Saturday, November 30, 2013

Design is One


Very fine doc on the husband/wife team of Leila and Massimo Vignelli...designers of all sorts of things that impact on our daily lives. For the past fifty years they have designed buildings, furniture, signage, fonts, household kit and on and on. Their work features a kind of clear minimalism...cutting away anything that interferes with the message or purpose of the object.

Touching that they have lived, thrived, long enough to be richly rewarded late in life for all their work.


Friday, November 29, 2013


Anna Paquin   w/d  Kenneth lonergan

This was the director's cut 3 hour 9 minute version of this powerhouse film. AP should have received an award for this performance...she is in every scene and her character's plight is intense. We watch this over-privileged, over-educated spoiled Jewish princess cause a fatal accident which wrenches her out of her cocoon on the upper West side into the grit of reality...real feelings, real people, real trauma.

She spends most of the film floundering; turns to sex, anger, the law...anything she can think of to assuage her deep-felt guilt.

For stupid reasons this film never received the acclaim it deserved. It excelled in every respect. Special mention to the supporting performance of J. Smith-Cameron as the protagonist's mother.

I hope enough buffs pick up on this masterpiece and raise it to the stature it deserves.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Muscle Shoals


Outstanding doc on the little recording studio that could. Beginning in the early 60's musicians from all over the world converged on this dinky little town in Alabama and created some of the greatest funk, R&B, southern rock, reggae...the music that filled the background in the lives of people my age. Some of it was magical (Duane Allman) some annoying (Aretha Franklin) but all of it was done with heart and conviction and lives on long after the players have left the stage.


The Red Shoes

Powell/Pressberger    Moira Shearer

The British team's magnificent staging of HC Anderson's typically twisted story. For my taste ballet...a stilted, limited form...has never been presented better...with extravagant use of color, brilliant camera work, various forms of trickery and, most importantly the skill and charm of Moira Shearer.

The love story vs. career was a little creaky but the resolution worked thematically. This is seen as one of the great films produced in post-war England and rightfully so. A classic.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Fairy Tale: A True Story

Peter O'Toole, Harvey Keitel

Outstanding children's film set during WW1 in England when death was ubiquitous and folks were hungry for some sign that there was something beyond the life that they knew. Seances, mediums, quackery of all kind sprang up pulling in credulous, suffering people.

Also...fairies. The idea that there were little flying folk who lived in gardens and helped those they liked was irresistible to some. This film deals beautifully with that idea. Two girls photograph fairies in their garden and become major celebrities. Exquisitely done in all respects.

A treasure.


The Night the Blackbirds Fell


On New Years Eve 2011 5,000 red-wing blackbirds fell from the sky in a small town in Arkansas. Also, the same night thousands of fish died along the banks of the Arkansas river. This filmmaker lived there, desperately needed a thesis project and latched on to this event. Out of that came this film.

There's just not much there. It was eventually determined that the fishkill was a result of natural causes and the birds were killed by fireworks. Faced with these pedestrian explanations this guy strains mightily to create interest. He uses primitive animation, talking heads and area footage to produce a short (45 minutes) doc of minimal interest with a dramatic arc that fizzles.

OK. I guess...


Monday, November 25, 2013

The Vanished Empire


Breznev-era college students act out their rebellion by buying Western jeans and music.

These kids were such broadly played jerks that I found myself exasperated with them in short order and eventually gave up. They weren't interesting, intelligent, curious...none of the traits that would have made them worth watching or thinking about.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Cave of the Yellow Dog


Minimalist filmmaking. We follow the various members of a family living on the steppes in a yurt as they go about their daily chores. The focus is on a six yo girl, who finds a stray dog who then becomes part of the only drama the film offers.

This was captivating...more as anthropology than as a story. Life was shown here...with the fears, concerns and most importantly the landscape...endless lush grassy prairie, mountains, streams...both inspiring and daunting. The striking thing was how much responsibility was placed on these very small children.

Interesting and informative.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Beautiful Person


Only the French would have produced this one. A beautiful high school girl comes to a new school and immediately hooks up with a student and finds herself madly pursued by an Italian teacher who is already screwing another teacher and a student.

Is this OK behavior in France? This gets you fired and shamed here. Even this guy's colleagues smiled and shook their heads at his predilections. It made me feel pretty squirmy.

Must be a cultural thing.


Friday, November 22, 2013

All is Lost

Robert Redford

Simple, engrossing man-against-the-sea drama. The perils of the sea and the will to survive are front-row here in this extraordinarily demanding (for Redford) script. He looks pretty grizzled now but he successfully convinced as a capable, methodical man who uses all his resources to battle back against enormous indifferent forces.

The arc of the story is determined by the suspense wasn't an issue. It was more a demonstration of how much a man can endure and just how tenacious is the hold on life...and what a man can do to stay alive if he keeps his wits about him.

Kudos to Redford for this one. An award perhaps? This film raises the bar for sea-survival dramas.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fire in the Blood


The sordid story of how Western Big Pharma kept the prices of AIDS-fighting antivirals high for profits even though this meant thousands of third world people suffered and died.  Drugs which cost pennies to make sold for $30-$40. But. hey, isn't that what capitalism's all about?

The great irony is that more than 70% of the drugs sold by these companies were actually developed and paid for by government agencies so the standard rationale for high prices is completely false. Greed is not good. Greed doesn't work. Time for change.




When you put on a movie with a title like this you don't expect MacBeth. You do hope that the humor promised is delivered. This one a satisfyingly offbeat way.

The film is really silly (duh) but because it's Turkish it's silly in a non-Western way. Reminded me very much of Where Do We Go Now? without the political undertones. It easily held me all the way...even drew several chuckles. Creative, circusy entertainment.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Behind the Candelabra

Michael Douglas, Matt Damon

Nice lead performances made this worth watching. The story is the story of all relationships...the first flush of love and excitement, the gradual fading into comfortable familiarity, finally degenerating into open resentment and hostility. The difference here is one is an aging closet queen who is a world-renowned performer, the other a lost young pretty boy.

The sets/locations with their 'palatial kitsch' vibe was fun at first but quickly became normal, like they would in life. This was billed as Steven Soderbergh's last was a good one to finish with.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Viva Zapata

Marlon Brando   d/ Elia Kazan

I wish I hadn't seen this. How could you take a story about a Mexican revolutionary, cast the most dynamic, charismatic actor of his generation, get a screenplay written by John Steinbeck and hire one of hollywood's best directors...and come up with schlock?

I suppose this was a product of the time (1952)...but still... This was four years after The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and that one still resonates. This wasn't bad so was just lame, corny and a bit embarrassing...sigh...


Sunday, November 17, 2013



Home movie about a 14 yo Dutch girl who sails alone around the world in a 40 foot yacht.

While the story had inherent interest she didn't. She mostly came across as unformed (duh), occasionally petulant, certainly brave and competent as a sailor but not as a videographer. Since she was the only person on board she had to do all the filming which mostly consisted of her setting the camera down somewhere shooting her as she looked around. This isn't to take away from her courage or achievement but this would best be kept as a home movie for the family.


Trainforming America


Simple-minded polemic arguing the obvious: this country would be better with a modern train network. No shit.  Instead of tracing the corrupt system that gave us this car-only transportation network these folks ride around on better systems in Europe and ask natives banal questions.

This is completely ineffective and came across as adolescent, silly.



Eva Green, Juno Temple   d/ Jordan Scott

Excellent English boarding school drama. Like Jean Brodie, EG's character is a fabulist, filling her young charges with imaginary voyages and ideals she has cribbed from popular novels. A Spanish princess is sent to the school as punishment...she excels in every way and stirs up a witches brew of longing and resentment.

Scott is the daughter of Ridley, who produced the film...she shares his visual sense and camera fluidity but her skill with character development evidences a greater understanding of the subtleties of human interaction. JT is unrecognizable from her role in Dirty Girl. 

First rate work which made me wonder why I'd never heard of it.


Friday, November 15, 2013



Another film dealing with the ugly reverberations left behind by the Nazis. Here we learn the secret a village has hidden from the outside world since WW2. A Polish-American returnee stirs the pot and exposes the past...against the popular will.

The film is largely one of conflict. The scenes and the characters were awkward, clumsy. I wonder if this was intentional...after all this was rural Poland...or simply a reflection of Baltic traits of which the director was unaware. Regardless, this effected the tone and impact...not necessarily for the better.

There have been hundreds of films centered on German monstrousness. This was another.



Jeremy Northum, Lucy Liu

Sharp little mystery about corporate spying in a dystopian future. We follow a schlubby everyman as he gets sucked into the world of corporate intrigue. As he gradually learns what's going do we.

Flashy direction from Canada's Vincenzo Natali (Cube) that works beautifully to enhance his small budget. There's no substitute for imagination.

Both leads were solid. Nifty indie.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Starship Troopers

d/ Paul Verhoeven

I've been reading that this film has become a cult item in some circles so I wanted to see why. I don't get it. It's a lot of fun to watch...a mix of strident militarism and self-mocking humor...lots of action, great antagonist...I mean big, ugly bugs and spiders. And who can forget the shower scene?

But other than being a retro-goof there's nothing there...nothing that would justify close study or reflection. You can't really laugh at laughs at itself. It's a big, noisy bug hunt.

Do you want to know more?


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

From Up on Poppy Hill


Nice film from Ghibli Studios which greatly resembles the early work of Hayao Miyazaki. Aimed at the early and pre-teen crowd it was beautifully drawn but a tad too childish and simple-minded for an adult audience.

Paled beside Whisper of the Heart.


First Comes Love


Then comes a solipsistic 41 yo filmmaker who treats us to her ticking biological time clock agony and her decision to have a child solo...with all details in glorious color.

This has been done...And Baby Makes Two...and I wonder how many of these we need. I'm not interested in watching someone getting stuck with needles, visiting doctors, seeking a sperm donor, etc. And I really don't need to witness another birth scene.

This kind of film would best be kept as a home be shown to the eventual progeny when old enough to appreciate. For the general audience...spare us.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013


France   d/ Francois Ozon

Provocative, surrealistic kitchen-sink drama from France's answer to John Waters. A struggling single mother discovers that her baby boy has sprouted functioning wings and flies himself around the house. She takes him shopping one day with unfortunate consequences.

Of course Ozon is alluding to something's just not clear what. The opening scene is either an important clue or a red herring...we never learn which. Is the story a flashback? A dream? An escape from cruel reality?

Months later she takes the child outside to show the media, lets his restraining string go and he flies away. This can easily be seen as a metaphor...interpretations are many, none definitive or obvious. The film is meant to spark discussion. Good job.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Romantics Anonymous


Silly, delightful French farce about two pathologically shy people falling in love.

The film was carried by the wonderful skill of the two principals...Benoit Poelvoorde and Isabel Carre. The director's scene timing also was perfect. This is a difficult genre to get right...they had to tread a very fine line stopping just short of absurd.

Not for everyone but a treat for me.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Silent Chaos


Doc on the plight of deaf people in Congo. They are seen through the lens of idiotic superstitions and suffer social discrimination, rejection and isolation.

Unfortunately the film attempted an artistic presentation with endless footage of the landscapes and cityscapes of that part of the world. At first this was interesting but it quickly paled and came across as meaningless filler. After a half hour I found it impossible to keep my attention focused on the film and gave up.


Friday, November 8, 2013

American Drive-in Movie


This film dealt with something close to my heart. I too remember going with my whole family to the drive-in in the fifties, in pajamas, falling asleep in the back seat, etc. Lots and lots of footage and stills from drive-ins all over the country.

Unfortunately the film was plagued by too-rapid cutting. In particular sequences the cuts were a half-second or less. This isn't enough time to focus my attention before we're off to a new image. Too bad because they covered the topic beautifully...I even learned things about the industry I didn't know...but for too much of the time I had to avert my eyes to avoid a headache.

Watta shame. It could have been outstanding nostalgia.


Thursday, November 7, 2013


Gemma Arterton,  Saoirse Ronan   d/ Neil Jordan

Yet another vamp flick. Does anybody really give a shit about this stuff? Vampires, werewolves, zombies...this junk is fun scaring children with over a campfire but what on earth are adults doing putting so much time, money and effort into creating films like this?

I enjoyed some of these...Klaus Kinski's Nosferatu, Near Dark, American Werewolf in London...but once or twice is plenty. None of this means anything. One could come with some rationalizing metaphor for these films but is that what they're really about?

This one was stylish and well-acted...but why? Jordan's The Company of Wolves was at least interesting. This was just regurgitating other peoples' ideas.


Sunday, November 3, 2013


Kevin Smith

When this came out it seemed fresh and funny and kicked off the mainstream love of truly independent films. Now it seems crudely made, not so fresh and an obvious step in making films as coarse as the folks at the bottom rung of society's ladder talk and behave.

Some of the material was amusing but without the shock value a constant flood of 'fucks' once brought it comes across as adolescent, maybe even juvenile. It will retain its place as a landmark in the history of film but won't ever be seen as good, or even adequate cinema.


Fruitvale Station

Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz

Fictionalized account of the shooting of a young, unarmed black man by transit authority police on New Years Day 2009.

The film presents a sympathetic portrait of Oscar Grant - loving father, son, boyfriend - who has had a checkered life but is presented as trying to go straight. Steadicam, you-are-there approach worked perfectly to place this guy and his circle in a social context. The film confirms my sense that MD has star quality...this was a meaty role she easily carried. Kudos also to Octavia Butler in a strong supporting role.

I wish they had split screen time between Oscar and the cop who shot him. Both of these people were trapped in roles that have reduced choices and guaranteed bad results. Somewhere basic humanity has gotten lost.

This came across as agitprop - irresistibly done.


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Turn Me On, Dammit!


Only Sweden could have produced this one.

An extremely horny 15 yo girl is obsessed with sex...she does some stupid things and gets ostracized by her peers at school, loses her job (which she had to get because of her phone sex habit), alienates her mother and just about everyone else in her small remote town. Hey...girl just wants to have fun!

It played as a subtle comedy but had no laughs per's very faintly amusing but I stayed with it because I wondered where they were going and the lead was engaging...sort of.

An oddball curiosity piece.


Friday, November 1, 2013


Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Robert Sean Leonard

Taut drama adapted from a play. Three characters act out the fallout from things that happened ten years before when they were in high school. EH drives the story and even though the part is atypical for him he pulls it off.

There are enough surprises and tension to grip the viewer all the way to the satisfying resolution. And as usual the woman has all the cards. Good work using one set only. All three players were solid.