Thursday, January 31, 2013

Out of Sight

George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez     d/ Steven Soderbergh

Jokey treatment of an Elmore Leonard story. The leads are an escaped convict and a federal marshall who meet cute in the trunk of a car. For plot purposes they fall in love and have adventures together.

None of this was plausible or interesting enough to be engrossing. The only saving grace was a supporting role by Don Cheadle who easily out-acted everybody else with a dynamic portrayal of a criminal/former boxer. Ms Lopez is nice looking but who ever thought this woman could act?

Soderbergh brings his usual snappy professional touch to the project and it moves right along but this was a live-action cartoon and didn't reach me at all.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling    d/  Nicholas Jarecki

Here we get to live for a time in the upper echelons of the capitalist pecking order and watch as one of the stars teeters on the brink of disaster. Robert Miller is a deeply amoral man...the highly stressful messes we see him struggling with here are solely the result of his total lack of a moral compass. He reflects, indeed epitomizes the value system of the Wall Street/City of London world. Greed is good and the single-minded pursuit of more, always more, is the only value rewarded.

Gere was terrific. He managed to get us to care about his character's fate even though his behavior to everyone in his life, including and especially his "loved" ones is repellent. We even feel a sense of relief when he gets away with his machinations. The whole production was first rate in all aspects...editing, cine, supporting characters...all of it.

It's been said that we in the West are led by sociopaths. This film humanizes and brings that idea to life.


Moonrise Kingdom

w/d   Wes Anderson

Deliberately twee film with just enough grit to keep it from being unbearable.

Anderson creates a mythical fairyland set in 1965 where adults act like 50's era sitcom fools and the children act like adults...sort of. True love comes early in this universe...just barely into puberty and creates a force that sweeps away all obstacles. The story plucks at the sympathy strings of the viewer but the whole set-up is so cartoonish that I found it hard to care about any of the character's fates.

I tried to see it as an allegory or a metaphor but all my attempted analyses came up empty. I mostly watched to see where he was going with this...after it was over I tucked it into the category of strange little projects worth seeing but I'm not really clear why.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Manhattan Shorts

Ten short films from all over the world. As usual a mixed bag. Some were clever, some were funny, some tried to be touching. It's hard to do too much in ten minutes or so but for me six of these worked quite well.

They were from...Norway, Russia, Netherlands, Ireland, France and Spain.


Invisible Empire


This was an attempt by Jason Bermas (Loose Change) to lay out the big picture: who's running the show, how and for whose benefit?

He got a lot of things right and this will have real value to anyone new to this information...but...if you really want to know how the world works you won't get all that much in a video. It takes many hours of research and serious reading in a number of areas...history, economics, communications theory, etc. You also have to learn how to disregard the nonsense, disinformation, propaganda and flat out lies in all forms.

Projects like this can ignite interest...a good thing. But this has to be seen as a starting more.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Black Dahlia

Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson    d/Brian De Palma

This looked like a modern-day noir...with beautiful photography, LA locations, sleazy underbelly characters and sets, grotesque murder mystery, James Ellroy story, decadent richies...

But it really sucked. Plot was much too was just barely possible to follow along when all the reveals piled up at the end. The two leads were very pretty but their acting skills were poor...I longed for the gravitas of a Bogart or Mitchum, the sultriness of Lana Turner.  The whole film felt like an elaborate attempt to copy a genre rather than tell a real story. And the sad thing was that this was taken from a unsolved murder.

DePalma has done some fine work (Obsession, Blow-out) but not for quite a while. Here he had a big budget, tried to pack too much in and failed. Too bad.


Friday, January 25, 2013

Breakfast With Curtis


This film traces the evolution of the relationships between neighbors over a five year period. We open with conflict, move through slow accommodation and eventually come to complete reconciliation.

At first I found the characters off-putting and unengaging but a half hour in they became more likable and by the end I hated to see them go. They all seemed like good people...quirky and irritating sometimes but the kind of people you'd like to have living in your neighborhood.

Great music throughout. I especially loved hearing the John Fahey America selections.



Tim Burton

Genuinely witty film about a precocious boy whose dog he rejuvenates him a la Frankenstein. All done in stop-motion black and white.

The town's adults are largely grotesque caricatures. The monsters that end up threatening it are drawn from classic horror films...dracula, mummy, godzilla, etc. Even the kid's classmates resemble Lugosi, Lorre, Karloff.

Burton has never really grown and developed as a filmmaker...he's still the jr. high school nerdy kid who's obsessed with monsters and icky stuff...and as long as he comes up with films like this that's fine with me. Very entertaining.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Truman Show

Jim Carrey   d/ Peter Weir

This holds up very of Weir's best films.

In light of the current torrent of "reality" TV shows this comes across as prescient and bitingly on target. Carrey was perfectly cast here...his juvenile/adolescent overacting schtick kept tightly controlled and thus made effective.

Love the last line...see what else is on...


The Fall of Fujimori


The incredible story of the president the Peruvians called "the little chinaman."

Faced with a crumbling society...two major revolutionary movements, declining economy, ethnic unrest...he used a combination of infrastructure projects and state violence to assert order. Although it is not addressed in this doc he also seems to have embraced international finance.

Things went well for eight years but he got deeply hooked on acclaim, became megalomaniacal and finally bailed when the depth of his government's corruption became public. Oh, and his wife divorced him, ran against him for president and said he had a small dick.

So now he lives in Japan waiting for the call...which will likely never come. Watta story...


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Your Sister's Sister

amerindie   Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt

Nice little film. The entire thing focuses on three characters and their complicated relationships with each other...and it works. Minimalist in look...the setting is a remote seaside cabin in the off season...

I've read that much of the dialogue was improvised. It has the loose, aimless quality that makes it seem real. The players are all believable and appealing in a realistic way. Also the dynamics among them rings true. And it features a 'happy' ending.

Nice job by director Lynn Shelton.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Jiro Dreams of Sushi


Oddly compelling doc about this 10 seat restaurant in Tokyo that sells raw fish...and nothing else. Even though it would seem that very little preparation or skill would be required this guy has managed to perfect his minimalist fare to a level high enough to get a 3 star rating.

It takes his apprentices ten years to achieve competence. The regimen they follow reminded me of the psychotically repetitious practices described in You Gotta Have Wa.

Definitely an odd culture.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Impossible

Naomi Watts, Ewen McGregor

Powerful telling of the story of one family's experience when the 2005 tsunami hit the coast of Thailand. The use of effects here was perfect: they realistically re-created the look and feel of such an event without overdoing it. What an incredible experience.

Naomi Watts was superb as usual. She proves once again that she is in the very front rank of contemporary actors and deserves an award for this performance. Also the young boy who played her son-Tom Holland-excelled. I don't know that I've ever seen a better performance by a 12 year old.

There was one problem: toward the end the filmmaker leaned too far into melodrama...using cue music and holding scenes several beats too long. Shame...the story was so didn't need that stuff.

Still, this was a fine effort overall.


Friday, January 18, 2013


Philip Hoffman, Catherine Keener

Beautifully done treatment of the development of his masterpiece In Cold Blood. PH was masterful in his subtle, many-shaded portrayal of chat show freak Capote. At the time (1960's) few in the mainstream had ever encountered someone like him...a fact that was nicely brought out in the early scenes in the film when he first appears in Kansas.

But this was not a caricature...this was a fully-rounded person who was clever, incisive, poetic, fearful, empathetic, cowardly, frightfully narcissistic...a deeply unhappy man who ended up alienating all his rich supporters and drowning in a bottle.

Still, his book stands as a landmark in American letters and will be read for many generations...long after he has been forgotten.

The supporting cast...CK and Chris Cooper...were strangely subdued was Capote...which heightened the sensitivity of the film and gave it a force it might have lacked.

I still prefer the Perry Smith turned in by Robert Blake in Richard Brooks' original adaption of the novel but this worked fine.


Thursday, January 17, 2013



Rollicking good film about a ne'er-do-well meat delivery man who in his youth made money by donating to a sperm bank. He ended up the biological father of 533 children...who are now in their twenties and want to find out who their father is.

This was played as light farce and for the most part it worked. The schlub was a bit over-cooked at the beginning but became more human as the film wore on. There were many story possibilities...the filmmakers used a nice selection of types among the kids for variety...including one with a severe disability, a gay punk, a female junkie, etc.

The final reveal was nicely played and held my interest to the end. Oddly quiet final scene which may have been intended as a grace note but seemed off.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Power Principle


Troubling run-down of five of the more egregious foreign interventions the US has perpetrated since the end of WW2. Our turn at world-beating empire is as bad as those who have preceded us.

This was done by Scott Noble, whose Psywar really stands out among the sea of independent films being made by those involved in the new (non-corporate) journalism.

I wonder how long this little window of freedom for citizen-journalists will stay open?


Tuesday, January 15, 2013



Pretty good attempt to create a hip, hyper-violent prison thriller...lots of interesting camera work, framing and editing. didn't quite work. The film and its characters were so stylized that they never came to life. In this case the form with which it was presented buried any humanity there might have been in the story.

Too bad...a lot of care went into this film. Could this herald the start of a Bulgarian film renaissance?


Monday, January 14, 2013

Yo Yo

France    w/d  Pierre Etaix

This was a delightful surprise. Ultimately circular morality tale from 1965 begins as a silent parody of the good (material) life, moves on to the world of circus and entertainment and ends back at the beginning after tickling us with sight gags and silly sound effects the whole way.

Obviously inspired by the work of Jacques Tati, this takes flight from that master of wry understatement and carries his spirit into new, more mature, more complete form. PE was wonderful in the lead roles.

Why have I never heard of this guy? This film is a treasure and should be seen and appreciated by any contemporary student of film.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Mrs Miniver

Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon

Buck-up lads propaganda supporting the war effort in 1942. Clean MGM look. Some of the points made here were creakingly obvious but this was a major production...the skill of the players and mise-en-scene easily carried the film. The sets were too spanky clean to look like anything but a soundstage but it didn't seem to matter. Film just raced right along.

Nice supporting role by Theresa Wright as the perfect young woman.

This has historical value as well as being one of the rare pre-1950 films which can work for an audience today.


Friday, January 11, 2013



I'm sure this project seemed like a good idea when first discussed around a table. Let's show what life and work is really like aboard a vessel fishing in arctic waters. It's a tough, hazardous trade that very few ever experience.

Unfortunately the film that resulted is unwatchable. The first half hour is shot at night using constantly wavering camera with inadequate light which means we are viewing vertiginous blobs of light whose meaning is completely opaque. We gradually come to realize that these blobs are nets bringing in a load of wriggling fish. Then we get extreme closeups of fish heads, workers' knives, etc...eventually moving on to arms, faces...

Was this supposed to be cool? Cutting edge or some other trendy buzzword? Truly terrible film.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Beyond the Hills

Romania     d/ Christian Mungiu

Another stunner from the remarkable Romanian film community. A troubled young woman comes back from the West to bring back her lover with whom she shared her life in an orphanage only to discover that she has settled into life as a nun in an orthodox monastery.

The drama inside this cloistered community plays out slowly with increasing intensity...rising to a fever pitch at the climax. Everyone here operated from the best motives...within the limitations of the sub-culture they inhabited (religious, police, hospital, foster home)...everyone recognized this woman needed help but none was able to provide her what she needed.

Great script, strong performances...a world-class production in the best sense.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Revolutionary Optimist


Colorful, engaging examination of life in one of the many (5500) slums of Calcutta or whatever they call it these days. The focus is the community support organization founded by the scion of a rich family and its work to improve the lot of poor folks through activist children.

The characters were attractive, their plight and efforts realistic and believable, the music was on target, the visuals outstanding. It was exotic and it's always good to reminded of how some others live.



France   d/ Ursula Meier

Troubling story of a 12 yo boy who supports himself and his older sister at an upscale Swiss ski resort by stealing and re-selling expensive equipment. She appears to be feckless...a lost soul. He is focused but too young to be a successful criminal...he glibly lies and ends up being found out because this is after all a small town.

They scrabble for food, smokes...she seeks love from any eligible man...they live in a squalid apartment in the town's only high-rise. The sad, depressing essence of their lives is made even more so by a revelation that comes along after an hour or so.

Poignant, beautifully acted by both leads, nice use of dramatic landscapes...a good example of sensitive modern filmmaking. Unforgettable.


Monday, January 7, 2013



Routine doc on one of the founders of the beat movement in the fifties. He also founded and ran a radical book shop in San Francisco and a publishing house that has given voice to material outside the mainstream box. Oh, yeah...he's also written some mediocre poetry.

I suppose it's inevitable but in this film he comes across as a guy who's way too pleased with himself. Still, he made some hard choices when it took courage to do so and deserves thanks for sweeping away the stupid censorship rules that had hobbled American culture.


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Tales From the Golden Age


Absurd "legends" from the days of the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaucescu. All were either true or could have been.

The point, which was pretty obvious from the beginning, was that life under a dictatorship brought about absurd situations...largely because of the warped system of power and the genuine fear that created. This was amusing for a while but repetitive as each story had the same point. This might be cathartic to a Romanian audience but didn't quite work for me.


Saturday, January 5, 2013


d/ Ben Wheatly

Very black British comedy.

A mother-oppressed 34 yo woman heads off in a caravan for a holiday with a ginger-haired bachelor who turns out to be a serial killer. They are a perfect match.

As the incidents pile up the pattern becomes clear...this might have been better at 60 minutes or so. Still the two players are marvelous...the dialogue becomes more and more absurd eventually leading to laugh-out-loud moments toward the end. Seldom has British reserve been used so well.


Friday, January 4, 2013

Oslo, August 31


Minimalist-style film which deals with a day in the life of a recovering addict. This is the day he is released from the treatment center and he has to navigate all the temptations that he once succumbed to as a matter of course.

Cold, distancing...he is actively floundering, ambivalent and we are unsure how we feel about this guy and his chances for getting out of the snake pit. We learn early on that he is emotionally blank which has an effect on the way we perceive his interactions with others.

Competent well-done film...not much fun to watch.


Neighboring Sounds


Episodic examination of a gentrifying neighborhood in Recife. Most are ordinary working people with one aging godfather watching over them. We witness little changes in their lives over time which in the aggregate become the evolutionary changes that define a culture.

Film was slow but it engaged us immediately because of the close focus on the various individuals. It was only as time passed that we saw who they were and how they all fit together.

Undramatic...more cosy than exciting. Part of the modern film trend toward examining the lives of regular folks just going about their lives in an unfamiliar setting.


The Loneliest Planet

Gael Bernal, Hani Furstenberg   d/ Julia Loktev

Intriguing film which deals with things left unspoken. A young couple are hiking through Georgia the summer before their wedding when an unexpected incident forces them to examine themselves and each other in real terms.

Their devil-may-care lark in a spectacular setting is revealed to be the childlike activity it really is. How much of their warm feelings for each other are also based on illusion?

Intelligent, slow-paced film is courageous in its demands on the audience. We are asked to fill in all the sub-text in the three relationships on screen...just as we would in real life. I found that this technique engaged me more fully than just watching passively as in an ordinary film.

This is a director to watch.


Thursday, January 3, 2013



Nice film about an illicit love affair told in reverse time. Many archaic features here...from the opening sequence showing a man leaping into the waiting jaws of an African croc to the b/w photography to the odd sound design in which we hear items making their normal sounds in scenes but all dialogue is silent.

The manner of the telling gives the story an interest and a poignance that elevates it beyond the simple facts of the story. Imaginative film-making...great fun for those like me who see so many films.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Daniel Day-Lewis    d/Spielberg

Lavish...stiff...splendidly acted esp DDL...perfect choices for supporting cast - Sally Field and David Straithairn...hagiographic in some scenes...hollywood fake all the way...several compelling scenes of conflict...nice turn by Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens.

Overall it was too reverential, it didn't breathe...Lincoln never really came to life...the elaborate production acted as a barrier to getting into the hearts of the characters. The measured formality hurt. This guy often disappoints on the serious films...this one too. Nice attempt but no cigar.


My Worst Nightmare

France   Isabel Huppert

Light farce. An obnoxious primitive invades the secure world of an upper middle class family and completely disrupts it...we are supposed to think for the better.

Well done but this is pretty stupid material and all the skill on display here raised this junk up to barely tolerable. My patience for this bozo ran out long before the characters on screen.