Movies Reviewed, 2004

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Tin Star - films like these are why i watch 523 movies a year. i bought this film having never heard a thing about it. the reason? anthony mann. henry fonda and anthony perkins were just icing on the cake. anthony mann's 1950s westerns are consistently great and he has cracked into that select category of directors whose work i would like to explore completely. there are some directors who are mildly interesting, but there aren't very many who inspire me to want to see every single thing they have done.
from the opening to the closing this film is fantastic. i love films that just jump right into it; mann does this in bend of the river, far country and winchester 73 as well. this one begins with fonda towing a second horse with a dead man laid out on the horse's back. immediately we are drawn into the film. who is the dead man? who is fonda? what happened and what is going to happen? that's how you open a film. fonda, as it turns out, is an ex-sheriff turned bounty hunter who has come to town to claim his reward from the green sheriff played by anthony perkins. it occurred to me that either one of these guys could have played the other at some point in their career. perkins can be dark (psycho) and can be the everyman (trial, tin star) and so can fonda (in my darling clementine he does both, in tin star he plays a darker character and in grapes of wrath he plays the everyman).
mann's direction isn't particularly striking, rather it emphasizes characterization, writing and storytelling. this isn't a bad thing at all - some of the best directed films aren't particularly stylized. A-.

Scrooge - the best film adaptation of the classic dickens tale. alastair sim is equally believable as the miserly scrooge and as the reformed, life-loving scrooge. all sentimentality aside, ebenezer scrooge is such a great name and the story really is great and life-affirming. if only more rich bastards could come around like he did. A-.
Thriller: A Cruel Picture - one of the few swedish pictures to actually be banned in that country, and that's about all this film has going for it. i don't know what it was about the 70s that caused these sorts of films to be made...i spit on your grave, last house on the left, thriller, etc. all female revenge films that are known more for their shock value than anything else. this one is more explicit than those other ones i listed, but that doesn't make it any more effective. one of the more memorable moments was seeing the scalpel pierce a woman's eye...reminiscent of un chien andalou or zombi, but better than either because the filmmakers actually used a real corpse to get the full effect. the revenge rampage portion of the film fell really short and the artistic merits of this picture didn't approach that of last house on the left. the pimp character constantly appears at a desk in front of a typewriter which got me thinking about the film on another level - the pimp as the author and what ramifications that might have for the rest of the film. i couldn't really get it to work out symbolically and i don't think the correlation was really made, but i did give the film the benefit of the doubt...for a while. not really worth your time unless you're really into this stuff. if you're at all curious be fore-warned - it's extremely explicit. C-.

Latcho Drom - a documentary of the flaherty school of documentary. it appears that most of the film is staged, but all the characters are playing themselves and doing things they normally do. there's no narrative drive and it's a very musical documentary which makes me think of baraka or koyaanisqatsi. the film is basically just a series of songs performed by various gypsies musicians. we get a pretty decent look at rom culture outside of the music as well, but the real drive of the film is the amazing musicianship of the performers. i know it's not intentional, but the film is as much a testament to the power of nature over nurture as i can think of. it seems as though they have music in their blood - every single one of the performers is just brilliant, and they all play so well together. i wish there had been more information and more translation of the dialogue (the only dialogue that was translated were the song lyrics), but it would have been a completely different film if gatlif had done that. as is, it's a lyrical introduction to a culture and a type of music. check out taraf de haidouks if you dig this kind of stuff. B.

Kanto Wanderer - seijun suzuki (branded to kill, tokyo drifter, tattooed life) has yet to disappoint me - his direction consistently pushes the envelope, his stories are always interesting on some level, and his visual storytelling can be about as inventive and expressionistic as you're likely to see. the story is shakespearean in that it's serpentine and involves a lot of subplot. katsura, the main character, is played by a sort of poor man's tatsuya nakadai in akira kobayashi. this isn't to slight his performance - quite the contrary, his performance was very good which is exactly why i compared him to nakadai. there are so many visual flourishes throughout he film that recalling them all here would be lengthy and impossible (because of my memory), but suffice it to say that suzuki is at top form here. his later films (branded to kill, tokyo drifter) are more ambitious in their direction (he toys with space and time more), but this film strikes a balance between the experimental, the artistic, the expressionistic and the classical. he's able to do things that most wouldn't even attempt (like splitting the screen with a fuzzy amber line, or using spotlights during a fight, or changing the background lighting in certain scenes) in such a way that it adds to the film's depth and feel, rather than detracting from it because it comes off as too pedantic or avant-garde. naturally this is a judgment call, but in my judgment he's able to pull it off without it coming off as forced or experimental for the sake of experimentation (not that that doesn't have its place, because it does). of course the film is more than just a visual tour de force, it's also a tale of a bygone age. katsura is a youngish yakuza who prefers the old yakuza code, but the world around him has changed. gambling and women are in and honor is lost. like a kurosawa film, it's a world replete with amateurs and bottom dwellers. B++.

Haunting - robert wise (editor of citizen kane, director of set-up, invasion of the body snatchers, west side story) was a pretty great talent, but i think he missed the mark a bit on this one. i think most of this is actually due to two things - shirley jackson's story and the leading lady. the screenplay didn't have a satisfying ending and the leading lady was about as annoying as i've ever seen. those aside, the film was good - wise's direction was inventive and effective and the story idea was good enough. unlike invasion of the body snatchers the film is a bit aged. C.
A Christmas Story - my sister still hasn't seen this. i hereby disown her. A+.
Cannonball - sort of precursor to cannonball run, only with a completely different set of filmmakers and actors. cannonball is directed by paul bartel (eating raoul) and features cameos from martin scorsese and sly stallone. it's pure 70s - it's got a good selection of hot chicks, features david carradine in a pink zip up sweatshirt (which he left unzipped through most of the film, thereby exposing his only-sexy-in-the-70s torso), plenty of car crashes and some low brow humor. it's a fun film, but certainly isn't for everyone. B-.

In A Lonely Place - through most of this picture i was only half on board, but the ending really did it for me. great noirs always have these supremely deflating endings, and this film is no exception. i would have more to say, but i'm writing this five days after seeing it so i don't remember what i wanted to address. nicholas ray isn't that great a director, but he's directed some good films. B.

Meet The Fockers - the original meet the parents is, to me, a brilliant comedy with very few peers. its sequel certainly falls short. that's not to say that this film isn't a funny film that stands on its own, because it is funny and it probably could stand on its own merit, but, as is true with most sequels, the film sticks to the formula and doesn't add much to the original work. yes streisand and hoffman do a good job, but visually and from a screenplay standpoint, the film just doesn't match up to the original. meet the parents was extremely layered and well-directed and this film rested on its predecessor's laurels a bit. again, this isn't to say that the film isn't funny - it does generate some new laughs and entertains throughout - but it's just not the comic genius that the first one is. B.

Ocean's Twelve - lacked the visual and stylistic panache that the first had such a firm grasp of. that said, this film is still entertaining, has the obligatory surprise ending and keeps the characters interesting. like meet the fockers, the film took a little bit of time to get back into the groove that the first one had established, and once it did it wasn't quite as on point as its predecessor, but it was still fun enough to be interesting. i wish that soderbergh's direction was a little more snappy (gone are the stylistic inserts, the seemingly constant camera movement and the inventive wipes). it's a popcorn movie. B-.
Voices Of Iraq - pretty straightforward documentary created by distributing 150 cameras to iraqi citizens and letting them film their lives. i think it's a pretty balanced look at the lives of the people of iraq - there are some who love america, some who hate it, others who acknowledge that they're better off now than under saddam, but aren't really thrilled about american occupation, etc. in other words, there's a pretty wide range of people, thoughts and emotions presented in the film. it's hard to say where the editors (there are three of them) of the film fall on the political spectrum, and i think that's a good thing. because of the source material the film jumps around between many different people who you get to know only for a few minutes before moving onto the next subject. it's edited together chronologically and newspaper headlines sort of guide the chronology of the film. it's an interesting idea for a film and it's put together pretty well. it's worth checking out if you're interested in getting some of the story from the horse's mouth. B.

Night Of The Hunter - not sure why i put this one in my queue (edit 2/28/08: put it in the queue because poppa recommended it), but i'm happy that i did. it's the only film that charles laughton directed and that's a bit confounding considering how really excellent the film is. stanley cortez's (magnificent ambersons, naked kiss) cinematography is brilliant and was the first thing about the film that really blew me away. the dvd states it has been modified to fit tv screen, but states the aspect ratio at 1.33 so i'm not sure what the deal is. robert mitchum is pure evil in this film and i think his evil performance here is more foreboding than that in cape fear (which came seven years later). the father at the beginning of the film is played by the undercover german in stalag 17. lillian gish turns out a good performance as well as the well-doing elderly caretaker who the children encounter while running from mitchum. it's an engaging story told from a child's point of view (like shane) which makes mitchum more evil and gish more angelic. really, though, the film is all about the cinematography. the use of deep focus and expressionistic lighting looks great and deepens the feel of the film. this is the first full film i watched on my new television which may have had an impact, but really it was all about the film. B++.

Circle Of Iron - filmed parable about a man seeking Zetan (christopher lee) who holds a book which is reputed to hold the answers to life's questions. along the way he must face several trials and he runs into all sorts of colorful characters (david carradine in four roles, eli wallach, and others). the acting and the fight sequences were weak points, but the story functions well to encapsulate bruce lee's philosophy of no way as the way. perhaps that requires some background - the film was made posthumously, but was originally conceived by lee. much of bruce lee's later years were spent on developing a martial arts style (and life philosophy) that centered around the idea of embracing not one style (in kung-fu: crane, snake, etc., in life: buddhism, christianity, etc.), but all styles. beyond this the film is rather good looking and always engaging. it may have aged a bit, but it's still worth watching if you're into this kinda thing. B.

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead - uninspired, uninteresting and slowly paced film from the same guy who did get carter and croupier. clive owen gets more roles than his talent merits. one interesting thing about the film is that hodges chooses to skip over moments that would be covered by most directors. when owen comes back home to see his dead brother, for example, his mother has to break the news to him. her doing this is skipped and the edit goes from owen coming into the front door to him opening the bathroom door where his brother committed suicide. why hodges chose to not include the news being broken is unclear. another example is when owen shaves his beard and gets a haircut to symbolize his return to his old gangster ways. this would normally be an important scene, but is edited out by showing the barber's sheet going over owen's body before and then immediately being lifted to reveal a clean cut owen. these decisions are odd considering using time for moments like these seem warranted, especially relative to the time he wastes in the first part of the film - the first hour should have been edited down to about 20-30 minutes. just not a very well-done or interesting film overall. C-.

Southern Comfort - fairly interesting film that's hampered a bit by some weak performances and a slow start. walter hill directed last man standing, warriors (haven't seen yet), and 48 hrs. the film takes place in louisiana in 1973. it follows a group of national guardsmen in training. much of the film seemed like an allegory for vietnam, but i was unable to really find a clear one to one correlation so either i missed it or it was just sort of loosely applicable. the film is basically a cross between platoon and deliverance, so you can guess what happens in the backwoods for louisiana. the group dynamic was interesting and the mystery element of the film was well handled by hill. overall it turned into an interesting film after about 10/15 minutes, but wasn't really great in any way. B-.

Girlhood - a very fine documentary with material that's pretty tough to beat. the story follows two girls in a juvenile institution. as the film progresses they move out of the institution and back into home with their mothers. it's moving stuff all around. the film does a decent job of covering a good amount of time (approx. two years) while staying in touch with the changes the girls are going through. having seen a lot of this stuff first hand (while working at the shelter) i think i was able to relate to a lot of it on an additional level, but the film will probably speak to anyone who was once a teenager. i wasn't able to bond with the characters in the same way that i was in a documentaries like "american movie" and "dark days" but the film shows the principals as fairly rounded people and that's really all you can hope for from a documentary. B+.

Bourne Identity - it's a fun film that makes me interested in checking out the books. B.

Blade Trinity - dumb fun. this installment really doesn't add anything to the series. there are a good number of corny moments which detract from the movie, but i expected this because of the casting for this installment. ryan reynolds provides the comic relief (and does a decent job in that category), but his fight sequences are less than believable and seeing his pubes was a low point in my movie-going career. jessica biel also leaves something to be desired in terms of her fighting ability, but she makes up for that in the obligatory shower scene. this film features the least interesting action scenes, the worst music and some of the cheesiest moments in the blade trilogy. that said, if you were planning on watching the film you're probably not going to be all that disappointed. it was worth watching for free. C+.

Reckoning- fairly interesting film that's basically just an episode of law and order that takes place in 1380 england. B-.

Crimes And Misdemeanors - not a typical woody allen film. it has moments of humor, but is is more thoughtful and dramatic than the majority of his other pictures. of course, just from seeing the cinematographer credit i could have told you this was going to be the case. sven nykvist (who worked with bergman on most of his pictures) does the photography and he brings a solemn visual weight to this picture that you don't normally see in an allen film. nykvist's work isn't nearly as good here as it is in his black and white bergman films, but it still elevates the picture. more memorable than manhattan. B.
Five Easy Pieces - nicholson plays an oil rig worker who once had hopes of being a classical pianist. it's a film about all sorts of basic issues that come with becoming an adult - finding one's own way, facing your past, etc. it has some nice visual moments (thanks to kovacs) and some good acting from nicholson, but overall the film didn't affect me. C+.

A Christmas Story - the best christmas film of all-time (unless you count die hard) in part because it is truly a family film. watching it now i get a few of the sexual jokes that flew right over my head the first 10 years that i watched it. thoroughly enjoyable every time; the only christmas film that actually gets me in the mood for christmas. A+.
Enduring Love - fairly entertaining and thoughtful picture about the nature of love, regret, and insane englishmen. the opening scene was an attention grabber for me in part because of the potential for metaphorical readings. it features a couple in a large field who suddenly see a red hot-air balloon which is out of control and has a boy in the basket. the couple, and several other bystanders, run to grab the balloon and free the boy but a gust of wind sends the balloon flying just as it appears they have stopped the balloon enough to save the boy. as the balloon ascends the bystanders hold on, but quickly figure out that they had better let go while they still can. all, but one, do just that and survive. the one who holds on falls a few seconds later and dies. the boy eventually figures out how to release the hot-air from the balloon and lands safely a few miles away.
what follows is a fairly simple meditation on the nature of love (is it real and spiritual, or just the next phase of evolution?) and an examination of one man's inability to forgive himself for letting go of the balloon. rhys ifans plays a psycho stalker who was among the bystanders who lived through the event. he becomes obsessed with the main character and is a personification of the guilt and regret the main character feels after the incident. it's a pretty good film with a pretty good idea. it would have been nice if the filmmakers were able to create a situation that was a little more regretful. that is, sure the guy let go, but there's really not much of a chance that him holding on would have brought the balloon down fast enough to save the man who fell to his death. this is a minor quibble, but it did detract from my fully empathizing with his guilt. B.

Spartan - i can officially say that i don't care for david mamet. spanish prisoner was pretty good, but all his other stuff sucks. i think he just tries too hard. in heist it came in the form of language that was way too flowery and stylized, in this film he tried too hard to be sentimental and clever. kilmer and macy were both mis-cast and mamet probably couldn't direct his way out of a paper bag so that certainly didn't help the performances any. david, please stop making movies...give your ideas to someone else and let them take it from there. D.
Pumpkin - tonally a pretty odd film. it tries to teeter back and forth between drama and comedy and, mostly, does a pretty decent job of it. the sorority sister scenes are farcical and the love scenes are dramatic, but, for me, both came up just a bit short. the farce was too easy and not hilarious and the love was unsettling and not quite fully-formed. that said, the film's ending reminded me of "cruel intentions" in that it was surprisingly affecting. it makes sense that this was directed by two people since the film is so split between farce and drama. an ambitious film that doesn't quite do what it sets out to do. B.

Shampoo - afi has this on the top 100 funniest movies of all-time. if i didn't know that this was a comedy going into it i might not have even classified it as such coming out. it's comedic, sure, but its ending is anything but comedic and the laughs are few and far between. there are dozens of dramas and horror films with more laughs per minute than this one. i don't really know why i decided to watch this film. laszlo kovacs (easy rider, five easy pieces, miss congeniality [not kidding]) did the cinematography, but it was nothing spectacular. paul simon did some of the music, but there were more beatles tracks than there were recognizable paul simon tracks. warren beatty did a good job and so did julie andrews. goldie hawn played a dumb blonde, which is to say she hung out on the set for a bit and they filmed her. it's really not as bad a film as i'm making it out to be, but it certainly isn't worthy of a top 100 ranking, even by afi's standards. this film makes LA look crappy (both socially and visually). C-.
Seaside - not a very interesting or entertaining picture. it's about a seaside community in france and some of the people who live there. chapters are delineated using intertitles which announce the coming of a new season (apparently the french don't have autumn because the picture starts in summer, then goes to winter, spring and back to summer). unfortunately each season is barely able to be visually differentiated because the colors are pretty much always the same and the outdoor scenes almost always look overcast. maybe that's how it is in france, or maybe it was just bad filmmaking. the acting was solid, but nothing to write home about. D.

Incredibles - let's just sweep aside all the hype and all the films that pixar has done in the past and deal strictly with this one. the incredibles does a decent job of making a family friendly amalgam of various comic books and adventure films. that said, i think the film's major success is its ability to bring life to lifeless characters through the technique of computer animation. pixar really does have this down by now - they can add so much inflection to the characters' faces and the body movements are so natural that it really is better than a typically animated film. the traditionalist in me thinks the whole computer animated film thing is trash, but they do a job with it so i really can't bash it from that perspective. though i enjoyed the direction and skill that went into creating the film's look, i can't say that i was really blown away by the story. it really is just a second tier amalgam of lots of different sources (from watchmen to batman) which you'll probably notice throughout the film. honestly though, maybe i'm being too harsh. pulp fiction is largely an amalgam of genre films and yet i love that...i think what it comes down to is that i'm just not part of the target audience for a film like this. it caters to people who say "cute" more than i do, and that's the best way i can put it. sure i laughed and was moderately entertained while i was watching the film, but it never really grabbed me and, for me, it took too long to really get going. C.

Lost In America - for the first twenty minutes i wasn't really sure if this film was going to turn out to be a straight comedy or not; thankfully it did. at first it was a bit rough because it was about a couple at a crossroads and it brought back memories of my cross-country trip and... at any rate, the film is definitely funny. it's a sort of comedy of errors with albert brooks playing the almost neurotic husband and hagerty playing the mousy wife who has one outlandish night that sends everything into a tailspin. it's a fun little film. B.
Shane - definitely one of my favorite westerns of all-time. it's a very traditional film in a lot of ways, but westerns usually are. i think that in our pc times films like this may be shunned a bit by academics because of the way they portray certain roles, but academia is often about making mountains out of mole hills. there are several reasons that i like this one so much, but i think that the biggest is that it's told from the perspective of a young boy. i first watched this when i was probably about joey's age and i've always had an empathy with young kids in films. i remember watching untouchables for the first time with my dad when i was pretty young. there's a famous scene wherein a baby carriage is rolling down a bunch of stairs in slow motion. i sorta freaked out because i didn't want the baby to be hurt and i think i've always been like that with movies. telling the story in this way definitely gives the film a greater degree of emotional latitude and it also serves as a pretty great plot device. kids are great devices in films because they ask the questions that the audience might want to ask. explaining things to kids is a great way to get exposition out of the way or telling the audience basic things about a character that might normally remain unknown.
victor young's score is best described as obvious; that said, it works absolutely. we know immediately when trouble is coming, we know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. stevens also knows when to let the action and onscreen sound do the work. the picture's sound is really well layered and is pretty ahead of its time in this regard. nowadays every picture has a huge sound crew working on separating all the different channels of ambient and action sounds, but that wasn't true in 1953.
i'm not sure when cinemascope became the norm, but i know it wasn't this early - and that's a shame because this picture would have filled a 1.85 or 2.35:1 aspect ratio rather nicely. as is the cinematography is great. the colors are vibrant and lush, completely appropriate for the potential of the west, plus the expansive landscapes are beautiful. stevens does an equally nice job with his interiors. the bar room brawl (one of the best i've ever seen) is shot amazingly well and edited together masterfully. stevens puts the camera under stairs and behind posts and people to give you the feeling that you're actually there. he switches up the distances at which the fight is taking place to give a better feel for space and movement; it's great stuff.
this film is clearly a classic and, i think, well-deserved of its reputation. A.

Kanal - every once in a while i'll come across a film that i know is supposed to be moving, but just doesn't affect me at all; this is one of those films. i know that if i really put my mind to it i could have been into this film and could have unraveled the film as an allegory for freedom and humanity, or whatever it is, but i just wasn't into it. i fell asleep about half way through and then watched the rest of it later. i didn't relate to any of the characters, the extremely dark cinematography grated on my nerves a bit, the production values were poor...sorry. D+.
Dawn Of The Dead - it's not as good as the original. the original was much more about character and commentary than this version, which is more about entertainment than anything else. it's certainly not a bad film, i've watched it twice now and it's entertained me pretty thoroughly both times. my biggest gripe with this film is that it occasionally dips into horror cliché. the most glaring example being the woman who leaves the mall to rescue the dog, which of course doesn't go so well. i just hate that crap. other than that the film is a pretty solid remake. there's a good amount of comic relief, the characters are rounded enough for the film's purposes and the ending doesn't puss out. B.
Taxi Driver - sad to admit that i didn't love it as much as i had in previous viewings. it's still a great film and i still think it's probably scorsese's best, but i didn't really feel it as much as i have in the past. the cinematography and deniro's performance are highlights. first and foremost it's a film about a guy who wants to do something, to have some impact on the world. afi put travis bickle on the top 50 villains of all-time and that has always pissed me off because bickle isn't at all that bad a guy. sure he does drugs and has serious thoughts about killing a presidential candidate, but who among us hasn't done those things? in the end bickle does the right thing, and from the start you can tell that his heart is in the right place, he's just a social outcast and i've always related to him in that way. great film. A-.

From Here To Eternity - the reason i put this film to the top of my netflix queue is that i saw donna reed beat out thelma ritter in the best supporting actress category that year. by the time i got the film i had completely forgotten that this was the reason so i didn't go into this film with that on my mind. that said, reed turned in probably the best performance of the film, but ritter's performance in pickup on south street was better - more unique, more memorable, had just as much range and was just plain better; and so goes the film... looking over the multiple nominations (picture, director, sound, editing, cinematography, screenplay, sup. actor/actress (won), score, actor/actor/actress, costume design (lost)) that this film garnered i can't help but think it was a weak year. in fact, shane and stalag 17 should have cleaned up, but i guess patriotism was running high at the time so "from here to eternity" was the big winner.
the first half of the film does a good job of balancing the various storylines, and thus keeping the viewer engaged. unfortunately the second half gets a bit bogged down in sentimentality and then patriotism. the film never really won me over - clift's cool hand luke type of character just didn't inspire me and lancaster was good, but not great. i can see why this film won for best picture, but in retrospect i think many would admit it's not as good as stalag 17 or shane. C+.

Wrong Man - hitchcock's most emotionally moving film. just a couple days ago (11/22) i was discussing the relative merits of hitchcock - he said hitch was the greatest of all-time and i contended that he was certainly great, but not the greatest. i prefer kubrick's big three (paths of glory, killing and dr. strangelove) to anything hitchcock has ever done; i prefer kurosawa's storytelling and personal philosophy to hitchcock's work; john ford and orson welles were probably better technicians than hitchcock; griffith did more for film than hitchcock....etc. my major point during the discussion was that hitchcock's films rarely, if ever, moved me the way that p.t. anderson does in every film of his, or the way that kubrick does, or the way that kurosawa does. sure hitchcock is an entertaining director and his longevity is nearly unmatched, and he worked in television as well as in film, but his films never really captured my heart. the wrong man, though, did that. as many great leading men as hitchcock has had during his career, none of them has made the emotional impact that fonda did in this film. it's a simple story of mistaken identity and fonda plays the everyman who gets caught up in a series of unfortunate breaks. it still has the hitchcock signature, but it's not a prototypical hitchcock film. i'm beginning to see that what i thought was the typical hitchcock film, isn't really all that typical - especially of his earlier films. i guess that i knew him most for his 50s and 60s pictures; the big stuff like birds, strangers on a train, psycho, north by northwest, vertigo, and rear window.
hitchcock doesn't play games with this film, there's no artifice, no cameo, no jokes; in this way it's rather un-hitchcockean. however he does impart to the viewer fonda's sense of paranoia and claustrophobia in a typical hitchcockean way. also, when we see the real criminal for the first time there is a classic double exposure overlay that hitchcock uses to make the point. in these ways we see hitch being himself, but in a different suit, as it were. it's not an amazing technical film, but in a way it's hitchcock's most human, and that's why i liked it so much. B+.

Planes, Trains And Automobiles - one of the best films of all-time. one of the most striking things about this picture is the way hughes uses sound and music. A+.

Last Man Standing - the worst thing about my watching this film is that it's a remake of yojimbo. if it wasn't for this fact then i would have enjoyed it more. but, as is, i couldn't stop myself from constantly comparing it to the original work upon which it was based. this happened with fistful of dollars as well, but that one fared better. every single element of the original work is better than this version's take on the same story. though willis is good, some of the visual feel is nice, and the score is good, it still is unable to hold a candle to yojimbo. i didn't like the choice to use voice-over and have willis' character retell the story, i didn't think the characters were nearly as lively and interesting - not even walken could really reach the level of his counterpart's character (played by tatsuya nakadai) from the kurosawa version. there were a few unintentionally comical moments which i could have done without, but they weren't too bad or frequent. in an absolute sense the film is pretty decent, but when you compare it to a film that i consider one of the best 50 of all-time, then it starts to pale. the storytelling was less engaging, the action wasn't as good, the characters were less well-drawn and the main character was less dynamic. however, watching this film does provide an interesting study of what makes a decent film great. if you watch what kurosawa did differently in his storytelling style, how the actors built their characters, how tension was built, etc. you get a quick study of the art of filmmaking. C+.

National Treasure - sure it's a hollywood production, and a disney film, even. but if you are able to look past how innocuous and safe the film is, then you might find yourself having a good time. the film really doesn't attempt to rewrite the book on adventure films, but bruckheimer knows how to work within the conventions in an entertaining and engaging way. the key to the film is its plot hook, which from what i know of it, is borrowed from "the davinci code." essentially this version uses everyday american items and national landmarks as clues leading to a treasure. there are some cheesy moments and some fortuitous plot turns, but that comes with the territory. the comic relief is pretty solid and the mystery kept me interested throughout. providing some additional worth is the simple historical information the film provides, ranging from when daylight savings was adapted to random archeological info. i'll never watch it again, but watching it once was fine by me. B.
El Hijo De La Novia (Son Of The Bride) - here's another film i'm not likely to see ever again, but that's not because it's not good. it's pretty similar to the barbarian invasions in tone and theme. it's the kind of film you've seen plenty of times before, especially if you're a middle-aged woman, but the film is able to go beyond that convention a bit. it's a bit more stylish, a bit more well-drawn, it's got better acting, better comic relief and it doesn't ever have that "made for lifetime" feel to it; in other words, it's genuine. even though it's a middle-aged type of film it's a film that most anyone can relate to because the feelings and experiences aren't entirely specific. sure there are moments of parental regret which are no doubt more heartfelt by those who have had such regret, but everyone can relate the other side of that equation in some way and the film allows for that by developing the child's character. i think that that's part of the film's strength - it has a good cast of well-developed characters and the writing is such that it's open to interpretation. if you see the old couple and think about your great grandmother who had alzheimer's (as i did), then you feel that portion of the story, or if you see the old couple as what could have been with your parents (as melanie probably did), then you empathize with that portion of the story; and the film does down the line like that with all the different relationships. best of all, though, is that the film didn't take itself to seriously. the film never grew too maudlin or depressing, it had a sense of humor and balance that is present in life, but not always in dramatic pictures. B+.

Wisconsin Death Trip - an odd documentary based upon the book of the same name which recalls the events in a small wisconsin town between the years 1890 and 1900. essentially a bunch of people in the area started going insane which lead to several murders, suicides and other crimes. the documentary is assembled using still photography from the time, recollections from a local writer, and reenactments shot in black and white. the score is mostly classical music, but does employ dj shadow on three different occasions. it's odd because of the tone of the film. it's not instructive, like a history channel documentary and it's not a dramatic, fictional recreation of those events. it's subject matter is heavy, and so is the tone, but it does have some light moments. beautiful to look at and interesting considering the events, but not informative or particularly moving so i wasn't really sure what the point was. B--.
Stage Fright - another hitchcock down. they're starting to blend together a bit, but this one is one of the better films of his that i've seen during this recent run of his films. it stars wyman and dietrich, who are both top notch. i think that if i were a woman i would want hitchcock to direct me, not only because he's one of the true geniuses of film, but because his women always turn out good performances, look good and are often different from the norm in some way. thinking of hedren in the birds or novak in vertigo or wyman/dietrich in this film or kelly in dial m for murder or...the list goes on. all of those performances are good and in all of them the woman is multi-faceted. sometimes she's not entirely sympathetic (kelly, dietrich) sometimes she exudes an outward weakness, but an inner strength (wyman), sometimes she's mysterious and sexy (hedren) or sometimes she changes in the middle of the film (novak). it's odd that hitchcock directed so many great women considering his clear 'issues' with females.
hitchcock is a fan of curtains. he uses them, usually, to add to the mystery, the feeling of being watched, the claustrophobia, etc. this film begins with a curtain being raised over the city, which indicates the film as a production - it denotes a certain separation right off the bat. (he also used curtains memorably in rope and dial m for murder) then the film jumps right into the action - a moving car, a man (todd), a woman (wyman), some mysterious talk and then comes the flashback. the man tells a story of why he's on the run and why he needs wyman's help. the film's mystery unfolds from there. it's a pretty good ride, with some side humor and distractions.
alastair sim plays wyman's father and he almost steals the show from wyman and dietrich. he plays scrooge in the 1951 version of a christmas carol, which i will now have to rent and watch again. B+. p.s. check out the woman behind the shooting gallery stand, she's a hoot.
Suspicion - another solid one from hitchcock. this one uses shadows really well (again), but this time he uses them more to show the dementia of the character (fontaine) than to give the impression of sinister goings-on. hitchcock plays will belief and skepticism quite a bit. in stage fright wyman was the ultimate believer, until the very end where she saw todd's true character. in this film, fontaine is closer to the other end of the spectrum - she wants to believe that cary grant is a good guy, but she steadily begins to see signs the point to him being a swindler and possibly a murderer. she (and we) has to deal with the thought of her husband as a bad person. is she being paranoid or are her suspicions well-founded and factual? just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you. B.

Mr. And Mrs. Smith - apparently this hitchcock love story is going to be loosely adapted by doug liman featuring brad pitt and angelina jolie. doesn't sound very interesting. this version is about an eccentric couple who find out that their marriage, because of a series of technicalities, is not valid. mrs. smith decides she wants nothing to do with mr. smith and he dedicates himself to winning her back.
it's hardly the usual hitchcock film, it's much more in the style of frank capra. that said, hitchcock does a pretty good job with the material. other than carole lombard, the acting was pretty run-of-the-mill. there is a good chemistry between mr. and mrs. smith and that helps the film function as a love story, and it certainly helps the sappy ending wherein they both discover that they're made for each other. B-.
October - i can't say anything about this film that hasn't already been said. some of eisenstein's editing is downright brilliant and may never be matched or surpassed again. the detail that went into some of the sequences is really astonishing from a technical and allegorical point of view. he'll take a symbol within a scene and mete it out to its very limit. i think that the film is beyond me in this regard because it really does require a micro-study, an almost frame by frame analysis and understanding of the limits of film as metaphor and of the historical context; neither of which i really possess. that said, you can still get a very good feeling of what he's doing and trying to say, and that's a success of the film. if it were simply an academic piece that could only be understood by a select few then it would be nearly worthless, but it's not like that. it is an outdated film in some ways, but it's still a very important one. i can hardly imagine the film without the score, though this is how it was originally conceived...later on the score was added and it certainly does justice to the images. it's not an exciting film to watch, but it's a great piece of film so it's hard to give it a bad grade...B.

Il Posto - from ermanno olmi (tree of wooden clogs) comes a different sort of film, or at least a different sort of film subject. tree of wooden clogs was about sharecropping farmers working the land, this film is about a young man trying to get a job in the city. both have a meditative pace and style about them, but study very different subjects. il posto becomes more about the one man and his relationship with a girl who is also trying to get a job at a business in the city. i honestly think i have to watch this film again because it sort of went over my head. there were some non-sequitors which caught me off guard and i dozed off once or twice. i can say, though, that i like olmi's cinematic sense. he has a naturalistic style that generally flows pretty well. B.
After The Sunset - if you've seen either of the rush hour films then you pretty much know what to expect - a comedy revolving around an odd pairing with elements of a heist film. as far as this sort of film goes, after the sunset is pretty well done. it provides some cheap laughs, the requisite "surprise" endings and plenty of gratuitous shots of salma hayek's hips and boobs. sometimes the comedy is cheesy or base and sometimes the plot twists are predictable, but overall the film works regardless. B.

Foreign Correspondent - i have to be immodest for a second here...from the opening credits i suspected this was hitchcock's first american film. i've never seen this one before and don't know enough about hitchcock to have any past knowledge, but it was evident from the "patriotic" (in quotes because it seemed out of character for hitchcock) tone that this was his first american film. actually i was wrong, it's his second, but his first (rebecca) starred sir laurence olivier, was based upon a british novel and came out the same year so that one only half counts. really all this demonstrates (beyond my amazing talent for this sort of thing) though, is that this film is anything but the type of inventive and engaging film that hitchcock is known for making. it has elements of other hitchcock films, from notorious to the 39 steps, but it just doesn't measure up. joel mccrea went on to do sullivan's travels next year and he was infinitely better in that infinitely better film. this one's a rare dud from hitchcock. C-.

Gold Rush (1942 re-release version) - mostly interesting because of how it differs from the longer, silent 1925 version. in 1942 chaplin re-released gold rush with a soundtrack and narration (by him) in order to fill in the blanks and move the action along. what results is a sort of hacked version of a classic. i've only seen the 1925 version once, but this one's 20+ minutes shorter so you know there's a lot of plot and comedy bits missing. it's amazing how you can take narration or certain elements for granted in a film that doesn't have an alternate version. but once you start thinking about a film like this without narration and without sound effects, it becomes clear how much directors can subtract from a film through addition of these elements. in almost every case chaplin's narration does little to further the comedy, instead it's a way of (mostly) filling in the blanks left by the massive editing he did for this version. it's sort of a shame, but it's also endlessly interesting to compare the two. if i had more time i'd compare the two and see what he added, left out, and changed. it would make for a pretty great paper on the influence of the sound era on the silent film form. B-.

Videodrome - i think that i've given cronenberg a good shake at this point. videodrome, fly, crash, existenz, fast company and naked lunch seem a good cross section of his work and i've had mixed feelings overall. the guy has a certain degree of talent for bringing the weird to the screen, but i guess it's just not my thing. this film had more of a philosophy behind it than some of his other works, but that doesn't mean it was any less strange. surely he should get some degree of respect for creating some truly singular films, but if i don't like them, then i can't give them a high grade; in this way i liken him to a canadian david lynch. C.

Citizen Kane - it's the most important film in the history of cinema, and it's the film by which all other films will be measured. that doesn't necessarily make it the best film of all-time, but it certainly is up there. if you can't watch the film and respect it then you're not a cinephile, and though i hate saying things like that, it's true. it's impossible to deny the impact of the film. it did many things first, many others best, and it combined so many techniques that had been done before in one, cohesive master opus. toland's use of deep focus is beyond anything i've ever seen and it's remarkably transparent. during roger ebert's commentary he makes the point that this film is a special effects film. hearing this took me aback at first, but when you see the seamless nature of the dissolves, the edits, the deep focus and all that went behind making the picture as big and great as it is, then you can't deny his point.
welles and toland expanded the use of the camera as much as anyone before them, so far as i know. much of this is due to the extraordinary (both in its range of employment and as a technical achievement) use of deep focus. the deep focus is used as a visual device, to complement the well thought out compositions, to strengthen themes or dramatic elements visually, and much more. in other words, it's not just a great technical achievement by toland, it's also a perfectly complementing element of the entire film. there's nothing worse than seeing a director, or other technician, with a great idea but no appropriate outlet for it. this is not a problem for welles or toland - the technical achievements serve the film rather than vise versa.
acting is uniformly excellent. welles is fantastic in the hardest role in the film, but, really, everyone does a great job. bernard herrmann's score (his first) is very good, but not his best. i watched the film with commentary so i can't really say i got to listen to it all that much.
ebert's commentary was pretty good. he talked mostly about the technique of the film, the use of certain shots and lab techniques to bring about certain looks, or the use of matte paintings to make the film appear bigger than the budget allowed. a very good commentary track, but not brilliant.
i don't know that i have any really well-based criticism of the film. i've seen it maybe five or six times and i've always seen it differently each time, and that's a testament to the depth of the film. i think my only reason for not loving the film is that i feel as though the story should have more of an impact than it does. the film does have humanity and heart, but it's not a film that demands its viewer feel. sure there is an undercurrent of sympathy for kane and the story, especially with the infamous ending, but the film doesn't ever stray into that area of my heart that films like cool hand luke, the graduate or others do. at the same time i can't really fault the film, or welles, for this fact. i think that, to a certain extent, welles knew this was going to be the case. i don't think he wanted the audience to be heartbroken by the story. sad, maybe, but not heartbroken or seriously emotionally invested. some of the reason i think this is because the film is so immense and immensely cinematic. the film is always above us, as is kane. it's such a piece of cinema that it almost separates itself from its audience. it's the anti-cinema verite, and thus asks you less to feel and more to think. so that's why i don't think it'll crack my top ten any time soon, but i'll always recognize is for a true artistic masterpiece. A.
bernard herrmann, orson welles, gregg toland, agnes moorehead, robert wise, alan ladd, joseph cotten....
Ray - from the director of "proof of life" comes...maybe that's not the best way to start a review of a film i actually liked. okay...
biopics are a difficult lot. stone's "doors" was okay, mann's "ali" was unimpressive, harris' "pollock" was stock...the problem with biopics is that capturing a real person's life in an honest way, and finding someone decent to portray them, is usually just too hard. that brings me to jamie foxx. i basically said in my review of collateral that jamie foxx was officially a good actor, and this film will make others realize this. on npr the other day they had a film "expert" who was talking about the possibility of foxx winning an academy award. he said that foxx looked good, but didn't sing his own stuff and that best actor/actress nominees in the past haven't won when they lip-synched through the singing. he cited natalie wood in west side story who didn't win because she didn't sing herself. i think the major difference between past performances and this one is that ray charles is a real person and he was still alive during the filming of the movie. in other words, i don't think you can fault foxx's performance at all. plus he's got the public sympathy and the cripple card (think rain man, my left foot, etc.) so i'd bet on foxx, barring something great in the next couple months. regina king also turns in a good, powerful performance.
the film created several pretty inspiring moments. there was one scene in which charles had to fill twenty more minutes to complete his part of a contract. on the fly he creates another hit song. i don't know if it was a film contrivance or a reality, but it felt more like the former. at the same time it was one i was willing to roll with because it felt like charles really was that much of a genius. another similar scene came when his mistress broke us with him, which immediately led to him writing "hit the road jack" in her presence. it felt like an amazingly inspired moment, to turn that pain into one of the most popular songs in his catalog, right there on the spot. again, this was probably more a film contrivance than a portrayal of fact, but it felt right enough to roll with it.
charles' music was contextualized by hackford in a more meaningful way than i expected, or have seen from similar films. every song has a story and hackford reinforces this idea with judicious cross-cutting between the performance of a song, and the aspect of charles' life that inspired it. it elevated the meaning of the music and broke up the obligatory performance sequences; a nice touch.
the film begins with charles in the 1950s, he's already blind and about to hit the road to find his first job. his formative years are retold in fragments as we follow him through his first few jobs. hackford employs a different film stock and look to signify the flashback. colors are brighter, but the film is more grainy, like 16mm film or something. i liked this technique of telling the story of his becoming blind and the death of his brother, more than starting chronologically. hackford shows us effect and then cause, and it works well. we get to know who charles is, and then why he's that way.
the film isn't entirely a hagiography either, and that's extremely important with films like this. we see charles, warts and all. we see his fight with drugs, his adultery, and we see the negative effects (on his family) of his obsession with music.
without a doubt, the worst part of the film is its ending. like ali, ray doesn't quite know how to end. in ali it's a freeze frame after the rumble in the jungle and the film is over. in ray it's a text epilogue accompanied by photos of the real ray charles. it basically says that for the next forty years ray charles kept making music and was a good guy. it comes off as a bit awkward and a little precious. i generally don't dig academy bait like this, but they did a good job with this one. ray charles' story is compelling and moving; the film didn't get in the way of that too much, and hammed it up a bit (within reason) when it got the opportunity. it's sometimes said that a script is so good that not even a good director could ruin it. the idea is that "good" directors sometimes interject themselves into a picture too much, thus ruining decent screenplays. in this case hackford demonstrated a decent sense for when to let the story tell itself. hopefully when they make a film about johnny cash it's equally well done. B+.

Dial M For Murder - in my review for the lady vanishes i mentioned hitchcock's penchant for confined spaces. that film took place almost entirely on a train, rope was all done in one apartment, lifeboat was done on a lifeboat drifting at sea, rear window took place in stewart's apartment, and this film takes place primarily in grace kelly and ray milland's home. my dad doesn't like rope because he thinks it's a filmed play, he's crazy. rope and dial m for murder are both based on plays, but are hardly as constrained as a play. hitchcock moves the camera remarkably well and uses his edits wisely. this film also has the distinction of being made as a 3D film. i was lucky enough to see it in the theater in 3D presentation a long time ago as part of a double bill with comin' at ya! it was so long ago though that i decided to count this viewing as my first time. milland is great as the suave, jealous husband who has planned the murder of his wife (kelly) down to the last detail. of course things never turn out quite as planned, but it's just as well because seeing milland recover on the fly is as entertaining as it was seeing him unfold his plan to the old college pal (dawson) he was blackmailing to commit the murder for him in the first place. it's a great yarn and hitchcock unfolds everything so neatly that i couldn't help but smile. this film doesn't usually get mentioned with his A-list titles (north by northwest, vertigo, psycho, birds...), but is just as entertaining as most of those. a really fun film. A--. p.s. this one has the best cameo from hitchcock. milland and dawson went to college together and recall the old days by looking at an old picture - hitchcock is in the picture sitting at the same table as milland and dawson. they go on to talk about one of their pals named "alfred." good stuff.
I Confess - third hitchcock in a row. this one is a pretty stock film overall. there aren't many, if any, of the hitchcock signatures; at least in terms of style. thematically one might be able to make the argument that hitchcock's religious background unveils itself most fully in this film, but i don't know much more about that than the fact that he was raised catholic. the film is more of a morality tale and a love story than it is a suspense thriller and that was disappointing. at least in notorious the chemistry between gable and bergman was palpable and genuine; and that's not to mention the fact that that film was held together by a fairly engaging mystery. this film did none of that. very little suspense, no dali inspired hallucinations (as he did in spellbound, vertigo, and even skin game). i wouldn't say that this one is a clunker, but for hitchcock it sorta is. C. p.s. hitchcock is a fan of using shadows of people/objects offscreen to reveal things in a sinister way, or to give the audience information without showing them directly; it's a nice signature touch of his.
Alfie - it's not a comedy, it's certainly not a romance, it's not a straight's like life. also like life the film was filled with ups and downs. one moment i'd think that it was a pretty solid flick, and another i'd be checking my watch to see how much longer it was going to last. at the end alfie sort of sums up what he's learned during the course of the film and at first i thought this was a sign that the filmmakers didn't think the audience could figure things out on their own. but after i thought about it, i think that the reason for alfie spelling things out was less to preach to us, and more to show us that he's learned a bit in the process. i never really sympathized with alfie, though, and that's where i think the filmmakers lost me. it is possible to make an awful person sympathetic (just watch dial m for murder), but this film didn't really do it. there are times when caine is funny or is being cute, but he's never really sympathetic. i don't really know what the film was attempting, but i don't think it succeeded. C+.

Scrabylon - pretty similar to spellbound, but not as good. this one follows a select few scrabble players in their bid for the world scrabble championship. one reviewer accurately wrote that peterson is, at times, able to make the film look like a real life christopher guest film. sometimes these people are so geeky and obsessed that you can't help but remember "best in show." it's not a documentary that's really played for laughs though, it's more of a look into a particular aspect of society...more along the lines of trekkies 2 (which made less fun of the subjects, and was therefore less entertaining, than the first one). at the very least you'll learn more about scrabble. B--.
Pickup On South Street - a good film that could have been better. it's about a pickpocket (richard widmark) who unwittingly gets more than he bargained for when he picks the purse of a young woman. inside her wallet is secret government information which she was transferring from a communist agent to a communist leader.
fuller (steel helmet, naked kiss, etc.) isn't afraid to move the camera to make an emotional point. in this way the film is visually somewhat similar to the graduate. it's the kind of thing that only cinema can do and it's a shame that more directors don't do it. sweeping in on a character when something important happens, or moving around them when their view changes, etc. widmark is good, but thelma ritter, in a supporting role, does an even better job. she probably should have been nominated for a supporting actress award. nevermind, i just checked and she was nominated. in that case, she probably should have won. her character is the most sympathetic and, next to widmark, the most complicated.
in this film fuller creates a world in which money rules all. through the first half of the film all decisions are made in the interest of self-preservation. ritter's character dimes out her bud (widmark) for less than $40. at the same time widmark is willing to deal with communists so long as it means finally getting the big score for which he's been looking. at the same time there is an element of professionalism amongst those in the underworld. widmark understands that ritter will sell him out, and doesn't begrudge her anything because of it. he remarks "after all she's gotta eat." there is a sense that this is what people do, and this is what they are and everything is understood. in this way fuller creates a world of archetypes who play out their hand to the best of their ability. widmark is faced with the opportunity to hand over the wallet that he's stolen earlier in the film without consequence, but he balks at the cops when they present him with the offer because he thinks they'll bite him in the ass even if he helps them. it recalls the old tale of the scorpion and the frog of which widmark must have been well aware. i really liked this element of the film because it fits well into the noir genre where everyone is selfish and things are totally dark. when the woman whose wallet is stolen finds widmark by going underground, she is instantly attracted to him and she tries to convince him that her love is genuine, but he figures she's playing an angle so he shuns her. he tries to squeeze her for some money in return for the valuable microfilm he stole from her, meanwhile she's being squeezed from the other side by the ex-boyfriend communist operative, who gave her the film to carry across town in the first place. ritter's character also shows weakness and sentimentality and she pays for it more dearly.
up to this point the film was great, but then things took a turn. widmark seemingly falls in love and hunts down the commies on his own. in the end the woman lives through a gunshot wound and widmark is the hero. it's an unsatisfying ending to a film with much darker, and therefore better, beginnings. i've said it before, but i'll repeat it again - i like my film noir to be truly noir, and this one didn't really do that. other than that the film is good, it's got plenty of good direction and the writing creates some nice dynamics between the characters, but i didn't like it as much as i could have. B.
Nashville - robert altman's precursor to the superior "short cuts." this one has its moments, but is hindered by a bad soundtrack and uninteresting plot. the ending is anticlimatic. i don't know what the fuss over this film is about. C-.
Skin Game- decent early hitchcock talkie. the story follows two well-to-do families who spite each other and everyone is hurt as a result. the most significant thing about this film is the fact that it's a sound film. you can clearly see hitchcock experimenting with the advantages of sound in this picture, but outside of this the picture isn't all that remarkable. in the beginning there is a lot of experimentation with sound, which must have been interesting to audiences at the time (1931), but is only interesting now as a historical document. there are conversations that take place off camera, scenes with lots of layers of sounds, and other such novelties. some of the framing of in the film, or maybe just on the dvd, is downright awful, but i can't be sure that it was hitchcock's fault because the dvd is distributed by laserlight.

Bank Dick - better than the first time i watched it. this is the only w.c. fields film i've seen, but it's supposed to be his best. it's pure early humor - plenty of punishment (i.e., physical pain as the source of laughter), misdirection humor and pain in the ass type humor. at one point w.c. fields offers to help a chauffeur with some roadside car repairs; this naturally leads to the engine falling out of the car and fields saying sorry and going on his merry way. fields plays the hapless, but always on his feet, hero rather well. he's like the gruff uncle who has bad luck for everyone else, but it never ends up affecting him. in other words: it's great entertainment, but is such because of the pain it inflicts upon others. there are a ton of gags in this film and i think just about everyone will laugh a few times during the course of the film, it's just a matter of how often and how hard. B.

Man Who Knew Bush - not the same kind of anti-bush documentary that you're used to. this one follows a distant relative of bush who tells of his one encounter with the president (while both men were drunk) and much more. he comments on the history of the family, of politics, of the schools bush attended, etc. he's a virtual fountain of knowledge and that alone was worth the 75 minutes. that said, the film is not very focused and many might be turned off by this fact. from a filmmaking perspective the film has an interesting style. berlin seems to have a knack for editing in little buffer shots and infixes, to borrow a linguistic term. during interviews, for example, he'll edit in a shot of the interviewee's hands, or something similar. it's good for pacing and feel as well as offering a more complete look at the person's physical mannerisms and character; a nice touch. B-. one interesting fact in the film was presented by a genealogist who said that the bush family are related (anywhere from 8th-12th cousin-relations) to 50% of the country. crazy.
Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster - i used to love metallica, but their last couple albums sucked and then there's the whole napster now i'm sort of ambivalent. if nothing else, this documentary humanizes a group of guys who have often been above the rest of us. it adds a new wrinkle to films like gimme shelter and don't look back, which followed the rolling stones and bob dylan, respectively. this film follows another giant rock group, but this time it's on their downswing and the camera makes its way into group therapy sessions. it's a pretty odd experience in that way, because so infrequently do we see rock stars at their most vulnerable. sinofsky and berlinger (brother's keeper) do an expectedly good job of telling the story, even to non-metallica fans; they give just the right amount of information, at just the right time. the film is a bit on the long side, especially for a documentary, but there's enough material here to justify it. i do think that the film has a good bit to offer to people who don't like metallica or aren't very interested in the usual music documentaries. the reason is that the film operates fairly well on the human drama level. by the end of the film i felt a little fed up with the group therapy footage, but that was more of a general response to therapy than it was to the film in particular. it'll get you in touch with your feelings. B-.

Last Seduction - john dahl is a sleeper director. his biggest film is joy ride which is a well done and entertaining picture, but not really indicative of his better work. rounders also sort of slipped under the radar. and his two best pictures (red rock west and last seduction) are virtually unknown despite having noteworthy actors and being damn good films. like red rock west, the last seduction is a neo-noir, or post-noir, or modern noir, or whatever you want to call it. it's a 90s color film that borrows heavily from noir conventions, we'll put it that way. fiorentino plays the femme fatale and, like in depalma's "femme fatale," the film revolves around her more than it does the patsy (ably played by bill paxton, er bill pullman). she does a great job in selling the character which is important because the ending is a bit of a hard sell and requires the audience to believe she is capable of what she does. dahl's greatest strength is his storytelling. his pacing is right where it needs to be in each picture, he unfolds each character in an even and natural way, the mystery is never too easy to unravel, but at the same time it's still believable. he doesn't generally write his own stuff, but his films are always well-written. they always have a natural unfolding about them, there aren't any lulls in his films, the mysterious aspects of the film are never too far in the distance, yet at the same time he is able to develop his characters and entertain the audience. this is the art of storytelling - balancing the different elements in an enjoyable, reasonable and naturalistic way; and this is what john dahl does so well in this picture. icing on the cake is the play on the film noir conventions, the well-matched soundtrack, the performances and the comic relief. B++.

Grudge - the original is better, i'll get that out of the way first. is this film scary? yes. does that mean it's a good movie? not really. the film's primary problem is that the horror doesn't really unfold in any grand way. stories are often referred to as having arcs, but i think the same can be said for the fright level of a film. blair witch project did an amazing job (at least for me) of slowing building tension and fear to a great climax. this film's scares seemed to operate in spurts that were mostly repetitive and equally scary. this version's storytelling is a bit more explicit and filled in some of the questions that i had from the first one, but it also cut out one major sequence and altered the story a bit. overall i didn't see any major deficiencies in the story relative to the first one. however, the original version did do a better job of creeping me out and was shot better. C+.
Harvie Krumpet- a surprisingly touching claymation short that won an academy award last year. it's about a polish kid with tourette's syndrome who grows up to be a rather unique american man. it's just over twenty minutes long, but in that time we see him grow from a young child to an old man living out his years in an old folks home. the film's major success (other than the animation) is its ability to relate the essence of its title character so succinctly and fully within such a short span of time. we feel every bit of good and bad luck that harvie experiences and doing that in this format, in this amount of time, is a pretty remarkable feat. B+.

Forgotten Silver - it's a fictional documentary directed by peter jackson. yes, most would call it a mockumentary, but that might be misleading since you probably first think of "this is spinal tap" when thinking of mockumentaries. this film does poke fun at documentaries and it does have a tongue in cheek aspect to it, but it's not the all out fake that spinal tap is. the film follows peter jackson as he retells his unearthing of some old reels of film that some old lady brought to his attention. these old reels, it turns out, were but a small sampling of the cinematic genius of the fictional filmmaker colin mckenzie. the rest of the mockumentary follows jackson as he researches the life and work of mckenzie. in order to sell the authenticity of the documentary, jackson enlisted the help of harvey weinstein, sam neill, and leonard maltin who offer up fairly convincing testimony to the lost genius of colin mckenzie. i went into the film knowing it was a fake, but i'm fairly confident that i would have been able to figure it out without the foreknowledge of its true purpose. there are a good number of decent clues in the film and knowing peter jackson and his sense of humor would have been enough for me to put things together. at the time of its release, however, there were several disappointed viewers who bought into the film and wrote into the television station to voice their displeasure after they discovered the truth. apparently jackson even got a few letters from supposed film majors who claimed to have known of mckenzie's work before they had seen the documentary. people are funny.
what amazed me about the film was its ability to create this fictional non-fiction which could inspire moments of both laughter and pathos. it was able to walk a fine line between all out parody and actual documentary that, frankly, boggles the mind. towards the end of the "documentary" we see "recovered" footage of mckenzie filming a scene as a war photographer. at one point he puts his camera on the ground to help a wounded soldier and is gunned down in the process. the scene is both funny and touching because, in an odd way, despite the satirical tone of the film, they have actually created a sympathetic character.
it's also a film that must have been infinitely enjoyable to make. there was so much "stock footage" that they had to create and they did that really well, using all sorts of different methods. sometimes they just filmed something in black and white and made it dirty or scratchy, and other times they used digital technology to create the desired effects...interesting and entertaining stuff. B+.
Light Keeps Me Company - documentary about swedish cinematographer sven nykvist who worked, primarily, with ingmar bergman. i've only seen a few bergman films and the look is always something to behold so it seems natural to want to learn more about one of the men behind that look. apparently nykvist is some kind of genius, but most biographical documentaries are little more than hagiographies and this is no exception. this one is even directed by his son...that said, it does a decent job of showing us who the man is and what his colleagues think of him and his work. it really is tough to ignore people like woody allen, ingmar bergman, stellan skarsgard, vilmos zsigmond, etc. who all say, more or less, that nykvist was a genius in the field. if you're looking for a good introduction to cinematography in general then watch "visions of light" instead. C++.
Primer - i don't know where to start with this film. it's definitely worth checking out. it's also a pretty tough film to watch in some ways. the film is constantly unfolding one step ahead of the viewer and that keeps things constantly interesting, but also a bit confusing. unfortunately the ending doesn't wrap things up into one nice bow, but i actually didn't mind that fact too much. the teaser is this: a film about a couple of engineers who are working on an unknown device which happens to have some unexpected consequences and far-reaching implications. the plot is, almost literally, infinitely fascinating and that's saying a lot. again, the downside to this is that one viewing really doesn't seem like enough because the film doesn't provide all the answers for you right away. visually the film is very indie. a lot of the film is yellow because of, i presume, underexposure and underlighting. the direction was mostly by the numbers and capable, but unremarkable. however, there were at least two occasions which rose above average. one was the turning point of the film, abe walks out onto the roof of a building and we are blinded by the sunlight briefly as he walks towards the edge to look down on aaron in the courtyard below. instantly i knew that the dynamic of the film had changed - we were outdoors, the camera looked directly into the light and the characters were on different levels. touches like this make a decent film better. a cerebral, compelling filmgoing experience. B+.

Bush Family Fortunes - not a very good documentary. it uses greg palast's "the best democracy money can buy" as a basis for the majority of its material. this doesn't do the film in, however. instead it's awful production values (think 20/20 or other such tv news magazine shows), trite music (moby is the epitome of overexposed), and redundancy (nearly all the material in this film is covered better, or in more depth, in fahrenheit 9/11, unprecedented, or the like). you're better off staying away from this one. C--.
Arsenic And Old Lace - not exactly a filmed, play, but i did wonder what the point of bringing to the screen was. on paper it's a pretty decent piece and the actors did a good enough job, but the film didn't really speak to me. there were some mild laughs and it's nice to see a film like this that is able to stay pretty fresh 60 years later, but i didn't really get into it. C+.
Tenebre (aka Unsane) - i've only seen a few argento films and i've never been as stunned as i'm supposed to be, but this film came closest to achieving the level that he is usually associated with. it's not a straight horror film, it's more of a suspense/thriller, but it does have some horrifying moments. the downside of the film is that it's a bit lost in translation - in part because its dialogue is looped in post-production, in part because it's an italian film (though the dialogue is all in english), and in part because it's an early 80s film. the upside is that the film is well-paced with some good acting and a fairly compelling story. best of all, though, is its direction. even though it's a bit general, i think that "artistic" is the best way to describe argento's direction in this film. he takes a lot of liberties that aren't usually found in thrillers; he's not afraid to leave the viewer hanging a bit, or throw in shots that, at first, seem nonsensical. i think that this film elevates the thriller genre which is generally populated by unintelligent films like "twisted." a good film. B.

Saw - there are ssome films that are obviously the director's first, and this is one of them. that may sound bad, but in this case it really isn't. in this case it means the film had a fresh take and a fresh look at the thriller/horror genre. there were certainly some flaws in the film - some of the direction was a bit too frenetic (think nu-metal music video) and some of the plot devices were slightly contrived, but the overall the film benefited from a sort of filmic ignorance. once you know how to make a film, it's difficult to shake yourself out of the preexisting mold, and this film illustrates what new-comers have to offer. in a lot of ways it's better to have a film slightly flawed in some ways in order to keep the integrity of a new director's vision. it takes a lot of trust on the part of the producers and that seems to be what happened here. i really don't want to talk about any of the specifics of the film because i think it's better to go into it without any expectations. i will say, however, that i had some reservations throughout the film that were (mostly) put to rest with its conclusion. it's no se7en, but it's worth the price of admission for the thrills alone. B+.

Trainspotting - this one falls into the "very good, but a bit overrated" category. boyle's direction is befitting of the subject matter - it's sometimes claustrophobic, sometimes naturalistic, sometimes flashy, sometimes overly stylish and always right where it needs to be. the writing, of course, is very good and has a very unique voice. boyle wears his influences on his sleeve - from a clockwork orange to taxi driver - but the film manages to not be entirely derivative. ironically, it spawned a wave of "brit-grit" films from lock stock and two smoking barrels to nil by mouth. none of them, though, were as good as this one, and that's why the film gets so much hype. the soundtrack, as an album, is great, but doesn't function quite as well as a soundtrack. that's not to say that it's not good, it just that the album is better than the music is when placed in the film. there are one or two clunkers in the film, but overall the film has solid musical choices. all the acting is spot on and whenever talk of a sequel, or prequel, comes up i get a little sick because replacing the actors would be a travesty. B+.

Alien 3 (theatrical cut) - the alien series got worse with each film, let's get that out in the open right away. aliens probably should have been the last film, but film is a business so they made two more. i saw this film in the theater a while back but hadn't seen it recently. after watching the first two a couple weeks ago i figured i should finish off the series. this installment is decent enough to make it into the series in part because fincher has a good sense of how to move the camera. other than the camera movement and some of the performances, though, the film is pretty weak. there was a big fall out between fincher and fox so i don't know how much of the film can be attributed to him and how much to fox, but what resulted isn't up to the same standard as the first two in the series. the music isn't as atmospheric, the story doesn't offer anything new and the ending is old hat and longish. it's of acceptable quality as its own film, but not when measured against the first two films. C+.
Alien: Resurrection (special edition) - i'm not sure why jeunet got to direct this film. he's the director of good films like city of lost children and delicatessen and not such good films like alien: resurrection and amelie. his work on city of lost children makes him a decent choice for this film, but, so far as i know, he's untested as an action director, and it shows in this film. he covers it up a bit with some humor and good production design, but is unable to match scott's ability to build tension through atmosphere and cameron's ability to adequately direct action sequences. the story is completely half-baked and some of the performances are pretty pathetic. alien 3 was passable, but this one is unacceptable, especially considering the strength of the first two films. C-.
Fahrenheit 9/11 - tomorrow this film might be almost irrelevant, but that doesn't detract from its importance at this moment. it's a pretty great film which got too much hype (though i'm mostly glad it did) and hopefully has done some good in the process. technically it may be moore's best work, but it's probably my least favorite. it produces some great, powerful moments, but they feel more produced than captured. there were moments in the film where it felt like i was watching a fictional work. perhaps that's because of the nature of what was occurring, or maybe it's because of the film's production style. i don't know. i liked the music, especially towards the end where jeff gibbs does his best philip glass impersonation. A-.
Koyaanisqatsi- extraordinarily powerful. i really don't feel like saying much about this film, i've probably said most of it before anyway, but do know that this film is amazing in every possible way. in terms of film scores there is the good, the bad and the ugly, the graduate and koyaanisqatsi which tower above everything else. there are other fantastic scores, yes, but those three are in their own league because music and image become one, inextricable, entity; and because in each case the music is extraordinarily good on its own. A+.

Blood For Dracula - better than flesh for frankenstein, but not a very funny or horrific film. it's not on the right side of camp and it doesn't produce any notable scares so i didn't really get into it. that said, it's more interesting than flesh for frankenstein because of its political angle. the whole servant as marxist de-virginizer thing was a bit interesting and could probably yield some good intellectual conversation. the lead's performance was better here as dracula than it was in flesh for frankenstein as dr. frankenstein. the sex scenes in this picture were also better. C-.
Silver City - i need to see "return of the secaucus seven" before i make my definitive decision, but as it stands right now i can't say that i'm all that impressed with john sayles. lone star was good, but not amazing, eight men out was okay, and this film was also just okay. his work is consistently long-winded and geared towards large casts with intertwined stories, but they're never as good as "short cuts" or "magnolia." he generally manages to get good performances and has some pretty interesting ideas buried in his films, but those ideas have a tough time being seen because of his storytelling style. this film wasn't at all what the previews indicated - a thinly veiled fictional story of a bush-esque governor (cooper) who is under the thumb of a major mining corporation called bentel (like bechtel) which is run by kris kristofferson's character. it turns out to be another story about a man trying to discover the story behind a dead body and finding love in the process (pretty much the same plot as lone star). i heard that stephen king's latest book is about a car with psychic powers. he said he's going to stop writing pretty soon out of fear that he'll stop being original...maybe he and sayles should talk. all that aside, this film is relatively uninteresting. the mystery aspect of the film wears thin pretty quickly, the ending was overly predictable, there's some lazy/convenient storytelling, and it just didn't grab me. the performances were mostly adequate (cooper's was the best). probably not worth your time. C-.
Pieces Of April - i'm trying to think of another thanksgiving film that's better than this one (besides the obvious "planes, trains and automobiles") and i can't do it. this film isn't amazing, but it is exactly as good as its capable of being. films like this are probably the future of "independent" cinema, for better or worse. it's got big studio backing (but a small budget - $300k), a few established actors and a good idea. stylistically it's an independent feature - it's shot using dv with a lot of handheld camera work and a jumpy editing style (at least during the introductions). all the music in the film (except for the final sequence) is diegetic. it got me thinking what the best soundtrack is to a bad film...this has a really good soundtrack (though you don't really notice it in the film), but the film is good so it doesn't count. morvern callar has a great soundtrack, but isn't a very good movie so that one's in the running....but i digress.
katie holmes does a decent acting job, but is outplayed by virtually everyone else in the film. that's generally the rule with independent features like this - since they are less concerned about the marketability of the film, they can afford to give up something in the looks department in exchange for superior talent. the film also benefits from a good balance of the comic and the serious. at just under 75 minutes the film is definitely on the short side, but i'm willing to pay just as much to see this as i would be to see "gangs of new york" which is twice as long, cost 100 times more to make, and wasn't as good. B.

Duplex - danny devito's direction is awkward at times and run-of-the-mill the other times. stiller and barrymore do a pretty good job, but the real star of the film is the old lady. there were some hearty laughs, but don't expect anything really remarkable here. the ending seemed like a tack-on. C+.
Lost Weekend - there's a lot to say about this film. billy wilder, jane wyman and ray milland all did a great job with the film. wilder's storytelling is compelling and varies enough from other noir to make it interesting. the first flashback of the film doesn't occur until 30 minutes into the movie and then there are a few more as the film progresses. milland and wyman are great together. milland sells the role of an alcoholic as well as anyone this side of nicholas cage. wyman is great as the girlfriend who is torn apart by milland's addiction. her acting in the final sequence turns what, in other hands, might be contrived, into an inspired and inspiring moment. miklos rozsa's score is right where it needs to be, but that's not to say that it's old hat. in some ways it sounded to me like a definitive film noir score. i don't know how to really describe has flows which convey the hope of the viewer, but ebbs that match the reality of the protagonist. it's also a fitting score because there's an almost star trek, psychedelic leitmotif that is used which works well with the alcoholism theme. john seitz's cinematography had some flourishes here and there, but it didn't blow me away. it's a good thing the film was in such capable hands since it's a story that easily could have turned to trite melodrama or, possibly worse, an unaffecting propaganda piece. as is, though, the film strikes a good balance and is able to convey rather accurately the allure and pitfalls of alcoholism. a very fine film. B+.

Bush's Brain- one of the many documentaries that just sort of paints a picture with broad strokes. it's successful in illuminating a fairly interesting character (karl rove), but seemed more speculative than concrete. it's tough to really pin things on a guy like this, though, so maybe i'm expecting too much. from a filmmaking point of view the movie didn't do anything special at all. at the same time it didn't fall into any trite documentary conventions like poor reenactments in slow motion. worth checking out, but don't expect to be blown away. B--.

Flesh For Frankenstein - to be fair i didn't watch this film in its entirety, but what i did watch was rather underwhelming. D+.
Spy Who Came In From The Cold - 90% of this film is setup for its ending. i wouldn't say the ending is stunning or amazing, but it is pretty darned good and makes the rest of the film worthwhile. i wish ritt could have come up with a way to make things a little less muddy and a little more entertaining for the first 90 minutes of the film. there were a few nice shots, acting was adequate and the score was okay. C+.

What Lies Beneath - robert zemeckis is a special effects director. that said, the guy has made some good pictures regardless of their special effects. back to the future, who framed roger rabbit, romancing the stone and contact were all pretty solid flicks with redeeming qualities. this film, though, is a piece of camel dung. it has one good scare and a couple nice special effects shots, but is otherwise just a rehash of old thriller devices that most will see coming a mile away. melanie and i practically narrated the film before every twist and turn. a film that just shouldn't have been made. D.

I Heart Huckabees - it's a fun film that sort of reminded me of an american version of "discreet charm of the bourgeoisie." first i want to mention that mark wahlberg may have been laughed at in the past, but when the guy gets a good role he nails it, and this film is no exception. it's easy to write him off as marky mark and just a good looking calvin klein model trying to crossover, but his work in this, boogie nights, three kings, and fear show he's better than he may get credit for. i think his biggest problem is taking shitty roles, but you can't blame a guy too much for that. the film is pretty light despite the potentially heavy subject matter. all the philosophy in the film has serious implications, but is used more as a comedic device than anything else. while i was watching it i tried to ask what russell wanted me to get from the film and i just didn't see it being a film about exploring different philosophical possibilities (like my dinner with andre or waking life). if one wanted then i'm sure one could glean something valuable from the different philosophies that are thrown about, but the film isn't really about presenting a cohesive philosophy of its own. there are surrealist elements to the film that make it fresh and different. the acting is also fresh and lively. there's no better way to describe the film than "fun." B.

Aparajito(second film in apu trilogy) - the first and second film in the apu trilogy can probably be seen without having seen any of the other films, but the third cannot. my suggestion, though, is to just go ahead and commit to all three films since they're worthwhile and the themes really do build nicely throughout the series. the films focus on everyday life and the hardship associated with loss. the first film finds apu losing his older sister, in the second he loses his father and mother, and in the third he loses his wife because of his son's birth. above all, ray is a storyteller and he tells the apu's story in an intimate, but unaffected cinematic way. he always gets good performances out of the various actors who play apu (four or five total throughout the series) and all the supporting roles as well. i think the third film has the best visual direction and the most intense emotional impact, but it's also the least consistent. it's a great series worthy of your time if you're interested in world cinema. B+.
World Of Apu (final film in apu trilogy) -

Girl Next Door (unrated version) - a tough film to watch. there are a few reasons why this is so - it's got a lot of t & a which means you're liable to get blue balls, it's not all that great which means you're not likely to really enjoy yourself, and it's the very definition of far-fetched. now i know that all films require a degree of suspension of disbelief, but this film takes this too far. it never establishes any real relationship between the two characters, it never establishes the boy as the geek he's supposed to be so all the times he's "out of character" come off as being more in character than the geek character he's supposed to be. hope that makes sense. the ending is way too far-fetched and the storyline is far-fetched at every possible turn. it really wasn't a very smart film. it was sexy, it probably enhanced a lot of wet dreams out there, but it's not a very good film. C-.
Along Came Polly - pretty much what you'd expect. a safe film for stiller, aniston does her usual thing, and there are a few laughs in the process. there's nothing here that's inspiring or hilarious in any real way. philip seymore hoffman shows that he's funnier than he's given credit for...just think of this and big lebowski and compare him in those roles to other "comedic actors" like ashton kutcher or matthew lillard. then you throw in credits from films like magnolia, boogie nights, and love liza and you start to see the makings of a truly great acting talent of our time. he doesn't have a lot of star power and he hasn't gotten a huge amount of recognition, but this guy is a certified talent and one to be appreciated while he's around. oh, back to the's got some crude humor which, in this case, indicated to me a degree of laziness. when the farrelly brothers do it in "there's something about mary" you know it's just part of their shtick, but in this film it felt more like the filmmakers were trying too hard to create laughs and decided to resort to toilet humor. for the record - i have no problem with toilet humor, it's just got to be natural. C.

Team America: World Police - when i first saw the trailer to this film i thought it looked like a dumb film, and then the credits came up and i saw it was a parker/stone collaboration and my mind was changed instantly. actually, i still thought it looked dumb, but i had resolved to see it despite my first impression. it's not nearly the genius that south park the movie is, but it's a fine film on its own. first of all you should stay away from this film if you have any problem with racist jokes. there's a lot of stereotyping in the film - americans are brash and arrogant, asians can't pronounce words collectry, and arabs speak gibberish. i don't personally have a problem with that, but be forewarned. one gripe i did have with the film is that while they were making fun of everyone (from alec baldwin to osama bin laden) they neglected the right wing wackos. it was a little disconcerting to see whack jobs like pat robertson, bill o'reilly and the like get a free pass while michael moore and janeane garofalo got raked over the coals a bit. i couldn't quite figure that out. i'm down with making fun of michael moore and left-wingers so long as it's balanced. maybe i'm hypocrite, or maybe i just expected more from the generally equitable south park creators. at any rate, the film had some brilliant moments, grew a little old by the end, but was worth watching once. B.

Die Hard - i've watched this film over forty times and it's always been one of my favorites of all-time, but watching it this time was a unique experience. i'm in a very different mindset these days so i can't help but interpret everything in a different way. the dynamic between willis and bedelia was more vibrant and resonant than ever before. willis' bathroom soliloquy was more poignant, the laughs were more hearty, and the music was more stirring. in short, this time around may well have been the best viewing ever of this particular film. it's a film that begs to be watched repeatedly and earns it every time. it's a film that defines the very limit of the action/adventure genre, and maybe even cinema altogether. it's pretty difficult for me to overstate the place in my heart that this film holds. everything within the film is so seamless - the music (kamen is amazing, but so are mctiernan's choices - using the "aliens" piece at the very end, the incorporation of xmas music to help the setting, the bach, the beethoven, the run d.m.c.! just brilliant), the images (jan de bont's inspired camera movement and mctiernan's lively and unique (for the time) editing style), the performances (break out role for willis, yes, but also notable performances from bedelia, rickman, veljohnson, gleason and white) all come together in a perfect synthesis. and with al disarrio as the sfx supervisor you know that things on that front are going to be solid as well. there are some scenes where you can tell a process shot was used, but when you're not scrutinizing the film these effects are seamless and that's pretty remarkable considering it's a film from the 80s. i think that if you watch this film without having heard any hype about it (because hype always hinders a film) then you must like it. for me it's a film that i really can watch any time. many of my other top films (paths of glory, the graduate, the killing, koyaanisqatsi, boogie nights, etc.) require a particular mood, but this film doesn't. no matter what mood i'm in i can watch this film, and since i've seen it so many times it's like visiting an old friend. one of the best pieces of art of all-time. A+.

Unconstitutional: War On Our Civil Liberties - from the director of the jaundiced eye and the producer of outfoxed and uncovered comes the latest installment of anti-bush regime documentaries. this one was probably the least informative and least interesting to watch, but it's still a fairly valuable outline of what the bush administration has done post 9/11. some of the facts that are presented seem a little shaky and anecdotal which is why i would have preferred a greater emphasis on the more general problems of the administration's policies. still a good film though. B-.

Envy - saw it again because melanie hadn't seen it the first time. review below.
Forgotten - this film pulled a "dreamcatcher." it started off pretty cool and had a certain degree of potential, but then the aliens came into the picture and messed everything up. there are a few nice moments created and a few nice touches, but nothing good enough to save the picture from its second half. one of the nicer touches is that moore lays down throughout the film - sometimes on the ground, sometimes in her bed, but as the film progresses, and she gradually begins to discover the truth, we see more of her face when she is laying down. for example, early in the film she is laying in bed and her head is buried in a fluffy pillow so that we only see the left third of her face, later in the film she lays in bed and the pillow is less fluffy so we see about half of her face; at the very end of the film she is knocked to the ground and is laying her head on her arm so we are able to see all of her face. C.

Envy - fairly funny star vehicle for stiller and black, but nothing really inspired here. it's an okay idea and levinson's direction is on par, but there really isn't enough to make this film really good. nice enough to watch once. C.
Aliens (director's cut) - james cameron likes directing films with strong female leads - terminator 1/2 had linda hamilton, aliens had sigourney weaver, and titanic had leonardo dicaprio. this film succeeds where the original failed - it has more action and the action is more fulfilling. the comic relief was a little stronger as well. however, it's not as good a film. first off, a sequel always has the burden of being less original and thus has to do more to be just as good. aliens a lot going for it, but it gives up a little to the original film in the atmosphere and originality departments. i don't know what differences there are between the dir. cut and the theatrical cut, but the dir. cut is longer and i would imagine that helps with atmosphere more than anything else. the first half of the film did a good job of building tension, and the second half was just all out hollywood was good, but not as good as the original. also, even as far as sequels go, this film was a bit too derivative. the story was almost exactly the same all the way through to the end. cinematographer was adrian biddle who did a decent job and in his first five years did this, willow, princess bride and thelma & louise; after that he kinda sold out, it seems. A--.

THX 1138 - i've never seen this film before so i don't know all the changes lucas made visually; here are some of them though. visually it was a nice picture and the visuals contributed to the themes of isolation and alienation. i guess i'm just not much of a fan of films like this since this and blade runner do absolutely nothing for me. duvall was good, but i didn't really feel for his character at all. visually good, but not great other than that. C+.
Swept Away - it's a film that i saw because i thought it was going to give gigli a run for its money as "worst film ever," but it turned out to be better than that. madonna, as expected, is bad, but she could have been worse - in fact several portions of the film demonstrate just how bad she can be, but by the end of the film she's average enough to be not horrific. also, the film isn't as bad as gigli because the ending of this film went against the grain a bit by ending on an unhappy note. ritchie's direction generally detracts from the film. a bad film, but not in the running for worst of all-time. D.
Alien(theatrical version) - the atmosphere in this film is great. set pieces and alien design are also great. the actual deaths were a little anticlimactic because the build-up was so successful. near the end when ripley (weaver) goes to save the cat my first reaction was "that's too cliché and so dumb of her." but i justified it later because her going for the cat is in contrast to holm's character who is a cyborg. weaver is tough, but still human enough to care about life and that's what her going back to get the cat shows. a film worthy of its reputation. A.

Ju-On: The Grudge - spoilers. i went into this film thinking it was directed by the same guy who did ringu, i was wrong. this is done by someone different, but the films are remarkably similar. there's a lot about this film and the similarities between the two films to comment on and i'm not sure i'm going to get to it all, but here it goes...
the most obvious correlation between ringu and the grudge is that both are japanese horror films with american remakes. in the case of ringu the remake is directed by verbinski and is better than the original. in the case of the grudge the remake is directed by the same person and i've yet to see the american version (with sarah michelle gellar) so the jury is still out on that one. both have a fairly similar style, but then again so does "suicide club" which is another japanese horror picture that came out recently. it's interesting to see how different countries come out with a wave of good pictures of a certain type during a certain era. during the 80s there were several good spanish horror films, right now there seems to be a good number of iranian dramas coming out, in the 30s germany produced a good number of fine expressionist films, etc. there's a scene in ringu when the girl crawls out of the tv which is really creepy and part of its success comes from the way the girl is crawling - very low to the ground, inhuman, almost spiderlike. this film uses the exact same scare tactic, but in this film the woman is crawling down the stairs. actually, this was done even earlier in the uncut version of the exorcist. the grudge steals another technique from ringu - when some of the characters are seen on security cameras or have their pictures taken, their image is distorted. i suppose it's been done before ringu, but i was working off the premise that these were directed by the same guy. the rest of the film is just about equally derivative. there are all sorts of individual shots and scenes that may not have been taken directly from previous films, but, to use a euphemism, are part of the established horror film lexicon. in this sense the film was a disappointment - individual shots throughout and the ending in particular were all in films you've probably seen if you've seen a good sampling of horror stuff. like i said before, it's not that the director is directly ripping off a shot from this or that film, but a lot of it was stuff that had already been done before; and when i go to see an independent japanese horror film i go hoping for something outside of the mainstream.
this isn't to say that the film is bad or doesn't have its strengths. there are several genuinely creepy moments within the film. shimizu is able to create a feeling of claustrophobia throughout the film and periodically cashes in on this to good effect. unfortunately sometimes the execution feels a bit reserved, other times it falls into the "been there done that" category which i talked about earlier, and sometimes elements of the film are simply lost in translation. there were a few moments when the crowd in the theater (it was a pretty healthy contingent considering the film has been out for a while and it was a 10:40 show) laughed at something that wasn't supposed to be funny.
as the film wore on i realized it wasn't going to blow me away and it wasn't going to leave me as terrified as i had hoped. so i naturally started thinking of the film on levels beyond the visceral terror. in a way the film could be construed as a social commentary, and this is one reason why i'm especially eager to see what changes are made to the american version. the film begins with a sadistic father slaying his wife, his cat, and, presumably, his son. as a result the house becomes haunted and the family which inhabits the space afterward starts getting picked off by ghosts one by one. each person who gets involved with the family or with the case surrounding their deaths also gets picked off one by one. there are strong elements of isolationism (people hiding in their rooms with windows covered, hiding under their sheets, etc.), but at the same time there seems to be an undercurrent against helping each other. let me explain - no one is spared in the film - the people who run are killed, the people who try to help others are killed, etc. typically in horror films there is some way out - either stay a virtuous virgin or take a stand against evil or know how to kill the zombies or whatever; but that's not true in this film. the social worker at the beginning of the film goes to the house to help with an elderly woman, but as a result of her good intentions several people die. a police officer who tries to burn down the house also is killed. his daughter, who goes to the house with her friends because they heard it's haunted, flees the house because she feels uncomfortable. her friends die at the house and, later, so she does too, despite having the presence of mind to get the hell out of there. in other words, it's a pretty pessimistic film. i thought there might have been commentary on the isolation within japanese society, but there is no alternative offered so i don't know how well that idea hold up.
overall the film had some moments, but wasn't as consistently entertaining or scary as it could have been. C+.

Where The River Flows North - earthy like "tree of wooden clogs," but the film's organic pulse is very much 'american.' in tree of wooden clogs the earthiness is intertwined with the philosophy of earth has provider. conversely, where the river flows presents an organic film about two people living off the land, but to them the earth is less a provider and more a symbol of freedom and individuality. in tree of wooden clogs the earth is the provider for all the sharecroppers of the village. in this scenario they are working the land for the land owner, but there is never any animosity with the land. they work the land lovingly and respect its ability to provide wood for shoes, strawberries for the market, etc. in where the river flows the land also owned by someone else, but rip torn's character has a less loving relationship with the land. it is still a provider, but only insofar as he can use it to his advantage. indeed, his plan is to harvest the land of 1000 year old pines and skip town with the profit. in this film the land, and the opportunities it presents, is more intertwined with motifs of freedom and individuality. essentially what i'm trying to get at here is that this film presents the land as a tool (both for rip torn's character and the government which wants to build a dam in the area), whereas tree of wooden clogs presents the land as a provider to be respected and loved. also, i think there is an argument to be made that this film presents the issue of land use in more individualized terms and tree of wooden clogs presents a more collectivist view of land use. acting is uniformly good and the story is told in an engaging, entertaining and emotive way. B+.

Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow - the first thing everyone will notice about this film is its cinematography, or, maybe, its lack thereof. after all, is it really cinematography if you're just filming characters on a green screen and applying lighting and sets in post-production? so we'll just say it's the "look" that people will notice, and for good reason. it's a lot different from anything you've seen or are likely to see any time soon. another thing your likely to notice fairly quickly is how fun the film is. i would have liked to dislike the film because the technique (cgi constructed everything, except the actors) seems a contradiction to the subject (1939 new york), but the fact is that the look fits and the writing is good enough to wrangle in even the more cynical viewers (such as myself). sure it's a derivative film - it borrows or references films/serials/comics like crazy, but it does it the same way indiana jones or pulp fiction did - with love and reverence instead of cultural piracy for profit. i don't think that law and paltrow had great chemistry, but the writing did a good job of creating a chemistry between them. there was a good sense of humor between them, a checkered past that was touched upon, but not played out too much, and they never had to kiss each other which is the big test for on screen chemistry. the film's pacing is also well done. it's not overly methodical, but action sequences are spaced pretty evenly and are well-executed. it gives you only enough time to think about the mystery driving the film in short intervals before another action sequence, a change in plot direction, or a character development occurs. as a result the film moves along well and stays interesting throughout. B.

It's Impossible To Learn To Plow By Reading Books - this film begs the question: which came first, the idea for the film or the trip? it's basically just richard linklater traveling around the country and being filmed. it's a film, not a documentary, but as a film it doesn't do much. it's shot in super 8 which means you're not getting any great american vistas and the camera never moves so chances are linklater acted as the cameraman, lead actor, director and editor. not an interesting film. his next film, slacker, is so different from this it's almost hard to imagine they're made by the same person. this one has almost no dialogue and the camera doesn't move at all. in slacker the camera moves from character to character creating a chain. also, slacker is built around dialogue and exploration of philosophy. pretty much a waste of time. D++.
Lower Depths - not as good as the kurosawa rendition of the same play. this one isn't as dark, isn't as interesting, the acting isn't as fresh, the visual style isn't as compelling...i'll have forgotten it by tomorrow. renoir is officially overrated. C.

Attack - pretty good war film from robert aldrich. eddie albert didn't do the greatest job with his character. he played a sniveling rich, cowardly captain who gets it in the end. i don't have anything stunning to say about this film. i recognize that this is a good film and it created some fine moments and some good characters, but so far i'd have to say that i'm underwhelmed by alrich's work. B--.
Japanese Story - if not for the heavy, 40 minute longeur on which this film ends, it would have been pretty good. the first half of the film establishes the relationship between collette and the japanese man she is escorting around australia. at first they annoy each other, then they end up fucking; and it happens about that abruptly. that said, it wasn't this that derailed the picture. eventually collette discovers that her companion is married, but that doesn't affect their affair...they go on having a happy time until he dives into shallow water and dies. the film has a few things going for it: 1) toni collette isn't all that great looking, but she's a good actress and the chemistry with her and Gotaro Tsunashima is pretty good 2) it's not "lost in translation." there are some cute, charming moments between the two and that's when the film is at its best - when it's just them bonding and interacting. like i said before, the downside of the film is the last 40 minutes during which basically nothing happens and the director tries to cash a check that's bigger than the amount she's earned in the first half of the film. that is, the first half of the film established a decent degree of humanity and potential sympathy, but the second half of the film tried tapping into that too much. and really, in a film like this, poignancy isn't about the length of the grieving, it's more about the effectiveness thereof. in the last two minutes of the film we get a clear example of this - collette's character reads a letter Tsunashima's character had written her with the intention of her reading it after he was on a plane back to japan. he speaks the letter in the form of a voice-over and what results is the poignancy and pathos brooks was after for the last 40 minutes. i understand that she may have been after some reality in the post-death portion of the film. firstly the death was quick, as most deaths are. secondly, there is a lot of post-death minutiae to be sorted out (incident reports, assembling his personal affects, cleaning his suit, shipping his body, etc.), but all this really should have been edited down a bit. incidentally, the last half of the film reminded me a lot of love liza which was mostly just philip seymore hoffman bawling and sniffing gas, but in that film there was a lot of comic relief to break the film up. it, too, ended with a powerful letter from beyond the grave. looking back on the film it's better than i originally gave it credit for...B--. p.s. just read some comments on that indicate the original version was longer, apparently some scenes were cut, but i stand by my review - not enough was cut! also, why "japanese story"? it's more about her than about him and it takes place in australia...
Horns And Halos - a fairly interesting documentary that follows the writer and publisher of "fortunate son," a biography on g.w. bush. it's the book credited with outing the cocaine story and compiling a good number other allegations against bush - from the s.e.c. stuff covered in fahrenheit 9/11 to his drunk driving issues. seems to do a decent job of showing both the horns and halos of the two main subjects of the film, which is nice. B-.

Butterfly Effect - looking at the filmography for the two writer/directors of this film gave me a warm feeling inside because, for once, the world makes sense. both had previously worked on "final destination 2" which also had a decent enough idea, but was executed very poorly. the butterfly effect, literally from the first frames, is an unintelligent film. ashton kutcher isn't an actor of any real merit, though he did play a somewhat slow witted amputee fairly well. amy smart did the best acting job of the bunch - going from crack whore (literally) to sorority girl without missing a beat. i wouldn't call her a great actress, but she's got some chops. oddly enough the film did have a certain degree of potential (most films do). the idea is good enough to carry a film that is average in every other way, unfortunately the film was below average in most categories. the directors, though having almost no artistic ability or sense of ebb and flow, did manage to compose a few rather nice shots. one shot was over kutcher's shoulder, looking down into an open grave - they employed a long lens to accentuate the distance between the grave and kutcher. another example came after kutcher had one of his blackouts and the camera was tilted 90° to create a disorienting effect. these moments were brief and few, but they were there. it led me to believe that these guys are capable of making a better than bad film so long as someone else wrote the screenplay. as it stands, though, this film was not better than bad. also, i'm commenting on the director's cut of this film which has a few extra minutes of footage and a different ending. after it was over i watched the theatrical version's ending and that one was even worse. D.
Big Deal On Madonna Street - basically a marx brothers rendition of "rififi" done by italians. it's good, it's funny, watch it. B.

Deadline - watched two films (documentaries) directed by women tonight; that's unusual. kirsten johnson, one of two directors for this film, was also a cinematographer on fahrenheit 9/11 and derrida, so she's a talent to watch. this documentary is similar to thin blue line or brother's keeper, but takes a more systemic, macro view of the issue. it focuses on the governor of illinois' struggle with whether or not to commute all death penalty sentences. the film saves that decision for the end and builds the argument against the death penalty using a two-pronged attack - it highlights both the ethical and systemic problems. the film convincingly demonstrates the fact that the death penalty is largely applied to the poor and people of color, and shows dozens of cases which were overturned - some only because college classes took up cases as class projects. there is a token effort made to show the opinions of the other side. captures some emotional footage including one hearing in which the parents of a murderer and his victim are in the same room. the victim's father makes his plea to the court for the death penalty and turns to the mother of the murderer and says "i'm sorry, but i can't forgive your son for what he did. i just want him to die." she says she understands and feels horrible, but still doesn't think it's right to kill her son in retaliation. the hero of the film is governor ryan who, despite having orgins as a small town republican, honestly weighed the facts and made an informed and gutsy decision. thumbs up to him and this film. B+.
Jaundiced Eye - from the director of the recent documentary "unconstitutional: the war on our civil liberties." this film follows in the investigative tradition of "thin blue line" and is among films like "stevie" and "capturing the friedmans" which look specifically at alleged molestation cases. it presents a less balanced look at the case than capturing the friedmans, but then again that film presented balance more as a storytelling device than in the spirit of fairness. as is true with deadline, this film captures some truly poignant moments and generally lets them be. in the case of this film we see the father, who is accused to molesting his young son, watching video of his son, many years after the alleged incident, talking about how he hates his father because of what he believes the father did. it's a pretty tough part of the film. watch the "follow-up" segment of the dvd to see the semi-happy ending, you'll be glad you did. there are a couple artistic decisions that detracted from the film, and it's less important than a film like deadline so it gets a B.

Begotten - one of the most insane films i've ever seen. it's from the director of suspect zero and shadow of the vampire, neither of which really did it for me. this film, though, at the very least, had me thoroughly interested. the film has no dialogue and, according to, is shot on black and white reversal and then shot again onto black and white negatives. the end result is a very bleached and stark looking picture. the contrast between the white and black is very pronounced and there is a lot of visible grain in the picture as well. the look is a cross between a snuff film and the film within the film "ring;" and the subject matter is equally dark. apparently the "story" is about god killing himself, giving rise to mother earth, who impregnates herself with the dead god's semen, and she then gives birth to "son of earth." afterwards we see a group of trolls (which kind of reminded me of the creatures in star wars) torture the mother and son. it's not very easy to follow, in part because there is no narrative (no dialogue, no intertitles, etc.) and the picture is so muddled that sometimes you don't even know what you're seeing. it's a haunting film and one that probably takes a couple viewings to understand in any real way. the inclination might be to write it off as an artsy-fartsy load of junk, but there's both real art and real technique in the film. it's sort of the visual equivalent of a grindcore album, and as such it takes a certain degree of patience to see through the grittiness. i'll be the first to admit that it's not a very fun film to watch, but it's the kind of film i'll probably be thinking about for a while. B. p.s. i have no idea why i put this in my netflix queue, but i'm glad i did.

Rome, Open City - one of the earliest neo-realist films, rome, open city follows roman city dwellers during the nazi occupation in the waning years of world war II. historically it's an important film because, along with bicycle thief, it defined a genre. it also paved the way for a slightly superior film - battle of algiers 1966. use of non-professional actors, in actual settings, with a news reel type filming style all add to the authentic look of the picture. this film seemed to gain effectiveness as it progressed, as the characters became more known and as the story built to a climax. that's a refreshing contrast to many pictures that feature vapid characters with little depth, predicable or uninteresting stories, and wear thin with time. assured and solid filmmaking. B.
Driller Killer - abel ferrara had a couple decent pictures in the 90s, but this late 70s horror film doesn't offer much. it's about a starving artist who lives with this girlfriend and some other chick. the artist ends up going off the deep end and killing people. progressively his victims get closer and closer to him - he starts with bums and the like and eventually kills his girlfriend and art dealer. of course he dispatches each person using a drill so the phallic connection is tough not to make. i don't know how much it fits though. certainly there is an element of powerlessness that the character experiences since he is strapped for cash, his girlfriend pays his way, his art fails to sell like he anticipated, and his neighbors are members of a punk band that rehearse at all times of the day/night. it's a sorta interesting film, but doesn't do anything spectacular so really should only be seen by ferrara completists. C.
Hero - i don't know if it's going to be eligible or not, but if it is then this film should win an academy award for cinematography. when wizard of oz came out in 1939 color had been around in some form or another for more than 20 years, but still wasn't very popular. at the time the wizard of oz was probably the best use of color in a good film. i think that hero is almost as impactful today as wizard of oz must have been then. certainly there have been great uses of color in the last 65 years (ran, fahrenheit 451, adventures of robin hood, black orpheus, songs from the second floor, etc.), but this is a film that will not only be most remembered for its use of color, but will also (hopefully) expand the use of color into the future.
the story follows jet li, who plays an assassin, as he infiltrates the emperor's palace claiming to have slain the emperor's greatest enemies. at the beginning of the film captions tell us that every country has men who are willing to die for a cause (religion, country, money, etc.) and that these men are often called heroes, and that these men exist on either side of whatever conflict is at issue. immediately we get the sense that the film is aware of the relative nature of heroism, good, evil and truth. once li is inside the emperor's palace the story unfolds in unconventional time; at first li tells the emperor of his exploits over the emperor's enemies, later the emperor (having figured out that li is an assassin, not an ally as li claims to be) tells his own version of the events, as he imagines them. then li tells the story again, this time telling the true story since the emperor has already figured out li's plan. in each rashomon-esque telling of the truth the characters within the story are adorned in different colored garments; and in each case the color is befitting of the situation. in the first telling li portrays two of his enemies, who are lovers, as extremely emotional characters who are ultimately defeated because li is able to play their own emotions against them. during this telling of the story the characters are wearing red, which is a perfect match for the emotional nature of the sequence. the emperor counters with his version of the story, in which he portrays his enemies as less emotional, and more thoughtful warriors who live in the country. in this version of the story the characters wear blue and green - earthy, calm colors more befitting of the monkish lifestyle they lead in this version. the final version, the one li tells after the emperor has revealed he knows li is there to kill him, is the 'true' story and as such, the characters wear all white.
this is a film that benefited greatly from computer enhancement - from colors changing in the middle of a shot, to the wire stunts, to the hail of arrows -  the film wouldn't have been quite as impactful if not for the ability of the filmmakers to digitally enhance the picture.
other than the look, the film is pretty good. the acting and story are both good and the story, especially, adds philosophical layers to the film that make it more thoughtful and timeless than most action films. in a lot of ways this is the film crouching tiger, hidden dragon was purported to be.
unfortunately it's a film that revels in its excesses, and that becomes the film's ultimate undoing. there are many moments of brilliance, but the beginning takes a bit to get going and the excessively slow ending drags the film just after it had built to a great crescendo. that's one of the hardest things about film - unlike photography or literature, it's a medium of absolute pacing: each minute of the film is always one minute long, and with that constraint comes the artistic challenge of pacing. B+.
Big One - probably my favorite michael moore film (it's between this and roger & me). there are a lot of reasons why i like this one more than his others, some of them are lame and some aren't. the lamest one is because this remains his least popular film and i like liking something that's relatively unknown. it's also his only film in which both chris smith (camera) and sarah price (sound) were involved, and i like them because of american movie. i also like it more than bfc and f 9/11 because this one is an unadulterated documentary. ultimately, though, this is my favorite moore film because it's the most fun to watch. it's his funniest, his most laid back, and it still packs the patented moore punch. at the end moore is talking with phil knight and trying to get him to come to singapore to see the young factory workers, but knight rejects his offer. later moore suggests a foot race - if knight wins moore will wear nikes wherever he goes - if moore wins then knight will build a shoe factory in flint; again knight declines the offer. moore goes on like this, pleading with knight for some change in his bottomline thinking, but knight doesn't budge. it's a microcosm of moore's entire public life, and it's exactly what is so heart wrenching about watching moore's work. we know he's the good guy, putting up the good fight, but it hardly ever seems to do any good. since roger & me (1989), for example, we've gotten another bush in the white house, thousands more flint residents have lost their jobs and the city is in worse shape than ever, the exportation of jobs nationally has increased, the rich are still getting richer and the working class are still footing the bill. a truly great documentary. A+.

Shaun Of The Dead- it's a farce in somewhat the same tradition as scary movie or naked gun; though more subtle and reserved. whereas scary movie and naked gun go completely over-the-top with their parodies of horror and detective films, shaun of the dead hams up some of the zombie movie conventions without going over-the-top. there are several nods to specific films in the genre as well. in one scene the two main characters are on the phone with "barbara," who they tell to sit tight while they come over to save her. one of the characters yells into the phone "we're coming to get you barbara!" this is a reference to the first, great zombie flick "night of the living dead" in which one character is teasing barbra while in a cemetery - "they're coming to get you bar-bra, they're coming to get you..."
the first quarter of the film sets the baseline. we see shaun waking up, going to the corner market, interacting with roommates and coworkers. it essentially poses the question: who are the zombies? this question is partially answered as the transition to zombie nation is made. just about everyone around shaun starts turning into a zombie and he doesn't even realize it. he's so rapt in thoughts of his own interior world that the exterior world is merely a place in which he wanders, rather than being an integral part of his daily interactions. that is, his own life is so monotonous and regimented, and he is so thoroughly ensconced in his own world that everything outside of him goes unnoticed. the question is answered fully during the film's denouement which is mostly a series of clips from news programs that recap the zombie episode and its aftermath. we also see that shaun's best friend (think brad pitt in true romance), who was earlier turned to a zombie, remains an avid video game player despite his zombie state; in other words, despite being a zombie, little has changed. of course all this is done in a funny way, versus the cutting social commentary of the original dawn of the dead.
one thing that put me off a bit was the insertion of a couple heavy scenes in the film. there were a couple death scenes which i couldn't reconcile within the context of the rest of the film. usually farce films like this ham up the forced romance we see in these sorts of films, but shaun of the dead actually tried to play the romance and death storylines fairly straight. there were laughs before and after these islands of seriousness, but the laughs were generally outside of final goodbye or the "we should be boyfriend and girlfriend again because i really love you" scenes. the filmmakers either fell prey to the convention, felt they could get away with some touching moments, or i didn't pick up on the humor in these scenes. it's not that i'm opposed to serious moments in a comedy, but it felt misplaced in this film primarily because it's a film of farce and parody of the zombie genre. that minor quibble aside, the film was consistently funny and made with enough panache to keep it interesting throughout. oh, the two lead actors did a really good job and their apartment walls were filled with great music posters (funki porcini, amon tobin, saul williams, company flow, etc.) B.

Hunting Of The President - through most of this film the case of a right wing conspiracy against clinton is made more through pastiche instead of through clear, logical building blocks. in that first hour we are introduced to a great number of witnesses for the prosecution, insiders, defense attorneys, etc. each of them contributes, in some way, to the grand narrative of the film - there was a vast conspiracy to take power from clinton while he was president. the film presents this by showing, chronologically, the events leading up to whitewater and monicagate. unfortunately a lot of the evidence is patched together rather loosely so we get an idea of what the picture looks like, but it's hard to really have a clear understanding of anything beyond the broad brushstrokes. the last twenty to thirty minutes of the film does a better job of demonstrating whitewater/monicagate as right wing witch-huntery, rather than the "pursuit of truth" that ken starr claimed it to be. both the production and the score were pretty b-grade and that was unfortunate. i don't think the film is going to change any minds and it's not incredibly informative either. overall it's nice enough to watch, but not one of the better documentaries of the year. C.

Super Size Me - visually there were some interesting aspects. i felt that "fast food nation" did a much better job of crystallizing the argument against fast food establishments. it was more honest, more factually strong and more compelling than this documentary. that said, this film did a good enough job to get the argument out there. i don't have the energy to write more. B.

here's the first line of a review on "Morgan Spurlock undoubtedly aspires to follow in the path of Errol Morris, Roger Moore, Joel Sucher and other leading documentarians." i love it when people call michael moore "roger moore."

Go To Hell - surprisingly there are some mildly funny moments in this 90s b-film. it's about a national inquirer type reporter who ends up going to hell and fighting the devil. there's something in there about a catholic plot as well; it wasn't very clear on a lot of the specifics. i'm sure none of you will watch this movie and you're probably better off sticking with that decision, however if you do watch it you won't be bored to tears, and you will laugh a few times. C-.

Bride Of Killer Nerd - pretty awful sequel of a pretty awful film. it's about a pair of nerds who seek revenge against those who mock them. it's not a painfully bad film, but there's certainly room for improvement. the production is about as amateurish as i've ever seen - there are clicks after every cut, as if the adr editing was done on a cassette recorder, the acting is poor, etc. the direction actually isn't completely awful - there are some interesting shots that mix up the feel a bit, so it does have a few things going for it. there are occasional moments of humor. D.
Rawhide Terror - all that made sense were the ends of this film. it actually has a semi-decent idea, it's just very poorly executed. really, though, you can't expect much since it started out as a serial and was cut short at some point. not very good. D.

Naked Kiss - like femme fatale, if this film was made in a vacuum it wouldn't be nearly as interesting. that is, so much of what made this film interesting for me was comparing it to the films to which is similar, but ultimately unlike. femme fatale is a film noir that twists the entire noir logic and philosophy on its head, somewhat similar to eastwood's unforgiven. naked kiss is similar to pulp and noir films, but draws a different conclusion than those films. it's the story of a woman who is a prostitute and finds herself in a small town where she decides to abandon her old lifestyle. unfortunately her flight to suburbia takes her no further from the dirty and sordid lifestyle she was trying to escape. like sirk before him, fuller paints a picture of twisted underbelly found just under the surface. i found fuller's methods of illuminating the depravity slightly less subtle and artistic than sirk's, but they were just as effective. naked kiss is different from sirk's films primarily because the style of naked kiss was much more towards that of a pulp film, as opposed to a melodrama. it has a grittier look, starts off much harsher and uses black and white photography instead of the lush color used in something like 'all that heaven allows.' this film gets as dark and depraved as anything i've seen sirk do, though the pitch was less gradual. the lead actress had a good performance, the best of the film, but it wasn't great. holding the film back were a few corny aspects which seemed to stem from fuller's optimism in spite of the depravity of the world. unlike kurosawa in rashomon, however, fuller was unable to vent his optimism in as a realistic, naturalistic or inspiring way. it's unfortunate, too, because there certainly were makings of a better picture here, he was just unable to pull it off as well as i would have liked. B. p.s. great use of music within the film. edit 9-22/06: spillane's writing style probably had more to do with the harsher style than fuller's direction.

Pather Panchali - though it predates it, this film reminds me most of "tree of wooden clogs," both in the way it's filmed and its subject matter. i liked both films, but tree of wooden clogs was a more moving and arresting film than pather panchali and i have no way of explaining it. both were foreign films taking place in small farm-based villages, both were organic verite-ish films, and both were good, but i just liked tree of wooden clogs more. i know that the apu trilogy (this is the first installment thereof) is a masterpiece of indian cinema, but i can't honestly say that i see that much to get excited about here. like tree of wooden clogs there is a definite emphasis on nothing in particular, in other words an emphasis on everything that is life. apu eating a mango and durga's death are given equal weight...not in the sense that they are seen as equal events, but neither is stated with more emphasis through the filming style. ultimately this is both the best and worst of films like this - if you're not into it, or if you have a short attention span then you're likely to be frustrated and not see the point; but if you're like me and you don't mind watching ordinary life unfold in a naturalistic film style then you're apt to dig this one. ray certainly has a gift for telling the story of characters through film, and it's a gift that can't really be learned. his cut-aways and edits are natural and smooth, but olmi's tree of wooden clogs does it even better. B.
Onibaba - japanese film that could have been made by kurosawa. stylistically it reminded me of kurosawa's work, and the man in the picture reminded me a lot of mifune...though mifune would have been even better. i don't really know where to start with this one. i'm glad i saw it. it's a very sexual film, especially considering it's a 60s japanese film. the first ten minutes or so are completely without dialogue. like kurosawa there is a natural ebb and flow, especially to the first half of the film. long scenes without dialogue are followed by shorter scenes with lots of dialogue. it keeps things moving well. the second half of the film was a trip. it's part morality tale, part allegory, part horror film and all good. i definitely have to see it again before i make a final judgment, but it's the kind of film that i wouldn't mind seeing again so that's not a problem. B.
Mean Creek - reminded me most of larry clark's "bully," but this was better. clark did a great job with "kids" but bully felt so unnatural and the acting was uniformly bad. mean creek had only a couple moments of bad acting, though those couple moments were critical - it's amazing what one or two bad shots can do. this kind of film has been done before so it's really just a question of how well this one did it. i thought it did a really good job up to a point and then it started to drag its feet a bit. there were certain elements here for a really good film, but it could have used a rewrite and a couple extra days of reshooting. B-.

Alphaville- a cross between brazil, 2001 and 40s american cinema. sadly it's not as good as any of those. sure, it's ambitious, visually interesting, and unique, but that doesn't make for a good film. now i'm not going to sit here and claim i understood half of what the film was about, on the contrary - i was at least partially lost for the entire film. as i said, there were some interesting elements to the film and i wasn't completely uninterested by the picture. furthermore, i know that this is a good film, worthy of some study and someone else's interest, but not mine. ultimately, more than anything, i think it comes down to a couple things: i'm not a fan of godard or the french aesthetic. sorry. C.
All About Eve - a fine film all-around. just a solid film, i don't have much to say about it. baxter and davis were both good. the direction could have been better, but certainly could have been worse. the ending may have been the best part of the film. B-.
Nightmare On Elm Street - not as good as friday the 13th, but in the same ballpark. the major defect of this film is that it was made right in the middle of the 80s which means it's got a certain amount of cheesy dialogue, bad acting, bad wardrobe, and poor soundtrack choices...all of which distract me from my ability to be scared. that aside, though, the film is pretty good. i felt that friday the 13th earned its scares a bit more because the direction was so good, and more subtle. nightmare on elm street relied a bit more on sharp editing and a certain degree of gore to achieve its effect, but both had their moments.
nightmare on elm street was more successful at weaving in social commentary that was friday the 13th. both had the cautionary tale element, but nightmare took its commentary further. its most general theme is a warning against escapism. more specifically this relates to the mother who escapes through the bottle, or the parents who divorce (escaping their failure), or the teens who escape through sex (wyss' character) or television/music (depp's character). of course this is all manifested in the form of killer dreams - face your demons or else. it's a commentary on our society that this battle must be waged in the deepest, most mysterious caverns of our mind. we have suppressed our problems and now there's no escaping them. the end is another mindfuck which i couldn't really make sense of. the protagonist realizes that she has the power to rid herself of the demons through a single thought, but the end suggests that nothing can ever return to normal. there is a fog and everything appears okay, but, in the end, freddy drives the kids off into the horizon and the mother is killed. perhaps craven feels that it's too late, even for the courageous among us. B.

Friday The 13th - i think part of the big success of this film is that it combines genres so well. it's part mystery, part cautionary tale, part college-aged sex flick, and, of course, part horror film. it's also a well-paced film. the first scene sets the stage for the rest of the film and grabs the viewer right away. i think there are two approaches to great horror - one is to establish some degree of normalcy and then smash it with the horror, and the other is to just come out swinging; this film falls into the latter category. i think horror is more successful when it gets you into a comfort zone, and then jolts you out of it. the dawn of the dead remake did this very well, whereas the original dawn of the dead started off in a state of chaos...though, to be fair, dawn of the dead is sorta meant to be a sequel to night of the living dead which did establish some normalcy before descending into the nightmare it became. a film can be successful regardless of how it approaches this issue, but in this instance the choice cunningham made was appropriate for the film and, really, that's what matters most.
texas chainsaw massacre is the first film like this that i can think of...20-something kids out in the middle of nowhere being picked off one by one. this theme got pretty big in the 80s for some reason, maybe because of a perceived immorality of the times or something. ultimately a lot of these films are cautionary tales - and friday the 13th makes this perfectly clear. the first victims are taken out during a make-out session and all the subsequent victims (except the groundskeeper) are libidinous college-aged kids.
from a filmmaking standpoint the film isn't amazing, but it's certainly worthy of some praise. the opening sequence is well-done. the music is great and original for the time, the freeze-frame technique didn't come off as cheesy at all; on the contrary, it was rather horrifying. cunningham established a subjective point-of-view for the killer in this first sequence and squeezed dividends from this technique throughout the film. there were times in the film where the cunningham would use a handheld camera to indicate a reversion to this subjective point-of-view shot and would creep up on a potential victim. but as the camera was walking towards the would-be victim, that victim would then turn towards the camera thus indicating that, in this instance, the handheld camera did not indicate the killer's point of view. it's the visual equivalent of raising, and tightening the music track as if an attack were imminent, only to subsequently lower, and loosen, the music; it gets the viewer on edge without racking up the body count.
similarly, cunningham would use misdirection within the mise-en-scene. in one sequence kevin bacon (yay) was getting it on with his girlfriend in a bunk bed. they were on the bottom bunk and the camera shows them having sex and slowly raises towards the top bunk to reveal a dead body laying right above them. shortly after the two lovers are done, she leaves the cabin to go to the bathroom and bacon is laying on his back looking at the bottom of the top bunk. at this point the camera is looking down on him. a drop of blood drips on his face and he wipes it off with his hand and looks at his fingers with bewilderment. quickly a hand reaches out from under the bunk and grabs his head. there is a cut to his profile and we see a knife come up through his neck and blood spurts all over the place. it might be the best scene in the film because everyone expects the action to come from above the bunk (where the dead body is), but it comes from under him and it scares the shit out you.
of course, as is true with most horror films, you have to suspend your disbelief a bit in this film. how did the killer get under the bunk? how did an old lady dispatch all these young kids so easily? how did an old lady throw one of the victims through a window? etc. so if you can suspend your disbelief a bit and are willing to be scared then this will do the trick. the ending is a bit of a mindfuck and i like it that way. B+.

Zorba The Greek - at first the film feels a little long, but about half way through it seems to find its legs and doesn't look back. i'd put anthony quinn in la strada and this film up against any two marlon brando performances. brando is so overrated. at any rate, the film's major strength is quinn's performance and all that stems from it - the themes of the film are stronger, the relationships between him and the woman and him and the man are stronger; everything is made stronger because of quinn's ability to inhabit and create such a great and fresh character. B.

Slacker - richard linklater's first feature length film is more a medley of vignettes than it is a proper film. it starts at dawn with the camera inside a bus with richard linklater as the sole subject. linklater gets off the bus, gets into a taxi and begins talking to (not with) the taxi driver about his dreams and the potential philosophy of dreams as alternate universes. after linklater gets out of the cab the camera continues to follow him until a we see a woman hit by a car by a young man in a car who turns out to be her son. shortly after this the camera follows the young man and the film continues in this manner; following people who are in some way linked to the person we were just following. i think that this structure serves several purposes, some practical and some artistic. first, it's an easy and inexpensive way to make a film. since so much of the film is following people while they're walking from one place to another, or, as it turns out, from one person to another, the film is shot almost entirely on the streets of austin, texas. as a result there is very little artificial lighting, probably zero constructed sets and only a couple crew members at any given time. artistically the film's structure helps reinforce one of the major themes - our interconnectedness. another major philosophical theme of the film is destruction as its own form of creation. not only is this addressed by different characters throughout the film, but the film itself is initiated by the death of the woman at the very beginning of the film.
if you want to get a better idea of what this film is really like then just think of "waking life" and "dazed and confused" mixed together. it's heavy on philosophy and features a lot of (mostly eccentric) young people feeling their way through life. whereas the tone of waking life is mostly somber and very pensive, this film, though also pensive, is more laid back and funny. some of the performances are stilted and i even caught a glimpse of a boom mic at one point, but overall it's a very well-written film with a good overall idea. linklater is, above all, a good writer and this film shows that as well as any of his others. also, i noticed that background elements of the film (street signs, background conversations, etc.) are carried through from one link to another which, along with the major topics of discussion, provides some continuity throughout the picture. worth watching. B.
Giants And Toys - japanese new wave film that had a certain degree of potential, but just didn't seem to do much with it. it's about three candy companies that are scheming up new marketing ideas in order to increase sales. ultimately it's more about japanese society being too driven by corporations and careers. unfortunately the ending seemed to belie this point. also, i felt it could have been more visually stimulating. there's one effect of double exposing a lighter over shots of factory work that was used, but other than that the film wasn't very visually exciting. it felt to me that the director was holding something back. C.

King Of Comedy - the film this movie most resembles is another deniro/scorsese collaboration - taxi driver. though completely different in tone, this picture features a somewhat mentally unbalanced deniro pursuing the object of his affection. in this movie it's not the striking cybill shepherd, instead it's jerry lewis who plays a huge comedian who hosts his own late night talk show. deniro is an upstart comedian eager to break into the business via jerry's show. sandra bernhard plays deniro's even more psychotic partner who has a strong physical attraction to lewis' character. at first the tone is hard to capture. it has fragments of comedy and drama - i wasn't entirely sure whether deniro's character was the scary kind of crazy or the funny kind. i don't know whether scorsese did this intentionally, or whether it is just a product of my being predisposed to thinking of deniro as a tough guy, or some other factor. after an hour or so the film seems to find itself and there is little doubt what the tone of the film is. unfortunately it's never hilarious or very inspired. i think that seeing taxi driver, casino and goodfellas before watching any other scorsese films was a mistake. everything beyond those three films has been a disappointment to some degree. C+.

Kung Pow: Enter The Fist - they took a jimmy wang yu film, digitally placed themselves into it and then made fun of it. other than that it was a semi-funny movie. there were some good laughs, but most of it was too over-the-top, and not funny enough, for me. C.
Fahrenheit 451 - visually it's pretty good film. and, of course, the story is a classic. but i found it to be too detached, especially considering the subject matter. i don't remember the book very well, but it seems to me that the protagonist would have been a more empathetic character. in the film, though, there doesn't seem to be enough humanity from the two main sympathetic characters. frank darabont (shawshank redemption) is set to direct the 2005 film version of the book and i expect it will be better than this one. despite the great color scheme and some decent acting, i can't give this one a great grade because it did only a little with a lot. C+.

Red Rock West- john dahl (joy ride, rounders) directs this modern noir sleeper set in wyoming. nick cage plays the hard-on-his-luck everyman from texas looking for work. he wanders into a bar completely broke where the bartender (j.t. walsh) mistakes him for another man from texas who he had been expecting. it turns out that the man from texas for whom the bartender has been waiting was supposed to do some work for the bartender. thinking things have finally turned his way, cage snatches the opportunity for work and assumes the identity of the man from texas, but it turns out that the job was a lot more than he had bargained for.
this is probably the best film of dahl's that i've seen so far. it's smartly written and well directed. the soundtrack was less than great, but it was all country (because of the setting) so that's understandable; it functioned well within the film so that's really what matters. i've sort of come to the conclusion that noir has to be filmed in black and white to be a true noir. there are some films that do a good job of replicating the noir feel, or aesthetic without being filmed in black and white, but i'm going to be old-fashioned and say it's gotta be in black and white to be a real noir. that said, this film, outside of the cinematography, does a good job of staying noir. it has the femme fatale, the twists and turns, and the everyman caught in a downward spiral of bad luck. the main thing is that it's just a good yarn and nicholas cage is good enough to carry the weight in any place that the film sags. B.

Prince And Me - amazingly enough the first thing that struck me about this film is the fact that it's made by a capable director. at the beginning of the film we are introduced to julia stiles' character and the prince who she will eventually fall in love with. they're both driving down completely different roads, in completely different countries, but the way it's edited suggests a connection between the two scenes. this is not only true because of the cross cutting, but also because of the fact that you have stiles driving left to right and the prince driving right to left. it's a small thing, but something that an amateur might not think to do. also, in films like this the tendency is to stay away from shots that are above or below eye-level...except at the end when romances tend to (over)use crane shots. however, there is a scene in the prince's mansion where he walks into a huge room where his parents are waiting for him. the director uses a low angle shot so we get an idea of the size of the room - we see the huge ceiling and all the artwork and detailing on the walls.
unfortunately the screenplay was your usual girl-can't-stand-guy-but-learns-to-love-him-and-they-both-change-for-the-better schlock. fortunately there were some moments of comic relief and stiles is a talented enough actress to sell her role to a fair extent. the soundtrack wasn't as bad as it could have been considering the demographic the film was appealing to. i thought that the ending was a bit long, it felt like it was supposed to end before it did. although i suppose you could say that's a good thing because it didn't end with them marrying and living happily ever after. julia stiles hasn't done a clunker yet. C.

Festival In Cannes - a movie about the movie business. it's not as good as the player, but so long as this film focuses on the satire it stays pretty good. the problem is that it occasionally tries to develop a romance here and there; three in fact. some of the direction was a bit tedious. overall it's a so-so film because it tries to be more than it's really capable of, however the good outweighs the bad so.... C+.

Stepford Wives (1975) - this and the original rollerball were both released in 1975, and both had extremely bad remakes. this film isn't as good as the original rollerball, but like that film it's an interesting and entertaining film steeped in social commentary. stepford wives is about conformity, gender issues, technology, etc. it's remake is hardly about any of those things. the 2004 version, in fact, is supposed to be a comedy, but turned out to be more frightening than funny. frightening because it's scary just how far off the remake is in terms of the original's intent. again the same is true for both versions of rollerball - the original is a brilliant social commentary and the 2002 version is an action film that almost becomes the very thing that the original was condemning. you could call it irony, but i'd call it violence...the remakes of both these films do violence to the originals. it's like toby keith doing a cover of "the times are a changin'." katharine ross is great as an aspiring photographer/wife/mother. one of the many things that this film did that the remake did not, is create a smooth story arc. this version shows the oddities of the town and its citizens in small increments, so as to slowly crank up the fear and suspense. whereas the remake introduced the suspense in jolts, it's as if the original rolls down a steady decline, and the remake rolls down a set of stairs. not only was the original more subtle in its ratcheting up the suspense, but its suspense was more effective because it was played as a straight suspense/thriller instead of trying to be all things to all people (suspense, comedy, drama, romance). despite having a solid cast the remake wasn't very well-acted. again, that's because it tried to be too many things at once and didn't really succeed at any of them. i blame this on the direction and the writing more than i do on the cast. the original had mostly second tier actors, but was well-acted nonetheless. in addition to ross, paula prentiss and peter masterson have good performances. the score had some 70s rust on it, but once you get by the style of the time it was pretty effective. there were subtleties in the score throughout the film that added to the anticipation and sense of foreboding. within the first reel, for example, there is a piano piece that sounded pretty dated to my ears, but near its conclusion there are couple deep notes played that are subtle enough to go unnoticed, but subconsciously offer a foreboding tone to the stepford setting. overall a good film that could be remade like "invasion of the body snatchers" every generation to sort of update the themes and place the fear within a new context (for "body snatchers" it was 50s - communism, 70s - new age spirituality, 90s - break down of the family unit). unfortunately this film's remake was awful, took almost nothing from the intent of the original and only seemed to indicate that the new millennium is generation is more concerned with vapid films than real social issues. worth watching. B.
Raising Arizona - the only way this film isn't unique is if you compare it to other coen brothers films. i still have to pick fargo as their masterpiece, but this one is great, without a doubt. the first ten minutes of the film is voice-over setting the scene, and it's all very quickly paced storytelling. during this sequence there are some great shots - either because they look funny, or because they look artistic. nicholas cage looks great in this film. he's so perfect for this role. holly hunter is also great in her role. the coens, like all great directors, are able to consistently get career best performances from their actors. i'm not necessarily saying that cage and hunter had their best performances in this film (though their performances here are at the top of their respective lists), but i do think it's true for many of the secondary actors in their films. the coens are somehow able to capture their (diverse) settings remarkably well. in this film it's arizona, obviously, in the big lebowski it's l.a., in fargo it's north dakota, in ladykillers it's the south, etc. barry sonnenfeld's cinematography in this film almost steals the show. the wide angle lens makes the frame really active and it works to great comic effect. a pleasure. A-.

My Life As A Dog - i think saw this movie once when i was in like fourth grade and i also think i remember liking it. it's one of the few coming-of-age films that is actually effective. it successfully balances the trials and triumphs of growing up - in this film we are never too happy or too sad, but both emotions are felt with a depth that really does affect us. all the actors do a great job, especially the children who really are the most important part of the film. it reminded me of tin drum more than any other film, but isn't very similar in terms of style. my life as a dog plays everything straight, whereas tin drum is sort of a fantasy and the style is reflective of that. from a directorial standpoint the film succeeds because hallstrom knows to keep his hands off. it is sometimes said that "this screenplay is so good that even a good director couldn't screw it up." i think that saying gets to a problem that some directors have - their ego. hallstrom knows how to let the acting and writing develop on their own, and doesn't force the issue. he uses a subtle score that effectively supports the film, without dominating it. the same thing is true for the visual style. it's not entirely naturalistic, but it is enough so to retain the characters as the film's primary focus. there's one scene that i found particularly telling. the protagonist is sitting on the ground resting after boxing with his tomboy friend. both of them are about twelve years old and barely starting to discover themselves. she starts to take off her shirt while her boxing gloves are still on, and has trouble getting the shirt off as a result. it's a great scene because it clearly shows the awkwardness of growing older. a good film by any measure. B+.

Black Angel - film noir starring dan duryea. this one starts out in a sort of odd way because the man who is wrongly convicted isn't the lead, as is the norm with film-noir. the relationship between duryea and vincent is convincing and the end of the film is touching, but less dark than i would have preferred. i would have liked the husband to have been killed and have duryea's confession come too late. the femme fatale in this one was the bottle (listen to gil scott-heron for more on this). B.
Cellular  - it wasn't a total piece of crap. i had to get that out of the way first. oh, and kim bassinger is slammin'. okay, on to the review... outside of the copious amounts of t and a, the beginning of the film was awful. it was just a compilation of film cliches, and it wasn't self-aware and playful, it was just bad. as the film progressed, though, it sort of found some sense of itself. there were moments of comedy and suspense. the unfortunate part of this film is that it could have been pretty decent - it's a pretty good idea, but in order to be really good they would have needed another writer, director and leading man. i saw it for free so the price was right. C. fyi: same director as final destination 2.
What The #$*! Do We Know!? - like michael moore's last two films this movie's reviews are going to consist of 95% content review and, at best, 5% of film review. actually, this film may prompt a little more discussion of style and filmic-based reviewing because it's so unconventional, but i maintain that the vast majority of the reviews of this film will probably discuss the ideas presented in the film more than the way in which they are presented. it starts as a documentary with amateurish production and hints of the kinds of fictionalized recreations of the discussed ideas that you might see on a pbs show talking about a similar topic. the film deals with the essence of being and seeks to, in lay terms, explore the implications of modern quantum physics. it sounds very interesting and if pbs/nova had done it, then it might have been a very rewarding experience, but pbs wouldn't have interviewed a woman channeling someone from beyond. pbs would have also likely filtered out some of the more easily defeated material like the guy who says that if we really tried we could walk on water, or the water experiment conducted by Dr. Mu Shik Jhon (he took bottles of water, wrote different things on them and then took pictures of the water using a special microscope. it turns out that depending upon what was written on the bottle ("chi of love", "i want to kill you" etc.) the water would take on different molecular structures.)
but really it doesn't matter that much. the truth is that you're either going to believe this stuff or not, and all sorts of arguments can be made by either side. go here if you don't believe me. there are some reasonable arguments made by people on both sides. i think that you can liquidate either argument. one side could say that the science in the studies is bad for one reason or another, and the other side could say that these ideas supersede our normal conceptions of science and/or logic - that all logic is is our sad attempt to make sense of that which does not make sense...or one side could say that mavericks of the truth have always been outsiders and the other could just explain away their need to internalize and control the universe by saying it's a reaction to the increasing chaos of post-modernism....and even if the two sides agree on some "truths" (say, that there is one consciousness that we call god), there will always be debate about what this means, where this puts us in the grand scheme, etc. as for me, and my views on what was discussed in the film, i think about 80% of it was theoretical hogwash. a lot of it reminded me of the stuff that michael mercury is talking about when he says he sleeps on books so that he can soak up the knowledge while he's asleep. and even if it was 100% true, it doesn't matter all that much to me. the thing is that, for me, i can't ever convince myself of any Truth because i can pretty much always see the other side. as a result i just sort of plod along on the same path. it's both depressing and reassuring, i suppose.
back to the's got plenty of documentary footage - interviews with people who are normally relegated to late night programs selling special tea that cures cancer, depression, aids and hair loss; or some "personal power" program that will make your life better in six weeks, or your money back. they discuss quantum physics and how the world is a lot different than we imagined it 100 years ago, and how it's probably different than we imagine it today. none of the interviewees are identified until the end when they are revealed to be mostly scholars, mostly from reputable universities. interspersed is the story of a woman, played by marlee matlin, who is a photographer. we see her at home, playing basketball, at work, etc. her activities parallel the documentary footage we are shown. so they'll talk about how there are multiple possible realties and it'll cut to her on the basketball court with several basketballs behind her. this is where the film really lost me as a viewer. it begins with documentary footage and the documentary footage is followed by visual reinforcement in the form of this fictional story. this indicated to me that i was watching a documentary that was going to have an academic tone, but the film strays far from this and it does a major disservice to the ideas that are presented. if i were the filmmakers i would counter this with "well, we were trying to achieve a visual style that complemented the level of shock that the subject matter brings. since it is such a jarring set of ideas that is being discussed, we sought to achieve a similar effect in the format of our film; thus you have the decidedly unconventional and genre-bending film that you see before you. thanks for the eight bucks." again, it's up to the viewer to decide whether they thought the format (along with the title) was playful and inline with the material, or if it was incongruous, off-putting, and unprofessional. i felt the latter for the reasons i already mentioned. and even if i didn't, i didn't think the fictional storyline was entertaining or enlightening enough to be enjoyable at any rate. so if you want my opinion on the film, as a film i give it a D+, and if you want a more objective opinion of the film as a stimulus for conversation then i'll give it a C+. but i really can't give it anything higher than that if not for the simple fact that i found the computer animation and shaman shit too damn cheezy. watch the matrix, donnie darko, or waking life instead. or read a book.
p.s. the music was just so-so, but i recognized the music credit (christopher franke)...turns out he was in tangerine dream which is pretty fitting.
Suicide Club - starts out as a solid horror flick, but apparently didn't have anywhere to go. takes place in japan where high-schoolers are committing suicide by the dozens. it's a cool idea, but the film ends without adequately explaining the rash of suicides. there's certainly a subtext about japanese society and individualism vs. collectivism, and the film is good for that reason, but the ending was too nebulous for me. B-.

Lady From Shanghai - i'd seen this film before and sorta liked it, but didn't remember much about it. actually the last time i watched it came just two days after seeing "a walk in the sun" for the first time. that's odd considering i just watch "a walk in the sun" three days ago for the same reason that i decided to watch this film - refresh my memory. the second time around i liked a walk in the sun more and liked this film less. there's really no way of getting around the fact that welles was a great director throughout his entire career, but i just don't like his style for some reason. citizen kane is great, but touch of evil and this film just don't really do it for me. there are moments where i find myself getting into the film, but they're only moments and there aren't enough of them. welles has a singular visual style, one that's fairly easy to spot if you watch a film of his for a few minutes. lots of extremes - in lighting, angles, etc. he's fond of mirrors, close-ups, radio and more. the courtroom sequence is a little fantastic (as in far-fetched). glenn anders, who plays george grisby, had the most memorable performance of the film. he plays a smarmy, slightly "off" kind of character. his inflection when he says "taaarget praKtice," for example, is classic. i expected him to be a more substantial actor, but he only appeared in ten films between 1925-51. rita hayworth is hot, but not a great actress. C++.
Coffee And Cigarettes - my impression of the film is that jarmusch wasn't really trying very hard. perhaps i'll be proven wrong and this film will one day be shown to have an understated genius about it, but i doubt it. the film is merely a collection of shorts that jarmusch has been putting together since 1986. the first one was the first one shot and the later ones seem to be filmed more recently (judging by the age of bill murray, and inclusion of alfred molina or meg/jack white, for example), but i can't verify that it was presented in the chronological filming order. at any rate, the film revolves around various people discussing various things over coffee (or tea) and cigarettes. more than anything the film made me want to go to a diner and have a coffee with some apple pie a la mode. unlike 'stranger than paradise' or 'down by law' this film had very little lasting effect on me. i had fun while i was watching it - jarmusch always has a quiet humor to his films, producing more chuckles than outright laughs - but it didn't leave me thinking like some of his others have. i like the molina/coogan and rza/gza/murray shorts the most. i don't mean to give the impression that the film is bad or that i don't like jarmusch because both are incorrect, it's just that jarmusch has done better and the film was mostly good fluff. B-.
Suspect Zero - from the director of "shadow of the vampire" comes a sort of cross between minority report and seven, though it's not as good as either. the concept is decent enough, but it's just not a very well done film. there's too much artificial style and not enough time spent on really rounding out the characters or the entire dilemma. the film, above all, could have used a screenplay polisher to give it a good going-over. the very first scare of the film is of a man inside a diner, sitting next to a window while it's raining outside being scared by a couple people outside who are goofing off, one of whom bangs their hand against the glass which frightens the man and the audience. thankfully that was the only cheap scare in the film, but it's not a great way to start out a film. C.
Desk Set - funny enough 50s comedy feature spencer tracy and the better of the two hepburn sisters. my major comment about the film, unfortunately, is the conclusion it came to. first some background...tracy plays an efficiency expert and hepburn plays a reference clerk who is absolutely brilliant with numbers and facts. tracy is hired by the company hepburn works for to see if his new computer will be able to save manpower in the company, specifically the reference department. by the end of the film he has installed computers in the reference department and the payroll department. as a result everyone in the reference dept., including hepburn, is issued a pink slip. it's the most moving portion of the film because it conveys in no uncertain terms the logical progression of humanity's reliance on technology. the brilliant and lovable character that hepburn is, is suddenly without a job because the man upstairs wanted to save some money by using a machine, instead of humans, for his reference dept. but, like "adaptation," i felt that the film collapsed back over the brave ground it had just tread. the pink slips that everyone in the dept. got were just a computer glitch and the computer was just there to "aid" the employees because a merger was in the works and there was bound to be more work for them in the near future. so everything worked itself out just fine. i understand that it's a comedy and shouldn't have to be politically and socially conscious, but it took me there as a viewer and then backstepped so i can't just let is slide. in real life the computer replaced everyone's job in the department and the merger eliminated 40% more of the workforce. fucking rich people piss me off. C+.

This Gun For Hire - one of the things that can make a film noir great is the ability to, at each turn, make the audience think that things are going to turn out okay, and then slam the door in its face. this film is able to do just that. alan ladd doesn't get the lead billing (that honor goes to lake and preston), but make not mistake - he is the star of the film. he plays a loner hitman and we pick up the action just before he's set to do a job. he holds up his end of the bargain, but the man who hired him pays him in marked bills in an attempt to pin a robbery on him. ladd goes on the lam, but runs into the girlfriend (lake) of a cop (preston) who is after him for having passed one of the marked bills. little does ladd, or even preston, know, but lake has been enlisted by the government to do some investigative work on the man who paid ladd for the hit with the marked dough. it's quite a criss-crossed story, but it's all very easy to follow and very fun to watch while it unfolds. lake is sworn to secrecy because of the sensitive nature of her investigation, and she has no idea that the man she meets on the train (ladd) is the same man her boyfriend is pursuing. it's not as dark a noir as detour, but the ending is surprisingly affecting and certainly dark enough to qualify as a noir. the lighting is more subtle than it is in some noir and i made a note of looking into the cinematographer on this film. my hunch was right - john seitz did the cinematography for this and such films as invaders from mars, sunset blvd., double indemnity, sullivan's travels, and big clock. it's a crime that i've never heard of the guy. but i redeemed myself by finally looking into his work after watching this film. with sunset blvd and double indemnity i probably attributed the good lighting and camera work to billy wilder and the same is true for sullivan's travels and preston sturges. at any rate, this is a good film - ladd and lake do a good job, preston is capable; the cinematography is good even though it doesn't knock you over the head with its brilliance; and the story is well-constructed despite being a little far-fetched in places. B+.

Jerk - 2002 was the first year since 1979 that steve martin had not been in a film. with what did he follow up his hiatus?..."bringing down the house," which by all accounts, was a piece of crap. i hope he's able to crank out a couple more decent pictures before his fades away. novocaine was a good little picture. maybe the pink panther film will be good. regarding the jerk - in my book it's an unquestioned masterstroke. steve martin shares the writing credits with two virtual nobodys so i'm guessing it was mostly martin, either on the page, or through improvisation, who came up with the bulk of the comedic material. for example, i know that he adlibbed the part where he and bernadette peters are in bed and he's talking about how they've only been together four weeks, but it feels like nine weeks and three days....script aside, martin's acting is brilliant - he's such a good physical comedian and he pulls off the role so well that i could scarcely imagine the film without his involvement. don't get me wrong...carl reiner is a fine director and i like the four other pictures of his that i've seen, but this is clearly his best of the those that i've seen and i have to attribute the majority of its genius to martin. i can't really imagine people not liking this film, but apparently some don't since it has a 6.8 rating on it's the kind of film that i can watch any time and i'll always laugh. A. sadly the dvd is a 1.33:1 presentation, but the film is was originally filmed at 1.85:1.

A Walk In The Sun - clifford mccarty called this film the "most lyrical of war films" and i tend to agree. the only other war film that i can think of as being this slowly paced and thoughtful is another milestone film (all quiet on the western front) which is longer and more of an anti-war film than this one. it's not that this film was a pro-war film at all, but i certainly didn't get the distinct anti-war sentiments that i got from watching all quiet on the western front. death is treated in an understated manner throughout the film. there are only two battle to really speak of and a few men die with hardly more than a word acknowledging that fact. their deaths are not treated as examples of the horror of war, nor are they treated as martyrs for which the war must be continued, and won. it was an unexpected element coming from milestone. i've seen the film before, but i sort of slept through it the first time and didn't retain much. the majority of the film is spent on the time between battles and mission objectives. we get to know the soldiers in a way that most action/war films don't approach. the dialogue is both naturalistic and philosophical. in some ways it's one of the most realistic war films i've seen. B+.

Producers - i'm not a brooks expert, but i consider this his finest film. it may not be his most ambitious from a directorial standpoint, but the comedy is non-stop and undeniable. zero mostel and gene wilder are both great and probably turn out career performances here. really a must-see comedy. A-. 
Shogun's Samurai- i watched it for toshiro mifune and sonny chiba, unfortunately mifune doesn't have much screen time, but chiba's character makes up for it. the ending was the best part of this film and that's in large part thanks to chiba's performance and the solid writing. it's not that long of a film, but like 'once upon a time in china' it feels like an epic because of the subject matter. in this film, too, the narrative drive is particularly fast for the first 30 minutes and there are so many different storylines and characters that the whole film feels bigger. plotwise it's sort of a cross between macbeth and king lear, and since it's a samurai film it's really a cross between two kurosawa films - throne of blood and ran (even though ran came out two years later). solid samurai flick. B.

Manos: Hands Of Fate - a truly awful film, luckily mst3k did a pretty good job of keeping it somewhat entertaining. it's just bad filmmaking all-around, but what would you expect from a fertilizer salesman? not as bad as gigli, and had less talent involved so i won't give it an F-. F.
Die Hard 2 - harlin does a pretty decent job copying mctiernan's visual style, but doesn't have the same touch. the film is a big step down from the original, but most action films are because the original is such a masterstroke. there's a good amount of comic relief and action sequences coordinated by the great al disarro (predator, die hard, and the a-team). it's pretty much the exact same formula - the janitor helps him (willis) out instead of the limo driver, the bafoon cop who's slowing him down, etc. unfortunately this film didn't have the same caliber of writing, directing, acting or cinematography. the music was pretty much the same which was a bit lazy, but what can you do? they also chose a more topical villain - drug lords - than in the first film. one thing i liked about the first film is that it is a pretty timeless film in that the villains are just out for loot and, in fact, use political rhetoric as a distraction to keep the cops occupied. overall an entertaining flick that would have been fine on its own, but is a highly derivative letdown relative to the original. B.

Open Water - pretty much exactly what an indie film should be. it's basically a "blair witch project" in the ocean, but it's not just a knock off, and even if it were it doesn't much matter because the film is so good. there will probably be some spoilers ahead... the film follows a yuppie couple on their island getaway. we get to know them for a little while and then, while scuba diving with a group, they are left alone in the middle of the ocean. that's the gist of the plot. it's low concept filmmaking at its best. the film is shot using dv and it perfectly matches the style and subject of the film. i'm sure it was more of an economic decision than anything else, but knowing your economic limitations and changing the way you shoot the film shows that you know what you're doing. you don't try to shoot ben-hur on dv, and the filmmakers clearly understood that.
by far the most important aspect of the film was the hook. if the couple didn't have an onscreen chemistry, and if the filmmakers didn't establish some normalcy from the beginning then the rest of the film would have suffered greatly. shots of the couple in bed, brushing their teeth, etc. all pay their dividends in the second half of the film. simply put, this film had me rapt in anticipation as soon as the couple got into the water. i think that some people will be put off by the ending, but that's more a function of what viewers have come to expect from thrillers than anything else. a recommendable film. B++.
Without A Paddle - a really stupid and unfunny movie. seth green isn't funny, the other two guys are mostly just eye candy and the it's so poorly written that the script is unable to bail out the bad acting, and vice versa. just don't bother. D.
Birds - not the best directed or most entertaining hitchcock film, but it's certainly a solid film and a classic - if not for the idea alone. a lot of the process shots look pretty bad, but that's not really hitchcock's fault. hedren does a great job transforming her character from a bourgeois beauty to a battered schizoid. the ending reminded me a lot of the ending from "notorious" - it was filled with tension and seemed prematurely cut off. it's not a bad thing, necessarily, but it does catch you off guard. i can't say i honestly love hitchcock's work, but it's always interesting and entertaining on some level. B.
Zoolander - not the best stiller film, but it's a solid comedy with enough talent to carry the thin idea far enough. B-.

Alien Vs. Predator - not a very good movie. most of the acting was poor (the lead woman was decent). the predator design was too big. the guy who is supposed to be an italian (and actually is in real life) archeologist seemed to have a fake accent...not sure how they pulled off that one. the direction was overdone and demonstrated very little ability to create atmosphere. it was basically the horror equivalent of a comedy filled with fart jokes. D+.
Following - a good film from christopher nolan (memento). commentary was decent.B.
Bob Roberts - a good idea that could have been better directed. i definitely like the political/social commentary, but there were times when i felt that the mockumentary format showed its limitations. at times the flow of the picture was bogged down a bit by covering different viewpoints to construct the narrative, whereas an omniscient pov would have circumvented these slowdowns. overall it's a rather prophetic picture, and one that was well-timed considering i just watched coverage of the rnc.  B-.

Garden State - garden state not only refers to the setting of the film, but also to the condition of the protagonist; at least i think that's what he (writer/actor/director zach braff) was getting at. the film is about braff who is a mentally confused twenty-something actor who is isolated from his surroundings. naturally he meets a girl (natalie portman) who changes all this. it's a story that's been done a million times, and was perfected in 1967 in "the graduate." so, what does "garden state" have to offer? the acting is good, the soundtrack has a few good tunes, the writing is mostly good - some of the heavier moments could have been a bit more naturalistic, and the visuals are sometimes good. you're going to read a lot of reviews that call it an amazingly moving piece of work and you'll read some that call it a nice try, but not original enough...the truth is that it's somewhere in between. the ending is the usual fare and i don't think it's entirely earned. there are some inspired moments and some unique characters and some good writing, but it's not an amazing film in any way. B-.
Spiral - japanese horror film that reminded me of a cross between pi and ringu. it's about a town that is overcome by 'uzumaki' (japanese for "spiral")'s sort of a nebulous problem that never gets defined, but people start becoming obsessed with all things sprial - from fingerprints to snails. in this respect it reminded me of close encounters of the third kind. at any rate, the shit starts to hit the fan and people are going crazy and the town starts getting really weird and people start turning into snails and none of it is ever explained at all. so the story was intriguing, but a bit of a let down by the end, however the style won the film some points. the director did some interesting things with editing, digital effects and mise en scene which made the film edgy and scary, at times. overall i could tell that the director had some good ideas, but the writing could have used some work. C+.

Stepford Wives (2004) - not a funny movie. any social commentary it was trying to get across would have been better supported if they had chosen a more reasonable scenario. if commentary was the objective, rather than robots and a far-fetched plot, they should have gone with mind control implants and found a better middle ground for the subjects. but that is giving the film the benefit of the doubt. it's a bad film and one that is likely to offend men and women alike. in the muppets frank oz did a good job of giving life to lifeless characters, in this film he did a good job of sucking away the life of the characters. nicole kidman was supposed to be the heart of the film, but even she couldn't bring any life to the film. oz went through the technical motions (lighting and colors were done right), but there just wasn't anything about the film that felt inspired. just not very funny, entertaining, engaging, or profound; at all. i chuckled three times. D-.

After Hours - another scorsese film. this one was more entertaining than "who's that knocking at my door?" and less ambitious. the direction was more reserved and more effective as a result. in "who's that knocking at my door?" it felt like scorsese was just trying out everything he could think of, but in this film he has found out how to make a film effectively and stylistically while retaining some semblance of typical cinematic form. it's a mostly funny film and has several good performances. B.

Big Lebowski - a fine fine comic effort from the coen brothers. later coen brothers films don't make much use of camera movement and this film follows that trend. raising arizona and blood simple both have relatively active cameras. i don't know that there's a definitive reason for the switch of style so much as it is just a matter of progression. raising arizona is a wacky picture so it sort of demands a lot of camera movement, and blood simple was their first picture so perhaps they were just trying out a few different things. at any rate, this film doesn't move the camera much, but it does stretch itself cinematically through a couple different dream sequences that are surrealistic and rather funny. at one point they put a camera in a bowling ball and roll it down the lane which captures fairly well the dizzy feeling following being hit on the head. despite all this the real strength of the film is the writing and acting. turturro has a couple of great scenes as jesus, goodman is perfect, as is bridges. supporting actors from hoffman and moore to buscemi and tara reid are also very good. A-.

Decline Of The American Empire - same director as barbarian invasions and it doesn't add much to that film. basically a french-canadian version of friends and sex in the city. there's enough intellectualizing going on to keep it above those shows, but it still boils down to your basic comic drama about middle aged intellectuals and their sex lives. for me, films like this have a limited potential. i'm just not able to empathize with people who fuck everyone in sight and then have regrets about it later. i guess europeans and canadians are just more sexually liberated than i am so i just don't understand it. i know a lot of white trash people who make frequent appearances on "cops" who are also "sexually liberated" in the way that we see in this film...i guess it's just something i'm doomed to misunderstand. to a certain extent the characters know what they're doing, but they think it's completely acceptable. civilization is based on lies, one character says, and this, along with an extreme degree of horniness, is what drives otherwise normal characters. the film does approach the topic without pulling any punches and is technically well put together. there are moment of decent comedy, but i found myself laughing less and shaking my head more. C+.

Narrow Margin - a pretty solid thriller. almost the entire film takes place on a train which adds to the suspense of the picture. in some ways it reminded me of die hard, a lens flare here, some good camera movement there, the confined space...they're similar enough to mention it. hackman and archer are good as the leads, i wish the bad guys were a little better though. also like die hard, the comic relief is relatively solid and keeps the film balanced. like this review it has an abrupt ending. B-.
Who's That Knocking At My Door? - scorsese has five (so far as i've seen) certifiable masterpieces - taxi driver, mean streets, raging bull, casino and goodfellas. this film i would consider above gangs of new york and bringing out the dead, but below the aforementioned fab five. it was his first feature film and you can see him experimenting all over the place. this is both the strong suit of the picture and its ultimate downfall. he experiments with editing - both in terms of mixing up time to enhance part of the current action (decline of the american empire does the same thing) and to be stylistic...a few times he edits a sequence in a way that replays one part of the sequence a few times at different speeds or from different angles - much in the way an action director might do during a critical action sequence. he toys with music quite a bit - paving the way for his best usage of music in casino...sometimes he'll cut out all incidental noise and leave just the music and the images and sometimes he'll use music in a more typical montage sequence. the dialogue in the picture is naturalistic as always, but the broader strokes of the screenplay definitely could have used some refining. there's a lot going on in the film and i'm reviewing a day after i've seen it so it's hard to recall everything, but suffice it to say that it's a decent, though flawed, film. really it's just scorsese feeling in the dark, trying to find his style. unlike 99% of upstart filmmakers though, scorsese takes his experiments in all sorts of different directions and experiments recklessly rather than in a reserved, uninteresting way. as a result he was able to become a genuinely unique filmmaker later in his career. B-. edit 9-22/06: go ahead and add aviator to his list of masterpieces.

Napoleon Dynamite - seemed like an snl sketch turned into a film. the reason i say this is because there was very little that held the film together from scene to scene. the election was just about the only plot line that ran through a good portion of the film. this point would be okay if the characters were of the same caliber as those in a wes anderson picture, but they just weren't. napoleon dynamite was a funny, offbeat character, but he wasn't funny enough and i really didn't get to know him all that well. within the first 3.5 minutes of rushmore you know exactly who max fischer is and you're pretty much instantly in love with him, the same can't really be said of napoleon. there was certainly some good material in the film, it's just that the picture wasn't written in a way that allowed us to get to know the character while keeping us interested in the story.  costume and set design were highlights of the picture - both accented the characters' personalities well. the best thing about this film is that it's doing well which bodes well for the future of independent features of this kind. C+.
Criminal - another example of a brit grit film that fancies style over substance. that said, this film, unlike nil by mouth, had enough substance to keep me interested throughout the picture. the girl who plays the american transient does a pretty awful job of acting, but to be fair part of her bad performance can be blamed on the poor writing for her character. the rest of the acting was good enough. there was some interesting directing - wipes done with people walking across the frame or stationary objects as the camera pans, lots of editing to keep the pace snappy, etc. the problem is that it all comes off as unnatural and done for the sake of doing it rather than as a complement to the material. felt like a cross between "the game" and "the last minute." C+.

Eating Raoul - pretty funny 80s flick about a mostly uptight couple that go on a killing spree for money. it sort of reminded me of the gods must be crazy set in los angeles. it's a funny film that addresses, in a not very serious way, lots of the issues of the time - rampant sexuality and drug-use being a couple of those. mostly though it's a throwback to the 60s/70s sexploitation films. it's definitely not for everyone because some of the humor is dark and some of it just won't sit well with some people. it seems like a more likely film to become a cult-classic than repo man, but what do i know? B-.

Five Obstructions - a documentary that follows directors lars von trier and jorgen leth in an experiment dreamt up by von trier. leth made a short film in 1967 called "the perfect human" which features a man and a woman in separate sequences doing things like shaving or eating or dancing or just standing. i've never seen it in its entirety, but i gather that it's a sometimes humorous look at human nature and a slew of other related topics. von trier's idea follows in his dogme style of creating obstacles, or obstructions, in order to either create a better film or flex one's filmmaking muscles. so von trier makes leth remake his own film five different times with different limitations that von trier imposes on the project. in the first obstruction he instructs leth to use edits of no more than 12 frames (half a second), to make the film in cuba without building any sets, and to answer the questions that are posed in the original film. each obstruction is a response to the last film that leth creates. so, after leth remakes the film under the first set of rules von trier sees that leth worked very creatively under the conditions, but kept a critical distance from his subject. as a result von trier's next set of obstructions is aimed at getting leth more personally involved in the material. at each turn, though, leth creates a film that is good, but not what von trier is looking for. in each instance leth is able to circumvent von trier's objective through ingenuity and creativity. as leth puts it: "it's like a tennis match." von trier will serve hard down the line and leth will try is best to return the serve. it's fun to see how von trier tries to confine leth in different ways, and how leth is ultimately able to work the limitations to his creative advantage. the first two obstructions are geared towards limiting leth's technical options. the third gives leth free reign. the fourth requires him to remake the film as a cartoon (a medium both filmmakers despise). and the fifth obstruction removes leth from the creative process almost entirely - von trier will direct the remake using documentary footage of leth, and then crediting leth as the director of the picture.
it's an interesting film for people who are into film and the creative process behind filmmaking, but i don't know that there's enough of a "human interest" type of storyline to keep others interested. B.

Hands On A Hardbody - a simple, but surprisingly effective documentary. the film follows about 20-odd contestants as they compete for a nissan truck somewhere in texas. the object of the competition is to keep your hand on the truck longer than any of your competitors. it's an extremely simple concept, but the film is somehow able to capture the natural drama that unfolds amongst the competitors. one of the women who makes it into the final four is this super religious lady who keeps listening to sermons on her headphones and is able to gain strength through the lord to continue. you'll have to watch the film to see if she wins, but i will tell you that the competition is pretty tense by the end of the film. i think a major success of the film is its ability to convey the length and harshness of the competition. at the beginning of the film i thought that 87 hours (which is what was required two competitions prior to the one being filmed) was a pretty long time, but not all that out of reach. however, as you see the competitors steadily dropping out because of physical exhaustion, sleep deprivation, delirium, and other maladies, it becomes clear just how hard the event really is. i stayed up about 60 straight hours once to write a couple papers and i remember being pretty delirious at the end of that marathon. i also had the luxury of being able to sit, or move freely as i saw fit so it's not at all comparable. a pretty fun film to watch. B.

Nil By Mouth - it amazes me how you can make a film that's basically just a british indie film equivalent of "cops," and be lauded by film critics across the globe. the film's style is self-consciously indie to the point of annoyance, but that's just my interpretation. like 21 grams, the film feels far more affected than affecting and that kind of film bothers me just as much as the mindless hollywood schlock. my dad says that i should give hollywood films an automatic deduction in my grading because they have more resources at their disposal, i think the exact opposite. because they have the unfortunate hindrance of being backed by people concerned only with money they are at a distinct disadvantage to relatively independent features such as this one.
in the majority of the scenes the camera is obscured by objects in the foreground when the subject is in the mid/backround. it's a style that is supposed to support the gritty, unclean feel and theme of the film. it's effective, but it's become so trite that to use it as much as oldman does shows a lack of real, singular artistic vision. instead he is just emulating a style he's seen dozens of times before, and that's one of my major problems with this film. the other being the subject matter. there are ways of showing this subject matter in an entertaining, engaging,  or interesting way, but oldman only occasionally employs them. i was interested on some level for the first 45 minutes of the film, but so little progress - in the story, in the characters, in the feel or themes of the picture - is made that i became disengaged, and once that happens the film is essentially over. i steadily became less and less interested in the british version of white trash that i see anytime i turn on FOX. i found nothing redeeming about the characters or their struggles, and i had no meaningful emotional experience with the film. i didn't think too much of the score, and disliked the way oldman filmed the musically driven interludes. also, not that i cared, but the film used the word "cunt" about 120 times, "fuck" about 200 times, and "bloody" 0 times. i thought the british were fond of "bloody," but i guess oldman would know better than i. the performances were very good, but not good enough to salvage the film. C-.
Eyes Of Tammy Faye - documentary on the rise and fall of jim and tammy faye bakker. at first i thought i had made a mistake in renting this one because it has a sort of tv documentary feel to the production, but it turned out to redeem itself with an interesting story told in a less sensationalistic way than it could have been told. tammy faye bakker is a bit crazy and not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but, by the end of the film, i ended up thinking more of her than i ever thought i would. it's not that she's a great person who just got a bad rap, it's more that she comes off as a fairly innocent, well-meaning dimwit who happens to align herself with idiotic men (her new husband was also brought up on fraud charges). it's an interesting film if not for the simple reason that it presents a different point of view than the one you've probably heard in the media. oh, and it also makes jerry falwell look fucking evil and that's always entertaining. C++..
Songs From The Second Floor - this is a remarkable film. i can't honestly think of where to start...i suppose the first thing that struck me was the visual style of the film. interiors (with the exception of home spaces) are colorful and clean, exteriors are generally dirty and cluttered. interiors are also shot entirely on an angle. the sets are constructed in such a way, or the camera is placed in such a way, that we almost always face a corner. if you're watching a play then the back wall is parallel to your viewing angle, but in this film the room is rotated about 90 degrees so that the bottom of the back wall runs diagonally - rather than horizontally - through the middle of the screen. this choice allows for an amazing amount of depth within each composition. depth of field isn't emphasized very much with the use of a wide angle lens, but this doesn't detract at all from the depth that these interior compositions has. this element alone makes the film interesting to watch, but this is really just the tip of the iceberg. every shot is thoughtfully composed, and needs to be because the camera doesn't move at all. remarkably, i didn't even notice this obvious fact until about 30-40 minutes into the film. i think this is a result of the great energy that each composition has; or maybe i'm just trying to save face.
to take a step back, the film is a comedic surrealist drama. that description coupled with the fact that it's a swedish picture would likely scare off most viewers. i'm not generally a fan of surrealist film, but this one isn't over the top, or completely nebulous. sure, there is little sense that is made over the entire course of the film and there are seeming non-sequitors within just about every scene, but somehow it all works - either comedically, dramatically, or artistically. that, i'll admit, is just a matter of opinion so you'll have to see it to decide for yourself...there are certain motifs that are visited throughout the, loss, home life, isolation, de-humanization effect of economics, etc.
also, while interiors are generally fairly colorful, people's faces are generally extremely white...and not just because they're swedish. at some point it is implied, or maybe revealed, that the people we are observing are dead, and this certainly would be supported by their dead looking skin color and the surreal nature of their environment. a great film for those who are willing to give it a try. B++.

Twin Warriors - directed by the master of 80s/90s kung fu cinema, yuen woo-ping, this film stars two certifiable international stars in jet li and michelle yeoh. it's amazing how good yuen woo-ping really is. when you're watching a film he's worked on you can almost always tell. the first time i saw "buddhist fist" i remember thinking that the choreography was amazing and i found out later it was directed by yuen. as much as i like master of the flying guillotine or bruce lee films, the choreography just isn't as inventive as it is when yuen as at the healm. he's also a fine director. in this film he uses a wide angle lens to great comic effect, which (visually) reminded me of films like dead alive and raising arizona. i was a bit skeptical of jet li as a lead in a yuen film since he likes to use comedy to a great degree, but li is able to pull it off...not as well as jackie chan, but well enough. a lot of yuen's stunts revolve around using props in all sorts of inventive ways. in this film he has one scene with two people fighting on a wooden tower. as they are throwing kicks and punches at each other they are knocking out logs that support the structure, it ends up like a large scale jenga game, but more exciting. there's another scene in the film in which li is having an epitome while studying tai chi. it's a great sequence because yuen is able to visually represent the ideas of tai chi in an original and funny way. yuen also has a great creativity when working with wires. i just don't see kung-fu films use wires in the same range of ways that he does. his editing style is similar to most kung-fu films in that he'll have a mid-long shot of an action sequence up to the point of impact and then cut to a closer shot showing the impact or reaction. it adds energy to the sequence and allows for greater control of stunts and strikes. the down side to this is that you have to pre-plan this otherwise you won't have the necessary coverage. for a director like yuen, though, this isn't much of a problem - he generally has the needed coverage. i've only seen four of yuen's directorial efforts (snake in the eagle's shadow, iron monkey and buddhist fist being the other three), but i think he's great. it's hard to say which of those films is his best or his most definitive, but this one's certainly in the running in both categories. B+.

Marty - a charming little picture. it was actually a surprising picture in that it wasn't your typical hollywood love story. going into the picture i thought it was going to be your basic "lovable loser gets the girl" type of picture. in its broadest stroke it is that kind of picture, but the finer strokes were somewhat surprising. the film, as manifested in marty's friends, was more crass than i would have expected; marty's mother and family were far less supportive of his finally finding love interest than one would expect from a "feel good" movie; the film's pacing was far slower than expected; and the ending, though upbeat, didn't exactly ring of "happily ever after" and wedding bells. from a story point of view the film was compelling for its ability to establish each character as a vector acting upon marty. at the beginning everyone in the film is pushing on him from the same direction, towards the same direction. by the end of the film all the characters have changed their positions and are pushing marty in almost the exact opposite direction. within this interplay of characters comes some interesting commentary, or at least exploration, of family affairs and dynamics. by the end of the film marty sheds the urging of his friends and family and strikes out a path of his own. like i said before, we are left happy, but the ending isn't conclusive in its outcome. rather than a marriage proposal or something equally dramatic, marty merely decides to continue dating a girl he's only seen once before. it's hardly a stirring development in most films (or in everyday life for that matter), but because doing this is contrary to everything that has preceded, it becomes the most important moment in the film. it's a solid, low concept film that focuses on character development and interaction to create a touching and entertaining picture. B+.

Monkey Business - a reasonably funny howard hawks film. cary grant makes the picture, while everyone else is only so-so. it's completely silly and unlikely humor, but if you let yourself go then it can be entertaining. i suppose one might be able to make an argument that freudian issues are explored or that there is an exploration of the dangers of playing god through science, but it would be a stretch. this film is primarily entertainment and diversion. in the first half of the film the comedy is fairly diverse - it ranges from sly, quick, smart humor to screwball gags. as the film unfolds it relies mostly on the screwball, silly stuff and suffers a bit as a result. C+.

Zero Effect - i could see this film being turned into a tv series. not because it's an amazing movie, but more because it's got an interesting lead character and private investigator tv shows (matlock, murder she wrote, law and order) are generally pretty good. i've never really watched 'monk' but i think that it's actually sort of similar to this film. bill pullman plays an eccentric private investigator who is hired to find out who is blackmailing ryan o'neal's character. ben stiller plays pullman's right hand man who is tired of the job and pullman's odd methods. the mystery isn't too twisted for it to be unbelievable, but it isn't one you're likely to figure out early on either so it keeps you interested. pullman does a really good job and stiller helps provide some comic relief. the story stalls a bit with the romance aspect, but it's not too bad and there's a degree of sincerity behind it that makes it acceptable. also, the director tells the story with visuals surprisingly well. B.
Criss Cross - pretty standard film noir from robert siodmak (the killers). the femme fatale isn't anything special, lancaster has a good performance and the visuals are good. didn't really capture me. C+.

Manchurian Candidate - i don't remember the original very well, but this remake stands pretty well on its own. they had to make plenty of changes to make it fit into today's world, and it comes out being pretty relevant for a political conspiracy film. denzel washington and meryl streep are really good in much different ways. meryl streep plays a manipulative senator and washington plays a war veteran who slowly descends towards insanity. as is true with silence of the lambs (also directed by demme), the manchurian candidate unfolds the mystery methodically, always keeping the audience engaged and interested. not likely to win any awards, but it's a solid, entertaining film. B.
Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War On Journalism - what's strange about this documentary is that it's actually entertaining even though it's basically just an audio/visual essay. B+.

Last Samurai - dances with samurai is what they should have called it. from what i remember this is pretty much the same outline as kevin costner's dances with wolves, which came about 13 years earlier. tom cruise overextends himself here, but it doesn't much matter because the direction and screenplay overshadow his shortcomings. both fall into triteness repeatedly enough to distract the viewer from cruise's inability to fully capture his character. watanabe, who garnered an academy award nomination for his performance, is good, but not that good. the more films like this and gangs of new york that i watch, the more i realize how great hollywood is at making excellent productions. the set design, costumes, etc. were all excellent in this film; unfortunately that doesn't make for a great film. hans zimmer's score was strong enough relative to the rest of the film's elements, but, again, did come off as trite from time to time. films like this are safe and meant to garner as many academy/golden globe awards as possible. unfortunately that means that we get to see basically the same picture over and over again with the occasional surprises from pictures like the lord of the rings. C.
Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle - it's a road trip film that appeals to the 16-24 demographic. if you don't like super troopers or anchorman or other wacky, toilet humor films then don't bother with this one. i thought it was pretty hilarious. it's worth about 35 minutes of seinfeld which is pretty good, all things considered. there was at least one brilliant sequence in which a bag of marijuana takes on the role of kumar's love interest. i'll leave it at that. kal penn plays kumar and he plays the able slacker role well. it's a different take on the belushi archetype, but still funny. B+.
Predator - for a long time i thought my dad and i were the only ones who thought of predator as a great film, not just a fun movie. this and die hard are likely the most watched films in my life. i've seen this a couple dozen times and die hard about 40 times. when i was younger i had both of them on tape and i'd watch them all the time. based upon the dvd text commentary and the special edition treatment the film has gotten, however, it appears that we were not alone in our love of this film. as an action film it's great fun, the story is basic and slim, but somehow always unfolding in a manner to keep the viewer engaged.
from an audio/visual standpoint it's such a fresh and layered film that one can help but be immersed in the action. it's not just that the film is layered, it's that it does it in such a new way. at the time this kind of stuff just wasn't being done. the infrared camera, the jungle sounds, the predator's sounds and design, mcalpine's cinematography, all create a dense and artistic audio/visual landscape. all of this, though, stems from john mctiernan's vision. this was his first real feature film, but he had a very clear idea of what he wanted this film to be, and it was executed very well. mcalpine (who was also the cinematographer in other visual feasts such as moulin rouge and romeo + juliet) films the jungle in such a way that it becomes its own character. mctiernan didn't move the camera quite as much in this film as he did in die hard, but the camera is still active enough to add further life to the film.
i don't know if it's by luck or design, but mctiernan is somehow able to find great scripts. die hard is the supreme example, but predator is also very well-written. it's got some classic one-liners, and the broader brush strokes of the film are also intelligent and engaging. in the text commentary a good point is made about the story arc of the film...rather than getting more complex towards the end, as most films tend to do, predator strips itself down to a primal confrontation of two warriors. they're not even fighting for good vs. evil or money or a woman or any of those conventional things. one is the hunter and the other is the hunted and that's all it is. another broad stroke that i find interesting is the way in which we are slowly introduced to the predator. i can still remember, barely, the feeling i had when first watching the film and trying to understand what the predator was. at first we don't see it at all, then we see the world through its eyes, then we see its translucent silhouette, then its lower body, then its entire body, and at the very end it takes off its mask.
i also have to comment on the score which really seals the deal on this one. alan silvestri (back to the future trilogy) does a fantastic job on the score. it perfectly matches the size of the film - it's not overly epic, or, conversely, too small. it's instantly recognizable, but not's right where it needs to be. what a great film. A.

Gangs Of New York - dear martin scorsese, i write to you because i recently saw your latest filmic effort "gangs of new york" and couldn't help but be disappointed. could you please watch goodfellas, mean streets and taxi driver again just in an effort to reacquaint yourself with truly passionate filmmaking? i found the subject matter of the film to be mildly interesting, and i know that it (new york) is a subject that is near and dear to your heart, but i found your film to be dishearteningly mainstream. the fresh vitality that your earlier films had in spades, and your later gangster pictures (goodfellas and casino) also exhibited, was sadly lacking. daniel day lewis is a fine actor, and looks the part, but he just didn't have that much of a captivating performance despite the fact that his character was the most interesting of the lot. i found the casting choice of leonardo dicaprio to be poor, not because he's generally a bad actor (on the contrary, he has quite a few solid performances), but rather because he didn't look the part. my personal opinion is that you cast him more for his star power than his being right for the part. in the past you put together solid supporting casts, and in this case there was a modicum of talent, but it was misplaced, or underutilized. john c. reilly is a great actor, with good range (chicago, boogie nights, magnolia...all different roles), but i found him to be a less that grand choice in this film. brendan gleeson, on the other hand, was a good choice in his role, but he wasn't used enough. he has great power onscreen as i'm sure you know from watching 1998's "the general" and "28 days later..." i don't want to berate you, or this movie, too much because i generally enjoy your work (though i could have done without "bringing out the dead"), but i am concerned because i see your latest efforts going in a troublesome direction. this worry of mine is only strengthened when i see trailers to your newest, yet to be released, effort which also features dicaprio...though i do hold out some hope since it's about howard hawks who is a fairly interesting film subject (though it's already been done by jonathan demme in "melvin and howard.") sorry, i digress...i can't say i understand what it feels like to be nominated for four academy awards and come up short each time. i'm sure it's begun to wear on your soul, but pandering to the academy with films like "aviator," "gangs of new york" and "kundun" isn't the way to go. i haven't seen kundun, but at this stage i must admit i'm weary. don't get me wrong, i'll check it out, if not for the simple fact that philip glass' score is bound to be better than howard shore's on "gangs of new york." although i generally like howard shore it was clear that he gave you his b-grade material on this score and saved the good stuff for the lord of the rings trilogy that he was working on at the same time. i'd like to close this note to you on a positive note - i have been truly moved by the majority of your work so i hope you take the above as a constructive criticism from a fan and friend. i think that you're probably due for an academy award sometime soon so please put out fresh, passionate and well-crafted films instead of pandering to the academy. i'd hate for your career to start looking like that of speilberg. your friend, chris miller. C-.

Collateral- for me every michael mann film i see from now on will be measured against "heat" because that's clearly his best work, and a modern masterpiece. thought collateral doesn't match up to heat, it is a solid rebound after the mostly uninspiring "ali." jamie foxx and tom cruise essentially carry the film, for if it were not for there solid performances, the film would have been a bit flat. my biggest complaint about the film is the law enforcement aspect of it. in heat al pacino is the perfect counterweight to deniro's crew. in this film, though, the cops aren't nearly as sophisticated or played by the same caliber of actors. the film needed some sort of device to squeeze the action that is occurring with foxx and cruise, and the police subplot was a sufficient tool towards that effect, but i didn't feel that aspect of the film was executed as well as it should have been. about three quarters of the way through the film things get a little contrived and a bit conventional. some of the action and style seems a bit stock and un-mann like. however, mann quickly rights things by ditching the police, and refocusing the film's attention on foxx/cruise.
andrew sarris comments that the (john) fordian hero knows why he is doing something, but not how to do it. the (howard) hawksian hero knows how to do what he is doing, but not why. and the (raoul) "walshian hero is less interested in the why or the how than in the what. he is always plunging into the unknown." without getting into that broad statement too much here, i will say that jamie foxx represents the fordian hero and cruise represents the hawksian hero. it's not just that cruise is eminently qualified as a killer in the film, it's also the philosophical discussions the two have throughout the night. foxx certainly is a precise character, but to no avail. his proposed business hasn't gotten off the ground, and he's been driving as a cabbie "temporarily" for 12 years. foxx is clearly the ideologue who also happens to be inept in long-term life. cruise, though, is completely able in whatever he does - whether it be his profession as a hitman or posing as a lawyer or as a jazz connoisseur. but unlike foxx, he doesn't have a driving force behind his capable mind and body. in this sense the film creates a great duo that is worth the price of admission alone.
the film's style is also noteworthy. it struck me that in some ways michael mann may be the west coast version of martin scorsese. though i haven't really thought about it in much depth the theory is supported by some minor points: mann's films often feature urban protagonists who live outside of the mainstream, similar to scorsese's work. in some of mann's films the landscape becomes its own character, much in the way that the old neighborhood is itself a character in scorsese's films. in this film two things struck me about the style. first was the filming method being used - it looked like a cross between video and dv, but better quality than either. it looked grainy, but not like a 16mm film, it was more of a digital grain. turns out he used hdtv cameras in the filming to achieve the look. i like the choice. sure he could have used dv or even film and had decent results, but the camera he used gives it a big budget quality (unlike 28 days later...) while maintaining a grainy, documentary look that supplements the feel. video does seem to have its aesthetic advantages from time to time. a lot of the exterior shots, particularly around the cab, were...not quite good looking, but somehow they had a unique style and visual impact. i can't really describe it. some of it was the camera and some of it was the lenses he was using because there were a lot of shots that had an odd sort of deep focus or, conversely, a sharp focus on the foreground. i can't really describe it, and i don't know why i liked it (other than the simple fact that it was different) so i'll just leave it at that.
early in the film he also has a lot of shots of LA which is similar to scorsese's "taxi driver" which features voice-over and shots of the urban cesspool. with heat and collateral mann sold me on thinking he was from LA. in a lot of ways mann shoots LA better than tarantino shoots it in jackie brown. in those two films you really get a sense of the city, and the landscape comes more to the foreground than it does in most other films (probably because so many other films are shot on backlots anyway).
despite a couple of lapses the film is solid all-around and visually interesting. foxx and cruise both advance their careers - foxx by adding a third (ali and any given sunday being the other two) solid, serious film to his filmography; and cruise by showing (again - remember magnolia) that he can step outside of the good guy role.
interesting note: this film begins in an airport and ends on the railway; heat begins on a railway and ends in an airport. B+.

actually, forget my review this review from donnyzona ( is better:
"Cruise was excellent as VINCENT THE ASSASSIN!!! He was so ruthless and mean that you actually FORGOT he was TOM CRUISE!!! His hair was gray! They only strange part was when Cruise went to the NIGHT CLUB and pretty much took out anybody he wanted. I was surprised at that. The acting on Jamie Foxx's part was almost as good as if Will Smith would have been cast. Jamie Foxx is a poor man's Will Smith, but he's still good. Hard to transition for this poor guy (from a comic to a ACTION STAR).
Anyway, the goods were delivered and the suspense NEVER LET UP. The ending was good but ended a little to strangely and no climax either.
Believe it or not, I rooted for Cruise the ENTIRE TIME."

Panic Room - a good film. it's definitely not fincher's best film, but it's a different kind of film. he's a very modern director in that he incorporates technology into his filmmaking process as much as anyone i can think of off the top of my head. i would exclude blockbusters from that because they always have a heavy use of sfx, blue screens, etc. if you weren't convinced of fincher's skill before then listening to the commentary should change your mind at least a bit. his commentaries aren't the best i've heard, but he gives a good sampling of the creative thought process, filming snags, his different philosophies, etc. even though i didn't agree with his assessment of certain items here and there, his is a valid and well-based perspective. B+.

Tree Of Wooden Clogs- this film's style reminds me of a cross between the godfather (because of the colors) and kiarostami's work (because of the pace, texture and sound design). the opening shot is of a field of tall grasses and we know right away that this is going to be an organic film about earthy matters. the film's visual style, particularly its earthy color scheme, reinforce this fact. at just shy of three hours the film is remarkably slim on plot. in an averagely paced simpsons episode there would likely be an equal amount of plot in the first seven minute act, as there is in this entire film. that's both a testament to the quick storytelling of the simpsons, and the slow, plotless, drive of this film. but, as you know if you've read my reviews of the few iranian films i've seen, i'm not averse to a lack of plot. what drives the film is the characters and their interactions with the land and their neighbors. the film's trailer says the film follows three families, the netflix synopsis says four families are the subject of the film, and says five families are followed. hmmm. i didn't really keep track, and it sort of depends upon whether you count the newlyweds at the end of the film as a separate family. but i digress.
the film's texture is amazing. kiarostami, and iranian cinema in general, have a similar texture and i think a lot of it is owed to the way they mix the sound. it's as if the microphone is on the ground at all times. first, i should note that most of the sound work was looped in during post-production instead of being done while filming. every step in the film can be heard, and is usually high in the mix. to me this technique grants an extra layer of texture to the film. it makes the film all the more tactile and real when you can hear the dirt and rocks crunch under a person's footsteps. since the film is about three/four/five families of farmers, this sound design makes perfect sense. if it were a victorian period piece, the same sound design would be misplaced.
somehow the film was able to completely draw me into the farmers' way of thinking. about two hours through the film there is a single shot of a cluster of bees on a wall, rather than associating this image with danger (a typical response within a typical film), i immediately associated it with a honey treat. in this way the film was able to get me thinking of nature as useful and friendly, instead of an enemy which must be conquered. it was a subtle response, but a telling one.
besides the importance of nature, major themes addressed include the intertwined nature of life/death, the importance of community, and religion. it's a good film, and even though not much actually happens in the usual sense, it addresses, directly and indirectly, all sorts of universal concerns. unlike "princess and the warrior," this is a film that on paper probably looks rather unimpressive, but in its filmed state is actually quite a stunning (in its simplicity) piece of work. B++.

Office Space - a modern comedy classic. perhaps the last great proletariat film of the 20th century. everyone knows how good mike judge is as a writer, but watching this film over and over you start to see that he actually has a knack for directing as well. there's a scene early in the film in which the protagonist is walking into his cubical to get ready for the day's work. judge employs an overhead shot to strengthen the theme of confinement. it's a small touch, but it works pretty well because all we see are walls surrounding livingston's character. had he chosen an eye level shot we would have seen over the cubical walls and the effect would be lost. small things like this also serve a secondary purpose - they liven up a film and give it a freshness that would be lost if shot in a strictly straight-ahead style. judge, like hughes before him, uses unrealistic sequences to mix up the style and add an extra dimension to the film. my favorite example of hughes employing this comes in planes, trains and automobiles when john candy is driving the car between two 18-wheelers and momentarily appears to steve martin as a devil. judge also mixes things up with well-directed musical sequences (one when they're planting the virus and another when they're destroying the copying machine). at any rate, this is a great film that stays funny after multiple viewings. A.
Stalag 17 - "at ease, at ease!" this is a pretty great film by all accounts. the most obvious comparison is to the great escape because it's the other popular p.o.w. camp film. as strange as it may sound, i think this film is easier to like because it's lighter, tighter, and more charming. that said, i think that the great escape is better. like stalag 17, the great escape has comic relief, but is able to stroll the entire range of human emotions in a more meaningful and impacting way. stalag 17, on the other hand, deals with very real issues of death or pent up sexuality, but does so in a very humorous way so you don't really feel their impact as fully as maybe you should. i tend to give the edge to a film that allows the viewer to experience a greater range of emotions, and that's a big reason that i rank the great escape higher than this film. this may be a flaw in my critical approach, but it's i think it makes sense to reward a film for being able to do a wide range of things well. i'm not saying that a straight comedy like "planes, trains, and automobiles" will always be less of a film than a film that dabbles in several genres, but i do give the edge to the great escape because the films are similar. all this is almost a moot point though because stalag 17 is so good at what it does. i don't want to give the impression that stalag 17 is a straight comedy because it isn't. there are some serious moments, but it's clearly more of a comedy than it is any other genre of film.
so far as i've been able to tell, billy wilder's strength is in making good films, rather than being a great director. the difference, at least to me, is that a great director elevates the work with their direction, composition, and visual style. billy wilder certainly makes good films, but i can't recall seeing a film of his that was enhanced that much by his visual style. i mean this more in the way of observation than as a slight of some sort. being able to consistently write and create good films is an art and skill of its own, but i can't honestly say that there aren't a dozen other directors who could, given the same cast and screenplay, come out with equally good results.
but back to stalag's a great film with a great cast of characters (another fine william holden performance, his best?) and a great screenplay. the score is capable, but isn't as epic as bernstein's in the great escape. there are plenty of classic lines and moments. certainly worth owning. A-.

Big Lebowski - stylistically the film has shades of the farrelly brothers, the coen brothers, and david lynch. at least i got that impression here and there. but this film, unlike "blood simple" (the coens' first picture), isn't about style so much as it is about great writing. the characters in this film are great, round, and unique; the script is alive, bouncy, and completely on spot; and the acting is uniformly excellent. this and fargo are probably the most funny of the coen brothers' work. A-.
Boys Of Second Street Park - documentary of several old white guys from the same new york neighborhood reminiscing. that's all it is, nothing more. that said, there are some poignant moments in the film. each man tells his story, starting with their days playing basketball at the second street park and moving on through college and family life. since they grew up during the sixties a lot of the stories revolve around sex and drugs and the (mostly  negative) effects they had on the men's lives. as a film the documentary does very little of interest which makes the content all the more important. like i said before, some of the stories can be poignant, but it's mostly just guys exaggerating about their basketball skills or remembering how great the grateful dead concert in 1970 was...the film did make me re-realize that everyone has a fantastic or compelling story to tell - whether it be the cross-country trip they took with twenty of their friends, or their job as an undercover bingo inspector, or the death of their son. C.
Princess And The Warrior - this is one of those films that on paper looks like an interesting film, but in film form just doesn't live up to its potential. the story has a lot of compelling elements, and the pieces seem to fit together fairly well when you look at them in a broad way. however, the film's filler just wasn't good enough to support the main ideas of the film. franka potente turns in her usual good performance, but her skill wasn't matched by her male counterpart. his performance was mostly lifeless and uninspired. the powerful moments with him were more a function of what was happening than the way in which he was doing them. for example, him saving potente's life under the truck was a powerful moment, but it was because of what was happening and the situation in which it was happening, instead of the actor's performance. the music felt subdued throughout the film which would have been okay if, in the end, there was a release, but that didn't happen. because the characters were in many ways bottled up by their past or their emotions it made sense that the music always had a sense of wanting to reach a crescendo, but never quite getting there. by the end of the film the characters finally did have their release, but rather than the soundtrack echoing this, it turned overly ambient and faded away as the camera ascended. overall the film could have used some trimming, reworking of the screenplay and a new male lead. as is true with "run lola run" the film addresses issues of fate, synchronicity and related topics. it's an interesting film, but not a very entertaining one. C+.

Evil Dead - i think you have to view this film knowing it's an independent feature. if you don't contextualize the picture in this way, and compare it to the shining or a feature horror film today then you're doing the film a disservice. of course contextualizing a picture is always important to a certain degree, but i think that's especially true with this picture. i also think that if you watched this for the first time in 1981, by yourself in a dark theater then the picture would be truly disturbing and horrifying. of course now the film has evolved to the point where it can be viewed either as a horror film, or as a camp film perfect for watching with a group of friends. i think it's a testament to the strength of the film, but some may see it as a weakness of its intentions as a horror film. the best aspect of the film is its visual style. the camera is almost always in an unfamiliar place - either on the floor, or in the ceiling, or in the cellar. the depth of field in the picture is also amazing and adds a real vitality and dynamism to it. if they had chosen to use it a little more sparingly then the horror aspect of the film may have been stronger, but i think the i like it the way it is and there were probably economic considerations as well. with evil dead 2 raimi and company left no doubt what kind of picture they were making - it's pure camp and comedy. it features many of the same camera moves and visual ambition, but uses bruce campbell as a comic force instead of a whimpering everyman. fyi: joel coen (half of the coen brothers) is an assistant editor in this film. the commentary by raimi and the producer is mostly anecdotal and doesn't have much information about the filming or vision they had for the film. i think this is partly due to the fact they sort of flew by the seat of their pants during production. a great film, but evil dead 2 may be even better. A-.

To Have And Have Not - an entertaining film with three great performances. the chemistry between bogart, bacall and brennan is the kind of thing that is half created and half born. bogart's character in dark passage is different because in that film he plays the everyman who was wrongfully accused. in "to have and to have not" he's an infinitely more capable hero. he plays both very well. A-.

Dark Passage - bogey and bacall back together. first the bad - the direction and chemistry between bogart and bacall were both inferior to the brilliant "to have and have not." on the upside, this film was more creative and, plot-wise, more interesting than "to have and have not." one of the more intriguing aspects of the film is the world that is portrayed in the film. at times it is dark and hopeless, but other times it's only because of a kind soul that the protagonist (bogart) is able to get by. in one instance bogart is saved from capture because of a lauren bacall's character who hides him in her car, but, we find out later, he wouldn't have been a wanted man if it wasn't for the dark intentions of agnes moorehead's character. later on there are a couple characters who are neither good nor bad, but still have a very important impact on bogart's fate. in this sense the film creates a world that can be both bitterly cruel and angelic, but one in which bogart's fate is always dependent upon another. for the first hour of the film we don't even see bogart's face. a lot of the time the camera uses a subjective point-of-view because bogart's character gets plastic surgery half way through the film and his appearance is drastically altered. after the surgery he's in bandages, so we only see bogart for the last 40 minutes of the film which is pretty amazing since he's the lead of the film. i can't think of many films in which the lead character is unseen for the majority of the film. there's more diegetic music in this mystery-noir than you can shake a stick at. there's some occasional illogical direction from daves. there'll be a shot with two people facing each other a certain distance apart and the next shot will be from a different angle and have them in a different position. small stuff like that crops up a bit, but overall it's an ambitious film with good acting, a smartly written screenplay, and an interesting and engaging premise. B+.
Buddhist Fist - directed by woo-ping yuen who worked on the matrix trilogy, snake in the eagle's shadow, crouching tiger hidden dragon and kill bill. as a director he's pretty good, but his strength clearly lies in his choreography. watch any of the aforementioned films and you'll understand what i mean. his stuff is so creative, funny, and awesome that, to my knowledge, he's head and shoulders above anyone else. this film is as much a testament to that fact as any of his other work. buddhist fist continues in the comic vein of snake in the eagle's shadow (which starred jackie chan). the film has a plot, but it feels like more of a compilation of skits with a plot tacked on as sort of an afterthought. it's about a man searching for his godfather and in his travels he gets into many fights and meets many a colorful character. good film if you're into kung-fu films with a sense of humor, otherwise just fast forward to the fight scenes. just about everyone should be able to enjoy those. B.

Sunset Blvd. - swanson does a pretty great job, holden holds his own and von stroheim should have gotten more screen time. i thought that the script was better in the first half of the film than it was in the second half. it's an intriguing and landmark film-noir for good reason, but it's not the best ever and it's not wilder's best film either. B.

Village - not as good sixth sense in any way. it's less scary, the ending is less shocking, and the relationships are less intense. but that's what shyamalan gets for having such a great debut film. on its own the village is a fine film. it's shot well, tells a fairly compelling story, and the acting is up to snuff. i found a lot of correlation between the village and america in a post-9/11 world. view the film with that in mind and i think you'll understand what i mean. i'm not saying that the film is allegorical, but it is applicable to our current state. stylistically the film was more interesting than i remember his others being. color played a big role and part of that was the fact that he limited the use of certain colors (specifically red). as a result when red was used it really popped. the camera did a lot of moving in and out of a scene. i'd venture a guess that 75% of the camera movement was in three-dimensional space i.e., forward and backwards instead of left to right or up and down. when the camera takes on a subjective point of view this sort of movement is normal, but otherwise it's not done that frequently. in the village shyamalan employs this movement quite a bit and i think that it's an attempt to bring us into the story a little bit more. the first shot is of a funeral and the camera is looking over the shoulders of the townspeople. in this shot we are observing, but slowly the camera brings us into the action with the forward motion and this movement is used liberally throughout the film, i think, for this same purpose. technically a good film, but not as compelling as some of shyamalan's other work. C++.
Spider-Man 2 - 300 million in the box office? raves from major reviewers across the nation? i really don't understand it. this film is entirely innocuous and, as a result, mostly unimpressive. the romance scenes are decent, the character development is so-so (would have liked to have more of james franco's character), and the action sequences are surprisingly unsurprising. most of the action sequences play out like a video game (now available on x-box, gamecube and ps2) and lack the creativity of something like the matrix, or even blade. essentially the film is so by the numbers that it comes off as an uninspired summer money machine, which is what it is. it's about as good as the first one, which is to say it's not all that good or bad. C.
Kiss Me Deadly - a relatively violent and dark film-noir. it's mostly because of ralph meeker (paths of glory) that this film is darker than even the average noir. he plays a private investigator who's trying to crack a case and doesn't mind beating people up to gather his information. there are moments of ambitious direction, but it wasn't consistently great. themes of human curiosity play a heavy role in the film and that adds a nice extra layer to the film. in the middle the film sags a bit, but it's forgivable. this film is also another example of a film-noir that uses diegetic music (i.e., music that has its source within the film). i still haven't formulated a theory on why this happens in film-noir so much, but i'm working on it. B-.

Touch Of Evil - though flawed, touch of evil is an inspired and visually interesting film. the story took a while to really inflate to the point where things were interesting and charlton heston as a mexican just simply doesn't work. i think the strength of the film has to be it's visual style - it's one of the darkest looking films i can remember. it occurred to me that if orson welles hadn't done his 'war of the worlds' radio address, or been one of the finest directors of all-time, he'd be known as one of the best actors of his time. he's a pretty amazing talent. i liked a lot of the lighting in the film because, not only is very moody and atmospheric, but it also has an oddly singular look. i've seen plenty of noir before, but somehow this film is lighted in a way that makes it look different from most of the other films with shadowy landscapes. i don't know what welles did, but in some scenes it looks like he used a single, powerful light source so that the scene was well lit, but filled with shadows. in other films it looks as though they just dim the lights, the result being less contrast between the lit and non-lit areas. i like the effect because it will reveal one side of a character's face completely, but the other side will be in total darkness. despite the style i was unable to really get into this film. i've tried a few times now and it's never interested me all that much. i will say that i found it most interesting this time, but still not consistently enjoyable. at the same time it's hard to give this film a bad grade because it's so good technically. oh well. C+.

To Have And Have Not - i fell in love tonight. the object of my affection is lauren bacall. sure, i've seen a couple bacall films before (though not this one), but today was the first time i really saw a bacall film; or bacall for that matter. rather than make this entire film review about lauren bacall, i'll summarize by saying that in this film bacall is more sexy than any other actress i can recall having seen in a film. perhaps there have been hotter women in film before, but seeing bacall in this film made me forget all the other women; she's that foxy. and it's not just about good looks, it's about her presence. from her first appearance on the screen she steals the show - she's cooler, even, than bogart, she's talented, she's sexy, she's all woman. her first appearance on the screen is an interesting one because the camera is following bogart as he's walking down the hall and into his room. bacall is staying in the room across from his and we catch just a sliver of her as she exits her room, and he enters his. most people probably wouldn't even catch this as her first appearance, but it is, and it's brilliant because when i saw that sliver of her body i thought "is that lauren bacall?...who is that woman?...when am i going to get to see her next?" that's good filmmaking right there, and it wasn't a mistake - i'm sure hawks knew exactly what he was doing. it reminded me of a technique polanski used in the over-rated horror classic "rosemary's baby." there's a scene in that film where the old lady neighbor (who turns out to be a rather unsavory character, but to this point seems very friendly) goes from one room to the bedroom to make a phone call. the protagonist is pregnant and needs a good doctor, the old lady offers to call someone she knows for her. the camera stays in the hallway and the old lady sits on the bed to make the phone call. the camera is perfectly positioned so that the audience can see only the back half of the old lady as she sits on the bed making the phone call. the technique, in this instance, makes the audience want to sort of peer around the doorway which is blocking the other half of the old lady, so that we can see the rest of her. in that film it's a good way of hinting that the old lady has something to hide. in this film, seeing just a glimpse of a good looking woman makes the audience eager for her next appearance; at least that's the intention - and it worked for me.
really, though the film is about more than just the stunning and brilliant lauren bacall. there's also other stuff in this film. like lauren bacall's dress at the end, or the little dance she does moments before the ending of the film, or the way she looks at bogart. all those things are also high points of the film. okay seriously....i'm going to buy this movie tomorrow so i can experience the illustrious and breathtaking pulchritude of bacall at a moment's notice. whew. i've been reduced to school boy status by this film, it's really amazing.
at any rate, the film does have strengths beyond the goddess lauren bacall. in this film bacall and bogart have a chemistry rarely matched in the history of cinema. generally i'm not a romance film kinda guy so i don't look forward to the parts of the film where the two lovers look deep into each other's eyes, say something corny and then kiss, but in this film it's entirely different. i'd have to see casablanca again, but i think that the chemistry in this film is even more powerful than that created in casablanca. in casablanca there the entire film had that relationship as its focus - their past, sam (the piano player), etc. were all used to add another dimension to the relationship between bogart and bergman, so, in that respect, the relationship in casablanca was stronger. but in terms of onscreen chemistry, i think that "to have and have not" did an even better job.
bogart, not to be out shined by bacall, is also great in this film. he plays the straight-shooting, quick-talking, able-bodied, street-smart good guy so well that you almost forget the character can exist outside of him. in actual fact, it rarely did at this level. again, not to be outdone, you have walter brennan who i grew to love from watching rio bravo (also penned by jules furthman). i've only seen a small handful of his films, but this guy always stands out in a film - no matter the size of his role. in this film he has a supporting role as an alcoholic who tags along with bogart. between the three stars and the direction of the picture you have quite an amazing film. add to that the sharp and often funny script and you have a classic of forties cinema with three of the finer performances of the period. and all this goes without mentioning the plot which features international intrigue, political upheaval and a budding romance. A-.

Stagecoach - the only ford film that really captured my attention and respect upon first viewing was "grapes of wrath;" everything else either took multiple viewings, or has yet to intrigue me. i didn't immediately like the searchers or the man who shot liberty valance; i saw about half of the quiet man and wretched; my darling clementine was good, but didn't strike me to be as amazing as most seem to think it is; they were expendable, too, didn't inspire to jump with joy. i came around on the searchers and the man who shot liberty valance, but have mixed feelings on the others i mentioned; and now i can add stagecoach to that unfortunate list. i know the guy was talented, i can see it in most of his pictures, but for some reason i don't see him as a brilliant filmmaker. that said, looking back on this film's elements i can see why it's considered great. let me first say that i think it's a better written film than it is filmed. searchers and grapes of wrath had much better cinematography, in my opinion, than stagecoach. so far as i know this is the first great western and i suppose that should count for something. ford certainly should get some recognition for his overall effect on one of the most important genres in american cinema. i liked the ensemble cast and the well-drawn characters from john wayne as an outlaw on the run to the southern gentleman who almost betrays us all near the end of the film. stagecoach also has a good amount of comic relief and action to draw upon, which makes the film far more multi-dimensional than i would imagine most westerns of the time were. i can see stagecoach as a landmark film because of what it did relative to its time, but from a technical standpoint i don't see why this work would be considered "genius." kurosawa called ford "the master" and welles said he studied "stagecoach" extensively when preparing to direct "citizen kane" (a fact i didn't know until just now). certainly i saw some nice shots, including plenty of shots that included the ceiling within the frame (something citizen kane is often credited with doing to great effect). B.

Killing - a simply staggering film. there's too much great stuff in this film to comment on here. i'm a bit tired so i'll just say it's the greatest film-noir of all-time with some great character actors, a great script, a great score, excellent direction and one of the best endings of all-time. at just under 85 minutes, it's an extremely tight and efficient film. great stuff. A+.

Lady Vanishes - stylistically speaking it's a sort of unconventional hitchcock film. actually i take that back - it's indicative of his early work, but unconventional relative to his later, more well known, work. i don't know what film acted as his pivot from the old style hitchcock to the new, but it probably happened around the time he moved from the UK to the USA (1940). this film is similar to later films like rear window, lifeboat and rope that find the majority of the film taking place in a setting of limited space. in rear window it was an apartment complex, lifeboat was on a lifeboat at sea, rope was in a penthouse apartment, and this film took place primarily on a train. i like the technique because of the claustrophobia that it provides - in all of these settings there is no escape for the characters. the film showed some elements of later hitchcock. one scene after the protagonist gets clunked on the head comes to mind. hitchcock blurs the screen a bit and superimposes different images on each other to create a dazed effect. he's big on using imagery of this sort to disorient the viewer, or at least to convey the feeling of disorientation. it's a similar style to the one he employs when he shoots one of his famous dream sequences. the salvador dali collaboration in "spellbound" is the one that most quickly comes to mind. at any rate, this film is as intriguing as most of his work and shot with enough style to keep me interested in that respect. it doesn't show the same level of visual ambition that he demonstrated at his peak (vertigo), but it's a well-written and well-executed film nonetheless. B.

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story - not as good as anchorman, but a decent summer comedy anyway. the cast was decent enough, but really the film was about the comedy stemming from ben stiller's character. his is the most intriguing character of the film, and the best acted. i don't really understand why vince vaughn keeps getting starring roles in comedy films - he's just not that great. he has a sort of deadpan humor that occasionally works, but doesn't generate many laughs. thinking back on the film now i can't even come up with any really funny sequences. it's not that the film was unfunny, but it clearly wasn't all that fantastic either. C+.
Young Frankenstein- a funny film with some classic moments and memorable characters, but not mel brooks' best. his first film, the producers, has always been my favorite. blazing saddles is also good, but i haven't seen it recently enough to know if it's better than young frankenstein. even though the producers is brooks' funniest film, young frankenstein is probably his best directed. not only is it shot in beautiful black and white, but the lighting, camera movements and wipes are all more visually stimulating than his other films. it's not a hilarious film, but it generates consistent laughter and that's good enough for me. B.

Night Of The Demon - i hadn't even heard of this film until i checked peggy cummins' (gun crazy) filmography. gun crazy and night of the demon were her best known pictures according to so i figured i'd check this one out. the film is also directed by jacques tourneur who did "out of the past," which i watched recently, and co-stars dana andrews who was in "laura," which i also watched recently. so this picture seemed like a good choice. i was expecting the kind of cheesy horror film that might come at the end of a person's career, but was pleasantly surprised by this picture. tourneur's direction in "out of the past" is good, but i wasn't blown away by it. his direction in this film, however, yielded more impressive shots and sequences, the sum of which make for a well done picture. i don't think that the picture itself was better than "out of the past," but i do think that tourneur's direction was more impressive. there were some truly artistic shots, great lighting, and very effecting (read: scary) scenes. that said, some of the story was a little underdeveloped and the acting didn't trump that seen in "out of the past." nevertheless, despite the appearance of the cover art, it's a solid horror flick with plenty to sink your teeth into. B. p.s. the film is also known as "curse of the demon." there is a second cut of the film that is 13 minutes shorter, this review is for the longer version.
Bourne Supremacy - not as good as the first one, but still a fine escapist action flick. i do wish that they had refrained from using the handheld camera so much - it got to be a bit much, especially when coupled with the fast editing style. there's a really good car chase near the end. i wish people would stop playing moby songs in their films; i'm so tired of hearing that guy. i'll give it a B-.
Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgandy - it takes a while to get going, but the film finds its stride twenty or thirty minutes in and is pretty relentless from there on. i don't think that this is going to be a classic like austin powers or meet the parents, but it does have some great lines and memorable moments. the whole cast does a pretty good job of supporting will ferrell, which was a pleasant surprise. going into the film i figured it was going to be the will ferrell show which would have been fine, but usually one person can't carry a comic film. there are some great cameos from tim robbins, luke wilson, ben stiller and (especially) jack black. of course the end whimpers out a bit, but they employ the now old technique of playing outtakes during the credits to regain some of the laugh momentum as you're leaving the theater. it's a silly kind of humor, but if you're like me then you're likely to get your money's worth from this summer comedy. B+.
Door In The Floor - sort of a cross between "the graduate" and "spanking the monkey." it's able to combine drama and comedy pretty well and the story revolves around a high school aged boy who has the hots for kim basinger. i think that the funny moments were more funny than the poignant moments were poignant, but both worked pretty well. the boy is played by jon foster, whom i've never heard of. despite being relatively new he's the star of the film and probably does an even better job than jeff bridges and kim basinger. the young daughter, played by one of the precocious fanning sisters (yes there's another one), is also good. a sexual coming-of-age film like this can have the tendency to peter out about half-way through the film. door in the floor, though, is able to keep moving forward by making subtle changes to the characters and their interactions. a small change in a character or two can change the dynamic of their relationship which then changes other relationships within the film. sometimes films stagnate and aren't able to find ways to change the character interactions in a believable and interesting way; this film doesn't have that problem. it's got two (at least former) A-list actors so it's somewhat surprising to see this playing in independent cinemas. i'm glad it is though because it may provide some welcome box office funds for smaller theaters. a worthwhile film. B.
Thelma And Louise - it's a female version of a cross between easy rider and vanishing point. i think that the acting in this picture, though is probably better than it is in easy rider because fonda and hopper seem like genuine hippies so i don't know how much acting was actually going on. sarandon and davis both have career performances in this film. it's a great opportunity because unlike other great performances (of the kind we're used to seeing from whiny boy sean penn), these performances are about a range of emotions. rather than being confined to the crying and yelling side of the spectrum, davis and sarandon are able to smile, laugh, have fun, and be braggarts and fugitives equally well. there's enough plot to support the two-plus hour running time, but i'm not sure it was all needed - a bit of trimming might have made it a bit stronger. the ending was more poignant the first (and only other) time i watched it (12 years ago), but i still think it earned the right to be a little heavy at the end. scott didn't extend the slo-mo too much and that's a good thing. a good film with two great performances. B.

High Sierra - my favorite part of this bogart gangster film is the relationships it creates. there's the relationship between bogart and his boss which doesn't get much screen time, but is strong and complex nonetheless; there's the relationship with the crippled girl and her father whom he meets on the road; there's the relationship between bogart and lupino; and there's even a nice touch with bogart and a homeless dog. if you haven't seen the movie then all that might come off as a recipe for a hokey, dated picture, but it is actually well-executed and not at all corny. one reason things are able to work across such a diversity of feelings and moods is bogart's performance. he's able to shift gears from tough guy gangster to heart-warming nice guy with a blink; and it's always believable. the chase sequence was well directed, and the rest of the picture seemed to played straight-ahead. a solid picture that had some nice touches, but seems most notable for the fact that it launched bogart as a leading man. B.

Shower - pleasant enough chinese film about three men - one father and two sons. the father and one of the sons, who is mentally retarded, live together and own (?) a local bathhouse. the other son has a more mainstream life in a city elsewhere, but comes to visit one day after not having seen either his brother or father for quite some time. all the relationships are strained at some point in the film, but ultimately the family comes together and they resolve that things will be different from then on. in a way it's reminiscent of "the way home" (a south korean film) and "rain man." like "the way home" the film's main theme is one of generational differences and change in general. it's not as touching a picture as "the way home," but the themes are more roundly explored in the film. there is the obvious case of the "city son" who rarely visits his father and retarded brother (whom he is ashamed of) who live relatively simple and traditional lives. "the way home" takes a similar approach (with a grandmother who lives in the country and her grandson who lives in the city), but stops there. "shower" works the theme of change in throughout all aspects of the film. the bathhouse undergoes change (no thanks to the government), the family undergoes change, patrons of the bathhouse talk about changes in their lives, and the father relays a story of his wife before she was married which makes a strong contrast to their current lives, thus strengthening the theme of change. of course the title and the primary setting (the bathhouse) have implications as catalysts for change - bathing or cleansing oneself is a symbol of rebirth and change. the film is occasionally funny and never boring. B.

Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War On Journalism - from the same people who brought us "unprecedented" and "uncovered" comes this latest documentary which takes aim at a more specific cause. it's probably the most dynamic and well-done of the three, but has less significance than the war in iraq or the stealing of the 2000 election. it makes a pretty good case against the fox news network using a variety of sources - the best being their own programming. most people know by now how bad fox news is, but if you don't, or want it all in one neat package, outfoxed is the place to go.B+.

Re-Animator- i've seen this cult classic horror film a few times now and it maintains it's camp greatness every time. sometimes "camp" comes with a negative connotation - especially in the horror genre - but with films like this and evil dead it's more of an aesthetic than it is a demeaning title. re-animator is a well done film that happens to have a sense of humor about what it is and i think it's all the stronger as a result. i remember being pretty creeped out as a kid watching this film and for good reason - it's a creepy movie with a simple, but creepy idea. i listened to the director's commentary this time and learned mostly anecdotal stuff. recommendable to fans of fun horror films. A-.
Good, The Bad, And The Ugly - the last 30 minutes of this film is pure cinematic power, i just had to get that out of the way first. now let me start at the beginning and try to keep this short...the title sequence - there aren't many films that have a title sequence that is worth mentioning, but this is one of them. not only is the opening theme amazing (morricone at his undeniable best), but the red, white, green and other colors over the faces of the three main characters just looks so striking. it's a memorable title sequence. each of the three leads turns in a great performance and really embodies the character like only great actors can do with great characters. eli wallach has probably the best performance of the three because his role is tougher and more dynamic, and likely has the most screen time.
roger ebert points out in an essay that comes with the dvd that much of GBU is about what is just outside of the frame and then shortly becomes apparent with a movement of the camera. he makes a good point here about the visual portion of the film. it's not a new technique that leone employs, but it is a unifying motif of the film - something that is there, but is unseen until leone decides to show it. this doesn't just happen visually within the frame, it also happens plot-wise with the characters. the best example of this is that each of the characters has a piece of the puzzle needed to get the 200 thousand dollars - wallach and van cleef know the cemetery where the money is buried, but not the grave, eastwood knows the grave, but not the cemetery. in this sense what they don't know is just as important as what they do know. visually the same thing holds true when, for example, we see eastwood laying on the ground at the foot of a boot. assuming it's wallach's foot eastwood grabs the boot in an attempt to trip wallach, the camera pulls back and we see it's just the boot with no foot in it. the camera pulls back some more and we see a bucket of water that eastwood obviously desires, the camera pulls back some more and we see wallach is washing his bootless foot in the water. leone reveals each part of this scene piece by piece to make the impact greater. had he chosen one long shot that showed the entire scene then we wouldn't have been as impacted by each disappointment eastwood experiences. i also think that this motif of leone's relates to another theme of the picture - relativity or fluidity of truth. everything is relative to whatever is in the frame, or whatever leone is showing us. the terms "good," "bad," and "ugly" are all relative to each other. eastwood's character isn't all that good when you consider some of the killing he does or the fact that he leaves wallach in the desert for no apparent reason.
the film's score is simply one of the best in film history - it's the very definition of epic, but has some lyrical passages as well which operate well in the sequence where wallach is getting beaten for information by van cleef's goon. the dvd transfer makes the film look and sound like it would have at its premiere. it's a criterion level release so if you're at all interested in this film pick up this version asap.
the good, the bad and the ugly is an epic and visionary masterpiece by a master of cinema. it's not the best film of all-time, it's not flawless, but it is an inspired work by a truly visionary auteur and for that reason alone any fan of film should watch this picture. watching this film for the first time may very well be like listening to ornette coleman's "free jazz" for the first time. in a lot of ways this film's style is that much different than the westerns that had come before it. A.
War Room - anytime you can get this close to a public official you're in historical territory. "crisis" and "primary" both followed JFK, one during the democratic primaries (i'll let you guess which one) and the other followed him while he was actually a sitting president (a documentary first, and as far as i know, only). both those films, though, run at just under an hour. war room is a feature length film that follows bill clinton's campaign in 1992 to oust george h.w. bush. the film could have easily been twice as long and i would have eaten up every bit of it because this stuff is endlessly interesting to me; i've seen the film a few times now and it never gets old. pennebaker and hegedus are the directors of the film and they're both veterans of documentary cinema, to varying degrees. pennebaker made the classic bob dylan film "don't look back," and hegedus went on to make "" which i enjoyed even more than the dylan film. i talk a lot about films as historical documents and that's naturally even more true for documentaries (duh). but this film goes beyond that generalization of films as documentation of a social/political pulse, and it does that because, like, it was in a very interesting and important place at the right time. it probably won't be anytime soon that we get this candid a look at the inside of a winning national campaign - how it thinks, how it functions, how it responds, what drives it, etc. if you're at all interested in politics this a vital film. A-.

Ocean's Eleven - i suppose this is soderbergh's cash cow. still, if you're going to make a lot of money on a movie (and "go hollywood") you may as well turn out a picture as good as this one. soderbergh uses all sorts of camera and editing techniques to make this film constantly changing and alive. he'll slow things down, use wipes or flips to transition between scenes, move the camera all over the place, etc. all in an effort to keep you interested and entertained. of course this is just the style, but the film has the substance to match. it's got a pretty nicely rounded cast of characters, plenty of comic relief and an epic heist that will entertain most who want to be entertained. soderbergh's commentary with the writer was good enough. B.
Incident At Oglala - solidly put together documentary by michael apted ("7 up" series) about what most people know as the leonard peltier incident at pine ridge. i'll tell you exactly what this film is - a hybrid of "Waco: The Rules Of Engagement" and "Thin Blue Line." it has some of the government malfeasance of waco and the wrongly-accussed-individual story of thin blue line. it's not as well done as either of the two films, but it's good and it really doesn't need to be great because the story it tells is important enough. don't get me wrong - the film isn't shabby or poorly constructed, it tells the story well and keeps things balanced fairly well, but thin blue line and waco did an even better job. B.
Taking Sides - within the first five minutes i had this film pegged as a fictional story of a leni riefenstahl in a post-WWII germany type situation. an artist who was great and may have done some things for the nazi party, but never necessarily supported hitler and his methods. it turns out that the film is actually based upon a real-life conductor, and the controversy following the war, rather than being a fictionalization of a potential post-war trial of riefenstahl. at any rate, the basic guiding principles/questions of the film are the same: to what extent does one offer forgiveness for an artist who in/directly supported the cultural supremacy of the third reich? in the film keitel plays an american major who is responsible for investigating the level of complicity of a certain german conductor, played by skarsgård. as the plot unfolds we discover that skarsgård has enough in his past to make a case either way - as a sympathizer of the party, or as a quiet musician just trying to be a great artist. both the leads do a great job, but, in fact, the entire cast is fairly solid. the film does lag in areas, but it's a compelling enough debate carried out by two strong performers, to carry the audience through the slow spots. in the end i didn't feel entirely compelled by either argument - it's a good question and one that varies on a case by case basis, but in this case i think it's easy to say the conductor should have left the country in 1934, and it's hard to expect him to stand up against the enormous pressure of the time and place. B-.
Boogie Nights - an absolutely great picture. p.t. anderson has a gift for making films and this one may be the greatest testament to that fact. if you look at the inserts he uses early in the film to establish location and mood you see that filmmaking is just as much an art as it is a technique. when we're at dirk diggler's home, for example, and we first see his family we are introduced to the location by brief shots of coffee being poured and bacon cooking on a pan. immediately the audience gets the sense of suburban americana. anderson contrasts this with what happens over breakfast in the next couple minutes to establish the fragmentation of the traditional family. of course this theme is reinforced throughout the film, perhaps most shockingly in the case of william h. macy's character who ushers in the 1980s with a bang. which brings me to the is uniformly excellent, even mark walhberg turns in an inspiring performance in a very demanding lead role. secondary and tertiary actors like john c. reilly, burt reynolds, luis guzman, julianne moore, heather graham, don cheadle and philip seymore hoffman all turn in career performances. the cinematography in this film is amazing. camera movement is abundant and adds all sorts of vitality and fluidity to the picture. the pool party scene is especially great. but without the excellent musical supervision some of the longer scenes would appear a little flat. anderson expertly weaves musical pieces into medleys of his own. again, this adds a flow and vitality to the picture that makes 150 minutes seem much shorter. martin scorsese's "casino" is the film that most resembles this one, but where scorsese's film had a noir overtone to it ("casino" begins at the end, is fatalistic, and employs voice-over narration), boogie nights is an ultimately uplifting and life-affirming work. anderson's optimism is similar to that of kurosawa - both acknowledge the ugliness of the world and choose life in spite of that ugliness. it's a film that has everything and does everything. it's a wonderfully assured opus from one of the great storytellers and filmmakers of my time, and i hope he continues to operate on anything close to this level. A+.

My Dinner With Andre - a pretty great film. probably the first thing that most people will talk about with this film is its structure - it starts rather simply with wallace shawn (most famously as the mastermind in "princess bride") walking down the street talking about himself and the fact that he is not looking forward to having dinner with an old friend named andre. the rest of the film is the two of them talking over dinner about life, philosophy, theater etc. i wouldn't call it a slow film because, to me anyway, the subject matter is very interesting, but it's certainly not a conventional film. there are cuts and it does avoid (barely) simply being a filmed play. that said, i didn't find much artistry to the technique behind the cutting or the sets or anything other than the acting and conversation. it's quite possible that you'll find the film boring and unexceptional, but i think that most people reading this will receptive to the ideas presented in the film, and for this reason alone the film is worthwhile. there is a lot of philosophical ground that is covered in their discussion and the philosophy of theater, and life as theater, interacts with the structure of the film rather interestingly. in this way the film reminds me somewhat of the speech that sardu gives at the beginning of "bloodsucking freaks" wherein he questions the viewers' (within the film) motives for wanting to see such a freak show. of course he is really talking to the people who are watching the film, which itself is a freak show. at any rate, it's a finely layered and thoughtfully constructed film which addresses a lot of core life issues. anyone remotely interested in questioning life should probably watch this film. if, however, you tend to question the playcalling of phil jackson more than the purpose of life, stay away because you'll just be bored. B++.
Slums of Beverly Hills - a charming little comedy. B.
Laura - the three leads did a fine job and the suspense portion of the picture was really good. i liked it, but didn't love it. B.

Big Clock - ray milland and charles laughton (ruggles of red gap) star in this noir crime-thriller. one way in which this film is different from the other noirs i've seen is that the protagonist is not only a good guy, but is somehow able to escape death/prison by the end of the film. in most noirs you have the protagonist who willingly (double indemnity) or not (detour) committed some atrocity for which he must pay later. usually this atrocity is murder/theft and usually he does it because of a woman (whether coerced by a woman (double indemnity) or in order to be with a woman (detour)). big clock begins towards the end, as most noirs do (usually to establish the fact that fate is inescapable), where our protagonist finds himself in a bit of a jam. as the film plays out we find that he's thought to be a murderer when he really isn't. the bad guy(s) still gets his due by the end of the film, as is the staple of all film noir, but the difference here is that our protagonist isn't guilty of anything which adds a different twist to the conventional noir tale. throughout the film there is a definite emphasis on the importance of time - especially for laughton's character. i think that of this is, at least in part, to emphasize the ever-steady march of time, especially as seen by laughton's sudden death as if to indicate the fleeting nature of life. in this sense the film reminded me of a far lesser film called "the last minute" by stephen norrington (blade) which is about a character so obsessed by how much time he has left in life that it consumes him to the point of shortening it. there are a few other notable actors who have bit roles in the film - George MacReady (paths of glory), douglas spencer (double indemnity, thing from another world), and harry morgan (M*A*S*H, inherit the wind). surprisingly the film also goes against noir conventions by having a relatively healthy dose of comic relief. this film noir is still noir, but it's not the same dark world that we see in more prototypical pictures like asphalt jungle or detour. B+. ....forgot to mention that i noticed another noir convention while watching this film - double indemnity, this film, and one or two others that i've seen recently have played with music in/out of the film. for example, there will be a piece of music playing in the background and we assume that it's part of the score, but at some point a character will turn off the radio or close a window signaling to the audience that the music was in the film, rather than over it. a similar technique was employed in "carnival of souls." in that film i think it reinforced the fact that the protagonist was the author, i'm not sure if the same is true for noirs that employ this technique.
King Arthur - a mostly by the numbers hollywood hybrid of braveheart and lord of the rings. fuqua (training day and tears of the sun) doesn't do anything very ambitious with the film. as a result it's not very inspiring, but it's not bad either. if it were my film i'd have rounded out the characters more, shown more of keira knightley's "assets," dropped some frames from the fight sequences (because i like that visual effect), made everything in the film darker (more smoke in the air, more overcast skies), used the music more sparingly, and picked a different lead. C.
Igby Goes Down - igby goes down has a unique, dark sense of humor that probably won't appeal to everyone, but is one that i found pretty entertaining. it's not entirely a comedy though, in fact much of the film deals with pretty heavy issues (mental disease, drug abuse, relationships, and death to name a few). thankfully the comic relief is maintained throughout the film because, even though the acting and writing are pretty solid, i don't think the film could have functioned solely as a dramatic piece. if you're a "hipster doofus" like me then you'll like the soundtrack. B-.
Best of Film Noir - more of an introduction to certain noir films and stars than an introduction to the genre. it covers a couple genre conventions very briefly, but focuses more on highlighting some of the better films in the genre. films like the maltese falcon, d.o.a., kiss them deadly and to have and to have not are covered. there isn't any great insight offered by the narration or any of the people interviewed. a good place to go to get film noir recommendation, but read "notes on film noir" if you're looking for a good breakdown on the genre. C+.

Pink Panther - pretty overrated comedy. it's possible that the other films in the series are better, but this particular installment didn't produce many laughs. there were some gags that i know were funny, but didn't make me laugh and i hate it when a comedy does that because i feel like the film could have easily been much better. a lot of the comedy occurred off screen and employed sound, which are technically interesting items to note, but not necessarily more effective. there was one really great sequence in the hotel room that got some good laughs from me, and was well-choreographed. other than that the laughs were few and far between. one reason for this is the first 45 minutes. with comedies it's very important that you get the audience loosened up and this film failed to do that. i think there were a few attempts at doing it (the title sequence being one of them), but nothing really got the ball rolling for me. planes, trains and automobiles is great example of how to open a comedy. peter sellers was clearly the highlight of the film, he usually is. the plot was mostly pretty thin, though there were attempts to add intrigue they were mostly half-hearted. that, i think, was the second biggest problem of the film. what was driving this film? ostensibly it should have been clouseau's search for the bandit, but very little of the narrative was actually dedicated to that. this causes two problems: 1) our protagonist takes a back seat to sir charles' relatively unfunny character which means we don't see enough of one of the funniest actors of the time (sellers) and 2) the purpose of the film shifts almost entirely to laughter, which this movie doesn't exactly deliver. if the plot were more interesting then the lack of laughs would have been more forgivable. conversely, if the laughter were more plentiful then the plot wouldn't have been as important. C.

Double Indemnity - this is the film noir to which i compare all film noir. not because it's the first (citizen kane or maltese falcon probably get that honor) or even the best (kubrick's "the killing" is better), but because it's the quintessential film noir as i've come to know the genre, and because it's one of the first films that i knew as a "film-noir." i think it has the second best femme fatale (marie windsor is even better in the killing) and probably the best script. the story has plenty of double-crossing and has a strong narration thanks, mostly, to raymond chandler. billy wilder's direction is straight-forward noir - shades are always drawn, shadows are heavy, etc., but i didn't like it as much as kubrick's direction in the killing or even lewis' direction in gun crazy. edward g. robinson provides a great secondary character. i wonder how much of film-noir's bleak world philosophy is pure and how much is a result of the production code of the time that required bad deeds be punished. when i think about it i don't think the production code had that much of a bearing on how films were written, but i do wonder how many films would have allowed the thieves to get away with it in the end if not for the code. anyway, i like it the way it is - the darker and more awful the ending the more i enjoy it. i think that if you combine the snappy dialogue of this film with everything else in the killing you have the perfect film-noir. double indemnity is constantly moving forward so it never gets stale, but it's sort of an unofficial rule of mine that a film-noir should be under 100 minutes long, it just seems like a good length to get in and get out. i suppose this film would have been the headliner at any theater at the time so they probably got some slack in that regard, whereas "gun crazy," which had b actors and probably got second billing, would have been under stricter control length-wise. watching films like this makes me happy because in some weird way, despite having definite conventions, they are so alive and fun to watch. A.

Out of the Past - five noir films, four days - it's been fun. the film is based upon a novel entitled "Build My Gallows High" which i think is a great title, and actually shows up as a line late in the film. robert mitchum is great. i haven't seen many of his films, but it seems to me that he's perfect for this type of role so i would expect that he more than dabbled in film noir. jane greer is good as the femme fatale - she has the soft look down pat, but doesn't have the fire that barbara stanwyck (double indemnity) or peggy cummins (gun crazy) have. the script is pretty great and has far too many great lines to summarize here. the scenery is different from the normal urban landscape of most film noir...sure there's plenty of that, but it's contrasted with the open scenery more befitting a western. i didn't see as sharp direction as i saw in gun crazy, but i may have simply missed it. at any rate, the film is a classic and deserves your eyes if you're into film noir. B+.

Gun Crazy - even thought asphalt jungle was vintage film-noir and had everything running on all cylinders, it didn't have some of the touches that gun crazy has. i've seen gun crazy a couple times, but i don't think i ever appreciated it as much as i did this time. i've never heard of joseph lewis, much less seen any of his other films, but this guy knew how to direct. the camera moves, the staging of the characters and their relationship to each other, the storytelling - everything works in this film. there are a couple montage sequences that fill the viewer in on events quickly and efficiently. in one sequence the couple get married, go to to a jewelry store, go to a casino and then goto a pawn shop. within those thirty seconds of well-scored film we know everything we need to know about the (bad) luck of these two characters. there's another sequence that follows the couple on a couple heists across the country in one of the shots they are holding up a gas station and in the window there is a sign that reads "easy pay plan." touches like that make a good film great. john dall (who also stars in hitchcock's "rope") and peggie cummins play their parts well. i think john dall is another good actor who went sort of unnoticed...he was in only eight films, but i've liked his performance in the three films in which i've seen him. the script in this film isn't as sharp or slick as some of the other noir scripts (double indemnity is the yardstick in this regard) i've seen, but it produces some good lines...she asks why they're getting tired so quickly while running away from the law and he says it's because of the altitude (they're in the mountains, similar to the ending in high sierra). i like that line because it's true on the literal level, but it's also indicative of their situation - running out of air, nowhere to run, etc. another scene i really liked was when she was trying to get him to go out for another score. he was at the door and she walks over to him and asks him not to go, and to do another score so they could afford the kind of lifestyle she requires. she moves to the background and lies down on the bed. generally laying down would mean a submissive position to the person standing, but at this point, in this situation, she has even more power in the conversation than before. this demonstrates the sexual power that she exerts over him in their relationship. of course the film is rife with sexual undertones since he has a fetish for guns, but hates to kill anything with them. in other words he loves an object despite despising the very thing it is made for. as you can see the film operates on several different levels scene by scene and over the entire film. it's also a wonderful film to watch. it's short, exciting, tense and the epitome of great film noir. i can't honestly think of anything wrong with the film. next to the killing and double indemnity this may be my favorite film noir of all-time. A. tomorrow i'll finish off my recently purchased film noir boxset by watching "out of the past."

Asphalt Jungle - so yesterday i saw the set-up which was directed by the guy who did The Day The Earth Stood Still and today i saw the asphalt jungle which co-starred sam jaffe who was in The Day The Earth Stood Still...i like it when those things happen unexpectedly because it means i'm more likely to remember these people. "crime is only a left-handed form of human endeavor." "Experience has taught me never to trust a policeman. Just when you think one's all right, he turns legit." "People are being cheated, robbed, murdered, raped. And that goes on 24 hours a day, every day in the year. And that's not exceptional, that's usual. It's the same in every city in the modern world. But suppose we had no police force, good or bad. Suppose we had... just silence. Nobody to listen, nobody to answer. The battle's finished. The jungle wins. The predatory beasts take over." though the script isn't as good as the one for "double indemnity," this film clearly has some great lines - some are just clever or funny and some encapsulate the noir-aesthetic perfectly. i also like the one from "out of the past" that goes like this: "[Kathie is playing roulette] Jeff Bailey: That's not the way to win. Kathie Moffat: Is there a way to win? Jeff Bailey: There's a way to lose more slowly." but back to this film...asphalt jungle is an undeniable classic and it's easy to see why. i don't think that in 1950 it set any great new standards, but it synthesized a lot of aspects of the genre really's got the heist, the femme fatale (more than one really), the philosophy is perfect, some of the shots are wonderfully noir, the script is great, it incorporates both newspaper men and a private investigator (both noir staples) and does it all seamlessly and in an entertaining manner. john huston is one of those directors with a sickening portfolio (in chronological order): maltese falcon, treasure of the sierra madre, key largo, asphalt jungle, african queen, moby dick, unforgiven, casino royale, and annie. and those are only the ones that i know to be great, there are surely plenty others that i'm not aware of. watch it. B++.

Set-up - the first film james edwards (black parking lot attendant in "the killing") ever appeared in. he's not very well known, but he's a good actor so i figured i'd mention him. film noir is one of the rare genres that produced great films consistently, even when they received second billing. this film is a pretty good example of a film that probably was considered a b-film and probably got second billing to third man, or something similar. but like i said, just because it's a second billing film doesn't make it second rate and that's partially thanks to the genre. sexploitation films or horror films, for example, are much easier to botch in comparison to Noir films. and though the film lacked a-list talent for the time, some of the people involved in the picture (wise, edwards and ryan to name a few) went on to do better things later in their career. to me, noir is a pre-packaged formula that doesn't get old, unlike the teen films or action films of today. i have to acknowledge that many noir films do the same things and use the same conventions (flash back, voice-over narration, extreme shadows, they often feature newspaper men or private investigators as the protagonists, and they all have the same dark life philosophy). however, just because they're formulaic doesn't mean they can't be individualistic or great in their own way. set-up is rife with nice touches and good Noir lines. sure it's no double indemnity, but it's well directed and written. the fight sequence towards the end of the film is great filmmaking. B+.
Full Metal Yakuza - a cross between frankenstein and a gangster version of robocop. some of it is exciting, some of it is funny (intentionally?), some of it is bad and some of it is sadistic. overall it's not nearly the film that "audition" (also by miike) is. has it listed as a tv movie which is surprising given how graphic it is, but it would also explain the decision to "fog" (digitally censor) some of frontal nudity scenes. the history of fogging in japanese cinema is an interesting one. for a long time displaying pubic hair and genitalia in art was forbidden in japan. over the last couple decades things gradually loosened to the point where now (starting with a landmark decision in 1993) their equivalent of the MPAA looks at each film on an individual basis to determine whether fogging should be applied or not, rather than there being a hard and fast rule for all films. sometimes the fogging is a white fog over the area, sometimes it's a black box and sometimes (as in this film) it's a digital blurring of the area. at any rate, the film was only so-so. C.
Murder, My Sweet - didn't have as many nice touches as the set-up did, but the writing was better and the plot was more twisted. though nothing in the film was as inspired as the boxing sequence in set-up, the film was well-directed. i especially liked the dream sequences which sort of reminded me of hitchcock's partnering with salvador dali in "spellbound." each time the protagonist was knocked out he fell into a weird dream state that was depicted on screen by a pool of black covering the frame, followed by all sorts of illogical dream-type images. it was effectively executed. i think my biggest complaint about murder, my sweet and the set-up is that they weren't bleak enough. sure there was plenty of darkness in the film, both thematically and in the mise-en-scene, but the ending in both films was more uplifting than i would have liked. you see, when i'm watching noir i want an ending like the one in "the killing" - one that leaves no room for positive spin - pure, unadulterated darkness. B.

Terminal - the worst movie steven speilberg has ever made (correction: a.i. is the worst film he's ever made, this is the second worst). the third feature film hanks and speilberg have collaborated on makes me wonder if they shouldn't call it quits. it's not that the film is completely devoid of fun or good filmmaking, but it's clear to me that they've lost their edge here and should move on to individual projects. saving private ryan was a great film, catch me if you can was a good film, and the terminal is average speilberg at best, and a disaster at worst. some of the comedy works well, some of the character have some good moments (kumar pallana shows he's great even outside of a wes anderson film) and there is some inspired cinematography. unfortunately all that is weighed down by the clunky plot which falls into cliche land and never wrests itself of myriad film conventions - the love story, the little guy fighting the mean dictator, the fish out of water, etc. for hanks the film makes a little more sense - it goes along with some of his more recent roles that find him reinventing himself as an actor. in cast away he carried the film, in catch me if you can he played sort of a straight man role, but had to win the audience over since decaprio was the empathetic character, in ladykillers he completely stepped outside of his normal roles and became a southern gentlemen who happens to be a thief as well. unfortunately the film takes a turn towards the pedestrian about half way through and from there on no one could save it. i can't think of a film with more product placement than this one...everything from sbarro and starbucks to brookstone and the discovery store. on a side note - today is tom hanks' birthday so i'll give this movie a C-.
Day The Earth Stood Still - this movie is so ripe for being made fun of, at the same time it's quite a good picture. some (particularly the story and themes) of it holds up even today and some of it (bits of the dialogue and sfx) doesn't. overall it's a fun picture because it's a timeless story with a theme that is (unfortunately) also timeless. i don't think people will ever tire of stories that explore the possibility of visitors from other worlds - it's just such a fertile topic. thematically the story is, predictably, about our increasingly bellicose nature during the cold war. the reason for the visit from outer space is our recent development of nuclear weapons and our experimentation with rockets (the film was made in 1951). at this rate we would likely extend our war into outer space which would be quite hazardous to neighboring planets. their visit was simply to warn us that we had either stop fighting or make sure we fight only amongst ourselves, otherwise they would be forced to retaliate. the story is a bit more complicated, but that's the gist. certainly a good film for all ages and all times. B+.
City of God - stylistically it's a cross between tarantino and amores perros, thematically it's along the lines of menace II society. roger ebert called it one of the best films you'll ever see...i don't know about that, but i do know that the academy was smoking some wacky shit when they gave "master and commander" the best cinematography award over this film. it probably also should have beaten return of the king for best editing, but that award was more for the entire trilogy than it was for that single film so that one was acceptable. it's a very good looking film - not in the cinemascope sense, but in the sense that it perfectly captures a feeling and atmosphere. the film almost sweats at times because the cinematography is that good. it's a very stylistic film, but it never trips over itself or comes off as being about style over substance. which brings me to the's great story that plays with time in an effective way, rather than doing it merely for the novelty of doing it. the first scene hooks you and then the narrator pulls you back several years to tell the story chronologically (more or less). you find out things as you need to know them and it works better than telling you things as they happen, hoping that you will remember them when you need to. one thing i didn't like about the film was near the end when there's sort of a surprise with a kid killing someone to avenge his father's death. i don't want to give it away, but there's no way the audience could have known about the kid's motives, so i felt it was a bit cheap of the film to use that a surprise. for me a good surprise is when i could have figured it out if i had really thought about it, but when the film doesn't give you any chance to figure it out on your own then it's less rewarding for me. it's like watching an episode of scooby doo or something. really though it wasn't that big of a scene or that big of a plot point by the end of the film so it didn't weigh into my grade much at all. B+.

Human Nature - michel gondry and charlie kaufman (eternal sunshine of the spotless mind) team up here to explore the more base qualities of human nature. the story is told in flashback by three characters - one an overly-hairy woman (arquette), one a dead man (robbins) and one a former ape man (ifans). visually the film is vibrant and storybook-like, both you would expect from gondry. before i watched it i didn't know who the director was (i had forgotten why it was in my netflix queue), but in watching the film i recognized the style and by the end (when i saw the director) everything made sense. the nature scenes look entirely unnatural and like a filmed version of a fairytale or of the adam and eve story. perhaps this is a comment that nature itself is a construct or some unattainable human creation? more than anything the film is a study of our nature in relation to humanity's place in "civilization." it explores our social mores, sexual relations and, in a way, hopes to find what it is that drives us all. to me it seemed that after the film was done exploring our base desires, impulses and needs we are most driven by our desire to fuck. usually a film with this kind of conclusion turns out to be an erotic thriller (basic instinct) or a tedious filmgoing experience (last tango in paris), but this film was different because despite a sobering (at best) or depressing (at worst) conclusion, everything was dealt with in a humorous way. of course it wasn't just about our sexual impulses guiding our everyday actions - there was also an exploration of our will-to-power and ascetic lifestyle, and how those are ultimately our undoing. after all, in the end who makes it out free and alive? - the one character who is both in touch with his inner-ape and is cultured, the one who acknowledges why ("to get me a piece") he is going through all the cultural motions. despite its philosophical groundings, the film is also visually interesting and moderately funny. B.
Starwoids - similar to trekkies, but not as funny and about star wars instead of star trek. unfortunately i didn't feel like i got to know any of the people who were interviewed like i did in trekkies and they didn't have anyone who was as dorky as the kid in trekkies. too bad because he was funny. C+.

Mean Girls - obviously this film gets graded on a different scale than, say, a tree grows in brooklyn...with that in mind the film was pretty decent. it maintains a lot of the same conventions of teen movies, especially in the ending, but tina fey wrote the screenplay so you know you can expect some intelligent humor and hearty laughs. the guy who played kevin gnapoor was really good and had the same sort of effect on the film that leonardo nam had on "perfect score," but he didn't get as much screen time. lindsay lohan isn't a very good actress, but in a film like this that's pretty much expected. generally films like this have a lot of top 40 teenage pop hits, and this film was no exception, however there was one orbital tune at the very end that made me think there was some good taste that went into making the film. mark waters' (house of yes) direction was formulaic at almost every turn, but, again, that's a function of the genre rather than the man. to be fair the teen flick as a genre does have some redeeming qualities. sure there is often a lack of acting and directing talent, the soundtrack is dictated more by proposed soundtrack sales than artistic merits, and the stories are often extremely formulaic. but sometimes teen movies address real concerns of a much aligned segment of our society, they can also be easy, light fun, and occasionally they step outside of the conventions and turn into genuinely good films. this one didn't enter that territory, but it did address issues like the hypocrisy within sex education - "don't ever do it because you'll get aids, but here are some condoms in case you decide to anyway." it's certainly not a "breakfast club" or even a "10 things i hate about you," but it was fun enough. B--.

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn - kazan is batting .500 with me. on the water front and streetcar named desire left me unimpressed, but east of eden and this film really hit the spot. the lead (peggy ann garner) did a great job - she didn't quite carry the film because there was a lot going for the film besides her performance, but without her performance the film would have been more unfulfilled potential than anything else. the rest of the cast was solid and the script was really good. there's something about 40s writing that is lacking in so many of the films today. there's a snap and wit to the writing that never happens in real life, but is so good when it's on the screen. a film like "double indemnity" just isn't made in this era. it's the kind of story, too, that if made in today's hollywood, would probably be botched. it would likely be ruined by one or more of the following current conventions: excessive emphasis on "eroticism," pandering to middle-aged women (one thing that made this film great is that has a more universal appeal), or a general inability to show restraint in conveying the melodrama. even though the lead is the mother of the film, i think a lot of the film hinges on the daughter's character. she is, in a lot of ways, the central character in the film and without her strength of character the film wouldn't have been so solid. definitely worth watching if you can find it. B+.

Sweet Hereafter - a well-crafted film from top to bottom, but one that just didn't resonate with me at all. a lot of the imagery was quite good, the score was haunting and appropriate, the mood and tone of the film were exactly where they needed to be, the acting was mostly good and the direction was just plain good. unfortunately the story, and its various, subplots just didn't do it for me. i was interested in seeing where things were going, but the end left me really unsatisfied and left more questions than answers; and not in a good way. C.

Corporation- my three biggest socio-political issues right now are: education (because i feel 99% of our problems can be solved with the right education), corporate dominance, and (an offshoot of the second item) media dereliction of duty. this film tackles the second issue with a deft clarity and focus that quite simply had me amazed from the first reel. let me cut to the chase here for those too lazy to read on: THIS is the film of the year, and possibly the best documentary (with the exception of american movie) to come out in the last five to ten. if there's any film that you roll out of bed to watch this year, please let this be the one.
most people who have an interest in progressive causes will be somewhat familiar with the outline of the film - corporate personhood has essentially led to corporations having an insane amount of control over what we see, eat, drink, breathe and consume in general. corporations have become part of our consciousness at an unshakable and unwashable level. they are ubiquitous, single-minded (profit), subversive parasites that erode our society from within. with this in mind you'd think the film was a marxist commercial out to bring capitalism to its knees. you'd be wrong. the film is remarkably even-handed in its approach. governmental as well as market fixes are proposed by different interviewees. i'm very much into the work of noam chomsky and michael moore (both are interviewed), i've read fast food nation, i'm a big fan of adbusters, i own naomi klein's "no logo" and korten's "when corporations rule the world" so a lot of this stuff wasn't all that new to me, but some of it was and the film is a perfect amalgamation of all this information. archive footage is used extremely well, like a hip-hop artist melding together samples in ways that create an entirely different tapestry of sound. interviews, archival footage, and good old investigative journalism are used to present a solid case about the role corporations have in our global society; as well as how we've gotten to this point and where we may be going.
despite the heavy nature and brutal pacing of much of the film, there are a few moments of ironic comedy. i do think the film would have done well with a few momentary pauses early in the film to allow things to soak in. in feature films a director might cut to an exterior for a beat or two to allow a bit of a cushion from one scene to the next, something similar may have aided the pacing of this film. it's actually remarkable that i wished it had taken a little more time considering its 2 hour and 25 minute runtime. i think it's testament to the film's strength. i also want to note that the long runtime and heavy nature of the film never came off as dry or overly-academic. in other words, it's not a boring film to watch - quite the contrary, it's a rather engaging and almost fun film to watch. i say "fun" reluctantly because learning about the ways in which a corporation is bilking america and the world out of our natural resources and hard-earned money isn't fun, but if you're interested in learning then it is an exciting film. a quick side note - the narrator had a perfect voice for the material and she reminded me a lot of the narrator in the "second renaissance" portions of the animatrix. generally i don't give films i've only seen once anything better than a B+, but this film blew me away from start to finish on so many different levels...A.
Fahrenheit 9/11 - there are a lot of different ways in which you can evaluate a film. a film like this often is judged primarily on the arguments it makes, rather than the way its constructed. as a michael moore film this is a fine achievement, as i said before, because it's such a synthesis of his previous work. as a social phenomenon it's an amazing piece of work. it's faced more scrutiny than any action by the administration it blasts, it's the number one film in america (including all the "red" states) despite it being rated R, being a documentary and being on less than a third of the number of screens that spider-man 2 is on. christopher hitchens, who absolutely blasts the film, points out that the slow action in afghanistan by bush is a point the moore uses against him. but, hitchens says, if bush had acted more decisively then moore would have found bush too eager to go to war. in other words, hitchens thinks that bush is damned either way, at least in the eyes of moore. to me, everything is about context, if your good friend says that he hates them damn immigrants you will take it as a joke, but if george bush says it then you fear he means it. yes, when bush goes from his "we must stop the evil-doers" speech to "now watch this (golf) drive" i feel sick. that's because i have a well-founded opinion about bush as a person. and i believe that moore does too. he (moore) acknowledges that he's the man behind the film and that much of this film is speculation and that much of the film is more about creating a pastiche of evidence to indict an already floundering president. only the most literal, or retarded, of moviegoers are going to take the film completely at face value. when moore shows innocent iraqi bodies he's not saying that all iraqis are innocent, he's merely presenting the alternate viewpoint. my suggestion to people going to watch this film is to take it as a filmed opinion piece. A--.

Samurai III- overall the trilogy was a disappointment. both the women who were constantly chasing mifune were pretty obnoxious. this one was better than the middle installment, but not as good as the first one. i think they should have made it as one 3.5 hour movie instead of three movies at 1 hour 40 minutes. yes i realize that would have required a lot of editing. B--.

Samurai II - the series, so far, is good, but this film definitely had its weak spots. i really don't like the pacing of the series. in the first film the pacing was frenetic at first and then slowed down later. in this film the pacing is very slow without much happening character-wise or plot-wise. then it will come about that three years are supposed to have passed and you're kinda left wondering what happened to all that time. there's a good story in these films, it just seems that the storytelling, particularly the pacing aspect thereof, is somewhat botched. i did enjoy the music and much of the acting. everything rests on the final installment. oh, and the criterion transfers are pretty bad by criterion standards. the colors shift, there is excessive grain, and the contrast is inconsistent. C+.

Killer Nerd - pretty standard troma fare, with the super geek from american splendor. some good comedy here and nothing too offensive. C.
Lower Depths - the most theatrical of any of the fourteen kurosawa films that i've seen. about 90% of the film takes place in a long flop house of sorts that is perfectly constructed. in fact, all the art direction and set design is top notch - the costumes and sets reinforce, nay, establish the major theme of the film - that being poverty. like "grapes of wrath," the primary character of the film isn't a person, it's poverty itself. poverty informs and shapes everything that happens or is addressed; the film revolves on this axis. also, more than any of the kurosawa films this film was about an ensemble effort. mifune is the star in some ways, but the old man is a star as well, and both of them enter late and leave early so really there isn't a star in the film. kurosawa uses the cramped setting to full effect. it gives the feeling of isolation (from the rest of the world) and confinement (to their impoverished conditions). he is also able to move the camera and use editing enough to keep the film cinematic and interesting, rather than stale or too theatrical. there is little, if any, music in the film which i think also adds to the theatrical feeling of the film. kurosawa does rain like no one in cinema, before or after. he uses lines (vertical, horizontal and diagonal) to dissect the screen. i've only seen the film once so i don't know what each one means, but there is undoubtedly a reason behind the choice. in one scene we see two men in a bunk bed - one on top and one on the bottom - and they are talking about hell on earth. the horizontal split in this scene probably enhances the particular motif of the scene. kurosawa uses a similar method with the wipes in rashomon. speaking of wipes...there aren't any in this film. there are only four breaks in the film (five acts) and all are fades to black. kurosawa never disappoints, and this film is no exception, but this film was the most different of the non-90s films i've seen. it had the most comedy and it was the least filmic. B+.
Rushmore - quite simply a modern classic. the soundtrack is great, the acting is uniformly excellent, the look is great, and the screenplay is top notch. it's a film that, like tarantino's work, relishes being a knows it's a film and loves that fact. it's a world that can only exist in cinema, and is somehow still realistic. my only complaint is that the pacing loosens up towards the end and margaret yang's character could have been more developed. A.

Testament Of Dr. Mabuse - on its surface "testament of dr. mabuse" is a detective mystery not unlike lang's "M." on this level alone the film is interesting enough to keep one's attention, but, of course, the film functions on other levels as well. "M" was originally slated to be called "the murderers among us," but apparently that title was censored. i mention this to illustrate the fact that lang was aware of, and concerned about, the danger that nazism posed in the early 30s; and i think this film extends that idea. the testament of dr. mabuse is a collection of written works from a deranged doctor. the work takes on a life of its own when another doctor reads the writings which outline a culture of crime and fear, and decides to make them a reality. clearly there is a subtext here about the danger of ideas, and men who fanatically mete them out. a lot of the transitions in the film are composed like a musical medley - there are some sound bridges, some instances where the first part of a sentence will be completed in a different scene after a cut, and sometimes there will be a sort of visual rhyme connecting two scenes. i don't know if there was any larger purpose behind this besides the aesthetic one. speaking of aesthetics...i really liked some of the art direction of the film. some of the set/production design was really really great - the notebooks dr. mabuse wrote in, for example, were great. good looking, rich, well-done film... it even has some comic relief. B.

Mystery Of Picasso - not at all what i expected, which was a straight-forward biopic of pablo picasso and his work. it turns out to be a more interesting film in some ways, and a less informative film in other ways. with the exception of a couple of scenes the film is just footage of the canvas as picasso is painting. clouzot (wages of fear and diabolique) positions a camera on the backside of sheets of paper as picasso paints and draws on them, so we see the work take shape as picasso fashions his art, but we don't see picasso or even his tools. this approach is interesting on several levels. first, from a filmmaking point of view, it is different from most art biographies in that the artist is not the subject of the film, at least not directly...and is certainly not the main visual subject of the film. picasso's work, as it unfolds, and thus his thinking, are what clouzot is most interested in here; so we get to know very little about the man (picasso), but have the potential to learn a lot about the way he thinks - as evidenced by how his paintings evolve. of course there's a lot left to the viewer in this style of film - how much you glean from watching picasso paint is determinant on your ability to follow his thought process. another way in which this film is interesting is the potential impact the film has on the art itself. picasso, presumably, never draws/paints in front of a camera with clouzot telling him "i only have five minutes of film left, so hurry up." also, the majority of his paintings are seen as finished products, in this film however, we see the paintings beneath the painting and this very well may have influenced the way picasso was painting for this film. in a sense his paintings become animation because he knows he is playing to a camera, to a crowd, that will capture all the strokes of his brush. we get to see the ideas that are discarded, and the changes that are made, in every work (about 20 total) he creates. in this way the film is a clear example of the observer changing the habits of the observed. despite the fact that we may not have gotten a pure look at how picasso thinks while he is creating something, we do get to see a genius at work - even if it is a particular and peculiar set of circumstances under which he is working. furthermore, since most of the 20 works were destroyed after the film was made (selfish genius on clouzot's part?), the film is all the more important as a historical document. B+.
In A Glass Cage- pretty creepy and artistic spanish horror/thriller. it's about an ex-nazi (is there such a thing? once a nazi, always a nazi?) who is confined to an iron lung (actually a glass lung, hence the title of the film) after an accident he had shortly after abusing a young boy. the majority of the film takes place inside a large, dark house which adds to the feeling of confinement of the film. an ex-victim of the nazi's ends up taking on nursing duties since he has become too much of a strain on his wife and daughter. at this point the film takes somewhat of an "apt pupil" turn - the victim, who is now grown up and unrecognizable to the nazi, finds the nazi's old journals and sets out to recreate some of the acts detailed therein. naturally there a good deal of homoeroticism and seriously sinister misdeeds along the way. in addition to the subject matter, the cinematography of the film also has a creepy, unsettling feel. there are very few colors, the filmmaker uses mostly dark, muted colors, along with grays and dull blues. the last 20 minutes of the film is almost entirely shot indoors, in very dark settings which, again, is befitting the subject matter. unlike "entrails of a beautiful woman," this film uses ambiance and style to enhance its exploration of the darker corners of humanity and the cycle of depravity. it is explicit at times, but doesn't rely on shocking images to the same extent of "entrails." it most reminded me of del toro's films, specifically "the devil's backbone." the protagonist (the nurse) was the weakest link in the acting chain, but he was adequate overall. B.
Samurai I - the first half of the film is told at an unrelenting pace - scenes are cut very quickly and we are hardly ever allowed to ruminate on what we've seen. the storytelling does slow eventually and at that point we are able to catch up with everything and start to connect with the characters and their story. visually the film isn't as striking as kurosawa's samurai work and part of that, i think, is due to it being filmed in color. sure, ran was in color, but kurosawa used the color to great effect with that film. those rants aside, the story is good and it is toshiro mifune playing the lead so it's a good film. i'm eager to see the second and third installments. B.

Fahrenheit 9/11 - i suppose it's impossible, but for the sake of this review i'll try to separate the philosophy and the film. first the film: the film is great. it certainly deserved the palme d'or because moore clearly has a way with the film medium. the introduction is a long preface to the rest of the film which features voice-over from moore about bush leading up to the events on 9/11. he addresses the debacle in florida, the extended vacations bush was taking just before 9/11, and the deliberate speed that bush employed after hearing that two planes had hit the wtc. a lot of this opening introduction before the credits is done in slow motion with a score that resembles something between godspeed you black emperor! and philip glass. though not as good as either, it's effective - rather quickly we our viewing world slows down and settles into a mood and state of mind that is almost trancelike. when the title sequence roles it sort of snaps you back into filmgoing mode. after this moore makes his case against bush, or, more accurately, makes a case for the bushes and bin ladens as bedfellows. he draws links between bush buddies and bin laden family members, between the bush family and saudi nationals. he outlines the same events following 9/11 that he went over in detail in "dude, where's my country?" so it's not much new for those of you who have read it. for those who haven't - basically the bin ladens got a free pass to fly out of the country while all other air traffic was halted. his argument of war in iraq as an economic decision for bush and his buddies is bolstered by all sorts of evidence, some direct and some circumstantial, but the sum of the parts has a pretty devastating effect. of course juxtaposition a favorite tool of his (and most great filmmakers)...he uses this to great comic effect as well as a method of strengthening his arguments against bush as president, or our hate of bush as a person. he'll show bush being a bumbling idiot who jokes about war and pair that with the grim realities of war. no member of the bush administration (or any political official for that matter) is off limits. his editing is great, but i wish he could have found a way to structure the film slightly differently. the first half was very much an academic visual essay, and the second half was more of an impassioned essay. he has always done an amazing job of combining humor, investigative reporting and the human element. this film, though balanced on the whole, was not as balanced throughout the film as his previous efforts.
fahrenheit 9/11 is clearly a michael moore film. one thing you can say for the guy, if nothing else, is that he's consistent. from day one (even before 1989's roger & me) he has been taking on the big corporate interests. roger and me and the big one were both almost entirely dedicated to the human impact of downsizing and the inherent greed of a corporate, globalized world. bowling for columbine combined this with a newer wrinkle about control of the public, namely that of fear. fahrenheit 9/11 finds michael moore revisiting all these themes - he goes back to flint and ties together what happened there as a result of General Motors leaving, to the high enrollment of marines in the area. comedy "bits" like reading the patriot act to members of congress while in an ice cream truck, or trying to get congressmen to sign their children up for the marine core, are straight out of his work in the awful truth and tv nation. he readdresses the methods of fear those in power employ to control the masses - threat levels, an unconquerable enemy, "us versus them", "the enemy could be anywhere," etc., just like he did in bowling for columbine; and all of that comes together nicely in this film. so while this film wasn't as impactful as bowling for columbine, as mind blowing as the first time i watched roger & me, or as funny as the big one, it may be his best work because he is able to bring everything together rather well. some may say that his work suffers when he strays from the facts to poke fun at the way bushies comb their hair, or look at the camera, or sing songs (ashcroft), or whatever, but that's part of the moore signature and part of what separates his films from films like "fog of war" or "uncovered: the truth about the iraq war," which are great in their own right, but drier. A-.
Entrails Of A Beautiful Woman - this movie is crazy. it's like a drug-induced version of "i spit on your grave" meets some fucked up "toxic avenger" type film. if you've ever been offended or grossed out by a film then you probably shouldn't watch this. i'm not entirely sure what the director was trying to do with the film, it seems heavily focused on the dark corners of society and has sort of vague ideas about violence/sexuality and power/addiction, but i don't think anything is really well-formed. it's not an easy film to watch and it's not a fun film to watch. at the end it gets really bizarre so it does provide some unintentional laughs, but other than that it's not a very good film. D.

Fast Company - pretty straightforward 70s hot rod film. reminded me of "two-lane blacktop" (with james taylor) even though it had a different style and tone. like a lot of 70s films it has wild west type themes like good vs. evil. this is reinforced by some of the outdoor photography, cowboy hats and the fact that one of the main characters is named billy the kid. as you can tell it's not an amazingly deep film, in fact it borders on camp at times, but it in a good way. it has some moments of comic relief and the acting is decent enough. there are some really good scenes like the 6.45 second scene that takes place inside one of the drag race cars or the final sequence.C+.

Slaughterhouse Five - reminds me a lot of catch-22 for two reasons - film adaptation of a good book and the scene transitions are similar. i wasn't too thrilled by either film. both had their moments here and there, but were mostly average as films. C+.
Zatoichi I - one year after yojimbo was released, comes the first installment of zatoichi, the film series. i'm pretty sure this started as a television series in japan, and became hugely popular at some point...i can see why. this story is fairly similar to yojimbo - a wandering stranger (zatoichi, the blind samurai) who works for one of two warring gangs. there are other, smaller similarities that i won't bother to list. since it's so easy to compare the two films (especially given the relative paucity of japanese samurai films i [and most] have seen) i'll first talk about the relative shortcomings of zatoichi. the score is good, but yojimbo's score is great. the direction in zatoichi is pretty good, whereas kurosawa's direction in yojimbo is almost unparalleled. the cinematography in both films is strong. the acting in yojimbo is amazing - from the smallest role all the way up to the title character, whereas zatoichi has solid acting, but nothing spectacular. in other words, yojimbo is a better film in just about every conceivable way. that said, zatoichi is a great film. its opening sequence serves as a great hook storywise and characterwise. i suppose that by now most japanese filmgoers would have had some interaction with zatoichi through the tv series, but the filmmakers wisely dedicated some time to getting to know the title character. i think the strongest aspect of this film was the relationship that was built between zatoichi and his adversary. they have a great deal of respect and admiration for each other, at one point zatoichi even gives his adversary a massage while they discuss swordsmanship. a common theme in asian cinema is the "herofication" of traditionally weak individuals - women, blind people, one-armed people, etc. zatoichi, the blind swordsman, is another in this tradition. i'll just say that it's a good film and you should give it a try if you liked yojimbo or sanjuro. B+.

Barbarian Invasions - there are plenty of films about death out there, but not many of them are all that good. ikiru (aka to live) and magnolia are the best films i know of that deal directly with death. barbarian invasions, though not in the same class as ikiru or magnolia, is certainly one of the better films about the subject. it's a touchy subject and it's tough to get the balance just right. it can't be all about weeping and solace. magnolia is able to balance it through multiple storylines and comedy, ikiru incorporates other themes and performances that absolutely sell everything you're seeing, and the barbarian invasions uses comedy and the introduction of other themes to help balance the DEATH motif. the film manages to talk about everything from history and philosophy to sex and the state of healthcare in canada. all these things, and the multiple storylines (a recovering heroin addict being the most cliche) serve to keep the film flowing enough that things don't get stale or too heavy. all the performances are good. actually the best performance was by the man's daughter who we only see twice because she's at sea and has to send video via a satellite link. her performance reminded me of Beatrice Straight who plays william holden's ex-wife in network...she had something like 8 minutes of camera time and still won the academy award. at any rate, the film is well-structured and very well-written. it has plenty of balance, comic relief, depth of themes, good performances and is an intellectual other words, it's academy award bait. B.

Three Colors: Blue - kieslowski's decalogue was excellent so i wanted to see another one of his film series. the three colors trilogy was made in france (kieslowski is polish) and the first film of the series (blue) is supposed to be about liberty; at least that's what i'm told. there are some slowly paced films (a taste of cherry is one) that excel in spite, or perhaps because, of their pace. blue, isn't one of those films. it's way too slow and the topic and relationships just aren't compelling enough to be rewarding. the style comes off as being strained and affected, rather than part of a personal vision. Ozu and Kiarostami, conversely, have very natural and individualistic styles. kieslowski did a fine job of establishing himself with decalogue, it's a shame that this film belabored its points and tried so hard to appeal to the cannes type audience. the strongest aspect of the film was its score, which was powerful and fresh. C.

Saved! - marginal farce of christian fundamentalists. its major problem is that it sort of doubles back on itself and ends up being a fairly christian-friendly film. in the beginning it has an "election" type tone and makes fun of fundamentalists like christopher guest might. in the middle, though, there is a tone shift and things start to get serious. that's where it went wrong. things end up getting too syrupy sweet and the protagonist, who had formerly dropped jesus like a bad habit and gotten pregnant, asks "i mean, what would jesus really do?" macaulay culkin's outcasted character softly reassures the bitchy fundamentalist antagonist of the film (mandy moore) by saying that jesus still loves her despite her transgressions. there are many other attempts at tenderness and resolution, but they all fall short of their mark. it really is too bad because the comedic portions of the film were pretty dead on. to get an example of the right way to do a satire like this you need look no further than another jena malone film - donnie darko - and what it did with patrick swayze's character. i truly think that most mainstream "liberalized" christians could enjoy the picture because it makes fun of fundamentalists (with whom most christians disagree), while still offering a sense of jesus as a guiding light as evidenced by the "i mean, what would jesus really do?" line, along with the gay guy saying "i feel jesus in my heart" and that's what matters, along with culkin reassuring his evil sister of jesus' forgiveness, etc. jordan lindsey would love this movie. C.
Cowboy Bebop - i've only seen a small handful of anime features so i'm not entirely qualified to judge this film on those merits. it's directed by the same guy who directed the "kid's story" scene in the animatrix. i loved the animation in that story because it was so expressionistic and freeflowing. unfortunately, cowboy bebop is more traditional and restrained. there are still strains of the lanky animation style that was featured in "kid's story," but it's not nearly as freeflowing. the opening sequence to this film is really good and grabs you right away. after the opening sequence there is a title sequence which wears its television genesis on its sleeve. i don't know how to describe it, but it becomes very clear during the title sequence that this film was based on a television series. energy-wise the rest of the film never really lives up to the promise of the opening sequence. the story is typical of the anime features i've seen - it takes place in the future and the fate of the world is in the balance. the soundtrack is mostly bad american rock, but some of the jazz pieces are good, though mismatched vis a vis the visuals. ghost in the shell is still the best action anime film i've seen. grave of the fireflies is the best of any genre of anime. B--.
Bloodsucking Freaks - listened to the commentary track by filmmaker eli roth (cabin fever). he talks a lot and gives a good amount of background and focuses a lot on the production design and costumes. in these areas the commentary is good. however, when talks about the impact bloodsucking freaks has had on society or other films, and the social commentary of the film, his arguments aren't so good. he makes some good points along the way, but a lot of the stuff is baseless and goes unsupported. as a spoken essay it's not very strong, but if you view it as just a film lover talking off the cuff about what he sees, then it's more forgivable. B-.

Control Room - documentary that takes us behind the scenes of al jazeera, the arab news station. the focus is primarily on the media coverage of the iraq war. we spend a lot of time with al jazeera corespondents and u.s. central command's (centcom) media people, as well as other journalists from newspapers and tv networks around the world. "control room" doesn't present a clean thesis like michael moore's documentaries tend to do, but it give a valuable look into the process of creating news as many of the middlemen see it. that is, we see what briefings journalists get and how they decide to report it. as a result we also get an idea of the failings of such a system. it becomes fairly clear that reporters at centcom merely repeat the news they are given from the army personnel, rather than finding news through investigative means and reporting those findings. many of the journalists featured ask the military spokespeople serious and probing questions and get pretty standardized answers and plenty of spin control. if you know much of anything about how the mainstream media gets its "news" and what it repeats (er, reports) then much of this film will seem pretty pedestrian. that said, it's still a valuable look into a new network that most americans don't know anything about. at times the film comes off as bit of a commercial for al jazeera as producing the best journalism in the world, or as being the most objective. that said, some of the al jazeera employees recognize that their cannot be true objectivism and that all they can do is hope to provide a balanced representation of the war, as they see it. this, fog of war and fahrenheit 9/11 create the modern "progressive documentary holy trinity." B.
Band Of Outsiders - it's an interesting film - it does a lot of things, particularly with sound, that make it worth watching for film fans. it's narrated by a neutral party voice-over and rather than using it sparingly, godard chooses to have the narrator tell the audience how characters are feeling, the history of their relationships, etc. usually voice-overs are done by characters within the film and give the audience a frame in which to view the film or provide important information to get the audience up to speed, so in this sense godard is doing something different here. the cinematography is rather striking, though i hesitate to say that since it's so cliché. it's not beautiful in the same way as a cinemascope feature is, or in the same way that citizen kane is, but the picture is, for lack of a better word, artistic. band of outsiders also has a compelling, though fairly basic and tried, story which is a relief since it's mostly an art film. often artsy films will abandon plot in favor of character development, and though this can be successful to an extent (down by law), it's usually a recipe for an unbalanced disaster. that's not to say that this film's plot was great (like i said, it's pretty basic) or that its characters were undeveloped (on the contrary, they were well-drawn), all i'm really trying to say is that it's more balanced than many films of its kind. i think this may be the case because it takes the new wave, artsy style and combines it with the caper b-films of american cinema, creating a hybrid style of film that is both artsy and character driven while having a plot that keeps the audience involved. this is the first godard film i've seen in its entirety because "in praise of love" was so bad i couldn't bear to finish it. this film gave me a little more confidence in his work. fyi: "bande a part" is the french title which may be for interest to tarantino fans. B.
Man On A Train - like abbas kiarostami's work, this is a quietly good film. this is an example of a film that relies almost entirely on the development of two characters and their relationship, and is still able to succeed. plot-wise, not much actually happens, but what does happen is pretty important and keeps a carrot out there for the audience to maintain interest on that extra level. both the leads do a very fine job and the direction of their relationship is subtle, yet strong. it's about two men, one older and one middle aged, both wishing they had taken different paths in life. through their brief relationship they are able to find the strength to dabble in a life they never experienced. the question becomes whether or not they will make the full transition and fundamentally change their lives or not. the ending leaves it up to the viewer which can be both frustrating and preferable, depending upon the viewer. a well-done film. B.
Blackboards - my second iranian film this month. all of the films i've seen from iran/iraq thus far, have been relatively slowly paced films that are heavy in dialogue. all the acting was good. there was clearly something more to the film than i gleaned. the signs were there, i just didn't put it all together, or maybe i lack the cultural knowledge to see what the filmmaker was trying to say. sure, there are obvious elements about the marginalization of certain groups or the invisible enemy or the importance (yet, at the same time, futility) of education. but i felt that there was something more to the film that i missed, something that i would understand if i were from the area. at any rate, overall it was a decent journey, but it didn't have the humanity or poignancy of something like "taste of cherry." B--.

Tin Drum - pretty great film. set in the 20s-40s, tin drum is an allegorical film of a german boy (oskar) who, at age three, receives a tin drum which he won't let anyone take from him. also at age three, he throws himself down the stairs and decides to stop growing. he also has the ability to break glass with his screams. it bends reality a bit, but it isn't a sci-fi picture or anything like that, instead these stretches of reality are useful allegorical devices. the lead is played by eleven year old david bennent who really does carry the film. tin drum is great in all respects, but if the lead wasn't as good as he is then it would have really suffered. there's really too much to say about the allegorical and symbolic aspects of the film, but suffice it to say that the story and symbols are intertwined rather well. the visual style and town in which the film is set seem like something out of a fellini film...amarcord comes to mind. even though oskar is a teenager throughout most of the film, he appears to us, and those in the film, as a three year old boy; and in reality his life experience is more aligned with that of a child. as such, he becomes a neutral observer of social and political events as they unfold. for the most part oskar is able to slip in and out of situations unnoticed, thus facilitating his role as observer. the film can justify this because he appears to be only three years old, and is thus thought of as an innocuous part of the scenery. being three years old offers one untold access. this is reinforced by the fact that throughout the film people virtually ignore him - talk as though he wasn't in the room, ss officers push him aside when dealing with others, etc. B+.

Night And Fog - i've never seen shoah, but if it's as powerful as this then i don't want to see it. this film is only 32 minutes long, whereas shoah is like nine hours long. night and fog begins in 1955 (the time of filming) at a concentration camp. the opening images are of the plains that surround the camp and slowly the camera moves to expose the barbed wire. throughout the film contrasts such as this are employed, visually, audibly and verbally. music (which i didn't care for that much) moves up and down to match the visuals and words. the film attempts to recreate, in 30 minutes, the experience of being torn from your family, shipped to a camp, stripped of your clothes, beaten, worked,'ve seen the documentaries, been to the holocaust museums, seen the movies, read the books, so i don't need to go through it all here. most of the film uses archival footage - some of the more powerful images include a warehouse of woman's hair. nothing but hair just piled up. there are a lot of holocaust-related films out there, but this one provides a good "people's history of the holocaust" in a bite size format. required viewing for a history class. B+.
Trekkies 2 - surprisingly this movie has fewer than five votes on it's basically an international version of the original film, plus it has some updates from a few of the more notable people featured in the original. it's not quite as funny as the original, but it does offer a glimpse of some equally bizarre people. if you liked the first one then you might want to give this one a try. C++.

American Dream - the most obvious parallel is michael moore's "roger & me." both films look at one community dealing with a corporation's decision to either cut the work force (roger and me) or drastically cut its wages (american dream). michael moore interjects himself into his films a great deal - he is in front of the camera, he uses voice-overs - instead of intertitles - to fill in needed information, etc. some think this is to his detriment, but i think it is honesty...he clearly acknowledges that there is an author and that's a good thing. american dream, on the other hand, attempts to appear objective by choosing to use intertitles and keeping the filmmakers behind the camera. the storytelling and pacing of this film isn't as good as that of "roger and me," but when it comes to documentaries there is room for error in these areas. also, moore uses a lot more comic relief in his pictures than there is in this one. documentaries ultimately, at least for me, are judged primarily on the story they tell, more than how well they tell it; and i think that's less true for feature films. this film tells a good story. through the film we are able to see the entire process a union undertakes when they have a dispute. if you don't know much about unions then this is a great place to start. if you hate corporations then this will fuel your fire. if you like good documentaries then add this to your list. B.

School of Rock - pretty funny film for all ages. perfect role for jack black. commentary track didn't offer much. B.

Fog of War - though it's not as entertaining as "bowling for columbine," it's every bit as relevant a piece of work. i think both are phenomenal documentaries with vastly different approaches. michael moore has said that his first goal is to entertain and hopefully in the process inform or motivate people. morris, on the other hand, seems to want, more than anything, to provoke thought about who we all are, as evidenced by our best and brightest. morris looks at intelligent people who are, in the case of "mr. death," dreadfully wrong, or, in the cases in "fast cheap and out of control," very unique. in other words, by looking at the (known and unknown) elites in our society morris hopes to find out more about the human race as a whole. this film explores humans as political beings and in doing so exposes the limitations of rationality and the limitations/ramifications of conventional political thinking. this a very important film in any context, but especially now. A-.

McCabe And Mrs. Miller - i suppose the most remarkable thing about this film is its visual style. released a year before godfather, mccabe and mrs. miller employs a faded and tinted (yellow, orange and brownish) look to achieve a dated, period look. vilmos zsigmond (deer hunter, psycho a go-go) does the cinematography. a young upstart town is the centerpiece of the film. in this sense it reminded me of "far country" which showed some of the more interesting goings-on of a newly formed town. beatty is a businessman who seeks to bring the new town a brothel/saloon. christie plays a street smart woman who ends up being his business partner and romantic interest. not much actually happens in the film until the last half hour of the film. most of the time it's more about beatty's romantic and business life. there are enough comic moments to keep the film balanced, especially given the ending. the film has a very musical (done by leonard cohen) sweep and tone to it. there are several musically driven sequences, not as a way of passing time, but more as a method of breaking up the film or providing punctuation. there are other sequences, which center around christie's character, which feature two or more people talking in the foreground at first, but the camera follows christie, or some other action and the talking shifts to the background to create a sort of dreamy, musical effect. it's hard to describe, especially when i don't remember it that well. suffice it to say, it's noteworthy and interesting. i respect the film, but i didn't enjoy it enough to give it any more than a B.
Grand Illusion - pretty similar to great escape in that it features prisoners of war in germany who try to escape by (among other methods) tunneling out. this one takes place during world war I and was made before world war II was in full swing. it feels about as long as the great escape, but is only 110 minutes long so that was unfortunate. that said, it's a good film. the characters are pretty well-rounded, though no one compares to some of those found in the great escape. erich von stroheim plays a german commandant who is similar to the commandant in the great escape...they are both, like the captives they are watching, prisoners in their own way; both would rather have the war be over. there is a definite anti-war theme and it is manifested through the german/french relationships that are forged. commandant rauffenstein (stroheim) has a meaningful relationship with french captain boieldieu. likewise there is a touching, albeit fleeting, relationship between marechal (the protagonist) and a rural german woman. renoir also throws in lines like "nature couldn't care less about borders" when marechal and rosenthal are fleeing towards switzerland which "looks no different than germany." what's the "grand illusion" then? life...our borders, our arbitrary distinctions, our systems of class and government, and all of those things are the subject of renoir's film. the film didn't seem to have the same technical prowess as "rules of the game," but it was more interesting to watch. B.
Vacuuming Completely Nude In Paradise - danny boyle (trainspotting, 28 days later...) film about a pair of vacuum cleaner salesmen. one is there out of desperation and the other is the hardened veteran who is seemingly obsessed with his work. this film seems to have been the precursor to 28 days later..., not in theme or content, but in the sense that it was done using DV. it seems to me to be just a fun little film that boyle did on the side to hone his skills using digital video. that's not to say that this film is merely a flash in the pan, or a waste of time, but it's clearly not the same caliber film as 28 days later... or trainspotting. boyle puts the camera everywhere - the glove compartment, in a corner, near the ceiling like a surveillance camera, behind the wheel of a car, etc. all this makes me think boyle was using this film as a stepping stone to 28 days later..., consciously or not. the veteran salesman, played by timothy spall, is a great character who seems to be bursting from the seams in every scene; everything he does is exaggerated to comic effect. there are brief glimmers of seriousness or commentary on the social stratification of the UK, but it's mainly a short (75 minutes) made for tv (bbc) comedy. C+.

Affliction - affliction is primarily about the descent of one man - played by nick nolte. if not for nolte's character this film would be just average. there's a lot about the film i didn't like - the use of voice-over, some of the acting, etc. but it does effectively capture nolte's descent. james coburn is good, willem dafoe doesn't offer much of anything and sissy spacek is about the usual. i think my major problem with the film is the sense i got that i've seen it before. it seemed like just another film about one man in a small town who has mental/emotional problems that he tries to work out through the course of the film. i suppose it's no more cliché than any other genre film, though, so maybe it's just that i don't like the genre that much. C+.
Stranger - pretty solid effort from orson welles. it's tough for welles because his first film was citizen's just such a tough act to follow. edward g. robinson and orson welles both play their parts well, the screenplay is well-crafted and the direction, though  not impressive or ambitious, is capable. B-.
Catch-22 - the story is clearly brilliant. like much of kubrick's work it shows the futility of logic and the insanity of those in power. so i'll try to focus my grading on the film, rather than the story. alan arkin was good, but not amazing, as yossarian. C+.
Twisted - pretty straightforward hollywood thriller. it wasn't as predictable as i thought, though, in hindsight, i suppose i should have figured it out earlier. ashley judd is hot, but the film wasn't all that interesting. all the actors mailed in their performances and nothing in the screenplay was compelling enough to make me care. C-.
Crimson Gold - another slowly paced iranian film written by abbas kiarostami (taste of cherry, the wind will carry us), and that's not a bad thing. the film starts at the end, with a bank robbery, and shows all the events leading up to the final event. like affliction, it's another film about one man's descent into hopelessness and rage. even knowing how the film ends i was surprised by the time it came around. somehow the film was unable to sell me on the protagonist's final mental state. i saw, and empathized with, his feelings of injustice and inequity, but i never felt that he demonstrated the level of desperation needed to do what he did. one bonus of the film is that we get a good look at iranian society and culture. the text of the film is clearly one that is critical of the inequalities of iranian society. B-.

Eddie Izzard: Dress To Kill - once izzard gets past the obligatory "yes, i'm a transvestite" jokes and the pandering to the san francisco audience with the "there's a lot of fog in this city" jokes, it's a pretty funny performance. most of his comedy is based on historical humor from stonehenge to world war II. actually his funniest bit was when he said englebert humperdinck was dead and then he made a face and shook his head like "no he's not," then he elongated his face and bobbed his head as if to say "yes, yes he is." it went back and forth like that for a while and really was more funny than it sounds. the film itself is even less of a film than the margaret cho film so there's nothing to comment on there. funny stuff overall, but still no dave chappelle. B-.

Naked Lunch - there's a certain visual style to the picture that could be considered successful. it achieves a certain look and a certain feel, but i've never been one for giving very much kudos for that ability. one could make the argument that that is what film is about since, unlike classic novels, it incorporates visuals, depth, lighting, set and costume design, visual effects, etc. to me, though, film has always been about telling a story first. this film sort of tells a story of a man who is wracked with guilt because he kills his wife accidentally on purpose. it's about his internal battles and the creative process (doing a lot of drugs) and probably some other stuff that i didn't care to pick up. the bottom line is that the film didn't entertain or excite me in any real way. i can certainly see how someone could dissect the film and get a lot from it - it does have meat on its bones - but i'm not going to be the one to do it unless i get paid. i've seen three other cronenberg films (existenz, the fly and crash) existenz and the fly were good, naked lunch is well done, but not my style at all, and seeing crash was one of the least fun film going experiences of my life. C-.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off - when john hughes was on he was one of the great filmmakers of his time. this is certainly one of the great films of the 1980s. the commentary track covers anecdotes, changes in the script and such. it's somewhat informative. the film was fantastic. i was proud of myself because i noticed that the detective's name is steven lim and later, during the end credits, i saw that the second assistant director is also named steven lim. hughes' masterpiece is still 'planes trains and automobiles,' but this film is great as well. A.

La Terre - french silent film that uses the plot of king lear as a launching pad. an old father and his wife are unable to work their farm anymore so they split their land between their children. instead of war ensuing, the children become cruel towards their parents and greed consumes them. it's filmed in a pretty straight-forward way, it uses mostly middle range and close-up shots. characters are introduced with a mid shot and then typically given a full face shot. acting is more reserved than many of the typical expressionistic silent films of the early film age. it's black and white through most of the film, but does us some tinting - blue for the night scenes and one snowfall scene (to great effect) and red for an indoor candlelit scene (again to good effect). themes such as the circularity of life, greed, love, and mother nature are addressed. it's a finely layered film with some comic elements and solid storytelling. it's not for most casual filmgoers, but for fans of silent cinema is certainly recommendable. B.
Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys - some spoilers... it's a decent enough yarn. that said, it sort of came off like the creation of a 17 year old boy, albeit a gifted and creative one. i liked jodie foster as an evil nun. it incorporates comic book animation into the film because the main characters like comics and have their own comic book series in the works. the animated sequences parallel their real life struggles and adventures, but don't seem to add too much to the story. it was semi-interesting, but seemed like filler more than a device of plot or theme. it gets a little heavy about half way through and i'm not totally certain why it chose to be as heavy as it did. certainly there is the idea that their time at catholic school wasn't helping them with real world problems, but why choose incest as the problem instead of simple teenage sex? that and the death at the end seemed to throw the second half out of balance with the first half. perhaps the animated sequences were a device to counterbalance the real world issues. perhaps it's appropriate that the real problems (death and incest ) were a bit exaggerated (sure they happen, but not often to the same group of catholic teens) because of the comic book motif that portrays them as superheroes. i don't know. C+.

Dangerous Liaisons - by all outward indications i should have hated this film. it's a 17th century period piece that takes place in france and spends about 98% of its time focusing on the doesn't get much worse than that. however, it saves itself by being more of an indictment against bourgeois culture and the idle rich than it is about the normal fare for this kind of picture (going to balls and keeping up appearances). it also doesn't have the weight and slow pace that bog down a lot of period films. the plot is a bit difficult at times because there are a lot of names and it's a tangled web of deceit that is being spun, but i think that keeps the viewer more involved/interested than confused. one of the more pleasant surprises of the film is that, like cruel intentions (which is based on the same novel), it treats the action with a certain air of comedy. it's hard to put into words exactly what the tone is - it's not flippant, it's not all out comedy, but given the subject matter, it's also not nearly as heavy as you might expect. i found myself laughing at the misdeeds and cruelty of the two protagonists (glen close and john malkovich) and i think that's because the film allows you to feel okay about it. somehow it conveys the sense that even the characters sometimes know the absurdity of their games; and much of this can be attributed to the performances of the leads. despite this relative lightness, the film does have some emotional weight - especially towards the end. in the final reel or so things get pretty heavy. surprisingly, the film's tone shift is executed well. even though i spent most of the film having nothing but disdain for the lead characters, by the film's end i actually had some pity and even sympathy for their circumstances - circumstances which they created themselves. i felt the same way when watching "cruel intentions" as well which leads me to believe that the original text is deserving of the kudos. normally i would have the mindset of "you made your bed now you get to sleep in it," but somehow the story is able to win my sympathy. on a deeper plane the film addressed themes ranging from sexuality, repression of society, bourgeois culture, and the power of love. it's a textured and layered text that is ripe for study and, apparently, film adaptations. this one did a fine job. a strong B.

Stray Dog - mifune plays a cop whose gun is stolen and subsequently used in several crimes. mifune is disgraced and searches desperately for the gun throughout the city. i think you have to watch any kurosawa film at least twice before you cast final judgment on it. that said here's my first opinion...i liked it, but i didn't love it. it's the earliest (1949) kurosawa film i've seen so far and it seems to me that he didn't really discover his vision until a year later with rashomon. it's not that the film isn't well done or doesn't bear his signature, it's just that things didn't all come together technically and artistically until rashomon; so far as i've seen. there are shades of the humanity that he exhibits in the end of rashomon or in all of ikiru, but it isn't as crystallized or focused in this film. toshiro mifune is brilliant as always. i love this guy. he may be my favorite actor of all-time. enough said there. actually, one more thing, mifune looks really good in this film - perhaps because he's younger and clean shaven. good looking guy. back to the film...kurosawa tells a story as well as any other director i've ever seen. he knows how to keep you intrigued and involved in the story, the characters and the themes. it's the kind of thing that is so easily over-looked because part of good story telling is that you don't notice the elements of the storytelling. he uses voice-over in the beginning, but that's the only time i really noticed i was being told a story. as an aside - both kurosawa and kubrick (my two favorites) are big fans of the voice-over. some tend to think using voice-over is lazy, but i have no problem with it. some of the other strong points of the film include kurosawa's ability to draw the viewer into the shoes of mifune's character. part of this is the amazing acting of mifune, but a lot of it is also a credit to kurosawa's storytelling. i don't know how to demonstrate that, but i think it's true. the film dabbles in the noir genre, but isn't strictly a film noir. there is a sense of fatalism that hangs over the film - the descent of mifune's character into the underground, the sad state of social affairs, the sense that even if mifune hadn't had his gun stolen the crimes in which is gun are later used would have been committed anyway. the more i think about the film, the more i realize how layered it is and how valuable a film it is. i wish i had liked it more because for me it's more important to have my heart in a film than it is to have my mind in a film. my favorite films are always the films i experience on a visceral/emotional level first and an intellectual level second. B+.
Miracle - simply a great film. it may be one of the great sports films, only time will tell. there are a lot of reasons it's such a success - they used real hockey players to portray the players in the film; they stayed true the story; and they contextualized the event remarkably well. the editing of the ussr/usa game is very well done and the multiple camera angles and attention to accuracy all make for high caliber filmmaking. kurt russell has one of his best performances. B+.

Scary Movie 3 - not as funny as the first two, but it's fun enough. mostly riffs on "signs" and "the ring." C+.
Bringing Out The Dead - it's safe to say that martin scorsese is over the hill at this point. i haven't seen "gangs of new york," but i haven't heard much good about it. still, for a director of his caliber, being over the hill isn't that bad of a place to be. i mean, when kurosawa made "ran" and "dersu uzala" he was over the hill, but those were still amazing films - they just weren't as good as rashomon, ikiru, sanjuro, etc. but back to this film...i think its major flaw is the screenplay. taxi driver and some of scorsese's other films were wonderfully written - the dialogue was great, the stories were compelling, the characters were often outside of the mainstream, but interesting and iconic. this one just didn't have that. nick cage's character had a certain degree of depth of emotion and thought to him (his characters always do), but it wasn't, to me at least, the kind of depth that was very interesting. it made a stab at being another taxi driver - again we have a character who is isolated to a certain degree from society, but wants to have some connection with it. in this film he happens to be an ambulance driver which doesn't stray very far from the taxi driver mold; it allows us, through him, to experience the pregnant hookers on the street, or the crazies who regularly need medical attention. in other words it rehashes some of the basics of taxi driver, but with much less success. stylistically the film is a hybrid of taxi driver, with its noir street look, and natural born killers, with its mtv cutting, speeding up time and hallucinogenic imagery. it is interesting at times, but just doesn't work. sometimes scorsese picks poorly matched music - something that is odd for him - sometimes it (the visual style) just seems to lack purpose. patricia arquette didn't do it for me at all. ving rhames was a highlight of the film - he brought some looseness and comic relief to the film. it's wasn't a bad film, it just never got me interested the way scorsese usually does. C+.
Fulltime Killer - stylized hong kong flick about two killers who get in each other's way. it's a hybrid of a lot of different films - some it directly mentions (one of the killers is a film lover), some it does not. it's part branded to kill, part john woo, part leon: professional. the action sequences were pretty good, but it didn't snap and it was the kind of movie that needed to have some genuine snap to work. it jumped in and out of various points of view and had different people narrating their part of the story, but it didn't seem to really fulfill a purpose. it wasn't that it was all that confusing (it was confusing only for a few seconds), it's just that i didn't see the point of it. it helped advance the story a bit, but not enough to make it worth the narrative shift. it's an ambitious film, but not a great one. C+.

12 O'Clock High - this film sort of struck me as an inverse of "paths of glory" (which is one of my top ten favorite films of all-time). i don't mean this in any negative way at all, which is how it may sound, rather i mean it to be an observation of its approach to a similar topic. both deal with war and feature high ranking officers (douglas in paths of glory, peck in 12 o'clock high) as the protagonist. in paths of glory we follow kirk douglas from the idea of the ill-advised battle to its poor execution to the ensuing trial. along the way we are shown in quite clear and painful terms the utter stupidity within war and of the men who wage it. in 12 o'clock high we follow general savage (peck) who is ambitious and initially very disconnected from the men. he soon finds out, though, that being a hard ass general might not be the best way to achieve the long term goals of the military. the difference i'm trying to highlight is that douglas is a man of and for the people who has only his men's interests in mind. peck is a man who comes down from his lofty post to discover that it's necessary to treat his men as such. peck transforms from seeming like the kind of man we hate in "paths of glory," to the kind of man douglas is throughout "paths of glory." the film is also interesting when compared to paths of glory because of its treatment of war. from the opening voice-over of paths of glory we view the war as a futile cause and so everything that follows is all for naught. in 12 o'clock high, though, we begin with this same impression, but it is dissolved by peck's insistence that their actions are not futile. he doesn't justify the entire war (i think it's a foregone conclusion that it's a "just" war), but he does impress upon us and his men the fact that their actions are worthwhile. even though war in general is not explicitly mentioned (as it is in paths of glory), i got the impression that this film makes a case for the use of war in certain instances because of the way it portrays the actions of the bombing group. their victories are great ones worthy of celebration, deaths are unfortunate and arouse melancholy, but missions are of primary importance. and the fact that the film begins some years into the future and is told as a reminiscent flashback, should strengthen the idea that 12 o'clock high has a different take on war - it can provide a positive glory. most non-propaganda war films show the bitter realities of war as a futile venture full of horror and death - men at their worst. i think this film did a decent job of not being jingoistic or propagandistic, but still retaining some of the glories that war can afford. not glories in the sense that they saved the world, but in the sense that these people came together, understood each other, trusted each other and accomplished something worth while.
12 o'clock high is also noteworthy for its solid cinematography. shadows are plentiful under the first commander, but when peck arrives, many of the deep shadows seem to disappear, signaling a different perspective on what the bombing group is doing. peck's performance is extraordinary. his character is deep, conflicted and complex, yet remains sympathetic at all times. after about 20-30 minutes there is a scene wherein peck is approaching the base he is about to take command of. his car stops, the driver lets him out of the front seat, and he smokes a cigarette while he walks around the back of the car to the other side. he gets in the back and tells the driver it's time. from that point on his character makes a shift from armchair general to genuine base commander and at that point the film is also his. its success or failure rides on his shoulders. it's a great moment. this is a fine film all around. it's over two hours, but i was into it the whole time. actually, the least interesting part of the film was the one extended bombing sequence towards the end of the film. it used real footage of actual b-17 bombers fighting enemy aircraft while dropping bombs in broad daylight. when that's the least interesting part of a film you know it's good. B+.

Wide Sargasso Sea - not entertaining, not moving, not beautiful, not thought provoking. it's filmed well enough and the acting wasn't bad, but the story wasn't interesting and neither were the characters. there seemed to be little, if any, justification for the major rift that occurs between the two primary characters and even if there was a justification, i didn't much care. i suppose it was nice to see them have sex all the time, but it wasn't even as good as an episode of red shoe diaries so...D++.

Back To The Future - a timeless classic. A.
Wyatt Earp - three hours and ten minutes long and i didn't even realize i had seen it until there was about ten minutes left. actually there was a lot of it that seemed eerily familiar throughout the film, but i attributed that to the other three wyatt earp films i've seen - tombstone, my darling clementine, and gunfight at the o.k. corral. it gives the most complete, and probably most accurate, picture of wyatt earp of any of the four films. it approaches the story as an epic of one man and those who surrounded him. as a result it invests little in the secondary characters; to me this is one drawback of the film. one of the more interesting duos in film is doc holliday and wyatt earp because their relationship was so unique - earp was the law and holliday was a notorious criminal. holliday was a firebrand and earp was more collected. yet they got along and forged a meaningful and deep relationship. in addition to that, earp is an archetype of western culture and holliday is a timeless character - near death, fiercely individualistic, temperamental, and very capable. "wyatt earp" left most of that potential untapped. costner (earp) wasn't able to fill the shoes and quaid (holliday) didn't get the opportunity to be the force he should have been. we get to know wyatt earp, but i never felt like i was with him in his adventures. i watched him, but i never felt like we were let into his head and for an epic like this that's just unacceptable. it's well-filmed, perhaps a little bit too so. the filming felt too by the book. through most of the first half of the picture the story was told rather simply. daytime scenes would introduce an issue and nighttime scenes would see the resolution to that issue. scenes would alternate very methodically - day/night, day/night, day/night. later in the film things opened up a bit. the cinematography was good looking, but i preferred the photography in "open range." overall the true story and its legend hold a great deal of potential, but this film never really gets going the way it should have. watch tombstone instead. C+.

Eel - a good enough film overall. a heavy subject, but it keeps things mostly light. C+.
Grey Gardens - not up to par with the other maysles brothers films i've seen (gimme shelter, salesman), but that's not to say it's a bad film. it follows two women, aunt and cousin of jackie onassis, who live a more or less recluse lifestyle in the hamptons. they bicker with each other throughout the film, reliving the past to each others' disdain. it reminds me most of "brother's keeper" because of the kind of downtrodden life they live. despite their well-to-do setup, they live amongst filth - several cats and raccoons inhabit the home with them, the walls are falling apart and the place is generally pretty slummy. it's supposed to be about the tenuous relationship of these two very odd, very disturbed old women and how that reflects upon relationships, life in general. overall i was just saddened by the spectacle. unlike the brothers in "brother's keeper," these subjects are people of means and education, and yet they live like animals. often they have no ability to coexist and even less sense of hygiene. they're often severely deluded and just plain depressing people. that said, they're also humorous. the film itself wasn't much special that i saw, but that's the nature of the maysles documentary - they don't use editing like moore or the camera like wiseman. C+.
Once Upon A Time In China - about as epic a film as i've seen from hong kong. it truly is a chinese version of "once upon a time in america" - despite it being being less than four hours long. jet li is quite good and shows some range in his acting. there is a good balance of action, drama, history, and comedy. jimmy wang yu makes a cameo. good film. B.

Rififi - some spoilers ahead... french crime noir film that does it all. it starts with a beautiful shot of men around a table playing poker, but all we see is the table and the cards in their hands. for some reason it's a striking image. there are several shots throughout the film that are well composed or beautiful, but the film never relies on its beauty. it's a noir, but it doesn't go strictly by the book like double indemnity or detour. it has a style and it does get dramatic, but it employs montage and a fine score, rather than extreme shadows, to heighten the drama. all the actors do a fine job, especially the lead (jean servais). carl mohner, who plays jo, seems to be a french burt lancaster - he's strong, capable, innocent and good looking. he doesn't have quite the power of lancaster, but the french are never as good as us so it's expected. har har. one thing that struck me about this film is it's sort of a circular noir...much like kubrick's "the killing." it begins with the protagonist shortly after he has been released from prison and, like all good noirs, it ends with that which has just escaped. actually rififi takes it a step further because our protagonist dies, whereas in the killing, sterling hayden goes to prison. that said, the killing is a much bleaker film. the caper itself isn't amazing by today's standards (it's no "italian job" or "ocean's eleven"), but it is certainly fulfilling and builds a good degree of tension. there is even some comic relief in the film provided mainly by robert manuel's character. a fine film in every respect. B+.
Day After Tomorrow - disaster films don't necessarily hinge on their ability to sell you the set of circumstances that are occurring in the film. things have to be somewhat believable, but when you watch a disaster film you should be willing to suspend disbelief. this doesn't apply to all films, but to fantasy films, disaster films, hollywood blockbusters, etc. you should be willing to take a step away from reality. part of the success of a film like this is lies in its ability to create its own world of logic. it need not necessarily jive with real world science, but if it makes movie logic, then the audience should be along for the ride. i thought that "the day after tomorrow" did a good enough job for me to get lost in the film, rather than worrying about the realities of the picture. it had a fair share of comic relief, it let geeks be the heroes and it took some jabs at bush and cheney. the audience i saw it with gave it an applause. enough said. B.
Dirty Pretty Things - it's a good enough film. i'm not a big tautou fan so that may have been one draw back, but that aside...the filming style wasn't great, but it also wasn't pedestrian so i liked that. also, the acting was solid. i didn't think much of the story though. the skeleton was good, but the flesh wasn't enough to keep the film afloat. it starts in an interesting way and then just drops hook, only to pick it up later in the film. for the middle part of the film i thought the story was bogged down by other, tangential issues the frears wanted to address. sure those storylines were interesting or meaningful or pushed the characters a bit, but i felt that the initial mystery, or hook, that was put out there in the beginning of the film was left untouched for too long. as a result the middle, rather than increasing my interest in the characters or those tangential storylines, had me wondering when the first part of the film was going to be picked up again. it's kinda like telling a story to your roommate like this: "i didn't do much today, but, oh, your mother called and had some very urgent news about...oh and that reminds me, i was watching the news while you were gone and i found out that seven more soldiers died in iraq. after i watched the news i found that book i had been looking for for so long - it was under the couch for some reason. i had forgotten how good that book was. i also cleaned the refrigerator while you were out. but anyway, back to the phone call from your mom...she said that your sister got in a car accident and went to the hospital, but is feeling okay." C+.
Vanishing (1988) - i saw the remake when it came out in the theater (1993) and thought it was pretty decent, but not great. i hadn't even heard about the original until last year. as is the usual, the original is better. i think the film succeeded in several different a short time we see the boyfriend and girlfriend at their best and worst - we see them fight and make up and that brings us into the relationship in a very real way. this success led to another - when the girlfriend disappears we are frightened and sad, just as the boyfriend is. the film also juggled time rather well. it was filmed in 88 and uses radio broadcasts of the 1984 tour de france as a time stamp (it's a netherlands production, but filmed in france). different stages of the tour indicate different times relative to the kidnapping time, which occurs during the last stage of the race. when we move back to the present (1988) we are tipped off by a missing person sign that reads "saskia (the girlfriend) went missing three years ago. if you've seen her please contact..." the last major success of the film is bringing the kidnapper into the film. i like plot moves like this because i love a healthy dose of perspective. to simply leave the kidnapper out of the picture, or only include him in scenes "dancing around in his grandma's panties, rubbing himself in peanut butter" (as pitt's character in se7en puts it) would be "dismissive" (as morgan freeman points out) and a disservice to truth. the truth is that not all madmen are as mad or insane as we'd like to believe, or hope. the kidnapper in the vanishing is a very thoughtful and otherwise pleasant person. like the protagonist in mike leigh's "naked," he is the kind of man who is truly horrifying because he is so capable and yet so normal. this guy could be your neighbor or father. in a greater sense the film also speaks to the chaos of things. rififi spoke to the fallibility of even the greatest plans, and this film speaks to the random chance that can destroy a person's life or make a person's plans fall perfectly into place. chaos can be both the most beautiful, and the most ugly thing in life, but we have to accept it as it goes both ways. another fine criterion presentation. B+.

American Nightmare- i think this documentary may have been the inspiration for danny boyle to use godspeed you black emperor! in "28 days later..." godspeed are used fairly judiciously in this film and "sad mafioso" is used during the clips of "dawn of the dead" which is the heaviest influence on "28 days later..." all that aside...the documentary covers six major horror films (night of the living dead, last house on the left, dawn of the dead, shivers, halloween, and texas chainsaw massacre) of the 60s and 70s. more than just rehashing them or talking about their influence on the genre, the film talks to the filmmakers about their influences and spends a good deal of time examining the cultural climate in which these films took place. everything from the cold war to civil rights to the sexual revolution to vietnam to the gas crisis is discussed by the filmmakers as the climate that facilitated these films. unlike "visions of light" which gave a fairly clinical view of cinematography's art and history, American Nightmare demonstrates a certain intimacy and love of the subject. visions of light certainly had interviewees who showed an immense passion for the subject, but the film itself did not exude that same passion. part of the way american nightmare does this is through its soundtrack (epically scored by godspeed you black emperor! and Karlheinz Stockhausen) and its ambitious style of cutting in source material with voice-overs. it's a good film and, like stone reader or visions of light, does a really good job of getting the audience into the material. after watching this i wanted to break out all my horror films and watch them on end. it's able to do this because the film itself is passionate about the subject, the interviewees are passionate, and the information relayed to the viewer is interesting, funny, moving and intelligent. B+.

The Brain That Wouldn't Die - this is a classic. it's sort of a 1960s precursor to "re-animator"...we follow an ambitious doctor who thinks he can bring people back from the dead (within a reasonable time) and can transplant body parts from dead bodies onto amputees. his girlfriend dies in a car crash on the first reel and he is able to salvage her head. he keeps her head alive while he searches for a body. it's beyond me what joseph green didn't make more than two pictures, because he clearly showed potential in his writing/direction on this film. the story alone is ripe with symbolic depth and secondary meanings. the protagonist goes out on the town searching for a woman with a perfect body just so that he can kill her, take her body and put his girlfriend's head on's a shrink's field day. at the very beginning the film addresses the philosophical/ethical ramifications of his "experiments" and that's a level that most sci-fi films of the time don't explicitly address. none of the performances are as awful as you might expect from a b-production. overall it's an entertaining film that should be seen by anyone interested in the genre. B.

American Movie: The Making Of Northwestern - just simply an amazing documentary from front to back. funny, touching, well-made, entertaining, thought-provoking, heavy, light, everything. i can't say enough about this film. i've seen this film more than any other in the last four years, and that's because it operates on so many different levels. the music is fantastic and is all played by mike schank which draws us one step closer to one of the primary subjects of the film. if you don't like this film on some level then you have problems. A+.

Stalingrad- the first half of the film failed to hook me so the second half wasn't as good as it should/could have been. overall a fine film, for sure, but not as good as das boot (same producers). war sucks. B.

Devil's Backbone - del toro (hellboy, blade II, mimic, and cronos) is certainly a director worthy of checking out. hellboy is the only film of his i've yet to see and he always delivers in some way. i think that mimic is his scariest film and cronos is probably his best. devil's backbone is another ambitious film, but not as entertaining as the other films i've seen from him. there's a lot to the screenplay and he executes it well - it's ripe with symbols and intricacies and the style follows del toro's dark atmospheric signature. he's not a master, but he's one to watch and the only reason i plan on watching hellboy. B-.
Fifteen Minutes- as uninvigorating a picture as this is, it's more complicated than you might initially give it credit for. it's partially an unlikely partner movie, partially a crime film and partially an indictment of the media. it has elements of die hard and natural born killers, but isn't nearly as good as either. i'm not exactly sure how the film failed. sure there were some corny directorial decisions here and there, and some of the acting was bad, but it went beyond that. it kinda felt like it was trying to be too worked in some comic relief, some drama, a love story of sorts, it took a fair share of jabs at the media and american culture, it had a little action...but it didn't feel smooth. i give it some respect for trying to work outside of the conventional unmatched-partner-cop film, but a lot of the writing just didn't support all the different character/storylines that they tried to incorporate. C.
Chuck And Buck - i don't really know what i expected, but i know it wasn't this. it's another film about a guy dealing with a death in a rather odd/unhealthy way. in this sense it reminded me a lot of "love liza," without a lot of the heaviness. probably because of the nature of the protagonist (he's very childlike) i wasn't ever overly concerned about where things were going; i never felt that things were getting too heavy. that said, the topic is heavy - it's just that the protagonist is more pathetic than he is imposing or threatening so you're more likely to feel pity than fear or depression. the film was shot in dv which was probably an economic decision rather than an aesthetic one. it's a pretty spare plot, but it kept me interested because of the small changes to the eponymous relationship. a good little film. B-.

Picnic - "50s small town melodrama" probably best describes the film. william holden plays a drifter who is looking for an old pal to hook him up with a job. quickly he become enamored with his old pal's girl (novak) and things get hairy. most of the film revolves around the town picnic which is taking place on the day that holden arrives. it provides a setting for situations of all sorts, as well as bringing the whole town together so we can get a better view of small town culture. all the women, save for the grandma, are repressed in various ways - novak's character is repressed by the expectations that come from her own good looks, her sister plays the smart girl who is socially awkward with boys, and rosalin russell plays an old school teacher who is as nutty as they come. the acting and music cues are totally overdone, but that's just part of the melodrama style. james wong howe (yankee doodle dandy, hud, sweet smell of success) does the cinematography which is good, but didn't really pop out to me. the final shot is famous because it's one of, if not the, first shots from a helicopter in a film. i had actually seen this once before, but completely forgot about it. it's the kind of thing your grandparents might like, but it wasn't for me. C.
American Flyers - this movie was so bad. cheesy 80s music, a waving american flag in the first two minutes, poor comic relief choices early on, some bad writing, some lazy characterizations, a contrived story and they didn't even get the bicycling scenes right. anyone who has seen a tour de france or two will spot the inaccuracies in the racing sequences...there aren't a lot of them, but they seemed to contort the sport to their dramatic needs and that's pretty lame. D.
Son's Room - there's a certain charm to the film that is undeniable. the first third of the film is dedicated to establishing normalcy in family and career life and the rest of the film is about what happens to the characters as a result of an event. where many films like this fail is their inability, or lack of dedication, to establish a baseline for the audience. most films just gloss it over and as a result don't establish it well enough, and other films try to give it ample time, but are unable to establish a link between the film characters and the audience. it's not all death and despair though, the film does have some comic relief - mostly in the scenes where we see the father at work as a shrink. it's a fine film, but it didn't move me to tears and it's certainly not the best film to deal with death. check out in the bedroom instead. B--.

Elephant - the film definitely has a certain degree of potential - both in its content and the way in which it was filmed. it's basically a fictional version of what happened at columbine high, enough said there. as for the filming was done almost completely with stedicams while following various characters in the high school. like kubrick does towards the end of "the killing," van sant tells each character's story up to a point, rewinds time, and follows another character. we are given this information when we see a second or third character interact with a character we have previously followed. because the whole film is done in this manner without the aid of voice-over (which kubrick employed in the killing) it makes for an interesting way for van sant to flex his directorial muscles. editing and logistics must have been a pain, but it's pulled off fairly well. ebert points out that this style was partly employed as an attempt to strip the film of its cinematic flavor ("avoids the film grammar," as he put it) get closer to a cinema verite style. the results are mixed - he doesn't use much cutting, but he does use title cards; he doesn't have any fade outs or wipes, but the editing style (forward to a point, back and then forward to the point again) certainly made me conscious of the filmmaking process. in other words, he was trying to make the filmmaking as transparent as possible, but had mixed results.
aside from that the film is largely untapped potential. acting is spotty and the screenplay fails to provide much emotional resonance. pretty much the whole film is about setting up the normalcy of high school - the kids we follow have mostly vapid, empty conversations about their love life or lunch or people they don't like. the only motive provided for what the two killers do is that one of them gets something thrown at him in class. that's literally it. if the goal is to present a situation where we don't know the motivation, then why show this minor incident which seems to hint at a larger problem? "elephant" was utterly unconvincing and disappointing in that regard, but i think that's what van sant was going for. as for the title...i have no idea why it's called "elephant." i suppose that makes sense though because i had a similar question after watching the movie...why make this movie at all? i don't know what van sant was hoping to accomplish. he demonstrated an ability to handle the technical aspects of a film that was fairly demanding in that regard, but we already knew he could direct a good film. did he hope to re-establish himself as an indie director by working with amateurs on a small film?
if i stretched it i might be able to think of the film like this...the film was shot in an intentionally cold way, with mostly vapid characters interacting in a completely normal, uneventful way all for the purpose of setting up a neutral landscape for the viewer. even the killers are seemingly okay people - we don't feel that sorry for them because we don't see any awful abuse or teasing. we also don't empathize with the future victims because they have few, if any, redeeming qualities...or for that matter much personality at all. in other words the entire first 70 minutes of the film before the shoot-out sets up a neutral arena for the viewers. we don't think the killers are justified and we haven't invested much in any of the victims. the shoot-out, then, reflects our own feelings about spree-killings in general. since we have no empathy for the killers and no bias for/against the victims we are forced to judge the act instead of those who are carrying it out or being victimized by it. since i came out of the film with no real feelings about it does that mean that i don't care about killing unless someone meaningful is being killed? perhaps. i don't know. i think one might be able to view the film in this manner, and that that would make the film slightly better, but still not all that great. after all, wouldn't the same effect be achieved if he had just lopped off the first 70 minutes altogether? again, i don't know. it's an interesting film to discuss, but i don't have anyone to discuss it with and i didn't really like it all that much...on the other hand the more i think about it, the more interesting it gets so i'll give it a C+.

Sing Faster: The Stagehands' Ring Cycle - behind the scenes look at wagner's 17 hour opera (the ring), told from the point of view of the stagehands. actors and choreographers are boring and so standard by now that it's refreshing to see a behind the scenes film that takes a sort of marxist view of theater. in a lot of ways the set pieces and overall production behind the scenes is the real accomplishment of such an undertaking. sure the actors do a fine job and wagner's score is great and the orchestra does a good job, but, to me, the stagehands' story is more interesting than the one taking place on the stage itself. there's something about real people behind the scenes doing things as a team that appeals to me much more than a story about gods stealing golden rings and having incestuous relationships. i'm sure that the ring is about more than that, but you get my point. unlike the opera, the film is short (60 minutes) and sometimes funny. pretty well-edited, the film uses a lot of voice-over to advance the story of the ring (told by the stagehands) while showing them preparing the various setpieces for the scenes they are describing. worth checking out if you're into theater or documentaries. B--.

Shattered Glass - commentary is pretty good. touches on fact/fiction (the film is almost completely based on testimony, actual transcripts, research, etc.), filming techniques, anecdotes, etc. the film itself is reviewed below. B.

Giant - i've only seen a couple george stevens films, but i've seen enough to know that he has talent. shane is a remarkable film, and this is not. more than three hours of melodrama and sentimentality that is hardly earned. there are moments that work (hudson looking at taylor as her sister gets married), but the majority of the film plods on in the hope that it has you, when it never really does. certainly there are some fine performances and some good cinematography, tiomkin also contributes a good score, unfortunately these aren't substitutes for good storytelling or, rather, a good story. the point that power corrupts is belabored over the course of the film and is never as resonant as it is in something like grapes of wrath (which is almost two hours shorter). the second half of the film moves at such a brisk pace (though somehow manages to stay boring) that you wonder if the film wasn't supposed to originally be five hours long. the first half of the film covers a couple years and the second half of the film covers about twenty. we're never lost - hair is more gray, oil fields are more developed, etc., but skipping that much time in an epic seems to me a disservice. at the same time, i don't think i could have taken much more of this film so maybe it was good to edit it the way they did. C--.

Snake In The Eagle's Shadow - post-bruce lee hong kong cinema didn't have a star, until jackie chan came along. this film finds chan pairing with yuen woo-ping (choreographer for crouching tiger, matrix, iron monkey [also directed], kill bill, etc.) who acts as choreographer and director here. jackie chan shows his range here. there are several scenes where comedy and action are mixed very well. chan plays a house servant of sorts (in a kung fu dojo) who is always being bullied by the kung fu teachers. an old man befriends him and teaches him the snake fist style. in one scene chan is washing the floor and a bully comes by, dips his shoes in chalk and tries to walk on the newly washed floor just to make it harder for chan. what follows is really well choreographed physical comedy. chan flips, contorts and bends his body so that he is able to get his wash cloths under the bully's feet before they can dirty the floor. it doesn't sound like much, but it's a great scene in part because of yuen woo-ping and in part because of chan's phsyical/comic abilities. it's no "master of the flying guillotine," but it's still good. B.
Stone Reader - a documentary that is similar in structure to "roger & me" and "sherman's march" - he's looking for someone (like roger and me) while discovering something about himself (sherman's march), but it's not as well-made as either. it follows the writer/director while he tries to find the lost author of a long out of print book ("the stones of summer") which he has recently rediscovered. naturally it becomes more about the journey than the destination and the audience is sucked into the quest along with the filmmaker. the film is a little loose and could use some editing, but it doesn't suffer too much. more than being about the journey, the film is about a love of books (or art) and it conveys the filmmaker's love perfectly while also allowing you to ponder your own experiences with books/art. though it's not the best documentary i've ever seen, i think this is one that is likely to resonate with more people because it's sort of open-ended in the way it allows the viewers to interject themselves into the experience. whether it be when he's talking about great under-rated novels or when he gets the lead that finally brings him face to face with the author he's been searching for. good stuff. B.

Tokyo Olympiad - three hours of highlights from the 1964 olympics in tokyo. that's the simple review, but the film does more than just offer an NBC retrospective ripe with over-hyped athletes and attempts to humanize through pity (joe blow, the olympic runner, was paralized from ages 10/15, and his mom died last week, and he's a diabetic). ichikawa's direction is more subtle and honestly human than any of that contrived triteness. his direction, and the music, make the film almost a syphony in praise of the artistry of athletics. not only is it a mostly beautiful film to watch, it's also a good historical document. B.
Sherman's March - documentary that was supposed to retrace sherman's march to the sea during the civil war. instead it's more about the filmmaker's love life, or lack thereof. for the viewer it's interesting to see the unique characters mcelwee runs into as various friends/family members try hooking him up with this or that girl. as a secondary benefit the film provides a pretty nice view of southern culture. many of the people we encounter are still very upset about what sherman did during the civil war, and the civil war in general. it's a good film, but i've sorta forgotten why. i should write my reviews the same day that i watch the movie. B.

Tin Men - a movie that sucks you in from the get go. the film succeeds in a lot of different areas - of course it's funny and has a very good, well-rounded ensemble cast, but it also captures the sales culture very well, interjects some reality (read: drama) smoothly, and juggles various storylines in a way that keeps momentum. devito and dreyfus are great together, or, rather, against each other. somehow levinson is able to keep the comedy of their adversarial relationship going whilst acknowledging the gravity of what they are doing to each other. for example, dreyfus, in an attempt to get back at devito, decides to hit on his wife and successfully woos her. after dreyfus has sex with devito's wife he calls devito up to tell him that he "just poked" his wife. devito turns it around on dreyfus by essentially saying he's happy that she's finally off his back and that dreyfus can have her. perhaps it's the acting or perhaps it's the directing, but the scene is able to be both funny and sad at the same time - as it should be. all in all it's a good film with a fair amount of laughs and the drama plays pretty well also. B.

Quest For Fire - set 80,000 years ago when fire was of the utmost importance and languages were in their infancy, this film follows three tribesmen on their quest for fire. there's no dialogue to speak of (pardon the pun) and the characters are far from typical (they're neanderthals), and yet it's a remarkably entertaining and well-paced film. you'd think that it would get slow, but it somehow manages to avoid that. i think there are few reasons for this: first, it has a sense of humor - it's not an overly heavy film. second, it's a subject matter that is rarely breached outside of academic texts...we've seen plenty of "period" films, but few of them go more than a couple thousand years back...this one goes back 80,000 years. and lastly, it's a film that is doesn't have any cultural or time boundaries on it. the spoken language that the characters employ is completely made up and primitive, and the film speaks to fairly universal themes of love, life, survival, our origins, success and defeat. the film speaks in broad terms and uses our early ancestors as its characters so it's likely to be enjoyed by all. much of the film rests on the acting and it is uniformly good. i'm not sure if it's really easy or really hard to act like a prehistoric man, but either way they pull it off. B.

Lone Star - a fine all around film. it's well-layered and as such is probably good material for several viewings. more than anything it's a good screenplay. all the characters and situations interact well with each other. themes of history (ethnic, national and personal) link all the characters and various storylines. acting is solid all-around, especially chris cooper and joe morton. as good as it is technically it just didn't interest me all that much. the mystery was somewhat compelling, but seemed side-tracked at times because of the love story or the personal conflicts here and there. oh well. sayles did do some nice directorial things. the importance of the past was reinforced by showing flashbacks within a scene without cutting. a flashback might take place in a bar, for example, and we'd see the old version of the characters talking about the past and the camera would pan to the left and in would walk the younger version of that character. linking the past and the present seamlessly within the camera made more concrete the idea that the past and present are inextricably linked. the importance of the landscape was reinforced in many scenes where the camera would be focused on a cactus and would then shift to the characters, or a piece of landscape would be prominently featured in the foreground and the characters would be less prominent and in the mid-ground. well made. B--.

Notorious C.H.O. - i've heard a bit of cho's comedy in the past, but i never remembered it being like this. it's actually not that much of a film. the original kings of comedy, which is also a stand-up feature, is much more of a film because the camera moves more, and is more heavily edited. so really the only thing to comment on is the content of the comedy. first, i wonder what brand of comedy the marx brothers would have worked in if they were raised in nigeria or mexico. i wonder if their comedy would revolve around being jewish and white amongst blacks or mexicans. it's an interesting phenomenon that straight white guys almost always make jokes about more general things (seinfeld makes comedy about noticed everyday oddities, bill hicks jokes about politics, drug-use and philosophy, george carlin jokes about cursing, politics and religion, etc.) while anyone who is not straight, white or male will more often joke about their period or white oppression or whatever their specific experience may be as a non-white non-male person in society. i don't have a problem with it...i've seen most of the original latin kings of comedy and enjoyed much of it, i've seen all of the original kings of comedy (all black comedians) and enjoyed that, but it's interesting to note nonetheless. so that leaves us with margaret cho who, apparently, is asian, female and bisexual so you can infer what most of her jokes revolve around. some of the comedy is decent, but most of it didn't really rouse me. i didn't have a problem with her making generalizations about straight guys being single-minded idiots, it's just that the jokes she made weren't all that funny and her delivery lacked the right comic timing. that said, her impressions are good. when it comes to making fun of a single type of person, though, dave chappelle is still the champ. his impressions of white guys are fucking hilarious and cho can't hold a candle to it (whatever that means). her impressions of her mother are mostly funny and her mother seems to take it all in stride so that's good. i guess what it comes down to is this: i didn't mind the content, but the jokes, and her delivery thereof, needed work. she should take a page out of bill hicks' book because he was great at intertwining serious messages into his comedy. when cho got started on heavier topics like her gay friends dying of aids or respecting oneself, it took her a little long to interject the comedy and that disrupted the comic flow. i'd like to check out her earlier film because i have a feeling that it's a bit tighter and more funny. no matter what you think of her comedy you have to respect her for unabashedly being herself. C.
Carnival Of Souls - an interesting film, but not a very compelling one. it's an independent film released in 1962 and it plays out like a long episode of the twilight zone. a woman and her friends are driving on a bridge when they are pushed through the guard rail and crash into the river below. the protagonist miraculously emerges from the river and goes onto another town to work as a church organ player. while in this new town she shifts in and out of existence...through most of the film she can be seen and heard by everyone, but sometimes she'll shift out of existence and walk amongst people as if she's a ghost. it's not a scary film or a particularly stylish or fantastic film in any way, but it is interesting for a couple reasons. i think a little too much is made of the film's influence or it's distinction among horror films of the time. surely, it doesn't fall into the normal b-horror film standards, but i didn't feel it broke ground that hitchcock hadn't already covered, in vertigo for example. it's a psychological thriller and that's why it separates itself a bit...more of the films of the time were about invaders from outer space (invasion of the body snatchers or invaders from mars) or nuclear experiments gone wrong (them!). one interesting thing about the film itself is that it's really a story that is taking place inside the protagonist's head and the filmmaking reinforces that. for example, there will be an organ track that will provide the soundtrack to the woman driving, but then later in the film she will be playing the same tune on the organ. it's an "inside/outside" (at least that's what i'll call it) style of filmmaking that reinforces the fact that the protagonist is responsible for what we are seeing/hearing. in normal films the characters won't interact with the score (except in musicals), much less play pieces of the score from earlier in the film. other examples are the more run-of-the-mill kind - if she sees a ghost we'll see it too, etc. but that kind of technique is always employed to get the audience in the protagonist's head. romero seems to also have been slightly influenced by the film. night of the living dead has a similar visual least in the part of the film that takes place outside of the cabin...and barbra looks like the protagonist in this film. in sum, carnival of souls did some interesting things, but never really captured me like the great psychological thrillers have. also, orbital samples a line ("why can't anybody hear me?") from this film on their "middle of nowhere" album. C+.

Tora! Tora! Tora! - although none of the characters in this film really pop out like they maybe could have, it's still a good film because of the screenplay. a bit of background i suppose is in order - it's a film about pearl harbor with the japanese side of the events filmed by japanese filmmakers and the american side filmed by an american crew. unlike "pearl harbor," its goal is to tell the story of the event and the people on either side of it. and that's why the film is successful - because it seeks to tell a compelling story in a straightforward manner. it gets the facts straight and doesn't attempt to create drama, rather to capture it. it wasn't a film about the president against the emperor, or general against general, it was a film about how things can get carried away; to put it mildly. the set design and visual effects were completely effective and the finale was very realistic...actually just as realistic as the scenes in pearl harbor (though the sound wasn't as good). the direction on both sides (japanese and american) was good, but i wish there had been more of a stylistic difference. i didn't notice any differences in the way the two sides chose to film their respective scenes, which is unfortunate. actually kurosawa was first slated to work on the japanese side, but dropped out for some reason...i forget what it was. a good film. B.
Suicide Kings - all fart and no shit. that's a little harsh actually. seriously though, the film tried to be a lot more than it ended up being and it's hard to describe where and how it failed. it's like moby's latest (hopefully last) album - it tried to be all things to everyone. it tried to have comedy (some jokes worked, others didn't), action (not action so much as mafia tough guy posturing), drama (denis leary beating up an abuser of women), and mystery (the david mamet twists at the end). unfortunately it didn't wholly succeed in any of these categories and what resulted was a mish-mash of potential gone mostly wrong. denis leary turned in a decent performance and christopher walken carried the film. some of the jokes worked and it passed the time for the first half of the film so it wasn't a complete waste. the direction showed some ambition, but not all that much talent. story-telling is the most overlooked aspect of filmmaking in this mtv age. i know i sound old when i say that, but it's true. oliver stone used mtv style filmmaking with great success in natural born killers so i'm not against it, but you have to know how to tell a story before you start experimenting with that kind of stuff. but i're better off watching made (which also had its problems) or lock stock and two smoking barrels (which had style and substance). C-.

Black Sunday - not a sports movie at all, but the end took place during the super bowl so i figured now was as good a time as any to watch this film. it's probably more applicable a film now than it was when it came out. it's about palestinian terrorists using a blimp in an attempt to carry out an attack during the superbowl. it's well-directed and gives us just enough information at each juncture - we're not lost, but we're still somewhat in the dark throughout most of the film. through most of the film i was actually rooting for the palestinian woman and her american cohort because the film does a good job of balancing the two sides. the terrorist aren't completely crazy and the americans/israelis aren't complete saints. the tension of the film builds pretty well considering how long the film is and that's testamento to frankenheimer's direction. cross-cutting and slowly giving the audience information allow the film to carry a good head of steam going into the final 20 minute climax. the acting and score (john williams) are also high points. a fine political thriller. B.
Patriot Games - another fine political thriller, but not as fine nor as thrilling. sure it's good enough, but it never got to be on the edge enough. the test of a really good thriller is whether or not it persuades you to think that defeat is possible. in "the sum of all fears," for example, a nuclear bomb actually detonates thereby shattering the mold of most films of its kind. in this film nothing bad really happens and you never feel like it could happen either. "on her majesty's secret service" is the best bond film because it keeps the audience honest. that said, patriot games is good enough to watch - once. harrison ford does his thing and tom clancy pumps out another fairly solid story. i'd watch the sum of all fears or the hunt for red october first. C+.

05/06/04 "
Cobb - this is more a biopic than it is a sports film. it's tough to judge the film without judging the man, and jones' performance. first jones' performance - it's great, he really inhabits the character and transcends acting. it's not the most amazing performance i've ever seen, but it's good enough that the performance is transparent and that's what every actor should strive for in this type of role. onto the man - cobb was a fucking bastard, but he was the kind of bastard who is perfect for film. in real life he's the kind of guy no one (or damn near no one) would want to associate with, but this very quality makes him perfect for examination on film. film has the ability to make the most despicable characters somehow sympathetic or funny or interesting. perhaps it's because we are able to observe without having to interact - we can be alongside a character as he throws a violent fit, without the unpleasantness of having things thrown at us. onto the's put together rather well and i think most of that is owed to the screenplay. it balances flashbacks and contemporary time (it takes place during 1960-61) in a way that allows us to slowly discover what made cobb what he is. the score is good and helps add to the grandeur of cobb's character. he's not all that good of a person, but one can't help but respect his ferocity to some extent. he attacks life and baseball with equal vigor and i think that most people can respect that, in spite of his hatred of most people and his gruff and crass personality. B+.

North Dallas Forty - takes a good look at the darker side of professional sports, especially football. other than that the film doesn't do very much. it lacks a purpose throughout most of the film and that gives it a wandering feeling that could/should have been tightened up a bit. it gives a good impression of the football lifestyle, but because it lacks a cohesiveness it feels really lose through most of the film. as a result the viewer, too, wanders; and that's not a good thing. a little looseness in the screenplay can be advantageous - it can provide some slack for the viewer to get involved emotionally or mentally. but too much slack means the viewer gets lost and drifts about within the film. things tighten up towards the end, but that only makes you all the more disappointed by the rest of the film. if only the first three quarters of the film had had as much vision and purpose as the last quarter. oh well. nolte turns in a fine performance while most of the others do reasonable jobs. not a great sports film, but it's important to get some of the dirty side of sports in while i'm watching all these sports movies so i'm glad i checked this one out. C+.

No Man's Land- similar to das experiment because it shows the potential for humanity to dissolve quickly under the right (or wrong) conditions. similar to dr. strangelove because it shows the absurdity of war and the various players involved in different war situations. it has a fair share of both comedy and drama. the situations are real and weighty because lives are at stake and because, even though things are handled lightly, you know the truth is rather grim. it's a fine film. B.

Das Experiment - where to begin? the film is based upon the actual stanford prison experiment, but isn't a reenactment, it's more of a "what if?" essentially the experiment takes two groups of individuals (one group as the guards and one group as the inmates) and, over a 14 day period, we see what happens. there are certain rules that are given to the entire group by the professor in charge of the experiment and the rest is left to the involved individuals. i don't want to rehash the plot here, but suffice it to say that things turn sour rather quickly. power corrupts and the film demonstrates that pretty clearly. the prison sequences are separated by cuts back to the protagonist's new girlfriend whom he met just before participating in the experiment. this serves as a sort of buffer through most of the film so the audience can reflect on what they've just seen. i probably would have chosen to use DV (or maybe 16mm? because it's more grainy), instead of film, for the movie because of the subject matter. i also would have used more handheld shots. on the other hand they did use handhelds a couple times and it had a good effect and that may have been because they didn't overuse the effect, so perhaps i'm wrong on that point... in a way the film is a sort of an inverse of lord of the flies. in lord of the flies the kids are in a state of nature without any authority or rules, in this film they are confined and have very specific rules and roles they are supposed to follow. the outcome is the same, but the beginning is completely different. that, to me, is extremely interesting and provocative and, regardless of how they filmed the movie, was worth the time i spent watching it. just to make it clear - i didn't have any problem with the way they chose to film it - i just would have done it differently. how much you want to get out of the film is up to you, but i think it's impossible to watch it without thinking, and that always makes for a good film. when i watched it i thought about where things went wrong, how i would have done things if i were on either side (guards/prisoners), and how the unfolding of the experiment applies to nazi germany and contemporary life here in the united states. .... .... it's sad how quickly people can lose their humanity. i could go on for a lot longer, but i'll cut it here. the film is great and done well. all the actors do fantastic jobs. B++.
"calling it your job don't make it right." - paul newman from cool hand luke
"fuck the first amendment, my speech was free the minute my soul descended"

Tattooed Life - the third (and earliest) seijun suzuki film i've seen. it seems that the last few years of his career were pretty damned exciting. his early work, so i've been told, is mostly run-of-the-mill studio work without much inspiration or personal flare. his later work, though, differentiates itself from the pack pretty clearly because of suzuki's visual and editing styles. this one was far less radical than his last film (branded to kill), but was still inspired. he starts to show his penchant for quick editing and, let's say, unique use of space. the camera also starts to become more of a participant in the film than a simple onlooker. he takes the camera in different places (under a glass floor with two fighting men, for example) and moves the camera in ways that may or may not have meaning, but certainly do add a style that livens the film up. his editing got even more avant-garde later on, but this film shows shades of what was to come. at one point the protagonist is chasing a man who has just boarded a train and he is unable to catch up with the train. he yells at the train and stops. suzuki quickly cuts to another scene. in most films there would be a beat, or a pause, before cutting to the next scene. it's a small thing, but grouping scenes on top of each other like this moves things along quickly...a stark contrast to someone like ozu who has buffer shots after every scene. ozu's films, though i've only seen one, seem more thoughtful and cerebral than suzuki's which are more geared towards action. speaking of action...the final couple scenes in this film really sells the rest of the film. most of the film is good enough, but the final scenes elevate the film so that everything you've just viewed is somehow improved. B.

Adventures In Babysitting - pretty straight ahead 80s teenage flick. it's no john hughes classic, but it's a reasonably good film with the right balance of comedy and drama. i'd definitely like it more if i had seen it earlier in my life. elizabeth shue is hot. B-.
Thesis - amenabar, the same director that brought us "abre los ojos" and "the others," brings us "thesis" - a spanish thriller that delivers. not only does it provide a fair share of mystery and suspense through a good balance of good storytelling and camerawork, it also gives us a fair dose of commentary. it's basically the film that 8mm was based upon, but it's better and acknowledges the built in hypocrisy - it's a film about snuff films and the depravity that surrounds them, but at the same time the film we are watching is exploits the idea of snuff films. in this sense it's like "bloodsucking freaks" which questions the viewers motives in the very beginning - what is it within you that drove you to watch a film like this? isn't it hypocritical to view a film about snuff while chastising the thought of a real snuff film? this point is driven home in the final scene which shows people rapt with curiosity because the local news is reporting on the story of the underground snuff tape business that the central characters helped break. the film ends with the reporters warning their viewers that the following scenes are extremely violent and not for the faint of heart and, of course, everyone is still entranced by what they are viewing. outside of the commentary, the film stands well as a solid thriller. it's not amazing, but the performances are good and it kept me guessing till the end so it was successful for me. B.

Longest Yard - a cross between cool hand luke and 90% of the sports movies out there. burt reynolds does a good job in a less than endearing role. the supporting cast is pretty decent on the whole. i didn't have really strong feelings about the film in any direction and i think much of that stemmed from burt reynolds' character. at one point you despise the guy and at another you think he may have redeemed himself. i suppose that makes him a complicated character, but not a very sympathetic one, and we were clearly meant to root for his side. C+.
Pride of the Yankees - nominated for 11 academy awards? it's a moving story and it's well done - the cinematography and direction are good, but it really wasn't as good a film as it should have been given the potential of its content. gary cooper doesn't do a very good job either. first of all, he looks about 15 years too old for the first half of the picture and that's distracting. secondly, and more importantly, he doesn't internalize the role very well. at times he'll do a decent job of being lou gehrig, but most of the time he is acting like lou gehrig and that's not academy award winning material. i probably would have used the actual "luckiest man alive" speech footage at the end, but then again i'm not a director. C++.
Rock - borrows from films all over the place - die hard, lethal weapon, james bond films, indiana jones and the temple of doom, reservoir dogs, and more. the direction is most like john mctiernan's work circa 1989...that's not to say it's as good, but it's a more contemporary version of it. as bad as mctiernan ended up being later on (see the remake of rollerball), his earlier work really set the standard for hollywood action films. as for this's one of the better action films of recent years. it's well directed and written, the performances are strong and it doesn't get weepy at the end. action and comic relief are well-balanced and the action sequences don't feature any stylistic attempts at originality (ala behind enemy lines, among others). with a film like this it's often just as much about what is absent as what is present. a strong film. B+.

Two-Lane Blacktop - like vanishing point and easy rider, two-lane blacktop is road movie that explores the theme of post-frontier freedom. easy rider and vanishing point are better films and explore the subject in a more obvious manner, but two-lane blacktop is certainly worthy of watching. i was skeptical of james taylor's ability at first, but he does a fine job as "the driver." the rest of the cast (basically just three more people) is also competent. i think there could have been some trimming in the middle of the picture because it does seem to drag a bit, and it doesn't help round out the characters. usually when a film takes some time out for a breather it's so that the audience can either reflect on what has just happened or get to know the characters a bit more...neither is necessarily true for the slower parts of this film. that said, it's not that much of a problem, but a minute here or there can make a difference in pacing. in easy rider and vanishing point we get to know the characters a lot better. some of that is because of the writing and some because of the direction. there was very little exposition in this film relative to easy rider. but vanishing point was able to get by without a lot of exposition because the direction (especially the use of flashbacks) was so good. two-lane blacktop could have learned from those films. actually vanishing point came out the same year, but you get my meaning. the camera keeps its distance throughout most of the time and that's unfortunate because i would have liked to get to know the characters more. at the same time, i suppose this helps retain the characters as symbols. that said, there isn't as much of an attempt by the filmmakers to turn the characters into anything more than themselves. not giving them names is a step in that direction, but i didn't notice much more than that. at any rate, it's a good film that drags a bit in the middle, but is still compelling and worth checking out. B.

Brian's Song - it really is too bad that this had to be a made-for-tv movie because it has some really good elements. the tv production values and the direction are the only big detractors of the film. it's well-written and acted (at least by the leads), it has a good balance of comedy and drama, and has the "based on a true story" element going for it. the centerpiece of the film is the relationship between gale sayers (billy dee williams) and brian piccolo (james caan) who were teammates on the chicago bears in the mid to late 1960s. caan and williams do a great job of establishing an onscreen chemistry that feels genuine and pure, this is aided by the economical storytelling and a good dose of comedy. it's a damn fine film that could have been truly classic if it had been treated as a feature film instead of a tv movie. B+.

Battle of Algiers - so april has been the month of revolutionary movies. it started with "general idi amin dada" (uganda) on april first, then i watched "the trials of henry kissinger," (which had a lot to do with vietnam's attempt at independence), then "lumumba," (congo) then "earth" (india) and now "the battle of algiers" (algeria). all this has happened quite by accident. this is the most detailed of the group. general idi amin dada and the trials of henry kissinger were both documentaries, and earth was more focused on the people's view of the revolution. lumumba and the battle of algiers, on the other hand, follow the leaders of the revolutions. each approach is interesting in its own way. this film uses a cinema verite style. cinema verite doesn't try to emulate a documentary, but it does borrow some aspects from documentary filmmaking to add to the authenticity of the work. cinema verite filmmakers will use cuts that you wouldn't be able to use if you were making a documentary and they'll take the camera places that documentary filmmakers wouldn't be able to go, but they film on the streets with amateurs and try to use handhelds as much as possible. the battle of algiers does all this and tells a compelling story in the process. the story should always be the primary concern...the execution is, of course, very important, but sometimes there is a tendency to emphasize the way rather than the what; this film avoids that. there weren't any weak performances and it makes you wonder how some films can have such good performances from amateurs, while so many professional films are littered with poor performances. after seeing it i realize why it's getting the criterion treatment this fall. B+.

Schizopolis - "offbeat comedy" doesn't really do the film justice. it's a film composed in three parts. the first shows steven soderbergh's primary character (he plays two people in the film) in his role as family man and "office space" type employee, but he works for a scientology type organization. the second segment follows soderbergh's secondary character (a dentist) who is having an affair with his first character's wife. the third segment follows the wife. all the segments overlap in time and space, but they don't necessarily cover the exact same time frame....and since they follow the three characters separately we see what each of the people does during their day. it's filled with seeming non-sequiturs - like the elmo character who factors very heavily in the end of the film. it's a hard film to really judge because it's tough to really understand what's going on, what's reality, what's not, what's there for comic effect and what's there as actual storytelling. in the first segment soderbergh's character talks to his wife like this: "bland greeting." she'll reply "obligatory pseudo-loving response." etc. in the third segment his primary character (the husband) talks to his wife in japanese and his secondary character (the dentist - her lover) speaks in spanish. to what effect you might ask...i don't know. sometimes it's funny, but i don't think it's all about comedy. sometimes there is commentary on the mundane nature of our lives or on filmmaking, and other times the film will poke fun of nothing (or everything?) in particular for a laugh. it's a tough film to grasp because it gives the impression that there is something to grasp, but it is so offbeat and almost surrealistic that analysis after one viewing is very difficult. unlike full frontal, though, the film isn't overly pretentious. so any difficulty there may be in trying to interpret potential meaning is met with eager curiosity at best, and indifference at worst. whereas full frontal turns the viewer off with its pedantic too-indie-for-you style. B-.

Earth - part of a trilogy (fire and water [not yet released] are the others), but not related in the way that the lord of the rings films are. this one covers india in the midst of its fight for independence from british rule. this leaves a power vacuum and different religious sects, once united by a common enemy, now turn against each other. the film follows a group of friends of different religious beliefs who are trying to find their place in the new society. they have plenty of heated debates about events and eventually things turn so bad that they all more or less turn against each other. if nothing else, it's a good film because it captures a snapshot of an important time and place. beyond that, though, the film is a good human drama. it's not amazing, but the love story drama amidst political upheaval always makes for a good story, and it's well executed. the dvd was sped up just a bit for some reason and that was a bit distracting. i've heard that there can be problems when converting from PAL format, so maybe that was the cause. B-.
Gleaners And I - i've never seen agnes varda's "cleo from 5 to 7," but after seeing this documentary by her, i'm more interested than ever. they're two completely different things - one a black and white 60s film, the other a new millennium documentary. she exhibits an auteur style here, though, that makes me curious to see what she may have done with a fiction film that she could shape completely. in this documentary she starts with paintings depicting gleaners in wheat fields and sets out to find the modern day equivalents. since machines do most of the gleaning in fields she follows scavengers and street dwellers who glean what they can from the street, garbage cans, or fields after the harvest. varda interjects herself into the film quite a bit and that's fine because 1) the title is the gleaners and I and 2) she's an interesting subject. the way varda views simple things like passing trucks, found objects on the street, or even her own hands is not only interesting but it shows the curiosity that led to the making of this film. despite the fact that varda is very much a part of the documentary, she does allow the film to take her where it wants. she embraces accidents (the lens cap flapping into the frame after she accidentally left the camera on) and tangents (a man at the end who she runs into by accident, but ends up following for the last ten minutes of the film). a well-made film that is not only full of information on gleaning and french culture, but is also a pleasure to watch. B+.

Marriage Of Maria Braun - acclaimed as fassbinder's best film, but i preferred "ali: fear eats the soul." maria braun is a more well-made does a lot of the same things within the frame and with the camera that ali does, but is more refined. it also is a more intricate story that is ripe with discussion material. that said, it's just not as captivating a film. it's two hour runtime felt more like three hours and that can be construed as tight filmmaking - getting a lot into a small space - or as filmmaking that doesn't entertain. i thought it was more of the latter, though there certainly is a lot of ground covered in the film. maria braun was likable to a certain extent, but the woman in ali had my sympathy even more. by the end of the film i wasn't sure how i was supposed to feel about the whole thing. i felt bad to a certain extent, but i was never really sold on the "i'm doing this all for us" thing. i was more touched by the husband's side of the story. i can certainly respect this film, but i can't say that i enjoyed it all that much. B-.
Fast Times At Ridgemont High - not as i remembered actually goes beyond the spicoli character that it's so well known for. addresses real issues in a candid, but still entertaining, way. that's not to say that it's an amazing film, but it's not a teen film that is all masturbation and drugs. has some funny moments and some good characters, but doesn't hold up to the hughes classics like breakfast club and uncle buck. this movie has everyone in it...from nick cage to phoebe cates. B.
Behind Enemy Lines - most of the film is pretty by the book action fare, but on occasion it makes attempts at style and creative filmmaking; unfortunately it fails miserably. during one scene wherein the protagonists are trying to evade a missile in their F-18, the action stops and freezes on three still images of the two characters and the plane. each cut is accompanied by this really cheesy swoosh sound and the effect falls completely on its face. on the one hand i feel compelled to give the filmmakers credit for trying something new within a largely formulaic genre, on the other hand (as francis ford coppolla has said), there's nothing more sad than someone who tries really really hard and fails. owen wilson adds some comic relief, but he didn't write the film so it really doesn't have his signature. gene hackman pulls out his usual performance, but it's not supported by any of the other cast members so it's all for naught. overall a weak screenplay with ambitious, but failed direction. the score, by don davis of the matrix, provides nothing special. D.
Die Hard: With A Vengence - i'll get this out of the way first - it's not nearly the film that the first one was. the first one has an extremely well-rounded cast (including better villians), a great balance of comic relief, action and drama...enough about the first one. samuel l. jackson and bruce willis make a good team and make the movie. there are one or two secondary characters that are interesting, but nothing like the first one. the action sequences are pleasing and the comic relief is solid. the score is good and so is the cinematography, but again a step down from the first film. as far as action films go it's a good one. B+.

Graduate- along with the encyclopedia and (maybe) seinfeld, the graduate ranks among the best things to have ever been created by humans. the ending is probably the best in film history, only approached by the endings of paths of glory, magnolia or grapes of wrath. maybe not the best cinematography ever, but probably my favorite. i love how mrs. robinson and ben are seen within the frame. often fragmented, seen through reflections, ben is always smaller than mrs. robinson, etc. all to convey (like fassbinder or sirk) the sense of isolation. and the simon and garfunkel soundtrack? this film is the most beautiful thing the earth has ever seen. A+.

Grease - the film critic in me knows that this isn't all that bad of a film. it's sort of tongue in cheek, not all the music is awful, and the story could be worse (see from justin to kelly). but the rest of me hates the movies. it's completely boring and not at all my style. it's not the worst film ever, but, if given the choice, i'd rather watch gigli because there's something interesting about the absolute depths that gigli reaches. D-.

Decalogue III - most of the series works on a realist level - mostly avoiding symbols and allegory - but this installment strayed from that. "honor the sabbath" is the commandment that this installment addresses. and as that is the dumbest of the commandments, this may be the dumbest of the series of films. the acting is fine, but not as impactful or heartfelt as most of the others, the storyline is sort of obnoxious, and the characters aren't all that sympathetic. the cinematography is fine and offers some nice moments. i think that the story has a certain potential, but the storytelling took too long to unfold to the point where things got interesting. C+.

Tupac: Resurrection - the most noteworthy aspect of the documentary is the fact that it's narrated entirely by tupac himself. not only is that interesting because he's dead, but it's also odd because there aren't many biopics that are narrated by the subject. i think that says a lot about the film; it's clearly a biased look at tupac shakur. that said, it doesn't hold back the facts. it tells the story of his trouble with the law and with the bad boy record company (notorious b.i.g. and puffy in particular), but puts it in a particular context and, essentially, tells his side of the story. for this reason it's a useful and worthwhile film. i wouldn't consider it the definitive work on tupac's life because it's biased, but it offers a lot of context to the things that he did and said. it succeeds in making tupac human, something that is easily lost when referring to our cultural icons. we expect them to act without impulse and have well-defined personal philosophies, but that simply doesn't make sense. i think it's a good film for people who don't know much about tupac, as well as those who are fans of his. B.

Along Came A Spider - painfully by the book thriller. sure the ending was a surprise, but it's the kind of film where you expect there to be a surprise. unlike the usual suspects, though, the surprise leaves you thinking "who cares" instead of "whoa." the score was bad and so was some of the acting. morgan freeman does his usual schtick, but doesn't have much to work with here. his character is so thinly drawn and cliché that we just don't care that much. D++.

Jackie Brown - it's the worst tarantino film to date, but that's not saying much. again tarantino does a good job of balancing multiple characters/storylines and keeping things moving forward. good film. B+.
Uncle Buck - john hughes on the down swing. planes trains and automobiles was hughes' apex and this was one was the last great film that he wrote and directed. when this guy was hot, though, he was hot. no comedy can touch planes, trains, and automobiles, and uncle buck is damn good considering it rests entirely on john candy. the writing is tight and focused and the characters manage to be sympathetic and comedic at the same time. hughes combines visual, verbal and physical comedy seemingly without effort (especially in PTAA) and that usually translates to laughs of all sorts, for all sorts. this film has a little more of the dirty humor than is normal for his films, but i never felt it got so far in the gutter that it was tasteless. hughes is a great example of a guy who really should direct all the films he writes. home alone is good and columbus did a fine job with it, but when you watch something like this or PTAA, you notice how much direction is missed by letting someone as straightforward as columbus take the reins. hughes isn't afraid to go out on a limb and interject some surreality or unique sound effects to heighten the comedy. watch this or PTAA and look for those things and you'll see what i mean. i've seen this film a dozen or so times and i laughed as hard this time as i ever have. A.
Dazed And Confused- linklater does a good job of creating a mood, an atmosphere, a culture. the music, the costumes, the acting, the writing all instantly create the unique environment of that last day of school. beyond that the film is about presenting the different personalities, cliques, ideas, feelings, etc. that exist in high school while on the brink of college. in this sense it's very similar to american graffiti. the soundtrack is very good, the characters are good (though not all the actors are great), and the dialogue is real and reminiscent. a good film from a good filmmaker. B.

Decalogue II - thou shalt not use the lord's name in vain. i didn't really extract that from the film, but that was the launching point for this installment of the series. this one is decent, but is weaker than most of the others that i've seen. again, the acting is excellent and the story is compelling, but this one didn't grab me as much as many of the others. i didn't notice the camera doing anything special. B-.
Kill Bill Volume One - i'll review them together...
Kill Bill Volume Two - the first half of the two film opus is the hook. it's full of panache, style, humor and action. it references depalma, kung-fu films, yakuza films, samurai films, exploitation films, leone films, and everything in between. the more of these films you've seen the more you'll like it. if you've seen the master of the flying guillotine or cowboy bebop or any number of films that tarantino "quotes" then you'll be even more invested in both these films. the second film changes tone and pace from the first. it dwells much more on the characters and their relationships. it fills in the history of the bride and her training, as well as fleshing out bill's character. as a result it's slower and, if viewed as one film, probably would appear to be too much of a shift. it has a fair amount of action, but isn't as much of a ride as the first installment is. the ending is more serious than most of the film seemed to warrant and that threw me off a bit. it's not that it's not earned, but it changed the tone of the entire work. the first film had me thinking i was along for a fun ride through the history of film, and the ending was contrary to that. i think that when he reedits it, tarantino will make some adjustments to allow the film to flow a little more evenly than if you watch volume one and then volume two back to back. let me make it clear that the second film is very well done. he continues to experiment (though the only time shifts are flashbacks) with the craft, the characters grow deeper and the dialogue still has snap. it's tough to make a film like this. i wish the producers would have let him just make a four hour film since that's what it really is. together they are a bit awkward, so i'll grade them separately....volume one B+. volume two B+.

Decalogue I - the first of the ten film series that uses the ten commandments as a thematic spring board. the more i watch these films the more i grow to appreciate kieslowski's mastery of his craft. not only is the story well done and simple, but the characters are finely crafted in a mere 50 minutes. they're not cardboard cutouts either, each is as rounded as a real person and kieslowski presents these characters both as symbols and people with inner-conflicts. for example, the father in this film may represent our faith in technology and science, but he does have his doubts and still has emotion. this film is probably in the upper half of the ten, but i haven't seen number 2 and 3 yet. either way it gets a B+ from me.

From Justin To Kelly - first i have to mention that i decided to change the grade i gave "gigli" from an F to an F-. i thought it only fair to give as many "F-"s as i give "A+"s, plus, after watching this movie, it occured to me that, while this movie is awful, it's still not as bad as gigli. you see, if you're a seven year old girl who has seen three films in your life (all of them starring the olsen twins) then this film has the possibility of appealing to you. gigli, however, cannot possibly have any appeal for any demographic - not little girls, not retards, not monkeys, not even nazis eager to find another method of torture....well maybe that last one, but you get the point. "from justin to kelly" is bad in a way that very few films are, but it's sort of okay since it was probably put together in a day right after the first american idol was over. it also has infinitely less talent involved in the production when compared to gigli which has pacino, brest, lopez, affleck and walken. but enough about gigli.... this film is so formulaic it's scary. at just about every turn you know what's going to happen. it's the typical boy meets girl business...they fall in love at first sight, there are a series of misunderstandings, the truth comes out, they make up, happy ending. one thing that makes this film so bad is that they decided to make it into a musical...i'll let your imagination fill in the blanks. one thing that works to its benefit is the short running time...despite the extended musical interludes, it was barely able to muster more than 70 minutes worth of runtime. apparently "story" and "character" development weren't of high concern. actually it's rather fitting since the characters are as stale and two-dimensional as they come. we know everything about the characters after seeing them for the first time...and that's not good filmmaking, it's poor writing. i should also add that there are a fair number of plot holes and continuity goofs, but that's expected from a film that was probably written in a matter of hours. i just don't have words to describe how bad this film is. F.

May - i think that the major accomplishment of the film is its ability to balance comic relief and horror. it's not a pure horror film, but that's the genre it most closely resembles. there were several points in the film where i wondered if i was crazy for laughing at what was happening, but i think that the filmmaker intended to have the strong balance of comedy and horror that marks many great horror films from evil dead to re-animator. i also enjoyed the way the film ramped up its intensity. it was well-paced and kept the audience guessing long enough to keep things interesting. some of the direction was a little transparent and may be a liability with repeated viewings, but that's hardly a detractor for the purposes of most viewers, or this review. the world that is created in may is truly twisted and cinematic. there are maybe a dozen characters in the film and all but one or two are tweaked in some pretty serious way. but here's the thing - since the entire world in the film is so messed up it creates a comfortable gulf between the viewer and the film, and this is a good thing. because of this we know we're watching a film the whole time and this allows the comedy to be effective and, ultimately, makes the film more entertaining. not incidentally, just about every one of the dozen characters is not only pretty screwed up, but they're almost all rather interesting as well. the soundtrack belied the content of the film and i think that helped keep the film within reach for most audiences; again, helping to keep the balance between the macabre and the comedic. angela bettis (may) was really good and her character reminded me of carrie (stephen king's carrie). as it turns out she played carrie in the tv remake. it's a good film with a fairly fresh story and a nicely constructed screenplay. B.

Lumumba - fictional representation of the great leader of Congo in the early 1960s. apparently his reign was short, but important enough to warrant making a film about him. my first question about the film was why it wasn't done in a cinema verite style; i think it would have worked well....more hand-held stuff, maybe use DV or 16mm, etc. the screenplay moved a bit fast in the beginning, giving more background information would have been good, but they did counterbalance this with a fair amount of voice-over exposition at the beginning to fill in some of the blanks. eventually things become clear anyway so, really, i'm just nit-picking. the acting was good across the board, but not spectacular, as some would have you believe. i think that the major drawback of the film was the way they decided to tell the story. i would have taken the cinema verite route and told the story chronologically, instead of starting with his death and retelling the story up to that point like they did in "veronica guerin." you have to have a good reason to structure a film that way and this film didn't convince me that that was the proper choice. i don't want to be told right off the bat that i'm supposed to like a character or sympathize with them...i would rather be shown why i should care. the story was interesting from a historical/political point of view, but i didn't see lumumba as a dynamic leader like martin luther king jr., or a complex person like general idi amin dada. C+.
Grave of the Fireflies - anime film that takes place in japan during WWII. the story revolves around two children - an older boy and his young sister. this film is everything that "spirited away" aspired (and was rumored) to be. i don't know where to start. first of all make sure you watch it with the japanese speech and english subtitles...sometimes that doesn't matter with anime, but in this case the english version seemed to add a lot of incidental speech (especially in crowd scenes). this is important because the film is so visual that adding people saying superfluous things just takes away from the visual emphasis of the film. that's one thing that's bad about a lot of films in the modern era - they don't know when to shut up. sometimes it's nice to just let the picture tell the story and this film does a very good job of that. despite being animated, the characters take on all the life and depth of a good real life character. this is achieved in a couple ways - the filmmakers make an effort to fill in the spaces that are generally left blank by animated features - they show the surroundings of the characters to a greater extent and they show the characters doing everyday tasks like going to the bathroom or washing their faces. they also animate the characters in a remarkably realistic way - again focusing on the minutiae: twitches, the angling of a character's head when they ask a question, characters scratching themselves, etc. instead of being static when they're not actively engaged in an activity. when real people sit and relax they still move, and the animators have captured that here. they also did a great job of writing for the characters. each character is very well rounded and their relation to each other is well-defined. from the beginning the brother and sister clearly are very close and have the quality of chemistry that we generally reserve for gable/colbert or bogart/bacall. things like the separation between the responsibility of the brother and the youthful ignorance of the child are well-portrayed. he (like the father in life is beautiful) tries mightily to keep her world as innocent as possible and there are several instances/symbols of this throughout the film. there's a lot to say about this film, but suffice it to say that you should check it out. B+.

Original Kings Of Comedy - basically a performance film with some behind-the-scenes footage to break up the film a bit. it's nice enough, but i expected more behind the scenes stuff. nevertheless it is well directed as far as performance films go - it uses the multiple cameras fairly well and doesn't get stale as a result. the comedy itself is not for everyone, but i mostly enjoyed it. i'm pretty sure all four of these guys went on to have a tv show of their own at some point which is pretty impressive. C++.
Postman - the first half of the three hour film was very average and had me thinking that its reputation as an awful film was undeserved; then came the second half. it's basically just a rehash of waterworld (with a bit of battlefield earth mixed in), and not a very good one. it's not that the film is unable to convince us of the symbolic importance of the mail (a seemingly difficult task), it's that the screenplay has too much slack and the characters aren't well-drawn. from a directorial point of view, the film is too melodramatic and doesn't earn the right to be so. the score can be a bit much and decisions to switch to slow motion are often ill-advised. not a very good film, but it's still no battlefield earth or gigli. D.

Meet The Parents - never ceases to please. a better soundtrack than i remembered it having. A.
Alamo - i thought it was going to be an action film, but it turned out to be a character study. davy crockett, jim bowie, and sam huston were the primary (known) characters. despite having ample material (both real and fictional) to draw from, though, the characters take on neither a mythical, nor a true, life of their own. that is, even though there's plenty of folklore to draw upon in portraying men like huston or crockett, the film does a surprising poor job of transforming them into legends. and that is rather surprising since that's usually what hollywood does so well - making good men into legends; here they seem to do the opposite. davy crockett is played by billy bob thornton and he does the best job of the entire cast, but none of them really transcend the moment or the form. burt lancaster or kurt russell as wyatt earp or paul newman and robert redford as butch and sundance...those performances elevated the characters beyond the screen and into the realm of legend. unfortunately this film needed, and never got, that sort of transcendent performance. some of it was the acting, some of it was the writing and some of it was the direction which was unimpressive and slowly paced. the set was impressive, but that's about all that i can say about the movie. C-.

Meet The Feebles - this is one of those movies that stands on its own. first of all there aren't many puppet films out there. secondly, there aren't any as outrageous as this one. it really has to be seen to be fully appreciated. i couldn't do it any justice by describing it. that being said, it's not the finest peter jackson film. dead alive, and even bad taste, are better than this one, but meet the feebles does strengthen his resume for those who are brave enough to sit through it. meet the feebles lacks the consistency of bad taste or dead alive...jackson just hadn't refined his craft yet. it's totally gross and doesn't really hold much, if anything, back. the style is uniquely jacksonian - with the active handheld camera, the organ heavy score and buckets of blood and other bodily fluids.  in other words, it's great stuff for peter jackson fans. B-.
Thirteen Conversations About One Thing - first and foremost this film represents a good idea. at times the execution isn't all there, but it's a good idea and succeeds most of the time so it's a good film. the problem with a film that intertwines several different characters/storylines is that it's hard to balance our time with each character and have equal strength across the board. if there were to be a more tight intertwining of the stories then i think i would have invested my emotional energy a little more equally among the various characters. i liked both the subject matter and the way in which it was addressed. it didn't come off as too emotional, over-bearing or didactic. it sort of reminded me of waking life in that it was able to address some deeper issues without coming off as some piece of pseudo-intellectual independent garbage. most of the performances were solid, i especially liked alan arkin's role. also had a good soundtrack. B.
Kangaroo Jack - directed by david mcnally who has one other film to his credit - coyote ugly. so two things come to mind with that knowledge - he likes animals in his movie titles, and he likes making really shitty movies. this one was a step up from coyote ugly, but shows me that mcnally is well on his way to hollywood infamy. again, this one is no gigli, but it makes a strong effort to be as bad as possible. it all starts with the poor screenplay which is half-baked at best and formulaic and painful at worst. like glitter though, this film stays pretty close to convention and is thus unable to attain the lows seen in gigli. also, with its host of b-grade talent (except christopher walken who has yet another small role in an awful film), it doesn't have the expectations/potential that gigli had. mcnally's direction is mostly average, but does have some awful moments. i don't think that the direction was quite as bad as that of glitter, but it was bad in the same way. there were over-stylized scene transitions that were accompanied by swooshes and such. mcnally must have been a commercial director before he sucked someone's dick to become a film director. the music was awful except for the inclusion of a couple classics...again, this is just like glitter which featured a grandmaster flash song and sucked other than that. the sets and blue screen effects were too obvious and didn't help the cause at all. of course all this neglects to mention the rapping kangaroo and the lame concept. it's just a bad bad movie. it did generate three chuckles and one laugh, but that wasn't nearly enough to make the film watchable. D-.

Ladykillers - it's funny, but it's not coen brothers funny. it's actually more of a farrelly brothers movie than it is a coen brothers movie. i have a feeling that the original is better, but i haven't seen it yet. more on that later. tom hanks does a good job and i'm glad to see him getting back to comedy. really there's not much to remark on with this film. the soundtrack was good and captured the spirit of its setting and the acting (with the exception of hanks) was suitable, but not special. C+.
Glitter - next to gigli this film is downright pleasant. the acting is bad, the soundtrack is bad, the direction is really bad, but the story is so utterly average that it actually helps the film. because it's a formula film it avoids being truly atrocious. gigli took a formula and tried to be ambitious by changing the principal characters and adding really strange scenes (like the yoga scene), as a result it reached new lows in filmmaking. glitter, on the other hand, didn't mess with the formula and as a result was less ambitious, and less of a failure. part of me thinks that gigli should get some points for trying to stray from the formula a bit, but when you fail so miserably you don't get my pity. don't get me wrong here - glitter is awful, but it's not as bad as gigli or coyote ugly. D-.
Skulls - actually a better movie than i anticipated. the title comes from the name of the yale secret society that is portrayed in the film. considering the fact that our next president (kerry or bush) is going to be a member of the skull and bones, it's kinda nice to get a fictionalized representation of what a secret society is possibly about. it's not a great film and it's not a really serious look at secret societies, but it piqued my interest in the subject and held my attention throughout so, considering it's directed by rob cohen who did XXX and fast and the furious, it was a good film.C.

Trials Of Henry Kissinger - a decent case for henry kissinger as a war criminal. more than that, though, it's yet another good film about the vietnam this with heart & minds or fog of war. henry kissinger before and after vietnam are rushed over pretty quickly, but we get enough information anyway. worth while if you want to know more about vietnam or kissinger. B-.

Limelight - a bit heavy handed. i think you have to either be in the right mood or be a big chaplin fan to really enjoy this film. it's not that it's a bad film, but more that it just doesn't do what it sets out to do - move you to tears. the last scene in the great dictator was moving and inspirational and i was on board with that, but this film tries to replicate that too often. there are moving scenes and chaplin's performance is certainly heartfelt, but i just felt that it didn't completely sell me. obviously the film is at least partly autobiographical and that adds to my sympathy for his character, but the female lead is way too over-the-top and his character is so idealistic and positive that it's not real enough. had the film demonstrated a little more restraint i think it would have benefited quite a bit. this is one case where chaplin was too involved and had too much control of the film. if he was forced to trim a bit here or there it may have been a good thing. C+.
Gigli - i'm not terribly hard to please, go ahead an look over my past reviews if you don't believe me. it's pretty rare that i give a film below a C. but then again it's hard for a film to be as bad as this one. sure you're going to have a bad film if you give a bunch of ten year olds a camera and some money, but that can't be compared to the talent that comes together with gigli - christopher walken (deer hunter, true romance, pulp fiction, etc.), al pacino (dog day afternoon, heat, godfather, etc.), martin brest (scent of a woman, beverly hills cop, etc.), ben affleck (good will hunting, dogma, sum of all fears), jennifer lopez (out of sight, the cell), to name the bigger names. there's plenty of talent here and the film turns out to meet all my expectations....and that's a bad thing. the score was awful, the acting (with the exception of pacino and walken) was piss poor, and the screenplay was probably one of the worst ten of all-time. here's the thing though: it wasn't that kind of bad that makes you laugh - it was bad to such a degree, and in such a way, that it made me uncomfortable. truly. the whole ben affleck as a retard-hating misogynist thing was just unsettling and kinda scary. jennifer lopez's character was supposed to offer a cool contrast, but her character was so poorly drawn, and acted, that she didn't provide much relief from the unsettling antics of affleck. i know she has the tough girl in her because i've seen it in "out of sight." all that being said, i was ready to let this film get away with a "D-" rating...until i watched the last 15 minutes. the first problem is that the movie was just too long (2 hours) and the ending dragged on like nothing i've seen since A.I.. the other problem was that it took the level of bad filmmaking to a place few films have ever been. everything about it was just plain bad. i can't honestly understand how anyone could see this script and think it was worth filming. F-.
Swimfan - it's your basic run-of-the-mill teenage cautionary tale about avoiding sin - in this case it's infidelity. there didn't seem to be a lot of commentary on the dissolution of the family unit, though the protagonist clearly comes from a broken home. despite being pretty standard fare (with the soundtrack to match), there are some high points to the film. erika christensen proves once again that she has the psycho role pretty well wrapped up, the direction (particularly the editing and color-coding) is also good. C.

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind - let's first say that this isn't the highly original film that people are going to say it is. being john malkovich (also written by kaufman) was more original than this one or adaptation. adaptation was highly influenced by otto e mezzo and this one was highly influenced by the original solaris (and, to a lesser extent, mememto). that being said, the film is still good. i just wanted to squash any thoughts that kaufman is some sort of brilliant originator...something i'm sure some people are saying. it's a well-written, directed and acted film. it was pretty easy to follow considering how much it jumped around in time/space and explored reality/dream. jim carrey had his best performance, but kate winslet was just as good, in a more mercurial role. i like that it plays with reality/dream in a less assuming or pedantic way than one usually sees. it also addresses fate, love, identity, etc. it's a good film that's worth watching. B.
The Game - not better than se7en or fight club, but a fine film nonetheless. fincher has the modern noir thing pretty well nailed with those three films, i hope he continues to build his body of work. there's not much wrong with the film...i think that there are some plot holes when you watch it a couple times and look for them, but they're forgivable because the rest of the film is so good. B+.
Uncovered: The Whole Truth About The Iraq War - required viewing. also check out "unprecedented: 2000 presidential election." B+.

Jersey Girl - kevin smith tries out new territory here and has mixed results. he's still able to create comic moments and write good dialogue, but his attempts at drama feel strained and mostly fall flat. the stars of the show are raquel castro (in the title role) and liv tyler, while ben affleck has an average performance. vilmos zsigmond (psycho a go-go, deer hunter, close encounters, blow out, etc.) does the cinematography and lights jennifer lopez pretty well, but doesn't offer much visual inspiration to what is pretty much a by the numbers romantic comedy/drama. C+.
General Idi Amin Dada - a decent documentary that left me feeling that it could have been a lot better. schroeder takes a very hands off approach to his filmmaking, which for this kind of documentary is unfortunate. there are only a couple instances where he contextualizes what is being said or what is occuring. if there were more voice-overs/title cards explaining the truth of what general idi amin dada was saying, then i think the film could have been better. because of the lack of this kind of editorializing, the audience is forced to figure out who the general is on their own. i suppose, on one level, it may have more impact that way, but if you go into the film as ignorant of this guy as i did then it takes a while to see what this guy is about. i would have liked more special features on the dvd as well. criterion usually delievers, but here, where there is ample historical information that they could have provided, they give it the skimpy treatment. too bad. the film itself is good as a historical document and is important for that reason, but the way it's constructed left something to be desired. C+.

Thing From Another World - not as good as the remake, but certainly noteworthy. carpenter's remake absolutely nailed the atmosphere, had better characters, better effects, and built suspense better. this one has a good idea and a solid screenplay. i love the subtext of science versus humanity and the army's role in's ripe for examination and tells plenty about the time when the film was made (1951). geiger counters seem to be in just about every 50s and 60s sci-fi film and it's no wonder why. the characters in this version weren't as well rounded, and that may have been purposeful. perhaps they were meant to be symbols and as such were dealt with ham-handedly. instead of making them into living, breathing characters the filmmakers chose to emphasize their roles as cardboard cutouts, or symbols, of "science," (the doctor) "humanity," (the captain) and "objectivity" (the reporter). B.

Dawn of the Dead - this one's a classic. it's got a great soundtrack, amazingly good makeup and effects for the time, and some of the best acting in a horror feature that i've ever seen. it jumps right into the chaos which usually doesn't work because there's no baseline established, but i think romero pulls it off here. also, it's a sequel to night of the living dead so, in theory, the beginning of that film sets up the normalcy. by today's standards it's remarkably slow for a horror film. i think it allows us more time to get to know the characters and to allow the thought of their reality to sink in. when they try to get back to a normal life by making their storage room domesticated or having a nice dinner, there is always, in the back of our minds, the thought of the dead walking the earth, or a gun rack on the wall, or a television without reception to remind us that things aren't as normal as we'd like them to be. even though it is certainly a horror film, it's not what this generation may consider a horror film because of the extended breaks from flesh-eating or zombies chasing the protagonists. in a lot of ways the film is a drama. of course, it's also a comedy. and this balance is a strength of the film - there aren't many horror films that provide laughs, scares, haunting moments, truly sad moments and an uplifting ending. add to all that a healthy dose of commentary on anything from race relations to the way we sleepwalk through life, and you have a bona fide classic. A.

Perfect Score - most of the film falls into the basic run-of-the-mill teen flick frame, but not all of it. leonardo nam (the guy who plays Roy) carries the film. let me take a step back...the bad - it's derivative (borrowing from the breakfast club to cheats), it has an awful soundtrack, and has a basic plot. despite being written using most of the teen flick cliches, the film occasionally is able to excel. leonardo nam does a really good job with the slacker character. he may not be a judd nelson, but the character is funny and he's able to actually make the touching moments at the end of the film work - at least the ones with which he's involved. the direction provided some pizzazz - flashback sequences, voice-over, and corny intro sequences had spotty results, but made the film separate itself from the pack nonetheless. it provided more laughs and entertainment than a film like this generally would, so it was worth the time. C+.

Singing Detective- starts off a bit mysteriously and with a somewhat pretentious tone, as if it's trying to impress you with its style and off-kilter storytelling technique. but after a while it finds its feet and the (perceived?) pretentiousness is pretty much gone. i don't know anything about the original tv series so i don't know what was borrowed/changed. there is some good stuff in the film. like sirk's "all that heaven allows," this film uses reflections and frames within frames to convey the sense of isolation of the protagonist. there's also a good use of color and lighting throughout the film to heighten a shift in tone or mark a the shifts between reality and dream. i thought the direction and idea of the film were good enough, but it just didn't light anything within me, and it was trying to, so that ended up being its major downfall. it gets a little weepy and/or intense and if you're not onboard then those scenes become tedious and/or boring. a fine film that just didn't grab me. C+.

Open Range - as far as my memory and knowledge go, this is kevin costner's best directorial effort. dances with wolves is good, but too long and, from what i remember, not as artistic as this. i just looked it up and he's only directed four films, so this is officially his best effort as a director. he's been in better films and has had better performances - jfk, a perfect world and the untouchables to name a few. that being said, this film is a solid one with good performances from benning, costner and duvall. there's nothing all that new here, i mean if you've seen a good sampling of westerns you're not going to be surprised by anything. it has shades of winchester 73, shane, unforgiven and the good, the bad and the ugly, but isn't as good as any of them. the ending was a bit lengthy and happy for my tastes, but it certainly wasn't bad enough to ruin the film. i think that the screenplay was the weakest part of the film. there were a few cheap ploys to pull the audience towards the protagonists, or away from the antagonists. on the flipside, the strongest point of the film was its cinematography. interiors and exteriors were shot with equal skill. there were enough artsy touches to make me aware of the cinematography, but it never grew pedantic. some of costner's coverage editing seemed illogical, but i think it may have also opened up the action a bit. there were times when two people would be talking to each other and it would have some typical coverage like over the shoulder shots, or medium shots of them within the frame facing each other, but then he would throw in a longer shot under a fallen tree with them in the background or something like that. it threw me off a bit, but it was also sort of nice because it wasn't so by the book. seijun suzuki did this to a greater extent in "branded to kill." with a few revisions in the screenplay it could have been a very good film. B. p.s. james muro did the cinematography - his first effort as a cinematographer - but he did work as an assistant sound man on basket case. very cool.
8 1/2 - i guess the short review would be: i guess i'm not a fellini man. but that's not very interesting, or very true. i don't know his work all that well (i've only seen four of his films), but i know enough to say that when he starts on his lsd trip i get off the train. i understood what he was doing with this film and it's interesting, in theory, but it just became a tedious after half an hour or so. the funny thing is that he had me hooked for the first 5-10 minutes, but lost me later down the line. it's a well-made film in the technical sense - there are all sorts of nice touches and i wasn't ever lost for more than a few seconds, which is hard to do given the kind of movie this is. i was semi-interested in the protagonist and entirely uninterested in the secondary characters. i did laugh a couple times and the style is admirable for its uniqueness, but there wasn't much here to keep me interested enough to watch the entire movie. that's right, after an hour and a half i stopped the movie and moved on...C. "adaptation" owes a lot to this film.
Double Agent 73- vintage camp. this is actually the first doris wishman film i've seen despite having heard about her for years from my dad and others. the production values are awful, the script is poor, the entire concept is completely other words, it's a perfect midnight movie. agent 73 (named so because her bust is a total 73 inches around) goes undercover to take down some criminal organization. after she kills each member of the crew she takes a picture of the dead body for intelligence gathering...this is where the genius comes in...for some reason they found it necessary to implant a camera into her breast. so after she kills these guys (one of them she offs by choking him with ice!?), she takes off her shirt and bra so she can photograph the body. i told you it was classic. wishman's direction and editing are very different. she has lots of fragments, especially when establishing location or in her long shots and close-ups. it complements the b-grade story well. it was entertaining enough, but defies grading in the typical sense. that said, it gets a C. p.s. chesty morgan (the lead actress) appears in only four movies, one of them being fellini's 1976 film 'il casanova di fellini.'

Welcome To The Dollhouse - this is a really great movie. here's another film that starts with a really well constructed screenplay and builds from there. the script is very good, the story is great and the characters are just really well rounded. if i were to try and copy the film i think the hardest part would be capturing that middle ground that solondz is so good at finding. that thin line between an extremely warped sense of humor, teenage coming-of-age melodrama, and cutting commentary. solondz perfectly captures the cycle of abuse and the power play that exists within families and on the schoolyard. at the same time, he is somehow able to interject just the right touches that allow the audience to laugh at what they are seeing while still being very affected by what is taking place. only solondz could write a lines like "what you always gotta be such a cunt?" or "tomorrow - same place, same time - i'm gonna rape you." for a 12 year old and have it be funny. it's amazing how within one scene solondz can make us laugh, make us think, and make us want to cry. some of the movie is so exaggerated that it's funny, but it would be a mistake to discount the film as unrealistic or camp. i think that solondz is trying to capture the adolescent experience, and part of that is overreaction or blowing things out of proportion; anyone who has been young and honestly looked back upon their younger years knows this to be true. from literally the very first scene the camera is trained on dawn's character, so it makes sense that things are exaggerated here or there. it makes for both good humor and insight into dawn's world. i think matarazzo (the actress who plays dawn) should get just as much credit as solondz; she is so perfect for this role. her look, the way she eats, the way she talks, all her mannerisms are right on. the supporting cast, too, is both well-drawn and well-played. dawn's mother, sister, brother, and "boyfriend" brandon are all great (her father doesn't have much of a role and that's part of the point). in other words, this film is solid, entertaining, and thought-provoking. A-.

Adventures Of Robin Hood - this movie has it all, but it all starts with a great screenplay - the story is timeless and tightly told, the screen direction is nearly perfect and the script is brilliant. all the performances are good, some are great. flynn, de havilland and rains come to mind. another strength is the score which rightly won an academy award; it really drives the film and is present throughout almost the entire film. of course it's a great looking picture as well - the sets, costumes and color photography are all top notch. there's a reason this is still popular after 66 years. a great film for all ages, this is the kind of film that everyone in the family can agree upon while at the video store, and if not then your family has problems. A.

Schlock! The Secret History of American Movies - a good look at the whole exploitation phenomenon that began in the 50s. unlike "mau mau sex sex," this film does a really good job of informing the viewer how and why exploitation movies became so popular. it looks at social and political forces that guided the rise and demise of the industry. it looks at landmark films, directors and producers. and rather than focus just on their effect on exploitation films, it looks at their effect on mainstream films as well. if you want to know about exploitation films of the 50s and 60s, this is the documentary to check out. B+.

Slap Shot - anyone who liked bull durham or major league should watch this film as well because it, along with bad news bears, sort of set the standard for sports films about b-grade athletes. it's a funny film that sort of sneaks by a lot more than you might notice upon first viewing. there's plenty in here about new age religion, divorce, hard economic times, sexuality and violence. i don't think it really offers any clear commentary on the subjects, or casts any judgments on them, but it addresses them without really addressing them. from the director of butch cassidy and the sundance kid. paul newman and strother martin team up again. a fine film and a damn fine sports film. B+.

Hoosiers - though it trips up a couple times in its execution, it's still a powerful film. some of the score was a bit dated and the game sequences were not very well directed, but it those detractors didn't get in the way of the story. and that's what this movie was really about - the story. david versus goliath, overcoming one's demons, etc. even though it revolves around basketball, the viewer learns more about living in a small town in the 1950s than they do about basketball. and that's a good thing because it makes the story stronger. one of the better sports movies of all-time. B+.
Veronica Guerin - it's a good thing the true story was worth telling because the execution in this film was really poor. right from the beginning the filmmakers made a poor choice. they chose to begin at the end (the title character's death), and then a couple title cards act as a preface for the remainder of the film. one problem with opening this way is that it's been done before and unless you have a good reason for it, you shouldn't do it. and i don't think they had good reason to do it. the other problem with opening that way is that shortly before she is killed, she is in court for multiple speeding tickets. she is able to get away with a fine (instead of having her license revoked) because, despite being "guilty as sin" (her words), she's a famous reporter and needs her car to do her work. she speeds away from the courthouse and calls some of her friends and family on her cell phone to brag about having gotten off with a mere 100 pound fine. when she gets to a stop light a motorcycle pulls alongside her car and the driver kills her. i'm not sure why you would start off this way. why put her worst foot forward first? the film's epilogue was no better. using a voice-over the filmmakers attempted to turn veronica guerin into a martyr and national hero. again, it may have been true, but the execution was so poor that it detracted from any feelings i may have had by the end. one of those cases in which a 30 minute documentary would have been a better homage to the person's life and work. C-.

Dawn of the Dead 2004 - let's get this part out of the way - the original is way better. this one is good though. tom savini makes an appearance - he did the sfx and played a bit character in the original. it had a grainy, underdeveloped look through much of the film. it didn't use digital photography like 28 days later, but some of it looked like it was done that way. i don't know what they did to achieve the look, but it was fitting. i liked mikhi phifer's performance. sarah polley was the star of the film though. this is only the second film i've seen her in so i don't know how good she is, but she nailed this performance. they changed a lot of stuff in this version, and i don't want to really discuss all the differences between the two, but i will address a couple of the big ones... the first one was about 30 minutes longer and only had three main characters, this one had like eight. whereas the original had enough social commentary to know it was there, this one had hardly (if) anything to sink your teeth into in the way of commentary. i think that the original just wouldn't attract audiences these days. it's much more methodically paced and relies on character development, psychological terror and flurries of violence to make its impression. this film is more of the frenetic horror scenes seen in 28 days later... that kind of phenomenon is interesting. dawn of the dead 1979 influences 28 days later which influences dawn of the dead 2004. something like lotr books influences the neverending story film which influences lotr movies. that example isn't as good, but you get the point. i think that 28 days later was better. it had better characters overall, it conveyed the sense of chaos, loneliness, and loss more fully, and it was filmed better. this version did slip into horror conventions once or twice which was unfortunate. it's a good film that could have been better, but could have been a lot worse. 28 days later was a better homage to dawn of the dead 1979, but this one will do just fine to introduce this generation to the original. B. p.s. stay until the credits are done rolling.
Starsky And Hutch- almost exactly as good as i expected. it wasn't hilarious, but it wasn't a flop either. there were some comedic stretches, but most of it was straight ahead stiller/wilson comedy. the direction hit the marks, but wasn't fantastic. jay roach is a better comedy director than todd phillips. B-.

Taste Of Cherry - this movie blew my mind. i've seen only one other kiarostami film (the wind will carry us) and thought that it was rather good. this film is very similar. it has a similar skeleton...the story rotates around one man who spends a lot of time in his car, they both are meditations on death, both prominently feature the iranian landscape, both have nebulous endings and both have similar pacing/visual styles. i suppose you could call this one style over substance, but there is a lot of substance in the film. i think one would be inclined to call it style over substance just because the style is so unique and integral to the film...not because of a lack of substance. i like the way kiarostami deals non judgmentally with the subject of death, or more precisely, suicide. i don't want to say very much here, but it's a recommendable film for people who don't mind a slow film. it IS slow and may even put you to sleep, but it sticks with you and i have respect for that. B+.

See How They Run - i would have liked there to be more (some) time devoted to the issues of the two candidates, but it is titled see how they run, so i understand leaving that out. it's not as good as "the war room" or "primary," but if you're into politics and/or are a resident of the bay area this one may be of interest. the editing, filming and overall technique of the film offered nothing above average. for me it's a good movie because i'm a documentary junkie and interested in politics. B-.

Very Annie Mary - has the typical western england "waking ned devine" and films like that. maybe it's the color palette, or the film they use, or maybe it's just the country vistas. at any rate, the film itself was only so-so. the lead actress did a decent job, but wasn't as good as heather matarazzo (in a similar role) from welcome to the dollhouse. what it comes down to is this: it's a forgetable film with a couple chuckles. for me, it was very average. nothing about the film really popped. it had a certain potential in areas, but turned out to be just average. C.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978 - first the small stuff...two important cameos - one from don siegel (the director of the original) and one from kevin mccarthy (the protagonist in the original). i like it when remakes do that...the other one (that i know of) to incorporate characters from the original into the remake was scorsese's "cape fear" which saw cameos from both robert mitchum and gregory peck. by the way, kevin mccarthy plays dr. bennell in one other film - the 2003 film "looney tunes back in action." that's sad. it's interesting to watch three versions of the same film made during three very different times. it's not only interesting to see how each director (siegel, kaufman, and ferrara - all are at least decent) approaches the same story, but also to see what sort of societal issues work their way into the story. this one had the best ending and best effects of the three. it was also the slowest and longest. with some trimming here and there, i think it could have been the best of the trilogy. kevin mccarthy (in the original) was better (overall) than sutherland, but sutherland did a good job. brooke adams also did a good job. the first and third versions of the film chose to begin in the future and use voice-over to retell the story. the 56 version had the best beginning - starting with an ambulance screeching around the corner and mccarthy screaming his head off about people being taken over. starting off with such a mysterious jolt was really effective. this version, like the 1993 version, began in outer space in an attempt to have the same mysterious effect, but neither succeeded to the same degree as the original. the subtext in this one wasn't easy to pin down. perhaps it was more nebulous than communism or the break down of the family unit. it did seem to comment on psychology and new agey spirituality. the 1993 version holds the record for the creepiest moment of the trilogy - when a converted meg tilly confronts her husband about the futility of trying to escape. i think the first one did the best job of the three in relaying deeper meanings to the story. in the first one dr. bennell comments on the slow changes we all undergo that turn us into "pods." that version was able to tie all strands of the story together the best. philip kaufman's direction is almost as good as siegel's. if he had cut a bit of the fat from the screenplay or found a way to pace the picture a bit better then the film would have been stronger. nonetheless it was a solid remake. B.

Crime Spree - decent enough to watch once, but not recommendable. it's another heist gone wrong picture. it tries to be like lock, stock and two smoking barrels, but doesn't succeed. the stylized sequences (similar to those in lock, stock...) come off as contrived. some of the comedy is effortless and some of it seems forced or is just too predictable to be funny. it's not a total bomb though - the cast is well-rounded enough to keep things pleasant and even though it tries too hard to copy guy ritchie's style, it does create a couple nice moments. nothing special here, but i didn't find myself checking my watch very often either. C.

Gods Must Be Crazy II - takes the same formula from the first one and applies it to the sequel. it's not as fresh or funny as the first, but it still provides some nice moments and a bit of commentary. C+.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers - the first of three films with the same story and similar title. it's a good horror story because it is about both isolation and claustrophobia. isolation because you are the only person you can trust; and claustrophobia because it takes place in a small town where everyone knows each other thereby making it impossible to slip away unnoticed. it does a good job of jumping right into the action and then using voice-over narration to retell the story. we know that there's something wrong, but we don't know how it happened or how bad things really are. despite starting off so dramatically, the film is able to establish a sense of normalcy in the first couple minutes. we see how nice and friendly the town is and it's important to establish that early so we have a contrast later in the film when the shit hits the fan. some good camera movement and off-kilter shots add to the unnerving energy of the film. the score is also well done. check out other don siegel directed films - dirty harry, hell is for heroes and the 1964 version of the killers. B+.
Body Snatchers - not as good as the first version, and i've yet to see the 70s version. whereas the subtext in the 50s version was communism and the cold war, this one was made post fall of the berlin wall. its subtext seemed to be more about the dissolution of the family unit (there's a step mom and half brother in the picture) and our effect on the environment (in the first one the pods came from outer space, in this one they grow in a river contaminated by toxic waste). the direction is decent...good use of color and i like it when the camera is tilted off axis. the tilly sister had a good performance, pretty creepy stuff. wasn't as compelling as the first one, though i did like how they updated it. the lead man and woman weren't nearly as good. C.
Psycho A Go-Go - here's the thing about this movie, and movies of its kind - they have to be judged on a different scale. there's no way anyone should compare a movie like this to "citizen kane" or, to a greater extent, "gone with the wind" because those are epic films with a lot more money backing the project. this isn't even a "b" studio film, it's an indie flick and, therefore, should be judged accordingly. the soundtrack has very little to do with the ebb and flow of the film, the directing and editing are amateurish, but not horrible, the acting is over-the-top in almost every instance (though roy morton has a good performance as a super-sleazy sex-driven criminal) and the color is garish. but all these things create a certain 60s "b-film" aesthetic that you can choose to like or dislike. if you're willing to go along for the ride then this film can provide some entertainment, if you're not then steer clear. while most aspects of the film are just average and add to the b grade aesthetic, the cinematography is noteworthy. considering the source, the cinematography stands out as rather good. unfortunately the dvd transfer puts the film in full frame, but one still gets the impression that the cinematographer knew what he was doing. who is the cinematographer? vilmos zsigmond, winner of an academy award for cinematography for his work on the deer hunter. he also worked on flesh and blood with verhoven, blow out and bonfire of the vanities with depalma, mccabe and mrs. miller with altman, and close encounters with spielberg. as for the story - it's a typical heist gone wrong tale with a nice touch here and there; not half bad. C. more enjoyable than welles' The Trial.
The Killers- the 1946 version wasn't amazing, but it was better than this one. i did like lee marvin's character, but he and angie dickinson were the only ones with decent characters. ronald reagan turns in the second worst performance of his career (the first worst being the job he held from 1981-1989) and norman fell and john cassavetes didn't impress me much at all. this 1964 version abandons the noir style and goes for a 60s heist/action film. and, as a result, i think lessens the power of the original story. we have to remember that it was written as a noir and begins with the protagonist allowing himself to be killed. the rest of the film is spent trying to figure out why he may have been so complacent. it's a good film, just not as good as the original. C+.

Secret Window - a well-made film. there's a surprise ending and i had it more or less pegged about half way through, but that didn't detract from the film at all. it's a creepy film and that's in large part due to the directing of the film. at the same time there was just enough comic relief to diffuse the tension on occasion.  i'm not sure what it was that made the horror aspect so effective...sometimes it was the placement of the camera - positioned in such a way that we could see depp, but not what may be lurking nearby; or hovering over him in his sleep as if the camera had taken on the subjective view of turturro (who played the psycho killer type quite well). sometimes the dark pockets that filled the screen acted as possible hiding places for turturro. and sometimes it was the philip glass score that provided the right amount of eerie atmosphere. aside from the direction, the story itself was creepy. it fed on that innate fear of being falsely accused and having things spiral out of control as a result of an unstable character you may or may not have wronged in the past (ala cape fear). depp and turturro are both very good. B.
Decasia - this is the kind of film that movie snobs brag about watching (see also: "russian ark")...and one day i'm sure i'll drop the title to make myself look cool, but at least i'm acknowledging that upfront. the film itself is like koyaanisqatsi, only not as good, or as coherent. whereas koyaanisqatsi ends with its "message" or theme, this film is far more cryptic - leaving its meaning (if there is one) largely up to the viewer. perhaps it's a mediation on our decaying lives or the beauty of destruction or maybe it's just an experiment. to me, the film is the visual equivalent of someone playing with the tuning on an old radio. when you're in the proper mood, playing with the analog tuner of a radio can be quite satisfying. you can get the radio to produce all sorts of odd noises that, in some strange way, sound kinda cool. but if you're not the one with your hand on the control it often comes off as sort of annoying. "just find the damn station," you might think as someone rocks the dial between stations producing nothing but noise. watching the first half hour of this 67 minute film is a lot like being that person without control of the radio dial. i struggled to make sense of it at first. the ebbs and flows of the music seemed to have no correlation to the visuals - not in terms of the amount of decay in the film or in the images that the film beared. eventually though, i resigned to film. perhaps there was some brechtian intent of the filmmaker that i am just too dull to understand, perhaps i didn't view it properly. but i enjoyed it anyway. it does have a certain trance-like effect (not unlike "baraka" or the plastic bag in american beauty) and the music, though not as good as the philip glass brand of minimalism it was imitating, was effective. B-.
The Trial - welles said that this was the best movie he ever made. i'd have to say that it's the worst movie with which he's ever been far as i've seen. i've seen at least four movies that he's directed. there is a nice visual style - the shadows and noirish lighting are good, the sets are good (a bit reminiscent of brazil), and anthony perkins is fine. the story is good, but i think that the "before the law" excerpt is the best part of the story....though i honestly haven't read the entire original kafka story. it's a film with potential, but lousy production values (the dialogue looping was awful) and loose storytelling make for a laborious movie experience. C.

Visions of Light - a well put together documentary about cinematography and cinematographers. the editing is really well thought out. there are numerous scenes wherein a cinematographer is talking about a particular shot, or a style of filming, and the filmmakers put that clip, or an example of whatever it is they're talking about, under a voice-over. this enables the viewer to have clear visual examples of deep focus, specific uses of color, the "look" of a particular cinematographer, or whatever else the film may discuss. they (filmmakers) did a good job of getting a good balance of old school and new school cinematographers talking about both the older films and the newer color films. they (the interviewees) address the impact of sound, color, cinemascope, etc. on the art and technique of cineamtography. it wasn't a comprehensive look at cinematography. it only alluded to the different films (speed/brand/etc) that one might use or the different lenses; and, perhaps worst of the gaps, it had a very eurocentric emphasis. despite those things that it didn't address, the film gives a very good introduction to cinematography historically as both an art and a science. it profiles some of the biggest of the american and european cinematographers and has definitely piqued my interest. B.

Hearts And Minds - it's pretty obvious that this is going to be a good film. it's a documentary made in 1974 about the vietnam war, it's an academy award winner and it's a criterion dvd so you know you're in for a treat. most of us have seen and heard a lot of the things that this documentary contains so the question might be "what sets this one apart?" i think there are a couple answers to that question. the first being the context in which the film was made. it was released in 1974 - just after our involvement ended - and as a result doesn't have the luxury of critical distance that something like "fog of war" does. this being said, the film does a rather good job of demonstrating our mistakes and the impact that the war had on the country. the other thing that sets this apart from the usual history channel/pbs documentary (not that there's anything wrong with them) is its editing. crosss-cutting, juxtaposition, and voice-overs are friends of a good documentary filmmaker. that being said, the editing in this film was maybe a little too direct; a little more subtlety would have gone a long way. that, though, is really a minor quibble amongst the plethora of good things the film did. if you're one of the morons who thinks vietnam was great then you should watch this film. if you're one of the normal people out there looking for a definitive early work on the vietnam war then you need not look any further. B+.

Britney, Baby, One More Time - this one was all about the concept and the choice to cast mark borchardt and mike schank. the concept had more potential than the film was able to execute, but it was a funny camp film anyway. C+.

Vanishing Point- in the tradition of easy rider - a road film about 'the last american hero.' besides being a good story with a good concept, the film is well-executed all around. the flashback sequences and the colorful secondary characters support what is otherwise a sparse plot. the soundtrack drives much of the action and is high energy, but doesn't include a lot of well known radio songs. as a result the music can stand with the images in the film, rather than some lame macaroni commercial or evoke memories of the time you and your girlfriend got in a fight over who was going to drive. the editing is really good and ahead of its time. a lot of times there is a tendency to make edits after the camera comes to a stand still, but this film edits while the camera is panning, or following action, all the time. the result is more kinetic energy. good stuff during the chase sequences. another thing i liked was the promenence of the street signs and other symbols of authority. i couldn't count how many times there would be a shot of kowalski fleeing from the cops with a siren or a stop sign in the foreground of the frame. same cinematographer as scarface, norma rae and chinatown to name a few. sure it borrows a bit from easy rider, but i think it stands on its own as a great film of the era.  B+.

Switchblade Sisters - a cult classic for a reason. it has corny acting and dialogue, but it's not truly awful. i don't know to what extent it was a mistake or not, but the film is able to walk the tightrope between complete b-film stupidity and good filmmaking. i think that's what makes a b-film classic. like many 70s indie films, switchblade sisters has elements of exploitation films and plays with sexuality and power. basket case and bloodsucking freaks both do this within the horror genre, and as a result aren't as well received. people don't like horror films for some reason. at any rate, switchblade sisters is a classic and for good reason. anyone interested in an introduction to what 70s independent cinema has to offer would do well to check this one out. B.
Bend Of The River - not as good as far country or winchester '73 (both starring stewart and directed by mann, as is this film), but it's a worthwhile western nonetheless. stewart finds himself in a familiar spot - a man with a shady past trying to straighten out. he, again, is involved in a lenghty phsyical journey - in winchester 73 he was chasing the gun, in far country he was leading a group into the yukon wilderness, and in bend of the river he's escorting winter food supplies to a famers' settlement. nice vistas and solid acting from stewart and jay c. flippen. rock hudson has a minor role that is adequate and arthur kennedy's role is good, but he could have filled the role better. overall a fine western, it's just not up to snuff with the other mann/stewart efforts that i've seen so far. B.
Buffalo Soldiers- nothing special here. the soundtrack is out of place. good actors doing what they can with a weak script. anna paquin isn't all that good looking. quotes nietzsche at the end and that's always good. but then it tacks on some lame brain epilogue. whatever. C-.

Bank Dick - i'm sorry to admit that this is my first w.c. fields film. it's a little dated considering its release date (1940), but that doesn't much matter to me, here and now. it's still very much rooted in the chpalin/keaton style of comedy - that being a physically based slapstick comedy that has physical pain providing a good deal of laughs. it's totally off the wall and generates enough laughs to keep up with most anything that comes out these days. a good one. B.
What's Up, Doc? - i don't think too much of barbra streisand - maybe it's because she spells her first name with only two "a"s or maybe it's because south park made fun of her or maybe it's because she's a sucky singer. who knows. that said, it's not really possible to dislike this movie. i didn't love it, but it did entertain. it's a screwball comedy that's true to its predecessors. o'neal and streisand have that cary grant/katharine hepburn level chemistry. the dialogue is quick and witty, the screenplay is well-balanced and effective. madeline kahn is beyond annoying and that's the way it should be. streisand looks good in a hat and is also obnoxious, but it's that same kind of loveable obnoxious that many female screwball actors possess. i would have liked a little more explanation on what was in the case since that's what drove the whole movie. also, i don't know why streisand was so attached to o'neal from the very beginning. that aside it was a good, funny throwback to the screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s. B.

Seventh Seal - it takes a little while to get into its mood. bergman has a certain film mood that is different from a lot of other movies and as a result you have to give yourself some time to get mentally situated. i viewed it this time with the commentary which was pretty good, but not amazing. it was well researched and he knew what he was talking about. it's a heavy film, but definitely one worth watching. solid filmmaking all around. the story is solid and each scene adds to the themes and characters. in just about every scene there is a noteworthy choice of lighting, staging or framing; and in each instance it's in furtherance of the themes, rather than doing it for the sake of doing it. i'd like to own this one. B.
All That Heaven Allows - not that anyone's keeping track, but seven of the last ten films i've viewed have been released by criterion, and two of the ten were theater pictures. this is only the second sirk film i've seen - the other being written on the wind - but i think i can safely say that i like this guy. the glossy look and bright colors belie the truth of the story and the characters being depicted. sirk takes the usual hollywood melodrama and twists it. wyman is a widow, hudson is her gardener. they fall in love, but are forced to hide it for her fear of social ridicule. sirk reveals the dark underbelly of americana by peeling away, layer by layer, the sheen that might cover most pictures of an american town. wyman's children, along with the rest of the community, hold her hostage to their group morality which ultimately forces her to cancel plans for her marriage. sirk reinforces the themes of isolation through reflected images, fragmentation of the screen and plot. i loved the character of wyman's daughter - kay. she's a total egghead who, throughout the film, claims wisdom on deeper motivations of people. she gives insight in the context of freud or oedipus or whomever she is studying at the time. and though she comments that "theory and action should be one," her character stands in stark contrast to the lowly gardener (hudson) who actually lives his thoreauvian philosophy. indeed, the film compiles many of these contrasts...the contrast between the bourgeois friends of wyman and the down to earth friends of hudson, the wisdom of hudson who is self-taught and the book smarts of kay, the happy saturated colors of the daytime and the stark blue shots at night. it's a good film all around. B+.
Hidalgo - it's no seabiscuit. the acting wasn't as good, the "true story" wasn't actually true, the cinematography wasn't as good, the costumes weren't as good, the sound wasn't as good, and the horse, well the horse was about equal. all this isn't to say that seabiscuit was great or that hidalgo was all that bad, but hidalgo wasn't as good as the film to which it will probably be most compared. after seeing the previews i was afraid it was going to be a "lone american whoops on a bunch of arabs" type picture, but it wasn't; and that was a relief. it actually begins with the american slaughter of indians at wounded knee. and though there is some stereotyping of arabs as overly religious or superstitious, it's really not that bad. in fact the worst person in the story was a white woman who was known as "the christian woman." mostly it's a movie about a cowboy and his horse. while they're racing across the desert they get in a little trouble and meet a woman. nothing happens with the woman, but it's a happy ending nonetheless. the special effects left something to be desired. there was one interesting shot on the boat trip across the atlantic. malcolm mcdowell is having a drink and talking with mortensen's character. in the background a woman approaches. it's a profile shot with mcdowell in the foreground. the woman and mcdowell are both in focus which, of course, requires some sort of trickery. i don't know how they usually do it, but i know how it looks. it looks as if it were two different cameras - one focused on the foreground and one on the background. then they put the two together so that you can see both people in focus, usually that leaves a line of out of focus stuff around the person in the foreground. at any rate, in this shot it looked as though the person in the foreground was in front of a blue screen so it was a digital effect rather than an optical one. i think. anyway, i don't think i've ever seen it done that way. C.

Seventh Seal - it's a good film, let's just get that out of the way up front. in a strange way, it's almost too good. it's such a layered and philosophical film that it can be tough to penetrate. and, as it turns out, i was a bit tired while watching the movie so i drifted off a little here and there. on the literal level it's a journey film (like wild strawberries)...we follow the protagonist throughout a plague-ravaged sweden after his return from the crusades. ostensibily it's a story about him and his squire returning home, but it is really about his quest for answers in the face of death. his philosophy is one of nihilism and near apathy, yet he does care enough about life to challenge death to a game of chess - if he wins then he lives, if he loses then he dies. he only seems to care about life insofar as it gives him a chance to further his knowledge. films like these are tough because the first time you watch them is strictly for the plot and characters, the second time is when you get to really penetrate the philosophy. i suppose if i had a better memory i could recall all the encounters along the trip and the conversations between death and the protagonist, but i don't so i have to watch it again. here's the thing though - this film had a compelling enough cast of characters, a unique visual style, and a strong philosophical underpining that made me want to explore the film further. some films may be spectacular in terms of what they do with the camera (triumph of the will) or what they do for cinema (birth of a nation), but if it's not compelling then i'm not going to spend the time watching the movie the required number of times to get the full benefit. that's just my demand as a filmgoer - if i'm going to give you 80+ minutes of my life then i demand to be entertained or intrigued at least a little bit. i'll give this one a B- for the first viewing.

Most Dangerous Game - decent film, but the story was better. quick exposition at the beginning to set the scene. movie unfolded pretty quickly which was appreciated. some decent shots based on german expressionism. a good score. leslie banks' performance left something to be desired. mccrea was good. mostly, though, the film was too expressionistic for my taste. C+.

Gimme Shelter - december 1969...litterally the end of the 60s. the rolling stones (along with a few others) held a free concert at altamont speedway in san francisco. for some unexplained reason they hired the hell's angels as their security force. the maysles brothers and zwerin do a good job of constructing the film as a build up to the climax. at the very beginning of the film we see mick jagger responding to accounts of the near riot after it happened. then we jump back in time to concerts before the concert in SF. we know something bad happens, but we're not sure what and we only see the band members' reactions to it the next day. so the rest of the film acts as a contrast to what ends up happening in the last half hour or so; it also shows the behind the scenes politicking and logistics work that leads up to the hastily thrown together concert at altamont. the filmmakers edit the film well - jumping between the managers and the live shows in new york or elsewhere. we see how crowds act at other venues and get a feel for the rolling stones, both on and off the stage. as a piece of filmmaking it's quite good. as a historical document it may be even better. it's easy to make the film into something much more than it may be. the inability of the crowd and the hell's angels to get along throughout the concert could be extrapolated as being symbolic of the failures of the hippie movement in general. upon reflection i think that that would be a bit of an overstatement, but while i was watching the film and just swishing the idea around in my head it did seem to hold some water. altamont was four months after woodstock...mlk and rfk were already dead and the "60s" as a movement was, by most accounts, dead before the 70s actually came around. it's easy to see how one might site this as a failure of the hippie philosophy. jagger and grace slick both plead with the crowd, at several different times, to keep the peace and get along with each other. but as the night wears on the drugged up and excited crowd coupled with the lack of a respectable and proficient security force leads to at least one death and several fights. it's not as chaotic as i have heard it described, but it's definitely not a stable situation either. B.

Tokyo Story - review of the movie is below...this will be a review of the commentary. the commentary track was less than amazing. not to sound too full of myself here, but i picked up about 70% of the stuff that the guy talks about even though i'd seen the movie only once. that may not sound like a lot, but when you're talking about a film that many consider to be the greatest film of all-time, you come to expect a bit more depth. and if it was there, it wasn't covered very well by this commentary track. it's not a bad commentary track - it has a good amount of historical information regarding japan or ozu's body of work...stuff that one wouldn't get from just watching the film, but it doesn't do a very good job of parsing scenes or explaining editing techniques or ozu's visual style. he describes it fairly well, and talks a bit about why ozu may have employed certain techniques or styles...but nothing that really impressed or educated me. i'm glad i listened to the commentary track, but it's one of those instances where the reputation of criterion's special features actually works to its detriment. B-.
Paycheck - if you're going to watch this film and expect realism or a brilliant romantic action film then you should probably change your expectations. i knew what this film was going to be before i watched it. i know that woo is over the hill and that this was going to be a pretty stock studio film. philip k. dick is like the junior sci-fi version of stephen king - he's got a few good ideas that he just keeps recycling in semi-different ways...this one is a cross between total recall and minority report. ben affleck was suitable in the sum of all fears where there was less of an emphasis on action scenes, but he just doesn't have the chops for a john woo flick. the story was fairly obvious, but still sort of compelling. it had an interesting plot device built in - all the normal close shaves that a typical hollywood hero might encounter were foreseen by affleck's character because of the machine he helped build. as a result the audience is allowed to suspend their disbelief just a little bit more, knowing that affleck has already given himself the tools to conveniently get out of any jam he may find himself in. this eliminates the macgyver/batman problem wherein the hero has to find a way to justify to the audience his ability to get out of every scrape. john woo can still direct action sequences and that's where the strength of the film is. john woo still has some skill as a director - he just needs to get the right script and core cast. not very good, but it could have been worse. C+.

Tokyo Story - expectations are a bitch. this film shows up on all sorts of top ten lists so once i saw that it had gotten the criterion treatment, i had to check it out. ozu uses space well...he films interiors in a style that is pretty original, especially for the time. he uses the low level "tatami mat" camera position along with a lack of camera movement, fades, dissolves or wipes to keep a very even narrative style that emphasizes observation of, rather than interaction with, the characters and action. he also has a very slow pacing and emphasis on the mundane which apparently influenced jim jarmusch. jarmusch's films often emphasize negative space...he films that which is usually skipped over. ozu does the same thing and also does not film that which is usually filmed (like the kids picking up their parents at the train station). he also will allow exact relationships between characters go undefined for several minutes. this, according to the commentary, is to increase the audience's investment in the film. but to me it's just obnoxious. the star of the film is setsuko hara, whose character is beautiful, humane, and yet still realistic. chishu ryu, also, has a good performance as the male half of the elderly couple. ultimately this is a film that relies heavily on its style...i didn't think all that much of the style since it wasn't engaging or particularly beautiful. it's a style that is its own, but it's not one that i enjoyed. i recognize that the film is well done, though some of the editing (particularly when first exploring the interior of koichi's house) is illogical, but that isn't enough for me. i did have a certain connection with a few of the characters, but not to the same degree that ozu seemed to desire. i wish i liked this movie more because there are things to like. the performances are good, the direction is solid and the style is unique. kurosawa's "ikiru," which is not unlike this film, was far more successful in capturing my heart, and without my heart this film, though respected, cannot be loved. B-.
Club Dread - it's hard to follow up a film like super troopers. this one isn't as hilarious, but it's a different kind of film. super troopers was the perfect vehicle for comedy, but this film is more about satire and being a horror film. it's not a horror film, but its structured in such a way that it does have more limits on its comedic potential than super troopers did. they made fine use of the situation though...they made fun of the T and A horror flicks of the 70s and 80s as well as incorporating a few of their own tricks. broken lizard are a talented troupe, hopefully they continue to stay together and produce quality comedy. B.

Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas - well filmed story about the infamous hunter thompson, who is revered by drug addicts across the country. for me it's a funny and sad tale. funny because excessive drug use and an eclectic cast of characters combine for outrageous situations. sad because, as he says in the end, being drugged up all the time may not offer the spiritual enlightenment that some claim. i think it's easy to like thompson and view his lifestyle as sort of glamorous, but i don't think that he, or terry gilliam, would necessarily want you to follow in his footsteps. to me, the film is a lot like scarface in that it's easy to admire his individuality and the way he rose up from nothing, but there is a reality there that we must ultimately reckon with. like i said before, the film is shot really well. gilliam was the perfect choice for the film (though oliver stone would have been a good choice as well). he recreates the mood well using colored filters, set design, unusual lenses, and plenty of camera movement. the film is made even better by its two star performances from del toro and depp. it's the kind of movie that i can watch by myself, but if i watch it with anyone who has done drugs before then i probably wouldn't enjoy it very much. B+.
Fight Club - probably the most misunderstood film of 1999. those who misunderstood it said it was violence for violence's sake or that it was animalistic and brutal without purpose...stuff like that. those people piss me off. the film is actually very philosophical (though flawed) and lends itself to much more interpretation and analysis than any other contemporary action film (with the matrix being the one exception). stylistically it's a modern noir tale - shot almost entirely indoors or at night, an underdeveloped look that deepens all the dark areas, the voice-over narration, the beginning shows the end, and there's the femme fatale. at the same time it doesn't work solely within the mores of film noir. from the very beginning it differentiates itself with a very active camera, visual effects and the like. what results is a fresh looking film that may one day have a name like "neo noir." a great soundtrack. pitt and norton are really good and well cast for their parts. i loved this film the first couple times i saw it, but i don't think it stands the test of time as well as i originally thought. seven and the game (also from fincher) are more likely to hold up to repeated viewings. seven is filmed just as well, if not better, and the game is a bit more solidly grounded philosophically...but that's primarily because its philosophy is vastly more simple. fight club is more ambitious and, i suppose, should get points for that. at any rate, fight club will stand up against the "american beauty"s and "matrix"s of its time. all those films, at their core, fundamentally question our lives and contemporary society, much as douglas sirk and rainer fassbinder did in their time. A--.

Mau Mau Sex Sex- a decent documentary that gives a brief introduction to the sexploitation film industry. it really only touches the tip of the iceberg, but it's good enough to give you an idea of its origins, appeal, and status in cinema. focuses a bit too much on the two main guys (friedman and sonney) who basically started sexploitation films. after a while it starts getting into their personal lives and i would have enjoyed a greater focus on the genre. C+.

Journeys With George - alexandra pelosi (a member of the bush campaign press corps) films her experience working amongst other journalists who are supposed to be reporting on the bush campaign from the inside. it sounds like a good idea for a film because it might (like, "primary," "crisis," and "the war room") shed some light on bush and his campaign from a different perspective. for the most part, though, it's about pelosi and her experience as a journalist in this situation. she does mention that she sometimes wonders who she works for - her network (nbc) or the bush campaign - since the bushies are the ones that fly everyone around and buy her four cakes on her birthday. she acknowledges, to a certain extent, the amount of gladhanding that the campaign does to get on the good side of the reporters, but she doesn't flesh this out at all. one of her peers comments, just before the election is over, that he wished they had done a better job of (in essense) asking tough questions and writing real stories, but they didn't because they were so "charmed" by bush. one gets the definite impression that bush is a charmer (albeit a childish type of charm) and he uses this to his advantage. by the end of the film i think it's clear how much the bushies used the press corps. though it seems pelosi understands some of this she still makes a film that comes off much like her reporting probably looked - bush has a downside, but, gee, he sure is a nice guy. because for every minute of "this whole setup of us journalists trying to be impartial when we basically work for bush is a total sham" there is ten minutes of bush joking with the press corps, flirting with alexandra pelosi to get her vote (literally), and generally coming off as a nice, if somewhat immature, guy. we find out very little about who he really is and even less about his politics or campaign strategies. a disappointment primarily because of how good it could and should have been. C

Novocaine- sorta film-noirish - it has the femme fatale, a twisted double-cross, and uses voice-over; which is to say that it's not film noir, but borrows from its structure. the style of the film was interesting and added an extra dimension to the film. it wasn't all that funny of a movie, in fact, laura dern was the funniest character in the film, with kevin bacon being second - that's saying a lot in a steve martin film. it's a good movie that entertains, but doesn't amaze. B-.

Far Country - this and winchester 73 have sold me on the mann/stewart i plan on buying all the dvds featuring their talents...bend of the river, man from laramie, etc. this is a real quality western. it has the perfect setting - in the yukon during the gold rush - which allows it to be on a frontier, with plenty of money, great vistas and lawlessness. jimmy stewart plays yet another hero who isn't. throughout the majority of the film stewart's character (jeff) portrays a decidedly solipsistic cowboy who is neither good nor bad. in the end, though, he comes around. he comes around not because the injustice of the world finally becomes too much, but because he becomes injured and finally knows what it's like to be unable to care for himself - for once he is reliant upon others. the cinematography is really beautiful - especially the night/dusk scenes and the aforementioned mountain vistas. stewart is, of course, the centerpiece of the film, but the supporting cast is equally fantastic. none of them do as good an acting job, but each character reflects upon jeff in such a way that we have four different views of our central character. renee offers the opposite view - she knows from the outset that people need people, mr. gannon is the dark complement to jeff's character - perhaps what jeff could have been under slightly different circumstances, and ronda serves as the pefect female match for jeff before he realizes the err of his ways. walter brennan rounds out the cast as he has so many times before (clementine, rio bravo, etc.). it's an engaging story and a deep film. definitely worthwhile. B+.

Detour - pretty straight-ahead film noir here. i think what separates it from the pack, though, is 1) its ability to succeed despite the b-grade production values and 2) the fact that it takes the noir philosophy to, what seems to me, the very extremes with an ending that is darker and more fatalistic than even that of kubrick's "the killing." expect the usual noir fare - plenty of excessive shadows, flashback telling of the majority of the plot, plenty of voice-over and a no-win philosophy throughout. just under 70 minutes, but i like it that way. definitely worth while for those who like noir or want an introduction. B.
Fireman's Ball - from the genius that brought us "one flew over the cuckoo's nest." this one is similar in that it features of group of, let's say "eclectic," men in a confined space. it's different because it has comedy as its major focus. i didn't love the movie because the characters weren't as rich and the pathos wasn't as great as it was in cuckoo's nest, but they come from different writers and they're different genres so i guess i shouldn't have expected as much. i don't know that it was supposed to be an allegory, per se, but there did seem to be strong elements of political/social commentary. the crowd being the masses, the firemen being the government, the caterers being the business class...all of them interacting akwardly and for their own benefit. it generated a few laughs, but it wasn't a laugh riot by any least not for me. i didn't sense a strong visual style to speak of, but i'm not very good at picking up the subtleties of a style. i wish i had more training in that regard. taking an art class would probably be helpful. B-.

Brazil - i really don't know why this is so highly regarded. it's the only single movie to get a three disc treatment from criterion. wtf? the major accomplishment of the film is clearly the atmosphere - and that is mostly accomplished through set design. so the production designer should get major props (ha ha), but the rest isn't all that amazing. good, but not amazing. clearly there's a commentary here about modernization and technology. i think of it as a monty python treatment of 1984. city of the lost children is the only other film that i can remember, off the top of my head, that has sets as good as this. the ubiquitous posters warning "don't suspect someone, report them" etc. were funny and good for the atmosphere, but unfortunately you can't make a good movie with set pieces alone. i felt that the surrealist aspect of it didn't really add to the film. deniro was a nice addition. there were some laughs, but overall the film probably should have been cut by 30 minutes. C.
Bubba Ho-Tep - a decent film on the whole, but it could have used some work. a few too many one-liners at the end from bruce campbell. some of the film seemed underdeveloped, maybe it was just a bad print or something. the skeleton is good - a fine original story with a couple funny characters, but the execution was a little sloppy in parts. could have used a bit more tightening. C+.
Fog of War - there's a lot to say about this one. morris is a great filmmaker; he and moore are the best in the documentary business right now. i don't know all that much about robert mcnamara, but he proves himself to be ripe for the morris treatment. more about that on my review below. i'll just say that this film is really simple in its structure, but is complex in its content. morris breaks the film up into several chapters in order to frame the following information for the viewer. this kind of film is absolutely invaluable because it allows a former secretary of defense partly responsible for the deaths of thousands of people a chance to discuss the past in a frank manner. i honestly can't think of a better way to learn from the past. in other morris films the main character is balanced by interviews from contrasting individuals or people on the other side of the aisle. in fog of war morris allows mcnamara to speak for himself, and he's remarkably introspective and candid. morris does balance things a bit by showing popular contemporary reactions to his policies in the form of newspaper clippings or political cartoons, but his ideas are mostly left raw for the audience to decide and since he is frank about his mistakes and failures i think it's fine that morris omits interviews from his opponents. a very worthwhile film that couldn't have come at a better time. better than capturing the friedmans, but probably won't take home the oscar. B+.

Heavenly Creatures - peter jackson sure does like to move the camera. the camera hardly ever stayed still in this movie, though i'm not sure why. perhaps it was to signal the energy and change that the characters were undergoing. i don't know. it was a semi-interesting story with a chilling conclusion. some of the film style seemed to hearken back to his "dead alive" days and was thus slightly tongue-in-cheek or comedic, but i'm not sure if it was intended or not. maybe the camera moves just reminded me of his early horror films and that's what made it funny. in other words, maybe the camera moves were funny because of the associations i have from his past films, rather than them being funny because in absolute terms they are funny. it only happened a couple times so i don't mean to make a big deal of it, but it did seem out of place. ultimately the film didn't grab me all that much. i thought it was done well enough, but i guess i just wasn't in the mood for film about two crazy teenage girls. C.
My Darling Clementine - it's a good film about the earps, but other films have done it better. victor mature was good as doc holiday - he had the right look - both powerful/desirable and dark/mysterious. i think that kirk douglas had a more powerful performance as doc holiday in gunfight at the ok corral, but overall mature may have been better. henry fonda was solid as wyatt earp. somehow, though, the film lacked a forward momentum. the ends were good, but the middle was sluggish - bogged down mostly by the love story that starts a third of the way through the film. technically the film is strong - sound and lighting are strong points, however they don't propel the story so... also, why so many dissolves? after watching a peter jackson film and a kurosawa film this film's excessive use of the dissolve stands out. maybe it was ford's way of linking each scene in a more substantial way; as if each scene is intrinsically connected with the as to avoid any breakage from one scene to the next. it's tough to say because i've only seen it once and because it seems like you could interpret a dissolve in lots of different ways. with ford, though, you have to assume that he used them for a definite purpose. i wish i could like this movie more. C++.

Rashomon - the first really big japanese film in america, and many peoples' first introduction to kurosawa (myself included). at under 90 minutes it's definitely a short film for kurosawa, but it feels longer because so much is explored. it's an intensely layered film and as a result requires a couple viewings to really get into the nitty gritty issues that are explored. when i first saw it i thought it would be an interesting test of character - depending on which story you believed you would be a certain type of person. shrinks like to put people in groups so i figured this would be as good a way as any. ultimately i think the film is about questioning truth (that's fairly evident), but the levels of storytelling and truth that are explored in the film make it a more difficult knot to untie. kurosawa tells us a story about a priest and a woodcutter who are telling a commoner a story about a bandit, a wife and a channel who are telling their versions of the same story. and in the case of the channel we have a woman who is supposedly acting as a medium for a dead man - so there is one more intermediary between a perceived reality and our hearing its rendition. if it sounds twisted, or seems twisted when you watch it then i think kurosawa did a good job. my interpretation is that truth and reality shift according to the person who experiences it and, thus, the more versions you have the more twisted it becomes. ultimately we must acknowledge the limitations of these things and, perhaps, focus on the future (as represented by the abandoned child in the end). the visual aspects of the film are both beautiful and affirming of its philosophy. the crime takes place in the forest and the camera is often behind trees or leaves which obstruct our view. acting styles differ depending upon who is telling the story. it's just damn fine filmmaking. i don't think this is kurosawa's best film (though technically i don't know that he gets much better), but it's probably his most important film because of what it did for him, japanese cinema, and film in general. the commentary track had some good stuff, but i think it could have been a bit tighter and informative. A.

Mr. Death: The Rise And Fall Of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. - morris manages to find yet another unique individual and document the fine line between genius and insanity. the film is well-made, of course, but the story isn't quite as compelling as some of his other films. it follows fred leuchter who designs and builds capital punishment equipment - from the gallows to electric chairs. he justifies his profession by giving specific examples of executions turned torture as a result of faulty equipment - good equipment is the only humane way to kill a person, he posits. this sort of half logic (unfortunately) pervades his thinking. he actually started working on electric chairs, but soon states asked him to work on their gallows or gas chambers or lethal injection machines. he admits that his qualifications as an engineer of electric chairs doesn't translate to other machines of death, but takes the work anyway since he feels it comes down to an ability to learn more than anything else. later he is asked to investigate the gas chambers in auschwitz to determine whether or not people were really gassed there. he's completely unqualified, but seems to be ignorant of this fact. his ignorance of investigative procedure and hard science leads to a false finding - people were not killed in the "gas chambers" in auschwitz. he testifies to this in a court room and is immediately branded an anti-semite. this is not helped by the fact that he discusses his findings at various 'revisionist' churches, etc. across the nation. the movie is structured like 'thin blue line' or 'capturing the friedmans' in that it teeters back and forth between one side and another. leuchter presents his facts "there weren't any gas ducts in the chambers, thus there was no way to introduce or expel the toxin." while another offers a counter point "leuchter failed to look at contemporary blueprints which clearly show the existence of gas ducts. since the 40s changes have been made." and it goes on like that. unfortunately leuchter is always given the inferior position - others can respond directly to his arguments, but he doesn't seem to get the chance to redirect. it's clear that morris thinks leuchter is in the wrong here, and i suppose there's nothing wrong with that since morris is right. but morris does not go so far as to call leuchter an anti-semite. the film ends with a voice-over (one of many) that essentially says that leuchter got caught up in his own hubris - he thought that he could figure this puzzle out, but it was beyond him and his mistaken conclusion caused him much more trouble than he bargained for (since the trial he's lost contracts with states to work on their execution equipment, has gotten divorced, been brought up on criminal charges and is broke). i think the guy is completely wrong, but i do feel sorry for him because i sort of got the impression that had he gotten the facts straight he'd be much better off. B-.

My Man Godfrey- a mostly funny comedy from gregory la cava, who is starting to pique my interest. i've only seen this and "gabriel over the white house," but i sense a pattern with la cava's work. a man in a gutter (literally - as with this film, or morally - as with gabriel over the white house) who undergoes a transformation and turns things around in a rather inspirational way. the film, in the meantime, entertains us with comedy and social criticism. it sort of reminds of capra. i don't want to call it a formula or anything, but the two films of his that i have seen have been pretty similar in their structure. in gabriel over the white house there was criticism of our political structure and in my man godfrey there is criticism of our social structure. it clearly mocks the idle rich and our social stratification by making the rich family who employ godfrey the butt of the majority of the jokes. i plan on buying the criterion edition of the dvd because this film is good. B.

Miracle - first some background, in case you're a sports ignoramus. in 1964, 68, 72 and 76 the USSR hockey team won the gold medal in each year's olympics. in 1979 (or was it 1980?) they played the nhl all-star team and beat them 6-0. up until the 1980 winter olympics they had been undefeated in the last 40+ games in their various travels around the world (including a win against the very same U.S. team that this story follows). once in the olympics the russians breezed through their first five games going 5-0 and scoring 51 goals (that's a lot). every expert in the world had them picked as the best team in the world with the best goalie in the world. but then they played a US team whose average player was only 21 years old, and they got beat. anyone who knows anything about the history of the modern olympics ranks the game as one of the top five greatest upsets in modern olympic history. add to that the political climate of the time and you've got a pretty great story. what most people don't know is that as huge as the game was it was only for the silver medal....the US went on to win one more game against finland for the gold medal.
but when you have a story that great there is a tendency for hollywood to fuck things up. here's a movie that could have so easily been bad...make that awful. it has all the trappings of a bad tv movie. the based on the true story of an american olympic hockey team defying all odds to beat the russian hockey team. there was easily the opportunity for flag waving and slow motion overload, but that stuff really wasn't there. this is one of the rare times when i thought to myself "this film is really well produced." i could tell that the producers of this film were committed more to the story than to the bottom line (i.e., profit). examples?...they hired the coach of the 1980 team that the film depicts as a consultant and dedicated it in his honor (he died shortly before the film was completed). i don't remember seeing any flags waving in the wind. they didn't hire big name actors to play any of the hockey players. in 1980 the olympics still required amateurs so none of the hockey players on the team were widely known...the same goes for the film. there were only two recognizable faces in the film - kurt russell played the coach (who in real life was the biggest star of the team since he coached a couple ncaa championship teams) and noam emmerich (who really isn't all that big of an actor) who played an assistant coach. again, if they had done a typical hollywood job on this movie you would have seen guys like josh hartnet or casey affleck or freddie prinze jr. instead the film adopts the philosophy of the team they are praising - it's more about the whole than it is about the individuals. and i really think that it works. there are some weak moments in the acting here or there (russell is actually very good), but as a whole the acting is sufficient  and the story carries whatever weaknesses the film may have elsewhere. the filmmakers (wisely) allow the story to shine on its own. like seabiscuit, the film places the story within its historical context and it does this because the story calls for it. rather than making it into a cold war allegory for the sake of plucking on our sense of patriotism, the film neatly places the story in its appropriate backdrop because it belongs there. it does not make the mistake of simplifying things either - it shows both sides of the cold war - there are those who want our team to beat those commie bastards and there are those who recognize that it's just a game and basically just wish we could all get along. if the film was made 15 years ago i think it would have been more successful, but it wouldn't have been as good and mature as it is. i also like the fact that they treated the win against the USSR as the climax of the film despite the fact that it was the next game (against finland) that was for the gold medal. most people might consider a gold medal game as more important, but in reality the silver medal game against the USSR was a bigger upset and more memorable. a very fine film. B+.

50 First Dates - a better than expected comedy. berrymore is good and so is sandler. a couple cheap gross out jokes at the beginning had me worried, but the rest of the film kept things relatively kosher. C+.

Seabiscuit - i expected it to be a poor movie and sometimes that can work to a film's advantage. sure there were some (really) corny moments, but, overall, it told a good story. within ten minutes of the start i knew how the movie was going play out, but it didn't really affect the enjoyment of the film that much. i wish moby hadn't made an appearance and i wish that they had encorporated more information about horse racing, though i guess you can't win them all. none of the actors were stellar, though i guess tobey maguire did the best job since his was the toughest role to play. i especially liked the fact that the film made a point of placing its story within the historical context of the early 1900s. the death of the individual craftsman (with the brief discussion of henry ford) along with the ensuing depression elevated the story more than any moby song could hope for. it was photographed well, which, having seen gary ross' other film (pleasantville) should be expected. i can see its oscar worthiness, but that's only because i know of the severe limitations of the academy awards. B--.

Thirteen- a cross between "kids" (a very good film) and "tart" (a very bad film). "kids" was sort of the landmark film in terms of films that (honestly) addressed growing up in single parent households or growing up as a "latch-key" kid. "kids" took place in urban nyc and dealt with lower class teens, whereas tart took place in nyc, but deal with the elite. this movie takes place in los angeles and deals with a lower middle class family - they have a home, but don't have money to burn. the first thirty minutes of the film are pretty awful. in the beginning the film parades all the stereotypes and uses an annoyingly active camera to hype everything within the frame. editing and camera movement are indicative of a pseudo-cinema verite style and, to me, it was way over the top and contrived. think of the bad parts from "dangerous minds" and you'll get an idea. but, thankfully, the rest of the film got away from the "style over substance" philosophy that the first half hour employed. perhaps the first part of the film was saying "here's what most films do with this material..." and the second half added "but here's how it actually is." or, perhaps, it was just an error of judgment.  at any rate, the last hour of the film really saved it. whereas the first part of the film went over the top with the "urban" music to illustrate the gritty realities of the school yard, the second portion of the film let the realistic actions of the teens speak for themselves. whereas the first part used hand held cameras, excessive editing, and passé zooms to give the feeling that we were part of the action, the second portion let us in by showing us the real vulnerabilities and complexities of the characters. in the denouement (i just had to use that word) the film drops out all the reds in the picture to leave a stark blue look as things unravel completely. it works very well. the epilogue is only a few seconds long, but is appropriate and, i think, a nice cap to the film. in kids the epilogue showed the streets of new york from the view of a moving car and ended with casper saying something like "what the hell happened." this film's epilogue says the same thing, but not literally. the protagonist is spinning on a merry-go-round and she lets out a scream as if things are out of control. holly hunter had a strong performance and the others mostly held up their end. i've only seen three of the five supporting actress performances, but having looked over the nominations, i think hunter has a good shot at winning. i really wish that the first part of the film was done differently because it almost lost me completely, but the last hour of the film was really good so i'll give it a B. p.s. i think the review on misses the mark, but you be the judge.

The Gods Must Be Crazy - it really is a gem. the comedy is mostly slapstick in nature and, even though there isn't all that much of it, it's definitely funny. despite having only spurts of comedy, the film stays interesting throughout because the plot and other themes are robust enough to hold the audiences attention. it's predominately a comedy, but it is also part romance and part social commentary. the romance aspect of the film falls, more or less, into the comedy genre convention. a hapless hero ends up saving a woman and, despite his being a klutz, they fall in love. the social commentary portion is what, to me, really makes the film a classic. the film comments on both the hilarity and arbitrary nature of our technological society. we create tools to help us live an easier life, but as a result we have to go to school for 12 years of our lives just in order to learn how to live. we, the audience, see how silly our civilized lives are by viewing it through the eyes of xixo (the protagonist) who is completely cut off from society until a coke bottle lands at his feet. the introduction of this one-of-a-kind object into his small village leads to heretofore unknown problems - greed, the idea of property, envy, violence, etc. in contrast to the bushmen of the kalahari desert, we look like utter fools who live an illogical life of contradictions. in addition to all of the above, there is another plotline interwoven into the story. we also follow a band of revolutionaries on the run from the government officials they just tried to murder. it may seem out of place, but it works to move along the plot, show a bit of contemporary african society, and provide further contrast to xixo's increasingly attractive simple life. B+.

02/08/04All About My Mother - i don't like pedro almodovar, that's official. he just doesn't talk about anything in his movies that interests me, and, as i've mentioned before, it's not enough for me for a movie to have an interesting visual style or has to have characters or a story that resonates with me on some level. i guess what it comes down to is that i'm just more into "guy" movies, and almodovar doesn't make guy movies. all the movies i've seen by him have been either too much about women or too much about sex. the latter being the major reason i don't like movies like "last tango in paris." though that also had marlon brando in it and i don't seem to like him very much. which brings me back to all about my mother since "a streetcar named desire" played a big part in the film. i fucking hate a streetcar named desire. but i digress...all about my mother had some interesting elements. the integration of streetcar and all about eve and the way in which the characters sort of relive those stories was interesting, but not compelling. the use of color was interesting, but i didn't understand the point of it. there was a lot of red, but people of all types wore red so it wasn't a way of distinguishing personalities. most of the colors were primary so maybe this is an indication that these characters are archetypes. when the main character moved to barcelona her apartment seemed to have less color than her previous home - perhaps echoing the loss of life she experienced. the movie was made well enough, but had nothing to offer me. it's probably the equivalent of most women watching a war film - too one-sided and thus not very relateable(?). C-.
Space Is The Place - it's either complete genius or a half-baked attempt to get sun ra into a film. i'm leaning towards the latter, but time may prove me wrong. part blaxploitation, part surrealism, and part music peformance video. C-.

Rules of the Game - called the best movie of all-time by many a critic, but not by me. i really should reserve judgment on this one because i know i missed a lot of stuff. but my initial impression is that it's a well-composed, sometimes funny film that wouldn't ever get mention on my top ten list. but the jury isn't out yet. C+.
Cooler - a decent film with good performances across the board. the direction showed some inspired flashes, but didn't have a solitary vision. rather it had some good ideas and tried to put them to use, whether they fit or not. good balance of humor and drama. the jazz soundtrack was a bit weak. C+.
Casino- the heavy use of voice-over is my only gripe with this film. i thought it was a bit over-used, but i also think that it fit well with the flow of the film. the film is very musical in its structure and style. so much so that much of it played out like a narrated music video, but with a lot more class than is usually associated with the "music video" title. i think there were only a couple pieces of music written for the film, which is unusual, especially for an epic (the film is just shy of three hours and chronicles the rise and fall of the mob in las vegas so i think it qualifies). a lot of people seem to think that casino is just a remake of goodfellas, set in a different place, but i think that casino stands on its own because it does have a different approach to the genre. it's undoubtedly a scorsese film, but it is different from goodfellas. i'd have to see goodfellas again to make a case, so just trust me. sharon stone is great as are deniro and pesci. i don't have a strong case for this, but i'll put it out there me this film sort fits into a crime-noir genre. it begins with the apparent death of deniro, it has a clear femme fatale, the vast majority of the film takes place either inside or outside at night, and it paints a cynical view of life (las vegas is turned into a consumerist hell hole, pesci dies, stone dies, deniro escapes death, but is seriously demoted...) A-.
Field of Dreams - it's a fantasy film and i generally don't do well with those unless they are set in a different time/place (like lord of the rings). to get to the point right away - it just tried too hard. it plucked the heart strings and that's fine if you've earned it, but the film never got off the ground for me. they just jumped into the fantasy too quickly. i'm not sure how they could have eased into the water more effectively, but i do know that they didn't do it very well. costner and earl jones were decent and there was some humor to keep things going. C.

Eight Men Out - nice enough. it's good to know the story and the cast did a good job on the whole, but it wasn't a fantastic film in any respect. C+.
Bull Durham - it's actually less of a baseball movie than i expected, and as a result more of a romance. it's got some funny stuff and all the actors do a fine job. major league seemed to borrow from it a bit (the voodoo character comes to mind). it was less of a baseball movie if not for the simple reason that we only got to know two or three of the players on the team. it turned into a love triangle movie, which i wasn't expecting. i liked the fact that it was about a minor league team and the film did a good job of using that to its advantage. B-.
Graduate- this is an insanely good film; it's so good that i'm pretty certain that i'll never see a film as good ever again. i'm just going to write in fragments about my utter joy in watching the film since there's too much to address and i'm not in the mood to form an essay. as entwined as the music and images are we only hear one simon and garfunkel song (during the opening credits) through the first 38 minutes of the film. after that we get a couple musical interludes, one of them being the driving sequences which are great and make me want a convertible alfa romero. the film starts with ben on a plane landing in LA, so does die hard which is another of my favorite films ever. after that the credits begin and he's on a people mover...he's moving, but he's not propelling himself...a consistent theme throughout the film. nichols uses a lot of off camera dialogue. in some cases it's to move along the plot or tell us something about ben or a situation, but often it's because the camera is still. i'd have to watch it again, but i think that the camera is still when ben is, or maybe wants to be, because the camera sort of echoes ben in some ways. nichols uses a lot of zooms, usually to show a character amongst a great background. for example, mrs. robinson in the scene after ben tells elaine the truth, or ben when he's in berkeley at the fountain. none of the adults have first names, but all of them have opinions on what ben should be doing with his life. on two occasions (both before significant steps towards the affair) mrs. robinson makes her entrance on film through a reflection. once on a table and once on a piece of glass. i think that the slowest part of the film is the time spent in berkeley when ben is courting elaine. in most romantic films this would be the bread and butter. water seems to play a big role in the film. the most obvious manifestation of this theme comes in the pool sequences. the first being when ben gets the diving suit  and is forced to the bottom by his father, and another being when he's floating on a raft and his parents are in the pool circling him like sharks while trying to convince him to take out elaine. this time he gets off the raft and swims to the bottom on his own accord. some of it's pretty obvious, some of it isn't, but it's all natural within the film. nichols and henry never go out of their way to work a symbol into the plot. i've gotten this far and i haven't mentioned the humor of the film. though i wouldn't personally call it a comedy (because of how it begins and ends and what it is ultimately about), it does have plenty of comic relief. again, like die action film with more comedy in it than 98% of the comedies out there. in its broadest stroke the film is about coming of age or finding oneself. more specifically it's about breaking out of the mold of the older generation or that which came before you. and i think that's why the ending works so well. beyond ben trapping the adults in the church (what an exceptional scene) is the fact that once they're on the bus they realize what they've done. slowly their faces change from pure happiness to a reserved optimism because they know that technically elaine is married and that the romanticism of hollywood may not actually be a panacea, but they've still struck out on their own. and, ultimately, that's why i know i'll love this movie for the rest of my life...because it's not just a movie about the foolish optimism that comes with being young - it's more about doing things on your own terms and finding your own path. A+.

Morvern Callar - at first my review was going to go something like this: "this film produced: one smile, zero laughs, zero tears, three thoughts and three boners." but then i decided that i should justify myself a little. the first twenty minutes are painfully slow. the title character discovers that her boyfriend has committed suicide and written a novel for her. she wanders around for a day or so so to think. she goes to work and a christmas party as usual where she ends up telling her friend that her boyfriend left the country and is never coming back. eventually the smell gets to be too much for her so she disposes of body like any right-minded person - by hacking him up, putting the parts in a duffel bag and burying it in the country. she claims authorship of the novel her boyfriend wrote and submits it to a publisher. she takes some money out of his bank account (he told her it was okay) and then leaves the country with her friend. the publishers love "her" novel and offer her 100,000 pounds (oh, it takes place in scotland) for it. so maybe the movie is about good things coming from death, or going on despite death or ....i don't honestly know, but it didn't do anything for me. there were shades of "lost in translation" here, sophia coppola probably loved this movie. i should be honest here...i was completely uninterested after seeing the first fifteen minutes and that adversely affected the entire film. D. i just read the review for it...within the first fifteen minutes i had this pegged as the sort of film reviewers would describe as a "tone poem." sure enough, that's exactly what they called it on i'm not sure what qualifies as a tone poem in film, but i think it's when the film makes me sleepy and emphasizes style over substance.

American Splendor - a movie based upon a comic book which is based upon the real life of harvey pekar, a comic book artist. i think that the most noteworthy aspect of the film is the way they layered real documentary footage of harvey pekar, archived footage (like his interviews with david letterman), and comic book illustrations with the acted part of the film. most of it was acted (rather well), but there was plenty of overlapping from the other sources that made the film a sort of pastiche representation of harvey pekar. it was more than just a novel device though. it took the represented image of pekar to the next level. without getting into a philosophical discussion of the reality of representing someone within film or other media, let it suffice to say that we can't ever really know pekar and the film sort of played on that, while (almost paradoxically) deepening our understanding of who he is. since, up to this point, we've only know of him through the letterman show and his comics, it makes sense that a film be made to add another dimension of understanding to this man. i don't know if those last couple lines made sense. let me give a longer explanation. harvey pekar writes a comic book about his life, but he's a shitty artist so he has r. crumb illustrate it. but he also has a bunch of other people illustrate it. so, depending upon the artist, pekar looks like a monster or hermit or a Brando-esque hero. the same could be said about documentary filmmakers (read my derrida review below). this film acknowledges the limitations of a fictionalized representation of a man. to some, val kilmer is more jim morrison than jim morrison is because they have only experienced morrison through his music and the fictionalized representation known as oliver stone's "the doors." in american splendor the filmmakers are mostly working within "the doors" mold. however they also include archival footage of the real harvey pekar, as well as comic book illustrations of harvey pekar interacting with the actor (giamatti) who portrays pekar, as well as interviews with the real harvey pekar about the making of the film itself. it's a form of vertical integration within film. as a french fry business might own every aspect of the production and selling of french fries (from the potato farms to the processing plants to the packaging factories to the distribution), this film integrates every step of the creation of a representation of a person into the film. still clear as mud. oh well. in terms of how it was made, i don't think i've seen anything like it. beyond that, it's a fine film. giamatti is really good, the soundtrack works well for the character and, though it didn't bring me to tears, the story is compelling enough. B.

Shane - there are some films that have a good reputation for no apparent reason. this isn't one of them. it opens with the shot of a valley, from behind the camera we see shane's horse arrive. a similar shot was used in seven samurai (two years later), but the bad guys came into frame rather than the good guys. kurosawa also seemed to like the strangers helping strangers theme that was addressed in this film. there weren't any real weaknesses in this film. i enjoyed the score - it wasn't too subtle or too over-the-top - for me it was just right. the sound was also noteworthy. in the outdoor scenes there was always a good layering of birds chirping, water running, cows mooing, etc. - it had all the sounds of a paradise. the bar room brawl was one of the best i've ever was really well edited and shane kicked some major ass. the story isn't anything spectacular or new, but it's not weak either. again we have a hero who has a shady past (like john wayne in the searchers or doc holiday in gunfight at the o.k. corral or eastwood in unforgiven). by the end of the film shane cannot deny what he is and resorts to his old gunslinging days to restore order to the frontier. the story is told mostly through the eyes of young joey who immediately looks up to shane. joey is the audience. it would be interesting to view the film in a post-war context. i think it makes a good case for both the collectivism of the ussr and the individuality of america. it addresses the neccesity of violence, but hopes for peace. there's a lot to the film whether you view it as a parable or strictly as a fine piece of filmmaking. i think, though, that the filmmakers intended it to be viewed as a story that is larger than life. stevens consistently returned to the grandiose images of the mountains, which to me indicated a linking of the story to something greater than the story itself. B++.

Cabin Fever - listened to the first (of five) commentary tracks. eli roth certainly does enjoy film, horrror film in particular. good commentary track and a good movie. B.
Man Who Shot Liberty Valance - quite simply a great film. it's a western, but it has shades of film noir. most people mark 1958 as the official end of film noir, but those people bother me. those are the same people that won't admit that 'fugitive on a chain gang' is a film noir despite coming before the term was coined. all the actors play their parts really well. stewart and wayne are especially brilliant. it starts with the typical shot of the horizon, but is broken by the train cutting through the middle of the frame, smoke billowing out of the smokestack; which is a break from what seems to be the norm of men on horseback on the horizon. the vast majority of the film is a flashback, though there is no voice-over or reverting back to the present. a wise choice. i've been intrigued by the choice to tell a story when you already know that the main character is dead/dying (e.g., citizen kane, american beauty, ikiru, and the killers) or fatally injured/in trouble with the police (e.g., double indemnity). in most of these cases we're talking about a film noir which means telling the story this way reinforces the fatalistic philosophy that dominates the genre. in american beauty and ikiru it has an opposite effect. we are all mortal and this is addressed immediately so what becomes important is the journey, rather than the destination. but none of that matters if the rest of the film is schlock...the marshall, peabody and others provide an excellent steady course of comic relief that keeps things balanced. but the real meat of the film are the two leads - wayne and stewart who both revolved around the axis of the film - vera miles' character. i'm going out on a limb here. she symbolized purity and was probably the character closest to the audience. wayne (the old school of western thought) lead with the gun and had her heart at the beginning (chronologically) of the film. stewart isn't short of bravado, but wields it in a much different manner, choosing to fight back with a law book in hand. he teaches hallie to read and slowly we (hallie and the audience) are converted to stewart's style. in the end, though, it turns out that wayne is a necessary evil of sorts. though he is relegated to self-loathing in the shadows for the last 30-40 minutes of the movie, we come to realize what sacrifice he has made for stewart and our way of life. as nicholson (in a few good men) says "you want me on that wall, you need me there." ultimately it's a good, balanced story that ends up being rather touching. one of ford's last films and it doesn't seem that age had hurt his genius one bit. B++.

Big Bounce - elmore leonard takes a step back. sara foster is really good looking, but even better looking with shorter, darker hair. owen wilson is funny. morgan freeman's talent is wasted and the script lacks the vitality and snap that other elmore leonard stories have in spades. C.
Out of Sight - elmore leonard at his peak. this one is funny, snappy, and romantic. having seen this again since ocean's eleven came out it occured to me that they're remarkably similar films. maybe soderbergh isn't as great as i gave him credit for. jennifer lopez (before she was j.lo or had released an album) is actually quite good in her role here. steve zahn and don cheadle are both great as bungling criminals. a good script that shifts time around a bit, has some good, fresh characters and direction to match the tone and feel of the story. B+.
Cabin Fever - it's a popcorn movie. it makes no bones about what it is and that's why it's successful. it provides some scares, but doesn't rely on being able to scare you as the primary draw of the film. it's got plenty of t and a, as well as plenty of laughs; both of which are necessary for this kind of horror film. B.

Whale Rider - a solidly acted and filmed affair. it's the kind of film that i know i should like, but i just never got into. i don't think it's the filmmakers' fault because the filmmaking and execution were good, but, like i said, i just didn't connect with it. the score gets a little bland after a while, and the ending is a predictable tear-jerker. you'll probably like it more than i did. B-.
Let America Laugh - travelogue following david cross around the country on his latest comedy tour. what struck me the most is how mean cross can be sometimes, and how he lives his comedy, rather than just using it as a schtick. of course he and i are similar in our distaste for the rest of humanity so it's usually pretty funny, but nevertheless the guy can be kind of a jerk. it's probably better to watch him than to know him. there's a lot of backstage footage of cross socializing with fans, wannabe groupies, and general crazies. B.

Master of the Flying Guillotine - three times in a week, it's gotta be good. viewed it with the commentary track this time...they did a good job of talking about the context within which the film was made; namely the hong kong film industry at the time (post bruce lee, pre jackie chan). it acted as sort of speed course in kung fu film. of course they talked about the film itself and why it's the classic that it is. a very solid commentary track overall. B+.

Capturing The Friedmans - like thin blue line and brother's keeper before it, capturing the friedmans tells a side of a crime story that most haven't gotten to hear yet. it manages to give a pretty well-balanced account of each side's case. of course what results is a complete mess that the viewer has to try to sort through; and it's not easy. personally, i don't know who i believe. i suppose what i got out of it is that, once again, truth isn't as clear as we would like it to be. it's a well-made documentary...well-edited and balanced, though i do wish philip glass had done the score. B. check out my double features page.

Cinemania - i just got a glimpse of my future and it doesn't look too good. a documentary following five film buffs in new york city, none of whom have a job. as a result they have the whole day to themselves and watch films all day. they range from eccentric intellectuals to obsessive compulsive schizophrenics. provided a good dose of perspective in terms of my movie consumption. anyone who thinks that 300 movies in a year is a lot should check this one out. at times funny and at times sorta depressing. the filmmakers chose to let the subjects decide where the film would go. a couple of the subjects just talk film the entire time, while a couple others choose to talk about their obsession with film and where it stems from and how it has affected their lives. a well-made documentary. B.

Gunfight At The O.K. Corral - i didn't like it as much as winchester 73. the strongest part of the film was in the characters, specifically those played by kirk douglas and burt lancaster....they really drove the film. of course the much told story of the earps and the gunfight at the ok corral (both of which were the subject of many westerns from tombstone to my darling clementine) is a good one, but it's only as strong as the actors playing the parts. i liked the soundtrack (meaning the songs in the movie, as opposed to the score), it was catchy and provided a musical reinforcement of the plot. it felt like two movies because just past the halfway mark doc holiday and wyatt earp leave dodge city and go to tombstone to help wyatt's brothers clean the place up. granted the situation (fight the bad guys) was the same as it was in dodge city, and the problems (internal and external) that doc and wyatt had followed them to tombstone, but it still felt like there wasn't as smooth a transition as i would have liked. it was as if the movie was two separate episodes from the same television series. that aside the film was good overall, but the second half didn't elevate the drama the way it should have. women played an interesting role. they were both the voice of reason and a source of antagonism, but in both cases they provided the yin to the men's yang. the good and bad was more clearly drawn in this film than in winchester 73. B-.

Winchester 73 - as the title indicates this film is more about an object, and what it represents, than the people within the film. the object (the winchester 1873 rifle) is, in many ways, a more important player than the human characters in the film. in fact, the characters are mostly just archetypes, and thus symbols for ideals beyond the individuals and their issues. surely i don't mean to make petty the struggles of the individuals, but given the biblical nature of the story and the fact that the camera always draws the eye to the rifle, i think that there is certainly something more at stake here than a man (stewart) trying to recover his weapon. it could be a cold war allegory like high noon, or a more abstract/universal morality tale about greed and the desire for power. like lord of the rings, which also made an object a primary character, winchester 73 need not be allegorical, but it is certainly applicable to many historical times or events. more superficially the story is just a darn good yarn. stewart's character isn't as dark and mysterious as john wayne's in "the searchers," but he also isn't a "shane." we get the sense that he's a good guy, but there is a mystery in his past that isn't revealed until the end. i never felt as though i wasn't on his side though, and this is why i think he's still a symbol. we feel from his very first act (standing up for shelley winters' character) that he's a good guy, even if there is something lurking in the background. i didn't see anything fantastic in the direction...the treatment of the rifle was good, but other than that nothing really popped out for me. but i'm admittedly not very good at detecting subtleties of style and such. B+.
Rope - it was either this or "shane" to make the double feature. i stuck with the jimmy stewart theme...this one made two years before winchester 73. the story started as a play, and with only three or four cuts in the film, it isn't a very cinematic film in the typical sense. that is to say that since there is only one setting, and only a couple cuts, one might think that there is no point in filming it. but hitchcock makes it worthwhile. his placement of the camera and where he chooses to make his few cuts are integral. my favorite sequence is when the chest (which houses the corpse) is in the foreground and the maid is slowly taking things off of the chest in preparation of filling it with some books that belong in it. meanwhile the two murderers are occupied and don't notice how close she comes to discovering the body. it's a suspenseful film that is often overlooked, unfortunately. it really does excel beyond the fact that it consists of only a few uninterrupted shots. all the acting is good. B+.

Catch Me If You Can - say what you will about american culture, but one thing is certain - we have created some of the greatest criminals in modern history. from jesse james to bonnie and clyde to frank abignale jr....we've got some great ones. a surprisingly entertaining film based on the real life of frank abignale jr. who, before this movie, was a relative unknown. good character balance, a good visual look throughout the picture to create the 60s look, and fine enough direction from a guy who knows what he's doing...even if he doesn't always make good movies. B.
Heat - what a movie. it's a crime drama, for sure, but it's more of a character study than it is a typical crime drama. every single one of the main characters is multi-faceted. i love movies that show the shades of gray. i think that everyone watching the film wanted there to be some way for both pacino and deniro to win in the end, but that's impossible since they're in opposition. as characters, though, they are much closer to each other and that is completely realized in their meeting at the diner. i do wish that mann had covered that scene differently. i understand that he didn't want to miss anything and so he chose over the shoulder coverage which is pretty typical when two people are facing each other. but i just can't help but think that, given the fact that two of the greatest actors are in the same room together, there should have been more of an effort to capitalize on the energy they bring. i would have liked to see more of an attempt to capitalize on that by letting them run free and capturing whatever transpired using a steadycam or a handheld. to me that would have fit and it could have had an even better impact. other than that and a few bad music choices, i thought the film was fucking great. other things to note include the beginning which takes place on train tracks and the end which takes place on a runway. movement? transition?...i don't know. the last thing i want to explore is the way in which deniro is killed, or, rather, what it is that gets him killed. a light comes on and projects his shadow to pacino's feet, thus giving him away. it may be a reference to jung's idea of the "shadow"...the physical representation of the darkness within deniro's character becomes his ultimate undoing, and that which separates him from pacino. perhaps. we know that the characters are clear foils for each other. but they aren't alpha and omega. they may appear as such at the beginning...pacino with his wife, deniro pulling a heist. but as the film unfolds pacino's relationship dissolves and his obsession with his work takes a clear toll. meanwhile deniro develops a relationship with a woman which ends up being the driving force for him to go on "one last score." in the last minutes pacino leaves his wife in the emergency room and deniro is forced to leave his woman in the car wondering where he is going. pacino, at first, has the tactical advantage - acquiring a shotgun for the battle to come. but eventually it is just the two of them on the runway with pistols, as equals. and if all that is too much for you, this film features one of the best shoot-out scenes of the last 20 years. A.
Company- i'm not a huge fan of robert altman. i like short cuts and the player, but thought mash was overrated. james franco is cool, neve campbell isn't, and malcolm mcdowell used to be pretty great. i don't know what anyone was thinking on this film. it was sort of a documentary of a ballet company, but it lacked the information or character development that documentaries generally have. at the same time i lacked any sort of real story, drama, narrative, conflict, etc. there were hints at some of these things, but nothing was developed at all and it felt like it was supposed to be three hours long, but they didn't have the budget. mostly i think it was just a vehicle for neve campbell's waning career. what a mess. D.

Derrida - right off the bat let me say (write) that i had expectations of a more clinical examination of the thoughts of derrida, rather than a look at his life and thoughts in a personal documentary more like "stevie" than what you might see on pbs. a lot of the first part of the film is dedicated to examining what heidegger once said about a philosopher's biography - the important things are he was born, he thought, he died...everything else being anecdotes and details. well this documentary seemed to have more of those anecdotes and details than i think derrida or heidegger would have liked, but maybe that was the filmmakers' way of challenging this notion. the point of the quote is that on the one hand you can't get to know someone through incidental stories about their childhood, but on the other hand this is what storytelling and filmmaking (especially documentary filmmaking) is often about. derrida rightly observes, too, that the film is more of a signature of the filmmakers than a biography of himself. so i'll go on, now, to examine the i mentioned before, i wish there had been more focus on the ideas of derrida in a linear or instructive fashion. i expected to gain a better understanding of the main tenets of his philosophy. but, as an example, "differance," which i know to be a large motif in his deconstruction, was mentioned only once...fifteen minutes before the ending of the film. that main disappointment aside, the film was well done. i do feel i "know" derrida better. his ideas are still murky, but in seeing how he answers questions or examines his body parts (specifically his eyes and hands) i got a good idea of how he thinks, which in a lot of ways is more important than what he thinks. the most interesting idea that i picked up in the film wasn't derridean (?) at all - it was an ancient greek/roman (?) story of echo and narcissus. i think i had heard the story many years ago, but i didn't remember anything about it until he retold it. echo was doomed to only repeat the last part of what other people said. eventually she used this curse to adopt a language based upon what narcissus said...combining the end of certain words that narcissus used to form her own language. philosophically it's interesting because it speaks to several ideas - we're just repeating that which has already been said, everything beyond plato is a footnote, nothing new under the sun, we are all so intrinsically connected to that which came before us that "improvisation" (as derrida calls it) is impossible, but should still be sought after. it's a story that's ripe with meaning. i took it as a justification for hip-hop as a viable form of music. hip-hop artists manipulate musical language the same way that echo did. derrida and other deconstructionalists would likely point out that hip-hop artists are just one step closer to echo than other artists who try to hide their references or influences. anyone who understands music knows that if you're going to get on public enemy's case for sampling then it's a slippery slope before you start criticizing elvis, the beatles, and everyone else. you can argue over the degrees, but i don't think you can knock the entire practice. at any rate, the film is good precisely because it incites this kind of thought. though i went into it expecting a schooling, i came out wiser precisely because it sought not to lecture. B. p.s. an interviewer asks him a question about the philosophy of seinfeld and how it might be seen as deconstructionalist. he had never heard of seinfeld, but said that deconstruction isn't about watching sitcoms. "people should read and do their homework instead."
Donnie Darko - the kind of film that only comes from a first time filmmaker. that's not a slight in any way, rather it's a compliment to the innovation and vision that the film demonstrates. above all, it's a well-balanced film. the acting is very fine, though it's not a vehicle for one or another actor; the story is compelling and multi-faceted, but it's executed well too; and the comic relief is present and enjoyable, but doesn't get in the way of the touching ending. the 80s setting is an interesting choice. it sort of transports us to another world. there are clear references to the director's influences - evil dead, e.t., stephen king, and back to the future to name a few. its soundtrack, too, completes the 80s feel. i'm not a big 80s music guy, but i do know that all of the music came from the 80s era, except "mad world" which is a cover of an 80s tune. hell, this movie even brings back patrick swayze. the final sequence sort of reminded me of magnolia, but that's just me. despite having clear influences, the film manages to be rather fresh and new, in large part thanks to the screenplay. definitely worth watching. B+.
Killers 1946 - i'm not a film noir expert (i'm not an expert at any genre, really) so i may have missed the subtleties of this film, but, as far as the structure goes, the killers comes off as a pretty run-of-the-mill noir to me. it opens with the fall of the protagonist (citizen kane, double indemnity, etc.) and retells the story leading up to his fall through an investigator putting the pieces together (citizen kane again). this being said, the killers is still a fine film. to me the major accomplishment of the film is one more typical of crime mystery than a film noir - the mystery/suspense that builds until the finale. as far as film noir goes, though, i would prefer to watch the extreme noir themes found in kubrick's "the killing" or the slick dialogue found in wilder's "double indemnity" or the amazing cinematography of welles' "citizen kane." B.
Yojimbo- this might be the most entertaining of kurosawa's films in large part because it is the most comedic. humor comes at you from all angles - the outrageous makeup of the characters, the outrageous simplicity of the characters, the silliness of greed that acts as the town's engine, etc. in this way it is a humor that is reminiscent of dr. strangelove. the score is really great and the main theme perfectly matches the swagger of mifune's character. of course the cinematography is great, but it's especially fun to watch when the camera is in gonji's shop in the middle of the town. at first i thought that a screen wipe from left to right meant mifune was on seibei's side, and a wipe from right to left meant mifune was on ushitora's side, but that theory didn't hold up. i know that there has to be a logic to the wipes, other than to mark a chapter stop, but i haven't figured it out yet. i didn't notice any tonal shift, shift in power, or themes that coincided with one wipe over the other. shucks. at any rate, the film is great and you should watch it, again. A.

Zoolander - of course it's a dumb movie, that's what it's about. stiller, wilson and ferrell are great and each could carry a movie on their own. the script, especially in the first part of the film could use some tightening, but overall it's a decent vehicle for the aforementioned stars to do their thing. B-.
Zombie - sort of an unofficial companion to the "dead" trilogy. it's better than day of the dead, but not as good as dawn of the dead or night of the living dead. it suffers from poor production...though i'm not actually sure if it's just an awful dvd transfer or bad production. unlike dawn of the dead, there seems to be little commentary or morality behind what is happening. the plague, more or less, just springs out of nowhere. that's fine, but one thing i find has made dawn of the dead a real classic is that it contains that deeper meaning. it's thrills are pretty decent on the whole. there's an underwater scene which is new, and frightening as well. there's also a scene wherein a woman's head is pulled towards a large splinter from the door a zombie just broke through. her eyeball is impaled in a rather satisifying way. the film shows a certain diretorial potential overall, but the script was a bit lean and didn't have the characters to make up for that fact. also the picture quality was unfortunate, but i'll give the film the benefit of the doubt and blame it on the dvd transfer. B-.

Spellbound- this is what a good docmentary looks like. that's not to say this is the best documentary i've ever seen, but this one does define the genre. it follows nine kids as they compete in the national spelling bee. we're introduced to each of them in the first half and the second half follows the compatition. like "trekkies," spellbound deals with a very particular segement of society and brings their group and individule identity(s) to the fore. it's well-edited...particularily the final sequence which ties everything in a nice knot while deelaying the climax for half a beat. besides the natural drama that a national spelling bee provides, the film has found some interesting kids to follow. from immagrants to overacheevers the kids have their own personnel dramas that add to the enjoyment of the peice. overall a worthwhile, welldone, compelling and ultimately very human opus. B+. p.s. yes, the spelling errors were purposeful.

Best Years Of Our Lives - a damn good movie. cinematically the most prominent feature of the film was the deep focus. there were several scenes where critical action occured in both the front and rear of the frame. the film wasn't just bells and whistles though, actually it was quite the contrary. it has the second best wedding scene that i can remember in film (the best belonging to the finale of the graduate, of course). and it told a great story about what, in a lot of ways, was a very great time for our country. there are a lot of impacting and affecting scenes and i think that they succeed because the filmmakers kept things as truthful as possible. there are countless memorable and affecting scenes...the wedding scene, the scene where homer shows wilma what it's like preparing for bed without and hands, fred's parents reading his letters of commendation, etc. sure the music swells and you know you're supposed to be feeling something, but as happens in casablanca, we are affected because something touches us, not because the we are told to. each sympathetic character is a real person, with inner conflicts and feelings and that is what adds to the depth of, and our love for, the person. my one complaint might be that while the sympathetic characters were lifelike, the villians of the film were not. fred's wife, marie, was basically a cardboard cutout of a money-grubbing wannabe socialite. the man who spoke out against the war at the soda bar was also treated rather plainly. good filmmaking and storytelling aside, this film acts as a valuable historical document. if i were a history teacher and i wanted to show a film to segue from WWII to the post-war prosperity, this would be it. not only does it show what we were like as a society at the time, but it provides a good contrast to the post-vietnam era when veterans were spit on and shunned. a necessary film. B+.

Big Fish - it's a fine story. burton does a perfect job creating the look of the picture and that's probably the strongest point of the film. albert finney has another very good performance here. ultimately, though, it's not my kind of movie. the ending was good and tugged on the heart strings a bit, but the rest of it just wasn't captivating. i feel foolish saying that since the story was interesting and fresh, but for some reason i just didn't feel invested in it and the only explanation i have for that is that it's not my kind of movie. in an unrelated note, the look of the film sort of reminded me of "o, brother where art thou." C++.
House of Sand and Fog - another fine story, but, at least for me, this one had a more substantial meaning to it. in big fish i got the idea that life is okay, but it's better when you let it take on a life of its own...fantasize and embellish a bit. house of sand and fog is a bit more contemporary, but also (like big fish) has a timeless moral. more on that later. house of sand and fog is a tightly constructed piece. one can tell from watching it that it was pretty well conceived, storyboarded and edited. ben kingsley was good, but jennifer connelly was even better - and not just because she's amazingly hot. connelly (a recovering alcoholic) loses her house as a result of a bureaucratic mistake. kingsley buys the house as an investment opportunity which, to him symbolizes returning his family to the greatness they once held in iran. connelly is befriended by a local cop who is sympathetic to her quandry and tries to play tough with kingsley. as expected things escalate while connelly begins to drink again and thus spirals downwards. it's not just about two parties fighting over a home in the bay area, it could easily be seen as a reflection of the current problems of the middle east. though very well-acted and put together, it does suffer from a poor score and a little too much slow-motion-draw-out-the-tears mumbo jumbo towards the end. B.

Basket Case - another classic cult "b" horror flick. this one follows duane who comes to nyc carrying a basket with him wherever he goes. in the basket, we soon find out, is his siamese twin brother who was separated from him at the age of twelve because he was basically just a head and two arms - a "freak." as you can tell this film has plenty of potential. i love these b horror films and the crazy ideas they come up with. granted the filmmaking itself isn't always the best, but it is spirited. duane and his freak brother are in nyc to get revenge against the doctors who performed the separation procedure. in the process duane develops a romantic interest and his brother (who can speak with him telepathically) doesn't like this fact. there's a definite sense of repressed sexuality within the film. duane's brother possibly representing his castration. oh, and their mother was killed in the birthing process and at the age of twelve their father gave the green light to the surgery. duane and his severed brother (who survived the surgery and being thrown in the trash) kill the father shortly after the surgery...fairly oedipal. the culmination of this repressed sexual energy is realized when duane's severed brother goes to duane's romantic interests house to rape and kill her. all this takes place amongst a new york city background that isn't quite taxi driver, but is rather seedy and depraved. it's a good film for what it is. which is to say that it's definitely not for everyone, but if you're a fan of evil dead or bloodsucking freaks or other slightly humorous shock flicks then this might do it for you. B-.

Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? - this film reminds me of two things - 1) a short story by raymond carver called "what we talk about when we talk about love" because of the strong influence that alcohol has on the story, and because of the fact that it's about two couples (as i recall) sitting at a table talking about love and other things and 2) douglas sirk films because of the way he slowly peeled away, layer by layer, exterior that hides our deepest darkest thoughts; revealing just how sick and dysfunctional we can be. at the same time this film is fairly unique. it's mike nichols' first film and he shows the potential that was later realized in "the graduate." a couple crafty edits here and there and some nice camera touches - off angle compositions as well as some good zoom work, a good command of deep focus, and focus pulls - the last three comprising a large portion of what would become his visual style in the graduate. watching this film it's hard to believe that elizabeth taylor ever looked as good as she did in "giant," and that is a testament to the makeup crew. her character was really well established and deserving of the oscar she got, quite a performance. though she was the standout performer, all four of the actors did a fine job in their roles. the story itself is sort of a nightmarish downhill descent without brakes. in the graduate we see the older generation as a hindrance to the younger one, in this film, too, we see the elders having a definite negative influence on the younger generation. towards the end i noticed that the camera seemed to be off axis when martha and george were aligned, and on axis when they were oppositional. i'd like to watch it again just to test that hypothesis. for a movie that has only four characters and three settings, and is laden with dialogue, it moves along pretty well. i think that's because there is mystery in there - just how far will these people go, why are they doing this to each other, and where is the truth? a good film. B+.

Bloodsucking Freaks - sardu's theater of the macabre specializes in shows depicting the torture and death of girls. in the opening scene sardu speaks to the audience (and also to us) saying that if this is too much for you then remind yourself that it's not real, and if it's not enough then imagine that it is. there are comments from the audience like "that's not real" and "that's not art," etc. this all serves as an introduction to the film and provides a frame for what we are about to see. what follows is some truly macabre stuff. at one point a "doctor" drills into a woman's head, inserts a straw and drinks the contents. at another sardu and his midget henchman use a woman's butt as a dartboard. some of the other gags are funny ala dead alive, but most of it is trying to be shocking, not funny. to write it off as a shock flick like "faces of death," or something along those lines, would be too easy, and ultimately incorrect. because of the framing that the first few minutes provide and some references throughout, there are actual issues raised here. what is art, what is exploitation, what is funny, and what is depraved? that's for each person to decide. i thought it had a little bit of everything. it clearly objectifies women and some would be offended by that. were the actors themselves being exploited? why are you watching this film? are you one of those who the theater critic character alluded to who watch a show because you've heard how obscene or shocking it is? i am. i watched the movie because it was referenced as one of the most shocking films of all-time. i have no qualms about that. i think this is an easy film to write off as trash, but it's a harder film to recognize for what it is: a fairly well-done independent cult film that is mildly entertaining, partially exploitative, partially funny, partially philosophical and ultimately fairly challenging. it's a gray world, people. B.

School of Rock - this is probably the last thing i would have expected from richard linklater as a follow-up to "waking life". the role had to have been written for jack black - he's absolutely perfect for it considering his musical background and his brand of humor. even the kids in the movie do a good job - they're cast well and the roles are well-written enough to give each one his/her own character. the setting is perfect - the uptight kids in the private school contrasting with the exuberance and wild ways of jack black who reveals rock music as the great liberator from the rules of "the man." joan cusack does a great job as the uptight principal who's waiting to be liberated. it's hard to end a comedy. a lot of times that's when the serious stuff needs to be resolved or sometimes screenwriters write themselves into a corner to suit the comedy and the plot suffers. as a result the endings of comedies have a tendency to be anti-climatic, uncharacteristically uncomedic, or half-baked. dr. strangelove is the best ending to a comedy i can think of because everything that preceded it led up to that ending and it managed to stay funny to the last second. school of rock suffers a bit from the usual ending-syndrome that comedies have, but rebounds during the credits....a technique that meet the parents also employed - showing outtakes to get the laughs flowing again. in school of rock it's an extended jam session with jack black and the kids that works well to cap off the film. 80 million bucks in the box office is pretty good, but i would have expected more since jack black is hot and since it's a family friendly film. at any rate, it's probably the best linklater film to date revenue-wise which means he may continue to get funded for his more serious efforts, like waking life; and that's a good thing. overall, a well-done movie with plenty of laughs. B+.

Throne Of Blood - probably the least interesting and entertaining of all the kurosawa films i've seen. i think that a lot of this can be blamed on the source material (macbeth) written by some guy named shakespeare. i liked ran, which is an adaptation of king lear, but this one didn't really do it for me. it's a well made movie, of course, but it didn't have the heart that all of his other films have had. sure it addresses/questions fate, existentialism, greed, guilt, and all sorts of other basic human emotions and issues, but, to me, there is very little humanity in the story. i almost prefer the comic interpretation that "scotland, pa" took on macbeth. it's a very good looking film and the dvd transfer is one of the better from this era of kurosawa that i've seen. many of the shots are composed like portraits which fits the subject matter and themes well. respectable, but not one of the visionary human biopics i'm used to from kurosawa. B.

Chasing Amy - sort of a drama, sort of a comedy. i don't know how i feel about it. it's funny at times and i feel for the some of the characters at one point or another, but i get the feeling that riding the fence between drama and comedy isn't kevin smith's strong suit. it's a fine film, no doubt, but i enjoy it more when he goes over the top like he did in jay and silent bob. i suppose clerks had some drama, but it felt a lot lighter than this one did - with all the yelling, fighting in the rain and tears. B-.
Ikiru 1952 - there are only a handful of films that have this kind of impact on me upon first viewing. it's easy to see why this is considered by many to be kurosawa's masterpiece. the first third sets up the primary characters, the situation of a dying man who has yet to live life, and the relationships (father/son, government/people, etc.) that progress throughout the film. the middle third is largely concentrated on watanabe dealing with the realization of his own mortality and searching for a meaningful experience. the last third is told after his death in a style that is reminiscent of "citizen kane" (1941) and "rashomon" (1950) before it, and "broadway danny rose" (1984) after it. his co-workers reminisce over the last five months of his life. it's here that the film really shines. all the investments of the first 1hr 45minutes are paid back. i don't really know what to else say about it other than it's some of the most moving footage i've ever seen in film. it's depressing, uplifting, fatalistic and optimistic all at once. it's like the last part of rashomon, only longer and better. if you'll remember in kurosawa's telling of rashomon the three men are disgusted by humanity and all that they've just discused regarding the crime that was committed. the rain lifts at some point and they discover a baby. one of the men vows to take care of it - interjecting a bit of humanity in an inhumane world. i think kurosawa and i are pretty similar. we both see a very dark side of humanity, yet ultimately have the highest hopes for it. A. by the way some of the faces in this film are just amazing. watanabe's character is the obvious one, but the restauranteur who tries shutting watanabe up also has a great face for his character. there's so much to be said about this film. the soundtrack wasn't as prevalent as it was in yojimbo, but when it was there it definitely made its presence felt and truly added to the emotion of the scene. two examples are the final scene and the scene wherein a fellow patient reveals to him the symptoms of advanced stomach cancer - thus notifying watanabe that he is going to die. i'll take notes next time.

The Thing - this one deserves its reputation. sets up the suspense and horror perfectly. things unfold methodically and at a perfect pace - it's not so slow that we lose interest, but it it's slow enough to maximize each plot twist and revelation. despite its popularity i was somehow able to stay ignorant of the details of the film which undoubtedly aided the viewing experience. i don't want to give away anything here in case you plan on watching it. suffice it to say that this movie is quite scary and worth the time. my only minor wish is that the very first scene be cut out. i think it would add an extra layer of suspense to the story - it's the only scene in the movie that shows the audience more than the characters get to see and as a result i think is better left out. B+.
Cronos - the last time i watched this was in the theater about 11 years ago. i think it's held up pretty well in that time. it's equal parts vampire movie, pandora's box parable, and straight drama. other than the score, which i didn't care for, the movie is solid all around. i think it owes more to the writing than to the directing, though they were done by the same person (guillermo del toro). the relationship between the old man and his granddaughter was well constructed. the embalmer character was a nice touch...he was both gross and funny. i felt that his character could have been the center of a different movie - he was that rich. i also thought that ron perlman's character was good. actually one addition to his character was especially good - his strong desire to have a new nose. it was both funny and a good symbol for his desire for the finer things in life. a nice touch. there were lots of nice touches in the film. B
Blood Simple - a pretty damned good first film. it's no citizen kane, but then again the coen brothers have gone on to do better things than welles did after citizen kane. i think the shot from pulp fiction of john travolta falling into bed after shooting up was lifted from a similar shot in this movie. when watching this film there's no doubt that whoever is behind it knows their shit. joel and ethan coen not only spin quite a yarn, they do it with a unique and powerful voice. one aspect of the film was particularily intriguing - the ceiling fans. i think there are three different ceiling fans in the film - one in each of the main actors' primary locations. i don't honestly remember. but what the coen brothers did with them was pretty interesting and that aspect alone is probably worth watching the film again. they changed the rotational speed on the fans according to the intensity of the scene or segment of the movie. they brought the sound of the fans into the foreground quite a bit. and at one point a fan that was rotating counter-clockwise through the entire film, changed directions. after that moment visser's character took on a more sinister and proactive role - i doubt it was a mistake. the camerawork was really good. it was shot almost like a horror film - the active camera, the edits they used, the extreme low and high angles - all keeping things fresh and surprising. i can't remember a coen brothers film in which the camera is as active as it is in this movie. lots of good stuff here. almost a clinic on fimmaking. A-.
Tabu: A Story Of The South Seas - other than the first couple scenes i wouldn't have guessed flaherty was involved in this film; and as a matter of fact he cut loose of the project pretty early on. i honestly didn't notice anything that would make it stand out as an academy award winning film in cinematography. there were some nice shots here and there, but it didn't jump out at me. i suppose this is why i need to watch more early films. for me the strength was in the story and the relationship between the two primary characters. the final scene in the ocean was the payoff for the first 80 minutes that built their relationship, and what a payoff it was. B.

Shattered Glass - a good story is sometimes hard to find these days. based on the true story of stephen glass who, while working for the national review, completely fabricated at least 27 of his 41 stories. his motives were personal, not political. hayden christensen does a really good job of portraying a young man who is desperate for positive attention. it's a good story and a well-acted film. B.
Stuck On You - it's a vintage farrelly brothers movie - from the 'unique' characters and settings to the over-the-top, sometimes gross out, humor. you'll see plenty of familiar faces from there's something about mary, kingpin and other farrelly brothers films. i didn't expect much from the film because of the previews, but i got a free pass so i went anyway. i'm glad i did. i found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable comedy. towards the end it fades a bit, but it's also over two hours long and fills the time relatively well. it's not the classic that there's something about mary is, but it's a step up from me, myself and irene. B.

Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines - it tried to be a funny action movie. it had two or three laughs, and the action was mostly by the book. claire danes has the best performance of the group, but no one does that good of a job. the screenplay is so much weaker than the other two and the direction is average at best. arnold, who i felt was perfect in the first two, is old, tired and manages to not be robotic. nick stahl is normally a fine actor, but ed furlong was seven to nine times better as john connor. and where's that old school score? that was the heartbeat of the first two films and it's absent here. not good as its own film (C-) and even worse as part of the series. D.

Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb - it's an undeniably great film. every performance is spot on (and some are amazing), the pacing, screenplay, script, music, and everything else are simply great. and it's the gift that keeps on giving. who hasn't thought back to the 'precious bodily fluids' scene, or the 'they'll see the big board' scene or the shot of slim pickens riding the h-bomb to our demise? my favorite films are the ones that move me in one way or another not only during the film, but far afterwards as well. this is a perfect example of that. A.

Devil & Daniel Webster - it's a good movie, but not a great one. walter huston had a good performance and the farmer's character was well cast...he had a face that at one moment was very sympathetic and sad looking, and the next looked very self-righteous and bourgeois. the score was good, but quite frankly didn't seem to play enough of a part to earn the oscar. there were some good special effects for the time and some nice camera effects here and there that kept things interesting. B-.

Black Orpheus - there were two things that popped in this film - the colors and the performances. i don't know what i can say about the colors...they were vibrant, rich and warm - just like the performances. it provided some laughs and the soundtrack was decent (though it could have been better considering antonio carlos jobim was behind it). the story, which was adapted from a greek myth i'd never heard, seemed to be the usual supernatural malarkey that i can't usually get into (though clash of the titans is the bomb). should have watched "harder they come" right afterwards, but i was tired. C+.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels - it gets the job done. not an amazingly funny film, but it's better than the assembly line schlock you usually see. steve martin and michael caine both turn in fine comic performances, but have very different styles. steve martin is often over the top and very physical, whereas michael caine is subtle and european in his style. the script solid, but not as strong as some of the other stuff steve martin has worked with (planes, trains and automobiles, the jerk, and parenthood in particular). frank oz has some good moments as a director, but mostly just does things by the book. i think directing comedy is rather difficult - it takes the right touch. john hughes and jay roach come to mind. B.

21 Grams - sort of a cross between magnolia and pulp fiction, but not as good as either. like magnolia, it's a story about several characters who are all linked in someway by death. though i suppose in a way it's more like that awful film "the hours" in that it shows each person affected by a death - the murderer, the victims, the victims' family, and the lucky sap who gets the donor heart from one of the victims. in "the hours" it was about the writer of a book, a person being affected by the writing and a person who was living the life of the written story. how exciting. it was like pulp fiction to a lesser extent. it messed with time...telling the different stories without regard to time. one moment we're seeing things in chronological and the next we'll get a glimpse of the end of the film. it never got very confusing, which was a success of the editing and direction, but i didn't really get the feeling that messing with the time structure was necessary.
it was a very indie film, in style - lots of handhelds, lots of jump cuts (showing a person standing and then cutting to them sitting down, from the same angle...just a second or so cut out), and it appeared to be shot using digital cameras. there's a certain aesthetic to the indie style, but i'm not sure i always like it. for example, what's the point of showing someone standing and then cutting out the half second of film that comes as they decide to take a seat. perhaps it has become a convention. perhaps the convention started because independent filmmakers didn't have the resources for multiple takes so they would just cut out a half second her or there where the untrained actor looked at the camera, or where the film was damaged, or etc. i don't honestly know, but if you can explain what it adds to the film i'd be happy to hear it.
none of the characters were sympathetic and that was both good and bad. good because it allowed me to look at the primary theme of the film (death) in a more detached way. and bad because by the end of the film i just wanted it to end - i didn't care what was going to happen with them. the performances were good, but again i didn't care about sean penn's character enough to cry when he cried or smile when he smiled. that was true for all of the characters - to varying degrees. additionally, the film sort of felt like a vehicle for best acting nominations - it wouldn't surprise me at all to see four best supporting actor/actress and best actor/actress nominations.
amores perros (also directed by inarritu) was about several different people who experienced love, and loss thereof, in different ways, whereas 21 grams was about several different people who experienced death in different ways. the difference is that amores perros felt genuine and had characters who were both real, in that they had defects, and sympathetic, because they exhibited humanity amongst the inhumanity of the world. 21 grams was too unbalanced to be as good as it should have been. sometimes affecting, but ultimately more affected. C+
Rollerball - given the source material and the fact that john mctiernan directed it, one would have had high hopes for this remake of the 1975 classic. unfortunately this movie goes wrong at just about every possible turn. they completely re-worked the screenplay, they hired a bunch of pretty faces and made it into an action film. the soundtrack was wretched, the acting was piss poor. now i know that rebecca romijn-stamos and chris klein can act since i've seen femme fatale and the election in which each did a fine job, but this script didn't leave much room for good acting. i know that john mctiernan can direct well when given the proper material since i've seen hunt for red october, predator, and die hard. but nothing could have helped this film - it had studio production written all over it. almost all of the social commentary about mega corporations, the control of information, apathy of the masses, the exploitation of violence, etc. are gone. some of it is touched upon, but it's not nearly the film that the original is. they try to throw in a love story which felt like a hang nail i couldn't pull off. they exploit the violence themselves which is just lame. there were some shots that were well done thanks to mctiernan, but the film didn't succeed even as an action flick. a movie that shouldn't have been made. it didn't make very much money, made everyone involved look bad, and tarnished the reputation of one of the better 1970s films. the ending to the original is likely a top 50 ending of all-time...the playing of bach on the organ, the freeze frame of james caan...good stuff. D-.

grading scale:
A+ 4.3
A 4.0
A- 3.7
B+ 3.3
B 3.0
B- 2.7
C+ 2.3
C 2.0
C- 1.7
D+ 1.3
D 1.0
D- 0.7
F+ 0.3
F 0.0
F- -0.3