Sunday, June 30, 2013

Alois Nebel


Adaptation of a graphic novel. Shimmering black and white created a sharp look for this rotoscoped film. The story is set in 1989 and addresses some of the changes in post-Russian society as the cold war ended and also deals with the aftermath of atrocities committed in 1945 at the tail end of WW2. Eastern European men are portrayed as lumbering, casually cruel louts who prefer getting drunk and doing crude things to any kind of decent behavior.

Another step forward in the march of anime toward a legitimate form of art worth taking seriously.


Curse of the Demon

Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins

Classic 1957 British thriller directed by Jacques Tourneur which for some reason is also titled Night of the Demon. I thought this was going to be a sequel but, no...same film exactly. I've seen this many times, including upon release and while the chills no longer work I still appreciate the skill and care with which this film was crafted.

The Brits had a ten year period when they made some very fine low-budget thrillers like The Day the Earth Caught Fire, Village of the Damned, The Midwich Cuckoos, et al...which culminated with Quatermass and the Pit. They then lost interest but left us these nicely done, still scary to children, lean and effective gems.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Light of my Eyes


Nice little film about the difficulties making real connections in today's urban society. We have a lonely ten yo girl, her single mother and her mother's swain...a lonely newcomer to the city who works as a chauffeur, reads sci-fi, leads a rich fantasy life and tries everything he can think of to win the heart of the girl's mother.

The scale here was small, intimate. The tone was sad, reflective. Things happened but without drama...the sense presented was that life just goes on while sympathetic people struggle to meet their needs. The resolution was ambiguous but leaning toward happy which sweetened the effect but couldn't overcome the overall mood of the film.

Very well-played/written. Not hollywood.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Stories We Tell

Sarah Polley

Sort of a documentary. She casts actors as various members of her family and stages/re-enacts scenes from the past that illustrate the story she wants to tell...viz her mother had an affair and Sarah was fathered by a man not her father.

It's hard not to think of this as self-absorption. Early one of the characters asks...who cares about our family? Good question. Not me.

This was interesting for an hour or so but the attempt at creating suspense began to get thin and then faded completely. The sister said...all families have stories...and they're fascinating to the players but to others...not so much. This reminded me of the film done by Sandrine Bonnaire about her retarded sister. That wasn't very good either.


Monday, June 24, 2013

Hiroshima, Mon Amour

France   Emmanuel Riva   d/ Alain Resnais

One of the best of the New Wave films that came out of France.  An actress doing a shoot in H in 1959 has an affair with a Japanese man and processes the painful and humiliating end of her affair with  a German soldier in 1945.

Moderately stylized with many well-executed close-ups and fine location work. The explicit evocation of the horror of Hiroshima jolts the audience and places the characters in the context of universal trauma.

The film was rich in themes...war, A-bombs, collaborations, adultery, regret, recovery, intellectual's grab bag of then-contemporary issues. Resnais went on to a great career which continues to this day.  Who can ever forget Marienbad? Providence? My Uncle in America?

A classic.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Storm Over Asia


Exceptional silent classic from 1928. Agitprop focused on the British invasion and occupation of Eastern Russia in 1919. The Brits were portrayed as heartless capitalist monsters (duh) who trampled on the rights of Mongols and stole their stuff.

Our protagonist is a Mongol victim who is robbed, flees into the mountains and joins the partisan revolt against the foreigners. He is taken as a direct descendent of Genghis Khan and in the end leads the revolt.

Superbly filmed and edited...the best technically of the Russian classics. Pudovkin created a new soundtrack consisting of indigenous music to accompany the action before his death in the 50's. It works splendidly.

A great work of world cinema which easily held my interest for two hours.


Friday, June 21, 2013

Dreams of a Life


Moving, troubling, sad film. In 2006 Joyce Vincent, a 40 yo London resident was discovered dead in her apartment. Her remains were lying on the floor in front of a TV which was running. She had been dead since 2003.

The striking thing is that she had been very popular...pretty, stylish, frequently described as the life of the party...she had four sisters, former swains...what happened to this woman? And why? What does this say about modern life...if anything? How could it be that no one sought her out in all that time?

This filmmaker did a masterful job of telling this story...using re-creations, talking heads and location shooting. She doesn't provide answers...just gives us enough information to allow us to make intelligent guesses...and reflect on the above questions.

Excellent work.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Before Midnight

Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy   d/ Richard Linklater

The first was fun...two articulate young people coming together while frabbing around Vienna. The second was close to a romantic masterpiece...the same two meeting nine years later, not really by chance, and walking around Paris gradually re-connecting and eventually snapping together like lego pieces at the enormously satisfying conclusion.

This one continues their story nine years later still. We watch them talk...between themselves and with others for a while. Then they start one of their trademark walks into town and we begin to unravel the true complexity of a modern love relationship. This extended two-way conversation is the best treatment of adult love I've seen. It seamlessly morphs from pure love and flirtation to irritation to suspicion to sexual tension to anger to despair to separation to resignation to reconciliation to, perhaps, hope.

It is a brilliant tour de force. The three players deserve great accolades for constructing and putting this together. This series makes other hollywood films about relationships look like simple-minded cartoons. Every teen in the western world should watch all three for an advance peek at what's ahead.


Monday, June 17, 2013


Woody Harrelson

This film gives us a personal look into the Rampart scandal which hit LA several years back. Seems the  LAPD were acting as an out-of-control gang of ruthless better than the (other) criminals they were ostensibly chasing.

What better way to illustrate this story than to have us follow the very worst thug around for a couple of hours as he lies, beats and shoots people, steals, etc.

This was a repulsive movie about some repulsive people doing awful things to the people they were supposed to serve. I got it in the first minute. The other 110 were redundent.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles


Pretty interesting piece on the search for the source of tiles with a cryptic message that began appearing on city streets all over North and South America in the 1980's.

We follow a small group of self-appointed sleuths as they pursue their prey...all the while giving their task a sense of importance not clear to the rest of us. They seem to have figured it out mainly by a decade-long persistence but at the end I couldn't help wondering 'who cares'? Still this was an engaging film with interesting players and it easily held me for 90 minutes.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Frances Ha

Greta Gerwig

Again she pulls of a difficult role, carries the whole film and wins the hearts of the audience solely on the basis of her oddball, quirky self. Her persona, at least as presented in these two films (Damsels in Distress), is as appealing and unique as Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. Many (not all of course) will simply fall in love with this awkward, off-kilter actress.

The story was minimal...she frabs around as a lost 20 something, makes asinine decisions, fights with friends, gets drunk, goes here and there and, like most of us, somehow gets through it all...scarred but intact.

I hope she continues to get roles that showcase her original talent.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Sea Inside

Spain   Javier Bardem

Intelligent, melodramatic treatment of the right-to-die issue. JB plays a man who became a quad at 23 and for 27 years has been trapped in a dead body...and he wants out. This film tracks the struggle he undergoes wrestling with the 'authorities' and members of his family.

Nice scene of him arguing with a quad Jesuit. The love interests seemed contrived. Syrupy music at cue times wasn't needed and took away some from the sense of drama. Nice looking with a skilled cast.

Worth it but not as good as Whose Life Is It Anyway?


Jeanne Dielman

Belgium   Delphine Seyrig   w/d Chantal Ackerman

1975 film that put the young filmmaker on the map...a 3 1/2 hour film that meticulously follows the day-to-day activities of a 40ish widow who lives with her teenaged son in an urban apartment. We watch her cook, clean, fold things, buy groceries and supplies, service her afternoon tricks, share silent meals with her self-absorbed son, etc.

The unrelenting monotony of this woman's life becomes the film's principal statement. Her expressionless demeanor points to some underlying trauma, something awry in her psychological makeup...which is borne out by the film's denouement. She is a woman disconnected...from her son, her neighbors, her community. She is an island...suffering silently, beneath the surface...deeply repressed, unable or unwilling to seek solace.

After an hour or so we know her routine and sense when her carefully constructed world begins to unravel...when tiny cracks appear which eventually cause her implosion.

Not a film for everyone. I watched it in segments which worked quite well. A courageous and original work from a 25 year old woman.


Monday, June 10, 2013

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Kevin McCarthy   d/ Don Siegel

The great original from 1956...adapted from a novel by Jack Finney. Pods from space duplicate the bodies and eventually the minds of ordinary people rendering them cold, emotionless automatons.

The theme of paranoia in the film has been examined from every possible angle but most commentators agree it reflects the unsettled times. Fear and suspicion had been successfully implanted in the public consciousness (duck and cover anyone?) and this yarn tapped skillfully into that meme.

Siegel has his actors in constant motion thus increasing the sense of tension and generating a breathless urgency to the drama. Although obviously done on a low budget this stands with any of cinema's all-time thrillers as a white-knuckled ride into the unknown.


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Holy Motors

France   w/d  Leos Carax

Elaborate, high-budget idiocy. Denis Lavant (his simian favorite) goes through a series of roles designed to startle, shock, disgust, touch (?) the audience. There may have been a point to all this...other than pissing on our legs...but if there was it wasn't worth extracting...much like pulling individual strands of undigested spaghetti from a large cesspool. Why would you?

After watching this back-to-back with the Matthew Barney doc I wonder if they are twins separated at birth? Or the vanguard of an invasion force of reptilian aliens whose purpose is to sap human culture before its ultimate destruction? Or maybe these two bozos just never grew up and appeal to other overgrown children?

Stay tuned.


Saturday, June 8, 2013

Matthew Barney: No Restraint


This was like watching a really smart, really bratty 13 year old boy who has been given an unlimited amount of money to do whatever he can to draw attention to himself. Every couple of minutes he looks at you and me do this!

He may or he may not have 'talent'...whatever that means. He does have nerve...lots of it. Just to get all these adults doing all this silly stuff. He's adept at couching his antics in art world mumbo jumbo but isn't at all convincing as he says this nonsense.

I had been curious about Barney since seeing stills from his Cremaster films...startling costumes and settings. Now I know. This doc's saving grace is that it was mercifully short.


Friday, June 7, 2013



Fair to good treatment of the imperialist state...emphasizing the monstrous behavior of the US domestically and overseas since 2001. While much important information was in here it was presented in a jumbled-up manner which hurt clarity. It's really not all that complicated...imperialism means stealing other peoples' resources using a military paid by your citizens with the profits going to the 1%. It also can mean crushing domestic dissent to this practice.

To reap these riches the ruling class lies. If threatened they will kill, torture...really anything to keep the flow of plunder coming...but only to them. It's a system we got from the was horrible then and it is now.

Oh it goes...


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Painted Fire


Biopic about a famous Korean painter who lived in the 19th century. He was badly abused by a crude, apparently bestial society in his youth and grew up to be a brutal, drunken asshole. Watta surprise. But he could paint well in the Korean style and overturned many of the formal rules that had constricted art in that country.

But he was still an insufferable jerk and the film was no fun to watch in spite of the beautiful cine and the abundance of beautiful art used in the set design.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Late Quartet

Catherine Keener, Christopher Walken, Philip S. Hoffman

A gem. Classical music group comes undone when after twenty years of performing together one of the members develops parkinson's. The crisis brings out resentments, quarrels, breeds lust, recriminations...all the nasty bits of group dynamics kept submerged too long.

The cast was superb...without exception. Direction, script, cine all first rate. The arc of the story drew us in, enmeshed us in their muddle and lifted us at the end...with the kind of sad knowing real life brings.

Good stuff.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Lesser Blessed


Well done, if bleak teen drama set in the NW Territories. We follow a quiet 16ish boy with a terrible secret who has become the target of local bullies. He befriends a charismatic new student and falls in love with a pretty blonde. But his past is ever-present and leads to complications which form the stuff of drama.

Intelligent script adapted a novel by the same name. Locations were convincing, particularly the cheap, unappealing structures that dominate this area. Some nice camera work...good performances. A solid small film like many produced with government help in the north country.


Monday, June 3, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Emma Watson, Ezra Miller

OK teen coming-of-age drama adapted from a popular novel of the same name. It was easy to see why this appealed to the young and pre-teen's mostly non-challenging and deals largely with the emotional angst of adolescence.

For me the film had a unreal superficial quality. We skated by some of the problems the characters faced but their suffering was greatly tempered by the solace they found in each other. The author sought to redeem the project by tacking a serious problem on to the end but even that was lightly dealt with before morphing into a life-affirming ending.

This all seemed well-meaning so I can't condemn it but it was so lightweight I can't praise it either. Might have found it more satisfying if I were 12. But I'm not.

Players were quite good. The fault was in the writing.


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Swept Away...

Lina Wertmuller

This film made a hell of a splash when it was released 40 years ago and it's easy to see why. It takes the most direct, exaggerated terms...political/social inequality and the war between the sexes. The fact that it was made by a woman is astonishing. Sex is shown here not as an expression of love, affection or procreation but as an act of pure power and control.

The film was extremely well made and stands as an act of courage for the director and the two main players...Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato. The point they make is very clear and bludgeoned into the minds of the dimmest viewer: social relationships are continual struggles for power. Period. All the rationalizations we use to couch this primal drive are just that...excuses and weak ones at that.

This is a most un-PC stance and that fact gives the film it's lasting power. It's a rare polemical film that works. Unforgettable.


Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Only Son

Japan    Yasujiro Ozu

His first talkie (1936) dealt squarely with the theme he returned to with his masterpiece Tokyo Story. A single mother sacrifices everything to provide her smart willful son with an education. Fifteen years later she visits him in Tokyo and learns he is scrabbling along as a teacher with a wife and son and just barely getting by.

She absorbs her dismay and lives with the knowledge that in spite of our best efforts life can be very disappointing. The film contained all his signature touches and worked as well as all the others.