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


01. Red Dragon (Brett Ratner, 2002) **


02. Burn (Patrick Jolley and Reynold Reynolds, 2002) ** [The house is on fire and no one cares. Can't say that I really did either...]

Bloody Sunday (Paul Greengrass, 2002) *1/2 

Don’t Have, Don’t Give (David Turner, 2002) *** [Feels like it's lacking a bit of depth, but all in all a smart, sad look at sibling rivalry that manages to mostly overcome its ugly production values.]

The Man Without a Past (Aki Kaurismäki, 2002) ***


03. Dawn of the Dead (George Romero, 1978) ***1/2 [Not quite the masterpiece I remembered from my childhood, but a solid successor to NOTLD. The consumerist satire still cuts, and the sense of hopelessness still sticks with you, but it's not really too horrifying, and the zombies are too often funny (and blue?). Still, the opening and closing sequences, where the humans become their own worst enemies, have a bit of simple, forceful power.]

The Wind Will Carry Us (Abbas Kiarostami, 1999) *** [This one goes on far too long (Why do we have to watch the protagonist run to the top of the mountain so many times?) and is at times far too simple (The dung beetle, the turtle, the gravedigger...), but it still is pretty far from a misfire. The cinematography here might be the best in any of Kiarostami's films and the way that he makes us imagine most of the movie is compelling... to a point.]


04. Day of the Dead (George Romero, 1985) **1/2 [Much nastier than Dawn, this one is tough to stomach for more reasons than one. We're almost pleased to see the unlikable cast get devoured this time out.]

Pleasant Grove (David Gordon Green, 1996) **1/2 [Clearly a dry run for George Washington, but the talent wasn't quite there yet. Invaluable really, though, if you want to chart the evolution of Green.]

Physical Pinball (David Gordon Green) *** [Much better looking than Pleasant Grove, but still a way off from GW. Watching the growth of the director and cinematographer Tim Orr while making these films, increasing their scope as more resources became available, only has me more excited about what they might come up with next.] 


05. Auto-Focus (Paul Schrader, 2002) ***

Jealousy (Dania Saragovia, 2002) *** [Bizarro, really, but in a good way. Repetition of a few events shows us something, but I don't know what exactly, about the subjectivity of experience.]

Springtime in a Small Town (Tian Zhuangzhuang, 2002) ****


06. The Fifth Element (Luc Besson, 1997), *** [Who would have thought that Luc Besson's mess of a sci-fi movie would be so compulsively re-watchable? I think I've seen it around seven or eight times now, and it really doesn't grow stale. The first half is a bit of a drag, but the wildly conceived set pieces of the second are stunningly done.]

Small Deaths (Lynne Ramsey, 1996) ***1/2, Kill the Day (Lynne Ramsey, 1997) ***1/2, Gasman (Lynne Ramsey, 1998) **** [These three short films from Scottish director Lynne Ramsey are each quietly disturbing. All of them use natural lighting and dirty backdrops to attain the aesthetic that later appeared in her features. Gasman in particular is a must-see. A heartbreaking trip to a Christmas party from a young girl's point of view, it's the most vividly realized thing she's done to date.]


07. We Wuz Robbed (Spike Lee, 2002) **1/2 [Yeah, but you don't have to whine about it... Sharp editing, though.]

Divine Intervention (Elia Suleiman, 2002) ** [Fluctuates between bad and brilliant like few films can. After deftly illustrating rising tensions in a small community, it discards its momentum after about 40 minutes and never manages to build any again.]

Candidate (Mohammad Shirvani, 2001) *** [Whimsical Iranian puff that's fortunately not a feature (there are plenty of Iranian movies that have run full length with less content).]

Waiting for Happiness (Abderrahmane Sissako, 2002) **


08. A Walk to Remember (Adam Shankman, 2002) *** [A mediocre movie with convictions, which is pretty rare, actually. Credit must go for not straining for melodramatic impact by turning the parents into beasts. Mandy Moore's bangs must be the most expressive in cinematic history.]


09. Hammerbrook (Elmar Freels, 2001) ** [Essentially a sanitized, short version of Gaspar Noe's I Stand Alone.]

The Turning Gate (Sang-soo Hong, 2002) *** [It grew pretty compelling near the end, but most of its quirks were hard to take as they were happening. Essentially, this seems to be a manifesto that calls attention to the baggage we carry around with us when entering relationships. A second viewing seems inevitable.]


10. 42nd Street (Lloyd Bacon, 1933) ***1/2 [This is basically the mother of all stage movie clichés, I know, but I kept seeing big similarities to Showgirls, mostly. It has a lot of heart, and a lot of shoulder pads, but not a lot of dancing, actually.]

Penny Serenade (George Stevens, 1941) *** [For twenty minutes or so, it's downright ghastly watching Cary Grant & Irene Dunne handling their baby here. The numerous reaction shots of the kid only amplified that feeling. Before they get the kid and after they get a handle on it, this is a pretty standard weepie (even Grant cries --  spectacularly too!).]


11. Tango De Olvido (Alexis Mital Toledo, 2002) *1/2 [La Jetee in live action as a political allegory, but bad.]

Friday Night (Claire Denis, 2002) **** [Second viewing here. I still love it, and still have some problems with its last third. Incredibly subjective, and incredibly sensual, I got a lot more of the jokes this time out. They're so deadpan at times that they make Kaurismäki look like a Farrelly brother.]

Monday Morning (Otar Ioseliani, 2002) ** [Of the three Tati-esque comedies at this year's NYFF (the others being Divine Intervention and Punch-Drunk Love, this one's the most explicit (a Hulot look-alike wanders around), and the least successful. The entire second half is a boondoggle where we're supposed to be seeing the psychic rebirth of the protagonist, but don't... at all.]


12. The Expedition (Satyajit Ray, 1962) ***1/2 [This taxi-driver thriller coasts by mostly on atmosphere. It's got the same tawdry, sticky environment of great thrillers like Touch of Evil. There's a villain, to be sure, but he barely seems more aggressive than anyone else in this sick Indian village. Unfortunately, it's nearly as compelling as the story of its protagonist's redemption. On that account, it felt obligatory.]

Leone XIII (W.K.L. Dickinson, 1898) n/a [More of a historical curio than anything, hence no rating. A Lumiere-style actuality of the Pope repeatedly blessing the audience.]

The Phantom Chariot (Victor Sjöström, 1921) ***1/2 [A moral tale with a bit of supernatural fun thrown in for good measure. It made me think of The Shining and It's a Wonderful Life at times, but worked better than either did in those particular instances. For a movie made in 1921, the editing rhythms and shot compositions seem darned modern.]

The Exile (Max Ophüls, 1947) **** [Max Ophüls' long takes, tracking shots, and obsession for set detail meld themselves perfectly to this fantastical action film which deals with King Charles II' exile from England. Douglas Fairbanks Jr.'s athleticism is highlighted when we see all of the stunts in a single take, and the world comes alive despite its utter detachment from reality. Ophüls original ending (restored in the print I saw) shifts the film's focus onto the female who housed the king, and seems to set up the films that would fill the rest of the director's career.]


13. Great Expectations (David Lean, 1946) ***1/2 [A solid adaptation of the Dickens novel, with the exception of the casting of the lead role. Not for a moment is John Mills convincing as a 20-year old Pip. Most of the sticky class issues are ported from Dickens directly, so complaining about them seems besides the point, but they still bugged me too.]

Les Bonnes Femmes (Claude Chabrol, 1960) ***1/2 [A pretty savage movie, even by Chabrol's standards. You have to be glad that the director later began to hide his politics behind Hitchcockian plots, because this level of potency would be tough to sustain for forty films (and it's a comedy!).]


14. The Miracle Worker (Arthur Penn, 1962) **** [If Penn’s manic direction sometimes strives a bit too much to distance the film from its roots as a stage play (though those flashbacks make great use of the screen space), Miracle still packs a stunning amount of power. Kudos to the two Oscar-winning leads who each conspire to turn this story, which is superficially about the triumph of the human spirit into a knock-down drag-‘em-out tale about the suppression of it.] 

That Uncertain Feeling (Ernst Lubitsch, 1941) **1/2 [This screwball comedy is more screwy than a ball, though it has its moments, mostly thanks to Melvyn Douglas who has the sort of smugness you can grow to love. Burgess Meredith however is just plain smarmy and never emerges as a worthy competitor. Phooey.]

Don't Look Now (Nicholas Roeg, 1973) *** [Spends an awful lot of energy telling us that the coupling of sex (itself a denial of the loneliness of death) is somehow only as sexy as the parting afterward, since the two are intrinsically related. By proxy, the movie wants us to think death is as sexy and mysterious as the sex act, and it simply isn't no matter how much audacious style Roeg heaps on it. When death arrives, its cold and ugly, and I guess that might be the point here, but after being lead by the nose for so long  you would have hoped that he would have found a way to make it so. Still, great sets, great shots, and great acting from Sutherland and Christie. One I'll need to revisit now that I know what it was working toward.]


15. Body Double (Brian De Palma, 1984) ** 


16. Dahmer (David Jacobson) 2002 **


17. Beat the Devil (John Huston, 1953) **1/2 [A strange mess of a movie that seems to have no idea what it is trying to be. If it's supposed to be a comedy, then Bogart seems pissed off since he's not in on the joke. Still, some great character actors here help power through the rough spots (e.g. the endless jokes about the uptight British and their pompous attempts to colonize the world).]

It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, 1934) ***1/2 [Quite obviously "the" prototypical screwball comedy, but it felt lessened in impact for me. Was that because I've seen it copied so many times? I'd call those copies, many which I've loved before, refinements, but this movie's far from scattershot. It's about as precise as these things get. Certainly better than something like Warren Beatty's Love Affair in any case...]


18. The Ring (Gore Verbinski, 2002) **1/2 [A close remake that's, quite simply, not as scary as the Japanese one.]

A Bug's Life (John Lasseter / Andrew Stanton, 1998) ** [I've seen this one before, but I figured I'd give it another shot. Like most Pixar fare, I still find it intolerable though, and the computer effects look lousy now (especially in that the characters seem pasted onto the backgrounds). The sheer loudness of the movie is too much to bear for me, and the skits, which come along every few seconds, wear me down until I feel assaulted.]


19. The Eddie Duchin Story (George Sidney, 1956) *** [This rise to success story becomes spectacularly melodramatic with a wedding-night thunderstorm 40 minutes in and things just keep getting worse for the remainder of the picture. Good use of NYC locations (the Central Park Casino from Hallelujah, I'm a Bum! is featured prominently) and some great 'scope compositions, especially in the musical sequences, some of which feel almost like a live-action alternative to Fantasia.]

Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966) **** [An unquestionably well-made medieval artist biopic that still frustrates me a bit with its refusal to show the artist actually working. Tarkovsky's elliptical approach does less to encapsulate the subject's life than the lifestyle and mindset of his time, and while that is certainly an achievement, it pushes his personal quandaries toward the back burner. A hell of a movie otherwise, to be sure.]

Mickey's House of Villains (Jamie Mitchell, 2002) 1/2 [I've been reluctant to see any direct-to-video Disney sequels and spin-offs, and I stumbled onto this one because it was only $10 at the Disney Store. It's God-awful, both as a self-contained film (it's a loosely strung together series of shorts that have no cohesiveness) and as a sign of how far the company will go in raping its own catalogue (several old shorts are included, only serving to make anything newly produced look even shoddier). My imagination boggles when I consider what something like Cinderella II must be like...]


20. Crossroads (Tamra Davis, 2002) *** [A pretty sweet, inconsequential movie. Spears acquits herself well, even in the scenes where she has to act, and plays off  her off-screen persona to frequently campy effect. The first fifteen minutes or so are a howler, but after that it becomes a reasonably diverting teen soap without much at stake (thankfully). I certainly preferred this to this year's White Oleander or The Divine Secrets of the Ya-ya Sisterhood.]

Ruslan and Ludmila (Aleksandr Ptushko, 1972) **** [A wild, epic, mostly set-bound fairy tale that grows odder as it it goes on, culminating in a truly unforgettable mass battle sequence in which the hero uses a bagged midget to fell the opposing army's rampaging cattle! Unlike just about anything that I've seen, it feels at once operatic and quaint. Also, everyone talks in rhyme.]

The Merchant of Four Seasons (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1972) ****


21. Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood, 1992) ***1/2 [Indulges a bit too much in the clichés found in Westerns to work completely as an answer film or a reinvention of the genre, but the two lead performances are stellar, and Eastwood's compositional sense is frequently stunning. It botches the perfect ending it had in its grasp by closing not with a ride off into the darkness, but instead with a disappointing coda.]


22. The 39 Steps (Alfred Hitchcock, 1935) **** [Hugely entertaining. Not quite by North By Northwest in sock-o sexual impact, but really quite close otherwise. Nearly every scene here is classic. Hitchcock's use of sound is especially impressive here, given the film's age.]

Josie and the Pussycats (Harry Elfont & Deborah Kaplan, 2002) **1/2 [More clever than one would expect from this sort of teen pic, unless like me, other people hyped it to the point where you went in expecting some kind of hyper-aware brilliant critique of the genre. It's not that sharp really, since most of the satire seems completely throwaway, and it often feels far too cute for its own good. Typically, Parker Posey is quite good in a role that doesn't deserve her.]


23. The Truth About Charlie (Jonathan Demme, 2002) ***1/2


24. Full Metal Jacket (Stanley Kubrick, 1987) **** Masterpiece [This one ranks fourth among Kubrick's films in my book (behind 2001, Barry Lyndon, and Eyes Wide Shut), but that doesn't mean it's anything less than brilliant. The first half is so hypnotic that by comparison the Vietnam-set scenes feel almost sloppy, but they still cast a trance, albeit on subtler terms. The visuals (which are so mesmerizing when stressing the formation and repetition of the training in the first half) and the affected performances make a convincing argument about the corruptibility of man, but the humanity is never relinquished completely.]

Scooby-Doo (Raja Gosnell, 2002) *1/2 [Plays more like a bad episode of TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer than an episode of the animated TV show that it's based on, but that's fine in and of itself, but the execution is horrible. The special effects used to bring the Great Dane to life are so horrible and fuzzy that I  felt embarrassed watching this mess even before the fart jokes kicked in.]


25. Joan the Maid: The Battles & The Prisons (Jacques Rivette, 1994) **** Masterpiece

Weekend (Jean-Luc Godard, 1967) **** Masterpiece [Stunning stuff. Review to come, for sure...]

Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore, 2002) * [Horrible stuff. Review to come, for sure...]


26. Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1975) **1/2 [I certainly appreciated the attempt here, but the execution gave me too few rewards to make it a transcendental experience, and with this running time and approach, it seems almost masochistic to deliver anything less.]


27. Broadway Danny Rose (Woody Allen, 1984) **** [Slight and messy, but so sweet and funny that it doesn't matter a whit. Mia and Woody each give one of their best performances, and Woody's standard cadre of technical staff each do the same. Sort of fun to look at as an inversion of Coppola's Godfather films as well.]

Two-Lane Blacktop (Monte Hellman, 1971) **1/2 [Disillusioned drag-racers illustrate how the American dream is literally melting down for both "the Man" and the counterculture in this Easy Rider knockoff. As much as I great to appreciate the formal chops on display here, I was also disappointed that it took about an hour or so for a real theme to emerge. Maybe another look would alleviate that concern, but I'm not exactly eager to find out.]


28. At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (Jose Mojica Marins, 1963) **** [This is especially superb once you consider its roots as a no-budget Brazilian horror movie (reportedly the first in the genre from that country). Insanely grisly for its time, it's still shockingly horrible at times, but the main reason to see this one is the central performance, courtesy of the director. It has one of those great villains in the atheistic, bug-eyed Coffin Joe. He's at his best when spouting profane invectives at anyone who shows the smallest amount of belief in anything (most of all religion). It's certainly got its limitations, but I'd recommend a movie this unique to anyone without hesitation.]


29. Rebus Film #1 (Paul Leni, 1926) *** [Outmoded curio, that's still quaint enough to be charming. A crossword puzzle movie that requires the audience to play along with animated characters to solve clues.]

Waxworks (Paul Leni, 1924) ***1/2 [This horror anthology starts out a bit boring, but it grows more interesting as it goes on. The hero of the wraparound story is chronicling stories of the sadists, and as he goes deeper into their psyches, his storytelling grows more fragmented, the Expressionistic touches crop up more frequently, and eventually he loses his grasp on reality. Good scenery chewing by the cast, with the Ivan the Terrible segment being the standout.]

Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural (Richard Blackburn, 1973) *1/2 [This adolescent vampire tale has some interesting psychosexual overtones, but the tones themselves are out of tune. More amateurish than effective, the movie comes off feeling like it's bit off so much that it can't even close its mouth, much less chew.]

Shock (a.k.a. Beyond the Door II) (Mario Bava, 1977) *** [a.k.a. Is my child possessed by the soul of my heroin fiend ex-husband's ghost? At first it seemed this Italian haunted house movie is cranked up a few notches too high, but its abundance of style grew on me. The skittish protagonist hurts herself somehow in nearly every scene, but it keeps things from ever getting boring. Two of the jump scenes were among the best I've ever seen. Horribly dubbed, like most Italian horror, to frequently amusing effect.]


30. Kill, Baby... Kill! (Mario Bava, 1966) *** [This gothic Giallo flick is a clear precedent to stuff like Burton's Sleepy Hollow or From Hell, but is superior, because it doesn't lean so heavily on empty sensationalism to deliver its supernatural thrills. A medical inspector heads off to a small, religious Transylvanian village to investigate a rash of apparent suicides that seem to occur after the victims see a ghostly child (who seems to have inspired the devilish kid in Fellini's "Toby Dammit" section in Spirits of the Dead). There's a feel here similar to Corman's Poe movies or the best of the Hammer horror flicks, but Bava's skillful camerawork (few directors place so much faith in the zoom) makes the movie distinct.]


31. Mr. Wong in Chinatown (William Nigh, 1939) *** [One could complain that Karloff's Mr. Wong is an outmoded stereotype, I suppose, but this mystery movie (3rd in the series, apparently) delivers the goods without much fuss. A Chinese princess is murdered via a blow dart, setting off an investigation that includes arms deals, a mute midget, bank forgery, and plenty of fun, dangerous situations. As much as Karloff plays it flatly cool, it doesn't hurt because there's some terrific banter between the police captain and his nosy fiancé news reporter. Slight but entertaining.]

The Stone Tape (Peter Sasdy, 1972) * [Using the scientific method, the cast of this would be haunted house film set out to prove that ghosts don't really exist. They succeed. How is this scary again?]

Death Line (Gary Sherman, 1972) ** [Donald Pleasence does what he can here to salvage things by turning everything into a joke, but preposterous movies about cannibalistic subway dwellers have no business using pretentious tracking shots and wordless sequences that attempt to get audience sympathy for the beast.]


October 2002 - November 2002 - December 2002



(57 Features, 14 shorts)