Tuesday, February 26, 2013


w/d  Craig Zobel

Easily one of the most aggravating, infuriating films ever released. Said to be based on a true story about a prank call taken to a truly sick extreme. What made these people go along with this? Did no one on this staff have any sense of reality or morality?

About half way through I decided I didn't have to comply with my usual custom of finishing a film I've started and shut it off. Which these bozos should have done too.


Monday, February 25, 2013

Mary Pickford


Fine, mostly hagiographic take on the first real star of motion pictures. Her career and her life with Douglas Fairbanks was envy fodder for a generation and to this day serves as a model for stardom.

Interesting and well done. Lots of archival footage.


Like Someone in Love

d/  Abbas Kiarostomi

Since he left his native Iran K has moved further and further into the surreal, the inexplicable. I assume the title here was meant to be ironic. We follow a young woman who apparently is working part-time as a high-priced call girl. Her pimp sends her to an old professor where she promptly falls asleep. He doesn't mind...next day drives her back to her college where they both are forced to deal with her psychotic, violent boyfriend. Their lives deteriorate from there.

So what does this mean? Beats me. Lots of signature car shots...folks driving here and there. Everyone lies except the psycho and we're not sure about him. It ends with the old man out cold, hit by a brick thrown through the window of his apartment while the girl cowers in fear behind him.

Not as engaging as his last film - Certified Copy - but it did hold me to the end...which I guess is something.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid

Robert Duvall, Cliff Robertson   d/ Phil Kaufman

I saw this when it was released (1972) and liked it...saw it as grittier and more realistic than westerns before. Time has not been kind to this film.

Now it  came across as set in hollywood reality with clumsy attempts at humor, people behaving like movie people, big sound, flashy editing and camera work (quite good). It failed to get me to care about the fate of any of these characters. One character is shot in the back and the next day, after some tending by a faith healer gets up and rides away with no apparent discomfort.

Poor in comparison to The Assassination Of Jesse James...or The Wild Bunch. Made during the silver age but thought up in the studio age...it hadn't made the transition so comes up short.


Friday, February 22, 2013


Denzel Washington    d/ R. Zemeckis

Gripping character study. DW plays an alcoholic pilot who comes through in an extreme emergency, saves his plane and most of the passengers but whilst drunk. After the crash he tries and fails to come to grips with his problem.

Some of this was too pat...like meeting a beautiful redhead in the hospital who then goes clean and serves as an emotional anchor, and John Goodman's completely over-the-top druggie former best friend...  Still, DZ was a compelling figure...even while he was behaving badly he has a deep presence: we wanted him to be better and felt dismay at his serial failings. So the film worked. It stands as good hollywood product...a mainstream film that doesn't insult the viewer.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Side Effects

Rooney Mara, Jude Law    d/ Steven Soderbergh

Intelligent, gripping psychological thriller/mystery with a compelling performance by Ms Mara. She is required by the script to continually shade her character...revealing a bit more at a time as the circumstances of this complicated plot slowly unravel.

Soderbergh has said this is his last film. We'll see. If it is he goes out with a solid, professional effort which combines the best of his 'independent' films and the audience appeal of his commercial work. My only quibble here was the casting of Catherine Zeta-Jones as a supporting character. I found her beauty distracting and unnecessary...would have preferred someone more real-looking like Mira Sorvino.

Still, this was a good one and a nice cap to his career.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Boondock Saints

Troy Duffy

Idiotic, Junior HS level wet dream fodder. Stupidly violent in a jokey grating way.

I watched a doc on this guy several years ago. He was being lionized in hollywoodland for his 'killer' script. Turned out fame was fleeting and old Troy emerged as a self-absorbed jackass stuck at around 13. He was from Southie...the film had lots of meaningless shots of beantown but this material was beyond asinine.

For a better look at the Irish subculture in the hub see Monument Ave, The Town, Gone Baby Gone, even Mystic River for god sake. Just stay away from this one.


Monday, February 18, 2013

Columbus Circle

Selma Blair, Amy Smart

Nifty little noir.

This reminded me for all the world of the B-level B/W films of the 40's and 50's. We have a limited number of locations and cast, nefarious dealings by a tight cabal and a damaged damsel in distress...whose very vulnerability is the hinge on which the drama turns. Plus a satisfying resolution.

Lean, economically told and well acted by all...this was a solid effort by a team of pros.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

All That Heaven Allows

June Allyson, Rock Hudson

Pure schmaltz from the Douglas Sirk assembly line in 1955.

This looked gorgeous...state-of-the-art technicolor dripping in reds, oranges, yellows. Wooden acting (duh), scathing indictment of Connecticut's upper middle class, hopelessly idealized relationship (did June know about Rock's proclivities?), his perfect friends and olde mille house conversion...

I did wish she wasn't played as such a doormat...particularly with her rotten kids...but still this held me till the very end...itself a tribute to Sirk's skills.



Michael Haneke

Best film winner at Cannes last May, this was a slow, agonizing portrait of the deterioration of a person. A series of strokes strips her of her dignity and pride and reduces her to a jabbering blob whose suffering goes on and on. She is supported by her loving husband who is bewildered in the turn in their seemingly pleasant little lives but rises to the task of caring for someone who no longer recognizes him.

Unblinking, painful to experience but sharply insightful. This film brings real life, and death, to the big screen. Splendidly acted and framed...we get to know these people and their restricted little world better than their friends or children. This should be seen as a touchstone for all future films dealing with death and suffering.

A major work of world cinema.


Friday, February 15, 2013

Paris 36


Wonderful homage to those cheesy let's-put-on-a-show movies so popular in the thirties. This had great characters, beautiful locations, traditional, predictable story arc, fun musical numbers... All it lacked was ceiling-view busby berkeley dance routines.

In the end the theater is saved, the bad guy is dead, the kid reunited with his loving father and...of course...the boy gets the girl. Who could ask for anything more...?


Thursday, February 14, 2013

And God Spoke


Pretty funny story of two clueless schlockmeisters who get studio funding to do a biblical epic. Things go wrong. Many things. After suffering every sort of failure and humiliation they eventually come to be recognized by fans as the makers of one of the worst films ever and are celebrated in that hall of ironic fame along with Plan 9 From Outer Space, Birdemic, etc.

Clever and well done. Best for anyone who has worked on a low budget film project.


Love Finds Andy Hardy

Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland

I couldn't remember ever seeing one of these and I was curious. It was as bad as I had feared. Rooney was insufferable. His grinning over-eager mug and hyper-manic behavior made me want to smash him with a tire iron. The other players were fine...including a young Lana Turner near the beginning of her career.

LB Mayer wanted to project an ideal American family in this series (17 in all). It worked in the day but doesn't stand the test of time.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

2012 Oscar Nominated Shorts - Animation

Disappointing program this year. All but two of this year's nominees were disney-level material. I've been following the development (maturation?) of animation for decades now and have hoped to see it move to an adult art form. Animators elsewhere have been producing interesting, sometimes startling work. In the US kiddie-junk rules.

The two exceptions here were the entries from Britain and New Zealand. Both were intriguing...the Brit one was stop-motion, based on an original idea and touched the heart. NZ was intellectually stimulating and visually striking.

Disney has even succeeded in dragging Pixar down to its level. Their entry here was a faux-charming cartoon.

- sigh...N/R

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


David Cronenberg

I'm told there's a fine line between idiotic and pretentious. This film crossed it...both ways.

Some fine actors degraded themselves by the things they did here. Can we ever forgive them? Juliet Binoche? Samantha Morton? Paul Giamatti?

Whatever happened to the director who gave us Scanners, The Fly, Eastern Promises? Videodrome? Actually I take back Videodrome. He must be around somewhere. Did you look behind the radiator?


Coup de Torchon

Phillippe Noiret, Isabel Huppert   d/ Bertrand Tavernier

Delightful adaptation of a Jim Thompson novel...Pop 1250...transferred to French West Africa in 1938.

Our hero is a put-upon rural police chief who begins eliminating all the bad guys in his town, either by killing them himself or orchestrating their demise by another. All the while maintaining his hang-dog, beyond suspicion demeanor. This film is a wonderful example of cross-cultural fertilization and shows vividly how core ideas can be used...in this case with humor...anywhere.

The two leads were marvelous...she was quite young here and luminous in several scenes. He had that incomparable face and air of resigned acceptance that worked in so many films.

One of my favorite off-the-wall works of world cinema.



Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain

Moonshiners vs. revenooers in 1931 Tennessee. Written by Nick Cave and directed by John Hillcoat...the team that produced The Proposition several years ago. This film had a similar tone...more violence and a broader cast...based on the memories of a writer named Matt Bondurant.

The cinematography here was exceptional. All scenes, indoor, outdoor, day and night were beautifully lit and framed. Time after time I found myself oohing and aahing over the look.

All players were also spot on...with the exception of Shia LaBeouf. I never believed his character. He seemed to be trying too hard to act instead of inhabiting him. I particularly enjoyed Guy Pearce's deliciously evil bad guy.

High quality production. I hope this team continues to release solid work like these two.


Monday, February 11, 2013

After Dark, My Sweet

Jason Patric, Rachel Ward, Bruce Dern

Neo noir from the pen of Jim Thompson. As usual this is a thoroughly dystopian view of humanity. We follow a brain-damaged ex-boxer as he wanders around the West, falls in with some scummy characters and gets drawn into an idiotic kidnapping scheme. This was not going to end well.

Patric was quite good in this role. The others were less convincing. What was Dern's hold on the Ward character? Was she just retarded? We know she's a drunk but who in his right mind would expect this plan to pay off?

Even with these flaws the resolution worked and fulfilled the viewer's expectations...most everyone was dead and the money lost. Pretty bleak stuff...all enacted in blazing sunshine.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

All in This Tea


Very good doc on the work of an American named David Hoffman to bring artisanal teas to the US. He travels to China, goes to individual farms, buys the best tea in bulk directly from the farmer, fights endlessly with the Chinese bureaucracy to get it shipped back home and sells it. These are teas that are organically grown, hand processed (labor-intensive), no pesticides and rich with flavors outside the range of industrially produced product..

Engrossing film with great insight in what it takes to make good tea and how difficult it is to bypass the traditional model which has been in place for centuries.


Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Day After

Jason Robards

Armegeddian time...seen in the heart of the US. Filmed around Lawrence, Kansas this presented a realistic, if dated now, picture of what would happen if they dropped the big one.

Not quite as gritty as a contemporary British film on the same topic - Threads - but pretty chilling nonetheless. Strong acting, makeup, set design and solid character development. This film scared the shit out of people at the time. Who knows why it has never happened? At least not yet.

Intelligent treatment of an extremely unpleasant subject.




Primitively filmed, up-close look at the efforts of Hubert Humphrey and John Kennedy to win the Wisconsin primary election in 1960.

Of course the MIC and the rot of the national security state was already ensconced when this took place but it still was heartbreaking watching these two guys sweating out the vote of rural residents and small-town folk as if it mattered to the future of the nation. As if when elected they would actually gain real power.

So Kennedy won, set a healthy course away from the madness of eternal war and nuclear confrontation and ended up with his brains scattered all over a street in Dallas. And we've never re-gained our innocence. His murder was an object lesson in what happens if you thwart the real rulers.

Sad, important peek at who we once were. Or at least who we people on the pavement thought we were.


Thursday, February 7, 2013


Jeff Bridges, Isabella Rosselini    d/  Peter Weir

I saw this when it was released twenty years ago and thought it was stunning in its conception and execution. This film is as rich, as dense and layered with meaning as any novel, play...any work of art...period. He deals head-on with issues of life, death, fear, altruism, purpose and not only forces the audience to ponder these ideas but succeeds in creating a story with a strong emotional arc.

I was very gratified to see that my initial impressions were true.

All players were excellent...special kudos to Rosie Perez for a once-in-a-career performance. This film did poorly at the time. I see that as one of film history's great injustices. It discouraged Weir from filmmaking for over five years and when he returned it was to more commercial fare. Too bad...this was film as art...accessible art and should be seen and remembered.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013


documentary   Merian Cooper, Ernest Shoedsack

Amazing doc from 1925 on the annual migration of a tribe of 50,000 people and all their animals to summer pastures. They travel through deserts, across rivers and over 15,000 foot mountains to get to the valleys where their animals will thrive. Many are lost on the way. It's astonishing that any make it.

This film put these guys on the map...they then went on to make The Lost World and King Kong.

Extremely impressive feat...both the subjects and the filmmakers.


Monday, February 4, 2013


Nicholas Winding Refn

Highly stylized biopic of England's most violent prisoner.

Something's seriously wrong with Refn. After watching Valhallah Rising I thought he needed some emergency psychiatric treatment. Now I'm sure. A hug's just not going to do it.

There was some skill shown here...but really...


Saturday, February 2, 2013


Leslie Caron   d/ Vincent Minelli

Lavish costume period piece done during the heyday of musicals. Very silly film with a few good songs and many poor ones. Interesting cast of mercifully forgotten B-list players...Hermoine Gingold, Eva Gabor(!), Maurice Chevalier, etc

This bordered on unwatchable. Once the swirl of spectacular outfits and chic locations wore off we were left with a terminally idiotic story. Super-sanitized Colette.

The only saving grace was the opening...thank heaven for little girls...which has become a camp classic.


Everything Put Together

Radha Mitchell

Odd low-budget film apparently about the shallowness and superficiality of modern suburban life.

Upper-middle couple are having a baby. All their friends coo and aww. Baby dies SIDS. Friends all abandon them cold. Mom's mom never shows up. Mom forced to deal with her personal tragedy alone in her expensive house. She announces (false?) new pregnancy. Friends welcome her back as if nothing ever happened. The end.

Strong lead performance but the film shaded too far into melodrama to really click. This was either stupidly cynical or seen through the eyes of someone who experienced something like this.