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.