Friday, May 31, 2013

The Sun

Alexander Sokurov

This was an incredible film: a slow, patient treatment of the three days in the life of Hirohito in 1945 when the war had ended and he was forced to confront General MacArthur. He was an educated man but so isolated that he had no sense of the world outside the palace or how to interact with people on a human level. He was considered a living god by the Japanese people and treated as such which grossly distorted his perspective.

This film captured his persona...awkward, halting, scholarly, decent and well-meaning,...and the atmosphere around him. It is the third in a trilogy by Sokurov about world leaders during WW2. Sokurov's body of work places him in the front rank of filmmakers in the world today.

This film has no commercial potential. Too bad. It is a triumph.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Day For Night

France   F. Truffaut, Jacqueline Bisset

This is probably the best film ever made about the incredible ordeal of making a film. Lickety-split pacing all the way through gave a breathless sense of the constant time pressure a director faces as complex plans go awry and the future of the project is always in doubt.

He is dealing with immature, extremely temperamental people who are all egocentric, have no long-term relationships with each other and use tantrums to get their way. It takes patience and a calm center to survive this madness...and yet thousands try. And thank god they do.

Brilliantly played by all hands...except Truffaut who cast himself in the lead even though he is, at best, a mediocre actor.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ghost in the Shell: The Laughing Man

Japan anime

I thought this was idiotic...even for a manga.

Extremely complex scenario required tons of expository dialogue...none of it meaningful. No characterization. Lots of pointless violence where the good guys seemingly get killed but then recover because of miraculous medical tech.

Perhaps this was a chapter in a long-running story and fans/readers would know the story but for me just tuning in it was an incomprehensible mess.


Sunday, May 26, 2013

An Autumn Afternoon

Japan   Yasujiro Ozu

His last film deals with the themes and uses the techniques that he used his entire career...the intricacies of family life and the social contract, static camera set three feet from the floor, pillow shots, etc.

The film also starred Ozu's alter-ego Chishu Ryu...whose calm demeanor and kindly face represent the ideal Japanese man and father. The 'drama' here was the decision by a father to marry off his daughter in her prime thus condemning himself to a solitary, lonely old age. It's a poignant notion typically underplayed and can't fail to move an audience.

Ozu's films are said to represent the soul of Japan, to carry the essence of what the Japanese people would like to emulate. They stand as singular gems in world cinema and will be watched and reflected upon for as long as the concept of cinema exists.


Saturday, May 25, 2013

This is Martin Bonner


Quiet, low-budget indie set in Reno, Nevada. A 40ish man gets out of prison and is aided in his readjustment to civilian life by a christian group who assign him a this case a 60ish man originally from Perth.

Both leads were quite good, the pace deliberate...the Aussie in particular was likable...overall the effect was slice-of-life stuff. All the way through though I kept thinking this might have been sponsored by a religious organization as a form of propaganda...and I'm still not sure. In the film there's a scene where a video is shown in a church extolling the benefits of this program...which is pretty much the point of the whole film.

Anyway...a decent, clean inoffensive infomercial.


Friday, May 24, 2013



Very sweet teen movie adapted from a popular manga. Two 20 yo women meet by chance on a train to Tokyo where each has gone to seek her fortune. They are both nicknamed Nana and their lives end up intertwining.

The differences between the two is a black-clad punkette, the other a chirpy fashionista...add to the film's appeal. Their problems are the problems of young women to find a place in society and a partner to love.

Beautifully photographed...snow scenes in particular were lovely. There were no villains, no violence, no artificial conflicts...just the type of true-to-life stories that resonate with audiences worldwide.


Thursday, May 23, 2013



Fair to poor attempt to generate chills from the phenomenon of precognition.

The over-acting hurt but the premise seemed very artificial anyway. Something in the way the material was presented stopped me from suspending disbelief. Watched calmly and rationally this was idiotic.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013



Historical drama set in 1915. The aging painter gets a new muse and conflicts with his soldier son Jean over the latter's plan to return to fight in WW1 after recovering from an injury.

The muse/model...played by Christa Theret in the role of a lifetime...stirs problems in the household with her seductive manner and free-spirited ways. But she inspires the great painter to produce work after work in his twilight years.

Of necessity the film is sumptuously photographed in Provence...shimmering washes of color, stunning rural landscapes, maids/nudes in many carefully composed frames... The drama is a bit slow, the look a tad over-cooked, a little too perfect, but the film ends with the revelation that Jean went on to become the great French filmmaker who produced such masterworks as La Grand Illusion and The River.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

In The Heat of the Night

Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger

Oscar winner from 1967 still sizzles. Outstanding lead performances, subtle/nuanced writing, solid direction (Norman Jewison), perfect cinematography by Haskell Wexler...this is a film that's better 40 years later than I remembered. And I remembered it well.

It nails the changes the American racial landscape was undergoing at the time. A proud, confident black man works in a reactionary Mississippi town...a steamy hotbed of bigotry and reactionary ignorance to solve a murder and show the crackers how to treat a man as an equal. Strong drama. SP's character was a bit too accomplished but he is shown to have a bigoted side as well. Steiger was brilliant in the best role of his career.

A thoroughly satisfying film that shouldn't be forgotten.


Monday, May 20, 2013



Lushly photographed, slowly paced variation on the blind swordsman trope which has been used many times in samurai films. This time the warrior is a woman...traveling the land searching for her father. She is played as a tragic figure, a victim who only fights when it becomes necessary...which, fortunately for the fans of this genre, comes frequently.

Film was fatally marred by the histrionic overacting endemic in films of this type. All characters other than the lead were absurd exaggerations, only vaguely resembling human beings. Too bad. The woman at the center of the story provided a calm core of stillness which was very effective in setting mood. If only...

But they didn't. Maybe some day.


Sunday, May 19, 2013


Brad Pitt, Benicio del Toro

For some reason many people enjoy watching these absurd British crime 'comedies.' I've seen several now and don't understand why.

They're puerile, loud, very stupid, not funny, edited for the ADHD crowd, violent (but in a cartoony way) and generally suitable for 12 - 14 yo boys. Are there really that many of them out there?

I'm fine with silly but these don't rise to that level. To my eye they're just lame and I'm saddened by the massive effort that goes into producing them. Oh well...different strokes...


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Between Us

amerindie   Julia Stiles

Pretty unpleasant low-budget project. Four college friends - two couples - reconnect and embark on several extremely contentious encounters which make them and us squirm.

This seemed like a filmed play. There wasn't enough material to persuade us that these people could ever have been friends in the first place. All four characters are jerks. We get to watch scenes where they act very badly toward each other in every possible combination. This gave the actors the chance for meaty scenes but left us shaking our heads bewildered and anxious to get away from these people.

Zero fun...and not enough insight to justify the effort.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Art & Copy


This was an hour and a half feature doc on how wonderful advertising is.


No questioning of why ads are needed to create unnecessary desires, how it originated in the 1920's to deal with the 'problem' of surplus production, no notion that it is inherently and irremediably deceptive no matter how clever or creative the concepts/images used. In short this doc suffered from all the faults of advertising itself...slick and superficial signifying nothing.

Is this what they mean by navel-gazing?

Nice job guys.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013



Fair piece on the process and role of design in the everyday things we use...chairs, computers, door handles, etc.

While it's worthwhile drawing attention to this facet of the materialist culture in which we live I learned nothing here I didn't already know.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Matthew McConaughey

Old fashioned boys adventure story set on the old big muddy which could have been penned by Sam Clemens hisself.

Writer/Director Jeff Nichols understands human dynamics, fleshes out his characters so that they ring true, tells his stories patiently, letting them breathe, giving us time to get to know and care about these people. He also gives us a strong sense of place which is crucial in grounding his story in the real world. He serves as an antidote to the current hollywood mania for CGI superheroes.

Nice supporting roles here by Sam Shepherd, Joe Don Baker, Reese Witherspoon. This was a well done coming-of-age story, nicely shot and ultimately satisfying.


Monday, May 13, 2013

Another Woman

Gena Rowlands    w/d Woody Allen

I loved this film when I saw it 25 years ago and loved it again this time. Here the woodman wrote a great script, enlisted a first-rate cast of players, hit upon a tone perfect for a film about end-of-life reflection and created a small of those little-known gems that shine in the history of cinema.

I don't understand why this film is so little recognized...even by Allen fans. There's no humor was done during his 'serious' period (1988). But unlike Interiors it's not deadly serious a la Bergman. It's studied, reflective and very moving.

The performances are excellent...the standout being Gena Rowlands, whose intelligence and subtlety carries the film and exceeds anything she ever did with Cassavetes. It's impossible not to believe her character, see her with all her faults and ache with her for the choices she's made. It's a tour de force and should have been awarded.

Perhaps it will be revived some day. Perhaps not. But for me it will stand as one of his best works...alongside Annie the peak of this wildly prolific filmmaker's oeuvre.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Hannah and Her Sisters

Mia Farrow, Michael Caine    w/d  Woody Allen

I had fond memories of this film from back then (1986). Watching it now I realized much of it was very sour...people cheating, lying, couples hating/resenting each other. What made it work so well in memory were the scattered humorous scenes of Allen's character plus the sweet extended grace note on which the film ended.

Interesting. He gives us 1 1/2 hours of ugliness but transforms it with 10 minutes of honey at the end.

All players were fine...except Caine who seemed to be straining to convey a love that was totally beyond his reach. Overall the effect of the film was that relationships are fraught with duplicity...the good times are fleeting...that we go through this eternal roller coaster ride in spite of our best judgement.

Sounds about right.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Perfect Sense

Ewan McGregor, Eva Green

A fresh idea for the apocalypse, beautifully executed. This is the film Blindness should have been.

An unexplained pandemic races through the earth's population one step at a time, each stage depriving all of a sense...first smell, then taste, then the others. We follow a nascent couple trying to deal with each other and the disease. Details of the epidemic strain credibility but the focus on the changing human relationships as a result were moving and well thought out.

Both leads were excellent...direction first rate...supporting characters spot intelligent film about humanity facing one of the many possible endgames in store for us.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Iron Sky


Well this wasn't something you see every day: in 1945 some escaping nazis made it to the dark side of the moon (details undisclosed) where they established a colony, mined helium 3 and planned an attack on the earth to establish a new order of peace and love.

An elaborate production for such a silly idea...great sets, effects, etc. Some sharp satire with the POTUS being a crude caricature of Sarah Palin whose campaign manager, a truly nasty piece of work,  ends up leading the army against the nazis. The trouble was that since this was Finnish the humor (?) was elusive. Still I had to admire the thought and effort that went into it and think it would appeal to anyone looking for a completely fresh use of nazi villainy in film.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013



Blistering, brutal, frank, lacerating, ugly...all terms that come to mind to describe this film.

In 1940 a Japanese lieutenant comes home a highly decorated war hero...mute, armless, legless, deaf...a caterpillar. His wife, who we later learn was brutalized by this guy before he left to brutalize Chinese women, is expected to take care of him, feed him, clean him, provide for his still-insatiable sexual needs and periodically parade him around the village for the inspiration of the local morons who revere this 'war god.'

The film is the evolving battle of wills between the war god and the wife which gives a humanistic cast on the story and keeps it from being merely an anti-war polemic. The actress playing the wife was brilliant and deserved her best actor award at Berlin.

Extremely effective in getting its message across. No fun to watch but I'm glad I persevered. I'll never forget this one.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

J'ai été au Bal

documentary   d/ Les Blank

Lovingly crafted doc on the arcadians who were expelled from Nova Scotia in 1755, made their way to Louisiana, settled in and maintained their language and cultural traditions...especially music. They mixed with free blacks and together created the music we now call Cajun and music for the common folk.

It is simple in structure, with a steady beat, celebrates ordinary folk doing ordinary things and is irresistibly danceable.

Allons Dancer!


Monday, May 6, 2013

Burden of Dreams

Les Blank

That’s one title you could use for this story. Another would be The Madness of the German Filmmaker. This tells of the four-year struggle by Werner Herzog to make a film in the Amazon jungle about another madman who wanted to bring opera to the jungle at the turn of the 20th century.

The central metaphor is the sight of a large crew of natives recruited to haul a 300 ton ship over a mountain. Once seen it is unforgettable...perhaps as an example of the triumph of mind over matter...or the pointless struggle against nature, reality and common sense.

However one chooses to see this feat it will likely stand as unique in film history. And thank god for that.


Cinema Verite

Diane Lane, Tim Robbins

Fine HBO film which re-staged An American Family, the PBS show from 1973. The show was a sensation at the time and this film hied close to the actual experience all the participants went through during the life of the project.

DL was good a performance as I’ve seen her give. Robbins also did well...James Gandolfini was solid as the instigator/producer.

Millions watched as a couple divorced in real life. It changed the TV landscape...unfortunately not for the better. The show’s ugly stepchildren, so-called reality TV, now saturates the medium with repulsive bozos striving for attention, any attention. Still, this film, re-creating the phenomenon was top-notch.


The Drummer

Hong Kong

Variation on an old story:  callow youth finds purpose and meaning through the discipline of an ancient folk this case ritual drumming.

Here the kid is the son of a HK gangster so part of the film is his struggle with his roots. There is also a love interest which seemed cliched and quite hokey. But the setting is lovely, the drumming outstanding and the drum group, living and playing on a remote mountaintop in idealized little huts in communal harmony was very appealing and carried the film.

So a mixed bag...but it successfully created a world where I’d like to have experienced in my own life.



France   Kristen Scott Thomas

There have been many films made about the agony of divorce...this may be the nastiest.

A 40 yo woman, married twenty years, with two teenaged children falls in love in a big way with a tradesman working on her property. She abandons her family, friends, alienates everyone in her life in as extreme an example of amour fou as I’ve ever seen. There’s no let-up...the intensity of her obsession carries all to destruction.

KST carried the whole film and she was believable all the way but it was impossible to like/admire her. By the end (which was carried to its logical extreme) I just wanted to get away from this fool. Strong stuff. No fun to watch.




Father/son conflict over which of them should win a prestigious prize. This was played as melodrama with lots of exaggerated intensity but it came across to me as contrived and unengaging. The father was played with one expression - quietly intense - throughout which ultimately undermined the story. The son was a bit more explicable.

Many good players showed their acting chops but when it came to the end I realized  didn’t give a shit about any of these people or their little squabbles.


Anatomy of a Murder

Jimmy Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara

Outstanding courtroom drama directed by Otto Preminger in 1959. Aw shucks country lawyer burns with intensity when the case is on the line. Stewart has never been better.

Ambiguous client (guilty?) with his slutty wife (was she raped?), drunken assistant, Eve Arden as his long-suffering secretary, Joseph Welch as the avuncular judge and George C. Scott as the heavy-hitter from Lansing. Everything came together in a film that was almost three hours long and held me without pause the entire way.

Great stuff.


To The Wonder

Ben Affleck   d/ Terence Malick

After Tree of Life when Malick approached greatness but fell just a bit short I had high hopes for this one...hopes dashed on the stiff, unyielding rock of the body/persona of Ben Affleck. Was this part simply beyond his range or was he poorly directed?

For an hour I was with this film. The thought that continually came to mind was cinematic poetry. Non-linear, impressionistic, occasionally beautiful, perhaps moving toward profound. By the second hour the ineptitude of Affleck’s performance crushed my attempt to elevate it. He was awful. Why in the world would any woman fall in love with this guy? Let alone give up everything to be with him?

Malick seemed to have no sense of humanism, no basis in the reality of human interactions from which to launch his metaphysical ruminations. His castle of dreams collapsed into the sand on which it was built. Watta shame. Maybe next time.


Flight of the Phoenix

Jimmy Stewart, David Attenborough

Fine survival-in-the-desert film from 1965. JS is the aging pilot life has passed by now flying junky ‘air trucks’ for an oil exploration outfit working the Sahara. He is responsible for the crash that has placed a dozen men in severe jeopardy and his guilt colors his reaction to an escape scheme concocted by a young German engineer.

Gritty, realistic. Done at the tail end of the studio system, there was too much cue music which distracted a bit. Terrible role/performance by Ernest Borgnine. The last truly first-rate role for Stewart and still a compelling, engaging drama.