Thursday, July 31, 2014


Ethan Hawke

A true-crime writer moves into a house where ghastly murders took place to gather material for his new book...and there his troubles began.

Slick and generally satisfying thriller in the current mode BUT far too much use was made here of darkness. There were scenes 10 minutes long with minimal lighting (eg. a weak flashlight, distant lamps) which became aggravating. I know that scary happens better in the dark but this guy went overboard. 

Cast was good, the reveal standard-issue; there were a few creepy moments...this film delivered the goods teenagers desire.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Before Your Eyes


A good one. Two Kurdish parents are murdered by paramilitary forces in front of their children who are then left to fend for themselves in an unnamed city. Their lives are not as awful as they could have been as homeless street children...this seems a bit unrealistic. The girl is 10 her brother younger. She has a wide-eyed, knowing affect similar to Ana Torrent at her age which helps the film immensely.

The resolution is ambiguous but it's implied that they are clever and resourceful enough to survive this huge blow early in their lives. They even effect an appropriate revenge on their parent's killer.

Solid work.


Le Weekend

Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan

Well this was a surprise. An aging couple head for a Paris weekend, re-creating the time of their honeymoon. We learn that their life together hasn't been one of unalloyed joy. They are sexually dysfunctional, she seems deeply bitter about something (lost time, her life choices?) and subjects him to humiliating behaviors.

But after showing us all the crud we watch them come together - the last third has them a solid couple enjoying their time together.

This was quite jarring, several times. I'm not sure the two halves match up. The expressions of undying love seem hollow after the things we've been shown in the first half. And the American friend bit came across as wholly contrived...just there to make the dramatic revelation scene possible.

Overall a mixed bag. Helped by the consummate skill of the two main players.



Istvan Szabo

Really fine film from the early 60's. Set in the late 40's we follow a young boy whose father died during the war. For whatever reasons he fabricates a heroic image of da's exploits as a freedom fighter. His peers know he is lying but overlook it. He maintains these fictions even into adulthood.

The imaginary sequences were outstanding...lovely to look at and done with just the right tongue-in-cheek tone. Solid work which presages his brilliant films in the 80's.


The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Judi Dench, Maggie Smith

This was a big hit and it's easy to see why. Episodic tale of a bunch of retired Brits who move to India to stretch their retirement dollars. Great Cast, mostly plausible incidents. Some adapt, others don't. Dench glows throughout.

Decidedly sugar-coated - but so what? It raced by filling two hours effortlessly. Nice job by all hands.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Life Itself

Steve James loving tribute to Roger Ebert. Ebert had his flaws but at his death he was world renowned and recognized as the country's pre-eminent film critic of his time. And by all accounts he was congenial, generous with his time and a wonderful spokesman for those of us who are passionate about films.

He wrote well...and fast.  His thoughts on films and his deep love for film as an art form helped raise its value in the public's mind.

I didn't care for the hospital footage. I know why it was included but I found it too troubling to watch.

RIP Roger. We'll see you at the movies.


The Bay

Barry Levinson

Crackerjack horror/thriller, eco-nightmare. The mix of toxins in the Chesapeake Bay has mutated a sea worm into a piranha-like murderer. This is fiction but also a wake-up call.

Done with the same level of professional care he brings to all his projects. Easily held my interest - entertained and got the point across. Nice work.




As good a home movie as you'll ever find. Two middle-aged artists, husband and wife, embark on a tour of significant art sites in the US - Chadds Ford, spiral jetty, Maine coast. Along the way the man discovers he is going blind.

About half of this was interesting. The rest was watching them gurning at the camera and generally celebrating themselves and their wonderfulness.

Many lovely vistas...excellent music. Mixed.


Monday, July 21, 2014

In Search of Blind Joe Death


Nice doc on John Fahey. His music was a breath of fresh air for me for many years...his re-interpretation of American blues and folk and the melding of the two was instantly familiar and very satisfying.

Unfortunately he was quite a jerk...raped by his father multiple times he became a neurotic, frightened adult and ended up living in a filthy motel room making shitty music for bands like Sonic Youth.

But still...his early music lives on and will always sound good.




Extremely violent 'sci-fi' dystopian yarn. Someone tried to stop global warming by injecting bad stuff into the atmosphere and the world froze...completely. Bummer.

The only survivors ride around on this world-circling train. Why it moves isn't clear. Train is strictly stratified. The proles fight their way to the front, the engine, killing and getting killed in brutal ways. There they find Ed Harris. In the end almost everybody dies. The train crashes. A girl and a kid escape. The end.

Preposterous shading into idiotic. Cliches abound. Nice set design.


Sunday, July 20, 2014


France   Andre Dusollier

Fine adaptation of a play which centered around the cat and mouse game played by the ruling German general who had orders to destroy Paris in 1944 and a Swedish diplomat who tries to stop him.

Mostly played on one set the film worked because of the skill of the two aged actors...whose subtle looks, gestures and body language kept us on the edge of our seats.

Nice job.


Saturday, July 19, 2014


France    Isabel Huppert

A raucous, exuberant family lives right next to a highway that has apparently been abandoned. They play street hockey in the road, have easy chairs and portable pools out there...treat it as their front yard. But then the state opens the road and their troubles begin.

The now-busy highway changes their lives drastically. Their style of living collapses...they turn insular and against each other.

The film acts as a clumsy metaphor for the perils of modern life...forcing good people apart with its machines, noise and alienation. Would have been more effective as a 30 minute short. Stretched out to feature length it wore out its welcome.


Thursday, July 17, 2014


Jake Gyllenhaal

Mind-bending film adapted from a novel by Jose Saramago. We follow two men - both played by JG - who look, sound and think exactly alike. For some reason this bothers their wife/girlfriend who wonder what the hell's going on. So do we.

This intriguing premise is expertly handled, keeping us guessing and on the edge of our seats till the remarkable ending. JG does a nice job of creating two different personalities with body language and attitude.

Solid mystery/thriller. A nice surprise.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Gore Vidal


Solid doc on a privileged man who spent his life writing about the lies being spread by the political class. He knew them well...he had been raised as one of them.

I agreed with all his views (save one) and was particularly glad he disowned Hitchens for supporting the neocons in their quest for world domination. He was a gay man in a time when that was a liability (to put it mildly) but he carried on with wit and panache...

Like the saying well is the best revenge.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014



Routine doc on Pina Bausch - practitioner of modern dance.

I know some people like this kind of thing but to me it's narcissism carried out to the nth degree. Look at me, ma...look at me!

Oh well.


Where's The Fair?


This dealt with world's fairs...which have been going on somewhere since the Crystal Exposition in 1851. In the early 90's the US leadership saw itself atop the world so they decided to not participate in them anymore. They held true to that resolution until China had one in Shanghai and forced the US in...even giving them the money.

While several people tried to make the case for their importance I couldn't help but wonder if the expense of these celebrations of self really added anything to the human condition. Remember Ota Benga.


Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Gary Oldman

Well done for a summer blockbuster. The CGI was spectacular and very convincing, characters (both ape and human) all had distinctive personalities and motivations. The lead character - Caesar - emitted command, strength.

The message was pretty bleak...wars are inevitable and violence is the ultimate arbiter - whatever the conflict. Apes had the high moral ground here but not by much.

In the end this was a well-dressed cartoon...sharply drawn good and bad guys. No one expects more from one of these...and here they got it.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Little Birds

amerindie   Juno Temple

Temple solidifies her role as troubled teen go-to with this film. After her performances in Dirty Girl and Killer Joe and now this she owns the part.

This story found her living at the Salton Sea, hating it and dying to get out. She and her buddy follow some nowhere skateboarders to LA...and there their troubles begin.

Well done but nothing particularly original here.


Sunday, July 13, 2014


amerindie   Robby Benson

Sweet little film from 1973. Once you get past the silly clothes and haircuts you are left with a first-love story that works. Two high school kids...he the nerdy jewish geek, she the new girl in school with no friends...come together and light a spark in each other's lives.

Nothing particularly original or profound here...just a focused teen love story with the usual sad ending. It helped enormously that they were both likable.


Friday, July 11, 2014

Terms and Conditions May Apply


The real story behind those pesky 10,000 word 'agreements' we all sign without reading that give huge companies the power to sell us and our data to anyone willing to pay the price.

Nothing in here was very surprising or startling but it did bring the whole issue of internet privacy (sic) to the fore and for those not clued in already it could serve as a wake-up call. Solid and professional.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Immigrant

Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Renner

Set in 1921 the film takes us through the various humiliations suffered by a beautiful young Polish woman trying with her sister to enter the land of milk and honey. She is 'forced' to prostitute herself to pay for the bribes required to get her sister out of hospital where the latter is seemingly dying from TB.

The thee leads were good as always but something was missing here. I never cared about any of this. The sets were too perfect, too clean, too stage-lighted...the whole thing never seemed real to me. It was too hollywood, too fake.  MC chose to play her character as a near mute...watching, suffering in silence. That didn't help. Neither did the clumsy cue music.

A week from now I'll have trouble remembering anything about this lifeless movie.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Lebanon, Pa


Raggedy-assed story of a 35 yo yuppie who goes back to his home town after his father's death and finds himself longing for a major life change. He starts chasing a married woman around and the usual bullshit follows.

OK film but, tell me my friend...hasn't that been done before...?




Very troubling piece on bullying in high school and jr hs. Somehow they managed to get footage on school buses and inside schools showing the kids they were following around getting pushed, poked, strangled, etc. The victims were either geeks or gays. No surprise there. Some victims end up committing suicide.

The really startling part was the indifference and total ineffectiveness of the school administrators. They knew what was going on but buried it in newagespeak...not much help to a 12 yo. When questioned after a suicide they denied anything was wrong....boys will be boys...

Kids that age are rotten...with no sense of empathy. the really bad ones become the next generation of sociopaths, military leaders, politicians, ceo's...

No fun to watch.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Ballad of Narayama


This was the highly stylized 1958 treatment of a traditional kabuki drama. Shot on a sound stage the colors were exaggerated as Coppola's One From the Heart.

At 70 people in this remote village get carried up a nearby mountain by a close relative and get left in a meadow to ensure that the younger folk have enough food to eat.

Story was re-done by Immamura in the 80's in a much more naturalistic version.

You're so lucky if it snows when you go to Narayama...


Saturday, July 5, 2014


Terry Gilliam     Jeff Bridges

Slightly toned-down Gilliam is still too much...way too much. Bridges has the good grace to die early on here but not before giving his most embarrassing, pointless imitation of a redneck pig...shooting up, farting, puking...all while 'caring' for a ten year old daughter.

After both her parents die the girl is stuck in an isolated, decrepit farmhouse somewhere where she lives in a dream world. Rather than using charm or faeries or somesuch Gilliam goes for full-on grotesque...and for me a little of that goes a long way. This constant hyper tone becomes wearying and forces mego.

Not worth it.


Friday, July 4, 2014

Shaolin Soccer

Hong Kong   Steven Chow

Sub-moronic junk suitable for children up to about 10. After that age if you weren't drooling when you sat will be by the end.


Is The Tall Man Happy?


An oddball project. A French animator secures interviews with Noam Chomsky and presents them overlaid with his childish doodles supposedly illustrating the points NC is making.

First of all NC is very articulate and makes his points clearly and patiently so it's unclear why this guy felt the anime was either necessary or beneficial. Secondly his own English is very poor and his understanding of NC's ideas is also very poor so the question arises...why didn't he get someone else to conduct the interviews?

Youtube has hundreds of interviews/talks by Chomsky...anyone can watch/listen and learn his ideas. What exactly did this guy think he was bringing to the table?

Ill conceived and executed.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Local Hero

Burt Lancaster, Peter Riegert

Bill Forsythe's crowning achievement. A texas oilman/wage slave travels to northern Scotland to buy a strip of coastline for a refinery project. He finds himself charmed by the locals, their village and way of life. Will he ruin the place, stay? This being hollywood the resolution is as magical as the entire film.

Sprinkled with humor, likable characters, beautiful locations, a wry sensibility...this is as delightful a film as a studio has ever turned out.

Much loved and deservedly so.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Woman of the Lake


From 1966. A married woman having an affair allows her lover to take nude photos...they get in the hands of a blackmailer and this film unfolds.

Slow-paced, elegantly composed, heavily influenced by Antonioni and the 60's avant-garde. Interesting music, fine lead actress, surprising resolution.

This was a winner.