Monday, February 24, 2014

The Armstrong Lie


Alex Gibney's takedown of the bicycle racer.

I learned far more than I really wanted to know about Lance Armstrong, bicycle racing, doping, betrayal and the Tour de France. Racing bikes up and down mountains strikes me as borderline psychotic behavior...if you add money and fame to the mix what the hell do you expect?

Winning isn't's the only thing...Saint Vincent Lombardi.

Lance, Vince...take a seat in the back of the room. We'll call you when we need you.


Friday, February 21, 2014


Brian Cox

Delightful comedy based on the complexity of cause and effect in a modern city.

The film was structured a bit like Slacker...instead of continuing to follow each new character we kept circling back to those we had previously seen as each did things that affected the lives of the others. Wonderfully ingenious. Several laugh-out-loud moments. They succeeded in creating characters that worked even though there were many of them and none had much screen time.

Fresh and original.


He Walked By Night

Richard Basehart

Excellent noir from 1948. A burglar in LA shoots and kills a cop thus prompting a manhunt.

Even though this was set in LA nearly all scenes were shot at night and the concluding chase in the cavernous storm drains underneath the city. Beautifully lit and shot. Done as a quasi-doc (with a narrator) and based on a true case. Very much like Dragnet a few years later. Jack Webb had a small part.

Dated, of course, but still engrossing. It was easy to see why films like this had such an influence on European filmmakers.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Trials of Muhammad Ali


Excellent treatment of the time of exile he he rose to the championship, took a moral stand based on his recently acquired religious beliefs, lost his title and livelihood and eventually emerged as an American icon.

Ali was an extraordinary man. This doc had clips seldom seen and gave a sympathetic portrait of real courage and conviction...a rare thing in american public life.



Daniel Bruhl, Chris Hemsworth   d/ Ron Howard

Well done, old-fashioned thriller about the rivalry between Niki Lauder and James Hunt in the 1976 Formula 1 season. It joins the ranks of good films made in this exotic world...Grand Prix, Senna.

The contrast in the personalities of the two men couldn't have been starker: Hunt was a wild, over-the-top rock star; Lauder an emotionless, methodical perfectionist. Neither was reduced to a caricature here...the two leads created believable, talented, flawed men who embraced extreme danger for the tangible and societal awards.

Entertaining, thrilling and satisfying.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

You Can Count on Me

Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo    w?d Kenneth Lonergan

His debut film still shines. This is an intelligent, nicely crafted and thought-out exploration of the lives of two siblings who suffered the traumatic loss of both their parents in childhood. They have 'issues' and have a hard time dealing with life in different ways: she has become stiff, rigid, unavailable emotionally...he is a fuck-up, wandering from place to place with no sense of purpose or direction.

Both players were superb. Everything about this film was well done. This is what you can do with a limited budget, imagination and an understanding of the forces that shape people.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Past

France    w/d  Asghar Farhadi

Wow. I (and many others) wondered if this guy's last film,  A Separation, was a one-off.  Now we know it wasn't - Farhadi may be the best screenwriter out there.

Again he has crafted an intense, humanistic drama with a cast of a half dozen characters...all of whom come across as decent, sympathetic, plagued by the usual flaws shared by everyone (denial, selfishness, anger, revenge) but none driven by malice. Any one of us could step into the shoes of any of these characters and mimic their behavior as they try to muddle through this scenario.

All the players was a first rate ensemble piece, which he highlights by switching our focus from one to the other as the drama develops. He even uses some nice camera touches for emphasis.

Superb film.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Floating Weeds

Japan    Yasujiro Ozu

One of the last films produced by the master (1959) and the first he did in color. It was a re-make of a story he first tackled in the early 30's.

A theatrical troupe comes into a coastal town for a stand...the maestro has a former lover and a secret son living there he had fathered 18 years prior. Things get very complicated very quickly.

The setting and theme are atypical for Ozu - instead of focusing on domestic problems within a family this story spreads into the social arena with its attendant complexity. Now the severe changes Japan was undergoing in the postwar period directly impact the personal problems confronting the characters.

All his signature techniques and actors were here. The film is, as usual, thoughtful, reflective and eventually moving.


Sunday, February 16, 2014


Bruce Dern, Will Forte     D/ Alexander Payne

It took a while for me to get into wasn't clear for an hour or so what he was trying to do with this story. Payne has been a gentle humanist but here we were following an obnoxious, senile irresponsible jerk who was demented enough to believe he had won a sweepstakes lottery. He travels to his home town on the way to pick up his winnings with his long-suffering son. The townsfolk are portrayed as lazy, stupid, old...and eventually mean and greedy...fools.

An hour in the snark moves aside and something comedic occurs. From that point we are in a comedy which was only funny sometimes. Payne's take on rural Nebraska is pretty harsh...but the exquisite widescreen B/W photography balances that. The resolution was pat crowd-pleaser which accounts for the film's popularity.

I had mixed feelings about the film...for me it was annoying, exasperating, sharply etched, washed in nostalgia which avoided cloying, sad and vaguely poignant. I got real tired of Woody Grant after a while (huh? he said looking around blankly). Made me grateful I don't have to deal with someone like that.

I wouldn't watch it again but I'm not sorry I saw it the first time.


Saturday, February 15, 2014


 Glenn Ford

US re-make of a Japanese thriller. The military has produced a biological weapon which escapes and kills most of the people in the world. Eventually the only survivors left were scientists stationed in the becomes their job to continue the human race.

Made in 1980 this had a 70's look to it but it did fit comfortably into the post-apocalypse genre. None of the threads developed characters real enough to make me care about their fate. It held me but just barely.


Sleeping Dogs

Australia   Sam Neill    d/ Roger Donaldson

Cautionary thriller which was very much of its time (1977). A right-wing government stages terrorist acts to justify importing mercenaries from the US...including Warren Oates as an over-the-top good ole boy. We follow a naif who gets sucked into the nightmare of the 'justice' system of a totalitarian state and spends the film on the run.

Some of this was dated and Neill is more effective as a pretty face than an actor but still this moved along with enough credibility and vigor to easily hold my attention.

Good thing it couldn't happen here.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Cutie and the Boxer


Wonderful piece on the oft-times troubled marriage between two Japanese-Americans struggling to make a living with their art in NYC. He is a high-energy ignoroid and long-term ex-drunk apparently driven to create...even though the stuff he makes is sub-Pollock junque. She actually has a lovely eye but has subsumed her ambitions to his for forty years. This film centers on her emergence from his shadow.

His wild-eyed stupid misogyny is nicely countered by her sweetness and calm. She obviously loves this guy...or at least is in thrall to his energy and creative drive. It helps that she was and is strikingly beautiful. Their pas de deux is fascinating to watch. Even though he seems to be abusing her we get the sense that she has gained the upper hand in their life-long battle.



Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Oceans 12

George Clooney, Matt Damon

A terrible film...just terrible.

A group of middle-aged super-thieves plot...well, some more theft. The script presents them as so ultra-cool, so superior to mere mortals that they can do superhuman things because they have super-reasoning, or something. This was so absurd it didn't even work as escapist entertainment. It was just asinine, patronizing shit.

I saw the original when I was 14 and thought it was stupid. God knows why I picked this one off the shelf. Senility I guess.


Monday, February 10, 2014

The Thin Red Line

Terrence Malick

The first hour of this was stunning...elegiac scenes of locals living the rousseauvian natural life, in harmony with the world around them, subsisting on what they find, on what they grow. Contrast the soldiers with their machines of death, their rigid system of order, and orders...the brown uniforms in a green world, intruders. The men scared, running, dying, bleeding...war.

Again, elegant camera work, smooth steadicam shots, pauses to peer for a time at the other living critters going about their own savagery, their own little wars for survival.

Didn't like this when I saw it...liked it more this time. Then I was disappointed...I was expecting more...maybe hoping for too much after the brilliance of Days of Heaven. This time I appreciated his vision and sense of beauty...and, in part at least, the thematic content.




Elegant five hour doc produced by the BBC tracing the known history of mankind's most monstrous behavior. They use re-enactments, historical footage, modelling, locations and interviews to make the story as real and accurate as possible. The narration is by Linda Hunt.

Most of my life I've been drawn to the story of Germany's collective madness...staring into the heart of evil to try and grasp its essence. This sorry episode in human history resulted from carrying an ism to its logical conclusion. Is there anyone out there who thinks something like this won't happen again...somewhere? Some nuclear apocalypse perhaps? Classic Greek tragedy held that man carries within him the seeds of his own destruction.

It'll be interesting to see if humanity survives...and, if it does, in what form... Stay tuned.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Savages

Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman

A pair of thirtyish siblings are forced to deal with their (apparently) abusive, demented father. He is a college professor, she's a failed playwright surviving on temp jobs and screwing her married neighbor.

Nothing particularly dramatic mostly seems like a realistic picture of how real people, with their messy, confused lives, cope with a dying parent.

This would have been meh? but for the skill of these two players. She acts with her eyes, her face...he with his voice and posture. Both are consummate film actors. Together they made this memorable.


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Swedish Auto

amerindie   Lukas Haas

Got through about half of this before I couldn't stand it anymore.

LH plays a shy, nearly mute auto mechanic who spends a lot of time looking at the ground. Except when he's stalking a blonde woman or hiding in the bushes of another woman's house watching her practice mournful songs on the violin.

Filled with short, meaningless was a half hour before anyone engaged with anyone and when they did it was mostly so they could both look at the floor. This was not interesting. At all.


Friday, February 7, 2014

The Story of Film

documentary    Mark Cousins

Most would agree it's impossible to tell a comprehensive history of film in 12 or so hours. That said this was an entertaining and, certainly for some, informative quick survey of the technological development that has become the premiere art form of our time.

Cousins necessarily skims over the top of the major developments in film's history but gives good weight to work done in various parts of the world showing how even obscure films done in remote places under primitive conditions can influence world cinema. He highlights Dreyer, Ray, Ozu, Kiarostami and many others. This series could open the vast world of film to a curious neophyte...and good for him for that.

Good survey and well worth the time.


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Oscar-Nominated Shorts: Animation

Very high quality sampling of the world's best animation. All showed a high level of skill and imagination. My favorite was from France - Mr. Hublot - which used a steampunk/ Terry Gilliam design that tickled me all the way through. Great sound design too.

For me the weakest entry was the Japanese film Possessions. Old fashioned animation style and theme essentially replicated what Miyazaki was doing twenty years ago.

Overall this was a fine display of the range of talent working in studios all over the world.


Sunday, February 2, 2014

Killer Elite

Jason Statham, Clive Owen

Another hyper-violent film shows up on my netflix list. Not sure what I was reading at the time but it seems to be a low point.

This film was true to its title...killing was abundant...mostly in a cartoony way. By the 'heroes.' Oddly enough when the tables were turned they were able to absorb an incredible amount of punishment with no apparent after-effects.

Dumb stupid junk...perfectly in keeping with the culture that brings us today's Super Bowl.