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

 

01. Brother's Keeper (Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofksy, 1992) 69 [By examining the mores and prejudices of the community in which this crime took place, the filmmakers help the audience to understand that there does exist a sense of justice and a sense of compassion in the most seemingly unsophisticated people. It's that apolitical sense of decency that I found most exciting and affecting here. It's not quite as intoxicating a murder mystery as you might hope, so it suffers somewhat on that front, but as sociology, it's fairly fascinating. The brothers at the center of the story are the sort of distinctive American personalities that one is unlikely to find in any form of cinema besides a documentary (at least until The Straight Story came along, I suppose...).]

Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (Robert Rodriguez, 2003) 19 

The Professor (Valerio Zurlini, 1972) 53 [A rather harrowing May-September romance film that manages to say a lot about the type of deception and self that grows to be commonplace in relationships. Though it tries to be tragic, the final tinge of forgiveness in the ending makes it a bit too happy for what's come before, but there are numerous virtues here. Delon, at once weary and sexy, gives one of his more accomplished performances. Two consecutive scenes, one a drunken disco that recalls a similar scene in 25th Hour, the other the afterparty that follows, put the sexual obsession that dominates the rest of the film into real-time and make it doubly fascinating. That the rest of the film doesn't operate at the level makes it doubly disappointing.]

L'Eclisse (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1962) 93 [The legendary final moments here are truly astonishing, but for my money, the most amazing part of this film was the first reel, which is a textbook example of what a master of mise-en-scene can do with his compositions. Throughout, the psychological exactitude that Antonioni exhibits illuminates the characters, and they illuminate their society and surroundings. What puts this on a pedestal above something like L'Avventura for me is that even though its feelings of alienation are felt as profoundly as they are there, there's still plenty of room in this movie for humor and romance (albeit romance that is ultimately doomed, though the director uses that doom to teach us). It's tough to embrace this film's pessimistic point of view since it says that by and large we lead hollow lives, but isn't the lack of films that challenge us as thoroughly as this one almost proof that we might?]

 

02. Blood and Black Lace (Mario Bava, 1964) 55 [Essentially this is an exploitation film, and it's likely to offend many with its gratuitous murder scenes. Women are tortured, depersonalized and exhibited for our collective pleasure. Is it coincidence or commentary that the backdrop for the murder mystery is the fashion world? Bava's tracking shots and color schemes keep insisting it's art, even as it appeals to our basest desires, and before long the film becomes simultaneously funny and appalling. That ambivalent feeling is appropriate, given that the director is asking us to identify with the villains in the second half of the film. Probably the opposite of sophisticated moviemaking, but at the same time smarter than that.]

Witness for the Prosecution (Billy Wilder, 1957) 68 [For most of its running time, this courtroom drama seems workmanlike and minor, but a truly great last ten minutes elevates things significantly and adds a bit of emotional ambiguity to boot. It's rather surprising how the seemingly disparate sensibilities of Agatha Christie (who wrote the play that the film is based on) and Billy Wilder (who co-adapted and directed) reveal themselves to be complimentary. The performances are adequate, but tend toward the bombastic, with the actors never being as amusing as they seem to think they are.]

Thoroughly Modern Millie (George Roy Hill, 1967) 58 [Better than I expected, considering its reputation. The first forty minutes are as sprightly and witty as the entire film should be. It almost feels as if Woody Allen is directing an old Hollywood musical for a while (probably because no one else seems to take advantage of this great time period in this way), but Allen would never make a film that grows this draggy. It never really feels like a disaster, but there are definitely entire scenes that lack any inspiration. The cast tries their damnedest throughout, and it's easy to enjoy their high spirits, even if they don't have that much to be cheerful about.]

 

03. Indictment: The McMartin Trial (Mick Jackson, 1995) 62 [A liberal and effective application of sledgehammer tactics makes his courtroom drama about alleged child molestors a relatively scathing indictment (har-har) of the legal system. Given the no-holds barred indignation held for the powers that be, it's no surprise that Oliver Stone produced, but there's a fair deal of nuance here thanks to a uniformly stellar cast. What the movie does exceptionally well is help us understand the revulsion that comes with the mere accusation of this sort of crime.]

Utamaro and His Five Women (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1946) 45 [Fairly dull, soap-opera material, at least until Mizoguchi tosses in a surreal mass striptease that could have come out of a Cremaster film. That's an anomaly, however, and afterwards it reverts to its dreary self. I can explain why Mizoguchi uses his style (which never gives us a close-up until the final scene), I can appreciate the austerity of his vision, and I can dig his seriousness of intent. Unfortunately, I can't really get moved by the film. Sometimes, it's better to let loose a little...]

Cutthroat Island (Renny Harlin, 1995) 63 [From the very first shot, which shows Geena Davis tossing off a dress and slapping on trousers, Harlin makes it clear that he's concerned with the gender swapping that his heroine goes through. When she plays a society matron or a prostitute here, she's not quite convincing, and that somehow adds to her tough-guy appeal when she's playing a pirate. Fairly mindless, even by action movie standards, but the are an endless parade of impressive stunts and good chemistry between Davis and Modine to power it through any rough spots. I could have done without the monkey sidekick, however.]

 

04. Orphans of the Storm (D.W. Griffith, 1921) 70

American Wedding (Jesse Dylan, 2003) 31 [Thankfully better than the second installment, but still not very good. There seems to be some fundamental confusion here, since the insistence that the characters are maturing stands at odds with the sophomoric gags. The two elements end up canceling each other out, and since the obnoxious Stiffler is cast as the lead character, the emotional ties feel especially distant. Even those who enjoy the series' characters will probably be disappointed. Since it jettisons about half of the cast from the last film (and finds absolutely nothing for poor Thomas Ian Nichols to do), it fails to provide closure for even the sketchy character arcs that existed. Worse still, since Alyson Hannigan's compulsive nymphomaniac is the only leading female cast member remaining, the jokes seem a lot more misogynistic then when Natasha Lyonne was around to keep the guys in check.]

The Leopard (Luchino Visconti, 1963) 81 [Dazzling autumnal photography casts this startlingly intimate epic in a nostalgic, brownish glow. It took me a while to get accustomed to its pacing, but once I did, I really grew to appreciate the way that it drives home the point that even the momentous events in our lives are surrounded by mundane, almost boring details (and those are likely the things that define the experience). The momentous amount of feeling attached to the seemingly simple plot events in the magnificent final hour (essentially, it's one long scene) wouldn't be possible without what's come before.]

 

05. Go West (Buster Keaton, 1925) 69

The Eyes of Tammy Fay (Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato, 2000) 43 [Fairly decent in its first half as a personal account of the rise and fall of the televangelist couple, but then after it finishes recounting history, it runs out of places to go. The attempts to paint Tammy Fay as a gung-ho, inspirational survivor seem almost as delusional as the subject herself.]

Gigli (Martin Brest, 2003) 76 [Everyone is an idiot.]

 

06. 7 Women (John Ford, 1966) 71 [Remarkably engaging melodrama that frequently seems as if it might have been made twenty or even thirty years before when it actually was. I am not familiar enough with Ford's work to understand it as any sort of culmination of his career (this seems to be where the bulk of noteworthiness associated with it derives from), but it's a solid film regardless of outside knowledge. Anne Bancroft gives a powerhouse performance in a somewhat poorly written leading role. It's amazing that she manages to do all that she does here given the shrill co-stars that she gets to play off of.]

The Toll of the Sea (Chester M. Franklin, 1922) 56 [Notable mostly because it helped pioneer the introduction of color into feature filmmaking. To this day, the two-strip Technicolor process looks respectable, and that's a worthy accomplishment. The mildly racist and sexist tragedy that's it's prettifying certainly has its limitations, but the performance of Anna May Wong is superb. By making the flowery intertitles seem like inadequate descriptions of her character's feelings, it transcends the rest the material.]

Battery Film (Franklin Backus & Richard Protovin, 1985) 40 [A kinda cool animated documentary abstraction of Battery Park that doesn't seem to have much to say. Thanks to some footage of the Twin Towers, it becomes inadvertently eerie. The best moment, for me, was when a shot of a building shifted focus to briefly concentrate its attention on a tree branch in the foreground. It seemed to suggest that nature's achievements were roughly the same as man's (since man is a natural creature).]

The Informer (John Ford, 1935) 63 [Ford tries his hand at German expressionism, and comes off well, even if his attempts to turn this story into an IRA-themed Christ parable are nearly embarrassing (at least until a wonderful final scene that is so over the top it's almost redemptive). There's little getting around the feeling that this is a poor man's M. Since it so intently announces itself as serious, it probably shouldn't be surprising that it fails to delve into sticky moral territory like Lang's film, but it's disappointing. In its ability to challenge the audience, it feels more like something Ron Howard would make. It rattles us with tricks, but essentially only endorses what we know.]

Foreign Correspondent (Alfred Hitchcock, 1940) 58 [A slam bang, plane-crashing climax (maybe not surpassed until Cast Away) redeems a lot of unnecessary talkiness here. There are clever moments throughout, and Hitchcock has inserted a few of his more inspired set pieces throughout, but they are mostly stylistic triumphs. He gives us precious little character to relate to and the film generally lacks any sense of exotic intrigue. The ending assures us that itís only gone overseas to ratify our firm grounding that America is the place to be.]

 

07. La Pasion Segun Berenice (Jaime Humberto Hermosillo, 1976) 78 [Pitched something like The Piano Teacher, but at the same time less exaggerated and less reliant on shock effects. This Mexican feature presents two somewhat obvious character dichotomies to contrast with its protagonist, but enlivens them with enough vivid detail to put us inside our protagonistís sexual longing, wicked jealousy and touchy insecurities. We donít exactly sympathize with her, but we grow to understand her, for better or worse. Hermosilloís frank portrayal of sexuality comes as a relief when it finally comes, since so much of the film watches unnervingly as Berenice denies hers.]

This Man Must Die (Claude Chabrol, 1969) 78 [Filled with typically Chabrolian touches throughout, but so insistently tense that it's one of his best films. It's really wonderful how he takes a random crime here and implicates not only society at large, but also the environment. Great performances throughout never let us forget how much is at stake, despite appearances, and the use of voiceover effectively stresses the lead character's obsessiveness.]

Dance, Girl, Dance (Dorothy Arzner, 1940) 73 [Like many of its contemporary musicals, Dance presents a competition between genders and a competition between art and entertainment. Unlike most Hollywood musicals of its era, Dance doesn't really choose one side over the other. It's famously directed by a woman, and though it's probably a bit sexist to state it, there seems to be a fair-mindedness here that few men would be  bothered with. Lucille Ball is wonderful as the vamp; Maureen O'Hara is better as her straight-laced friend. There are a few unfortunate melodramatic moments, especially early on, that keep it from puttering on as well as it otherwise might, but really this comes closer to the highs of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes than most battle of the sexes manage.]

Imitation of Christ (Andy Warholl, 1967) 42 [Certainly interesting, if only because it largely disposes with filmmaking conventions. The whole thing is so clearly indulgent that it's hard to complain about its indulgences. Still, the title seems a bit lazy, since there are only the vaguest attempts made to turn the central object of fixation into any sort of modern messiah. Some chuckles are to be had, for sure, but this sort of wild improvisation and random approach can only go so far...]

 

08. Charlotte Sometimes (Eric Byler, 2002) 46

Le Divorce (James Ivory, 2003) 54

Gigli (Martin Brest, 2003) 76

S.W.A.T. (Clark Johnson, 2003) 37 [This is almost unwatchable during its early recruitment scenes. I hardly think the mythos-building (franchise-building?) that those scenes attempt is necessary for a cop drama. Also notable is the most obvious and obtrustive product placement since Cast Away's Fed Ex planes. Thankfully, it improves from there, but there's a general lack of heart that keeps it from ever being really enjoyable. Not much else is worth mentioning, except perhaps my disappointment that the generally appealing cast is wholly wasted.]

 

09. The Age of Innocence (Martin Scorsese, 1993) 94 [The best film Scorsese has yet made, and the one that most hints that he still has a lot left to offer audiences. Besides the obvious stunt of placing himself in a setting that was at that point totally foreign to him, the director seems to considerably advance himself with a work that seems to acknowledge genuine growth that seems somewhat missing from his subsequent films. Consider, for example, the central theme, which to my eyes seems to be the notion that artifice is at once comforting and cloistering. The meticulous design work used to achieve the film is at once a breathtaking display of spectacle and an almost Fassbinderian oppressive force. Scorsese, as always, is obsessed here with the act of seeing, and he references numerous films throughout (with the Visconti epics topping the list as most prominent), but instead of his usual reverence, the act almost feels like self-critique. Like the fashion obsessions and hand fetishes that he observes among the members of the social elite here, he seems to suggest that his own willingness to indulge in artifice over reality is self-defeating, but pretty luxurious. The tender epilogue, in which Newland opts to keep seeing Ellen as the idealistic conception he views her as instead of facing the reality before him is both a celebration and condemnation of a lost era and a way of viewing the world.]

Freaky Friday (Mark S. Waters, 2003) 61 [This hugely entertaining retread works mostly because of two game lead performances. After some wobbly moments spent establishing the characters, the role reversal brings more frequent laughs and fewer life lessons than you might expect. Even though the entire movie is predicated on the emotional reconciliation between mother and daughter, it's the charming confrontation between the two that provides the best moments.  Lohan, who was excellent in the cute remake of The Parent Trap is also good here. Curtis is having more fun here than in anything since True Lies.]

 

10. Tully (Hilary Birmingham, 2000) 57 [I appreciate the earnest pitch of the story here, but at times it feels strained to me. The final scene, for example, is as overdone as the ice cream scene near the end of Monster's Ball in its attempt to rip poeticism out of everyday life. The end result of this farm-bound melodrama feels like a less skillfully made version of Mulligan's The Man in the Moon, without the entrancing presence of Reese Witherspoon. Not bad for a debut, but hardly the defining portrait of an underseen America that it clearly wants to be.]

T-Men (Anthony Mann, 1947) 52 [This police procedural combines a foreboding visual style with a rather routine plot. Thanks to an irksome prologue and a semi-documentary approach, the film frequently feels like a commercial for the US Treasury Department. The incessant voiceover often seems to present only to sound authoritative (some of the declarations made make little sense), and distracts from the flow of the drama. The cinematography is certainly the best thing here, but it still doesn't compare to a film noir like The Big Combo in which it becomes truly transcendent.]

 

11. The Courtship of Eddie's Father (Vincente Minnelli, 1963) 59 [It's no wonder a sitcom was made out of this material, but there's not very sitcommish in Minnelli's direction. His usual expressive color schemes and attention to set and costume details are present, making this feel almost like a musical at times. It's definitely predictable, but there's something comfortable about that. Little Ronnie Howard, who plays Eddie, is an adequate good performer, and the comic situations are always balanced out by the the dramatic, but I am not sure that I like the way it asks us to dislike the woman that Eddie dislikes.]

 

12. Nanook of the North (Robert Flaherty, 1922) 80 [This to me was the raw, undeniably primal experience that so many seemed to describe feeling last year while watching The Fast Runner. I am well aware that Flaherty staged most of his action, but I don't think it matters a whit. There's a pall cast over the whole thing by the opening titles' revelation that Nanook died shortly after filming the movie, and it adds immeasurably to the notion that the lives these people lead are a constant struggle. Simple, but profound because it allows itself to be simple, it's the rare film that's at once ahead of its time and timeless.]

Tabu (F.W. Murnau & Robert Flaherty, 1931) 77 [More overtly poetic than Nanook, but nearly as effective, this film tries hard for its simple effects, and makes the effort seem worthwhile. Stunning cinematography, of course, but also surprisingly emotionally affecting. At times it reminded me of the glorious first ten minutes of The Thin Red Line, but it's largely its own beast. It genuinely seems to meet the concerns of the two masters that composed it halfway.]

Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003) 48

 

13. The Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1935) 90

 

14. Anastasia (Anatole Litvak, 1956) 51

 

15. The Tenant (Roman Polanski, 1976) 70

 

16. Gigli [Work print] (Martin Brest, 2003) ~

Fellini Satyricon (Federico Fellini, 1969) 67

 

17. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968) 99

Uptown Girls (Boaz Yakin, 2003) 51

Freddy Vs. Jason (Ronny Yu, 2003) 43

 

18. The Mod Squad (Scott Silver, 1999) 37

 

19. Open Range (Kevin Costner, 2003) 69

 

20. The Gleaners and I (Agnes Varda, 2000) 59

 

21. The Frighteners (Peter Jackson, 1996) 61

Re-Animator (Stuart Gordon, 1985) 82

 

22. The Bride of Re-Animator (Brian Yuzna, 1990) 54

 

23. Thirteen (Catherine Hardwicke, 2003) 65

Pickpocket (Robert Bresson, 1959) 70

 

24. Through a Glass Darkly  (Ingmar Bergman, 1961) 80

Winter Light (Ingmar Bergman, 1963) 86

The Silence (Ingmar Bergman, 1963) 77

Paper Moon (Peter Bogdanovich, 1973) 64

 

25. Daisy Miller (Peter Bogdanovich, 1974) 67

What's Up Doc? (Peter Bogdanovich, 1972) 70

Not I (Neil Jordan, 2000) 76

Up the Sandbox (Irving Kershner, 1972) 47

 

26. Nuts (Martin Ritt, 1987) 53

 

27. Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995) 91

 

28. Q: The Winged Serpent (Larry Cohen, 1982) 65

Carnage (Delphine Gleize, 2002) 39

 

29. Foxes (Adrian Lyne, 1980) 29

Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (Rachel Talalay, 1991) 41

 

30. Experiment in Terror (Blake Edwards, 1962) 53

The Brood (David Cronenberg, 1979) 66

Fat City (John Huston, 1972) 79

 

31. The Realm of Fortune (Arturo Ripstein, 1986) 79

Play it Again, Sam (Herbert Ross, 1972) 54

 

73 Features, 1 short

 

January 2003 - February 2003 - March 2003 - April 2003 - May 2003 - June 2003 - July 2003 - August 2003 - September 2003