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

 

01. Cure (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 1997) 50

 

02. The Grapes of Wrath (John Ford, 1940) 75

L'Ennui (Cedric Kahn, 1998) 77 [Kahn is quite obviously a director that warrants your attention... now. Even here, with a fairly routine (at least for the French) obsessive relationship drama, he directs as if he were making a suspense film, resulting in an unusual degree of audience involvement. The level of tension escalates almost imperceptibly from the start until the actions of the desperate, unhinged protagonist become absolutely squirm-worthy. What's most surprising here, though, is the level of humor that's injected into the whole affair. Charles Berling plays a philosophy professor who, out of pure solipsism, convinces himself that the object of his obsession is worth obsessing about. Sophie Guillemin, so good in this sort of role, plays the blank that he projects upon.]

 

03. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Jaromil Jires, 1970) 61 [There's something sort of amateurish about this movie, even though I know that Jires is a capable director from his other films. That only adds to the disconnected, dreamlike feel, though, so maybe it's intentional. In any case, as obvious as the adolescence metaphors are here, they are still effective, thanks to the film's gorgeous, evocative series of images. I am not convinced that it's a movie of any great import, but as a purely sensual experience, it has too few equals.]

Eurotrip (Jeff Schaffer, 2004) 28 [Fairly disposable, really, though slightly more ribald than the usual teen sex comedy. The percentage of successful gags is astonishingly low, so there's no need to recommend this beyond a truly bizarre Matt Damon cameo.]

 

04. The Missing (Lee Kang Sheng, 2003) 53

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Tony Richardson, 1962) 58 [Quirky sixties directorial effects, such as the sped up film speed and the superimposition of graphic effects, detract from the realistic mode of this kitchen sink drama. Courtenay is pretty good in his debut role as the titular angry young man (even if he looks too old). The movie charts familiar emotional territory, asking us to celebrate its hero's defiance of the system that's failed him, and while it's obvious and manipulative, it's still reasonably effective.] 

 

05. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Alfonso Cuaron, 2004) 58 [I dig the subtextual adolescent baggage that Cuaron adds here (werewolves, Harry playing with his wand under the blankets), but I think the movie would be more convincing if we saw the kids acting more like teenagers on a textual level. They're largely the same kids from the other two movies (with the exception of Hermione's developing figure... crikey!). Other than that, the bulk of this is standard Potter fare, which is to say intermittently enchanting, and largely clunky. The conceit that each film gives us a year of Harry's wizard education leads to a surfeit of expository scenes that reacquaint us with the characters. Fans might dig the approach, but it's deadly to the rest of us. The time-hopping last act, however, is quite impressively orchestrated, especially for a movie aimed primarily at kids. Cuaron sustains there a level of tension that's probably only possible because time is an issue. I suppose it justifies the elaborate setup, but I wonder if the first half of each of the remaining sequels will be as labored as this one's. The best moment occurs early on, in which a long sequence shot featuring dialogue in the foreground plays out while the audience observes commonplace magic effects in the background.]

 

06. Hong Kong Nocturne (Inoue Umetsugu, 1966) 62 [One of the myriad Shaw Bros. films recently released to DVD in Hong Kong, this chipper musical follows three sisters who leave their family run dance troupe to set out on their own. It's fascinating to see absolutely classic Hollywood song and dance numbers ("Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend", Singin' in the Rain's "Broadway Rhythm") lifted wholesale and recycled in low-rent imitations here. Because of the actors' considerable charm, the relatively low production values scarcely matter. It's a predictable mix of melodrama and music, to be sure, but one that's surprisingly willing to take headier subjects like female exploitation and grief.] 

Ju-On: The Grudge 2 (Takashi Shimizu, 2003) 53 [Slightly less scary than the first feature, mostly because it begins to give us concrete details behind the origins of the pale-skinned ghosts that haunt the series (which also includes two TV movies). The chronology of the plot is presented out of order, which makes for some mild confusion, but not much added fright. The structure of the movie, which includes a single story divided into chapters with the name of the person to be killed within, remains unchanged, for better or worse. Essentially, it's satisfying without being groundbreaking, and still not quite an exploitation of the original's success (unlike the second TV movie). That being said, I'm not exactly eager to see the series continue into a sprawling, multinational brand name like The Ring did.]

Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002) 97 [Iíve kind of grown comfortable with Barry Egan by this point. Heís become one of the most identifiable figures in modern cinema for me, and as I watch every minute of this color-coded, dazzlingly romantic, perfectly modulated blast of pure moviemaking, Iím constantly filled with wonder. Each viewing has given me new things to appreciate here, but above the considerable technical brilliance, Iím just in awe of the consistently humane treatment of Barry, warts and all. Thatís where Anderson trumps Tati in my book, I suppose. Playtime is a droll, brilliant, abstract piece of filmic art, but Punch-Drunk Love has immediacy coursing through its veins. That Anderson applies his aesthetic prowess to what is at the same time a mundane, ďunworthyĒ subject and the most worthy of all possible subjects results in a movie that makes you feel as if you could look at the ordinary aspects of your own life with this kind of renewed excitement. Its romanticism is contagious.]

In My Skin (Marina de Van, 2002) 54 [Quite literally, the downfall of this gross-out drama is that it doesnít give us a look at the morning after. As a result, itís a piece of leering exploitation (less or more so because the director is in the main role?). Itís effective on those terms, and I was squirming when I was supposed to squirm, but it lacks emotional depth. Just because itís gorier than The Piano Teacher doesnít make it more disturbing. The movie isnít believable, but itís not really structured to convince you anyway. The final spiraling shots into the heroineís face are all the commentary we really get here, which is adequate, but hardly revelatory.]

Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984) 77 [Bill Murrayís lines, which seem ad-libbed as often as not, are the prime attraction here, but thereís no denying the killer concept. Thereís a hilarious thread at the beginning of the movie about the difference between academia and reality thatís not followed through enough, but Iím glad itís there at all. The movie is satisfying in its development of its underdog protagonists, because it never goes overboard endearing us to them. Itís amazing that few movies (including the sequel) are able to successfully emulate the formula at work here, because it all seems so simple. The special effects hold up surprisingly well.]

 

07. Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater, 1995) 73 [I like this more than I did back in 1995, but I still am not taken in by its romance, exactly. I enjoy spending time watching the actors, listening to them speak, and looking at the scenery but the largely unquestioned naivetť here keeps me from accepting the total package. To these ears, almost everything they say seems to be obviously penned by Linklater. Now that I understand Linklater as a filmmaker, Iím able to look at this as a movie similar to Waking Life, with ďloveĒ instead of ďdreamsĒ as a topic, and accept it for the well-written discourse that it is, but Iím not sure that Iíll ever be able to appreciate it on the level that most seem to. The sequel is considerably more to my tastes, though it wouldnít surprise me at all if many of the people who adore this movie are disappointed somewhat by that one.]

Under Suspicion (Stephen Hopkins, 2000) 65 [Itís a shame this movie sailed under practically everyoneís radar upon its initial theatrical release. It has the rare feel of a tough Ď40s film noir, anchored by strong performances (Hackman and FreemanÖ what more could you ask for?) and a great sense of location. It does manage to feel suitably sleazy, which is probably why its studio suspected it wouldnít have much of an audience. The plot is twisty for the sake of suspense, and I suppose one could snipe at its implausibilities, but I was generally too caught up in it to worry much about such matters.]

 

08. La Truite (Joseph Losey, 1982) 62 [It was tough, at first, to get a handle on what Losey was doing here. Initially, I wasnít sure that I was watching a comedy, and while that was eventually made obvious, the movie takes longer than usual to tip its hat. I still canít say, however, to what degree weíre expected to rally behind Isabelle Huppertís characterís actions. Sheís exploiting a system thatís already in place, but does that make it okay? The movie tries to exist on a plane above such conventional moral questions, and I guess thatís what makes it so hard to read. There are great jokes at the expense of those who want to appear worldly here, and itís generally adept, but I wish I had a firmer grasp on the message being sent.]

Old Boy (Chan-wook Park, 2003) 49

Red Lights (Cedric Kahn, 2004) 69

 

09. American Dream (Barbara Kopple, 1991) 44 [This is a perfectly respectable, noble movie, and something of an antidote to Roger & Me, but itís not very well organized. It is sometimes sloppy in explaining bargaining strategies that only become apparent in retrospect, but more disappointingly, it tries too hard to create good guys and bad guys where there are only good and bad decisions. The specificity of the struggle keeps it from achieving the breadth that the title would suggest, despite a number of sound bites that speak of the widespread nature of the labor problems discussed. Some of the polemical strategies that Kopple uses (showing the large house of a woman apathetic to the wage drop, repeatedly cutting back to images of pig slaughtering) are positively shameless.]

Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, 2004) 92 

 

10. The Iron Mask (Allan Dwan, 1929) 62 [Great production values, a few imaginative directorial flourishes, and a clumsy sound sequence at the start are the defining characteristics of this enjoyable swashbuckling movie. It captures the vigorous energy of a Dumas story, but I canít really discern much thatís personal here (sorry, autuerists).]

 

11. Wisconsin Death Trip (James Marsh, 1999) 60 [A rather unique movie, at least as far as I can tell. The title is more apt that I suspected it would be. Essentially, it visualizes one small snippet of real-life madness after another. The cinematography is moody, and the editing scheme helps the movie build in power, but I think itís short of the conceptís full potential due a brand of visual poetry that seems to have been hampered by time and budgetary constraints. There are passages that work, though, and images that are bound to stick with the viewer. The attempts to contrast modern-day living with the supposedly placid past are less successful than the historical evocations.]

And Now the Screaming Starts! (Roy Ward Baker, 1973) 47 [This is a competent but unexceptional British horror film that never quite manages to live up to the promise of its title. The atmosphere is effective, the performances adequate, and the murders, when they finally occur, are unexpected enough to catch the viewer off guard.]

 

12. Zardoz (John Boorman, 1974) 65 [Maybe living in a world filled with Riddicks has made me more receptive to this kind of overachieving nonsense, but I can't really believe that even the '70s had a surplus of this brand of mad genius floating around. I find the male fantasy inherent in the plot sort of absurd, but forgive it because Boorman slings bold ideas and bolder images at me with such reckless abandon. Knowing nothing about it going in is an asset, because it is so unlike almost anything I've seen before (though moments certainly felt like a particularly thought-through episode original Star Trek TV show).] 

 

13. The Stepford Wives (Frank Oz, 2004) 61 [The rating should be taken with a grain of salt. It's mostly based on the fact that I laughed a lot at the witty bitchery while watching (though there's a great performance by Glenn Close, no doubt). The politics are somewhat malformed, but if you are watching this movie to have your politics reaffirmed, so are you. The energy level is kind of wobbly throughout, and the movie takes a dive at the start of the third act, but then it recovers somewhat for the ending. I really can't defend much of the stuff here (the reality TV show spoofs, the mini-movie describing the wife-making process), but it's a sprightly and fun 90 minutes of snide remarks.]

The Chronicles of Riddick (David Twohy, 2004) 26 [Mostly interesting because I couldn't tell if Vin Diesel was playing a dumb or smart character. The movie has themes of fascist intolerance (it's sold like an Amway pitch) and a weightiness that suggests Shakespearean ambitions, but Diesel, driven by revenge, seems willingly oblivious to any of it. Then there are scenes where he claims knowledge of everyone else's motivations, so the whole thing ends up a motivational muddle. Of course, since this is so clearly an R-rated film squeezed into PG-13 levels of acceptable behavior and a multimilliondollar epic that still needs to make us feel okay about its "evil" hero, that shouldn't be surprising.]

What's Up, Tiger Lily? (Woody Allen, 1966) 11 [Gosh, I feel like a heel here, but there's so much dead space in this one-joke film that it's tough to be kinder. The premise is astonishingly overextended, even with an 81 minute run time. The funniest bits, tellingly, are the ones that feature Allen proclaiming sole authorship of the endeavor. I can appreciate the originality of the concept, but maybe this kind of movie just isn't a good idea. Frankly, I expect I would have had a better time watching the movie that was ripped apart to form this mess.]

 

14. Nine Queens (Fabian Bielinksy, 2000) 55

Schizopolis (Steven Soderbergh, 1996) 25

Lamerica (Gianni Amelio, 1994) 63 

 

15. I Fidanzati (Ermanno Olmi, 1963) 73 

 

16. Time Without Pity (Joseph Losey, 1957) 50 

 

17. He Walked By Night (Alfred Werker, 1948) 71

The Cameraman's Revenge (Ladislaw Starewicz, 1912) 85

Made for Each Other (John Cromwell, 1939) 38

Grown-Ups (Mike Leigh, 1980) 74

 

18. The Terminal (Steven Spielberg, 2004) 16

 

19. Spider-Man (Sam Raimi, 2002) 69 [I had hoped that a second look would dissipate some of my problems with this movie, but they still remain. The effects sequences are still bad, and the second half of the movie is generally less inspired than the first. That doesn't mean it's bad at all, however, and I eagerly await the sequel.]

 

20. Bungee Jumping of Their Own (Kim Dae-seung, 2001) 50 [The twist central to this romantic melodrama is so genuinely bizarre that you can rest assured there's no Hollywood remake waiting in the wings. It's a well-made movie, and it's kind of endearing for a while, but I guess I lack the Buddhist faith to go where it asks me to go, or something. Even though the performances are not that good, I was kind of grooving on its romantic tone before it headed out to Weirdsville.]

Touching the Void (Kevin Macdonald, 2003) 24 [I guess this kind of literal-minded, nearly artless explanation of self-preservation has its target audience, but I am certain that it's not for me. There are one or two interesting moments of revelation (e.g. the hero of the piece explains the ordeal convinces him there's no God), but they are encapsulated in an endlessly detailed story with an inevitable conclusion. One would hope that the time elapsed between the interview and the event itself would have brought out some sort of hindsight, but apparently there's nothing of the sort to be found in those this happened to. How, then, the recounting of this story is supposed to leave a lasting impression on the audience is beyond me.] 

 

21.Hard Labour (Mike Leigh, 1973) 58 [Something more of a slog than the other Leigh movies I've watched, even though it weighs in at 70-odd minutes. It's dreary and the director manages to find less of the wit in his presentation of day to day horrors than he usually does. Still, it's an eminently respectable endeavor, choosing to focus its attention on a subject that you can imagine few other major filmmakers bothering with. The eventual catharsis is somewhat uncertain. You don't know whether it's the stirrings of change or the defeat of it (the closing credits suggest the latter). Notably, there's Ben Kingsley in a small role that serves as a precursor to his Gandhi performance.]  

 

22. They Drive By Night (Raoul Walsh, 1940) 44 [It's tough to account for the downright schizophrenic shift that occurs halfway through this enjoyable, but misguided trucking drama. Frankly, I couldn't find much reason for it, and even if both halves of the movie are decent enough, they don't resonate with each other in an interesting way. Ida Lupino's manic performance is filled with the kind of glorious passion that can only exist in a repressed Hollywood movie, but it's miles away from the specific themes of fear and responsibility that dominate the first half. I guess the eventual courtroom scenes are a result of Hollywood's inability to dramatize normalcy.] 

The Tic Code (Gary Winick, 1999) 32 [Basically this is Shine with Tourette's syndrome as the affliction of choice, though it lacks the beauty of that movie, the inspiration of some of Hicks' directorial choices, and the scenery chewing performances. It's less melodramatic as well, though, and it includes a jaw-dropping final exchange that you'd never find in Oscar bait:

Father Figure:   Back there... I saw myself blowing my brains out!

Young Ward: Me too!

Both chuckle heartily.]

I Walked With a Zombie (Jacques Tourneur, 1943) 75 [This threadbare "Jane Eyre" uses a less is more approach to great effect. The consuming passion of the heroine is conveyed mostly in a ravishing shot of her standing over an impossibly turbulent sea. Tense atmosphere oozes out of every one of this movie's pores, with ominous congo drums always emerging just in time to underline the subtext. Even though it's famously a B-picture, its technical proficiency (those awesome long pans) and visual sophistication (e.g. the frequently startling interplay between black and white figures) are top-notch.]

 

23. La Ricotta [segment from RoGoPaG] (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1963) 61

The Rainbow Man / John 3:16 (Sam Green, 1997) 51

Pie Fight '69 (Christian Bruno & Sam Green, 2000) 56

N Judah 5:30 (Sam Green, 2004) 25

 

24. Sorcerer (William Friedkin, 1977) 67

Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974) 53

 

25. Teacher's Pet (Timothy Bjorklund, 2004) 45

Beat (Gary Walkow, 2000) 70

 

26. Resurrection of the Little Match Girl (Jang Sun-woo, 2002) 56

 

27. Shivers (David Cronenberg, 1975) 42

The Passion of Anna (Ingmar Bergman, 1969) 62

 

28. Rules of Engagement (William Friedkin, 2000) 32

 

29. Rain (Lewis Milestone, 1932) 76

Fahrenheit 911 (Michael Moore, 2004) 6

 

30. Beverly Hills Cop (Martin Brest, 1984) 58

 

 

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