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

 

01. Best in Show (Christopher Guest, 2000) **** [I still haven't gotten around to catching A Mighty Wind, but with this around, why do I need to?]

Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (Nick Broomfield & Joan Churchill, 2003) **1/2

The Trilogy: On the Run (Lucas Belvaux, 2002) *** [It reminded me a lot of Goodbye South, Goodbye, but quicker and shallower. The decision to make the lead character a bit of a nut seems to unfortunately diffuse a lot of the political content though and Belvaux's tendency to try to startle us every three minutes with quick action or light changes starts becoming awfully predictable. Still, I can't imagine this not going over well with the small but passionate group of The Hunted defenders.]

 

02. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Howard Hawks, 1953) **** Masterpiece [All in all probably my favorite Hollywood musical. Endlessly entertaining and drop-dead gorgeous in so many ways, itís a perfect example of Hawksí ability to see things in actors that others missed. The charisma between Russell and Munroe leaves me breathless and the musical numbers each try to outdo the last with lavish excess.]

Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks, 1939) **** [Typically Hawksian, which is to say pretty great. The death runs that the men see as an honorable ritual are terrifying (at least when they arenít over-the-top) despite the general good cheer, but I donít know that I prefer that seriousness to the more relaxed tone that Hawks finds in Hatari!ís safari runs. Still, I imagine that, like most of his work, it will only reveal more depth and enjoyment on subsequent viewings. For now at least, I have the memory of Grant & Arthurís truly great first kiss.]

 

03. X2: X-men United (Bryan Singer, 2003) **1/2 [The young comic geek that I once was would have been appalled by my reaction to this one, but I alternated between boredom and genuine interest far too often while watching X2 to really say that I enjoyed it. Perhaps itís because I already know the stories and characters in advance and the visual treatment is so close to the first film that I kept checking out, and perhaps because the actors donít do a very good job of making the comic bookís soap opera elements come to life.]

Owning Mahowny (Richard Kwietniowski, 2003) **1/2 [I wonder if Iíll remember this movie in a month. Itís not bad at all, exactly, but for most of its run time, it seems to work aggressively against creating excitement. That makes sense: you donít make a movie about the awfulness of addictive gambling and then trump up the thrill of the game. Or do you? Mahownyís climax features a winning streak that for a while contradicts the objectivity that the rest of the film has maintained. Worse yet, itís not even one-hundredth as exciting or sharply edited as the capper of The Good Thief. I definitely enjoyed a lot about this movie, including a typically overweight Hoffman and a surprisingly dowdy Minnie Driver, but when a movieís best bits are so deliberately drab, itís tough to embrace the experience. It's better than Love Liza in any case.]

The Adventures of Robin Hood (Michael Curtiz & William Keighley, 1938) **1/2 [Dullsville. It offers more in the way of production values than action, unfortunately, and because of that I regret that I havenít seen it on the big screen where that approach might pay off more. I know it's regarded as a classic, but it leaves me cold consistently, and there's not much I can do about that. I'd point people toward the Douglas Fairbanks Jr. vehicle The Exile for a much more impressive example of the genre.]

 

04. Grand Hotel (Edmund Golding, 1932) ***1/2 [Awesome star power and a melodramatic plot that remains gripping because something new (well, maybe just something different) is coming your way every few minutes. Garbo is enchanting even while she's just crossing the room.]

Get Out Your Handkerchiefs (Bertrand Blier, 1978) *** [It's so confident it's shocking that it isn't at all. The Bunuelian second half paled in comparison to the comedy of manners of the first, partially because Depardieu is shuttled off the screen for most of it. His performance is absolutely great. If everyone else were as on as him, I'm sure the film would have felt more consistent.]

 

05. Buffalo '66 (Vincent Gallo, 1998) ***1/2 [I've been meaning to see this again since loving Punch-Drunk Love and it's improved for me considerably (last viewing was back in the theater when it was released). Everything's shot like it belongs in a fashion spread, and that lends to the movie a fetishistic quality that seems at odds with the seemingly confessional subject matter, until it becomes apparent that it's all just a nebbish's macho fantasy. Ricci's amazing here despite having next to nothing to work with.]

Children Underground (Edet Belzberg, 2000) *** [If there was a modicum of artistry involved, I'd be more enthusiastic, but the lack of poetry in the images ensures that this can't compare with Streetwise. Certainly worthy of attention, but not as good at wringing out human drama from the clearly dramatic situations as one might hope.]

Distant Lights (Hans-Christian Schmid, 2003) *** [This politically astute ensemble drama holds up really well in comparison to Soderbergh's Traffic, though the focus is on the illegal immigration problems along the Polish/German border. The acting is all convincing, even though professional actors are mixed freely with amateurs. Every one of the storylines is satisfying with the exception of one featuring a German architect. That seems to exist mostly so the bourgeois have someone to identify with.]

Spellbound (Jeffrey Blitz, 2002) ***1/2 [Awesomely cute and really gripping, it's as delightful as you've probably heard. My favorite of the kids, April, could easy have been the subject of her own film, but every one of the kids is nearly as interesting. I guess the families must have had a dignity clause or something though, because there are no tantrums and no breakdowns... am I the only one who found that suspicious?]

 

06. The Event (Thom Fitzgerald, 2003) ** [A clear case where the actors are better than the material, unfortunately. The somber look the toll of AIDS certainly stands in contrast to the perception that it's a controllable illness though, and I appreciated that. Less appreciable however was the would-be mystery that did little but distract from the emotions at the center of the story.]

Monkey Business (Howard Hawks, 1952) **** [I am fast becoming a die-hard Hawks fan. Can this guy do anything badly? Certainly screwball comedy is one of his fortes, and this is funnier than most of them. Again, as much as a first viewing ruled, it's the subsequent ones that have me most excited here.]

 

07. The Virgin of Lust (Arturo Ripstein, 2002) **** 

The Shape of Things (Neil LaBute, 2003) * [To me the combination that exists here of a script carried over from a play, a decidedly uncinematic approach that includes some very stagy (and lousy) performances, and discussion of high art as would-be autocritique of LaBute's work made it a horrible experience. This seems like it's for a self-punishing group of people that are convinced theater is superior art when compared to cinema, but go to see the movie anyhow. LaBute delays most of his misanthropy until the final two scenes here, and I guess we're supposed to squirm as it keeps threatening to leak out from under the characters' civil veneers, but mostly it just had me bored as I waited for the other shoe to drop (which it inevitably did). The shock ending was far from a shock and that sort of negates the whole experience. Essentially, it's a movie that's not just bad on its own terms. It's so bad it makes me second-guess myself for ever liking anything LaBute's written.]

Whale Rider (Niki Caro, 2002) * 1/2 [Just about the very definition of trite, this coming of age flick sees nobility as something almost inherent in the people it studies, and I found that to be horribly condescending. If they're so noble and unique, how come the characters we meet feel like the generic people in every other ethnic drama? There's the plucky youngster who makes the elders rediscover their heritage, the hardheaded patriarch, the sassy grandma, and so on. Actually, to use to word drama to describe it seems an exaggeration since very little of import happens. Mostly we're made to watch some embarrassingly stilted face-offs between young and old and a big dollop of new age hokum whenever the whales enter the picture. Also, when the rope breaks, it's a metaphor to show how the tribe is divided amongst themselves.]

 

08. 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, 2002) * * 

 

09. The Trilogy: A Perfect Couple (Lucas Belvaux, 2002) *** [I felt the comedic moments here were undercut by the associations with the other two films in the trilogy. Though I appreciate the idea of a change in perspective giving us a different take on events that might seem serious, whenever Belvaux lingers on one of the other film's tragic characters or introduces a theme (e.g. hiding) that exists in the other films, it kills the farcical mood without really adding too much weight, since the plights of those characters don't really press upon the comedy here. If the relationships between the films were tighter, this might have worked more, but as is, I found myself disengaged a lot of the time. That being said, I think if you were to somehow see each of these three films in a vacuum, this one might seem the best of the trio. Belvaux's visual gags are consistently funny and his take on marital secrecy is exaggerated, but it hides a kernel of truth.]

The Trilogy: After Life (Lucas Belvaux, 2002) ***1/2 [The handheld camera work and tighter proximity to the performers made this one have more of an effect on me than the other two. It was if the veil of genre had finally been lifted and I was able to glimpse at some real emotion without a blanket of style separating me from it. Of course I realize it's as stylized as the other two films in the trilogy, but that's an intellectual response that I have after the scene ends and not the immediate, emotional one that occurs during it. Seeing it third pays off, I think, because of that, but also because a lot of the sequence in it might not make as much sense otherwise. In any case it makes me want to revisit the other two again...]

 

10. Blue Car (Karen Moncrieff, 2002) ** [I kept waiting for the protagonist to get her comeuppance here, but when she did I was underwhelmed, because there was barely any sting to it. The filmmaker scarcely seems more mature than her subject, I'm afraid. The first half bears little tonal resemblance to the second, and a major subplot is essentially dropped for no good reason, but nothing ever works well here.]

A Mighty Wind (Christopher Guest, 2003) **1/2 [It can't compare to the other Guest comedies, unfortunately. The inclusion of musical numbers cuts down on the amount of time we get to spend with each the characters and the cast is bigger than ever. Even worse, there's very little drama when compared to Guffman & Show's premises and the worst subplot of all (featuring a dreadfully unfunny Eugene Levy) is the most developed one. Jennifer Coolidge has the best character here and something like five lines... hopefully she'll get more screen time in Legally Blonde 2. "Bend and snap!"]

Down With Love (Peyton Reed, 2003) **** [I might be overrating this, but I was too busy trying to make sense of its gender politics and laughing at its very funny wordplay to take it all in. Pillow Talk and Funny Face, two of the best and fluffiest Hollywood films of the late '50s, are the prime takeoff points here, and they both are sent up with affection. Renee's third-act monologue turns a clever script into a brilliant one, at least for a while, and along with Ewan she's fine otherwise. The really great performance here though comes courtesy of David Hyde Pierce, who is the actor that most suggests an interior life to his character, mostly via external manifestations of his neuroses. I'll definitely have to see it again.]

 

11. The Criminal (Joseph Losey, 1960) *** [Pretty engaging, but as far as British noir goes, it's neither as good as Night and the City or The Long Good Friday. One reason seems to be that it's generally lacking in charisma. Another might be the decision to elide several key scenes to keep the pace up. It doesn't feel essential, though I certainly didn't have a bad time with it.]

The Producers (Mel Brooks, 1968) ** [Dare I say that I found the humor here a bit too Jewish? I remembered it more favorably than this, so maybe I was just in a bad mood or something. Probably the less I say about this one after this viewing the less ire I'll draw...]

 

12. Bringing Out the Dead (Martin Scorsese, 1999) ***1/2 [A downgrade from a **** rating actually... I still admire Scorsese's vision of hell on earth here, and find the majority of scenes engaging, but I couldn't escape the feeling that a lot of the scenes in the second hour were slack. It still feels underrated to me, but perhaps not as much as I previously thought.]

Satantango (Bela Tarr, 1994) **** Masterpiece [Seeing this again was surprising, mostly because I feel I was remembering the rhythms of the movie differently then they actually are. It's snappier and funnier than I gave it credit for, though that might raise false hopes in those who haven't seen it yet.]

 

13. The Matrix (The Wachowski Brothers, 1999) *** [I needed a refresher course before I saw the sequel. It's amazing how lousy the effects here look now. I wonder if any of today's technical marvels will age well. I'm not holding the degradation of effects against the film though... *** was my original rating. I'm sure my complaints here fall in line with most other peoples'. The last thing anyone needs to read more about right now is The Matrix though, so I'll stop now...]

 

14. Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino, 1997) **** Masterpiece [It's probably telling that I've watched this more than Pulp Fiction (3 times versus 1) since they each came out on DVD. Though I still think I prefer Pulp, there's something subtler and deeper here that keeps drawing me back in.]

 

15. The Paper (Ron Howard, 1994) ** [There's some inherently interesting material here (mainly regarding the bearing that fiscal realities have on news reporting), but Opie has no idea what to do with it. The second half of the film gets desperate for a climax and finds about five, all of them inadequate. The use of a handheld camera to heighten suspense rarely felt phonier than it does here and the solid cast is generally wasted (Keaton seems possessed by Beetlejuice). Still, Glenn Close has a few nice moments when Howard isn't making her look like a beast simply because she's not an underdog and Catherine O'Hara makes an impression with her single scene.]

 

16. A Summer Dress (Francois Ozon, 1996) ***1/2 [Ozon doesn't seem to expend much effort here, but that makes his look at ambivalent sexuality all the more appropriately casual. I laughed a lot here and appreciated that he used his attractive stars without shame or a critical eye.]

See the Sea (Francois Ozon, 1997) *** [For the bulk of it's runtime, it's my favorite of Ozon's movies, but the ending reveals it all to be a dark, dark joke. There's some consolation though... the joke is a funny one. The bourgeois' idea of living on the edge is sent up savagely, but without much sting, since it's all so obviously a gag on the main character. That's a bit of a surprise considering the care used in putting us inside her head throughout the rest of the film. There's a lot of unnerving stuff here, but it comes in the the least overt moments of the film, and the rest of Ozon's films don't seem to highlight the subtle, so it might be a while before we see this side of him again.]

Water Drops on Burning Rocks (Francois Ozon, 2000) *** [Ozon makes sexual anarchy feel like a party, but Fassbinder's nihilism feels forced in his hands. There's a lot of good material here about how the willingness of deviants to become complacent, and the plot structure is cute, but that only carries this so far. The moment it tries to be serious, it fails, even if it tries to retain its air of absurdity.]

The Matrix Reloaded (The Wachowski Brothers, 2003) *** [It's the campiest thing I've seen in ages. The first hour was dreadful, but how wonderfully dreadful! The rave sequence is a clear highlight, but with an insanely pretentious monologue every third scene, it has tough competition. Keanu never gets to deliver one of those clunkers, unfortunately, but many of his lines are zingers. The plot seems ludicrous (how'd they manage to smuggle 300,000 people from the matrix?; what's the point of a Judas figure who isn't really betraying anyone because he's possessed?), but I probably just wasn't comprehending it enough to really complain. The fight scenes were so unnecessary on so many levels (most disappointingly they completely remove athleticism from the equation), but they were just about the only part that actively bored me. As a bonus, I was genuinely surprised by the big revelation at the end. There's too much that's entertaining here on too many levels for me to say I had a bad time.]

 

17. Therese (Alain Cavalier, 1986) ***1/2 [I'm not sure if this was pro-Catholic or anti-Catholic (leaning toward the latter), but I have a hunch it wants to be everything to everyone, and that's the primary thing holding me back from embracing what otherwise feels like a masterpiece. The style is so austere that there aren't even sets, but it works because it saves us from establishing shots and allows us to not loose the theological line that cuts through the movie.]

A Man and a Woman (Claude Lelouch, 1966) ** [The style of the French New Wave and not much more. So much is shot in soft focus that after a while it's tough to see what it is that you like about these people. The endless drone of the soundtrack is supposed to fill in all the gaps, I suppose, but it doesn't.]

 

18. Business is Business (Paul Verhoeven, 1971) *** [Per usual, Verhoeven delights in torturing women here, but this time out it's rather funny, since the entire film is pitched as farce. The milieu is Amsterdam's red light district and the interactions between the two scrappy prostitutes at the film's center and their various customers with their assorted perversions never fail to present genuine laughs. I'm almost surprised there hasn't been an American remake of this one. It makes sex so harmless that it almost feels like a domestic film.]

Turkish Delight (Paul Verhoeven, 1973) ** [Major problems with tone sink what's initially a seemingly boundless look at freedoms of the sexual revolution. The copious amount of nudity is still rather surprising thirty years later, but the melodramatic plot (tortured artist meets the girl who loves him) is as tired as ever. The pace is certainly snappy and the sight gags are copious, but it's clear that Verhoeven hadn't yet fully developed his talents at this point. Since the movie announces itself as a revolutionary force, it fails somewhat in its desire to be shocking.]

Crime + Punishment in Suburbia (Rob Schmidt, 2000) **1/2 [The wisp of a narrator hardly manages to compel us to consider the should-be weighty moral dilemmas here, and that's the biggest failing here. Various other flaws (e.g. egregious editing decisions, lack of faith in the power of his actors to carry some scenes) common in films by first-time directors are noticeable as well, but just the same there's a level of ambition and vision that makes it worthwhile.]

Entre Nous (Diane Kurys, 1983) ***1/2 [It feels like a '70s women's lib flick that just happens to be set in Europe 25 years earlier, but then it's revealed to be a true story and much of that disparity immediately dissolves. Class and intelligence propel it through one potentially trite sequence after another (bonus points for never really defining heroes or villains), and even though it never shakes its populist vibe, it never completely sacrifices integrity either. Still, the best that can be said of it, probably, is that very little bad about it can be said at all.]

 

19. Funny Girl (William Wyler, 1968) ***1/2 [Wow, Babs rules here. There's no getting around it. This movie is buoyed by her performance, and it's lofty enough to lift up almost any weaknesses that threaten to sink the film. The first half is ceaselessly enjoyable. The more dramatic post-intermission segment, decidedly less so, perhaps because there's far fewer chances for us to enjoy the music and the drama feels almost arbitrary. The direction remains admirable throughout, but there's a noticeable shift from Wyler's surprising control over the musical scenes in the opening half (this was his first entry in the genre, I believe) to his more typical long takes as the seriousness takes over.]

Freddy Got Fingered (Tom Green, 2001) **1/2 [A tough one to judge because it has a lot of awesome scenes buried in a pile of ineptitude. My favorites were the almost touching moment when Gord's dad is so overjoyed by his son's (imaginary) employment that he gives him $100 and the hilarious, shocking baby delivery. Some of the other stuff that was supposed to shock though (e.g. the wheelchair-bound nympho girlfriend) was just lame, unfortunately.]

Couch (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2003) ** [Okay, then...]

 

20. Dead of Night (Cavalcanti, Crichton, Dearden, & Hamer, 1945) *** 

Uzumaki (Higuchinsky, 2000) *1/2 [Pretty retarded and deadly slow to boot. Remember that time you woke up in the middle of the night, sweat-soaked after that nightmare about spirals. Me neither. I hear it's big in Japan though...]

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (Chuck Russell, 1987) *** [The first of the series to plunge headlong into abstraction, thanks to the "dream powers" concept, and it reenergizes things. It's interesting to see how much more critical I am of the performances than I was when I was a kid. Even though this is the closest the series came to an star-studded episode (Heather Langenkamp returns!; Laurence Fishburne & Patricia Arquette act!; Frank Darabont writes!) everyone's downright awful... 'cept Freddy, of course, who really becomes the true star of the show here.]

 

21. Terror in a Texas Town (Joseph H. Lewis, 1958) *** [Holds the attention, and manages to sometimes give you a bit of hope that it might actually have something to say about America's tendency to exploit the underprivileged, but it doesn't take its outrage far enough to be truly effective polemic. I preferred Lewis' noir The Big Combo, to be sure, but this is better than your average western.]

 

22. Original Sin (Michael Cristofer, 2001) ** [There's a scene early on here where, completely out of the blue, Banderas takes his new wife Jolie to the bank to sign over his estate to her. Of course, she rips him off a few minutes later, but they could have at least tried to integrate this exposition into the plot to date. Given how clunky the thriller aspects are here, it's no shocker to find that the film is also rather inept as a tale of sexual obsession. Jolie is overtly sexy instead of seductive, so she never really convinces except on the surface level, so it seems like Banderas is just following his erection around the globe after her. Obviously, Truffaut's Mississippi Mermaid, which shared the same source material, is better than this, but apart from the editing (one more lap dissolve and I would have shut it off)  it's not a complete disaster, I suppose.]

Jean de Florette / Manon of the Spring (Claude Berri, 1986) **** [Huge and surprisingly pleasant throughout. The first film is probably the stronger of the two, because Jean's direct connection to God's ear is more moving than Manon's affinity to nature, but both of them are solid works, and it almost feels odd considering them separate entities.]

 

23. Mademoiselle (Tony Richardson, 1966) *1/2 [Well photographed, but hopelessly pretentious, this examination of repressed sexuality seems to typify all that those who deride arthouse flicks gripe about. The overripe symbolism is supposed to be profound, but it's either horribly obvious or hopelessly obscure. The deadly pacing suggests a contemplativeness that never makes itself known, and the bursts of violence throughout are supposed to be shocking, but they're most shocking because they're practically the only time something happens.]

Man's Favorite Sport? (Howard Hawks, 1964) **** [Probably my least favorite of the Hawks films that I'd rate at ****, but still too delightful to rate it lower. The whole thing seems to be a metaphor for getting over sexual frigidity, but at least the guy's the frigid one here (doubly funny, I suppose, since the guy in question is Rock Hudson). That central metaphor is really just an excuse though for Hawks to typically, which is to say marvelously, let us chill with his characters. There's no one here as cool as Stumpy, I suppose, but they sure make for better fishing partners than, say, Danny Glover and Joe Pesci.]

The Lizzie McGuire Movie (Jim Fall, 2003) ** [The opening and closing dance numbers are a lot of fun here. The former because it has the virginal heroine singing about "a moment's pain for a lifetime's pleasure" and the latter because it features a duet with the star's clone. It really only ever annoyed when an animated version of Lizzie popped in to comment on the action. The rest of it is dull travelogue and duller bittersweet romance, but it's infinitely better than Fall's atrocious Trick.]

Bruce Almighty (Tom Shadyac, 2003) 1/2 [Oh God! This film so self-absorbed that I wanted to puke. A movie about the existence of God that exists to solve the dilemma of Jim Carrey's career choices? (His Holiness says "Alrighty, then" and all his dramatic forays are forgiven. SPOILER!) I'd rather see Carrey crash and burn in challenging roles than do this shtick, thanks. Morgan Freeman plays God, and that's both the lead-up and punch line of that joke (though his speech about the real miracles in the world being that single mom who can make it to soccer practice was hilarious for unintended reasons). Judging by the crowd reaction, the comic highlight comes when someone says "poo-poo, pee-pee, ca-ca." All the more offensive when you realize that as the only Hollywood movie so far this year to even question the presence of divinity, it parodies the concept, though I guess that's not this film's fault alone.]

The Fierce One (Lyutuy) (Tolomush Okeyev, 1974) *** [Movies that seem to function primarily as sociology are probably my least favorite kind, so thankfully this one has a bit more plot than your average one. Parallels to Dances With Wolves run throughout, but I can't help but admit that I actually preferred Costner's film to this. The sense of scale there helps Wolves immeasurably when comparing the two, I suppose. The frequent extreme animal violence was a bit disturbing to be sure, but none of the many deaths made the impact that the shooting of Two Socks did.]

 

24. Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969) *** [The gorgeous scenery sometimes obscures the silly ideas here, but when the riders stop, they're all we have to watch. The rock music that plays when the characters hit the road hints at a sense of freedom that isn't really realized elsewhere here, though it might not have felt that way back in '69. The three leads, and especially Nicholson, are fine, but when it's all said and done, their charisma can't overcome the portentousness of the Big Themes.]

Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger, 1969) *** [The disdain for everyone but the two main characters shown here keeps the comedy from ever taking off, and as drama it's even more forced. Whatever shock value this might have once had has evaporated by now, and without it it feels hopelessly naive, instead of world-weary.]

The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967) *** [Gorgeous shot compositions carry this one a while, but I can't help but greatly prefer Elaine May's The Heartbreak Kid. As soon as Katherine Ross shows up here, it's as if the movie starts leaking intelligence. Ultimately, it seems to present a vision of society that hopes to divide and conquer youth so that it may assimilate them into the sterile world of adulthood, and that's just stupid. The possible saving grace might lie in the final shot of Hoffman and Ross: he never looks at her. Is Nichols suggesting that they're both there for their own selfish reasons and not each other? Is Hoffman's aimless graduate a subject of satire? I'd like to think so, I suppose, but the use of Simon and Garfunkel seems to argue otherwise.]

 

25. Stroszek (Werner Herzog, 1977) ***1/2 [The incessantly dancing chicken in the finale is one of those literally awesome, enigmatic but somehow enveloping concluding metaphors that only Herzog seems capable of. It says so much about the combination of routine and aimlessness that came before that it makes you want to forgive all the rambling moments that exist in the film. Since superior Herzog works with similarly shattering endings such as Aguirre, Heart of Glass, and Kaspar Hauser (which uses this film's Bruno S. to better effect) exist though, it's tough to ignore them. Still, it's of the rare sort of distinctive filmmaking that is too continually innovative and intermittently breathtaking to ignore.]

After the Rehearsal (Ingmar Bergman, 1984) ***1/2 [Even though it takes place entirely on a stage and has only three characters delivering what are essentially three monologues, this time-spanning chamber drama is still awfully cinematic. Bergman's camera pulls in so close that it's easy to forget the setting, or even forget that Lena Olin is present during the middle third. The usual questions about the meaning of life seem more optimistic, but not much less profound, when they're applied to a practical examination of stagecraft. I realize this would play badly for a large chunk of the population, but it's so succinct and specific that it appeals to me in the same way that Woody Allen's Another Woman does. It might not dig that deeply, when compared to Bergman's best work, but it seems to wear its status as a minor work like a badge, and that allows me to enjoy it for what it is more easily.]

Dishonored (Josef von Sternberg, 1931) **** [Incredibly jolting for me at first due to its narrative inanity, this film became more pleasurable once I realized it was a bit of a comedy, but then shocked me again by a last minute sleight of hand that shifted it from a spy movie to a proto-feminist tragedy. Dietrich is so unaffected by the masculine swagger that surrounds her that it's tough to reconcile her presence with those surroundings for most of the movie, but whenever Sternberg goes in for a close-up, the nonsense in the background melts away and her raw womanhood is all that matters. I wouldn't be surprised if a second viewing, in which I knew where it was going in advance, turned out to be an immensely emotional experience.]

Stranger Than Paradise (Jim Jarmusch, 1983) **** [If it turned out that Jim Jarmusch and Aki Kaurismški were somehow the same person, I doubt I'd even be surprised. Both of them possess the same sensibility, give or take, and there's just about no one else making films in their politically aware, but emotionally deadpan style. If the characters here weren't so damn idiosyncratic and likable they might feel like ball bearings that were slammed together just to see the reaction when they bounced apart. Since they're as unique as anyone to have appeared on screen though, the movie gets considerable laughs from their aimlessness, much in the same manner as Stroszek. Eddie is my favorite of the bunch. No matter where the poor guy is, he's out of his element.]

 

26. Midnight Express (Alan Parker, 1978) *1/2 [If it were any more adept, it would almost be offensive. Quality-wise, Parker is one of the least consistent filmmakers, to be sure, but seeing dreck of this level coming from him was still surprising (what can I say? I missed David Gale...). That this prison drama asks us to identify with a smuggler simply because he's a handsome American is pretty lousy, but when it completely ignores the plight of the similarly abused Turkish prisoners in the same predicament (and at times paints them as villains) is absurd. There's no moral here... only a chronicle of exquisitely rendered, but rather unconvincing, suffering. The lead's laughable one-scene flirtation with homosexuality is supposed to be frank and confessional, I guess, but it's completely counter-productive and seems to be there only so we won't imagine worse things.]

 

27. The General (John Boorman, 1998) ***1/2 [The basic approach here, which essentially gives us no one but a criminal to sympathize with, is the film's biggest flaw. Just about everything else in it works, whenever it's not irksome because it's all in the service of the glorification of a crook's legend. The jazzy breaking and entering sequences are especially nice.]

Sunrise (F.W. Murnau, 1927) **** [The ending, which cheats us out of the tragedy that seems to have been coming all along, is the only thing to complain about here. It's a pretty major liability, though, to get "An American Tragedy" without a tragedy, but I suppose that's why it's called Sunrise and not Sunset. Otherwise, this is about as inventive and impressive as silent films get. The astounding visuals never cease to amaze.]

The Trouble With Harry (Alfred Hitchcock, 1955) ***

 

28. Killing Me Softly (Chen Kaige, 2002) **1/2

Du Cote de la Cote (Agnes Varda, 1958) *** [A silly little travelogue and little more, but it's still pleasant and demonstrates a wry sense of humor.]

Colette (Yannick Bellon, 1952) **1/2 [The approach here, in which the pitch for a film turns out to be the film being pitched is awfully similar to Adaptation, but a tour of Collette's homes is hardly gripping stuff.]

Rememberance of Things to Come (Chris Marker & Yannick Bellon, 2001) *** [I doubt there will be a dozen films this year that demonstrate a more impressive array of photography than this one. Marker's use of his patented freeze frame montage doesn't fail him here, but the scope of the subject that's tackled (i.e. France's history from 1937 to 1949 filtered through the eyes of a photojournalist) and the brevity of the film keep it from feeling revelatory. There's a line in One True Thing where Meryl Streep describes her pool of emotions as a bowl full of fishhooks. If she tries to pick just one up, a bundle of others get pulled along with it. That's about as perfect a description as I can think of for Marker's view of memory and history.]

A Woman is a Woman (Jean-Luc Godard, 1961) **** [Seeing this on the big screen for the first time yielded an experience exponentially greater than viewing it on the cruddy North American DVD release. In its overbearing soundtrack, its gorgeous lens flares, and its gaudy blue suit, it feels a lot like Punch-Drunk Love, but in so many other ways, it's still ahead of the time. For so many reasons, it's simply astounding that this was made in 1961.]

 

29. Baby Boy (John Singleton, 2001) ***1/2 [The mode of maturation in the ending is dubious, but otherwise this might be my favorite of Singleton's films. It's funny, the characters are fully developed, and even if it goes on a bit too long, none of the individual scenes feel extraneous.]

 

30. Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur, 1947) **** [I saw this on video in a film class several years ago, and while I enjoyed it, I wasnít entirely convinced of its worth. Seeing it again, and seeing it projected gives me better appreciation for it. Mitchumís performance here is a stunner, because he does nothing but exude confidence, thereby making his ultimate weakness all the more shocking. The plot is convoluted to a fault, perhaps, but since it allows the two lead characters to each become the hunter and the hunted, it warrants such complexity.]

Angel Face (Otto Preminger, 1952) ***1/2 [Premingerís camera seems to be the only thing that gives a damn about finding out any sort of truth here. Justice, both poetic and legal, fails to provide satisfactory results, and as a result his tendency to track about following his characters, becomes a quest for understanding in a world thatís largely past caring. When his femme fatale is left alone in an empty house, he wordlessly lets us feel her depression. The courtroom battle isnít as gripping as Anatomy of a Murderís, but itís better than most and the shock ending is killer.]

All I Desire (Douglas Sirk, 1953) ***1/2 [A world-weary Barbara Stanwyck (she seems older her than in the later Thereís Always Tomorrow) carries this period melodrama in which a woman returns to her abandoned family, only to face the same forces that drove her away in the first place. It sounds jejune, but Sirkís intelligence and wit energize it, making the film something of an attack on its primary audience. Stanwyck radiates a melancholy vibe that manages to ground everyone else. Whenever she goes on the offensive, we understand precisely why she had to leave this town and how she managed to survive outside it.]

There's Always Tomorrow (Douglas Sirk, 1956) **** [Superior to any other Sirk film Iíve seen in its ability to move me, but still possessing the satiric edge and impressionistic grace that distinguish him from the hacks in the genre. MacMurray and Stanwyck couldnít be farther from their characterizations in Double Indemnity, but theyíre at least as good here, with roles that arenít quite as archetypical as they were in that film and a plot that allows them a bit more ambiguity when itís all over.]

 

31. Capturing the Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki, 2003) **

Wrong Turn (Rob Schmidt, 2003) ***

The Reckless Moment (Max Ophuls, 1949) ***1/2 [Superior to its remake The Deep End, but not really an unparalleled thriller, this film provides a more compelling final act, since James Mason more convincingly grounds his characterís change of heart both in his sense of decency and his attraction to Joan Bennett. The movie mines as much pathos from Bennettís missing husband as it does from its plot. She has no choice but to handle things in his absence and in doing so, sheís exposed to a world she never knew existed. As Ophuls trails her throughout her home, he never lets us forget whoís missing (even though he never appears on screen).]

 

(76 features, 5 shorts)

 

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