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Screening Log



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


01. Snake Eyes (Brian De Palma, 1998) ***1/2 [A negligible script allows for some truly great directorial moments here. The genuine compassion that De Palma feels toward even his minor characters is evident in the gusto he puts into telling each of their accounts of what happened. Cage is wonderfully over the top.]

Happy Here and Now (Michael Almereyda, 2002) ***1/2 [I'm bumping my rating of this one a half star over my Toronto viewing, because upon revisiting it, I found that knowing that the storytelling itself would be its own pleasure (and not some sort of plot setup) allowed me to enjoy the music, the mood, and the wild characters that are thrown out.]

Demonlover (Olivier Assayas, 2002) ***1/2


02. 9"11'01 (everyone, 2002) ** [None of the short films here were great, but several (the Lelouch, the Makhmalbaf, the Imamura) were pretty good. The prevailing sentiment here is that the US's tragedy pales in comparison to everyone else's and that gets tiresome quickly. The Penn, the Gonzalez Inarritu, and the Chahine films are travesties. Beware.] 

The Road (Darezhan Omirbayev, 2001) **1/2 [Meandering is the order of the day here, and that's able to sustain this film for about forty five minutes or so, at which time its messages about getting back to basics become a little tiresome. I liked the way that the items in the lead character's environment defined much of his mood and I liked the way that the film stressed the importance of the journey here, but I wished there were more momentous revelations along the way.]


03. Xiao Wu (Jia Zhang Ke, 1997) *** 


04. Heavy Traffic (Ralph Bakshi, 1973) **1/2 [The considerable energy here seems to be at the service of some lame-brained ideas, and that's a shame. The movie evokes some sort of acid dream of a crime-ridden New York, and for that it's worth watching, but like most of Bakshi's films from the period, narrative takes a backseat to the visceral thrills, and the visceral thrills don't seem that exciting in the computer age.]


05. A Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven, 1984) *** [The acting and production values here are considerably worse than I remember, but the movie works in spite of that. I practically have this film memorized, so I can't say it really scares me any longer, but that doesn't mean I don't find it fun.]


08. Medicine Man (John McTiernan, 1992) **1/2 [There's a potentially good premise here, but it holds far less water to me now than it did when I saw it in its theatrical run (perhaps partly because I was watching in Pan & Scan on TV). Now I can't help but be bugged out by its cultural condescension and its fundamentally boring lead characters. Lorraine Bracco's appalling overacting and Connery's misplaced cool don't help much.]

Joe Dirt (Dennie Gordon, 2001) *** [I found this gross-out comedy immensely likable for some reason, and that places me squarely in a minority, I'm sure. David Spade's redneck underdog had me laughing regularly, especially when he tapped his biceps in a show of his heterosexual masculinity. I suppose, it's not quite the white trash epic that Freeway is, but it consistently worked for me. Half of the time, I'm not sure if I found it funny so much as I was shocked by what I was seeing in a PG-13 feature.]

A Walk to Remember (Adam Shankman, 2002) *** [I never thought I'd watch this one again, but a second viewing went down easier than I expected. I appreciate the humility of this film, and find the presence of unmocked faith within it to be relatively surprising, even as I should be expecting it.]

Final Destination 2 (David R. Ellis, 2003) *** [The plot here seems to be actively working against making sense, but perhaps that's just as well because the movie it's wobbling around in is so clearly a cobbled together series of elaborate and grotesque Rube Goldberg designs that never fail to astound in their ability to outdo themselves with gore and audacity. I can think of few horror films that so actively encourage rooting against the protagonists.]


09. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Mel Stuart, 1971) *** [It's pretty good for long stretches, but then the characters start singing, and everything goes wrong. A surprising amount of Dahl's nastiness remains here, despite treacle like "The Candy Man". The color scheme and set design go a long way in ensuring you don't conk out.]


10. Overboard (Garry Marshall, 1987) *** [Even in lesser comic vehicles Goldie Hawn shines (actually, I can't think of many greater comic vehicles she's appeared in...), and her development in this film from shrewishness to humility here is more enjoyable than any such cliché has any right to be. I suppose this sort of film is easy to take for granted, but on its own terms there's no denying that it knows exactly what it's doing.]

The Secret Lives of Dentists (Alan Rudolph, 2002) *** [This film suffers from either too many potentially good ideas or too few well-developed ones, and that's a shame because there are flashes of real insight throughout. I certainly laughed a lot, thanks to Rudolph's typically sparkling dialogue and his consistent ability to lock onto the small gestures that make you believe the game of cat and mouse that go on in the central relationship here, but many of my chuckles, particularly those that came about thanks to Dennis Leary, were conditional ones, since I realized that they were turning the flick into a structural mess. Flashbacks, dream sequences, and voiceovers that are each well-written and amusing all combine to become burdensome, even if the lead character proclaims himself "meditative".]


11. The Three Caballeros (Norman Ferguson, 1945) **** [Disney's horniest flick.]

Pueblo Pluto (Charles A. Nichols, 1949) *** [Pretty routine as far as Disney shorts go, which is to say pretty funny, pretty sappy, and ultimately pretty forgettable.]

Don's Fountain of Youth (Jack Hannah, 1953) ***1/2 [Better than Pueblo Pluto to be sure, mostly because Donald's about ten times the character that Pluto is. This short has him tricking his nephews into thinking that he's turned into a baby after he discovers the Fountain of Youth. There are next to no bad jokes in it, and with these things, that's about all I ask.]

Also, here's a link to a pretty dorky but fun site. 


12. Monrak Transistor (Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, 2001) **1/2 

Blissfully Yours (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2001) ***


13. Personal Velocity (Rebecca Miller, 2002) *1/2 [Parker Posey is really wonderful here even if nothing else is.] 


14. Stone Reader (Mark Moskowitz, 2002) ***

Shadow Kill (Adoor Gopalakrishnan, 2002) *1/2 [This Indian death-row drama told from the executioner's point of view seems to have a fundamental problem in that it wants to condemn the death penalty, but can't resist making the elaborate preparations that go into the execution a fetish object. I appreciate its attempts to show us the long process of psychological preparation that goes into a government sanctioned murder, but the film ultimately felt too flat to me to spark any real outrage.]

La Vie Nouvelle (Philippe Grandrieux, 2002) ***


15. Beetlejuice (Tim Burton, 1988) **** [Not as deliriously wacky as Pee Wee's Big Adventure, but somehow this hodgepodge of a film consistently makes me laugh. The set pieces seem still slammed together randomly, even though I've seen the film countless times, but that barely bothers me.]


16. Playing God (Andy Wilson, 1997) *1/2 [I can't believe this glorified episode of "Magnum P.I." got theatrical distribution. Angelina Jolie is the only interesting thing here because she's acting like a star before she was one.]

All the Real Girls (David Gordon Green, 2003) **** [Green presents a version of teenage love that's so tender and fragile that it can't help but be endearing, and his focus on the emotions of the characters, and not the external pressures that surround them, makes this a singular film about romance. I'll probably wait to see it again before tapping out a review, but it's my favorite of the year at this point.]

Gerry (Gus Van Sant, 2002) **1/2 [My second viewing of this made the film feel helplessly shallow, even if it still wasn't the sheer torture that others experienced. While watching it, I can't help but note how it pales in every way while compared to Tarr's last two films.] 


17. I Spit on Your Grave (Meir Zarchi, 1978) ** [If this movie wanted to really approximate the rape terror that its hideously abused female protagonist felt, it probably should have shown some erections, I think. Since it's pretty chaste, it fails to work as any sort of truly horrifying "You are there" sort of experience, and as such doesn't really even deliver as the lowbrow exploitation flick it wants to be. Not all is lost, however. The technical inadequacy here on nearly every level made the flick a real laugher.]

Romancing the Stone (Robert Zemeckis, 1984) *** [Too loud and obnoxious to be really convincing as a spoof of romance novels, I suppose, but Kathleen Turner's transformation from shrew to sultry is darned entertaining.]


18. The Jerk (Carl Reiner, 1979) ***1/2 [Never gets old...]

Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994) **** Masterpiece [Neither does this one...]


19. The Prophecy (Gregory Widen, 1995) **1/2 [Throws everything (serial killings, avenging angels, Indian curses, ancient prophecies, etc...) at the audience in hopes that they'll not realize how little here makes sense. Still, I enjoyed the over the top performances by the cast (half of which appears in Pulp Fiction) enough to make me not care about whatever nonsense they kept babbling about.]


20. Family Nest (Bela Tarr, 1977) ***


21. The Outsider (Bela Tarr, 1981) **

The Prefab People (Bela Tarr, 1982) ***1/2 [It might have been missing a reel, but I hardly think it matters in this case...]


22. Almanac of Fall (Bela Tarr, 1984) ****


23. Fiddler on the Roof (Norman Jewison, 1971) **1/2


24. Driving Miss Daisy (Bruce Beresford, 1989) ***1/2 [This film's become a bit of an whipping boy ever since it won Best Picture, but it's not bad at all. In fact, I prefer it to three of the other Best Picture nominees that year (my choice would have been My Left Foot). Jessica Tandy's performance here is nearly as good as Day-Lewis' was in My Left Foot, though, and her win was as well-deserved as his was. Though it's blandly directed and sometimes pushes a bit too hard when decrying racism, it's humorous enough and good-spirited enough to overcome any major deficits]


25. Marathon Man (John Schlesinger, 1976) **1/2 [This one has dated badly, since it attempts to put its style over substance, and today's action movies are much more kinetic than this. Its trivializing of the Holocaust is borderline offensive, and a hammy performance by Olivier don't help much either.]


26. High Noon (Fred Zinnemann, 1952) **** [Tersely made, this would-be B movie throws money, talent, and anti-McCarthyism overtones at its thin premise until, somehow, it all starts to stick. Perhaps the key here is the focus on its real time element, which transcends gimmickry the moment the tension begins accumulating.]


27. The Abominable Dr. Phibes (Robert Fuest, 1971) *** [Oddball pastiche of Phantom of the Opera, Theater of Blood, and about a dozen London-set serial killer films that's delivered with verve and overblown relish, courtesy of Vincent Price. The stunt here involves a man who systematically eradicates people by mimicking the Biblical Plagues, and it encourages the audience to anticipate the next inventive murder. The highlight comes near the end, with the audacious, nonsensical Plague of Locusts.]


28. The Band Wagon (Vincente Minnelli, 1953) ***1/2 [The very thin plot here parodies the artistic pretensions of an actor/director seemingly patterned off of Orson Welles and Jose Ferrer, but it offers enough of an excuse for the filmmakers to hang their dozen or so musical numbers on. I just wish the unpretentious entertainments offered as a cure for artistic ambition were a bit more uproarious. Sometimes, there's barely even a discernable tone shift from the nonmusical sequences. Also disappointing on some levels is the closing noir ballet, which throws away the boundaries imposed by the stage to become dazzlingly cinematic, and as such feels like a bit of a cheat, even as it impesses.]


41 features, 2 shorts


January 2003 - February 2003 - March 2003