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.