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April 2003 Screening Log - click for reviews, when applicable. Titles of short films listed in bold.

 

01. The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982) **** [This wild ride isn't really better than the original, but it's not worse in any way either. Instead it's a pretty perfect example of a great director applying his vision to a film previously made by another and coming out a winner. There's real faith in humankind here, but it's buried pretty deeply, which makes the film seem more appropriate than the original for the cynical time it was made in. The photography is killer throughout, especially when the lighting schemes work their magic (such as when the pink flare light melds with the blue snow) and Carpenter's trademark dissolves give the movie more of a sense of time and space than it would have otherwise. Also, those makeup effects rule. Down with CGI!]

Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (Robert Bresson, 1945) **** [It took a while to figure out if this was meant to be a comedy or drama, and though the last two minutes of the film tip the scales in one direction, I suppose. The tension between the two throughout is exhilarating in any case. Few genre movies so deftly avoid feeling like an entry in a genre. This certainly not what I'd expect from Bresson (though I haven't seen much of his work yet). Imagine a simpler, subtler, yet nastier, All About Eve and you get close to the mood. It might be better than I'm giving it credit for, frankly, but I'm too baffled and impressed by it at this point to get too committal.]

 

02. The Talk of the Town (George Stevens, 1942) ***1/2 [The opening sequence and the concluding courtroom sequence feel a bit out of place in this film's screwball context, but it's certainly much better than average in every other respect. There's a predictable tension between sophistication and practicality, but because of the presence of snobbish pretensions in the characters, everyday stuff like borscht and pajamas becomes much funnier.]

The Wolf Man (George Waggner, 1941) *** [Not too shabby, really, even if the acting is rather wooden. Since it thankfully weighs in at a slim seventy minutes long, it's hard to complain about the relatively skimpy plot. Not a classic, even by association with Universal's other creature features, but better than I expected.]

 

03. Night and the City (Jules Dassin, 1950) **** [This gritty melodrama has a great feel for its setting. Early on, there's this sequence where the protagonist goes to some of his usual haunts in search of some cash for a scheme, and each of the characters he visits seems sketched so well that it's easy to imagine a movie about them. The plot that the film finally settles on is killer though, so I'm certainly not complaining. There's a long wrestling set piece that in terms of sheer tension outdoes the extended dialogue-free caper from Rififi (as well as the wrestling match / escape scene in Topkapi). Easily the best Dassin film I've seen.]

We Can't Go Home Again (Nicholas Ray, et al., 1976) ** [This student film probably shouldn't have been released really, but I seemed to have an easier time with it than most of the audience I saw it with. My star rating might suggest some dissatisfaction, but mostly my response was indifference. It's certainly nothing like Ray's other films, since it essentially eschews narrative and conventional approach for a collage of amateurs parading through the fourth wall and snippets of political footage.]

 

04. Cremaster 1 (Matthew Barney, 1995) ****

Cremaster 2 (Matthew Barney, 1999) ****

Cremaster 3 (Matthew Barney, 2002) **** Masterpiece

Cremaster 4 (Matthew Barney, 1994) ***1/2

Cremaster 5 (Matthew Barney, 1995) ****

The Savage Innocents (Nicholas Ray, 1959) **1/2 [This Eskimo drama is a definite odd duck. In many ways (the nudity, the refusal to tone down the brutality inherent in the Eskimo way of life,  the admission that people have to sleep in the same bed to have sex, etc...) ahead of its time, but it's equally dated in other respects (the casting of Anthony Quinn as the lead Eskimo is one reason, the horribly done process shots are another). Still, much more fun than The Fast Runner, especially when those Eskimos get funky.]

 

05. Written on the Wind (Douglas Sirk, 1956) ***1/2 [I don't really tap into the subversive vibe throughout here, even if I see moments of it from time to time. Perhaps it's the general feeling that I get from the film that seems to be surprised that the characters are behaving in a horrible, lurid manner (and doesn't just expect it from them) that keeps me a bit distant. Since the movie appears to be genuinely shocked by them, it seems sort of odd to me when it starts sending them up. Shouldn't it still be reeling? I enjoy it to be sure, but the level of seriousness throughout seems to work against it a bit.]

Friendly Persuasion (William Wyler, 1956) **** [All in all this flick about a family of Civil War-era Quakers is probably too earnest for its own good, but I'd be damned if I didn't have a blast watching it. The five-act episodic structure makes the film move quickly and the material is surprisingly funny. Wyler's style is identifiable to be sure (both in the multi-plane compositions and the carriage races, which seem to be a preemptive parody of Ben-Hur), but it never gets in the way of the pacifism being espoused and the good-natured jokes being bandied about.]

Othello (Orson Welles, 1952) **** [Pictorially perfect, but the editing and sound work are more than a little garbled, and that's a shame. The circumstances behind the film's creation are obviously a factor in that, but there are moments where the technical flaws work against the considerable mood that the rest of the production exudes. There's little else to gripe about though. The narrative is stripped down, but the images fill in the gaps quite well. The performances are generally adequate throughout, with Michael MacLiammoir's Iago making the biggest impression.]

The Lady From Shanghai (Orson Welles, 1948) ***1/2 [The last ten minutes here are pretty amazing... so amazing that I have to wonder if I was missing out on something throughout the rest of the film. I could barely keep up with the convoluted plot at times (partially because I was usually more interested in the visuals than the characters), so I'm not placing any bets either way. If Welles was setting out to confound me, he pretty much succeeded.]

 

06. The Big Heat (Fritz Lang, 1953) **** [Top-notch, hardcore noir. Lang gives us a vision of the world here that's even more cynical than genre's usual. No adult character in the film manages to work entirely within the law. Even the good guys are put in a position where they have to become vigilantes to survive. There's not a very flattering picture of women here, but that's about the only quibble I could muster. Everything else about it conspired to make me feel alternately uneasy and excited.]

The Day the Earth Stood Still (Robert Wise, 1951) ***1/2 [An oddball Christ parable disguised as intelligent sci-fi, Earth doesn't really ever feel convincing as either, but it's about as good as your average "Twilight Zone" episode. The Americentric focus here is pretty amusing at times, and it doesn't feel nearly as bloated or moralistic as it might have in clumsier hands.]

Separate Tables (Delbert Mann, 1958) ***1/2 [It's tough to defend a lot of aspects of this film. It's clearly been adapted from a stage play. It's got a wild variety of performances that don't exactly mesh together well. The final scene is about as clumsy as is imaginable. Despite all that, I enjoyed it. Rita Hayworth's performance seems genuinely brave because it dares to question her onscreen persona. The deployment of melodramatic confrontations every scene kept it from getting boring.]

 

07. Picnic (Joshua Logan, 1955) ***1/2 [Surprising tense for a romantic drama. The sexual repression the seems to exist in every pore of the small Kansas town where this film is set seems ready to pop its cork at any moment, and when it finally does, it's still a surprise. After that, it runs slowly loses steam, until it ends unconvincingly, but between the very specific ambiance and the great compositional sense that the picture has, it's more than worthwhile. Terrific acting support abounds, especially courtesy of Susan Straberg and Verna Felton.]

 

08. O.C. and Stiggs (Robert Altman, 1987) *** [I'd say that only Dr. T & the Women bests this film among Altman's quirkier movies. It's a teen comedy, and as such there's some sense that nothing really matters. Everything feels slightly frivolous, but then Altman's whips out his deep investment in the material and suddenly it becomes this grand, messy statement about America. Definitely undervalued by the masses...]

Strange Fruit (Joel Katz, 2002) **1/2 [After this documentary reveals its one unexpected bit of information (that the titular song was written by a Jewish, Communist, white guy), it doesn't ever surprise again, resulting in a celebration of liberal thought that feels boated, even at under an hour long. It's all centered around a lovely, haunting song though, and I certainly didn't mind hearing a few different renditions of it during that hour.]

 

09. Daughter from Danang (Gail Dolgin & Vincente Franco, 2002) *** [No major complaints here except that I found the central figure to be more than a little intolerable... Still, I recognized that she probably reacts pretty much the way the average American would when they were confronted his or her repressed cultural heritage. Frankly, I expected a more explosive family dynamic here than I saw, but I didn't come away disappointed either.]

Anaconda (Luis Llosa, 1997) **1/2 [J-Lo's hair is too frizzy here for me to enjoy the pleasures that this monster movie has to offer. Since realism is clearly not a concern, can't she at least look good? Jon Voigt makes sure everyone stays awake.]

 

10. The Dead Zone (David Cronenberg, 1983) ***1/2 [Pretty cool, really, in its pulpy way, even if Cronenberg can scarcely be detected behind the camera at times. Wild hair and all, Christopher Walken manages to come off like a normal guy, at least until he starts being driven to wild behavior by his newly-developed ESP. Surely this one's near the top of the heap of Steven King adaptations, even if it's no The Shining.]

 

11. Head of State (Chris Rock, 2003) ***1/2 [Pleasingly random, this is the liveliest political farce in ages. It plays like Bulworth meets Mr. Smith Goes to Washington meets Pee-Wee's Big Adventure in its best moments, and between Rock and co-star Bernie Mac, there are plenty of great moments. It initially seems to be founded on the perennial argument that all white people secretly want to be black, but it thankfully turns out to be more sophisticated than that. One image, which starts out with a static shot of a homogenous suburbia is the funniest single shot I've seen in a long, long time, but throughout Rock seems to possess a surprising amount of ability to use the soundtrack and the images to sell his gags.]

The Hunted (William Friedkin, 2003) ***

Anger Management (Peter Segal, 2003) ** [I had low expectations going in, but they weren't nearly met, unfortunately. A clear case of squandered opportunity, made especially clear by the existence of Punch-Drunk Love. Nicholson is wasted here, leaving Sandler to carry most of the film's weight, both dramatically and comically. Several actors from P.T. Anderson's troupe show up, with varying degrees of success. The gay variation on the Luis Guzman we all know and love is the best thing in the film. As a bonus, Heather Graham shows up for two scenes sporting the comic timing she was so sorely missing in The Spy Who Shagged Me.]

 

12. Hatari! (Howard Hawks, 1962) **** Masterpiece [The fine line between art and entertainment essentially disintegrates here, like it does in all of my favorite Hawks films. There seems a definite progression here from, say, Red River to Rio Bravo to this, with the director becoming less reliant on plot as he ages and more content to just let the audience enjoy some time with the characters. The comparative lack of tension (despite some thrilling safari sequences) in Hatari! works to its advantage. Every scene was sheer pleasure. Every character felt like a friend.]

 

13. The Invisible Man (James Whale, 1933) **** [Camp of the highest form, this truly nasty picture gets away with its darkness because it can't quite take itself seriously. The delirium present in the titular character is contagious and the crude special effects still sort of cool.]

Phantom of the Opera (Arthur Lubin, 1943) **1/2 [The first half here is exciting, with a smoothly gliding camera (De Palma must have perked up) and some damned impressive production values, but as soon as it became apparent that the film was trying to offer good taste in the place of scares, my interest started waning. By the third act, there's no life left in the filmmaking, giving the impression that even the director stopped caring.]

 

14. Mikey and Nicky (Elaine May, 1976) ***1/2

Cowards Bend the Knee (Guy Maddin, 2003) ****

 

15. Cat People (Jacques Tourneur, 1942) **** [A bit better than I remembered, I was moved by the central characters' dilemmas this time out, and not nearly as interested in the movie's scary scenes as I was as a kid. I wouldn't quite call it an unequivocal classic, but it's definitely an excellent example of an intelligent entry in the horror genre.]

Try and Get Me (Cy Endfield, 1950) ***1/2 [The last fifteen minutes here, which explode the expected message film trappings, are fairly amazing, but before that there are few too many routine scenes for the film as a whole to achieve greatness. It's a surprising film in many ways though, with unexpected touches of expressionism and gri throughout, and really only ever goes off track when it begins speechifying.]

 

16. Cinemania (Angela Christlieb & Stephen Kijak, 2002) ***

The Black Cat (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1934) ***1/2 [Karloff and Lugosi collide with odd results here. It's tough to get a firm grip on what this picture is after exactly, so mostly I just sat there appreciating the ample atmosphere. The plot makes about as much sense as the accents do, so maybe that was a good approach after all...]

 

17. Ugetsu (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953) **** [Haunting and moving, but it's saddled by a somewhat hard-to-swallow message about class complacency. I suppose the intended theme here might have something to do with the fleeting nature of happiness, but the ending voiceover with its speech about the joys of being peasant makes it tough to see such a generalized message. Besides that complaint, I can't really think of much else. The pacing is excellent, the varied stories all well-acted and morally compelling, and the imagery is spellbinding.]

Forget Baghdad: Jews and Arabs - The Iraqi Connection (Samir, 2002) ***

The Tenth Victim (Elio Petri, 1965) *** [This modish romp predated the similarly plotted Schwartzenegger flick The Running Man, which was my all-time favorite film circa age ten. I wonder which I'd prefer if I were to watch The Running Man now... There are some inspired moments of lunacy in Petri's film, and some that just feel insane, but I enjoyed the hodgepodge overall.]

 

18. This So-Called Disaster (Michael Almereyda, 2003) ***1/2 [At first it's difficult to ascertain directorial presence in this making-of-a-play documentary, but as the film progresses, the level of artistry seems to as well. The ending combination of several narrative lines with a singular emotional catharsis is either a trick of great editing or a testament to the power of art to ease the pains of many disparate people simultaneously.]

The Working Class Goes to Heaven (Elio Petri, 1971) **1/2 [Too brash to be enjoyable, even if I appreciated Petri's attempt to deliver a potent political message without betraying the admitted limitations of the people it concerns. Much of the symbolism (e.g. the Scrooge McDuck strangulation) was way too overt for me, and for all the talk of sex, I found it very far from sexy.]

The Petrified Forest (Archie Mayo, 1936) ***1/2 [I admit that this is horribly stage-bound (the painted backdrop makes for an especially unconvincing Painted Desert), and agree with anyone who would step up to knock down Bogart's performance, but I found a lot to enjoy here anyhow. Bette Davis turns things down a notch to great effect and Leslie Howard's effete manner genuinely feels like an aberration in the surroundings that the film creates. The romanticism between the two genuinely works, and carries the film through any clunky spots.]

 

19. Lost in America (Albert Brooks, 1985) ***1/2 [It's unfortunately not quite as expansive in scope as its title might suggest, but this modern screwball comedy is still funny enough to make its less successful transgressions forgettable. Brooks' long tracking shots are deployed rather well and his sense of humor extends into the overall, rather bland, look of the film.]

The Castle of Cagliostro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1979) ***1/2 [The moments of calm reflection between the madcap majority here distinguish this as Miyazaki's film, and they're certainly welcome. The action sequences are hardly chopped liver, though most of my enjoyment here seems to come from the hilarious poses that the characters make. I wouldn't recommend it as a starting point into the director's work, but since he's one of the few directors to have never made a lousy feature, you can't go wrong here.]

Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978) ***1/2 [The first ten and last twenty minutes are among the very best in the genre and among the most accomplished things Carpenter has ever done. The space in-between is hardly bad, but it lacks the sheer intensity that make this film still scary despite countless imitations. The technical mastery here is undeniable, but to a greater degree than in Carpenter's other films, there's the question of to what end that mastery is being deployed.]

Pillow Talk (Michael Gordon, 1959) **** [I'm not sure if I find this film sexy or if I find it cute, but the line between the two seems to be where most of the tension here comes from, so I'm not really complaining when I write that. The chemistry between the two leads is considerable, especially by today's standards. The much-lauded split screen effects deserve that lauding, but the set and costume designs are just as inspired.]

On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan, 1954) **** [Amazing because it typifies everything that's wrong with Hollywood's narrative approach and then overcomes almost all of it. The score and the lame ending are the only elements that I'm not sold on, and I'm not sure whether to give credit for that to the stellar cast or Kazan's rabid self-righteousness.]

 

20. Judge Priest  (John Ford, 1934) **** [In its first half, this Will Rogers vehicle seems to resemble a postbellum Amarcord, and it works as a heartfelt ode to a bygone era. When it turns into a courtroom drama, though, it really takes off. There's some clunky line delivery and the racial relations seem a bit problematic to be sure, but I'm willing to forgive a lot to enjoy the amazing concluding sequence in which a sense of nostalgia literally comes forward to make the present right again.]

The Wrong Man (Alfred Hitchcock, 1956) **** [This was more one of those Hitchcock films that I enjoy more for its technical prowess than its content until Vera Miles started losing it. At that point it became infinitely more interesting to me. I really want to re-evaluate this one to better examine how the first half of the film leads up to her madness. Definitely a keeper.]

The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942) **** [The ending sinks this for me a little every time, but otherwise this is the least problematic Welles film I've seen. The photography, the performances, the script and the direction are all superb. It's surprising how much of the melancholy Anti-Capitalist message survives in the film still.]

Mystery of the Wax Museum (Michael Curtiz, 1933) *** [The opening sequence here, with the suggestive and horrible images of wax figures melting away creates a mood that the rest of this rather routine newspaper detective story can't live up to. The two-strip Technicolor creates a mood that's alternately nauseating and eerie.]

Fando & Lis (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1967) **** [If I can say with a straight face that Judge Priest predicated Fellini's Amarcord, then Fando & Lis is an antecedent of Satyricon. This marked my first exposure to Jodorowsky's work, but I found it consistently compelling despite the occasional bout of technical shoddiness. It seems to have been influential among those filmmakers who attempt to straddle the surreal and the narrative cinema, because I can think of about a dozen later films that it reminds me of (e.g. Gerry, Cremaster, Eraserhead, etc...), but not much that's similar that comes before it outside of Bunuel.]

 

21. Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999) **** Masterpiece [What's wonderful here is that the more times I watch, the more I note, not just about the film, but about myself. The lighting schemes alone are enough to entrance me here, but everything about this film conspires to pull me in.]

Black Cadillac (John Murlowski, 2002) **1/2 [Better than Jeepers Creepers or Duel, not quite as good as Joy Ride. Makes a good midnight movie for sure...]

Paris (Ramin Niami, 2003) *

 

22. Dark Victory (Edmund Golding, 1939) *** [Fairly standard, I suppose, but Davis is given one hell of a character arc to play with and that makes it worthwhile. She's not consistently at the same level throughout, but there are moments, oh there are moments... There's something almost archetypical in her brand of romanticized Hollywood suffering here.]

Hellzapoppin' (H.C. Potter, 1941) **** [Wild! The anything-can-happen vibe here makes this the closest I've seen to a live action version of the all-time great Looney Tunes Rabbit Rampage and Duck Amuck (it predates both). The movie never lets an opportunity for a gag pass it by, which results in some resoundingly unfunny bits, but with the wicked froth that it works up, any major problems are basically obscured. One of the purest forms of cinematic anarchy that I've seen from the studio system.]

 

23. The Thin Man (W. S. Van Dyke, 1934) ***1/2 [This might be more fun if you're soused, which I might as well have been for how much I kept up with the whodunit plot. The chemistry between Powell and Loy is so wonderful that it's no surprise that it prompted a string of sequels. The same dog that's wonderful in Bringing Up Baby and The Awful Truth is wonderful here as well.]

 

24. Save the Last Dance (Thomas Carter, 2001) ***1/2 [Surprisingly somber, actually, and though I wouldn't exactly call it "intelligent", some of the moments that I expected to be painful (e.g. the obligatory drive-by) were eased by the treatment (e.g. the juxtaposition of that drive in with the ballerina's violent flare-up). Stiles doesn't give a truly great performance, but she's certainly charismatic enough to carry the film.]

Kustom Kar Kommandos (Kenneth Anger, 1965) ***; Puce Moment (Kenneth Anger, 1949) ***1/2; Scorpio Rising (Kenneth Anger, 1964) **** [The nigh-obsessive viewing habits going on over here prompted me to seek out Puce Moment. Go figure that I ended up watching each of these twice myself... My reasons though have more to do with the sequencing on the tape than anything. Scorpio Rising was an eye-opener that made my understanding of the other two films snap into clearer focus. To me, it's clearly the best of the trio, but each of these has a similarly fascinating sensibility behind it.]

The Yearling (Clarence Brown, 1946) ***1/2 [The studio sets are sometimes distracting, but otherwise it has a surprisingly epic scope for a family film. The dynamics which feature the well-intentioned, but hopelessly impotent Gregory Peck character seceding control of the household to Jane Wyman's almost emotionless tyrant sound worse on paper than they play on the screen, thanks to the actors. The movie feels like it will veer into schmaltz at any moment, but it's surprising how rarely it does. The deer is cute too.]

 

25. Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (Kenneth Anger, 1954) ***1/2; Invocation of My Demon Brother (Kenneth Anger, 1969) ***; Lucifer Rising (Kenneth Anger, 1973) **** [These three were about as interesting as the last three, and now that I have an idea of what Anger's doing, they seem more clear to me. Clearly, David Lynch is a fan... Lucifer Rising isn't quite as superb as Scorpio Rising was, but it seems to prove that the more shit Anger throws at me the more I like his movie.]

The Steel Helmet (Sam Fuller, 1951) **** [I suppose Spielberg acknowledges his debt to this film by naming the kid in Temple of Doom Short Round, but seeing it, I think that his extended homage to it in Saving Private Ryan is a botched one. First of all, for all its borrowed graphic realism Ryan's altered moral dilemma (in which a small group of men are sacrificed to save an individual) asks the viewer to forget the real reasons countries have wars. It's something that you're never able to get away from here because the relative lack of context (e.g. there's no scene "at home") for Fuller's mass of battle leaves you grappling and trying to find a reason for the carnage instead of falling back into comfortable nostalgia. Furthermore, even the quiet moments here threaten to pop, with class and race tensions from back home cropping up on the front lines as opposed to the calming characterization that Spielberg gives us. I don't want to give the impression that I can only see Fuller's film in respect to Spielberg's, but viewing it sure felt like vindication on a lot of levels to me after taking so much flak for dissing Ryan for the last few years.]

Fury (Fritz Lang, 1936) **** Masterpiece [One of the most penetrating anti-American films I've ever scene, Fury shows Lang at the heights of his considerable powers. I was recently impressed by the horrific lynching sequence at the end of Try and Get Me, but here the feverish intensity of that film is sustained for the majority of the runtime. The expressionist touches, most notably the rain, are deployed throughout with astonishing creativity and very little fuss. If there's any weakness here, it's in Tracy's performance, but there's still something powerful in the about face that he undergoes midway through the film and, against all odds, equal heft in the redemptive, obligatory ending.]

Christmas in July (Preston Sturges, 1940) **** [Funny as hell. There's little I don't like about this chaotic satire of consumerism and the culture of celebrity. The opening scenes are a little lax in comparison with what's to follow but once it gets into gear, the momentum builds ceaselessly, right up to the end. The freakish caricatures that get the wheels of the plot spinning are obvious predecessors to those in the Coen Brothers' flicks, and they're just as enjoyable here as there.]

 

26. The Good Thief (Neil Jordan, 2002) **** [Surprisingly good, almost great. This is the best looking heist flick since Bandits, and the best one since Femme Fatale, but alone that doesn't do it justice. As much as I enjoyed The Truth About Charlie, I have to confess that Thief outclasses it handily, mostly because it doesn't have any liability as major as the just okay Wahlberg was in Charlie. Nolte's persona pays major dividends here, but everyone in the cast scores major points (most of all the alluring seventeen year old whore played by Nutsa Kukhianidze, whom I hope will be remembered when the critics' groups hand out their breakthrough performance citations), partially because of Jordan's great script, which takes as much pleasure in the rapid cadences of its dialogue as any classic Hollywood film this side of His Girl Friday. I find it almost amusing that people could describe Ocean's 11 as "cool" when something like this is possible.]

Ghosts of the Abyss (James Cameron, 2003) *** [I'd go higher, but the 3D IMAX glasses required for viewing here resulted in a headache by the time the film ended. The imagery is downright haunting, and Cameron's desire to thrill us technology never seems to fail him. Thank goodness for that because without the technological thrills, I'm sure I'd be less appreciative.]

Confidence (James Foley, 2003) *** [Dustin Hoffman is here in Wag the Dog mode, but better. He has two scenes with the always-on Ed Burns that feel classic to me. A lot about this movie is underwhelming when compared to, say, House of Games, but the quality of the performances, especially from Burns, Hoffman, and Weisz (who I seem to like more each time I see her), makes it worthwhile.]

Identity (James Mangold, 2003) *1/2 [After spending a considerable amount of time building up some cheesy, but fun, atmosphere, this would-be thriller flushes whatever limited potential it had down the toilet to serve a fundamentally retarded twist. Worse yet, it reveals said twist (which destroys whatever bit of interest that existed the characters) with an act remaining, a trick that might have worked for Vertigo, but wholly backfires here.]

 

27. Can She Bake a Cherry Pie? (Henry Jaglom, 1983) *** [With its endless neuroses and distinctively New York vibe, it feels like a ramshackle version of Manhattan, but there are worse things, I suppose. Karen Black is really superb here actually, and I couldn't help but wish Jaglom demonstrated the least bit of technical ability to serve her performance. ]

Lake Placid (Steve Miner, 1999) *1/2 [I won't waste anybody's time here or any more of mine, thanks...]

 

28. The Strawberry Blonde (Raoul Walsh, 1941) **1/2 [The nostalgic look at the 1890s here is way too saccharine to be enjoyable, and make the frequent bouts of drama feel wildly out of place to boot. The tonal inconsistencies essentially make whatever spontaneity the film has as a comedy evaporate.  Rita Hayworth is fetching, per usual, but there are better films to obsess over her in, so that hardly seems reason to recommend this.]

 

29. Fireworks (Kenneth Anger, 1947) **** / Puce Moment (Kenneth Anger, 1949) ***1/2 / Rabbitís Moon (Kenneth Anger, 1950) ***1/2 / Eaux díartifice (Kenneth Anger, 1953) **1/2 / Kustom Kar Kommandos (Kenneth Anger, 1965) *** [I'm entirely pre-sold on this now that I've seen just about all of Anger's films. Again, I seem to enjoy the longer, more complex ones more, but very rarely do they disappoint.]

Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren & Alexander Hammid, 1943) **** / At Land (Maya Deren, 1944) ***1/2 / A Study in Choreography for Camera (Maya Deren & Talley Beatty, 1945) ** / Ritual in Transfigured Time (Maya Deren, 1946) *** / Meditation on Violence (Maya Deren, 1948) ** / The Very Eye of Night (Maya Deren, 1958) **1/2 [Deren's on the other hand seem to disappoint me just as often as the thrill. The ones that focus mainly on ballet do very little for me at all. Those where you can sense a bit of unease work considerably more.]

Manhattan (Woody Allen, 1979) **** Masterpiece [Best. Movie. Ever. What else needs to be said? Only that I was a bit nervous because I haven't viewed this in a few years and I was uncertain that it would still hold up for me. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that it does.]

 

30. Giants and Toys (Yasuzo Masumura, 1958) ***1/2 [This madcap corporate satire was mean more often than it was funny, but I really appreciated the garishness of the compositions and the zany feel that permeated throughout. I wish it got zanier though, because it's a bit too convinced of its own melodramatic qualities at times for its own good.]

Soldier's Girl (Frank Pierson, 2003) *** [Moving in bits, but generally clumsy, this one's mostly saved by the performances. Shawn Hatosy is the clear standout from my perspective. It would be a shame if this film went direct-to-cable and his work didn't get noticed.]

Mercano the Martian (Juan Antin, 2002) ** [A dopey, self-contradictory animated mess that's actually amusing in spots.]

 

71 features, 22 shorts

January 2003 - February 2003 - March 2003 - April 2003 - May 2003