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

 

01. L'Enfer (Claude Chabrol, 1994) ***1/2, 67

 

02. 2 Fast 2 Furious (John Singleton, 2003) *1/2, 22 [So insanely homoerotic that it stops being interesting after a while even as a subversive element... When it only has a racing / smuggling movie to fall back on, it has very little to offer to the genre. The racing scenes seem more akin to the space tunnel of 2001 than any racecar movie I've seen before. It's as if these muscle cars aren't sexy enough any more. Now they have to be digital muscle cars. The dialogue is noteworthy because it's so underwritten that it almost feels realistic, but when you put that up against the absurd lack of realism in the rest of the film, it just feels stupid.]

 

03. Protocol (Herbert Ross, 1984) **, 39 [There aren't very many jokes in Protocol. Instead there are awkward situations. I certainly don't find awkward situations as funny as jokes, judging from what I see here. I actually think it works better as a message movie than a comedy. Hopefully Legally Blonde 2, which appears to be a remake at least in spirit, will provide a few more chuckles. Per usual, Hawn is terrifically watchable, especially during her press conference scenes, but this is definitely one of her lesser vehicles.]

Overboard (Garry Marhsall, 1987) ***, 58 [Is it a guilty pleasure? I don't really believe in that concept, I suppose (if I was embarrassed by what I liked, you wouldn't be reading this screening log, after all), but if it applied, this would be one. Favorite scene: when Goldie gets revenge after the kids glue the plates to her hands.]

 

04. Sebastiane (Paul Humfress & Derek Jarman, 1976) ***1/2, 63

 

05. New York Stories (Scorsese, Coppola, Allen, 1989) ***, 55 [Like everyone else does, I don't have much use for the Coppola segment, and find that the Allen one almost wears out its welcome at this reduced run time (though I really like Julie Kavner's exasperated speech about the usefulness of belief in the occult). Scorsese's segment is awesome though, thanks to his intense camerawork, which infuses the soapy plot with unusual excitement.]

The River (Tsai Ming-liang, 1997) ****, 76 [The psychodrama here went much farther than I expected, and even though most of the symbolism is copied from other Tsai movies, that only enhances its meaning here. It's impossible to look at Lee Kang-sheng  without seeing the other roles that he's played throughout Tsai's body of work (no wonder this would be Antoine Doinel watches 400 Blows in What Time is it There?), and that only makes the story sadder.]

 

06. Music Box (Costa-Gavras, 1989) ***, 52 [The initial scenes here are promising, but the power that they promise doesn't ever fully congeal. What's left is a competent, well-acted (especially by Lange) drama that manages to avoid easy answers, at least until they matter the most, in the final twenty minutes. If only the movie had managed to avoid the clumsy, moralizing conclusion it might have been powerful, but what's left appears to exist mostly to appease test audiences.]

Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton & Lee Unkrich, 2003) **1/2, 45 [This works better as spectacle than adventure, comedy, or tearjerker, but the since most of the lush visuals are in service of comedy, they don't get a chance to sink in and make a lasting impression. With the predictability of salmon returning to spawn, Pixar's movie conjures up all the colorful characters, presents all the zippy set pieces and hits all of the emotional notes you'd expect, but there's not much there there when looking at the big picture. Instead of feeling epic, it mostly feels obligatory, and when it's all said and done, even the images fade quickly.]

The Italian Job (F. Gary Gray, 2003) **, 36 [I know this is only supposed to be carefree summer entertainment, but it lacks even one-tenth of the sense of fiscal reality or character tension that made the heists in Gray's wonderful Set it Off matter so much, even as they provided thrills. The motley group of thieves that Job gives us to root for is almost as unlikable as the thief they are trying to swindle, so the whole thing feels pointless. Worse yet, the car chases and heists themselves aren't nearly elaborate compared to modern standards, and the movie doesn't seem to be reaching for a retro vibe.]

 

07. Medea (Lars von Trier, 1987) ****, 80 [Von Trier's take on this classic drama fits right in with his predilection for filming female suffering. It's pretty apparent that it doesn't bear much resemblance at all to the film that screenwriter Carl Dreyer would have made, but that scarcely matters at all. Like the best of von Trier's work, it's been stylistically reduced in a few minor ways so that it can distill and amplify the actors' emotions. When combined with the invasive camerawork, the lack of a chorus makes it more intensely personal experience than you might suspect.]

Medea (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1969) ***, 53  [Pasolini's adaptation of Medea doesn't eliminate the chorus, and as a result it's a much more political take on the play. His Medea (played by stage diva Maria Callas!) is more difficult to relate to than von Trier's, but that's because she's scarcely the central character. Pasolini extends the exposition so that Jason takes on a more dominant role and focuses on the rites and rituals that define the people that define the drama. It's certainly an interesting take on the play, and it was far from boring to watch it right after another version of the same source material, but it lacks the immediacy of von Trier's.]

Antonia's Line (Marleen Gorris, 1995) **, 39 [The amount of narrative crammed into this film's relatively brief running time is almost preposterous. Major events take place off screen simply because there isn't enough time to better show everything it wants to throw at us. Most insane are the two or three death montages where the film tells us, in rapid succession, that several character met untimely fates. I'm sure this stuff might be powerful for some folks, but I prefer little things like character development and nuance to mere incident.]

 

08. Winged Migration (Jacques Perrin, 2001) ***1/2, 67

Electra, My Love (Miklos Jansco, 1974) ***1/2, 68 [The elegant, elaborate camerawork here combines with the text to form a most unusual blend of stagy and cinematic expression. There might be only ten or so shots in the film, but there are countless compositions due to Jansco's continually roving camera. The mixture of ancient text and a modern setting has been done before, but the results work especially well here. The concluding helicopter shot seems to preface Jansco's countryman Tarr's finale in Werckmeister Harmonies.]

Pursued (Raoul Walsh, 1947) ***, 57 [The gorgeous images, the elaborate flashback structure, and the interfamilial tensions that crop up in this Freudian western are sort of squandered by the film's end. Once the film hits the midway point, the subtleties seem to evaporate by the minute. The cast is fine and the plot moves along expediently, but I couldn't help being a bit disappointed at the end of it.]

 

09. Sunshine State (John Sayles, 2002) **1/2, 46 [There are numerous great moments here (most of them courtesy of Falco & Bassett), but they are all suffocated by Sayles' hackish direction. Even though individual scenes are exceptionally well-written, the cumulative effect of the script's dogged evenhandedness is numbing and as a result, the political message loses potency. The end result feels like a network television drama that's been edited down to a longish feature in just about every respect.]

 

10. House of 1000 Corpses (Rob Zombie, 2003) *1/2, 21 [It's inept, but it's sometimes inept in ways that are almost interesting. Unfortunately, it's not ever scary, gory, or even very disturbing, even though its fundamental unconventionality would make you think unease would come naturally.]

Bend it Like Beckham (Gurinder Chadha, 2002) ***1/2, 60 [Better than My Son the Fanatic, not as good as East is East, and miles beyond the sitcom hijinks of Greek Wedding, this feel-good ethnic comedy doesn't exactly challenge the audience, but it hits most of the right notes, even as it spreads itself a little thin. Juliet Stevenson is superb.]

 

11. Old School (Todd Phillips, 2003) **, 36 [Van Sant's Psycho excepted, Vince Vaughn is a cinematic force of evil in my book. He's not a dominant force here, thankfully (unlike in the execrable Made), but whenever he was on screen, I cringed. The opening gag, with a cameo by Juliette Lewis as a nymphomaniac was the highlight. By the time it blundered into its third act, it seemed to have no idea what it was trying to do.]

Ghost Ship (Steve Beck, 2002) *1/2, 26 [It's about a ship haunted by ghosts! Boo!]

Jackass: The Movie (Jeff Tremaine, 2002) **, 33 [I suppose this is the new John Waters, or something. Unfortunately for all its shock value (and even that decreases as it continues) , it's basically devoid of the wit, social satire, and heart that makes Waters' films more than the sum of their gross-outs. I'm not the target audience here, I suppose. I think I can live with that.]

Desistfilm (Stan Brakhage, 1954) ***1/2, 68 [Fly on a wall view of a party turns eerie... An oddly documentarian approach for the director, but it works. I fell asleep to the next Brakhage film on the disc after this. I'll have to try again some time...]

Pumpkinhead (Stan Winston, 1988) **1/2, 44 [This backwoods revenge drama almost works by rooting the source of its scares in some spooky old legends. I wish Burton hadn't made the hyperactive Sleepy Hollow because American folklore seems ripe for a great horror film. If that horror film has already been made, and I missed it, please let me know...]

 

12. Life With Father (Michael Curtiz, 1947) ***1/2, 61 [It's a sitcom setup delivered with enough gusto to make it work. The interplay between Powell and Dunne is hilarious and for once, the nostalgia card isn't overplayed. Curtiz's direction is typically unremarkable, but that's about the only thing holding this back.]

Father of the Bride (Vincente Minnelli, 1950) ****, 74 [The unspoken Oedipal tensions here never flare out of control, but by the time the father wanders around the wedding reception looking for his missing daughter, they turn out to be touching. Every other scene feels like it should play out in larger fashion than it does, but consistently it comes back to the father's anxiety, and as such Tracy anchors the movie.]

 

13. The Fluffer (Richard Glatzer & Wash West, 2001) ***, 55 [This threw me a curve with the seriousness of its drama, and even if it's far from perfect (the two lead actors are rather bland personalities), the willingness to stare dysfunction head on is appreciated. Oddly enough, the on-set gay porno antics were the least interesting part of the movie. The surprising richness of character found in the nooks and crannies here made it easier to overlook its gimmicky nature.]

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (Donald Petrie, 2003) *1/2, 20 [Or How to Lose Your Lunch in 10 Minutes. I guess deception is commonplace in the genre, but here instead of coming out of a misunderstanding, the intent to deceive exists before the two leads even know each other. As a result, every single one of their "cute" antics seemed insufferable to me. When they got angry at each other for having been lied to, I had no idea who the hell I was supposed to relate to. Is there even a lesson for sane peopleto find here?]

Two Weeks Notice (Marc Lawrence, 2002) **, 38 [For every sequence, there seems to be a pop song on the soundtrack dictating the action, whether the characters are racing to a bathroom ("Takin' Care of Business") or cruising about in a helicopter ("Come Fly With Me"). Most romantic comedies suffer from this annoyance to some degree, but I can't think of one that went this far in that direction. The rest of it is fine, I suppose, but a bit infantile by even the stars' usual standards.]

Lost Highway (David Lynch, 1997) ****, 78 [I was sitting at my computer while watching this on DVD, and here's what I tapped out in Notepad: "Lynch's use of black screen space is the perfect way to demonstrate the emotional void the characters are staring into. His supernatural, unexplained touches make that state of mind frightening and deepen our emotional investment. Makes more sense after seeing Kiss Me Deadly. He's clearly a member of the avant garde movement, and there seem to be plenty of Anger-influenced moments. The plot outlay is great & musical interludes. Scary! Almost made sense this time! Spooky camerama dude wants to show him how things really are instead of how he chooses to remember them." That's not much writing for a movie that's 140 minutes long, but that's because the rest of the time I was transfixed.]

The Guru (Daisy von Scherler Mayer, 2002) **1/2, 46 [The plot here kept taking 90-degree turns, and as a result it was tough for the comedy to really gain any momentum. Still, the sporadic laughs were pretty inspired, and the performances, especially by Heather Graham, more than adequate. The Bollywood numbers are a definite highlight here, but I am rather glad we don't have more of them in American films.]

The Lady Without Camelias (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1953) **, 32 [This portrait of a suffering young actress is no Esther Kahn and certainly no A Star is Born '54. If I didn't know Antonioni had directed it, I never would have guessed. Blandly made, it's almost completely devoid of the style that would eventually come to define his work (I can almost hear the relieved sighs...).]

Model Shop (Jacques Demy, 1969) ***, 57 [Fairly interesting, especially in its first half, this seems to be a mirror image of Breathless with the roles of the French and Americans switched. The setting is Los Angeles, and instead of running from the police, the hero (who admires a portrait of Belmondo in one scene in much the same manner that Michel admired Bogart) is contemplating dodging the draft. It's nowhere near as cool, exciting, or well-made as Godard's film, and maybe that's part of the point. The version of America that this takes place in seems to be under a lot of French influence, but also seems a lot emptier than Breathless' Paris felt. It's an interesting experiment, to be sure, but it all falls apart in the third act where Demy attempts to emulate Godard's insanely long dialogue sequence with horrible results.]

 

14. The Duel at Silver Creek (Don Siegel, 1952) ***, 51 [An amicable B-Western that hits all of the obligatory notes in under 80 minutes and then evaporates from your mind immediately. Siegel's action scenes are pretty elaborate, but there's not much tension in the characters or depth, so the slickness is what you appreciate most.]

Deus Ex (Stan Brakhage, 1971) ****, 82 [Revelatory in many ways, this silent avant-garde documentary short seems much better to me than almost every more conventional entry in the genre that I've seen. The images, which are mostly close-ups of things you'd see in a hospital, collectively comment on the fragmentary nature of memory. As the movie proceeds, though, they seem to also speak about the power of human warmth, the almost magical way that the elusive staff in the hospital do their work, and the way that our choice of perspective defines what it is that we see and feel. Powerful stuff, and hopefully indicative of what I can expect from Brakhage's other films.]

Sirius Remembered (Stan Brakhage, 1959) ***1/2, 67 [A predecessor in spirit to Deus Ex, this short looks at a pet's carcass, and then using camera movement and superimpositions turns the footage into a meditation on loss. Watching the movie seemed was like viewing a cinematic expression of shock. The camera moved from shock to denial, anger, and finally acceptance with the realization of the natural order (eloquently articulated by the equation of the decomposing animal with the environment its body is feeding). Again, I find it much more interesting than most documentaries, because it doesn't tell me what to think or give me a list of options to choose from. Everything here exists between me and the image, so if you didn't have the same reaction, I'm not surprised.]

The Loom (Stan Brakhage, 1986) **, 37 [I found this a chore to sit through, primarily because it almost totally lacked the camera movement that seemed to dramatize the mundane things being shot in the other Brakhage films I've seen. I realize the use of superimpositions should fill in the void left by the absence of camera movements, and to a degree they do, but I still found this film less interesting. Nearly all of the shots are of animals, and the superimpositions of them into the same frame connect them, and ultimately humans, light, and color into the same macrocosm. It's a utopian movie, I suppose, but utopia makes for boring viewing in my book.]

The Burglar (Paul Wendkos, 1957) **1/2, 44 [Dares to invoke the mirrored finale of The Lady from Shanghai and ends up looking foolish as a result. Dan Duryea in the lead role seems like a prototype for William H. Macy. The opening moments, which feature a humorous newsreel (a la Kane) that sets up the plot, are rather inspired, but thanks to an incessantly talky middle third, it's less than the some of its parts.]

A la Conquete du Pole (Georges Melies, 1912) ****, 75 [Typically goofy Melies, charming in its retrograde looks. Essentially, A Trip to the North Pole, it's possibly better than A Trip to The Moon. There are broad ethnic stereotypes and a running gag that lambastes the feminist movement, so touchy types need not apply.]

The Man From Planet X (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1951) ***1/2, 63 [Dramatically, it's a failure, but as a campy comedic lark, it works brilliantly. The low-budget effects are laughable, and the oddly domesticated feel of the movie (there are runs for cold medicine in the middle of the crisis and at one point a character brings the invading space alien a sleeping bag!) feels inexplicable unless you view it as a comedy. I'm not sure what the intentions of the filmmaker were, but I'll take it for what I see it as.]

 

15. Vulgar (Bryan Johnson, 2000) *, 10 [The first few minutes here actually seemed to have some promise: the destitute protagonist's pathetic existence seemed original enough to spark my interest. As soon as it became apparent that he lived in a world that was a twisted and cruel reflection of reality, I lost all interest. The most humanitarian thing I can say about this film is that they included subtitles on the DVD for deaf people. Even as shock cinema, it's not made with enough talent to be truly surprising in any way.]

 

16. Matilda (Danny DeVito, 1996) ***1/2, 66 [The first ten minutes here feel almost perfect, the first hour, excellent, and the picture as a whole, just really good. The unfortunate tendency near the end of the movie to highlight its effects over its winning cast of characters is most unfortunate. I think the De Vito / Perlman parents from Hell are as hilarious (instead of "I love you," she says "Make money!" as he leaves for work in the morning), Mara Wilson and Embeth Davidtz are terribly cute, and the offbeat sense of humor consistently successful in keeping the movie from becoming too sappy. I don't think there's been a better Dahl adaptation. The Harry Potter movies could learn a lot from its example.]

Ministry of Fear (Fritz Lang, 1944) ***1/2, 68 [The opening moments here suggest an expressionistic fervor that the rest of the movie can't maintain. The hero, just released from a mental institution, enters a seemingly random world here political, supernatural, and romantic intrigues set upon him. As a statement about a man lost in the chaos of a world at war, it makes sense, but as soon as he hooked up with a sympathetic woman, that metaphor started to feel like window dressing. It's certainly a solid work, and it's got a better hold on its visual sensibilities than the vast majority of films, but its conventionality undoes it a bit.]

Women in Love (Ken Russell, 1969) ****, 79 [Because of its faithfulness to the plot of the novel from which it was adapted, the film is loaded with heavy symbolism, but it never really dwells on any of it long enough for it to grow repetitive. Instead of perpetuating the belief that love conquers all, it refreshingly places individualism at the top of its ideological heap. The biggest liability, and itís one that couldnít really be fixed without updating the material, is that its radicalism requires the audience to think of it as ahead of its time, but the production, by virtue of being set in WWI-era Britain, reeks of nostalgia.]

 

17. Undercover Brother (Malcolm D. Lee, 2002) **1/2, 46 [It never really took off for me, even though I usually had a smile on my face. The one-joke premise wore thin, even given the short runtime, and the odd fixation on the blaxploitation era seemed to result in an unwelcome amount of issue dodging for what's supposed to be a social satire. There's no one scene here that felt classic to me, but there's something to be said for a comedy that is at least consistently mediocre.]

Song of the South (Harve Foster & Wilfred Jackson, 1946) **, 35 [Preposterously racist through its denial of disharmonious feelings between the white plantation owners and the black workers, but I guess it doesn't set out to address the issue. I don't really try to take films to task for ideological terms, but it's almost unavoidable here, even if we all already know how awful slavery is. The cartoons are generally awesome at least.]

Blue Crush (John Stockwell, 2002) ***, 50 [Amicable enough, but the compressed time frame (the whole story takes place in a week) puts strain on everything, especially the romantic subplot. The decided slant toward the fiscal realities of the heroine's situation and the gorgeous photography help it rise its head above a sea of entries in the genre, but it's too caught up in its own glamour to compare to something like Girlfight.]

Hulk (Ang Lee, 2003) ***, 58 [Slow going for the first ninety minutes, but even there it's bolstered by some ingenious editing techniques and an awesome Jennifer Connelly performance. To my eyes, the comic book movie it most recalls is the anime classic Akira, for better or worse. The near-incoherency present there rears its head here too, and if it never goes as far as Akira did into pushing its protagonists into awesome absurdity, it's not for lack of trying. The breathtaking third-act trot to San Francisco is possibly the best of all comic movie action scenes, though, and it makes everything you need to sit through to get to it worthwhile.]

 

18. Strange Days (Kathryn Bigelow, 1995) **** Masterpiece, 91 [From the first frame out, this movie kicks into hyperdrive, but with little of the burnout that such extreme stylistic excess usually causes. Despite being a combination sci-fi, thriller, film noir, murder mystery and action film, it manages to work for me as each. The acting is uniformly great, but Fiennes' sleazy cyberporn peddler takes the cake and makes the movie feel most strongly like a kick-in-the-pants updating of Sweet Smell of Success.]

Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995) **** Masterpiece, 90 [Bubblier than anything, wittier than anything, and more fun than anything, this is a formative, nostalgic favorite for me, but it still holds up wonderfully to my newfound hardened critical sensibilities. I don't think I'm indulging in hyperbole when I say that Silverstone's lead performance here is one of the all time great comedic turns. The rest of the cast follows her lead, resulting in a warm satire in which no one comes off badly because everyone is willing to take their turn being the butt of the joke.]

Duck Amuck (Chuck Jones, 1953) **** Masterpiece, 91 [The ultra-controlled anarchy here works perfectly to create a type of knowing hilarity that highbrows and lowbrows alike can embrace. Daffy is at his most ornery here, but his rage reflects our subconscious discomfort with the radical rule-breaking that's occuring.]

 

19. Heaven (Tom Tykwer, 2002) ***, 54 [It's meant to be a meditation on morality, but it has an extremely surreal tone that keeps it from hitting as hard as it might. From the start, the ultracomposed, candy colored images and the soft piano score attempt to fill the void that the philosophical and soul-searching, but ultimately inadequate dialogue creates. The numerous overhead shots and dreamlike pacing insistently ascribe to it a kind of bloated importance that it does warrant, I suppose, but it still manages to be off-putting because of it. Intermittently (usually when the actors are most expressive), it all clicks and Tykwer's consistent sincerity feels entirely appropriate, but most of its sense of serendipitous redemption feels too overdetermined to catch the viewer off guard emotionally to be really affecting.]

Me Without You (Sandra Goldbacher, 2001) **1/2, 47 [It's a likable but inconsequential era-spanning romantic wish fulfillment and illustration of codependence. The way that the period detail is presented makes it seems like it exists in a diorama. If they changed to the wrong angle, you'd expect it would all look phony. Worse yet, when the girls finally are supposed to be playing adults, it's as if they're all playing dress-up.]

Long-Haired Hare (Chuck Jones, 1949) ***, 57 [It's relatively funny, but it relies on the old WB clichť of "fun" entertainment standing in opposition of serious art. The change of venues midway through makes it lose some steam.]

Big Trouble in Little China (John Carpenter, 1986) ***, 53 [Carpenter is willing to send up his idea of Russell as action hero, but I think that's only so he never becomes more than an Everyday Joe in the audience's eyes. The idea of a massive, unseen subculture hiding behind the Chinatown storefronts is an exciting one, but the movie doesn't do as much with it as you might hope and eventually begins to recycle itself. It's a bit better than Raiders of the Lost Ark & The Last Crusade, but pales in comparison to Temple of Doom, the Indiana Jones movie it most resembles.]

 

20. Christine (John Carpenter, 1983) ****, 75 [Odd, the reversal of priorities I notice between watching this now and watching it as a kid. Now as soon as the titular car starts offing people my interest begins to wane, whereas I used to anticipate those scenes and ignore the singularly impressive attempt to take King's characters at face value. It's because of Carpenter's fortunate willingness to indulge King's pop psychology and knack for finding universal, if somewhat shopworn, fears at the start of the movie that makes the eventual revenge fantasy bearable. The best moment comes at the end, when the protagonist's best friend, who has been critical of his buddy's auto-fixation throughout, climbs into a giant backhoe, grabs a girl, and lets loose a hearty "YEAH!"]

 

21. Royal Wedding (Stanley Donen, 1951) ***1/2, 67 [Quite innocuous, and almost forgettable, except for a few dazzling numbers. Astaire dances on the walls and ceiling. Astaire dances with a hat rack. Basically whenever Astaire is dancing, it's worthwhile, but there's no avoiding the feel that it doesn't compare to most of Donen's musicals.]

Alex and Emma (Rob Reiner, 2003) *, 18 [Two miserable people get together to pen the worst novel ever written and have sex, and we're supposed to cheer, or at least titter. Hopefully this completely unpleasant misfire is not the announcement of the end of Rob Reiner's career as a worthwhile director. I haven't seen all of North, but it's tough to imagine it being less enjoyable. I notice that Franchise Pictures, the company that leaves no vanity picture unmade, is responsible this wreck, which probably explains the abysmal production values. The only question is, whose idea of vanity is a movie as unflattering as this?]

Hollywood Homicide (Ron Shelton, 2003) **1/2, 43 [Affable, but fairly unremarkable, this comic police drama would have been better served if it had more charismatic lead actors. Even though Ford is generally a bland screen presence, thanks to the thoroughly mediocre Hartnett, he almost looks good here. One sequence, a chase across a shallow canal, is incredibly inspired, but it mostly creates disappointment that the rest of the movie isn't on the same level. There's some funny stuff about the pervasiveness of celebrity in our culture, but it's too misshapen to really have any bite.]

From Justin to Kelly (Robert Iscove, 2003) **, 38 [I've never seen the "American Idol" television show, so I wasn't sure what to expect here, but what I got was a somewhat pleasing, but shoddily made T&A musical. The two stars are probably the least attractive members of the entire cast, and no one acts well, but it hardly matters. A few of the songs make no sense in the context they're given, but the musical numbers are a highlight otherwise, especially since they do a better job than Chicago at  showing off the performers' choreography (not that that's hard...).]

 

22. On the Beach (Stanley Kramer, 1959) ***1/2, 61 [Unfortunately, this hybrid of sci-fi drama and message movie leans too heavily toward the latter to be fully satisfying as the former. It has a few passages, however, that are genuinely gripping looks at an eerily quiet post-apocalyptic world and throughout it has a sense of existential dread festering beneath the gung-ho busywork that keeps the plot's wheels spinning. The acting is all over the map with Clift's sensitive conflict earning top honors and Astaire's hamminess taking the booby prize.]

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Richard Brooks, 1958) ****, 76 [Burl Ives is astonishing here. He's larger than life, but I can't help but be rapt whenever he's on screen. The rest of the cast is more than adequate too, and because of their histrionics, it's almost possible to forget that this film's script has been adapted from one of the most popular stage plays ever. The ending is pretty dopey, since it seems to want us to be relieved when it avoids issues, but the journey getting there is supremely entertianing.]

Giant (George Stevens, 1956) ***, 53 [An excellent intimate epic in it's first half that becomes a moronic screed about racial tolerance in its second. The examination of its leads' slowly dissolving marriage that starts the movie makes for compelling material, and when all traces of passion between the two of them disappears, so does the movie's passion. It begins introducing characters just to off them a few scenes later, and as it piles on more and more incidents they have less and less impact. It's odd that it felt like an important movie until it decided it needed to justify itself by becoming an Important Movie. If it ended halfway through, I'd probably grade it in the 80s.]

 

23. The Ref (Ted Demme, 1994) **1/2, 45 [The performances by Kevin Space and Judy Davis here are superb. They almost salvage whatís some fairly shoddy, mean-spirited material. Dennis Leary, who makes this brand of snide knowingness his specialty, couldnít really find a better star vehicle, but since I find Leary to be a singularly exasperating screen presence, this obviously isnít the film for me. Champions of withering sarcasm, enjoy.]

 

24. Desistfilm (Stan Brakhage, 1954) ***1/2, 68 [The intense, doped-up atmosphere that exists here is hard to shake, even after the film ends. Itís not much like the other Brakhage films that Iíve seen (since it employs actors and recreates a mood instead of capturing one documentary-style), but itís certainly meaningful in ways that his films generally arenít. If nothing else, it suggests that he could have had an interesting career as a fiction filmmaker.]

Wedlock House: An Intercourse (Stan Brakhage, 1959) **1/2, 42 [I didnít especially respond to this movie on a gut level. I know that itís meant to be deeply confessional (since it literally shows Brakhage as heís about to copulate with his wife), but it feels instead self-consciously arty. There are striking visuals, and the slow strobe lighting technique, when combined with the circular editing techniques, seems to examine the ebb and flow of marital life.]

The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes (Stan Brakhage, 1971) ***, 50

Cat's Cradle (Stan Brakhage, 1959) ***, 53 [Fairly nondescript when placed into even the small sample of Brakhageís body of work that Iíve seen, but interesting enough to inspire further thought. The best of his movies go beyond simply inspiring more thought though, so itís harder to be terribly enthusiastic here.]

Window Water Baby Moving (Stan Brakhage, 1959) ***1/2, 64 [Shocking in its intimacy to its subject, and all the better for it. Although Iíve previously seen videos of childbirth, none of them combined such up-close intensity with WWBMís metaphorical depth and swirling camera movements. Itís especially interesting as a counterpoint to his The Act of Seeing With Oneís Own Eyes.]

Mothlight (Stan Brakhage, 1963) ***, 57 [The collage here takes something natural and places it into a wholly unnatural context. Quite literally, Brakhage is trying to redefine not only what the subject matter of a film can be, but also what the physical components that make up the medium can be. To view it frame-by-frame shows that each shot has been composed as carefully as the last. Iím not quite sure I am sure what to make of the filmís ďmeaningĒ though. I want to think that weíre all moth-like in our attraction to cinema, and that in flying into that light, we become a part of cinema, and destroy ourselves during that process, but maybe thatís going too far...]

Eye Myth (Stan Brakhage, 1972) ****, 80

 

25. The Perez Family (Mira Nair, 1995) **1/2, 44 [This oneís all over the map. For every perceptive moment, thereís a clichťd one, and for every scene where you think that an actor is finding something true about their character, there is one where they seem to be stumbling. Itís too caught up in its own romanticized sense of importance to ever really feel cutting and the central romantic entanglement, while diverting enough, seems to divert the audienceís attention from the issues at hand. Also, Nairís idea of female sexuality seems startlingly limited. She continually shows women getting soaked by water, as if thatís the epitome of insight into her charactersí feelings.]

Sleeping Beauty (Clyde Geronimi, 1959) **** Masterpiece, 85 [One of the very best Disney films. It manages to capture a very specific, stylized fairy tale feel, and never lets it go. There might be too much interaction between the three good fairies (they are essentially the lead characters here), but other than that, thereís nothing to complain about here. The angular character designs and startlingly good use of the widescreen frame probably qualify it as Disneyís most fundamentally cinematic film. Thankfully itís one of the most exciting as well.]

One Hour With You (Ernst Lubitsch w/ the assistance of George Cukor, 1932) ****, 79 [Really lovely, but perhaps a bit too long, even at 80 minutes. It bubbles with sophistication throughout and very rarely stumbles, thanks to Chevalierís chipper attitude. When he breaks the fourth wall, itís not for a moment desperate. The joviality that he exhibits throughout is infectious, and the entire movie basks in his naughty-but-nice attitude. My favorite shot is a dissolve that moves the central couple from the couch to the bed with amazing expediency.]

 

26. Charlie's Angels (McG, 2000) **, 38 [Inferior to its sequel since the majority of its set pieces donít feel fully realized. Almost everything about it feels less confident here, and confidence is one of the sequelís key virtues. The lone exception is probably Diaz, who manifests her performance with the sort of bounciness that would come to define the sequel. Her triumphant ďSoul TrainĒ dance is the movieís clear triumph, even as it explicitly recalls Diazís tone-deaf karaoke session from My Best Friendís Wedding. Also, in this type of post-modern, self-aware exercise, Bill Murrayís hipsterism is completely redundant.]

Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002) **** Masterpiece, 95

Blossoms & Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2003) ***1/2, 67 [Maintains the mood of the feature surprisingly well for a collection of outtakes, but without the context of the feature, it loses a lot. All in all though, the second disc of the Punch-Drunk Love DVD is one of the best second discs ever.]

Earth (Aleksandr Dovzhenko, 1930) ****, 71 [Impressively photographed, but other than that, I found it more respectable than enjoyable. Dovzhenkoís clearly a visionary of sorts, but heís not my sort of visionary, if that makes any sense. Even if I wasnít wholly taken with the long middle section here, I canít help but be in awe of the magnificent photography. Given the choice, however, Iíd opt for Days of Heaven.]

Made in America (Richard Benjamin, 1993) ***, 52 [Takes a fundamentally retarded movie premise, saddles it with some silly potty humor and dumb plot twists, but still feels pretty good when itís all said and done thanks to the performances. Everyone is fine, but probably the most surprising turn here comes courtesy of Will Smith, who shows a side of himself that seems to have completely evaporated from his starring roles in action blockbusters. The second half, which delves into messier emotional territory, is probably superior to the first, but throughout, itís unpretentious and likable.]

 

27. The Hours (Stephen Daldry, 2003) ****, 80 [I was frankly a bit worried that this wouldnít hold up on a second viewing, since many of my peers had no problem writing it off, but as willing as I am to concede that many of the weaknesses that they see are there (e.g. the cracking eggs), I canít deny that I find the movie to be a singularly moving experience. The narrative, which probably packs the most impact as told, but makes the most sense if thought of as one chronological story, is quite adventurous and challenging. Comparisons to Intolerance aren't entirely unwarranted. It seems that many perceive the movieís seriousness of intent as shameless, smug self-absorption, and I guess itís a judgment call, but I fell for it.]

To Be or Not To Be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942) ***, 56 [Typically charming in the Lubitsch style, but itís tough to care about the petty maritial problems being tossed about here, given the setting. The film takes place in war-torn Warsaw, during the German occupation, and throughout I couldnít help thinking about the poor Pianist stuck in a room somewhere, starving. That might not be fair, exactly, but I have yet to see a Holocaust comedy that I can fully embrace because of issues like that.]

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (McG, 2003) ****, 73

Blood Brothers (Cheh Chang, 1973) **1/2, 45 [Fitfully amusing, and filled with impressive athletics, but not really good, except in a campy way. The epic death scenes, in which the dying character will get up and fall several times before invariably rolling down a hill, are undoubtedly the highlights here.]

One-Armed Swordsman (Cheh Chang, 1967) ***, 52 [Though itís better than Blood Brothers, mostly because itís more consistently exaggerated to hilarity, it works on the same principle. The adventure is more epic though, and itís more emotionally involving, so itís a bit easier to recommend.]

 

28. La Maison du Mystere (Alexander Volkoff, 1923) ***1/2, 62 [At something like seven hours long, this silent serial puts large demands on the viewerís time, but for the most part itís worthwhile. Most episodes have at least one great set piece (e.g. a wedding shown in silhouette or a thrilling prison escape), so there are few dull stretches. It feels surprisingly like a turn of the century romantic novel, or perhaps like less colorful Dickens, and the characters each have a good amount of depth. A bit disappointing that it essentially sweeps World War I aside, but perhaps thatís what allows it to maintain its focus, and thatís no small feat, given the runtime.]

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (McG, 2003) ****, 75

 

29. Popeye (Robert Altman, 1980) ***1/2, 66 [Enchanting throughout, in its very unique, definitely oddball way. Altmanís political observations seem a bit out of place, but they also help us reconcile the fact that weíre seeing familiar cartoon characters made flesh. The songs are an odd bunch, but they provide most of the best moments here. Duvall is the best among a solid cast, but the casting here is insanely inspired. Every element here works better than you would expect, but it still doesnít all quite come together like I hoped it might.]

Eye Myth (Stan Brakhage, 1972) ****, 80

Kustom Kar Kommandos (Kenneth Anger, 1965) ***1/2, 61

Puce Moment (Kenneth Anger, 1949) ***1/2, 64

Scorpio Rising (Kenneth Anger, 1964) ****, 81

 

30. The 400 Blows (Francois Truffaut, 1959) ****, 74 [One of the best films of its kind, but films of this kind usually arenít that good. Little Antoine is a sympathetic little bastard, and Truffautís unending supply of compassion (tempered with skepticism) for him is tough to resist. The cinematography is stellar because it makes it clear that weíre watching a movie but doesnít ever grow so self-conscious that it completely overcomes the immediacy of the situation that itís portraying. Itís more accessible than the contemporary films of the French New Wave, but the rewards are smaller as well.]

 

74 features, 19 shorts

 

 

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