Friday, October 31, 2014

The Raid 2


They should've stopped at 1.


Somewhere Between


Well done examination of the lives of young women who have been adopted from China by American parents. They live uncertain of their identities, their place. All live with the knowledge that they were abandoned by their birth parents; many think they have no chance of finding their roots.

We follow four teenagers and their efforts to find others like themselves. One girl does locate her birth family and we follow along with that reunion. Most were victims of poverty, the one-child policy and the cultural need for sons.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dear Wendy

d/ Thomas Vinterberg   w/ Lars von Trier

In the wide world of oddball films this ranks among the oddest. Whilst the mechanics of the production (lighting, camera work, casting, etc) are first rate the scenario and perspective are so off the film seems like a expensive joke.

This is a view of the US written by someone who has seen American movies and assumes they represent the reality ordinary citizens deal with every day but has never actually been here or perhaps never even talked with someone who has. It is so simple-minded and idiotic that I found myself laughing out loud at times - not from intended humor, rather from watching someone make an utter ass of himself in public - and of which he is completely unaware.

This could have been written by a bright 12 year old who has been staring his whole life at the cave walls trying to interpret the meaning of the shadows projected upon it by persons he cannot see.

The above two clowns were the ones who issued the 'dogma' rules in 1995. Every one of these rules was broken here - thank god. That was the only good decision they made. Nice music by the Zombies...but they were British.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Conjuring

Vera Farmiga

I now realize that I'm unable to watch nonsense like this any more. Catholic priests, demonic spells, evil toys. It's just too stupid to bear.

Too bad. I like a good scare every once in a while. But not this way.

There's no faulting the cast or the production...all was well done. It's the script and the underlying assumptions.


The Temptation of St Tony


Baltic/Nordic deadpan satire/condemnation of modern life. Large influence of Roy Anderssen...a scene referencing Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut...generally an intelligent example of what we've come to expect from our friends from the lands of gray skies, cold, wet rainy lands, stoic, gray people confronting the elements with grim, subtle humor.

Nothing here will make you laugh out loud but if it doesn't tickle you you're the one missing out.


Monday, October 27, 2014

The Innocents

UK   Deborah Kerr   d/ Jack Clayton

I see this as the best horror film ever done. Every aspect of this production is as good as you'll ever see it...Kerr is outstanding, the cine by Freddie Francis equals or surpasses what he did in Lawrence of Arabia, the two children and the housekeeper were perfectly done.

Spooky, ambiguous, disturbing, beautiful, intelligent...haunting. A masterpiece.


The Warrior

India   Irrfan Khan

Minimalist story of a mercenary who tries to quit...but the price is higher than he reckoned. Khan is mostly mute with a fixed expression throughout. Still his presence is compelling and we are easily drawn into his trials.

Filmed in a near-desert landscape...but for the final scenes set in the foothills of the Himalayas.  Nice lean filmmaking far from the horror of Bollywood.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Flowers of War

China   Christian Bale   d/ Zhang Yimou

An extraordinary film set during the Japanese Rape of Nanking in 1937. CB plays a mortician come to a church to prepare a priest for burial and finds himself in the middle of the madness. He ends up as protector of a group of women and girls - half convent students, half prostitutes from a nearby brothel.

High budget film is based on a true story and features the very best production values Chinese cinema offers. Zhang proves that he still can produce world class work. The film is engaging, well-acted, a bit schmaltzy here and there but not enough to take away the emotional impact.

An overlooked treasure.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Cold in July

Michael Hall, Sam Shepherd, Don Johnson

Tough, tight Texas thriller with enough twists and turns to easily hold my interest. The three leads were very good...pulled me into their characters' story in spite of their being unappealing individually. It helped that the bad guys were just about the worst type imaginable.

Locations looked realistic, a few questions I had went unanswered, some movie-reality scenes showed up and made me cringe, but overall this was well done. My main reservation was that once again we learned that the only realistic solution to a problem is the liberal use of force and violence. So it goes...


The Signal

Lawrence Fishburne

Nifty low budget sci-fi flick built around two MIT nerds tracking down a rival hacker. Their trip takes them to Nevada, places and scenes they never foresaw.

Suspenseful and intriguing but there were some serious lapses in logic sprinkled here and there which kept intruding on the mood. The actors were moderately skilled, the details of the plot left open-ended, the resolution neat and unexpected, sets good, locations nevadaish...

Good for the money. Just barely adequate as a film.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Nobody Else But You


Clever well done suspenser. A writer from Paris comes to a small town in the Alps and stumbles on the death, perhaps murder, of a beautiful woman in a snowy field. He investigates her story...she's a local TV celebrity whose life has interesting parallels with Marilyn Monroe. The screenwriter makes great use of this idea.

Solid, well produced and structured...a compelling story with a wry sense of humor. Oh those French...


Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Robert Cummings   d/ Alfred Hitchcock

1942 'patriotic' actioner with both feet planted firmly in hollywood reality. Most of this was studio-bound but still the lighting and chosen (fake) locations looked great.

The human stuff bordered on idiotic. People said things and did things that simply weren't plausible. It was a simpler time I guess...when audiences swallowed guff like this without critical thinking. Sort of like today...

Regardless of the hokey bits this is still the mighty Hitch and way ahead of most of the forgotten rubbish studios pumped out at the time.


The Two Faces of January

Viggo Mortenson, Kirsten Dunst

Fine adaptation of a novel by Patricia Highsmith. Set in 1962 in Greece the story unfolds like something written at that time and looks for all the world like a recently discovered minor film by Hitchcock from the late 40's, early 50's.

Engaging, deeply flawed characters who nonetheless enlist our emotions but not our support. We mostly wonder if they are going to get caught and if they are, what happens then?  The story is fast-paced and held me in thrall until the final resolution. Nice use of the splendid locations.

Flaws? Viggo's character is a shit which kept me from feeling any sympathy for his plight. Plus he continually made things worse. Also when they were trying to escape every place they went was filled with police...increasing tension but...really? Ever try to find a cop when you needed one?

Still, this held me all the way. Slickly done.


Monday, October 20, 2014

The People

Kim Darby, William Shatner

Nice adaption of the alien-invasion novels written by Zenna Henderson in the 1960's. We follow a young female teacher who has been hired to teach all the children in a remote community. The people and the cultural practices there are quite odd: it takes her an hour or so to learn that they fled a dying planet and have been persecuted since arriving here on earth - hence their reclusiveness.

This sounds pretty hokey but the story is told with sensitivity...the aliens are presented as an oppressed minority who win our support. Made for American TV in 1972 the production values were primitive but overall the story worked. Poor Ms Darby was hampered by a 70's haircut and too-short skirts.

One commentator called this 'Waltons in Space' - pretty close to the truth.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Marie's Story


Beautifully told story of a nun who takes a blind/deaf girl under her wing and through incredible patience and determination teaches her words, ideas and gives her the ability to learn about her world and communicate with those around her.

Similar to the Helen Keller story...also set in the late 19th century.  Elegantly photographed, superbly acted by all hands. Done with intelligence and sensitivity. As good as one can tell a story like this.



Franchot Tone

Routine noir from 1949. The only thing interesting about the film was just how uncharismatic FT was. How the hell did this guy ever get to be the lead in a film? He came across as a bland nobody...someone you wouldn't notice on the street unless he bumped into you.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Rover

Australia   Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson.

Some unnamed bad thing has happened ten years ago. In this brave new world people are grubby and seem to shoot each other a lot with no apparent consequences. Our two leads are nearly inarticulate; there is no exposition. We are left to guess at what's happened, why. But the electrical grid seems to work, trains go by...the world of now continues in some way, in some where.

GP has his car stolen in the opening scene. He spends the entire movie chasing it and the three men down. We aren't told why until the final scene...even then it is unclear.

So the film asks us to endure nearly 2 hours following filthy, murderous, silent men around for an unspecified reason.

A very bleak view of humanity, the present and the future.


Late Spring

Japan   Setsuko Hara, Chishu Ryu  d/ Y. Ozu

The master at the peak of his powers. His two favorite players create an air of troubled domesticity; she is getting on, he is a widower...he knows she must marry and leave him, she wants to stay.

Simple story done with his trademark care and a deep insight into human behavior. Including ours. He withholds a key fact from everyone until the penultimate scene. We watch his sadness at the end with the knowledge of the sacrifice he has made for her. It is understated but one of the most poignant moments in Japanese cinema.

She has an unusual look for a Japanese...broad shoulders, large head, very expressive face. When she smiles there is always a hint of sadness in her eyes which gives us a peek at the depth within.

This is one of world cinema's great classics. I first saw it forty-four years ago...loved it then and loved it now.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Hideko the Bus Conducter

Japan   d/ Mikio Naruse

Sweet little film from 1941...starring the incomparable Hideko Takamine. She plays a young woman working as a conductor on a rural bus route. The bus they use is old, rickety and dirty. She decides it would help their failing business if she delivered facts about things and places along their route.

She was radiant, the story light with a tincture of tragedy and knowingness. It left me with an ache for the type of world this film presented.


Gone Girl

Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike    d/ David Fincher

Mystery/thriller which was mysterious for a while (WTF is going on here?) but never thrilling. This had an overwhelming sense of screenwriter (or novelistic) contrivance: clever without being engaging.

Part of the problem was the pat nature of the drama. Part was the wooden performance by BA. At this point he is so bulked up and stiff he moves as if wearing a cervical collar...his hands held stiffly a foot away from his hips. But the major problem was that it took place firmly in the artificial reality that fiction has been forced into by the continual demand for ever-increasing complexity and thrills.

My personal reaction at the end was that I simply didn't give a shit about any of this. It completely failed to engage my emotions or intellect. Like watching an elaborate mechanical toy play out its program.

The only thing I liked was the supporting performance by Kim Dickens as the investigating detective. She managed to humanize her character and gave me the sense she actually had a life she would go home to outside this artificial terrarium everybody else was stuck in.


Sunday, October 12, 2014



Chop socky film. Even though this was lavishly and lovingly produced and shot I eventually found it unwatchable. Because of the continual need for spectacle creep this stuff has become so preposterous it will only amuse 7 year olds or their 'adult' equivalents.

I enjoyed the wire work stuff when I first saw was fresh and entertaining. Now the players are all superhuman and take multiple lethal blows in stride and just keep on truckin.

Juvenile and stupid.


Friday, October 10, 2014

The Joneses

David Duchovny, Demi Moore

Satire of the American consumerist lifestyle. A pretend family move into an upscale area and try to influence their neighbors and contacts to emulate them...endlessly buying, buying...useless shit no one really needs. Because they're all beautiful, charming and charismatic people follow.

This was a clever idea but fit for maybe 30-40 minutes of screen time. Everyone here did a good job with the premise but once it became clear what these people were doing it failed to hold my interest. There was no emotional connection with these characters at all. What they were doing was pretty slimy.

Still...a good idea...trapped in the requirements of the movie business.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Gift

Cate Blanchette   d/ Sam Raimi

ESP in the southern hinterlands. Beautiful hollywood stars ( Keanu, Hilary Swank, Katie Holmes) become swamp people with crooked teeth and dumb expressions in a valiant effort to pull this overheated melodrama from the mud. They fail.

In typical Raimi fashion this was his eye nothing succeeds like excess. He should do a crash course in Val Lawton, Jacques Tourneur, Hitchcock... It's the power of suggestion, of subtly leading your audience in the direction you choose and to which they are unaware that makes a classic.

A-level production with C-minus sensibility.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Love is Strange

Alfred Molina, John Lithgow

Two aging queens marry which causes one to lose his job at a catholic school thus forcing them to give up their NYC coop and throw themselves on the mercy of their relatives and friends. The film deals with all the humiliation/inconvenience that brings.

Sad film for the most part but but the ending scenes take an unexpected turn, re-focus the film and make it a bit of a puzzlement. Both leads were fine, supporting characters also...sort of a kitchen sink drama...with the drama left out.


Mosquita Y Mari


Set in the Spanish/American culture we follow the development of the relationship between two high school girls. One is a serious student, the other a rebellious, immature brat. For reasons known only to the screenwriter they become lovers and face all the problems that come with that path.

Film was lovingly done - lots of nice cinematic interludes sprinkled here and there - but to my eye this hearkened back to the films that came out in the 80's where the entire point of the film was,,,hey we're gay! Who cares? That fact alone doesn't make a film. The culture has moved on.


Saturday, October 4, 2014


Patricia Gozzi, Melvyn Douglas, Dean Stockwell

An extraordinary of world cinema's lost treasures just cleaned up and released by Eureka Films.

It features an incredible performance by 15 yo Gozzi - one of the finest by a youth I've ever seen. Three years previous she had starred in her first film (Sundays and Cybele) in French; here she plays in English. What in the world ever happened to her? She was a giant talent.

The film also features spectacular B/W photography, imaginative camera work, solid supporting performances and a beautiful score by Georges Delerue.

This is a melodrama, hence a bit overcooked, but the overall excellence of the production puts it into the ranks of the great works of world cinema. From 1965.


Friday, October 3, 2014

Back to 1942


Lavish, big budget historical drama depicting the various torments visited upon the Chinese people during the war years. Famine and war.

Very impressive production...some CGI but still a lot of extras in costume. I admired it but never really engaged with it. It was perhaps on too grand a scale...the people got lost in the mix. Not much (any?) time spent on character development. It can be done - mix large-scale historical events with personal drama -The Inner Circle, for one - but not here.

Soon forgotten.


Thursday, October 2, 2014


Mary Elizabeth Winstead   w/d  James Ponsoldt

Very nice indie effort. Kitchen sink drama done with intelligence and a good sense of the ways of human interaction. A 30ish couple both drink a lot. Every day. Some bad things happen and she decides to quit. He doesn't.

The story plays out with the unpredictability of real life. Great script, she shone. I didn't even mind the wandering camera - that was done with taste and restraint.

This is the kind of film I hope for when I sit down to watch.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Elizabeth Olsen   d/ Gareth Edwards

Damn mutos again...flying around, knocking shit over, stealing nukes, spawning... But, not to worry; the big guy will hunt them down and make it all right.

Unfortunately all the monster action takes place at we see almost nothing but hear a lot of howling, caterwauling, growling...which is OK but really...every scene? Lots of other stuff gets to happen in daylight. Was this a low-budget project?

As stupid movies go this wasn't terrible. Close though.