Sunday, March 31, 2013


Robert de Niro, Edward Norton, Milla Jovovich

Solid personal drama. RdN plays a prison shrink, EN a possibly crazy inmate almost due for release who has a beautiful wife who will do anything to get her man back. Including bonking the shrink, a deeply repressed guy immersed in a religious community.

The film plays with our perceptions of the various characters...teasing us, encouraging us to judge them and then shifting the story just a bit and confounding our conclusions. Subtle and effective.


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Celeste and Jesse Forever

Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg

This one didn't work for me. Modern relationship agony was here played out by some immature 20 somethings. I found myself losing patience and interest at 38 minutes.


Friday, March 29, 2013

Room 666


In 1982 at the Cannes festival German Director Wim Wenders set up a camera and recording equipment in a hotel room, wrote out several questions about the future of cinema and invited various filmmakers to go in and record their thoughts.

Sort of interesting but having no questioner in the room hurt. These people floundered. Some were interesting...Godard, Spielberg, Susan Seidelman...but most were clearly uncomfortable and didn't have much to say, but could have been drawn out by a good interlocutor.

Some historical value at this point...just not enough.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Meet John Doe

Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck    d/ Frank Capra

Surprisingly good capracorn. An ambitious newspaper owner launches a fake populist movement (tea party anyone?) which catches fire and sweeps the country. But his nefarious intentions (essentially a fascist coup) didn't count on the resolution and downright decency of Cooper.

The story raced along and was thoroughly engaging. Even when it was at its most corny I was willing to forgive and enjoy.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe

Oliver Stone's cri de coeur stemming from his experience as a grunt in Vietnam.

Outstanding film in all respects. We follow the transformation of Chris everyman from a scared newbie to a cold killer in less than a year. Of course we know that many of these guys came back damaged, broken, haunted by what they had seen and done in country. A thousand plagues on the filthy oligarchy that sent them there for profit...they're profit, not ours.

Great film that will never date, never become stale or irrelevant as long as the current system survives.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Without Lying Down


nice doc on Frances Marion, Hollywood's premier screenwriter from the mid teens to the mid thirties. At the time, in the beginning of the film industry, women were half the work force and she was the most successful. Later as bureaucracy set in women were excluded and mostly still are.

Fun footage of her and her best friend, and sponsor, Mary Pickford. Title comes from her diary entry that all she wanted was to be able to look up to a man without lying down.


Sunday, March 24, 2013


Monica Viti, Alain Delon

Third film in a trilogy by Antonioni that made him an international, if temporary darling in the world of intellectual cineastes. Here he continued with his fascination with alienation, the existential disconnection of modern man from the natural world going on around him. People bounce from one relationship to another seeking fulfillment, fail and move on to another...forever restless, forever dissatisfied. They engage in barbarous nonsense like shouting at each other in trading pits at stock exchanges in desperate attempts to get the wealth they need to acquire stuff which will leave them even more empty inside.

More secular than Bergman, more cerebral than Fellini, Antonioni's star burned brightly for five years or so then gradually he is seen as a relic of the time when cinema was newly seen as an intellectual medium...something more than entertainment.  His films, like this one, are still watchable but slow and unengaging and survive as important historical milestones served up to undergraduates in film schools.


Saturday, March 23, 2013



Outstanding ghost story by Kaneto Shindo from 1968. Up there with Kwaidan. 

A mother and her daughter are raped and murdered by passing samurai, make a deal with the devil and come back to wreak revenge. All swirling fog and ground smoke, amazingly imaginative lighting, several genuinely erotic scenes, at least one scare... The climactic scene was a tad over-wrought but all that had gone before was so good I was willing to forgive.

A masterpiece of mood, look and tone. Kudos.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Here Comes Mister Jordan

Robert Montgomery, Claude Rains

Pretty silly drivel from 1941. Mix-up in heaven gets a prizefighter sent back to live in a millionaire's body, etc, etc.

Badly marred by the everyman stereotype of the lead. He was an ignorant palooka who I found much over-played. Every scene was severely dumbed down to make it appealing to a fifth grade audience. Warren Beatty did a much better job in his re-make Heaven Can Wait.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Kurosawa: The Last Emperor


Professional but superficial doc on the great Japanese director. He brought Japanese cinema to the world's attention with Rashomon in 1950 and created many masterpieces thereafter.

This doc was short on his thinking. How was he able to blend western and eastern thought so seamlessly in his films? How was he seen in Japan at the various stages of his career? Whose work did he admire? He is portrayed here as a martinet on the set but that was the universal ethic in Japan for a director.

The sweep through his major works here was adequate but this could have, should have been much better.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Clandestine Childhood


Well done personal story of a family's fate during the dirty war. We focus on a 12 yo boy: his coming-of-age is the core of the film as it's affected by his parents' guerrilla activities. He finds first love, gets a first kiss and watches as his life unravels.

Beautifully acted, scripted. The director was revisiting his own life. Far too much reliance on extreme close-ups. Nice use of animation during frantic/chaotic moments. Excellent supporting cast...especially the young girl who was perfectly directed in some difficult scenes.

Sympathetic to those opposed to the fascists but...really... First rate cinema.


Monday, March 18, 2013


Shane Carruth

This was my second run through this film. The first time I didn't like it at all...found it to be a sort-of-clever no budget time travel yarn with no character development and therefore no emotional involvement for me.

This time it was clearer to me why it didn't work. My initial take was accurate. Instead of character development the film is extremely dialogue-heavy but with absolutely minimal exposition. We never really find out who these guys are or what they're doing or what any of the relationships are. It relies entirely on guarded implication so the viewer is constantly engaged in trying to figure out what's happening. It's one big which viewers are required to attach their own meaning.

This has worked with some film folk....apparently hungry for a sci fi themed film with any intelligence. For me it was just irritating. If you've got a story to tell...tell it. It's OK to be cute about the timing of your reveals but it's not OK to ignore reveals entirely. Confusion does not equal profundity.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Bigger Than Life

James Mason   d/  Nicholas Ray

Early fifties drama about the perils of newfangled medical this case cortisone. Mason plays a schoolteacher with a rare illness who is given an experimental drug ands undergoes major personality changes which threaten his position in society and his family life.

Cautionary tale, beautifully acted by JM. A little creaky here and there but still effective with outstanding framing, color and tech look.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

10th Parallel


We follow a Brazilian official up the Amazon as he travels to establish contact with wild indigenous tribes on the border with Peru. His main goal is to negotiate peace between them and other peoples from whom they have been stealing.

Interesting in a National Geographic sort of way.


Monday, March 11, 2013

The Tiniest Place


Very fine treatment of the aftermath of the wholesale slaughter of indigenous people in El Salvadore in the 70's and 80's. The corporations and banksters wanted the land so they got rid of the pesky people who lived there in a systematic campaign of extermination. Reagan, that great hero of freedom led the cheerleading for the death squads, I mean the freedom fighters.

Beautifully photographed...this was as lovely a film as you will ever see. The story is told in the voices of the survivors, not talking on camera but in voiceover...a smart choice that works. Interspersed are scenes of life in the Central American jungles and this village.

Intelligent, lovingly produced tale of man at his worst. So it goes.


Mekong Hotel


Another attempt at weirdness filmmaking by the auteur with the unpronounceable name who gave us Uncle Boonmee, Syndromes, Tropical Malady. This one was a huge improvement on the others because it was much shorter...only 56 minutes or so. It was as opaque as the others, as slow and apparently pointless: the last five minutes was a static shot of some people playing with watercraft in the far distance on the titular river.

For some mysterious reason this guy and his films have struck a chord with the international cineaste elite. God knows why...I think his films are stupid and boring. But that's just me...


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

Gary Cooper     D/ Frank Capra

This film is so 1936. Unassuming guy (from Vermont) inherits a jillion dollars, is dragged for unknown reasons to NYC where his freshness and naiveté is meant to be charming.

Pure capracorn at its worst. I'm sure audiences then, seeking relief from the Depression lapped this up but with today's eyes I found it virtually unwatchable. Everything was overplayed to make sure the dumbest person in the theater got it. But what it was...was escapism. Period.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

Corman's World


Interesting, worshipful doc on the man who made a lot of money making shitty movies. To his credit he gave some fine people a start in the business...Coppola, Scorcese, Nicholson. He did it by giving them nothing to work with, preying on their raw ambition and hope, and keeping all the money for himself. A true capitalist.

I was surprised when, in an interview, he said he resented being called a schlockmeister. What else would you call him? Apparently he's delusional too.


Friday, March 8, 2013

Looking for Lulu


Fine doc on Louise Brooks - black-helmet-haired flapper and muse to many. Her overtly sexual, naturalistic style/personality changed film acting forever after. In life she was a troubled soul and a bit of a pill but her imagery is unsurpassed.

Henri Langlois said...there is no Garbo, there is no Mary Pickford, there is only Louise Brooks...


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Logan's Run

Michael York, Jenny Agutter

Don't trust anyone over 30. In fact in this future world no one over 30 is allowed to live. Instead on their day they are 'renewed' - another term for being killed.

Pretty creaky sci-fi nonsense from 1976...cheesy sets, skimpy costumes, poor effects. This had all the hallmarks of mainstream hollywood junk. Intended as entertainment rather than a serious, adult examination of a possible future.

Some historical value...just not much.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Fat Kid Rules the World

Jacob Wysocki

Shy fat kid is befriended by a scuzzy hustler dropout who recruits him into a punk band.

Truly terrible. Very broadly played...from the degradations the lead suffers at high school to the shitty music they end up making together. This was like a bad comic book compilation of cliches involving put-upon teens.

The novelty of a fat kid as lead is long past (cf Heavy). To succeed as a film you actually have to come up with something clever...or at least interesting.



Gina Carano   d/ Steven Soderbergh

Modern, hyper-slick spy vs. spy nonsense. The audience is kept completely in the dark on who these people are and why they are going around killing other people. The characters are live-action superheroes who can get bashed about in death struggles but never seem to get any injuries. The lead is an acrobatic killing machine who can take a licking and keep on ticking.

These kinds of films can be fun in a jr HS kind of Hannah or Columbiana. But those give the viewer some sense of what's going on even if it's still stupid. This one seemed to exist in its own existential reality...a superhero bubble-world where killing four state troopers has no seeming consequences for anyone. Just minor obstacles swept aside along the way.

This was well enough done to hold me to the end but here it is eight hours later and I've already forgotten most of it. Not that it matters.


Monday, March 4, 2013

The Athlete


Unusual film. Mix of re-enactment, dramatization and archival footage...all blended into a seamless portrait of the life, trials and times of Ethiopia's preeminent athlete - Abebe Bikila .

He won the gold in the marathon at the 1960 and 1964 olympics...the first athlete from Africa to do so. He became a national hero and was made a member of the imperial guard of aging Haile Selassie, a largely ceremonial post which provided him with a car and the ability to travel as an ambassador w/o portfolio. He then was paralyzed in a car accident and went on to compete in a national dogsled race in Norway!

The film was lovingly crafted and quite moving. A tribute film to an extraordinary man forgotten in the West.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Long Riders

Walter Hill

This is the one that used several sets of real-life brothers (Carradines, Keach, Quaid) as principal characters...from 1980. The bros gimmick actually worked quite well and let there be no doubt that Hill knew how to stage, shoot and edit a western for maximum impact.

It's a terrific film...only overshadowed in the final section by Andrew Dominick's brilliant Assasination of Jesse James... The sequence of the Northfield Minnesota raid is a master class in action filmmaking.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Wrong Man

Henry Fonda    d/ A Hitchcock

The story of a good man falsely accused of a crime and the consequences that flowed from it.

Strong, sad story...nicely underplayed by HF. Vera Miles played his wife and went through many changes as the film unfolded. Taken from a true story but really one of the neurotic fixations Hitch suffered from and of which he spoke many times during his long career...his fear of policemen.

Usually considered a minor work by fans this still holds up well and shows many of the master's signature touches.