Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Hit Man

Chuck Norris

I couldn't remember ever having seen a movie by this guy so I was curious. Now I'm not anymore.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Where Do We Go Now?

Lebanon    w/d  Nadine Labaki

Wonderful film. Set in a small, remote village which is evenly divided between Christians and Muslims. There is constant strife, hatred, injuries, deaths. The women of the village despair and try several ways to change all this.

This is a rare film that successfully combines tragedy and humor. She uses light farce and even an occasional musical number, combined with tragic death to tell a story that demonstrates the power of women. The village women even hire a troupe of strippers, give their men hashish sweets so they are distracted while they bury the men's weapons.

Her first feature - Caramel - also centered on women...this one is better...heartwarming, sad, funny, insightful and warm. Nice work.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Nobody Knows

Japan   d/ H Koreeda

A feckless mother abandons her four children in a small apartment, leaving them under the care of her twelve year old boy. He does the best he can but it's too much responsibility for such a youngster. The money runs out and they are forced to fend for themselves...with nasty consequences.

Film was done in a stark, realistic style, using fixed and mobile camera. It presents a view of contemporary Japanese society somewhat at odds with the clean, efficient image commonly held. The kids were isolated completely from society...the busy indifference of the crowds in which they moved became painful to watch. They wanted to go to school but were forbidden to leave the apartment.

HK's handling of the child actors was as good as you'll ever see. The lead boy, who was only 12 at the time of filming was enormously sympathetic...with an expressive face and sad, knowing eyes. This is one of the all-time great films about children...on a par with Forbidden Games and Ponette and Treeless Mountain.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Orphanage

Guillermo Del Toro

I saw this four years ago and was only mildly impressed. I was too harsh. After reading references to the film in various places I decided to give it another look.

It's beautifully assembled, the story is compelling with a strong performance by the lead Belen Rueda who is in nearly every scene. The pacing is spot on, the sets appropriately atmospheric, and the resolution is unexpected and satisfying.

This film belongs in the front ranks of ghost stories.


Friday, October 25, 2013

Pitch Perfect

Anna Kendrick

Tongue-in-cheek comedy/drama revolving around college a capella competitions.

There are times when I wonder why I do this to myself. This was one of them. Nothing here was bad...if it had been I could rail against was all just stupid and lame. Nothing original, interesting, challenging. Just SOS.

I'm sure the people involved in this project thought they were creating an entertaining film. Maybe it did work for anyone out there who hadn't seen any of the hundreds (thousands?) of films that were just like this one. But not for me.

It didn't help that I knew none of the songs...which the characters saw as great oldies...from the 90's.


Thursday, October 24, 2013


James Caan, Tuesday Weld   d/ Michael Mann

Top notch character piece/thriller. Caan is a professional thief beleagured on all the crooked cops who want a piece of his action and the mob who want to control his life. He is solid technically but something of an stonehead otherwise. We follow his adventures wondering who or what will trip him up.

Caan was perfect for this role...continuing the character he played in The Godfather...tough, headstrong, fearless. Perhaps fatally so. TW was largely wasted. She was one of the most talented actors of her generation but was poorly used by hollywood which relegated her to pretty-girl roles like this one.

Film was beautifully constructed with a genuine mastery of suspense. This should be a classic.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Bad News Bears

Walter Matthau, Tatum O'Neal

Much nastier and less charming than I remembered. Matthau's character is a real pig...pretty much on a par with most of the adults depicted.

The director, Michael Ritchie, made a specialty of skewering American middle-class 'culture' (eg Smile); here he focuses on the adult fixation with winning little league games. The trouble was that he exaggerated too much. This wasn't rooted in any semblance of real life - purely movie reality - and lost any real bite as a result. It came across as mean-spirited and stupid.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing

Emma Thompson, Kenneth Branagh, Michael Keaton

Lively version of one of Shakespeare's sillier comedies. Helped enormously by the energetic pacing, great locations, fine camera work and exceptional cast (KB also directed); hurt badly by the hammy police chief nonsense. Those scenes...I suppose meant for comic relief were terrible and stopped the film (and the play) cold.

Some wonderful lines and repartee make this memorable. The 'conflict' between the two leads is fun and worth the price of admission.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Anna Karenina

England    Keira Knightly, Jude Law

Very nice job translating one of the world's finest novels into film. Some of this was shot on an elaborate stage, some on location. Costumes, choreography and editing were superb.  The techniques used gave an air of freshness and discovery to a story that's become overly familiar.

The cast? Law was quite good as the cuckold. KK...I dunno. Too skinny, too young, too British. She read her lines well but I found it hard to believe that a man would throw away his life, his career, his privileged place in society for this woman. She's no Vivian Leigh.

So it really was a Joe Wright show...he took a monster of a book deeply loved by people the world over and made it sing. Kudos.


United Red Army


Ambitious (3 hours long) docudrama which attempted to depict the social upheaval Japan went through in the 60's and 70's. Little-noticed here in the US, it took on the same tone as the Baader-Meinhof rebellions in Europe...for all the same reasons....anti-nuke, Vietnam, piggy oligarchy, etc.

Their rebellion featured the same hard-eyed radicals backed by a bunch of starry-eyed idealists. They were picked off one by one with the state using ever-escalating violence and today are seen as deluded fools. Like ours, and Europe's they knew what they wanted, sort of, but had no idea how to get there.

I only got through half of this because...well, really... Like Frank Zappa said...ultimately, who gives a fuck anyway?


Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Magnificent Ambersons

Joseph Cotton, Agnes Moorehead   d/  Orson Welles

His second film was an adaptation of a novel by Booth Tarkington. Working again with Greg Toland he created a masterpiece that was tighter than Kane, a rich and satisfying portrait of wealth, changing times, love and devotion, intra-family conflict and shifting social values.

Several times the acting got too...well just too. AM's meltdown went on too long and Tim Holt's spoiled brat was...too spoiled, too obvious, too unreflective, too unaware. Even as a child of privilege he would have been more subtle in his selfishness. And of course the studio-forced end scene was idiotic.

But JC was excellent and the arc of the story engaging. We care about these people and wonder how their lives will evolve. Tarkington was a master chronicler of American small town life. And Welles was a master showman. Together they produced a film that will last forever.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Bling Ring

Sophia Coppola

A group of over-privileged teens in LA break in to celebrities' homes and steal stuff. Stuff they don't need or even want. One scene shows them selling plunder at a sidewalk sale.

This was a blistering indictment of the values of contemporary culture, at least among the upper middle class. Expensive labels, surface flash matter...all else is irrelevant. Of course the celebs epitomize this world.

This would have been better at 45 minutes or so. There was a strong element of repetition after a while. Also, I question the use of the kids' was mostly abrasive and loud...another style might have provided counterpoint to what was a one-dimensional perspective.

Still, all her films have something in them that makes watching and thinking about them worthwhile. This was no exception.


The Razor's Edge

Bill Murray, Theresa Russell

This was a vanity project Murray foisted on the suits before he would make more silly comedies for them that made lots of money. It's an adaptation of the novel by Somerset Maugham. They gave him plenty of money to do this...the film looks great...outstanding locations from the US to Paris, India and Tibet, convincing sets, excellent supporting cast, etc.

One big problem though. Murray can't act. He was so out of his range here I was embarrassed for him. He mostly stood there, poker-faced, as if that projected depth or seriousness or something. I see now that his total lack of affect is what makes his comedy work...a la Keaton.

It is testimony to the strength of the story that I watched all two hours of this film in spite of the lead's incompetence. Loved seeing TR again.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Witness For the Prosecution

Charles Laughton, Marlene Dietrich

Courtroom drama easily carried by CL's immense talent. Some of this was pretty creaky even for its time (1957). In particular the lame attempts at humor clunked badly. But the story was well-constructed and the surprise ending really surprised.

Loved seeing the wonderful Una O'Connor whose witch-like appearance and exaggerated oiyrish accent always delights. MD was also quite much better that she was in Welles' Touch of Evil the following year. But this really was a one-man show and Laughton filled the screen with his presence. Rightly considered a classic.



Keira Knightly    d/ Tony Scott

Supposedly the 'true' story of Lawrence Harvey's daughter and her career as a bail bondsman in Los Angeles.

Unfortunately the editing was so fast-paced it hurt my brain...3 to 5 clips a second...I had to turn it off after 1/2 hour. But what I did manage to see was so idiotic I doubt I could've watched it even if a more serene tone was used. Odd coloration, camera angles, superhuman feats, Big Sound, etc.

I was curious what Scott was doing toward the end of his career. I fear he died too late.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Adventures of Tintin


I never read any of the books by Herge so didn't know what to expect. I got a boys adventure yarn, filled with peril, intrigue, dramatic escapes, big sound, lots of yelling, etc. Like a gussied up serial from the 40's.

The film had a great CGI look and ended up being a lot of fun. Nice project which I assume was a labor of love...


For a Few Dollars More

Lee van Cleef, Clint Eastwood    d/ Sergio Leone

This was the first spaghetti western I saw back in 1966 and loved it at the time. Re-visiting it after all these years was fun. I wasn't as blown away but still saw a beautifully staged, edited and acted film which wore its age well. LVC was a great character actor and fit this film like a glove. It was easily the best role of his career.

The man with no name was still appealing too. Over two hours long but held me easily. Leone perfected his operatic style in the last of the series...The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. And who can ever forget the music by Morricone? Just superb.

These films will always have a place in my heart.


Monday, October 14, 2013


Samuel Jackson, Sean Nelson   w/d Boaz Yakim

Riveting story of a young black man trying to survive on the mean streets of NYC. He's a drug runner, schoolboy, chess hustler and, after his girlfriend is shot in a playground incident, an unsuspected avenger who works to rid his hood of the parasites sucking out the life blood of the community.

Beautifully done in all respects...this remains one of the best of the new black cinema releases of the 80's, 90's.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Low Life

Sean Astin, Kyra Sedgewick    w/d George Hickenlooper.

Pretty bad. We follow a group of ex-ivies as they frab their way through real life in contemporary LA. None of them are interesting. The film is uncertain how we are supposed to regard these fools...should they be pitied? admired? seen as contemptible?

They drink, work at nowhere temp jobs, get in fights, abuse some people...generally just mope around, despising themselves (justifiably) and the world around them.

Did anyone involved with this project think this had any value?


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Portrait of Jennie

Joseph Cotton, Jennifer Jones

Nice sort-of ghost story from 1949. JC meets a young girl in the park, sees her as a muse and eventually learns that she had died many years before. But she keeps appearing, older each time and the story is that they were two lonely people made for each other but born out of sync.

Pretty silly scenario but in spite of that I enjoyed this hollywood hokum. Both players were good and the production (David Selznick) first rate.  Similar to the later Somewhere in Time. There should always be a place for stories like this.


The War of the Worlds

Gene Barry

1953 treatment of the HG Wells story kicked off the sci-fi mania in the 50's. Good effects for the time, wooden performance by GB, nice structure. I saw this as a child and it scared the shit out of me...this time not so much.

But the fast pace and inherent interest in the scenario pulled me right along and made it easy for me to see why this was such a big hit.


Friday, October 11, 2013

East of Eden

James Dean, Julie Harris    d/  Elia Kazan

John Steinbeck's tortured story of sibling rivalry.

This was one of Dean's three films and I have to say I found his acting nearly unbearable. I can see how his characterization would have been fresh at the time (1955) but to my (perhaps jaundiced) eye it seemed much too self-indulgent and constantly drew attention to the performance rather than the character. It just seemed fake. He failed to portray an actual person. It was like watching an over-indulged spoiled brat...demanding constant attention.

Since JD made up the bulk of the film there's not much else to judge. I did think Raymond Massey was good as the father...and Julie Harris believable as the fragile, uncertain temptress. But overall the intended towering biblical-themed masterwork failed to tower, or even rise up to the level of making me care about these people.


Thursday, October 10, 2013


Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

Gravity pulls you down...and so did this film. It began with spectacular space photography, showing many views of Earth from orbit. If it had ended after 1/2 hour it would have been brilliant. But then it degenerated into the Perils of Pauline: Space Adventure and gradually lost me. Far too much whiz-bang, too many they added up it became less and less credible.

By the end I was impatient for this nonsense to be over. Tarted up Armegeddon. You couldn't fault the players...they were both appealing as usual. The scenario was preposterous and thoroughly sunk the film. Dommage.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Wake in Fright

Australia    Donald Pleasance

Here we follow the reversion of a mild-mannered schoolteacher to a primitive, savage state simply by being exposed to the dominant behavior pattern of males in the outback. Apparently all the men in these isolated towns do is drink, gamble, drink, sing bawdy songs, drink some more, go out in trashed-out cars and shoot roos, collapse in the early morn, get up and start drinking again. Occasionally they will rut with a willing female but even then are prone to vomiting in the middle of the act.

This is about as ugly a depiction of male culture as I've ever seen. I was astonished to learn that to Australians when this was released (1971) it was considered a largely true indictment. Away from the cities and their civilizing influence boys will be boys. Actually, boys will be pigs.

This theme was picked up in a later film - Shame (1988) - which focused on the outback's rape culture.

Who knew? Unforgettable.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013



Nicely done look at working class hispanic life in LA. A young girl gets pregnant (hey, it's a virgin birth!), moves in with grandfather and gay brother and they all navigate the dangerous shoals of life on a turbulent sea.

Engaging, intelligent and (mostly) well-acted...this is what I hope for from a low-budget production: characters I care about in unpredictable life situations.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Love, Peace and Misunderstanding

Catherine Keener, Jane Fonda     d/ Bruce Beresford

This film was chock full of cliches, stereotypes, unrealistic scenes...some of them quite embarrassing, but in spite of all its obvious flaws I enjoyed it.

An uptight lawyer has been estranged from her mother for twenty years for being an irresponsible hippie. This film is the slow, painful process of reconciliation between them. There are two teens involved who provide romantic side stories; peace rallies, full moon celebrations.

Jane Fonda wasn't a good choice for the mom. Frances McDormand or Patricia Clarkson would've been better. Jane was physically awkward and not believable as a free spirit.

But Beresford kept the film moving, it was lovely to look at and when it was over I was glad I had watched it.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

My Son, My Son Whay Have You Done?

Michael Shannon, Chloe Sevigny     d/Werner Herzog,

A psychotic man kills his mother with a sword and the film tells the story through a series of clumsy flashbacks.

I found myself baffled by this one. Flat, unengaging, interminable. Where was the great filmmaker when this was being shot and edited? Getting coffee? Shannon's character was crazier than hell yet no one in the flashbacks suggested he get help or even that there might be something wrong with him.

Willem Dafoe was here too but his talent was completely wasted. A near total failure.


Friday, October 4, 2013

A Better Tomorrow


Slick but uninvolving re-make of the John Woo actioner from the 80's. The stiffness and overacting of the players never let me forget that I was watching actors performing...

The shooting scenes were nicely cut and helped hide the fact that they were preposterous but if you don't care about the fate of the characters this becomes a technical exercise...which isn't good enough.

When Woo's films first appeared here in the West they were startling in their originality. Soon however they were widely copied and became just another cliche. Too bad but so it goes...


Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

France   w/d Jacques Demy

This film is sui of the great works of world cinema.

An operetta, a love story bathed in froth, unmatched set design and use of color, beautiful stars (a young and radiant Catherine Deneuve). All the dialogue is sung, Michel Legrand's score soaring and magnificent...pure romantic schmaltz.

But there is also truth, pain, disappointment, sad resignation, life itself. A celebration of first love as we wish it were; a recognition of life as it really is. Timeless and unforgettable.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Company You Keep

Robert Redford, Julie Christie

Solid mainstream treatment of the capture/surrender of Weathermen radicals in the oughts.

Every aspect of this production was slick and shiny. The two leads are definitely showing their age but still have the presence that made them stars way back when. The real surprise to me was the major role played by Shia LaBeouf, an actor who has failed to impress me in the past. Here he convincingly does an obsessed young journalist who sees this story as career-making and runs with it.

Not as moving as Running on Empty but what is?