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Screening Log



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



01. Alba Novella e Ralph Pedi canto le canzoni "Il Gondoliere" ed il "Tango della Gelosia." (Rome Film Corporation, 1935) **1/2 [Prototypical music video with little to recommend it to anyone not interested in opera.]

The Smiling Lieutenant (Ernst Lubitsch, 1931) ***1/2 [Maurice Chevalier is a distraction, as usual, but otherwise this Lubitsch comedy is typically buoyant and mature in its resolution.]

Aloise (Liliane de Kermadec, 1975) *1/2 [This biopic about a young singer turned mental patient turned muralist doesn't quite manage to arrange its thoughts about modern developments impacts on its protagonist and the willingness of science to see her as a lunatic. For extended periods, little happens, and despite the presence of Isabelle Huppert and Delphine Seyrig,  two very capable actresses, in the lead role, neither is given much to work with.]


02. Shadow of a Doubt (Alfred Hitchcock, 1943) *** [This one's tremendously effective at setting up the small town life that's later corrupted, but when it gets to the corruption, it's not nearly as good as it should be. Some of the motivations seem a bit skimpy and at least one set piece (the garage) is just plain stupid. It works more in the early scenes, when it's comic, than it does later on when it wants to thrill us. Since we already have guessed the truth about uncle Charlie, it's not hard to deduce the outcome.]

Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002) **** Masterpiece [Even better the second time...]  


03. Love Field (Jonathan Kaplan, 1992) **1/2 [Pfeiffer and Haysbert are quite good here, but the plot really isn't. It's most interesting when it threatens to subverts its lead's liberal optimism and least interesting when it endorses it thoroughly, and unfortunately it does a lot more of the latter.]

Victor / Victoria (Blake Edwards, 1982) ****

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (Todd Haynes, 1987) **** 

Playtime (Jacques Tati, 1967) **** Masterpiece [The perfect movie for people watchers, Playtime shows one of cinema's most unique talents at his peak. In a year where Tati references are cropping up everywhere (Monday Morning, Punch-Drunk Love, Divine Intervention, Gerry, etc...), it's hard to argue that anyone's doing this stuff better.]


04. Hercules (Ron Clements & John Musker, 1997) ** [Probably too energetic, even by the standards of Disney animated films, this one, like many in its genre grates on my nerves because it's loud, crude, and garish. I keep watching 'em though...]

Mauvais Sang (Leos Carax, 1986) **** [The exuberant, go for broke filmmaking on display here only augments the intensity of the romantic entanglements in this hugely original pre-millennial heist flick. Carax might not have ever run into a directorial flourish he didn't like, but he also has run into few of them that he can't handle. Even the dialogue sequences here look stunning.]


05. Les Destinees Sentimentales (Olivier Assayas, 2000) **** [Even though this one loses a lot of its widescreen luster on DVD (the Region 1 disc is rather ruddy), it was a complete pleasure revisiting this epic. The mixture of plaintive regret and the sheer gratitude from having had moments of love that accumulates by the end of the movie is exceptionally powerful, and comes directly from the amount of time spent with the characters. The waltz sequence near the start still might be the best scene I've seen in a film released this year.]

Footloose (Herbert Ross, 1984) **

8 Mile (Curtis Hanson, 2002) ** [Aside from a sexy, sleazy performance Brittany Murphy a waste of time. Who would have thought an Eminem would be so compromising and boring (and his skills as an actor are nonexistent)? More than ever, the high of L.A. Confidential looks like a fluke in Hanson's career.] 


06. Casualties of War (Brian DePalma, 1989) ****


07. The Jerk (Carl Reiner, 1979) ***1/2 [Steve Martin's first star vehicle is one of the funniest of modern no-brainer comedies. I've seen this many times before, from childhood on, but until now only in an edited-for-television version. I didn't previously realize the dog's name was "Shithead". Down with censorship!]


08. Chopper (Andrew Dominik, 2000) **1/2 [There's a solid performance from Eric Bana, but not much else worth mentioning in this prison drama. Director Dominik seems to have a grasp on his mood and his theme (media coverage creates and continues to feed a monster's worst impulses), but then burdens the movie with too much visual pizzazz for its own good. He's talented in a way, but not very restrained. It's ultimately an immature movie, but one that perhaps promises good things in the future from its star and director.]

Femme Fatale (Brian DePalma, 2001) **** [This time around, DePalma is referencing himself as much as anyone, and that makes Femme Fatale seem intensely personal. I wouldn't go so far as to call this DePalma's best film, but this is probably the one with the most to say about the director's methods and worldview.]


09. The Pit and the Pendulum (Roger Corman, 1961) ***1/2  [A superior follow-up to Corman's solid House of Usher, Pit wastes no time in setting up its genuinely spooky atmosphere. The hammy acting and Gothic backdrop work wonderfully together.  I can't imagine anyone who doesn't have expectations of fidelity to Poe's short story being disappointed by it.]


10. Gang of Four (Jacques Rivette, 1988) **** [As far as Rivette's work goes, this movie is one of his most accessible, but that accessibility doesn't come at the expense of most of the themes that dominate his more difficult films. The dialogue-heavy, action-deprived setup isn't for all tastes, but for those looking for a starting point to explore the director's work, I can't think of a better film.] 

"Manos", the Hands of Fate (Hal Warren, 1966) 1/2 [Quite possibly, the Worst. Movie. Ever... but the possibility of such distinction makes it worth watching, even without MST3K accompaniment. It's curious how Torgo looks a bit like P.T. Anderson.]

Gilda (Charles Vidor, 1946) ***1/2


11. Tears of the Black Tiger (Wisit Sartsanatieng, 2000) ***1/2

Pecker (John Waters, 1998) ***


12. Flashdance (Adrian Lyne, 1983) *** [Watching this one, I was mostly interested in the extreme resemblance to 8 Mile. Since this is more fun and slightly campy instead of deadly serious, I was able to enjoy it a lot more, even though it's no great movie.]


13. Unfaithful  (Adrian Lyne, 2002) *** [Two distinct halves here, and I'm not sure which I like more. The early scenes with a female protagonist who's driven almost entirely by lust seem like some sort of aberration for a Hollywood movie, but the later scenes where her husband's perspective takes over are alternatively suspenseful and clueless. If the movie doesn't go deep enough into the issues at hand (the thought of a Chabrol film based on this story is exciting), and uses a bit too much simple domestic symbolism for its own good, it's far from a wash.]


14. Pinocchio (Roberto Benigni, 2002) * [It's rare that I feel this, but this version of the story isn't nearly sentimental enough. It's as if Benigni is so confident of the inherent value of the story that he feels no need to dramatize it (the problem being that the audience isn't automatically keyed into its worth, or else they wouldn't need the movie). He's far more interested in presenting this material as a fable than as a story, but it feels far more inept than fresh.]


15. Dog Soldiers (Neil Marshall, 2002) ** [This slightly below average werewolf flick has little of the wit that made Ginger Snaps a must-see. On the plus side, it's a got a few moments that are scarier than that film offered up. As far as claustrophobic horror movies go, this can't really hope to compare with classics such as The Night of the Living Dead or Aliens.]


16. Nights of Cabiria (Federico Fellini, 1957) **** [Early Fellini sits better with me than later Fellini, perhaps because his style, while certainly present, doesn't overcome you as much in his older movies. Cabiria rates under La Strada in my book because it doesn't feel as effortless in its poetic attempts to create allegory. Still Masina is quite wonderful here, and the movie is gently heartbreaking until the finale in which it pushes a bit too hard. There's a great score too.] 

The Right Stuff (Phillip Kaufman, 1983) ***1/2 [This is the sort of mainstream, middle-brow movie I can enjoy. The politics don't overshadow the action, the narrative is ambitious (if perhaps too much so), the special effects inspire genuine awe, and the patriotism is delivered in doses that are controlled enough to not embarrass. Best of all, Kaufman infuses everything with a rowdy sense of humor. The way that the macho competition of the early scenes later turns into camaraderie is the most dominant emotional arc (though the suffering wives steal a scene or two), and it's a pretty original one.]


17. The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1964) ****

Wish You Were Here (David Leland, 1987) ***1/2

Pecker (John Waters, 1998) *** 


18. Phantasm (Don Coscarelli, 1979) ***1/2 [I've seen this one so many times throughout my life that it probably, perversely, qualifies as a childhood favorite (no wonder considering its plot structure, which could be lifted from a real trip of a "Hardy Boys" book). The haunting score and several of the key images have earned a permanent place in my psyche, it seems. It still holds up remarkably well, despite some cheese that I didn't see there before, and in a lot of ways it's funnier, weirder, and scarier than I remembered.]

Golden Eighties (Chantal Akerman, 1986) *1/2 [Akerman's not in control of this consumerist musical for any two consecutive scenes, and that's a real shame, because there's probably no genre that demands tighter directorial reigns than the musical does. As a result, it feels sloppy, schmaltzy, and far more dated than musicals that are much, much older than it. It's admirable in concept, but miserable in execution.]

The Big Combo (Joseph H. Lewis, 1955) **** [Dazzling, violent, nightmarish noir. The interplay between the wonderfully wicked villain and the cop that won't give up while after him is great, the level of danger is undeniable, and several of the key scenes take on a dreamy, almost abstract tone that suggests noir is, after all, just a state of mind.]


19. Counsellor at Law (William Wyler, 1933) ****


20. Visitor Q (Takashi Miike, 2001) ** & Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu, 1953) ***1/2 [What a wild double-feature this was... I almost feel like a prude for disliking Visitor Q, but I couldn't help but feel that Miike's beating a dead dog with his attack on traditional family values that he clearly doesn't believe in to begin with. Ozu's movie shows that a similar, if less severe, disintegration was occurring fifty years earlier, and watching it right after Visitor Q renders Miike's vision even more redundant. Miike's movies are always exciting in a lot of ways though, so even as he was making what felt like a heartless John Waters movie, I remained appreciative of his attempts. Tokyo Story was undeniably a better film, but it could have used some of the energy from Miike's film, especially in its meandering first hour. When Grandpa finally got drunk and started speaking his mind, I was breathing a sigh of relief. The exceedingly gracious attitude of him and his wife in the movie's first half wore thin quickly with me. The second hour is pretty conventional, but still effective enough to make it all worthwhile. I'm not quite sure why this particular movie is the Ozu torch-bearer though.]


21. A Summer at Grandpa’s (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 1984) ****


22. Germany Year Zero (Roberto Rossellini, 1947) ****

The Quiet American (Phillip Noyce, 2002) **1/2


23. Ice Age (Carlos Saldanha & Chris Wedge, 2002) * [Derivative in the extreme, this is clearly not the movie for me. As much as I could recognize the stuff I was seeing was supposed to funny, I couldn't escape the fact that I didn't find it to be at all. These characters are horribly ugly as well. Who wants to look at them?]

Treasure Planet (Ron Clements & John Musker, 2002) *** [More than 20,000 leagues better than Disney's Jules Verne inspired mess Atlantis, this one takes time here and there to flesh out its characters. Though Jim Hawkins has a Mom now, and everything's been transposed to space, this is relatively faithful to Stevenson's novel, which means it's an excellently paced, twisty adventure romp. Some of the set pieces were actually exciting (especially in IMAX), and the CGI-enhanced robo-arm on Long John Silver was transfixing at times.]

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Chris Columbus, 2002) **  [I was kind to the first film's narrative excesses and directorial wobbliness, but both continue and worsen here. The kid who plays the ugly redhead Ron is one of the worst actors I can remember seeing in a film of this scope. Can he contort his face into any expression besides that awful grimace? Columbus' over-reliance on him for reaction shots hardly helps. Several other actors ham it up, to the story's detriment, but worst of all is the would-be charming CGI elf. Everyone tells me these films are supposedly going to rock in a few installments, but this one seemed to mark a decided step backward.]

Talk to Her (Pedro Almodovar, 2002) *1/2 [If this melodrama could be taken more seriously, I might have been seriously offended by it. As such, it just seems like a sick fantasy that I wanted no part in. If rape's romantic these days, call me old-fashioned. Yuck.]

The Fury (Brian DePalma, 1978) ***1/2 [Alternatively inspired and nonsensical, this one is one of DePalma's weirder movies. After familiarizing myself with more of his work, I can appreciate more of what he's trying to do here, but I still can't swallow it all. That ending, with it's incredible series of  histrionic confrontations, culminating in a massive "fuck you" to the government, is pretty superb though.]


24. A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang, 1991) **** Masterpiece

Counsellor at Law (William Wyler, 1933) ****


25. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932) *** [An oddball movie that seems best digested as camp until it actually tries to be scary in its second half, at which point it just stops working. The witty moments that crop up here and there do a lot to save things, but my reaction to this one was really all over the map.]

Suddenly (Lewis Allen, 1954) **1/2 [This average high-concept suspense thriller is notable mostly because it unfolds in something resembling real time, though Frank Sinatra's hammy bad-guy performance seems memorable as well. The message, which equates patriotism with one's willingness to pick up a gun and defend the country, is pretty quaint, but the finale's pretty well orchestrated.]


26. Deliverance (John Boorman, 1972) ***


27. Bad Lieutenant (Abel Ferrara, 1992) **** [Harvey Keitel anchors this film, but almost everything about it rings true. When compared to something generally considered grim like Taxi Driver, it's amazing how artificial the latter feels. This film actually looks like New York. It's elegantly framed grittiness is no small achievement. The moral dilemma is pitched so high that the movie flirts with self-parody, but the same could be said for the crises in most most good melodramas.] 

Angel Heart (Alan Parker, 1987) **** [At the very least a visual masterpiece, this one manages to inspire genuine dread in me no matter how many times I see it. Parker's totally in control of his mood here, at least until the last few minutes which are bit sloppier than they should be. All is redeemed though in the closing credits sequence which must surely be the creepiest ever put on film.]


28. Desperate Living (John Waters, 1977) **** [My favorite John Waters film, literal warts and all. It gets less funny as it goes on, but there's something hilarious about the way that he simultaneously appeals to and shocks the audience's sophomoric urges. The concluding sequences made it perfect Thanksgiving Day viewing.]  


29. Solaris (Steven Soderbergh, 2002) ** [Quite a bit worse than the original, and a bit of a failure on its own terms. Elliptical to a fault, I can't think of many films that better demonstrate how a director not compromising and a director not succeeding are not mutually exclusive. The womblike planet that sits behind the action is a graceful visual metaphor (especially when when the synapse-like storms briefly connect), but not much else here works on a visual or thematic level. The soundtrack's especially distracting, alternating between the cold rush of air in space's vacuum and the beeping, jangling score. Soderbergh's use of bright blue and bright orange filters in his photography is growing old fast.]

Die Another Day (Lee Tamahori, 2002) ** [Easily the most surreal entry in the Bond franchise, this one is giddy fun at first, but drags on for far too long wearing out its welcome. If the rest of the cast was as good at deflecting the preposterous as Pierce Brosnan was, it might work, but two hours and fifteen minutes of scenery chewing is just too much for me to bear, even in a Bond film.] 


30. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings: Special Extended Edition (Peter Jackson, 2002) **** [I didn't appreciate this one much more than the theatrical cut, but it's still almost confounding how much better than the average fantasy flick this turned out to be. I must say that outside of Gangs of New York no December release has me as excited as this film's sequel.]


57 Features + 1 Short


October 2002 - November 2002 - December 2002