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

 

01. The Snake Pit (Anatole Litvak, 1948) 71 [This tale of a histrionic mental patient might have had some sort of importance in its day as an expose about conditions in asylums, but today it plays more as a woman's picture, with Olivia de Havilland as the long-suffering recipient of fraternal guilt. It's more entertaining than the average woman's picture though, since de Havilland's travails are always sensational and the presentation of her subjective experience allows for exciting cinematic moments. Unlike many subsequent films set in an asylum, the asylum doesn't seem to stand as a dominating metaphor, which works to the movie's overall credit.] 

Ruggles of Red Gap (Leo McCarey, 1935) 63 [Obviously, this comedy is meant to be a platform for Charles Laughton's talents. He's fine, I suppose, but the highlight for me was Roland Young's performance as his former employer. Ruggles' assimilation into American culture comes as a forced message. His boss' is more casual and convincing. Laughton's Gettysburg address might be the film's most famous scene, but the best is the casual piano and drum duet that Young and Leila Hyams share at a party. If the rest of the film somehow managed its mix of excitement, emotion, and affection for character, this might have been a masterpiece instead of a solid diversion.]

 

02. Aelita (Yakov Protazanov, 1924) 40 [This presumably singular piece of Communist propaganda features a trip to Mars that results in a revolution. Essentially, it's a third-rate Metropolis. I was surprised by how little of it actually felt like a science-fiction film. I suppose its creators didn't want to run the risk that one might escape from its moral into fantasy.] 

Housekeeping (Bill Forsyth, 1987) 81 [This is the sort of twee coming of age fable that's almost never done with enough intelligence to make it work. Here, though, it's pulled off, and in its tale of two sisters it makes a kind of remarkable suggestion that there is a life out there that most of us leave unlived without insulting the masses who opt for the other one. The key scene, thematically, is probably the moment where Sylvie observes that Lucille is lonely, but as it plays out, it doesn't feel like it's anything more than a tossed-off observation. That sort of grounding in the moment keeps the picture from ever feeling overbearing or even deterministic. It nails the senses of physical and emotional isolation that are so necessary to what it's trying to say, but still feels warm and draws you in. Christine Lahti is rather perfect here.]

So Close (Corey Yuen, 2002) 42 [Three good action scenes do not a movie make, unfortunately... There are way too many lackluster dramatic threads interspersed here, and often they don't hold together in a logistical sense (there's a murder pinned on a character, against all reason) or a satisfactory emotional one (the male love interest completely disappears midway through). The film's central gimmick, a high tech security system, is similarly (which is to say, poorly) conceived. Qi Shu is typically enchanting and the lesbian vibe is a welcome addition to this brand of feminist action film (if not as interesting as in Ghosts of Mars).]

 

03. Bird (Clint Eastwood, 1988) 71 

Lawless Heart (Tom Hunsinger & Neil Hunter, 2001) 37 [The opening sequence's split-screen should have been a tip-off, but it didn't occur to me that I was about to watch one of those movies where we watch the same thing played out from several perspectives. There's certainly not anything inherently wrong with that kind of structure (e.g. Elephant), but the first time time looped back on itself here, I groaned and felt stranded back at square one. The problem is that it's also one of those movies that encourages us to think its characters are scoundrels, shows them at their worst, and then expects us to buy their turnabout into feel-good territory. There's certainly not anything inherently wrong with that kind of approach (e.g. Magnolia), but it makes us go through that flirtation with immorality three times, and doesn't really extend it the second and third. Ultimately, it seems that the movie's modesty gets the best of it. It wants to pitch its working-class drama on a level everyone can relate to. There's certainly not anything inherently wrong with that (e.g. Raising Victor Vargas), but there's a thin line between common experience and commonplace, and I'm afraid Lawless Heart is just this side of trite.] 

 

04. Darkness Falls (Jonathan Liebesman, 2003) 11 [This retarded rip-off of A Nightmare on Elm Street starts promisingly with a creepy urban legend setup (though it never explains why the tooth fairy wants teeth) and some interesting subtext about puberty, but never really expands upon it, instead becoming a relatively mindless and soulless creature feature. Logical gaffes abound. There's a hospital with backup lights that last a matter of minutes, a random fairy tale book that explains precisely how to dispatch the beast, and a monster that is supposedly scared of light flying about in a lightning storm. What sucks especially hard here is that the scare scenes, which rely on the presence of dark to frighten us, actually use a lot of light used in their compositions, completely negating their effectiveness. If the movie learned a few lessons from Blair Witch's or Jacques Tourner's less is more approach, it would have doubtlessly been more successful.] 

Mephisto (Istvan Szabo, 1981) 45 [Though Mephisto presents an initially compelling look at an artist who seeks refuge in the cloistered world of the theater, I can't help but feel Klaus Maria Brandauer's performance is undercut by his reluctance to come to terms with his character's bizarre naivety. This is a movie that plays better in theory than in the actual viewing. Szabo truncates so many scenes down to their very essence that what's left over feels like a distilled barrage of thematic relevance instead of an organically flowing story. It's not clever at all. It assumes in advance that we know what's coming, and asks us to condemn its protagonist's actions as he's making them, even before they could possibly be construed as a bad idea using the information the film has given us to that point. Also, it loses a few points for its ridiculously overextended central metaphor. We see the German Prime Minister shaking hands with the devil, we see Nazis at a party dressing up like the devil and dancing, we see the complicit actor signing contract after contract, he stars in two productions of "Faust" to rave reviews, and so on. Is this artistry or the kind of propaganda the movie begs us to condemn?]

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (Quentin Tarantino, 2003) 89 [Third time through, I'm still rather stunned by what I see. The thematic weight bubbling under the finely polished surface could take on so many forms in Vol. 2 that it's impossible not to be excited. Seems to me now that metaphorically every other woman in the movie is a manifestation of some aspect of The Bride. We seem to be getting her back-story, or at least the emotional elements of it, through their participation in her quest for revenge (idly, I wonder if the male characters are similarly stand-ins for Bill...). The main themes here worth extracting seem to be the mixing of cultures, the notion that action carries with it consequence, the corruption of innocence, and the suggestion that feminine empowerment is an illusion. The scenes, such as the one where Vernita's daughter witnesses her mother's death, where these elements slam together are as intense as any drama I've seen in the last year. My favorite bits are probably the hilarious, yet still relevant, "You speak Japanese well" scene and the truly masterful Tokyo arrival montage (which prefaces about a half-dozen more montages before the film closes, all of them inspired), which might be the year's purest blast of cinematic talent.] 

 

05. The Trip (Miles Swain, 2002) 10 [This unintentionally hilarious drama features porno-movie level acting and sitcom level direction. It tries, perhaps too nobly considering its quality, to cast its bizarre love triangle against the struggle for gay rights in the '70s and the '80s AIDS crisis. It flirts with being a retread of The Way We Were for a while before venturing off into inexplicable Thelma and Louise territory for its finale. The hideous stereotypes employed here make Boat Trip feel as if it were made by GLAAD itself.]

Brink of Life (Ingmar Bergman, 1958) 67 [Powerful in typically Bergmanesque ways, and delivered with shocking levels of detail and conviction, especially for a film from its era. I can't help but feel that I might have liked it more if I was in a better mood, though. It's undeniably well-acted, and more forthright than most modern medical melodramas, but I felt a bit distanced from it. I will definitely give it another chance, since it seems to introduce a lot of the themes that he'd further explore in his chamber dramas.] 

 

06. Gremlins 2: The New Batch (Joe Dante, 1990) 68 [Lunacy, certainly, but the level of inspiration occasionally dips. One can incontestably see how Dante got from Gremlins to his Looney Tunes movie from watching this. It lacks some of the heart of the original, though. For example, Phoebe Cate's holiday horror story is surely a gag here, whereas in the original it was a gag that tied into the overall assault on the Christmas season and seemed to imbue her character with a sense of pathos. Here corporate America is the main target of satire and as a result the movie comes off as a parade of brand names at times.]

Henry Fool (Hal Hartley, 1997) 89 [I caught this during its first run, but hadn't really been exposed to Hartley's distinct sensibility at the time, so I was caught a bit off guard. My initial reaction was positive, but not as emphatic as it is now. What I see here now is a big step forward for the director in ambition that still maintains his sensibility. Lyricism comes so easily here that it's almost missable at times. Potty humor is slammed right against highbrow verbal gymnastics, leading to surprisingly poignant moments (e.g. the marriage proposal, which is one of the most memorable I've ever seen). It attempts to reconcile artistic ambition with the world's realities, can't really find an answer, but is one hell of a disquisition anyhow.]

 

07. Viridiana (Luis BuŮuel, 1961) 91 [I would likely list the guy among my top ten favorite directors, but I was shocked to notice that I hadn't watched a BuŮuel movie in about two years. I quickly rectified that by revisiting one of my favorites. Tough to imagine someone arguing that this is a bad film in any sense. BuŮuel is so in control of himself here that my mind boggles. It's savage, but it never feels strained. The nearly invisible way he shoots the film, makes it easy to accept copious amounts of symbolism without feeling the weight of pretensions weighing on the movie. Never before has charity, felt closer to hypocrisy.]

Underworld (Len Wiseman, 2003) 40 [A potentially neat concept (race wars between vampires and werewolves) is sort of squandered here, since the movie seems to wholeheartedly believe there is a good side and a bad side in the conflict. It does the Matrix movies proud by copying them so poorly that the amount of skill needed to make them becomes evident. Still, as ineptly made as this thing is at times, it has a special sort of silliness that made it enjoyable for me. There seems to be no daylight here, and only a few characters aren't a vampire or a werewolf, so at least it doesn't bungle its tone.]

 

08. Los Olvidados (Luis BuŮuel, 1950) 75 [BuŮuel seems to be flirting with simple, if heartbreaking, Neorealist techniques here, but then there's that awesome shot of one of the youth throwing an egg directly at the camera. Suddenly, he's incriminating the audience directly for society's ills (which makes perfect sense), and suddenly I think I probably have to give the film a second look (preferably on film) sometime. It's unafraid to look at its subject matter as is, and as a result it doesn't seem either judgmental or to be perpetually asking the audience to recoil in horror. The narrative seems like a mild liability though. The neatness of it, with its clear character arcs, undercuts the overall intensity a bit. The animal symbolism is as pointed here as in other BuŮuel films.] 

 

09. Washington Heights (Alfredo De Villa, 2002) 47 [Like so many of these ethnic dramas, Washington Heights feels like it's straining at times to include so many of the stereotypes and touchstones of the ethnicity at its center (which is Cuban-American this time out), as if its target audience might reject it if it doesn't give them enough to identify with. Other than that seeming bout of insecurity, it's sure-footed enough. It not only makes the sense of community palpable, but then makes us understand the toll that community can take. The performances are adequate, the DV unfortunate, and the script a tad too melodramatic.]

Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky, 2004) 63 

What a Girl Wants (Dennie Gordon, 2003) 27 [Not at all charming, especially when we have movies like Chasing Liberty at our collective disposal. Amanda Bynes isnít a very appealing screen presence at all, and the movie only worsens that by making the character that she plays hopelessly self-centered, materialistic, and vindictive. Itís straining, desperately, to hook both the teen audience and their parents, by paralleling Bynesí growth into a princess with Colin Firthís communization, but the middle ground that it finds feels like a betrayal of both.]

 

10. Voyage to Italy (Roberto Rossellini, 1953) 80 [It wasnít well-regarded in its day, and thatís not surprising. I donít think most people would really respond to it today, either. Itís a remarkably interior movie that outwardly focuses most of its ardent attention on exterior things. The scenery is beautiful, indeed, but it reflects and motivates its characters to a degree thatís rare, even though I could easily name a dozen movies that seem patterned after this one. What seemed most distinct about it is the way that Rossellini not only works in his associations between physical and spiritual experiences, but also allows us to see that the husband and wife respond to different things, even as they take a similar emotional journey. She moves about a symbolically charged world of past decay. He requires more literal touchstones. Neither of them is held above the other, however. The ending of the film suggests that the very something that seems so mysterious and remarkable about their about-face is the same thing that bonds them. Itís nuance in action to an astonishing degree.]

The Outlaw and His Wife (Victor Sjostrom, 1918) 64 [Fine, but not quite revelatory. Sjostrom clearly is as concerned with manís relationship to nature as he is with manís relationship with other men, and that gives the film as much subtext as anything Iíve seen from the period. Like many episodic silents, it feels a bit padded out though, especially in its early scenes. Itís downright confusing that the opening titles tell us that the baby-murdering heroine is meant to represent ďthe spirit of Denmarkís womenĒ.]

Chasing Liberty (Andy Cadiff, 2004) 68

 

11. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Th. Dreyer, 1928) 99 [As intense an experience as cinema has to offer. I still canít quite tell whether the film thinks Joan is insane, insanely devout, or truly touched by God. While watching, I can't help but measure her devotion to her beliefs versus those possibilities. This is a surprisingly political movie. Itís funny that its reputation as an intimate, insular character study still sticks. Falconetti is beyond compare, of course.]

Muriel's Wedding (P.J. Hogan, 1994) 61 [Funny that ten years ago, I didnít pick up on the considerable homosexual subtext here (I thought they were just close girlfriends!). I think this movie is somewhat shoddily put together, and I think that it might have too much narrative incident for its own good, but I do like the way that it continually asks us to consider the real pain beyond the genreís most buoyant fantasies.]

Bulletproof Monk (Paul Hunter, 2003) 38 [Itís precisely the movie youíd expect a buddy film starring Chow Yun-Fat and Seann William Scott to be. I have to note that itís more enjoyable than the Rush Hour films, if only because itís more willing to indulge in its comic book premise. What the heck happened to Chris Tucker, by the way?]

DysFunktional Family (George Gallo, 2003) 36 [It starts with an interesting premise: Eddie Griffithís stage show is intercut with some documentary footage that introduces us to the family members he rags on. Unfortunately, a lot of the material already feels horribly dated (e.g. Osama Bin Laden jokes), and the rest of it is of a familiar, hard-knock life type. Despite the nonstop profanity, the only shocking bit was the introduction of Eddieís crude uncle, who fancies himself a porn star.]

Angels in America (Mike Nichols, 2003) 46 [All of the weaknesses of the play are only exacerbated by the transition to the small screen. Endless monologues, uneven performances, and an unremittingly serious tone greet those willing to invest six hours of their time. More than anything, though, the spiteful attitude toward those who arenít already on the filmís political bandwagon is what turned me off (especially in the treatment of the sexually confused conservative). Jeffrey Wright is sort of astonishing here, though, turning the theoretically clichťd role of the flaming best friend into a sympathetic being. None of his monologues feel laborious. Thatís a compliment I canít pay to anyone else in the cast.]

When Father Was Away on Business (Emir Kusturica, 1985) 59 [Well-observed family drama meets up with a somewhat half-baked childhood nostalgia here. It goes to the trouble of presenting the lead boyís subjective understanding of events and continually undercuts that by including extra scenes to fill in all of the gaps for the audience. There are a few surprisingly lyrical passages here, and the last ten minutes are a satisfying payoff, but I couldnít help but want it to pick a mode of storytelling and stick with it.]

 

12. Mute Witness (Anthony Waller, 1994) 64 [Ultimately it doesnít make a lot of sense, but itís a fun ride anyhow. The initial chase sequence is as well-directed as they get, and even though Iíve seen the film several times, it still gets me excited. Itís a case of diminishing returns from that point on, but I still have a lot of fun with it. Itís a shame Waller never became the master of suspense that this film suggested he mightÖ]

 

13. Peel (Jane Campion, 1982) 66

Passionless Moments (Jane Campion & Gerard Lee, 1983) 58

A Girl's Own Story (Jane Campion, 1984) 56 [This trio of Campion shorts suggests the director hasnít betrayed herself with the arrival of her success, but are also less successful than her best features. The second two are a bit too precious for my tastes, and that reduces their ability to serve as the alternate voices they seem to want to be. Peel fares better, thanks to its intensity, but the non-ending is a bit of a disappointment.]

Fires on the Plain (Kon Ichikawa, 1959) 77 [Harrowing from the start, and it only gets harder to watch as it goes along. The last episode finds an especially potent microcosm about warís senselessness. The directorís peerless use of the widescreen frame is to be commended, even if his compositions often have a theatrical quality that plays with the realism of the piece. The actors' movements during the battle scenes use repetition and symmetry to only further dehumanize the characters they play.]

 

14. Nenette and Boni (Claire Denis, 1996) 81 [Canít think of another film that so deftly underlines the link between consumerism and sex. Iím especially fond of Denisí treatment of her lead characters here. They are young, they arenít heroic, but theyíre sympathetic. The movie is too smart to despair over them, because to do so would suggest a larger pessimistic view of the world. Boni is at once marginalized and territorial, and watching him exert himself always carries with it a trace of the pathetic. Everyone seems torn between facing reality and retreating into fantasy, but fantasy here is always contaminated by reality (which makes it difficult at times to tell where one begins and the other ends).]

Detour (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945) 71 [Itís one of the most respected B-movies for a reason. Despite the low budge, thereís an expansive feel to this road nightmare. Itís one of those assaults on America that actually spans the country. The lead character almost exhibits as much anxiety here chasing the American dream as he does over his guilty conscience. The overcooked narration undoes the effects that Ulmer strives for, at times, unfortunately, but the typically disappointing Production Code-compliant ending stings less than usual.]

 

15. Masculin, Feminin (Jean-Luc Godard, 1966) 70 [I wanted to like it more, but can't help that so much of the commercialization of thought that Godard is demonstrating to us here has become so commonplace that it loses a lot of its satiric punch. The movie was so prescient in its radical ideas that those ideas inevitably became part of our collective consciousness. Of course the other strand of the movie, which deals with the toll that radical political thought places on the mind is a potent reminder of failed revolutionary potential now. It's obvious that Coca-Cola trumped Marx.]

The In-Laws (Andrew Fleming, 2003) 22 [I wasn't expecting a spy movie here, probably because I never saw the original, but this is just plain inept. There's a germ of a good idea here in contrasting Brooks' neurotic overcompensations with the super-efficient secret agents, but the movie doesn't run with it at all. It's about as trite as Hollywood comedy gets, and sometimes scenes end with me still waiting for the punchline. Beware.]

 

16. The Fog (John Carpenter, 1980) 56 [Especially impressive in its first thirteen minutes, which don't really introduce characters so much as the movie's setting and mood. Carpenter, per usual, is well in control of the technical aspects here, and the scenery he includes of the California coastline is one of the movie's prime pleasures. As a ghost story, it's nothing revelatory, perfectly workmanlike, and kind of dull. His wife's role seems larger than it probably "should" be, but it gives the film a kind of charm and affection that it might otherwise lack.]

Home Room (Paul F. Ryan, 2002) 41 [Two solid lead performances, to be sure, but this solemn movie just begs you to shut it out. In many ways it avoids feel-good traps, which is thankful considering its subject matter (school shootings), but the central conceit of the plot, which focuses on the unlikely friendship between two opposite-minded students, plunges right into one. In the end, it's an dreary experience, and the cathartic ending doesn't have half the impact it needs to because it wildly shifts our understanding of one of the main characters.] 

L.A. Plays Itself (Fred Halsted, 1972) 58 [This is an oddball artifact from the era before the advances of video came to define what a porno film is. Today thereís enough hardcore sex in our art films that itís more difficult than ever to define pornography, so perhaps it's time to start considering works like these. Since this movie waits ten minutes before its first sex scene (an eternity in the get-off-quick rules of porno movies), and then returns to its focus on nature afterwards, itís tough to ghettoize this film in that genre. It presents a simple city versus country dialectic, in which the idyllic wilderness is everything that the harsh urban environ is not, but it's obvious that one can't simply condemn city living or the S&M relationship that the film shows there.]

Autumn Spring (Vladimir Michalek, 2001) 29 [These movies, which suggest that growing old and dying is a blast with the right attitude, are always tough to swallow. People who griped about the facile resolutions and gross exaggerations of chraracter in About Schmidt should be forced to watch this thing. I suppose there must be an audience for this sort of thing, since these movies keep getting made, but I am not it.]

 

17. Alien3: Special Edition (David Fincher, 1992) 73 [Technically, this cut of the movie was made without Fincher's okay, but to me it seems vastly superior to the one that was released to theaters. It's a much more somber movie now, and as a result, it's easier to come to terms with the decision to kill most of the surviving cast from Aliens. The allusions Fincher makes to the Joan of Arc story, and Dreyer's film, seem appropriate. That kind of ambition is welcome because it elevates our interest in Ripley, and the movie ends up taking on a sense of gravity that while rare in this genre, feels like a constant reminder of the vastness of her journey.]

Dust in the Wind (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 1986) 64 [Early Hou feels blessed with a level of sweetness that seems to have largely left his later movies (which doesn't make the worse, but certainly harder to watch). Here we can feel alienation creeping into the lives of the characters he follows, but he is always willing to pull back from it. What leaves the largest impression here is the director's feel for the pacing of small town life. It's not a deep movie, especially since it centers on the perils of young love, but it's sharply observed, especially in the pitch-perfect final scene.]

 

18. True Romance (Tony Scott, 1993) 58 [There are tons of great elements here, but the movie only occasionally has the sort of energy that it requires. Unfortunate choices (e.g. the cuts to Sizemore during the police stakeout, the ending) abound, and they undermine the recklessness that is supposed to power the movie. Is there a film that could possibly benefit less from a bouncy Hans Zimmer score? I like the majority of the performances here (Arquette's accent is a sticking point though) and the dialogue is naturally superb, but the end result is less thant he sum of its parts.] 

Hud (Martin Ritt, 1963) 82 [The pleasures of the performances and photography here far outweigh the fairly simple moral crisis that's presented. It's a much better, or at least more consistent, movie than the similarly themed Giant, and to these eyes a more definitive portrait of an American anti-hero than Rebel Without a Cause. It never shies away from its bleakness.]

Three Brothers (Francesco Rosi, 1981) 72 [On paper its premise must sound horribly diagrammatic, but it works precisely because Rosi succeeds in wedding his political intent to the lives of his characters. Phillippe Noiret's performance is fairly exceptional. Even as he's blatantly acting as a mouthpiece for the director, he's affecting and human. It's a quiet film that caught me off guard with its frequent stabs at lyricism.]  

The Gay Desperado (Rouben Mamoulian, 1936) 46 [Second rate, really. Mamoulian seems to be on auto-pilot most of the time here, although there are a few shots involving shadows that reveal his touch. The farce here is broad, sniping at easy targets (e.g. the mob, the Spanglish that Mexicans speak in Hollywood movies) without much effect. It's not a bad film, exactly, but it's uninspired, even during its musical sequences.]

 

19. Violence at Noon (Nagisa Oshima, 1966) 62 [Daringly shot, with an editorial style so fragmented that itís almost disorienting at times, this serial killer drama still seems ahead of its time in many ways. Oshimaís experimentations mostly pay off, and he certainly finds original ways to shoot dialogue sequences. The plot pales in comparison to Immamuraís similar Vengeance is Mine, but seeing that that film is one of the genreís high points, it seems hardly worth bringing up.]

The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1939) 58 [I have to confess that I find Mizoguchiís movies from this period to be rather dull, if intellectually stimulating. His style is so restrained that it scarcely has any impact on me at all. Lots of directors favor long master shots, but his are some of the only ones that actively make me less interested in the characters. Actually, the final moments of this one packed an emotional punch for me, but getting there barely seemed worth the effort at times.]

Murder, My Sweet (Edward Dmytryk, 1944) 60 [It really nails the grittier aspects of Chandlerís novels, and Dick Powell is as valid a Marlowe as Bogart or Gould (if somewhat less inspired than either). That doesnít help it overcome the routineness of the script, however. Thereís little here except for standard noir tropes, and though theyíre delivered effectively, itís familiar territory. Bonus points for the delusional dream sequenceÖ]

Final Destination 2 (David R. Ellis, 2003) 55 [I only intended to watch the (awesome) opening sequence, but got suckered in for the duration. Itís clever, gory and sadistic in the best possible ways. Unfortunately, itís not very scary at all.]

Millennium Mambo (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 2001) 84

 

20. Applause (Rouben Mamoulian, 1929) 74 [Starts out on somewhat shaky ground, but as it progresses, it grows increasingly expressive. This is a typical backstage drama, but itís imbued with a sensibility that elevates it. Helen Morgan has a hell of a character arc, and the long-shot used in her most pivotal scene in sheer genius. Mamoulian suggests the worst, and goes much farther than one might expect in that direction. When the movie is over, itís difficult to take any solace in the ďhappyĒ ending.]

St. Martin's Lane (Tim Whelan, 1938) 57 [Vivian Leigh is miles from her Gone With the Wind role here, but Laughton typically mugs for the camera. Itís a pretty average musical, really, with a few scattered moments that suggest reality has had some effect on the proceedings. The London settings seem to be used well, but itís all a bit moot in light of the feeling that none of these people are especially talented performers.]

Simon of the Desert (Luis BuŮuel, 1965) 75 [Peak Bunuel, at least until the left-field ending, which is not so much bizarre as a step down from the rest of the movieís satiric heights. The movie is so good that I find myself trying to justify the quality of that ending, but it just doesnít work. Overall, though, itís a hilarious, profane, and effortlessly surreal, work, like so many of the directorís others.]

 

21. Torque (Joseph Kahn, 2004) 40

 

22. Long Day's Journey Into Night (Sidney Lumet, 1962) 66 [The first act of this three-hour beast is tough to bear. Hepburneís performance seems miscalculated because of its accessibility. The hush-hush tone surrounding the familyís dysfunction is absurd. That the source material was a play is all too apparent. The second half is infinitely better, however. Hepburn is shuttled off-screen and begins to be an effective device. Ralph Richardson and Jason Robards deliver two of the finest monologues youíll see in any film. Skeletons come out of the closet, and the atmosphere in the house becomes almost overbearing.]

Manic (Jordan Melamed, 2001) 43 [This would be a worthwhile movie, perhaps, if it werenít so hideously directed. Like so many DV movies, itís ugly, and poorly edited, with too many stunt cuts that donít pay off. The performances, thankfully, are well-modulated, but they only carry the movie so far in the light of its obvious symbolism and trite message.]

 

23. Jet Lag (Daniele Thompson, 2002) 44 [Certainly this is a pleasant movie, but thereís disappointment inherent in watching Juliette Binoche, perhaps the finest actress of our time, in material thatís so thin. She breathes about as much life as can be expected into her character here, but still canít make this a must-see. Itís for those who found Lost in Translation too challenging, I suppose. For long stretches of its runtime, I found myself idly wondering about the logistics of its shoot (since most of it takes place in a seemingly busy airport).]

The Butterfly Effect (Eric Bress & J. Mackye Gruber, 2004) 38 [Stupid, to be sure, but from time to time, itís entertainingly stupid. The titleís conceit seems wholly misapplied, since traveling back in time to stop a murder is not at all equivalent to a butterfly flapping its wings in Africa. Various other leaps of logic exist, but they do little to distract from the sheer insanity of some of the scenarios here. It might not have ever been good, but it sure wasnít boring.]

Win a Date With Tad Hamilton! (Robert Luketic, 2004) 27 [Kate Bosworthís not at all convincing as the girl next door (itís downright bizarre that no one ever mentions her Husky eyes), and that undermines a lot of the charm this dopey romantic comedy is trying to create. It tries to present a Hollywood system that no longer exists and a version of small town America that seems outmoded. When the final sequence features that fake small town aping the fake Hollywood, itís not surprising at all, and it feels pretty far from honest.]

 

24. Morocco (Joseph von Sternberg, 1930) 81 [This multi-layered, ravishing movie meditates on restraint and romantic compulsion while serving up a huge amount of star power. The relatively simple story follows a woman who sacrifices all for love, but through Sternbergís intensity it becomes a transcendent experience. Deitrich is at once world-weary and completely unguarded here. That she actually can get hurt in love comes as a genuine surprise. The expatriate aristocrat played by Adolphe Menjou seems to be a stand in for the director. In a lot of ways, this is really his story.]

The Party's Over (Rebecca Chaiklin & Donovan Leitch, 2001) 61

Marion Bridge (Wiebke von Carolsfeld, 2002) 53

Better or Worse? (Jocelyn Cammack, 2000) 43

Two or Three Things I Know About Her (Jean-Luc Godard, 1967) 59

 

25. Madame Sata (Karim Ainouz, 2002) 36

Harvard Man (James Toback, 2001) 63

The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz (Luis BuŮuel, 1955) 79

 

26. The Times of Harvey Milk (Rob Epstein, 1984) 74

And Now... Ladies and Gentlemen (Claude Lelouch, 2002) 34

 

27. Teorema (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1968) 73

Outside the Law (Tod Browning, 1920) 37

 

28. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (Lewis Milestone, 1946) 68

 

29. L'auberge Espagnole (Cedric Klapisch, 2002) 57

I Capture the Castle (Tim Fywell, 2003) 40

The Woman in the Window (Fritz Lang, 1945) 85

 

30. The Perfect Score (Brian Robbins, 2004) 36

The Big Bounce (George Armitage, 2004) 52

 

31. The Life of Emile Zola (William Dieterle, 1937) 67

Young Mr. Lincoln (John Ford, 1939) 66

Italianamerican (Martin Scorsese, 1974) 67

The Big Shave (Martin Scorsese, 1967) 38

A Matter of Life and Death (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1946) 46

Son of Paleface (Frank Tashlin, 1952) 71

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 2003 - January 2004 - February 2004