Thursday, May 20, 2010


A movie that begins with a couple not having sex, and ends with another couple not having sex, so what's in between? People who learn to talk to each other by talking to themselves, that's what. And a brief bit of sex, which is cut short when they start talking about it and realize they misunderstand each other.

Good to see Island Video getting some cameo love, but really...was it just too obvious to casually mention the greatest video store in the world?


You've seen the parodies ... or ... have you? If not, time to do some catching up. One of my favorites is when Hitler finds out his so-called "friends" aren't going to Burning Man after all.

But have you seen ... the movie? There are about 150 other minutes of film you could catch up on.

I saw the DVD on the rack as I scoped out the one-last-dying-breath Hollywood Video, and yes, I found it hard to watch the fateful scene of hubris personified without cracking up and thinking of poor Hitler being banned from XBox Live.

You probably read about it in the papers already, so I'm not spoiling anything (and hopefully prepping you and the kids) by pointing out that nearly everyone in the Third Reich's inner circle ends up being shot, killed and murdered onscreen ... except for Hitler. He is given respectful privacy when he reaches the end. Kinda ironic, wouldn't you say?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


This one is a Japanese-language inappropriate workplace behavior tale (cf. Secretary), but this time the workplace is a semitruck out on the road. Whoa.

She has issues: Check. She's afraid: Double check. He's ... uh... WTF is his story again?? Triple check!!!

Unlike Secretary, there is no safe haven for her trust, so no intimacy develops.

Sometimes that happens in real life. Sometimes it gets translated to film in a way that isn't quite gentle or endearing, but the soft edges of self-discovery are what we remember most.

Sometimes we find those films at the library for free.

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Night At The Opera

Some elaborate set pieces from the slapstick kings:

A stateroom the size of a coat closet is stuffed with a shipful of stowaways, and staff, and all their accoutrements.

"Is it my imagination, or is it getting crowded in here?"

The backstage ropes of an opera house become a jungle gym.

For a change-up, a musical interlude features Harpo playing (guess what) harp and piano.

The opera? Oh yeah, that. It's Il Trovatore. What, you thought this movie was about an opera?!?!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

When You're Strange

The PBS "Independent Lens" series brought to my living room this first-ever Doors documentary, with all the bad words bleeped and naughty bits blocked out. I could tell, despite Congress' best efforts, that those were the best parts.

It's a straight-up, here's-what-happened-next story, without any current "no-here's-what-I-remember" statements to compare/contrast. The wealth of concert and studio footage is what makes it worthwhile. Robbie Krieger shoots a perturbed look while he's trying to work; Ray Manzarek takes a deep drag and gives it a try; John Densmore is a friggin' hero; Jim sure looks cute and deranged. Then someone takes some still photos that end up in a courtroom, and they didn't even show the best parts, and PBS couldn't show them if they wanted to.

One good thing about this uneven but revelatory film: It will reset your Doors queue, so you can restart with the familiar or check back with something you've taken for granted. Like "Spanish Caravan," or "Crystal Ship," ... or "Light My Fire"...

There were some pseudo-Jim scenes created with backstory in mind -- really, when's the last time you saw someone dressed like that, in a car like that, pulling up to a gas pump that looked like that, and handing cash to someone dressed like that? I give that a big ten-four, good buddy.

But those scenes were a sideshow, not the main attraction.

Big up to the producers for getting Jim Ladd on board as the voice of Jim Ladd on the radio. I remember during Roger Waters' "Radio KAOS" tour, going up to the DJ booth on the floor to see Jim Ladd in action. Great voice to guide you through, like always.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

In The Bedroom

What I like about the DVDs I've seen of films directed by Todd Field (other than the direction, pacing, acting, story, etc) is that there are no commentaries. No "Making Of" documentaries, no interviews ... nada. I'm a big fan of all the extras, but those still lead back to seeing a film.

When you go to a movie theater, you don't get any of those extras. You get a movie, and you figure it out for yourself after the lights go up and you leave the room. If seeing the DVD and figuring it out for yourself isn't enough, he's not going to spend the better part of an hour jabbering about it. That's what bars and cafés next to movie theaters are for.

Field is a disciple of Stanley Kubrick (and was cast as the overly gabby piano player in Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut"), and Kubrick made some of the most enigmatic blockbuster films that you couldn't explain if you tried, which makes you want to watch it again.

So check out a Todd Field film next chance you get, and if the studio made someone sit for an interview or record a commentary, do yourself - an honest hard-working film nut - a favor and skip it.

Friday, May 7, 2010


"Thank Heaven For Little Girls" is a tune I remember (for some reason) from my childhood, and seeing this movie for the first time made me realize Maurice Chevalier certainly was a dirty old man, wasn't he? In a charming, French sort of 1950's way.

Words and music by Lerner and Loewe, directed by Vincente Minnelli, no wonder it won 9 Oscars:

Best Picture
Adapted Screenplay
Art Direction
Costume Design
Film Editing
Scoring of a Musical Picture
Original Song (no, not "Thank Heaven..." Not even for "I Remember It Well." It was for (doy) "Gigi." I don't remember that one from my childhood at all.

Hmmm, no acting awards ... not even for Maurice Chevalier! Guess he wasn't all that.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Capitalism: A Love Story

Yeah, Michael Moore is a demagogue.

He also has a pretty good point.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


The story of one man's journey from Ethiopian idealist to exile and back, and the third of three films in my day at the Columbia City Cinema.

"Teza" isn't quite an epic but over a couple-plus hours it covers a LOT of ground. The Fascists (note to Tea Partiers: here be real Fascists). Haile Selassie. Gangsters, Communists, butchers, and exile in Germany. In Germany, FFS!

And taboot, when's the last time you heard of a historical-political personal journey drama coming out of Ethiopia? That alone makes it worth your time.

I walked out of the Columbia City Cinema after having spent most of the day inside it, and the streetlights perfectly illuminated the drizzle on Rainier Avenue, a quietly theatrical ending to a day spent at the movies.

Date Night

The second film in my all-day Columbia City Cinema Fest, and a charming comedy relief between two Very. Serious. Films.

It doesn't really make it as an action film -- I don't think anyone expected it to -- but plenty of little moments are there for the taking. The reason we're pulling for Phil and Claire is not necessarily because we identify with them, but because we see how they identify with each other, which is much more important. We see Phil come home and slouch into himself without acknowledging his wife, but we also see them entertaining each other at a restaurant when Claire, at Phil's request, makes up outlandish imaginary conversations between nearby strangers.

The idiosyncrasies and personal flaws of others, which we sometimes carry as boredom or annoyance, are also the very key to our connections with each other, and as demonstrated here, a source of comfort when the rest of the world is going to hell.

Plus, I would crawl over melted, Ebola-infected shards of glass atop an undersea oil gusher, just to see Tina Fey deliver lines like this:

"If we're gonna pay this much for crab it better sing and dance and introduce us to the Little Mermaid!"

The Ghost Writer

Roman Polanski is a confessed child rapist who should just own up to the punishment he ran away from three decades ago. Whew, I put off writing about this film for almost two months because I wasn't sure how to begin. Now that THAT'S out of the way...

Roman Polanski is also a brilliant filmmmaker, and "The Ghost Writer" is suspenseful and loaded with terrific acting, pacing and mood. Germany had to stand in for Martha's Vineyard because ... well, you know ... and Germany was up to the task.

Jim Belushi, Timothy Hutton, Eli Wallach and the always amazing Tom Wilkinson surrounded Ewan McGregor's unnamed "Ghost" with all the depth needed to keep the story moving. A story, it should be noted, of an accused criminal in hiding, the unnamed protagonist hired to tell his story, and the politico-media frenzy which surrounds them. The accused criminal in question is a Prime Minister dealing with issues of terrorism, war and national security. And hardly anyone, it seems, gave *him* a free pass....

Unlike some of Polanski's supporters in the film industry, I don't believe that making great films lets him off the hook for his personal life. I also don't think his personal life should disqualify me from seeing what he does with film.

This was the first of Three In A Row, an entire day spent at the Columbia City Cinema doing some catching up.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


A good old-fashioned mental health breakdown / inappropriate workplace behavior / BDSM love story, made completely charming because of the freakishly adorable Maggie Gyllenhaal as first-time job seeker Lee Holloway.

She presents, to put it politely, some major issues. But so does Mr. Grey (James Spader), who needs someone to get his coffee, and to type every word correctly, and to spank.

Spader chews some scenery (but only after the job interview, a treasure trove of ill-appropriate questions in a tightly measured manner). It's Gyllenhaal's fractured attempts at connection and disconnection that carry it. And the physical comedy: her dumpster-dive is pure comedy gold.

Lee Holloway already knows pain. She has all-too-willingly inflicted it upon herself in attempt to feel something. Mr. Grey only knows what makes his own self tock, and doesn't really think about how to please Miss Holloway, or anyone for that matter. He's like this all the time.

Surprisingly, the heroine and anti-hero are the ones who develop a true intimacy. Discuss:

There's a conventional rom-com love story here, but the conventional love story is not what's handed to us, because she wants to feel hurt but also to know it's normal to feel that.

When she's folding laundry with her conventional love story boyfriend (the one you would think you're supposed to root for because he's not an evil clown of a boss), she can't even bring herself to say the names of body parts without embarrassment. And to no one's surprise, they develop no intimacy.

After they have sex, he asks meekly, "Did I hurt you?" When she pauses and sighs, "nooo...," her disappointment fills the screen.

Back at work, she is given strict orders, disobeys to push the boundaries, tests her own limits ... and is accepted and loved for who she truly is.

And we witness true intimacy.

And also, Maggie Gyllenhaal's naughty bits. Happy Shiny Couples, beware.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Garbage Dreams

New tag: "Almost"!

I almost made it to the closing credits before nodding off. It isn't because of the subject matter - the Zabbaleen, an Egyptian underclass, has found a method of survival by voluntarily recycling all of Cairo's waste that they can lay hands upon. I've been doing that for way too long myself.

I just naturally nod off about twenty minutes before the credits, is all. Then I rent, borrow, or buy the film so I can see what I missed.

It's happened with Truffaut's "The Green Room" and Brando in "The Fugitive Kind" when they were on a local movie network. It happened with this film too, but I got the gist of it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Pepe Le Moko

The Casbah as seen from the French point of view, in which the natives are to be scorned. For an opposing POV, there's The Battle of Algiers. But that's a different sort of art film.

Jean Gabin once again is the heroic bad guy whom you immediately relate to no matter what his past. He had this pattern down in the 1930s and '40s, and Bogey owes him one. He was a bad guy not because he wanted to be one, but because he had to be one. And we loved him for that.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


And another thing about the Friends of the Library Sale! You never know what you'll find until you go there and find it. Wait, I just said that.

Be still my beating heart -- I found a long out-of-print edition of "Notorious" at a cost of




at the most recent FOSPL sale.

True, there's no insert, no original case, and SPL stickers all over what's there, but still...{heart goes pitter-patter}

The crane shot that starts at a wide angle over a ballroom, then falls closer to a two-shot but then it keeps on going, until it focuses close-up on the wine cellar key in her hand. I like that shot.

And although this isn't really the longest kiss in film history -- it isn't even one kiss, and it's far less than three minutes -- still ... {heart goes pitter-patter}

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dreams, aka "Akira Kurosawa's 'Dreams'"

I probably don't need to explain that I go to the twice-yearly Friends of Seattle Public Library sale not for the books, but for the DVDs. And like everyone else, I never know what I'll find there until I find it. The sale isn't just an outlet for the Seattle Public Library to offload their surplus material. Anyone can donate whatever is in their personal collection and at some point it'll probably show up in a cardboard box in Magnuson Park's Building 30.

Which is the best way of explaining how I found a homemade copy on DVD-R of this film, in a clear plastic slimline case, and oh yeah it was Sunday (half-price day) so it cost me fifty cents instead of a dollar. And there was a second DVD-R of a film called "Four Rooms" in the same case. I've since given each of them their own slimline.

The video doesn't skip exactly, but it jumps around as though the player is trying to catch up, or the video isn't able to keep up. There are no subtitles. It's on a standard single-layer (4.7 GB) disc rather than a dual-layer disc.

So now thanks to some anonymous donor who made something less than an ideal bootleg but something more than a coaster, I have a sampler of this Kurosawa dream-journal, and the Seattle Public Library has fifty more cents to help ease their budget woes.

If I had a dream about walking through a van Gogh painting, I don't think my dream-van-Gogh would be the only character who speaks perfect English. Or that he would be played by Martin Scorsese. But lacking subtitles, I thoroughly enjoyed that Kurosawa's dream-van-Gogh did exactly those things.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Colt Is My Passport

Out of all the movies I've seen this year, this one has, by far, the best title.

A hitman is caught in a trap between two rival gangs. Sounds simple enough.

You know it's hardboiled when the following line:

"All that's left for me is dust, and the smell of men and gasoline"

is spoken by a woman.

Love the in-dash 2-way radios. Bond's got nothing on these guys.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Lives Of Others

Ulrich Mühe, who played the East German Stasi bugger whose job is to listen in on a famous (and loyal) playwright's life because his boss has a thing for the playwright's lover, auditioned for the part by showing up with a copy of his own personal dossier kept by the Stasi.

So I'm not giving away the ending by pointing out that the film's Stasi lapdog has a change of heart, and gets a reward for it. Not a reward that improves his surroundings or history or future... but it means something to him, nonetheless.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Night To Remember

An anniversary viewing, a film I try to pop into the DVD player each April 14th.

Which means of course a repeat viewing, this time with commentary by Don Lynch, author, and Ken Marschall, illustrator, of "Titanic — An Illustrated History."

Even with eyewitness accounts at the time, the common belief was that Titanic went down intact. It wasn't until discovery of the wreckage in 1985 that evidence of the ship breaking into two became known. Here, based on a book of interviews with dozens of survivors, it is shown sinking intact.

Movies must be lit in order for an image to be onscreen -- and the commentary includes thoughts on how over-dramatically the ship was lit while going down. In reality, with a moonless night and water to the horizon in every direction, I would have to imagine that visibility was no more than a couple of hundred feet, so no wonder both the British and American inquiries determined that the ship went down in one piece.

The commentary also notes the film's attention to detail: would people wear hats during lunch? Is that lamp on a table actually the sort of lamp used on the ship?

My favorite detail of the film: the sets were mechanically jacked up at one end to create a tilting visual effect. And when the sets starting moving, they started creaking and popping and howling, creating sound effects so effective and dramatic that they were kept in the final soundtrack.

My most unfavorite detail: 19 people on a lifeboat built for 65. Sigh.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Children of Men

A war movie not about territory (a bridge, a beach, airspace) but about: a baby. A person.

There won't be any abstract "victory" by moving forward or holding the line. Either the baby makes it, or not.

This movie reminded me of "Cloverfield," which is just about one of the most territory-centric war movies in recent memory. It had a similar up-close, in-the-street, lookout-for-that-exploding-car feel that kept up the pace and tension, even during the sequences that merely set up some later scene.

All the way up to the final shot, whether the baby makes it is an open question, no matter how much territory they've covered.

Friday, April 9, 2010

High Society

A musical remake of "The Philadelphia Story" with an all-star cast including Grace Kelly's final screen appearance, the first pairing of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, a Cole Porter score and Louis Armstrong getting into the act as well.

So why, after seeing this, did I have the feeling that it just didn't have that something that can grab me and hold on? Maybe that first paragraph holds the key. It's a lot of work to make that many things work well together. The production is superb, but focusing on the story has its advantages. Maybe I just need to see "The Philadelphia Story" to get the proper perspective.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

American Boy

I love me some movies through the mail. Who needs Netflix when friends are all around?

Although Big Star reunions and some 1971 Grateful Dead were the centerpieces of this set of discs I received recently, I watched "American Boy" first (a couple of times - it's less than an hour) because... well....

...because they just don't make Italian/Jewish actor junkie road manager murderers (in self defense) like they used to, do they? They also don't make Martin Scorsese documentaries like they used to, but that's a separate issue.

Steven Prince played a guy who sold some guns in "Taxi Driver," but aside from that he has a lot of stories to tell. A LOT of stories. Way more than an hour's worth, but that's all Scorsese gives us here, and it turns out to be plenty. Including one about reviving an OD victim with a shot of adrenaline, which I immediately found familiar without needing to go through the Tarantino back-catalog.

And then, he went to work at a gas station... or ... was that before, or after, he became Neil Diamond's road manager...?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Harrison came back to town and pulled this one off the shelf. I had found it on the racks at the gasping-for-breath Hollywood Video. He thought it was simply another collection of 'Weird Al' Yankovic's music videos. Kids today!

No, really, there's a storyline. 'Weird Al' somehow is put in charge of a TV station, and of course puts a janitor (Seinfeld's 'Kramer') in charge of a kids show. Luke from "General Hospital" is simply beguiling in his Thomas Dolby-from-outer-space supporting role. Parodies of Indiana Jones, MTV, "Treasure Of The Sierra Madre," and "Network" are joined at birth by cameos from Dr. Demento, Emo Philips, Billy Barty... good fun.

The double-sided disc had a terminal case of skipping and scratches on the "widescreen" side, so we had to finish watching it in Pan'n'Scan. Just like on UHF stations back in the day.

Hey, I caught a continuity error: When Weird Al Rambo jumps into the helicopter (um, where'd that helicopter come from again?), he adjusts the rear-view mirror. But when the outside shot shows the chopper taking off .. there's no rear-view mirror!!! WTF?!

In other words, if you have enjoyed both "Airplane!" and "The Simpsons" for their non-stop kaleidoscopic pop culture riffs, you'll like this. And if you have seen, or even heard of, "Kentucky Fried Movie" or "Drive-In," you'll love it....

Friday, April 2, 2010

To Have And Have Not

Howard Hawks bragged that he could make a great movie out of Ernest Hemingway's worst book, and he was right. This is what "Casablanca" wrought, the intrigue of war and politics broken up by musical interludes AND ... Bogey finally (!) getting the girl. But not just any girl....

This was Lauren Bacall's film debut. She was 19 years old when she filmed this scene:

Within a year, Bogey & Bacall were married. They remained husband and wife until his death in 1957.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Magnificent Seven

Having just seen "Seven Samurai" the week before, how could I not follow up with one of the greatest tributes to Kurosawa.

At 128 minutes, it's a full hour shorter than the original, giving up much of the story of the desperate townfolk to focus more on the all-star cast of heroes. Eh, Hollywood for ya. Still, like its inspiration, it doesn't drag over the course of those two hours.

From the MGM/United Artists box, four discs for eight bucks in a bin at Safeway. For this disc, that comes out to just slightly more than 28 cents plus tax for each magnificent fighter. And it's only fractions of a penny each when you consider that "They Fought Like Seven Hundred!"

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

In The Realm Of The Senses

A film about a couple of people who like to Do It. My favorite storyline! Although the drama escalates alongside a period of government imperialism, not much of that came through onscreen.

Maybe because this was a deprecated version checked out from the Seattle Public Library, rather than the recent Criterion reissue? The cover of SPL's copy says it runs 104 minutes; the DVD player says it's 97. Criterion says their version is 102 minutes... hmmm. Either way, it sounds like someone forgot to include five to seven minutes worth of government imperialism in the version I watched.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

High Fidelity

"What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?"

A must-see for obsessive collectors and list-makers. Directed by Stephen Frears.

All I know is, it was on the rack during Hollywood Video's death watch. I took it home and watched it, not even knowing that it was almost exactly the tenth anniversary of its original release.

Let's see what the Scarecrow Movie Guide has to say:

"This film is most appropriate for boys who are obsessed with something (records, movies, comics, ex-girlfriends) and spend most of their time drinking and masturbating."




Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Seven Samurai

Now HERE's what can happen when Criterion takes a noteworthy film and upgrades the barebones initial release. I picked up this expanded three-disc set at Barnes & Noble's half-price Criterion sale, and waited until the 100th anniversary of Akira Kurosawa taking his first breath to soak it in again.

Um. A day late. Because on March 23, AK's 100th birthday, I worked hellish long hours and would have fallen asleep watching a three-hour film afterward, even one that doesn't drag. So I watched it on March 24 instead. Despite that, it remained a three-hour joyride that doesn't drag. And now I have several discs worth of commentary and extras to work my way through. Because I have lots of spare time to do that, haha! Maybe I'll finish up those discs for his bicentennial....

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Naked Kiss

This disc needs an upgrade!

Samuel Fuller, who began his career by depicting the useless horror of war in "The Steel Helmet" and ended it by depicting the useless horror of war in "The Big Red One," here depicts the useless horror of daily life as seen by a former prostitute. Gotta love a film that starts with a woman beating the crap out of a man, then he pulls off her wig revealing her bald head, then she rifles through his wallet, taking only the $75 she is owed and leaving him with the rest. All the while, a wild jazz score is playing like these two are the second stage at a nightclub.

In non-anamorphic, no-extras, you'll-watch-this-movie-and-like-it style, a disc as bare-bones as Criterion has ever made.

Wait a sec ... there's a trailer ... woo-hoo!

Saturday, March 20, 2010


If you love caper flicks, this is where it's at. I had run my course through the "Italian Neo-realism" genre and didn't know where to go next, until a bunch of French gangster movies starting coming my way. So long and thanks for all the cheap discs, Hollywood Video. You'll live on forever, as long as no one tells the Web 2.0 geniuses otherwise.

The centerpiece of this film, and the reason why you love caper flicks, is the half-hour, dialogue-free jewel heist. No music soundtrack either (a point of contention during the production). Just some perfectly timed sound effects which, when stripped of words and music, tell their own story better than words or music could have.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Children Are Watching Us

A classic of Italian neo-realism, the genre which dealt with real life after wartime, this one from the perspective of a child who learns that adults are not who they seem to be. Just as we always suspected.

Did I watch this film because it was restored as best as could be? Possibly, but... no. Because I nabbed it for only a few bucks at Hollywood Video's Death Watch sale? Good idea, but... meh.

Because it's from Italy? Directed by Vittorio de Sica? No.

No, I watched it because it was 10:15 PM, and I had to wake up at 7 the next morning for work. It's a classic, but also it is brief. 84 minutes brief, not 110 or 129 or 142 minutes like SOME of those films... [rolls eyeballs, goes to sleep]

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Bright Star

A film I very much wanted to see last year from the moment it was released, but it wasn't able to get to a theater near me, and I wasn't able to get to a theater further away. Fortunately or not, Hollywood Video is sucking the gas pipe, so I was able to pick up a "new" copy of this disc (hmmm, without insert or original case...) for a pittance plus sales tax.

The penniless poet John Keats falls for the girl next door: the upperclass (compared to him anyway) Fanny Brawne. Whereupon her family casts a stern glance, possibly even arching an eyebrow. Then he falls gravely ill, as foreshadowed by the death of his brother. You've probably seen enough films to know where this is headed. Except, when you see the gender roles reversed, you'll think about it differently.

I didn't want to see it for a surprise ending or anything. I just wanted to see it because Jane Campion knows a thing or two about making movies worth watching. And if there was bonus footage of Rome, so much the better. Turns out, not so much footage of Rome except for one minute at the very end. Fitting indeed.

And yea, that's Kerry Fox, heroine from many Campion films ago, appearing here as Fanny Brawne's mum, and eventually coming around to her daughter's side. Good for you, mum.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Variety Lights

Long out of print, I found this Criterion disc at Hollywood Video's Death Watch liquidation for about seven bucks. No extras, no commentary, no insert, no original case, no dignity. Just the disc, please. Oooh, with Hollywood Video stickers all over it?! Thank you sir!

Federico Fellini's directoral debut, with co-direction from Alberto Lattuada. After Fellini established his career and hit the inevitable roadblocks, he made a film about a director who doesn't know how to make his next film, which he called "8 1/2." Because that's how many films he had made up to that point: "Variety Lights" is the one-half of "8 1/2."

A band of lowbrow stagemongers make their way across the map, with some guy in charge who might know what he's doing ... or, maybe not. He is pretty good at picking out talent, even if he doesn't have the ability to hang on to it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Passenger

A double feature -- after coming home from "Crazy Heart" at the CCC, I put in this disc from the Seattle Public Library. Maybe Michelangelo Antonioni's best, most accessible film. And defintely an understated performance from Jack Nicholson, if you're wondering whether he ever did that sort of thing.

Antonioni's MO was to use landscape to separate his characters and emphasize their isolation, usually to the general derision of moviegoers but not necessarily critics. Here, most of the landscape turns out to be run-down hotel rooms, and long single takes seeing what happens in them, and looking outside their windows. At last, something we all can relate to?

Crazy Heart

My first trip this year to the Columbia City Cinema, the day after the Academy Awards, to soak up Best Actor Jeff Bridges.

Completely unrecognized by the politico-industrial-awards machine were Robert Duvall as a small-town bar owner, and Colin Farrell as a country music superstar. Maybe because they were each playing a role you might expect from the other? And maybe that's how they were able to make the character work for them.

I just watched this other film recently and couldn't help but notice the parallels.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Now, Voyager

I wanted to use the Friday night KCTS flick to give Harrison a little primer in mid-20th Century studio classics. He was skeptical and started to doze off about halfway through. Can't say that I blame him -- many times I will rent or buy something, begin watching it, and just before the final reel ... I wake up, and it's over already.

So Harrison trudged off to bed while I watched Bette Davis go from ugly duckling to beautiful swan. Just as she's turning that corner, with about 20 minutes left ... I woke up and the credits were running. I hate when that happens.

Sunday, February 28, 2010


Just when you think Meryl Streep has done it all, she comes up with a hardass Jersey nun. With zero irony.

The only irony was in the splash ad for Miramax Films at the start of the DVD. RIP, Miramax. We'll always have "Cinema Paradiso."

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Wrestler

Some Saturday night rasslin'! Who needs Netflix when the Seattle Public Library (with a 50-items-at-once limit which I may never get close to reaching) is right down the street?

I like that the very first scene of this film is captioned, "20 Years Later." Tells us everything we need to know right there.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Criterion's edition of this Kurosawa epic went out of print a while back, and I found one still for sale at Scarecrow Video, so I picked it up (thanks for the gift certificate, mom! :). I still haven't opened the shrink-wrap, and why should I when Scarecrow also has the discs for rent?

So I also rented it, to make sure of what's on the DVDs I may never open. There are a bunch more Criterion titles going out-of-print in the near future, some of which are now headed my way, and most of which I will probably just rent from Scarecrow while I decide which vault to stick the DVD boxes into.

FWIW, Lionsgate (which is getting the lion's share of these titles Criterion is losing the rights to) just released their Blu-Ray of "Ran," to what could kindly be described as "mixed reviews."

Oh, the movie, yeah right. Here's a trailer, synopsis and essay which with one link saves me the trouble of transcribing it all, even though you can't buy it anymore. But maybe you have a cool video rental store where you live?

And I know exactly how this guy feels.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Hit

Lotsa fun seeing Terence Stamp, aka General Zod, here portraying a character as two different types: first he's Willie the meek mob squealer, then he's Willie the John Donne-quoting philosopher who, when handed the chance to escape his fate, would rather contemplate a waterfall.

It figures that his mind games could work on a novice like Tim Roth, but an old-pro enforcer like John Hurt? Uh-uh.

“We’re here, then we’re not here. We’re somewhere else. Maybe. And it’s as natural as breathing. Why should we be scared?”

Oh, you were scared, Willie. Plenty scared. We should have known from the first time we saw you.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

In The Mood For Love

Bought me a bottle of red wine and a bar of Theo Chocolate, put this title in the player, and gave myself one of the Best. Valentine's Days. Ever!

Lots of quick glances, short brushes, and brief encounters. Lots of vowels hanging at the end of sentences. But not a lot of chick-flick rom-com clichés. When there's an awkward moment, it's left as awkward, and it doesn't get better just to relieve the awkwardness. Sometimes it doesn't get better at all. Sometimes, the off-balance surprise encounters that go nowhere are all that we have, and all our efforts to make them into something else is the only story we know.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Monty Python And The Holy Grail

You can't expect to wield supreme executive power just 'cos some watery tart threw a sword at you!

Unfaithfully Yours

Rapid-fire wit. Tarantino and Mamet grew up on this stuff. There's an orchestra at work. Somebody turn off that lousy music. Youth belongs to youth. Msgr. Hulot would love watching this. The phonograph recorder, the chair, the extension cord, the box of card games. The knife, the gun ...

and all it took to clear it up was a little bit of talking.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Mamma Roma

A former prostitute tries to make a better life for her son, but her pimp still comes around ... and does that better life include relationship advice from one of her former colleagues?

And this one of Pasolini's gentler, more accessible creations!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Gorillas In The Mist

A love story ... no less than a love triangle. Michael Apted directed. Damn good run he had: 21 Up, Agatha, Coal Miner's Daughter, Gorky Park, 28 Up. And that was just eight years out of more than 45.

Dian Fossey loves this big ape, see? And he works for National Geographic magazine, and is already married. So she's SOL there.

But, she is in love with a local ape. She acts submissive with the natives for survival purposes, but she knows she doesn't need to put on that sort of show for her own kind. So, she doesn't. The big ape soon realizes his fate. Both of them, that is.

A freebie commercial-free Friday night flick on KCTS, with the bad words blanked out. C'mon Congress -- we're all adults here! Also, KCTS unfailingly presents their Friday night movies in 16x9 widescreen. I love that. Except when the original film is in some other aspect ratio, like, say, 1.85:1. You thought we didn't notice?

"Her death remains a mystery." Really, it says that in the end credits. Which I guess is credit-speak for: "Her murder remains unsolved."

Rest in peace, Dian.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Wages Of Fear

The only way out of this hellhole of a company town is on a flatbed truck loaded with nitroglycerin!? Actually, two trucks ... just in case, you know, something happens to one of them...

Let's just leave this review in the hands of Alfred Hitchcock, shall we:

We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let us suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, 'Boom!' There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence.

Now, let us take a
suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table, and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware that the bomb is going to explode at one o'clock and there is a clock in the décor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions this same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene.

The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: 'You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There's a bomb underneath you and it's about to explode!'

In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second case we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.

Rooting for *anyone* to come out the other side of this story is the twist. They don't all make it, in case you were wondering...

Friday, January 29, 2010

Dark Victory

A Friday-night (commercial-free!) showing courtesy of KCTS, the local PBS affiliate, and a lesser-known title from a terrific year in movies.

Not quite melodrama, nearly comedy, just about romantic, but almost a medical drama. How's that grab you? Did I mention Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart (playing the guy who doesn't get the girl - what a surprise!), and ... Ronald Freakin Reagan?

AND! Henry Travers, who a couple of years later would be immortalized as Clarence Oddbody, the misfit angel in "It's A Wonderful Life." His small speech, encouraging a colleague that his medical practice is worthwhile, rang some bells....

George Brent, as the romantic lead, oozes Clark Gable charm. But Clark Gable was busy making another movie that year. Guess that worked out for him. Actually, put Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman in there together under the direction of Douglas Sirk, and it's a workable 1950's soap opera. Ahead of its time, we'll call it.

Most memorable line: "It's a rotten business, doctoring!"

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Darjeeling Limited

Yet another one-dollar special from the Friends of The Seattle Public Library sale.

The colors and compositions and dialogue seem to be Wes Anderson trademarks -- I haven't been fully inducted into the cult of Wes, although this and "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou" (which I saw last year) were a good start.

What grabs me about his work is the music. For this film, there is some obscure folk-rock from an India-born Englishman who clearly spent lots of time listening to Donovan, plus theme music openly taken from the films of Satyajit Ray and Merchant/Ivory, then a couple of well-timed Kinks nuggets ... you get the idea. The guy knows how to hear music as well as make a film.

Actually, I do prefer the soundtrack to "Life Aquatic," but that's just me. Maybe I'm becoming a part of the Cult of Wes after all....

Cirque de Calder

A 19-minute short film directed by Carlos Vilardebo, documenting the work of artist/sculptor/inventor Alexander Calder, projected as a film-to-video transfer on a very large interior wall of Seattle Art Museum as part of their Calder exhibit, "A Balancing Act." I wondered whether to consider it a "theater" experience - tinny, overmatched speaker system...giant wall...dark room...endless video loop...yeah, I'll give it the benefit of the doubt.

Calder appears to have been a very busy man. When he wasn't inventing the mobile or forging industrial-sized objects, he would handcraft small wire figures which could be mechanized simply by pulling a few strings. A weightlifter snatches a barbell, an elephant stands on its hindquarters, cowboys buck, wirewalkers glide, trapeze artists fly, chariots race. All of this would be in small shows he would put on for his friends. His wife would play records as a soundtrack while he would stammer his best carnival-barker French.

Immediately after coming home from SAM, I checked to see if this short film was available on YouTube, and it is. The following is a test to see if the embedding code works ... the low-quality, small-screen constraints make it difficult to distinguish all the details (and there seems to be an extra layer of English-language commentary), but if this works it'll be 20-plus of your minutes well-spent...

That seems to have worked OK ... if the one or two of you who see this could let me know whether it seems to work for you, I'd much appreciate it....

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Pink Panther

I remember seeing 1975's "Return Of The Pink Panther" when it was first released (not at the 101 Drive-In, but that's where I was living at the time). So it's about time I finally saw this, the debut of Inspector Clouseau.

I activated the "trivia track," which was more than just an occasional pop-up; closer to a visual running commentary/bio/"making of" storyline which nearly distracted from the action onscreen. But the DVD producers did their homework, and there's plenty of great background on Peter Sellers, David Niven, Blake Edwards, Henry Mancini, Claudia Cardinale, Robert Wagner, et al. to keep your attention focused.

Or distract you in the right way, such as pointing out that a line of dialogue from the followup film, "A Shot In The Dark," inspired the title of R.E.M.'s album "Life's Rich Pageant." They had me at R.E.M.

This is part of an MGM/UA four-disc box -- there are three of these boxes altogether -- and I found it at Safeway for eight freaking dollars. That's some movie bang for your buck right there. I had to go to half a dozen other Safeways around town to find the other two MGM/UA boxes, but I got 'em. Twelve great movies, 24 bucks. Life's rich pageant, indeed.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Monsieur Hulot's Holiday

The first film I've seen in a theater this year, and the first film I've seen at SIFF Cinema since their Grand Opening Janus Films Fest a couple of years ago. Wow, been a long time.

The debut of Jacques Tati's anti-hero Monsieur Hulot, featuring dogs, boats, and firecrackers. Having already seen "Mon Oncle" and "Playtime" on DVD, I finally got to the source by seeing this one on a big screen.

Bowing, halting, succumbing, M. Hulot absorbs what happens around him but never quite adapts. He bows so frequently that he seems to perpetually tilt forward even when standing still. And he never drops the pipe.

A door opens and closes, each time making some sort of loose rubber-band twanging sound. Why? Because, that's why.

Changing a car's flat tire somehow morphs into a memorial service for ... someone, we're not sure who. Does it really matter?

Nominated for an Oscar for Best Screenplay, as was 2001: A Space Odyssey, and just like that there's little dialogue to speak of. Sounds, action, adventure, yes. Script? Jacques Tati don't need no freakin' script.

I like to wait until several months into the year to start picking favorites, but this is an early favorite.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ghosts of Cité Soleil

A hip-hop gangsta-fable about too-real life.

Too real.

The ending score is Brian Eno's "An Ending (Ascent)", which we've also heard in:

For All Mankind
28 Days Later

All of which you and I have seen. Right?!

My first sweetie was half-Haitian. So I guess I cared about Haiti long before it was the cool thing to do. I just wish it hadn't come to that, but that's another thread on another blog.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Saving Private Ryan

I knew that the first half-hour was as real and as intense as it gets. I wasn't expecting the last 45 minutes to be the same. Shows what I know.

Harrison put a hold on this disc through his Seattle Public Library account and waited for ... how many months? Years? I think he's been waiting to see this since approximately the last century.

There are still 46 holds on 33 copies at SPL. Now I need to return it so that everyone else who's been waiting has a chance to see it.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Repeat viewing of a disc I bought for one dollar at a FOSPL sale, which Harrison wanted to see.

A pro-spirituality, anti-Religion, teenage sex comedy. What will they think of next?! I reminded Harrison that this was satire, and had to remind myself too. The school principal isn't really a bad guy ... he's just following His orders.

Shame what they did to one of my favorite Beach Boys songs, giving it a sheen of production values it didn't require. The warmth of the original vocals and instrumentation, if it were explored, would've lent a layer of subtext that the film was looking for. Still...

"Looking at her,
it's like life is too amazing
to be this random and meaningless
consequence of the universe.
There had to be a God...
or something out there.
Something inside.
You just have to feel it."

For all its unsure, halting, "I Know This But I Don't Really Know It" teenage angst, that's exactly how I feel sometimes.

God Only Knows.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2001: A Space Odyssey

Happy 18th(?) birthday today, HAL 9000! You were quite the troublemaker in your youth, but hopefully now that you've reached adulthood in this year of 2010, you'll settle into a nice groove of responsibility...?!?!

Like any Kubrick film, there's controversy even over HAL 9000's origins. Did HAL 9000 become operational in 1997, 1992, or 1991? Depends on if you prefer the book, the film, or the online transcriptions of the original script. I went with the film, because ... well, duh!

Here's Roger Ebert gushing and Stanley Kubrick sniping the way the pros do it regarding these matters:

Among its many accolades was an Academy Award nomination for "Best Screenplay." Not too shabby for a movie with no dialogue at all in the first 25 minutes, or the final 35 minutes.

Until a couple of years ago, I had never seen this on home video, only in theaters (one of which was the Cinerama Seattle, in 70mm, in the year 2001). The Warner Director's Series box made it worth my while to pick up the DVD. The box doesn't include Paths of Glory, Spartacus or Dr. Strangelove, but I have those anyway. Barry Lyndon, Lolita, Killer's Kiss, et al will have to wait for another FOSPL sale or maybe a library or Scarecrow Video rental.

A repeat viewing, this time with commentary by actors Gary Lockwood and Keir Dullea. Each of them shared insights about the Tao of Kubrick, who really was a great guy if you just did it his way, and who sadly did not make it to the year 2001. My recollection tells me that 2001 was not exactly a banner year for the evolution of mankind, and I wonder what Kubrick would have created later had he experienced it himself.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


I don't think this film is a cult classic, yet. I hope it will be soon. For now, it's a story of overcoming adversity, with lots of stereotypes and language slapstick. But it has the basics to become a cult classic.

There is a recognizable mentor (Andy Griffith) as the Chorus, telling the reluctantly pregnant protagonist Jenna everything that she already knows. There are random hilarious musical cues, and there are a few quotes which, if they were in a Coen Brothers film, might become instant classics:

"You're doin' it again ... that nice guy, talky thing."

"Un-congratulations, you're definitely having a baby."
"Un-thank you."

"I want drugs. I want massive amounts of drugs. I want the maximum legal limit of drugs."

But the music, and the script, and the mawkishness by themselves are not going to give this film cult-classic status. Keri Russell's performance could take it there. Yes, the script tells her that now she must jump into the arms of her Hero, but there are plenty of closeup scenes in which her face, her eyes, her reddened cheeks, tell the story.

What might eventually push this film toward that classic status is, I am the last to report, the murder of multitalented director/writer/actress/songwriter/set decorator/what else ya need?, Adrienne Shelly, shortly after filming wrapped. Watching a feel-good movie about overcoming abusive stalkers is no charm when random violence barges into real life like that.

And when bad hubby Earl is eventually taken down by doctors in a hospital, rather than, for instance, all of Jenna's friends in a biker bar, it does seem a bit of a letdown.

I hope this film becomes a cult classic someday. Look for it at your favorite midnight-madness outlet near you. Meanwhile, a recipe:
Pregnant Miserable Self-Pitying Loser Pie:

Lumpy oatmeal with fruitcake mashed in.
Flambé, of course.

Rest in peace, Adrienne.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Happy Birthday Elvis Presley

I didn't watch a movie tonight. I don't have any Elvis movies (No, not even "It Happened At The World's Fair"!). And this blog is for me to keep track of movies I've seen, not Hollywood gossip. There are plenty of sites for that. I don't even need to include links for it.

But since it's Elvis' birthday and all, I have to mention that Criterion is planning a release of "Mystery Train" later this summer.

You have been warned.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Also one of the first movies I saw at the beginning of 2009, this time a repeat viewing at the request of Harrison.

Bill Maher sure is Über-snark personified, ain't he? Making fun of everyone whether they deserve it or not -- Christians, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Scientologists ... OK, most of them deserve it. As a spiritual, non-religious person who celebrates both Christmas and Beltane, I know I would deserve it. But all of that overshadowed the beginning of the film, which I hardly remembered from the first viewing.

When Maher sits down with his sister and mother and goes over his own family's religious history, the humor and openness shone through again. And it reminded me that spending one's formative years in the same house with his mom and dad (a Jewish nurse married to a Catholic newsman) would've led any somewhat average smart-ass kid to become as snarky as he did. Maybe that's why he and director Larry Charles put that part at the beginning of the movie -- so you'd understand *why* he feels this way.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Synecdoche New York

After a touch of English melodrama and an art-house sensation, it's nice to have a simple, down-home story, isn't it? Maybe after this movie, I'll watch something like that.

There are books that seem "unfilmable," impossible to translate from written word to moving picture. "Synecdoche New York" seems the opposite, impossible to translate from moving picture to written word. Doing so makes me think of this article from The Onion.

How about this: Theater director Caden Cotard is abandoned by the one woman he truly cares about -- his daughter Olive, of course -- and spends the rest of his days surrounded by women who want him, despite his ambivalence toward them. Is that angle different enough from anything else written about the film? Probably not. I'll watch it again sometime and I'm sure I'll see something I didn't catch the first time around.

I'll probably find it in the comedy of manners that resulted when actors hired by Cotard to portray the people around him for his mega-play, ended up doing the opposite of what the people they were portraying had actually done in the first place.

And yet it didn't work out for them, either....

Monday, January 4, 2010

Brief Encounter

Ahhhh, at last, a Janus Films presentation to set the New Year right.

David Lean has made enough great films that you should be able to read, "This is a David Lean film" and just go from there. (Perhaps you have searched out such obscure titles as "Lawrence of Arabia" or "Doctor Zhivago.") Also worth your time is his "Summertime," with Kate Hepburn as a single woman discovering Venice. Never an easy proposition there....

Plenty of wit in "Brief Encounter" -- but no sex please, they're British -- and some nifty tricks to make whistles and clouds seem like a very busy train station. The photography doesn't quite shimmer, but Criterion's restoration does everything to make the image matter.

Really, the reason I like having watched this movie is because I bought it for ONE DOLLAR at one of the occasional Friends Of The Seattle Public Library sales. No booklet was included, and library stickers are all over it inside and out, but I'm not complaining. I have a bunch of these surplus discs and perhaps I'll get a few more in 2010. If you want to find Comedic Musical Samurai New Wave Noir, the FOSPL sale is where it's at. See you there in April.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Double Life of Véronique

I thought on New Year's Day it would be appropriate to see something presented by Janus Films, the legendary film distributor named for the two-faced Roman god of beginnings and endings, and the namesake of the first month of the Western calendar. Thinking it over during the day, then later looking over the pile of discs, what captured my attention was not a Janus release but instead "The Double Life of Véronique," the Criterion Collection edition of Krzysztof Kieślowski's dual-identity dreamscape from 1991.

Being born under the sign of Pisces and knowing a little something about going in two different directions at the same time, I knew this title would satisfy my need to look backward and forward simultaneously.

At times it doesn't even seem so much a case of dual identity, but simply of dual languages, with the spoken word serving as one of the few disguises between the two worlds easily inhabited by
Irène Jacob. No wildly varying hairstyles, jarring costume changes or extreme mannerisms are used to differentiate between her roles. Perhaps they are the same person, and we are the ones who are led to believe otherwise?

On first viewing, I tend to gloss over the Higher Meaning that might be discovered when language is used to set characters apart. I usually let the picture tell the story as much as possible, and "Double Life" shines as a visual poem. Reflections and refractions fill the screen without seeming overly sentimental, and a feeling of emotional connection and loss comes through. Clever camera angles and optical tricks are employed by Kieślowski to let us in on Véronique/Weronika's split state of mind without becoming cliché "dream sequences."

I'm speaking here of a shot through the window of a train, with a small crease in the glass magnified to the point that it literally breaks her (and our) view of the town outside into two distinct pieces. This common touch, of looking out a window and becoming mesmerized by the imperfections of the glass itself, is the sort of visual genius this film displays.

And since it's a Criterion edition, I'll have plenty of time to get schooled on the Higher Meaning, the small gestures, the words and angles and yes maybe even the hairstyles and costume changes. If the three short films, the essays, the multiple interviews and documentaries aren't enough, the audio commentary might finally teach me what I might be missing.