Monday, September 30, 2013

The Hidden Face


Nifty, if contrived, thriller. A young orchestra conductor's wife accidentally locks herself in a safe room in his mansion. To him she just disappeared. He finds solace with another woman, brings her back to the house, setting the stage for a tense drama.

Both women were beautiful...which helped. Cine, cutting and lighting were first rate. He was handsome but wooden...a real flaw. Fine sense of dramatic tension pulled me along in spite of myself. How was this going to resolve?

Not great cinema but worth a two hour investment.


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Now You See Me

Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo

Hyper-paced big-budget/effects entertainment.

Four magicians are anonymously recruited to put on a three part show...all leading to a major heist. Plot line was completely implausible...nothing here took place in the reality we live in but it was so glitzy, loud and fast that it just carried you along on this giant wave of froth.

There's a place in film world for escapist fare like this...especially when it's done this well.


Friday, September 27, 2013


Daniel Craig   d/Sam Mendes

Hadn't seen a James Bond film in many years. Friends should see this one. It's really good. So I gird my loins and turned it on. Opening sequence...wildly absurd chase nonsense which ends in JB seemingly killed. But, no...of course he wasn't...the movie just started. So we're now at the level of all those wonderful serials I saw at Saturday matinees as a kid. Perils of Pauline, Rocketman, et al.

Thereafter unfolds cynical handlers, bleached blond supervillain, a fight in a komodo dragon pit, attacks which kill hundreds including a parliamentary hearing in progress, blowing up a Scottish castle and Judi Dench dying. How many building guards were shot in this movie? How much did the blond guy pay those morons to get shot dead my JB-superman?

What is all this about? This is James Bond #23. All have the same arc. JB never dies. Cubby Broccoli died years ago. Sean Connery has gotten old. The cold war is over 20 years now. And yet this 'series' continues unchanged.

Well, now I know. Never again.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Erin Brockovich

Julia Roberts   d/ Steven Soderbergh

Formula mainstream fare...helped immensely by a going-against-the-grain performance by JR. She is completely convincing as a foul-mouthed, trashy striver who pulls a by-her-bootstraps transformation using aggression and (justified) self-righteousness.

Incidentally, her foe, PG&E, was the same outfit that made millions by knowingly bilking people in the Enron casino ten years ago. The much-deserved prosecutions never happened because the SEC records needed to prove the court case were stored in WTC 7 and were destroyed when that building exploded into dust on 9/11.

Soderbergh does his usual professional job putting together a moneymaker for the suits. This hit all the right buttons and carried forward the myth that one good person can turn the tide against the corporate mudslide.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013



Silly movie which ends up working better than I thought it would at the beginning. A poor boy, going to a richie school, gets a ball from his father, a dump-picker. The ball is an alien lifeform with some magical powers...broad comedy ensues.

Very broadly played this was helped enormously by the personality of the lead actor...who appeared around 10. He was a skinny little sparkplug, quite endearing and helped me overlook the obvious flaws in the production. I think kids would love this one.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Jake Gyllenhall, Hugh Jackman

Absorbing mainstream thriller. Two young girls are kidnapped, the police work to find them before it's too late and, meanwhile, one of the fathers sets out on his own to track down the bad guys.

Many brutal torture scenes. Our perceptions of this are continually the end it turns out it was all justified...which places this film squarely in the modern genre of torture porn legitimizing that behavior by the forces of righteousness.

JG excelled as the relentless, never losing focus.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Punishment Park

d/Peter Watkins

Another powerful screed by England's most original agitpropmeister. In 1970 he was in Los Angeles and wanted to capture the turmoil in the US typified by the Chicago police riots, Kent State, Black Power, etc. This film was a fictionalized distillation of that time...a metaphor so incendiary it was only shown in one theater in NYC for four days and then withdrawn.

Young people, dissidents, protestors,  are brought to a remote desert location in chains, surrounded by armed military and forced to run a 50 mile course for three days in 100 degree heat with no water.

There have been many films made over the years about tyranny and its effects...none as stark or topical as this one. It's sadly ironic that now, forty years later, it is even more relevant. But you can be sure it will never air on NBC, CNN, etc.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

One False Move

Bill Paxton   d/ Carl Franklin

This nasty little movie holds up well. Three violent thieves rob some drug dealers and then head across country to a small town in Arkansas where BP is the local police chief. He hungers for the big time but finds more than he can handle in this case.

Written by Billy Bob Thornton before he hit it big with Sling Blade. Cynda Williams, as one of the bad guys shines here in a complex role: she's with this gang but is using them to get back to her child back home.

Well directed and acted. A forgotten gem.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Short Term 12


Very fine drama set in a residential facility for troubled teens. The kids are abuse victims and it turns out so are many of the staff (who are in their 20's); the drama is the complex interaction of these two groups.

Nicely written and acted by all players. The filmmaker - Destin Crettin - succeeds in getting us to care about the fate of these flailing young people. Many predictable crises develop along the way but he has managed not only to keep it real but to leave us with a surprisingly satisfying ending.

Good work.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale


A most unusual film. Dark, subtle Finnish humor.

Long ago Santa Claus was a mean sucka so the Sami people encased him in ice and buried him under a man-made mountain 1500 meters high. Well some Americans heard about this so they came and began to drill down seeking to kidnap the actual Santa and use him to make money. Somehow.

Nice locations in the high arctic.

I knew nothing of this when I sat down and as it went by I sat in frozen disbelief wondering where they were going to take this idea. And they took it to a pretty good place when all was said and done.

Nice original take on what you can do with a 'Christmas' movie.


Thursday, September 19, 2013


Woody Allen

I really liked this when it came out but after watching it now, 25 years later,  I wonder if I had been blinded by the magic that was Annie Hall. This time I found Allen's endless kvetching insufferable. Who could possibly like this guy? Whiny, self-absorbed, seemingly indifferent to the needs of the people around him he wasn't even an anti-hero, he was just a mess.

His behavior toward Tracy, his 17 yo 'girlfriend' was painful to watch. All his other relationships were train wrecks. Some of his lines were funny in that tossed-off self-deprecating way he has but the final scene, where he's gently told by Tracy that he should grow up a bit was less poignant or insightful than pointing out the obvious. It was also obvious that this character couldn't possibly do it either.

Nice cine (Gordon Willis) and use of music.


Chicken With Plums

France   Matthieu Amalric

This was written by Marjane Satrapi as a follow-up to her renowned debut Persepolis. The story is set in 1950's Teheran and involves a musician who has lost his love for playing music and decides to will himself to die, even though he is (un)happily married with two small children.

Pretty dumb premise isn't helped by the quasi-farcical tone the filmmaker uses. Exaggerated behavior distances the audience from the emotional possibilities of the scenario...who can give a shit about a guy who behaves like a cartoonish buffoon? And if you don't care...then why watch? 

It might have worked as a comedy but as presented it wasn't funny. At all. Shame...the cinematography, art direction, lighting and camera work were all world class. Watta waste.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Winter Kills

Jeff Bridges

Paranoid thriller(?) roughly based on the Kennedy assassination. Intended as a black comedy I think...but way over the top performances tell me this director didn't have a clear idea how to get what he wanted. Absurd cartoon-like touches alienated me from the beginning and eventually became unbearable.

Black comedy must be underplayed or it becomes this film. Interesting cast...John Huston, Sterling Hayden, Anthony Perkins, Richard Boone et al...couldn't pull this mess out of the dumpster where it rightly belongs.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Despicable Me


I wondered what the fuss was about this film's sequel. I can see why this one became popular with children and some adults. It's fast, filled with imaginative toon violence. Following three adorable little girls is a nice touch...their physical peril is never very threatening or realistic but their emotional hurt is and will resonate with an audience.

Characters with grotesque looks, absurd scenario, Roger Rabbit stunts and a heartwarming ending. Solid entertainment for the under 12 crowd.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

What Maisie Knew

Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgard

Excellent adaptation of the novel by Henry James...transferred to present day NYC.

Daisie is seven yo and has two self-absorbed divorced parents...both of whom miss pick-up dates, times with her and generally treat her as disposable. They profess love but as soon as something comes up in their lives they dump her on their new spouses, or really just anyone.

Painful film to watch. Our hearts go out to this child ( beautifully played by Onata Aprile); we want her to find stability with adults who genuinely care.

First rate acting and direction kept this from melodrama. The whole story is told from Maisie's POV which works. Nice work all around.




Interesting animated dystopian future film. It's a tired genre but the animation here was distinctive enough and the characters well enough realized that the whole film worked for me.

All travel in future Europe is by underground rail and in this environment voices, thoughts are placed in peoples' minds by the authorities as a means of social control. Not unlike the NY Times or NPR today.

We follow an everyman who tries to avoid this nightmare but his bicycle is vandalized so down the rathole he goes. Intriguing and well done.


Friday, September 13, 2013


w/d Whit Stillman

An oddly successful film. It deals with a pack of preppies who attend parties and formal dances every evening during the Christmas school break in NYC. They talk and talk...and then they talk some more...but it never gets boring or seems stage bound.

They voice their insecurities, fears, jealousies...really just about all that they are at that tender age. They dramatize their predicaments, fall in and out of love and somehow get through it and return to real life when it's over.

And in spite of my class hostility at these wastrels...I liked it. Go figure.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

That Day

France    Raoul Ruiz

What a surprise this was: a French black absurdist comedy from the mad Chilean Ruiz. And it was funny...or at least amusing. All the way through.

The story involves the deliberate release of a homicidal madman to kill an heiress but, as so often happens...things go wrong. The corpses pile up but she (delightfully played by Elsa Zylberstein) and the crazy guy form an alliance and thwart her evil relatives. Not knowingly but by following their own stars.

She carried the film with her spot-on performance. Too silly and the whole thing would have collapsed. Very nice direction.


The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo

Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig

This was another European (read:foreign language) hit that was re-made in English for all the droolers out there. But this is one of those rare cases when the re-make equaled or even exceeded the original.

Credit director David Fincher who opens the film with a credit sequence that sets a fluid, ambiguous tone and maintains it throughout. Daniel Craig is a better lead than his Swedish counterpart and Ms Mara nails her Noomi Rapace imitation...even making her character a bit softer and multi-dimensional. The film races along for nearly three hours and I never was tempted to pause for a break.

Great supporting cast...Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgaard, Robin Wright...and luminous cine helped raise this to the highest level of mystery/drama.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Taxi Driver

Robert De Niro

Powerhouse project written by Paul Schrader and directed by Martin Scorcese. Alienated, terminally lonely Travis Bickle cruises the streets of NYC, repulsed and attracted by the depravity he perceives. He brings to mind the old adage...we see things not as they are, but as we are...

This film confirmed Scorcese as a major filmmaker after Mean Streets and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. He and De Niro went on several years later to do Raging Bull...perhaps the greatest film ever made about a sports figure.

I continue to think that the several scenes that followed the shootout were in Bickle's mind...that he was dying from the injuries he suffered and that his hero status was entirely in his imagination.

This will always be a classic.


Monday, September 9, 2013

White Light, Black Rain


Competent doc largely composed of interviews of survivors of the two nuclear attacks on Japan in August 1945. Much has been written of these events...starting with John Hersey's extraordinary Hiroshima.


12 Monkeys

Bruce Willis   d/Terry Gilliam

Bad Terry Gilliam...and bad Terry Gilliam is not a pretty sight.

Ugly, gore-ridden, loud, hyper-edited...filled with odious grotesques...

To think that this was supposedly based on Chris Marker's elegant stills/cinema work La Jetee makes me want to weep.

Not a home run. Not even a scratch single. A swing and a're out!


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Upstream Color

w/d Shane Carruth

Here's a winning formula: make a film with no character development so the audience has no idea who they're following around, craft enigmatic scenes in isolation - string them together in random order, throw in some icky stuff, add a dash of abstract, pointless musical chords, add some pigs, worms, gore and voila! You have a waste of two hours.

This wasn't the worst film I've ever seen. I'm sure there were others that were more inept and irritating. I just can't think of what they may have been.

Anyone who gives this bozo money to make another film should be dragged out and beaten.


Closed Circuit


Low key political thriller which hinged on government (MI5) complicity in a catastrophic terrorist bombing attack.

Everything presented here was plausible, the actors looked like real people, it never stooped to sensationalism...just took us step by step into the effort to uncover/expose official wrongdoing. The fact that the protagonists failed added to the film's credibility.

Solid, thoughtful film.


Friday, September 6, 2013

House of Cards

Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Kate Mara

HBO series delivers crackling entertainment based on the nefarious doings under the radar in DC. Film uses the new model of rapidly intercutting several plot threads at a frantic pace which gives the sense of continuous action when most of what's on screen is people talking.

Spacey is outstanding in the role of a lifetime. He commands the screen with his voice, body language and fourth-wall breaking asides.

When this was first released to streaming people watched it compulsively for 12 hours. It's easy to see why. The urge to hit the 'next' button is strong. Is it great drama? Dunno. Shakespeare on speed with language a step or two down. Let's see how it looks in 20 years.


It's a Disaster


Four couples get together for their usual Sunday morning brunch. Things change. Their maniacally focused obsession on their convoluted interrelationships shifts when they learn that nerve gas bombs have been dropped all over the US.

The end is here. What would you do?

Great screenplay, one location, nice acting by unknowns (except Julia Stiles), sharp editing show what a clever team can do with no money. This should serve as an inspiration to young filmmakers everywhere.

Nice job.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Let the Fire Burn


This tells the story of the war conducted by the officials of the city of Philadelphia against the black peoples organization Move. It is to my knowledge the only time in our history that a bomb was dropped onto a residential neighborhood by the police killing 11 people, including children and destroying blocks of houses.

This story proves for any who doubt it that if a group of oppressed people publicly call out the white power structure for what it is they will be crushed with as much force as is necessary...and suffer no consequences.

The film is a competent record of one of the more sordid chapters in American history.


Monday, September 2, 2013

The Gatekeepers


Six former leaders of Shin Bet are interviewed on camera for their thoughts on the last fifty years of Israeli history and the role they played.

These aging men came across to me as moral intent on fighting with individual trees (often with subtle smirks when recalling a 'win') they cannot see the forest. Not one questioned the morality of taking others' land by force and then brutally suppressing them to maintain control of that land. It was like listening to an American military leader in 1880.

They all talked of 'terrorists' as if they and their state were above that categorization, even though the indiscriminate killing they did was far worse.

The film left me profoundly discouraged. It certainly obliterates the notion that an oppressed people gain in moral stature...once the tables are turned they are just as able to rationalize truly evil behavior.



Dennis Quaid, jim Caviezel

Beautifully put together story about time travel via short-wave radio. The plot relies heavily on sentiment...a 35yo man connects by magic with his long-dead father, a NYC firefighter who heroically died while saving a young woman thirty years ago. The excellence of the staging, acting, and editing carried us past the skepticism inherent in a yarn like this.

But after an hour or so the film, having established this mystical contact, goes off the rails. It was obvious the writer didn't know what to do with this set-up and ended up getting lost in the weeds of the paradox of time travel. The contrivances he came up with quickly became asinine.

Too bad. This would have been a fine one-hour movie.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Solomon Kane

James Purefoy

Lavishly staged (mostly CGI), very violent sword and sorcery yarn. Set in Britain in 1600 this was the opposite of what the chamber of commerce would produce...endless rain, constant random attacks on innocent folks, all manner of demons streaming out of the fog to kill, enslave, burn and generally wreak havoc.

The film had the usual structured format which make it work, sort of...but this would be most satisfying to a 14 yo boy. Much effort, money and skill on display but this stuff is pretty stupid, isn't it?