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 Kyôko 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.

NEW RELEASES The Motel ***1/2

The Motel is a film from the producers of Me and You and Everyone We Know, and it's certainly being advertised that way, even with the light shaded colors in posters. But while Me and You had vibrant colors of yellow, orange, and pink, the colors of Motel are greens and blues, and it's fitting: The films feature the same kind of quirky humor, but Motel is very much the darker, raunchier Yin to Me and You's bright and innocent Yang.

The Motel is a fun film, and I really liked it. I like how it captured the opressive atmosphere, the sheer bordom of going nowhere in the middle of nowhere. We can feel the growing frustration 13 year old, chubby asian Ernest Chin (Jeffrey Chyau) and the burst of relief when something interesting enters in his desloate, out of the way world. This something interesting is a Korean buisnessman named Sam (Sung Kang, who gives the greatest performance here) on a downward spiral after becoming seperated from his wife. We see him drowning himself in alcohol and women, and he begins trying to initiate Ernest into adulthood by teaching him to drive, how to get laid, etc. His advice is terrible, and it soon becomes clear that he less wants Ernest to enter adulthood than he wants to re-enter childhood.

But to Ernest, any kind of advice looks interesting. His life: he works at his mothers hotel, and while being pestered by his little sister he cleans up after messy occupants. He tries to watch them having sex and reads the pornography left over. He occaisonally shows it to his crush, a 14 year old waitress nearby facisnated in all things "gross." (Jade Wu, another fine performance) She convinces him to enter a writing contest, in which he gets an honorable mention and is invited to a fancy dinner ("Honorable mention?" his mother asks, "That's worse than losing!").

The Motel is a very funny movie. Some of the scenes are painfully hilarious, like one where Ernest makes an unusual use of one of his sisters toys.

While Me and You was a film that inspired endless freedom, The Motel works in a closed environment, with one or two locations for most of the scenes. This works for scenes where Ernest manages to escape, like one where Sam teaches him to drive. In the middle of the night, they break into a house that will become clear is his wife's. She isn't home. Sam and Ernest reaarange the furniture to the way it was last time Sam still lived there. "I can't understand why she changed it," he says. "It was fine before!"

The film had many, many chances to take small (and some larger) risks at the end, but it took none of them. I couldn't help but feeling it took the easy way out. No one is hurt, lost, and everything is forgiven? I can forgive the filmmakers though. The last 2 or 3 minutes are easily made up for by the first 74.

The Mission ****

Recently AFI released a top 25 list of best film scores written. It was a terrible list, with predictably the emotionally detached but hummable Star Wars at #1 and Gone With the Wind at #2. It doesn't get much better from there, but it did have "Out of Africa" (John Barry) and "The Mission" (Ennio Morricone) (although On Golden Pond and The Pink Panther are also good, they are not top 25 material)

It may be the only thing "The Mission" is remembered for - that theme "The River" (Vita Nostra) that is used occasionally in film trailers. Oh yeah, and that notorious scene at the beginning where the guy is sent down a waterfall is bound to a cross.

That scene, of mixed horror and spellbinding beauty, is a lot of what "The Mission" is like. Being as critical as possible, The Mission is one of the greatest, and certainly one of the most beautiful films ever made.

The synopsis: The setting is the 17th Century, South America. Our Protagonist is Jeremy Irons, a priest who, unlike the Hollywood stereotype of "villanous priest," is really quite pacifist - Ghandi-style. I generally find Christians annoying, but I might just get along with this guy. He sets off, alone in the jungle, to start a mission to try and convert the natives to Christianity. He climbs the cliffs next to the waterfall and at the top runs into some naturals and manages to avoid becoming the guy in the opening scene by playing an Ennio Morricone theme on his oboe.

Another character has to come into play here, and its Robert DeNiro. After Irons has successfully set up a small mission and befriended most of the naturals, he runs into DeNiro, a slave trader who takes some of the naturals captive. This time the camera follows DeNiro who inevitably kills his brother in a fit of jealousy. When Irons meets him later in jail, he is ready for redemption, so Irons, and another priest played by some guy called Liam Neeson (!) take him up the cliffs with them, DeNiro carrying a huge pack of armor. DeNiro mercilessly drags himself up out of self hatred. After making it to the top (barely) he feels redeemed and becomes a priest of the mission.

Irons, DeNiro and young Liam will eventually to save the mission from Portuguese soldiers who would like to kill all the naturals and destroy the mission because, well, because the naturals are beasts, and we have to kill the beasts, right?

The Mission was made by the people who made "The Killing Fields" which is a great film, but not as great as this. If Chris Menges' photography in The Killing Fields was pretty, in The Mission its stunning. If Roland Joffe(director) had an Axe to grind in The Killing Fields, he has an army of axes to grind here. If Haing Ngor was great in The Killing Fields...well, DeNiro is maybe not quite as great as Ngor, but still worthy of a huge amount of attention.

And "The Mission" had a WAY better score than "Star Wars"

Landscape in the Mist (Topio Stin Omilichi) ****

When I first saw this film it was a random pick out of the library that looked interesting. I had not ever heard of it or read a single review. When I saw it I was convinced that it was one of the best and most beautiful films I had ever seen. Later, when I checked too see other reviews, they were all nasty and gave the film a very painful treatment. Worried, I went to see it again - had I overpraised it? Had I missed some flaws? No, I was right, and I'm sure the people who disagreed were wrong now. The film is still one of the best films ever made. It has been said to be a blend of Fellini and Traffaut - that is a fairly good description on the grounds that it is about kids (Traffaut) and has some fairly Fellini-esquire moments (noticeably, one scene where the children escape a police station because everyone in the station and on the street are frozen in time watching the snow fall). But it wouldn't be fair to neglect Theo Angeloupos (probably spelling error, sorry) own incredible style, one that still seems fresh after many years because of the films obscurity it has been scarcely imitated. The gorgeous photography (by Yorgos Arvanitis) strays almost completely from close ups - in fact, there may not be a single close up in the entire film.

The story centers on two children who run away from their single mother in search of a father her mother says lives in Germany. In reality, we hear her mother say in the beginning of the film, he does not exist. The older adolescent girl overhears this but refuses to believe it, and she takes her much smaller brother on a road trip to the north Greek border. Over one winter they wander through snowy landscapes starkly contrasted against the industrial cities and highways. They almost starve several times, they are occasionally pursued by police, at one point it is implied that the adolescent girl, Voula, is raped. At many times during their journey they encounter a friendly traveling theater actor who gives them rides. The whole film the children are searching for their father, the "Landscape in the Mist" - it can only exist if you imagine it. Sadly, Alexander and Voula do not accept the actor as a father figure, because their determined journey says their father is in Germany, not Greece. If only they had!...unfortunately, it would not have made a difference - the actor has been drafted into the Greek army.

Towards the end of the film they watch with amazement as a helicopter pulls a giant statue of a god-like hand out of large river and flies it towards the faraway city - I wouldn't be given this scene so shamelessly away if it weren't for the fact they show it in the poster anyway...the spoiler warning is also up. But it's really there for:

At the end of the film the Alexander (the boy) and Voula attempt to cross the Greek border by rowing a boat across the river. They are spotted from a watchtower and fired upon. The next morning, it seems they have crossed the river and are wandering through a hilly place where it is so misty they can hardly see ten yards ahead of them. A lone, leafless tree becomes visible and they wander towards it. The camera does not follow them. Fade to black. Have they successfully crossed the border? Have they been shot and died, and reached some kind of afterlife? It's not clear, but we celebrate their victory that they have finally discovered the impossible: a landscape in the mist.

Koyaanisqatsi ****

The simplest and best thing about Koyaanisqatsi (Hopi dialect for "Chaos" or "Life out of Balance") is that there is not a single word spoken throughout the entire film. The critic Roger Ebert (of "Siskel and Ebert", also only critic to win Pulitzer prize for film criticism) wrote a bizarre review in which he only gave it three stars because of a bunch of opinions he believed Reggio held (like, "it would be better if there wasn't man at all") that he felt were silly. But these are opinions that couldn't possibly be expressed without words. Koyaanisqatsi is much simpler than that - it shows, through a series of images, a world before man, quiet, slow, and beautiful. Then modern times rushes in, an incredibly fast paced, crazy marathon of people that seem never to stop. I have to criticize Ebert again, who complains that if the film is trying to show a bad portrait of mankind, then why are the images of the cities beautiful as well. Reading this, one has to ask "But where, Roger, did you decide this film was trying to show a bad portrait of mankind? You're contradicting yourself." Yes, the destruction of nature is horrifying, but Reggio also allows us to look at some beautiful aspect of the cities too, like the reflection of the sky on the polished windows. There are numerous shots looking down on sprawling city streets at nighttime, sped up incredibly fast so you see cars shooting down the the road, briefly stopping at red lights where other cars fly by them, and start up and fly forward again. I am reminded of the old middle school videos taken from microscopes where you see little organisms shooting around pointlessly. Where, exactly, are they trying to get to? Koyaanisqatsi is not, as Ebert suggests, a film about how mankind is evil, but just simply a warning. The film shows us the past, and the present, and eventually the future, leaving us a warning that if we continue in the direction we are going, getting faster and faster, things must just explode, a Herzog like prediction that if we continue our rampage against nature, then it will destroy us to return to the beginning.

Many of the images involve shots that are sped up or slowed down to show stunning beauty that we wouldn't be able to see with our own eyes. "Through God's eyes" we see the shadows of clouds painting the dusty landscapes, a "waterfall" of clouds that fall down the side of a mountain, a shot mounted on a car as it speeds down a highway, sped up nearly 20X as fast. And impossibly high shot flying over New York City. Numerous shots of buildings being demolished. A nuclear weapon being tested in a southwestern desert. A room of T.V.s exploding in slow motion. Bridges being demolished. Huge, foreboding telephone line towers making cage like cobwebs over the landscape. Even with some of the most beautiful images caught on camera, the film would be nothing without the score of the wonderful Phillip Glass, who here has written perhaps the best soundtrack of all time. The before man sequence is slow, repetitive, and beautiful, the invasion of man is jarringly horrifying, and will likely haunt you. The chorus of man strikes an ironic and satirical look on the city, which also boasts impossibly fast played up and down scales that would become Glass' trademark in later films. As we see the fate of mankind played out in the last shot, a chorus of low voices chants "Koyaanisqatsi!... Koyaanisqatsi!... Koyaanisqatsi!... Koyaanisqatsi!..."

"Life out of Balance!... Life out of Balance!... Life out of Balance!... Life out of Balance!..."

King Kong (2005) **1/2

Thinking is hard...

I’ll give it to Jackson, “King Kong” was an extremely entertaining movie, despite its length. But I can’t see why so many intelligent people obsess over this film. I could write one of the greatest episodes for Mystery Science Theater 3000 for this movie. The clichés in use are not Tarantino-esque homages but simply clichéd moments used by a director who doesn’t realize they’re clichés. Like a hopeless scene involving Naomi Watts mistaking the identity of her favorite playwright. A borderline racist portrayal of the friendly local villagers, who’s purpose is to be everything evil. One of them is played, in a sad fall from grace, by the same actress who was Grandma in Whale Rider. There is even a scene where a kindly black man is killed. There is one scene where Kong slides around with Ann in his hand and, despite the fact they are being chased by half the world, they stop to play on the ice and shots of Ann and Kong laughing fade over each other like a Coca Cola commercial. Then the lake explodes and the tank comes in. So I laughed. Shoot me. The film occasionally references the classic original, but these are references, not homages, Jackson prefers to homage his own earlier splatstick films than Merian Cooper’s. Much eye rolling follows. The splatstick homages I speak of involve a scene where Jack Black’s crew are attacked by giant bugs in a valley. Among other strange creatures, a giant worm/slug pokes out of the marsh and opens up one end of it’s cylindered body to reveal many rows of circular teeth, and promptly begins devouring the head of a screaming young soldier. Gigantic spiders rip others to shreds. How did this film get a PG-13? Whatever you do, don’t take your kids to see this. I’m the kind of person who wouldn’t mind if you took your kids to see Deep Throat (hey, they watch you having sex anyway) but not this.

But I am only mentioning it’s faults. King Kong is a very fun film, if not quite the emotional experience some have suggested. In this case, the original, which retains brilliance through simplicity and brutality, is still far superior.

Grave of the Fireflies ***1/2

Since the late 80's, Disney has gotten better at dubbing some of the anime that has been coming in from Japan. Spirit Away was a terrific example of truly great dubbing...if I remember correctly Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (which I haven't seen in years) had great dubbing as well. Now contrast it with something like Castle in the Sky, in which they gave a child character a grown man's voice, implying a midget. Or Grave of the Fireflies. In Grave, the voice actress (Rhoda Chrosite, who's biography is not supplied on IMDb) who does a toddler girl named Setsuko, is clearly a grown woman. To sound like a Toddler, Chrosite uses a very whiny voice the wrong side of Joey Lauren Adams combined with a sort of whisper. It was so grating it completely distracted me from the rest of the movie. Although Takahata had made what was clearly a beautiful film I couldn't focus on it for a minute. All I could think was "shut up!" Since I was only able to appreciate the scenes where Setsuko does not speak, I feel I was robbed of an emotional payoff somehow. Not that I know there would ever be one in the first place. I'd have to see the original Japanese language version to judge that.

Now...on the film. There were many scenes I found quite beautiful. There is the chilling scene when we first see the bombs dropped, and we watch them makes trails in the sky and whistle quietly before the explode. A lovely scene where protagnoist orphans Setsuko and her caring teen brother Seita light a cave they are living in with fireflies (which, with a little imagination, become a Japanese Navy parade in Seita's mind). And I have trouble forgetting the dread and horror that filled my stomach when Seita discovers his sister eating dirt balls. Or when he sees his mother in the makeshift hospital. Homeless people picnicking on the beach. A montage that skips through Setsuko's life. And my favorite scene, where Setsuko cries over her mothers "sickness," and Seita tries to distract her by performing tricks on a bar nearby (Setsuko does not pay attention).

The film might be a little ovverated. It is not without flaws (somehow a scene showing Seita and Setsuko as happy ghosts seems tacked on to the rest of the movie) but I was able to appreciate it as one of the greatest films I have seen from that year. Amazing it came out on the same double bill as My Neighbor Totoro.

But every time that girl opens her mouth...!

Fight Club *1/2

I am Edward Norton's soon-to-be-fired agent.


After a lot of figuring I understood where Fight Club got it’s cult audience. They were interested mainly in the twist, which is very well pulled off. I was a little surprised by the twist. I think the reason behind this is that if you rewatch the film it makes almost no sense. This confused film is not without the occasional plus, however. It also features 3 very good performances by Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, and especially Helena Bonham Carter. But David Fincher’s direction takes this film from one random place to another. Is Edward Norton trying to stop Fight Club at the end, and, if so, why does he not care when they succeed? How come an army of fascists train not to obey a single thing he says suddenly releases Helena Bonham Carter? Why are people inspired to join Fight Club after watching Norton beat himself up? How does Norton shoot himself in the head and survive? How does he hear himself having sex with Carter upstairs while making coffee, and a second later, pass the room and watch himself having sex? What is the political nature of fight club? It starts out socialist “we are the people who do your laundry…” and turns fascist, and we never know what exactly they are trying to accomplish. They don’t want to hurt anybody, they just want to blow stuff up. Why? Is Fincher encouraging this kind of behavior or discouraging it? Does he think his audience will be able to tell the difference? Throughout the film, bad rock music blares angrily (and annoyingly) and Fincher overdoes the violence and gimmicky special effects.

Fight Club doesn’t really have anything to say. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not particularly interesting or entertaining either and I found myself getting tired of Tyler Durgen’s fight club. Only when the twist happened did the movie become interesting. But then I immediately realized: don’t insane people refuse to accept they are insane? How does Norton even realize he has a split personality? I’d have to consult a psychologist about this, but I don’t think it’s possible. But Fincher probably doesn’t know either – any film where a character can survive shooting himself in the forehead to get rid of his split personality doesn’t seem interested in getting caught up in details.

The Grapes of Wrath ****

The film begins quietly. The time: The Depression. The setting: The Dust Bowl. The screen is filled with empty space, lonely and windy, as the camera keeps its distance from all of the characters. A man convinces a truck driver to give him a ride, even though his boss doesn't permit it. Finally we see their faces up close. The hitchhiker is Tom Joad (Henry Fonda). Some way to their destination Joad tells him he just got out of jail. The truck driver gets nervous. Joad says "Bet your just dying to know what I was in for, well I'll tell you." It's his stop. As he gets off, he yells behind him "Homicide!" He got into a fight with a man when they were both drunk, and the other pulled a knife, and Joad killed him.

This is how we are introduced to "The Grapes of Wrath," a dark, lyrical and beautiful film that seems light years ahead of its time. An outspokenly socialist film, one may be surprised to find out the director, John Ford, was a republican capitalist. He did leave more of the incendiary parts from the book out, and toned down much of the original books anger, but there is still much of the same work here. The film is sad and gripping in the way it handles scenes like the one where they bury the grandfather on the way to California. His wife wants to buried with him, but they have to continue. Hundreds of miles away in California, the grandmother dies and they bury her. The sadness in this scene is underplayed, without too much weeping or excessive Hollywood-like tragedy, and it works. Death has become something these people are used to. But the depression destroys them in the way it separates them. Separation is something they are not used to, because they have lived in the same place for generations and generations.

The Grapes of Wrath follows the Joads, who are kicked off their land and whose homes are destroyed like everyone else's, to make way for a huge field that will profit a wealthy landowner. Some refuse to leave. One man hides out it the fields, his family gone to California, not accepting he has to leave the land that was fought for and built by his great great grandfathers. When Joad encounters him, he is a little insane.

The Joads, like many other families, get fliers advertising work for farmers in California. So the 9 of them and Casy the ex preacher (played brilliantly by John Carradine) pile into one truck which they worry could break down any minute. On the way there, they are warned at a camp from a man who received the same flier, and says they gave out twice as many fliers as they needed men, the work was taken, and if you did get it they would put you under inhuman conditions. They head on anyway and arriving they find he is more or less right. Once in, they are not allowed out, and are guarded by armed guards who tell them they will shoot them if they leave the house when its not work time. Joad escapes and finds Casy trying to organize a union. For doing so, he is shot by cops as he stands surrounded, with his hands raised. Joad helps the whole family escape.

The next time they are incredibly lucky and are taken in by an FDR lookalike who treats them benevolently and kindly, and offers good pay. Just when it seems everything is going to turn out, Tom Joad's past catches up with him and he has to run away, alone. He bids farewell to Ma Joad (Jane Darwell, who won an Oscar for best supporting actress).

I'll be all around in the dark - I'll be everywhere. Wherever you can look - wherever there's a fight, so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beating' up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad. I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready, and when the people are eating' the stuff they raise and living' in the houses they build - I'll be there, too.

So will we, Tom. So will we.

Days of Heaven ****

Recently I saw a screening of this at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, MA. The 70 mm print quality wasn't very good (in fact, it was plain crappy - some of the frames were so messy it was hard to see what was going on) but it was worth seeing the film a second time, this time in theater. Cinematographer Nestor Almendros' stunning visuals deserve to be witnessed on the big screen. This is one of the best photographed films of all time. It should be noted that Haskell Wexler, who is credited in the end credits with "Additional photography" claims he did much of the film, and, as told by Roger Ebert, has pointed out to him at least 50 shots which he claims were his. The Oscar went solely to Almendros.

The film is like a dream. After leaving it, you stumble around sleepily not sure what to think. You can't remember much of it unless you really concentrate. I'm not sure how this is done. The actors voices drift in and out and don't always align with their mouths. It could be a flaw but it could be deliberate. Almost the entire film was shot at "magic hour" which is just after a sunset or before a sunrise. The choice to have Ennio Morricone score the film was a stroke of genius - the "wheat fields" theme is one of the most haunting ever composed. This was Morricone's stage in transition from his spaghetti westerns, now moving on to his more traditional (yet still exceptional) scores for films like "The Untouchables" "The Red Tent" "The Sicilian Clan" "Excorsist II" "The Mission" and "Cinema Paradiso." In showing his remarkable flexibility Morricone has revealed himself to be one of the greatest composers of film or otherwise in the New Age.

It's the earlier 20th century, sometime between 1915 and 1930. In Chicago, a landscape is covered in soot, trash, and coal. Hundreds of people out of work continually pull in and out of trains, always looking for new jobs that will only last them a couple months. One train goes to the Texas panhandle, where wheat blows in ocean like waves and silhouettes of workers shuffle past the skyline of sunrise, pulling locusts out of the wheat. This is how we are introduced into Terrence Malick's incredible "Days of Heaven," which is really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really good. To say the least. When I occasionally am asked to make a ten best list I find myself quite often listing Days of Heaven as the best film of all time. It could be.

Its not likely you'll find it in most video stores, if I were you I'd do what I did and just buy it off Unless you're idea of a great time at the cinema is "Star Wars: Episode 2" or "Pirates of the Caribbean" (not to dis Pirates, Depp is a great comedic actor and its entertaining enough) then I doubt you'll regret it. Even the meanest of critics eventually warm to its stunning tapestry of visual and poetic beauty. And yes, if you've seen a Malick film before (like "The Thin Red Line" and "The New World") then its much the same style, slow, elegant, much of the dialog in voice over. This time, however, A) its considerably shorter and B) all the narrating is done by a girl named Linda (Linda Hunt), whose brother and his lover are the center of the film.

They are played by Richard Gere and Brooke Adams, who were shockingly enough both neglected by the Oscars that year (the only Oscar that film would pick up was for Cinematography - it remains the only Oscar a Malick film has ever won). In the first scene of the film we catch a glimpse of Bill (Gere) getting into a fight and running away with Abby (Adams) and his little sister Linda (Linda Manz). They board a train for the country and work in the wheat fields. There, a rich, shy, dying farmer (Sam Shepard) who lives nearby sees and falls in love with Abby. Bill, who is posing as Abby's brother, suggests they get married so when the farmer dies they will be able to live on the plantation. I don't like to reveal synopsis's, so I will continue no further.

Instead I shall describe one of the best scenes in the film, one where a plague of locusts floods the farm. The Farmer sends all his workers out to try and kill as many as possible in a bonfire, which eventually catches to the fields. The fire spreads out in a circle and the field, which, once beautiful, has turned into hell. The frame is filled with fire and smoke and we see the silhouettes of the workers trying to find a way out of the fire, looking for a place they might be able to jump through. Finally the camera cuts back and we see the entire field, a large portion of the middle blazing furiously. And a horse carried cart wagon runs around in circles, the back ablaze, spreading the fire wherever it runs. Malick's Christian socialist themes are noticeably at work here, especially in a horrifying shot of a machine that has lost control and caught fire, plowing forward over terrified workers. Once a symbol of agricultural produce and technological advancement, it has betrayed the species that created it and is bent in destroying them.

You could die in a freak accident tomorrow, so please make sure you see this film as soon as possible.