Wednesday, February 29, 2012

March revivals: first half

Hey all. Mike here with a list of revivals for the 1st half of March. One of my best lists in quite a while. I'll keep descriptions to a minimum and just get on it with it. Yes, I've heard complaints about going on to long, so I'll keep this as brief as possible. Here we go:

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD- Thursday March 1 at 7:30 (get on line outside by 5:30-6)- with a pre-film discussion/ Q and A between Robert Osbourne and Spike Lee- free with a flyer- The Ziegfeld Theater- 141 W. 54th St.- TCM continues its Classic Film Festival, with its only New York State screening. A free screening of the classic To Kill A Mockingbird at the Ziegfeld. Chances are you know the Gregory Peck classic, so I won't take up time now. Starts at 7:30 with a pre-film talk between TCM's Robert Osbourne and Spike Lee. So don't expect to get out before 10:10.

Now to do this, click the TCM link below this paragraph. If it doesn't work and you know, let me know and I'll forward you the PDF file. Each copy is good for 2 people. But admission isn't guaranteed. Get to the Ziegfeld, or at least have someone in your party with the flyer get to the Ziegfeld, sometime between 5:30-6. Probably sometime between 6:30-7, they'll start letting people in. If you're not there before then, the odds you'll get in isn't good. Hopefully the weather will be decent enough for this to be a reasonable outing:

4K DIGITAL SCREENINGS AT THE FILM FORUM- I get the idea that it's getting harder for the Film Forum to get new 35mm prints from movie studios for revival screenings. It's not exactly news that film is going away, from digital camera use to Kodak going bankrupt, to digital become an easier format to get your indie film out there, to preservation purposes where films like Jeff Bridges' Winter Kills now only exist on digital. So here's a week for the Forum to educated its members and customers of the inevitability of digital only revival screenings, as well as the quality of digital restorations. The claim is that the restorations from 35 and 70mm films have improved to the point that the restorers can duplicate the film's original look more successfully than what can be achieved with film labs today. So from Friday March 2nd through Thursday March 8th, the Forum will be screening some of the best films restored by Sony Pictures and their labs. I'm guessing all of the featured restoration has been done by Sony; the Forum makes no distinction. Now for my purposes, it's easier to list the films and times that I can do. Note that it's separate admission for these films, no double features I'm afraid:

DR. STRANGELOVE- Fri Mar 2 at 4 and 7
5 EASY PIECES- Sat Mar 3 at 7:50
GOLDFINGER- Sat Mar 3 at 9:50 (but only if 5 Easy Pieces sells out)
THE GUNS OF NAVARONE- Sun Mar 4 at 1 and 6:10
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY- Mon March 5 at 1 and 6:50
THE SHINING- Mon March 5 at 3:30 and 9:30
THE RED SHOES- Tuesday March 6 at 6:30
WEST SIDE STORY- Wed March 7 at 6:30
REAR WINDOW- Thurs March 8 at 4

The Dr. Strangelove screenings will be the ones where there will be a special guest and demonstration. Sony Pictures' Grover Crisp, a senior VP who has led the restoration teams that did a beautiful job recently on Taxi Driver, will be at the Strangelove screenings. Crisp will explain the process and the particulars on why what he does is different than the restoration is different elsewhere. Crisp will give a demonstration with Dr. Stranglove, showing it what it looks like in a good 35mm print and as its been digitally restored. As for myself, the only one I'm aiming for is Five Easy Pieces, only doing Goldfinger if Pieces sells out. But as you can see, there are other films I'm interested in, so you tell me if you want to what they look and sound like digitally restored:

PLAYTIME- Wed Mar 7 at 7:30- Cinema Arts Center in Huntington- For Long Island people, here's a bone tossed your way. A French comedy directed, co-written by, and starring Jacques Tati, as his famous M. Hulot character. If you saw one of this year's Oscar nominees for Animated Film, The Illusionist, based on an unproduced screenplay of Tati's, then you are familiar with the character. Imagine the klutzy M. Hulot going from typical Paris to not just any metropolis, but to an actual Metropolis. As in a place similar to the city from Fritz Lang's Metropolis, but with enough alienation and little use for individuality, that Tom Stoppard and/or Terry Gilliam had to know this film when making Brazil. A mega-flop in its day, but with ever growing appreciation for it as the years have gone by. The film shot in 70mm by Tati, but won't be screened that way here. The Cinema Arts Center doesn't have that large a screen, but they have the screen and sound system that's more than capable to screen this properly:

NORTH BY NORTHWEST- Fri Mar 9 at 7 and Sat Mar 10 at 6- Museum of the Moving Image- Part of the Museum of the Moving Image's See It Big series, pushing people to see films that work best on 70mm or IMAX screens, as opposed to computer or iPad screens. Your choice of either a Friday night or Saturday night. Not making a major push, majority rules with regards to this one. The best of all the lightweight Alfred Hitchcock films. No big morals here. Just sit back and relax, as everyman Cary Grant gets confused as a secret agent by sinister forces led by James Mason. He runs from them and runs from the law, for a murder at the United Nations he didn't commit. Of course all this running around doesn't stop Grant from taking time to flirt with mysterious Eva Marie Saint, in some of the most fun innuendo that the remnants of the Production Code would allow.

I use the term everyman loosely when describing Grant. But according to Gene Wilder on his episode of Inside The Actors Studio, that's how Grant described himself during a chance meeting on a cruise ship, where the Northwest homage Silver Streak, was playing. Wilder was pleasantly stunned to here this description, as well as how Grant was nice enough to include Wilder as being on the same level, but I digress.

Fun film, with good performances, a snappy though unsubtle Herrmann score, with one of Saul Bass's best opening credit sequences. Oscar nominations for the great Editing, Art Direction, and Ernest Lehman's script. Have never seen this on the big screen. I missed my chance about 6 years back, when it was screened for several weekends at midnight at the Paris theater. I'm sorry I missed catching it on the Paris's large screen, but I blame a girl named Amanda for that. The Forum's screen will be adequate for the occasion, their sound system should rock the hell out of Herrmann's score, so to speak:

MOONLIGHTING- Tues Mar 13 at 6- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Part of Lincoln Center's series of films that made a big splash at the New York Film Festival. Moonlighting, from 1982 by writer/director Jerzy Skolimowski, made while he was in self-imposed exile in England while Poland was under martial law. Skolimowski's most successful film, both critically and commercially. Jeremy Irons is the young foreman of a group of older Polish workers, who have arrived illegally in London, to work on a house of a rich Polish businessman. They blow what little money they have early on the trip, so all they can really do is work in this strange land, where Irons' character is the only one who speaks English. But as it gets harder to keep the food supply for his workers running smoothly, the unthinkable happens. Martial law is imposed in Poland, where Irons worries for his wife and family back home. Trying to keep the workers satisfied, trying to keep them in the country to finish the job, trying to keep them from starving, Irons' character has to resort to almost any means necessary to keep things intact. Including shoplifting for stuff. Including forcing his men to work 18 hours a day. Including controlling every bit of news from the outside. Any comparisons between a Communist government and the foreman's tactics are intentional, but the strain it puts on this lone (and alone) man is just as palpable.

On almost every top 10 list from major critics back in 82, and was a minor art house hit. By the early 1990s, Moonlighting seemed to have almost disappeared from the face of the Earth. It is on DVD, but good luck finding it. This film contains proof that Irons doesn't have to play a villain or some sort of sleaze in order to be really good at his craft:

SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT with director/stuntman Hal Needham in person- Wed Mar 14 at 7- Cinema Arts Center in Huntington- Part of Cinema Arts Center's Action Heroes series. Not every film needs to be brain surgery. So just sit back and watch Burt Reynolds smuggle Coors across state lines (illegal at the time), pickup runaway bride Sally Field (sigh), and get chased throughout the Southeast by sheriff Jackie Gleason (politically incorrect by any standard in any era). Did well in the summer of 1977, even up against Star Wars. An Oscar nomination for its Editing. Director/ Smokey creator/ legendary stuntman Hal Needham will introduce the film, and do a post-film signing of his autobiography, Stuntman:

Let me know if there's interest. Later all.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Best of 2011

Hello, all. Mike here with my list of Best films of 2011. Yeah, most people cough these things up back in December. Those people are paid to watch these movies, I'm not, so here we are. A lot less studio fare on my list than usual. I found that to get watch a quality film this year, the studio system wasn't succeeding as well as previous years. Lots more mining through indie and foreign fare for me than usual.

When it came time to put this list together, films 1-4 came very easily. The complications came from the order of 5-9, and what would be number 10. Now in the past, I've written that these lists are subject to change. I've made one such change with last year's list, placing Dogtooth #9 in my Top 10 of 2010, dropping Gas Land. Something tells me it might happen again with this list, but here's my top 10. But before we get to the list, here's what just missed the cut:

11) The Artist- I liked it and enjoyed it. But the best of 2011? Instant classic? C'mon people, see more silent films. Hell, see more films. Oh, and how do you like the picture of Jean Dujardin sleeping on Ryan Gosling? There's a whole website devoted to Photoshoped pix of Dujardin in all the strangest pop culture places. Here's the link:

12) Incendies- One of last year's Oscar nominees for Foreign Language film. Good drama, but some unconvincing old age make-up (though not on the horrible level of J. Edgar), and too much Greek tragedy aspects keep out of the Top 10 for me.

13) Tintin- Boy was this fun. Nice throwback to some Raiders of the Lost Ark-style action, but a little too lightweight to get on the list.

14) The Descendants- Other years, all this nice underplaying would make a top 10 easily. This is a film I might better appreciate once I'm in my 50s. But I'm not, and I wouldn't put above Alexander Payne's About Schmidt, Sideways or Election, so it's not making it on this list.

In terms of what I missed, I only feel bad about not getting to The Help, Warrior (had the chance but it felt like work, which is unfair to the film), A Better Life, Margaret (thanks for nothing Fox Searchlight for holding such a grudge against Kenneth Lonergan most of us may never see the film) and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In fact I wish I saw that recently, as opposed to We Need To Talk About Kevin. Not that, I'm trashing Talk About Kevin, it has two great performances from Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller. But when you watch a film like this and think "I wish I saw lighter instead, like Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.", you know you're watching something tough.

I didn't get to Melancholia and Extremely Close either, but I don't feel bad about that. I've written before that I'm done with von Triers, and as for Extremely Close, you have to pay me to see it, not vice versa. Now here we go with the list:

10) HUGO- Second best film I've seen in 3-D in 2011. Great looking ,semi-idealized vision of Paris. Ok, that's not entirely accurate. Great looking vision of a child's view of a Paris. Semi-idealized, occasionally scarier looking than it would to an adult. Not sure what was physically built and what CGI at all times, and I don't care, I bought the entire look. Not really a children's film per se. But for mature kids 10 and up, not every film has to be a Transformers or Harry Potter or Star Wars pic. Mix it up a little. One part call for film preservation as well. The recreation of the making of Georges Melies films was one of the highlights; Martin Scorsese wants us both informed and in awe of the handmade process and we are.

This film would be higher but for two beefs on my part. One, the narrative moves a little glacially at times. At times, slower than the film at my number nine slot on the list, and that's slow. Yes, the idea in the film of it's not just the family you come from it's the family you form with your friends is familiar but well executed, but did it have to take forever to get there. A bigger problem was newcomer Asa Butterfield's performance in the title role. His scenes with fellow child actor Chloe Grace Moretz are all good. But scenes with him scared, and most of his close-ups.: not so good. Looking a little lost there a lot of the time. But wait, shouldn't he look that way based on his perils, and in what scenes? Sorry, go to a profession acting teacher for that. I'm not saying the kid is untalented or incapable of getting better. But I will say the kid is raw, unpolished, lost too many times in close-up from this perspective, and it's to this film's detriment. Moving on.

9) PINA- Finally, a Wim Wenders film I was looking forward to that didn't disappoint. Sorry Wings of Desire, I didn't mean you. Sorry The End of Violence, I meant your incoherent dumb ass. Anyway, this documentary on the work of the late choreographer Pina Bausch won't tell you anything about her life, except hint that maybe her work was her life and that her life didn't happen away from the stage and the rehearsal rooms. Maybe not, but like I said, this documentary isn't going there. But it will show what got Pina excited: dance and the stories you can tell. Love stories, despair, aging, that just scratches the surface.

Some of the dances are performed mostly by her former dancers and collaborators. They went into the project when she was alive. Pina died just before filming began, so the film changed from a bit of a wake, based on some of the dancers interviewed still in morning, into a celebration, mixing Super 8, 35mm film and 3/4" video footage of Pina rehearsing or performing, with her dancers performing her work in front of Wender's cameras. And not just performing on a bare stage, but stages with dirt, or chairs, or rock with water coming down, or thrown around by other dancers. And the dancing doesn't go on just on a stage or performance space. The cameras and the dancers go outside, onto an elevated train, above and below said train, in an industrial park, by a mine. All with stories told through dance that would fit in with say, a Brecht piece, Or Beckett, or in the world of The Artist.

All enhanced with the use of 3-D. Shapes, the use of perspective, all a visual treat. Since most of you reading this isn't likely to get the chance to see it in 3-D, an appreciation for dance will be needed, even in 2-D. But a love of Fantasia will help even more. Seriously, since this isn't a straightforward documentary, Disney's Fantasia is the closest comparison I give as to what you can expect from Pina.

8) TINKER TAILOR SOLIDER SPY- This might be a Cliff Notes version of the John le Carré novel, especially when compared to the 1970's Alec Guinness version. But it's so damn hard to pull a spy thriller; think of all the spy films you really like that don't have James Bond in them. Small list, isn't it. Well this Tinker Tailor joins them. Yes, this film actually thinks the audience is filled with adults and treats them as such. All those with emotional ADD or need things dumbed down for them need not apply.

All praise to director Tomas Alfredson, screenwriters Steven Straughan and the late Bridget O'Connor, and that cast, oh that cast. Too bad we'll never know what John Hurt would be like in the role of George Smiley. But considering we get a great one in Gary Oldman, as well as Hurt as Control who almost reeks of tobacco, even if this film wasn't shot in Smell-O-Rama. There were some actual Oscar Prognosticators who felt Oldman would lose out on a Best Actor nomination to Leonardo DiCaprio for the disappointing J. Edgar. Yes, Leo put an almost unrelenting amount of energy and effort into his work, but anyone with more than a little knowledge of acting and with over a 100 IQ could see the seemingly minimal effort done by Oldman here. And I say seemingly; Smiley the great poker player who keeps almost everything in check. The picture of restraint when just a little loss of control could have catastrophic results. Bring on the two potential sequels if Oldman returns as Smiley and if the quality standards remain high.

7) DRIVE- A cool modern noir, that combines the best of Michael Mann's Thief, Walter Hill's The Driver, the Steve McQueen persona, stirs with a generous amount of sharp dialogue and a good cast, and lets the tension and blood flow nicely. Ok, so Ron Pearlman makes a lot out of his seemingly underwritten role, as does Carey Mulligan, who appeared to be lit in a constant halo and dressed in colors to highlight this. The connection between Gosling and Mulligan is nice, the overly chaste love story, not great. And if it is true that Drive is actually an allegory for the creative bankruptcy of Hollywood executives, sorry, fail. It doesn't play well; my allegory stuff regarding Meek's Cutoff holds up more.

Not the first film to show "the dark underbelly of Los Angeles", but it's about the execution of the familiar. Director Nicolas Winding Refn executes well, a major improvement over his last film, Valhalla Rising. And as for this Ryan Gosling guy? I don't think there's a role who couldn't pull off out there? Could he pull off Voldermort without make-up? Probably. Could he play say, Jane Fonda's role in a remake of 9 to 5, complete with wig and vintage wardrobe? Easily, I say. Very good indeed in Drive.

6) MEEK'S CUTOFF- The Western's not dead, folks. It can still be used effectively. It was effective earlier in 2011 with the fun and decent Rango, and the same goes for Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff. Also the best of Michelle Williams' two 2011 releases. I enjoyed My Week with Marilyn, and I understand going for Oscar gold with Marilyn as opposed to Meek's. Marilyn is good, but it's an above average episode of Masterpiece Contemporary. The depiction of the young man near the center of the story, as a naive but darling young angel, reeks of bullshit to me, but I'm digressing . . .

Set in 1845, a group of family settlers are lost while being lead by a loud guide who may or may not where he's going. The first ten or so minutes may be slow for many, and I wouldn't attack someone who feels that way, especially if they see the film on a typical TV screen or smaller. But it's important to set up the initial difficulties, the difficulty of the terrain, and how easy lives, possessions and equipment can be lost. After weeks of being lost, with the men unsure of whether to keep following the guide or not and the women's opinions going ignored, a new potentially dangerous element comes into their lives: a lone Indian. A non-white man who may or may not know the terrain, who may or may not help them. Do they follow this non-white man over their loudmouth guide? Do the settlers kill one of them? Do they kill them both?

All that may not be enough, but when you put what's going on in the film in the context of political America of the past ten or so years, then Meek's Cutoff takes on new dimensions. Imagine America, in the form of three families, being led by a likable Texan, played by Bruce Greenwood in pleasant scenery chewing mode. The journey is far more difficult than the Texan has led the party to believe. The Texan, who we'll make George W. here, appears far better at making himself sound good than in leading the party to the Promised Land. All of a sudden, they run into an Indian, and let's make Obama the Indian here. Eventually, the Indian sees symbols, and starts travelling in a direction different than what the Texan has been advocating. The Texan wants his polar opposite dead. Two of the couples represent opposite extremes; their fears and/or hysteria and/or anger toward the unknown, their own perilous situation, and toward the Indian who is a different skin color, not of the same religion and doesn't speak English. Now where is the Indian going? Is he leading himself to a better place and encouraging the others to follow? Is he even interpreting the symbols or directions properly? Is he even going somewhere at all, or is the Indian merely on some sort of walkabout? It's up to the third couple, the Center of the party or country if you will, that Williams' character is a part of, to try to figure out and try to force the rest of the party to follow. Whether they like it or not.

Now when you place all this allegory in, or rather when writer/director Reichardt places all this allegory in, then Meek's Cutoff really makes an impact. Throw in the idea that it may fall on Ms. Williams' character to decide the group's fate; someone without the right to vote in an era when socially she should barely be seen and not heard from. Throw that into the mix, and Meek's Cutoff becomes one seriously impressive little film.

P.S. The photo of the settler costumes from Meek's Cutoff here is mine. Taken in the Film Forum. The costume on the left is Zoe Kazan's, the one on the right is Michelle Williams's.

5) SHAME- This very adult film is a rough ride. It doesn't appear that the terrific Michael Fassbender's character is just a mere sex addict. There appear to be flashes of OCD to him in terms of hoarding all manners of porn in his work drive and in his apartment, body issues, and the need to have things just so, and more than a few hints of being abused by at least one parent. In the film's early section, as we get to know the character (sex with hookers, 1 night stands, the need to masturbate at work at about the same time each day), I was beginning to dread sitting through Shame. "Oh great, several long days and nights of a man who constantly needs the sexual release but can't feel any emotion or intimacy in any of the acts, what did I get myself into?" is what I felt.

It all changed once Carey Mulligan comes into the film. A game changer, both in terms of Mulligan's career and for Shame itself. Now we meet his sister, who's the polar opposite of the brother with whom she might have had some sort of incestuous relationship with. She's walking around ready to give affection and intimacy to anyone who glances her way. As long as you don't mind the mood swings that come along with it. Never knew Mulligan could sing, and I never imagined the song New York New York" could be performed as a borderline suicide note, but damn she pulls it off.

Don't look for deep interpretations or self-anaylisis of the onscreen behaviors. Also don't expect to have every answer of both characters' past filled in nice and neat. You get the bear bones of what you need so that the film maintains forward momentum. Not a pleasant trip and not one I necessarily want to repeat, but an interesting one.

4) MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE- I'm a sucker for the kind of suspense film that Hitchcock made. I'm also a sucker for the kind of suspense thriller Hitch might have at least considered making if he was alive today. That's why in 2003 I rated Swimming Pool higher than others I know, and I wrote this when I put Tell No One on my Best of 2008 list. I'm glad I got to see an American film join these similarly-veined French films in Martha Marcy May Marlene. Though I feel this is more akin to a Christopher Nolan type re-interpreting a Hitchcock-style script. That's how good I thought Sean Durkin's feature length directing/ writing debut is. The Manson-like cult that Elizabeth Olsen's character escapes from, feels familiar in terms of charismatic leader (wonderfully creepy John Hawkes), sway and sexual manipulation of his group. What felt unfamiliar in a fascinating way, was how easy it was to take innocent cult members and make them co-conspirators in recruitment, theft and possibly murder. Escaping brings her back to what's left of her family: a sister who seemed to get out of a seemingly hellish family life, and left her younger sibling to cope alone. A sister who, alongside her husband, doesn't understand who this damaged creature, is not equipped to stem the damage, and might have reason to be afraid. I'm sorry more people weren't willing to give this a chance, and I really look forward to Elizabeth Olsen's performances, to see where she goes from here. Maybe not the upcoming Silent House, but other projects.

3) PROJECT NIM- As much as I've liked documentaries such as Bill Cunningham: New York, The Interrupters, and Herzog's two 2011 documentaries, I recommend Pina over all of them. But the 2011 documentary I like most however is Project Nim, from the director of Man On Wire. Would make an interesting double feature with Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Now the makers of Rise didn't base their story on Nim, though the confusion would be understandable, since the story is similar to poor Nim's. Professor Herb Terrace of Columbia University sets about with a study to raise a chimpanzee as a human and teach him to communicate in complete sentences, back in 1973. So you rip Nim away from his mother when he's a baby, and place him with a human family, a wife, husband and some little kids. The only qualification the family seems to have is that the wife used to sleep with Professor Terrace, which in the early 70s seems to be qualifications enough. Never mind that there are little kids around a growing ever strong chimp, and no one involved has any experience with chimps, let the study begin! After awhile, to "help" speed up Nim's development, Nim is moved to a new home, where a different assistant Professor Terrace is sleeping with, and caretakers that have trouble handling the adult Nim.

The study becomes popular and we see coverage of it in magazines and on the Today show. Now if you've ever had a pet, then you know they can communicate with you. They may not talk to you or sign to you in complete sentences, but they find ways to communicate. Now thanks to photos and Super 8 movies of the study, we see Nim has learned to express him, alternating sign language with gestures, grunts and so forth. But the combination of not signing in complete sentences, difficulty in managing Nim's aggressiveness and increasingly more violent attacks, and a loss of funding, stripped Nim of yet another family. Nim would spend years as part of a subject of medical experiments and in a hellhole of a ranch in isolation, before other humans found another place to make Nim's last years peaceful. But most of the humans involved in Nim's life, most of whom are interviewed in the film, make one wish that scientist-types take an oath of some sort to do no harm, because Nim definitely suffered. Some of the people express guilt and regret in their interviews while others, especially Professor Terrace, not so much. Powerful film-making.

2) A SEPARATION- The best constructed screenplay in terms of story and dialogue combination, one that seems destined to lose unfortunately to Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. When you're working on a low budget and living in a country where a government department can shut you down (like the Iranian Ministry of Culture did on this film's shoot), I guess extra emphasis needs to place on screenplay construction. And when I bring up the dialogue, I'm not talking about great poetry. Realistic dialogue from people in varying rapidly deteriorating situations.

Felt almost like a thriller, similar to Incendies. No bad guys here. One middle-class couple separates, but there's no divorce on the eve of their finally receiving an exit visa. The husband refuses to leave his Alzheimer's-riddled father behind. Their pre-teen daughter, who refuses to see her parent's break-up as inevitable, so she stays with her father. The wife won't leave her child behind, so she moves out and moves back home. The husband is forced to hire someone to take part time care of his dad; a devout woman with a husband threatened with jail over his debts, and a little daughter always in tow. She's more cunning than bright, though how cunning and bright is open to speculation. But she's not supposed to work in a single man's home, and we're not sure if she fears Judgement from the afterlife, her husband or her clerics. She's also pregnant and understandably stressed. When things go wrong, it puts them all in the hands of a government bureaucracy that leaves them all powerless, with narrow definitions of felonies and life-altering punishments.

I literally sat through the first half in knots, and stayed entranced throughout. Now if you're the type who hasn't gotten over the idea of subtitled films by Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, well that's a shame but I probably don't give your idea of movies any credence. So I'll just say see this, and move on to the only film I liked more than A Separation . . .

1) THE TREE OF LIFE- Probably the most divisive film on this list. You're either into this or you're not, and you'd probably have to be a big fan of at least two of Terrence Malick's prior films to get into The Tree of Life. Not calling this flawless, mind you. So few films are. Malick's film is unforgiving for those with short attention spans or mental ADD. I didn't embrace the modern day scenes with Sean Penn, but was surprised about how much I embraced the desert and what it lead to. I was dreading some kind of Gerry redux (in reference to the Gus Van Sant film), but so glad it didn't go in that direction. If Malick chose to just keep the film in Texas circa 1950s and 60s, it would have been just fine. Even though he did good work in Moneyball, this here might be Brad Pitt's career performance to date. Changing his ways to give his sons tough love to survive in a world that is crushing his own dreams, only to wonder if this is the right thing to do at all. Heartbreaking, complex, and human. Matched by Jessica Chastain as almost the embodiment of unconditional love, who may not be strong enough to discipline her sons effectively or protect them from her husband's aggression; again complex and human. Good job from Malick with regards to working with the non-professional boys who comprise the rest of the family, especially Hunter McCracken as the son who may go one way or another.

But it was after the screening that the following thoughts came to mind: What if you had questions for God? What if the answer is silence? Is that silence because you are mortal, & you're asking your questions to a deity that doesn't exist? Or are you asking to a deity that focuses on large concepts, and doesn't deal with mortal concepts? A deitiy that doesn't and maybe won't conform to the varying mortal interpretations that surround us? But what if you had at least some of the answers already & you didn't realize it? Maybe you had them from the way you were raised, from the way you were spoken to by your parents, your loved ones, or the way you spoke to them? All that and you never knew . . . Maybe the needs, ideas, power of choice and/or simple inexperience interfere with the mortal from understanding? Is it possible to gain understanding later in life? And if what I just described doesn't match what you go through or went through, does that matter?

There are more questions, but I have no answers, & neither does The Tree of Life. But these questions and more come up, and I recommend that you see it & decide for yourself. I understand that it might be tough to sit through on the big screen or on a large HD screen, and much tougher if you see on a small non-HD screen or if you tend to avoid art house films like they have the plague. But this film will be brought up again over the next few months, & I suspect for far longer. Like many things, you have to decide for yourself.

With all that said, no, I'm not sure what dinosaur life (a technological improvement over Jurassic Park) has to do with Brad Pitt trying to raise a family in 1950s Texas. Like other parts of the film, you're on your own. But I hope you give this a chance, and have a lot patience going in.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Feb revivals: second half

Hey, Mike here with a list of revivals for the rest of February. Figures it would be a large selection so close to Oscar time. Let me not waste anymore time, here we go:

THE DARK CRYSTAL- Fri Feb 17, Sat Feb 18 and Sun Feb 19 at Midnight- Landmark Sunshine Cinema- Playing all three nights of the President's day weekend, including Sunday. If you're a fan of Lord of the Rings kind of fantasy, or a fan of 80's films, here's this effort from Jim Henson. Jim and co-director Frank Oz's (with an uncredited assist from Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz) attempt to do a Lord of The Rings-style film with the latest in animatronic technology, received only minor acclaim and decent U.S. business in the Christmas of 1982, but became one of the biggest films to ever hit Japan and France up to that point. It still has a fervent cult here. Puppetry effects at their height, with the Muppet-esque cuteness cut down very low. A children's film that keeps the adults entertained, without being cheesy or insulting to the kids.

The overall look is always impressive, with a highly underrated score from Trevor Jones. I admit, the ending for Dark Crystal doesn't make a lot of sense, but the journey is worth it:

JAWS- Fri Feb 17, Sat Feb 18 and Sun Feb 19 at Midnight- IFC Center- A midnight screening of this classic, also playing all three nights of the President's Day weekend. On both AFI Top 100 lists, but higher up for me. Also in my personal Top 35 as opposed to just one of one hundred. Don't underestimate the quality of this Spielberg film on the big screen, and IFC Center tends to get good prints. It's not just another fish film. 3 Oscars including John Williams's memorable score, and a nomination for Best Picture (along with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Barry Lyndon, Dog Day Afternoon and Nashville; not shabby:

THEY LIVE- Fri Feb 17 and Sat Feb 18 at Midnight- IFC Center- John Carpenter's still underrated Reagan era/ yuppie era attack satire, shot through the filter of a sci-fi action film, gets a Midnight screening. Unlike Jaws and Dark Crystal, this only plays on the Friday/Saturday night of President's weekend. Oh, and don't forget the great fist fight, possibly the longest most exaggerated in film history:

THE OX-BOW INCIDENT with or without YELLOW SKY- Sat Feb 18 at 2:40(Ox), 4:10(Yellow), 6(Ox), 7:30(Yellow) and 9:20(Ox)- Film Forum- 2 more films from the William Wellman retrospective. The second film I could catch but it's not a priority. But the first one, oh I'd love to catch it.

The Ox-Bow Incident, deserves to go alongside revisionist Westerns like Unforgiven, The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Definitely among the darkest, as it covers mob mentality. Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan play two drifters suspected of cattle rustling by some very on-edge townspeople. Then, a story goes around that a prominent rancher has been murdered and the gang has escaped. Most of the townspeople take the law unto their own hands, and form a posse to capture the "murderers". To avoid suspicion, Fonda and Morgan join the posse. The mob find three men, including "Laura"'s Dana Andrews and Anthony Quinn, who are immediately suspected of the crime, captured, and are "sentenced" by the mob to be hung. Dark, but very good Western. Oscar nominated for Best Picture, selected for preservation by the Library of Congress in the late 1990s, and one of Fonda's favorite film. I really want to catch this.

Next, Yellow Sky. Gregory Peck, a burned out man not that different from John Wayne's character from The Searchers, tries to lead his gang of bank robbers away from the law. He and his gang, which include Richard Widmark and Harry Morgan, hide out in a ghost town. But it's not abandoned; an old prospector and his granddaughter (Anne Baxter) have been mining gold there. the gang plans to steal the gold, but what happens when Peck falls for Baxter? I don't have to catch this, but if anyone who comes with me is in the mood, or if the only way to get into Ox-Bow Incident is to watch Yellow Sky first, I won't mind:

THE MUPPET SHOW with Steve Martin and John Cleese and THE LADY EVE and (a maybe for me) FORTY GUNS with Dan Callahan in person- Sun Feb 19 at 1(Muppet), 3(Eve) and 6(Guns)- Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria- Another nice full Sunday at the Museum of the Moving Image. Two Season 2 Muppet Show episodes and two Barbara Stanwyck films, plus the Jim Henson exhibit, all for 1 admission. Incidentally, the last day of the Henson exhibit is Sunday, March 4th. But after the 19th, I'm done posting and pushing the exhibit. If you don't catch it by then, you're on your own.

The first Muppet Show episode is with guest Steve Martin. The only episode where the show within the show isn't in performance. Kermit holds auditions for new cast members, and Martin is forced to perform to the cast. I believe this is the only episode where Statler and Waldorf perform onstage (a Vaudevillian number, with Fozzie attempting some heckler revenge), plus we also have Martin performing Dueling Banjos. The second episode is with guest John Cleese, who co-wrote the episode. In this episode, we have Cleese refusing to work with pigs, unsure if Kermit is the frog he's contractually bond to work, and having him hijack the Pigs in Space ship as Long John Silverstein. Also in this screening is a number that's never included U.S. broadcasts: a pregnant-looking Miss Piggy performing "Waiting at the Church" opposite Kermit, whose planning to leave her at the altar.

Next, a potential Barbara Stanwyck double feature, the first film being something I'd love to see. The Lady Eve, as close as writer-director Preston Sturges could get to sex comedies back in the early forties. Where con artist Barbara Stanwyck targets rich "dope" Henry Fonda. Naturally, there's all that falling in love, the thawing of cold cynical hearts, misunderstandings, none of this necessarily in that order and often repeated. We expect good work from Stanwyck, smart snappy patter from Sturges, and good support from the likes of Charles Coburn and William Demarest, but who'd expect Fonda to pull off deadpan pratfalls? Highly recommended.

Lastly, Forty Guns. A Samuel Fuller film that appears a lot more interesting than the way the Museum's website describes. A 79 minute quickie that's a little more complicated then it seems. Powerful rancher Stanwyck falls in love with pacifist sheriff Griff (Barry Sullivan), complicating tension regarding her hired men or "forty guns". In charge of the "guns" is her drunken brother, who bullies the townspeople in general, and won't stand the idea of such a cowardly man like Griff defying his authority AND touching his sister.

Highly praised for Fuller's use of Cinemascope. But I suppose what gets me interested is Fuller's quote describing the reason behind the title: "My forty guns were forty p---ks. My powerful heroine had her way in the sack with all forty, then cast them aside for the forty-first "gun", Griff." Intriguing.

Both films will be introduced Dan Callahan, author of a new biography, "Barbara Stanwyck: The Miracle Woman" In between both films, Callahan will sign copies of the book, sold in the Museum's gift shop:

BEAU GESTE- Sun Feb 19 at 4:50 (introduced by Gary Cooper's daughter) and 8:35 plus Mon Feb 20 at 4:50- Film Forum- Part of the William Wellman retro. A nearly shot for shot remake of the 1926 silent original, this turned out a lot better than when Gus van Sant did a similar thing remaking Psycho. A long involving story, but I'll cut to the chase. 3 brothers (Gary Cooper, Ray Milland and Robert Preston) join the French Foreign Legion, and are at odds with their sadistic Sergeant. But before things get worse, in come the Tuareg, attacking their fort. Popular action drama, with Oscar nominations for Brian Donlevy as the Sergeant, and for Art Direction. With Susan Hayward, Broderick Crawford and Donald O'Connor in small roles. On the Sunday February 19th 4:50 screening, Maria Cooper Janis, Gary's daughter, will introduce the film, will sign copies of her new biography of her father afterwards. The film is playing with Call of the Wild with Clark Gable, but I don't care to see it, so I'm not posting it:

THE LAST METRO- Tues Feb 21 at 6- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Part of Lincoln Center's retrospective of films that first made a big splash at the New York Film Festival. Paris, 1942. Lucas Steiner is a Jew and was compelled to leave the country. His wife Marion (Catherine Deneuve), an actress, directs the theater for him. She tries to keep the theater alive with a new play, and hires Bernard Granger (Gerard Depardieu) for the leading role. But Lucas is actually hiding in the basement... An Oscar nominee for Foreign Language Film in 1981.

The following is quote from Vincent Camby when he reviewed it for the Times:

"The film has the form of a more or less conventional melodrama, about a
small Parisian theater company during the 1942-44 Nazi occupation, though
the film's methods are so systematically unconventional that it becomes a
gently comic, romantic meditation on love, loyalty, heroism, and history.
The Last Metro is a melodrama that discreetly refuses to exercise its
melodramatic options. It's also a love story that scarcely recognizes its
lovers. Though the setting is a legitimate theater, the Theatre Montmartre,
it's not an "inside theater" movie. The Last Metro is about a particular
time in history. Its Theatre Montmartre is a refuge -- actual in the case of
one character, and psychological for the others. The theater provides them

The focal point of the film is the Theatre Montmartre's production of the
French translation of a Norwegian play, La Disparue (The Woman Who
Disappeared)... The content of La Disparue, however, is of no more moment
than that of Meet Pamela, the rather awful sounding film that was being
produced in the course of Day for Night. The Last Metro is about the manner
in which the Theatre Montmartre actors approach their work, their shifting
relations with each other, and the way in which each responds to the
condition of being "occupied." The Last Metro doesn't dwell on the horrors
of Nazi-encouraged, French anti-Semitism, which flourished during the
occupation, but it is haunted by those horrors. It takes a little while to
catch the tempo of the film, but pay attention. The Last Metro is about
lives surrounded by melodrama, being lived with as little outward fuss as
possible. "

CRUISING- Fri Feb 24 at Midnight- Landmark Sunshine Cinema- A Midnight screening of the one Al Pacino film that doesn't have any clips shown whenever his career is honored. From director William Friedkin, Pacino plays an NYPD cop who goes undercover in the world of gay S and M clubs, to find a serial killer who stalks his prey there. And Pacino's character begins to like this world. Don't know how accurate this sub-culture is depicted, but it is a snippet of the past and how gays are viewed and depicted one year before the first AIDS cases were diagnosed in New York. One of Friedkin's police advisors on The French Connection worked on this film, so the police side is probably accurate. If anything, Cruising focuses more on the police reaction to the gay communtiy.

Cruising was heavily protested when it was shot in New York, to the point where gay activist groups tried to have the filming removed from NYC altogether. Then 40 minutes had to be cut in order to get the R rating. The film came out in March 1980, where the protests never let up. The film was trashed by critics, and flopped at the box office. If it lasted more than a month, I'd be stunned. Pacino, upset that Friedkin changed the film from what is in the script to the final product, and stunned by the intense anger of the protestors who never saw the film (but might have read the book), would never speak about the film afterwards. Distributed by United Artists. Wow, with Cruising released early in 1980, and Heaven's Gate released near the end of that year, no wonder Transamerica got out of the movie business.

Found some quotes about the film from IMDB. Don't know the sources, otherwise I'd quote them:

"“The film doesn’t turn away from the sexuality,” says Friedkin, who notes that the Cannes screening will be followed by a theatrical re-release, complete with a new Dolby Digital sound mix, in select U.S. cities this fall. “That means it will still disturb a lot of people on both sides of the issue.”

He does wish, though, that the studio (Warner Bros.) had been able to find some of the 40 minutes of deleted scenes that he was forced to remove from Cruising 26 years ago at the behest of the MPAA, all of which are now feared missing or destroyed.

Skin tones looked a little pale in the night and club sequences, but colors really popped for the most part, in particular, the yellow NYC cabs. Sound, in particular, the separation between the various songs and ambient noises, was excellent."

Now the film's reputation has been getting some rehabilitation, thanks in part to the standing ovation the new print received a few years back at Cannes (Tarantino was among those applauding). Personally, I have no idea if this film is any good. I've never seen more than a minute of it years ago on cable. As well as the original trailer which is quite effective actually. It could be good, could be crap, or just passable. It will probably look and sound good, but after that, who knows? Any of you adventurous?

THE PUBLIC ENEMY with or without THE STAR WITNESS- Sat Feb 25 at 2:50(Enemy), 4:30(Star), 5:50(Enemy), 7:30(Star) and 8:50(Enemy)- Film Forum- Part of the William Wellman retro. The Public Enemy, starring a charismatic, tough, fast talking James Cagney, in a role that made him a star forever. He moves up the ranks, from a punk in the Chicago slums, to a quick tempered gangster with Jean Harlow, Mae Clarke and Joan Blondell around him. He also has a good guy brother who wants no part of the criminal life. But this makes the brother vulnerable to attack, and Cagney's character will seek vengeance. Features the famous scene where Mae Clarke's face met Cagney's grapefruit with force. An Oscar nomination for its story.

I'd like to see Public Enemy, and can easily skip The Star Witness, but if one wants to see it, I won't fight it. In this 68 minute quickie, a family sees a gang kingpin commit murders. D.A. Walter Huston pressures the family to testify. The kingpin threatens the family, Grandpa (the Civil War vet) pushes the family to do their civic duty, the boy gets kidnapped, but it all turns out ok in the end. An Oscar nomination for the screen story. Best I can say is, that's it short, and if sitting through means easy access to The Public Enemy, I'll slog through it if need be:

RUNAWAY TRAIN- Mon Feb 27 at 8- IFC Center- A rare revival screening of this pretty good action drama from 1985. Adapted from a Kurosawa screenplay written so long ago, Peter Falk was originally tabbed for the lead, with Henry Fonda in a major supporting role. Backed by Cannon Films; while they often made their money on crappy stuff like the Breakin' films and some rather terrible Chuck Norris action films and Death Wish sequels, Golan and Globus would occasionally channel profits into the occasional serious film aimed for respectability. Runaway Train was one of them.

2 convicts escape from an Alaskan maximum security prison. One (Jon Voight), a loner, safe-cracker and escape artist. The other (Eric Roberts), a man of low IQ who is unwelcome on the escape. They think they've made a successful escape through a blizzard and long hike, onto the train made up of 4 locomotives. They don't realize until later that the engineer died of a heart attack, the brakes have burned off, and the train is picking speed. The escaped cons, already grating on each other's nerves, try to work with the lone rail worker (a de-glamorized Rebecca De Mornay), to slow down the runaway train. But the passengers don't realize that train dispatchers are working furiously to avoid massive collisions, and might sacrifice the train with all on board to avoid a catastrophic crash. The passengers also don't realize that the sadistic prison warden (John P. Ryan), is also hot on their trail.

Runaway Train didn't do well at the box office. And it might have gone away completely, if a chance storm in and by Los Angeles back in January 1986, hadn't forced some Academy to seek shelter, at Academy screenings for Runaway Train. This was according to gossip columnist Marilyn Beck, the exact article I've had trouble finding her rep is better than most, so I believe it. Runaway Train received 3 nominations, for Voight for Actor, Roberts for Supporting Actor, and for Editing. This didn't help Runaway Train find an audience in theaters, but it became a successful VHS rental for the rest of the 80s. But once the 90s came along, and the Cannon Group went belly up, Runaway Train seemed to disappear. I mean yes, it's on DVD, but even those copies miss a scene here, or some violent action shots there. So really, this is a good opportunity to see a good film, you're probably not aware of.

Runaway Train is part of IFC Center's Queer/Art film series, where a gay or lesbian artist picks a film that inspired what they do today. Choreographer Elizabeth Streb will introduce the film, and explain how it inspired to form her own style of action or extreme dancing:

Let me know if there's interest. Later all.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Oscar/Best of 2011 film catch-up list

A list of what you need to see, of both Oscar nominees and films that should be seen for a potential Best of 2011 list. Broken down in 6 categories: Major nominees in theaters, Minor Nominees in theaters, Major nominees on DVD/Cable/On Demand, Minor nominees on DVD/Cable/On Demand, Others of note in theaters, and Others of note on DVD/Cable/On Demand. Started to do some write-ups for my own blog, but stopped to send this now, and will resume writing later. For the record, major nominations to me are Picture, Director, the 4 Acting Categories, the 2 Screenplay categories, Documentary, Foreign Language, and Animated. Hope this helps.


WAR HORSE- I get the complaints regarding Spielberg being overly sentimental again, but you won't count me among them. It's not like this sentimentality is on the saccharine levels of The Sound of Music. It doesn't make the poor people rich, and it doesn't keep young men from being killed by the hundreds on screen. Done artistically mind you, but still by the hundreds. As a film fan, I appreciate the on-screen acknowledgments of films like Gone With The Wind, The Seven Samurai, Dr Zhivago, and even some John Ford films. There's a line between homage and blatant copying, and Spielberg straddled it nicely here,

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN- Familiar story structure of young man, coming-of-age trying to make his way into the world, mixed with Hollywood-ish biopic. The result is fairly light, fun, with performances that lift it above a typical Masterpiece Theater episode. Thus worth catching on the big screen, but its reputation should jump higher on a TV screen. Michelle Williams makes a wonderful Marilyn (pictures from a recent Q and A I attended above), Kenneth Branagh's Olivier with a semi-permanent stick up his ass is a lot of fun, and you come away wanting more Judi Dench. But the idea of a young man (whose diaries of the making of The Prince and The Showgirl made two books) with no experience or obvious skill, being a mostly beloved and trusted confidant, reeks of B.S. Too false an aspect for me to love this film. I'll just merely like a lot,
EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE- I refuse to sit through this, no fucking way,

THE TREE OF LIFE- Best seen on the big screen, unless you have a large TV and/or a HD screen. Currently playing in Cinema Village.

Minor nominees in theaters: THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN,

THE MUPPETS- Not dissimilar to the recent Star Trek reboot in terms of re-launching a franchise. Appeases the old school fan in me, except for a few too many fart jokes. C'mon, this isn't some crappy Eddie Murphy comedy. Some humans, especially Chris Cooper, worked really well with the Muppets. A few others, like Rashida Jones and a few who did cameos like Whoopi and Selena, not so well. Loved, loved, LOVED the nominated Man or a Muppet song and will be pissed if it isn't performed at the ceremony. If you're an old school fan who can't stand the original writers or voices aren't attached to this, I can understand the subliminal discomfort and resistance. But I say the following, the same I say to the Trekkies with the J.J. Abrahms reboot: suck it up. Older pop culture stuff like say, Sherlock Holmes and Batman have endured and at times,thrived. So can this,

W.E.- Madonna's film, in part about King Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson, got an official release on Fri Feb 3. But it received an Oscar qualifying 1 week run back in December in L.A., so yep, it qualifies here.

Major nominees on DVD and/or Cable and/or On Demand:


MONEYBALL- Doesn't exactly speed along, but it needs to get its equations across to non-baseball/sabermetrics people, so sorry it takes time. Plays a little loose with the history for my tastes, but still interesting. Brad Pitt's best lead performance, a pleasant surprise from Jonah Hill, and if Philip Seymour Hoffman's portrayal of Art Howe is accurate (which it isn't physically), then the Mets were seriously screwed up to look at this man as manager in 2002,

RANGO- Probably the only way anytime soon that we could believe Johnny Depp as a complete underdog, as an iguana on his first trip out in the world. Not joking, this is some of his best work in years. Think you need an appreciation of Westerns in order to truly enjoy, which luckily for me I have and I do. Also works as an early intro to the kind of story depicted in Chinatown. The stop-motion animation works well; you're not depicting realistic humans, the animals look just fine,

MARGIN CALL- Good film debut from writer-director J.C. Chandor. A depiction of the early days of the financial crisis of 2008, where the collapse is depicted less by technical means, but by human frailties. Big egos, greediness, even a lack of economics in jobs you would think requires them. Good cast, one that can even carry Demi Moore. One where Jeremy Irons' Dracula-esque performance can still fit in naturally,

A BETTER LIFE- A surprise Best Actor nominee,

PUSS IN BOOTS- Comes out on DVD on the Friday before the Oscars,

IF A TREE FALLS: A STORY OF THE EARTH LIBERATION FRONT- A Best Documentary nominee, it's on DVD but easier to find on youtube. For how much longer on youtube is a good question,

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS- The best Woody Allen film since Match Point. But that's no reason for such an overreaction of praise, hosannas and what not. Solid cast, some good dialogue, nice Parisian locales. But Top 10 best? Please. Let's just call it a pleasant time-killer worth catching on DVD or cable. Let's call it a noticeable improvement over say, Hollywood Ending and Anything Goes and move on,

THE IDES OF MARCH- A George Clooney-directed film that's an improvement over the disappointing Leatherheads. Fun support by both Phillip Seymour Hoffman and (especially) Paul Giamatti, backing yet another tip-top Ryan Gosling lead. But whenever Evan Rachel Wood comes on-screen, with the kind of storyline that has both Jailbait and Dead Meat figuratively tattooed on her forehead, oy vey. The film could only become unpredictable if Gosling came into clean things up with a light saber and a blaster. Seriously, if you didn't see this become a paint by numbers film of political disillusionment, then you have to see more movies. At least it wasn't boring,

PARADISE LOST 3- Best Documentary nominee. Available on HBO On Demand and HBO Plus, alongside Paradise Lost 1 and 2

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES- The best Planet of the Apes film since the original. Would make an interesting double feature with the documentary Project Nim,



CARNAGE- Decent, but you can wait for DVD or cable. Maybe the piece only works on stage. Maybe the piece doesn't work as well if all four actors, while doing respectable jobs, are only believable as adults. All four just didn't pull the depths emotional immaturity. Strange to say after seeing John C. Reilly in Step Brothers, go figure,

YOUNG ADULT- Wonderful pitch-perfect black comedy. I have never been disappointed in a Jason Reitman film before, and the positive streak continues. Nice to see Charlize Theron in a change of pace, but Patton Oswalt is the revelation here,

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE- will be released on DVD the Tuesday before the Oscars,

A DANGEROUS METHOD- The ideas of sexuality, repression, and feelings bubbling up to the surface, makes this fit right along with other David Cronenberg films. Solid acting, even Keira Knightly who has to run the longest outwardly emotional gauntlet and overall does fine. Though I did spoil it for by reading an interview where she talked about how difficult it was to display insanity through her face, as well as making "sex faces". More than a little distracting. But a major reason why this isn't in my top 10 goes to Christopher Hampton's screenplay. Most definitely feels like a Cliffs Note version of the story/real life people. Yeah I get the basics, but not a lot of emotional investment in these people. Came away feel something was left out, mainly in the Freud and Keira storylines. Still a good job overall,

INTO THE ABYSS- The better of the two Werner Herzog documentaries that received a theatrical release, covering a Texas triple homicide from many different angles. From jailhouse interviews, to interviews with relatives of both killed and killers, a sweetheart of one of the killers who was impregnated with "contraband" semen. Even finding out what happened to the object of the killers' desire, a shiny red car that is no longer shiny, hell it has weeds growing through the floorboard. If the chilling interview with killer Micheal Perry, shot days before his execution, doesn't get to you, then nothing will.

Others on DVD or elsewhere: TUESDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS, POTICHE, THE NAMES OF LOVE, GAINSBOURG: A HEROIC LIFE, TOMBOY- These 5 foreign films all worth catching. Tuesday After Christmas is a good Romanian drama; where the husband leaves his wife for a younger woman, devastating his wife and unaware of what he'll lose until it's too late. Potiche is a fun, biting social satire that fits in well with something like 9 to 5. The Names of Love is another satire, though more successful as a romantic film. Gainsbourg nicely avoids the by-the-numbers biography path of something like Ray or Walk The Line, but works best as an introduction. Tomboy is the best of the 5; a quiet coming of age of a young girl, sure of the gender identity path she wants to take (male), but not entirely sure of the consequences (don't worry, nothing like Boys Don't Cry here),

TABLOID- Entertaining Errol Morris documentary available on both DVD and Showtime On Demand,


X-MEN: FIRST CLASS- Another draft and making sure Lenny Kravitz's daughter was never cast would have improved it. Seriously, there's a lot of story that isn't strong when the Xavier and Magneto characters aren't involved, and Zoe Kravitz isn't much of an actress. But Matthew Vaughn brought a wonderful visual style to this, we have two great leads in McAvoy and Fassbender, and compared to Wolverine and X-Men 3, this is almost a work of art,

CONTAGION- Unnecessary to see it on the IMAX screen, but it would make good double feature/ compare and contrast with the original version of The Andromeda Strain. Believable in and terms it only taking a bug and some internet panic to spread a global pandemic. A bit of mixed bag the varying human stories but it works,

WIN WIN- Another winning slice of life from writer-director Thomas McCarthy. No obvious villains here. At worst we have someone whose addictions are out of control or someone taking a little money for the family by telling a white lie. But since the addict is causing pain for her son, and the white lie forces a man with dementia out of his home, I'm sure they would disagree about there being no villains around them. Paul Giamatti leads a quality cast in this quietly effective, at times funny, morality tale,


EAMES: THE ARCHITECT AND THE PAINTER- Decent Cliff notes introduction for newbies like me to the Eames, even though I and quite a number of have been influenced by their work without even knowing it. But better to see it now via, under The American Experience banner, as opposed to paying the 13 dollars in a theater,

THE BLACK POWER MIX TAPE- This documentary of the Black Power movement, on the short list for Best Documentary yet didn't quite make it, will air on PBS on Thurs Feb 9 at 9PM, under the Independent Lens banner. It will then air on under Independent Lens 48 hours later,

THE INTERRUPTERS- From director Steve James. This will air on PBS' Frontline on Tuesday, February 14 at 9PM, and will be on within 48 hours after that.

PROJECT NIM- A documentary from the director of Man on Wire, that I was stunned about it not getting a nomination. Out on DVD Feb 7, make time for it,

TAKE SHELTER- Comes out on DVD on Feb 14,

50/50- Joseph Gordon-Levitt's work, with as well as without Anna Kendrick, is what makes the film sing. Anjelica Huston as one solid scene and then, not much else to do. Otherwise, the film is only a bit of the quality of a typical Lifetime movie of the week. Should work ok as a rental,

CEDAR RAPIDS- A pleasant surprise of a dramedy. I can see why Alexander Payne was attracted to the material, even if he didn't direct it. Here's where goodwill toward Ed Helms was at its highest, soon to drop after the disappointing Hangover Part 2, as well as the inconsistencies with The Office (which I blame more on the writers than him),

THOR- In terms of quality, in-between the two Iron Man films. The scenes on Asgard and the ice world always kick ass. Most of the scenes on Earth, not so much. And it looks like Natalie Portman slept-walked through the film, especially when compared to Kat Dennings' work,

PAUL, SUPER 8- 2 throwback/tribute to the late 70s/early 80s style of Spielberg. Paul, while slow, has some funny sequences and a winning supporting turn from Kristen Wiig as a religious woman who sees the light. Super 8 starts off well, but falls apart when we're supposed to react to the Godzilla/Cloverfield monster as an E.T. type in the 11th hour. Yeah I don't think so Mr. Abrahms,

CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS- fascinating look at some very very old cave drawings. Drawings that are either 90,000 plus years old, or merely 45,000 or so years old. Seeing something this old still intact is incredible, and ol' Werner Herzog is still a fun wackadoodle of a narrator. But not seeing this in 3-D loses a little something,

IN A BETTER WORLD, INCENDIES- The winner of last year's Best Foreign Film and one of the four other nominees, respectively. They both received a 2011 theatrical release here in the states, so yep, it qualifies.

The picture of Oscar by the way is located by the elevators near the entrance of the Academy Theater at Lighthouse International. This was where the screening for My Week with Marilyn and the Williams Q and A took place. Sometimes, three dollar screenings of Oscar winners take place there. I look forward to coming back.