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

 

01. The Out-of-Towners (Arthur Hiller, 1970) 34 [Two intolerable lead characters (probably intentionally so, but who can be sure) make this a nearly tortuous experience. Movies in which characters continually yell at one another are one of my pet peeves, and this movie delivers that in spades. Neil Simon's script is a unique, inexplicable mix of wholesome and misanthropic. It's pretty much impossible to identify with, unless your personality is too.]

History is Made at Night (Frank Borzage, 1937) 52 [As the title implies, endless romantic swooning awaits those who view this film. I half-blame myself for not getting into it more, but the combination of melodramatic plot twists and non-stop sweet talking turned its world into one that was too closed off from me to be affecting. Even the final sequence's demonstration of the lead duo's love for one another seemed the machinations of a movie convinced it needs to show me what love is with the boldest of gestures. I just can't relate, I guess.] 

The Mystery of Natalie Wood (Peter Bogdanovich, 2004) 36 [I found Bogdanovich's The Cat's Meow to be fairly underwhelming, and this made-for-TV movie can best be described as a second-rate knock off of that. It's so obsessed with gossip and death, that a morbid mood permeates over the whole ordeal. Even the overlong scenes detailing Wood's troubled childhood have an air of inevitability about them that seems to promise the best stuff is yet to come as much as they cast dispersions on the Hollywood machine.]

 

02. Traffic (Jacques Tati, 1971) 86 [Tati never seems to strain while making us laugh, and because of that, different viewers might find themselves giggling at different points while watching one of his movies. To these eyes, Traffic is one of his most consistent films, perhaps because the comedic focus is narrowed almost exclusively onto automotive hijinks. Using that as a jumping off point, he still has plenty of opportunities to point out the fallacies and inanities of modern society. Like all of his films, it's meticulously composed and impeccably timed, dominated by long shots, and almost impossible to do justice to in writing.]

An Affair of Love (Frederic Fonteyne, 1999) 56 [It only has two characters to speak of, and is comprised almost entirely of dialogue sequences, but it's not boring for a moment, thanks to the actors involved. Detailing one anonymous affair from two points of view, the movie works overtime to establishing how those points of view differ, to little real effect. A third act crisis, which reminds the characters too explicitly of the ways the real world works, is too blunt when compared with what's come before.]

Stage Door (Gregory La Cava, 1937) 61 [This catty backstage melodrama has more than its fair share of quality performances, which is appropriate, given its milieu. Hepburn really solidifies her holier-than-thou persona here. Itís interesting to see how much it had developed from the similar Morning Glory to this. Otherwise, this is a routine, but certainly entertaining movie, with only the perfunctory nature of most of the plot twists getting in the way of its greatness.]

The Experiment (Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2001) 24 [Itís not believable at all, unfortunately, which is a shame since the Stanford Prison Experiment could surely inspire a great movie. The main characterís love interest is one of the most useless characters Iíve seen in ages. The parallels between this story and the rise of German fascism are annoying, and the way that charactersí personalities can be summed up entirely by the way they look is endlessly irksome in a movie thatís supposedly trying to reveal behavioral twists that we might not have expected.]

 

03. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Elia Kazan, 1945) 58

 

04. Good Boy! (John Robert Hoffman, 2003) 28

 

05. The Mother and the Whore (Jean Eustache, 1973) 63

The Good Earth (Sidney Franklin, 1937) 25

 

06. Elephant Boy (Robert J. Flaherty & Zoltan Korda, 1937) 54

The Hurricane (John Ford, 1937) 60

Last Resort (Pawel Pawlikowski, 2000) 69 [I had half-forgotten why a movie this spare, well-made and succinct wasn't a masterpiece, but upon revisiting, it's made apparent. The editing scheme ensures no shot is wasted, but at the same time squeezes some of the spontaneity out of the movie. We never really get to appreciate the sheer boredom that must exist in this kind of limbo, and the camera always cuts away at the first sign of a tear. I think Winterbottom managed to nail this feeling in his similarly themed and edited In This World, but Pawlikowski is so afraid of overstating himself that he sometimes robs himself of effects that he's earned the right to show us. Still, there's so little to complain about in this affecting drama that I almost feel like a goon for mentioning that. It's a three-character movie, with three excellent actors playing those roles. Especially noteworthy is Paddy Considine, whose performance might be one of the best so far this decade. He always seems to be performing, even when his audience is oblivious to the fact, and just when the man he plays starts to seem too perfect, the demons that put him where his is begin to show their faces. It's heartening to see that he's going to be in Pawlikowski's next film, My Summer of Love.]

 

07. Same Old Song (Alain Resnais, 1997) 62

Joe Dirt (Dennie Gordon, 2001) 53

The Sand Pebbles (Robert Wise, 1966) 64

 

08. Scarecrows (William Wesley, 1988) 66 [Revisiting this gem from my childhood was a risky proposition, but it paid off nicely. Low-budget, but genuinely scary, this stripped-down horror movie manages to make its reduced cadre of effects work in its favor. It uses black space more effectively than just about any horror film I can think of outside of The Blair Witch Project (David Lynch collaborator, Peter Deming, shot it). There doesn't seem to be a DVD available (commercially at least...), but it's out on VHS and Laserdisc.] 

Vision Quest (Harold Becker, 1985) 70 [Quite a surprise, this one! It takes two of the most typically fantasy-prone genres (teen drama and sports story) and manages to ground them, at least until its final scenes. Matthew Modine is nothing short of brilliant here (though I might actually prefer him in Married to the Mob) as an awkward All-American teen who's clearly a winner, but still makes you feel good about rooting for him. Becker takes a few chances here (e.g. Modine's character tries to rape a woman!), but mostly this is Hollywood feel-good filmmaking at its finest. Every scene develops with much more sensitivity and intelligence than anyone who's ever seen a movie like this before has any right to expect.] 

Captains Courageous (Victor Fleming, 1937) 58 [It must be something about the way I'm wired emotionally, but I found Melvin Douglas' father figure to be a much more affecting one than Spencer Tracy's. When the movie started growing bathetic about Tracy's, I pretty much tuned out. Still, this is a charming movie, made with a certain degree of finesse, with a colorful enough cast that you'll likely not forget it.]  

Not One Less (Zhang Yimou, 1999) 63 [Not quite as good as Happy Times (perhaps because I couldn't find any deeper reading for it), but still a heck of a melodrama. Zhang is pretty much unembarrassed to tackle his characters' emotions head-on, and that pays dividends here. It manages to be truly harrowing, while not really losing the scale of this particular story.]

 

09. The Last of England (Derek Jarman, 1988) 38

 

10. The Raven (Georges-Henri Clouzot, 1943) 67

Escape From New York (John Carpenter, 1981) 53 [Not as awesome as I remembered, unfortunately, partially because I thought Kurt Russell's gravelly voiced Snake Plissken came off as an unintentional joke. Though it's terribly dated, that hardly reduces the level of campy fun that one can extract from the film's production values. Unfortunately, unlike, say, Big Trouble in Little China, Carpenter isn't shooting for a campy feel here. Donald Pleasance's President does work wonderfully though. He's the perfect antidote to Snake's vague anti-establishment attitude.]

 

11. La Vie Promise (Olivier Dahan, 2002) 37 [Isabelle Huppert is fine here, but she's really the only thing this movie has going for it. There are some nice moments, that use music that I enjoy to good effect, but Dahan overdoes them by playing the entire song almost every time he uses a song. Really, this is one of those movies that worst better on a scene-by-scene basis than as a whole. Once you look at the bigger picture, things like the way both mother and daughter end up hitchhiking with the same man grow awfully annoying.]

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004) 58 [Almost awesome, but sunk somewhat by an unsympathetic female lead (admittedly, most of the time we're seeing a projection of her conjured by her spurned mate, but that doesn't help much). It's one of the most thoroughly lopsided love stories I can remember, and as a result, I found my attention drifting toward the subplots as I watched. Kirsten Dunst is the highlight here for me, and it was in her character arc that I found the only affecting moments. Gondry's direction is at is most annoying when it tries its hardest to impress us (I had very little interest in the middle hour's subconscious romp).]

 

12. Butterfly Kiss (Michael Winterbottom, 1995) 35 [Gosh, Winterbottom really has to be one of the least consistent filmmakers we have today, both in terms of subject matter and quality. He might be easier to embrace as an auteur of import if he managed to turn out a good film more often. This is a rather unexceptional lovers-on-the-run story, made noteworthy only by Amanda Plummer's brave (i.e. naked) performance and the fact that she's shacking up with a woman throughout most of the runtime. It's not really believable psychologically or logically, and the editing frequently annoyed me with its over-assertiveness.]

 

13. Ghoulies 3: Ghoulies Go To College (John Carl Buechler, 1991) 36 [I only watched this because a character shares my first and last name (which, if the IMDB is correct, is the only such instance in film history of this). Jeremy Heilman is the leader of the "bad" frat house in this rival frat comedy. There are also some homicidal Gremlins-inspired monsters running around, but this is more Animal House than House.]

Route 666 (William Wesley, 2001) 30 [I hoped this feature, from the director of the excellent Scarecrows, would reveal a hidden talent, but it doesn't. Frankly, it's a rather ineptly made haunted highway story about a ghostly chain gang. Lou Diamond Phillips and Lori Petty co-star, lending to the direct-to-video feel that haunts the movie.]

 

14. More (Barbet Schroeder, 1969) 39 [Pretty much a standard 1969 indie movie... It's a typically dopey examination of drugs, that purports to moralize in its final moments, but in doing so doesn't really manage to discount the previous 90 minutes of hedonism. The scenery is pretty (it was filmed in Paris and Ibiza), as are the members of the cast, but there's very little in the way of plot or hypnotic filmmaking here. Scene after scene feels way too slack.]

Mayerling (Anatole Litvak, 1936) 60 [Simple in plot, but infused with both a heady dose of romance and a worthwhile approximation of the mores of a time past. This is a typically glossy period drama, allowed to be slightly more risquť than Hollywood fare thanks to its foreign production. The two main characters play well off one another, and even if their plight isn't terribly sympathetic, I still found their unfortunate fate sad.]

Young and Innocent (Alfred Hitchcock, 1937) 76 [It's sort of a shame that this film has little reputation to speak of, except as a second banana to The 39 Steps. Admittedly, it is inferior to that similar film, but that's hardly a knock given the circumstances. There are at least three bravado sequences here, by my calculations, which more than qualifies it as a must-see for any fans of Hitchcock. If the story is a bit routine, at least it is delivered with the utmost efficiency, and an unusual degree of attention to the things the lead characters don't quite ever say to one another.]

 

15. Nothing Sacred (William Wellman, 1937) 82 [So close to being a truly great comedy, but the groaners, when they show up (such as in the final shot), really take their toll. Still, there's an uncommonly savage sensibility here, which keeps even the inevitable romantic pairing of the leads from really acting as a salve. The best sequence occurs early on, as the hapless reporter comes across a breed of complacent small-town folks more sharply devised than in just about any movie I can recall.]

Breakdown (Jonathan Mostow, 1997) 46 [Like most films of these type, once the modus operandi of the menace is made clear, the level of tension slacks off considerably. It doesn't help matters that the plot is fairly retarded here, though the casting of Russell works quite well as an Everyman. Its final action sequence is worthy, however, and managed to pull me back in after I thought I had checked out.]

 

16. Annie Get Your Gun (George Sidney, 1950) 74

Secret Window (David Koepp, 2004) 36

Dawn of the Dead (Zack Snyder, 2004) 55

 

17. Pootie Tang (Louis C.K., 2001) 66

 

18. The Man Who Could Work Miracles (Lothar Mendes, 1936) 67

 

19. Pickup on South Street (Samuel Fuller, 1953) 73

Night of the Demons (Kevin Tenney, 1988) 37

 

20. Besieged (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1998) 79

 

21. Mystery Train (Jim Jarmusch, 1989) 72

Onibaba (Kaneto Shindo, 1964) 46

 

22. Black Legion (Archie Mayo, 1937) 61

Spartan (David Mamet, 2004) 39

 

23. The Black Arrow (Gordon Douglas, 1948) 58

 

24. Nico and Dani (Cesc Gay, 2000) 48

 

25. Come and Get It (Howard Hakws & William Wyler, 1936) 72

 

26. Woman of the Year (George Stevens, 1942) 57

 

27. Calamity Jane (David Butler, 1953) 75

Blade 2 (Guillermo Del Toro, 2002) 44

 

28. Failan (Song Hae-sung, 2001) 42

Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem (Kazuhisa Takenouchi, 2003) 74

 

29. Tenebrae (Dario Argento, 1982) 58

 

30. The Spirit of the Beehive (Victor Erice, 1973) 82

Sodomites (Gaspar Noe, 1998) 50

Infernal Affairs (Alan Mak & Andrew Lau, 2002) 68

 

31. Santa Sangre (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1989) 78

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Marcus Nispel, 2003) 73

 

 

January 2004 - February 2004 - March 2004 - April 2004