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December 2002 Screening Log - click for reviews, when applicable. Titles of short films listed in bold.


01. A.B.C. Africa (Abbas Kiarostami, 2001) *1/2 [I doubt I can be convinced that anyone would have distributed this film if an unknown director had made it, but at the same time I doubt I would have considered the implications of the film watching experience if I wasn't aware that Kiarostami did. Digital age Kiarostami seems obsessed with making us aware of stuff like that, it seems, but I'm not sure that it's enough. Certainly the scenes like the blackout and the arrival of the fax at the start make this more interesting than your average home video, but long stretches bored the hell out of me, much like an average home video. As fascinating as Kiarostami's self-reflexivity can be, when there's this little substance there, it's tough to be satisfied by that alone.]

Shadows (John Cassavetes, 1959) ** [It was disappointing not to click with this film, but the loose, jazzy feel couldn't outweigh or excuse the constant incompetence. Clearly conventions were being shattered here, but in their stead is something that feels only half-developed. The actors often seem lost, and that doesn't seem to happen much in Cassavetes' work. I've found his other improvisational films to be transfixing, but here I came up empty.]


02. Richard III (Richard Loncraine, 1995) ***1/2 [Ian McKellen's performance is a true achievement here, in spite of the greatly truncated adaptation. By definition soliloquies give the audience privileged information, but listening to his feels like a true privilege. His Richard's intellect, and potential to wreak havoc, is so obviously superior to those around him that when he talks to the audience about his plans, it flatters them. Simultaneously, it feels like boasting, and since he manages to charismatic in his oily way, it makes him a villain to root for.]  

Sunset Blvd. (Billy Wilder, 1950) **** [I've seen this several times (though never in a print so nice as the new one they showed at MOMA), and there's no denying that Gloria Swanson owns this film. Whenever she's not on screen, interest flags a little. Perhaps that's because her character is the object most worthy of receiving the satiric, spiteful barbs that Wilder keeps coming.]

Roman Holiday (William Wyler, 1953) **** [Amazingly slight, and all the better for it, this film zips along on the considerable chemistry and class of its leads. There's a perfect, more intellectual, just as romantic, counterpoint to this film in David Lean's Summertime, but I'm not sure if I prefer it, exactly. Picking between the two would be rather like choosing whether a wholly pleasurable trip to Venice or a wholly pleasurable trip to Rome were more enjoyable. Perhaps its best sometimes to just allow the simple delights of the movies to exist without explanation... all the same I can't help but mention how much the near-subconscious placement of a cute kitten in one of the shots during a chase scene feels like a masterstroke. Wyler won't for a moment allow us to worry that the sense of danger is real, and maybe that's why the sense of innocence here hasn't aged a bit.] 


03. Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972) ****

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (Joel Zwick, 2002) ** [Oddly noncommittal, considering the title, about whether it wants to be a comedy or a drama (it definitely fails as the latter since there is not one iota of suspense anywhere). I hoped that the broad strokes used to paint the family members in the early scenes were subjective embellishments created by the miserable protagonist, but unfortunately when she came out of her shell, they stayed like that. Yikes.]


04. Standing in the Shadows of Motown (Paul Justman, 2002) *1/2 [More like an infomercial than a documentary, to be honest, and though this movie's selling a decent soundtrack, one can't help but wish that it provided the original acts instead of covers by inferior modern artists... and if that's the feeling that permeates, doesn't that mean that it wasn't The Funk Brothers that brought the funk to Motown?]

Lovely & Amazing (Nicole Holofcener, 2002) *** [An improvement over Holofcener's Walking & Talking to be sure, and a surprisingly effective estrogen romp. Mostly, I enjoyed it because after spending so much energy building up for a demonstration of feminine empowerment, it had the guts to let its characters be losers.]

The Good Girl (Miguel Arteta, 2002) *** [White and Arteta still hate their characters, as they did in Chuck & Buck, but this time it's decidedly more bearable. Perhaps the bulk of the credit must go to Jennifer Aniston who manages to anchor things with what seems to be minimal effort. Her performance is not amazing, I suppose, when compared to the Hupperts, Streeps, and Moores of the world, but it's an encouraging, unexpected one.]


05. Roger Dodger (Dylan Kidd, 2002) **1/2

Secretary (Steven Shainberg, 2002) ** 


06. Igby Goes Down (Burr Steers, 2002) *1/2 [Proof positive that Salinger's refusal to allow a film adaptation of The Catcher in the Rye was a good move. Culkin doesn't have the ability to sell this character, and watching it I realized not many actors could. For most young actors to tackle the more complex Holden Caulfield would be an almost unthinkable disservice.]

Adaptation (Spike Jonze, 2002) ** [A terribly unfunny neurotic writer shtick that's extended to feature length... When it begins its meta-movie mindfucks things improve a little, but not by much. I found it difficult to feel any of the supposedly profound moments here given the flippant context they were placed in.]


07. Images (Robert Altman, 1972) *** [A sometimes obvious, yet effectively directed chamber piece. It takes the mysteries that filled Altman's Three Women and replaces them with dimestore symbolism. Altman can't resist many visual clichés here, but he masterfully deploys them, making it more exciting than it should be. Still, I really missed the quirks of just about every other Altman movie. After weird bit with the phone at the start, things get so deadly serious.]

Fear of Fear (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1975)  ***1/2 [Fassbinder really cranks up his subjective camerawork here, with a style that seems even closer to his protagonist than usual. The gradual descent into madness of his female protagonist and the deliberate Sirkian overtones make this feel like familiar territory, but Fassbinder keeps it fresh by injecting humor occasionally.]

City of Sadness (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 1989) ****


08. Thelma & Louise (Ridley Scott, 1991) *** [Aging badly already, what was once revolutionary now seems commonplace. The melancholy mood that sometimes takes over helps a lot, but some of the shortcuts in characterization here are hideous.]

Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948) **** [Slow to start, this one builds up to a surprisingly complex and moving father/son relationship. The spectacle of the cattle drive still impresses with its scale, and the supporting cast is filled with lively, distinct individuals.] 


09. A Perfect Couple (Robert Altman, 1979) **1/2 [The first hour in this straightforward (by Altman standards) romantic comedy is filled with really effective, slowly escalating screwball, culminating in a scene, in which the romantic leads strike blood. After that, and the leads are in love, it has nowhere to go, though and starts to look like My Big Fat Greek Wedding meets The Partridge Family or somethin'. It's a nice ride while it lasts though. As far as their romantic chemistry goes, both of the leads have shaggy dog appeal, I suppose, though she's a poodle and he's a bulldog... Ugly puppies, I'd imagine.]

Health (Robert Altman, 1979) ** [A cartoon version of Nashville with none of the gravitas. Some funny bits exist here and there to be sure (Lauren Bacall's a 85-year old virgin! Glenda Jackson might be a man!), but the jokes that are built up to the most tend to be the least funny. The wittiest thing in it seemed to be the cinematography. The color is cranked up to the point where everyone has a rosy pink glow that looks decidedly unhealthy.]


10. Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (Kelly Asbury & Lorna Cook, 2002) **1/2 [A somewhat trite kiddie flick that's made worthwhile thanks to some of the most technically adept animation that I've ever seen. It's a shame there's not a great visual imagination directing the considerable talent of the animating staff.]

Antwone Fisher (Denzel Washington, 2002) *1/2  [Definitely slower in pace than I expected, the mild emotional payoffs here take ages to come about. When they do, they feel a bit cheap, since I couldn't ignore the fact that the protagonist is also the screenwriter. What sort of person views their own life in these clichéd Hollywood terms? Viola Davis is the only actor that makes any sort of impression, and she's only around for a few minutes. Denzel's direction is almost defiantly without personal touches.]


11. The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman, 1973) **** [When I first saw The Long Goodbye (maybe 6 or 7 years ago), I wasn't really able to “get” the joke of Elliot Gould’s Marlowe character. This time around, I found him tremendously funny, and I think Gould’s performance is almost genius. He's continues to put on his tough-guy act for an audience that doesn't exist any more. He's never appealing enough to make the message of the movie seem preachy, but even as he's being deglamorized, Gould exudes charm. Nonplussed by everything and anything, it's a shock when something finally gets to him. The narrative was strong by Altman standards, but because of his unabashedly quirky approach, you still can’t guess exactly where the plot or mood is heading.]

MASH (Robert Altman, 1970) ***1/2 [There are some truly inspired bits here, but there's something a little uncomfortable about its Korea-as-Vietnam allegory, which seems to suggest there were no relevant issues inherent to the Korean War. Sometimes the jokes that it works hardest to build up pay off the least (a common thread in the director's work, it seems), and its attitude which holds absolutely nothing sacred it tough to swallow at times (there is no reverence paid toward the soldiers who volunteered to be there), but overall it's good stuff.]

Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931) ***1/2 [There’s some really impressive direction from Whale here, even if the sequel surpasses this film overall. The monster is genuinely scary (thanks mostly to the makeup), and watching the movie frequently feels appropriately traumatic. The romantic subplot doesn’t pay off though, and in a film this concise otherwise, it’s detrimental.]


12. Murderous Maids (Jean-Pierre Denis, 2000) ***1/2 [The great achievement of this film, outside of Sylvie Testud’s accomplished performance (sorry Ms. Stone, after this and Akerman’s La Captive, she’s now the reigning psycho-lesbian), is the way that it examines the essential paradox between trusting employees that work in your home and distrusting them because their lower economic station. Despite the title, the murder in question was still shocking when it came about.]

Miami Blues (George Armitage, 1990) *** [The three hugely appealing lead performances held my interest through this willfully quirky cop drama. The nods to Breathless do more harm than good, really, but there’s still plenty of originality here.]

The Banger Sisters (Bob Dolman, 2002) **1/2 [This woefully inadequate updating of American Pie for the Boomer generation has potential, but is so poorly directed that it never builds comic momentum (despite the enthusiasm of a very on Goldie Hawn) and so badly written that it keeps falling into sappy sentimentality.]


13. Are You Popular? (Coronet Instructional Films, 1947) ** [This inadvertently humorous educational reel is most interesting as a historical artifact.]

A Visit to Santa (Clem Williams, 1963) * [This Yuletide short is impressively inept, but there’s clearly not much in the way of talent or budget here, so it’s almost forgivable.]

A Case of Spring Fever (The Jam Handy Organization, 1940) *1/2 [An animated spring fairy tortures a man after he wishes he never sees a spring again. Hilarity ensues as his hinges stop working and as he tries to drive his car. As far as propaganda goes, this film’s subject matter has to be one of the weirder ones that I’ve seen.]

Those Awful Hats (D.W. Griffith, 1909) **** [This is an amusing early meta-movie with a short running time to keep it from wearing out its welcome.]

25th Hour (Spike Lee, 2002) **** [Probably my favorite of Spike Lee's films... His wildest touches pay off the best here. He is sometimes saddled by the demands of his genre (for example in the interrogation scene, which well-written as it is seems to exist only to split up two scenes featuring Norton's co-stars), but there's a real potency here that becomes deeply affecting by the end. Catharses are literally pummeled out of characters. Amazing sequence after amazing sequence unspools in what is a surprisingly ensemble-driven piece (and that the ensemble is so strong makes sense since it's a film about community). Highly recommended.]  

About Schmidt (Alexander Payne, 2002) ***1/2 [A fundamentally sad satire that does a good job of hiding that sadness. I imagine many people will think it ends happily, and who can blame them since Payne's musical cues and lingering shots often threaten to turn this into a snark-fest. Despite my unease with the film on that front, its observations of fiscal reality and its effect on emotion rang true. Nicholson is solid, but the most shocking transformation here is Dermot Mulroney's. His balding mullet is unforgettable and probably more brave than any of the nude scenes in the film.]


14. Gangs of New York (Martin Scorsese, 2002) *** [Massive and massively disappointing, but not exactly bad. It's hard to get through because the dour tone is so consistent, but it doesn't satisfy like Raging Bull or Taxi Driver because it keeps making concessions to mainstream appeal. DiCaprio isn't exactly bad here either, but he makes too small an impression to give the movie much narrative drive.  Everything is larger than life and it never really feels as if any of the actors are inhabiting their characters. The hammy Day-Lewis does the best, but he still is a cartoon character. The art direction is impressive, to be sure, but the instances where Scorsese makes us aware of the scale or uses his color scheme impressionistically are too rare. The best thing that the film has going for it is its context, but it often overtakes things.] 

Brewster McCloud (Robert Altman, 1970) *** [Oddball, but fun, this has to be Altman's strangest movie. Though it doesn't satisfy in a lot of conventional ways, it's too quirky and distinct to ignore. I'm not sure whether or not Altman wants us to see the strings when Brewster tries to fly.] 


15. The Pianist (Roman Polanski, 2002) **** [There's a real sense of random terror, boredom, and chaos here, and they all conspire to keep the melodramatic flourishes that mar most Holocaust films down to a minimum. The movie is at its best when it's at its most subjective (Polanski almost ruins a few of his most impressive sequences by including reaction shots), and it does a terrific job of showing the progressively worsening conditions of the Warsaw slum and making us understand the uninformed predicament of the Poles. The last forty five minutes, which are kicked off with a harrowing escape from an apartment building are a phenomenal, restrained emotional roller coaster.]

The Rookie (John Lee Hancock, 2002) **1/2 [Nostalgic for the near-past, this well-acted slice of Americana doesn't offend, but hardly makes for gripping drama either. The sonic boom made every time Quaid's character threw a pitch wore on my nerves and the contemplative pacing would have been more appropriate if the film bothered contemplating anything.]

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman, 1971) **** Masterpiece [Watching Altman build up his heroes here just to tear them down is wonderful, and you wish more Hollywood stars were as willing to do what Beatty and Christie do here. The mixture of funny and tense that arises throughout this film is palpable, but what makes it truly great is its willingness to create an atmosphere so convincing that the characters become "real" by association.]


16. Human Nature (Michel Gondry, 2002) *** [Few films are this willing to embrace their weirdness, and that devotion powers this one through its rough spots. As schematic as this script is, I prefer it to Kaufman's Adaptation. The recycled images from Gondry's music videos were distracting though.] 

Quintet (Robert Altman, 1979) 1/2 [Laughably, painfully bad. Perhaps the worst film I've ever seen by a major director.]


17. Casino (Martin Scorsese, 1995) **** [Dazzling. I prefer this to Goodfellas, which probably puts me in a minority, but so be it. If Scorsese had shown half as much visual invention and narrative drive as he does here in Gangs, I'm sure it would have been one of my favorites this year. The three leads are wild balls of energy, and watching them bounce off each other keeps the three hours from ever growing dull.]


18. Catch Me If You Can (Steven Spielberg, 2002) *1/2 [This piece of winking nostalgia wears out its welcome early on, and then continues to roll along endlessly. Spielberg never gives the audience a good reason to root for DiCaprio's character, and that makes the comic bits that beg us to painful to watch. Almost willfully ugly, the movie tries to impress with diffuse lighting schemes, but fails miserably. The protagonist's search for a father-figure seems especially fruitless since Christopher Walken is the best thing about the movie, by far.] 


19. Thieves Like Us (Robert Altman, 1974) *** [Standoffish almost to a fault, there's no accusing Altman of trying to exploit his story here. The acting and photography are impressive, but the movie feels too static for its own good. Instead of drifting into the meditative like it keeps promising to, it pounds the audience with the same anti-capitalist, anti-media critique for its duration.]

Chicago (Rob Marshall, 2002) **1/2 [Flashy, but still stage bound, this cynical musical could certainly be a lot better. The only member of the cast who seems worthy of the role given to her is Catherine Zeta-Jones. Several co-stars are almost embarassing. The device used to "explain" the musical numbers starts out as inconsistent and turns stupid. Despite all that, it's entertaining in stretches.]


20. Maid in Manhattan (Wayne Wang, 2002) ***1/2 [Jennifer Lopez is an superb actress, especially when she shows empathy, and because of that it's so easy to sympathize with her. This is a top-notch genre film, and by the standards of its genre, it's about as smart as it gets. The awareness of a class structure grounds things in this Cinderella story. Better than Pretty Woman, certainly.]

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Peter Jackson, 2002) **** [Not a disappointment really at all, but still I can't help but think this will work better in the context of the trilogy.]


21. 25th Hour (Spike Lee, 2002) ****

Narc (Joe Carnahan, 2002) **1/2 [Better than average cop drama that will probably get less credit than it deserves because the inferior Training Day came out first. Ray Liotta is definitely the best reason to watch this film, but it belies its low-budget roots thanks to some sharp direction.]


22. Steamboat Willie (Ub Iwerks, 1928) ****, The Gallopin' Gaucho (Ub Iwerks, 1928) ****, Plane Crazy (Ub Iwerks, 1928) ***, The Karnival Kid (Walt Disney, 1929) **, Mickey's Follies (Wilfred Jackson, 1929) *1/2 [These first Mickey Mouse cartoons show a serious trend of diminishing returns, culminating in the nearly dreadful Mickey's Follies, which gives the initially rascally cartoon a theme song. Ick. Still, I'm looking forward to watching the rest of them, courtesy of Disney's complete new DVD collection.] 

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Lotte Reiniger, 1926) **** Masterpiece [ [Historically significant because it's the first animated feature ever made, this movie is enchanting in ways that few other films can claim. There's something magical at work here. It's odd how being aware of artifice can make you more forgiving of it at times.]

The Secret of the Marquise (Lotte Reiniger, 1921) ** [Early advertising short using the same technique as Prince Achmed. Okay, I suppose, but slight.]

Lotte Reiniger: Homage to the Inventor of the Silhouette Film (Katja Ragnelli, ?) *** [Solid, thorough documentary covering the animator's life and involvement with Renoir.]

Hollywood Ending (Woody Allen, 2002) *** [Not nearly as bad as I was lead to believe, I found this film funny, if not up to Allen's unusually high standards. There's a great supporting turn by Barney Cheng as a Chinese translator, and the premise is pretty solid. The lighting schemes are pretty funny too, always casting the Hollywood executives in a warm glow.]  


23. Nicholas Nickleby (Douglas McGrath, 2002) *** [Solid, abridged Dickens with a gaping hole at the center where a lead performance should be. Nice turns from Christopher Plummer and Anne Hathaway help a good bit though, and there's no denying the entertainment value of the source material, which gives us scoundrels to hate and little heroes to cheer.]

Changing Lanes (Roger Michell, 2002) *1/2 [Supremely silly, this one. What's the point of a morality play if the men whose morality is tested are so stupid? Etched in the terms of a comic book, this film has too solid ideas of right and wrong to be very convincing at all.]

Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (Jill Sprecher, 2002) **1/2 [Adequate, and sometimes promising, but it ultimately doesn't add up to much, because it's so convinced that it has to add up to something profound. Everything is obviously plotted out in advance, and the metaphors and symbols are nonstop, much to the detriment of the film's thesis.]


24. Southern Comfort (Walter Hill, 1981) **** [Amazingly streamlined, this flick is one of the tightest, tautest, most meaningful action films I've had the pleasure of seeing. It skips overt political commentary so that it can deliver critique that's implicit in the action of the purposely underdeveloped characters and offers deliverance from bayou set-pretensions. There are some exceptionally tense segments here. It's a shame this movie doesn't have more of a reputation (unless I'm the only one who's been in the dark).]

Notorious C.H.O. (Lorene Machado, 2002) *** [The three-star rating mostly is here thanks to the hilarious DVD commentary track, in which Margaret Cho imitates her mother for the full running time, offering a series of absurd non-sequiturs and nonsensical, tangential stories. It's a near-embarrassing shtick, but somehow it works, and is funnier than the film that it accompanies (which pales in comparison to Cho's last concert film I'm the One That I Want!).]

Devils on the Doorstep (Jiang Wen, 2000) *** [Overlong and a bit too frantically filmed, this admirable film about the Japanese occupation on China pales in comparison to the Taiwanese films set during the same period, even if it is much funnier than the average one of those. The simple perception of the rural Chinese mindset is a bore when compared to the questions of identity that haunt the films of Hou and Yang.]

Party Girl (Daisy von Scherler Mayer, 1995) ***1/2 [Frivolous to be sure, but highly entertaining, mostly thanks to lead Parker Posey. I doubt the average person would get as much out of this one as me, and I find it hard to make a good case for it, but I'll note that I consider its relatively skimpy plot and its motivational aimlessness as plusses.]


25. Mrs. Dalloway (Marleen Gorris, 1997) *** [This one was homework for The Hours. I've read Woolf's novel (and Cunningham's), but thought a refresher could help. This is an inoffensive adaptation, but a tremendously literal and safe one. There were only a few instances in which the acute emotions that dwelled in the novel sparked to life here.]

24 Hour Party People (Michael Winterbottom, 2002) **1/2 [I don't quite know what to make of this one... I have to simply assume I'm not the target audience (which is admittedly quite narrow) and move along.]

Dog Day Afternoon (Sidney Lumet, 1975) **** [Crackling with intensity for at least its first half, this is the sort of popular entertainment that I feel okay about standing behind. It's a real shame that Pacino rarely works at this level these days, but I'm not sure Hollywood is currently making many films that are this well-conceived.] 


26. The African Queen (John Huston, 1951) **** [Two wonderful performances anchor this one. The melodramatic opening and the silly ending mar things a little, but while the action is set on that titular boat, the chemistry between Hepburn and Bogart propels the movie. The unfortunate special effects haven't aged well, but otherwise this feels surprisingly modern in its sensibilities.]

Kind Hearts and Coronets (Robert Hamer, 1949) *** [I can appreciate the acerbic wit here, but it didn't exactly draw me in. The experience was further reduced by the doggedly literary nature of the work. There seems to be little visual imagination on display here, and in filmed comedy that's deadly.]

California Split (Robert Altman, 1974) **** Masterpiece [Easily one of Altman's best films. The gambling portrayed here is a phenomenal metaphor for the audience's viewing experience. Beating the odds in a game of chance is all about trying to extract the order from the chaos, and Altman certainly spins a chaotic atmosphere here.]


27. The Hours (Stephen Daldry, 2002) **** [I suspect this accomplished film about the way that intelligence can impede happiness will be the subject of some ridicule because of its pedigree, its intelligence (which might be perceived as pretentiousness by some, but which is closer to profundity in my book) its literary nature and its impressive production values. It's certainly not hip, and I think there's a weak argument to be made that it's some sort of gay propaganda film, but as an adaptation of its source material it's quite accomplished. The entire ensemble is impressive (with the exception of Ed Harris, who is just average, which makes him seem bad in comparison) and there are only a few instances where Daldry's direction gets a bit overzealous (cracking eggs, the parting scene between Julianne and her child). Moore gives the best performance here I think, since she does so much with so little, but everyone's damned good. Streep's age becomes an asset and Kidman's repressed sex appeal is one of the movie's prime accomplishments.]

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (Sergio Leone, 1966) **** [The point here is that the degrees of separation that exist between the classifications of the title are not as great as one might expect, at least in the Wild West, and that's more of a thesis than many Westerns manage to dredge up. Leone's filmmaking is top-notch, especially from a compositional point of view. Throughout the film, as he combines the epic canvas with the simple three character drama that unfolds he rarely missteps, giving the film a greater sense of magnitude than its thin plot and weary genre might suggest.]

Creepshow (George Romero, 1982) **1/2 [Half of the episodes here are duds, but the directorial flair, which comes in the form of over the top comic-book visuals, makes that easy to forgive. The highlight here is the bloody segment entitled "The Crate", which has the only truly wicked premise in sight.]


28. The Human Condition: Part I (Masaki Kobayashi, 1959) **** Masterpiece [Clocking in at a bit over three hours long, this first film in Kobayashi's stunning, 9 1/2 hour long magnum opus is a relatively populist prison camp drama that gains real resonance once it's placed next to the other two films in the trilogy. Taken on its own, it's relatively self-contained and considerably more upbeat than the films that follow, even as it chronicles the dissolution of idealism.]


29. A Touch of Zen (King Hu, 1969) **** [Clearly Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon owes a large debt to this film, but Ang Lee's movie is a different animal. Hu's movie is an odd, endearing mix of the wanderlust and homesickness. Many of the highlights are the most seemingly mundane. It's tough to argue that Hu's film surpasses Lee's (I found it lacking in emotional depth and editorial smoothness in comparison), but that's hardly a knock against it. There's next to no hokiness here.]

The Human Condition: Part II (Masaki Kobayashi, 1959) **** Masterpiece [Probably the best film in the trilogy (perhaps because the first laid the groundwork so well), this movie marks the point where Kobayashi's grand schemes start becoming clear. As a chronicle of Japan's WWII experience, this epic of epics seems unsurpassable. Starting out in its first half as what seems a prototype for Full Metal Jacket, it probably surpasses Kubrick's masterful vision with a second half that makes more narrative sense. The quality of the filmmaking seems kicked up a notch here and that quality extends into the third segment. Also, the pacing is remarkable... in nine and a half hours, there's not a single scene that feels superfluous.]


30. The Human Condition: Part III (Masaki Kobayashi, 1961) **** Masterpiece [Watching this stunning conclusion to the trilogy is almost unbearable at times, but it's not without rewards. The movie becomes more insular and desperate at this point, but there's no denying the brilliance of the work's overriding structure or Tatsuya Nakadai's masterful conception of his character. Few roles in all of cinema allow an actor to bring us so much. What's remarkable about the trilogy, when taken as a whole, is its accessibility. Despite its running time, it never loses sight of the audience's need to receive frequent gratifying moments as the bigger picture is made clear. A word to the wise: If you're tempted to seek these astonishing films out on DVD, I suggest you don't read the back covers, which essentially spoil the plot.]

Something to Talk About (Lasse Hallstrom, 1995) ** [It's proximity to the superb Gilbert Grape made me curious here, despite my distaste for Hallstrom's last three films. Unfortunately, this one's entirely by the book, expecting us to cheer for its bitchy, infantile protagonist just because Julia Roberts is playing her. The biggest realization I felt here was the feeling that if this film were made today there's absolutely no chance it would be R-rated. The few instances of the f-word would be elided and its sexual candor would surely melt into vague innuendo.]


31. Die Nibelungen (Fritz Lang, 1924) **** [The most fascinating thing about this two-part film is its evolution from a mythical story in the first segment to a political one in the second. The macho first film is filled with magic and driven by spectacle (including an impressive, fire-breathing dragon), but the second movie, which features a female protagonist, offers an intensely realized, surprisingly complex revenge plot that offers a chance for the film to celebrate the solidarity of the German people. The sets are impressive throughout, and the performances here are less artificial than in most of its contemporary films.]

Windtalkers (John Woo, 2002) ***1/2 [There's some amazing direction on display here despite a mediocre script that tends to grossly overstate things. Whenever characters talk, and the movie slants its race relations from a modern perspective, it gets a bit dumb, but during the action scenes, it's probably the best thing Woo's done (it's easily my favorite of his American films...). From a compositional standpoint, it's quite impressive. There's one splendidly filmed dialogue sequence between Cage & Stromare that is done in one long take and about 8 camera framings, the explosions are some of the most impressive I've ever seen in a film, and at one point Woo cannily incorporates obvious stock footage, jolting you out of the action movie and reminding you that, yes, this really did happen (even if it obviously didn't happen just like this).]

72 Features - 11 Shorts


October 2002 - November 2002 - December 2002 - January 2003