Saturday, May 31, 2014

Fed Up


Very disturbing doc on the processed food industry, the massive over-use of sugar and the nefarious efforts of Big Food to prevent any changes or regulations that would interrupt the flow of profits to their pockets.

Children's health and safety? How quaint.

This film didn't go far enough: the bad guy is unregulated capitalism, our bribery system of 'government' and the moral rot at the top of the social pyramid. Well, maybe but look at all the money we're making!

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.


Into The Abyss

documentary   Werner Herzog

Intended as a screed against capital punishment it turned out that this was an odd case to choose and present as your best argument. Two 19 year olds murdered three people...a woman, her son and her son's friend so they could steal a Camaro. Good idea, guys. Then they drove it around bragging to their 'friends' until they got caught. For the last ten years said car has been sitting in an evidence lot rotting away.

Neither of these morons expressed any remorse. They were both predators without conscience, stone ignorant, unreflective...

Note to WH: try to find more sympathetic criminals next time.


Friday, May 30, 2014

American: The Story of Bill Hicks


Very good telling of the story of the young guy from Texas who started as a shock comic, moved through alcoholism and emerged clean as a brilliant commentator with an insightful, biting take on contemporary life.

Unfortunately he died at 32 of cancer so he and we were deprived of his mature years of social commentary a la George Carlin. Too bad. He was a unique voice.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Found Memories


Exquisitely photographed curiosity. A remote mountain village, mostly abandoned since the end of the rubber boom days, is inhabited by old people, remnants, those who forgot to die. Their routines are unvarying, methodical. One day a young female photographer shows up, brings new life to the town and gradually pulls out the residents' stories.

More a tone poem than a film...a visual feast with low light, shadows, pinhole cameras...really a first rate tribute to the art of photography. The story, although extremely slow, did become moving as we spent time with these folks. The resolution was both quiet and perfect.

A little-known gem with no commercial potential.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

August: Osage County

Meryl Streep

Unbearable. Streep plays a dying matriarch who is whiny, demanding, drugged up, self-absorbed, rude, insulting...just about as obnoxious a person as you'll ever come across. Her clan are no better.

And these bozos expect me to spend two hours in their gentle company? No thanks.




Pretty poor alien invasion film from 1966. No budget, silly aliens who were mostly Asian in appearance (how's that for exotic), tacky sets, etc. This might have been a little bit risible in 1955 but by this time all the cheapo ideas had been used and you either had to up your game or drop out.

The cast tried hard but no cigar.


Monday, May 26, 2014

Jodorowsky's Dune


The remarkable story of the attempt in the 1970's by the Chilean madman, creator of El Topo and Sante Sangre, to film Frank Herbert's classic sci-fi novel. His ideas were grandiose, original and would have been a hoot of a wasn't meant to be.

The suits were terrified of this creative force and shot him down cold. That may have been for the best. It mighta sucked. Still, this was a helluva story...


Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Crucified Lovers

Japan   d/ K. Mizoguchi

Hyperventilated melodrama set in the tightly controlled world of medieval Japan. Complicated plot with several twists ends with a couple on the that world their chances of escaping and starting a new life were zero.

As always Mizoguchi focused on the disparity in life quality between the classes. this time he also shows the treachery the ruling class will use when they see one of their own stumble. Vulnerability means ruin by these sharks.

Nice looking B/W (1963). Short, punchy and effective.


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Gloomy Sunday


Well done (maybe a little too well done) melodrama set in the Budapest of the 30's. Of course this means Nazis...but this time sort of a good Nazi. The core story is a love triangle - 2 men who love the same woman...they all work at the same restaurant...and they pretty much work it out except for those pesky Nazis.

One composes a beautiful song (which really is beautiful), it becomes a big hit but its melancholy tone causes people to listen to it while they are committing suicide. For some reason the three see this as a problem.

I found these characters interesting and well-played. The sets were overlit which gave a squeaky clean aura to the production. Still, it was all done skillfully... Overall a nice job.


Friday, May 23, 2014

Workingman's Death

documentary   Michael Glawogger

An extraordinary doc on work in the 21st century. We focus on five disparate groups:

-miners operating an illegal coal mine in Ukraine...mostly working on their backs in seams two feet thick.
-Indonesian men who climb into the belly of an active volcano, collect slabs of sulfur and carry them out.
-butchers slaughtering animals in a filthy open-air abattoir in coastal Nigeria.
-Pakistani ship breakers dismantling huge tankers with ropes and hand tools
-Chinese workers in a modern-day steel mill.

Imaginative, close-up camera work put us right in the scene. After seeing this most people should never complain about their jobs again.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Selfish Giant


Another lower class drama which follows a young man around while he steals, breaks things and generally acts like a jerk. Must be suffering inside. Or something.

There have been too many of these...This is England, Ladybird,Ladybird, Fish Tank, etc. It's unpleasant and unenlightening; after a while these just become an ordeal for me to try to get through. This one had some redeeming moments but I'm sick of this genre.

Class is England's curse, its prison. Properterianism its foul legacy to the world. These films tell us that the British 1% are just as awful toward its own as they have been to 'lesser' peoples all over the world. Watta surprise.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea


Interesting look at an engineering mistake that's still there fifty miles from Palm Springs, Ca 80 years later, serving as a refuge for some folks who just don't fit in the other world. Of course it's hot, and it stinks because of all the rotting fish (don't ask) and your neighbors can be just about anything...

But you can buy a lot for $400, plunk down a trailer and you're free, with the wind in your hair...actually common house flies, a real issue there. But still the place survives as an emblem of American freedom, or something.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive

Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston   w/d   Jim Jarmusch

Wow... I've seen all JJ's films and liked some (Stranger Than Paradise, Dead Man) but was unprepared for this one. Vamps as elegant, world-travelers who buy their blood from hospitals illegally, live in shabby darkened rooms, are oh-so-jaded from living oh-so-long, call regular humans zombies, have super-fast reflexes but use them sparingly...epitomize decadence.

The visuals here were superb, camera work slinky, sensual. Ms Swinton was perfect...another star in her stellar career. Supporting cast (Mia W. John Hurt, Jeffrey Wright) was fun, use of subtle black humor tickled, locations perfect. Maybe the best use of music I've seen in a year...the montages/interludes were wonderful.

I didn't know he had this level of quality in him. A career triumph.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Men in War

Robert Ryan   d/  Anthony Mann

Lean, tough gritty story of Americans in battle during the early part of the war in Korea. Mann showed bravery, cowardice, frailty, loyalty, fear in a convincing mix. My only quibble was that these guys were much older than actual soldiers...who are usually in their late teens, early twenties.

The setting was anywhere, the objectives minor except for the participants; deaths were movie-fied, without the screaming, whimpering seen in real life. Still, for its time (1957) the film was a big step away from the gung-ho nonsense typified by John Wayne and his ilk.


Sunday, May 18, 2014



Broadly played farce/drama set during the Japanese invasion in the 1930's. A village has in its possession an over-sized (called foreign) cow which is its treasure...after the army goes through the only things left alive are the cow and its reluctant caretaker. The rest of the film consists of the caretaker trying to stay alive whilst constantly being undermined by the cow.

I guess this was meant to be comedic...but in a Mack Sennett sort of way. A hundred years ago I might have found it funny. Today...sorry...

Film was great looking but idiotic.


Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Grandmaster

China   d/ Wong Kar Wai

There was a time, thirty years ago, when these kung fu fighting films were fresh and startling. One, Crouching Tiger..., even crossed over to the mainstream and played in Peoria.

But now the bloom is off the the first extended fight scene rolled on by I found it impossible to keep my attention on the screen. This is all cartoon violence...who cares if one or a hundred of the toons get killed?

Elegantly lit/shot but it's time to move on folks. This genre is dead.


Friday, May 16, 2014

For Ellen

 w/d So Yong Kim

Paul Dano stars as an aging rock group leader who returns home to sign final divorce papers and learns he is being asked to sign away any parental rights to the daughter he's never met. He tries to establish some sort of connection to her but he's inarticulate, often drunk or stoned, smokes, has no idea how to relate to a child. Dano turns in a stellar performance.

Painful...too painful...for me at least.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Les Choristes


Standard-issue inspirational story of a humble prefect hired by a rural reform school who secretly writes music, contrives to teach choral singing to his misbegotten charges and ends up with an award-winning ensemble.

The lead was very well cast - a bald, frumpy-looking sarariman with a woebegone expression. But he was we had a story.

Competent, not more.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Judi Dench, Steve Coogan

Dench plays a victim of the monstrous Magdelene Sisters of Ireland who took her child and sold him to Americans fifty years ago. Now she wants to find him and is hooked up with a journalist...and off they go.

This was directed by Stephen Frears, who's given us some fine films in the past but this time relied too heavily on syrupy music swelling up at appropriate moments to cue the audience. And he seemed to be hitting the standard marks with only one minor surprise in the screenplay. I wonder what attracted him to this project.

Both players successfully created characters different from their previous work; their relationship seemed real enough with rough spots and eventual understanding. Not bad, not good...somewhere in the middle.


Finding Vivian Maier


Outstanding examination of a unique, gifted and ultimately unknowable woman. She spent her life working as a nanny. collecting stuff and taking photographs...brilliant street shots which get in close and capture the human essence of her subjects.

Her work gave her a place to live and the freedom to get outside, into the streets of Chicago where the action was and record it. None of her work was shown in her was unclear why. She was very private but not reclusive. Friends said she was a good times she would go around with a tape recorder asking people their opinions on current affairs.

Above all were her photos...which were superb. Fascinating story, well told.


Monday, May 12, 2014

Children of Hiroshima


A young female teacher takes a trip back to her hometown four years after the atomic bomb explosion and encounters the aftermath of history's most heinous act. The city is in the process of being rebuilt but much physical devastation remains.

Mostly though she deals with the human wreckage left behind...the former students she once taught and their families...who have been left with radiation sickness, disfigured bodies, sterility, etc. It's a heartbreaking display of the madness of war.

Of course this is a polemic but who can argue with its premises? Only the mad or the inhuman would ever advocate perpetrating another such atrocity...and the recent book Command and Control is a dismaying reminder that there is no shortage of those eager for just that. Who can believe in a long term hope for mankind?


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Muddy River


Elegant, sensitive, moving film about the friendship between two boys in the immediate post-war period. One is from a working class family who operate a busy noodle shop; the other lives on a boat. his father is dead and his mother works as a prostitute to feed her children.

Class issues abound but the story is closely focused on the lives of the two boys, with the focus on the different circumstances forced on them because of their social status. The film is imbued with a sense of inevitability, of melancholy as the gulf between them plays itself out.

Cine and framing were exceptional. This is a world-class film which ranks with the best dealing with the lives of children.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Nightmare Alley

Tyrone Power

Nicely done noir from 1947 about carnies, mentalists, geeks, 'spiritual' leaders and psychiatry et al. They packed a lot into this screenplay and coupled it with lotsa elegant B/W photography.

But the pillar on which this stood was Power...who was excellent. I'd always thought of him as a pretty boy but he easily carried this film whilst demonstrating the full range of his skill as an actor.

This was an intelligent examination of hucksters of all stripe and stands as one of the best in post war American cinema.


Friday, May 9, 2014


France   Vincent Lindon   d/ Claire Denis

Denis has been one of the most intriguing directors working in France for over twenty years. Her Chocolat remains one of the best examinations of the French colonial experience. She has worked before with Lindon and gave us Vendredi Soir.

So what went wrong here? Lindon was his usual competent self...but the film's near-total lack of exposition made him a blank. An hour in I went to the net to find out what this film was ostensibly about. And the summary I read was never made clear during the film.

This was coupled with dark, enigmatic scenes whose purpose was seemingly to further obscure the story.

Note to Denis: you have to get your audience to care about your story, your characters, something. Artsy compositions and lighting are fine as long as you've drawn us in. If you haven''ve failed.


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

Robert Downey, Val Kilmer

I knew with a title like that I wasn't going to get MacBeth...and I didn't. This was a jokey parody of several types of hollywood/private eye films that strained mightily to generate a tiny laugh or two. And failed.

Now not being funny isn't a crime and doesn't mean your film has failed...but if that's all you were shooting for...and missed...well...maybe you should have thought a little harder about the project. Couldn't fault the players here...they did what they were asked...locations and tech were first rate...the problem was the script.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014



Appallingly bad 'film'. Did somebody really think this was a good idea?

For the first 1/2 hour we follow some drunken frat boys around as they commit petty crimes, cackling with glee like 12 year olds. The camera swings around wildly, jump cuts abound...I guess this was supposed to, man.

But it wasn't. It was just aggravating. One of the most aggravating, irritating 'movies' ever made. If it ever settled down and told some semblance of a story I didn't care. Life is too short to waste on shit like this.


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Central Station

Brazil   d/Walter Salles

Touching, well done film about an unlikely friendship between a 50ish woman and a 10yo boy. She is a letter writer, he is a recently orphaned street kid in Rio. She agrees to take him to a remote province to connect with his father. The film is their road trip...and their coming together.

The film was helped immeasurably by the acting of veteran Fernanda Montenegro. Her worn, expressive face conveys a lifetime of suffering and loneliness. The boy is brash, self-possessed but vulnerable in a world he only dimly understands.

Film makes good use of Brazil's spectacular scenery and provincial practices. A winner.


Saturday, May 3, 2014

Peppermint Soda

France   w/d  Diane Kurys

A wonderful film I hope will be remembered forever.

Released in 1977, set in 1963, it is an episodic look at the daily lives, loves, conflicts, teenage stupidity of two sisters, aged 13 and 15. Both girls were likable and a real way, even though they do dumb things at times...just like real kids.

Kurys knows how to make a point and get out of a scene before it begins to curdle. She has brought this time to life, political life and, most importantly, the lives of these two girls with all the usual frabbing around universal in adolescence.

The best films, the ones that stick in your mind for decades show us characters we can understand and care for. This is one of those. Kudos.


Killer Joe

Matthew McConnaughey   d/ William Friedkin

Trash...just trash. What happened to this guy? He did some good films in the 70's - his remake of Wages of Fear (Sorcerer) was one of the best remakes ever...admittedly a tiny group. Still... And The French Connection will be watched by film buffs forever.

But this piece of shit makes Jade look like Powell/Pressburger. What's this fascination with filthy, grubby, trashy people? Does someone in hollywoodland think they are more interesting or something? MM was just in The Paperboy which was a couple of notches up the trash scale from this one. Spare me any more.

Take him away men.


Friday, May 2, 2014

The Giant Mechanical Man


Routine rom-com (sans com) set in NYC. Male street performer meets ditsy thirty-something with a bad haircut and the inevitable unfolds.

Too inevitable. The players were charming but this hit every standard mark on the button. I stayed with it - in spite of 3 (out of 5) really annoying characters - but I'm not sure why. Inertia?