Friday, November 28, 2014


Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen    w/d  John Carpenter

Sweet, charming story of an alien invasion of a different stripe. JB plays a visitor who takes on the form of KA's dead husband and shanghais her into taking him from Wisconsin to Arizona. So...a road movie of sorts.

Bridges was outstanding...creating a persona recognizable as human but off in subtle ways. The powers given him were designed to win over the audience (resurrecting the deer, 'fixing' Las Vegas slot machines) and they worked. Some good laughs, too much military stuff which came across as artificial conflict...but overall a wonderful, unusual romantic comedy.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Stake Land

w/d  Jim Mickle

Well done low-budget horror film. The premise has been used many times - some unknown disease has ravaged the population rendering many hideous ghouls intent on killing the remaining normals. In addition, crackpot religious cults have emerged posing a further threat. Set in the US the 'New Eden' our characters seek is Canada.

Perfectly paced, good use of action (if brutal) scenes, strongly drawn characters...the film gave a good sense of what surviving day-by-day in the remnants of civilization would be like. Menace was everywhere and only the alert and merciless would live. Human kindness and mutual support were the key.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Black Robe

Quebec/Australia   d/ Bruce Beresford

Fine film set in the 1600's about a French Jesuit setting off into the interior of Canada to re-establish a mission whose purpose is to show the natives just how stupid they were and how the French imaginary friend is so much better.

Gorgeous scenery, fine performances (Lothaire Bluteau, Tantoo Cardinale) and an intelligent script helped nicely to disguise the fact that this bozo was determined to ruin the cultural practices and heritage of a people who had been living successfully in Quebec for millennia.

First class film about a form of behavior I despise.


Monday, November 24, 2014

The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey

Vincent Ward

This 1988 allegory from New Zealand stands as a unique contribution to literate film history. The notion that a seer, a young boy, could have visions in a time of extreme peril which were in some way accurate but jumbled up and difficult to decipher is novelistic and provokes a level of thinking uncommon in cinema.

This was startling when first released and it remains an intelligent, original film that will be cherished by aficioanados as long as cinema lasts.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Dead Man's Shoes

Paddy Considine     w/d Shane Meadows

UK revenge thriller. A soldier comes back to his home town where his retarded brother had been harassed and tortured to death by a gang of local toughs.

Good locations, music was very well chosen, dialogue was mostly incomprehensible because of muttering and accents...should have included English subtitles! It easily held me...better that Meadows' other films.


Straight A's

Ryan Phillippe, Anna Paquin

Irresponsible 30 yo shows up at his estranged brother's house after 10 years and wreaks havoc. Good cast kept me interested in the story most of the way. Unfortunately the third act dove headfirst into mawkish sentimentally and ruined the set-up.

RP excelled in a difficult role...he had to hold our sympathy even while acting like a jerk. He was nicely supported by AP.  But the resolution turned a family melodrama into a groaner. Too bad.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

First Position


Another well done doc - this one on young dancers trying to make it in the world of ballet. Even if you don't care for ballet this easily pulls you into these kids' lives and the struggles they and their parents go through to succeed in this highly competitive world.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Angelina Jolie

Very fine re-telling of the Grimm Bros. story Snow White. The first half hour is an imaginary backstory which posits the evil queen as a winged fairy whose task it was to guard the fairy kingdom and whose wings were stolen by a wicked ambitious man she once loved.

The world created here in CGI is, at its best, equivalent to what James Cameron did with Avatar; a bright colorful place with outlandish foliage and fantastical creatures all living in harmony. The human world in contrast is made of stone...isolated from nature.

This story has been re-imagined several times recently - most notably in Pablo Berger's brilliant Blancanieves. This isn't at that level but is a wonderful example of what a creative team can do with a one-page folk tale.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring

Kim Ki-Duk

I wanted to revisit this film to see if my initial impression when seen ten years ago held up. It did, nicely and, if anything seemed even more masterfully done.

Quiet, scenic, minimal lessons imparted to youth - growth, lust, disillusionment, sacrifice, purpose, re-birth...time passes and the cycle repeats.

Very different in tone and theme from his other films...this one is the most accessible, particularly to those Westerners who glorify Eastern thought/philosophy, and the most likely to be remembered in the future.

A timeless masterpiece.



Michael Keaton, Naomi Watts   d/ Alejandro Inarritu

A cinematic tour de force. We follow the story of an actor who long ago had played a superhero in films trying desperately to revive his career by launching a Broadway play based on the stories of Raymond Carver.

There were many things to love here: superb acting by all hands with many showcase scenes, non-stop steadicam work gave the film a breathless quality perfectly appropriate to the tone; humor, suspense, verisimilitude (Keaton was 1989's Batman), poignancy...

This was like a carnival ride...carrying us up, down, throwing us sideways, upside down, slowing down once in a while for an emotional spritz, eventually spitting us out to the sidewalk dazzled, bewildered, wondering what the hell we had just seen but smiling all the way home.



Monday, November 17, 2014


Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman   d/ Chan-Wook Park

Interesting film with splendid cinematography, camera work and editing. The look and presentation were almost pure cinema at its best.

Unfortunately the human stuff was a bit weak. Lots of silent scenes with characters staring (meaningfully?) at each other. The revelations came slowly and by the time they did the detached, icy-cold mood diminished their emotional impact.

Still I found the film more intriguing as it went along and felt compelled to stick around for the eventual resolution. Stylish and slick this was a bit more art than film.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Moulin Rouge

Baz Luhrman

A really astonishing film. Wildly extravagant, rapid-fire cutting, great use of dance, color and spectacle to create a swirling phantasmagoria of salacious make-believe.

Luhrman grew up in the Outback, his parents owned a movie theater...from boyhood he was immersed in the magical world of cinema. This is the film he was destined to make...we people on the pavement get to watch.

A rollicking achievement.


Enough Said

James Gandolfini, Julia Louis-Dreyfus    w/d Nicole Holofcener

Weak comedy helped by a good cast but...the plot was based entirely on deception like some creaky French drawing room piece from 1910.

This filmmaker has done some fine films in the past - Walking and Talking, Lovely and Amazing - but this felt uninspired. Supporting cast included Catherine Keener and Toni Colette.

Maybe next time.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Queen of the Gypsies


Solid piece tells the story of Carmen Amaya...the gypsy girl who was born to dance, grew up in the slums of Catalonia, changed flamenco from a mannered, safe form to a wild, exuberant celebration of movement and seduction...took her dance to the world when Franco's mudslide hit...played Paris, Buenos Aires, Carnegie Hall...dragged her extended family with her everywhere, married, loved and died at 50...completely played out.

She was one of the great Piaf, Marceau, Nureyev...who was seen by contemporaries as a great treasure, sui generis...someone who added a category to world culture and enriched the lives of millions.

Her name is unknown to most today but her legacy in the world of dance is there for all to see.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Lomax the Songhunter


Fine doc on the man who traveled the world collecting the songs real people sang...the songs that reflected their history, their culture their humanity.

Singing, really music of all kinds has been commodified and that which couldn't be turned into money has been buried in the avalanche of Sinatra, Bieber et al. and is now being forgotten.

These songs were important to people for generations. They entertained, served as oral history and bound people to each other. Most importantly they wrote and sang them themselves. We have become a nation of spectators and are the poorer for it.

Much of this doc was very moving. Good job.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Matthew McConnaughey   w/d  Christopher Nolan

What to say?

I can't just say that this film is over-long, scientifically dubious, much too loud ( what in the world did Zimmer think he was doing?), too weepy, too shouty, too preposterous, poorly written, just not very good. At all.

Too bad. After a string of winners Nolan was atop the film world with legions of fans eagerly awaiting his next golden egg. He got a mega-budget, enough A-list stars to fill a cathedral, reams of advance hype...but...(important warning) - never worship a man who has made three batman movies. There's something wrong with his judgement. This film is cartoonish and annoying like the Tim Burton version of the caped crusader.

As the final insult...after enduring nearly three hours of this mess we are presented with a 'resolution' asinine enough to elicit groans from the average 10 year old.

Sorry Chris...your time is up. Take him away, men.


Monday, November 10, 2014

An Unmarried Woman

Jill Clayburgh     w/d Paul Mazursky

Fine film all around. I liked it when it came out (1978) - perhaps even more this time.

JC was superb...I'd forgotten how good. Turns out she won best actor at Cannes for this one. Great script by Mazursky. None of the dialogue clunked and some scenes were beautifully written. Well paced, some interesting camera work.

A winner.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Next Three Days

Russell Crowe

Action/suspense thriller. A married woman is thrown into jail for a murder she didn't commit; her appeals run out so in a last desperate move her loving husband decides to break her out of prison.

The first half hour was set-up; the rest a procedural thriller. Unfortunately the story was so preposterous in so many particulars that it lost me completely even as a diversion. This was 100% hollywood product written and directed by Paul Haggis...the moron who 'won' best picture several years ago for Crash. He's one of the hollywood scientology crowd which helps explain his complete misunderstanding of real life and how it actually works.

Thus guy has spent his entire life in la-la land. Spare me.


Thursday, November 6, 2014



A wonderful film fantasy.This nailed the relationships...instead of relying on the tried-and-true princess/prince meme they went with the power of love between sisters...and whaddya know? It worked.

Visuals were as good as one can squeeze from a computer these days, songs were broadway show tune lite and none were obnoxious...a recurring problem for Disney, camera work vertiginous of course...but, still the images were truly splendid. Best of all the timing throughout was spot on.

I'd heard that children loved this...more than other Disney offerings in recent years. So did I. An instant classic...up there with the very best this studio has done.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Save the Date

Amerindie   Melonie Diaz

Twenty-somethings frabbing around trying to figure it all out. They do dumb things, hurt each other... All this is pretty normal but these players were hampered by clumsy, awkwardly written dialogue and situations. It made it pretty hard to like them or care about what they did with each other. They were mildly annoying real life I would avoid them.

With little films like this I always hope for the best and sometimes I get it but not with this one.


Dear John

Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried   d/ Lasse Halstrom

I got this because of the director's name. Starting with My Life as a Dog LH has come up with some good work...his touch is subtle, his understanding of human nature complex and deep.

So I was dismayed when the opening credits showed that this film was adapted from a novel by Nicholas Sparks. I feared the film would be maudlin schmaltz...and I was right. Simple minded drivel intended as a weepie... I guess there's an audience for this stuff out there...just not in my house.

Good looking and well shot...but so what?


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Dead of Night


Took another look at this fine horror film from 1945.

A group of strangers gather in a country house and, after a clever set up, recount to the others various psychic events they have experienced in the past. Several stories have a genuine chill about them.

This was a portmanteau film: four different directors did the stories. The cast and settings were well chosen...only one of the stories clunked.

This has been fun every time I watch it. Not many can say that.


Monday, November 3, 2014



Beautiful, artistically filmed chronicle of the final years of a woman with Alzheimer's. She had been a vibrant charismatic artist until this disease began ravaging her brain, her persona. This was done by her apparently loving son but...why would he have shot so many intense close-ups of this poor woman as she declined?

If the disease is degrading then so was this film. He has ensured that his mother will be remembered as this belligerent gibbering idiot with sagging flesh and an aggressive demeanor. I couldn't escape the idea that he took her painful decline as an opportunity to make a film. Is that an act of love?

Unpleasant to watch in spite of the many lyrical visual touches.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Dear White People


Attempt to deal 'frankly' with race in America. Set in a mixed race college somewhere the film included a good cast, snappy pace, good production values...but...

I found this to be heavy-handed, shrill, not realistic at all. Every sentence, nearly every word centered on race in one sense or another. It reminded me of the first native American made/sponsored film back in the 80's - every single joke and reference there was about them. But nobody talks or lives like that.

The characters here were devices for mouthing the polemics. One character sort of had a back story but even that was distant, phone-only. The hook-ups, sexual relationships they managed to pack in were just confusing. We weren't given enough time with the characters to make us care who they were screwing.

Sheldon (Spike) Lee tried a similar thing in School Daze. He failed too. Maybe we should just calm down and try to talk this out...honestly but without all the shouting.