Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Underworld

George Bancroft   d/ Josef von Sternberg

Restored silent from 1927. As always much of the acting was clownishly overdone but one character was subtle and well-written enough to work for me. I was detached for 45 minutes or so but as the drama went on I found myself engrossed and held on to see how the plot was resolved.

This film was written by Ben Hecht and it showed. It is said to have begun the gangster genre that was so prevalent in hollywood in the 30's.

Mostly historical value at this point.


Guardians of the Galaxy

Chris Pratt

I try to avoid cartoon material but this film was highly praised in many places so I gave it a go. I was not surprised to learn that my initial instincts were correct: this stuff is drivel intended for 8 year olds (who I'm sure saw it as wicked pissa) and I hereby resolve to sever a bodily appendage before watching another one of these in the future.

Dumb, loud, CGI nonsense on the Star Wars level.


The Babadook


Sharp, focused horror film which was more effective than any I've seen in a long time. We have two principal characters - the script gradually isolates them in their home...a frightened woman and a terrified face their demons.

Written and directed by Jennifer Kent who sets out the story with some clever misdirection then once the real premise kicks in provides the audience with ever-escalating chills. By the final scenes we appreciate just how knowing the film has been. It leaves us with a satisfying sense of having been given chills by someone who respects our intelligence and maturity.

The two leads were convincing; in particular the mother, played by Essie Davis enlisted our sympathies even as her character was going off the rails.

This was a rare treat.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Congress

Robin Wright   d/ Ari Folman

A truly mind-bending, original adaptation of a novel by Czech master Stanislaw Lem. The first half hour deals with the trials of an aging actress (called Robin Wright) and her decision to allow herself to be digitized...completely. Her body, emotions, gestures...all the things that make her what she is were reduced to code...available for use by the studio as they saw fit.

The next hour and a half is strikingly animated...very colorful, imaginative and serves as a blistering condemnation of the entertainment world and the role of fantasy and dreams induced by drugs (soma-like) to shield people from the harsh realities of the world in which they live.

Folman previously did Waltz With Bashir and with this as a follow-up he marks himself as one of the true originals in international cinema. Film is not for everyone but for a jaded buff like me it was manna from heaven.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Farewell My Lovely

Robert Mitchum, Charlotte Rampling

Interesting curio from 1976. The filmmakers attempted to reproduce the tone and look of a Raymond Chandler novel set in the 40's. They got the look right but this material is badly dated at this point and brought to life on screen makes it look and sound ridiculous.

The toughguy PI was an artifice of its time and watching one now makes this very evident. RM was a good choice for lead but he couldn't make it work. CR was gorgeous at that point but I never bought her femme fatale or, really, any of this.

Historical value only.


Friday, December 26, 2014



Slick, beautifully photographed caper/mystery thriller with several effective twists. The premise is a fake kidnapping meant to extract money from a ruthless industrialist which works, sort of...but he had his own tricks up his sleeve.

Nicely acted and paced. This was entertaining, engaging, complicated and blessedly free from violence (mostly).


Thursday, December 25, 2014


Peter Watkins

Another in his series of films which aim to bring historical events close to the viewer and make them real. This was the decisive battle between the Brit imperialists and the Scots in the early 1700's.

An offscreen interviewer asks named participants questions about strategy, the condition of their armies, tactics, etc. Because it's done in the current style of TV news this device works to bring this battle alive...and also gives us the thoughts, attitudes and fears which governed peoples' decisions.

Not as shocking as War Game nor as thorough as Le Commune (my favorite) but still very effective and engrossing. The best way to teach history I've seen on screen.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

Gregory Peck, Frederick March, Jennifer Jones

A-list production from 1956. With its wide-screen technicolor look it came across as an update on the same issues William Wyler dealt with in The Best Years of our a traumatized war veteran makes the transition back to ordinary life.

Peck plays a man starting a new job on Madison Avenue whilst trying to maintain his sense of honor and integrity...not an easy task. We watch him wrestling with some difficult issues...some common, some not. Peck was a little stiff (duh) but brought his trademark gravitas to the role. Lavish production, a bit dated but still involving.

Stands up better than most films from that era.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014


Barbara Loden

This was a courageous, failed amerindie from 1970. BL wrote and starred in the story of a trashy woman from the coal-producing region of the western Appalachians who has made her life a mess: alcoholic, abandoned her two children, can't hold a job, sleeps with any man who'll buy her a beer...

We follow her around for an hour or so and whilst the tenor of the story changes I was so disgusted with this bozo I found it impossible to care for her fate. Sound and picture quality were very poor which didn't help.

This film has been heralded as an icon in independent filmmaking - on the order of Cassavetes - and it may have tackled topics outside mainstream cinema but that didn't make it good or worth watching.


Monday, December 22, 2014


Jackie Gleason

Film's a bit over-egged but stands as proof of Gleason's skill at 'acting-without-words.'


Friday, December 19, 2014

The Wind Rises

Hayao Miyazaki

Typically first rate work - a fictionalized biopic of the Japanese aeronautical engineer who designed the Zero and other planes in WW2.

Drawings, colors, landscapes were superb, of course. The story was engaging, sometimes heartening, sometimes heartbreaking...just like real life. Strong depiction of the Tokyo 1923 earthquake and its aftermath.

Film skirted the issue of the rabid militarism Japan fell into during this period and indeed provided the money for this character's dream projects. Still, it was moving and a feast for the eyes. Possibly his last film.


Thursday, December 18, 2014


Maggie Gyllenhal

Oddball story, meant to be poignant, about a young frustrated musician who by chance hooks up with a band that plays really shitty punk/pop and launches his musical career. They are led by Frank, a weirdo who wears a fake head at all times. Several other members also exhibit strange behavior. One commits suicide.

The overall tone of this was mean, nasty...people loathed each other. They spent a year holed up in a remote cabin producing an album of music I thought was awful...and took turns spewing bile at our narrator.

There was nothing charming or endearing here...just a group of damaged people making lousy music. Who cares?


They Live by Night

Farley Granger, Cathy O'Donnell     d/ Nick Ray

One of the few films from the 40's that still holds up. Even though the script was hackneyed and several of the characters were crudely drawn I found it easy to submit to the story of these two young people on the run (very stupidly), hoping for a better life and flinching whenever there was a knock on the door.

FG had trouble maintaining the harsh edge his character needed...his persona was too soft for a comfortable fit. But she was perfect as the sheltered girl who grabbed the first chance life offered for love...even if her swain was a thief.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Letter to Three Wives

Jeanne Crain, Paul Douglas

Solid melodrama from the hollywood machine of 1949. A prosperous town's most appealing woman sends a letter to three of her former friends saying she has run off with one of their husbands.

This silly contrivance leads each of the women to search her memory to see if she might be the loser. The film is a series of flashbacks - one for each of them.

In spite of the creakiness of the plot the film still focusing on the internal dynamics of each woman's marriage we come to know these women as people, what's good about them, what's not so good. So we come to care about their fate. The eventual resolution is just right.


The Bridge


Devastating film from 1959. It's 1945, the Allied forces are sweeping into Germany from all sides, the Nazis are scuttling off to prepared hideaways, the country faces imminent destruction.

We follow a group of young male HS students who are typical in all respects. They are rambunctious, experimenting with girls, prone to pranks and infused with a lifetime of militarist propaganda. They all apply to fight to defend their country and are thrilled when they are accepted, ignoring the bereft expressions of the adults in their lives. They see war as glorious, etc.

The resolution of this film is truly heartbreaking. I first watched it decades ago and never forgot the impact it had on me. It did this time too. Unforgettable.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Theory of Everything

Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones

Biopic of Steven Hawking - genius physicist trapped in a body that gave up in his early 20's. The main focus was on the relationship between him and his loving, caretaker wife.

Very old-fashioned - carefully staged, beautifully shot and acted with swelling music etc...but...I couldn't help but be swept up in the power of the story. A three-hanky film which seemed like a modernized version of something Douglas Sirk would have done in the 50's.

Solid, professional, moving.


Snow Angels

Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell

I'm sure that some people involved in putting this film together had a notion that it had something valuable to say about modern life, sexual relationships, the universe or something. I was unable to discern them.

Coulda been me though...


Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Tale of Two Sisters


So-so attempt at contemporary horror. Lush looking film was oddly flat: long stretches went by when little or nothing was happening. Then something loud and shattering would appear...then back to auto-cruise.

Not engaging enough to make us care about the fate of the characters. Too studied...not humanistic enough.


Friday, December 12, 2014



Quite good low budget alien invasion film. With the rapid advances in CGI a small film like this was able to produce scenes that would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. Film had a strong sense of tension, great monsters (sim to District 9).

The dialogue was pretty amateurish but the story was structured well enough, with plenty of escalating action scenes that it didn't matter. Nice job with limited resources.


Thursday, December 11, 2014


Steve McQueen, Dustin Hoffman

Big budget epic about the torture of prisoners by France in early 20th century. We follow our protagonists to Devil's Island and watch them suffer and deteriorate physically and psychologically. SM makes several escape attempts which make him eligible for more torture. What fun.

Lavish production filmed in Jamaica...solid production values...a bit pat and creaky at times but still very engaging if you like this sort of thing. Should please sadists.

Note how far humanity has come since then!


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Royal Affair

Denmark   Mads Mikkelsen

A young English princess marries the insane king of Denmark in the late 1700's, bears his child, falls in love with the King's physician who shares her Enlightenment ideas and together they try to drag Denmark out of the Middle Ages. They fail.

Sweeping historical drama. lush in look which romanticizes the story but still carries the core message: the forces of reaction will do anything to maintain their privileged status and wealth. Well done in all respects.


The Swimmer

Burt Lancaster    d/  Frank Perry

Fine adaptation of the Cheever short story. As Neddy makes his way across the valley in which he used to live his psyche, history and sense of self slowly come unraveled. By the end we see a lost, abandoned loser in the upper middle class wars of suburban Connecticut.

The story was an allegory meant to showcase the shallow, vacuous lifestyle and values of the strivers who had 'made it.' BL was superb...he managed to humanize the role and engage our sympathies as he struggled to make sense of his place among these people.

Imaginative camera work and the technicolor process gave the film visual interest. Film is a powerful, largely forgotten remnant of the last days of the studio era.


Saturday, December 6, 2014


Daniel Auteuil

Second entry in DA's project to produce modern versions of the classic melodramas written by Marcel Pagnol in the 1920's and 30's.

Like the previous The Well Diggers Daughter he brings all the skills of contemporary filmmaking to create a luscious-looking period piece. DA plays the central figure - Cesar - as a pig-headed bully which was quite different from the 1932 version which had him as a lovable lunkhead. Film featured lots of weeping, making it a 3-hankie show.

A dated French 1920's melodrama made passable if you were willing to give it a lot of slack. I found it fun to watch in a condescending way.


Friday, December 5, 2014

Reel Injun


Nice piece done by a native Cree dealing with the various images of indians portrayed by hollywood through the history of film. While this is material we all think we know it was interesting and informative to see it presented from this perspective.

His contention was that the most harmful film for natives was the 1939 film Stagecoach which established mindless stereotypes followed by filmmakers for 30 years. Much later he felt the most beneficial was The Fast Runner which was an ancient Inuit legend told entirely from within the native world.

Good stuff.


Thursday, December 4, 2014


Michael Winterbottom

Ironic title. We follow three working class sisters as they scramble their way through daily life in the crowded urban jungle of Southeast London. They are all in their 20's - one is a hairdresser, another works in a cafe the third is very pregnant, married to a guy who is having second thoughts on his life choices.

Modernization of the kitchen sink dramas which graced British cinema in the 60's. Camera work gave us a sense of peering unnoticed into the private lives of these rather ordinary women. Their wants, crises, relationships with lovers and family...the hectic, stressful pace of modern life for those in the lower ranks.

Intelligent, thoughtful...a solid film.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The End of August at the Hotel Ozone


Bleak curio from 1966. Some unnamed catastrophe has occurred killing almost all men worldwide. We follow a group of eight women as they trek through a deserted landscape scavenging, looking for other human settlements. Seven are in their 20's; they are led by a 60 yo who remembers the time before.

Her rein on the group is tight but we gradually come to see these women as brutal, uncivilized; having grown up without the influence of society, it's customs and leavening rules of behavior they do stupid, cruel things.

Extremely negative view of humanity and its future but not unusual for its time...the height of the so-called cold war. One minor flaw - the women were too pretty to be believable although their behavior eventually convinced us. Lean production that easily held my interest.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014


Michael Keaton

I had to see this one again. It was so rich, so dense with ideas and raced by so quickly it wasn't possible to see it just once. And like the very best films the second viewing was more satisfying and I have no doubt a third would unwrap even more.

This is a brilliant film, sui generis, dazzlingly assembled from the best steadicam work I've ever seen, great writing, outstanding acting by a superb ensemble, humor (!), pathos, family tensions, theater and all its self-important little rituals, fears and excesses, fine use of CGI and most of all - intelligence.

For me it almost rivals Boyhood for best film released this year. A triumph.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Sin City 2

Mickey Rourke

Another ultra-stylized trip through the lowest levels of the underworld...shot (mostly) in glorious solarized b/w. The effect was other-worldly but the theme was violence in all its forms. And double-dealing, corruption, tawdry sex...all the rot that makes up Frank Miller's brain.

This was better than the first...but still sick material rendered with loving care. Strictly for dipping into for a peek then quickly out.