Friday, August 30, 2013

Jack Goes Boating

Philip Hoffman, Amy Ryan

Awkward, inarticulate, ignorant working class people fall in love. Slowly. Haltingly. Agonizingly. In NYC of all places. Just so you'll know that not everyone there is an obnoxious yuppie.

All the descriptives above also apply to this film. The two principals do a nice job but I thought this was pretty thin gruel. Reminded me of Stanley and Iris. The dinner party scene was a hoot...hookah and all...but this was forgettable.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Hal Hartley

Nice little film experiment: one script 20 minutes long done three times in different cities...New York, Berlin and Tokyo...with the roles and genders shifting around.

It would have helped if the script were better. But you couldn't deny the cleverness in what he did with this idea. The context, the underpinning of the story was changed in each segment. In the third segment he did a lot of pure cinema without dialogue to change the sense of the story.

Not a home run, rather something like intriguing idea, well executed.


The Island

Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson    d/ Michael Bay

For an hour or so this one kept my interest. Good set design/locations, plausible dystopian plot, fast but not too fast editing pace worked for me. Then some asinine chase sequences removed it from all sense of reality and lost me. Nobody cares about the danger faced by a toon...and that's what these characters became.

This same theme...human clones raised for insurance organs...was done with so much more intelligence and sensitivity in Never Let Me Go. The morality of the use of clones, androids, sentient robots of all stripe will soon be upon us and bears serious thought. Junk like this film don't further that discussion.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Harryhausen Chronicles


Straightforward, loving trip through the professional life of hollywood's most skilled stop-motion artist. I saw his work as a boy and loved it. His Jason and the Argonauts has never been equaled...and never will be.

CGI is smooth and seamless but there's an undeniable reality visible in stop-motion and even though the seams show the audience gets a sense that there's a creative hand working here and so feels differently about the resulting effects.


Monday, August 26, 2013

The Spectacular Now

Shailene Woodley

Obnoxious alcoholic teenager loses his girlfriend, pursues a purported wallflower (the lovely SW whose performance was excellent but she is too pretty for this role), finds his also alcoholic father and alienates just about everyone in his life. The film ends with a glimmer of redemption but it's left ambiguous.

Nice variation on the coming-of-age genre. Both players were good, the direction unobtrusive, the story led us in directions we couldn't predict...and some we could. This was an intelligent, satisfying film.


Sunday, August 25, 2013


Amanda Seyfried

A young woman's sister gets abducted which triggers her to flashback to her own abduction a year ago. She sets out on her own to rescue and take revenge on the bad guy.

AS tried hard here but this story was preposterous in nearly every particular. Almost every event in here was not credible and stacked together in a row made the scenario absurd. This ordinary, badly damaged woman became an action hero...single-mindedly focused on her mission in spite of overwhelming obstacles which she overcomes without raising a sweat. Yeah right.

Since this wouldn't convince anyone over 12 or so but it was filled with violent scenes I wonder who was the intended audience?


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Ginger and Rosa

Elle Fanning   w/d  Sally Potter

Sally Potter returns to the front ranks of world-class filmmakers with this coming-of-age drama set in the time of maximum cold-war tension - the Cuban missile crisis.

Two teenaged girls, friends from birth are ushered into the murky moral landscape of the adult world when her 'pacifist' father begins a sexual affair with one of them.

Elle Fanning was superb here...dispelling any notion that she is just the ingenue-of-the-week: this girl was completely convincing as a bewildered, deeply wounded teen unable to process the reality of the relationships in her life. It's a performance which will make her career.

Many lovely director's touches round out this cinematic gem. Kudos.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Side By Side


Interesting piece done by Keanu Reeves on the transition from film to digital. He bagged some great interviews and even though his questions were awkward they elicited many useful and insightful comments from directors, cinematographers, editors, etc.

Worth it.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Terry Gilliam

Gilliam's masterful, wildly over-the-top, remarkably prescient take on modern society. Filled with visual touches that tickle the eye whilst presenting much more sombre themes. I love the retro-futuristic devices, the pathetic conformity of the workers and the spirit of the rebellious who fight against overwhelming odds to muck up and eventually destroy the system.

He depicts a society broken, corrupt, with an outrageously controlling bureaucracy whose main job is sustaining itself. Cruelty among citizens is rampant, things have broken down...the center didn't hold.

This is probably the fifth time I've seen this great film and each time I'm dazzled by the creativity, intelligence and daring on display. It's a work like no other and hasn't dated at all.


Monday, August 19, 2013

The Birdman of Alcatraz

Burt Lancaster   d/ John Frankenheimer

Excellent biopic of Robert Stroud, long-term federal prisoner who took to caring and then studying birds while incarcerated in life-long solitary.

Burt shone here...slowly morphing from angry, bitter ticking bomb to gray-haired scholarly researcher, still firm in his individuality and sense of dignity but far removed from the revenge-seeking crowd around him.

The film was long but never felt like it lagged. Nicely lit and shot in glorious black and white.

A classic.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Year of the Fish

amerindie    d/ David Kaplan

Interesting, bitter-sweet variation on the Cinderella story. A young Chinese woman, smuggled into NYC to work at a 'massage' parlor refuses and is forced to do menial cleaning work by the house madam and the working girls in the house.

The film is rotoscoped a la Waking Life which gives it a visual interest necessary to such a familiar story. The lead (played by a Vietnamese) is lovely, self-effacing and easily earns our sympathy with her calm aura of decency. She gets abused by many during the course of the film but never surrenders her integrity. And, of course, there is a happy ending.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Empire of Silver


Epic historical drama set in the time of the boxer rebellion. Film attempts (and fails) to tell the story of a prominent banking family who encounter rough going during a time of social and cultural turmoil.

Too unfocused. I had trouble following the seemed great swaths of necessary information were left out while the director was thinking of how he was going to stage large crowd scenes. Undeniably grand in sweep and look, it failed to make me care for these characters. All the scenery in the world can't substitute for strong character development.


I'll Come Running

Denmark   Melonie Diaz

A mixed bag. A 25ish Danish man traveling in the US hooks up with a waitress in Austin for a night or two...he dies and she goes to Denmark to...well we really don't know why do we?

The film had the requisite hand-held close-ups, Ms Diaz was excellent, the Danish characters not so much. Her swain was a real jerk, puerile and thoughtless; other than him being good looking I couldn't see any reason to get involved with this bozo. When she gets to Denmark his supposed best friend is even more obnoxious...the kind of guy you'd instinctively try and get away from as quickly as possible. But she sleeps with him!???

Some squirmy stuff in here resulted in my watching it in stages. Final verdict...she's a star...the director and other actors fuggedaboutit.


Friday, August 16, 2013

John Dies at the End

Don Coscarelli

Outrageously convoluted mindfuck filled with twists, energy, weird drugs, surprises and laughs...several good hearty laughs. I don't know how this one got past the suits in hollywoodland but I'm glad it did. It's fast and fun.

Similar to Memento in its originality and head-twisting freakiness...just done more for yucks than to impress. I doubt this would appeal to Mr and Mrs America but for jaded buffs like me this was a godsend.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013



Heartbreaking doc on the Sea World practice of caging orcas and using them for entertainment. These are sentient, intelligent animals, very social and are ripped from their culture to make money for suits hiding away in offices. The trainers come to see through the company's lies because they work with the animals every day. The lies put out by the company are outrageous ...only designed to keep the lucre flowing.

The film follows the life of Tilikum...taken as a youth from the seas off Iceland, then kept in tiny pens all his life until he became psychotic and so far has killed four trainers from rage and frustration.

A pox on humankind for this stuff. Some day people will look back on this behavior and wonder how their ancestors could have been so barbaric. Good question.


Monday, August 12, 2013

The Oranges

Hugh Laurie, Alison Janney

I guess this was intended as a comedy. You have Oliver Pratt doing silly things for one. But the squirmy premise here...a 45 yo man having an affair with his best friend's 20ish daughter...must go full on to humor to work at all. Think The Producers.

Because as presented here there are not enough laughs, really even chuckles to allow the audience to accept it. The adults think and act like sitcom people from the 50's...but more like Stu Erwin than Lucy. So the whole thing fell flat...with a solid thump.

Waste of  talent.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Broken City

Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe

Complicated story of corruption in the mayor's office in NYC present day. MW plays a cop turned private eye (dialogue: do they still exist?) who is hired by the mayor to tail his wife but violence and madness ensues.

While everything here was well done and fast-paced there was a tired air over the project...hasn't this been done before? It held me till the end but I really didn't care how it resolved.


Saturday, August 10, 2013


Matt Damon

In a sea of summer sludge this one was supposed to stand out. It was done by Neill Blomkamp, the South African guy who came out of nowhere with an original, intriguing sci-fi-ish take on race relations.

Given a bigger budget and. presumably more stringent oversight by the suits he has labored mightily and brought forth a compendium of hoary cliches and a plot that hinges far too much on fistfights and movie (CGI) violence of all sorts. We ger the depressing spectacle of the protagonist being pummeled mercilessly for an hour and a half, only to rally at the last minute to save the day...and all of humanity too as a bonus.

There was a thin veneer of social consciousness smeared over the top of this but it was cartoonish and superficial, not the 'serious' sci fi material being pedaled by the flacks. Could also be part of the dumbing down of American culture so desired by the ruling class.

Anyway, as this went by I found myself caring less and less how it all turned out...about how I'd feel if I picked up a Superman comic from my youth.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Quiller Memorandum

George Segal

Badly dated spy vs. spy yarn. Set in Berlin during the height of the cold war madness this has Segal as yet another superman type fighting this time against neo nazis. The big problem is the Segal couldn't pull this act off. He came across as a door-to-door salesman type - pushy, shallow and mostly a jerk.

Over-lit in the 50's manner the whole thing seemed fake and artificial. Best left in film history's dustbin.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Point Blank

Lee Marvin   d/ John Boorman

Sharply done revenge action/thriller. Marvin is perfectly cast as an extraordinarily savvy, non-communicative anti-hero. He is completely believable as he engineers a vendetta against a shadowy group called the 'organization' which he feels stole money from him which he had stolen from someone else.

Outstanding direction from the opening scene on. One pivotal scene early on features Marvin completely silent and non-responsive while Angie Dickinson prattles on revealing much of the plot to the audience. Audacious direction which worked.

Needless to say the action sequences were spot on. This film received much praise upon release (1968) and it was good to see it was well deserved.


Monday, August 5, 2013

The Exploding Girl

Zoe Kazan, Mark Rendall

College girl with epilepsy is home in NYC for a week and has to deal with away boyfriend while being comforted by best male friend.

Quiet little movie with a sympathetic and realistic protagonist which accurately portrays the turmoil of adolescence. Well cast, shot and edited. This is what I hope for when I watch an indie.


Sunday, August 4, 2013

On The Beach

Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner

At the time (1959) this was seen as another liberal rant by Stanley Kramer...a cautionary tale of what might happen if the nation didn't wake up. Now it comes across as a hopelessly melodramatic vehicle for a bunch of rich, aging hollywood stars.

AG was well past her sell date here and the scenes of lovey-dovey between her and Peck were ludicrous. He was the least sensual of stars and she had taken on a decidedly matronly air by this point that no amount of scarves or camera tricks could conceal. And poor Anthony Perkins, with his trademark twitchiness fell far short of his Norman Bates.

And finally the endless use of Waltzing Matilda began to drive me up the wall ten minutes in.

An embarrassing period piece that hasn't held up.


Saturday, August 3, 2013

A Town Like Alice

Virginia McKenna, Peter Finch

Credible telling of the true story fictionalized by Neville Shute in his 1951 book. Of necessity the film only covers half the story...while in the book I found the second (Australian) half equally interesting.

The travails of the women were well depicted but so much had to be left out it came across as a peaks-only trip through the amazing adventure. VMK was good, if a little stiff...but she was playing a Brit after all. The romance seemed strained as played by these two actors but it was wartime and romances flourished under times of such stress.

Overall a very nice job of a story which should be remembered.


Friday, August 2, 2013

Sing Your Song


A justifiably worshipful look at the extraordinary life and times of Harry Belafonte, singer, actor, activist in civil rights and numerous other causes for his entire life.

He was a black kid, born in Harlem, raised in Jamaica. His talents propelled him to the top of the entertainment world in a time when a black man couldn't take a piss in a gas station men's room in Alabama without being threatened by a State Trooper with death.

He marched with MLK, fought for the various anti-colonial movements in Africa...including freeing Nelson Mandela and the black South African people. In his dotage he has been fighting against the monstrous prison/slavery system which has emerged in the US.

Moving story well told about one of the most remarkable men of my time.