Friday, January 31, 2014

Seeking a Friend For the End of the World

Steve Carrell, Keira Knightly

Odd little film with a confused and confusing tone. The end of the world is coming in three weeks...what would you do? SC's wife runs screaming from their car when hearing the news which places the film in la-la land. But he meets his neighbor and we settle into a standard rom-com type story but with tragic undertones.

Carrell seriously underplays his character, Knightly is standard movie-reality kooky, adorable female. For reasons I can't understand I stayed with it to the end even though the arc of the 'story' was obvious as soon as she showed up. So it worked, sort of. Compared to other end-of-the-world scenarios (eg Last Night) this was decidedly lightweight and unfulfilling...but not quite junk.


Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Prey

France   Albert Dupontel

Crackerjack action/thriller. A bank robber close to the end of his jail term learns his wife and daughter are in danger so he escapes and from that minute the chase is on. He's chasing the bad guy, the cops are chasing him and the fights/escapes engineered by the writers are at the very peak of the form. Amazing stunts and pace. Great camera work.

AD is dynamite in the lead role; as the film unwinds he comes more and more to seem superhuman in his resilience, grit and determination to save his daughter. There's a fierce urgency in his persona that is irresistible.

The film included every possible cliche of the genre but when it's done this well it works. Better than that, it's delicious. First rate entertainment.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Act of Valor


I don't know how this got on my netflix list...somebody must have given it high praise. It's a celebration of the special ops people who at this moment are killing people all over the world...secretly...all to bring the planet democracy of course.

Here they did indeed kill a lot of people. The editing speed prevented an actual body count...alas. But rest assured they were all bad guys and deserved summary execution. The problem in real life is that the definition of bad guys is shifting, moving closer and closer to home. But these highly trained robotic killing machines are only there to protect us...or so we're told.

One minor quibble...why do the bad guys all run toward the soldier with the machine gun? That's pretty stupid behavior. That must be why they're bad guys.

Chalk up another victory for the MIC.



Spike Jonze   Joaquin Phoenix

Slick, provocative peek into the near future. JP is a writer recovering from a broken marriage, buys an advanced siri-type AI app which can learn, feel, grow and change. We witness his interaction with Samantha as it changes through time...moving from distanced skepticism to love in about an hour. And Jonze makes the transition believable, engrossing and ultimately poignant.

Intelligent treatment of one of the likely possibilities of the near future. The techies driving this movement are the least likely among us to get a date so it will happen soon. The consequences for us as individuals and as a society will be profound...both positive and negative. Oh brave new world...

Great looking film with first rate acting by JP, Amy Adams and the voice of Scarlett Johansson. Of all the films I've seen in the recent past this one will stick in my a Twilight Zone episode...a cautionary tale which will be an easy reference point to compare as things evolve.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Advise and Consent

Henry Fonda, Charles Laughten

Political melodrama adapted from Allen Drury's novel. Great cast does a good job presenting a (for the time) more realistic portrait of senatorial shenanigans centering on the nomination of a controversial man for secretary of state.

Film was a step up from the nonsense peddled by Frank Capra in the 30's but still pales next to the extreme cynicism of the recent House of Cards. There is no mention in the film about the money-managers who actually pull the strings of these puppets: all their arguments focus on principle...the way the citizenry hoped and believed it actually worked. They were wrong. The rerality was more corrupt than most gauged at the time.

Still, it was fun watching these consummate actors wrestle some semblance of truth from this material. Laughten's last film and for him a doozy.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Music From Another Room

Jude Law, Gretchen Mol

Poor attempt at a romantic comedy. The film started with an extended birth sequence which established the plot but was so asinine it set the wrong tone immediately and the film never recovered.

The humor wasn't funny...or even just struck me as dumb. The various characters all had idiosyncratic little traits or tics to make them interesting...but they weren't. I marvel at how you can waste such a talented cast...Brenda Blythen, Martha Plimpton, Jennifer Tilly et al. But they have to read good lines and if that's missing you end up with something like this.

Too bad.


Friday, January 24, 2014

In a World

amerindie   Lake Bell

Sort of clever, sometimes well-written comedy about voice actors. Film succeeded in creating (mostly) realistic characters we could care about. It also featured some grotesque caricatures which dragged the thing down.

Ms Bell really shone...her character worked...both as a scrambling, thirty-something fuck-up and a credible voice actor. But the silly contrivance of the plot...which did have the benefit of demonstrating just how small the voice-actor community is...came across more as vintage sitcom than a feature film. for trying...and nearly succeeding.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Hannah Arendt

Barbara Sukowa

Strong biopic covering the time when HA went to Jerusalem to cover the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961. She was a prominent German refugee/intellectual teaching in NYC and was sent by the New Yorker magazine. Her five-part series caused great backlash in the Jewish community because she said Eichmann was a nobody, a bureaucrat, not the monster anti-Nazi propaganda had made him out to be.

Another good performance by BS...her Arendt was stiff, prickly, arrogant and, as time revealed, right. The episode had a major impact on her life...she lost friends, was shunned by colleagues, etc. The film stands as an indictment of groupthink and the price paid by someone who sees the unpopular truth.

Effective use of actual footage of the trial.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

White Heat

James Cagney   d/ Raoul Walsh

Classic gangster film from 1949. The combination of Cagney's incredible dynamism and Walsh's editing pace made this fly by. Some aspects of the production were a bit creaky but none of that mattered when Cody Jarrett was on screen. Virginia Mayo played the generic moll. Lots of familiar B-movie faces rounded out the cast. Cagney's last great film.

Top of the world, Ma...


Tuesday, January 21, 2014


Russia   Alexander Sokurov

Goethe's story rendered grotesque...set in a filthy, crowded medieval nightmare where weirdness prevails and our protagonist stumbles from one encounter to another searching for...well, we're never really sure. He is accompanied by the devil, in the figure of a man/monster with no or ambiguous genitals who leads Faust around using some mysterious power that all seem to recognize and none can thwart.

Odd camera angles, constant cramped scenes, grotesques everywhere...this is an original take on the legend of a man trading his imaginary soul for worldly gain. Reminded me of works by Jeunet or Terry Gilliam.

Different from everything he's done before. Intriguing but unengaging.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Sweet Dreams


Nice doc on a group of women, survivors of the genocide in Rwanda who decide to open an ice cream shop. At the time there were none in the entire country. They start by forming a drumming activity traditionally forbidden to women. This gives them a focus other than their suffering and an identity beyond their normal lives.

The film deals with the aftermath, social and emotional, of horrific behavior that tore the country apart. The survivors have to do something to try and cope...even though they still suffer the effects their project gives them each other and hope for the future.

Good job.



France    w/d   Andre Techine

Unpleasant film with few (any?) redeeming features. A blocked writer (Andre Dusollier) moves to Venice to work on a new novel, meets and immediately marries his real estate agent (Carole Bouquet) and begins inter-acting with locals.  He's a jerk and so are most of the people he hooks up with.

Venice is pretty but that's not enough. I need characters to care about and there were none here. I've seen many of this guy's films...this was the weakest so far.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Broken Circle Breakdown


Intense story which jumps around the seven years of a relationship between a woman who is a self-employed tattoo artist and a man who plays banjo in an authentic bluegrass band.

The intensity comes from the slow, agonizing death of their daughter from bone cancer. We get to see all the stages in their lives together - the good and the bad - in jumbled-up time. The two leads were very good and the music was excellent, in fact without the music the film would have been a serious drag. A couple of things clunked, not enough to ruin the film but they did hurt.

Film included a wicked takedown of George Bush and no matter how much I see that as a good thing in principle it actually hurt the film.

Belgium's entry into this year's oscar contest.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Postman Always Rings Twice

Lana Turner, John Garfield

Creaky, a bit simple-minded but still watchable adaptation of a novel by James Cain. Lust and adultery lead to murder in the sunny fields of So Cal.

LT was so dressed up with perfect hair, shoes, frocks that she seemed wildly out of place in this modest setting. And having her character say, repeatedly, that she just wanted to sling hash in this joint forever...but without hubby...was ludicrous. She looked like a movie star, but really did have some acting skills and might have carried her part if she hadn't been so gussied up.

The story outline has been used several more times in disparate films...Ossessione, Ju Dou...and re-made in the 80's with Jessica Lange. There's nothing like a little on-screen steam to bring in the curious.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Fish Story


Absurd story told in wildly jumbled-up time that dealt with the end of the world from a comet collision, a superhero whose role in life was to save the world, a psychic, and the travails of a punk band trying to sell their aggravating music a year before the Sex Pistols burst on the scene.

It sort of all came together in the final reel. But by then the way the story was told was so distancing that I didn't care. Some segments were compelling but as a film it was a mess. And yet...I watched till the end...


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Carve Her Name With Pride

England   Virginia McKenna

Solid, straightforward account of the life of a young woman who, during WW2, made her way into occupied France to coordinate guerrilla attacks against Nazi infrastructure.

Film was made in 1958 and carries all the pluses and minuses of that era...linear storytelling, solid, if constrained performances, sound stage work, rear-projection, unreflective political views...

England was in sorry shape in 1958 and I'll wager that Rank made this film to infuse the populace with the then-fading glory of the war, re-living heroic deeds in a time of prolonged deprivation. The film still works largely due to the skill and presence of VMK.


Friday, January 10, 2014

They Drive By Night


Crime thriller still quite engrossing in spite of its time - 1937. Reminded me of Odd Man Out released ten years later. Same running-from-the-law meme, shot in murky b/w with a sympathetic protagonist.

The title was re-used for an American film in 1940. Nothing remained of the original story (taken from a novel) except the focus on long-haul truckers.

Worth it even though there were some creaky bits. Loved the peek into the world of taxi dancers.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Kings of Summer


Lightweight, formulaic take on the pains of adolescence. All the usual buttons were pushed, the players did a nice job reading their lines, the script had several funny moments... But this was dismissible fluff of the commercial variety.

I wonder how people find the money to make films like this. There's nothing bad about this film...but it's as lasting as kleenex in a downpour. I had heard good comments about it so I gave it a go. Oh well...


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Warrors of the Rainbow


Epic story of the armed struggle waged by indigenous people of Taiwan against the Japanese occupiers in the 1920's.

Beautiful mountain locations helped the viewer understand how and why these people never saw themselves as modern or 'civilized' in the Japanese view. And of course, the Sons of Nippon were cruel, heartless, bullying, murderous monsters whose only interest in Taiwan was extracting resources. The monsterization of the Japanese is a story in its own right. In their quest for empire and legitimacy on the world stage they behaved like the very worst of the Western powers.

High production values, strong male is excellent except for the occasional over-acting endemic in Eastern film.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Despicable Me 2


I had read that this was the most popular film in England last year so I was curious. I can see why. It's funny, very slapsticky which would appeal to kids, the characters are quite endearing and even though the story was formulaic there was so much creativity on display that I went along with it.

Nice character design, imaginative effects. Good kid flick.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?


Lighthearted take on the emerging complexity of domestic relationships in urban China. We follow a married man whose gay needs are re-awakened after a decade of suppression. Several other characters also undergo life changes similar to those familiar in the West.

The novelty here is that until recently China has been a tightly buttoned up society...gays didn't exist, marriage was forever and not entered into for the benefit of the principals, etc. This film shows (leads?) evolving attitudes.

The film was charming, forgettable fluff but for the sociological message.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Celestial Clockwork


Delightful farce set in Paris. Similar in tone to Amelie. Here a 23 yo woman flees the altar in the opening scene, scoots to Paris and tries to make it as an opera singer. She lands in a neighborhood filled with oddball, but kindly characters who embrace her unreservedly. It's the kind of place we'd all like to live...but they only exist in the movies.

If you are willing to submit to this charming fluff it will give you a lovely evening's entertainment.


Europa Report


Nice thriller about a manned expedition to Europa, a moon of Jupiter with an icy crust and an ocean under it which might contain life. The crew are international and both sexes. No time is spent on character development - which hurt the film's eventual impact. As the cast began getting picked off one-by-one it was difficult to care.

Primary focus was the tech stuff both in theme and look and that was very impressive. It wasn't 2001 but it tried to honor that seminal work and succeeded.

There isn't much intelligent sci-fi out there...this one comes in as a solid B effort.


Friday, January 3, 2014

American Hustle

Christian Bale, Amy Adams   d/ David Russell

A confused film roughly based on the abscam scandal of the 70's. At times farcical, threatening, character study, menacing gangster thriller, bureaucratic never really coalesced into a coherent whole.

Three of the main players were excellent -  CB, AA, and Jeremy Renner; one was poor - Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence was...well, second rate Mia Farrow a la Broadway Danny Rose. Robert di Niro turned in a nice scene as a scary mafia thug. Poor Amy Adams had to appear in every scene in dresses slit to her waist...I felt sorry for her.

It's very difficult to merge the various tones used here and again Russell shows he's not up to the task. He seems to be someone who's watched a lot of movies...picks up on types and much-used tropes but has no experience with real life. Too much of this was cartoonish, movie reality...why should we care about some toons? You can't hurt them. No matter what you do to them they bounce right back.

Overall a mixed bag.


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Computer Chess

amerindie     Andrew Bujalsky

Not mumblecore. Mock-doc of a convention in the early 80's where machines were pitted against each other. Deadpan. Look and acting were perfect with most of the characters. Nice satire of period touchy-feely groups. Head nerd was terrific. He got it exactly right.

Fun portrait of the kind of people who would have gotten involved with something like this. Better than other films of his I've seen. Not quite there yet...but he's going in the right direction.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Return to Oz

Fairuza Balk   d/  Walter Murch

Sadly rejected sequel to the 1939 much-beloved film. This had a different tone than the singing and dancing and many scenes where Dorothy was threatened by adults or supernatural forces. This put off some parents in died at the box office. I thought it was quite well done, with the best claymation I'd seen in a feature film to that point.

It still works for me and I've heard it's found an audience on VHS and DVD. It's scary for children but what's wrong with that? Read the Grimm Bros or Hans Christian Andersen.

Murch is an outstanding editor and this was the only film he ever directed. Too bad...this was very well done and FB was perfect.


Seeds of Death


Blistering piece on Monsanto, Dow and the other corporate monsters who are poisoning the food supply and the very soil of the country for short-term profit. Obviously an advocacy piece with no time given to those who support frankenfood...but, really...

Many troubling things revealed in the me the most startling was the list of countries who ban this stuff. It's pretty much the civilized world - which means everyone except the US. They don't raise the notion of externalities which is one of the major flaws in our current economic system.

Very upsetting doc. Should be seen by everyone. The net gives us a way to fight back but at this point it looks hopeless.