Saturday, November 14, 2015

Terror by Night

Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce

Odd that I can find diversion in these old films at a time like this. I suppose it's partly the comfort of familiarity. I don't have to think very hard watching them...just let them wash over me, without emotionally engaging.

This pair are still my favorites although I am dismayed at how stupid they made Watson in these films. My memory of Doyle's stories is that he was a true collaborator...not a bumbling idiot. Ah...hollywood.

The Pearl of Death

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Scarlett Claw

Basil Rathbone

This one was from 1942 - after the rights were taken over by Universal. The look, atmosphere, pace were fine but they made poor Nigel Bruce into a blubbering idiot, presumably to add 'comic relief.' Big mistake. Having Watson act as a true collaborator worked wonderfully. Oh...those Americans.

Still, BR is the best Sherlock ever...he carries the film nicely. A decent, nice-looking entry in the series.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Hound of the Baskervilles

Basil Rathbone

Fine treatment of the classic Sherlock Holmes story. The entire thing was preposterous of course but watching the gears turning, the eerie fog on the moors, the hawk-faced, penetrating intelligence of Rathbone, the soft-faced amiability of Nigel Bruce's Dr Watson, the several red herrings thrown in to mislead, even the hatchet-face and perfect diction of John Carradine was a pure, refreshing dip into one of the landmarks of Western popular culture.

I enjoyed this perhaps more than I should have...but I'm allowed.


Saturday, October 31, 2015

Sands of the Kalahari

England   Susannah York

Unusual, compelling film from 1966. A plane carrying six passengers crashes in the desert. The bulk of the film deals with the tensions which gradually build up as water and food become scarce. One of the party is a avid (rabid?) hunter who kills everything he sees.

Ms York is the only female which creates tensions of its own. She latches on to the hunter...a decision which becomes problematic as their ordeal goes on.

I found myself exasperated with this story at times but it was genuinely compelling with clearly defined characters and a good level of suspense. Strong, if moralistic ending.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Black Sea

Jude Law

Attempt at a submarine thriller crumbled because of all the idiotic, unnecessary conflicts the screenwriter jammed into the story. It might have worked as a caper flick but now we'll never know.

Splitting the crew between Brits and Russians, who hate and distrust each other from day 1,  made no sense. The sets and exteriors were fine, ditto the quality of the players. This was one which tripped all over its screenplay.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Martian

Matt Damon     d/ Ridley Scott

Nice looking but hopelessly formulaic crowd-pleaser. While we were following the solitary actions of our hero the film was interesting. Once we got back to everybody else (crew, NASA) the movie sagged.

But not to worry. The third act played like an amped-up version of the Perils of Pauline...unfortunately reprising the style and tone of Gravity, heretofore the most overwrought film of the decade.

Everybody here was OK.  It was too long, used hollywood beats, was cliched, eventually became tedious. Pure product.




Fine meditation on war, its artificial rivalries, the power of human connection. Set in the 90's, war is raging near an elderly woodworker and his tangerine-raising friend. They are ethnic Estonians, displaced there years before. Most have fled home. These two stay. A fragment of the war comes to them...the story plays out.

Slow-paced, great lead actor, sound structure...overall a very good film.


Friday, October 23, 2015

Black Hat

Chris Hemsworth    d/ Michael Mann

For some reason Mann put the biggest obstacle to appreciating this film right up front: who the hell casts CH as an ultra-nerdy computer genius? This guy stands 6'4", is impossibly a movie largely set in the Far East he towers over everybody around him. Will anyone really accept this actor as a pasty-faced cellar dweller?

Other than that the film was a bundle of re-hashed tropes that might work for really young boys...lots of running, shooting and fighting...but for me it was a big yawn.

Mann's a long way from Heat with this one. Pure product.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015



First rate translation to the screen of the book project done by Truffaut in 1966. Two great filmmakers discussing their work in an informal setting of collegiality...pretty easy set-up for a great doc. And this one doesn't disappoint.

For a film buff...a


Daughters of Anatolia


Outstanding doc which displays for the audience the daily lives, practices of a small family group of goat herders who migrate twice a year from coastal Turkey to summer mountain meadows.

This filmmaker has a thorough understanding of cinema, how it's shot, edited. Every shot has a point, shows us something about these peoples' lives. Every shot contains movement. Almost no verbal exposition. We get an unobtrusive peek into a lifestyle alien to most of us. The people are hardworking and likable.

This is how to make a doc.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Haunting

Julie Harris   d/ Robert Wise

Still one of the great scary movies. The dialogue is pretty creaky now but the sheer excellence of the direction, use of music, editing rhythms shone for me. Wise was the editor of Citizen he uses all the techniques dreamed up by Welles and Greg Toland to make this film sparkle.

The psychological layers of meaning in Shirley Jackson's story give the film a richness unusual in so-called horror films. And all the fright, all the scares are in the minds of the audience. This will be a classic forever.


Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Soloist

Robert Downey Jr

Well-produced but very formulaic treatment of an actual story. A columnist for the LA Times comes across a black homeless man playing violin in a city park. The guy is looney tunes but his violin playing (on 2 strings) is heartfelt and he becomes a story. Turns out he had studied at Juliard but left because of incipient madness.

The story, when printed, generates a donated cello, the story grows, the film is a hollywoodized account of the triumphs and difficulties of bringing this guy into the modern world.

Attempt at a crowd-pleaser which may have worked for a general audience...but not for me.


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Eight Legged Freaks

amerindie   Scarlett Johansson

This film was a gift from heaven tonight. I've been having a hard time lately and this silly, outrageous gem was just the ticket.

A nicely produced mock up of all those cheesy sic-fi monster flicks done in the 50's, this had me chuckling all the way through. Sometimes a healthy dose of nonsense is just what the doctor ordered.


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Steve Jobs


Alex Gibney's take on the extraordinary life and influence of the tech visionary. Like most (all?) high achievers, Jobs is revealed here as an absolute prick in his personal and business dealings. But in spite of that his products were much beloved and have changed the way millions of people live their daily lives. And masses of people mourned his passing.

Jobs saw himself connecting people, which was true. His gadgets have also served to alienate people from each other, also true. The sight of groups of people all staring into their phones has become a common sight. I even saw it at the screening last night.

This was done with the high level of care and balance I've come to expect from Gibney. It will serve as the definitive doc on Jobs for the foreseeable future.


Monday, October 5, 2015

The Shooting

Warren Oates, Jack Nicholson    d/  Monte Hellman

The first existential western...from 1966. We follow a small group as they conduct a revenge-driven manhunt into the deserts of southern Utah. The details of the plot line were left deliberately obscure - the real meaning of the film was the folly, cruelty and ultimate meaninglessness of human striving.

Beautifully shot using the majestic landscape to full advantage. One shot - the sight of the tiny people scrabbling on the towering mountain - perfectly encapsulates the insignificance of their quest. They will shoot, die and their bodies will rot. The mountain won't notice...any more than it notices the ants which run around on its flanks. It will endure...unlike the people...regardless of their sense of self-importance.

A landmark film which intrigues today, fifty years after its making.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Last Winter

Ron Perlman     d/ Larry Fessenden

This film represents a new horror genre: ecological horror. An oil extraction outpost in the arctic is beset by creepy crawlies and things that go bump in the night. We begin with a cast of a dozen or so and watch them dwindle down to...maybe none.

Pretty effective. A bit slow-paced in the middle section but the time was spent developing some of the characters so we got to care while they were eventually dispatched. Good miss-en-scene, sound design. LF has been making good quality scary movies for decades with little money...this is another.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne

France    d/Robert Bresson

An early (1945) effort which didn't work for me at all. Very contrived plot about a rich, scorned woman who comes up with an implausible scheme to punish her ex, who, on the evidence shown here was a weak-willed nincompoop. But rich too. Which of course raises the question...why? Why would she care about losing this worm?

I couldn't see any sign of his later mastery of framing, use of close-ups, etc. This came across as a drawing room melodrama which would have embarrassed contemporaries like Noel Coward.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Friends of Eddie Coyle

Robert Mitchum

Solid wiseguy flick adapted from the novel by Denis Lehane. RM always delivers good value. The story was sleazy (what else?), the Boston area locations a minor thrill for me.

Character study of the lowlife underbelly of the Athens of America.


Only God Forgives

Ryan Gosling     w/d Nicholas Winding Refn

Set in Bangkok film focuses on the criminal dealings of a truly repulsive family of vicious drug dealers. The pace is glacial, the doings horrific. Nothing here was engaging or even interesting. This turkey was brought to us from the maker of the demented Pusher trilogy, Valhalla Rising and Drive. He seems to be hooked on the old ultra-violence. Pity he can't create a drama about actual humans.

For ten minutes the production design intrigued but when the lack of drama or substance of any kind became clear I lost all interest.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Brad Pitt

Nicely done adaptation of the book about Billy Beane and the Oakland baseball team. Everything about this production was solid, engaging.


Monday, September 28, 2015


Denmark   d/ Carl Dreyer

Stark, spare film concerned with religion...specifically the enormous importance residents of a rural community place on which imaginary god is the correct one. And woe betide those who make the wrong choice.

Very hard for me to look upon idiotic behavior like this with anything but contempt. This centuries-old preoccupation with unprovable nonsense strikes me as the worst of human behavior. I found it impossible to care about any of this. A plague on all their houses.


The French Connection

Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey

Popeye Doyle again...borderline psychotic cop who uses violence with great relish to terrorize...just about everyone. This film made a big splash at the time. Now it looks to me like the fever dream of a closet warrior. Brutality, violence, murder without check or reason.

The central car/subway chase is still mind-bending and is probably the real reason for the film's original popularity. It still impresses as a technical achievement. But Doyle's crazed persona and behavior cast a very dark shadow on this story for me. This posits the law of the jungle as the only way. Really???


Friday, September 25, 2015



A secret clan of warriors try to remain hidden from the rest of society but...well...

Film features female warriors as principle characters; the lead looks around 22, gorgeous and deadly. Scant dialogue in the film which adds to the mysterious nature of the clan. A push-your buttons film that was beautifully enough shot to make it work.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015



Harrowing, well done thriller taken from the time of the Troubles in Belfast. A young soldier is left behind by his unit after a riot. He doesn't know where he is or how to get back to his barracks...must make his way through hostile territory.

Tight, taut drama with enough quiet moments to humanize some of the characters and provide relief from the non-stop tension. Mostly shot at night, this was a solid, effective film with no background or exposition at all; you had to know what the conflict was going in.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015



Surely one of the most irritating films ever made. And to what purpose? So we can pretend that a dead girl can infect the computers of her 'friends' to torment them and one by one somehow murder them in their homes.

Starting 20 min in the five teens on the single computer screen get hysterical and maintain that pitch the rest of the way, whilst they get picked off. It was impossible to read the text on the screen, which formed the major source of exposition, because of the poor resolution. So I couldn't tell what was being typed. But really I didn't care. There was no way to make this movie work. It stunk to high heaven.


Sunday, September 20, 2015



A four yo girl loses her mother in a car accident; we watch her trying to come to grips with the loss. She's not helped by adult religiosity. Her father leaves her in a boarding school, her classmates are uncomprehending, unhelpful and occasionally mean as hell. She seeks answers but they're not forthcoming, In fact not for any of us let alone for a four yo girl.

This is the most remarkable performance by a child actor I've seen. It's likely never to be matched let alone topped. Film should be watched by film students forever. If you can't do it this well, don't do it.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Miyamoto Musashi


Beautifully done story set in medieval times about the titular legendary swordsman. Very high quality production. remarkable since it was released in 1944, when Japan was being devastated by American bombs.

The samurai embodies the bushido code in every respect...his demeanor, art practices, all of it. This must have been an attempt to buck up the population in trying times. A look back to the legendary time when real warriors stalked the earth.

Lighting, cinematography, especially the music were superb. A lovely surprise.


Goebbel's Diaries


Nice production. Kenneth Branagh reads passages form guess what while archive footage plays on screen. For someone like me who has read vast amounts of material about WW2 this was catnip. I knew what was happening around each quoted passage; this enriched my understanding by cluing me in to the knife fighting going on among the Nazi leadership.

Good job.


Monday, September 14, 2015

The Accused

Jodie Foster, Kelly McGillis

Powerhouse performance by Foster makes this a compelling watch. Film hasn't dated at all. Her oscar, well deserved.


Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Ellen Burstyn   d/ Martin Scorcese

From 1974 this was a significant film at the time: a single mother, recently widowed, sets out across country with her 10 yo son to start a new life. She meets the usual gang of creeps and weirdos before coming upon her dream prince (Kris Kristofferson) with whom she settle down and lived happily ever after.

Film still works because of EB's performance and the pervasive sense of grit in the way the story is told. Genuine populist entertainment...a film which closely reflects life the way it actually works.


Saturday, September 12, 2015

What Happened, Miss Simone?


Sharp, very sad account of the life and times of Nina Simone, musician, singer, civil rights activist. She started playing piano at her mother's church at age 4, got scholarships to study music at Juliard and was headed to become the first black concert pianist.

She married a NYC cop who managed her career (successfully) but who beat her, pushed her to work more and more so he could make more money. Meanwhile she became committed to the Black cause, advocating for violent overthrow of the US government. She became yet another prominent black leader crushed in the white backlash.

This film was done by her daughter who wanted her mother's genius to be remembered regardless of her personal shortcomings. Memorable doc.


Thursday, September 10, 2015



Mostly one set film. A man gets thrown into a walk-in  freezer at the beginning...some Russians come in to demand the money he supposedly stole, etc.

Tense, gripping drama woven around this scenario: how long can this guy hold out as he gradually freezes? Nothing particularly original or groundbreaking here...just a solid well made thriller. Sometimes that's plenty.


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Diary of a Teenage Girl

Bel Pawley,  A. Skarsgard, Kristen Wiig

San Francisco 1976. A 15 yo girl seduces her mother's 35 yo boyfriend. Complications ensue.

Bel Pawley was outstanding. Her youth, her sensual face with big eyes and puffy lips perfectly captured a young girl teetering on the cusp of adolescence/womanhood. She was living in a licentious time and place, picked up the vibe and ran with it, not realizing the consequences she would necessarily pay for her acts.

Skarsgard also had a difficult role: he had to be likable enough for us not to feel revulsion toward him for what he was doing.

The film came across as frank, open and honest. I thought there were too many sex scenes but that was the pivot of the entire story. Strong stuff, done with clarity and courage.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Mistress America

Greta Gerwig   d/ Noah Baumbach

Offbeat, very verbal chronicle of a madcap 20-something who caroms through her life in NYC sprinkling ideas, laughs and failure.

While the lead is a MPDG (manic pixie dream girl), a trope that has fallen into disfavor recently, the film does rocket along carrying us on a bewildering, fast-paced trip into a magical NYC where the neighbors are friendly and supportive and where things usually turn out well. I frequently found myself impatient with the contrivance and thought to turn it off...but...the next scene would pull me in...  I stayed till the very end, head scrambled but vaguely amused.

A successful effort that teetered on the edge of awful all the way...but squeaked by on sheer chutzpah and momentum.


Monday, September 7, 2015

Kiss the Water


Eric Steel's contemplative musing on the life, place and times of Megan Boyd, world-renowned tier of flies for catching salmon, cross-dresser, sometime recluse, staunch individualist, dancer and much talked-about woman in her small seaside Scottish town.

Film was enriched by oil-on-glass animation by EM Cooper, beautiful use of the spectacular Highlands terrain and the haunting remnants of Boyd's crumbling cottage.

Lovely artistic interpretation of one woman's life.


Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Yellow Handkerchief

William Hurt, Kristen Stewart, Eddie Redmayne

Surprisingly engaging traditional road movie. An unlikely trio set off for New Orleans to re-unite ex-con with his estranged wife, have adventures along the way, end up with a tie-a-yellow-ribbon finale.

Hurt carried the film. KS was actually OK, ER was not believable (not the actor's fault) as a native American weirdo. The pacing and spacing of incident gave the film a languorous air which helped me swallow the pill of cliche.


Saturday, September 5, 2015

Reflections in a Golden Eye

Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor   d/ John Huston

Oddball curiosity adapted from a novel by Carson McCullers. The topic is life on a southern army base in the fifties, a time of ostensible peace. But things are not peaceful. We have a closeted major, his harridan wife, the woman neighbor whose fragility is slipping her into a life of darkness, enlisted man who likes to watch. And horses.

Steamy doins are enhanced by a yellow tint embedded in the film...making the whole thing look like it's buried in aspic. For a film seething with sexuality it's remarkably coy: the only nudity is Robert Forster riding a horse bareback and bare-assed. Film felt sordid, dirty with characters constantly picking scabs off old wounds. No fun to watch but it did hold me. Everyone was 'acting.'


Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Search for General Tso


Lively, informative doc on the history and evolution of Chinese restaurants in the US. Hated, resented by locals they survived in two businesses outside the whites control - laundries and restaurants.

The sprinkling of Chinese restaurants throughout the country was done by the Chinese-American societies which organized the distribution of families so that no Chinese family would be competing with another Chinese. Wise policy.  That's why there's a Chinese place in nearly every town, no matter how small.

Good story well told.


How I Live Now

England    Saoirse Ronan

A troubled American teen gets shipped to relatives in England, soon after she arrives there's a nuclear explosion...which ruins everything. Especially her burgeoning romance with her cousin Eddy.

The kids get taken away. The bulk of the film is the two girls making their way back home, fighting capture, nature and predatory men. Engaging, if a bit simplistic. I heard this was taken from a YA novel...which seems about right. A little too dumbed down and obvious but a strong story nonetheless.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

White God


An extraordinary film featuring the best dog wrangling ever brought to film. Over 250 live dogs (not CGI) were used in some scenes.

A young girl is forced to give up her beloved dog which leads to incredible consequences for them and their entire city. Plot reminiscent of The Birds. Done in a you-are-there style. Irritating at first when the 12 yo is being treated badly by everyone, the story really cranks up when the mass of dogs escape and rampage through the city.

Oddball film, very effective, original, nicely interwoven parallel stories - truly one of a kind. Marred some by violent dogfight scenes which will keep many from watching it. Unforgettable. No clue on the title.


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Simon of the Oaks


Well meaning, nice looking but ultimately mediocre story of two boys who become friends in 1939 and maintain their connection during the war, in spite of intricate family complications. One boy was jewish, the other not...or maybe not...

Film began with a mystical tone which was picked up again when one of the boys found a deeply embedded love for music even though he hadn't been exposed to any all his life.

This played out well scene by scene but instead of pulling me in deeper as it went along I became more and more estranged from these people until I lost interest entirely.


Friday, August 28, 2015

Beyond the Lights

Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Minnie Driver

A female pop star with an overbearing mom tries suicide to escape the trap, is saved by cop/bodyguard, falls for him, etc...

Well acted by all hands but the scenario was so cliched, predictable that I lost interest half way through. There's no doubt though that Ms Gugu (Belle) is a major talent to watch.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The End of the Tour

Jason Segal, Jesse Eisenberg

A Rolling Stone reporter tags along with David Foster Wallace for several days while he promotes Inherent Vice.

Strong characterization by Segal. He has probably defined Wallace as a physical presence in my mind for all time. JE was his usual pinch-faced, twitchy self. The film dealt with the interview process, how awkward it can be, how predatory, how uncomfortable. We did learn a lot about Wallace, his fears, insecurities, his charm.

Not cinematic at all. Steadicam and widescreen were used but to no purpose. This was mostly an examination  of an extended author interview by a diligent, probing, jealous reporter. It wasn't pretty but neither is watching sausage being made.


The Trip to Italy


Another trip by the comic duo of Steve Coogan and Rob Dryden. This time their film benefits mightily from the stunning Italian scenery/locations.

But watching these two guys eat expensive meals in expensive hotels pales after a while. Their first film was a novelty I found charming; the second has an inevitable flavor of re-hash - the quest for more money.

Amusing, diverting but unnecessary.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

In The House


An over-qualified high school teacher hates the mediocrity of most of his students, latches onto one who writes beautifully and follows this boy's siren call to his detriment.

Whilst the filmmaker tries hard to give us enough backstory to flesh out the characters the result was an implausible scenario that seemed to follow foolishness to its logical extreme.

Not worth it.


Monday, August 24, 2015

Before I go to Sleep

Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth

Very contrived amnesia story which nonetheless held my attention until the end. NC was her usual professional self; it was a little hard to accept Firth as a mean abuser - it seemed too big a stretch to me.

Product, competently done.


Elvira Madigan


Sumptuous telling of Sweden's fabled tragic romance. Incredibly lush cine throughout made this film hailed as one of the most beautiful films ever made upon release - 1967. Both players were beautiful and the Swedish countryside has never looked better.

And, of course, there is the music; Mozart's Opus #21 is now known as the Elvira Madigan.

A great classic which will never be dated.


Saturday, August 22, 2015

Merchants of Doubt


Sharp, revealing expose on the folks who tell lies for omnicorp for a few pieces of silver. They started with big tobacco, moved on to flame retardants, eventually finding a warm and lucrative home in the bosom of big oil, coal and other manufacturers of pollutants.

It's a living. I guess...



Japan   d/ H. Kore-eda

Took another look at this 1998 masterpiece. What happens to you after you die?

This film is the most interesting take on that question I've ever seen. The drama is staged in a semi-rundown government-looking building, the staff at this institution are hard-working ordinary people. Their job is to help their clients select a memory they will take with them throughout eternity.

Tender, reflective, intelligent, consummately engaging. Sui generis.


Friday, August 21, 2015

The Stanford Prison Project

Ezra Miller

Well meaning but disappointing treatment of this true story. The hateful behavior of the 'guards' began immediately; since we weren't given access to their protocols we have no idea what they were instructed to do so this seemed inexplicable.

Film was well done - easily conveyed the claustrophobia inherent in this project. I was unable to care about any of these people though so I watched it with mildly interested detachment throughout.

Not as good as the German treatment of this same story.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

20 Million Miles to Earth

William Hopper

Another Ray Harryhausen gem from the late 50's. Typical story of its time (watch the skies!) this featured his best stop-motion work to this date. Shot in color, the story raced along to its conclusion at the Rome Colosseum.

I will always have a special fondness for these films.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Beast from 20,000 fathoms

W/Ray Bradbury

Adapted by Ray Bradbury from a story he published in the Saturday Evening Post. A prehistoric monster is awakened from his long sleep by the heat of an atomic bomb blast. It then makes its way down along the coast ending, finally, in NYC.

While I still have great fondness for this film from seeing it at age 8 I only watched it this time to study the work of Ray Harryhausen, master stop-motion animator. He was the best we ever produced and led the way for Nick Park et al. His work still shines - to my eye excels the shallow effects of current CGI.

For one of these 1950's monster flicks this was a good one.


Monday, August 17, 2015

Ivan's Childhood

Russia   d/ Andrei Tarkovsky

His first film (1960) follows the life/fate of a 12 yo boy working as a scout for the Red Army during WW2.

Many artsy flourishes elevate film above the average. Story was engaging throughout, with sharply drawn characters, beautiful use of light and shadow and a satisfying resolution. Pales a bit beside the definitive film in this genre, Come and See by Klimov, but still a solid work of historical filmmaking.


Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Artist and the Model

France   Jean Rochefort

There have been several films which used this idea; this one worked as well as the others I've seen. The model was beautiful,  JN was distant, pensive, old. The drama played out slowly, patiently. Setting was lovely.

A solid, competent film - no more.


The Drop

Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini

Mob-connected guys run a sleazy bar in Brooklyn which is robbed once and may be again. Oh and there's a girl/dog subplot too. Written by Dennis Lahane.

Entire film rests on TH and he carries it easily - this time with an underplayed performance. He's the kind of guy everyone overlooks, fades into the wallpaper until...

Even though this dealt with scuzzy people doing scuzzy things to each other I found it engaging - it held me all the way.


Friday, August 14, 2015

The Soft Skin

France  d/ F. Truffaut   Francois Dorleac

A prominent intellectual becomes infatuated with an airline stewardess which leads to the slow motion unraveling of his life. And then some.

Beautifully constructed throughout. The way he tells it, the way it's shot, edited gave it an emotional impact rare in these kinds of stories. It was clean, clear, heartbreaking, real. This was the first conventional film he made after the three new Wave films that put him on every cinefile's radar. To my eye this was stronger, less gimmicky...a real tour de force of filmmaking technique.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Second Coming

England   Idris Elba

A married social worker discovers she is pregnant but because of multiple miscarriages she hasn't had sex with her husband or anyone else for a long time. So...what's going on?

Well, there's the title for one thing. Plus magical rainstorms when she goes into the bathroom. She not husband, best friend, anyone.

Most of this info came from IMDB. The film itself was crippled for me by all the actors mumbling their lines with thick British accents which made 80-90% of the film completely unintelligible to me. No subtitles were available on the disc. I could guess sense and general ideas from body language, voice tones, etc. but this was an extremely frustrating viewing experience.

I've seen Elba in other films and heard him interviewed. There's nothing wrong with his diction.  This was deliberate and it didn't work...for me at least.


Monday, August 10, 2015


Ethan Hawke

Mind-bending time travel yarn. Taken from the writings of Robert Heinlein. Like all these there's no logical way into or out of this can just watch it play itself out.

Everything about this was well done. The set-up was slow but it was worth it. Excellent cast, miss-en-scene, emotional arcs, structure. Heinlein knew he was writing for an intelligent readership - he delivered consistently, including here.

Nice little gem.


The Assault


Film treatment of a plane hijacking in Algeria whose purpose was to crash the plane into some prominent French monument like the Eiffel Tower.

Very annoying shaky-cam throughout which I gradually came to accept because it did contribute to the immediacy of the drama. Very fast-paced. Pretty good characterizations of the French assault team but none of the Muslim fighters; the old story - who knows who they were or their motives? They were just bad people.

Film easily held my attention but crumbles afterward when I thought about it. Taken from a true story from 1994.


Sunday, August 9, 2015

You're Next


Unusually well done horror/thriller. Standard premise; affluent family gathered for a dinner in a remote house are targeted by mask-wearing killers. One by one they get picked off in various horrible ways. One of the girlfriends fights back whilst the rest cower in fear.

Viscerally satisfying but should I really be cheering on such a splatterfest? Probably not but it is hard to resist.


Saturday, August 8, 2015


Ireland    Brendan Gleeson

In the opening scene a man tells a priest he will kill him in a week because of abuse he suffered as a child from a predatory priest.

We follow the priest during his day-to-day rounds of parishioners and witness the lowly status his class has sunk to in Ireland. Most treat him and the institution he represents with contempt, openly scorning his beliefs, practices. This particular priest is a good man but is made to suffer for all the myriad sins committed by his colleagues.

Unusually sophisticated treatment of contemporary clerical life. A long way from Bells of Saint Marys. Gleeson shone here. His aura of inner calm carried the film past all the angry histrionics spewed by the other characters. He seemed to genuinely care about people and their suffering but they couldn't get past his collar. Unexpected, well done.


While We're Young

Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts

A fortyish couple hook up with some twenty-somethings, envy their freedom, bohemianism, alter their lives to become more like them. Done as a mocking comedy with cutting undertones. Some of this was amusing, some was not. The 'lesson' that people should act and think their age is a pretty thin reed on which to hang a 1 1/2 hour film.

Can't fault the players here...they did what was asked as well as they could. The problem was the central conceit; at some point we all realize the grass really isn't greener in the neighbor's yard. These characters were old enough to know that.


Thursday, August 6, 2015


Karen Gillan

Spooky ghost-in-the-mirror yarn. Two siblings, whose parents were murdered ten years prior are determined to kill the beast. But it's not so easy since it can apparently control all electronic gear in the area plus the victims' minds. Don't you just hate that?

Effective, well-constructed film. Slow build-up of suspense which led to a truly horrific ending. Ya pays your money, ya gets your scares.


The Homesman

Tommy Lee Jones, Hillary Swank

Lush hollywood production tells the story of a determined woman taking three demented women from Nebraska to Iowa mid 1800's. She is accompanied by TLJ's appropriately grizzled ne'er-do-well. Pretty sanitized but undeniably beautiful to look at. The panoramic landscape was stunning.

They have numerous harrowing adventures along the way.

Performances and story were professional, slick and, for me, marginally involving. This was mainstream fare and it looked it. Good for its type.


Monday, August 3, 2015

La Promesse

Belgium   Dardenne Brothers

Their third film; the one that captured the minds and hearts of the international film community. We follow a 15 yo boy whose father exploits illegal immigrants and has trained the boy well. We first meet him stealing money from an old woman. A worker for his father falls from a scaffold and is killed; Igor promises to take care of his wife and child...hence the title.

The story is a boy struggling to find his moral compass in the face of his father's violent wrath. Done like a doc, the film has a raw immediacy that pierces us, forces us to think hard about choices, right & wrong, the role of parenting, morality.

Splendidly acted by Olivier Gourmet and Jeremy Renier this became an instant classic, much beloved by fans like me.


Friday, July 31, 2015

Kill the Messanger

Jeremy Renner

Renner completely owns the story of Gary Webb - righteous reporter for an obscure California newspaper who uncovered and reported the US scheme to flood American cities with cocaine/crack to fund the illegal war in Nicaragua against democratic rule. He found that the rot went deep, to the very top of the hierarchy, and that once you expose the nakedness of the king your life will be torn to ribbons by his attack dogs in the media, CIA, FBI, etc.

Fast-paced, a bit superficial but a good intro to this story for those unfamiliar with it. I was pleased that the final title said Webb was found shot twice in the head. It was ruled a suicide.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

John Wick

Keanu Reeves

Simple-minded, preposterous revenge actioner that was so well done it largely worked if you were successful in completely stopping your brain from thinking during play.

KR put a lot into this performance and, by god, he pulled it off. He had quite a range of physical/emotional moments to achieve and, moment by moment he succeeded. The stunts were well shot; the whole thing was paced, framed, lit and shot beautifully.

This would have been better watched with a raucous audience but even in the quiet confines of my living room it worked for me in spite of my best judgement.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015



A powerhouse film. I never followed her career, knew nothing of her music, had read about her public meltdowns but had no feelings or opinions about her. Until now. This story blew me away. The tragedy of what happened to this girl was heart-wrenching.

She was a small woman with a big voice who wrote from the heart. The filmmaker had her lyrics on screen while she sang; a wise decision. She got so caught up in vocal stylizing it was hard to figure out what she was saying. Her words were moving, honest. She wrote about what was happening to her. And what happened to her shouldn't happen to anyone.

The madness of the celebrity bandwagon would crush anybody, no matter how strong they were. But she was fragile and was crushed. Watta shame. I could almost hear the paparazzi saying...who's next? I hate this culture.


Ghost in the Shell


When this film came out it was seen by many, including me, as fresh, complex and innovative...helping to move the anime bar a bit higher.

Today, with the remarkable progress anime continues to seemed primitive and a little tired to me. It still stands as a milestone along the way but the form is racing ahead...this film now has historical value only.


Monday, July 27, 2015

The Year My Parents Went on Vacation


1970. Brazil is vying for the World Cup championship; at the same time writhing under the military dictatorship. This film weaves these two mega-stories into the personal tale of a 12 yo boy whose lefty parents scoot, leaving him in the care of a grandfather who had died the day before. Gramps lived in Sao Paulo in the middle of a jewish neighborhood so he is introduced to that alien culture.

Patient unfolding of this boy's story, told without pathos or drama. Realistic in tone, moving at times. We've seen many of these over the years: all have similar features/incidents. They are separated by the degree to which they get under the character's, and our, skin.

An intelligent, satisfying coming-of-age story.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Mr. Nobody

Belgium   Jared Leto, Sarah Polley

A remarkable film that deals in very complex ways with the consequences of decisions we make in our lives...and decisions we cannot make. A 9 yo boy is given the choice of going with mom or dad when the parents split. This film traces the possible outcomes of each.

Time is a major theme. The film caroms wildly between different eras in the life of Nemo, our protagonist. Much is concerned with how the different spouses he might end up with will determine his path. But time moves in only one direction...or does it?

The editing, music, cine were outstanding...gave the film an energy few films match. The sci-fi elements were beautifully handled. I don't know how the performers were able to get a handle on their characters; the plotline is the opposite of linear.

It was difficult parsing this times I just held on and allowed myself to be taken for the ride. Eventually I figured it out. I applaud the cinematic/thematic imagination on display here. This is not your ordinary film. It demands deep thought and provides an intellectual and emotional payoff. When's the last time you saw that in a film?


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Song of the Sea


A selkie comes to life, spends the film's time trying to reach her special coat so she can return to her natural habitat. She has many outlandish adventures along the way.

Beautifully drawn. Many imaginative scenes of breathtaking animation. Charming treatment of selkie legend...much better than John Sayles' film. I have no quarrel with this lovely film but I do wish anime would move beyond stories about and intended primarily for children. Until it does it won't be taken seriously as medium.

Meanwhile this one's a gem.


The Mist

Marcia Gay Harden

Your basic monster movie. A storm brings horrible monsters into a seaside town; a group gets trapped in the local supermarket...who will survive? Pretty much by-the-numbers. Some very good creature effects, annoying doubters/skeptics get their comeuppance, a religious nut sways the crowd, etc.

Hasn't all this been done before? Many times. This film (by Frank Darabont) does it as well as most. Could've used some trimming...some scenes were held too long...but it was enjoyable...if you like this sort of thing.


Friday, July 24, 2015

What We Do in the Shadows

New Zealand

Consistently clever, creative post-modern take on the vampire meme. These film ideas have been in the air so long now their existence is taken for granted and can now be parodied at will. Last year Jim Jarmusch used jaded ennui as a device in his wonderful Only Lovers Left Alive; here vamps and their practices are used for broad humor.

Like superheroes and UFOs/aliens, slack-jawed moviegoers believe this nonsense is real enough that they 'know' the characteristics of dead people who live on human blood. I suppose this is harmless entertainment but I wonder about the effect of large numbers of the populace believing silly lies: does it make the equally nonsensical corporate propaganda easier to push? Who knows?

This film succeeded on its own terms.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

White Bird in a Blizzard

Shailene Woodley, Eva Green

Moody, slow-paced drama of a 17 yo girl whose mother suddenly disappears, sending her into an adolescent tailspin. She frabs around with the neighbor boy, hooks up with the detective investigating, eventually goes off to college with her world in a state of suspended animation.

The tone of the film was vaguely mysterious. All the dialogue between the girl and her mother clunked. Mom was desperately unhappy but stayed. Why? Dad was a loser.

I found it engaging but not compelling. Not suspenseful enough for a mystery. Not deep enough for a character study. Directed by Gregg Araki who may not have been happy making a domestic melodrama. Very different from his other films. So-so.


This Filthy World


90 minute stand-up talk by the one and only John Waters, pride of Baltimore. He is very practiced at this kind of presentation by the audience, and us, a trip through his film career touching on all the old favorites - Divine eating dog shit, etc.

He is still scabrous, irreverent in the extreme, amusing, scatological, sui generis.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Last Sentence

Sweden   d/ Jan Troell

We follow a prominent newspaper editor, staunchly anti-Hitler, from 1933 to 1945 as he wrestles with other members of the ruling class who are afraid his screeds will bring German soldiers to Sweden. The film is also a domestic melodrama, with open cheating, loveless marriages, a Jewish mistress, etc.

The drama here was very subdued - with none of the smooth fluency I've come to associate with this director. Performances were strong, mise-en-scene spot on, but the screenplay felt baggy - just meandering along whilst history played out the grand drama of WW2.

Film was a bit of a let down for this great director, whose work I've admired since The Emigrants and The New Land in the early 70's.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Simple Life

Hong Kong

On the second viewing I liked this even more. Gentle, undramatic, humanistic...a truly marvelous film.

Deannie Yip was the standout. She acted mostly with her eyes and won my heart all over again.


Friday, July 17, 2015

I'm a Cyborg and That's OK


Set in an insane asylum. Extremely silly without being funny. So we're left with adults running around doing ridiculous things, acting stupid.

I wonder if Koreans found this funny...


Happy Valley


This doc tells the twisted, sordid tale of Penn State, Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno. The real story is the bizarre reaction of the State College 'community' to these crimes. Apparently paedophilia, child rape are insignificant, incidental distractions from the truly important issues facing UPenn - winning the next football game.

Some of the things people said on camera here were hard to believe. One shithead said he was tired of having to acknowledge the suffering of the rape victims when praising JoPa. Really? Are US values this skewed? The frightening answer is...probably.

Very disturbing peek into the collapse of a 'civilization.'


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Kiss the Water

ducumentary   Scotland

An original doc. Eric Steel melds stock doc ideas with interpretative animation and stunning nature footage of the Scottish highlands and shore. All done at a slow, reflective pace.

Beautiful...lovely soundtrack and sound design. Macro shots of the art of tying flies.

He tells the life of Megan Boyd, master tier of flies used to catch salmon. I wasn't interested in this topic but this film enthralled me...and will be memorable. This one's a gem.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Bicycling With Moliere


A popular TV actor attempts to recruit his retired 'friend' to re-stage The Misanthrope. The film is the continuing series of conflicts between them as they try to get a handle on the characters and the play.

Some of this was dramatic, some silly, some asinine. It shifted scene to scene, which gave the film a disconcerting inconsistency. The slapstick wasn't funny. At all. The love interest also fell flat. There were moments during rehearsals when the actors clicked...but they were short and not sustained.

The big problem was that the 'friend' was a total jerk - I found it implausible that the actor would continue to pursue this asshole for the play. It's a classic play...many actors could do it. Nice use of seaside scenery but that's not enough to carry a film.


The Wolfpack


Seven siblings were locked in a NYC apartment for the first 15 years of their lives by a drunken moron father and beaten-down mother. During the course of this film we watch these boys make tentative steps to liberate themselves, although there is no doubt they will be profoundly damaged by their childhoods.

I saw this as a sordid freakshow but the freaks weren't interesting, only pathetic. They watched shitty movies (Tarantino, Batman), wrote down every word of the scripts and re-enacted them in their cramped apartment.

These kids gave me the creeps...similar to the 'uncanny valley' phenomenon generated by too-perfect robots or cloned humans. I wanted to get away from them and their stinking apartment. I wanted to take a shower afterward and cleanse myself from my memory.

As an added bonus this was among the worst shot films in memory. Half was home footage the kids shot; the other half was equally boneheaded footage by the filmmaker. This film was an unpleasant ordeal for me. I can't forget it fast enough.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Man in the Moon

Reese Witherspoon, Tess Harper, Sam Waterston

This was her first film, at age 14 and she shows here the talent which has made her an enduring international star.

The story is old-fashioned, linear, sweetly tempered, resonant, tragic. It never strikes a false note. The 'rivalry' between two sisters, one 14 the other 18, for the love of their handsome new neighbor is the spark that drives the plot. The film is incredibly beautiful in scene after scene; set in the 50's the effect created is a warm, nostalgic look back at real people dealing with real problems.

Robert Mulligan directed this, his last film, and it's a gem.


Friday, July 10, 2015

Los Angeles Plays Itself


Fascinating piece on the use of LA as location for films since the very beginning of motion pictures. Told by a native, his defensiveness about the city is irritating at first but he eventually drops that notion and concentrates of how our perceptions of both LA and the cultural memes it represents have been generated by the movies.

The film is 3 hours long and held me in thrall the entire time. Numerous clips buttressed the voiceover. In fact the entire film was clips from film history. The narrator was obviously an amateur which was off-putting at first but I gradually ignored his delivery and concentrated on what he was saying.

Strictly for film buffs. For me this was catnip.




Charming superhero movie starring and aimed at kids. The premise is a rough takeoff on spiderman with the infected protagonist being a 12 year old boy who looks 8. And 8 seems to me to be the perfect age for the audience.

There is nothing original here but 8 year olds won't know this and won't care. The acting and direction are very good, the film is short, the violence muted. The closest film to this is probably Kick Ass but this one has no swearing. I would have loved this as a kid.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Internet's Own Boy


Heartbreaking account of the life and trials of Aaron Schwartz, internet and overall genius who wanted to make the world a better place, and did in many ways until he was cut down by a rabid prosecutor, a corrupt institution (MIT) and a ruling class that feared and loathed the widespread availability of publicly paid-for information.

Even the laws which supposedly govern the peoples' behavior are kept behind a paywall for the benefit of private profiteers.

The rot runs deep. But visionaries like Schwartz create cracks in the 1% armor - that's how the light gets in.


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Ashes of Time

Hong Kong   w/d  Wong Kar-Wei

Heavily stylized, incoherent story about a contract killer who retreats to the desert for some reason and organizes killing using wandering samurai-types. Plot summary came from IMDB, not watching. When I watched it I had no idea what was going on.

The visuals here were spectacular and clearly dominated the mind of the director. A pull-out-all-stops treatment using in-camera and post production tricks made for a fantasmagoria of swirling colors, blades, characters, etc. Very self-indulgent...but quite impressive. Worked as a demo reel better than as a film.


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl


Strained comedy/melodrama which tries to milk maximum pathos from...guess what?

For a while I was enjoying this story of a nebbishy HS kid forced by his mom to befriend the titular dying girl. There were many funny lines and setups, especially the films these two guys made parodying popular movies. But as the story evolved the cracks in the premise became more visible. When I stopped laughing the film lost all its charm.

The protagonist really was an asshole - whiny, self-absorbed, insensitive - and by the 3/4 mark I started to detest him. I also couldn't ignore the contrivance in the story (e.g. dying girl's mom first played for uncomfortable laughs, then for pathos) nor could I stand the mawkish wallowing in the dg's demise.

This rose to the top of the indie pile at Sundance...which tells me the crop must have been weak that year indeed.


Sunday, July 5, 2015


France   d/  Suzanne Shiffman

Fine medieval melodrama. An inquisitor comes to a small town sniffing out any signs of heresy, whatever that is. He gloms onto a woman healer who lives in the forest and gathers herbs with which she treats the villagers' ailments.

Eye-catching mise-en-scene. Some imaginative camera moves and choice of music. Solid acting by all hands. Engrossing with multiple layers of meaning. 


Camille Claudel 1915

France   Juliette Binoche

Continuation of the story told in Camille Claudel 20 years ago. Here Rodin's former lover and colleague has been placed in an insane asylum by her family. She seems high-functioning but skitters near the edge from time to time and probably belongs there. But it is a torment for her and that's pretty much what we have to watch the entire film.

JB was completely convincing in a de-glamourized role. She always shines. The story was so unpleasant though that I found myself pulling away...and without an emotional engagement it didn't work.


Friday, July 3, 2015

Winter Sleep

Turkey   d/ Nuri Bilge Ceylon

Another remarkable film from this Turkish master. This was a 31/2 hour, slow-paced look at the life of a rich villager in Cappadocia who runs a hotel and functions as local slumlord. We focus on the interpersonal relations of those who live in his household, his dominance of their lives and their struggles to overcome his soft-spoken tyranny.

There were conversations in the film that lasted 20 minutes and were increasingly lacerating, revealing as they developed. When the film was over we felt we had gained a privileged peek into their private lives and thoughts.

The lead was outstanding. He was on screen nearly the entire time but I never got sick of him. His family did though...

A world class film, a brilliant follow-up to Anatolia. a film for cineastes. No commercial potential.


I Am Ali


Sensitive, personal treatment of an extraordinary man. He stood up for what he believed when that stance was extremely unpopular and went on to become the most recognized, most beloved man of his time.

There isn't much new to say about this man. This film focuses on the quality of the interactions between him and those closest to him. I found it very moving...a nice tribute.

We'll not see his like again.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Inside Out


This was a big disappointment. Instead of the thoughtful, amusing piece on the cognitive changes going on in the life of an 11 year old girl I expected we got a loud, fast-paced annoying cartoon which used all the stock tricks used by American animators since Disney. Extremely reductionist and, frankly, idiotic attempt to personify brain function.

There was a major hype machine pushing this film which gave a misleading sense of what it was. I won't get caught in that trap again.

Oh yeah, the program started off with a terrible cartoon about talking/singing volcanos.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015



Ever wonder what it would be like having your town taken over by armed fanatic jihadists? Me neither. But here through the magic of cinema we get to watch the reality of tyranny, hypocrisy, arbitrary power exercised upon a stone age poor people by muslims with AK-47s. It isn't pretty.

Film was very well done, apparently shot on location. We get enough characterization to feel for these peoples' fate. Cinematography was world class, suffusing the film with beauty - incongruous considering the barbarity of the behavior on screen.

Tyranny is the same everywhere. Watching this reminded me of the aphorism by Blaise Pascal - there will always be good men who do good things, and bad men who do bad things. But to get good men to do bad things you need religion.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Cafe de Flore


Had another look at this film; the only thing I would add to what I said three years ago is that the editing really is special. Many times there were cuts that flickered by with no explanation or context, they jumped around in time and place so it took a while to figure out who was who and what was happening in the various stories. But the several stories were so compelling the film easily held my attention.

This film assumed an intelligent, sophisticated audience - always a treat for a cinefile like me.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Venus in Fur

France   d/ Roman Polanski

Two-hander about the creation of a play based on the works of a prominent sado-masochist.

Polanski plays with us during this film. The tone and substance kept shifting slightly all the way through until by the end the entire play had been reversed...even to the sex of the players.

Film was a lovely exercise in intellectual gamesmanship. I found it consistently intriguing/amusing. Much credit goes to the two extremely skilled players - Matthieu Almaric and Emmanuelle Segner.


Friday, June 26, 2015


England   Sally Hawkins, Nicole Kidman

Right proper British comedy...suitable for children of all ages. A talking bear shows up in London, hooks up with an eccentric, loving family and has a host of madcap adventures. Somewhat formulaic but well enough done to overcome.

Apparently based on a much-loved children's book, the film maintained a rapid pace, featured many clever sight gags, touched the heartstrings a bit and ended up a satisfying piece of general entertainment. Nice job.


Maps to the Stars

Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska   D/ David Cronenberg

DC returns to form here with a twisted, ugly tale of life in present-day hollywood. We follow an aging star who is losing her mojo, a child actor afflicted with arrogance and psychotic visions which stem from his deeply troubled childhood. This all leads to scenes of horrific violence, ugly sex, madness, broken relationships, death.

This seemed like a more polished version of Videodrome...with perhaps a dab more if that were possible. I'd say DC doesn't like the hollywood scene...a lot. Of course no one does but no one's made the point with this much bile before. Horrible people leading shallow, competitive, meaningless lives...all for the entertainment of of the public.

I could struggle to say nice things about the quality of the acting...but, really...that would be like praising the clean, pressed uniforms of the guards at Auschwitz.


Thursday, June 25, 2015


Japan    d/ H. Kore-eda

Unusual film set in medieval times. A young samurai is charged by his father on his deathbed with avenging his death. He goes to Edo but discovers he has a love for teaching, not violence. We watch as people in his scruffy new neighborhood gradually help him make the transition from warrior to scholar.

Technically the film was first rate. Careful, well thought-out framing, lighting gave the film an uncommon richness. The tone was quite unusual for a samurai film - gentle, lyrical, pensive. Another outstanding effort by Japan's best contemporary filmmaker.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Marketa Lazarova

Czech   d/ Franticek Vlacil

Said to be his masterpiece...but I dunno. Sharp B/W photography and careful framing don't overcome the grubbiness, the filth, the sourness of the portrayal of Czech medieval society.

The film seems to embody the aphorism that life in primitive cultures is nasty, brutish and short. Ugly, pig-headed violence is constantly on screen...which made me wonder where all these people came from if their world was completely without tenderness.

Vlacil may have been making a point that escaped me. For me watching this was just an unpleasant ordeal.


Black Butterflies

South Africa

Fictional take on the life and times of a prominent SA female poet. She has serious daddy problems - her father is portrayed as insensitive, controlling, dismissive...even downright cruel at times. We watch as she flails around trying to establish a loving relationship with a man but her inability to stand up to dad and move beyond his influence/approval cripples her.

Well done film with good use of SA locations, solid acting but no fun to watch.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Twenty Four Eyes

Japan Hideko Takamine

There's really nothing I can add to the other reviews I've done on this film in recent years: I think it's a great classic which illuminates the every day struggles faced by the common folk in tumultuous times.

HT was luminous. This time I sat quietly weeping during the entire film.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Fellowship of the Ring

Peter Jackson

I read this trilogy twice...once in 1965, once in 1975. When I saw this at the theater I was thrilled that Jackson had done such a good job translating it to the screen. What he accomplished was as good as I had seen in my imagination while I was reading it.

I should have left it there. Watching it now all I could see was the silliness of the calculated it was. And I got sick of following characters around who were terrified all the time...grossly over-matched by forces much more powerful than they were. But, of course, they always triumph against crippling odds.

A fairy tale I should have treasured in memory.


Monday, June 15, 2015


Van Heflin, Ed Begley   w/ Rod Serling

Originally written as a one-hour drama which appeared on live TV in 1955. Here he expanded it to 90 minutes with a different cast.

Sharply drawn portrait of the world of big business. Similar to Executive Suite. The callous inhumanity of the capitalist belief system was front and center and it stank. Edward Sloane played the monstrous CEO as a cold-eyed shark...lashing out at the weak in the pool. Dog eat dog, profits uber alles, the race goes to the most ruthless, etc.

If anyone needs a reminder of the true nature of the beast...look here. Well done.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

More Than Honey

documentary   Germany

Outstanding doc on the nature of bees, their habits, role in the chain of life and their fate as human activity disrupts the order of things.

There have been many pieces written on bees in recent years because of CCD. This is the best I've seen. They go all over the world to examine the current status of bee populations and where they're headed.  Things don't look good for our striped friends...if trends continue they won't look good for us soon either.

Oh, when will they ever learn...


Thursday, June 11, 2015


documentary   d/ Joe Berlinger

Thorough examination of the terror reign of Whitey Bulger and his subsequent prosecution.

Oddly enough, even though Bulger was a violent, borderline psychotic thug he fares better in this film than the FBI and the DOJ who come across as thoroughly corrupt and completely without shame and for whom there is no accountability.

The rot is wide and deep. Where does it end? Stay at 11...


Tuesday, June 9, 2015


Alicia Silverstone   d/ Amy Heckerling.

Clever, fast-paced loose adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma....set in a high school in Beverly Hills. This may be the best of the HS films - great, snappy dialogue, big heart, winning cast with a happily ever after ending.

What's not to like?


Monday, June 8, 2015

A Woman's Sorrows

Japan   Mikio Naruse

Typically focused domestic melodrama. We follow a woman who cannot marry the man she loves, marries another and finds herself used as a house slave by her in-laws. She gets caught up in the complicated machinations of their lives, receives no respect for what she says or does. Finally she leaves.

Startling outcome for a film made in 1937. Despite the time there was no sign of the militarism that dominated Japan in those years. Film was tight, engaging...a notch down from similar films by Ozu.


Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Double Life of Veronique

France/Poland   Irene Jacob d/  Krzysztof Kieslowski

A stunning film. Rich in thought, beautiful visuals, music, abstract yet grounded - a perfect example of cinematic poetry.

K assumes his audience is as intelligent/perceptive as he is. The editing style was abrupt at times, at others he would linger over a scene, an image, to let us absorb it fully before moving on. The interconnections between characters and events were intricately woven into the fabric of the film; the viewer always had something to ponder. I found my mind fully engaged throughout.

Ms Jacob excelled. She brought a sense of slight puzzlement to many scenes, consistent with her sense she was connected, subliminally to another woman somewhere, somehow.

The film was about identity, self, connections, fate, determinism, life. Truly brilliant. A work by a master filmmaker at the height of his talents.


Saturday, June 6, 2015

F For Fake

documentary(?)   d/Orson Welles

Typically brilliant, imaginative take on the Elmyr d'Hory/Clifford Irving story which was current and hot at the time this was done. I'm sure the affair seemed important at the time but it reeks of irrelevance from today's perspective.

Still, the truly impressive editing makes the film a must watch for fans. He skips all around the story conveying the sense he's having a great time tweaking us. It went on too long, largely because the story itself wasn't interesting enough to carry an hour and a half film. At an hour it would have been a masterpiece.

Great of the last projects he was able to complete before his death.


Friday, June 5, 2015


France   w/d Celine Schiamma

Nice film. Very nice. We follow a 16 yo black girl around the remote suburbs of Paris as she tries to figure it out. She has no prospects, home is problematic.  She joins a gang of girls like her and finds strength through their shared experiences.

The director has a wonderful touch, sensibility. She did Tomboy, Water Lillies...sweetnatured, insightful films set in adolescence. There's a softness to the way she tells her story I find appealing.

A gem.


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Throne of Blood

Japan   d/ A. Kurosawa

The master's brilliant adaptation of Shakespeare's MacBeth. He used the general scenario, ignored the words...instead brought in the traditions and forms of Noh Theater. This was a melding of European and Japanese cultural memes; a perfect illustration of cross-fertilization.

Because Noh acting is based on types, not individual characters it was impossible to empathize or identify with anyone here: characters were in the unholy grip of human nature with all the stupidity that brings. They play out their parts in the cosmic drama. Twas ever thus.

Staging, framing, camera were superb. He was at the height of his powers when this was made. In my opinion this is the best Shakespeare-based film I've ever seen (and there have been many). The final scenes, where the usurper finds his fate were stunning, unforgettable.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Day the World Exploded


Surprisingly well done film from 1961. While the effects were poor the use of imaginative lighting patterns, camera movement and solid acting made this quite watchable - even to a jaded film buff like me.

I have a fondness for this type of junk which I acquired in childhood and I suppose will never fade. I recognize that these are stupid but when I was 8, staring up at a 60 foot screen in the old Leroy they pulled me into a world much neater than the decaying industrial mess that was Pawtucket in those days.


Monday, June 1, 2015



Clever, fun take on the zombie genre. Most of the story takes place in the basement of a rural church which houses the local radio station. The morning DJ, Mazzy, is a wonderful character...perfect radio voice, cowboy hat, bottle of scotch and a desire to get the news out to his new community. But the news is bad, And confusing. Apocalyptic. Just another day in the salt mines.

This is what you can do with a low budget, a vivid imagination and skilled players. This film held me all the way, even though much seemed like genre cliches. It was different enough, unpredictable enough to hold me for 90 minutes. Nice job.


Thursday, May 28, 2015


amerindie   Jason Bateman

Sharp, tight insightful film about the incredible complications universal computer use has brought 'civilization.' We follow two high school brats who play 'pranks' on line, one of which leads to a suicide attempt; a grieving couple whose info is hacked leaving them penniless and hungry for revenge; an ambitious TV reporter who wins acclaim for a piece on underage cyber sex workers.

All these stories lead to pain, suffering, dislocation, trauma. The film tries to end on a positive note which belies the first 90%. Stories were intercut with faster and faster edits coming at the end to real dramatic effect. Solid acting by an unfamiliar ensemble.

Works as a cautionary tale and dramatic thriller. Nice job,


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Straight To The Heart

Canada   Lea Pool

World-travelling news photographer, ensconced in a ten year trio comes home to find his partners have chosen each other and excluded him. This film traces the process he goes through to recover his self, value and purpose.

Strong lead (Matthew Habbich) carries the film. He finds escape in shooting the decay, rot in his home town - Montreal -seeking out the poorer quarters where the ragged people go. He also hooks up with a non-demanding mute boyfriend for temporary succor, eventually entering an asylum.

Intelligent well-acted melodrama marred some by cheesy 80's synth music. Nice to see an adult topic treated maturely.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Ballad of a Soldier


The heartbreaking story of a young soldier during WW2 who commits a heroic act, gets a 6 day leave and travels home to help his mother.

This classic film, from 1959, represents Russia attempting to come to grips with the enormous losses suffered during their Great Patriotic War. The boy, and his cherie-en-passant are highly idealized - the type of people Russians wish they were. Their story was representative and very sad. We know, as do they, that they will never meet again.

The final scene when he takes his leave from his mother is one of the most moving endings in film history. A great film.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Love is All You Need

Denmark   Pierce Brosnan   d/ Susanne Bier

Domestic difficulties come to a head when the marriage between two families who have traveled to scenic Italy for the event comes undone.

Although the film is bound by creaky convention (eg meeting cute) it's done lightly enough to be engaging and entertaining. The focus is on the relationship between the bride's mother and the groom's father, both of whom are suffering from fate's arrows. The development of their relationship is handled with sensitivity and intelligence - even in the muddled scrum of the wedding gathering their emerging light shines.

Charming, old-fashioned filmmaking.


Friday, May 22, 2015

The Better Angels


Really lovely film about the early, troubled years in the life of Abraham Lincoln. Film focuses on the hardships of being poor, on what was the frontier at that time...the ubiquitous presence of death and the role of the two extraordinary women in his life who loved him, fought for him, believed in him.

Very cinematic...reminiscent of Malick in its approach. Minimal dialogue. Impressionistic editing. Several scenes were genuinely touching. Some relied solely on facial expressions or body language. Remarkably intelligent, sensitive film. The best I've seen about the man and his time.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Blue Ruin


Action-packed revenge thriller. A derelict guy learns that the convict who murdered his parents is being released from prison. He determines to avenge his parents' death. Then his troubles begin.

Solid storytelling with lots of violence for those who seek such things. Camera work, pacing, acting were top notch. Good B film.


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Drug War

China   d/ Johnnie To

Highly touted, slick police auctioneer. Extremely fast paced. None of this was believable though. It had a hollow core. It was all just surface flash.

I can see where there's an audience for this kind of film. It's eye candy for the popcorn set. But you've got to turn your brain off. I've never figured out how to do that.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Ex Machina

Britain   Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander

Another attempt to see how AI will develop.

Whilst the CGI here was first rate the set-up and scenario didn't work at all. We're presented with a giga-rich megalomaniac who concocts a female robot and shanghais a company nerd to his remote lab for a turing test. All the interactions between the mogul and the nerd clunk - badly. The bossman is crude, drunken, offensive, violent, macho. The kid is dazzled/bewildered...the foil for unknown nefarious schemes.

The robot, and her interactions with the nerd did work...that portion of the film held my interest. It was intriguing, even gripping. It was only at the very end that we understand what has actually been going on but by then it's too late.

Half good, half not so good. This topic will be in the forefront of tech development in the near future. I hope subsequent films do a better job parsing out the implications.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Salt of the Earth


Film examines the career of a Brazilian photographer named Salgados. A deeply engaged humanist he has travelled all over the world recording some of the very worst of humanity - Rwanda, Kuwait, The Sahel. His eye is excellent but the topics extremely grim. The cumulative effect of all these beautifully composed images of death and suffering crush the spirit.

There was an attempt late in the film to end on a high note but it was far tl/tl. I'm glad I saw this but I fear it will quickly fade from memory so I can retain my sanity.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Clouds of Sils Maria

France   Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart    w/d Olivier Assayas

Sharply written take on the life of an aging actress and her life with her PA. The dialogue between the two as they prepare her for a new stage role slides between the play and their real lives. The complete one-sidedness of their relationship gradually comes into focus; the PA sees her ideas continually rejected which forces her to consider her least insofar as this job is concerned.

Believable view of celebrity, its tensions, pressures and consequences. An arrangement where one of the parties holds all the power is inherently unstable. The play within has similar themes to All About Eve, minus the melodrama, to which this film compares favorably.

I continue to be baffled why KS keeps getting cast...she still projects nothing. She can read her lines but so what? She must have qualities that don't appear on screen.

This had the bonus of lovely Alpine scenery.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Even The Rain

Spain/Mexico  Luis Tosar, Gael Bernal

Each time I see this one it rises higher in my estimation. Incredibly rich, dense script by Paul Laverty which brings in a wealth of issues - exploitation of native peoples at the time of Columbus and by a movie company in the present; the role of multi-nationals who are privatizing the water supply of Bolivia, the place for resistance and its effectiveness.

And yet, none of this felt like a polemic. We get so involved in the lives and interactions of the characters that the issues become part of the background. Brilliant writing and well played by all hands.

Someone after the screening said this film should be shown in schools. She was right. It should.


A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night


The thing is...the girl's a vampire. So she's not in danger...she is the danger.

Odd little film. Shot very artfully with lots of dark shadows and almost no people. Languid pace and tone enlivened occasionally with some discreet killing. She doesn't kill everyone she meets - some she scares and gives a pass. In fact it is fundamentally a love story.

Like Only Lovers Left Alive and What We Do in the Shadows this film is part of the post-modern take on the vamp trope...played for knowing laughs rather than scares or shock. This one ran out of ideas an hour in but not fatally.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Ashes and Snow


An extraordinary film. A slow motion study of humans and animals interacting cooperatively. Many remarkable shots, tableaux. Like Samsara it was riveting but for a limited time. My attention began to wander at 45 min or so.

The soundtrack was perfect to my mind...slow drifty new age done well. This is a remarkable for its own sake...with no real commercial value. I would like to show this to children to see how they would react...perhaps to influence their thinking...seeing people and animals living in harmony, comfortable with each other.

A film done with great love and respect. It celebrates the oneness of life.


Blue Caprice


The factual, sordid story of the DC snipers, who brought terror to the burbs of Maryland in the early oughts.

The filmmakers give a social context to these two guys, their bitterness and alienation which helps us to understand their behavior. It's an unpleasant film to watch but points out that there will always be those who fall aside, and some will choose to fight back against the culture which has rejected them. The wonder is that this type of thing doesn't happen more often.

Film was believably written and acted...careful attention was given to cutting away so as not to sicken the audience whilst losing none of the emotional impact.


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

5 to 7

Anton Milchan

This one didn't work for me at all. It wasn't credible to me that this sophisticated, world-wise, beautiful, graceful, elegant woman would be interested in any way with some schlubby, uninteresting,  uncharismatic nebbish. Sorry, guys...not even in the movies.

I also didn't believe this character was a brilliant writer. Not one word of his dialogue was interesting or insightful. I normally stay with a film until I sense a clunk. In this one the clunks never stopped. The last 20 minutes were awash with schmaltzy music - a clear sign the filmmaker realized the film needed some help.

Close to an insult.


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Jules and Jim

Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner

The original french manic pixie dream girl. This film was eye/mind-opening when it was released for depicting a plausible three-way relationship. When viewed through todays post sexual revolution, post feminism sensibilities the lovely Catherine is seen clearly as a sociopath, wildly irresponsible, erratic and eventually murderous and self-destructive.

Mixed feelings about the film. Some of the scenes, particularly the mobile camera shots still look sharp. The problem for me was the voiceover which kept showing up and each time took me out of the story. The actors were believable - more so than the characters' motivations.

This film has iconic status among people of my generation. It likely draws a 'huh?' from younger folks and that will likely grow worse as time goes on.


Friday, May 1, 2015


Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson

Lovely film. A young mulatto girl is grudgingly accepted into upper class society in the late 1700's. Intelligent script which was well shot and played by a first rate cast. The lead Gugu something was very good and easily carried the weight of the film.

Some of the music was over-egged...a shame. The story was plenty strong enough without it. Having the story end as the beginning step in the English abolition movement gave the film a nice after feel.


Peter and John

Jacqueline Bissett

Nice looking film shot on Nantucket. They made good use of the location...some beautiful footage shot on the moors that made me ache for that landscape.

But the drama, although interesting as a story, was woodenly written and played. It didn't really come to life...more like watching someone act out a play. JB was a treat to see. She looks great and has a gravitas the others lacked.

Done largely by college age people and it showed.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Going Clear

documentary   Alex Gibney

This is the story of scientology, the outrageous neo-nazi org founded L Ron Hubbard. It's a sick, hateful, violent organization and should be torn into a million pieces and scattered to the four winds (thanks JFK).

It doesn't say much for humanity that so many people get sucked into this scam...but there they are. There's no hope. Give up.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Lazarus Project

Paul Walker

This film gave me the sense that screenwriters must be running out of viable ideas. The premise here was implausible enough to edge toward idiotic. A 'family man,' habitual criminal gets involved in a heist that goes wrong, people die, he is convicted and executed. But that's not the end.

He is somehow revived, sent to Oregon to live and work in a mental hospital, where he is forbidden to leave or contact his wife and daughter.

Major effort to inject mysterioso into ordinary behavior...funny sounds coming from the woods, people slipping by just out of sight...creepoid music. But it all came across as contrived nonsense. I found it impossible to care about any of this.


Monday, April 27, 2015

This is Not a Test


Fair to good B film done in 1959 about a group of travelers corralled by a deputy in a martial law scenario due to an imminent nuclear attack. The people-in-extremis theme has been done many times. This one was intelligently written/directed...however many of the actors weren't skilled enough to pull this off. One guy stood out but made the others shrink in comparison.

Still, engaging, taut...held me easily.


Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Spirit of the Beehive


This just gets better and better each time I see it. Today I saw it as a perfect film.


Friday, April 24, 2015

For No Good Reason


Nice doc on gonzo artist Ralph Steadman. His hook-up in the 60's with Hunter S. Thompson was one of the century's most fortunate. HST wrote scabrous, lacerating prose about the Kentucky Derby, Hells Angels, Las Vegas and Richard Nixon but Steadman brought these themes to life with his outrageous drawings.

Johnny Depp put this project together and it was a low-key labor of love. We get shown a vast array of Ralph's work which really is incredible for it's anger, style and message. No illustrator has ever shown it like this before...and likely none will ever again.

Solid tribute to an eccentric genius.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Johnny Corncob

Hungary   anime

Exceptional film. Impressionistic treatment of an historical poem taken from a folk legend.

Very daring, abstract imagery...a bit off-putting at first but the remarkable fluidity of the image transitions got my attention. I ended up seeing this as a major work of creative imagination. From 1973.

This should be better known.


The Devil's Staircase


Middling to good thriller from 1964. Good lighting, cine...marred some by really odd use of music. Every now and then fragments from an American pop song would drift on by although the film overall most resembled films from France in that same era.

An ambitious doctor murders his mistress in a scenario like A Place in the Sun. Deliberate pacing allows us to really get inside his mind, crippled with guilt. Strong elements of Diabolique in the final half.

I would have liked this more if I had seen it at the time. Now, the wooden acting and histrionics gave it a dated feel. Still, it held me till the end...not many from that period do that anymore.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Hen in the Wind

Japan   Y. Ozu

Sad, deeply moving film from 1948. A young wife whose husband has been away for four years in the war needs money to save her son, turns to prostitution, tells him when he returns and causes a serious rift in the family.

Post war Japan had many stories like this. It was a hard time, many people were forced to do things they later regretted but survival was controlling. I found the husband's reaction hard to understand; his sense of honor and morality was too extreme given the conditions extant.

Both leads were good, the tone darker than most of Ozu but the film had undeniable impact for me.


Wild Tales


Five unconnected tales dealing mostly with revenge or corruption. Some of this was so exaggerated it made me laugh out loud - hard.

Done with great care...each scenario was plausible (except the framing incident...very topical but not realistic). The locations, cine, acting (including a nice turn by Ricardo Darin), pacing, camera work were all first rate...which made the excess tolerable...even funny.

Give these people credit for daring to go over the top and pulling it off.


Thursday, April 16, 2015


Eric Bana, Olivia Wilde

Nasty doins set in the north country. Way too violent for my taste. Good cast, lotsa snow but this type of material just doesn't work for me anymore.


The Fountain of Youth

Orson Welles

Short film done as a pilot for TV in the late 50's. Innovative, a bit show offy, engaging and entertaining. If only the suits had bought might have changed the dismal history of television.

Clever, intelligent...Wellesian.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Good Will Hunting

Matt Damon, Minnie Driver   d/ Gus van Sant

A great screenplay(oscar winner) well directed. Strong sense of Charlestown culture/ working class attitudes.

The film is stolen by Robin Williams as a psych hired to iron out some of the severe kinks in MD's personality. It's fun for an audience to follow around a hidden genius, watching while other, lesser folk slowly come to realize it. This one will always be seen and appreciated.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Seymour: An Introduction

documentary   d/Ethan Hawke

This was an odd film: an outright deification of Seymour Bernstein, who worked as a concert pianist until age 50 then spent his tine and energy teaching young people. He came across as soft-spoken, filled with a sense of self-importance and somewhat dictatorial in his teaching methods. His interpretation of what was ambiguous on a score was the only correct one. Conform or else.

The chink in his godhood was when he stated all children should be forced to study and practice a musical instrument an hour a day whether or not they had any interest, talent or wanted to. Really? Who thinks like this? Like being force-fed religion as a child this notion would guarantee that some children would develop a life-long hatred of music and the music world.

And where is blues, reggae, gamelan, etc, etc... This only deals with old music - which undeniably has some lovely pieces but also a ton of bombastic meaningless rubbish which should be eased down the memory hole.

Be careful who or what you elevate to sainthood...especially if he's still around to contradict your essential premise.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Survive and Advance


The incredible story of Jim Valvano and the 1983 NC State champion season. Done with skill by the ESPN team.



amerindie   w/d Todd Haynes   Julianne Moore

Haynes' brilliant existential drama. Carol White is suffering from an excess of material prosperity which has left her with nowhere to go. The vacuousness of the rewards she has received has left her questioning her role, her place in society (where am I?), her value to her family and friends. This angst manifests in physical symptoms which, symbolically, are presented as the things and conditions of modern life.

Unusually intelligent film. Things are ambiguous and left unresolved. Framing and pacing were first rate. Moore was transcendent in her first starring role. An outstanding film which hash't dated at all. In fact if there is ever a revolution I could see this film used by the new enlightened as an object lesson in what was wrong with things before.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Green Butchers

Denmark   Mads Mikkelson

Danish humor. Not funny.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Red Army


Interesting doc on the Red Army ice hockey team...which was created and maintained as a showcase for the soviet economic system and its superiority over the West.

These men were all in the army and subject to extreme discipline; they worked and practiced 11 months a year with occasional 2 or 3 days off to visit family. They had practice drills as many as four times a day.

They got caught up in the fall of the soviet system, some came to the US/Canada to play in the NHL...the major changes caused great distress along the way - it's these conflicts that make up the body of the film.

Very strong film marred by an interviewer who sounded like a silly 12 year old.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

It Follows


Post-modern horror film. Teenagers are threatened by a monster, in human form, walking slowly but steadily toward them. If he/she/it touches them they die. Monster is transmitted through sexual intercourse.

There were no adults in the drama and no rationale for where this phenomenon came from or how it works. The monster is pure evil. But handicapped by its pace which allows for respites during the course of the story.

It seemed that the filmmakers parsed out the things that made films scary, cut out all the things that didn't and went entirely with the core. Cine was functional rather than artsy; sound/music score was mechanical,  very annoying and during scary scenes cranked up to 11. That said, some of the scenes were indeed scary because of the constant tension maintained. Plus the device of encouraging the audience to continually scan the background to see if someone is walking slowly toward the characters made us complicit.

So...clever but soulless.


Monday, April 6, 2015

Something in the Air


The direct translation of the title is 'After May' which makes a lot more sense to an audience with any historical awareness. The May in question was 1968 when the youth of France, disgusted with the corruption/rot in the government and social systems controlling the country staged mass actions against the state to try to effect change. They ultimately failed and this film shows why..

We follow a group of committed high schoolers who vandalize, publish revolutionary tracts, stage rallies, etc. As time goes on we watch the gradual evolution of their lives as, individually, they make necessary life choices which move them away from political activism. Really, we watch them 'grow up.'

Sharp and insightful the film gains its strength by initially highlighting their fervor then showing the gradual, steady erosion of their beliefs as they are forced to compromise to get by in the larger society. The theme is the idealism of the young and its fading. Twas ever thus...



England   serial

Very fine murder drama. An 11 yo boy is found strangled on the beach - we watch as the social ramifications of the killing reverberate through a small, insular town. We follow a dozen or so characters including the family of the boy, the police investigators and possible suspects.

The drama is peppered with red herrings which maintain the viewers' interest as the long (8 hours) story evolves. Acting, editing, dialogue and cine were all first good as you'll see in a feature film.

Of all the TV series I've seen thus far this was the best.


Monday, March 30, 2015



I assume the title was meant to be ironic. The plot line here was anything but. A group of eight friends meet for a dinner party; a comet is passing close to the earth; they slowly discover there are multiple versions of themselves in a nearby house...or houses. Things quickly became very confusing.

Film was definitely intriguing...easily held my interest. But I found the actions and reactions by the characters annoying and ultimately unsatisfying. I tried putting myself and my friends in the same set-up and can't imagine we would act like this group did. They went to theft, aggression and violence...fear, mistrust of the 'others' and each other.

Partially successful, partially aggravating. A mixed bag but a compulsive watch.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Dear Zachary


Powerful, very sad doc on the murder of a young doctor and the hard-to-believe aftermath. Parts of this were inspirational. others were infuriating...mostly it left me with a sense of cynicism and anger at what we call a justice system.


Friday, March 27, 2015

Journey to Agartha

Japan anime   w/d  Makoto Shinkai

A more conventional anime than several of his others. We follow a young girl as she enters an underground land (Agartha) where the dead and all sorts of disparate creatures live. Her motives are unclear, even to her...but she eventually says she had been lonely.

The film takes place in the same fantastical world used by Ghibli, Miyazaki and others. The visuals here were lovely but because of the fast pace he lingered less on some stunning landscape or other...a feature I particularly enjoyed in several previous films.

Although I see this as a lesser work it still easily held my interest for two hours...a testament to his writing and character skills.


The Garden of Words

Japan anime   w/d Makoto Shinkai

Short (46 min) move up from manga to exploring human relationships in an adult manner.

The film shares his trademark beauty with all his others - in particular his mastery of water imagery and accompanying sounds. His characters here were interesting and complicated...for the first half hour. He then moved the story into high school which removed it from the adult world and brought it down to being just another cartoon.

This was as visually striking as 5 Centimeters Per Second but lacked the emotional punch. It's clear he is progressing. If he ever marries his eye with a satisfying story he'll take anime up a level.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Future

Italy/Chile    Manuela Martelli, Rutger Hauer

Unusual and oddly compelling drama set in contemp Rome. We follow two Chilean teenaged orphans struggling to survive. The boy brings home two older friends who persuade the girl to seduce an aged, blind, former Mr Universe/peplon actor to rob him.

She sees him regularly, falls in love with him and can't carry out the plan. Film is low key, slow paced. Her acting is minimalist but I couldn't stop watching...even for a second. MM reminds me of Ana Torrent with her dark eyes and quiet affect giving great depth to a part that is almost wordless.

I see it has a low rating on IMDB - no surprise there. This would have no appeal to the explosion crowd.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Silent Hill

Contemporary horror film. Done with great visual panache but by now there is no longer any pretense of real world's purpose is to frighten with hideous CGI imagery. But when placed in this artificial reality why would the audience care about what happens to a character? She's just another toon and everybody knows you can't hurt a toon...

I can see where there is a market for scary date movies and this one is probably as good as most at delivering. But it's not cinema.


Monday, March 23, 2015

From the Journal of Jean Seberg

documentary    w/d Ron Rappaport

Fine account of the meteoric rise and sad decline of the young girl from Marshalltown, Iowa who started as 17 yo Saint Joan and ended up a suicide on a side street in Paris, her body not found for two weeks.

She was a victim of the film business and, especially the FBI. Her advocacy of the Black Panthers put her on J. Edgar Hoover's hit list; she was hounded/pursued by the feds until she finally gave up. She was a creature of her time, a kind-hearted girl chewed up and spit out by the minions of the ruling class for daring to suggest the extant power system needed change.

Film was done with re-enactments and a narration of  a surviving Jean in the person of an actress looking back at her life...a very effective technique.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Ghost in the Well


Nice treatment of a 12th century folk legend done in 1957. Beautifully lit/shot. One of the Japanese classics.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Informant


So-so piece on a former "radical" who underwent a sea change after visiting Venezuela, turning into a right wing guy who got into bed with the FBI and ratted out his putative friends.

This guy was a troubled soul who seemed to believe mostly in himself...rose to the top because of his aggressiveness, charisma and hierarchical a typical corporate stooge...the type of person those who really seek to change the system should be careful to stay away from.


Friday, March 20, 2015


Jake Gyllenhaal

Sharp, mesmerizing film with a standout performance by JG. He has graced several films recently with his abundant talents (Prisoners, Enemy) but none approaches the work he does here. A true modern monster...not the kind who wait under your bed; the one who appears on your screen delivering the nightly 'news.'

Dead-eyed, articulate, calculating, autistic? - this character bursts through moral/ethical restraints and delivers the blood and gore to willing viewers - if it bleeds it leads.'s not personal,  just business.

Creepy and unforgettable.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Olive Kitteridge

Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins

Humanistic drama about a depressive woman who steadfastly makes the lives of the people around her constant cutting remarks undermining their value.

Tour de force acting by FMD. She evolves as the years pile on, becoming a bit mellower...but just a bit whilst retaining her core personality. She also displays a tender side from time to time...usually away from prying eyes.

Jenkins played her saintly husband believably. There were several clunky moments in the four-hour drama which didn't detract too much from the overall quality of the production.

Ultimately this was a fine character study with a memorable lead performance.