Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Under the Skin

Scarlett Johansson   d/ Jonathan Glazer

Enigmatic, atmospheric film about a blank-faced woman who drives around Scotland seducing young men and taking them to magic rooms where they walk naked into the floor, which is in fact a fluid-filled trap of some kind. None of this is ever explained. We later learn that she is not in fact a woman but a construction of some artificial skin within which lies another being.

Some of this worked, some didn't. To my eye the drama was undermined by having the lead character a complete cypher. She was such an emotional zero I found myself distanced from the action on the screen. Also, there were abrupt changes in tone whenever we shifted from one of the magic rooms to reality which made the film jagged, not smooth.

The music and sound design were very effective; the lighting, both interior and exterior created a sense of mystery. Pacing was slow but when the plot began to unfold 3/4 of the way through it turned out that the wait was worth it...the payoff scenes were sharp, effective and gave us enough to piece together an understanding of what we've just watched.

Original, intriguing, worth it.


Monday, April 28, 2014



Very well made horror flick. A group of surveyors laying out national borders commit atrocities and are haunted by the ghosts of their victims.

This looked, camera work, locations... If it had been released thirty years ago it would have been acclaimed. Now, after so many of these, it seemed like SOS. Too bad. Solid, professional film with a good cast and some nice scares.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Last Ride

Australia   Hugo Weaving

Road trip film. Ex-con is on the run after murdering his best friend in a fit of of many during this story. He is accompanied by his 8 yo son...who loves his dad but is having trouble reconciling the constant violence he witnesses and, indeed, is subjected to.

This is essentially a two-hander...the relationship between father and son works throughout. Weaving is convincing as a hair-trigger psycho who, at times, realizes he's doing it all wrong and tries to make amends.

Harrowing story filmed mostly at magic hour which tempers the ugly images enough to make the story palatable.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures


Very fine doc on the director lionized by many.


Friday, April 25, 2014

Sleepless Night


Extremely fast-paced actioner dealing with crooked cops who have the tables turned on them after they steal a kingpin's drug haul...he kidnaps one of their sons to get it back.

Was I supposed to care for any of these sleazoids? I know we've got a captive kid here but his father's a the worst sense. The techniques used guarantee attention (tight close-ups, everyone always in fast motion, etc) but that just stops the viewer from reflecting on what's actually going on.

Decadence on display.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Jennifer Anniston, Paul Rudd

Mainstream American comedy. Proto-yuppie couple lose their jobs in NYC, end up on a commune, etc.

Not an insult. Close though. She's such an appealing person, someone you'd like to hang around's easy to see why she's popular. Mostly in fair to poor films. I wonder why?


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Lunchbox


A pedestrian premise...a lonely widower's daily lunchbox delivery gets mixed up with another man's and he begins an epistolary relationship with the preparer.

This could have been handled many ways. Here the filmmaker elected a subtle, hopeful but realistic scenario which is eventually left unresolved. There is a large difference in their ages...she discovers her husband is having an affair...the possibility for confrontation or melodrama is present but avoided.

We get a feeling for the flow of life in a large foreign city...the crowds, the daily practices of office workers. We also get longing, nostalgia, disappointment...little laughter.

Well done.


Monday, April 21, 2014

A Story of Floating Weeds

Japan   Y. Ozu

This was the 1934 silent version of the story. An itinerant acting troupe washes up in a remote seaside village where the leader fathered a son twenty years before. The inevitable melodrama plays out.

Without sound this still carried the full impact of the drama. His compositions were similar but the B/W created a different, more dramatic tone. All actors, especially the lead were excellent. Criterion commissioned a score which worked well...amazingly enough the film never had a written many venues at the time it was run truly silent.

This differed from the late-career color film in details, not in quality.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Missing Picture

documentary   Cambodia

An extraordinary film. Far and away the best film ever done on the surrealistic madness that afflicted Cambodia from 1975 to 1979.

Archival footage was mixed with clay figures set in dioramas intended to show conditions prevailing at different stages of the Khmer Rouge insanity. The leaders of the revolution rejected the capitalist world with its colonialism, cruelty and exploitation and substituted a regime of surpassing deprivation, cruelty and widespread murder...of an entire population.

The techniques used in the film were representative and dramatic and successfully brought that world to light. The film was a lament, a remembrance, a powerful indictment of ideology of any stripe.

Who will make a similar film about the Western plutocracy? Who will be left?


The Snow Maiden


Colorful, exuberant adaptation of an opera written in the 19th Century by Rimsky-Korsakov. Fairy tale-ish. Beautiful looking with lovely locations, native costumes, handsome players, etc. Some of the music was wonderful but the solo singing parts seemed excessively mannered to my ears.

The drama was pretty primitive - roughly on a par with something you'd see on a  contemporary children's cartoon.

An interesting peek into another culture's folk legend.


Monday, April 14, 2014



The first film in the Fanny trilogy by Marcel Pagnol. This may have been innovative at the time (1931) but seems hopelessly dated now.

All characters here were wildly overdone...waving their arms around, yelling in each others faces, carrying on like demented six year olds in a school play.

Too bad. The story evidenced the deep understanding Pagnol showed in his novels and plays. But cinema was too new - his attempt to bring his sensibility to the new medium was too broad, too exaggerated.Historical value only.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Map of the Sounds of Tokyo


Extremely slow, muddled drama with a silly premise, too many sex scenes and just occasional roots in reality.

We follow a beautiful thirtyish woman who works at a fish market and also doubles as a hit man. She is contracted to kill a Spanish wine merchant (don't ask) but falls in love with him...for reasons entirely beyond my ken. So they fuck a lot. Neither is expressive, we get no backstory on either. There was some nice photography, especially night scenes of the great metropolis but there was nothing here to make me care for any of these people.

Not worth it.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Jeremiah Johnson

Robert Redford   d/ Sidney Pollack

Interesting treatment of the time whites first ventured into the mountain West seeking pelts and freedom from 'civilization.'

This was written by John Milius so there was a bit too much macho bullshit but the  interactions between whites and natives were pretty well handled. Scenery was spectacular of course and Redford was, as always, solid if unimaginative.

Not bad for hollywood product.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Murder on a Sunday Morning


Elegant, sophisticated doc by a French team who followed a criminal case in Jacksonville, Florida from beginning to end. They, and the young black defendant were fortunate to have as the defense attorney an articulate, committed advocate who scorned the police work on this case and systematically destroyed their 'case' in court.

The editing here stood out - interview scenes were sprinkled among location shoots, reenactments and courtroom drama and gave a sense of insider knowingness to the viewer. The air of suspense by the end was palpable.

As good as this type of film gets.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Out of the Furnace


Tough, tight, gritty little film set in Pittsburgh. We follow two brothers played by Christian Bale and Casey Affleck as they frab their way through working class problems: CA has had four terms in Iraq and makes a 'living' as a bare-knuckle fighter, CB works in a failing mill after a stretch in prison.

Film had an outstanding cast - Woody Harrelson, Zoe Saldana, Sam Shepherd, Willem Dafoe - and all played it straight and tight. The plot was a bit predictable but I came away with a sense of authenticity, realness that's often lacking.

Written and directed by actor/director Scott Cooper whose Crazy Heart also worked.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Field in England

England    d/  Ben Wheatly

Grim, grubby story(?) of five men separated from some battle in rural England in the 1600's. We are kept in the dark throughout as to what's going on, who these people are, what they are searching for, why they want to murder each other, what the hell this filmmaker is trying to get across.

They kill each other until there is only one left...but even when dead they come back to bellow and scream and dig into the filth yet again, eat magic mushrooms, have psychedelic visions and suffer for the full hour and a half. Three of them appear at the end, standing, watching.

I ended up concluding that all this was a fever dream by one or perhaps more than one of them which gave it a similar scenario to Incident at Owl Creek Bridge.

This movie wasn't was well done...but it made you feel bad...scuzzy, filthy, subject to random unpleasant experience. Does that have artistic value? Is that a statement of some kind?


The Grand Budapest Hotel

Ralph Fiennes    w/d Wes Anderson

This was a major surprise. I've seen a half dozen of this guy's films and haven't liked one. They were annoying, shallow, precious or twee. He even managed to make George Clooney into a repulsive asshole as the titular Mr Fox. But this time he has concocted/contrived a delicious, fully-formed sacher torte with wit, style, satirical bite and a ferociously compelling performance by RF - heretofore a stifled Brit 'actor' whose expressive range went from A to B(cf. Sunshine).

The film excelled in every particular: script, use of color, pacing, camera movement...flair. Nothing here went too far...he established a tone immediately and held it throughout. He even managed a soupcon of poignancy at the closing.

This film has tickled audiences worldwide. It should. If you're immune to its charms the fault, dear viewer, lies within.


Monday, April 7, 2014

A Touch of Sin


Four disparate stories which attempt to show the upset and dislocation of contemporary China.

Direction was excellent...framing, camera moves, use of light and color. The main problem with the film was that every story ended in violence...and largely cartoonish violence. The characters we follow are invariably abused until they snap and shoot, stab someone or jump from a high building.

It struck me as a strong comment on the changes in Chinese culture: the film begins and ends with a traditional traveling opera company putting on a show in a public space...perhaps a reminder, a yearning for what once was. This contrasts with constant traffic, high-rise cities, high speed trains, etc. Families are shown broken, the members separated by economics and distance.

Nice try.


The Galapagos Affair


Fascinating story of some Germans in the 20's and 30's who left home to settle on an uninhabited isle far away after a magazine described it as a tropical paradise. Everything was fine for the first couple...until the next arrived.

We follow the deterioration of the social relationships over the course of five years which eventually leads to murder. How perfect.

Satre was right...hell is other people.


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Unmade Beds


Shambling raggedy-assed drama about some nowhere twenty-somethings eking out their nowhere lives in London, with nobody. What in the world was this filmmaker trying to get across here? Get drunk/stoned. live in a squat, make and listen to really shitty music, eat cheerios for breakfast...and what?

This film had some of the worst music I've ever been subjected to. Was it supposed to be clever? Hip? annoying? Ironic?

All tight close-ups, hand-held (of course)...a waste of an hour and a half.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Seventh Heaven

France   Vincent Lindon   w/d  Benoit Jacquot

Odd little film centering on a troubled marriage. Thirtyish wife has a problem with which she could easily afford. When caught she faints...begins seeing a hypnotist who helps her in many ways.

Meanwhile her psychic improvement unnerves her husband who begins to deteriorate.

The hypnotism scenes were the best I've seen on screen. The tone was right, BJ took his time, the actors were perfect. The ostensibly happy ending was a bit seemed we were headed toward a crash but the final scenes were sweetness and light.

Not as compelling as his previous film A Single Girl...but still quite good.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Bread and Tulips


Very charming film about a frazzled, unappreciated hausfrau who, after being abandoned/forgotten by her family, decides to take a vacation from her life. She ends up in Venice, gets a job, a housemate, friends, a new life.

Fairytale-ish perhaps but the lead was winning, Bruno Ganz was an unexpected pleasure as an ex-Icelander, ex-prisoner who shares his apartment and life with this stray and wins us over with his formal circumlocutions right out of a Victorian novel.

If only life worked this way.