Film Journal 2003

Grade system a little rough in 2003 as I switched over to the 100 pt scale. Journal format is pretty messy, etc.

001. CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (Steven Spielberg) viewed 1-1-03 in theater
Grade B+ 2002
Entertaining film from Spielberg is a bit overloaded, with the simple plot line confused by unnecessary story threads surrounding it. DeCaprio gives a laid back and confident performance in the lead role and is able to look the part when he is in high school and later in his early adulthood with a minimum of makeup effects. Hanks is also quite good as the FBI agent following DeCaprio’s trail, he exudes warmth but also stringent professionalism. The scenes the two share are standouts: including an early one where DeCaprio cons Hanks and a later one in which Hanks has to talk DeCaprio into turning himself in to the police. The last section of the film doesn’t really work and some of the center section should have been truncated in order to give the story a better flow. Basically this year’s Ocean’s 11, a smooth running but flawed big studio film with wit and charm in spades.

002. DAY OF THE DEAD (George A. Romero) viewed 1-2-03 on video (second viewing)
Grade C+ (upgraded from C-) 1985
A good genre film by itself, but in the context of the Romero Dead Trilogy it looks pretty hollow. The set up is intriguing but Romero mishandles it with slack pacing and lack of threat from the rampant Zombies held up by a fence. The second half of the film turns into a gore showcase, where the humans we have grown to dislike (the military) are torn apart in incredible violent ways.

003. DEATH RACE 2000 (Paul Bartel) viewed 1-3-03 on dvd
Grade C+ 1975
A cult film to be sure, Bartel adding some subversive wit and making it almost worth watching but it’s too uneven to recommend. Nice to see a B film with this much exploitative fun: from the cartoonish violence to gratuitous nudity, also points added for running down old people and children. The assassination plot is unnecessary and it distracts from the race and satire that populate the better first half of the film.

004. PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (Carl Theodore Dreyer) viewed 1-6-03 on video (second viewing)
Grade B+ 1927
Very well directed film: with Joan seen mostly in close-up with eyes averted upward as if waiting for instructions from god and her persecutors seen in jarring pan shots or sweaty extreme close up. So well directed, in fact, that after about a half hour I wanted to avert my eyes from the screen and gather my thoughts. Dreyer’s main goal here is to put us in the shoes of his heroine and have us identify with her, and the goal is well achieved but it makes the film a masterpiece to respect rather than love.

005. CARO DAIRIO (Nanni Moretti) viewed 1-6-03 on video
Grade C+ 1994
“Caro Diaro” is a film in three chapters: “On My Vespa,” “Islands” and “Doctors.” Each chapter featuring Moretti and focusing on his obsessions and neuroses. Pretty much every reviewer will point out that he is often called the Italian Woody Allen and it’s a somewhat apt comparison, although Moretti’s neuroses seem pretty restrained compared with Allen (who seems at times to be of freak interest).

The first chapter has Moretti riding his vespa through Rome during summertime, “when all the movie theaters are playing horror and porn.” The theme for this first chapter is dislocation: showing Moretti visiting houses and penthouses where he doesn’t belong to see how other people live, watching people dance, or joining a band on stage for the chorus. He stops to talk to a guy in a convertible, and he tells him that he feels separate from the majority of the people and will always be someone who relates better with the minority of the population. Ironically the guy in the convertible doesn’t relate to him either and drives off without caring.

Music and movies are a big part of this section but both are seen as spectator arts for Moretti, although he is playing himself (a filmmaker). After seeing (the great film) “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” (John McNaughton, 1990) he fantasizes taking revenge upon the reviewer who heaped acclaim onto that film.

The death in “Henry” is followed by real death as Moretti remembers the death of Pier Paulo Pasolini (through headlines not actual reminiscence) and visits the spot where he died. Moretti refers to Pasolini’s death as an “assassination,” and it feels vaguely wrong knowing some of the details of how he was killed. As we follow Moretti to the scene of the crime some twenty years later he doesn’t give us any commentary on what he is feeling about the murder or the site, he lets the image and music speak for themselves.

The second chapter is Moretti visiting a few different Islands looking for a quiet place to work. The island is full of only children and with both “islands” and “only children” we see that this section is about isolation. The fact that Moretti is unable to stay in any island for any significant length of time is a testament both to his dislocation from the places, but also to his isolation from the people around him. This is further instilled by Moretti’s friend who is obsessed with television and especially the soap “Bad and the Beautiful,” television often representing loneliness and isolation in movies (for instance “All That Heaven Allows” (Douglas Sirk, 1955) and “Requiem For A Dream” (Darren Aronofski, 2000)). I felt the second chapter was the weakest because it didn’t really contain any significant insight and most of the humor was lost to me.

The third chapter might be the best, as Moretti goes from doctor to doctor looking for a cure to a chronic itch. Each doctor gives him a new prescription and we see flashes of the crumpled paper as proof of this chapter validity. Out of frustration he even visits an Asian acupuncturist to cure his tragic itch. Medical neurosis isn’t exactly new ground for film comedy, Woody Allen did it 8 years earlier in “Hannah and Her Sister” (Woody Allen, 1986) but it gets us to relate with Moretti more than either of the two previous chapters. It is also by far the most private story, with the audience allowed access to a traumatic time in Moretti’s life and to his body.

Ideally “Caro Diario” would work like “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell, which had random insights into the world as variations on the theme: “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” In that song Mitchell insights ran from insights into nature in the first two verses, and then turned personal in the last verse, which made the theme of the song personal for us to relate it through her personal life. Moretti’s “Caro Diario” wants to be like that, but I don’t find that the third story really gives us insight into Moretti that are common with those found in the first two chapters. Instead he gives us two chapters about isolation and dislocation and then a third story about questioning authority figures. I don’t find that the three chapters have a firm unity and it makes the film seem kind of scattershot, and unfocused.

006. UNDER THE SAND (Francois Ozon) viewed 1-6-03 on dvd
Grade B+ 2001
A masterful first half of a film, with a very good second half that didn’t go in the direction that I thought (and hoped) it might. The first half is full of nuance and tension as a character disappears without a trace, and the film gets the tone just right in these scenes not playing up the mystery or the husband instead focusing all attention on the wife. As soon as the wife’s mental deterioration begins I think the film veers off into a wrong path, as I was hoping the film would go in the Picnic at Hanging Rock direction and instead becomes a fairly interesting character study. The third Ozon film I’ve seen and this film (quite different than 8 Women or Water Drops on Burning Rocks) confirms him as perhaps the most arresting talent recently emerged in Europe.

007. INTERIORS (Woody Allen) viewed 1-7-03 on dvd
Grade C 1978
Allen’s early attempt at a serious, arty drama comes off as mannered and unconvincing. Allen obviously found a better balance between comedy and drama in some of his later film (notably in Crimes and Misdemeanors and Hannah and Her Sisters) and made Interiors as a film entirely void of laughs. The acting is stiff, the dialogue is overwritten and photography is too strained to emulate the work of Ingmar Bergman.

008. GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (Mervyn LeRoy) viewed 1-7-03 on video
Grade A 1933
An early musical masterpiece, with dance sequences (over) choreographed by Busby Berkley and a very funny backstage musical film surrounding them. The film opens with a “Were in the Money” musical number complete with dancer’s wearing coins and singing a verse in pig latin, but the depression reigns in on the happiness of this sequence and will carry over much of the first act. Gold Diggers ends up following a pair of rich men who are used by showgirls in scenes that are played for comedy, but the roughness of the depression is never forgotten and justifies the showgirls actions as being out of desperation. The film has a false happy ending with the announcement of marriage, but the final musical sequence “Remember the Forgotten Man” rings in at the last moment to show that things are far from settled and happy, especially if you aren’t a beautiful showgirl who can trade in on her sexuality. The musical sequences are superb; my favorite was the madly voyeuristic and silly “Pettin’ in the Park” although the “Shadow Waltz” electric violins are brilliant.

009. ABOUT SCHMIDT (Alexander Payne) viewed 1-7-03 in theater
Grade B+ 2002
Another smart and sharp satire by Alexander Payne, who is one of the most exciting filmmakers working today. Payne specializes in portraying small town people who are flawed and looking for the right thing to do in the midst of a crisis of character (retirement and widowing, honesty, and pregnancy). About Schmidt is often funny in its perceptive view of behavior, and in the third act it also turns Schmidt into a tragic figure without straining for credibility. Nicholson gives another wonderful performance following his work in The Pledge, which was among the best performances in his career, and it looks like he will age gracefully into roles that continue to challenge him.

010. SAY ANYTHING (Cameron Crowe) viewed 1-7-03 on dvd (approx. tenth viewing)
Grade A 1989
A wonderful film, that is actually two great films in tandem. The first film is the story of a father-daughter relationship of honesty and openness, and the second is the story of a teenage romance between two uniquely different people. The way these two films meet and conflict with each other is part of Cameron Crowe’s brilliance as he gives emotional weight to both stories and so the conflict of why one of the film’s relationships must be broken is honest and utterly fresh. As with Untitled (Almost Famous), Say Anything has about a dozen moments of such intense feeling that I begin to quiver with emotion.

011. CHASING AMY (Kevin Smith) viewed 1-7-03 on dvd (approx. fifth viewing)
Grade A- 1997
Lesbian angle is a red herring as the film is really about male sexual jealousy and conforming, as was Clerks and (to some degree) Mallrats. Chasing Amy feels like its Smith’s most personal film, less gimmicky than his previous films and less big-concept than his later films. His balance of humor and seriousness is best in this film although he does occasionally deflate serious scenes with a comic line, something that sitcoms stoop to as to not steer away their target audience (“It’s a comedy I swear!”). Smith’s visual sense improved with Chasing Amy and has gotten better since, but he should really study the films of Richard Linklater and Eric Rohmer to see how to do basic coverage of people talking in a room.

012. MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (Hayao Miyazaki) viewed 1-8-03 on dvd (American Version)
Grade B 1988
I liked this film less than the two previous Miyazaki films I’ve seen (Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away) just because it seemed to have a less intense imagination for creating a new world of creatures. In this film Miyazaki keeps his spiritual world in the background, instead focusing on two young girls in a new house. I found the two young girls very realistic and sometimes very annoying but appreciated the understanding father (too often the fathers are there only to criticize and be the ignorant adult) and Totoro. This review refers to the dubbed (and possibly re-edited) version recently released by Fox DVD, I have not seen the Japanese version which I’m sure is the preferred version.

013. STOP MAKING SENSE (Jonathan Demme) viewed 1-8-03 on dvd (approx. eighth viewing)
Grade A 1984
The best rock movie that I’ve seen and also one of the most simple. It begins with an empty set and adds roughly one new instrument for each song, so you get an appreciation for each instrument and the musician (character) who plays it. There are no cutaways to the audience jumping for joy in the audience (until the last song) and the camera work is nonobtrusive, letting the music provide the energy rather than the cinema technique. The songs are all top-notch Talking Heads from the prime era of their recordings, every album after this film would be a decline in quality and lead singer Byrne is very entertaining to watch perform. Watching the film you also get a feeling of the director Jonathan Demme, in the way he selects what bits to show of each musicians performance. Some highlights include: the last bit of “Found a Job”, the lamp dance in “This Must be the Place (Naïve Melody)” and (of course) the big suit in “Girlfriend is Better.” This film is not to be missed.

014. LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS (Peter Jackson) viewed 1-5-03 in Imax theater
Grade B- 2002

Not as good as the first one, mainly because not much new ground is covered both in the literal sense and the narrative. The effects are generally very nifty and Jackson knows how to stage an action scene, but to what end? The big battle at the end of this film is a technical triumph and a logistical nightmare: with a handful of the fellowship able to single-handedly kill thousands of their enemies. The most interesting plot thread is between Frodo and Gollum because it is the least distracted and stays closest to the dynamics around the ring, everything else is a distraction.

015. PUBLIC ENEMY (William Wellman) viewed 1-9-03 on laserdisc
Grade A- 1931
A savage and brutal pre-code film with a stunning star turn by James Cagney. This film was undoubtedly an influence on Scorsese with its casual blend of perverse violence and humor, for instance in the horse scene. The violent showdowns are wisely kept just offscreen, heard mostly as the camera only lets to witness the before and after, almost like the camera can’t stand to look at the violence. The grapefruit scene is still so shocking 70+ years later that the people I saw it with were laughing uncomfortably in disbelief. The rain-drenched climax is iconic and has been referenced as lately as Road To Perdition.

016. MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (Vincente Minnelli) viewed 1-10-03 on video
Grade A- 1944
Very good musical, that uses its musical sequences to bring characters together or bridge their emotions. The story is unabashedly romantic and melodramatic, dealing with moving away to New York and the courting of two budding girls. Before the ridiculously happy ending, we get scenes of surprising poignancy: the girl destroying her snowmen or the older couple making up with a duet of “You and I.” The ending is a piece of dream fulfillment that reminded me of Jacques Demy’s Young Girls of Rochefort, and made me feel unreasonably good.

017. CLERKS (Kevin Smith) viewed 1-10-03 in theater (approx. fifth viewing)
Grade B+ (downgraded from A-) 1994
First time viewing Clerks in the theater and my opinion of it dropped a bit, viewing at home might be ideal for this film. Dialogue feels overpolished and more mannered here than any of his later films, and said by unprofessional actors it comes off stiff. Some of the gags feel a bit too cute for there own sake: the anti-cigarette riot, or the perfect dozen eggs, and characters are forever pulling out business cards to give themselves credibility (Do we really need the contractor to show his credentials to the clerks?). The big screen also brings out how bad the film looks, often framed and blocked into ugly compositions with cutaways that don’t really make sense: a brief shot of the shoes of the people who are talking. That said this film is often very funny and engaging, and Smith may one day develop into a major talent (retiring Jay and Silent Bob is a good choice).

018. NINOTCHKA (Ernst Lubitsch) viewed 1-11-03 on video
Grade B 1939
The third Lubitsch film I’ve seen but the first that didn’t remotely achieve perfection. Not as funny as Trouble in Paradise or as full of adult humor (a concession to the code has a tamer Lubitsch) and nowhere near as charming as The Shop Around the Corner. It is fun to watch Garbo melt to the charms of capitalism, but neither entertaining or funny enough to clarify this films status as a classic film.

019. THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (Clint Eastwood) viewed 1-11-03 on video
Grade B 1976
A little revisionist on the typical Eastwood Man With No Name persona but Eastwood’s genre changes haven’t taken the sublime quality they would in Unforgiven. Starts very well, with the event that drives forward the rest of the plot and Eastwood’s preparation for revenge all coming before the opening credits. Eastwood wisely puts a scar down the middle of the hero’s face to remind us that all his violence springs from the opening action. There are also some scenes that work in ways that are different than expected: especially a showdown between Eastwood and a group of Indians and the very last scene. A good film and probably the best western Eastwood directed other than Unforgiven, although not its equal as Eastwood and some critics think to be.

020. NICO ICON (Susanne Ofteringer) viewed 1-11-03 on dvd
Grade C 1996
Talking head documentary of the life of Nico: the singer on the first Velvet Underground album, model and solo artist later into the seventies and eighties. The film is not bad its just not very insightful, it lacks some key interviews and viewpoints and focuses too much on interviewee’s who didn’t seem to know her all that well. I’m a Nico fan, I have her album Chelsea Girl and listen to it frequently but this film doesn’t add any new background that would help me appreciate her work more.

021. RABBIT-PROOF FENCE (Philip Noyce) viewed 1-12-03 in theater
Grade C 2002
Taking a serious injustice film and turning it into an adventure film isn’t a problem for me, just this adventure film happens to be rather limp. The journey isn’t really seen as a big conquest (the natives mostly seem helpful and sympathetic to the girls’ plight) and no real sense of time passing (months go by – we are told). No real sense of the little girls as individual characters (although they are all photogenic) and that might have helped develop interest in their journey, which isn’t all that visually interesting; not like Roeg’s view of the outback in the masterful Walkabout.

022. WESTWORLD (Michael Crichton) viewed 1-12-03 on video
Grade B 1973
An entertaining hybrid of the western and science fiction genres, with a fantasy construct of the mythic old west going terribly wrong because of mechanical problems. The climax plays more for surprise effect than gradual suspense and it feels like the wrong choice, with everything happening too fast and over too soon.

023. THE GENERAL LINE (Sergei Eisenstein) viewed 1-13-03 on (a very bad) video
Grade B+ 1929
Those who regularly read my site (both of you) may have noticed that I gave a C+ to Battleship Potempkin, and now in giving Eisenstein’s least admired film a higher rating I may be accused of perverse snobbery. The General Line (also known as The Old and the New) isn’t simple a better film than Potempkin; it is a more technically accomplished one and surely a more entertaining one. That said, I must say the version I saw was a shitty video copy of a 16mm print with no music and thus I may still be severely underrating this film. The film is about the wonders of cooperative farming and its most exciting scene is an anticipation of cream being churned into butter. Before you sigh sarcastically and skip to the next review know that the butter-churning scene is actually pretty damn exciting and surprisingly funny. Also very funny is a “wedding” scene with a bull being introduced to a cow, that scene climaxing (literally) in a witty and wonderful expression of montage that blew me away. Well worth seeing if you are interested in Eisenstein and were put off by his oppressive masterpiece Potemkin.

024. THE BIG COMBO (Joseph H. Lewis) viewed 1-13-03 on dvd
Grade B+ 1955
Odd film noir that plays with dream logic, with each character unbalanced by their emotions. Lewis’ uses cinematic technique in collaboration with the film’s violence: music as device to torture the cop, sound muted for a significant murder and dramatic lighting finally killing the villain. The direction is stylish and the shootout in dense fog at the climax is an obvious highlight.

025. FRANKENSTEIN (James Whale) viewed 1-14-03 on dvd
Grade C 1931
Surprisingly mad and off-balanced, with actors going so over the top that they distract from the story and especially the mood, which is often creepy because of Arthur Edeson’s photography. The film veers wildly from broad comedy to expressionistic horror, but is neither funny nor scary enough to warrant its status as the horror classic. It’s interesting to take the queer theory with this film: since Whale was gay and the story is basically two men creating new life without a woman, and Elizabeth set in opposition to Dr. Frankenstein’s achievement.

026. SWING TIME (George Stevens) viewed 1-14-03 on video
Grade A- 1936
Charming and entertaining Astaire-Rogers vehicle with delightful musical sequences. The film doesn’t ever reach the sublime level of Top Hat, but does qualify as one of the best musicals made during the classic Hollywood years for musicals.

027. FEAR DOT COM (William Malone) viewed 1-14-03 on dvd
Grade C 2002
This film is best when playing up the visual imagination and playing down the plot, which is laid pretty thick and is mostly disposable. William Malone may one day make a quality movie, but he’s currently one of the only schlock horror director that’s trying to achieve something unique. And as always, it’s nice to see Jeffery Comb’s getting work.

028. WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? (Tsai Ming-liang) viewed 1-15-03 on dvd (second viewing)
Grade B 2002
A slow and beguiling film with 103 long or very long, static takes of people doing mostly banal tasks. 103 shots in 116 minutes gives you an idea of the film’s pacing and the director doesn’t ever move the camera, if it sounds like slow torture you may as well skip to the next review. If you’re still reading you are the prime audience for this film and probably something of a masochist, although that’s not to say the film is without pleasure or interest. One of the bigger pleasures is the film’s sense of humor that is quirky and understated, sometimes deadpan like Jarmusch and sometimes visual like Tati. The film is also a meditation on loneliness and dislocation: all the characters close themselves in and are missing someone or something important to them. This is the second time I’ve seen the film (so I’m a bit of a masochist as well) and the images are rich in a way that really stays with you after you’ve seen them. There is also a loving homage to Francois Truffaut, Jean-Pierre Leaud and most significantly Paris.

029. METROPOLITAN (Whit Stillman) viewed 1-15-03 on video (third viewing)
Grade A 1990
Whit Stillman’s first film Metropolitan announced a great new voice in independent films, and is one of the best films of the nineties. His writing isn’t joke-oriented but witty and observantly funny. It’s the kind of subtle comedy that can be watched repeatedly without losing its appeal, in fact with each viewing it becomes obvious how much effort was taken in letting the humor come from the characters and how they talk rather than limp comedic situations.

A middle-class socialist joins a clique of wealthy yuppies, The Sally Fowler Rat Pack, in after deb-party for a few weeks around Christmas Time. Stillman keenly observes the parties, and presents them in a sampler form that keeps the conversations immediate and interesting. The conversations range from Jane Austin to surrealist contempt for the bourgeoisie to title aristocracy, sometimes the parties turn to strip poker or truth or dare.

The cast is a heap of newcomers with the introducing list is longer than the regular cast credits, but they mostly do a very game job with the material. The dialogue is mannered and could easily come out wrong with misdirection or bad acting choices (see Clerks for occasional examples). In particular Chris Eigeman handles himself very well in the tastiest role of snarling Nick Smith (his first role) and he would continue to be one of the most integral parts of Stillman’s next two projects.

When will Whit Stillman make another film?!

030. SHOW ME LOVE (Lukas Moodysson) viewed 1-15-03 on dvd
Grade B+ 1999
Honest and moving love story of two teenage girls that fall in love with each other and the consequences that it brings them. Before the two meet up the film makes some pointed and funny observations about teenagers living in a small town; yearning for drugs, raves or anything exciting to happen. The relationship develops in a way that seems very original, with both girls coming into it with different reasons and different family life. The birthday party near the beginning is a minor masterpiece seeming both cruel and utterly convincing in the way people hurt each other just to strike out. Original Swedish title was Fucking Amal (Amal being the lame small town the characters are stuck in) but Show Me Love is a good enough replacement as it sums up the emotions more than might be first expected. Only caveat is the final song coming in and undermining the impact of the final scene.

031. BLONDE VENUS (Josef von Sternberg) viewed 1-16-03 on laserdisc
Grade B 1932
Certainly campy for much of the first half: highlight being Dietrich stripping from an ape suit and singing “Hot Voodoo” with two arrows sticking through her head (attracting Cary Grant in the process but who could resist that). The middle section slumped as Dietrich slums it trashy hotels keeping her son from her husband. Then the film rebounded with a final scene of bittersweet reconciliation that brought a lump to my throat.

032. THEY LIVE BY NIGHT (Nicholas Ray) viewed 1-16-03 on video
Grade B+ 1949
Convict and young bride run off together in Ray’s adaptation of Edward Anderson’s “Thieves Like Us” played as a tragedy with the two young criminals as corrupted innocents. Walks a similar line with Ray’s next film Knock on Any Door, but this one favors moody poetry to preachy speeches and it is really effective. Altman also adapted the book into a film of the same name and made a significantly different film, which feels earthy rather than brooding.

033. A GUY THING (Chris Koch) viewed 1-17-03 in theater
Grade D 2003
A hard film to watch since I like most of the actors involved and couldn’t imagine them in a film as bad as this. Comedy is unnecessarily scatological (he has crabs, ha-ha) and half baked (a subtext of guys helping Lee out of the worst jams for the sake of male camaraderie suggests another film). Mostly I just wanted to hurl things at the screen with every progressing moment, and even begun to be annoyed by things I usually like; from Mark Mothersbaugh annoying score to Jason Lee’s eyebrow reliant acting. Of everybody involved only Julia Stiles comes away basically untarnished, she may be in for big things if she finds the right part. A good start would be passing on films from the director of Snow Day and looking for more films to stretch your palate.

034. 25TH HOUR (Spike Lee) viewed 1-18-03 in theater
Grade A 2002
Spike Lee’s return to form and his best film since Clockers and it stays away from the things that usually trip him up. Gone are the unnecessary subplots that have him distracted, gone is the loud music distancing us from the characters' dialogue, and gone is the heavy-handed message mongering. This film is focused and simple, and Lee invests it with his exceptional craftsmanship.

The film’s theme is doing the right thing when opposed with life’s challenges and the reparations for doing wrong. Norton is going to jail for selling drugs, but the people in his life (girlfriend, best friends and father) are all accomplices to his wrongdoing and didn’t do anything about his activity. All are seen as guilty in some way and most of all is Norton, who is established as a flawed character who has done some destructive things to the neighborhood in favor of making a quick buck. The film doesn’t skate blame off of its characters, and it gives them other flaws to establish that even very positive characters (a teacher or a businessman) can behave just as destructively in their own interest.

The film also deals with September 11 in a way that is both moving and refreshing; showing anti-Arab sentiments in the backgrounds of scenes, flags on cars (remember that) and staging an important conversation by a window over looking ground zero as workers clean the debris. Spike Lee even stops the forward momentum of the film for an impassioned soliloquy of hatred delivered by Edward Norton, dishing “fuck you’s” to every racial group in NY, and individually citing Osama bin Laden, Enron, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney -specifically in their involvement of the Enron scandal.

035. QUAI DES ORFEVRES (Henri-Georges Clouzot) viewed 1-19-03 in theater
Grade A 1947
A great unseen film from Clouzot, who has for too long been unfairly neglected by American audiences, and is capable of making suspense films that can compare with Hitchcock in their technical quality and undeniable entertainment value. This film’s first half has the logic of an American film noir film, with characters driven by self-interest or blinding emotions into a downward spiral of fate. After an important murder, the film switches gears and becomes a top-notch detective story and mystery. Somehow Clouzot is able to both get suspense by aligning us with the guilty (either actually or by appearance) and then surprise us with twists that reveal new sides to things we thought we knew from the film’s first half. A great film that I look forward to seeing again.

036. MURDER, MY SWEET (Edward Dmytryk) viewed 1-22-03 on video
Grade A- 1944
Clever and witty script and surprisingly convincing performance from Powell as Marlowe make this a very entertaining and worthy entry into the company of the other Chandler adaptations. The film also contains a great metaphor for the film noir genre; when Powell is knocked unconscious and “a dark pool opens up at his feet” sucking him in. Plot is perhaps too muddled but Dmytryk has the look down and Powell handles the wise-ass dialogue like a pro.

037. THE KILLERS (Robert Siodmak) viewed 1-22-03 on video
Grade B- 1946
Good performance by Lancaster but the film never really came together as I hoped it would, and after seeing the ’64 version I wonder if the source material just doesn’t translate all that well to film. I’ve never been fond of extended flashbacks for one and I think the structure of this film is especially weak, hurting whatever momentum either story builds.

038. DRESSED TO KILL (Brian De Palma) viewed 1-23-03 on dvd (sixth viewing)
Grade A 1980

039. BODY DOUBLE (Brian De Palma) viewed 1-24-03 on dvd (fourth viewing)
Grade B+ 1984

Brian De Palma does Hitchcock!

So the detractors said with the initial release of these two films which borrow Hitchcock’s plot threads and scramble them around into new films. Dressed to Kill was obviously inspired by Psycho and Body Double was inspired by Rear Window (with quite a healthy dose of Vertigo thrown in for flavor). However, these films are not cheap rip-off works, as those detractors would claim, but rather the brilliantly original work which acknowledge their sources and actually build upon them in a very interesting way.

Dressed to Kill is Psycho
It begins and ends with a shower sequence, has a surprising early murder of a main character and a killer transsexual that drives the plot. However, De Palma treats the material differently playing up the dream-like quality of the images. The film begins and ends with dream sequences, the first one is in De Palma mode and the second one is done as a Hitchcock homage. The first sequence draws you into the action (the girl in shower) with seductive music and slow, lyrical camera movement before a sudden burst of violence. The second sequence has established threat and draws out time to build suspense, even providing a false threat (the white shoes) before revealing the real threat. After the first dream sequence but before the first murder the film follows the pattern established: slow, gliding camera movements and beautiful Pino Donaggio score guiding attention to insignificant details before spastic outbursts of violence.
The museum sequence in Dressed to Kill echoes the great set pieces in Hitchcock’s films, but is actually more daring than most of them. De Palma holds attention for a long stretch of silent screen time, as Angie Dickinson: looks at the paintings, looks at a few patrons, meets the glance of a man who sits by her, chases him, is chased by her and ends up in a cab with him. After that sequence De Palma’s manipulation continues as he forces Dickinson to confront potential problems of her infidelity before unleashing a final surprise. What is daring about this sequence isn’t just that it relies on De Palma’s technique to draw the audience in, but that he didn’t lead into the scene with ominous warning about the fate of the sequence. Compared to a Hitchcock sequence, say in North By Northwest, the difference is that Hitchcock made sure to warn the audience that the character was in danger before the set piece, so he didn’t have to rely on his technique to carry the audiences attention. They stay with the action because they are expecting the threat, De Palma makes no such promise to the audience and the result is a masterful piece of cinematic storytelling.

Body Double is Rear Window and Vertigo
Voyeurism is often a theme in De Palma’s films (Sisters even has a Peeping Tom Game Show), and in this film a murder plot is discovered through spying on a neighbor through binoculars (as in Rear Window). The peeper in this case is an out of work actor who was fired because his claustrophobia wouldn’t let him perform, and he eventually discovers that someone involved in the murder plot is actually a hired actor (as in Vertigo) and his claustrophobia works against helping the intended victim. The Hitchcock references crossbreed with each other, and his desire to look and claustrophobia are both his downfalls here, giving him the flaws of both movies to make his challenge more concrete.

Now that the Hitchcock references are out of the way it is interesting to note that De Palma uses these story threads as a springboard for the themes that control his characters. Where Hitchcock’s characters are moved in the plot by chance (basically good people who are mistaken for bad people) De Palma likes to deal with characters that are corrupted by sexual temptation. In Dressed to Kill: Dickinson is driven by lust and punished for it, the killer acts only when driven by lust and Allen as the prostitute is basically always in trouble. The only untouchable character is Gordon who is so geeky he is embarrassed by sex; when he invites Allen to his house late in the film there is no question that his intentions are noble (De Palma is said to have related to this character). Lust drives the protagonist of Body Double and also the killer, as they both spy the same strip show in the window and are drawn to her. In both films good characters act in a negative fashion: Dickinson has extramarital affair and Wasson peeps, stalks and eventually takes the underwear of the woman he lusts after. After Dickinson’s affair with the man, De Palma basically judges her in a series of ways, from the STD test to the little girl staring in the elevator and finally the murder. Wasson in Body Double is actually one of the creepiest characters in the film (although we know his intentions are mostly good), as his moves mirror the killers (who is ugly and deemed as threatening).

Also noteworthy is De Palma’s use of split personalities or doubles as a consistent theme in his movies. In these films his doubles were also in the Hitchcock films but his other thriller films also work similarly. Most recently Femme Fatale had two Rebecca Romijn Stamos’ (as every world should), in Raising Cain Lithgow is split into many pieces, and Carlito’s Way is actually a double for Scarface. He may have started out derivative of Hitchcock but now he is mostly derivative of himself, much as Hitchcock was in the second half of his career.

040. INTACTO (Juan Carlos Fresnadillo) viewed 1-24-03 in theater
Grade B- 2002
Intriguing (if not totally original) storyline about the nature of luck as seen from people who survive freak accidents, actually plays like a hybrid sports and detective movie and grows progressively ridiculous as it goes on. A lot of scenes work on their own but the film doesn’t really come together in the end and the ending is a letdown.

041. DIABOLIQUE (Henry-Georges Clouzot) viewed 1-24-03 on dvd
Grade A- 1955
A pretty nasty film and incredibly tense, this film is often cited as a precursor to Psycho in the development of the adult thriller. I like the middle section best when the murder has taken place and the killers are waiting for the body to be found, the suspense during that section almost reaches the level Clouzot achieved in his great film Wages of Fear. It taps into that great fear: that you have done something wrong and you will be found out no matter what you do (see also Blood Simple) and it is highly recommended – even if you have seen the lame remake with Sharon Stone.

042. TO BE OR NOT TO BE (Ernst Lubitsch) viewed 1-25-03 on video
Grade A- 1942
A very funny film about a Polish acting troupe forced to outwit the Nazi’s and stop a spy from giving away the underground. Much of the humor derives from poking fun at the nazi regime by making them look ridiculous, but still not undermining the menace they present. The oft repeated joke of the man in the front of the theater getting up as Hamlet begins his “To be or not to be” speech made me laugh every time.

043. THE TIN STAR (Anthony Mann) viewed 1-26-03 on video
Grade B 1957
A lesser Anthony Mann western (which is to say still very good) with bounty hunter Henry Fonda teaching Sheriff Anthony Perkins how to defend himself. The psychological depth in this film is no match for Mann other films, possibly the lack of vengeance as a major theme to drive the protagonist is the biggest misstep for Mann. Instead of feeling the impending conflict was an extension of the characters’ obsessions, the conflict is felt necessary to account the film as a Western.

044. THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK (Preston Sturges) viewed 1-26-03 on video
Grade C- 1944
Strained and mostly unfunny comedy done in a breakneck pace that dulls the material into a big, chaotic mess. Also an annoying mess; with all the acting on the same pitch of spastic frenzy to the point that every new twist of the plot started to seem sadistic. I’ll take the mayhem of Palm Beach Story, thanks.

045. BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (William Wyler) viewed 1-28-03 on dvd
Grade B+ 1946
Well meaning and often touching, but also overlong and repetitive. The film is stretched to a nearly three hour running time that seems highly excessive since all the characters develop in a fairly predictable way and the fat in the story really just lessens the final effect of the story. Still some scenes in the first and last act really moved me, and if the film were a little more concise it would be truly great.

046. SCARLET STREET (Fritz Lang) viewed 1-28-03 on video
Grade B- 1945
Lang at his most fatalistic and aggressively downbeat, with Robinson pulled into a world of crime to support a much younger woman and the inevitable downfall. Robinson is feminized and dependent: wearing a ridiculously frilly apron and living off his bitter wife’s money. His downfall at the hands of the women he loves seems blatantly obvious from the start, and any irony the film achieves seems accidental and cruel as this is NOT A COMEDY, so it becomes as entertaining as watching a train wreck.

047. ABOUT A BOY (Paul and Chris Weitz) viewed 1-28-03 on dvd (second viewing)
Grade B+ 2002
I might still be overrating this film a bit since the directors don’t really have a handle on the material and I got the feeling that the film could have achieved greatness if in less consumer-minded hands. However, thanks to Hugh Grant’s performance, the film is almost consistently funny and compelling. The last act is the film’s biggest problem because curing Grant of his lifestyle, he becomes a significantly less compelling character and the film begins to enter into romantic-comedy fantasy world where characters can change with the drop of a hat if it is in the name of love. The talent show sequence actually plays better than it should (again due to Grant’s uneasy performance rather than the direction) but it also is the film’s biggest cheat; giving us a big climactic scene of humiliation rather than a more moving scene of Grant actually making a meaningful character discovery. Grant may be the most unfairly underrated actor working today, as he gives dignity to films that sometimes don't deserve it and weight to otherwise light films.

048. THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (Joseph L. Mankiewicz) viewed 1-29-03 on video
Grade B+ 1947
Charming romantic-fantasy that would easily score an A-, were it not so overshadowed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger’s Stairway to Heaven. Still the film is very moving, especially in the last third when the characters forget about the ghost and live their lives out over a stretch of years. The final reconciliation is wonderfully bittersweet and made me forgive the overly classy direction by Mankiewicz, which underplays the fantasy element.

049. CARRIE (Brian De Palma) viewed 1-30-03 on dvd (fifth viewing
Grade A 1976
A film’s tone is set by the first few minutes of screen time. The tone is developed, we are given a rough idea of the film’s moral stance and introduced to important characters. In Carrie, the second shot is a creeping dolly through the girl’s locker room as dozens of naked girls pass the camera in slow motion. This is very ballsy; it gives the feeling that anything may go in this picture and questions the restraint of the filmmaker showing us this. The shot singles out our main character Carrie and we are introduced to her in a series of shots that watch her take a shower. These shots are accompanied by seductive music, and then the audience is given a jolt as she suddenly has her period. This comes as a shock both to the character and the audience. Our sympathies are linked to the character and we are given an idea how the film will deliver its terror; after seducing the audience and characters in giving their confidence the shock comes with a sadist’s glee – a simple bit of misdirection. A method that should be somewhat familiar to any one who has seen De Palma’s other thrillers of this period.

Though the story was written by Stephen King, this is every bit a Brian De Palma film, and it fits in nicely with his oeuvre. Like his other films; sexual desire is linked with guilt and Carrie is punished for having it. Carrie having the period in the early scene pushes the main narrative forward and leads to her being asked to the prom to make up for it. The scenes of Carrie becoming a woman are touching, and so is much of the prom. Then Carrie is punished for attending the prom with blood that mirrors the opening shower scene, and this time Carrie gets retribution.

The final scenes of horror violence work so well because of how well the characters are established by De Palma. Many of the scenes with Carrie in school play like a dramatic character study, and the scenes with the supporting characters are funny and human. The film is unthinkable without the convincing performance by Sissy Spacek in the lead role, which was nominated for the best actress Oscar and grounds the material.

050. LOLITA (Stanley Kubrick) viewed 1-31-03 on dvd
Grade B+ 1962
Funny and satiric for the first two thirds and then finally tragic in the last third, the film changes as its perception of Humbert Humbert. The film utterly relies on its cast to work: Sellers sets the comic tone in an early scene, Winters gives humanity to the middle half and Mason is perfect a character so helpless to his love (his character her reminded me of his character in Bigger Than Life). The film runs too long at nearly two and a half hours but it is a fascinating early look at the darker themes that would develop in Kubrick’s British years after Spartacus.

051. THAT UNCERTAIN FEELING (Ernst Lubitsch) viewed 1-31-03 on dvd
Grade B+ 1941
Funny comedy of the sexes, with an unhappy woman decides to divorce her husband. Great sight gags (the first one immediately following the inter-title card), comic set pieces and a very funny performance by Burgess Meredith make this well worth viewing. The highlight is a sequence in the lawyer’s office where they try to justify a divorce on the grounds of cruelty, which builds masterfully.

052. BEAT THE DEVIL (John Houston) viewed 2-01-03 on dvd
Grade B+ 1954
Silly and wild comedy that thinks it is a serious film, and the actors play it straight as well. The result is actually very funny and a send-up/combination of the other Houston-Bogart films. The audience of the day didn’t get the joke and it was a huge failure, and it is easy to see why they didn’t: most of the cast looking ridiculous and spouting goofy lines as if they were making a routine drama.

053. SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (John Ford) viewed 2-01-03 on dvd
Grade B+ 1949
Beautifully shot in technicolor and bravely lacking in narrative, instead focusing on tone and feeling. Full of beautiful sequences and a great sweep of melancholy - the best probably a ride during a lightning storm. John Wayne also gives one of his best performances as the aging Cavalry Captain and the sentimental sequences of his retirement (climaxing with him getting a watch) are very moving. Some of the film’s subplots don’t work and lessen the overall effect, but still a very fine movie.

054. DANCE WITH A STRANGER (Mike Newell) viewed 2-01-03 on dvd
Grade C 1985
Everything’s dark and smoky in this film of a destructive relationship that ends in murder. The over-stylized mise-en-scene and acting distance the emotions of the story, until everything feels repressed and hollow. The film tries to achieve the hard-boiled feel of a film noir but instead it’s as mannered as any stuffy British costume drama, although I’m not sure the story would have been compelling if told straight.

055. SUDDEN FEAR (David Miller) viewed 2-01-03 on dvd
Grade C+ 1952
Nice noirish cinematography by Charles Lang is the highlight of this otherwise fairly forgettable thriller. Joan Crawford is a wealthy playwright who marries a young actor (Jack Palance) and then discovers that he is planning to kill her to get her money. The set up actually works quite well but as soon as Crawford realized her life was in danger the film became a very routine thriller. Not bad just terribly marginal, I won’t remember it at all by next week.

056. SPARTACUS (Stanley Kubrick) viewed 2-02-03 on dvd
Grade B+ 1960
I might be in the minority here but I think Spartacus would have been much better if Anthony Mann had finished as the film’s director. That’s not to say Spartacus is a failure as it stands, in fact it is great and bold entertainment, just not always enthusiastic. The middle section of the film is too relaxed and padded, slowing the pace set by the exciting first half for dead sequences. However the film rebounds nicely with a brave final third that ends on a down note.

057. BALL OF FIRE (Howard Hawks) viewed 2-03-03 on dvd
Grade B+ (Another frickin’ B+) 1941
Script by Billy Wilder and Charles Bracket and it shows in practically every scene. The film is a witty twist on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, with a seven old professors overseeing the romance of a young aloof professor (Gary Cooper) with a showgirl (Barbara Stanwick, always lovely even though her hairdo resembles a mullet) forced to hide out to avoid the police (which hints at Some Like It Hot). The romance is fairly standard stuff and basically predictable, but the film is quite fun to watch and shows Hawk’s typically great comic timing.

058. WEEK-END IN HAVANA (Walter Lang) viewed 2-04-03 on video
Grade C- 1941
Insipid characters and an incredibly lame story line can hurt any musical-comedy, but when even the music and comedy are utterly uninspired all hope is lost. The Latin characters are all incredible stereotypes (Miranda wears typical fruit salad headdress) but even worse are the white characters who are so blank and stupid they cannot support a film: they feel like minor characters given the show without knowing what to do with it. Some moments have a snaky charm to them, but the film is totally forgettable.

059. TARGETS (Peter Bogdanovich) viewed 2-05-03 on video
Grade C 1968
Opens with a disclaimer saying that the film would show why America has such a problem with guns and then unfolds as a routine thriller involving a sniper and a retiring actor (Karloff in one of his last roles). The disclaimer was put on because Robert Kennedy was assassinated, but it actually points out how superficial the sniper violence is in the film. The sniper character is seen with very little insight, and seen often in the first half of the film which upsets the pacing. Some of the climactic scenes work well, but the film isn’t ever very compelling or entertaining.

060. MILDRED PIERCE (Michael Curtiz) viewed 2-05-03 on video
Grade B- 1945
Starting with a murder and then going into flashback to tell everything up to the murder is not a particularly unusual way for a film to unravel, but with Mildred Pierce it is essential. It keeps interest in Mildred’s character because she is first presented as a femme fatale and then shifts with the plot developments. The film is very well directed by Curtiz and shot in shadowy noir by Ernest Waller and that carried me over stretches of annoying character actions.

061. MAN FROM THE ALAMO (Budd Boetticher) viewed 2-06-03 on video
Grade B+ 1953
Good western with Ford playing a person who is wrongly accused of cowardice and must prove himself against a pack of opposing soldiers. Ford is good as Boetticher’s typical loner character, but the film is a bit too insubstantial given its early set piece in the Alamo. Boetticher’s direction is perfect though, and I look forward to seeing more of his films.

062. MONSIEUR VERDOUX (Charles Chaplin) viewed 2-06-03 on video
Grade B+ 1947
Similar to The Great Dictator in that Chaplin is no longer trying to win the audience over with bittersweet plots or likable characters, instead his comedy is coming from the darkest of places and growing very cold and satirical. In Monsieur Verdoux, Chaplin has directed a comedy that centers largely on the mass murder of rich widows, with Chaplin himself playing the killer but still not altogether distancing himself from the Chaplin persona. The comic scenes in the silent Chaplin films depended on Chaplin’s tramp surviving poverty and the humor grew from his bid for self-preservation. Monsieur Verdoux works similarly, the comic set pieces are mostly centered around the killer getting away with his crimes (escaping a wedding, trying to kill a wife on a boat) but darkness has crept into Chaplin’s film.

063. THE SET-UP (Robert Wise) viewed 2-07-03 on video
Grade A 1949
A great film that unfolds in (more or less) real time, as a boxer is set-up to loose a bout and not told about it. Since the fix is known to the audience going into the main fight it puts the bout into two contrasting lines of suspense: I was rooting for the aging boxer to win his match but I knew the result of his victory could cost his life. The boxing scenes are incredibly intense and although the action is sometimes repetitive I never felt bored by it. Save for the last line of dialogue this is a nearly perfect film, one that deserves to be better known.

064. RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY (Sam Peckinpah) viewed 2-07-03 on video (not widescreen)
Grade B+ 1962
The note above is very important, this film was viewed on a pan and scan video copy and I feel that this substantially hurt the film. That said this is still a very good film and an obvious influence on the dirtier revisionist westerns of the late sixties and seventies (especially McCabe and Mrs. Miller). I felt the first third of the film was too lazily paced, taking too long to get to the main story action. However, once the terrific wedding scenes comes along he film really takes off and stays at a very good level of intensity. Works well as a swan song for Scott and McCrey, as well as a changing of the guard from the westerns they made.

065. FIVE GRAVES TO CAIRO (Billy Wilder) viewed 2-07-03 on video
Grade A- 1943
I don’t have a lot to say about this film, I thought it was a very exciting and funny spy film that somehow managed to not lessen the evils of WWII. A timeless film and a precursor to Speilberg’s Indiana Jones films, as Cameron Crowe suggested before me.

066. INTRUDER IN THE DUST (Clarence Brown) viewed 2-07-03 on video
Grade A- 1949
Way ahead of its time in its view of racism, the same film in the sixties would be sensationalistic and self-congratulatory. The black man accused of shooting a white man in the back isn’t characterized as impossibly noble character with kindness of mythic proportions but rather as a character who feels no need to humble himself to the white people of his town. Somehow the film comes across as much more realistic and modern than 1995’s A Time To Kill.

067. LOVELY AND AMAZING (Nicole Holofcener) viewed 2-08-03 on dvd
Grade C+ 2002
Basically unremarkable with a few good scenes scattered along to maintain interest in the proceedings and generally good performances. Everything feels very televisionalized (I think I made that word up) with characters getting story space intervals resembling soaps and sitcom dialogue that never really seems real.

068. LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (John M. Stahl) viewed 2-08-03 on video
Grade B 1945
Odd hybrid of film noir and melodrama with everything shot in vibrant technicolor, it feels like trash some moments and genius at others. The two scenes of violence really stand out, and the color surrounding the actions make it seem hyper-real. I think the film loses its way after Tierny leaves but the first two-thirds are fascinating.

069. RAILROADED! (Anthony Mann) viewed 2-09-03 on dvd
Grade B+ 1947
Railroaded lacks the great moody photography that John Alton brought to Raw Deal and T-Men but this is still another very good film noir from Anthony Mann.

070. DAVID HOLZMAN’S DIARY (Jim McBride) viewed 2-09-03 on video
Grade B 1968
I didn’t realize that the film was a complete put-on until late into the film, and it didn’t really affect the way I viewed the film. It is a pretentious and often funny look at the life of someone who must capture everything on film. His girlfriend refuses to be taped and the film and Holzman’s life come apart as result. I find it weird that everyone who really loves film always ends up being a creep or a pervert, or at least becoming totally overwhelmed by their obsession (For example: Camera Buff, Peeping Tom, Leaud in Last Tango in Paris).

071. THE 49TH PARALLEL (Michael Powell) viewed 2-11-03 on dvd
Grade A- 1941
Propaganda films about German nazi troops trying to get to safety after their ship is blown up, and along the way meet many people who represent a tempting different lifestyle. The film is episodic with new characters showing up to surround the nazi’s every twenty minutes or so and very entertaining with each segment filled with great actors and surprises. Howard’s’ fistfight with the nazi and Anton Walbrook’s speech denouncing the nazis are obvious highlights in a very good film.

072. TALES OF HOFFMAN (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) viewed 2-12-03 on laserdisc
Grade B 1951
Beautifully photographed in rich technicolor, and Powell and Pressburger do a very effective job of telling each story with new focused color palates (Prologue and epilogue in deep blue and red, first act in yellow, second in dark grays and oranges and third in light blue). Also spectacular in its use of images to tell the story, since the film is basically a silent film and uses the images expressionistically to relate the information to the audience. A great film technically, but somehow emotionally underwhelming and long-winded at over two-hours. The themes fit in nicely with The Archers’ other works (the story draws an interesting parallel to my favorite Life and Death Of Colonial Blimp) and a lot of the ballet numbers are reminiscent of the brilliant The Red Shoes but still something held me back. I will take another viewing sometime down the line and see if I can resolve my feelings for the film.

073. A CANTERBURY TALE (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) viewed 2-13-03 on dvd
Grade B 1944
A Canterbury Tale is a pleasant trifle of a film but not much more than that, with very little narrative and no sense of narrative drive. Instead the film relies on charm and the considerable skill of the masterful storytelling abilities of The Archers to weave a web to hide how empty the plot really is. Not that I’m complaining about the lack of plot, because I didn’t mind at all when I was watching the film, which is probably closest to I Know Where I’m Going with the mysticism of the locale guiding the characters more than the plot. Just left me wanting when it was all over, like I had been taken in by the film and walked away nearly empty-handed.

074. THE WICKER MAN (Robin Hardy) viewed 2-13-03 on dvd (extended version – third viewing)
Grade A 1973
The extended version is probably the most ideal version available: giving the opening scenes of grounded reality of the Sergeant’s life and a minimum of character information before thrusting him into the weirdness on the Island (A later scene with Christopher Lee and two snails making love could have been left out of the film). Still the film looks better on every viewing, finding even seemingly insignificant details: the opening thank you and the music, more filled with nuance and cleverness. The surprise in the last act forces a complete reconstruction of the film’s motives: not a horror film but a satirical look at the absurdity of all religion from an outsider’s gaze. It is also very interesting how the film keeps the viewer off balance, giving bizarre musical number and brilliant little non-sequiturs to confuse the Sergeant and the viewer. One of the best horror films of the seventies and certainly one of the best horror/musical/comedies ever made.

075. WOMAN OF THE YEAR (George Stevens) viewed 2-14-03 on video
Grade C+ 1942
A C+ is actually too nice for this film which takes a radical misstep about half way through and never really recovers. Instead of being a comedy about the life of a professional woman, the film begins to resent her character and poke stabs at her while she’s helpless. The scenes with the adopted boy seemed especially heavy-handed. The final scene that tries to return to comedy with zany mishaps in the kitchen is such a disaster I felt sorry for the film, especially since it had started out genuinely charming and funny. Good chemistry between the actors and a very good first half almost make the film worth checking out, too bad it all fell apart.

076. SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (Ernst Lubitsch) viewed 2-15-03 on dvd (second viewing)
Grade A 1940
Just as charming and wonderful as I remembered it, and possibly the only romantic comedy that starts with its two characters hating each other and I actually believe it and find it a suitable obstacle for them to overcome. The comedy is brilliantly designed, building to comic climaxes like the work of a great architect making it obvious for the uninitiated to what the Lubitsch-touch refers. Perhaps the best romantic comedy ever made, finding room for human characters and scenes of sadness and bittersweet joy.

077. TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (Howard Hawks) viewed 2-17-03 on video
Grade B+ 1944
Basically the Hawks reworking of Casablanca with Bogart reprising the role of a man in the midst of political warfare who doesn’t want to get involved but must because of his love for a woman. And what a woman. Bacalls first film with Bogart and she has that great line (“You know how to whistle, don’t you?”) and the ability to make everything she says sound double-sided and laced with sexual overtones. A pretty damn entertaining film all and all, with crackling lines of dialogue and a basically engaging storyline. Faulkner co-wrote the screenplay and it was based on a Ernest Hemingway book and that’s not a bad pedigree.

078. DROWNING BY NUMBERS (Peter Greenaway) viewed 2-17-03 on video
Grade B 1987
I guess I’m a Greenaway fan since I seem to like every one of his films (The Baby of Macon excepted) but something holds me back on every film he makes. With this film I was excited as the story set itself up: introducing the numbers and games and drownings but then it just kept going on without really covering any new ground with each number. In fact the film’s narrative plays like a skipping record, repeating the same ground. “Once you’ve gotten to a hundred you’ve seen everything” says the little girl at the beginning of the film describing the device used in the film of laying numbers (1-100) into the diegetics of the story as it progresses, but I felt that I had seen roughly everything at about sixty. That doesn’t mean the film isn’t entertaining (although some will find it torturous), with it’s droll humor and unabashed sex, just it goes a bit stale for the last third, until the fireworks come out in the last scenes.

079. COMANCHE STATION (Budd Boetticher) viewed 2-18-03 on video
Grade B+ 1960
Another very simple set-up: Scott finds kidnapped lady and must return her to her to her husband but others stand in the way, with interesting verbal show downs between Scott and the others who plan to double cross him and turn the lady in for a reward. Side conversations about practical living in the west really ground this film in a reality that’s rather uncommon with western films, making it ahead of its time. Echoes to The Tall T actually strengthen my opinion of that film (which I now yearn to see again) and make me ready to see more Randown Westerns (as soon as I can locate them).

080. THE BROOD (David Cronenberg) viewed 2-18-03 on video
Grade B- 1979
Another very personal film from Cronenberg with most of the themes he would continue to develop in his career. The film is probably closest to Cronenberg’s earlier film Shivers: with both showing illness being manifested physically and harming the characters of the film. In fact the alternate title on that film was “They Come From Within” which perfectly describes the basis for Cronenberg’s horror themes. The Brood is not as mature or moving a work as his masterpiece The Fly, but this film has many creepy moments and a great score from Howard Shore. Is it me, or are the killer midget things in this film very similar to the killer in Don’t Look Now?

081. THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (Orson Welles) viewed 2-20-03 on video
Grade A 1942
It’s hard to imagine Welles’ original film being better than this shortened version because this is such a powerful and mature work even at less than 90 minutes. It’s a more laid back and less eager to please film than Citizen Kane, but no less ambitious. It has a very good feeling for the time period, especially in the tour de force first third of the film in which Welles sets the stage for the action. Stanley Cortez’s cinematography (which was assisted heavily by Tolland’s experiments on Citizen Kane) is very beautiful: rich deep focus shots throughout and filled with shadow in the second half. A few scenes in the last half lighten the overall tragic tone of the material suggesting a happy outcome to the events, but despite the changes this is still a wonderful film.

082. HEAVEN CAN WAIT (Ernst Lubitsch) viewed 2-20-03 on video
Grade A- 1943
It is very odd to see a romantic/comedy/fantasy with characters as complicated as those we get in this film, and I think that is an essential part of what makes Lubitsch’s films work so well. As with Trouble in Paradise the characters in this film (especially the lead character) are established as containing bad traits and a lot of the comedy comes from them acting their way out of the trouble they’ve created themselves. The scenes in hell that bookend the film nicely set the tone for the film (I can’t think of another film that has the central character applying to get into hell) and most of the comedy that follows is lean and funny. Would have scored a solid A, but it is notch below Trouble in Paradise and The Shop Around the Corner.

083. THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT (Jacques Demy) viewed 2-20-03 on dvd (Third viewing)
Grade A (upgraded from A-) 1967
One of the best musicals ever made and probably the one that best understands what makes musicals magical in the first place. The musical numbers exist in the world of the story: people will be talking and then suddenly break into song and then the whole thing will turn into a number with extras standing up and dancing with the characters. The film acknowledges the general weirdness of this phenomenon but making the world of the film completely linked with music: each character has their own theme, sailors are always walking by the camera and decide (what the hell) to join in dancing, and in one sequence a musical number is taking place out of the main action of the story and Deneuve is carried through the number away from the action. This all adds to the magical quality of the movie. The sequence with Gene Kelly dancing after falling in love rivals is sequence in Singin’ in the Rain for its pure blissed-out quality (I’ve seen the film three times but that sequence close to twenty).

084. THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (Jacques Demy) viewed 2-20-03 on dvd (Second viewing)
Grade A+ (upgraded from A) 1964
My favorite musical, although it’s not a traditional musical with song and dance numbers. Instead every line of dialogue in the film is sung and music put in untraditional places (shop, mechanics, a sickbed). Not the love-conquers-all romantic musical that many critics suggest, but rather sober and realistic about the fact that many relationships come out of convenience rather than love. Michel Legrand’s music is beautiful and haunting and the visual design (often matching the characters’ emotions) are splendidly vibrant. The last scene at the gas station, with its subtle dialogue and reprised main theme, is one of the greatest and most moving scenes in cinema.

085. THE MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE: Ultimate Edition (Jimmy Wang Yu) viewed 2-21-03 on dvd
Grade B+ 1975
Wonderfully choreographed fight sequences and general lunacy make this film a minor masterpiece. The fighting styles cover the whole spectrum in an extended tournament, and then two later set pieces (one is a steel-floored house on fire) are even more amazing. The dialogue is often laughable (Sample Line: “Earlier he tried to kill me, but he failed”) but it adds to the fun of the otherworldly experience. The title flying guillotine is a miracle in its own right: it looks like a fabric bird-cage and it is thrown onto the opponent’s head, which it cleanly decapitates. That the flying guillotine is thrown by a blind man, with even bigger eye brows than Martin Scorsese and ears that twitch when he is detecting his enemy’s position, should go without saying. Highly recommended and entirely deserving of its recent revival, it is a great offshoot of the kung fu genre.

086. LITTLE OTIK (Jan Svankmajer) viewed 2-21-03 on dvd
Grade B- 2001
A couple unable to have children adopts a tree stump as their baby in this dark and surreal film from Svankmajer, which recalls Lynch’s Eraserhead in its view of childbirth. The style is over the top- accentuating close-ups within scenes, odd camera angles and mix of animation with live action footage (looks like a graphic novel being peeled away). For most of the first half the film is a good deal of fun, but the darker second half loses the humor and satire of the first half instead becoming a creature feature. The pacing is also too slack, and far too long at over two hours. However, I look forward to seeing Svankmajer’s other films (this is the first I’ve seen) as he is definitely a director with a unique vision and visual style.

087. CHICAGO (Rob Marshall) viewed 2-21-03 in theater
Grade B+ 2002
Knowing nothing of the stage version of Chicago, I though (and hoped) that this was going to be a diegetic musical and even watched two Jacques Demy films to get me in the musical mood. However this film uses its musical numbers as inner-monologue: showing the characters desperation acted out in elaborate set pieces to underline the show business and phoniness of everything that transpires. I was reminded of both Pennies From Heaven and (even) Lola Montes while watching the film. Unfortunately often I was reminded of the far-reaching influence of Moulin Rouge, with its fast editing that gives very little awe to the production numbers because you can’t focus your attention long enough to be impressed – just overwhelmed. That said, I really enjoyed seeing this cast perform the songs and found some of the set pieces surprisingly memorable (especially the Murderess Tango and Mr. Cellophane) and the choreography (when I could tell what was going on) fun to watch. Not the home run that some seem to think it is, but better than I was expecting. I’ll hold my breath for a diegetic musical as good as the ones in the fifties or directed by Jacques Demy…

088. THE ROCKING HORSE WINNER (Anthony Pelissier) viewed 2-21-03 on dvd
Grade B 1949
A boy turns to a rocking horse to predict the outcomes to the horse races to help his mother’s finances, in this film that plays like a dark, warped fantasy. As the boy becomes more obsessed with his horse the film takes on a more manic quality: with feverish shots of his riding the horse and dark close-ups. An odd and peculiar film, that is very subtle in the way it establishes the story.

089. THE IN-LAWS (Arthur Hiller) viewed 2-22-03 on video
Grade B+ 1979
This film establishes its characters like it is going to be a fairly standard family comedy, but then it just keeps piling up zany plot twists. As the film progresses it gets more intriguingly insane and funny, climaxing in some ways with the Dictator presenting his hand puppet.

090. BODY AND SOUL (Robert Rossen) viewed 2-23-03 on dvd
Grade A- 1947
Polonski’s script here is remarkable, consistently finding the right notes in dialogue and the way he tells a very common story. His script is so good that I was able to overlook the (almost) complete lack of boxing scenes in this boxing movie and that I’d just recently seen The Set-Up: which does everything Body and Soul does just better and with more economy. Why is the boxing movie the best genre of sports films?

091. SCARFACE (Howard Hawks) viewed 2-23-03 on video
Grade A- 1932
The last of the three big gangster films of the thirties I had to see (along with Little Caesar and Public Enemy) and it’s the best of the bunch. It’s an exciting film and a very funny one as well: audaciously making the most frightening characters also the most comical. Scarface, as played by Muni, is viscous and violent but also exaggerated like a cartoon. The film is also especially adept at telling the story through images: Karlof getting shot and the camera pans to the bowling pins being knocked down, or the machine gun fire blowing the days on the calendar away. Scarface (more than the other two seminal gangster films) learned a lot from the silent films of the preceding decade and exploits the advantages of that era.

092. ADAM’S RIB (George Cukor) viewed 2-24-03 on video
Grade B- 1949
Pretty much everyone else seems to love this film so maybe I’m missing something, I thought this was a decent comedy that was hampered (and almost ruined) by a very weak final third. The jokes are often funny but the script too often goes for the easiest gag (strong woman lifting Tracy in the air, etc.) and the ending seems very contrived and desperate: with Hepburn in Wayne’s arms for no apparent reason.

093. PEPE LE MOKO (Julien Duvivier) viewed 2-24-03 on dvd
Grade B+ 1937
Mysterious and maze-like Casbah setting really helps this film which is otherwise fairly slight and unmemorable. It gives weight to the main character: who is a princely crook in the Casbah but can’t afford to escape it and go back to his beloved home. His romance is at first banal but finally tragic as she represents everything that would await him if he weren’t stuck and dependent on the Casbah. A tragic character study when I was expecting (for some inexplicable reason) a Hitchcockian thriller.

094. BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT (Rainer Werner Fassbinder) viewed 2-25-03 on dvd
Grade B 1973
Heavily stylized and stagy film, with Fassbinder once again dealing with the sexual power play between dominant and submissive lovers. The set is filled with dolls and mannequins, and as the film progresses the central characters (with the exception of Karin) start to resemble the pale mannequins like their life is being sucked away by their obsessions. The film is just two hours but it moves at a very deliberate pace that can occasionally work against the emotional involvement with the characters, and will probably fascinate Fassbinder fans and bore others to tears.

095. DONKEY SKIN (Jacques Demy) viewed 2-26-03 on video
Grade B 1971
I’m not familiar with the original fairy tale but it seemed to me that this story had two-halves that didn’t really fit together narratively only thematically: the first with the King trying to romance his daughter and the second with the peasant daughter being sought by a lovesick Prince with her ring. Everything is done with typical Demy style, which means wonderful color design and Legrand’s music helping tell the story. Not great, but beautifully filmed and slyly charming.

096. LES BONNES FEMMES (Claude Chabrol) viewed 2-26-03 on dvd
Grade A- 1960
Episodic film about a group of girls who are looking for love and mostly finding disappointment. The film doesn’t really feel like a Chabrol film (save for the murder and darker elements that start to emerge in the second half) instead like a non-judgmental character portrait of these girls, kind of like a Rohmer film. The film is very subtle and characters actions can be sometimes read in multiple ways. In Chabrol’s world everything good has a dark side that will soon appear: like when the characters are playing with the tiger at the zoo and it roars at them, or the playful kissing that turns to rape (or does it). As (the uber wise) Theo P. put it: “is it rape at the end of the long opening sequence, when Lafont is badgered into a room, protesting mightily, by the two guys who've picked her up and the door closes softly in our face, or just a kind of farce, the usual messy end.”

097. THE QUIET MAN (John Ford) viewed 2-26-03 on dvd
Grade C- 1952
Pretty slight for an over two-hour running time, basically hitting the same notes for the middle hour before coming to the expected showdown in the last fifteen minutes. The rest of the time is filled with Irish stereotypic characters and amazingly green pastures. The conclusion to the film with Wayne dragging O’hara and fighting McLaglen may have been audience pleasing when the film was released but now it feels pretty childish. At least everything looks nice.

098. MARNIE (Alfred Hitchcock) viewed 2-27-03 on dvd
Grade C 1964
Reminded me of Hitchcock’s Spellbound: both with a character who has to get over the past through psychoanalysis in order to be cured of a past crime that haunts them. Like that film I was mostly uninvolved this the story and found the character motivations sketchy at best and lame narrative conveniences at worst. I never got a sense of Connery’s character and his fascination with Marnie and didn’t buy his blind acceptance of her past. As usual with Hitchcock there are some dazzling scenes but the overall effort is pretty weak.

099. I’LL DO ANYTHING (James L. Brooks) viewed 2-27-03 on dvd
Grade B 1994
An obvious companion piece to Broadcast News: showing ambitious people in an entertainment field and how their personal lives are repressed. However, this film is shapeless and sometimes meandering, without the flow of Broadcast News or Brooks’ other films. The writing of certain scenes reminded me of how good Brooks can be at creating comedy and character dimension at the same time, but at other times drifted to sitcom standbys (cute kids and obvious jokes).

100. ALL OR NOTHING (Mike Leigh) viewed 2-27-03 on dvd
Grade A- 2002
A return to the bleak and sometimes wonderful world of Mike Leigh after he traveled uncharted lands in Topsy Turvy. This film plays more like Leigh’s great film Life Is Sweet, where he offers a slice of life that offers tragedy and then redeems it with character insight. The film has a numbing effect that is similar to Nick Drake music: not depressing or overwhelmingly sad, just relentlessly melancholy. When the characters are faced with something that disrupts their lives, the result is usually telling and recognizably human (“Maybe we should go to Disneyworld.”) and a late confrontation between man and wife is deeply moving. Most critics called All or Nothing a failure upon its release last year, many of the same critics who hailed Life is Sweet a decade before, but in hoping for a changed Mike Leigh (or some would say developed) they have missed a marvelous film.

101. KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN (Hector Babenco) viewed 2-28-03 on video
Grade C 1985
I usually hate it when critics complain that a movie is “theatrical,” and notice that it wasn’t “opened up” very well. Usually this refers to even the best theatrical adaptations (Glengarry Glen Ross) and shows impatience with stressing dialogue over the visuals. That said, I don’t think Kiss of the Spider Woman is a film that needed to be made (and certainly not in this manner) because much of the script’s power is in the descriptions of the remembered film to soothe the prisoners of their bleak surroundings. When Hurt begins to describe the scene and we see it, the magic is lost and the attention is turned away from the prisoners and on to the described story. Then (as if to compensate) Babenco shoots the prison scenes with high stylization that tends to emphasize the theatrical quality of the work through lighting. The material is moving but the execution is wrong in every way.

102. MAN IN THE SADDLE (André de Toth) viewed 2-28-03 on video
Grade B- 1951
The showdowns are well-executed and the direction is solid, but the story is fairly weak and unmemorable. This is film is overshadowed by the superb work done by Boetticher/Scott in the late fifties but holds up well as entertainment.

103. OLIVER TWIST (David Lean) viewed 3-1-03 on dvd
Grade B+ 1948
I wasn’t that thrilled with Lean’s adaptation of Great Expectations (although I didn’t much like the story either) but this film is a marked improvement on that film. This is a dark film shot with some expressionistic techniques and sometimes recalling film noir, and the bleak material is given proper weight. The murder scene (with the dog scratching at the door) is especially well handled, suggesting a welcomed dark sensibility that never really crept into Lean’s other works.

104. THE LOST GARDEN: THE LIFE AND CINEMA OF ALICE GUY-BLANCHE (Marquise Lepage) viewed 3-3-03 on video
Grade C 1995
Blanche is a very interesting subject and all of her lost (or discredited) works make for a tragic subject, it’s too bad this documentary by Lepage is such a pretentious mess. The interviews are staged and lifeless (with the occasional exception of the historians in perios costume which is affectionate) and the footage from Blanche’s films is difficult to appreciate or put into context because they are presented without noting the title or date of production. Probably most useful as an apetizer to get interest in discovering Blanche’s work, but otherwise pretty empty and wasteful.

105. HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (John Ford) viewed 3-3-03 on dvd
Grade B+ 1941
As personal as Ford’s The Quiet Man, just a lot more emotionally moving and lovingly directed. The cinematography by Arthur Miller is a standout, although it’s black and white – shouldn’t we be able to see how green the fields are? However, there is no excuse for this film beating Citizen Kane for best picture.

106. THE PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK (Jerry Schatzberg) viewed 3-3-03 on dvd
Grade C+ 1971
I’ve seen the whole junky thing too many times to really appreciate this film: all grit and authentic to the way junkies live and behave. The love story doesn’t feel that fresh either, since Sid and Nancy is probably the pinnacle of that sub-genre, and at least that film had a bit more insight into the characters. Everything in this film is played as tragedy, there’s little room for anything else to seep in (at least Sid and Nancy knew that the life of a junky was so stupid that it could be funny). The best thing in this film are the two lead performances from Pacino and Winn as the doomed lovers, and Schatzberg’s occasionally inspired mise en scene.

107. STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN -- A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) viewed 3-3-03 on dvd (second viewing)
Grade A+ (upgraded from A) 1946
I was even more enchanted on the second viewing, and terribly moved by the first scene of the dying pilot confessing his love for a character he has never met. Performances are very good, and probably underrated because of the superb visual storytelling that tend to steal the show.

108. CHINATOWN (Roman Polanski) viewed 3-3-03 on dvd (third viewing – first in widescreen)
Grade A+ 1974
Although this film isn’t really attuned to the visual style of film noir, there is a sense of doom that hangs over all the characters. Every step taken leads into a strange confrontation and all the characters are haunted by their pasts and empty futures. The plot falls secondary to the nightmarish mood created by the look (yellow and decaying) and visual road maps (Nicholson’s nose being on of many). The characters aren’t quite what they seem to be: Dunaway isn’t a femme fatale, Huston isn’t a heartless tycoon (he is evil but oddly human, “She’s mine too”) and Nicholson is hopelessly lost and impotent when he seemed so strong at the beginning. However, the characters never really feel like pawns in the plot rather the mystery ceases to matter in the final stretch, as any resolution couldn’t bring closure.

109. RULES OF ATTRACTION (Roger Avery) viewed 3-4-03 on dvd
Grade B- 2002
I really wish Avery would get a story that deserves him with the visual wackiness and inventive story structure. Instead with this film, he confirms himself as one of the most frustrating of the talented filmmakers out there. This film is dazzling in stretches (always thanks to Avery): the European vacation montage, the opening party scene and suicide with echoing Harry Nielson on the soundtrack. If only the film weren’t such an empty piece of work, less entertaining and satirical than American Psycho and more sensationalized. Avery has a good film in him though, hopefully coming soon.

110. THE SOFT SKIN (François Truffaut) viewed 3-4-03 on dvd
Grade B 1964
The Soft Skin is far less technically impressive than Truffaut previous three film, but it shows a clear fondness for Hitchcock and development of some essential Truffaut themes. The silent stretches of film with subjective camera letting the characters’ observations tell the story works very effectively. An obvious precursor to The Woman Next Door, with Truffaut’s themes of doomed relationships, infidelity and murderous women all finding their way into this film.

111. THE TALL T (Budd Boetticher) viewed 3-5-03 on video (second and third viewing)
Grade A 1957
Held up very well on the second and third viewing. The narrative and characters are set up with casual economy, Boetticher great at telling his story with minimal excess. One of the best westerns ever made.

112. AUDITION (Takashi Miike) viewed 3-5-03 on dvd (fifth viewing)
Grade A 2001
(This review contains spoilers and should be read only after viewing the film)
When talking about Audition, everyone always talks about the ingenious tonal shift in the second half - compared by some to Psycho’s shift to slasher-film. Audition uses its tonal shift to seduce the audience in the same way the Shigeharu is seduced, unlike Psycho which uses its shift merely to jar the audience. The first half of Audition plays like a romantic drama of two lovers coming together, played with a dark undertone of unease. Everyone warns Shigeharu that Asami isn’t right but he goes on courting her despite their warnings.

The second half of the film (which starts with the abrupt smack of the blanket) turns into a psychological horror film, where we realize Asami is unstable. Shigeharu learns this as we do (although we get a few hints away from him: especially the moving bag in her apartment), but as he quests to find her we start to realize that Shigeharu is just as unstable a character. Filled with disillusion about Asami – and women in general, when he is first knocked out we get a prolonged dream sequence which works on two levels: cranking up the horror and revealing Shigeharu’s sickness. The scenes of their dates are replayed (minus the jump cuts of the first half) and Asami’s true nature is revealed and Shigeharu ignores the signs. Like Mulholland Drive which re-imagined reality (of the second half) into dream (of the first half), Audition re-imagines the entire film into the mini-dream sequence. Culminating with his wife (“no honey she’s not for you”) and his co-worker (filling in more blanks of the first half). Aligning Shigeharu with the grotesque man in the bag and the dirty old man, both sexual skeletons in her closet.

The visual style employed by Miike is brilliant at echoing plot elements. The first half shot in long shots with distractions in the foreground: golf balls, bartender with drink mixer or dog scraping across the floor. The only stretch that comes alive is the Audition montage, which has a nervous energy that resembles Shigeharu’s excitement at possibly finding a new mate. Shigeharu’s dates with Asami are especially visual interesting, often refusing them two-shots and then separating them in the frame. The second half is overwhelmed (immediately) with hand-held camera work and dutch angles. As we find out the true nature of the characters we start to get far more close-ups, and finally extreme close ups in the final scene of torture. The sounds are also very strong – symbolizing different stages of the story: bartender mixing as they talk about the audition, phone ringing showing Shigeharu’s interest in Asami, and Blanket flapping on bed to start second half of the film. Then as the horror elements build: the creaking of the wheelchair, burning of timbers, flapping of tongue, Shigeharu’s fall, Asami’s throwing up (over the grotesque man – mimicking some audience members disgust), the old-mans head falling, the pins, “deeper deeper” and the crunching of the wire on bone.

Audition was startling on the first viewing, but my appreciation for it grows on each viewing. Once you get beyond the impact of the images (which inspired walkouts when I saw it), the characters grow more complex – less pawns of the director and more meaningfully troubled. Most people compare the film to Psycho and although the tone shift resembles that film, it is actually a closer match to the themes Hitchcock explored in Vertigo or Marnie. The film is most haunting (at least for me) when the sanity of Shigeharu is called into question (by his friends and family). Like those Hitchcock films it is about a man who is psychologically pushed by his yearning for a dangerous and damaged woman, which is ultimately his downfall.

113. TEA AND SYMPATHY (Vincente Minnelli) viewed 3-6-03 on laserdisc
Grade C 1956
The fifties of this film seems like a completely different world, as perhaps a response to the queer themes of the story all the men are played as hyper-macho: throwing each other down on the beach, playing football, hugging (in a very manly bear-grip way) and acting out in a bizarre (blatantly homoerotic) hazing ritual. The queer boy in this film is actually not queer at all; rather he is just too sensitive and unable to express his love physically (a radical change from the play), drawing interesting parallels to 50s films like Rebel Without a Cause. Plays as camp now, although it seems very sincere about what it’s trying to express and falls apart in the second half. The bookending scenes don’t work at all and the final letter from Kerr, which explains the entire film and how to feel about it, inspired unintentional laughter from pretty much everybody in the screening room.

114. BITE THE BULLET (Richard Brooks) viewed 3-6-03 on dvd
Grade B+ 1975
A western epic that could never be made today, and feels foreign even to the seventies (probably why it was such an underachiever). The characters relationships grow as the race goes on, with many perfect small scenes of quiet dialogue played off against the race. Some slow motion scenes seem out of place in the film, which is otherwise fairly naturally directed.

115. DIAMOND MEN (Daniel M. Cohen) viewed 3-6-03 on dvd
Grade B 2002
I had the distinct feeling that the plot was going to get in the way of this film and the characters it had created. When the plot twists come in the last stretch and contradict some established character traits I felt betrayed. Sometimes it is refreshing to see a movie about characters where NOTHING big happens, and you get the feeling for interesting characters. Robert Forster is very good in this film and deserves to be cast by more experienced directors in the service of better films, that other Wahlberg isn’t half bad either.

116. IGBY GOES DOWN (Burr Steers) viewed 3-7-03 on dvd
Grade C+ 2002
Second rate Whit Stillman (Steers was in The Last Days of Disco) with some funny bits but too many annoying characters that keep getting in the way. Whereas Stillman’s films have mostly likable yuppies (and far superior dialogue), Steers writes only obnoxious twits and gives no somewhat normal anchor characters to gauge everything against. Cast is very good: it’s nice to see Goldblum playing a non-scientist/doctor/teacher, Peete naked again, Culkan good comedic timing and is that fucking Ryan Philippe growing on me.

117. GERRY (Gus Van Sant) viewed 3-8-03 in theater
Grade B+ 2003
Hard to justify a B+ for this film, since it’s as cinematically welcoming to the viewer as the desert is to the two guys named Gerry. Most of the shots go on forever, the dialogue is anecdotal, the character development absent and the plot one-note. That said, I expect my rating for Gerry will increase with another viewing and fully expect to be hailing it as a masterpiece by the end of the year. It keeps growing in my memory, gaining in meaning.

I’ll take all my plot complaints one-by-one.

The shots go on forever, and some of them are incredibly beautiful. The one with both Gerrys in the foreground bouncing up and down as they walk, is one of the most hypnotic shots I’ve seen in recent memory like something out of a Tarkovski film: with human traits personifying the movements of a running machine. The shot of the characters walking into a sunrise is haunting, with the characters moving like zombies across landscape colored like a foreign planet.

The dialogue is anecdotal but often funny and they pay off in the story. Early in the film they refer to “the thing at the end of the trail” as being the goal of their journey. As they walk they tell a story about Jeopardy and later by the campfire talk about a video game, both stories involve a victory that was lost for ironic reasons (only 12 soliders, all the letters but one). The quest the two Gerry’s take resembles these two anecdotes.

Character development is absent from the film, totally true. The characters in the films are not strongly defined and are not given any area to grow because all their dialogue is either anecdotal or practical (“I’m stuck on this rock”). However, nature is the biggest character in the film and it radically changes moods: from welcoming in the first section, to abruptly hilly and barren to finally inhospitable. The characters are forced to react against nature and any more dialogue or activity from the two characters would be blatantly unrealistic and undermine the predicament. The characters become more defined in the last third as they react to the hopelessness of their situation, and their blankness becomes more touching because it is easier to read ourselves onto them.

The plot is one-note but very economic and provides the character with enough narrative drive immediately as they are forced into survival mode. Onto this simple plot, the film is able to create a good amount of variation and depth to the problem. The scene with Gerry stuck on a rock is very funny (comparisons to Tati seem apt), and as the situation gets more serious in the film’s second half the tone changes keeping everything interesting.

I hate it when critics proclaim a film as being “not for everyone,” as I think it shows their elitist nature (“You won’t get this because I’m smart and you’re not”). And so it is with a heavy-heart that I proclaim this film not for everyone. I don’t think everyone will enjoy it and appreciate how daring Van Sant is for attempting it. I won’t guarantee you will like it, because you aren’t as smart as I am.

118. CONFIDENTIALLY YOURS (François Truffaut) viewed 3-8-03 on dvd
Grade A- 1983
I don’t understand the general critical apprehension towards this film, which seems to me – in it’s way – just about perfect. It’s not a deep film or a daringly unconventional one, but a loving homage to mysteries of the 40s and 50s and Hitchcock. The mystery is complicated, not that hard to figure out but Truffaut piles on the clues (most of which misdirect) and has a lot of fun with the material (Ardent investigating in a trench coat she can’t take off and other funny non-sequiturs). I dare you to not have a good time watching this allegedly lesser Truffaut film.

119. CITY OF GOD (Fernando Meirelles) viewed 3-9-03 in theater
Grade B- 2003
Meirelles surely learns from the best, as he piles every stylistic-excess he can think of into the film, ripping off true stylists like Scorsese or De Palma and mounting a sometimes dazzling but totally empty and immoral film. Meirelles doesn’t actually have anything to say about violence in the City of God, often playing it off against (or with) innocent jokes about growing up: the drug warfare plays as counterpoint to central character Rocket trying to lose his virginity. Rocket as the central character is a problem because his involvement in the story seems minor and forced. The story wants to be epic, spanning several decades broken down into individual stories, but the first is almost completely unnecessary to the central one and others ramble. That said, certain stretches of the film work very well especially the party scene, which has totally unnecessary split-screen that basically sums up Meirelles weakness as a filmmaker.

120. THE TALE OF ZATOICHI (Kenji Misumi) viewed 3-9-03 on dvd
Grade B+ 1962
Started out as a variation on Kurosawa’s Yojimbo - except this film has a blind samurai – with the protagonist caught between two rival gangs. However, this film quickly distinguishes itself as being more than a mere imitator: showing depth to the central character and developing an interesting relationship between him and the opposing master samurai. Misumi’s direction is confident and moody and allows the screen to be filled with shadow in some interior scenes. Some comic elements are allowed into the film as well, like when Zatoichi crosses the bridge on his hands and knees or as he slyly grifts money from the gangsters. The final showdown plays as less exciting than expected, lasting only a minute or so – but is very emotionally resonant and ends with an embrace that is very touching.

121. THE TALE OF ZATOICHI CONTINUES (Kazuo Mori) viewed 3-9-03 on dvd
Grade B- 1962
Less successful follow up to the first Zatoichi film, has a lot more swordplay but a pretty lame storyline. The development of Zatoichi’s character (especially in the last few minutes) inspires hope that the series will move in a different direction with the character (perhaps more bloodlust) and it will be interesting to see it happen. Part three coming in the next week.

122. THE 400 BLOWS (Francois Truffaut) viewed 3-10-03 on dvd (eighth viewing)
Grade A+ 1959
I’m at a loss as to where I should begin with this review of one of my very favorite films, which I saw for the first time about seven years ago. It is a highly personal film for Truffaut (although not entirely autobiographical as he co-wrote the script with Marcel Moussy – a schoolteacher), and thus my review will be highly personal. I saw it on the Independent Film Channel for the first time and didn’t expect to sit through the entire thing. It’s in black-and-white and French, which for me at 15 was still a bit of a turnoff. I didn’t know anything of Truffaut except that he was a highly regarded director. I knew nothing of The 400 Blows as an essential part of the New Wave movement, or its important breaks from traditional cinema of that time. I sat down and watched it and have never really recovered from it.

It’s not just the emotional experience that effected me - although it’s a highly emotional film - but rather a feeling of recognition. I’m not like any of the characters in the film, I’ve never remotely raised hell nor have I really wanted to. Instead I broke through the film and saw Truffaut, full of passion and shaking with emotion at what he was trying to get across. Not the characters or the situations, but breaking free from everything and putting the energy into something constructive.

There are several points in the film where everything breaks free of the narrative and exists in a state of sublime serendipity. First the scene on the spinning ride, where everything spins and creates its own force. Later perhaps the best example of the phenomenon is when Doinel breaks free from custody and runs for freedom. The last three shots of the film (by far the longest in the film) give the feeling of the very film breaking free with Doinel. As though any constraints have been lifted on everything, everything now free!

No film is as breathless as The 400 Blows and I don’t mean breathless as excited but rather as a state of transcending form into an emotional spastic orgasm. Even the quietest or most heartbreaking scenes have an overwhelming flurry of emotional turmoil beneath the surface. Or maybe that’s just the emotions that come to the surface when I see the film. In fact, now I’m a bit breathless and unfocused so I’ll try to focus my attention to certain aspects (images or whatever) that I haven’t yet covered in my insane rambling.

Jean-Pierre Leaud’s performance is the best child performance I’ve ever seen, completely natural and unforced. His responses in the psychological interview scene are so fucking remarkable at how he is able to suggest a life separate from what we’ve seen.

Truffaut’s compositions are scope and magnificent, never using his mise-en-scene in an uninteresting way, beautifully contrasting Doinel’s various states of being in the film (among the group of kids in school, free in frame when away from everyone, made little by parents and enclosed in the last section). My favorite shot right after Doinel and his friend ditch their backpacks and the camera whip-pans cuts to a whip-pan of them entering the cinema.

The scene with the kids at the puppet show is a minor masterpiece that stands aside as something that doesn’t forward the plot and would be cut today. It is essential because it shows Truffaut’s warmth for children (as do other episodic moments) and contrasts these kids to Doinel’s experience. It may be the most essential scene at establishing the outer world of the film, and allows a comparison to gauge against the behavior of the other children we have seen onscreen.

Truffaut broke free of his troubled youth with his love for films and in this film you can constantly see the constraint of a young artist struggling to break free of an oppressive environment. When punished in the first scene (for marking on a girlie photo) he is given detention in the corner of the room, where he then writes a(n attempted) poem which gets him in further trouble from his teacher. Later a shrine to Balzac catches on fire and an attempt at homage is condemned as plagiarism.

123. JOHANNA D’ARC OF MONGOLIA (Ulrike Ottinger) viewed 3-11-03 on video
Grade C- 1989
The first hour of Johanna d’arc of Mongolia doesn’t go anywhere but it is pleasant enough that I hoped a decent story might develop from the established characters. When the second hour starts there is a radical twist in the narrative (from chamber piece to ethnography) and it never really re-enters the realm of narrative cinema. The film might be of some anthropological interest to some wanting to learn about the Mongolians, but they will have to sit through a pointless first hour to get to the interesting Mongolians. I would have preferred staying on the train with the small group of established characters, rather than go where the film eventually took me (eventually being an apt word – the film runs 165 minutes and feels even longer).

124. CAT PEOPLE (Jacques Tourneur) viewed 3-11-03 on video (second viewing)
Grade A 1942
The unexpected theme of sexuality, especially female sexual repression into Cat People is what makes this film so truly daring and affecting. Tourneur aligns Cat People to the fear we have of our bodies and creates a complicated work that reminds me of Cronenberg’s best films. The underlining theme of beautiful or exotic things disguising the terrible and horrific is Tourneur favorite ground to establish his films on. The two scare scenes hold up very well (both were replicated in Schrader’s 1982 Cat People), relying on darkness and shadow (provided by Tourneur moving his hand in front of the camera) rather than creature effects.

125. THE HOURS (Stephen Daldry) viewed 3-14-03 in theater
Grade C 2002
Like Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, Daldry’s The Hours creates character drama – and tragedy – after everyday things that face us. In The Hours, characters are faced with a friend with cancer, aids, a party, depression, work anxiety and baking a birthday cake. These items set as problems for characters in three storylines all focusing on middle-aged women unhappy with their domestic lives. Whereas Magnolia builds to a sublime pitch by editing the plot threads together, The Hours keeps crosscutting between the character to show us that they are connected by some (supernatural?) force, like they have crossed through some bizarre time wormhole. The coincidences that connect the stories together (explicitly reminded by insistent editing) are increasingly annoying. The performances aren’t strong enough to overcome the overall weakness of the film’s execution: Harris especially over-the-top, Streep and Moore too punctuated and Kidman hidden behind unfortunate make-up that makes her performance (the best of the bunch) seem gimmicky. The most overrated film of the year.

126. THE WIZARD (Todd Holland) viewed 3-14-03 on video (second viewing – first in ten years)
Grade D 1989
A film I remembered vaguely from my childhood and wanted to see again for nostalgia sake. I didn’t remember it as any masterpiece (I saw it when I was nine), but hardly remembered how awful the film really was. The film culminates in the unveiling of Super Mario Bros. 3 at a Video Game Competition, and also features such classic games as Double Dragon, Contra and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (which sadly made my long for my old NES system). The film is basically a commercial for Nintendo, with games featured every few minutes and all other plot secondary. It is worth noting that a subplot with a runaway tracker features many scenes that are (unintentionally) hilarious, as are the subplots praising the virtues of family.

127. DECISION AT SUNDOWN (Budd Boetticher) viewed 3-14-03 on video
Grade B 1957
Odd western, even by Boetticher’s standards, with Scott seeking revenge on the man who was responsible for his wife’s suicide. The film leads into standoffs that pay off in unexpected and unsatisfying, especially as the nature of Scott’s dead wife changes in the course of the film. An interesting twist of the western genre but not in the same realm of excellence as The Tall T.

128. DEMONS (Lamberto Bava) viewed 3-14-03 on dvd
Grade C- 1986
Starts very well with Bava showing some of his father’s mastery of creating suspense out of minimal material (especially in the first scene on the subway), but then turns abruptly into a splatter film and never turns back. Not without its virtues, including some stylish camera work and lighting, not to mention the essential 80s gore and nudity but the film feels aimless and overly derivative of George Romero’s zombie films. In the end its too much of a mess to even enter the same league with Return of the Living Dead (itself a derivative but incredibly fun mess).

129. DIARY OF FORBIDDEN DREAMS (Roman Polanski) viewed 3-15-03 on video (Severely Cut American Version)
Grade B 1973
Absurd, erotic take on Alice in Wonderland by Polanski – with his themes of isolation and abandonment played at an unabashedly comic pitch. The performances are all fun, especially from Rome who is game for pretty much anything and the first half of the film is some kind of lunatic masterwork. The second half is unfocused and sometimes confusing, which may be partly due to extensive re-editing by American distributors. I hope to have the complete, uncut version of the film in the next few months (whenever I can afford it).

130. FULLTIME KILLER (Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai) viewed 3-15-03 on dvd
Grade B 2003
A fascinating twist on the traditional Hong Kong action film, with heavy influences from other action films entering into the discourse of the film (most fully cited). Comes across as self-parody at times, and then refreshingly post-modern at other times. Some sequences are brilliantly orchestrated: especially the street shoot-out and end abandoned factory shoot-out (complete with extensive fireworks – you gotta love those abandoned factories). The twist ending, showing two possibly outcomes to the shooting (complete with their own character-defined classical music), is pretty much perfect. An original work that gives variations to a genre I was losing hope for.

131. TWO OR THREE THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER (Jean-Luc Godard) viewed 3-16-03 on video
Grade B 1966
GODARD!
the narrator whispers! – the city screams! – the women talk! – Vietnam must end!
everyone TALKS…
but what are words?
what good are words?
books piled together – meaningless
like the vietnamese
what do the americans care?
just another product
to consume
and sexualize
and dispose of
HOLLYWOOD more than anyone, man
just like all the other products
cluttering up our skyline
FIN
GODARD!

132. THE PIANIST (Roman Polanski) viewed 3-17-03 in theater
Grade B 2002
I'm not quite cynical enough to dismiss an earnest Holocaust drama executed with this much skill, despite the feeling that we?re traveling over well-covered territory. Polanski has spent much of his career showing people in surroundings where they don?t belong and the repercussions of horror and this film is probably his most personal extension of those themes (and his family?s experience in Poland during WWII). The second half is full of haunting scenes and images, and an artist using art to get through tragedy seems like an apt topic for Polanski ? since he has lived through three tragedies (one of his own making).

133. OLIVER! (Carol Reed) viewed 3-17-03 on dvd
Grade B- 1968
Bleak story set against HUGE production numbers and I was never really attuned to the style. I would have probably liked it more had I not seen it mere weeks after David Lean?s superb (and superbly stylized) telling of the same story, which dwarfed this one. I?m not sure if this film is representational of Carol Reed?s later work, but I didn?t see a glimmer of The Third Man and Odd Man Out auteur.

134. PHASE IV (Saul Bass) viewed 3-17-03 on video
Grade B- 1975
Pretty silly in retrospect, but full of small pleasures which make the film worth seeing. The director Saul Bass, who famously did the titles for several key Alfred Hitchcock films, finds many unsettling images of ants (yes this is a killer ant picture) and challenges audience expectations enough to keep the film consistently interesting.

135. STREET SMART (Jerry Schatzberg) viewed 3-18-03 on video
Grade B 1987
There are a few really good things in Street Smart, especially the pimp played by Morgan Freeman and prostitute by Kathy Baker, but the film never even remotely gels. Christopher Reeves is miscast and the plot (although initially intriguing) quickly becomes redundant and lazy. Baker and Freeman deserve a better film, maybe one focused on their characters.

136. IRREVERSIBLE (Gaspar Noe) viewed 3-20-03 in theater
Grade A- 2003
Gaspar Noe was a born provocateur and one of the most exciting filmmakers working now. He possesses a unique ability to create images and sound that put the viewer in the mindset of the characters. His first film I Stand Alone was a minor masterpiece following a racist, depraved butcher as he walked around promising violence. That film would randomly leap towards the character with a non-diegetic gunshot on the soundtrack, which raised the intensity of an already intense film considerably. Irreversible contains a few such effects, which grate on the nerves of the viewer.
The first shot in Irreversible, a spastic, spasming camera cartwheel dancing outside a grungy building, made me feel seasick. A few scenes later we witness graphically violent S&M acts in a gay club, shot in a similar style and with a sickening metallic murmur on the soundtrack. That scene culminates in an extended beating of a man?s head with a fire extinguisher. We see the man?s head go from blood to brain matter in a long take, in one of two scenes that virtually insure walkouts across the country.
The other scene is a long-take rape and beating which is as painful to watch as any scene I?ve ever seen. The two scenes are very tough to watch, but essential to the point of the film which is a study of the nature of violence and the destructive quality of time. ?Time destroys everything,? we are repeatedly told by the film, which works backward from these painful scenes to the characters living before this violence changed their lives. The later scenes add tragedy to the early scenes as we reflect upon where the characters are headed and they have no idea. This is one of the year?s best films.

137. DRACULA: PAGES FROM A VIRGIN?S DIARY (Guy Maddin) viewed 3-20-03 on dvd-r
Grade A- 2003
This is also one of the year?s best films another amazing treat from the consistently interesting Guy Maddin. This is a silent film and a surprisingly faithful retelling of Bram Stoker?s Dracula as a ballet. Some sequences are very funny and some images are totally resonant, making this my favorite telling of Stoker?s story so far.

138. THE STORY OF US (Rob Reiner) viewed 3-21-03 on video
Grade D+ 2001
This is a fairly pathetic film, with couple arguing and bickering for much of the running time only to realize the importance of marriage in the final seconds. A total waste of time and Reiner?s worst film since North.

139. YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (Michael Curtiz) viewed 3-24-03 on video
Grade A- 1942
Very good musical biography, given a manic energy by James Cagney who is superb as George M. Cohan. The relationships between Cohan and his wife and his entertainment family is particularly well handled in this film, leading to many scenes of emotional weight in the second half of the film.

140. EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS (Kenneth Bowser) viewed 3-25-03 on TV
Grade B 2003
Good documentary focusing on the brief American auteur system that developed in the seventies, focusing on a few key directors. Although all the interview footage is very good, and often revealing, the film would have benefited greatly if more of the featured directors had agreed to be interviewed.

141. FEMME FATALE (Brian De Palma) viewed 3-25-03 on dvd (second viewing)
Grade B+ 2002

142. ANATOMY OF A MURDER (Otto Preminger) viewed 3-25-03 on dvd (second viewing)
Grade A 1959

143. 8 MILE (Curtis Hanson) viewed 3-29-03 on dvd
Grade B- 2002
I was originally going to write this review as a rap, but then realized I wasn?t that fancy. This film is the rap version of The Karate Kid, and it goes along pretty much as you would imagine a streamlined retelling of Eminem?s life as a Hollywood sport?s film. The film sometimes tries to clear up the controversies surrounding his career: his homophobia is dismissed by the film ? gay = homosexual, faggot = loser and Eminem is even given a gay co-worker who he seems to like. I liked how the film chose to include many other autobiographic details that made his character look unflattering. The rap battles are entertaining but too few, with too many subplots bogging down the film?s middle section.

144. I NEVER SANG FOR MY FATHER (Gilbert Cates) viewed 3-30-03 on video
Grade A- 1970
I almost teared up a few times while watching this film, which deals with an aged father struggling to hold on to his son as the expense of the son?s happiness. The performances are flawless, with Hackman giving a sensitive performance that?s close to Harry Caul in The Conversation. The direction is sometimes wrong-footed, and has the annoying tendency to underline (obvious) great actor moments and monologues with the zoom-lens. The strong script has a good handle on human interactions (it feels autobiographical) without stooping to easy pay-off or cheap sentiment.

145. BARON BLOOD (Mario Bava) viewed 3-31-03 on dvd
Grade C 1972
A terrible script is given Bava?s typically stylish touch and almost becomes watchable. But no amount of blue lighting or wonderfully creepy shadows could rescue this script.

146. AKIRA KUROSAWA?S DREAMS (Akira Kurosawa) viewed 4-01-03 on dvd
Grade B- 1990
There are some awesome stretches and images in Akira Kurosawa?s Dreams, but it?s too much of a mixed bag with some fascinating dreams and others that I?ve already forgotten. All the dreams are variations on the stupidity of man (war, ruining or not appreciating nature). This is a film that is probably best viewed in spurts - maybe over several days ? just to let the images sink in properly.

147. HERO (Zhang Yimou) viewed 4-01-03 on dvd
Grade B- 2003
This film is just an exercise in style: with every excuse for wind blown hair, clothes or curtains exploited (with the obligatory WHOOSH on the soundtrack) and everything neatly color coordinated. However, director Zhang Yimou approaches the material with a crippling air of self-righteousness and complete seriousness (hell even Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon had some humor in it), content to drive it home that martial arts IS art. Sword fighting is equated with music and calligraphy, with every fight filmed like a ballet, which is then contradicted by unbelievable wire-fu fighting which removes the art and skill from the fighting we see ? putting everything in the world of fantasy but without any of the fun. The story twists itself into a narrative pretzel, making a straightforward story unnecessarily complicated just to show new variations on the fight sequences. That said, the fight sequences are often dazzling: especially the fight in the falling autumn leaves and the one skidding across the ocean, which make the film worth seeing ? just don?t expect a masterpiece like Master of the Flying Guillotine.

148. THE VIEW FROM THE TOP (Bruno Barreto) viewed 4-2-03 in theater
Grade C- 2003
Sometimes charming (mostly thanks to performances) but just too much of a mess to even be a pleasant diversion. The tone wavers between scenes, but has an underlining earnestness that is kind of creepy. Bruno Barreto appears have a leg fetish, as he takes every possible opportunity to fawn over Paltrow in her short skirts ? which isn?t a complaint merely an observation. Mark Ruffalo is appealing but wasted as the male love interest for Paltrow, thanks to the script which denies him scenes of any weight in order to keep everything ?even breakups- as civil as possible.

149. BEFORE SUNRISE (Richard Linklater) viewed 4-3-03 on dvd (fifth viewing)
Grade A 1995
Long review coming soon.

150. CITY ON FIRE (Ringo Lam) viewed 4-3-03 on dvd
Grade B- 1987
Good Hong Kong action film with a very charismatic performance by Chow Yun-Fat and interesting interaction between him and the lead badguy. The story was latter borrowed by Tarantino for Reservoir Dogs, and though Tarantino lifted entire scenes from this film?s second half, the two films couldn?t be more different. If only Quentin wrote the dialogue for this film?

151. FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET (Dario Argento) viewed 4-3-03 on video
Grade B- 1972
Argento?s film before his masterpiece Deep Red, is a stylish and sometimes scary giallo thriller. The killer was too easy to predict ? especially if you are attuned to Argento?s conventions ? but the reveal of the title ?Flies? is a lot of fun. Argento?s mise-en-scene isn?t as strong here as it is in Deep Red, but there are several show-off bits of technique that will please his fans (my favorite was the shot inside the guitar at the beginning). Not a great film but essential for fans of the director, which I am.

152. THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE (Jonathan Demme) viewed 4-4-03 on dvd
Grade B- 2002
Remake of Stanley Donen?s Charade, is basically an exercise in style and charm. The film is set in 60?s France and has a lot of fun referencing and paying homage to films of the French New Wave, among them: clip from Shoot the Piano Player (and appearance of star Charles Aznavour), The Umbrellas of Cherbourg of the side of a van and a late appearance from (the queen) Anna Karina, among others. Wahlberg is too laid back and no match for Cary Grant (I would have cast George Clooney but others would bitch about that as well), but the effortlessly charming Thandie Newton does very well in the lead role. It is also nice to see Demme (always the humanist) conclude the final shoot-out in such an unexpected way. Not a great film but full of small pleasures.

153. SPIDER (David Cronenberg) viewed 4-5-03 in theater
Grade B- 2003
The first shot of Spider (after Cronenberg?s typically weird title sequence) is a long tracking shot down an arrived train, we watch as many interesting faces pass the camera and wonder which character we will follow. When we finally start following a skinny, mumbling man that can barely walk and the filming technique adjusts to the character. Which is to say that Cronenberg?s new film Spider is pretty hard to watch and hostile to the viewer, unfolding at a slow pace with a typically static camera. We follow Spider back into his memories of childhood and see what made him the man he is. The final revelation is hardly a great plot twist (Spider should be automatically seen as an unreliable narrator), but it puts an interesting spin on the material and makes it translate into many different readings ? all of which have some validity.

154. BORDER INCIDENT (Anthony Mann) viewed 4-6-03 in theater
Grade B 1949
Beautifully shot (by John Alton) film noir, with haunting day-for-night compositions with an oppressive skyline. The story echoes T Men, except this time the characters are infiltrating illegal farming practices. The second half is an odd blend of extreme (for 1949) violence and warm character interactions.

155. SIDE STREET (Anthony Mann) viewed 4-6-03 in theater
Grade B+ 1950
A film noir that was sometimes hampered by illogical plot points and character actions, but overcame any story problems with technical accomplishment. At times the film plays like a Hitchcockian thriller, but Mann?s unique framing makes the film all his own. The final car chase and shoot-out are surprisingly effective and exciting.

156. ALL ABOUT LILLY CHOU-CHOU (Shunji Iwai) viewed 4-6-03 on dvd
Grade C+ 2002
I feel bad giving a film this ambitious and full of brilliant moments a C+, and I concede I may be terribly underrating it. Moments of the film are so beautiful that they will resonate strongly in my mind for weeks after seeing them (especially the silenced screaming and concert scenes) but they can?t overcome a movie this muddled and hopelessly pretentious. If I work up the courage I may try sitting through this film again, and see if I missed a masterpiece in my struggle to comprehend.

157. FAIL-SAFE (Sidney Lumet) viewed 4-8-03 on video
Grade A- 1964
Fail-Safe is the straight and earnest version of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (both came out the same year) basically telling the same story with completely different intentions. Whereas Kubrick’s film is obviously satire, Fail-Safe plays everything with the proper amount of weight and debate – building suspense but not cheaply playing on the fears of the audience (which were facing the height of the Cold War). The actions of the president (Henry Fonda) are not entirely predictable and neither is the advice he gets from some of his staff members. The film is shot in black and white and Lumet handles the closed in material very well, with occasional glimpses of a newer flashy style.

158. TORN CURTAIN (Alfred Hitchcock) viewed 4-8-03 on video
Grade C 1966
A weaker Hitchcock film with very little to recommend it as the plot goes through routine motions and the casting feels mismatched to the material. Probably the only note-worthy scene in the film is an extended murder sequence that takes a very long time and genuinely looks painful – especially the knife that breaks off into the guy’s body. This scene provides more example of how Hitchcock helped to demolish the Production Code with his challenging material.

159. AMERICAN MOVIE (Chris Smith) viewed 4-8-03 on dvd
Grade B 1999
This film is sometimes affectionate about its subject matter and at other times it feels like director Chris Smith is mean-spiritedly poking fun. The subject is a little goofy (see also Fast, Cheap, and Out Of Control) and takes himself so seriously that it is hard not to find some of his behavior funny, but any malicious attempts to get laughter feel force and hurt the integrity of the film.

160. ADVISE AND CONSENT (Otto Preminger) viewed 4-8-03 on video
Grade A- 1962
I’m almost ashamed about how much I enjoyed this film, which reminded me a little of Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder – with its strategic angling and humorous jabs. I don’t think the film has anything important to say about the political system – although one of it’s goals is to uncover the seamy-side of politics. The film is full of delicious performances (especially Laughton but really can’t start naming names because they were all so bloody good), juicy twists, big speeches and wonderful moments.

161. DEAD RECKONING (John Cromwell) viewed 4-9-03 on video
Grade C- 1947
Generally underwhelming film noir, without much interesting to add to the genre and even less in terms of visual invention. The femme fatale is interesting mostly as a androgynous presence: she has a husky voice (but so does Bacall) and is referred to as Dusty, Mike and Karl at different points in the film. At one point of the film Bogart asserts that women should be able to shrink down to capsule size so you can keep them in your pocket, which is the most unabashedly chauvinist thing I’ve heard in some time.

162. ALL THE REAL GIRLS (David Gordon Green) viewed 4-11-03 in theater
Grade A 2003
All the Real Girl’s is a hard film to pin down and one full of contradictions. It is a realistic film but has lyrical passages that break out of the natural logic: like setting a dialogue scene in the middle of a bowling lane. Dialogue stings with reality and then occasionally bends towards absurd poetry. The first half of the film is hopelessly romantic and the second half is sad and messy, with bits of tragedy and humor spread throughout both halves. The performances are uniformly strong and natural, especially by Zooey Deschanel - who is the big discovery of the film. The film is probably best dissected into key moments, of which I will delineate my five favorites:

Zooey Deschanel covering her face and shaking after delivering bad news, and Paul Schneider punching the grass at the end of the scene.

Schneider stripping for the spa and pausing when he realized he’s not wearing his boxers.

Deschanel’s speech about her stomach scars.

Schneider telling of his first sexual experience.

The tender scene between father and daughter, where the father encourages her to go play.

163. THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (Orson Welles) viewed 4-11-03 on dvd\
Grade B 1948
Very good-looking film with entertainingly off-kilter plot and humor, but I have an eerie feeling that Welles didn’t really have his heart in this film. It’s so much less energetic than any of the other Welles’ films I’ve seen, and although it’s often very good, it only comes to life in stretches near the end (especially the justly famous abandoned funhouse sequence).

164. TOUGH GUYS DON’T DANCE (Norman Mailer) viewed 4-11-03 on video
Grade B+ 1987
Probably registers most closely to Peter Medak’s underrated Romeo is Bleeding, as a twisted variation on noir themes that plays like a twisted, smut-comic book. The dialogue is hilariously overwrought (good example: "My pussy hair was bright gold in high school, until I went out and scorched it with the football team") and the plot twists back and forth without really giving a shit. Ryan O’Neal has a very good handle on the material and all the other actors try their best with impossible material. Probably the best complement I can give the film is that I’m contemplating watching it again right now, moments after finishing it.

165. CALL NORTHSIDE 777 (Henry Hathaway) viewed 4-12-03 on video
Grade B 1948
This story – the journalist must find new evidence to save a wrongly convicted man – was probably cliché in 1948, although it is given urgency and (some) realism by the cast and direction. It is fun following Jimmy Stewart as he uncovers new clues that might help the case and the story invents an effective race-against-the-clock scenario in the second half that arouses some tension.

166. JOHNNY BELINDA (Jean Negulesco) viewed 4-12-03 on video
Grade B+ 1948
Good melodrama that allows its melodrama to rise organically from the characters and atmosphere created in the first half of the film. Sometimes feels like a TV movie with built in moral code, but then rises above that with Negulesco’s stylish (though not overly fussy) direction and very effective performances from everyone in the cast, Wyman won an Oscar for playing deaf and unglamorous but I was particularly taken with Lew Ayres performance as the kindly doctor – which oozes decency.

167. RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11 (Don Siegel) viewed 4-12-03 on video
Grade A- 1954
Realistic and intense prison film, which held my attention for the entire running time and made me forget to make myself dinner. The set-up to the film is swift and spare: developing the central characters after the riot has already broken out and not wasting time before or after the riot. The scenes of riot and control are very well orchestrated and Siegel makes good use of the locations.

168. THE SEARCH (Fred Zinnemann) viewed 4-12-03 on video
Grade B 1948
Half of this is probably a great film and the other half is a little too clunky by comparison. The good half has (an impressive) Montgomery Clift caring for a boy separated by his parents during the war, the chemistry between Clift and the boy really makes the material sing. These scenes are crosscut to the mother’s search for the boy and these scenes are handled in a docu-drama style that undermines the emotions in the other half of the film. Also, the ending –which should have been a home run – is botched by the filmmakers’ attempt to get suspense before the payoff, which plays like a cheapshot and doesn’t allow Clift one last good scene with the boy. Very good, but could have been great.

169. HEARTS AND MINDS (Peter Davis) – third viewing
Grade A 1974

170. BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE (Michael Moore) – second viewing
Grade B+ (downgraded from A-) 2002
It might initially seem odd to link these two documentaries, as the overall tonal difference between the films is apparent. However, both films shape material into a polemic and force the material into favoring their argument. Davis’ film was sued by two of the interviewed subjects and Moore has been attacked heavily for inaccuracy. Both films have a strongly liberal attitude and often connect points through connection.

In Davis’ Hearts and Minds scenes of devastation are shown along side an American saying that people of the orient don’t value life in the same way American’s do. This context makes the American look like a heartless buffoon and the Vietnamese suffering resonant because a face has been put to the tragedy. In order to create his meaning Davis relies on one fragment of footage working off of another.

Moore often creates a similar effect in Bowling For Columbine, working his fragmented tangents into a working context. Moore shows an interviews a man who authored a book on the culture of fear, and the man says (something like), “Crime rates are going down but the coverage is going up and the fear is expanding.” Then Moore intercuts footage of the Michigan Governor saying (again I paraphrase): “Over the last eight years the crime rates have declined, over that period the gun purchases have increased.” The Governor’s statement taken within the context Moore provides puts the two interviewed subjects in agreement, but out of context you could read the Governor’s statement as saying the cause of the declined crime rate was the increase of gun sales. What the Governor is really saying, and really means, can only be inferred by the raw footage Moore edits from.

Both films take issue with the governmental policy of the US, especially as it regards to violent actions. Davis’ film has a much more focused topic to handle and chooses its battles carefully, never showing overly articulate and carefully spoken pro-war pundits. Moore’s topic is broader and often scattershot and he relies on the inability of the interviewed subjects to answer the questions he poses in his sabotage-antics. To quote Theo at The Century of Movies, “He's lost when someone actually responds, like the Nike CEO in THE BIG ONE or the Lockheed guy here, who actually rebuts the tenuous link between weapons-making and school violence quite effectively : Moore can only counter with the "What A Wonderful World" montage, sheer demagoguery and possibly the film's nadir, if only because it's not even accurate - that America uses its weapons against regimes and groups it perceives as a threat may indeed be paranoia but it merely confirms the Lockheed guy's offensive / defensive point (for all its faults, modern US policy has never been expansionist - or, more accurately, it's expansionist through its business interests rather than its Army).” Similarly, the attack on Dick Clark and most of the Charlton Heston interview seem like gratuitous big-game hunting and don’t forward the film’s argument.

171. TITICUT FOLLIES (Frederick Wiseman) viewed 4-14-03 on video
Grade B 1967
Very hard to watch, as the film focuses on the dehumanization and cruelty towards the criminally insane patients. The film makes its points early and often and is effective at showing the thin-line between the doctors, guards and inmates: also equating an inmate’s rant about the pope to a priest giving sacrament. Although Wiseman’s technique is effective, it sometimes feels like he is lingering on the inmates’ freakishness for an unnatural period of time – which made me feel voyeuristically uncomfortable.

172. CRIMSON PIRATE (Robert Siodmak) viewed 4-15-03 on video
Grade B+ 1952
Pretty damn entertaining, the end climax is particularly spectacular, and unabashedly campy in some sections with Lancaster very welling to have fun with his image. The technicolor looks good here, although I was struck constantly that I should probably seek out a 35mm print of this film in the theater because I’m sure it will be even more impressive on the big screen.

173. RING (Gore Verbinski) viewed 4-15-03 on dvd (second viewing)
Grade B- 2002

174. RED DRAGON (Brett Ratner) viewed 4-16-03 on dvd
Grade B- 2002
In theory if you have to change directors for a new film in a series, ideally you would follow the example of the Alien series: pick a visionary director with a unique style and a sensibility that will fit the picture. Ridley Scott was a good choice to follow up Demme’s Silence of the Lambs (although Demme wasn’t really a traditional choice for a horror film with his humanist tendencies and he hasn’t made a similar film since) but choosing Brett Ratner for Red Dragon was a misstep. I’m not saying that Ratner is a bad director: he’s smart enough to borrow Demme’s visual style, hire Dante Spinotti (Michael Mann’s DP) and he is lucky enough to get a truly dream cast. The film plays pretty well, builds suspense in the right places and is well performed (did I mention the cast is amazing) – but still afterwards I didn’t really feel like anything new was developed in this film and nothing significant was gained by watching it.

175. WHAT HAPPENED WAS … (Tom Noonan) viewed 4-17-03 on video
Grade B+ 1994
An unnerving first-date movie that uses its stage origins to its benefit: getting intense performances from both actors, growing in claustrophobic tension and drawing laughter from the slightest nuances. I guess mileage varies on this kind of film – some will undoubtedly find it slow and punishing – but I found it engaging for the entire running time and I always like meeting interesting characters and hearing them talk in movies. I’m so used to seeing Tom Noonan play freaks, murderers and nerds that it was relieving to see him play a basically nice guy, a role that I would like to see him play more often as he appears to have a great deal of untapped range – and as a writer/director he has a natural ear for appropriate dialogue exchanges.

176. EASTER PARADE (Charles Walters) viewed 4-17-03 on video
Grade B+ 1948

177. DODSWORTH (William Wyler) viewed 4-17-03 on video
Grade A- 1936
A very smart character study of a long married couple whose relationship declines after he retires and they travel to see the world on the riches he has built over his career. I liked best the way the film treats all the characters fairly, allowing even favorable characters deep flaws.

178. INFERNAL AFFAIRS (Andrew Lau and Alan Mak) viewed 4-18-03 in theater (SFIFF)
Grade B+ 2003
The Hong Kong action film seems to have left the grounding of the genre and now it works in abstractions. Fulltime Killer was like every action/gangster film of the last twenty put into a bag and shook up and Time and Tide was incomprehensible but had a brilliant, cartoonish-energy that made every action achieve a spastic state of hyperactivity. Now Infernal Affairs takes a basic cliché of the genre: the good and bad sides of the law being blurred and skews the plot to the extreme example of this cliché.

Which is to say: the good guy is really the bad guy and the bad guy is really the good guy – except both are shaded in gray behavior. Infernal Affairs is so concerned with the plot twists that it seems hardly concerned with building big action set-pieces, instead it gives us shoot-outs that are half-seen but takes fetishistic notice of the police procedural maneuvering. What the hell, I thought this was a Hong Kong Action Film?! – You might ask.

The newest twist in the genre is that Hong Kong films now resemble the American crime films of the nineties (see Heat or LA Confidential) and American films are still aping the Hong Kong films of more than a decade ago. Infernal Affairs is captivating and exciting, and the plot twists upon itself in interesting ways. I also liked the importance that life is given in this film, which is something that American films haven’t yet begun to rip off – yet.

179. THE WEIGHT OF WATER (Katherine Bigelow) viewed 4-18-03 on dvd
Grade C 2002
It’s criminal to take possibly the best actor of his generation (Sean Penn, but he really wants to direct) and almost positively the best actress of her generation (Sarah Polley, but she really wants to be a Canadian political activist) and use them in a movie as immediately flawed as this. I hesitate to blame Katherine Bigelow, who seems to be trying hard to make the two mismatched story threads connect, as she has long been proven among the best action directors (the other is Renny Harlin). So I will just write this picture off as a failure filled with ambitious and interesting people who deserved a better fate, and will say nothing more.

180. ON THE RUN (Lucas Belvaux) viewed 4-19-03 in theater (SFIFF)
Grade A- 2003

181. AN AMAZING COUPLE (Lucas Belvaux) viewed 4-19-03 in theater (SFIFF)
Grade A- 2003
Ingeniously structured films have recurring characters and themes, in two very different films: one is a political thriller and the other is a screwball comedy. Events seen in the first film reveal themselves as different than initially expected in the second film, and both films leave more open for the third film (which I will hopefully see in the next few days). Not only are the films enriched by their relationship to each other, but also the films stand alone as great achievements even without having seen the other films. It says a lot about the screenwriting that there are many characters occupying the plot that can be followed for their own movies. Belvaux gets the tone of each film pitch-perfect – from music scores (jazzy bass in On The Run and a loopy but richer sound for An Amazing Couple) and I was surprised by how effective the suspense was maintained in the first film and the laughs-rate in the second film. After viewing the third film I will possibly re-rate these films and hopefully (if I don’t get too busy) write a longer review of the trilogy. Looks to be one of the most impressive accomplishments of (at least) this year.

182. M (Fritz Lang) viewed 4-21-03 on dvd (second viewing)
Grade B+ 1931
A bold film because of the way it shades the child murderers character – making him both repellent and innocent, when he is faced against the criminals in the last act it is clear that he hasn’t chosen his behavior unlike the life criminals he is faced with. The film pacing gets sluggish in the second act and gets too caught up in the procedure, but the film is very well shot in post-expressionist German cinema. Lorre really anchors the film with his nervous (and nervy) performance.

183. MISS … OR MYTH? (Geoffrey Dunn and Mark Schwartz) viewed 4-21-03 on video (45 min version)
No Grade 1987
Talking heads documentary showing the contest for Miss California and the protesters outside the ceremony. The filmmakers give equal time to the protesters and the pageant people and the overall effect of the material makes both sides look fairly ridiculous: the pageant people appear sunny and ignorant, while the protesters seem to be overreacting to what seems like a silly past-time. I think the link between beauty contests and rape is a rather tenuous one, and isn’t really proven by the film or protesters. All that is proven is that most of the feminist protesters were raped, but shooting at a target as obviously absurd as beauty pageants is like shooting ants with an elephant gun. I’m not giving the film a grade because it was made by one of my professors (and although he will grade me I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing the same to him), although I recommend it.

184. AFTER LIFE (Lucas Belvaux) viewed 4-22-03 in theater (SFIFF)
Grade B 2003
This film is not as successful as its two predecessors, because it doesn’t work as a film by itself without the context of the series. The best thing about this film is that it underlines how characters can change within the context of their own story: here the protagonist comes across as heroic rather than the smarmy asshole he seemed to be in the previous film An Amazing Couple. The direction is more loose here, often following characters handheld rather than fluid movements, which is an odd but effective choice for the material (I would have expected this filming style for On The Run instead, since that film is a thriller). The films bounce off each other very nicely, sometimes the tone of the previous film seeps into the action – and our memory of the characters true behavior affects the way what we see later. This trilogy is one of the great achievements in film of the year.

185. 28 UP (Michael Apted) viewed 4-22-03 on video
Grade B 1985
The motif in 28 Up that I found most affecting was the introduction to the subjects: showing a clip of them at 7, 14, 21 and then 28 years old and watching them physically develop before and the way they carry themselves. Other then that I found the documentary kind of a mixed bag, some of the subjects just aren’t that interesting and each is asked the same questions (which, of course, becomes very repetitive). The interviews were mostly driven towards economic (the class system) and settling into domestic life - giving more a sense of the subjects station in life then personality.

186. LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN (Max Ophuls) viewed 4-23-03 on video
Grade A- 1948
Ophuls direction is not as sinuous here as his European films (Lola Montes and Earrings of Madame de) but just as lyrical and romantic. The film is almost unrelentingly pensive and bitterly sad, but it is hard not to get caught up in the film’s tone because Ophuls has made the film with so much care. The film is both a tearjerker and a woman’s picture but feels encapsulated with the beauty of a poem or dream - like the other Max Ophuls films I’ve seen.

187. STOREFRONT HITCHCOCK (Jonathan Demme) viewed 4-23-03 on dvd
Grade B 1998
I have become a big Robyn Hitchcock film in the past month and was excited to see this concert film directed by Jonathan Demme (who directed my favorite concert film Stop Making Sense). This film is more like a cross between that film and Demme’s monologue film Swimming to Cambodia, as Hitchcock sings and between songs delivers some very weird monologues (fairly spontaneously). Demme does wonders with minimal props to deal with: the film is basically just Hitchcock playing his songs for an audience we don’t see (a la Stop Making Sense) in front of a large window facing a busy street. The film is never boring and Hitchcock’s music is always offbeat and wonderful.

188. PITFALL (Andre de Toth) viewed 4-23-03 on video
Grade A- 1948
This film stilted and challenged my expectations at every turn, basically I assumed that the film was going to settle into more familiar film noir territory (with femme fatale and more nightmarish turns). The film never does settle down for the obvious, instead the plot unfolds more realistically and the characters stay true to themselves. If the film were made ten years later or earlier it would be a melodrama, but in this crucial period of film noir it slips into the genre and refuses to follow the obvious trends.

189. THE GOOD THIEF (Neil Jordan) viewed 4-24-03 in theater
Grade A- 2003
One of the most purely enjoyable movies I have seen in the past few months, eerily like it had been shaped to be pleasurable in ever possible way to me. It’s a remake of Jean Pierre-Melville’s classic Bob le Flambeur and is even more watchable (although saying that might ruin any possible movie snob credentials I have). Nike Nolte is ideally cast as the worn down junky, but Jordan also beautifully casts every other role with interesting actors: Tchéky Karyo often is cast as the Euro badguy (you’ve seen him before – trust me) and he is able to bring great stability to the role of Bob’s antagonist, Saïd Taghmaoui (so good in La Haine 8 years ago) is a original choice as the thief who looks up to Bob, director/actors Mark and Michael Polish as twins and Nino Kukhanidze is the lead female and she is new to me and made a great impression here in a largely disposable role. Jordan also stylizes the film borrowing techniques from all-time cool films – most notably the smearing of Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express and playful freeze-frames to cap scenes and frequent jump cuts to create a poppy rhythm. The film is very entertaining and funny, and has such an intelligent script that it is good enough that it doesn’t have to call attention to the best lines of dialogue (Theo’s favorite line: “Remember the 80s?” “No” is completely thrown away). I look forward to another viewing and did even as I was watching the film.

190. I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG (Mervyn LeRoy) viewed 4-24-03 on video
Grade B+ 1932
A muckraking film about the injustice of the prison chain gang system is still very engaging and a precursor to the post-war film noir of the 1940s. The film makes its points about the dehumanization of men early – crosscutting the men being chained together to the horses being similarly chained. However, I think the film would have been more interesting if the filmmakers had not stacked the cards in Muni’s favor: putting him in jail as an innocent man, since even guilty prisoners deserve decent human rights, right?

191. HOUSE OF USHER (Roger Corman) viewed 4-25-03 on dvd
Grade B+ 1960

192. THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (Roger Corman) viewed 4-26-03 on dvd
Grade B 1961
I watched these films on back-to-back nights and was impressed by the same elements in both. Both films are very effective at creating a tense mood and general feeling of dreamy unreality. That said, I shot myself in the foot watching the films back-to-back since The Pit and the Pendulum is largely repeats along the lines of Usher: using the same story setup - a man arrives at a house and stays in the company of (possibly) insane Price, who is haunted by the sins of the past, and using the same location. Corman seems uneasy using the widescreen format in both films, but occasionally summons a striking composition: I like Corman on screen right and a painting on screen left. On the whole, I found Usher more convincing and entertaining than Pit – although Pit has Price fainting and crying which is startlingly funny and the amazing Steele.

193. HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES (Rob Zombie) viewed 4-27-03 in theater
Grade B- 2003
A refreshing horror film, that breaks from the recent respectable horror films (The Ring, Signs) and looks back to the dirty roots of the genre. Specifically, Zombie pays homage to (and borrows liberally from) the white-trash slash movies of the late seventies and early eighties (the best of the genre being Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Motel Hell and The Hills Have Eyes). Out of that mold he has created a very ambitious film: with healthy amounts of bloody gore and nudity (although less of the later) offset with weird back country values and black humor (I love the sign that advertises: Captain Spalding’s Fried Chicken and Gasoline). The film is very effective at challenging conventions of the genre and audience expectations: killing characters we have come to identify with (usually before the others) and changing the dynamic with those we expect to be coming to the rescue. The film even temporarily puts a human face to the tragedies that it is exploiting (with a quick flash of a family photo of one of the victims). The film is sometimes hard to watch – with its shaky camera work and extreme close ups (of faces that would best be kept at a distance), but it is rewarding for fans of the genre and those looking for a wild and sometimes scary ride. I particularly liked the relish that the actors brought to their roles, most of them veterans of important horror or exploitation films of the seventies or eighties – and not getting a lot of work since. The film also features one of the most protracted execution scenes ever filmed (you’ll know it when you see it) – and that should be enough for anyone who can’t help but smile at the title.

194. 4 LITTLE GIRLS (Spike Lee) viewed 4-28-03 on video
Grade B 1997
A sad and solid documentary feature from Spike Lee (which I had previously seen bits and pieces of on HBO) that moved me quite a bit while I was watching it. I’m not a fan of the ultra-close up style Lee chooses to use here, as I feel an hour and forty minutes of extreme close ups can be numbing and they should instead be used only for punctuation – although the emotions portrayed in the close ups are great. Also, the two takes of an old and senile George Wallace pathetically calling for his black friend, was painful and didn’t help the film in any way. Despite the quibbles, this is a very strong film.

195. CABIN IN THE SKY (Vincente Minnelli) viewed 4-30-03 on video
Grade B+ 1943
Very good musical, much better than I would have guessed from the opening few minutes and brief plot description I had going in. The film isn’t overloaded with musical sequences but rather they appear only to punctuate the content of the scenes. The performances are all likable and the ending isn’t quite as I’d expected it to be. I would comment negatively on the segregation of the casting in this film (there are no non-black actors) but that would be terribly hypocritical since I have never bitched about the white segregation in other films of this time period.

196. BUCHANAN RIDES ALONE (Budd Boetticher) viewed 5-1-03 on video
Grade A- 1958
Buchanan Rides Alone is more comical than the other Boetticher/Scott pairings, although the film is mostly played with a straight face. If Boetticher had instead opted to make the film overtly comical, it might play as screwball farce: as the characters’ fortunes are continuously changing and the plot twists occasionally takes the characters back where they started out. I particularly liked the climax of this film which works itself into a hopeless standoff (Boetticher’s films are usually a series of showdowns), which resolves in a way that feels true to the characters.

197. THE ROAD TO HONG KONG (Norman Panama) viewed 5-2-03 on TV
Grade B 1962
The first Hope and Crosby comedy that I’ve seen is often considered one of their lesser efforts but I enjoyed it quite a bit. The plot is ridiculously stupid, but the gags comment upon the stupidity of the plot and are often very funny.

198. A DAY AT THE RACES (Sam Wood) viewed 5-2-03 on TV
Grade B+ 1937
I am a little scared by the Marx Brothers, as their films are crazy and relentlessly striving to make you laugh. They throw an incredible number of jokes at you and although most didn’t make me laugh, after a while I just give up and ride with the loony-insanity. I actually laughed more in the Hope and Crosby film The Road to Hong Kong, but A Day at the Races is more ingenius and inspired.

199. THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (Christian Nimby) viewed 5-3-03 on TV
Grade A- 1951
Smart and exciting horror film with direction credited to Christian Nimby but with Howard Hawks’ fingerprints all over the film. The pacing builds well and the creature scares are timed with great craftsmanship, overcoming the fairly unconvincing creature effects.

200. STOLEN KISSES (Francois Truffaut) viewed 5-3-03 on dvd (fifth viewing – first in a year)
Grade A+ 1968

I wasn’t actually planning to watch this film again and simply put it in to check out the quality of the fancy new Criterion Collection edition DVD, and then the film hooked me again. The film is just simply irrepressible. I love The 400 Blows more, but I can’t imagine living without this film and the way this film makes me feel. Cameron Crowe pays homage to the film in Almost Famous (It is on the marquee near the beginning of the film) and that is a fitting match since Stolen Kisses blends humor with sadness so effortlessly that it tickles your emotions without seeming like it wants to.

Stolen Kisses follows Antoine Doinel about ten years after The 400 Blows (and a few years after the great short Antoine and Collette), through several jobs and in and out of love. The film is structured like an episodic film but never feels like one, probably because it moves between Antoine’s occupations and love life without force. Also the film is effective at creating mysteries out of very little: in particular a motif of being followed is introduced and punctuates scenes with a slight anxiety.

It is impossible to talk about these films without mentioning Jean Pierre-Leaud, who is wonderful as Antoine and shares responsibility with Truffaut for how great their cycle of films turned out. In The 400 Blows, Leaud proved great dramatic chops (at a young age – making him my vote for best child actor). In Stolen Kisses he shows off his brilliant comedic talents, which he would develop more with Bed and Board (which I’m sure I will watch again in the next few days).

This is one of my very favorite films.

201. RIDE LONESOME (Budd Boetticher) viewed 5-3-03 on video
Grade A- 1959

Another superb Boetticher/Scott teaming (which is becoming redundant since all their work together has awed me), this time again with screenwriter Burt Kennedy – who also wrote The Tall T and Buchanan Rides Alone (see above). This film is closer to Decision at Sundown and The Tall T than to Buchanan Rides Alone, as this film is more concerned with psychological showdowns and bitter revenge than plot twists. The villain of the piece (played by Lee Van Cleef) is also consistent with the villain in The Tall T, with some shades of gray and the film implies that he may be trying to leave his past behind him.

202. THE SERVANT (Joesph Losey) viewed 5-4-03 on dvd
Grade B 1963

Highly stylized and bitter about the British class system and although it’s a good film, those two defining traits kept alienating me from enjoying it more. The stylization seems at times stuffy and too calculated and the class system angst didn’t translate to me (also because the lead character seems too strong to really work as a servant – I kept thinking of Pulp’s song I Spy as a more realistic victim aggressor of the lower class).

203. WHO KILLED VINCENT CHIN? (Christine Choy and Renee Tajima-Pena) viewed 5-5-03 on video
Grade C 1987

A strong subject for a documentary is botched by overly muddled timelines that are meant of unravel the murder over the course of the film but instead confuse and manipulate the events.

204. ROAD TO ZANZIBAR (Victor Schertzinger) viewed 5-9-03 on video
Grade B- 1941

Funny comedy that’s heavy on shtick and lighter on zippy one-liners, especially in comparison to Road to Hong Kong – the only other Hope & Crosby comedy I’ve seen. There is nothing to get too excited with in this film; it’s slight and minor – but funny and entertaining. I hope to see more comedies from the duo soon, and hopefully they will get me laughing as hard (if not harder) then I did with Road to Hong Kong (allegedly a lesser film than this).

s001. FIREWORKS (Kenneth Anger) viewed 5-9-03 on video
No Grade 1947 (I don’t give letter grades to short films)

Dream-like short film that is heavy on symbolism: with pervasive homoerotic undertones crossed with startlingly brutal, sadomasochistic imagery. Many images seem to have a mirror image: the flexing torso relates to the later shot of hands ripping through the skin to the entrails, and matches early set up developments later in the film. This is surprisingly packed for such a short film, with images enough to write a fascinating essay on if one saw fit (don’t look at me).

s002. PUCE MOMENT (Kenneth Anger) viewed 5-9-03 on video
No Grade 1949

Fucking Baaab watched this short about twenty times in April, and made everyone go out and rent it to see what the big deal was. This film is an obvious influence on David Lynch’s Blue Velvet with the lead character greatly resembling Dorothy Valence, and once again the narrative of this film is largely dreamlike. There is a great feeling of pushing beyond in this film: from the camera pushing through the glittered veils in the opening sequence, and also the lead character gliding through her house in her dreamtime. I will probably follow Baaab’s example and watch the film again, just to feel the images wash over me again – I doubt I will watch it twenty times though, I don’t have that much commitment.

s003. RABBIT’S MOON (Kenneth Anger) viewed 5-9-03 on video
No Grade 1950

My least favorite of the films on the tape volume because I was distracted by the tacked on music from the seventies which unfortunately cheapens the film. As it plays now, the images don’t really compliment the music and vice versa. It is also possible that I will watch this film again in the next few days, and this time view the film with volume muted and other music playing.

s004. EAUX D’ARTIFACE (Kenneth Anger) viewed 5-9-03 on video
No Grade 1953

Possibly the most beautiful film on the tape, featuring many shots of water spraying from a fountain into the air – which have the hypnotic quality of the best shots in Gerry. This is not really a narrative piece, but Anger does amazing things with tinting and his shot composition.

s005. KUSTOM KAR KOMMANDOS (Kenneth Anger) viewed 5-9-03 on video
No Grade 1965

Shot like a car product placement ad, with every piece of the car shining and shimmering, and being wiped down by an oversized feather duster. In the process of the voluptuous shots of the car, it becomes highly sexualized – drawing inevitable comparisons to Cronenberg’s work drawing connections between human sexuality and technology (specifically in the wonderful film Crash). Not especially compelling, but at least it’s very short.

205. M. HULOT’S HOLIDAY (Jacques Tati) viewed 5-10-03 on dvd
Grade B- 1953

Not so much a comedy, or at least if it was I didn’t laugh at all, but instead a travelogue with Tati’s Hulot inadvertently making trouble for countless other vacationers. I can imaging the same story played as a screwball comedy or even a nightmare comedy (think After Hours), Tati doesn’t go either route: instead he plays every scene in long shots and without obvious comedic cues. Some of the jokes in this movie are so elaborate that I wished more of them were actually laugh out loud funny, instead I just sat back and enjoyed the odd rhythm that the film built and the beauty of certain scenes (especially the dance and fireworks sequences). I'll take Playtime any day though.

s006. SOIGNE TON GAUCHE (Rene Clement) viewed 5-10-03 on dvd
No Grade 1936

A short comedy film with a younger Tati naively used as practice for a boxer in training. This is more obviously a comedy than M Hulot’s Holiday, but also a lot less graceful or original – with most of the gags ripped from Chaplin’s City Lights (or rather paid homage), but if you must steal - then steal from the best! Pretty funny but ultimately disposable and insignificant.

206. GHOST BREAKERS (George Marshall) viewed 5-12-03 on video
Grade B- 1940

Fairly funny most of the way and the horror elements are fairly effective, not simple throwaway bits between the comedy. Hope delivers his one-liners very well and has good chemistry with Paulette Goddard. Willie Best also makes the best out of an underwritten character, earning some laughs with his comic timing and delivery. Not a great film or a great comedy but pretty entertaining for less than an hour and a half.

s007. INVOCATION OF MY DEMON BROTHER (Kenneth Anger) viewed 5-12-03 on video
No Grade 1969

Odd, hypnotic and haunting: like a twelve-minute film stringing together all the shock cuts for Natural Born Killers. Combined with the sound loop by Mick Jagger this may be one of the most unwatchable short films ever made, guaranteed to give even jaded viewers a headache. I think the film links destructive lifestyle of people in the 20th century to demonic rites: which is made somewhat clear by the cult ritualists waving a Nazi flag and drug reference (smoking out of an egg).

s008. LUCIFER RISING (Kenneth Anger) viewed 5-12-03 on video
No Grade 1973

Slow paced film containing some stunning images, but I really didn’t get this film and I don’t think any other future viewing would clear it up. This is Anger at his most inaccessible, playing with a variety of surreal imagery but to less effect than his other films. Still compulsively watchable when I wasn’t terribly annoyed by it.

207. THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (John Ford) viewed 5-13-03 on dvd
Grade C+ 1962

A sentimental and heavy-handed film, with the character’s painted in with broad strokes to signify either GOOD or BAD. Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne are stuck playing characters that are basically revivals of their most obvious acting stereotypes: Stewart is stuck as a naïve idealist that he grew past in his Anthony Mann westerns (and he is at least thirty years too old for the role) and Wayne approaches self-parody. There are a few nice touches and affecting scenes, but most of Ford’s choices fall apart.

208. LAND OF THE PHARAOHS (Howard Hawks) viewed 5-13-03 on video
Grade B- 1955

A monumentally big movie that awed me for most of it’s running time, even as I was laughing at some of the dialogue and costuming choices. The film perhaps plays best if you pause the film every couple of minutes to imagine Hawks’ trying to sell the studio on the production (“You mean we’re going to hire several thousand extras to build a pyramid?”). The grade should be taken with a grain of salt however, since I watched the film on a Pan and Scanned video that doesn’t do justice to the scope and feel of the scenes or Hawks’ widescreen compositions.

209. THE BORROWER (John McNaughton) viewed 5-15-03 on video
Grade B+ 1991

It’s mindboggling to me that this film doesn’t have a huge cult following, as it’s probably the most enjoyable film that I’ve seen for awhile. The Borrower is John McNaughton’s follow up to his horror film Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer but belongs to a completely different league of the horror genre, ultimately closer to the Evil Dead films or Peter Jackson’s early gross-out epics. The tone is set by a pre-credit scene aboard a spaceship where an alien explains to another that he has been devolved as punishment and is being sent to the primative Earth. The alien’s encounters on Earth are simultaneously funny, bizarre, satirical and sometimes even a little touching. McNaughton twists genre expectations making the alien a fish out of water rather than a mindless killer, and plays scenes that seem to be leading up to murder as weirdly observational and social commentary. The film also meets genre expectations with a copious amount of gore and grisly behavior played against the more subtle humor.

210. THE MATRIX RELOADED (Larry and Andy Wachowski) viewed 5-16-03 in theater
Grade B- 2003

I felt the first Matrix film was a flawed but exciting action film, although a step down from the Wachowski’s previous film Bound. Unfortunately The Matrix Reloaded is a step down from the first Matrix film: with a clumsy and uninspired first act that is top-loaded with unnecessary exposition and character development. Basically, where the first Matrix uncovered the mystery of the matrix in the first act, this film labors the setup with speeches and philosophical nonsense. The film also stays too true to the formula of the original at times – What’s with the all leather in the matrix and the all torn sweatshirts out of the matrix? Those reservations aside, the film does work as an action film with two dazzling set pieces that are very exciting. Monica Bellucci is underused (although I suppose she will return to better effect in the next film) and so is Lawrence Fishbourne. If you think about it carefully David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ is a critique of this film and the digs at the videogame logic in that film apply.

211. MONKEY SHINES: AN EXPERIMENT IN FEAR (George A. Romero) viewed 5-16-03 on video
Grade B- 1988

This film starts out like a TV movie and the horror gradually builds until the climax - which plays like one of the vignettes from Romero’s Creepshow. The tonal shift undermines the characters (it should play up our sympathies) making them unreliable and that’s too bad since much of this film is very good. I liked the interaction between the characters in the setup and some of the creepier moments in the final half.

212. WINCHESTER ’73 (Anthony Mann) viewed 5-17-03 on dvd
Grade A- 1950

Wonderfully inventive western, telling the story of a long brewing revenge and also tracing the violent path of the title gun. This is the first Jimmy Stewart/Anthony Mann western and it paves way for the psychological depth of their later westerns (The Naked Spur being the best). Mann does amazing things with his compositions (well preserved in the nice new dvd disc), especially in the final showdown on the rocky terrain. The Stewart/Mann teaming is in the running for the best actor/director teaming in the western genre (easily over Wayne/Ford or Leone/Eastwood in my book), although it has serious competition in those amazing Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott collaborations.

213. PSYCHO III (Anthony Perkins) viewed 5-18-03 on video
Grade C 1986

Pretty disposable film, notable only for the relationships Perkins’ Bates creates with the other characters in his life, especially a nun who has runaway from her convent. Some of the scenes between these two characters create a nice diversion from the traditional trappings of the slasher film. When the film does turn back into a more traditional slasher film I was letdown and finally bored.

214. THE CHINA SYNDROME (James Bridges) viewed 5-18-03 on dvd
Grade B+ 1979

Interesting post-Watergate thriller, which is exciting and well acted and would have easily ranked an A- had it not flown off the rails a bit in the last act. I was especially taken with the character played by Jack Lemmon and his (sometimes misplaced) pride in his work, and that made the eventually shifts in his character a bit harder to swallow – as he doesn’t seem like the kind of character that would resort to the BIG ACTION that he resorts to late in the film. A good film that reminded me of Fail-Safe, as another thriller made about a horrible threat to mankind that is dealt with in a very serious manner.

215. THE RECKLESS MOMENT (Max Ophuls) viewed 5-19-03 on video
Grade B- 1948

I didn’t realize that The Deep End was a remake. So imagine my surprise when I watched this film and began to find alarming similarities between the two films. I liked this film about the same as The Deep End, and find this film an interesting continuation of Ophuls women pictures and themes (with the female again isolated from her man, and unrequited love playing a key role here). Not as highly stylized as Ophuls’ later pictures in France (which I prefer) but tasteful and worth seeing.

216. THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK (Robert Epstein) viewed 5-19-03 on video
Grade B+ 1984

A compelling and interesting documentary that I (shamefully) had no idea about (I was born in 1981 – two years after Milk was killed). The film is mostly a talking heads piece and it builds up nicely as it uncovers the details of Milk’s political life (although many of his political actions seemed gimmicky and funny rather than vitally important) and eventually into his assassination by an All-American white heterosexual. Well worth seeing.

217. STOP MAKING SENSE (Jonathan Demme) viewed 5-19-03 on dvd (twice - ninth and tenth viewings)
Grade A 1984

218. 8 WOMEN (Francois Ozon) viewed 5-20-03 on dvd (second viewing)
Grade A- 2002

219. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (Robert Wise) viewed 5-20-03 in theater
Grade B 1951

Not a great film but well directed by Wise and relatively undated by the nifty special effects. The film is more thoughtful then some in the genre: giving a message of peace and harmony without preaching (a message that still seems relevant given America’s recent attack on Iraq). The film has some obvious continuity errors (during the power-failure a boat is still moving in a long shot and she is able to read her watch to gauge the half-hour of time passed) and a few sequences that stretch on far too long but the film is still worth seeing.

220. THE GAY DIVORCEE (Mark Sandrich) viewed 5-20-03 on video
Grade B- 1934

Having seen and liked most of the other Astaire & Rogers musical (and the wonderful Sandrich directed Top Hat from the next year), I was rather disappointed with The Gay Divorcee. The musical sequences don’t have the same flare or humor as they would in their later films (again Top Hat), and the comedic sequences are mostly cute rather than laugh-out-loud funny. The chemistry between the two stars makes the film worthwhile, but the material is weaker here and they have to do more to compensate.

221. DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (George Marshall) viewed 5-21-03 on dvd
Grade A 1939

This film is on a different planet from most westerns: taking a would-be routine plot and twisting it into the widest boundaries of the genre – the funny is absurd and the serious creeps in at unexpected times. Stewart and Dietrich capitalize on their prevailing personas and allow their characters to field a range of emotions. In short, this is one of the most sinfully enjoyable westerns I have ever seen.

222. STARS IN MY CROWN (Jacques Tourneur) viewed 5-21-03 on video
Grade A 1950

A completely different western than Destry Rides Again, but equally pushing the boundaries of traditional western films. The film is even more surprising coming from Jacques Tourneur, primarily known for his Val Lewton horror films (notably Cat People and I Walked With a Zombie), a director not commonly associated with nostalgia. In fact his films are anything but nostalgic, in Cat People and Out Of The Past history is viewed as threatening to the happiness of the characters. Stars in My Crown is optimistic, warm and humanistic: delving into the small town living with perceptive attention to the characters’ lives. This film made me feel very good and sparked further excitement in me about Tourneur – who is possibly the most underrated director in film history.

223. 25TH HOUR (Spike Lee) viewed 5-25-03 on dvd (second viewing)
Grade A 2002

Second viewing and the original grade stands, but certain things struck me differently on the second viewing. The ending and beginning are especially beautiful and poetic: with the visualized 25TH Hour of an idealized future for Monty as possibly the best sustained sequence in Mr. Lee’s career. Also the long take conversation by the window overlooking ground zero is amazing at visualizing Monty’s dilemma, working hard in the night to clean up the debris.

I didn’t even mention the performances in my first review and that was very stupid of me since this film lives or dies by its performances. Edward Norton brings an autumnal sadness to his role, Phillip Seymour Hoffman delicate and shrinking, Barry Pepper tense and anxious, Rosario Dawson brings a lot to the most underwritten role in the film (it’s common for Spike Lee films to have underwritten female characters) and Anna Paquin continues to impress me as one of the most intriguing young actresses (compare her performance here to Finding Forrester, if you can stomach the later just for her supurb performance). Brian Cox also makes a strong impression in two scenes and helps make the final sequence so special.

If I were to single out a problem with this film it would be Mr. Lee’s over reliance on multiple camera coverage, playing some simple dialogue scenes with ten different camera setups (see for example the scene where Monty picks up Naturelle in the park). This don’t really add anything to the style except the feeling that Lee isn’t as confident directing big films as you’d expect from someone who has been directing features as long as Mr. Lee has. I hope using DV shootng on Bamboozled hasn’t ruined his eye for concise compositions and effective staging.

I expect time will be nice to this film, since most critics didn’t champion it and it received little award recognition. It is a smart and mature film that announces David Benioff as a major writing talent and confirms that Spike Lee is one of the best directors working, especially with a non-didactic script.

224. MCLINTOCK! (Andrew V. McLaglen) viewed 5-25-03 on (a shitty) dvd
Grade C+ 1963

A hard film to review because it is so sexist that its view of women is unfathomable in today’s feminized society. Both of the strong central females (although the film views both as mischievous girls with power trips) are won over by bouts of abuse and humiliation, both succumbing to their man after being spanked over his knee. These scenes are played for laughs (imagine the bawdy fights in The Quiet Man – only funnier ---, which is to say funny) and they are played off scenes of Wayne fighting those that would oppress Indians. There is even a surprisingly touching scene with Duke telling his daughter what will happen with his land after his death, but scenes of emotional substance are not common in this film. It is silly and somehow innocent, and a fun film to show the feminists (who could write a thesis on it).

225. VIRIDIANA (Luis Bunuel) viewed 5-26-03 on video
Grade A- 1961

In The Exterminating Angel the partygoers can’t leave the party, in The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie they sit down at the table but can’t eat and in Viridiana everybody wants to do the right thing (for themselves, or their god) but they fail at every opportunity. The second half of the film is pretty hard to watch, as all examples of trying to do good are continually punished or belittled by what follows. The film is well summarized by the sequence where the man buys the exhausted dog beneath a cart only to turn as another exhausted dog is pulled behind him. The final scene is painful and terribly funny; Bunuel amused by the spectacle we make of ourselves on the road to compromising ourselves in the end.

226. GRAVEYARD OF HONOR (Takashi Miike) viewed 5-27-03 on dvd
Grade B+ 2003

It’s definitely not the week of the woman at this website: McLintock! was sexist, Viridiana was bookended by rape and now Miike’s Graveyard of Honor has three rape scenes in the first thirty minutes. And expect another viewing of Irreversible in the next few days. I guess next week will have to be an Audrey Hepburn film festival…

Takashi Miike’s Graveyard of Honor probably plays best if you can bounce it off one of his other yakuza films (especially the first two Dead or Alive films). By comparison this film will seem like a more mature and balanced work (no ball of energy pulled from the stomach – sorry), more true to the sobriety of Beat Takeshi’s films than the playfulness of (say) Ichi The Killer. However, this film does continue to develop many of the themes that Miike has been working with. It establishes a violent protagonist and aligns him with a likewise character, who is grudgingly in opposition. It is filled with sharp, sudden moments of extreme violence (a neck is stabbed and spurting blood before we even realize it has happened) and the violence is usually surrounded by white or pleasing images (the red pops out in Miike films – whether he means the violence or not). There is also a casual distrust and hatred of women in Miike’s films, with Audition probably being the key example but this theme continued in most of his films – where the women are strippers or hookers primarily and those who aren’t either are usually raped or severely beaten (and then they usually succumb to the violence aimed at them – as the film reveals they really like it). I guess some will write off Miike as a harmless shockmongerer, I think he may be the most reckless and personal artist to emerge since Sam Peckinpah. Embrace him because one day each film he makes (and he makes quite a few) will be a treasure. In other words (to paraphrase Martin Scorsese on David Cronenberg) he’s a great filmmaker I just don’t think I’d want to meet him.

227. ON THE TOWN (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly) viewed 5-29-03 on dvd
Grade B+ 1949

This film has such a freewheeling attitude and blissful jubilance that I was able to overlook how uninspired the plot and songs often were. This film is all execution and technically it is fairly astonishing: with a real feeling for the performers’ grace since the numbers are all filmed in series of long-takes. The movie also experiments a bit with different musical forms (with two sequences owing great debt to the theater), although most of the numbers don’t really feel especially distinguished or memorable.

228. ROAD TO MOROCCO (David Butler) viewed 5-30-03 in theater
Grade B+ 1942

Another funny comedy from Bob Hope (I will see more at the Stanford Theater over the next two weeks), with more referential humor beginning to add an extra layer of enjoyment. The self-depreciating spin to the humor makes it more infectious and Hope’s timing and bits-of-business are fairly brilliant.

229. THE COLOR OF MONEY (Martin Scorsese) viewed 5-30-03 on dvd
Grade B+ 1986

Flashy direction and street smart script make this a worthy successor to The Hustler. Critics of the time complain about Newman’s sudden moralizing in the second half, but they seem to miss the point that the film is about his redemption and if it hadn’t shifted gears it would have ended up a generic sports movie. I liked that the film twisted the expectations of the genre: not building up to a big final game set-piece instead it takes the themes of the story seriously.

230. FAUST (Jan Svankmajer) viewed 5-30-03 on dvd
Grade C 1994

I was too confused by this film to really have too much fun soaking in the imagination and craft of the technique. If you are very familiar with the Faust legend or a Svankmajer cultist, then I assume that you will like this film a whole lot more than I did. Obviously a tremendous amount of talent and creative energy involved here, I just didn’t get it.

231. PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE (Tim Burton) viewed 5-31-03 in theater (sixth viewing – first in theater)
Grade A 1985

A masterpiece that manages to be just about everything. It’s a children’s movie, an adult comedy, a road movie, a fantasy, a coming of age movie, and it even temporarily tries out other genre including: western, horror, Hollywood satire, biker and chase movies. There’s even a little romance tied in, but not too much cause that stuff is gross. I have so many favorite gags that I’ll just list a few (bare with me, fans will know what I’m talking about): “The stars are bright,” after his bike is stolen as he sees all the other bikes, “Do you have anything to add Amazing Larry?” (a bafflingly funny non sequitur), and (of course) the Large Marge gag.

232. THE PALEFACE (Norman Z. McLeod) viewed 6-01-03 in theater
Grade B- 1948

Amusing Western spoof but most of the jokes aren't that sharp. Hope and Russell end up making the film worth seeing, even though the film pales in every way when compared to the sequel.

233. SON OF PALEFACE (Frank Tashlin) viewed 6-01-03 in theater
Grade A- 1952

The third Tashlin film I've seen and the third comic masterpiece - Why doesn't this guy have a better reputation. The pairing of Hope and Roy Rogers was a masterstroke, and the lovely Russell is as beautiful as ever. Most of the gags here give away Tashlin's past in cartoons and they come at such an incredible rate that its hard to catch your breath between them. I eagerly anticipate seeing this film again and suspect that my rating will improve to an A.

234. DOUBLE INDEMNITY (Billy Wilder) viewed 6-02-03 on dvd (fourth viewing)
Grade A+ 1944

235. THE LAST SEDUCTION (John Dahl) viewed 6-02-03 on dvd (ninth viewing)
Grade A+ 1994

236. ROMEO IS BLEEDING (Peter Medak) viewed 6-02-03 on dvd (sixth viewing)
Grade A 1993

(I'm too lazy to write a review of each since I just wrote a ten-page paper on them - so I'm posting the paper)
The femme fatale is a staple of film noir from the forties and fifties and they have recently emerged again as a valuable element of the new thriller in the eighties and nineties. The new femme fatale's have continued many trends from film noir, but they have also changed with the times. They now display a more upfront interest in sex and share (or often dominate) the workplace. The femme fatale model set by Barbara Stanwyck in Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity has given way to the modern femme fatales of Linda Fiorentino in John Dahl's The Last Seduction and Lena Olin in Peter Medak's underrated Romeo is Bleeding.
Nicholas Christopher defines the femme fatale in his book "Somewhere in the Night," he said:
The femme fatale (usually as the other woman) is nearly always the more intriguing and energetic figure in the films, imbued with intelligence, guile, charm, and unambiguous sexual electricity. Not to mention the sort of street smarts that were previously evident solely among male characters. (197)
In classic noir these women usually used the men to do their bidding and often their killing for them. The femme fatale's usually constituted the main part of the protagonist's decline, and the protagonist driven by a self-destructive craving for the femme fatale.
Phyllis Dietrichson is the femme fatale in 1944 film Double Indemnity. She is not a typical femme fatale in a few ways: she does not have brunette hair (Stanwyck wears a blonde wig in the film), she does not have a husky voice and she shows consistently feminine traits. However she is one of the most memorable femme fatales because she inhabits other traditional character traits so unequivocally. Pauline Kael said of Stanwyck's creation, "(She) is perhaps the best acted and the most fixating of all the slutty, cold-blooded femmes fatales of the film noir genre. With her bold stare, her sneering, over-lipsticked, thick-looking mouth, and her strategically displayed legs, she's a living entrapment device" (Kael).
She is a black widow who eliminates anyone who gets in her way. She is planning the murder of her husband to collect the insurance money and it is revealed that she killed his previous wife. Phyllis also plans the murder of her stepdaughter who has uncovered her plotting and is threatening to go to the police. She dupes Walter Neff (played by Fred MacMurray) into killing her husband and later tries to kill him. His obsession with her is ultimately his undoing, as he dies from the wounds she inflicts.
Double Indemnity establishes a theme of injured males with the very first shot over the credits, of a man in silhouette limping towards the camera with crutches. The next scene has an injured Neff walking into his building, Dietrichson has shot him, where he towers over the building's night attendant. The night attendant even continues the trend of the injured or impotent male by complaining of something loose in his heart. Neff's close friend and coworker Keyes constantly talks about the little man inside him that controls his actions, something that always has him conflicted and dominates him. Mr Dietrichson turns up later in the film with a broken leg continuing the trend of injured males in the film.
Dietrichson is introduced wrapped in a white towel (or blanket) and later dresses in a white dress, the camera pans up her legs and notices her anklet but her uniform signifies her as good. The spaces she occupies are almost always domestically related, we meet her in the house were she is kept by her husband and later she and Neff are forced to meet each other at a local supermarket. The domestic settings add an undertone of realism to the crime that they have committed, as they are murderers but still have to inhabit a world of banal markets. As Phyllis Dietrichson becomes more tainted by the plot, mostly after the death of her husband, her uniform changes to a darker palate - often cloaking her in blacks (both for her mourning the death of her husband but also clothed as a villainess).
In contrast Linda Fiorentino as Bridget Gregory in The Last Seduction is dressed in black (albeit a business skirt) and she is immediately seen in a working environment. Her job is similar to Alec Baldwin's in James Foley's film Glengarry Glen Ross, she profanely pressures salesmen into selling. She controls the money that provides the incentive for those working beneath her (literally in the mise-en-scene) and insults their manhood calling them eunuchs. The scenes of her working are contrasted with those of her husband attempting a drug deal that goes humiliatingly wrong, the connection showing her in control of her working environment as he struggles to keep up with his. In the new film noirs of the nineties the femme fatale almost always excels in business practices and usually have more money than the men that surround them in the plot. This is the case not only in The Last Seduction and Romeo is Bleeding but also with Paul Verhoeven's Basic Instinct and Brian DePalma's Femme Fatale, in which the fatale protagonist begins the film watching Double Indemnity.
When we see them together in the domestic setting, the roles are slightly changed. When she insults his intelligence he slaps her and then only wins back her affection with the money "earned" on the drug deal. The money is seen as the phallus of this scene, as Bridget is invited to fondle the money ("It's soft, I thought it would be hard") and later she seductively licks the bills. The money takes a much stronger importance in this scene than Bridget's husband Clay and in their continuing encounters throughout the rest of the movie they take the money to be much more important than their relationship together. She revenges the slap by taking the money and running off to start a new life, ending up in a small town.
It is unusual for much of a film noir to take place in a small town but The Last Seduction settles into small town Beston in upstate New York. "However, the femme fatale manages to take the city with her when she flees it. A rude, ruthless, sexually aggressive conwoman - a sort of low-end parody of a Manhattan yuppie" (Christopher 235). When she gets to the small town she encounters local Mike Swale (played by Peter Berg) who tries to pick her up. Kate Stables in essay "The Postmodern Always Rings Twice: Constructing the Femme Fatale in 90s Cinema" compares and cites dialogue from the Double Indemnity and The Last Seduction to show the difference of sexual candor that have developed in fifty years. It reads:
PHYLLIS: There's a speed limit in this state Mr Neff, 45 mph.
WALTER: How fast was I going, Officer?
PHYLLIS: I'd say around 90.
WALTER: Suppose you get down off your motorcycle and give me a ticket?
PHYLLIS: Suppose I let you off with a warning this time?
WALTER: Suppose it doesn't take?
PHYLLIS: Suppose I have to whack you over the knuckles?
WALTER: Suppose I burst out crying and rest my head on your shoulder?
PHYLLIS: Suppose you try putting it on my husband's shoulder?
WALTER: That tears it.
The Second is from The Last Seduction
MIKE: (bending to whisper) I'm hung like a horse. Think about it. (He walks away)
BRIDGET: Let's see …
MIKE: Excuse me?
BRIDGET: 'Mr Ed,' Let's see.
MIKE: I tried to be nice, but I can see that that's something …
BRIDGET: (interrupting but smiling) Now I'm trying … I can be very nice when I try. Sit down.
MIKE: (sitting) Maybe we just got off to a bad start … (she unzips his fly) What are you doing? (Bewildered)
BRIDGET: I believe what we're looking for here is a certain horse-like quality. (She gropes in his fly)
MIKE: Are you serious?
BRIDGET: I never buy anything sight unseen.
The Double Indemnity exchange is a consummate example of the male-female verbal tennis of classic noir, with the femme fatale putting the spin on the ball… The sexual content of their conversation is entirely sub-textual… In The Last Seduction, the fatale controls an open dialogue of frank sexual transaction. Mike offers himself as a sexual object, and is shocked by Bridget's demand (and physical search) for proof. Bridget upends the conventional male to female dynamics of the seduction scene, and then openly commodifies their exchange. (175-176)
The scene in The Last Seduction could be read almost as a parody of courtship, basically coming down to the quality of sex that Mike will provide and how well he will be able to take care of her (as the seduction continues she questions the nature of his home).
As she settles into the town she is able to get a job at a local company, where Mike happens to work, as a supervisor. She also continues to "see" Mike, who she refers to as her "designated fuck." When he complains about being her designated fuck and feeling like a "sex object" their scenes continue to play like a parody of the courtship ritual, only reversed to reflect a feminist society. The man complains about not having a relationship of substance when the female cares only about the sexual side of the relationship. Roger Ebert said in his review at the time, "Look at this movie just a little sideways, and it's a comedy, although you can never quite catch Dahl or Fiorentino smiling." Every time Bridget needs to seduce Mike and bring him in closer she offers him a glimpse of a traditional domestic situation. When she wants him to try selling murder, she tempts him with going back her place, which had been previously off-limits.
A similarly sexually liberated femme fatale features prominently in Peter Medak's Romeo is Bleeding, with hitwoman Mona Demarkov played by Lena Olin. Like Bridget in The Last Seduction, Mona is a female in the workplace that would be traditionally controlled by men as a hitwoman. She is more competent at her job then the men surrounding her and even able to overcome the policemen she comes in contact with, stripping one of his gun which she aims back at him. Also like Bridget she maneuvers by controlling the would-be dominant men with her sexuality. In The Last Seduction there is a sequence of escalatingly bizarre sexual encounters and in Romeo is Bleeding the sex comes with a dominatrix bend to it: culminating with the hero tied to a bed with electrified bedsprings as she contemplates taking off her prosthetic arm (she does). Both femme fatales also control their weak men with sexual embarrassment: Bridget has turned up a deeply closeted secret in Mike's past and Mona is consistently working Jack Grimaldi (played by Gary Oldman) into compromising situations.
Romeo is Bleeding is more traditionally a noir narrative than The Last Seduction. It follows the flashback structure that is common in noir and its main protagonist is a run-down detective, who steadily declines because of his involvement with the femme fatale. Both actresses are brunettes and have deep voices: in keeping with traditional femme fatales but not Stanwyck in Double Indemnity. Both are also associated with foreigness: Demarkov is a Russian hitwoman and Bridget is from the big city, which is a different planet from Beston. Neither of the nineties femme fatales are associated with any traditional kind of domesticity (only alluded to by Bridget in order to seduce Mike) and in fact are always seen as wrecking traditional domesticity. Bridget makes cookies at one point of The Last Seduction but it is only so she can mask her slipping a board of nails under the private detective's car tire. Demarkov kills both Grimaldi's wife and mistress, not to eliminate competition but to eliminate any potential for Grimaldi's happiness.
In Romeo is Bleeding Mona Demarkov is very much the other woman of the plot, aligned with Dietrichson in Double Indemnity, and like that film, the femme fatale is killed at the end of the film. In the case of Double Indemnity this is, at least partially, to appease the censors of the production code who insisted that all criminal activity be punished at the end (which also explains Neff's death, a departure from James M Cain's book). However, in Romeo is Bleeding Grimaldi lives (albeit tragically) and gets away with executing Demarkov while in police custody. In The Last Seduction, Bridget gets away with all of her criminal activity and becomes rather wealthy - as we last see her she is being driven in a limousine, while her husband is dead and Mike is in custody awaiting trial for his murder. This could be a thwarting of genre conventions by the two nineties films, or more likely it is a concession to the audience expectations that the film's protagonist to not be killed and the film with have a happy ending.
The biggest difference between the femme fatale of Double Indemnity and the ones of the nineties films is the openness towards sex and the way they sexualize themselves. Bridget is very upfront about her sexual needs and is constantly taking over Mike's space in the film: marking her territory. There is nothing playful about the way Bridget climbs into the shower with Mike or later when she seeks out his past live to use against him. Her final encounter with Mike is seemingly the most submissive she is in the movie, as she is being raped, but she has planned the rape and is using it against him. Demarkov works in a very similar way, playing with Grimaldi through confrontational come-ons: displaying her body defying Grimaldi to refuse her. In Double Indemnity nothing could be explicitly shown and had to be "implied more strongly than ever in these noir thrillers, defying the censors' injunction against big-screen sex" (Rafter 25).
Both films are definitely made in a post-feminist world and afraid of how the post-feminist woman behaves. In both films the women are a threatening presence in the workplace and they confront any kind of financial security that the men have gathered in their lives. The women in these films are smarter and more cunning than the men who inhabit the plot around them, Dietrichson was too in Double Indemnity but now the odds are stacked even more in the females favor. Bridget uses the traditional roles of gender to her benefit: getting a job anonymously because she claims that her husband savagely beats her, slaps Mike for trying to come on to her at work (after she has just spent the night at his place) and finally using an allusion to taboo interracial sexuality to clear herself of a murder. The claim that Maltin makes about Fiorentino making Stanwyck look in comparison like "Snow White!" is true only because Fiorentino has upped the wattage of what she can get away with in her performance.
Double Indemnity is the gold standard among film noir for the femme fatale Stanwyck creates in Phyllis Dietrichson. She embodies the time period and the genre conventions of film noir at that traditional period. The recent femme fatales in new film noirs (or neo noirs as they are sometimes called) are not so much different than the Stanwyck model, they have just been pushed and extended by the times. In the fifty years between Double Indemnity and The Last Seduction there have been radical changes in what could be shown on film with the abolishment of the production code and also the civil rights and feminist movements. It is impossible to imagine a femme fatale as the protagonist of the classical noir films but that's exactly what happens in The Last Seduction. The femme fatales of the forties and fifties were partially a response to the working women of the second World War. Now with women totally ingrained into the workplace it is logical that the femme fatale makes a comeback, and has evolved with the times.

237. IRREVERSIBLE (Gaper Noe) viewed 6-03-03 on dvd (second viewing)
Grade A (upgraded from A-) 2003

238. THE MAN ON THE TRAIN (Patrice Leconte) viewed 6-05-03 in theater
Grade A- 2003

Patrice Leconte makes some of the most beautiful love stories - tainted with obsession and longing and wrapped in melancholy. In The Man on the Train the love is between two men who have passed their prime and now must resign to their preordained fates. After some time together both men realize that they would like to live each other's life and even playact it out before deciding that it is far too late in their lives to change. Until the mysterious ending which pushes the film into the realm of poetry.

239. LIFEFORCE (Tobe Hooper) viewed 6-05-03 on video
Grade C 1985

A mediocre science fiction film that mixes together stereotypes of zombie and alien genres. There are some cool special effects sequences and much nudity from the lead alien/zombie/chick, but I couldn't possibly recommend it.

240. THE DISORDERLY ORDERLY (Frank Tashlin) viewed 6-06-03 on video
Grade C+ 1964

My first Jerry Lewis film, but I really rented it because Frank Tashlin directed it. Tashlin does his best with the visual gags (the final chase is spectacular) but Lewis' overwhelming mugging sinks the film and much of the comedy.

241. FRIENDLY PERSUASION (William Wyler) viewed 6-07-03 on dvd
Grade A- 1956

A lovely film that probably seemed old-fashion even in 1956. The morals and beliefs of a nuclear family of Quakers are put to the test in many ways, and they must adapt to the changing Civil War times. Wyler's direction is quietly dignified and surefooted and the cast is superb, especially pre-Psycho Anthony Perkins as the son torn between his beliefs and his desire to protect his family from the invading troops.

242. OKLAHOMA! (Fred Zinnemann) viewed 6-07-03 on dvd (second or third viewing - first in 15 years)
Grade B 1955

One of my childhood favorites is not as great as I remembered it being, but still far from disappointing.
The photography is beautiful and many of the numbers are quite wonderful, but the film goes on too long and some of the sequences feel lifeless. I should probably see it again on a bigger screen…

243. THE AWFUL TRUTH (Leo McCarey) viewed 6-07-03 on video
Grade A- 1937

A classic comedy that deserves that status, with well developed gags and good performances from Cary Grant, Irene Dunne and Mr. Smith, an amazing dog performer who makes many gags work.

244. CHAINED HEAT (Paul Nicholas) viewed 6-07-03 on video
Grade C- 1983

"Don't call me Warden, call me Fellini!"
So stupid and incompetent that its utterly watchable for some of the running time, with some great over-the-top moments of B-movie insanity (the warden has a hot tub in his office and uses it to film porno films with him and the female inmates). Mostly though, I felt bad for everyone involved - especially Stella Stevens, who was so good thirteen years prior in Sam Pekinpah's Ballad of Cable Hogue.

245. GOING MY WAY (Leo McCarey) viewed 6-08-03 on dvd
Grade C+ 1944

Well-meaning story, some good songs and performances make this film almost worth recommending, but it goes on forever and doesn't really have anything interesting to say about anything: naturally it won Best Picture. "Swingin' on a Star" premieres here … and it really made me want to watch Hudson Hawk again, where they actually have some fun with that number.

246. THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (George Cukor) viewed 6-08-03 on dvd
Grade C 1940

Unfunny and overlong, with three great lead actors but only Cary Grant having fun and making an impression with his role. The Philadelphia Story looks very lazy when placed next to The Awful Truth and Cukor's direction is completely uninspired.

247. A LITTLE PRINCESS (Alfonso Cuaron) viewed 6-10-03 on dvd
Grade B+ 1995

A wonderful children's fable that's full of imagination, originality and wit. It also avoids the easy pratfalls of other family films and remains enchanting most of the way through without seeming sickly sweet or overly didactic. Obviously a film made by a director with vision and skill, sometimes reminding me of Michael Powell.

W/O. ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE SS (Don Edmunds) viewed 6-14-03 on dvd
No Grade (I turned it off before the half way mark) 1974

I appreciate exploitation as much as the next guy (probably more since I rented this piece of shit) but this film just pushed typical conventions of the genre in ways I didn't really want to see. The violence is employed for sadistic shock value - like watching a snuff film - which had a grating effect on me. In other words: I expected something sleazy and fun and got something that made me feel sick (more at myself than at the film).

248. DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (George Marshall) viewed 6-16-03 on dvd (second viewing - this time on a bigger TV)
Grade 94 1939

Equally amusing and wonderful on the second viewing, wonderful performances and tone: probably the best film of its type.

249. IRREVERSIBLE (Gasper Noe) viewed 6-17-03 on dvd (third viewing)
Grade 91 2003

Essay review to come - hopefully.

250. THE RISE AND FALL OF LEGS DIAMOND (Budd Boetticher) viewed 6-18-03 on video
Grade 76 1960

A post film-noir, pre Bonnie and Clyde gangster film that probably works best for those who have seen some of Boetticher's previous western films. Like those films, The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond is as interested in the power struggle before the showdown then it is in the actual showdown. Legs Diamond is an interesting character to follow; he has the drive of the pre-code gangster film protagonists but also has some attributes of a femme fatale- only in reverse. He uses the women in his life as ladders to get to a better place in his career, an interesting twist on the genre and Boetticher's typical gender relations. The gun battles are well-handled and a few scenes of violence remind that the production code is starting to weaken, only the films ending and the protagonist's undoing seems forced: although the foreign newsreels and the business meeting are both masterstrokes.

251. NIGHTMARE ALLEY (Edmund Goulding) viewed 6-19-03 on video
Grade 70 1947

Nightmare Alley is a wonderful title for this film: with darkness creeping in from all sides and most of the plot movements mirroring a prior occurrence. A carnival setting is ideal for a film noir, providing a good logic to bounce the story off of. The set-up is occasionally is occasionally labored for too long, but the plot turns are malicious and wonderful and the photography is stark and moody.

252. HOLLYWOOD ENDING (Woody Allen) viewed 6-19-03 on dvd
Grade 47 2002

Mediocre Allen comedy that just isn't all that funny, despite a terrific performance from Barney Cheng (who plays the translator with more verve than the part deserves) and some prime Allen subject matter (Los Angeles vs. New York, neurotic illness, Hollywood).

253. TROUBLE EVERY DAY (Claire Denis) viewed 6-19-03 on dvd
Grade 63 2002

Trouble Every Day is a beautiful film: very well photographed by Agnès Godard and gracefully scored by Tindersticks, but it still doesn't add up to all that much. Its combination of sex with violence reminded me of Crash and both Cat People films, but this film skimps on the story elements and doesn't really have much to say about why the two elements are pushed together. Instead the bursts of violence sit without much meaning, making the film feel hollow. I will probably revisit this film though, after seeing more films by Denis (this was my first).

254. NICKELODIAN (Peter Bogdonovich) viewed 6-19-03 on dvdr
Grade 50 1976

Obviously a film (and filmmaker) in love with Hollywood past and this film is a valentine to pre-Birth of a Nation films. It's just not that amusing and the pacing feels grating when the laughs aren't coming when they're supposed to.

255. DOA 3: FINAL (Takashi Miike) viewed 6-19-03 on dvd
Grade 48 2002

Easily the least of the series: without the stunning bookends of the first film or the grace of the second film. I wish Miike would slow down his output and concentrate more of his energies to films with comprehensible and decent scripts. Some cool sequences, as with all of Miike's films, just completely disposable.

256. WHITE DOG (Samuel Fuller) viewed 6-19-03 on dvdr
Grade 70 1982

Sam Fuller's White Dog is a social-political button pusher disguised as a routine thriller and both elements mingle nicely. Fuller's message about the nature of racism is concealed by slick plotting and a terrific Ennio Morricone score. Accusations of racism against the film upon its release (which have kept it unseen for the past two decades) were - as usual - completely unwarranted and lazy.

257. SON OF PALEFACE (Frank Tashlin) viewed 6-19-03 on dvd (second viewing)
Grade 86 1952

258. INVINCIBLE (Werner Herzog) viewed 6-20-03 on dvd
Grade 58 2002

A handful of beautiful, haunting images that Herzog has become known for but much of this film feels too paint-by-numbers and safe for a filmmaker who usually is guided by challenge. Invincible isn't a bad film, its just not terrible engrossing or vital.

259. PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (PT Anderson) viewed 6-20-03 on dvd (third viewing)
Grade 85 2002

260. FEMALE CONVICT 'SCORPIAN': JAILHOUSE 41 (Shunya Ito) viewed 6-20-03 on dvd (second viewing)
Grade 67 1972

Second viewing shows me that I had this film severely overrated (I had it at number 3 on my 1972 list - right behind The Godfather), although it is still rich with stylistic flourishes and probably the best women in prison film ever made. The creative framing and stylish lighting recall tendencies of both Japanese theater and psychedelic film of the time period, adding much to the thin storyline and characterizations.

261. NARC (Joe Carnahan) viewed 6-21-03 on dvd
Grade 56 2002

Some very good stuff here: Carnahan's direction is very capable and most of his decisions (from handheld to clever split-screen) pay off, and Ray Liotta's performance is wonderful but the plot isn't up to the same level of excellence. Everything feels too routine and the late revelations of the plot work against any building audience good will.

262. THE HULK (Ang Lee) viewed 6-21-03 in theater
Grade 43 2003

Lame story, uninteresting characters and shoddy CGI-effects - I guess Summer is here at last. This is one of the most humorless and flat event movies I have seen in awhile; completely overshadowed by last year's wonderful Spider-Man. Ang Lee has unwisely set the film's tone to tragedy but the film doesn't have strong enough characterizations to carry that weight. Bruce Banner is not an interesting enough character for any investment into his plight, he is simply unexpressive and then explosive. Bana doesn't make an impression in the role, but I can't think of any actor who could - it's an impossible role to create interest in. Some of the action scenes in the second half are fun, but they are constantly undermined by the film's lack of balls (after every downed helicopter of collapsed tank we hear the radio chatter "My helicopter's destroyed but I'm okay.") and the film spins its wheels for far too long in the first half for much enjoyment in the second half. Lee employs interesting transitions and frames within frames to replicate the feeling of comic strip boxes, but it really doesn't add up to much since none of the frames really add much to the storytelling (instead we get three angles of a helicopter flying - Yippee). A waste of time and talent, even usual pleasures like Jennifer Connelly, Nick Nolte and Danny Elfman seem to just be going through the motions.

263. KES (Kenneth Loach) viewed 6-21-03 on dvd
Grade 92 1969

A moving character study of a troubled boy Billy on the verge of entering the workforce but without any compelling interest in his future. Loach shows the bleak future that awaits some of the less privileged people that don't have the same chances as some of their peers. The authority figures in the film are self-interested and weak, with the exception of a teacher who takes slight interest in the boy's trained Kestral hawk and provides the only warm human bond to Billy. Loach's direction and the natural performances from the cast make the whole film feel authentic and the ending is haunting.

264. COWARDS BEND THE KNEE (Guy Maddin) viewed 6-23-03 on dvdr
Grade 80 2003

Guy Maddin is certainly one of the most interesting filmmakers currently working and he is having a career year with Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary and Cowards Bend the Knee, two of his most imaginative films. Cowards Bend the Knee borrows many visual ideas from early silent film, but edits them together with such frenzy that everything feels fresh and innovative. The plot is quirky and weird, taking melodramatic elements from silent films and mixing them with Maddin's unique themes and sensibilities to create a work that is silly, powerful and endlessly watchable. Like Dracula, I look forward to seeing this film again.

265. DARK BLUE (Ron Shelton) viewed 6-24-03 on dvd
Grade 61 2003

The climax in the '91 LA riots and Kurt Russels' wonderful performance make this film worth seeing, even though the plot elements are routine and fairly underwhelming. It belongs with Narc, as a cop film that plays within the strict boundaries of genre but occasionally does it with such a flare that I felt bad that I wasn't more involved with it as it unfolded.

266. I AM TRYING TO BREAK YOUR HEART (Sam Jones) viewed 6-25-03 on dvd
Grade 54 2002

There is some very good stuff here: early scenes of Wilco in the studio cutting the tracks for their album "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" are pretty exciting and there are some lyrical sequences played with Wilco music, but I was still a bit underwhelmed. I think the studio battling and some live performances takes away from the success of the film, as I was much more interested in the creative process behind the tracks and the personalities of the band members than I was in rooting for the band to get a new record deal and beat the system. The film is a little too unfocused because simply too much happens to the band after the albums has been produced and the backstage look at the band seems pretty thin (when a band member is fired there is very little filmed indication of any clash between him and the rest of the band - other than a petty studio argument).Worth seeing for Wilco fans but not the film I was hoping for and not a fitting accompany piece to one of the best albums of 2002.

267. ICHI THE KILLER (Takashi Miike) viewed 6-26-03 on dvd (first viewing of Uncut version)
Grade 78 2002

For anyone who has previously bought the R3 Hong Kong dvd release of Ichi The Killer, I suggest purchasing the new R2 UK release of the film which is uncut and enhanced for widescreen TV's. It is easier to appreciate the vibrant color scheme Miike and his production team worked up for the film and the additional ultraviolence makes the film even more surreal and nightmarish. Miike is capable of more and will continue to grow as a filmmaker, but he seems perfectly fit to dvd where his films can be broken down and sampled to the viewer's needs.

268. 28 DAYS LATER (Danny Boyle) viewed 6-26-03 on dvd
Grade 64 2003

A horror revival film, like the criminally underrated House of 1000 Corpses was earlier this year, which looks back to the Romero zombie films and the horror of the Armageddon films of the seventies. The result is a horror film that is mostly successful at sorting through and reshaping the clichés into a fairly engrossing experience. The post-prologue sequence of deserted streets (with Godspeed You Black Emperor music!) is pretty haunting and the film moves at a good click up to the last third of the film which is a bit of a let down.

269. IRREVERSIBLE (Gasper Noe) viewed 6-27-03 on dvd (fourth viewing)
Grade 90 2003

270. LESSONS OF DARKNESS (Werner Herzog) viewed 6-29-03 on dvd
Grade 74 1992

Lessons of Darkness is a wonderful, lyrical documentary that doesn't feel like a documentary at all. The battle with the oil fires and the outsider, alien narration make the film feel very Herzogian, as does the haunting beauty of nature run amuck

271. THE SCAR (Steve Sekely) viewed 6-29-03 on video (shitty print)
Grade 80 1948

A great film noir that unfolds with a cynical, nightmare logic - where every development that looks positive for the protagonist ends up getting him further involved with trouble.

272. STARDUST MEMORIES (Woody Allen) viewed 6-30-03 on dvd (second viewing)
Grade 77 (upgraded from C-) 1980

A different film from the one I saw a few years back and I don't know how to account for the change in my opinion. I originally thought this was a rip-off of Fellini's 8 ½, but now I see this film as commenting on that film and the genre of self-confessional films - to some extent sending up 8 ½ and Fosse's All That Jazz. The film is funny and revealing and very clever - I'm glad I saw it again, thanks Jared.

273. THIS MAN MUST DIE (Claude Chabrol) viewed 6-30-03 on dvd
Grade 90 1969

274. FLATLINERS (Joel Schumacher) viewed 7-2-03 on TV (second or third viewing - first in at least five years)
Grade 46 1992

The story is lame but it still could have been fairly fun if it wasn't ruined by Schumacher's needless stylistic overkill: pointless lighting effects and roaming camera aplenty here. Also, the film is far too repetitive and the climax is a complete bust.

275. FEMME FATALE (Brian De Palma) viewed 7-4-03 on dvd (fourth viewing)
Grade 78 2002

276. TERMINATOR 3 - RISE OF THE MACHINES (Jonathan Mostow) viewed 7-6-03 in theater
Grade 63 2003

Far better than I expected, this film manages to be a worthy continuation of the Terminator series - although its neither necessary or at the level of the first two films. The first chase scene is pretty nifty with the terminators using massive vehicles in their pursuit rather than fast sports cars or motorcycles. The performances are also better than I expected, Nick Stahl (one of the most interesting young actors working - see Bully) replaces Furlong, Claire Danes made an impression in an underwritten role and Arnold gives a game performance in the defining role of his career - showing a better sense for deadpan comic timing than he did in either of the two previous films. The terminatrix is a bit of a letdown: not really able to compete with the sinister Robert Patrick of T2, but that's a pretty tough act to follow.

s009. SUMMER DRESS (Francois Ozon) viewed 7-8-03 on dvd
SHORT 1996

A terrific short film that manages to succeed much more in fifteen minutes than See the Sea or Swimming Pool do in their entire running time. Part of the reason for the success here is Ozon's eye for poetry in the mundane and ability to create suspense (although that's not the right word for it) out of a minimal plot.

277. SEE THE SEA (Francois Ozon) viewed 7-8-03 on dvd
Grade 57 1997

All build up for a climax that barely seems worth the effort, but hardly easy to dismiss because of how many effective sequences Ozon mounts before the disappointing climax. My favorite sequence in the film (spoiler warning. Etc) has a mother with a baby on the beach finding out of an orgy happening in the woods a little ways away. The mother goes up to investigate, leaving her baby asleep on the sand, and ends up in a bizarre sexual encounter (that resembles the encounter in Summer Dress to some extent): the range of emotion and subtle suspense (What will happen to the baby left behind) in this sequence is pretty awesome and it is done with the illusion that Ozon doesn't really want you to read suspense into this situation - which of course makes it more suspenseful.

278. AIR FORCE (Howard Hawks) viewed 7-9-03 on video
Grade 61 1943

Pretty good but pretty standard stuff, with nothing really coming out of left field and throwing me off-balance. Hawks execution is expert as always but the film is merely good - and merely good for Hawks is a disappointment in my book.

279. PISTOL OPERA (Seijun Suzuki) viewed 7-11-03 on dvd
Grade 53 2003

It's nice to see Suzuki back in action, especially given his great influence over the new wave of Japanese filmmakers (esp. Miike), but this film doesn't really work as well as I'd hoped. It's a loose remake/sequel to Suzuki's classic Branded to Kill (which was also a primary influence on Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog) and it borrows some ideas from that film and creates a unique visionary universe for its characters. However, I didn't find the visionary universe here anywhere near as intriguing as the wacked out psychedelia of Branded to Kill and was left mostly wanting to re-watch that film. Not bad by any means just empty compared to my memory of Branded to Kill.

280. PRIDE OF THE YANKEES (Sam Wood) viewed 7-12-03 on TV
Grade 84 1942

Wonderful sports biography that paints a portrait of Gehrig in small glimpses that cover his career and marriage. The result is a little astonishing, it's a sentimental film but it avoids traps that would make the film too sappy. Gehrig's eventual illness is not dwelled upon (we thankfully don't get the deathbed scene that we would if the film were made today), instead we get a rousing and very emotional conclusion that stays within the boundaries that had been established by the tone of the film. The performances by both leads are quite wonderful: Cooper using his unique appeal and lovability with almost supernatural ease and Teresa Wright holds up very well in an underwritten part walking the tightrope between sappy nonsense and graceful warmth.

281. KURT AND COURTNEY (Nick Broomfield) viewed 7-13-03 on video
Grade 60 1998

Pretty fascinating and also pretty damn sleazy. Broomfield's self-reflexivity intentionally takes some of the spotlight away from the footage (which is often pretty weak) and veers the footage towards tabloid sensationalism. Some of the interviews are very touching and I wish the film had focused more on those who knew Kurt best and less on the conspiracy surrounding his death. The final confrontation between Broomfield and Love is amazingly nervy on Broomfield's part but feels like insincere posing - with Broomfield obviously more interested in getting the awesome footage than any sort of truth.

282. THE GREAT O'MALLEY (William Dieterle) viewed 7-15-03 on TV
Grade 24 1937

Sappy and maudlin nonsense that made me want to throw up - everything hits the same note (except Bogart who thinks he's in a serious crime film) and it's literally nauseating.

283. SWIMMING POOL (Francois Ozon) viewed 7-15-03 on dvd
Grade 52 2003

Close to See the Sea in many ways, it kept building and playing like it might be interesting - until the ending stumbles and reveals that all the gesturing was just to hide how empty the whole preceding was. (Spoiler) The ending works like the one in The Usual Suspects making much of the film the nonsense strung out by the author (our unreliable narrator). The film also has the gall to pull out the frustrating cliché that the author character we have been following is actually writing the story we have been seeing (she turns in her manuscript titled {guess what} "Swimming Pool"). Too bad because some of this movie is very worthwhile: Ozon has great flair for framing characters to create tension (a shot of Rampling copying a journal keeps adjusting her position in the frame to suggest a lurker) and keeping significant plot points hidden from our perspective (shared with the protagonist). Also the film has delightful turns from Rampling (using her eyes to create a good deal of intrigue) and Sagnier (using her body to create a good deal of happy distraction).

284. IMMORTAL BATTLIAN (Carol Reed) viewed 7-16-03 on video
Grade 63 1944

A good war movie that sometimes feels too systematically plotted: giving a equal amount of time to each part of the progression of the solider, with respect earned by the soliders and officers over due time. Also, a few points knocked off for tacky opening and closing narration (presumable added for the American release of the film - which I saw).

285. THE RUNNING MAN (Carol Reed) viewed 7-16-03 on video
Grade 59 1963

Not really running as the titles and nifty opening credits suggest (Arnold in the other Running Man did a great deal more running), but more the steady stroll of a Tom Ripley like protagonist and a film working against itself by assuming the audience is far behind his (not so very sinuous) story. Pretty enjoyable when I wasn't being terribly frustrated by the film's persistent explanation of itself.

286. PHONE BOOTH (Joel Schumacher) viewed 7-16-03 on dvd
Grade 61 2003

A simple, B-movie premise that works pretty well and doesn't overstay its welcome (under 80 minutes). Schumacher digs the film a hole with his opening explanation of cell phones and communication (trying with all his heart to weave a theme into this genre exercise) and throwing in some superfluous stylistics (see above Flatiners review) rather than playing up the theatricality of the plot (which probably would have worked better). He also gets too way too much coverage - not content until he has shown his phone booth and surrounding buildings from as many different angles as possible. Farrell is good here and so is Sutherland's sinister vocal acting (although his volume level was a bit too high) and its always nice to see Katie Holmes (not that she's given anything at all to do).

287. SHANGHAI KNIGHTS (David Dobkin) viewed 7-17-03 on dvd
Grade 63 2003

Not quite as amusing as the first film and not the level of technical brilliance of Legend of Drunken Master II, but pretty enjoyable all the same. The chemistry between Chan and Wilson is pretty charming and Wilson is pretty damn funny, but I could have done without some of the revisionist history (the Chon Wang gag was nice enough in the first film but do we really need all these Sherlock Holmes Charlie Chaplin references - What is this Forrest fucking Gump?). The end outtakes are particularly funny (my favorite is Owen Wilson busting up on the utter meanness of his Orphan line -which was my favorite gag in the film).

288. HATARI! (Howard Hawks) viewed 7-19-03 on dvd
Grade 91 1962

Incredibly entertaining Hawks film that somehow blends action, suspense and humor together without ever tipping the scales too far in one direction. The result is probably the most enjoyable Hawks' film I've seen yet: well paced, charming and well performed.

289. HONEYMOON KILLERS (Leonard Kastle) viewed 7-20-03 on dvd
Grade 65 1970

Pretty hard to watch: ugly black and white with bad sound that numbs out much of the dialogue only to blast out Mahler, Kastle doesn't have an eye for composition and the film's sense of humor is so black that it sometimes registers as cruel (often making women look foolish right before they are killed). The first half of the film barely registers at all but the second half really explodes - the end result is a film that is ugly, tragic, sad and ultimately as provocative as McNaughton's Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

290. LE CORBEAU (Henri-Georges Clouzot) viewed 7-21-03 on video
Grade 88 1943

I have surprisingly little to say about this film considering how much I liked it. It is the fourth film I've seen by Clouzot and I'm equally impressed by this as I was by his more praised and available films (all out from Criterion - hopefully this one will follow soon).

291. MAY (Lucky McKee) viewed 7-23-03 on dvd
Grade 66 2003

May starts great: with an intriguingly twisted central character surrounded by people who seem somewhat real and no sly, references to pop culture (the Scream legacy) or overly clean & friendly horror (like every horror film of the past few years - with the exception of the underrated House of 1000 Corpses). Angela Bettis gives a wonderfully weird performance as the title character May (I especially liked her in the scene where she meets her dream guy in the Laundromat and intentionally shows him her underwear), she should get a lot of work from this film (at least in the horror genre). The film goes wrong in the last third and never really recovers: it's a simple case of trying to impose a fairly traditional horror story (Frankenstein) upon a film that should have resisted and just stayed with the characters set up in the first two thirds of the film.

292. FINAL DESTINATION 2 (David R. Ellis) viewed 7-24-03 on dvd
Grade 50 2003

A great opening sequence: with the establishment and payoff of a horrible car crash, but the rest of the film is a lame letdown from the promising introduction. The character deaths are increasingly stupid, needlessly prolonged and stupidly complex (like death took lessons from Pee-Wee Herman's breakfast invention), although we don't care much because we don't get any opportunity to care about any of the characters because they are so one-note (young hot chick, pregnant lady, mother and son {and why is the son tucked in by his mother - isn't he like 16], cynical guy, arrogant actress, cokehead, cop and lottery winner guy) without any depth beyond those descriptions. This is pretty much the exact opposite of May and it opened in about 2,000 more theaters than May: maybe instead of finding inspiration in Frankenstein McKee should have looked to make a sequel.

293. CHARLIE'S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE (McG) viewed 7-25-03 in theater
Grade 72 2003

The most fun film I've seen this summer and a rare sequel that surpasses the original in just about every way. Full Throttle plays like a continuation of a serial that has been in progress for quite awhile (the title sequence shows the Angels in many different location), the first film played as a riff on the TV series (which I have never seen) but Full Throttle not only riffs on the series and the first film but also on much of the pop culture that has come since the series ran (from a fairly explicit series of Cape Fear references to the Pussycat Dolls striptease). Bernie Mac replaces Bill Murray as Bosley (Mac is Murray's brother, obviously) and Demi Moore returns to the big screen as the fallen angel (she still can't act worth shit but she doesn't look bad in a bikini). Even Crispin Glover returns as the wonderfully silly villain Thin Man, complete with his hair fetish and a back story about his growing up in an orphanage raised by nuns. Since Glover died in the last film, I can only hope that he is to this series what Kenny is to South Park.

The show really belongs to the three girls and especially Cameron Diaz, who is actually somewhat believable in the unbelievable action sequences (unlike the more voluptuous Barrymore, Diaz is athletic enough that she might actually be able to flip through the air - even if she can't fly) and she is charming in the quieter scenes (there aren't many). McG is probably not getting enough credit for what he's doing in the series, all the critics bring up his background in music videos and commercials as if that's an indication that he's the antichrist, but he is a director who handles comedy and action with unnerving ease. There is a moment in this film where a choreographed musical number breaks out, with Diaz at the center, that made me happier than any other sequence I've seen in theaters this year.

294. MONKEY BUSINESS (Howard Hawks) viewed 7-25-03 on video
Grade 60 1952

A silly screwball comedy that should have been better with all the talent involved (Hawks, Grant, Kelly and Monroe). Instead we have a film that takes a while to get warmed up but offers a good deal of medium-sized chuckles once it gets there.

295. THE HOT CHICK (Tom Brady) viewed 7-27-03 on dvd
Grade 51 2002

I wasn't expecting much with this film (I only rented because Theo gave it a 58) and it exceeded my expectations. The film really doesn't have any momentum until Rob Schneider becomes the hot chick, but once he transforms the film becomes pretty funny - with Schneider earning all the laughs with his physicality (the script is pretty weak). I'm not recommending this film… but if its on cable some night and you're drunk or stoned and can't find the remote control and don't feel like getting up and you're aren't expecting too much - then it's worthy entertainment.

296. DIE ANOTHER DAY (Lee Tamahori) viewed 7-28-03 on dvd
Grade 48 2002

Die Another Day starts out pretty well: setting up the plot not as an assigned mission but with Bond as a rouge warrior seeking revenge. Then the film settles down into traditional Bond material, except not as exciting this time and without anything particularly memorable (the villain and gadgets are letdowns). Coming off The World is Not Enough (my favorite Bond film in years) this is truly a disappointing development.

297. THE FURIES (Anthony Mann) viewed 7-29-03 on video (from TV)
Grade 84 1950

A Highly-charged western melodrama which is an obvious forerunner to Johnny Guitar and countless other later westerns that delved into more mature themes. My respect for Anthony Mann continues to grow and his versatility in dealing with whatever genre the studio throws at him is perhaps the most awesome I have encountered in the classic Hollywood period. There are some really powerful scenes here, especially in the film's second (and stronger) half, and the leads are terrifically cast.

298. AGE OF INNOCENCE (Martin Scorsese) viewed 7-29-03 on dvd
Grade 90 1993


299. DAREDEVIL (Mark Steven Johnson) viewed 8-01-03 on dvd
Grade 28 2003

Probably the worst comic book movie that I've seen. The basic plot lifted from the comic book is inherently silly (Do we really need a blind crime fighter? Is this one of the second wing superheroes Mystery Men was making fun of?). The direction is strictly amateur hour: with the most artless dutch-angle shots since Battlefield Earth. Of the actors only Farrell makes a good impression, even though his performance is mismatched against the way the filmmakers handled the material. Jennifer Garner will one day be a star, but her part is underwritten and she is always forced into either smile-big mode or kick ass mode. There are some unintentional laughs in the first half, especially if you are familiar with the most obvious superhero clichés (the answering machine message from Daredevil's ex-girlfriend complaining of his unavailability or his specially designed lair racks to hold his weapon canes - are among the moments I was most amused at the movie's expense). Kevin Smith makes a cameo appearance with more exaggerated ("Hey look nerds, I'm Kevin Smith") mugging than he did in his masturbatory Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and he wrote a draft of the screenplay at one point - which is fascinating only because the movie completely lacks any resemblance of intentional wit... The sound design is superb though.

300. THE SWINDLE (Claude Chabrol) viewed 8-02-03 on video (from TV)
Grade 82 1997

Another terrific Claude Chabrol film that started out slight and then completely enveloped me, I'm not quite sure how he does it. The tonal changes from light to dark are handled with the perfect pitch of a master filmmaker (this was Chabrol's 50th feature), never allowing either tone to overshadow the other. A climactic sequence of heavies threatening to the strains of Opera is among the strongest sequences I have seen this year.

301. IMAGINE: JOHN LENNON (Andrew Solt) viewed 8-04-03 on video (from TV)
Grade 47 1988

Imagine is a pretty weightless documentary and I can't really imagine who it is intended for. It skimps on Beatles information expecting that the viewer will already know the thrust of it, and then fails to give us much insight into who Lennon was, or what drove him (a typical sequence tells about his mother leaving him and then dying and cuts to him performing "Mother" onstage). The film uses a lot of footage filmed in Lennon's house and taped interviews he did throughout his career but skimps on the interview footage with those who knew him best (both wives and his son). If you want to know about The Beatles, I'd suggest sampling The Beatles Anthology (which is also a mess) or reading a book about them. For those interested in Lennon there is some interesting footage to be found here but you still won't know him.

302. BEAU TRAVAIL (Claire Denis) viewed 8-04-03 on dvd
Grade 58 1999

I'm probably not the ideal audience member for Beau Travail, since I prefer films with a strong narrative over a film with a strong visual sense. Beau Travail is often a beautiful film to watch and certain scenes stick out in my head (I'm especially fond of the last scene in the film) but this isn't really my thing.

303. WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE (Robert Aldrich) viewed 8-05-03 on dvd
Grade 63 1962

Sadistic, shrill and (for the most part) effective; this is a film I admired more than liked as it is made with great craft and acted with superb skill but was a very uncomfortable screening experience for me. It is also too long and spends too much time with the characters that are not the leads. Perhaps the most effective thing the film does is start with Crawford's POV and shift to Davis' after she gains control of Crawford, and the decision to leave Crawford offscreen for much of the second half works very well.

304. PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL (Gore Verbinski) viewed 8-05-03 in theater
Grade 65 2003

Too long but full of pleasures: especially Johnny Depp's weird and wonderful performance and Geoffrey Rush's slightly more subdued wackiness.

305. GIGLI (Martin Breast) viewed 8-07-03 in theater
Grade 58 2003

A flawed but solid film that has some great stretches intermingled with some that are awkward and lazy. Both of the leads are quite good (Affleck has never been more confident in a lead role), as are Walken and Pacino who show up for a scene apiece and show great command. It is refreshing to see a film that doesn't ever fall into well-worn story territory and instead opts to throw surprises into the mix. It is also refreshing to see a mainstream Hollywood film that has some great monologues for its actors to deliver; it seems increasingly rare these days for a film to slow down for the characters to talk to one another. Some stuff that doesn't work so well in Gigli are John Powell's syrupy score, the retard's fondness for hip hop (in fact much of the retard's character is pretty tired) and the last section of the film: which grows increasingly protracted and painful and is not helped by the bellowing choir singers in the score. Those faults aside, this is a surprisingly ambitious and mature Hollywood film that didn't deserve the critical reception it got.

306. NOTHING SACRED (William Wellman) viewed 8-08-03 on (a shitty) dvd
Grade 70 1937

Funny and sometimes very funny, but it has drifted too far from my memory to recall anything about it.

307. NORTHFORK (Michael Polish) viewed 8-09-03 in theater
Grade 38 2003

Heavy but obvious symbolism, stark compositions and deadpan humor but the film is sunk under the weight of trying too hard to be important and astonishing. Even James Woods is unable to make much impression in the film, or perhaps he was quietly impressive but I was too busy falling asleep.

308. SOME LIKE IT HOT (Billy Wilder) viewed 8-10-03 on TV (second viewing)
Grade 87 (slight downgrade) 1959

309. TESTAMENT (Lynne Littman) viewed 8-11-03 on video
Grade 34 1983

A family is presented and developed minimally and then bombs fall forcing the family (and townspeople) to deal with the aftermath including radiation fallout. What could be an interesting project is dead in the water for many reasons: the acting is heavy-handed, the direction is of the Hallmark movie of the week variety and the film is finally reduced to a steady parade of death and suffering while everyone dies.

310. THE LIZZIE MCGUIRE MOVIE (Jim Fall) viewed 8-12-03 on dvd
Grade 31 2003

Hillary Duff has some charisma as the lead character but the film is a weak effort in pretty much every way. The film never builds its characters beyond one-note (cute Italian guy, frizzy-haired friend, stern principal, snotty girl, dumb jock guy, etc) and the film is always clutched onto a few obvious clichés of the genre (fish out of water and Cinderella being the preferred clichés for most of the film). To make matters worse, the film interrupts the action with a cartoon Lizzie that is mind numbingly irritating (I assume it is from the sitcom - it should have damn well stayed there). Here's hoping Duff (who looks like a teenage Jenna Jameson) finds better material in the next few years.

311. THE SECRET LIVES OF DENTISTS (Alan Rudolph) viewed 8-12-03 in theater
Grade 83 2003

The lives of dentists as portrayed in this film are so unflinchingly natural and arresting that their "secret" lives could have been left out and this would have still been one hell of a picture. The writing is very strong in this film, especially at representing common day occurrences that don't often see light in films (has a family coming down with the flu ever played such a major part in a film). Campbell Scott, coming off last years Roger Dodger, has never been better in a film: showing compassion and restraint while he is being torn apart emotionally.

312. THE HUNTED (William Friedkin) viewed 8-13-03 on dvd
Grade 74 2003
This is such a pleasant surprise of a film that I might be overrating it slightly. Friedkin's handling of the action scenes is a tour de force in restraint: not succumbing to the annoying, post-Woo trends that hurt so many action films and not going overboard with coverage. I also like that the film is confident enough to give the characters behavior that doesn't pay off in any conventional way, instead just sketches a character portrait: Jones' throwing up after riding the helicopter doesn't pay off in a chase scene (afraid of heights, he says), but rather is built upon later as his character is shown uneasy with any confinement (watch him sway nervously as he stands in the police station). This is Friedkin's best film since To Live and Die in LA and hopefully a sign of good to come from him.

313. HEAD OF STATE (Chris Rock) viewed 8-14-03 on dvd
Grade 29 2003

A stupid, toothless political comedy that Rock co-wrote, directed and stars in. If you are expecting some of the topical material from Rock's standup you will be best served looking elsewhere, this film has no balls and no comedic restraint. Instead of relying on smart verbal comedy that has long been Rock's forte, he whores himself out on jokes that are either ancient (white people dancing to hip-hop, old ladies rapping) or borrowed (most offensively borrowing a joke from Pee Wee's Big Adventure, that has long been one of my favorites). Fuck this movie, rent Bulworth instead - or anything really.

314. THE CHEERLEADERS (Paul Glicker) viewed 8-15-03 on dvd
Grade 56 1973

Silly, perverse and surprisingly innocent given that the film builds to the deflowering a 15-year old virgin and the film barely blinks at suggested rape, incest and various other sexual perversity - in fact the film openly mocks serious attitudes about such things. The opening credits are a masterpiece of playful sleaze, with the girls posed against a big blue sky inter cut with shots of them jumping up and down - skirts flapping and panties exposed, of course. Also wonderful is Stephanie Fondue (surprisingly most of the cast used pseudonymous names) as the naïve virginal girl, she manages to express great vulnerability and innocence even in scenes where she is naked, groped by dozens of football players. This is a probably a masterpiece of the genre: with its surprisingly witty script (a lot of rhyming dialogue that will either annoy or enthrall: sample dialogue - "I'm wise to the rise in your Levi's") and adoption of goofy directing techniques. Not for all tastes and pretty uneven but probably the best teenage sexploitation film I've ever seen.

315. THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (Norman Jewison) viewed 8-16-03 on TV (third viewing)
Grade 61 1968

Flashy, trashy and fun - for awhile.

316. THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE (Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen) viewed 8-16-03 on TV
Grade 70 2002

317. SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR (Roy Andersson) viewed 8-17-03 in theater (second viewing - first in theater)
Grade 83 2000

318. REVENGE OF THE CHEERLEADERS (Richard Lerner) viewed 8-20-03 on dvd
Grade 34 1976

319. DECADE UNDER THE INFLUENCE (Ted Demme and Richard LeGravenese) viewed 8-20, 21, 22-03 on TV (Almost three hour version)
Grade 64 2003

320. OPEN RANGE (Kevin Costner) viewed 8-23-03 in theater
Grade 52 2003

321. BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE (Michael Moore) viewed 8-23-03 on dvd (third viewing)
Grade 78 2002

322. FREDDY VS. JASON (Ronny Yu) viewed 8-24-03 in theater
Grade 48 2003

323. THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS (Jack Hill) viewed 8-24-03 on dvd
Grade 42 1974

324. THE GOOD THIEF (Neil Jordan) viewed 8-25-03 on dvd (second viewing)
Grade 87 (previously 85) 2003

325. CHRISTINE (John Carpenter) viewed 8-26-03 on dvd
Grade 51 1983

326. EPIDEMIC (Lars Von Trier) viewed 8-27-03 in theater
Grade 53 1988

327. GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (Howard Hawks) viewed 8-31-03 on video (from TV)
Grade 71 1953

s010. THE DIRK DIGGLER STORY (Paul Thomas Anderson) viewed 9-1-03 on video (shitty copy)
Short 1988

s011. CIGARETTES AND COFFEE (Paul Thomas Anderson) viewed 9-1-03 on video (third viewing)
Short 1993

328. FRIDAY NIGHT (Claire Denis) viewed 9-1-03 in theater
Grade 71 2003

329. PTU (Johnnie To) viewed 9-2-03 on dvd
Grade 59 2003

330. RAISING VICTOR VARGAS (Peter Sollett) viewed 9-2-03 on dvd
Grade 54 2003

333-375. 2003 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
SEPT 5-13

331. BRUCE ALMIGHTY (Tom Shadyac) viewed 9-4-03 on plane
Grade 26 2003

332. DICKIE ROBERTS: FORMER CHILD STAR (Sam Weisman) viewed 9-5-03 in theater
Grade 52 2003

s012. BEGONE DULL CARE (Norman McLaren, Evelyn Lambart) viewed 9-5-03 in film archive
Short 1949

s013. PAS DE DEUX (Norman McLaren) viewed 9-5-03 in film archive
Short 1968

s014. ANIMATED MOTION: PART 4 (Norman McLaren) viewed 9-5-03 in film archive
Short 1977

s015. BLINKITY BLANK (Norman McLaren) viewed 9-5-03 in film archive
Short 1952

s016. HOW WINGES ARE ATTACHED TO THE BACKS OF ANGELS (Craig Welch) viewed in film archive
Short 1996

s017. BOOGIE DOODLE (Norman McLaren) viewed 9-5-03 in film archive
Short 1948

s018. HOPPITY POP (Norman McLaren) viewed 9-5-03 in film archive
Short 1946

s019. PEN POINT PERCUSSION (Norman McLaren) viewed 9-5-03 in film archive
Short 1951

s020. LOOPS (Norman McLaren) viewed 9-5-03 in film archive
Short 1940

376. THE ITALIAN JOB (F. Gary Gray) viewed 9-14-03 on plane
Grade 47 2003

377. CANDYMAN (Bernard Rose) viewed 9-15-03 on dvd
Grade 78 1992 (second viewing - first in five years)

378. CABIN FEVER (Eli Roth) viewed 9-16-03 in theater
Grade 47 2003

379. THE WAY OF THE GUN (Christopher McQuarrie) viewed 9-17-03 on dvd
Grade 70 2000 (second viewing - first since theater)

380. AMERICAN SPLENDOR (Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini) viewed 9-17-03 in theater
Grade 53 2003

381. THE BROOD (David Cronenberg) viewed 9-17-03 on dvd
Grade 64 1979 (second viewing - first was 2-08-03 on video)

382. NOBODY'S FOOL (Robert Benton) viewed 9-18-03 on dvd
Grade 91 1994

383. THIRTEEN (Catherine Hardwicke) viewed 9-18-03 in theater
Grade 36 2003

384. ANYTHING ELSE (Woody Allen) viewed 9-19-03 in theater
Grade 75 2003

385. LOST IN TRANSLATION (Sofia Coppola) viewed 9-19-03 in theater
Grade 70 2003

386. DEMONLOVER (Oliver Assayas) viewed 9-20-03 in theater
Grade 66 2003

387. COCKFIGHTER (Monte Hellman) viewed 9-24-03 on dvd
Grade 72 1974

388. THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (Robert Wiene) viewed 9-25-03 on dvd (projected)
Grade 61 1919

389. PARIS, TEXAS (Wim Wenders) viewed 9-25-03 on dvd (third viewing - first on dvd)
Grade 100 1984

390. MANIAC (William Lustig) viewed 9-26-03 on dvd
Grade 47 1980

391. THE SCHOOL OF ROCK (Richard Linklater) viewed 9-27-03 in theater
Grade 77 2003

392. THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONIAL BLIMP (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) viewed 9-27-03 on dvd (fifth viewing)
Grade 100 2003

393. GIMME SHELTER (Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin) viewed 9-28-03 on dvd
Grade 65 1970

394. ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO (Robert Rodriguez) viewed 9-28-03 in theater
Grade 44 2003

395. PULP FICTION (Quentin Tarantino) viewed 9-28-03 on dvd (ninth viewing)
Grade 100 1994

396. L'AGE D'OR (Luis Buñuel) viewed 9-29-03 on video (projected)
Grade 76 1930

397. L'ATALANTE (Jean Vigo) viewed 9-29-03 on video (projected)
Grade 64 1934

398. YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE (Fritz Lang) viewed 9-29-03 on dvd
Grade 72 1937

399. NOSFERATU, A SYMPHONY OF HORROR (F.W. Murnau) viewed 9-30-03 on dvd (projected)
Grade 42 1922

400. THE CELLULOID CLOSET (Robert Epstein and Jeffrey Freidman) viewed 9-30-03 on video
Grade 63 1996

401. WAXWORK (Paul Leni) viewed 10-02-03 on dvd (projected)
Grade 64 1924

402. REPO MAN (Alex Cox) viewed 10-02-03 on dvd (third viewing)
Grade 79 1984

403. FLORIDA ENCHANTMENT (Sidney Drew) viewed 10-02-03 on video (projected)
Grade 20 1914

404. KAGEMUSHA (Akira Kurosawa) viewed 10-03-03 on dvd
Grade 97 1980

405. SORRY, WRONG NUMBER (Anatole Litvak) viewed 10-04-03 on dvd
Grade 40 1948

406. ROSEMARY'S BABY (Roman Polanski) viewed 10-05-03 in theater
Grade 91 1968

407. DEAD OF NIGHT (Alberto Cavalcanti, Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer and Charles Crichtom) viewed 10-05-03 on dvd
Grade 64 1945

408. COLD CREEK MANOR (Mike Figgis) viewed 10-06-03 in theater
Grade 46 2003

409. WARNING SHADOWS (Arthur Robinson) viewed 10-07-03 on video (projected - bad print)
Grade 16 1923

s021. MADCHEN IN UNIFORM (Leontine Sagan) viewed 10-07-03 on video (projected - bad print)
Grade 72 1931

410. RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND (Monte Hellman) viewed 10-07-03 on dvd
Grade 85 1965

411. CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES (Eric Byler) viewed 10-08-03 on dvd
Grade 52 2003

412. THE CHINESE CONNECTION (Lo Wei) viewed 10-08-03 on dvd
Grade 58 1972

413. THE SHOOTING (Monte Hellman) viewed 10-08-03 on dvd
Grade 86 1967

414. DOWN WITH LOVE (Peyton Reed) viewed 10-09-03 on dvd
Grade 76 2003

415. KILL BILL, VOLUME 1 (Quentin Tarantino) viewed 10-10-03 in theater
Grade 95 2003

416. THE SHINING (Stanley Kubrick) viewed 10-10-03 in theater
Grade 89 1980

417. VALLEY GIRL (Martha Coolidge) viewed 10-11-03 on dvd
Grade 53 1983

418. GOZU (Takashi Miike) viewed 10-11-03 on dvd (second viewing)
Grade 87 2003

419. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY (Joel Coen) viewed 10-11-03 in theater
Grade 66 2003

420. KILL BILL, VOLUME 1 (Quentin Tarantino) viewed 10-11-03 in theater (second viewing in as many days)
Grade 97 2003

421. PATHER PANCHALI (Satyajit Ray) viewed 10-12-03 in theater (second viewing - first was 40s)
Grade 57 1955

422. APARAJITO (Satyajit Ray) viewed 10-12-03 in theater
Grade 79 1956

423. THE WORLD OF APU (Satyajit Ray) viewed 10-12-03 in theater
Grade 66 1959

424. ADAPTATION (Spike Jonze) viewed 10-12-03 on dvd (second viewing)
Grade 94 2002

425. MAD LOVE (Karl Freud) viewed 10-14-03 on video (projected)
Grade 71 1935

426. KILL BILL, VOLUME 1 (Quentin Tarantino) viewed 10-14-03 in theater (Third viewing - can't wait to see it again)
Grade 97 2003

427. HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE (Ron Shelton) viewed 10-14-03 on dvd
Grade 49 2003

428. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (Stanley Kubrick) viewed 10-15-03 in theater (fourth viewing - first in theater)
Grade 95 1968

429. THE LAST LAUGH (FW Murnau) viewed 10-16-03 on laserdisc (second viewing - first on laser - projected)
Grade 75 1924

430. ROPE (Alfred Hitchcock) viewed 10-16-03 on dvd (second viewing - projected)
Grade 88 1948

431. THE SHAPE OF THINGS (Neil Labute) viewed 10-17-03 on dvd
Grade 46 2003

432. MYSTIC RIVER (Clint Eastwood) viewed 10-17-03 in theater
Grade 53 2003

433. STEVIE (Steve James) viewed 10-17-03 on dvd
Grade 81 2003

434. OBJECTIVE, BURMA (Raoul Walsh) viewed 10-18-03 on dvd
Grade 73 1945

435. THE MYSTERY OF PICASSO (Henri-Georges Clouzot) viewed 10-18-03 on dvd
Grade 92 1956

An astonishing film showing the artistic processes of Picasso as he begins, creates and continues to reshape his paintings before our eyes. The film works on many different levels: it is an amazing performance piece showing the speed (sometimes misleading) and energy that Picasso applies to his work and also hypnotic as a art and music piece – similar to the Norman McLaren shorts I saw in Canada last month. The film is thrilling in ways both similar and dissimilar to Clouzot’s previous work, creating expectations, building upon them and then releasing in a way that is usually unexpected.

436. METROPOLIS (Fritz Lang) viewed 10-21-03 on dvd (second viewing - first of this new fancy edition)
Grade 68 1926

437. THE FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH (Chang Ho Cheng) viewed 10-22-03 on dvd (a very bad dvd)
Grade 62 1973

438. DOWN BY LAW (Jim Jarmusch) viewed 10-22-03 on dvd
Grade 56 1986

439. CAGED (John Cromwell) viewed 10-23-03 on video (projected)
Grade 71 1950

440. PINK FLOYD: LIVE AT POMPEII - THE DIRECTOR'S CUT (Adrian Maben) viewd 10-23-03 on dvd
Grade 43 1973

441. THE MIDDLEMAN (Satyajit Ray) viewed 10-24-03 in theater
Grade 81 1976

442. BLUE VELVET (David Lynch) viewed 10-24-03 in theater (fifth viewing - first in theater)
Grade 85 (was 90's) 1986

443. NIGHT AND FOG (Alan Resnais) viewed 10-25-03 on dvd
Recommended 1955

444. DEAD ALIVE (Peter Jackson) viewed 10-25-03 in theater (fourth viewing - first in theater)
Grade 73 1992

445. ANATOMY 2 (Stefan Ruzowitzky) viewed 10-26-03 on dvd
Grade 41 2003

446. SUSANA (Luis Bunuel) viewed 10-27-03 on video (projected)
Grade 90 1951

s021. FIREWORKS (Kenneth Anger) viewed 10-28-03 on video (second viewing - projected)
R 1947

s022. KUSTOM KAR KOMMANDOS (Kenneth Anger) viewed 10-28-03 on video (second viewing - projected)
R 1965

447. DUEL TO THE DEATH (Siu-Tung Ching) viewed 10-29-03 on dvd
Grade 76 1982

448. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (Marcus Nispel) viewed 10-29-03 in theater
Grade 8 2003

449. THE NEWTON BOYS (Richard Linklater) viewed 10-29-03 on dvd
Grade 71 1998

450. PORTRAIT OF JASON (Shirley Clarke) viewed 10-30-03 on video (projected)
Grade 67 1967

451. EYES WITHOUT A FACE (Georges Franju) viewed 11-01-03 in theater (second viewing - first in theater)
Grade 72 1959

s023. HOW THEY GOT THERE (Spike Jonze) viewed 11-02-03 on dvd
R 1996

s024. MARK PAINTS (Spike Jonze) viewed 11-02-03 on dvd
NR 1995

s025. THE WOODS (Spike Jonze) viewed 11-02-03 on dvd
R 1997

s026. WHAT'S UP FATLIP? (Spike Jonze) viewed 11-02-03 on dvd
R 1999

s027. AMARILLO BY MORNING (Spike Jonze) viewed 11-02-03 on dvd
R 1997

s028. TORRANCE RISES (Lance Bangs) viewed 11-02-03 on dvd
R 1999

452. SCARLET STREET (Fritz Lang) viewed 11-04-03 on dvd (second viewing - projected)
Grade 65 1945

453. THE BOYS IN THE BAND (William Friedkin) viewed 11-04-03 on video (projected)
Grade 38 1970

454. BIG TROUBLE (John Cassavetes) viewed 11-05-03 on dvd
Grade 80 1986

s029. WOMEN I LOVE (Barbara Hammer) viewed 11-06-03 on video (projected)
NR 1979

455. BORN IN FLAMES (Lizzie Borden) viewed 11-06-03 on video (projected)
Grade 0 1983

456. DOWN WITH LOVE (Peyton Reed) viewed 11-06-03 on dvd (second viewing)
Grade 81 2003

457. FULL MOON IN PARIS (Eric Rohmer) viewed 11-06-03 on dvd
Grade 89 1984

458. HALLELUJAH, I'M A BUM (Lewis Milestone) viewed 11-06-03 on dvd
Grade 75 1933

HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREETS - SEASON 1 (Barry Levinson, et all) viewed 11-07-03 on dvd
1993

HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREETS - SEASON 2 (Stephen Gyllenhaal, et all) viewed 11-08-03 on dvd
1994

459. CRUISING (William Friedkin) viewed 11-09-03 on video
Grade 66 1980

460. THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS (The Wachowski Brothers) viewed 11-09-03 in theater
Grade 37 2003

461. UGETSU (Kenji Mizoguchi) viewed 11-09-03 on dvd
Grade 72 1953

s030. DESISTFILM (Stan Brakhage) viewed 11-10-03 on dvd
NR 1954

s031. WEDLOCK HOUSE: AN INTERCOURSE (Stan Brakhage) viewed 11-10-03 on dvd
R 1959

s032. CAT'S CRADLE (Stan Brakhage) viewed 11-11-03 on dvd
NR 1959

s033. WINDOW WATER BABY MOVING (Stan Brakhage) viewed 11-11-03 on dvd
R 1959

s034. MOTHLIGHT (Stan Brakhage) viewed 11-11-03 on dvd
R 1963

s035. EYE MYTH (Stan Brakhage) viewed 11-11-03 on dvd (Seven Times)
R 1972

s036. THE WORLD SHADOW (Stan Brakhage) viewed 11-11-03 on dvd
NR 1972

s037. THE GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHTS (Stan Brakhage) viewed 11-11-03 on dvd
R 1981

s038. THE STARS ARE BEAUTIFUL (Stan Brakhage) viewed 11-11-03 on dvd
NR 1974

s039. KINDERING (Stan Brakhage) viewed 11-11-03 on dvd
R 1987

s040. THE DANTE QUARTET (Stan Brakhage) viewed 11-11-03 on dvd (watched three times)
R 1987

Watched the third time with Radiohead's Paranoid Android, which may be in total disregard to Brakhage's intentions but creates one hell of a artistic accompaniment to one of my favorite songs. If you want to play at home just pop OK Computer into your CD Walkman and wait until Yorke says "Will you please stop the noise I'm trying to get some rest" to play The Dante Quartet. One of my favorite Brakhage shorts, along with Eye Myth and Window Water Baby Moving, and each would probably make my top ten lists in their respective years were I to include short films with features.

s041. NIGHTMUSIC (Stan Brakhage) viewed 11-11-03 on dvd (watched six times)
R 1986

Wathced first time silent as intended and watched the next five times listening to Radiohead's Dollers and Cents while Nightmusic played on a loop. Fred Camper would disapprove.

s042. RAGE NET (Stan Brakhage) viewed 11-11-03 on dvd
R 1988

s043. GLAZE OF CATHEXIS (Stan Brakhage) viewed 11-11-03 on dvd
R 1990

s044. DELICACIES OF THE MOLEN HORROR SYNAPSE (Stan Brakhage) viewed 11-11-03 on dvd
R 1991

463. CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND (George Clooney) viewed 11-11-03 on dvd
Grade 51 2002

464. MY NIGHT AT MAUD'S (Eric Rohmer) viewed 11-11-03 on dvd
Grade 93 1969

s045. FIREWORKS (Kenneth Anger) viewed 11-12-03 on video (third viewing)
R 1947

s046. PUCE MOMENT (Kenneth Anger) viewed 11-12-03 on video (second and third viewing)
R 1949

s047. KUSTOM KAR KOMMANDOS (Kenneth Anger) viewed 11-12-03 on video (third and fourth viewing)
R 1965

s048. BOYS ARE ALL CALLED PATRICK (Jean-luc Godard) viewed 11-13-03 on video
R 1959

465. FEMALE TROUBLE (John Waters) viewed 11-13-03 on dvd (projected)
Grade 65 1974

466. SUNRISE (F.W. Murnau) viewed 11-13-03 on dvd
Grade 67 1927

467. THE LADY VANISHES (Alfred Hitchcock) viewed 11-13-03 on dvd
Grade 92 1938

468. TRUST (Hal Hartley) viewed 11-14-03 on video
Grade 78 1990

469. HANNIE CAULDER (Burt Kennedy) viewed 11-15-03 on video
Grade 70 1971

The revenge plot that drives this film is easily the least interesting thing about it; instead the offbeat character sketches and lackadaisical middle section make the film a lost gem of the period - probably most similar to Peckinpah's Ballad of Cable Hogue the year previous. Burt Kennedy (screenwriter for Budd Boetticher’s best westerns) has a good ear for abrupt dialogue and he has as much fun with his villainous characters as he does with his heroic ones. I also liked how the end cast credits were in past tense for characters that died in the film, it’s the little things…

470. THE BIG CITY (Satyajit Ray) viewed 11-16-03 in theater
Grade 83 1963

471. ANGEL (Ernest Lubitsch) viewed 11-16-03 on video
Grade 76 1937

472. TROUBLE IN PARADISE (Ernest Lubitisch) viewed 11-17-03 on dvd (second viewing)
Grade 95 1932

s049. A DAY IN THE COUNTRY (Jean Renoir) viewed 11-17-03 on dvd
R 1936

473. THE BLUE ANGEL (Josef von Sternberg) viewed 11-18-03 on dvd (projected)
Grade 36 1930

474. THE GREAT SILENCE (Sergio Corbucci) viewed 11-18-03 on dvd (second viewing - first in a few years)
Grade 73 1968 (first viewing was high 80s)

475. THE GREAT MCGINTY (Preston Sturges) viewed 11-19-03 on video
Grade 67 1940

s050. FALL OF MAN (Tyler Measom) viewed 11-19-03 on dvd
NR 2003

s051. WAITING ROOM (Natasa Prosenc) viewed 11-19-03 on dvd
NR 2003

476. ZERO DAY (Ben Coccio) viewed 11-19-03 on dvd
Grade 69 2003

477. THE VIRGIN MACHINE (Monika Treut) viewed 11-20-03 on video (projected)
Grade 16 1988

478. THE BANK DICK (Edward Cline) viewed 11-20-03 on dvd
Grade 45 1940

479. THE MUSIC ROOM (Satyajit Ray) viewed 11-21-03 in theater
Grade 74 1958

480. TOP HAT (Mark Sandrich) viewed 11-21-03 in theater (second viewing - first in theater)
Grade 87 1935

481. SHATTERED GLASS (Billy Ray) viewed 11-22-03 in theater
Grade 65 2003

482. KILL BILL: VOLUME ONE (Quentin Tarantino) viewed 11-22-03 in theater (fourth viewing)
Grade 97 2003

483. LOVERS ON THE BRIDGE (Leos Carax) viewed 11-22-03 on video(!)
Grade 76 1991

484. THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN (Liu Chia-Liang) viewed 11-23-03 on dvd
Grade 84 1978

485. STATION AGENT (Tom McCarthy) viewed 11-24-03 in theater
Grade 40 2003

486. SWEET SIXTEEN (Ken Loach) viewed 11-30-03 on dvd
Grade 67 2003

487. BAD SANTA (Terry Zwigoff) viewed 12-01-03 in theater
Grade 75 2003

A very funny dark comedy that seems to take aim at all things cute and hugable in the Christmas season and it remains consistently sharp and bitter throughout. Works in large part thanks to another terrific Billy Bob Thornton performance and good work from the supporting players, except Bernie Mac who fails to register many laughs.

488. A WOMAN IS A WOMAN (Jean-luc Godard) viewed 12-01-03 on dvd
Grade 72 1961

Godard’s scope and Technicolor take on musicals and romantic comedies of the 1950s (the ones Down With Love played with earlier this year), but the music serves as an odd counter-point against the romantic bickering of the couple which isn’t much more charming than the fighting in Contempt. Godard’s use of music is very striking: often using music to emphasize character action and stopping it abruptly resembling his use of jump cuts to disorientate the viewer, most times the music doesn’t even accompany the singing (often it stops for the singing). Godard also uses his sound in a very musical way, building and layering it and withdrawing it altogether. The Fox Lorber dvd is typical of the company – which is to say VERY BAD, this company is so awful they have to keep changing their name like a con man changes cities.

489. THE HUMAN STAIN (Robert Benton) viewed 12-03-03 in theater
Grade 34 2003

Hopkins and Kidman both have deep, dark secrets in their pasts that haunt them. Both have objects which symbolize their deep, dark secrets (hers is a crow, his is a book which he has dictated to Gary Sinise). Both have side characters who exist solely to remind the characters of the deep, dark secrets in their past (Harris for her, Sinise for him). I could go on because this film is so overwritten that no detail seems to exist without coming back to these deep, dark secrets that haunt Hopkins and Kidman and after a short while the film is so airless that is suffocates on its own devices. We get everything from literary allusions to political connotations. Many have commented negatively about the decision to cast Kidman as a white trash slut but I thought the casting of the lead roles (Hopkins also plays an unlikely role) was the most interesting thing here. They fight with their roles like champions often going over-the-top, but they finally drown in the material. Can we stop this whole character-writing-a-book-that-turns-out-to-be-the-film-we-are-watching-thing? Enough is enough!

490. ALIEN - 2003 Cut (Ridley Scott) viewed 12-04-03 in theater (Third viewing - first in theater and of this cut)
Grade 83 1979

I really wanted to see Alien in the theater, but I had to settle on this new Director’s Cut. Can we stop with these damn director’s cuts already? Many of the differences between this film and the original cut of Alien are so subtle that only Ridley Scott and those who have seen the film many times will notice the difference. However what was the point of cutting the scene where Skerritt asks Mother their chances of survival? I like that scene it comes at a crucial point in the plot (right before the air shaft scene) and helps build tension.

Complaints about directors annoyingly diddling with their films aside, this new Alien is still one of the most effective horror films ever to be released. The film creates tension with its use of confined spaces and subjective camera that enters the room with the characters. The two suspense scenes that stand out: the Harry Dean Stanton looks for the cat and Tom Skerritt crawling in air ducts, work precisely because they rely on the camera following as the character finds what’s on the other side of the door/locker/vent and so on. Also the film is very well performed by one of the best casts ever assembled for a horror film, with some great character actors (Stanton and Hurt especially) and ballsy casting of then unknown Sigourney Weaver as Ripley. I also really like the way the film handles Ripley, making her no-nonsense and strictly-by-the-books even if it means the life of one of the ship’s crew. I bet everyone was betting that Ripley would be the first to be slaughtered by that pesky alien. That she survives is only one of many unique surprises that Alien offers in its running time (although still the best surprise is the last supper scene). I still prefer the second film which would score well into the 90s.

491. THE CRANES ARE FLYING (Mikhail Kalatozov) viewed 12-07-03 on dvd
Grade 88 1957

492. WRONG TURN (Rob Schmidt) viewed 12-08-03 on dvd
Grade 57 2003

A briskly paced horror film that belongs less with the 70s Slasher Revival films we are getting of late and more with the City-Folk-get-Hunted Adventure films (Deliverance or The Most Dangerous Game). Schmidt has a good eye for placing camera angles that create tension and apprehension; making this a well-executed but predictable film.

493. MIRACLE MILE (Steve DeJarnatt) viewed 12-08-03 on dvd
Grade 68 1989

494. OWNING MAHOWNY (Richard Kwietniowski) viewed 12-09-03 on dvd
Grade 62 2003

495. GREMLINS (Joe Dante) viewed 12-10-03 on dvd (third viewing - first in 10+ years)
Grade 84 1984

496. FiNDING NEMO (Andrew Stanton) viewed 12-12-03 on dvd
Grade 50 2003

s052. KNICK KNACK (John Lasseter) viewed 12-12-03 on dvd
R 1989

497. BAD BOYS II (Michael Bay) viewed 12-12-03 on dvd
Grade 6 2003

498. A WOMAN IS A WOMAN (Jean-luc Godard) viewed 12-13-03 in theater (second viewing - first in theater)
Grade 78 1961

499. BAND OF OUTSIDERS (Jean-luc Godard) viewed 12-13-03 in theater (second viewing - first in theater)
Grade 74 1964

500. THE LAST SAMURAI (Edward Zwick) viewed 12-14-03 in theater
Grade 68 2003

501. LAUREL CANYON (Lisa Cholodenko) viewed 12-14-03 on dvd
Grade 73 2003

502. AU HASARD BALTHAZAR (Robert Bresson) viewed 12-15-03 in theater
Grade 91 1966

503. A MIGHTY WIND (Christopher Guest) viewed 12-15-03 on dvd
Grade 37 2003

504. HOLES (Andrew Davis) viewed 12-16-03 on dvd
Grade 55 2003

505. ANGER MANAGEMENT (Peter Segal) viewed 12-16-03 on dvd
Grade 46 2003

506. SEABISCUIT (Gary Ross) viewed 12-16-03 on dvd
Grade 48 2003

507. HOW TO DEAL (Clare Kilner) viewed 12-16-03 on dvd
Grade 59 2003

508. CONFIDENCE (James Foley) viewed 12-17-03 on dvd
Grade 65 2003

509. MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD (Peter Weir) viewed 12-17-03 in theater
Grade 61 2003

510. WHALE RIDER (Niki Caro) viewed 12-17-03 on dvd
Grade 42 2003

511. MIRROR (Andrei Tarkovsky) viewed 12-18-03 in theater
Grade 77 1975

W/O. THE SACRIFICE (Andrei Tarkovsky) viewed 12-18-03 in theater
W/O 1986

I walked out at the end of the second reel because the print was poor quality and I didn't want to ruin my first experience of the film. Expect another viewing within the next month, as I liked what I saw so far.

512. CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS (Andrew Jarecki) viewed 12-19-03 in theater
Grade 86 2003

513. X2 (Bryan Singer) viewed 12-20-03 on dvd
Grade 44 2003

514. BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM (Gurinder Chadha) viewed 12-21-03 on dvd
Grade 32 2003

515. GERRY (Gus Van Sant) viewed 12-21-03 on dvd (second viewing - first was 79)
Grade 89 2003

516. KILL BILL VOL 1 (Quentin Tarantino) viewed 12-22-03 in theater (fifth viewing)
Grade 97 2003

517. THE DANCER UPSTAIRS (John Malkovich) viewed 12-23-03 on dvd
Grade 75 2003

518. ANALYZE THAT (Harold Ramis) viewed 12-24-03 on HDTV
Grade 15 2002

519. COLD MOUNTAIN (Anthony Minghella) viewed 12-25-03 in theater
Grade 76 2003

520. WENDIGO (Larry Fessenden) viewed 12-26-03 on dvd
Grade 43 2002

521. HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG (Vadim Perelman) viewed 12-27-03 in theater
Grade 69 2003

522. NO GOOD DEED (Bob Rafelson) viewed 12-27-03 on dvd
Grade 50 2003

523. SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE (Nancy Meyers) viewed 12-29-03 in theater
Grade 48 2003

s053. DUCK AMUCK (Chuck Jones) viewed 12-30-03 on dvd
R 1953

s054. DOUGH FOR THE DO-DO (Friz Freleng) viewed 12-30-03 on dvd
R 1949

s055. DRIP-ALONG DAFFY (Chuck Jones) viewed 12-30-03 on dvd
R 1951

s056. SCAREDY CAT (Chuck Jones) viewed 12-30-03 on dvd
R 1948

s057. THE DUCKSTERS (Chuck Jones) viewed 12-30-03 on dvd
NR 1950

s058. THE SCARLET PUMPERNICKEL (Chuck Jones) viewed 12-30-03 on dvd
R 1950

s059. YANKEE DOODLE DAFFY (Friz Freleng) viewed 12-30-03 on dvd
NR 1943

s060. PORKY CHOPS (Arthur Davis) viewed 12-30-03 on dvd
R 1949

s061. THE WEARING OF THE GRIN (Chuck Jones) viewed 12-30-03 on dvd
NR 1951

s062. DEDUCE, YOU SAY (Chuck Jones) viewed 12-30-03 on dvd
NR 1956

524. GERRY (Gus Van Sant) viewed 12-30-03 on dvd (third viewing)
Grade 88 2003

525. THE LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING (Peter Jackson) viewed 12-31-03 in theater
Grade 46 2003


*Yes, I once used to watch 525 films in a single year! (10-09-2007)