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.