Monday, December 18, 2006

La Terra Trema (1947) ***1/2

La Terra Trema, the legendary Italian film that launched the career of director Luchino Visconti (who would later direct such classics as Rocco e sei Fratelli and The Leopard with Burt Lancaster) is a decidedly simple film. It moves at a farily slow pace and sustains a running time of nearly 3 hours. All the actors in it are non actors, actual Sicillian fishermen Visconti picked for the movie. This is a mixed blessing: some of the performances are heartbreakingly real, most of them are plain terrible. Gorgeously photographed by Aldo Graziati (credited in the movie as G.R. Aldo) and wonderfully scored by Willy Ferrero, Visconti weaves a beautiful tragedy of the life of the poor. The narration is a stark reminder for the audience members who try to escape from putting themselves in the main character's shoes.

La Terra Trema takes us through the ups and downs of a poor Italian fishing family in a small coastal village where their hard work is exploited by greedy fish merchants. The narrator tells us: They don't even earn enough money to keep from starving. But when they came in from the sea, their nets were full. One day, Ntoni, who of his family seems to be the only one who opposes injustice, comes up with an idea: his family will mortgage the house, buy a boat, and sell their fish themselves in the city.

It takes some convincing, but eventually his family agrees, setting in motion a sad chain of events.

Many of the actor's terribly wooden acting and a strangely abandoned plotline involving Ntoni's brother Cola (what happens to him again?) weighs the film down, but somehow it perseveres. We remember this film because somehow, although we are not Sicilian fishermen, this story seems very real to us, and we can feel their pain, their anguish and humiliation, their anger, their despair, and their final acceptance of defeat. The film's message is told, like most of the film, bluntly, straight out: until the working class unites to oppose injustice, injustice will continue to subdue the working class.

I notice one detail: in the first "haggling" scene we see, the camera floats back and forth dreamily in an especially beautiful shot I felt like mentioning. There are, actually, quite a few gorgeous visuals presented in this film.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Mad Max (1980) *

Two hours of my life. Wasted.

That's all I have to say.

Princess Mononoke (1999) ****

The forest sprites.

Why animation?

Nowadays, you can do just about anything with visual effects. Of course, many filmmakers will never realize the fatal flaw in this strategy: in using visual effects, they are making the audience aware of the fact that the 300 ft. tall giant elephants are CGI (after all, we know they're not real) and distracting them, and pulling them away from the film. When you see a 300 ft. tall elephant in a film, no matter how real it looks you think "oooh, what good CGI" and are seperated, in a way, from the film.

In an animated film, of course, no one has to worry about this, because everything is animated in the first place, and, interestingly enough, it seems more "real." I personally believe the whole point of animation should be to portray all that would be impossible with live action. That said, this is exactly why Princess Mononoke should be on anyone's top 100 movies list.

Like all Miyazaki films its quite sentimental, yet this one is also surprisingly dark. There would be no other way, of course, to portray mankind's destruction of nature.

Princess Mononoke tells the story of an epic war between man and nature, that, as we come upon it (during 14th century Japan) appears to be coming to a close.

We hardly have time to admire the beautiful watercolor painted landscapes before the film attacks us. An alarm is sounding around a small village and surrounding countryside. Our protagonist, Prince Ashitaka (who rides an elk named Yakkuru, who acts a lot like a dog) spies from a watchtower something strange moving in the woods. There is a brief suspensful moment before out bursts a mass of thousands of purplish worms that seem to surround a large animal. I add, if there is any part of the film that specifically gets it a PG-13 besides the violence...well, those worms are unsettling, to say the least. Make sure you aren't eating when they come on.

The worm-beast-thing (identified as a demon) attacks the village and Ashitaka kills it. In doing so, however, the demon puts a curse on him that will, over a period of time, eat away at his soul and kill him. As a village tradition, he cuts off his top knot and leaves his village, never to return. His goal is to find where the demon came from and how a ball of iron might have found its way inside it. He eventually arrives at Irontown, a very literally named fortress which produces the majority of iron used in Japan. Irontown is waging a war against a band of gods serving the Great Forest Spirit to protect the surrounding forest form logging and mining. Interesting how the only animals we see in the film are the ones who might be able to survive the longest. You have the wolves and the giant boars, who can fight, the apes, who can climb trees, and tiny forest sprites who rattle their heads as a friendly greeting. Well, they can just disappear at will.

Irontown is winning the war against the environment, but they soon also have to fight the emperor's samurai for their iron. The 'town is run by Lady Hiboshi, who seems generally cold and cruel, but has human touches here and there. She is willing to use her own fighters, who worship her, as human bait and drops bombs on their heads as a stampede of boars attack. On the other hand, she is one of the few people willing to take care of lepers, and employs them in her gunworks. She also helped buy women out of city brothels to help run the town. Ashitaka takes a tour of Irontown, then later a tour of the forest, whose representative in this case is a girl named "San," who is called "Princess Mononoke" by the Irontown residence (that's "Princess of the Beasts" to you). San was raised by wolves and seems drawn to the idea of putting a spear in Lady Hiboshi. It also happens she is around Ashitaka age. a-HEM.

Ashitaka runs back and forth: Why can't we all just get along? He makes quite an impression with all but his efforts are futile and make no difference in the long run.

This is Hayao Miyazaki's masterpiece. The man's trademark involves sequences of stunning imagination and visual beauty, and there's plenty to go around here. I particularily remember one scene where "The Great Forest Spirit" turning into a giant by moonlight and striding past the mountains, as millions of little forest sprites, sitting in the tops of the trees, rattle their heads as he passes by.

Princess Mononoke is a violent film. It aint The Wild Bunch but there are decapitations, limb losses, scenes that if adapted into live action would not look out of place in a Tarantino film. These scenes are, however, are brief, few, and scattered throughout the film. Don't take your kids to this film. It is not a kiddie film. I'm just sayin'!

The Japanese language version is considerably better than the English one - the Americans tend to overdramatize it Shakespeareanly, especially Minnie Driver, who makes something hilarious out of just saying "Fire!" (In a British accent: "Fiyahhhhhh!").

The music is by Joe Hisaishi, who has done all of Miyazaki's work since Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. He scores the film near perfectly. 'Nuff said.

If you are a human being, you will leave this film stunned. It is, in my ever so humble opinion, the greatest film of 1999, and one of the greatest films ever made.

P.S. I know its hard to take the anime fans seriously when they call this one of the greatest films ever made. Just ignore them and see this. You will be impressed.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Sunset Boulevard (1950) ****


Sunset Boulevard is the ancestor of all films David Lynch.

It's impossible to watch it without thinking of Lynch and realizing it must have inspired many of his films. In many Lynch films, a character who seems innocent is pulled into a dark vortex, while the entrance they came through seems to get further and further away.

Joe Gillis (William Holden) isn't innocent, but that's where the differences are left behind. As soon as he parks his car in what appears to be an abandoned building he steps into a quicksand pit of darkness, delusion, eventually insanity, and eventually death.

I guess I don't really need to tell you about how great this film is, or what great acting it has. I don't need to tell you how Gloria Swanson's career mirrored her characters (she is even watching one of her own silent films in one scene - if I remember correctly, it was Queen Kelly). I don't need to tell you than Von Stroheim was in real life a legendary director of the 10's and 20's who in fact directed many of Swanson's most famous movies, inlcuding Queen Kelly. I don't need to tell you what a brilliant script this film has. I guess I don't need to tell you the plot either - I assume you know it since you got past the spoiler warning.

Instead, I want to focus on a few details that make the movie brilliant for me.

For instance, take when Joe first "escapes" from Norma's house on New Years Eve. Somehow the scene doesn't relieve us at all, and the reason why is a subtle touch by legendary director Billy Wilder - Joe is still wearing his black suit. He looks completely out of place. He tried to escape the mansion and it came with him.

Or what about that moment when Max von Mayerling (Erich von Stroheim, who directed the classic silent film Greed) picks up Norma's veil while she and Joe Gillis are dancing - watch his face! Watch how his eyes are cast downward in an expression that suggests not only jelousy but also guilt, shame, and regret.

And what about the music? Most people who have only seen the film once only think of those corny, melodramatic DUN DUNNNNNS whenever a twist is revealed, but it's better than that. Take the scene where Joe wakes up after his first night at Norma's and crosses the lawn to her house to ask why his things have been moved. Or at the party when he learns she tried to commit suicide - the tune suddenly turns dark and foreboding - yet the party music plays as loudly as ever in the backround, creating a swirl of insane, indistinguishable sound. And when Joe arrives at her house Mayerling insists: "The musicians musn't know what's happened!" And on they play, as Joe confronts her upstairs, a sort of elevator music party waltz quartet.

Or what about the sets? The brilliant Art Decorators and Set Decorators who gave the house a personality to imply...a dead monkey.

And what about Swanson! I said I wouldn't discuss the performances, but hers is something else entirely. Rarely do film characters intimidate the audience, and make them afraid with simply their presence. She does this and more - she doesn't just think of herself as a movie star, she thinks of herself as a godess, someone who is above everything and more. Watch her face when she first sees Joe packing - she's out of focus, and in the back of the shot - but we can see her face crumple. Her voice is a bizzare contrast to her perfectly graceful, silent-movie tuned body.

And what of the legendary, beautiful final shot? Norma Desmond descends the staircase as an awestruck audience seems frozen in time watching her. She doesn't just walk, she flows through the air. And the camera descends dreamily, flowing with her, until she at last advances towards it and shields her eyes with a flourish of her wrists.

Yes, David Lynch clearly takes much inspiration from this movie, especially in the character of Nancy Olson, the most innocent of all who's presence simply does not seem to make sense in this film. How can she co exist with this darkness? She is very much Laura Dern in Blue Velvet.

How many times can I watch this film and find yet more to discover in every strange detail, details that expand the frame to surround the vision and engulf the senses. If we could smell detailed films then I think I could smell this one, and I nearly can. In fact, I can detect just the slightest whiff of peeling paint...

NEW RELEASES - An Inconvenient Truth ***1/2

Short Review -

An Inconvenient Truth follows Al Gore from city to city giving a slide show on Global Warming. The facts presented may or may not be surprising, but the idea of the film isn't so much about the facts, which we already may know. It's about probing our minds to see what will make us wake up and REACT to the facts, which generally, most of the population push to the back of our heads. Interesting pieces of Al Gore's life are thrown in, especially interesting a story about how his older sister died of lung cancer and how uncannily it ties into the message he is trying to get to the next audience. And Al Gore...who knew he could be...witty? And...interesting? It doesn't take a genius to figure out he could have won the election if he had talked like this during the campaign.

Director David Guggenheim brings a sort of beauty to the proceedings, so he should be credited as well.

Reds (1981) ****

The two films most often compared to Reds are Chariots of Fire and Gone With the Wind, for obvious enough reasons. I think I can safely say Reds is solidly, infinetely superior to both. Are there flaws? Yes. Do they affect the film? No. Was I crying at the end? Yes. Do I normally cry at the end of films? Almost never.

Beatty's decidedly old fashioned tale of doomed love just doesn't seem like the 80's. Perhaps because it was the last film to have an intermission, or perhaps just the perfect atmosphere of the period which is captured. In most modern period pieces the films always never really take you there, and we never really feel like we're in 17th century whatever. Reds makes us feel like we have lived the lives of its protagonists, the way it sifts through their lives and never pauses too long on the ups and never seems short enough on the downs. Life, it seems, moves too quickly, for us and them.

Featuring a variety of fantastic supporting performances including Jack Nicholson as Eugene O'Neil, Maureen Stapleton as legendary anarchist/feminist Emma Goldman, Edward Herrman, Jerzy Kosinsky, and Paul Sorvino, Reds takes us from conversation to conversation at in the transition from the 1910's to the 20's. The country's leading socialist, communist, anarchist, and feminist intellectuals converge in small apartments and beachouses, laugh, drink, trade women, and organize I.W.W. meeting and opposition to the war. John Reed (Beatty) is a journalist who starts living with a writer, Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton, absolutely gorgeous...) who feels he pays more attention to his politics than his personal life.

Indeed, Reed doesn't seem very good at balancing politics and art, the world's problems and his problems, his public and personal life. He only seems to realize this in the film when it's too late.

On the technical aspect, the film features a very witty screenplay (Emma Goldman, who is wisely not overused, gets all the best lines and steals all her scenes) and wonderful cinematography by legendary Italian DOP Vitorrio Storatio, who uses still, mostly undramatic shots to suggest a 19th century painting.

The turning point in this film is the Bolshevik revolution, and we can feel the ecstacy of the characters - finally, it's really happening, even as we dread what comes next, as it becomes painfully clear to them Russia will not be the dream country of neighborly socialism they had imagined. Emma Goldman, who has been deported to Russia because of her political activism (yes, they could do that back then) realizes it first. We think Reed will never be able to accept it - he's just been fighting too hard for it - but it appears towards the last scene he does, when he breaks down in front of his Russian superiors: "You suppresed dissent, and when you killed dissent, you killed the revolution!"

Let's talk of Diane Keaton, who has never seemed more achingly beautiful. Her performance is incredible. Through the first third she pretends to not be attached to men, but she keeps coming back to John Reed. She speaks so much without speaking, and watching her become a quiet, subservient housewife in the scenes following the intermission is more than we can bear. She regains her spirit when her husband is imprisoned in Finland and stowaways to Europe, travelling hundreds of miles on foot, much of it through snowy, unhospitable terrain. Because fate is cruel, Beatty has been rebought into heavily guarded Russia by the time she gets there. And when she gets into Russia, he is away on a trip to the Middle East. And of course his train will be attacked on the wey back.

The choice made by director, writer, producer and star Warren Beatty that makes this film incredible is to intersperse the scenes with interviews with real life people who knew John Reed. Their testimony goes clearly against one another and occaisonally against common sense - one woman with a blue hat insists: not a soul was against the war! Not one! Instead of seeming to interrupt the movie, the interviews flow together with the film, and they seem to narrate the story. And they further enhance the feeling these are real people, and not just that, people we have met and shared so much time with. Didn't we have a great time?

The final scene is devastating, especially with the use of a speechless small child - you will see what I mean. Ah, but what a romantic movie this is! Tragedy is what truly seems to bring couples together - even more so then comedy. It applies to the audience and the characters. It's too much to watch poor Louise weeping over her husbands body in the final shot. It's too much...

Monday, December 11, 2006

Meet Me in Saint Louis (1944) ****

Wow. I was never expecting something that brilliant when I decided to start watching it, but I couldn't take my eyes off. I hadn't heard terrific things about Meet Me in Saint Louis.

The film, sappy as I admit it is, is unlike most musicals in there doesn't seem to be a single musical number that is wasted. It had a terrifically witty and Oscar worthy screenplay and some of the most priceless moments in the history of cinema itself. Gorgeously photographed in vibrant color.

Judy Garland has an excellent voice. Listening her sing "The Trolley Song" or "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is orgasmic, BUT the standout moment was a duet of Mary Astor and Leon Ames.

Wonderful performances by (especially) Harry Davenport and Margaret O'Brien. Garland overacts a little at times.

Vincente Minnelli's direction is what makes this timeless. Take a scene where everyone at the dinner table is so tense they snap to attention when the patriarch bites into a vegetable. You just have to smile your way through this one. Even when the cliches thrum in they manage to leave an emotional impact worthy of study.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

NEW RELEASES - Inland Empire ****

Isn't it strange what love does?

There is simply no point looking for meaning and symbolism in a David Lynch movie - its simply not there. The images presented are not meant to be interpreted, they're meant to provoke a reaction in the viewer, an emotion. With David the emotion is almost always horror and fear. I can think of no other director who is better at it, or, for that matter, any director who has even attempted it the way he does.

Take, for instance, the first line of this review. It means nothing and makes relatively no sense in relation to the rest of the review. But even knowing this now a small part of your subconcious considers me "clever" for putting this line in which is also the line from the song used in the trailer (and movie). You have to force yourself and your brain to acknoledge you were wrong in the first place and I am actually a stupid putz.

Now feel free to expose me for who I am for that ridiculous line, but do NOT - not, I say! - do this in a Lynch movie. For those of you that have not been to his world before, here's some advice. In watching them, you are standing at the Event Horizon. Do not resist it. Simply allow yourself to be pulled in. Stop trying to make sense of it all - isn't that what ruined 2001: A Space Odessey for you? Stop trying to form your own reactions and emotions. Allow the film to take control, to choose which reactions and emotions will be pulled from you.

Be warned: this is a looooonnng movie. Think the longest movie you've ever seen and multiply it by 2. And then some. And then some. And then some. And then some. And then some. And then some. And then some.

"Mainstream" audiences don't know how to react to a movie like this: most humans like to be in control of their own senses (so yes, this is, in a way, a movie for stoners). They resist the tug. And I have advice:
Don't be afraid. You don't have to run away from the black hole. Because, eventually, after this very long time, it will spit you out again, and, to give thanks for your attention, it allows you to taste your world again, and you can look upon those petrified three hours of your life and laugh. Because, after all, our world isn't anything like David's. Is it?

Now I haven't seen all of David Lynch (in fact, I really need to catch up) but this is probably his Lynchiest movie to date. Think the Lynchiest moment of the Lynchiest movie he made, and extend it over a three hour 15 minute period. And then some. And then some. And then some. And then some. And then some. And then some. And then some. I mean, every half an hour we are treated to what should be funny but is strangely disturbing: a room of humanoid rabbits who say things that do not correlate to the last and next spoken sentences, and a laugh track to boot.

The synopsis, if you can call it that - the movie only remains "plot driven" for the first 45 minutes or so: After a number of false beginnings, we meet an actress, Nikki (Laura Dern, Lynch favorite finally given "her role") who appears to have just moved in: a bizarre lady (Grace Zabiriskie, another Lynch favorite) invites herself in to "greet the new neighbors." She says strange things that seem...relevant. In about an hour or two hours or so. In fact, everything in the second half of the movie you think you've seen this somewhere before in the first half. The film is oiled with a sense of Deja Vu.

Nikki just gets a role in a movie directed by "Kingsley" (Jeremy Irons), costarring "Devon," (Justin Theroux, another Lynch favorite) a notorious bad boy from the tabloids. Nikki is married to someone very important who suspects her of everything and is extremely threatening to his wife and Devon.

Kingsley, during a script reading, tells his actors the movie had been attempted to have been made years before, but it was not finished because the lead stars were murdered in ways uncannily similar to Nikki and Devon's life.

Nikki eventually gives in to Devon's advances and what follows is The Lynch. That is where the plot ends. Nikki meets all the past women of Devon's life in a closet, "8 1/2" style, who show her Laura Dern playing different women who are all in trouble in similar circumstances, but is a completely different women each time. Instead of allowing the sequences to flow together Lynch gives us a *jolt* each time until we're begging for mercy.

I've never seen a film that is able to so vividly recreate what it's like to dream. Wes Craven came close with some details from the first and last of the "Nightmare on Elm Street Series"...but not really close to this. This is, basically, after the plot leaves us behind, a very, very long nightmare. Inland Empire is one of the scariest films I have ever seen.

And yea, Laura Dern is good. This is one of the greatest performances of the past few decades. She's incredible. And then some. And then some. And then some. And then some. And then some. And then some. And then some.

There's nothing to be afraid of, children. Because, eventually, the movie ends, and you can walk out of the theater. I would never see this movie again, but I'm glad I've seen it once, and it's highly recommended. We are allowed to taste our own world again, and it's a relief and escape because our world isn't anything like David's.


Thursday, December 7, 2006

NEW RELEASES - United 93 ***

Short review - United 93 is a film, that, in many ways, lives up to the hype that surrounds it. The way writer*/director Paul Greengrass brilliantly recreates a feeling of dread and tension the first third, then panic for the second, and finally chaos, terror, and confusion for the third. And there's some mourning in there too. It's hard not to be heartbroken watching passenger after passanger call their loved ones and tell them they love them. Some explain - some don't, and simply hang up.

The film, as moving as it is as a tribute to the lost, is also itself disturbingly morally lax and racist - in a scene I found repulsive in the beginning where we see the hijakers reading the Koran and hear it imposed over shots of New York City on 9/11 morning - and more scenes contrasting the terrorists reciting their Arabic prayers to the passengers, who are all reciting christian prayers. The implications are so racist it nearly blots out the artistic achievment in the rest of the movie.

That's right, this is the Birth of a Nation of our New Day and Age. Hopefully we will be wise enough to regard it as so 90 years from now. Some argue: but shouldn't you be focusing on the artistic part of the movie? That's the Nation debate back and forth, and, well, I always thought racist movies kind of subtracted from the "intelligence" factor, no?

So my final analysis:

Suspensful, moving, and stupid.

*Although there apparently wasn't really much of a shooting script.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

NEW RELEASES The Fountain ****

I'll keep the review fairly short. But let me begin that I was expecting nothing great going to The Fountain. I wasn't even sure if I was going to see it in theaters or wait till DVD. But I had faith in Aronofsky, so I went to see it expecting a "good" movie.

How surprised I was. What happened to me for the past two hours makes all other films this year seem infinetely inferior in comparison: even The New World. I thought World would never budge from it's place as the best film of the year, but it has. The Fountain is one of the greatest films I've ever seen. This and Underground...not a bad weekend!

Watching the film, I felt the outermost layer of my body was a shell, inside of which were my lungs. While my body tried to collapse in on itself, my lungs expanded and sliced easily through my ribcage. And my soul poured along the theater floor like running water and up onto the screen, and it was a part of the movie. Aronofsky's visuals, a strange and perfect comination of DOP Matthew Libatique and compser Clint Mansell's heart-bleeding score, had a kind of reverse effect of that scene in The Purple Rose of Cairo where Jeff Daniels steps out of the movie and into the audience. In The Fountain the screen became a vaccum and the audience stepped into the movie.

I already miss it. I miss the theater, and I miss all the s hit there was on the floor, and I miss the s hitty sound quality that was briefly turned off during the trailer to Apocalypto (and what a good choice of a trailer to blank out the sound). I miss Aronofsky, Weisz, Jackman, and Burnstyn, and I plan to see them again in the near future.

No star rating sums up watching this.

Underground (1995) ****

"A war is not a war until a man kills his brother."

-Marko the Poet

This sums up my reaction after finishing watching "Undergound:"

Holy shit! This is fucking incredible! This is one of the greatest films I have ever seen! It is, without a doubt, and will remain without a doubt, the greatest film of 1995, and one of the greatest films ever made. Although some films seem to lose their value after they fade in my memory, I will always consider Underground one of the greatest. The scenes stick fresh in my memory: Peter Popara biting down on an electric wire, Marko the poet shaking hands with Stalin, Ivan finding his monkey after more than 30 years. I have never seen a film that was able to so seamlessly blend black comedy and tragedy. This is, we are told, the Yugoslavian way of life.

The film begins during WWII, with two Communist party members fighting the facists invading their country by robbing trains and assasinating political leaders. The men are named Marko and Peter Popara, and they are best friends. These scenes are set in hilarity, as the two of them shrug of tiny things like bombings and Nazis to get the more important things in life, like getting an orgasm from the nearest brothel, or "rescuing" infinitely shallow actress Natalija Zovkov from "Franz," a Nazi luitenant. From their point of view, "rescuing" means tying up Natalija against her will and forcing her to marry Peter Popara. A strange love triangle begins to develop between the three, or perhaps quadrangle when you consider Franz. But when Marko tries to escape with Natalija and Peter Popara in a trunk, a gernade in the trunk goes off and it seems Peter Popara is mortally wounded. Cut to the liberation by Russia: we see Marko shaking hands with important Russian leaders and honoring his dead friend Marko. But then, twenty years later, he is married to Natalija, and we see him go into his basement...

The film is divided into 3 acts. The first is mostly comedy. The second is a mix of comedy and drama. The third is tragedy, but it ends on a strangely happy note - in the afterlife, we meet all the characters who have died, and they are partying and getting drunk on a wedding on a meadow by the ocean. The band that seems to constantly play racious jazz music behind them is there too.

Examine all the scenes where Marko goes into his basement. Every time we suddenly feel as if, in fact, it really is World War II. The scenes are brilliantly executed, showing all the disturbing and opressively disturbing details of life "at the house." And we can feel Ivan's pain, searching his desolated country, searching for his long lost monkey.

The film is clearly a metaphor for life under Russian rule, and the film is a very clever satire when viewed from a long point. But the filmmaker doesn't really want us to see it that way. In the end, it is explained - we are the Yugoslavians. We have a good time, dance, get drunk, tragedy occurs. We have a good time, dance, get drunk again. This is life and this is death.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Badlands ****


Badlands is the first, and probably most accesable, Terrence Malick film. It is the least beautiful and the most depressing. For this film Malick grabs the myth of the heroic couple on the run and tears it to pieces. Rather than becoming a martyr, Sheen's character is caught and we watch him throw bits of memorabilia to admiring cops. We've just watched him senselessly and pointlessly murder innocent people, yet the national guard surrounds him looking at him like he's a hero.

Kit Cruthers (Martin Sheen) is a garbageman in a small South Dakota town. One day he sees the new girl in town twirling a baton in her backyard. The girl's name is Holly Sargis. Her father (Warren Oates) , who is widowed (she tells us in her creepily apathetic and detached narration he had kept their wedding cake in a refrigerator for 10 years) just moved them here from Texas.

Holly is 16. Kit is 25. Every move of his seems to be a complete imitation of James Dean. Kit combs his hair and dresses like James Dean. Hell, Martin Sheen looks more than a little like James Dean. And, we've been expecting it, when Holly finally tells us Kit "looked just like James Dean." The two fall in love and when Holly's father finds out about it, he shoots her dog. At this point of the movie we are siding with Holly and Kit, and when Kit accidentally shoots Holly's father, we can forgive him. We can forgive him when they burn the house and run away. And we watch with enjoyment as they build a treehouse and live completely off the land. We can even forgive him when Sheen shoots the three cops who are looking for him to collect the reward. After all, it was self defense. But our sympathy is beginning to disappear. Kit never seems to show a vulnerable side, and we wonder if he has one.

He is nasty to Holly. And in one masterfully played out scene, our sympathies for both characters vanishes. Kit casually kills completely innocent people that were trying to help him. And Holly looks impassively on as if nothing unusual had happened. She tells us in her voice over it occured to her then that Kit was a very "trigger-happy" person. And this has occured to us too.

The two of them cross the border to Montana, but when they are cornered by a helicopter Holly refuses to follow Kit. Kit stares straight into the camera furiously and for a moment we feel Holly's terror. Sheen has become such an imposing figure that we fear being in Holly's shoes.

In the end, Malick has carefully led us through the traps and obstacles of a cliched film to the conclusion that they were simply this: publicity seeking murderers. Although the film never thinks they are completely evil (see Linda Manz's comment on good and bad people in Days of Heaven it does let us know we are wrong for glorifying them. If any half of the man should be praised, it should be the angle half, not the devil half.

The 40 Year Old Virgin **1/2

"The 40 Year Old Virgin" is one of the most strangely ovverated films I've seen of 2005. It doesn't anything incredible to offer more than the average dumb comedy, yet critics and audiences obsessed over it. I was expecting much more when I decided to see it. And what a terrible disappointment.

But it's not a bad movie, and there are often hysterical moments, many involving Steve Carell, one of the greatest comedians of the past few years. But director Judd Apatow and co writer Carell never seem to be aiming as high as the pedestal this film was put on. The movie occaisonally slips back into standard spoof movie cliches and this is so frustrating it distracts from the overall quality of the film. And let's face it: the ending is terrible. Do we really need a musical number of "Aquarius" at the end? The film is funniest when it lets some of the supporting actors take control of the script and make it funnier than it would originally seem. The first 2/3 of this movie I would put under "very good." But by the last third the supporting actors are no longer valued and the movie becomes contrived and annoying. Some have said Catharine Keener should have gotten a nomination for this instead of Capote because she was "misused" in Capote. Rather, it's the other way around - in Capote she exposes layer upon layer of emotions that are never obvious because she never speaks her mind. In The 40 Year Old Virgin she never gets a chance to show good acting or even comedy. Her function is to be the "striaght" character (think a modern day, sexier Margaret Dumont) and deliver standard, predictable lines.

Often times the film feels choppy and confusing. The direction the characters are going in are confusing. Scenes end too quickly and begin too quickly. The plot, quite often, is extremely confusing, especially around the transition between the second and third thirds of the movie.

But let me talk about Steve Carell. The man is hilarious. And for the first two thirds, he is given free reign. And maybe he does deserve a nomination for best actor...

Well, looking at the lineup that year, maybe not quite. But in the top 10, certainly. Carell is the Brando of comedy. His very eyes and slight twitch of the mouth are executed perfectly, and throws everything into making us laugh. I admire him for doing so and cannot wait to see his future films.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Midnight Cowboy ****

There are some who have called Midnight Cowboy the greatest film ever made, and I can understand where they're coming from. I once thought so and perhaps once again will in the future. I haven't seen Midnight Cowboy in a long time, and perhaps I've forgotten. The film is one of the 5 most devastatingly sad films I've ever seen. The two superb lead performances are by John Voight and, especially, Dustin Hoffman, in his 2nd big film role (the first being The Graduate). Midnight Cowboy is the only film to get an "X" rating and win best picture (it definetely doesn't deserve an X rating, and was rerated "R" a few years later by an embarrased MPAA). It is also (I don't believe this!) the only "X" rated film to be viewed by a president in office. But Shelsinger wasn't surprised by the rating. He said: "Well, we did make the film for adults. It's not something you'd take your 7-year-old to."

Now, it's acclaimed as one of the greatest films ever made, but still, in my opinion, a little undderated. Very few films in history have come close to this great filmmaking.

In a middle-of-nowhere Texas town, naive Joe Buck (John Voight) dreams of becoming a prostitute in New York city, servicing many lonely, aging women. As we begin the film he is already packing for his trip. No one seems to take him seriously. We don't know much about Joe at first, but through confusing, dreamlike flashbacks, some points become clear: He was raised by his grandmother, who we see spanking him as a child in some of the flashbacks. Joe, as a teen, falls for a girl, who, when they are in the back of a car, is raped by Joe's jeleaous gang of friends. It's implied Joe may have been raped too, and this seems especially disturbing later.

Joe arrives in New York after a brilliantly edited sequence in which the people sitting next to him on the bus get steadily less sociable as he travels further north. As "Everybody's Talkin'" plays on a faraway radio, Joe, as the bus enters New York, fantasises countless women all looking for a man of just his description.

New York, however, seems to be a letdown. We watch involvingly embarrasing scenes where Joe tries to pick up women in their 50's, and runs so low on money he is eating ketchup packets on rolls. He finally does manage to pick up a woman (Sylvia Miles, shortest Oscar nominated performance in history) , but, after a tryst in her apartment, cannot convince her to pay him - she is so shocked and angry he ends up paying her. Only later does he realize he has been conned by a master.

Joe is kicked out of his apartment, and the man who owns the building (perhaps noticing his naivity) refuses to let him even get his things from the room. Finally Joe Buck looks around one night and realizes all the other men dressed as cowboys are gay prostitues. He makes a decision and goes into a dark theater with a young student (then unknown Bob Balaban). Schlesinger exercises his cruelest sense of humor here: the movie playing is Moonraker, and he makes the opening clip as suggestive as possible. Then Joe discovers the student doesn't have anything to pay with. He wants to steal his watch but takes pity on the student after he whines pitifully that it's his mother's watch.

He may have finally found help with a street bum who takes pity on him, played by Dustin Hoffman. The character's (and what a character!) name is Enrico Salvatore Rizzo, or, as Joe calls him, Ratso. Ratso is a crippled, sick con man who lives in an abandoned building where he generously allows Joe to live in an extra cot. The two form an unlikely friendship. It's winter and they are freezing to death. There are failed plans to seduce women at hotels, and while Ratso waits outside he imagines being in Miami, playing poker with old ladies, and even racing Joe on the beach (impossible because he is crippled). It is Ratso's dream to live in Miami.

Joe and Ratso eventually sell their only solace, the radio, Joe's last item from Texas. Ratso visits his father's grave. He steals flowers from someone else's grave to lay on his fathers.

Much more will happen, and, in a cliche used many times since, just when it seems Joe and Ratso "have it made" there is only more heartbreak. John Barry's haunting score drives many audiences to tears in the final scene. Just listening to it brings back the power of the movie.

Schlesinger, an outspoken homosexual (some have argued there are homosexual themes between Joe and Ratso - I disagree with this, I think they are just really close friends) had directed many films previously, but this was his first American one (he led Julie Christie to an Oscar in the satire Darling and brought more credibility to his name with Far From the Madding Crowd, among others). He brings an angry, anti-establishment tone to much of this film (used in scenes where Joe, starving to death, sees a gigantic Coca Cola sign blaring down on him), and it is anger as well as sadness that prevails in the end, right up to the apathetic bus passengers who simply turn away.

Monday, November 20, 2006

NEW RELEASES The Queen ****

Director: Steven Frears

Cast: Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, Helen McCrory, James Cromwell

The Queen begins watching Helen Mirren, in one of the greatest performances this year as Queen Liz, sit in her royal attire staring forward coldly. She is being painted. She pauses to stare straigt at us and the audience feels welcomed to chuckle. Tony Blair is about to be, to her disappointment, elected Prime Minister of the England. Here is a clever, subtle, and wise comedy of manners and drama of opinions. The film takes place the week following the death of Princess Diana (she only appears in stock footage) , where more modernized Blair tries to convince the old fashioned Queen to hold a public funeral for Di. Mirren is shocked by the very idea (why does the entire population of England mourn for her anyway?), and we cower in fear while Sheen marches on, boldy throwing off figures like "70% of the population think your actions have damaged the monarchy." In lesser days Blair would have been beheaded.

The Royal family isn't portrayed as the nicest of families, especially Prince Philip, who, after Diana's children have just learned of her death, casually suggests he take them out hunting again so they'll forget it. Elizabeth the First drinks heavily while watching her daughter's adress to the nation on TV. Outside of the palace, Michael Sheen gives an equally riveting performance as Tony Blair (he played him previously in a TV flim also directed by Shears) and Helen McCrory as his anti royalist wife (she gets a hilarious scene in the beginning of the film).

I'm not sure if any of these things happened in real life but I enjoy watching them. The greatest scene involves a Stag, allowing Mirren to break character and show some humanity, even if, in an epilogue, she seems as cold as ever only a few months after Diana's death (and regrets the television appearance).

Shears has crafted a wonderful film that is almost without flaws. It is a complete escape of the theater in every defintion of the word and a very fun time at the Cinema.


Directed by: Alexandero Gonzalez Innarity
Starring: Rinko Kikuchi, Adriana Barazza, Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Koji Kakusho, Gael Garcia Bernal

In Innaritu's Babel, the third in a trilogy of films with similar themes (the first two being Amores Perros and 21 Grams, 4 different stories contain tragedy caused by the language barrier. A Morrocan family buys a gun from a local merchant so their sons can scare the jackals away. The two sons play with the gun on a mountaintop to see if it can shoot as far as the merchant said it could. One of them, clearly the better shot, shoots at a faraway Tourist bus. They don't notice anything at first but then they see the bus stop. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett are a couple vacationing in Morocco when Blanchett is badly wounded. They are taken to the nearest village where she can be treated. In the United States, a Mexican nanny (Adriana Barazza) takes two of the children she is babysitting to Mexico on her son's wedding, but has trouble getting back. And in Japan, a Japanese deaf-mute teen rebel (Rinko Kikuchi) desperately tries to cure her lonlieness. We do not know how these stories are connected at first, because the timelines do not work in the same way. But it will gradually become clear, not as a big relevation or twist but as a realization made over many hints.

Babel is one of the most powerful movies I've seen this year. It contains gorgeous, Oscar worthy cinematography by Rodrigo Prieta (who should have won the Oscar last year for Brokeback Mountain), and Innaritu brings a sense of genius to his direction. There are two scenes of grandiosity, like the Mexican wedding or a nightclub Kikuchi goes to, where the exremely loud music occaisonally is turned off completely so we can slip inside her deaf, silent world. Then from these fun scenes the movie takes a dark turn into the emotionally unbearable - watching Barazza stumble across the desert with her children is heartbreaking, and her plea to the border patrol...

Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett give very good performances, but somehow they seem weaker when compared to Rinko Kikuchi, an face that will be new to American audiences. In fact, all performances this year seem weak when compared to Rinko Kikuchi's. She blows everyone out of the water. She communicates so much without speaking you feel you could read her mind. Her character is unable, because of her disability, to properly express her grief over her mother's suicide. Innaritu makes the right choice letting most of the screen time be on her storyline. Koji Yakusho, as her father, is another fine performance in this movie. Barazza is herself worthy of an Oscar nomination. Innaritu brings great performances from his Moroccan non-actors, a skill most Hollywood director's don't understand. They would not be able to handle anything beyond Pitt and Blanchett. Gael Garcia Bernal brings a surprising amout of gusto to a very small role, and we worry about his character at the end. He embodies the kind of person children and most adults like before ever really knowing him in the first place.

Although Gustavo Santaolalla composed the score I was not really aware of it. Where is it? Two key pieces of music at the end, are not composed originally for the film. When Blanchett is lifted in the helicopter it plays Santaolalla's own "Iguaza" which was previously used in Michael Mann's The Insider (1999). And the final piece played at the end is another piece by a different Japanese composer. I wonder...?

Babel, with all due credit to Innaritu, is a film for the actors, and since the actors in this film are extraordinary, this is a great film.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

NEW RELEASES - Kekexili ****


Kekexili: Mountain Patrol begins with the brutal murder of a man. Why was he murdered? The details slowly become clear. He was a volunteer citizen's patrol to protect an endangered species, the Tibetan Antelope - the last of which live on the plains of Tibet. Poachers make a living out of selling their pelts. And so it seems, do the Mountain Patrol themselves: they are so short on money, they often sell pelts they have confiscated from the poachers. The line between poacher and patrol is never so obvious.

A journalist from Beijing comes to Tibet trying to interview a famous Mountain Patroller named Ritai. He arrives to see the funeral of one of the patrollers, the same one we saw murdered by the poachers in the opening scene. He gets to interview Ritai when he tells him if the Patrol gets more publicity in the paper it might get government funding.

We learn of how the Patrol has been searching for the same "boss" poacher for years - most of the people they catch are just smugglers, who they let go. Sometimes, the smugglers even help them like in a scene where they push a truck out of the mud.

Ritai thinks he has a chance to get the boss poacher and obsessively plods up the mountains, leaving behind men in dangerous situations until he has almost none left and there isn't enough fuel to get back or guns to fight.

Kekexili reminded me in many ways of a western. The bleakness of the scenery, the blurred lines between good and evil. The scenes where the Mountain Patrol comes across near a hundred carcasses of the Tibetan Antelope at a time are devastating.

Although the Mountain Patrol doesn't seem sucessful at the end of the movie, there is a note at the end which tells us how fast the popularion of the Tibetan Antelope has recovered from near extinction to now a healthy number after China's government finally started their own Mountain Patrol. The heroes in this movie will not have their names in the History Books, but all who know of what they did and saved will take them as an inspiration.

In Case You Were Wondering About My Taste in Film:

What Could be the Greatest Films of All Time:

1. Days of Heaven (1978) dir. Terrence Malick
2. Jules et Jim (Jules and Jim)(1962) dir. Francois Traffaut
3. Fanny och Alexander (Fanny and Alexander) (1982) dir. Igmar Bergman
4. The Third Man (1949) dir. Carol Reed
5. Ran (1985) dir. Akira Kurosawa
6. Fitzcarraldo (1982) dir. Werner Herzog
7. L’Espirito de la Colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive) (1973) dir. Victor Erice
8. La Battaglia di Algeri (The Battle of Algiers) (1968) dir. Gillo Pontecorvo
9. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) dir. Woody Allen
10. La Strada (1954) dir. Frederico Fellini
11. Apocalypse Now (1979) dir. Francis Coppola
12. North by Northwest (1959) dir. Alfred Hitchcock
13. The Grapes of Wrath (1940) dir. John Ford
14. Il Buono, il Brutto, il Cattivo (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) (1965) dir. Sergio Leone
15. The Last Wave (1977) dir. Peter Weir
16. Suna no Onna (Woman in the Dunes) (1964) dir. Hiroshi Teshigahara
17. Paper Moon (1973) dir. Peter Bogdanovich
18. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) dir. George Hill
19. Nashville (1975) dir. Robert Altman
20. Salaam Bombay! (1988) dir. Mira Nair
21. Ugetsu Monogatari (Ugetsu) (1953) dir. Kenji Mizoguchi
22. Baraka (1992) dir. Ron Fricke
22. La Regle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game) (1939) dir. Jean Renoir
23. The Thin Red Line (1998) dir. Terrence Malick
24. Shichinin no Samurai (The Seven Samurai) (1954) dir. Akira Kurosawa
25. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) dir. Lewis Milestone

A Scene from Baraka.

26. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) dir. David Lean
27. Vertigo (1958) dir. Alfred Hitchcock
28. Du Rififi Chez le Hommes (Rififi) (1955) dir. Jules Dassin
29. Popiol e Diament (Ashes and Diamonds) (1958) dir. Andrzej Wajda
30. Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959) dir. Alan Rensais
31. Det Sjunde Inseglet (The Seventh Seal) (1957) dir. Igmar Bergman
32. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) dir. Milos Forman
33. Midnight Cowboy (1969) dir. John Schelsinger
34. Nights of Cabiria (1957) dir. Frederico Fellini
35. American Graffiti (1973) dir. George Lucas
36. Rebel Without a Cause (1955) dir. Nicholas Ray
37. Topio stin Omichli (Landscape in the Mist) (1988) dir. Theo Angeloupos
38. The Mission (1986) dir. Roland Joffe
39. A Woman Under the Influence (1974) dir. John Cassavettes
40. Aguirre: der Zorn Gottes (Aguirre: the Wrath of God) (1972) dir. Werner Herzog
41. The Godfather Part II (1974) dir. Francis Coppola
42. Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) dir. Peter Weir
43. Citizen Kane (1941) dir. Orson Welles
44. Bringing Up Baby (1938) dir. Howard Hawks
45. 2001: A Space Odessey (1968) dir. Stanely Kubrick
46. The Godfather (1972) dir. Francis Coppola
47. La Grande Illusion (Grand Illusion) (1937) dir. Jean Renoir
48. 8 ½ (1963) dir. Frederico Fellini
49. Raging Bull (1980) dir. Martin Scorcese
50. Psycho (1960) dir. Alfred Hitchcock

Picnic at Hanging Rock

51. The Lion in Winter (1968) dir. Anthony Harvey
52. Casablanca (1942) dir. Michael Curtiz
53. Lawrence of Arabia (1962) dir. David Lean
54. The Killing Fields (1984) dir. Roland Joffe
55. The Wizard of Oz (1939) dir. Victor Fleming, Melvin LeRoy and King Vidor
56. La Belle et la Bete (Beauty and the Beast) (1946) dir. Jean Cocteau
57. Brazil (1985) dir. Terry Gilliam
58. Metropolis (1927) dir. Fritz Lang
59. I 400 Colpi (The 400 Blows) (1959) dir. Francois Traffaut
60. Dr Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) dir. Stanely Kubrick
61. L’avventura (1960) dir. Michelangelo Antonioni
62. Rear Window (1954) dir. Alfred Hitchcock
63. M (1931) dir. Fritz Lang
64. Trois Coleurs Trilogy (Three Colors) (1993-1994) dir. Krzysztof Kieslowsky
65. The Great Escape (1963) dir. John Sturges
66. Brief Encounter (1945) dir. David Lean
67. La Dolce Vita (1960) dir. Frederico Fellini
68. The Big Sleep (1946) dir. Howard Hawks
69. A Night at the Opera (1935) dir. Sam Wood and Edmund Goulding
70. Taxi Driver (1976) dir. Martin Scorsece
71. Chelovek s Kino-Apparatom (Man With a Movie Camera (1929) dir. Dziga Vertov
72. High Noon (1952) dir. Fred Zinnemann
73. Unagi (The Eel) (1998) dir. Shohei Imamura
74. Aleksandr Nevskiy (Alexander Nevsky) (1938) dir. Segei Eisenstein
75. Black Narcissus (1947) dir. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

Trois Coleurs: Rouge

76. On the Waterfront (1954) dir. Elia Kazan
77. A Night to Remember (1955) dir. Roy Baker
78. The Manchurian Candidate (1962) dir. John Frankenheimer
79. Yojimbo (1961) dir. Akira Kurosawa
80. Les Enfants du Paradis (Children of Paradise) (1945) dir. Michael Carne
81. The Phantom of the Opera (1925) dir. Rupert Julian
82. Sunset Boulevard (1950) dir. Billy Wilder
83. Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum) (1979) dir. Volker Schlondorff
84. Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu) (1922) dir. Friedrich Murnau
85. M*A*S*H (1970) dir. Robert Altman
86. The Entertainer (1960) dir. Tony Richardson
87. A Bout de Souffle (Breatless) (1960) dir. Jean Luc-Godard
88. The Conversation (1974) dir. Francis Coppola
89. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) dir. Elia Kazan
90. 12 Angry Men (1957) dir. Sidney Lumet
91. Faces (1968) dir. John Cassavettes
92. Bonnie and Clyde (1969) dir. Arthur Penn
93. The Piano (1993) dir. Jane Campion
94. Easy Rider (1969) dir. Dennis Hopper
95. Ship of Fools (1965) dir. Stanely Kramer
96. The Wild Bunch (1969) dir. Sam Peckinpah
97. Z (1969) dir. Costa-Gavras
98. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) dir. Mike Nichols
99. Chinatown (1974) dir. Roman Polanksi
100. All the President’s Men (1976) dir. Alan Paluka

All the President's Men

101. The Fortune Cookie (1966) dir. Billy Wilder
102. La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc) (1928) dir. Carl Dreyer
103. Ostre Sledovande Vlaky (Closely Watched Trains) (1967) dir. Jiri Menzel
104. Hud (1962) dir. Martin Ritt
105. Rashomon (1950) dir. Akira Kurosawa
106. Singing in the Rain (1951) dir. Stanely Donen
107. Gunga Din (1939) dir. George Stevens
108. Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) dir. Stanely Kramer
109. Le Samourai (1967) dir. Jean Pierre Melville
110. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) dir. Elia Kazan
111. Rosemary's Baby (1968) dir. Roman Polanksi
112. The Last Picture Show (1971) dir. Peter Bogdanovich
113. Network (1976) dir. Sidney Lumet
114. Walkabout (1971) dir. Nicholas Roeg
115. Rebecca (1940) dir. Alfred Hitchcock
116. Cool Hand Luke (1967) dir. Stuart Rosenberg
117. Tirez Sur Le Pianiste (Shoot the Piano Player) (1960) dir. Francois Traffaut
118. Breaking Away (1979) dir. Peter Yates
119. Scener ur ett Aktenskap (Scenes from a Marriage) (1973) dir. Igmar Bergman
120. Pat Garret and Billy the Kid (1973) dir. Sam Peckinpah
121. Mouchette (1967) dir. Robert Bresson
122. Kundun (1997) dir. Martin Scorsece
123. Some Like it Hot (1959) dir. Billy Wilder
124. Roma, Citta Aperta(Open City) (1945) dir. Robert Rosellini
125. Rhapsody in Blue (1945) dir. Irving Rapper


126. Taksi-Blyuz (Taxi Blues) (1990) dir. Pavel Loungine
127. 12 Monkeys (1995) dir. Terry Gilliam
128. Hannah and Her Sisters (1988) dir. Woody Allen
129. Kumonosu Jo (Throne of Blood) (1957) dir. Akira Kurosawa
130. All the King’s Men (1949) dir. Robert Rossen
131. Offret (The Sacrifice) (1986) dir. Anrei Tarkovsky
132. Mononoke-Hime (Princess Mononoke) (1999) dir. Hayao Miyazaki
133. Amarcord (1973) dir. Frederico Fellini
134. Jaws (1975) dir. Steven Spielberg
135. Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (Cinema Paradiso) (1989) dir. Giuseppe Tornatore
136. Schindler’s List (1993) dir. Steven Spielberg
137. Do the Right Thing (1989) dir. Spike Lee
138. JFK (1991) dir. Oliver Stone
139. Annie Hall (1977) dir. Woody Allen
140. Le Souffle au Coeur (Murmur of the Heart) (1971) dir. Louis Malle
141. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) dir. Michael Curtiz
142. The Song of Bernadette (1943) dir. Henry King
143. Dare mo Shiranai (Nobody Knows) (2004) dir. Hirokezu Kore-eda
144. Koyaanisqatsi (1982) dir. Godfrey Reggio
145. A Clockwork Orange (1971) dir. Stanely Kubrick
146. The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) dir. Alexander Korda
147. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) dir. Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam
148. Blade Runner (1982) dir. Ridley Scott
149. Manhattan (1979) dir. Woody Allen
150. Double Indemnity (1944) dir. Billy Wilder

The Private Life of Henry VIII

151. Kakushi-Toride no San-Akunin (The Hidden Fortress) (1958) dir. Akira Kurosawa
152. Paths of Glory (1957) dir. Stanely Kubrick
153. Ninotcka (1939) dir. Ernst Lubitsch
154. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) dir. Frank Capra
155. Duck Soup (1933) dir. Leo McCarey
156. Les Enfants Terribles (1943) dir. Jean Pierre Melville
157. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988) dir. Philp Kaufman
158. Au Revior Les Enfants (1987) dir. Louis Malle
159. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) dir. John Huston
160. Smultronstallet (Wild Strawberries) (1957) dir. Igmar Bergman
161. The Searchers (1956) dir. John Ford
162. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) dir. Robert Mulligan
163. Pulp Fiction (1994) dir. Quentin Tarantino
164. Hoop Dreams (1994) dir. Steve James
165. The Night of the Hunter (1955) dir. Charles Laughton
166. Ukigusa (Floating Weeds) (1959) dir. Yasujiro Ozu
167. Wonder Boys (2000) dir. Curtis Hanson
168. Sullivan’s Travels (1941) dir. Preston Sturges
169. Murder on the Orient Express (1974) dir. Sidney Lumet
170. Two for the Road (1967) dir. Stanely Donen
171. The African Queen (1951) dir. John Huston
172. Bin-Jip (3-Iron) (2005) dir. Kim Ki-Duk
173. The Apartment (1960) dir. Billy Wilder
174. American Beauty (1999) dir. Sam Mendes
175. The Graduate (1967) dir. Mike Nichols

Michael Douglas and Tobey Maguire in Wonder Boys

176. East of Eden (1954) dir. Elia Kazan
177. Pasqualino Settebellezze (Seven Beauties) (1975) dir. Lina Wertmuller
178. The China Syndrome (1979) dir. James Bridges
179. Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979) dir. Terry Jones
180. Le Charme Discret de la Bourgeoisie (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) (1972) dir. Luis Bunel
181. Ladri di Biciclette (The Bicycle Thief) (1948) dir. Vittorio de Sica
182. Giant (1956) dir. George Stevens
183. Los Olividados (1950) dir. Luis Bunel
184. Platoon (1986) dir. Oliver Stone
185. In the Heat of the Night (1967) dir. Norman Jewison
186. Men With Guns (1997) dir. John Sayles
187. Cidade de Deus (City of God) (2003) dir. Fernando Mereilles
188. The Heiress (1949) dir. William Wyler
189. Traffic (2000) dir. Steven Soderbergh
190. The Philadelphia Story (1940) dir. Geroge Cukor
191. Fargo (1996) dir. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
192. Da Hong Deng Long Gao Gao Gua (Raise the Red Lantern) (1991) dir. Zhang Yimou
193. Goodfellas (1990) dir. Martin Scorsece
194. Antonia (Antonia's Line) (1995) dir. Marleen Gorris
195. Almost Famous (2000) dir. Cameron Crowe
196. Home of the Brave (1949) dir. Mark Robson
197. The New World (2006) dir. Terrence Malick
198. Tonari no Totoro (My Neighbor Totoro) (1988) dir. Hayao Miyazaki
199. The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) dir. Peter Weir
200. The Crying Game (1992) dir. Neil Jordan

My Neighbor Totoro

Jaye Davidson and Stephen Rea in The Crying Game

201. Kikujiro (1996) dir. Takeshi Kitano
202. The Player (1992) dir. Robert Altman
203. Sophie’s Choice (1982) dir. Alan Paluka
204. The Hustler (1961) dir. Robert Rossen
205. Rue Cases Negres (Sugar Cane Alley) (1983) dir. Euzhan Palcy
206. The Thin Blue Line (1988) dir. Errol Morris
207. La Vita e Bella (Life is Beautiful) (1998) dir. Roberto Benigni
208. Earth (1998) dir. Deepa Mehta
209. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1978) dir. Steven Spielberg
210. They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969) dir. Sydney Pollack
211. Don't Look Now (1972) dir. Nicholas Roeg
212. Rocco e is Suoi Fratelli (Rocco and His Brothers) (1960) dir. Luchino Visconti
213. Hong Gao Liang (Red Sorghum) (1988) dir. Zhang Yimou
214. Little Miss Sunshine (2006) dir. Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton
215. Moonstruck (1987) dir. Norman Jewison
216. Children of a Lesser God (1986) dir. Randa Haines
217. The River (1951) dir. Jean Renoir
218. Sounder (1972) dir. Martin Ritt
219. Tootsie (1982) dir. Sydney Pollack
220. The Deer Hunter (1978) dir. Michael Cimino
221. The Quiet Man (1952) dir. John Ford
222. Touch of Evil (1958) dir. Orson Welles
223. Roman Holiday (1953) dir. William Wyler
224. El Angel Exterminador (The Exterminating Angel) (1962) dir. Luis Bunel
225. Orfeu Negro (Black Orpheus) (1959) dir. Marcel Camus
226. Pather Panchali (1955) dir. Satyajit Ray
227. Alexis Zorbas (Zorba the Greek) (1964)dir. Michael Cacoyannis
228. Harold and Maude (1971) dir. Hal Ashby
229. The Fisher King (1991) dir. Terry Gilliam
230. Perriot le Fou (1965) dir. Jean Luc-Godard
231. Umberto D. (1952) dir. Vittorio di Sica
232. The Magnificent Ambersons (1948) dir. Orson Welles
233. Bronenosets Potyomkin (Battleship Potemkin) (1925) dir. Sergei Eisenstein
234. 28 Days Later (2002) dir. Danny Boyle
235. What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) dir. Lasse Halstrom

NEW RELEASES Little Miss Sunshine ****

Little Miss Sunshine is a short film. It is short and simple - the thousands of contrived complications necessary for Hollywod "family movie" plots do not exist here. The short time we spend watching this movie is short, sweet, beautiful and hilarious. In the tradition of classic comedies we are driven to laugh by subtle little gestures acted out of a fleshy script by a perfect cast. The Hoovers (Kinnear, Collette, Arkin, Breslin, and Dano) have just taken in suicidal Frank (Carell) , who is Mom Sheyrl's brother, before they decide to set off on a road trip to a beauty pageant in California that young Olive (Abigail Breslin) has won a spot in. But first, we are treated to a very long scene built entirely around dinner table conversation. We learn about some of the characters. The parents, Sheryl and Richard (Greg Kinnear) - Richard is teaching a completely unsucessful "12 steps to greatness" program. Sheryl tells her husband she doesn't smoke but does in private. Teenage Dwayne (Paul Dano) wants to join the Air Force and has taken a vow of silence (he makes his thoughts clear on a little notepad which Frank reads aloud with deadpan hilarity). Edwin (Alan Arkin), Richard's heroin addicted father, who is teaching Olive her dance routine for the pageant. And Olive, who watches videos of Miss California winning the state pageant over and over again, practicing putting her hands over her face just like Miss California does when she wins.

At the dinner table, Olive asks Frank why he tried to kill himself.

"Because I was unhappy..." Frank days ("He's sick, he's a sick man, he's sick in his head!" exclaims Richard, interrupting him)
"Why were you unhappy?"
"I fell in love with someone who didn't love me back. I was very much in love with him."
This registers on Olive's face:
"Him? Him? You fell in love with a boy?"
"Very much so."
"That's silly." Olive says with a victorious smile.

Anyone who can resist this film must have the Tin Man's disease. It is a sun-drenched, exhilarating ride and you may already miss the characters as soon as you walk out of the theater. It deserves to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Woman in the Dunes (Suna no Onna) ****

Long after seeing this, the lonely shots of sand, water and wind remain in my memory. This is a haunting film that refuses to be forgotten.

The film grabs us in as soon as it begins. An entomologist (that's bug collector to you) is wandering some lonely sand dunes near the ocean. Already anyone who has appreciated films like "2001" and the Terrence Malick films for their stunning visual beauty will already be interested in this film. Hiroshi Segawa's cinematography beautifully captures the dunes in somewhat fuzzy black and white photography.

That night he is offered a place to stay by some local villagers, who have him stay with a somewhat strange woman...I'd rather not tell you more of the plot, and encourage you to avoid reading a synopsis of it. Because this is a movie, something happens that is not great news to out entomologist. Its more fun if you let the events play out in front of you however, so I'll leave it there.

...which also means I'll have to keep this review more or less pretty short. One of the most haunting images in this film involves the entomologist in ragged clothing, stumbling away in the desert, not quite sure where he's going or if he wants to get there.

Behind the camera, the entomologist is played by Eiji Okada (Hiroshima, Mon Amour), and the title role is filled by the wonderful Ky├┤ko Kishida. The film was directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara, who, in a rare and great Oscar surprise, was nominated for Best Director.

I hope this film isn't too hard to find for you. However long the search, its worth seeing.

The Third Man ****

(Yes, I know one of the facts supplied in this review is deliberately wrong, I put it there to preserve a great twist.) God, I love watching "The Third Man." I love getting excited whenever Holly Martins is getting chased down ruined post war Vienna streets, set to a ironic, mockingly cheerful Caribbean style zither music. And I love our first shot of Orson Welles, one of the greatest movie moments of all times. I love watching the chase down the sewer every time I see it, the voices echoing down a hellishly wet dungeon. I love pretending I don't know the twist that comes later on in the movie, like it was the first time I saw it. I love the moment when the camera tracks a cat down the streets onto the feet of someone in the shadows. Is it the Third Man? This is a perfect mystery, not to complicated that you wonder you missed an important detail when you decided to take a leak halfway through, or too simple that you guess immediately the twist that is coming later.

It's a British production set in post war Vienna, which is in ruins, about a poor, simple writer of cheap novelettes like "Showdown at San Antonio Flats" named Holly Martins. (More than once he is told that he's "quite popular here in Europe.") Martins is looking for an old friend named Harry Lime who had offered him a job from Vienna. As Martins arrives, he is informed by a neighbor that he is 10 minutes too late - Harry Lime is dead. At the funeral he meets a British police officer named Calloway (not Callahan!) who tells him that Lime was mixed up in a crime racket. Martins spends much of the movie trying to clear Lime's name, which is difficult because the witnesses have jarringly different accounts of the accident in which Lime died. I won't tell you any more of the film - in fact, don't read any other reviews of this before you see it in case you find out something - this is a great film to just let play out in front of you.

The Third Man stars Joseph Cotten as Holly Martins, Alida Valli as Lime's girlfriend (who Holly inevitably falls for), Trevor Howard as Calloway, and, in a show stealing role Orson Welles, as Harry Lime, who appears entirely in flashbacks. It was directed by Carol Reed, who won his Oscar (probably undeservedly) for "Oliver!". The only Oscar this film won was for cinematography (that is definitely this films award).

The Thin Red Line ****

“The Thin Red Line” is a film with astounding visuals. It is a film about religion, war, and nature, and the crossroads where their paths meet. It contains the greatest score I have ever heard composed by Hanz Zimmer, and some of the greatest cinematography I’ve ever seen by John Toll. Terrence Malick’s makes incredibly detailed films, which is why it’s a good idea to watch this film many times. Every time you watch it, you pick up a small human detail which may give a historian somewhere an orgasm. The Chinese worker reading the bible in “Days of Heaven” for instance. Or in “The Thin Red Line” a young looking soldier reading a letter from home that is pages long (and they’re double sided!)

The Thin Red Line has an all star cast and perhaps its only flaw is the choice to put John Travolta and George Clooney, among others, in cameo roles that seem distracting. The greatest performance is by Jim Cavizel. We first see him living with another soldier on an island only inhabited by natives. The island is a virtual paradise. We see men casually holding hands, children playing on the beach and swimming deep in the perfect blue water. We see Private Witt (Cavizel) talking to a woman with a baby. He asks if she’s afraid of him. She says yes. “Why?” he asks. She tells him he “looks soldier.” And we see a sad glint in Cavizel’s eyes. Although he is living in paradise, he has lost something he can not take back.

An army boat arrives and it becomes clear that Witt and the other soldier are deserters in WWII. Sean Penn, after capturing them, tells Witt instead of being court-martialed he will become a stretcher bearer for Charlie Company, which is landing at Guadacanal. And the journey to mankind and nature’s thin red line between sanity and insanity begins.

Suspiria ***

Jessica Harper, beautiful and quite un-talented.

I am torn between feeling too generous and too harsh by giving this review for Suspiria, but I think I've found a nice balance. On one hand, let's face it, the film has a terrible script, wooden actors and and ending that is inconslusive and answers almost none of the thousands of questions we have been asking. On the other hand, it is one of the scariest films I have ever seen.
Plot, in a nutshell: As a narrator tells us in the opening credits,
Suzy Banyon decided to perfect her ballet studies in the most famous school of dance in Europe. She chose the celebrated academy of Freeborge. One day, at nine in the morning, she left Kennedy airport, New York, and arrived in Germany at 10:40 p.m. local time.
Suzy is played by the gorgeous and noticeably untalented Jessica Harper, who takes a cab to her German Adademy but can't get in (the person answering the door tells her to "Go away, go away, go away!")
Just as she is trying to get in someone else is trying to get out, and in the best, scariest and most chilling sequence of the movie, the camera follows this expelled student to a hotel in the nearby town where a friend offers her the night. She's only staying for one.

Jessica Harper gets to know her very strange peers and flirts with a German boy who is there only so Jessica Harper can flirt with a German boy. Then she is insulted by a wierd bitchy girl who is there only so there can be a wierd bitchy girl to insult Suzy. There are murders. Suzy gets exhausted in her first dance lesson and collapses. The doctor, for a reason that is never explained later, simply gives her a diet involving wine. Suzy insists at staying at the Academy nights instead of the nearby town, pissing off the facist looking teacher. Suzy's roomate keeps obsessing over strange things like whether or not the headmistress (unseen throughout most of the movie) is sleeping in the room next to them or not, or whether the teachers actually leave the school.

In the review so far, I have only pointed out the flaws. The film contains excellent cinematography by Luciano Tovoli and a shiver inducing, driving score by Davio Argentino himself (performed by the Goblins, who performed their music on set at full blast to scare the actors).

Like The Shining, Suspiria survives as a great horror film on style. Three key scenes, the second especially, are not even scary in a fun way. There are scary in a scary way, to the point when it can't even be enjoyed anymore and the audience is as scared as the poor protagonistesses. I've forgotten how. I might have noticed his tricks while I was watching the film itself. Um...he did it with "pacing issues."

Rebel Without a Cause ****

As the story goes, during the filming of "Rebel Without a Cause," specifically, the knife fight between Jim Stark and Buzz, they were using real knives. On set, Corey Allen, the actor playing Buzz, accidentally cut James Dean with the knife. Director Nicholas Ray yelled "cut" with prompted a furious Dean to scream "Don't ever cut when something real is happening to me!" It wasn't the only stunt-double less scene in the film - Dean also injured himself on camera in the scene where he punches the desk.

It's the realness of "Rebel" that makes it so watchable, so ageless. I'm not sure there is a single generation of teenagers that doesn't identify with the scene where Dean half yells, half moans, "You're tearing me apart!" The entire film is shot at eye level. There are moments of dialog that so perfectly capture what its like to be a teenager that you want this film to be preserved for people to see in thousands of years to come.

The protagonist of this film and its notoriously famous and over-parodied title is Jim Stark, aka James Dean who was killed in a car accident before the release of this film, and before he was nominated for Oscars for his other two films: East of Eden and Giant. Jim is picked up in the opening credits of the film for being drunk. When his parents come to pick him up they are more or less fairly light on him and suggest they just move again. Jim, however, is hoping that for once his parents will punish him - it would show they at least CARED. At the police station he encounters a variety of interesting characters, including Judy (Natalie Wood), Plato (Sal Mineo) (who is in for killing a kitten) and a sympathetic cop named Ray Fremick (Edward Platt). Moving into the new school, Stark begins on a field trip to a planetarium where the lecturer's chief topic is man's insignificance in the universe. Great.

From there he is joined by nervous Plato, who looks up to him for daring to shush the leather dressed Buzz, leader of a gang that includes, among others, Judy and a very young Dennis Hopper, credited as "goon." Outside the planetarium, Jim encounters Buzz slashing his tires...which leads to a knife fight between the two...which leads to a very dangerous game of "chicken..." Can you see where this is going? After a sort of semi-climax, the film suddenly sort of calms down, and we watch the three apathetic teenagers Jim, Judy and Plato happily playing around in the set of "Sunset Boulevard" where Jim and Judy sort of semi-adopt poor Plato, who is in serious need of a mother and father figure. But if Mineo seemed more interested in Dean than just "the father figure type" that's no accident either...Mineo would later become an outspoken homosexual and admit he had a crush on Dean during filming. Indeed, many scenes it looks like his refraining to kiss Dean right on camera.

But if these kids seem apathetic, perhaps its because the people and society who raised them are. It is the casual and disturbing actions of the cops at the end of the film that solidify the political statement, when reality hits them very hard.

Countless arguments have been made back and forth on whether this film argued pro or anti conformist. On the pro side, some point out the scene where Jim is horrified to see his father in an apron, and suggest he wants his parents to "conform" to what the typical image of a parent is. However, I disagree with this. The scene at the end where the father says he will become "who (Jim) wants him to be" shows that he is so apathetic he doesn't even realize the real reason Jim is upset, or the more important issue at hand. Jim is the Rebel With a Cause, who sees the apathy of the adult world and refuses to conform to it, who sees the apathy and confusion of gangs like Buzz's who seem to rebel for no reason at all, and Stark refuses to conform to them either. Along the way he also, as many film-rebels rarely do, sticks up for the underdog Plato and makes a compelling father figure.

The best scene comes when Buzz admits, shortly before the "chicky race," that he likes Stark. Stark asks: then why are we racing? Buzz's reply? Everybody does.

Can anyone not like this film? Better question...: can anyone not identify with some part of this film? I'm not sure the question can be answered but I might be able to answer it myself. And all it took was one screening.