Film Journal 2004

S.W.A.T. (Clark Johnson) viewed 1-1-04 on dvd
Grade 56 2003
A slight recommendation because, within the confines of a routine premise, the film managed to surprise me a few times with twists to the normal expectations of an action or chase scene. I also thought the characters were better sketched than some of the other action films of the year (The Italian Job and Return of the King come to mind). Director Clark Johnson acted and directed some episodes of Homicide: Life on the Streets (one of the best TV shows of the 90s) and although he doesn’t inject as much energy or imagination as that show had into SWAT, he does have a knack for taking routine elements into more interesting directions. Frustrating to note that the villain is an arrogant French guy who deals with the terrorists, and cop Samuel L. Jackson repeatedly refers to him as “frog.” Can you imagine that reversed with the French cop calling Jackson’s villain a “nigger”?

SECRET THINGS (Jean-Claude Brisseau) viewed 1-2-04 in theater
Grade 66 2004
Sharp and funny look at sexual politics in the post-feminized work setting takes an odd tonal shift to dark fairy tale in the last minutes and never quite recovers. Still fascinating and frightening how the film views sexuality often only in shades of manipulation and mind games; even the masturbation, which the film offers as the only fulfilling sexual release, is tied with mind games and being exposed to others. The secret things of the title are pulled out through sex or sexual manipulation and then widens into the secret things at a corporate level, with sex and success becoming more interchangeable as the film continues. The film also incorporates the title as a visual motif: from the first shot where a girl struts around naked only to reveal the audience watching her to the later shots of men discovering a secret sex act happening, at three key points of the film.

THE SON (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne) viewed 1-3-04 on video (screener)
Grade 43 2003
Once you get passed the obtrusive style that the Dardenne brothers employ in The Son, the film really doesn’t have much to it. The film depends on carefully concealed narrative surprises and orchestrated blocking to suggest tension surrounding Oliver, but the directors’ attempts at tricking the viewer into forming opinions about the characters given incomplete information doesn’t have much baring on the true plot of the film when it reveals itself. When the full picture of the film was finally in place I felt like I had been taken for a ride by the Dardenne brothers without it serving any real purpose to the underlining plot and theme of forgiveness. The manipulation of the audience by the filmmakers seems to contradict the hand-held, dizzying shooting style that weighs down the film, and although it seems through the visual language that we are going to be invited to come close to Oliver and see the way his character ticks, it becomes evident early in the film that character insights will be as limited in The Son as dolly shots or graceful compositions. Oddly, the stuff that works best for me in the film are the scenes of Oliver teaching the boys the skill of the carpenter because that at least gives us a glimpse of a world rarely explored on film, whereas the world of (spoiler) a father grieving over the death of his son has become increasing routine and obvious.

MY LIFE WITHOUT ME (Isabel Coixet) viewed 1-5-04 on video (screener)
Grade 38 2003
Some nice moments are scattered about but everything else seems to be either heavy-handed or sitcom silliness, with wacky character sketches like the braided hairdresser who loves Milli Vanilli and the endlessly dieting janitor. Coixet also doesn’t seem to have much of an eye for compositions and allows her camera to wander to little avail. However, Sarah Polley continues to be one of the best young actresses working currently and together with Mark Ruffalo manage to keep the film from the total self-destruction it seems to be striving towards. I certainly liked this film much better when it was called (just) My Life and had Michael Keaton and Nicole Kidman.

LE PETIT SOLDAT (Jean-luc Godard) viewed 1-5-04 on dvd (projected)
Grade 41 1963
Le Petit Soldat was shot right after Breathless but was banned in France because of its inclusion of a lengthy sequence of torture. The film represents an odd mixture of styles that drove Godard’s early and late periods. The use of noirish narration and different elements of the thriller to undercut more realistic (non-genre) elements can be traced easily to the films that surrounded this film’s production, while the steady stream of political soliloquies that protrude throughout the film are emblematic of Godard’s later radical political stances in his films. Whereas Breathless and A Woman is a Woman seem fairly sure of themselves and cinematically confident, Le Petit Soldat seems to work against itself building much momentum. The scenes on the street that seem so fresh and look so visually vibrant in Breathless, look and feel drab and confused here. It also doesn’t help that very little concessions are made to the viewer as far as narrative coherence is concerned: which may tie into the films theme of surfaces and images to dilute and hide meanings, but such theorizing hardly seems worthwhile with a film so unconcerned with helping the viewer draw conclusions.

ONG-BAK MUAY: THAI WARRIOR (Pranchya Pinkaew) viewed 1-5-04 on dvd
Grade 52 2003
Some exciting fight scenes and amazing stunt work but there is pretty much nothing of interest outside of the action scenes: attempts at humor are lame, what there is of a plot is weak and the running time is incredibly bloated considering the material. Phanom Yeerum does seem to be an engaging fighter and his Thai boxing is very dynamic onscreen and as a calling card for his talent the film is pretty successful (there is even a message to Steven Spielberg painted onto a wall). However, the film never rises above being a series of stunts and the director has the annoying tendency to edit any remotely noteworthy stunt so that we see it from all the angles of coverage. I now don't feel quite so bad for missing this film at TIFF last year, in fact DVD is somewhat ideal for this film since most repeated viewings will probably skip straight past the first 40 minutes or so.

TWISTED NERVE (Roy Boulting) viewed 1-7-04 on dvdr
Grade 51 1968
A bunch of interesting elements here to talk about with Twisted Nerve, despite it not really working for long stretches. The link between innocence and sexuality is really interestingly evoked in the film: with the sounds of overheard sex turning out to be Georgie feverishly rocking a wooden horse, playful swimming turns into confrontational nudity and motherly aid of a cut hand turning into bizarre foreplay. All of this paying off in the way we understand Georgie’s behavior, but the film continues to pile on the exposition and medical posturing to explain Georgie’s ailment. The inclusion of the brother subplot brings the film to a halt when it seems like it is starting to get interesting. A lot of good stuff here and I will have to re-evaluate the film when I can locate a better print (this was a video dub with [Chinese?] subtitles running across the bottom). Bernard Herrmann's score, the whistling theme that plays in Kill Bill: Volume 1, is one of his best adding tension and class to the whole precedings (the opening credits sequence are a highlight although they just build to the superfluous medical theme).

ON DANGEROUS GROUND (Nicholas Ray) viewed 1-8-04 on video
Grade 54 1951
Nicholas Ray does a good job of visualizing the contrast of between the harsh city and the countryside: with the snow cover suggesting the rebirth or washing clean the sins of Robert Ryan’s protagonist. The film also fits very well thematically and stylistically with Ray’s other films and so I enjoyed the film on an auteurist level, but I never really felt all that involved with the story as it unfolded and found some of the message elements were handled with too heavy a hand. It's odd that I have been so unreceptive to the early Nicholas Ray films I've seen but have been totally taken with all his later films.

IVANSXTC. (Bernard Rose) viewed 1-8-04 on dvd
Grade 67 2000
The film makes a good use of Digital Video, realizing the technical limitations and exploiting them to suggest a visual style as decayed as the characters inhabiting the story. Rose uses classical pieces of music that add resonance to the images he is creating, as if he is suggesting the wasted possibility of all these floundering souls. Still it feels as though something is missing from this film and I can’t quite put my finger on it, and I can say for sure that everything after the (beautifully long) opening credits and before Ivan’s introduction felt unnecessary. I think I will read Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” and give the film a second viewing in the next few months or so. Danny Huston’s performance was rightfully praised and he will hopefully continue to impress me this year in John Sayles’ Silver City and Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator.

BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR (Brian Yunza) viewed 1-9-04 on dvd
Grade 28 2003
This failed to live up to my already extremely low expectations, nevermind not being able to live up to the classic Re-Animator this film can’t even live up to the fairly lousy Bride of the Re-Animator (also Yunza, please stop Yunza). I really hope that Jeffery Combs gets that career revitalization, that he should have gotten with The Frighteners, soon because he must be so bored in stupid horrors films like this. I guess Spain is the place to go to make a horror film now if you were involved with Re-Animator (see also Stuart Gordon’s much better film Dagon.

MONSTER (Patty Jenkins) viewed 1-9-04 in theater
Grade 57 2003
It’s nice to see Charlize Theron finally getting the recognition she deserves as an actress, I just don’t know why all the critics seem so surprised by this revelation. I first saw her in 2 Days From the Valley, a trashy but fun crime film, and she made an impression (even if it was only along the lines of: Holy crap she is very hot!). Then she continued to turn up in mediocre or underrated films: she gave her best performances to date in Trial & Error and The Devil’s Advocate, both of which were far from critical darlings. Now she has gained weight and changed her appearance, through body language more than the make-up that nay-sayers are citing, all in the effort of creating a very vivid character. However, once again the film doesn’t seem to be running on the same level of excellence as Theron, and the script has the annoying tendency to reduce the complex emotions to more cut and dry love story stuff. Still the film and performances are able to achieve some emotional impact along the way, even if Jenkins direction doesn’t feel as down and dirty as it should: the film probably should be closer to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer or Normal Life – basically John McNaughton should have directed it.

THEY LIVE (John Carpenter) viewed 1-9-04 on dvd (second viewing - first in ten + years)
Grade 78 1988
This is probably Carpenter at his most confident, taking his time to set up the film properly in the first third with some talky scenes that recall Clouzot’s similarly laid back opening to Wages of Fear and nicely established mystery that could really pay off into many different genres. The film develops into an intriguing sci-fi premise, with sudden bursts of violence and one of the most extended and painful fight scenes in cinema history. The wrap up to the film isn’t quite as fulfilling as the rest of the film but this is certainly a gem of the genre and Carpenter’s score is typically strong.

PAYCHECK (John Woo) viewed 1-10-04 in theater
Grade 65 2003
John Woo is still not in top form and it is beginning to look doubtful he will ever make anything as exciting as his best Hong Kong work again, but it isn’t hard to settle with his new film Paycheck. The film is based upon a short story by Phillip K. Dick and based upon what I’ve seen of his themes in this film and Minority Report it seems he is very cautious about the use of technological advancement to gain foresight. Unlike Minority Report, Paycheck ponders this issue with a bit more serious mindedness (and includes one topical news headline in post-“Operation Iraqi Freedom” times), even though it is basically overshadowed by the mystery and action elements of the story.

BIG FISH (Tim Burton) viewed 1-10-04 in theater
Grade 70 2003

RILO KILEY (acoustic with Blake and Jenny) at The Bottom of the Hill, SF
With Let's Go Sailing and Future Pigeon.

TOKYO DRIFTER (Seijun Suzuki) viewed 1-12-04 on dvd (projected)
Grade 74 1966
Tokyo Drifter is a typically bizarre Suzuki yakuza film with plot de-emphasized in favor of hyper-stylization. Thematically the film seems to be fall in line very close to the samurai film, with a yakuza separated from his boss (master) and forced to wander looking for work (Ronin). Suzuki uses this as a jumping off point for some outlandish set design: vibrant colors for each different setting, emphasizing white after the violence and red during (although this is not a bloody film). Also Suzuki seems to look for ways to bring frames into his mise-en-scene or separate his characters symmetrically in the frame. Tonally the film offers enough variation to keep the viewer on their toes at all times, often interrupting violence with comedy or introducing musical sequences that don’t pay off. Basically the film is just an exercise in style when it comes down to it, but it is the Suzuki film that I prefer of the ones that I’ve seen.

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 3: BETTER WATCH OUT! (Monte Hellman) viewed 1-12-04 on video
Grade 41 1989
Cool opening dream sequence got my hopes up: with white hospital walls and long-winding corridors used in a way that is genuinely creepy. Then the film settles down into a more routine slasher film, albeit with some very weird touches like the fiberglass brain-case donned by the killer. Most of Hellman’s interesting touches are reserved for the first half of the film and the film is (of course) a far cry from his great films from the 60s and 70s. Laura Herring (latter of Mulholland Drive) is one of the victims, although her accent is harder and her body isn’t yet surgically enhanced.

HIGH SIERRA (Raoul Walsh) viewed 1-13-04 on dvd
Grade 36 1941
Bland crime film with little to distinguish it from any other heist film, except for endless mugging by a cute dog and some laughable scenes of dialogue between Bogart and the crippled girl he wants to marry. This films status as a classic is bewildering to me, perhaps those who love it respond to it in relation to other Raoul Walsh films.

AMERICAN WEDDING (Jacob Dylan) viewed 1-15-04 on dvd
Grade 41 2003
Easily the least of the American Pie films, this time with most of the comic set-pieces falling totally flat. Probably the most successful sequence of the film is the bachelor party farce, which keeps building and escalating in fun ways, but even that sequence reminiscent of other scenes in the series that worked better (for instance the lesbians in part two). As usual, Levy is pretty much the standout here but the fun has pretty much run out of the series.

GROUNDHOG DAY (Harold Ramis) viewed 1-17-04 on TV (seen 10+ times)
Grade 85 1993
Classy high-concept comedy that really exploits its simple premise in ways that never grow tiring or overly repetitive. Also this is one of Murray’s best performances, stretching his comic persona in interesting ways (see also Mad Dog and Glory of the same year) and surprisingly solid work from the rest of the cast. There are not a lot of huge laughs in this film for me, so it isn’t really a comic masterpiece in my mind, but with about a dozen viewings of it under my belt I can attest that its charm and wit seem to be aging very well.

KILLER ME (Zachary Hansen) viewed 1-17-04 in dvd
Grade 46 2001
Clean, Shaven seems to be the starting point here and that excited me a good deal near the beginning of the film, showing the killer move through his environment somewhat subjectively. However, the film builds too much needless filler around the central character: the school stuff seems especially mishandled, like it has been introduced to explain why the character’s chemical imbalance (itself too clever a bit of screenwriting for me) and then is completely discarded of any agency in the film. The ending is a letdown too, just underlining how shallow the preceding have been. Shot on 16mm that looks pretty good, it is nice to see indie cheapies opting for 16 over DV.

With Corinna Repp.

NOT WANTED (Elmer Clifton / Ida Lupino) viewed 1-20-04 on video
Grade 38 1949
Fairly ridiculous social message film that views premarital sex with about the same even-handed glance that Reefer Madness gave smoking dope, which is to say there is nothing even-handed evident here. She has premarital sex and because of this action: she loses her family, her home, her lover, she is unable to be taken in by a new lover, she has to give the baby up for adoption and eventually turns to a life of crime. I do like the way that the film positions the guy she sleeps with as being rather aloof and distant, while she is falling in love with him in the way much younger women usually fall for older men just to be discarded. The other love interest is so awe-shucks decent that he somehow projected creepiness unlike which I have ever seen, with the scene of him showing off his rail-road miniature reaching new heights in its ridiculousness. Probably the only really stand-out scene is the baby delivery which plays like a twisted nightmare, but it feels foreign to the rest of the film. Isn’t leaving a baby outside a store while you are shopping itself illegal?

OUTRAGE (Ida Lupino) viewed 1-23-04 on video
Grade 49 1950
Outrage is a very similar film to Not Wanted basically just replacing the premarital sex with rape and producing much the same effects. In fact so much is carried over from the plot of that film that you could call it a more compassionate remake, this time with less creepy subplots and supporting characters. A lot of impact is probably lost because of concessions to the production code: rape is only implied and later it is referred to blankly as an assault. Déjà vu from Not Wanted hurts the impact of the film but it is certainly a step in the right direction for Lupino (who is the film author of my Film Authors class – so you will be seeing more of her in my screening log from this point on).

SPELLBOUND (Jeffery Blitz) viewed 1-23-04 on dvd
Grade 70 2003
More entertaining than it is insightful probably because it chooses to show 8 competing kids instead of a smaller number, which would have yielded more closeness to the characters are more insight into why they compete in the spelling bee in the first place (which is handled but very much in a surface level way). However, as a sports film it is pretty solid: showing us just enough to get an idea of the players and then thrusting them into the thick of the spelling bee, which occupies the last half of the film. There are some cheap suspense building moments that seem pretty standard for this type of film and it is heartbreaking watching some of the kids agonize over what the next letter should be. The two kids I wanted to win most were among the first to be knocked out and the one I was sure would lose ended up winning, so much for me judging character.

THE DOG HOUSE (Joseph Barbera and William Hanna) viewed 1-24-04 on TV
NR 1952
Me before watching Tom and Jerry in THE DOG HOUSE: “Oh man, I haven’t watched Tom and Jerry for so long. This should be really cool, maybe as much so as those Looney Toons shorts I watched last month.”

Me after watching Tom and Jerry in THE DOG HOUSE: “Hmm, I remembered liking that show before when I was very young. Why now is it so repetitive, lazy and predictable?”

KEN PARK (Larry Clark) viewed 1-24-04 on dvdr
Grade 86 2002

NEW GUY (Bilge Ebiri) viewed 1-25-04 on dvd
No Grade 2003

ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL (Rainer Werner Fassbinder) viewed 1-26-04 on dvd (projected)
Grade 73 1974

TED LEO AND THE PHARMACISTS at The Bottom of the Hill, SF
With The Yellow Press and Fiery Furnaces.

A BETTER PLACE (Vincent Pereira) viewed 1-29-04 on TV
Grade 18 1997

HEROES FOR SALE (William A. Wellman) viewed 1-29-04 on TV
Grade 69 1933

WARLOCK (Edward Dmytryk) viewed 1-29-04 on TV
Grade 75 1959

JUST A CLOWN (Andrew Jarecki) viewed 1-30-04 on dvd
R 2004

IN AMERICA (Jim Sheridan) viewed 1-30-04 in theater
Grade 63 2003

HOUSE OF THE DEAD (Uwe Boll) viewed 1-30-04 on dvd
Grade 21 2003

IRON MONKEY (Woo-ping Yuen) viewed 1-31-04 on dvd
Grade 51 1993

GO TIGERS! (Kenneth A. Carlson) viewed 2-01-04 on TV
Grade 39 2001
An odd freak show of obsession that could have been made into a very interesting film if the director had pretended to have a little bit of distance from his subject. As it is, this film doesn’t really have anything to offer in terms of insight or perspective.

THE DEVIL'S PLAYGROUND (Fred Schepisi) viewed 2-02-04 on dvd (projected)
Grade 47 1976
For me, the least successful films about the clergy always seem to focus on the sexual repression inherit in choosing that life path. Since The Devil’s Playground basically never moves beyond this narrow focus of themes, the whole film becomes severely repetitive and reductive (its almost like making a courtroom movie and focusing solely on the opening statements). Very few scenes in the film relate anything about the lives of the teenage boys and their brothers (priests) that doesn’t fit entirely within the realm of sexual repression and that deflates the power away from some of the more powerful scenes that do ring emotionally honest. Probably the best scene is the one where a priest visits a YMCA pool and is attacked my sexuality at all turns, but practically every other scene is at the same pitch. For a film about sexual repression this is certainly one very sex-obsessed film.

PRIVATE HELL 36 (Don Siegel) viewed 2-03-04 on laserdisc (projected)
Grade 59 1954
There are some fairly obvious problems here especially in the opening and closing scenes but Siegel is directing the hell out of this film and he almost makes it work just with his crisp compositions and exciting action photography. I also liked the way the plot unfolded itself at the midway point, switching gears and becoming a different film than what I was expecting. This would be a good film to be remade.

LOST IN LA MANCHA (Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe) viewed 2-04-04 on dvd
Grade 69 2003
Very hard to watch and pretty funny but not quite of the same caliber of Heart of Darkness or Bourdon of Dreams, probably because those films build up in a more interesting way whereas Lost in La Mancha seems to climax at the mid-point and then the rest of the film is waiting for the insurance to bring the bad news. The film is still a fascinating look into the filmmaking process, pity about Gilliam’s project though.

DRUNKEN ANGEL (Akira Kurosawa) viewed 2-06-04 on TV
Grade 71 1948

HAUTE TENSION (Alexandre Aja) viewed 2-07-04 in theater (SF INDIE FEST)
Grade 74 2004 (second viewing - first was 75)
I went down slightly but still pretty much agree with what I wrote at TIFF. The one point drop could be a theater factor since the Roxie Theater is nowhere near as cool as the Uptown 1 was (RIP Uptown) or it could just be that this kind of film never really works as well after initial viewing - yes this is a lot of analysis over a 1-pt drop.

THE WINDOW (Ted Tetzlaff) viewed 2-08-04 on TV
Grade 78 1949

IN MY SKIN (Marina de Van) viewed 2-08-04 on video (screener)
Grade 62 2004

THE HITCH-HIKER (Ida Lupino) viewed 2-10-04 on dvd (projected)
Grade 54 1953

THE BIG BOUNCE (George Armitage) viewed 2-12-04 in theater
Grade 56 2004

ABOUT A BOY (Adam and Chris Weitz) viewed 2-13-04 on TV (third viewing)
Grade 68 2002

CORKY ROMANO (Rob Pritts) viewed 2-13-04 on TV
Grade 32 2001

THE SMILING LIEUTENANT (Ernst Lubitsch) viewed 2-13-04 on TV
Grade 83 1931

I WON'T PLAY (Crane Wilbur) viewed 2-13-04 on TV
R 1944

TWEETIE PIE (Friz Freleng) viewed 2-13-04 on TV (seen before)
R 1947

HEAVEN CAN WAIT (Warren Beatty and Buck Henry) viewed 2-14-04 on TV
Grade 64 1978

TRICK (Jim Fall) viewed 2-14-04 on TV
Grade 26 1999

FOUR ROOMS: THE MAN FROM HOLLYWOOD (Quentin Tarantino) viewed 2-14-04 on TV (second viewing - first in 5+ years)
R 1995

TERMINAL VELOCITY (Daran Sarafian) viewed 2-14-04 on TV (second viewing - first in 5+ years)
Grade 52 1994

THE BOY WITH GREEN HAIR (Joseph Losey) viewed 2-14-04 on video
Grade 57 1948

BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY (John D. Hancock) viewed 2-15-04 on dvd
Grade 63 1973

THE NEW GUY (Ed Decter) viewed 2-17-04 on TV
Grade 56 2002

THE GIRL NEXT DOOR (Luke Greenfield) viewed 2-20-04 in theater
Grade 59 2003

BLOW-UP (Michelangelo Antonioni) viewed 2-20-04 on dvd (second viewing)
Grade 84 1966 (down from low 90s)

CARRIE (David Carson) viewed 2-21-04 on dvd
Grade 42 2002 (TV Movie)

THE DREAMERS (Bernardo Bertolucci) viewed 2-22-04 in theater
Grade 65 2004

LA LETTRE (Michel Gondry) viewed 2-22-04 on dvd
R 1998

ONE DAY... (Michel Gondry) viewed 2-22-04 on dvd
R 2001

DRUMB & DRUMBER (Michel Gondry) viewed 2-22-04 on dvd

THREE DEAD PEOPLE (Michel Gondry) viewed 2-22-04 on dvd

MY BROTHER'S 24TH BIRTHDAY (Michel Gondry) viewed 2-22-04 on dvd
R 1988
Gondry said for me to play music since this film was silent, so I put on Norah Jones' new single "Sunrise" and it ended up fitting the film pretty well. This is not a brilliant stand-alone piece in the Gondry collection but it does have a great deal of warmth and it is interesting to see Gondry's talent evolving.

TINY (Michel Gondry) viewed 2-22-04 on dvd

DIL SE (Mani Ratnam) viewed 2-23-04 on dvd
W/O 1998

TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (James L Brooks) viewed 2-23-04 on TV (5+ viewings)
Grade 93 1983

EATEN ALIVE (Tobe Hooper) viewed 2-24-04 on dvd
Grade 44 1977

VERTIGO (Alfred Hitchcock) viewed 2-25-04 in theater (fourth viewing - first in theater)
Grade 96 1958

AFTER THE THIN MAN (W.S. Van Dyke) viewed 2-25-04 in theater
Grade 76 1936

THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER (William Dieterle) viewed 2-25-04 on dvd
Grade 83 1941

FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (Fred Zinnemann) viewed 2-27-04 on TV
Grade 67 1953

TWENTIETH CENTURY (Howard Hawks) viewed 2-27-04 on video
Grade 87 1934

MAY (Lucky Mckee) viewed 2-28-04 on dvd (second viewing)
Grade 69 2003 (up from 66)

GRANDADDY at The Catalyst, SC

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly) viewed 3-02-04 on TV (seen many times)
Grade 96 1952


SPARTAN (David Mamet) viewed 3-13-04 in theater
Grade 72 2004

SCARECROWS (William Wesley) viewed 3-17-04 on dvd-r (from Laserdisc)
Grade 69 1988

SHALLOW HAL (Bobby and Peter Farrelly) viewed 3-17-04 on TV (second viewing)
Grade 62 2001 (was 50s)

IDENTITY (James Mangold) viewed 3-18-04 on dvd
Grade 41 2003

ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (Michel Gondry) viewed 3-19-04 in theater
Grade 81 2004

DAWN OF THE DEAD (Zach Snyder) viewed 3-21-04 in theater
Grade 48 2004

FOUR NIGHTS OF A DREAMER (Robert Bresson) viewed 3-22-04 on dvd-r (vhs quality print)
Grade 83 1971

THREE COMRADES (Frank Brozage) viewed 3-22-04 on TV
Grade 72 1938

DODGEBALL: A TRUE UNDERDOG STORY (Rawson Marshall Thurber) viewed 3-23-04 in theater
Grade 43 2004
Workprint, projected digitally.

SECOND BAD VILBEL (Chris Cunningham) viewed 3-24-04 on dvd
R 1995
A note on music videos.

COME TO DADDY (Chris Cunningham) viewed 3-24-04 on dvd
R 1997

ONLY YOU (Chris Cunningham) viewed 3-24-04 on dvd
R 1998

FROZEN (Chris Cunningham) viewed 3-24-04 on dvd
R 1998

AFRIKA SHOX (Chris Cunningham) viewed 3-24-04 on dvd
R 1999

COME ON MY SELECTOR (Chris Cunningham) viewed 3-24-04 on dvd
NR 1998

WINDOW LICKER (Chris Cunningham) viewed 3-24-04 on dvd
R 1999

ALL IS FULL OF LOVE (Chris Cunningham) viewed 3-24-04 on dvd
R 1999

MONKEY DRUMMER (Chris Cunningham) viewed 3-24-04 on dvd
R 2000

FLEX (Chris Cunningham) viewed 3-24-04 on dvd
R 2000

GOTHIKA (Mathieu Kassovitz) viewed 3-26-04 on dvd
Grade 41 2003
Stupid thriller directed within an inch of its life by Mathieu Kassovitz, who must have seen how ridiculous the material was and decided to at least make it as visually impressive as possible. This film would probably make a good double feature with Identity, since both are very polished thrillers that don't really work at all in the story department but at least they are pretty nice to look at. I'm beginning to worry about the obviously talented Kassovitz since he seems to be aiming for a Hollywood hack job and he seems capable of so much more (La Haine is the film that got him a lot of attention but that was almost ten years ago), his last film Crimson Rivers seemed to suffer from a fate similar to Gothika - perhaps he should look to visual stylist extraordinaire David Fincher and note that he is nothing without a workable script to spring from.

THE RUNDOWN (Peter Berg) viewed 3-26-04 on dvd
Grade 38 2003

THE LADYKILLERS (Joel and Ethan Coen) viewed 3-27-04 in theater
Grade 57 2004

THE DRUM (Zoltan Korda) viewed 3-29-04 on video
Grade 66 1938

JAPANESE STORY(Sue Brooks) viewed 4-01-04 in theater
Grade 51 2004
Seems to work well enough on a scene-by-scene basis but never really comes together as a cohesive whole: with interesting scenes promising further developments that either don’t come as expected or don’t come at all. I didn’t really but the (SPOILER) two character’s transition into a couple and so most of the emotions that come to the surface in the last third of the film didn’t really register with me. Both leads are strong, although Toni Collette is given much more of the heavy lifting as she tries to ease some of the awkward transitions in her character.

WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES (Béla Tarr) viewed 4-01-04 on dvd
Grade 88 2000
Review to come - but a second viewing might come first.

THE CRYING GAME (Neil Jordan) viewed 4-02-04 on TV (third viewing)
Grade 83 1992

DIRTY PRETTY THINGS (Stephen Frears) viewed 4-02-04 on dvd
Grade 50 2003
Basically a tawdry medical thriller disguised as (and cheapening) a social awareness film about the troubles facing immigrants. Beautifully shot and well acted all around, but the generally goofiness of the thriller plot really upsets the entire film’s momentum and tone. Another viewing might bring this grade way down, as the film left a bad taste in my mouth.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS (Alfonso Cuarón) viewed 4-03-04 on TV
Grade 52 1998
Saw this one in 97 in a test preview and didn’t quite like it then either, I am tempted to blame the Dickens’ source as not translating well to screen since I wasn’t taken with the David Lean adaptation either. Cuarón and his DP Emmanuel Lubezki have a beautiful looking film with rich, lush coloring and well measured hand-held work and great use of the scope frame. However, the cast is pretty uneven: Bancroft way too campy, De Niro turning up to very little effect and an unconvincing performance by Ethan Hawke when he is playing a mawkish teenager but he gets better as the film gets going. Plus the thing barely registers emotionally, especially in a key scene between Hawke’s Finn and his Uncle Joe at the art gallery, which is so poorly written it brings the film to a screeching halt. Also Arthur Lustig showing up and revealing his connection to the proceedings is pretty lame, does this feel less cheap in the book?

A SLIGHT CASE OF MURDER (Lloyd Bacon) viewed 4-03-04 on TV
Grade 56 1938
Mildly amusing comedy moves along at a good click and has a funny performance by Robinson, turning his gangster routine on its nose. Otherwise pretty forgettable but I didn’t mind as I was watching it.

CAMERA (David Cronenberg) viewed 4-03-04 on Computer
R 2000

THE ANIMAL (Luke Greenfield) viewed 4-03-04 on dvd
Grade 51 2001

THE FOUR FEATHERS (Zoltan Korda) viewed 4-05-04 on dvd
Grade 72 1939

FROM THE DRAIN (David Cronenberg) viewed 4-06-04 on Computer
NR 1967

IN THIS WORLD (Michael Winterbottom) viewed 4-07-04 on dvd
Grade 42 2003
Pretty empty really, using its pseudo-documentary form to distract from the non-characters we are following and how uninteresting most of their interactions are along their journey. You get the sense that Winterbottom’s heart is in the right place with this material and it seems like he shot the film with a clear idea how it would come together (although first-time editor Peter Christelis did a hell of a job making the film flow as nicely as it does). Conceits like random bits of historical narration and 3D maps don’t really work except to give perspective to the very thin narrative.

HOLIDAY (George Cukor) viewed 4-07-04 on video
Grade 84 1938

THE CONFORMIST (Bernardo Bertolucci) viewed 4-09-04 in theater
Grade 96 1970

MANIC (Jordan Melamed) viewed 4-12-04 on dvd
Grade 39 2001
Another edgy Sundance entry with jerky handheld and artless zooms to make the film feel authentic, or something. What it does here is derail an otherwise routine asylum film, keeping arm-length from the characters and their problems because it is so caught up with its stylization. On top of that, first time filmmaker Melamed has a poor sense of flow from scene to scene and often delves into tacky symbolism. Too bad though because the cast sure seems committed to the material (especially Don Cheadle’s sincere psychiatrist) and the clichéd material still has some power to it, if only Melamed had found a tripod and done more pre-production visualization of the material. Shot with Sony PD150 and it looks fairly good for DV (in fact I (incorrectly) suspected it had gotten the Magic Bullet treatment in post) but DV seems to be too much of a crutch for lazy filmmakers who (in most cases) should be treated it as if it were film.

KILL BILL, VOL. 2 (Quentin Tarantino) viewed 4-16-04 in theater
Grade 95 2004

SISSY BOY SLAP PARTY (Guy Maddin) viewed 4-16-04 on computer
R 1995

SOMBRE DOLORSA (Guy Maddin) viewed 4-16-04 on computer
R 2004

TRIP TO THE ORPHANAGE (Guy Madding) viewed 4-16-04 on computer
R 2004

THE SIGN OF LEO (Eric Rohmer) viewed 4-??-04 on video (from a PAL source)
Grade ?? 1959


FRANTZ FANON: BLACK SKIN, WHITE MASK (Isaac Julien) viewed 4-28-04 on video (second viewing - not by choice)
Grade 33 1996

PROVIDENCE (Alain Resnais) viewed 4-28-04 on video
Grade 80 1977

UP/DOWN/FRAGILE (Jacques Rivette) viewed 5-01-04 on video
Grade 81 1995

F FOR FAKE (Orson Welles) viewed 5-01-04 on video
Grade 93 1975

MURIEL (Alain Resnais) viewed 5-02-04 on video
Grade 74 1963

ELEPHANT (Gus Van Sant) viewed 5-03-04 on dvd (second viewing)
Grade 53 2003

MONKEY GONE TO HEAVEN (Neil Pollack) viewed 5-04-04 on dvd
NR 1989

HERE COMES YOUR MAN (Bekemeier and Pollock) viewed 5-04-04 on dvd
R 1989

VELOURIA (Peter Fowler) viewed 5-04-04 on dvd
NR 1990

DIG FOR FIRE / ALLISON (Peter Scammell) viewed 5-04-04 on dvd
NR 1990

ALEC EIFFEL (Stretch) viewed 5-04-04 on dvd
R 1991

HEAD ON (Wild Scientific) viewed 5-04-04 on dvd
R 1991

DEBASER (Vaughan Oliver) viewed 5-04-04 on dvd
R 1989

INDOCHINE (Régis Wargnier) viewed 5-05-04 on dvd (projected)
Grade 28 1992

DANCE ME TO THE END OF LOVE (Aaron Goffman) viewed 5-05-04 on computer
R 1994

J.S. BACH: ARIA FROM GOLDBERG VARIATIONS (Aaron Goffman) viewed 5-05-04 on computer
NR 2003

FADE (Aaron Goffman) viewed 5-05-04 on computer
NR ????

BLINK (Aaron Goffman) viewed 5-05-04 on computer
NR 1998

ALIAS (Marina de Van) viewed 5-05-04 on dvd
R 1999

PSY SHOW (Marina de Van) viewed 5-05-04 on dvd
R 1999

KILL BILL, VOL. 2 (Quentin Tarantino) viewed 5-06-04 in theater
Grade 93 2004 (first viewing 95)

THE SEVENTH CONTINENT (Michael Haneke) viewed 5-06-04 on video
Grade 75 1989

GINGER SNAPS: UNLEASHED (Brett Sullivan) viewed 5-8-04 on dvd
Grade 43 2004

RENDEVOUS IN PARIS (Eric Rohmer) viewed 5-09-04 on video
Grade 68 1995

CHOCOLAT (Claire Denis) viewed 5-10-04 on dvd
Grade 57 1988

THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (Dario Argento) viewed 5-12-04 on dvd
Grade 60 1970

STUCK ON YOU (Peter Farrelly & Bobby Farrelly) viewed 5-14-04 on dvd
Grade 64 2003
Starts as a silly comedy, far too reliant on stunt jokes like: Hey wouldn’t it be funny to see conjoined twins as hockey goalies or baseball pitchers or hamburger chefs? Then it unexpectedly develops into a much more serious film about separation and moving on to find yourself without the help of your loved ones, that is both sad and somewhat poetic – I was surprised to find myself casually wiping away tears for much of the last half hour. Actually a similar thing happened to me as I was watching Shallow Hal, in that most of the comedy didn’t really register as being very funny but the end emotional result was still fairly substantial. It is probably easy to overlook the performances here but Matt Damon does his best dramatic work since The Talented Mr. Ripley here, subtly suggesting his neurosis in the first half and recovering physically from the procedure in the later scenes.

TROY (Wolfgang Petersen) viewed 5-15-04 in theater
Grade 66 2004

MEAN GIRLS (Mark S. Waters) viewed 5-15-04 in theater
Grade 61 2004

THE IRON GIANT (Brad Bird) viewed 5-15-04 on dvd
Grade 57 1999

THE TRACKER (Rolf de Heer) viewed 5-17-04 on dvd
Grade 32 2002

THE SUBSTITUTE (Robert Mandel) viewed 5-21-04 on dvd (probably fourth full viewing)
Grade 52 1996

BON VOYAGE (Jean-Paul Rappeneau) viewed 5-22-04 in theater
Grade 48 2003

THE CHASE (Arthur Penn) viewed 5-23-04 on dvd
Grade 51 1966

LITTLE SECRETS (Blair Treu) viewed 5-23-04 on TV
Grade 54 2001

THE FOUR FEATHERS (Shekhar Kapur) viewed 5-26-04 on dvd
Grade 19 2002

ROBERTO SUCCO (Cedric Kahn) viewed 5-27-04 on dvd
Grade 81 2001

TWILIGHT SAMURAI (Yoji Yamada) viewed 5-30-04 in theater
Grade 58 2002

CHASING LIBERTY (Andy Cadiff) viewed 6-01-04 on dvd
Grade 49 2004
Pretty hard to build much of a defense for this bland but likable romantic comedy other than to just point out the obvious: Mandy Moore is quietly developing into one of the most exciting young actors working in Hollywood. Sadly, like her previous How To Deal, she lends her presence to a film that is otherwise too flat and conventional to really give her much to work; even the most ardent fans of the film have basically turned in love letters to Moore rather than reviews.

DECASIA: THE STATE OF DECAY (Bill Morrison) viewed 6-02-04 on dvd
Grade 74 2002
Morrison uses the limitations of the medium to somewhat astonishing effect, with the used and abused old reels of film coming together as expressive as most of Brakhage’s experiments with painting onto film strips. The found footage here is the wide variety of different forms the film decay is able to take on in the film; sometimes it looks as though the film is being projected on fire or through wave of liquid. What makes the film particularly effective if Morrison’s steady sense of editing, usually cutting the film by the structure of the decay rather than to provide much in the way of narrative (distorted humans together, shots of landscapes together, etc). Also, Michael Gordon deserves a lot of credit for the films success, with his symphony “Decasia” suggesting air raids and fire alarms at times and shifting the film’s genre every few minutes; it sometimes feels like a war film, a horror film and a sci-fi film – but perhaps that owes more to montage theory to the exquisite and discomforting music score.

SCREAM 2 (Wes Craven) viewed 6-03-04 on dvd
Grade 62 1997 (second viewing - first since theater)
Not as successful as the original Scream (or at least as far as I remember) but still damn good at doing a lot of things that lesser horror films would refuse out of general laziness. There are a few key sequences that stand out: the opening movie theater set piece is unnerving (and illogical) and a late climb-over-the-killer moment made me hold my breath even though I already knew the outcome. The plot is pretty silly and most of the fun is over once the killer is revealed; especially since Craven hedges his bets whenever the killer is masked, giving him super-human abilities whenever it benefits a good BOO-moment. The film is pretty damn funny too (the well-meaning sorority girl saying “Hi Sydney! No, I really mean that. Hi.” is probably the biggest laugh for me here) and it paints characters in a way that is surprisingly endearing without really doing too much grunt work – although I must say that I was much less endeared with Randy’s wise-ass cineaste on this viewing than my younger self was seven years ago, I blame the elitist snobbery that has emerged in my twenties. Also, Stolen Kisses is obviously the best sequel ever made but I can certainly make a case for Godfather Part Two and Aliens kicking their respective originals asses.

ALL THE SHIPS AT SEA (Dan Sallitt) viewed 6-05-04 on dvd
No Grade 2003

THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN (Frank Capra) viewed 6-05-04 on video
Grade 84 1933
Pretty terrific, with typical Capra theme (Idealistic American discovers dark underbelly of their idealism) explored in a less comedic and more powerful manner than he would in his latter films. At the heart of it all is a love story that is surprisingly complicated and uncompromising, like Lubitsch would do with Angel a few years later and no one else has ever really been able to duplicate with much success. The film is also surprisingly critical of the missionaries; with them as naïve and irrational about their own positions, a total twist on the Imperialist colonial films that I had associated with that period.

YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU (Frank Capra) viewed 6-05-04 on video
Grade 67 1938
A blunt object compared to The Bitter Tea of General Yen; falling into every trap that film skillfully avoided (black & white characterizations, building false climaxes and heavy-handed messages) and runs about 20 minutes too long to boot. Still, this is a very charming and occasionally wonderful film that works within the obvious constraints of Hollywood genre without every quite transcending them. Also, the film had the misfortune to fall directly after The Bitter Tea of General Yen, something that would surely eclipse even the most sure-footed Hollywood films of the 30s.

TAKE ME OUT (Jonas Odell) viewed 6-05-04 on computer
R 2004

DARTS OF PLEASURE (Scott Lyon) viewed 6-05-04 on computer
R 2004

THE DARK OF THE MATINEE (Chris Hopewell) viewed 6-05-04 on computer
R 2004

THE LAST UNICORN (Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr.) viewed 6-16-04 on dvd
Grade 61 1982
Joanna Newsom's favorite film, which I probably could have guessed was the case if I hadn't known before-hand because it seems to exist in a world stuck between fantasy, dream and poetry. The film is most successful when it coasts on its weird surrealism (the butterfly reciting prose, for instance) and begins to flounder into the second half when the unicorn makes a transformation. Animation is also very odd; mixing old American animation traditions with new Japanese anime traditions that were beginning to take shape, although both look equally poor on this shit dvd in release from Artisan.

RUNNING ON KARMA (Johnny To and Ka-Fai Wai) viewed 6-16-04 on dvd
Grade 49 2003

THE REMAINS OF THE DAY (James Ivory) viewed 6-17-04 on dvd
Grade 72 1993
I have dreaded the Merchant-Ivory films for far too long it seems; with the subdued tone and casual pace of this film creating an enormous amount of emotional involvement with the characters. The two main plot threads (the questionable political involvement with the Nazis and the relationship between the lead butler and maid) both pay off in the same general direction; that sometimes being a proper British gentleman is not the proper thing to do for your own well-being. Performances are superb, but the film sometimes crosses the line into airless and measured when the subject seems to call for some kind of breakthrough.

WE DON'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (John Curran) viewed 6-20-04 in theater (LAFF)
Grade 42 2004

RED LIGHTS (Cedric Kahn) viewed 6-21-04 in theater (LAFF)
Grade 79 2004

FREE RADICALS (Barbara Albert) viewed 6-21-04 in theater (LAFF)
Grade 38 2003

INTIMATE STRANGERS (Patrice Leconte) viewed 6-23-04 in theater (LAFF)
Grade 59 2004

SPROUT AND THE BEAN (Terri Timely) viewed 6-24-04 on computer (twice)
Grade NR 2004

DEATHDREAM (Bob Clark) viewed 6-25-04 on dvd
Grade 76 1972

RUN FOR COVER (Nicholas Ray) viewed 6-26-04 on TV
Grade 80 1955

L'AMOUR À MORT (Alain Resnais) viewed 6-27-04 on dvd
Grade 92 1984

FAHRENHEIT 9/11 (Michael Moore) viewed 6-28-04 in theater
Grade 73 2004

FREAKY FRIDAY (Mark Waters) viewed 6-28-04 on TV
Grade 54 2003

THE BUGS BUNNY/ROAD RUNNER MOVIE (Chuck Jones) viewed 7-02-04 on TV
Grade 68 1979
Also known as The Great American Chase and that title more accurately describes the material here, since the chase is the main connection between all the included films (Road Runner doesn't actually show up until well after the hour mark - Daffy was robbed of title credit). This film has some of the very best of the Loony Toons shorts (including Duck Amuck and Rabbit Fire), but the shorts are great as stand-alone pieces and Bugs Bunny's introduction to them is fairly disposable. As a road-show reminder of some great films this is effective, but far from essential given the new Loony Toons dvds.

THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES (Fritz Lang) viewed 7-03-04 on TV
Grade 47 1940
Easily the least of the Fritz Lang films I have seen to date, without much in the way of distinctive style or personality technically and lame concessions to the production code on the story telling level. Frank James' character is especially problematic, with his motivating goal of vengeance undercut by the film's protection of his innocence at all times. Also he is unfortunately paired with his son Clem, played by Jackie Cooper, and both performance and character combine for new heights in annoyance.

THE KING OF THE ANTS (Stuart Gordon) viewed 7-03-04 on dvd
Grade 69 2003
A contemporary horror film with capitalistic greed standing in as the monster; with the protagonist a lower-class handyman who has to ride his bike around Los Angeles and will turn towards crime as a way to climb up from his class level. This looks to be developing into a low-rent contemporary noir but it takes a nasty twist towards sadistic horror and then back into a riff on revenge films. Stuart Gordon uses his low-budget to great effect: employing hand-held and natural sets that make the film feel cheaply sun-drenched and nervous. He also has a good eye for casting known actors and letting them play to their strengths (Ron Livingston and George Wendt stand out as actors playing type-casting with a twist [a big twist for Wendt who uses his "Cheers" friendliness to offset sadism]). The script by Charlie Higson often wavers close to the Tarantinoverse that became popular after Pulp Fiction, which works sometimes (a few key speeches have build very well) and other times it falls totally flat (pop culture name-checking John Tesh). Gordon is one of the few active horror directors from the 70s and 80s that is still making vital and intriguing films, and between this film and Dagon he should be trusted with a slightly larger budget and a notable studio.

UFORIA (John Binder) viewed 7-04-04 on video
Grade 63 1980
UFOria is a visually flat but originally quirky comedy about the desire for people to believe in something and those that try to take advantage of that desire. The film doesn't really come together completely but moves in unexpected directions and is often genuinely funny. Plus it has great performances from each of the three main players.

BROKEN LIZARD'S CLUB DREAD (Jay Chandrasekhar) viewed 7-04-04 on dvd
Grade 49 2004
Not funny or scary enough but kinda fun for what it is.

HE WALKED BY NIGHT (Alfred Werker and Anthony Mann uncredited) viewed 7-04-04 on dvd
Grade 77 1948
My problems with the "Dragnet" narration aside, this is a taut and very effective thriller with beautiful shadowy John Alton cinematography (his name in the opening credits pretty much assures a film that will be brilliantly shot). I also like the way the film gives shade to the characters on both sides: the killer is given a pet to make him somewhat sympathetic (killers were more likely to kick dogs in films of the 40 than they were to own them). I don't know how the direction was split up in this film (it is credited solely to Werker) but it feels right at home with Mann's other film noir T-Men and Raw Deal from the same period, all with the impeccable Alton.

BEFORE SUNSET (Richard Linklater) viewed 7-05-04 in theater
Grade 94 2004

BRING IT ON (Peyton Reed) viewed 7-06-04 on dvd
Grade 56 2000
Some foreshadowing to what Reed would do with Down With Love; witty use of film language, turning conventions on their head and always on the verge of breaking out into musical numbers. However, the material here just isn't as strong as Down With Love and this film meanders on in the second half (Roughly any of the long blocks of cheerleading). Standout scene is a wordless, romantic showstopper of the two young lovers brushing their teeth.

MURDEROUS MAIDS (Jean-Pierre Denis) viewed 7-08-04 on dvd
Grade 58 2000
A potentially emotionally wrenching film is stylistically removed from the emotional interest, and played as a darkly comedic character study of two maids that eventually turn to murder (SPOILER!, oh wait that's the title). Didn't have much of an impact while I was watching it (certainly not in the same ballpark with Heavenly Creatures, even though they have many similarities), although it would have if Denis' direction were as expressive his lead actresses.

GUN CRAZY (Joseph H. Lewis) viewed 7-10-04 on dvd
Grade 82 1949
Interesting structure at work here, with the first reel devoted to the development of the protagonist and his love affair with guns as seen in a series of flashbacks. Then the film develops this relationship by introducing a romantic interest with a woman that represents his love affair with guns; both are dangerous to be with but he can't help himself and both eventually lead to criminality and eventually murder (even with his resistance of getting blood on his hands). The typical film noir device of the femme fatale as the device of tragedy for the protagonist is met with the equally typical film noir comparison of violence with love or sex. "We go together like guns and bullets," the protagonist says at one point making this connection explicit. The film also makes great use of real time photography to give a great sense of immediacy to many of the criminal sequences, especially in the film's many car getaway scenes.

TRIBUTE TO A BAD MAN (Robert Wise) viewed 7-11-04 on TV
Grade 61 1956

SECRET WINDOW (David Koepp) viewed 7-11-04 on dvd
Grade 49 2004

THE CRIME OF MONSIEUR LANGE (Jean Renoir) viewed 7-12-04 on video
Grade 68 1936

SKIDOO (Otto Preminger) viewed 7-12-04 on dvd-r
Grade 62 1968

THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT - DIRECTORS' CUT (Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber) viewed 7-13-04 on dvd
Grade 63 2004

VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (Jaromil Jires) viewed 7-14-04 on dvd
Grade 66 1970

THE MAYOR OF HELL (Archie Mayo) viewed 7-15-04 on TV
Grade 54 1933

HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABEN (Alfonso Cuarón) viewed 7-16-04 in theater
Grade 58 2004

BEFORE THE REVOLUTION (Bernardo Bertolucci) viewed 7-16-04 in theater
Grade 65 1964

THE GRIM REAPER (Bernardo Bertolucci) viewed 7-16-04 in theater
Grade 43 1962

OLD BOY (Chan-wook Park) viewed 7-16-04 on dvd
Grade 74 2003

SPIDER-MAN 2 (Sam Raimi) viewed 7-17-04 in theater
Grade 72 2004

THE BIG SKY (Howard Hawkes) viewed 7-18-04 on dvd
Grade 69 1952

PRINCE OF DARKNESS (John Carpenter) viewed 7-20-04 on dvd
Grade 61 1987

IRREVERSIBLE (Gapar Noe) viewed 7-21-04 on dvd (fifth viewing - first in a year)
Grade 78 2003 (was 90)

HOUSEKEEPING (Bill Forsyth) viewed 7-23-04 on video
Grade 93 1987

THE SPIDER'S STRATAGEM (Bernardo Bertolucci) viewed 7-24-04 in theater
Grade 66 1970

TRAGEDY OF A RIDICULOUS MAN (Bernardo Bertolucci) viewed 7-24-04 in theater
Grade 57 1981

THE SCHOOL OF ROCK (Richard Linklater) viewed 7-31-04 on dvd
Grade 73 2003 (second viewing)

LIVE FROM SHIVA'S DANCE FLOOR (Richard Linklater) viewed 7-31-04 on dvd
R 2003

LOVE ME TONIGHT (Rouben Mamoulian) viewed 8-5-04 on TV
Grade 74 1932
A great musical with an ingenious sense of rhythm prescribed to everyday elements within the plot space. The standout musical sequence is clearly the "Isn't It Romantic" number which starts within a French tailor's shop and carries the song over to different locations and plot threads, as if they all exist upon the same space musical vibrancy and passionate romanticism. However, as great as many of the musical moments are in this film, unfortunately the film is saddled with a third rate plot of mistaken identity and eventual romance (at first she hates him but eventually she warms up to him, of course); which might have still worked if the plot had been finessed with a little more confidence.

KILL BILL: VOL 2 (Quentin Tarantino) viewed 8-7-04 on dvd (third viewing)
Grade 93 2004 (no change from second viewing)

COLLATERAL (Michael Mann) viewed 8-9-04 in theater
Grade 69 2004

GREEN FISH (Lee Chang-dong) viewed 8-10-04 on dvd
Grade 54 1997

OASIS (Lee Chang-dong) viewed 8-14-04 on dvd
Grade 47 2002

THE DRIVER (Walter Hill) viewed 8-15-04 on dvd
Grade 63 1978

SERVING SARA (Reginald Hudlin) viewed 8-16-04 on TV
Grade 31 2002

THE CINCINNATI KID (Norman Jewison) viewed 8-18-04 in theater
Grade 60 1965

CALIFORNIA SPLIT (Robert Altman) viewed 8-18-04 in theater (second viewing - first in theater)
Grade 92 1974

TAKING LIVES (DJ Caruso) viewed 8-21-04 on dvd
Grade 45 2004

WHEN WILL I BE LOVED (James Toback) viewed 8-23-04 in theater
Grade 47 2004

BAISE-MOI (Virginie Despentes / Coralie Trinh Ti) viewed 8-23-04 on dvd
Grade 38 2000

THIS GIRL'S LIFE (Ash) viewed 8-24-04 on TV
Grade 34 2003

LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE (Pen-Ek Ratanaruang) viewed 8-26-05 in theater
Grade 49 2003

ZEBRAMAN (Takahi Miike) viewed 9-2-04 on dvd
Grade 52 2004

CANDYMAN (Bernard Rose) viewed 9-3-04 on dvd (third viewing)
Grade 71 1992

BONE (Larry Cohen) viewed 9-3-04 on dvd
Grade 63 1972

THE BOURNE SUPREMACY (Paul Greengrass) viewed 9-6-04 in theater
Grade 57 2004

OUTFOXED: RUPERT MURDOCH'S WAR ON JOURNALISM (Robert Greenwald) viewed 9-6-04 on dvd
Grade 53 2004

PRIMER (Shane Carruth) viewed 9-7-04 in theater
Grade 71 2004

JERSEY GIRL (Kevin Smith) viewed 9-9-04 on dvd
Grade 25 2004

SCHIZOPOLIS (Steven Soderbergh) viewed 9-14-04 on dvd (second viewing)
Grade 67 1996

THE PUNISHER (Jonathan Hensleigh) viewed 9-15-04 on dvd
Grade 41 2004

CREEPSHOW (George A. Romero) viewed 9-17-04 on dvd (second viewing - similar grade)
Grade 64 1982

MAN ON FIRE (Tony Scott) viewed 9-20-04 on dvd
Grade 37 2004

COFFEE AND CIGARETTES(Jim Jarmusch) viewed 9-24-04 on dvd
Grade 51 2004

GINGER SNAPS BACK (Grant Harvey) viewed 9-25-04 on dvd
W/O 2004


SOMEWHERE OVER THE DREAMLAND (Cheng Wen-Tang) viewed 9-25-04 in theater
Grade 58 2002

F FOR FAKE (Orson Welles) viewed 9-30-04 on video (second viewing)
Grade 94 1975

SUPER SIZE ME (Morgan Spurlock) viewed 10-01-04 on dvd
Grade 49 2004
Documentary at the level of reality TV, relying on the stunt or punchline rather than actually trying to open up the dialogue about the obesity problem. The most interesting interview is between Spurlock and (Fast Food Nation author) Eric Schlosser and that is an extra feature on the dvd, not an actual part of the film, probably because in order to engage with Schlosser the film would have to lose the stunt McDonalds eating which would kill the self-contained publicity of the film (even people who don't watch independent films probably will remember hearing about the guy who ate McDonalds for a month because it is a good hook).

I HEART HUCKABEES (David O. Russell) viewed 10-05-04 in theater
Grade 75 2004

EIGHT DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER (Chia-liang Liu) viewed 10-05-04 on dvd
Grade 72 1983

CHAKUSHIN ARI (Takashi Miike) viewed 10-06-04 on dvd
Grade 60 2003

FAHRENHEIT 911 (Michael Moore) viewed 10-07-04 on dvd (second viewing)
Grade 67 2004 (down from 73)

SHAUN OF THE DEAD (Edgar Wright) viewed 10-12-04 in theater
Grade 43 2004

FINDING NEVERLAND (Marc Forster) viewed 10-13-04 in theater
Grade 40 2004

UNDERTOW (David Gordon Green) viewed 10-14-04 in theater
Grade 64 2004

P.S. (Dylan Kidd) viewed 10-15-04 in theater
Grade 61 2004

ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (Michel Gondry) viewed 10-15-04 on dvd (second viewing)
Grade 81 2004

A TALE OF TWO SISTERS (Ji-woon Kim) viewed 10-17-04 on dvd
Grade 60 2003

IN GOOD COMPANY (Paul Weitz) viewed 10-18-04 in theater (unfinished print)
Grade 38 2004

TARNATION (Jonathan Caouette) viewed 10-19-04 in theater
Grade 39 2004

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (Sidney Lumet) viewed 10-21-04 on dvd
Grade 63 1974

THE STUFF (Larry Cohen) viewed 10-22-04 on dvd
Grade 68 1985

GOD TOLD ME TO (Larry Cohen) viewed 10-22-04 on dvd
Grade 65 1976

Q: THE WINGED SERPENT (Larry Cohen) viewed 10-24-04 on dvd
Grade 61 1982

VERA DRAKE (Mike Leigh) viewed 10-25-04 in theater
Grade 77 2004

BLACK CAESAR (Larry Cohen) viewed 10-26-04 on dvd
Grade 54 1973

CONTROL ROOM (Jehane Noujaim) viewed 10-27-04 on dvd
Grade 75 2004

CONTROL ROOM (Jehane Noujaim) viewed 10-30-04 on dvd (second viewing)
Grade 71 2004 (down from 75)

THE MANSON FAMILY (Jim Van Bebber) viewed 11-01-04 in theater
Grade 47 2004

NOTRE MUSIQUE (Jean-luc Godard) viewed 11-12-04 on dvd
Grade 62 2004

Grade 38 2004

BEFORE SUNSET (Richard Linklater) viewed 11-14-04 on dvd (second viewing)
Grade 96 2004 (upgraded from 94)

BIRTH (Jonathan Glazer) viewed 11-14-04 in theater
Grade 64 2004

YOUNG THUGS: NOSTALGIA (Takashi Miike) viewed 11-19-04 on dvd
Grade 58 1998

BUSH'S BRAIN (Joseph Mealey and Michael Shoob) viewed 11-19-04 on TV
Grade 33 2004

BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE (Paul Mazursky) viewed 11-20-04 on dvd
Grade 71 1969

OVERNIGHT (Tony Montana and Mark Brian Smith) viewed 11-20-04 in theater
Grade 61 2004

ELF (Jon Favreau) viewed 11-21-04 on dvd
Grade 57 2003

SEX IS COMEDY (Catherine Breillat) viewed 11-22-04 on dvd
Grade 73 2002

ALEXANDER (Oliver Stone) viewed 11-29-04 in theater
Grade 72 2004

THE MACHINIST (Brad Anderson) viewed 12-01-04 in theater
Grade 68 2004
Brad Anderson showed with his previous film Session 9 that he can take very little and play it for maximum dread and tension, which means that when Anderson is finally given a good script to work with the results will probably be astonishing. That's not to say that The Machinist is a poorly written film but it is too cute and clever by half, trying to make everything add up and all the pieces of the puzzle fit in exactly the right order when I really couldn't give a shit why, I am just concerned with the how. In fact, without an explanation or some of the cheap screenplay writer's notions of cleverness (like the hangman games on the refrigerator or the photos that are duplicating themselves) I would probably embrace this film more fully, because it is so well executed by Anderson and company. The nightmares pile up and Bale is one of them, with his tremendous stunt acting work here (losing 70 or so pounds) and somehow overcoming his physical appearance and registering a superb performance. I now officially have my eye on Brad Anderson, I am really looking forward to his next film.

THE TERMINAL (Steven Spielberg) viewed 12-01-04 on dvd
Grade 38 2004
Bloated, unfunny and unfortunate. Saved slightly by ending with a bit more grace than I was expecting, but who cares really?

TAE GUK GI: THE BROTHERHOOD OF WAR (Je-gyu Kang) viewed 12-02-04 on dvd
Grade 65 2004
Some amazing battle scenes, although still very much in the spirit of Saving Private Ryan with the over cranked film and gratuitous gore that is only half-glimpsed but registers fully. However, the battle scenes are mounted onto a film that is tremendously melodramatic, somewhere beyond Woo and into Douglas Sirk territory. In fact, the first twenty minutes are so sun drenched and fun loving that you can count down the minutes until those same scenes are shown in a How-Far-They-Have-Come-montage, but damned if that montage didn't still put a lump in my throat. That's the thing about this film, many of its narrative techniques are time-worn and war film clichéd but they register just the same. This film even has the obligatory dude that whips out his family photo only to [SPOILER!] end up dead a few scenes later - but then if it hadn't it might have seemed like it wasn't trying hard enough. (Final note: is it just me or does the main theme to this film sound a lot like the melody to Whitney Houston's All At Once?)

A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT (Jean-Pierre Jeunet) viewed 12-03-04 in theater
Grade 66 2004
It has always been on the horizon but it appears that finally Jeunet has disappeared completely into his own cinematic world; full of compulsive story anecdote points, strange or grotesque humor, boundless imagination and stylistic excesses. A Very Long Engagement has nearly everything Amelie had and violent war sequences and a sinuous mystery plot (which winds and weaves past the point of intense involvement and sometimes made me feel like I should have been taking notes on the various character relationships, locations, etc). The film is somewhat shapeless and doesn't really gel the way it sometimes threatens to do, but like Oliver Stone's Alexander or David O. Russell's I Heart Huckabees it is such a distinct vision and soaring entertainment that the occasional blunder or misstep really does little to lessen the overall impact of the filmmaking.

LE CHANT DU STYRENE (Alain Resnais) viewed 12-04-04 on dvd
R 1958
Resnais laid the groundwork for his experiments in his narrative films with experimental documentary work in the lyrical war poem Night and Fog and this shorter doc Le Chant du Styrene. In this film, the construction of plastic tubs and goods are traced backwards from conception at the factory press to the manufacturing of the plastic used to construct the goods. Resnais sets up his eventual non-linear storytelling (this story is told backwards) but also the widescreen compositions of complex architecture he would embrace shortly in Last Year At Marienbad and his work with (the great composer) George Delerue sets up his later musical films.

CLOSER (Mike Nichols) viewed 12-05-04 in theater
Grade 56 2004
Mike Nichols revisits the sexual politics of Carnal Knowledge here and does a mostly serviceable job at it, injecting some welcomed dark humor among the relationship destruction and sexual jockeying for position. However, the screenplay by Patrick Marber (from his own play) feels very written, with some characters talking a little too articulately for their class/occupation (this is especially the case with Portman's Alice character; although I suspect that this role was made more intelligent to fit Portman, who like Jodie Foster isn't capable of playing dumb very well) and many of the scenes unfold like scenes or big dialogue set-pieces, you can feel the screenplay's gears working towards monologues or big showdowns that eventually drains the momentum. Also, the films continuously ties back to the 'Strangers' motif which is trite the most explicit example of the film trying to push its theme upon you with a bludgeon (get it, they are still strangers - even with the sex). So finally, you are left with a well acted (especially by Clive Owen) film with some very good individual moments and certainly a more adult look at relationships than the impotent We Don't Live Here Anymore, but sadly not much else.

THE AVIATOR (Martin Scorsese) viewed 12-11-04 in theater
Grade 77 2004
The Aviator represents a return to the no bullshit narrative fluidity of Goodfellas; compounding many years, characters and narrative threads into a film that just cranks and crackles with confidence. While the film is missing some of the usual Scorsese ingredients that we have come to expect, especially the showy cinematic pyrotechnics and spirituality; it does have a quintessential Scorsese protagonist in Howard Hughes, a man so driven by aviation and other passions/compulsions that they eventually take over his life. DiCaprio has probably never been better and Cate Blanchett continues to be one of the most exciting acting talents working, albeit in a role that must've been a lot of fun to play. I might be underrating this slightly, a second viewing will likely be coming in the next month.

BEFORE SUNSET (Richard Linklater) viewed 12-11-04 on dvd (third viewing)
Grade 96 2004
Just as magical as Before Sunrise and probably the best one-two punch this side of The 400 Blows and Stolen Kisses, taking the two characters from Before Sunrise ten years later and allowing them to catch up on everything in each others lives in the years past. For a romantic movie, there is a hell of a lot of suspense here; not only is the film set up as a race against the clock (he must catch the plane) but also as the character reveal more about themselves during the course of their time together it becomes clear that their lives have changed enough that any romance that they rekindle will have repercussions. Also, the balance of their conversations, memories and confessions build as the characters become more confined, breaking finally late in the film when finally they are allowed to share a private space together. While, Before Sunrise was as much a travelogue of Vienna as it was a love story, Sunset doesn't provide any distance from its characters in that way - we are stuck with these characters for much of the 80 minute runtime and Linklater gracefully keeps his eye on the ball. I simply adore this film.

OCEAN'S 12 (Steven Soderbergh) viewed 12-12-04 in theater
Grade 62 2004
A stupid plot (the last third of which makes very little sense to me) but funny and energetic, with freewheeling style that overcomes any shortcomings in the substance department. The film is helped immensely by a jazzy score by David Holmes (who also scored Ocean's 11 and Out of Sight), which is so damn hip it makes everything seem cool and inspired even when it isn't. A lot of the cast is underused, but then there is a hell of a lot of cast.

THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (Ernst Lubitsch) viewed 12-13-04 on TV
Grade 98 1940
Pretty much perfect, also it is impossible not to finish this film once you have started it (I didn't intend to watch the whole thing - but I couldn't help myself). This is probably my favorite classic Hollywood comedy or romance.

CHARLOTTE AND HER BOYFRIEND (Jean-luc Godard) viewed 12-14-04 on dvd
NR 1960
Redundant to the point of tedium, even with its twenty minute runtime, kind of an early draft of the lovers quarrel of Contempt but minus the wit or insight. You can see Godard's offbeat sense of diegetic music developing (which he would further develop in A Woman is a Woman) and his cinematic playfulness (as the heroine nods her head to look at her lover the camera also tilts behind her for very little reason except to nod at its existence), but this short isn't worth viewing for anyone except the sickest Godard devotees or movie martyrs.

A STORY OF WATER (François Truffaut and Jean-luc Godard) viewed 12-14-04 on dvd
R 1961
Less successful than the other Truffaut shorts but interesting in the way both directors' fingerprints are all over the film. Its premise is Godardian, with the couple basically doing banal shit amidst very troubled times (the water of the title is literally flooding everything around them), however much of the execution and editing rhythms seem to suggest the playful Truffaut that was on the verge of making Jules and Jim and had just made Shoot the Piano Player. A Story of Water is pleasant and featherweight, but basically a new wave appetizer that cannot possibly be mistaken for anything more substantial.

SCORSESE ON SCORSESE (Richard Schickel) viewed 12-15-04 on TV
Grade 63 2004
It’s always of interest to hear a master filmmaker like Scorsese talk about his films, but this documentary never really reaches anything beyond a coffee-table film. Part of the problem might be my over saturation with Scorsese’s filmography and biography; since I have seen most of the films featured here, heard Scorsese’s audio commentaries on a good number of them, read interviews and books about Scorsese and seen both of Scorsese’s films dealing with his obsession with film (both American and Italian – and both with a strongly autobiographical bend). So there is really very little that’s new to me here, except a few words about The Aviator which were of interest and a few clips/pictures from his childhood. Most of the anecdotes are well-worn (De Niro improvised the “You Talkin’ to me” speech in Taxi Driver) but a few were new to me (his encounters with Jerry Lewis, for instance). Schickel’s decision to emphasize some films over others is interesting but not too surprising really, although I wish they had made time to talk a little about After Hours and Bringing Out the Dead.

THE DOOR IN THE FLOOR (Tod Williams) viewed 12-15-04 on dvd
Grade 59 2004
I started the film thinking that it was going to develop into a mystery, probably partially because of the title which seems to suggest something macabre, and so for much of the first half I was expecting something more to develop from out of the drama (is the nanny going to end up dead?). Instead, this is a damaged family drama that unfolds one particular plot point as if it is a mystery and when finally everything is made clear to the viewer it has more impact than if it had been disclosed earlier in the film. However, I didn’t buy some of the character interactions, especially between the visiting boy and Kim Basinger’s wife character (who remains an enigma throughout the film, mostly because she remains so closed off even when she is supposed to be opening up). Also, the side plot point with Mimi Rogers seems fairly superfluous after it has finally played out. Still, the film has a good feel for subtle gestures to stand in for bigger moments and doodles around with the characters in a way that feels authentically novelistic, but it just misses for me. Jeff Bridges continues to be fantastic.

HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS (Zhang Yimou) viewed 12-16-04 in theater
Grade 57 2004
A different film than Hero for sure; this time emphasizing melodrama and a different beautiful color scheme, but I still felt a similar lack of entanglement with the proceedings. The plot that guides the characters through House of Flying Daggers is terribly implausible for one and the structure and tempo of the film rely on set pieces to carry the film forward rather than the characters that occupy the set pieces. Then when the film kicks into full-blown melodrama, we are left with characters that we have not grown to know or care about beyond the most superficial level of involvement (perhaps if Zhang had tipped his hat to the [SPOILER] love triangle that was to appear in the last third I would have cared about it). So what remains finally is an exercise in style, which is still something of an achievement when the style is on the superb level of this or Zhang's Hero.

HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (Clint Eastwood) viewed 12-20-04 in theater
Grade 75 1973
Strange western/horror hybrid helps chart the late 60s/early 70s revisionist westerns as one of the most kick ass genres of films that challenged the usual expectations involved with watching films. Tonal switches and ugly characters abound make this pretty hard to sludge through though, especially in the first half which never quite lets you catch your footing before kicking your feet out from under you again. Last act is masterful, as the takes its final tonal shift towards psychological terror and the mounting of dread is palpable.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (Sergio Leone) viewed 12-20-04 in theater (second viewing - first theatrical - grade slightly lower)
Grade 66 1968
Leone is pretty damn self-absorbed by this point, basically filtering everything through his abstract style and pacing. First two sequences are long-winded setups to characters that die, which sets up Leone's inability to let anything fall aside for narrative economy; basically making the film a treasure trove for people who already love Leone and pretty dull for those who find him less than extraordinary. I am somewhere in between I guess and I continually fluxed between thrilled and bored, appreciating the operatic grace Leone brings to everything he touches but still wishing that someone had stepped in and given him a smack on the ass. Touches of humor (dark and otherwise) are greatly appreciated, but next to Eastwood's lean and mean High Plains Drifter (the first half of the double bill I saw), Once Upon a Time in the West needs to get over itself.

LOVE OBJECT (Robert Pagini) viewed 12-21-04 on dvd
Grade 42 2003
I actually quite liked the set up to this shoe-string budgeted horror film, with the hero putting all his female fantasies onto his sex doll as its personality. However, given the subject matter I wish Pagini would lighten up a bit and the final decline into routine stalker/mad scientist horror is very disappointing. I listened to the commentary and Pagini seems like a cool and smart dude, I hope I like his next film more.

RAISE THE RED LANTERN (Zhang Yimou) viewed 12-23-04 on (a terrible) dvd
Grade 82 1991
Probably the most cinematic use of the color red this side of Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now, with red initially bringing warmth to whatever house the master enters. Then red begins to stand in for what is hidden from plain sight, with the servant's stolen red lanterns and their presence at their houses portraying their back dealings and dishonesty towards the passed down codes of conduct. Finally, the red starts to stand in for the hatred and insanity that spreads throughout the household, which grows increasingly sterile and cold in palette. Sorry, I doubt this is meaningful to anyone but it is the thing that struck me most about this film and its emotional effect.

THE BLACK CAT (Edgar G. Ulmer) viewed 12-23-04 on video
Grade 73 1934
The first of the classic Universal horror films that I actually like, probably because this relies not on creature archetypes but strange psychological behavior and torment. The whole film feels like a strange dream that never really fully reveals itself, even the fear of the black cat comes up basically as a strange side-note to the main action. Also, the German Expressionistic inspired setting for the film is more effective here than in most of the films it borrows from - it's a shame that Ulmer never again had such large production to support his vision.

THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU (Wes Anderson) viewed 12-25-04 in theater
Grade 75 2004
I definitely need another viewing to fully absorb this thing and all its eccentricity, as it pushes Wes Anderson's world past the point that it makes much sense without some kind of auteurist guide. That the film is basically the water adventure version of The Royal Tenenbaums has already been documented elsewhere, but really all of Wes Anderson's films share a large group of traits with each other; from the characters uniformed wardrobe to the fixation with father figures, that a Wes Anderson film is becoming more of a genre than a statement of authorship.

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (Jonathan Demme) viewed 12-27-04 on dvd
Grade 57 2004

CODE 46 (Michael Winterbottom) viewed 12-28-04 on dvd
Grade 53 2004

THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (Wes Anderson) viewed 12-31-04 on dvd (third viewing)
Grade 80 2001 (slight downgrade)