directed by Martin Scorcese. Alienated, terminally lonely Travis Bickle cruises the streets of NYC, repulsed and attracted by the depravity he perceives. He brings to mind the old adage...we see things not as they are, but as we are...

This film confirmed Scorcese as a major filmmaker after Mean Streets and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. He and De Niro went on several years later to do Raging Bull...perhaps the greatest film ever made about a sports figure.

I continue to think that the several scenes that followed the shootout were in Bickle's mind...that he was dying from the injuries he suffered and that his hero status was entirely in his imagination.

This will always be a classic.


Monday, September 9, 2013

White Light, Black Rain


Competent doc largely composed of interviews of survivors of the two nuclear attacks on Japan in August 1945. Much has been written of these events...starting with John Hersey's extraordinary Hiroshima.


12 Monkeys

Bruce Willis   d/Terry Gilliam

Bad Terry Gilliam...and bad Terry Gilliam is not a pretty sight.

Ugly, gore-ridden, loud, hyper-edited...filled with odious grotesques...

To think that this was supposedly based on Chris Marker's elegant stills/cinema work La Jetee makes me want to weep.

Not a home run. Not even a scratch single. A swing and a miss...you're out!


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Upstream Color

w/d Shane Carruth

Here's a winning formula: make a film with no character development so the audience has no idea who they're following around, craft enigmatic scenes in isolation - string them together in random order, throw in some icky stuff, add a dash of abstract, pointless musical chords, add some pigs, worms, gore and voila! You have a waste of two hours.

This wasn't the worst film I've ever seen. I'm sure there were others that were more inept and irritating. I just can't think of what they may have been.

Anyone who gives this bozo money to make another film should be dragged out and beaten.


Closed Circuit


Low key political thriller which hinged on government (MI5) complicity in a catastrophic terrorist bombing attack.

Everything presented here was plausible, the actors looked like real people, it never stooped to sensationalism...just took us step by step into the effort to uncover/expose official wrongdoing. The fact that the protagonists failed added to the film's credibility.

Solid, thoughtful film.


Friday, September 6, 2013

House of Cards

Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Kate Mara

HBO series delivers crackling entertainment based on the nefarious doings under the radar in DC. Film uses the new model of rapidly intercutting several plot threads at a frantic pace which gives the sense of continuous action when most of what's on screen is people talking.

Spacey is outstanding in the role of a lifetime. He commands the screen with his voice, body language and fourth-wall breaking asides.

When this was first released to streaming people watched it compulsively for 12 hours. It's easy to see why. The urge to hit the 'next' button is strong. Is it great drama? Dunno. Shakespeare on speed with language a step or two down. Let's see how it looks in 20 years.


It's a Disaster


Four couples get together for their usual Sunday morning brunch. Things change. Their maniacally focused obsession on their convoluted interrelationships shifts when they learn that nerve gas bombs have been dropped all over the US.

The end is here. What would you do?

Great screenplay, one location, nice acting by unknowns (except Julia Stiles), sharp editing show what a clever team can do with no money. This should serve as an inspiration to young filmmakers everywhere.

Nice job.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Let the Fire Burn


This tells the story of the war conducted by the officials of the city of Philadelphia against the black peoples organization Move. It is to my knowledge the only time in our history that a bomb was dropped onto a residential neighborhood by the police killing 11 people, including children and destroying blocks of houses.

This story proves for any who doubt it that if a group of oppressed people publicly call out the white power structure for what it is they will be crushed with as much force as is necessary...and suffer no consequences.

The film is a competent record of one of the more sordid chapters in American history.


Monday, September 2, 2013

The Gatekeepers


Six former leaders of Shin Bet are interviewed on camera for their thoughts on the last fifty years of Israeli history and the role they played.

These aging men came across to me as moral cripples...so intent on fighting with individual trees (often with subtle smirks when recalling a 'win') they cannot see the forest. Not one questioned the morality of taking others' land by force and then brutally suppressing them to maintain control of that land. It was like listening to an American military leader in 1880.

They all talked of 'terrorists' as if they and their state were above that categorization, even though the indiscriminate killing they did was far worse.

The film left me profoundly discouraged. It certainly obliterates the notion that an oppressed people gain in moral stature...once the tables are turned they are just as able to rationalize truly evil behavior.



Dennis Quaid, jim Caviezel

Beautifully put together story about time travel via short-wave radio. The plot relies heavily on sentiment...a 35yo man connects by magic with his long-dead father, a NYC firefighter who heroically died while saving a young woman thirty years ago. The excellence of the staging, acting, and editing carried us past the skepticism inherent in a yarn like this.

But after an hour or so the film, having established this mystical contact, goes off the rails. It was obvious the writer didn't know what to do with this set-up and ended up getting lost in the weeds of the paradox of time travel. The contrivances he came up with quickly became asinine.

Too bad. This would have been a fine one-hour movie.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Solomon Kane

James Purefoy

Lavishly staged (mostly CGI), very violent sword and sorcery yarn. Set in Britain in 1600 this was the opposite of what the chamber of commerce would produce...endless rain, constant random attacks on innocent folks, all manner of demons streaming out of the fog to kill, enslave, burn and generally wreak havoc.

The film had the usual structured format which make it work, sort of...but this would be most satisfying to a 14 yo boy. Much effort, money and skill on display but this stuff is pretty stupid, isn't it?


Friday, August 30, 2013

Jack Goes Boating

Philip Hoffman, Amy Ryan

Awkward, inarticulate, ignorant working class people fall in love. Slowly. Haltingly. Agonizingly. In NYC of all places. Just so you'll know that not everyone there is an obnoxious yuppie.

All the descriptives above also apply to this film. The two principals do a nice job but I thought this was pretty thin gruel. Reminded me of Stanley and Iris. The dinner party scene was a hoot...hookah and all...but this was forgettable.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Hal Hartley

Nice little film experiment: one script 20 minutes long done three times in different cities...New York, Berlin and Tokyo...with the roles and genders shifting around.

It would have helped if the script were better. But you couldn't deny the cleverness in what he did with this idea. The context, the underpinning of the story was changed in each segment. In the third segment he did a lot of pure cinema without dialogue to change the sense of the story.

Not a home run, rather something like Timecode...an intriguing idea, well executed.


The Island

Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson    d/ Michael Bay

For an hour or so this one kept my interest. Good set design/locations, plausible dystopian plot, fast but not too fast editing pace worked for me. Then some asinine chase sequences removed it from all sense of reality and lost me. Nobody cares about the danger faced by a toon...and that's what these characters became.

This same theme...human clones raised for insurance organs...was done with so much more intelligence and sensitivity in Never Let Me Go. The morality of the use of clones, androids, sentient robots of all stripe will soon be upon us and bears serious thought. Junk like this film don't further that discussion.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Harryhausen Chronicles


Straightforward, loving trip through the professional life of hollywood's most skilled stop-motion artist. I saw his work as a boy and loved it. His Jason and the Argonauts has never been equaled...and never will be.

CGI is smooth and seamless but there's an undeniable reality visible in stop-motion and even though the seams show the audience gets a sense that there's a creative hand working here and so feels differently about the resulting effects.


Monday, August 26, 2013

The Spectacular Now

Shailene Woodley

Obnoxious alcoholic teenager loses his girlfriend, pursues a purported wallflower (the lovely SW whose performance was excellent but she is too pretty for this role), finds his also alcoholic father and alienates just about everyone in his life. The film ends with a glimmer of redemption but it's left ambiguous.

Nice variation on the coming-of-age genre. Both players were good, the direction unobtrusive, the story led us in directions we couldn't predict...and some we could. This was an intelligent, satisfying film.


Sunday, August 25, 2013


Amanda Seyfried

A young woman's sister gets abducted which triggers her to flashback to her own abduction a year ago. She sets out on her own to rescue and take revenge on the bad guy.

AS tried hard here but this story was preposterous in nearly every particular. Almost every event in here was not credible and stacked together in a row made the scenario absurd. This ordinary, badly damaged woman became an action hero...single-mindedly focused on her mission in spite of overwhelming obstacles which she overcomes without raising a sweat. Yeah right.

Since this wouldn't convince anyone over 12 or so but it was filled with violent scenes I wonder who was the intended audience?


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Ginger and Rosa

Elle Fanning   w/d  Sally Potter

Sally Potter returns to the front ranks of world-class filmmakers with this coming-of-age drama set in the time of maximum cold-war tension - the Cuban missile crisis.

Two teenaged girls, friends from birth are ushered into the murky moral landscape of the adult world when her 'pacifist' father begins a sexual affair with one of them.

Elle Fanning was superb here...dispelling any notion that she is just the ingenue-of-the-week: this girl was completely convincing as a bewildered, deeply wounded teen unable to process the reality of the relationships in her life. It's a performance which will make her career.

Many lovely director's touches round out this cinematic gem. Kudos.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Side By Side


Interesting piece done by Keanu Reeves on the transition from film to digital. He bagged some great interviews and even though his questions were awkward they elicited many useful and insightful comments from directors, cinematographers, editors, etc.

Worth it.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Terry Gilliam

Gilliam's masterful, wildly over-the-top, remarkably prescient take on modern society. Filled with visual touches that tickle the eye whilst presenting much more sombre themes. I love the retro-futuristic devices, the pathetic conformity of the workers and the spirit of the rebellious who fight against overwhelming odds to muck up and eventually destroy the system.

He depicts a society broken, corrupt, with an outrageously controlling bureaucracy whose main job is sustaining itself. Cruelty among citizens is rampant, things have broken down...the center didn't hold.

This is probably the fifth time I've seen this great film and each time I'm dazzled by the creativity, intelligence and daring on display. It's a work like no other and hasn't dated at all.


Monday, August 19, 2013

The Birdman of Alcatraz

Burt Lancaster   d/ John Frankenheimer

Excellent biopic of Robert Stroud, long-term federal prisoner who took to caring and then studying birds while incarcerated in life-long solitary.

Burt shone here...slowly morphing from angry, bitter ticking bomb to gray-haired scholarly researcher, still firm in his individuality and sense of dignity but far removed from the revenge-seeking crowd around him.

The film was long but never felt like it lagged. Nicely lit and shot in glorious black and white.

A classic.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Year of the Fish

amerindie    d/ David Kaplan

Interesting, bitter-sweet variation on the Cinderella story. A young Chinese woman, smuggled into NYC to work at a 'massage' parlor refuses and is forced to do menial cleaning work by the house madam and the working girls in the house.

The film is rotoscoped a la Waking Life which gives it a visual interest necessary to such a familiar story. The lead (played by a Vietnamese) is lovely, self-effacing and easily earns our sympathy with her calm aura of decency. She gets abused by many during the course of the film but never surrenders her integrity. And, of course, there is a happy ending.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Empire of Silver


Epic historical drama set in the time of the boxer rebellion. Film attempts (and fails) to tell the story of a prominent banking family who encounter rough going during a time of social and cultural turmoil.

Too unfocused. I had trouble following the story...it seemed great swaths of necessary information were left out while the director was thinking of how he was going to stage large crowd scenes. Undeniably grand in sweep and look, it failed to make me care for these characters. All the scenery in the world can't substitute for strong character development.


I'll Come Running

Denmark   Melonie Diaz

A mixed bag. A 25ish Danish man traveling in the US hooks up with a waitress in Austin for a night or two...he dies and she goes to Denmark to...well we really don't know why do we?

The film had the requisite hand-held close-ups, Ms Diaz was excellent, the Danish characters not so much. Her swain was a real jerk, puerile and thoughtless; other than him being good looking I couldn't see any reason to get involved with this bozo. When she gets to Denmark his supposed best friend is even more obnoxious...the kind of guy you'd instinctively try and get away from as quickly as possible. But she sleeps with him!???

Some squirmy stuff in here resulted in my watching it in stages. Final verdict...she's a star...the director and other actors fuggedaboutit.


Friday, August 16, 2013

John Dies at the End

Don Coscarelli

Outrageously convoluted mindfuck filled with twists, energy, weird drugs, surprises and laughs...several good hearty laughs. I don't know how this one got past the suits in hollywoodland but I'm glad it did. It's fast and fun.

Similar to Memento in its originality and head-twisting freakiness...just done more for yucks than to impress. I doubt this would appeal to Mr and Mrs America but for jaded buffs like me this was a godsend.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013



Heartbreaking doc on the Sea World practice of caging orcas and using them for entertainment. These are sentient, intelligent animals, very social and are ripped from their culture to make money for suits hiding away in offices. The trainers come to see through the company's lies because they work with the animals every day. The lies put out by the company are outrageous ...only designed to keep the lucre flowing.

The film follows the life of Tilikum...taken as a youth from the seas off Iceland, then kept in tiny pens all his life until he became psychotic and so far has killed four trainers from rage and frustration.

A pox on humankind for this stuff. Some day people will look back on this behavior and wonder how their ancestors could have been so barbaric. Good question.


Monday, August 12, 2013

The Oranges

Hugh Laurie, Alison Janney

I guess this was intended as a comedy. You have Oliver Pratt doing silly things for one. But the squirmy premise here...a 45 yo man having an affair with his best friend's 20ish daughter...must go full on to humor to work at all. Think The Producers.

Because as presented here there are not enough laughs, really even chuckles to allow the audience to accept it. The adults think and act like sitcom people from the 50's...but more like Stu Erwin than Lucy. So the whole thing fell flat...with a solid thump.

Waste of  talent.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Broken City

Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe

Complicated story of corruption in the mayor's office in NYC present day. MW plays a cop turned private eye (dialogue: do they still exist?) who is hired by the mayor to tail his wife but violence and madness ensues.

While everything here was well done and fast-paced there was a tired air over the project...hasn't this been done before? It held me till the end but I really didn't care how it resolved.


Saturday, August 10, 2013


Matt Damon

In a sea of summer sludge this one was supposed to stand out. It was done by Neill Blomkamp, the South African guy who came out of nowhere with an original, intriguing sci-fi-ish take on race relations.

Given a bigger budget and. presumably more stringent oversight by the suits he has labored mightily and brought forth a compendium of hoary cliches and a plot that hinges far too much on fistfights and movie (CGI) violence of all sorts. We ger the depressing spectacle of the protagonist being pummeled mercilessly for an hour and a half, only to rally at the last minute to save the day...and all of humanity too as a bonus.

There was a thin veneer of social consciousness smeared over the top of this but it was cartoonish and superficial, not the 'serious' sci fi material being pedaled by the flacks. Could also be part of the dumbing down of American culture so desired by the ruling class.

Anyway, as this went by I found myself caring less and less how it all turned out...about how I'd feel if I picked up a Superman comic from my youth.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Quiller Memorandum

George Segal

Badly dated spy vs. spy yarn. Set in Berlin during the height of the cold war madness this has Segal as yet another superman type fighting this time against neo nazis. The big problem is the Segal couldn't pull this act off. He came across as a door-to-door salesman type - pushy, shallow and mostly a jerk.

Over-lit in the 50's manner the whole thing seemed fake and artificial. Best left in film history's dustbin.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Point Blank

Lee Marvin   d/ John Boorman

Sharply done revenge action/thriller. Marvin is perfectly cast as an extraordinarily savvy, non-communicative anti-hero. He is completely believable as he engineers a vendetta against a shadowy group called the 'organization' which he feels stole money from him which he had stolen from someone else.

Outstanding direction from the opening scene on. One pivotal scene early on features Marvin completely silent and non-responsive while Angie Dickinson prattles on revealing much of the plot to the audience. Audacious direction which worked.

Needless to say the action sequences were spot on. This film received much praise upon release (1968) and it was good to see it was well deserved.


Monday, August 5, 2013

The Exploding Girl

Zoe Kazan, Mark Rendall

College girl with epilepsy is home in NYC for a week and has to deal with away boyfriend while being comforted by best male friend.

Quiet little movie with a sympathetic and realistic protagonist which accurately portrays the turmoil of adolescence. Well cast, shot and edited. This is what I hope for when I watch an indie.


Sunday, August 4, 2013

On The Beach

Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner

At the time (1959) this was seen as another liberal rant by Stanley Kramer...a cautionary tale of what might happen if the nation didn't wake up. Now it comes across as a hopelessly melodramatic vehicle for a bunch of rich, aging hollywood stars.

AG was well past her sell date here and the scenes of lovey-dovey between her and Peck were ludicrous. He was the least sensual of stars and she had taken on a decidedly matronly air by this point that no amount of scarves or camera tricks could conceal. And poor Anthony Perkins, with his trademark twitchiness fell far short of his Norman Bates.

And finally the endless use of Waltzing Matilda began to drive me up the wall ten minutes in.

An embarrassing period piece that hasn't held up.


Saturday, August 3, 2013

A Town Like Alice

Virginia McKenna, Peter Finch

Credible telling of the true story fictionalized by Neville Shute in his 1951 book. Of necessity the film only covers half the story...while in the book I found the second (Australian) half equally interesting.

The travails of the women were well depicted but so much had to be left out it came across as a peaks-only trip through the amazing adventure. VMK was good, if a little stiff...but she was playing a Brit after all. The romance seemed strained as played by these two actors but it was wartime and romances flourished under times of such stress.

Overall a very nice job of a story which should be remembered.


Friday, August 2, 2013

Sing Your Song


A justifiably worshipful look at the extraordinary life and times of Harry Belafonte, singer, actor, activist in civil rights and numerous other causes for his entire life.

He was a black kid, born in Harlem, raised in Jamaica. His talents propelled him to the top of the entertainment world in a time when a black man couldn't take a piss in a gas station men's room in Alabama without being threatened by a State Trooper with death.

He marched with MLK, fought for the various anti-colonial movements in Africa...including freeing Nelson Mandela and the black South African people. In his dotage he has been fighting against the monstrous prison/slavery system which has emerged in the US.

Moving story well told about one of the most remarkable men of my time.


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Let Me In

Chloe Grace Moretz

Competent, nearly scene-for-scene re-make of the Swedish surprise hit - Let The Right One In - from a couple of years ago.

Every scene was well shot, the kids were great, for some reason every scene was yellow/orange in color...an odd choice for a film set in a snowy landscape but it did work to create an eerie atmosphere.

The original was good and surprising...this was good and not surprising. Done for the droolers who can't/won't read subtitles.



Ralph Fiennes, Liv Tyler

Lush adaptation of the story by Pushkin.

We follow Onegin throughout but he is such an asshole it can't help but effect our reaction to the film. For the first half he is a disaffected, jaded spoiled brat who could use a good thrashing. Then he inexplicably falls in love with LT after rejecting her earlier. But there was nothing about her which would justify his dropping his entire personna.

There is a light dash of social consciousness but falls far short of the soul-searching we find in Tolstoy. The book is an indictment of the stratified, calcified society of 19th century Russia but in the film those ideas are kept in the background so we can focus entirely on this non-existent love story.

Well-crafted but unsatisfying.


Monday, July 29, 2013

The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceaucescu


This was a most unusual film. Over three hours long, it consisted almost exclusively of public appearances and speeches given by Mr. C. His speeches were uninspiring...usually read by him with eyes-down earnestness. But here and there we get a public glimpse of the steely hand operating behind the scenes...the unsettling groupthink that ruled Romania during his reign.

Also the film was sprinkled with some of the astounding large-scale spectacles arranged by and for him in Romania and other countries...particularly China. A real-life cast of thousands...all in costume doing choreographed routines celebrating the great leader. What a lot of effort, resources, time...and for what?

To appreciate this film you had to have some working knowledge of 20th century Romania. No narration or explanation was provided.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Cube

Jim Hensen

This isn't the Canadian sci-fi thriller from the 90's. This was a project Hensen put together in 1969 and apparently was intended for television.

It was intriguing and fun. An everyman is locked in a cube with no way out. Various people come in and out of the cube and subject him to various humiliations but he can't leave with them...those are their doors. He must find his own.

Obviously metaphorical it also was entertaining and consistently included things I didn't expect. This unpredictability kept me interested while I pondered the deeper ideas presented.

Nice work.


Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Seventh Seal

Sweden     Bergman

It's widely considered one of the greats and it is. Incredibly rich in thought and themes it's also lusciously filmed in glorious black and white. This brought film to a new level of sophistication - raised it to a legitimate art form -dealing with themes equal to anything ever produced in 'legitimate' theater.