Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Flight of the Phoenix

Jimmy Stewart, Peter Finch   d/ Robert Aldrich

From 1965. This was one of the last big films made during the tail end of the studio era. This could have been made twenty years earlier...the incessant cue music was a giveaway.

Those creaky elements aside this was a successful psychological drama. An Aramco plane crashes in the desert and the struggle for survival strips away the veneer of civilization and reveals the prejudice and hatred lying just below. Stewart, a real bomber pilot in WW2, plays a crusty, sour retro whose training, experience and instincts would lead all to ruin. His continuous conflict with the rational, modern German form the crux of the film.

It works. The film is over two hours long and never feels engrossing is the story. This is one that holds up very well.


Saturday, April 27, 2013


Tom Cruise

Not bad. Of course there was too much CGI and too many explosions but the computers also created some beautiful landscapes, buildings, etc. And there's a reason TC is at the top of the heap: he's very good at what he does...convincing even when the material is absurd.

Once the magic of the visuals had worn off an actual plot kicked in which wasn't an insult. It helped having Morgan Freeman as the leader of the freedom fighters...duh. The film was a compendium of action movie cliches but they've worked for others before and by god they worked again here.

Sort of. Fun, engaging entertainment.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

In the Land of Blood and Honey

w/d Angelina Jolie

Very impressive project set during the internecine conflict which resulted in the dismantling of socialist Yugoslavia.

The drama is focused on a love relationship between a Serb officer and a muslim woman but the larger theme is the abuse of women in this war and any war. The relentless cruelty visited upon women was hard to take...but it was even harder for them to endure. This was the first war where rape was prosecuted afterward as a crime.

Excellent mise-en-scene, direction...particularly during the action scenes. Strong lead performances esp Zara Marjanovic. First rate message film.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Summer With Monika

Sweden     Harriet Anderssen   d/ Ingmar Bergman

Early (1953) film by the Scandinavian master was his first to make an international impression, largely because of the scenes of discrete nudity which was very unusual at the time.

A young couple quit their jobs, steal dad's boat and live out a romantic idyll on an island for a summer. She gets pregnant and life pulls them back into conventional society...against her wishes.

The Swedish working class were depicted in the early scenes as cruel, clumsy, violent brutes...especially toward her. Both leads were quite good...naturalistic and likable. Obvious harbingers here of his later more serious work. Memorable.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

High Hopes

Ruth Sheen, Lesley Manville    w/d Mike Leigh

His first film stands out as a funny, clever, bitter, subtle expose of the pains inflicted on the British working class by thatcherism.

Yuppies and their ilk are held up for ridicule and contempt...while the limited options available to the less privileged are starkly portrayed. Fine acting by RS. LM goes way over the top in her portrayal of a grasping yuppie who's gone completely around the bend of materialism and lost sight of any humanism that might have been in her originally.

Love the irony of the senile old woman atop an apartment building overlooking an industrial area of London exclaiming in wonder...'why it's the top of the world!'


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Rita Hayworth


The sad story of the young Spanish girl who danced her way into fame, pinup immortality, five husbands and eventually senility.

Another in the series of competent bios of hollywood stars by TCM.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Madagascar 3


I had heard that this was worthwhile and at first I was very dubious...but a half hour in the loud, noisy nonsense shifted to a cartoon version of the circus world I am so fond of. Much of this was a gross parody but many of the zingers hit their target and by the raucous finale I was with this film all the way.

Great voice talent...Chris Rock, Martin Short, Jessica Chastain among many others.

I couldn't recommend this to many adults but I think kids would love it.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

In Between Days


First time film  by this director. The story is set in Toronto and follows a recent teen immigrant. It might have been a good film but the director was fatally infected with dogma we get extreme close-ups throughout...all with unflattering lighting, constantly jiggling camera, etc.

When oh when will this stupid idea spread by 20-something Danes pass? Dogma movies that have worked have done so in spite of the 'movement's' protocols. The lead actress here was quite good, with a very expressive face and I was disgusted that this bozo ruined her film debut.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Shoot The Moon

Albert Finney, Diane Keaton, Peter Weller   d/ Alan Parker

Powerful up-close view of the end of a tumultuous, contentious marriage. The couple have four daughters...all under twelve...and there lies the real story here. While the 'adults' wrangle the kids' lives and psyches are being torn apart.

Divorce is always messy, non-linear...but the consequences fall hardest on those with the least say, the least understanding, the ones the adults put off with vague generalities and non-answers to difficult questions.

This was an excellent film that left a strong impression on me thirty (egad!) years ago and did again this time. Nice use of a simple musical motif...Don't Blame Me...played in one-note piano figures.


In A Lonely Place

Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame   d/ Nicholas Ray

Wow this was a surprise. Film from 1950 about a psychologically wounded screenwriter who is prone to violent outbreaks, meets a beautiful woman who brings him back to productiveness and then turns badly on her, everyone else and walks away alone, never to have a chance at redemption again.

Bleak outlook, noirish setting(LA, mostly at night), extremely skilled leads. As lacerating a performance as any Bogie did...even more painful and revealing than his Fred C. Dobbs two years before.

Protagonists in torment, alienated and isolated were a Ray specialty. This was one of his best. A largely forgotten treasure.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Millenium Actress

anime Japan

Poor effort by the creator of Perfect Blue.

I'm continually hoping for more sophisticated animation for adults and there have been signs that this development process is slowly happening...but this one falls short. Too juvenile and silly to warrant attention. Sigh...


Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Place Beyond the Pines

Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper

Very powerful film done by Derek Cianfrance. Brilliantly written and directed...he has created a new form...a melding of film's standard format and the new long form which has been used to such success on TV in such shows as The Wire.

The story traces the effects of decisions made through two generations. Strong characters...each clearly delineated. Excellent action scenes. Multiple emotional highlights, times of tension, tender moments, false endings, re-starts and a very satisfying resolution.

This film is another level up from his last effort...Blue Valentine...and cements this director into the contemporary pantheon of ones to watch.


Friday, April 12, 2013

The War of the Arrows


Damn good actioner set during medieval times. A bride is captured by brutal Mongols on her wedding day and her brother/protector sets out to rescue her. 

Once the story kicked in a half hour in the thrills never stopped. Great use of editing, hand-held camera, pulsing music, almost believable superhero to suck you in for an exciting ride.

Great fun.


Killing Them Softly

Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta   w/d Andrew Dominik

This was a big disappointment. After the outstanding Jesse James I had high hopes for this director but here he has presented us with an unpleasant tour through Boston's underclass with scene after scene of disgusting, pointless crap. There were long scenes of actors in two-shots saying really sick shit to each other...I guess establishing character or tone but mostly alienating any decent folk watching.

There was one ultra-slo-motion sequence a la Dredd, or Goodbye Columbus which was fun but this does not a movie make. Every character was scummy...Pitt maybe a bit less so but he did end up killing all the others. Why would I want to watch people like this unless there was something I would learn from them? Just knowing they exist isn't enough.

Mostly though when I wasn't cringing from something disgusting being shoved in my face I was bored...a fatal flaw. You've got to give me a reason...a good one...for putting me through this...and he didn't.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Fay Grim

Parker Posey   w/d  Hal Hartley

Watta surprise this was. HH gave us a bunch of off-beat odd little films in the 80's...many starring Adrienne Shelley...that tickled me at the time. I often wondered where he had gone.

So now he re-surfaces with a trip-around-the-world spy thriller/spoof that mocks brilliantly all those formula drooler-pleasers like Taken, Bourne, Tom Cruise vehicles, etc. This was a complete departure from his former oeuvre and the marvel (to me) is that he does it better than anyone ever has.

Cause for celebration. I found myself amused and then riveted wondering just where he was going with this. It didn't disappoint. Great fun from start to finish.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Mike Judge

It's been quite a while since I've seen a movie that made me laugh as much as this one. Low brow for sure...but so what? The premise...that if we continue our current practice of letting the morons proliferate while the educated don't will lead to a nation of morons isn't scientifically valid. But putting on screen a nation-wide dukes of hazard society was clever and nicely realized. And having an average guy continually playing off dolts was consistently funny.

This film did poorly at the box office so I may be in the minority here. This movie got electrolytes.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Woody Allen: A Documentary

Glowing, actually worshipful doc on the woodman. So many good films. Looked at even briefly one after another like this gives a strong sense of just how exceptional this guy is. He's made some turkeys but no one except possibly Bergman can claim so many successful, memorable films. His range alone is unique.

Perhaps because he's seen as a neurotic comic figure he hasn't been taken seriously in this country as a filmmaker. But he is. The proof is there.


Monday, April 8, 2013


Roy Scheider, Helen Mirren

Revisited this chestnut to see how it's held up. Pretty well overall. The Russian/American cold war tension was way overblown...but was symptomatic of the propaganda mudslide spewing on us during Saint Ronnie's reign.

Effects were good, HM in a frizzy haircut speaking cartoon Ruskie was amusing. Still...the project...obviously driven by the quest for more money...was a bad idea. 2001 was epic, enigmatic, a milestone in world cinema. It was sui generis and complete as is. It left the viewer with a sense of wonder and vision. This sequel was respectful and intelligently done but unnecessary.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Cowboys and Aliens

Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford

Maybe it's just me but I thought a movie with a title like this would be...well, you know...funny. Something like Paul or Tremors. Not necessarily Robin Williams funny but at least amusing.

Unless I missed it there wasn't a funny moment here...unless you count HF acting all growly and mean-spirited funny. Which I don't. So if you take away humor what's left? People getting shot, cut, killed, abducted by terrible CGI monsters. But (spoiler alert) there really aren't aliens running around doing stuff like that...and there weren't in 1870 either. So if reality is excluded and humor is as well...why exactly should I care about the fate of these characters?

I didn't. And neither will anyone else.


Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Paperboy

Nicole Kidman, Zac Efron

It's hard to know what to make of this one. We get the chance to watch rich, talented hollywood stars act like the lowest form of Florida trailer trash. If you've ever wanted to see NK piss on a jellyfish-bitten victim here's your chance. Or copping the thrill of John Cusack as a drooling, greasy-haired psycho-killer.

Other than those highlights it's hard to know what these people thought they were doing with this film. Unlike, say, Winter's Bone or Frozen River which also dip into the nether reaches of American society, this film seemed to have complete contempt for its characters. So, naturally, so do we. I guess this was made as a public gave the audience the opportunity to feel superior to these disgusting slime.

Well done chaps. Tennis anyone?


Friday, April 5, 2013

Happy Accidents

Marisa Tomei, Vincent D'Onofrio

Nice little romcom with a twist...from director Brad Anderson.

MT has trouble with guys...she's a rescuer and usually ends up with guys who need more rescuing than she can provide. VDO comes into her life...he seems nice...but he claims to come from the distant future. It's always something.

Both leads are fun to watch here. The supporting cast is excellent, camera work also good, locations well selected. The interactions between the two are exasperating at times but all the way through we're rooting for them. An original idea using time travel ( Shane Carruth should watch this) with strong characters we actually care about...what a concept.




This was a hoot. Post-post modernism in a comedy/horror film.

The premise was idiotic...which helped to make it work. A used tire comes to life and rolls around killing people by using psychic powers to make their heads explode a la Scanners. Got a problem with that?

Also, many surrealistic scenes involving an audience ( one of them was Wings Hauser!) for this mayhem, breaking the fourth wall, etc. Length was just right. I kept watching just to see where they were going with it. It didn't disappoint.

This should appeal to the junior high school kid in all of us.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Red Lights

Sigourney Weaver, Cillian Murphy, Robert de Niro

Paranormal investigators/debunkers take on the big kahuna of frauds...mayhem ensues.

This was pretty engaging for an hour or so. Slick production, marred some by cue music carried me along. It was good to see the aging SW hasn't lost her chops. I mean...nothing to fear, Ripley's here.

As the drama moved into melo it started to lose me. And the climactic scene clunked badly...not credible for a second. Plus it went on and on. Even the explanation (and reveal) was overcooked. And like all overdone meals this left a sour taste.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Man Who Never Was

England    Clifton Webb

Re-enactment of a successful lie engineered by the British government which fooled the Germans in WW2. Done in 1955 the film reeked of the triumphalism the British government was trying to generate in a time of austerity, depression and gloom. The real England of the time surfaced with the angry-young-men meme several years later with the plays of Osborne et al.

Stiff upper lip, courage under fire, one for the team...all that rot seems like childish, stupid propaganda at this remove and no amount of slickness or cinemascope splendor can hide that anymore.


Monday, April 1, 2013


Christopher Eccleston, Kate Winslet, Rachel Griffiths

Beautifully realized version of Thomas Hardy's sad 19th century novel Jude the Obscure.

Jude here was played as a bit of a dolt...unaware that no matter how much he studied, how much he learned about latin or classic greek Britain's class system, as rigid and unforgiving as India's, would exclude him from a better life. He makes poor decisions in love, marrying RG's overtly sexual Anabella, then falling in love with proto-feminist cousin KW who then ends up sharing his suffering and sorrow.

The film is not for the meek or those unwilling to experience by proxy the dead-end lives of British peasantry. But once seen it will not be forgotten.