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Screening Log



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August 2004 Screening Log - click for reviews, when applicable. Titles of short films listed in bold.


01. Freaky Friday (Gary Nelson, 1976) 58 [Harris and Foster, surprisingly, don't push this one past Curtis and Lohan. Its squareness is likable to a point, and it makes an interesting contrast to the remake's sometimes desperate attempts to be hip, but there's no getting around the fact that it's still awfully square. Seemingly obvious jokes from the remake are conspicuously absent here. The fortune cookie is thankfully absent.]

She Hate Me (Spike Lee, 2004) 29 [Sort of promising in its first hour, where it's flailing about willy-nilly, but then, almost unavoidably, it becomes a case of diminishing returns. Lee's seething with anger at the start of the film, but by the end, he's reconciled way too much. For example, the reasons why Ellen Barkin's Martha Stewart clone is allowed to save face are beyond me. The final images are downright laughable. The sequence showing the first troupe of lesbians waiting to be impregnated is funny. By the second or third time, the charm is gone, and the drone of Terance Blanchard's score is doing more to define the mood than the script. It's almost astonishing that none of this year's films about our wacko political system has a more complex perspective than the overly simplified, us-vs.-them stance that we already get from the mainstream media. If even our artists see things in such black and white terms, how can we be expected to not?]

Garden State (Zach Braff, 2004) 42 [Solipsism reaches new heights here, but the total package is too accomplished to dismiss entirely. Every time I was prepared to write it off as trite, pandering nonsense, an oddball scene managed to ring true. It's a small miracle, given that Braff's lead performance is exceptionally off-putting and Portman is an obvious, frequently annoying totem. Sarsgaard, predictably, manages to hold the screen, as does Armando Riesco. It's a shame we don't see more of either.  The central character arc takes Braff from a place where he's disgusted with what's around him to a point where he can accept it, even if it's merely okay, instead of great. That's pretty much how I felt about the film.] 


02. The Manchurian Candidate (Jonathan Demme, 2004) 53 [Demme's fingerprints are all over this one, but it never seems out there enough. Although there are funky passages here and there, I have to admit that I much preferred the tonal wackiness of The Truth About Charlie to this one's insistent confrontations (among his later films, Beloved is working on a higher plane entirely). Streep's performance is enjoyable, especially when she crunches her ice cube. Everyone else feels merely adequate. The screenplay creaks loudest when it tries to be at its most timely. Some of the material works brilliantly (the soldier's uncertainty about what they did during the war, for example), but it's trying to say too much to be terribly effective as a thriller. Ultimately, it's more interesting to think about than to watch, which makes it something of a mixed blessing among this summer's movies, I suppose.]

Silver City (John Sayles, 2004) 37 [One of those John Sayles movies, where everyone's either a mouthpiece for the director or a villain, and the labyrinth plot is only an excuse to introduce more mouthpieces. Obviously the man is so convinced that he's doing right that he's scarcely concerned with doing it well. The direction is lazy, recalling filmed TV dramas, though that's nothing new with Sayles. The disappointing thing is that it almost threatens to work from time to time as a sunny, funny noir, in the style of The Long Goodbye. That's mostly thanks to Danny Huston's performance, which is admittedly nowhere near as inspired as Elliot Gould's in the Altman film. The man takes nothing that surrounds him too seriously, which helps in a movie so driven by a political agenda. Among the giant cast, Chris Cooper and Darryl Hannah also stand out, the former for a career-worst performance (an imitation of our President, designed to thrill all of those who would proclaim, "he's not my President!") and the latter for giving the film a kick in the pants when it needs it most.] 

The Village (M. Night Shyamalan, 2004) 35 [Shyamalan's subpar movies all have the same problem: a lousy script and an unduly morose tone. They're undeniably distinctive, but he would obviously be better served to drop his pretensions and make a genre film no so concerned with subversion. This is one of his more successful efforts, thanks to a first act that has considerable atmosphere and some truly spellbinding photography, courtesy of maestro Roger Deakins. There's also one effective scare sequence (hiding in the house) that undeniably demonstrates the man's skill. Unfortunately, the ridiculous style (the violin pushes it toward parody) and misguided attempt to incorporate a message sink the thing just when it was starting to get good.]


03. The Door in the Floor (Tod Williams, 2004) 49 [Largely full of nuance and restraint, this generally controlled chamber drama is hamstrung by its missteps into whimsy. Though the tale it tells hinges on passive aggressive subtleties, it often glosses over character motivation (particularly with the females) and indulges in titillation at the expense of insight (the chase scene and the sex scenes, specifically). Bridges plays a tough-to-read character who never quite gets the comeuppance due him. I suppose it's meant to make him tragic, but he only takes on any sort of gravity in his climactic monologue. Basinger is marvelous in one or two scenes, but her performance is hampered by a script that doesn't quite seem to understand her. Williams' prime achievement here is his avoidance of some the stuffiness that often plagues the genre.]


04. A Dirty Shame (John Waters, 2004) 66 [Pretty much the same as any other late John Waters film, which means it's anarchic on the surface and pretty warm and fuzzy underneath. More than once, I thought of the American Pie movies, which also combined raunch with sweetness. Here, though, the two modes are coming at you simultaneously, so it never feels like you're being coaxed into liking characters, only to see them humiliated. Even the most reactionary forces and absurd cultural artifacts on display only seem to bemuse Waters. He seems utterly convinced that everyone, deep down inside, shares his view of the world, which is surely a reductive perspective, but at the same time it's a liberating one for a farce to have. When characters finally own up to their libido, he chuckles at their previous propriety . As in most of his movies, too many subplots gum up the works a bit. The third act is a mess, although it's still funny. The NC-17 rating is a bit unwarranted, given what gets by in movies like American Pie. It's odd that in a film about the perceived perversion of suburbia, race never becomes an issue.]

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (Larry Blamire, 2001) 47 [A one-joke movie, for the most part, but a fairly diverting one. Most of the humor comes from the intentionally awful, pre-method performances and the constant interjection of awkward expository remarks into the dialogue. As an imitation of an outmoded mode of filmmaking, it lacks the ambition of Guy Maddin's work (I could detect next to no subtext, for example), but it's enough of a trifle that it scarcely matters. It almost goes without saying that it would have been better as a short.]

Skeleton Frolics (Ub Iwerks, 1937) 34 [Essentially a color rip-off of Iwerks' Silly Symphonies cartoon The Skeleton Dance, which was more effective in black-and-white anyhow.]


05. The Driller Killer (Abel Ferrara, 1979) 52


06. The Bourne Supremacy (Paul Greengrass, 2004) 41

Collateral (Michael Mann, 2004) 77 


07. Love Object (Robert Parigi, 2003) 43

Son frére (Patrice Chéreau, 2003) 38


08. Battle Royale II (Kinji Fukasaku, 2003) 43

Road Movie (Kim In-shik, 2002) 35


09. Ball of Fire (Howard Hawks, 1941) 73

Zombie (Lucio Fulci, 1979)  43


10. Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (Danny Leiner, 2004) 45

When Will I Be Loved (James Toback, 2004) 49


11. The Village of the Damned (Wolf Rilla, 1960) 80


12. Children of the Damned (Anton Leader, 1963) 33


13. Halfaouine: Boy of the Terraces (Ferid Boughedir, 1990) 30

Crooklyn (Spike Lee, 1994) 57


14. Freaks (Tod Browning, 1932) 66

We Don't Live Here Anymore (John Curran, 2004) 51


15. Greendale (Bernard Shakey, 2003) 59


16. The Postman Always Rings Twice (Tay Garnett, 1946) 65


17. The Brave (Johnny Depp, 1997) 56


18. People I Know (Daniel Algrant, 2002) 41


19. Gaslight (George Cukor, 1944) 68


20.  Along Came Polly (John Hamburg, 2004) 22


21. Open Water (Chris Kentis, 2003) 32

Exorcist: The Beginning (Renny Harlin, 2004) 44 [Far too mediocre to be considered a true disaster, the latest Exorcist only continues the losing streak of the original’s sequels. What makes these films, in which lapsed, or doubting, priests square off against an incontestable, obviously present evil, seem particularly beside the point is the fact that in the real world questions of faith are centered on the acknowledgement of an intangible presence. It’s not hard to accept the Lord as your savior, if Lucifer is staring you in the face. It reeks of desperation in the myriad ways that it tries to mine screams from an audience that’s totally at ease with the idea of demonic possession (the scandal that greeted the first film seems impossible with today’s desensitized audiences). That being said, the procession of superstitious natives, maggoty babies, upturned crosses, feral hyenas, graphic suicides, and Nazi atrocities give the impression that Harlin certainly wanted to entertain us. His desperation is not at all pretentious. He simply wants to give us our money’s worth. If the film is ultimately too stupidly conceived and weightless to leave you with that impression, there’s at least the consolation that there’s little chance that the never-ending parade will bore you.]

Alien Vs. Predator (Paul W.S. Anderson, 2004) 13 [It’s clear that Anderson’s Resident Evil was a fluke. This is an empty, boring shell of a movie that serves no discernable purpose beyond the avaricious trading on the good name of the Alien franchise (the Predator movies were never much more than “The Most Dangerous Game” on steroids). Clearly the choice of Anderson as director in a series of films that has sought out young visionary helmers is disheartening, and it probably suggests that artistic ambition is dead over at Fox.]


22. Benji (Joe Camp, 1974) 53 [That dog is one cute motherfucker. The movie features what must be the most wholesome kidnapping plot in cinema. In drawing out the titular stray’s routine it repeats itself endlessly, even in the cycle of stunts that the dogs perform, but they always remain impressive. The acting is subpar, to be sure, but since the humans are so completely upstaged, it scarcely matters.]

Miracle (Gavin O'Connor, 2004) 69 [A pleasant surprise, this is, in many ways, the movie that Seabiscuit wanted to be. In its unfettered patriotism and sharp period detail, it might be the best film of its kind since Apollo 13. It’s stirring in its convictions, but never stoops to the bathetic simpering of Ross’ film to sell them to us. The performances are uniformly reigned in, with Russell’s surprising, largely interior performance setting the mindset for the rest of the team to follow. O’Connor probably goes overboard in trying to establish a national mindset, even if awareness of that mindset is imperative to understand the impact of these events. The on-ice action is surprisingly lyrical at times, and increasingly exciting as the climactic game nears.]

The Twilight Samurai (Yoji Yamada, 2002) 58 [A bit boring in spots, but clearly a solid piece of work. The reluctant hero, who only succumbs to violence as a last resort, is a figure out of the classic Hollywood tradition, but given how many classic Westerns borrowed from samurai films, it’s no surprise to find that his attitude feels natural in this setting. It’s easy to see why the Academy flipped for this. Sanada’s lead performance is never showy, but he makes us believe his goodness.]

Hair-Raising Hare (Charles M. Jones, 1946) 83 [Absolutely quintessential Looney Tunes. It spoofs horror film conventions, is effortlessly self-reflexive, and above all is never not funny. It flip-flops between modes of comedy with amazing speed, underlining the audience’s spectatorship in one moment, and stopping to wink at itself the next. Only a handful of better animated shorts (e.g. The Great Piggy Bank Robbery, Bimbo’s Initiation, Porky in Wackyland, Duck Amuck) exist.]


23. Mad Love (Karl Freund, 1935) 76 [Few films can match the delirious atmosphere at work in Mad Love. Freund, himself a master cinematographer, combines forces with Gregg Toland to create one of the most visually expressive of all Hollywood horror films. Shadows, mirrors, doubles, and decoys conspire to create a world set on edge. The opening sequence is set in a Grand Guignol theater, and disappointingly cuts away from the gore, but the mood established permeates throughout. The plot is far less inane than in many films of this type, and the presence of personalities like Peter Lorre and Colin Clive (Dr. Frankenstein himself) only adds to the dread. The lone, unnecessary confidence check here is Ted Healy’s comic performance as an American reporter.]

Woman is the Future of Man (Hong Sang-soo, 2004) 54 


24. Mean Creek (Jacob Aaron Estes, 2004) 48 [A disappointment, but still a movie that's well worth seeing. The first half is overloaded with heavy foreshadowing that often threatens to kill the blackly comic mood. As the plot chugs along toward a predictable "shocker" (you hope the film will be smart enough to avoid it and become about something more interesting than the loss of innocence), it displays a sharp, funny judgmental streak that's wholly at odds with the somber second half. I really admire the way that Estes portrayed the rashness and stupidity of his characters, at least before he feels  it necessary to convince us that there's something at stake. It feels honest to show them foundering, and as a result, the moments that illustrate their inherently good qualities are more convincing. The bully's inability to his boorish outbursts is both great character writing and a terrific suspense builder. If the entire film could work at the level of the boat ride sequence, this might be some kind of classic.]


25. Clean, Shaven (Lodge Herrigan, 1994) 46 [At times, it's impressively cobbled together, but it never shakes that feeling that it's been pieced together . The sound design is the dominant element here, and I can't help but suspect that's because it could be applied in post-production. It resists many of the clichés of films about schizophrenics or outlaws and never unduly asks us to sympathize with its protagonist. Less gripping is the portrayal of the detective who pursues the lead character and provides the sliver of plot that exists here. The compactness of the story being told is one of its strengths, and it gains a bit of poignancy by the time its final shot rolls around.]


26. Duck Amuck (Chuck Jones, 1953) 91 [If there's a more flawless, more ambitious cartoon short, I'd be surprised. This is a true, unassailable post-modern masterpiece. I wonder if I'm underrating it...]

Dough for the Do-Do (Fritz Freleng, 1949) 60 [One one hand it's a remake of one of the greatest cartoons ever. On the other, it's a rather slavish remake, which is disappointing, given the limitless potential of the original. The Dali-inspired backgrounds are a great addition, and it's terribly funny, so it's tough to complain too much.]

Scorpio Rising (Kenneth Anger, 1964) 80 [The one thing that gets me down when watching this is that there often seems to be moments where the length of the song being used in a sequence ends up making said sequence longer than I'm comfortable with. Otherwise, I guess there's not much to add that I haven't said before. Seeing it on a big screen hammered home how much the grime is part of the fetishistic process at work.]

Vinyl (Anthony Warhol, 1965) 53 [Fascinating for a while, then just a bit dull. The choice to tell the "A Clockwork Orange" story in this way is a good one, but I would have probably gotten more out of it had it ended after the first reel and left the plot behind. Typical Warholian concerns are present. The limitations of the "hero" are laid bare, but we watch anyhow. The movie is at least as much an object portrait as a narrative. The style is so crude that it becomes self-reflexive.]


27. Zebraman (Takashi Miike, 2004) 42 [Diverting but not much more, this detour into slightly more socially acceptable material (there's still some talk about veneral diseases and plenty of violence) rightly realizes that superheroes are fodder for the imaginations of boys and those men who never stopped being boys. Hollywood has a vested interest in denying this, I suppose, but here Miike uses that rationale to turn this into a sentimental journey with a "Peter Pan" vibe. It should play better than it does, but an inadequate sense of pacing has always been Miike's downfall. This is no exception. Long stretches of the film are spent waiting for the next imaginative flourish to spring up. It's less inspired and more reigned in than his best work, though, so the payoffs don't quite provide a return on the time investment.]


28. Samaritan Girl (Kim Ki-duk, 2004) 68

The Girl Next Door (Luke Greenfield, 2004) 27


29. Breaking News (Johnnie To, 2004) 60

Hero (Zhang Yimou, 2002) 81

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (Quentin Tarantino, 2003) 89

Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (Quentin Tarantino, 2004) 84


30. Quatermass and the Pit (Roy Ward Baker, 1967) 61


31. Jason and the Argonauts (Don Chaffey, 1963) 72 




January 2004 - February 2004 - March 2004 - April 2004 - May 2004 - June 2004 - July 2004 - August 2004 - September 2004