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.