Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Seven Beauties

Lina Wertmüller, Italy, 1975 (9.0*)

This would have to be considered the masterpiece of famed Italian director Lina Wertmüller (a former ass't director to Fellini), who wrote and directed this wartime story of a small-time Italian named Pasqualino with 'seven beauties' as sisters (hence the title, also perhaps a slight reference to Fellini from his former assistant), wonderfully played by Giancarlo Giannini in a performance of a lifetime. We see his character before the war, his strutting pomposity and self-importance (he is only large in his own imagination), his attention to every detail of personal appearance. Then reality strikes along with WW2, he ends up in a POW camp for killing a man who pimped out one of his sisters.

Giannini is perfect, especially his body language and the range of facial expressions he uses. He makes us laugh during even the most squeamish of scenes, as when he's seducing the giant prison kapo wonderfully underplayed by Shirley Stoller [photo below]. Somehow he manages to be both comic and tragic at the same time, something Roberto Benigni failed to do but was rewarded anyway (with two Oscars®) for Life Is Beautiful, in a performance I saw as so flippant that it robbed the film of its intended poignancy. (I saw this as an homage to Chaplin, just not as well achieved by Benigni)

This film never loses its tragic edge, the humor merely underscores the bleak circumstances for all its characters. Irony and subtlety are used perfectly to describe the fragile and tragic human condition, as individuals must decide how far they must descend in order to survive. This fact alone probably means that European audiences will appreciate it more than American ones, as we've never been totally occupied by enemy armies.

Shirley Stoller as the POW camp commandant

This film was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Director (John Avildsen won for Rocky, one of the worst choices of all time, it should have been Sidney Lumet for Network), Best Foreign Language Film (the forgettable Black and White In Color won), Best Screenplay (directly for the screen, Paddy Chayefsky deservedly won for Network), all three for Wertmüller [photo below], who became the first woman nominated for a best director award; and also Best Actor for Giancarlo Giannini. She was also nominated by the Directors Guild of America, losing to Lumet for Network, and another foreign film nomination at the Golden Globes, losing to the inferior Bergman film Face to Face.

Note: none of the directors who lost to first-time director Avildsen that night (Bergman for Face to Face, Lumet for Network, Pakula for All the President's Men, and Wertmuller) ever won an Oscar®.

[As #701 in our recommended film count, we decided to stick with the 'seven' title theme. We've now done The Seven Year Itch, The Seventh Seal, Seven Samurai, and Seven Beauties.]


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Seventh Seal

[This is our 700th film reviewed]
Ingmar Bergman, Sweden, 1957, bw (9.2*)
Though not particularly pleasant viewing as it deals with a dying world amid a plague, this is probably Bergman's masterpiece, and a film that generally goes beyond cinema and into the realm of mythic art. Max Von Sydow plays a medieval knight returning home, who is trying to escape the bubonic plague with his family.

He is constantly shadowed by death, the Grim Reaper (Bengt Ekerot, as the most compelling character in the film) who tells him its time - a pale faced figure in a black cloak with whom he plays an ongoing game of chess for his life [see photo below], with whom he discusses life and death and God. Full of moody, gothic, yet beautiful black and white images, the film almost seems to be medieval paintings in motion. The overfall effect of this film is hypnotic; Bergman was at the height of his directing eye in composing these frames. I'm not usually a Bergman fan (his films are sometimes more painful than a trip to the dentist, and often longer, without the same positive result), but this film is easy to recommend. I'm just rating it down a notch from perfect because it's just so grim a story.

This is one of just three films that Woody Allen said went "beyond cinema and became art" - the other two being Antonioni's L'avventura (1960) and Renoir's La Grande Illusion (1937).

The famous chess match with the Grim Reaper


Monday, March 28, 2011

Lone Star

John Sayles, 1996 (9.1*)

Excellent crime mystery is my favorite film of indie director John Sayles, who first came to prominence with the laid back indie reunion film The Return of the Seacaucus Seven. The strong point of this film is Sayle's terrific screenplay, which never feels contrived or manipulative. He manages to create a series of subplots and character depth that never overwhelms the main story. This film is nearly flawless in its execution.

Chris Cooper [photo below] is excellent as sheriff Sam Deeds, called in to investigate a decades old crime and corpse recently unearthed. The more he gets into the details of the crime, the more personal the story becomes. Sayles deftly shifts from the present story to the story of the past murder. Along the way Sayles manages to comment on many social issues, notably racism, politics, patriotism, inter-generational alienation, duty, and personal ethics.

The relationships seem realistic, the dialogue is concise and never strained, the messages never hammered home. Chris Cooper [photo below] became an acting star in this film, imo, and later won a supporting actor Oscar® for Adaptation (He's won 23 acting awards overall). The excellent cast also includes Elizabeth Pena, Kris Kristofferson, Matthew McConaughey and Frances McDormand. Lone Star won 12 awards overall
Note: If you like this film, it would make an excellent Texas crime trilogy with the Coen Brothers' No Country For Old Men (2007, Oscar for best picture), and Tommy Lee Jones' The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005). Another good film in the same locale is The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (1982) from director Robert M. Young


The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

Tommy Lee Jones, 2005 (8.8*)
The first feature film directed by Tommy Lee Jones is a modern western classic. He plays a rancher, Pete Perkins, whose Mexican friend Melquiades is found murdered and buried in the Texas desert. To fulfill a promise to him, Pete takes to body on a personal quest to bury it in his home soil of Mexico.

This film primarily deals with racism along the southern border, especially from the border patrol. Apparently there is a code in place that supercedes the legal one; it's almost survival of the fittest and fastest,like the old American west.

A pretty good directorial debut from Jones, who also turns in one of his signature performances. Barry Pepper is also terrific in a supporting role as a bigoted border patrol officer. There are scenes and moods reminiscent of the novels of Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy, and of course, the Coen Brothers film (from the McCarthy novel), No Country For Old Men (2007), which this film predated by two years. It would make a good double feature with John Sayles' Texas law enforcement murder mystery Lone Star (1996), starring Chris Cooper.


Sunday, March 27, 2011


Terrence Malick, 1972 (8.8*) Legendary director Terrence Malick turned down the major studios and made his first feature with private investors at a cost of just $350,000. The result is a small, indie film of a famous murder spree in the midwest, as the Kit Starkweather - Caril-Ann Fugate killings are filmed here as characters Kit Carruthers and Holly Sargis (even though a film disclaimer claims the story is fictional). Together, Kit and his teenaged girlfriend murdered her parents and took off on a road trip, eloping for a honeymoon of murder and robbery.

Martin Sheen starred in one of his first roles (no, that's not Charlie on the vhs cover), as did Sissy Spacek as his girlfriend. Together they drew up two characters whose coldness is chilling to witness. Somehow, this film is both raw and brutal, yet poetically beautiful, perhaps due to Tak Fujimoto's cinematography.

Generally considered one of the best feature film debuts in history, Malick [photo below] has since become a legend, making only four films in nearly four decades: Badlands (73), Days of Heaven (78), The Thin Red Line (98), and The New World (2005). Malick won several directing awards for Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line. His highly anticipated Tree of Life is due to be released this year.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Get Carter

Mike Hodges, 1971 (8.5*)

A very methodical crime film in which Michael Caine gives one of his best dramatic performances as a hitman for London mobsters who 'goes north' to Newcastle to investigate the death of his brother, which he thinks is not a suicide as ruled, but a murder. He seems to have a way of getting information while staying one step ahead of the other bad guys, and he uncovers a nefarious and unseemly crime that enrages him personally.

This works because of a low key approach to this underworld that makes it seem more realistic than most crime films, which usually go a bit over-the-top. This was director Mike Hodges' first feature film (after tv), and it's quite a worthy directing debut. The dvd features a commentary track with him; another curiosity is a 'music only track' of the film, which has no other sound, just the music score. This film actually won a British fan poll once for 'best film of all time'.

Michael Caine's awards (31 total). Caine took his name (he was born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite) from the 1954 film with Humphrey Bogart, The Caine Mutiny.

Director Mike Hodges [IMDB bio photo]


Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Executioner's Song

Lawrence Schiller, 1982 (8.7*)

Tommy Lee Jones made himself a star (and won an Emmy for lead actor) when he played convicted murderer Gary Gilmore in this lengthy tv-film that examines his crimes, his past, his incarceration on death row, and his legal fight to have Utah carry out his execution.

Using only facts from this well-publicized case, and based on Norman Mailer's Pulitzer prize winning book, this is as close to documentary as a dramatic re-enactment can get. It even contains the negotiations with Gilmore with rights to the book and this very film that resulted. Roseanna Arquette also became a star for her portrayal of Gilmore's girlfriend. Together, the two young actors make Gilmore's story an engrossing and human one, though admittedly, I found his homicides to be too baffling to comprehend. The cast also includes Christine Lahti and Eli Wallach.

Together with Dead Man Walking, and In Cold Blood, these make a definitive film trilogy on the subject of capital punishment, and each is based on a true murder case.

[Note: only 600+ people have rated this at IMDB! Mailer's book won a Pulitzer, and the film was up for five Emmys; Arquette and Mailer were also nominated - it's only wins were for Tommy Lee Jones as actor and for sound]


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dead Man Walking

Tim Robbins, 1995 (8.5*) Touching and at times emotionally overwhelming story of Sister Helen Prejean, a nun who started giving spiritual advice to men on death row in Angola Prison in New Orleans. This is based on her own memoirs, published in 1993. Susan Sarandon won a well-deserved Oscar® for best actress for her emotional and passionate performance, as a woman who finds a way to show compassion and mercy for a ruthless killer, played by Sean Penn in his first great dramatic performance, which garnered him his first Oscar® nomination and acting awards.

Sarandon’s husband Tim Robbins (a later Oscar® winner himself for Mystic River) makes a successful directorial debut in a story that is primarily a crime story, as the viewer is eventually given a detailed breakdown of Penn’s violent crimes that placed him on death row.

This is not your typical action-packed crime story, but it gets well beneath the surface of the crimes to expose the troubled psychology of the perpetrators and all who get involved with the repercussions of their sociopathy. This film won't be for all tastes, but if you can handle a serious statement on the subject of death and capital punishment, this is one of the few films that deals with the subject honestly.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Full Metal Jacket

Stanley Kubrick, 1987 (8.8*)
This film of the Vietnam war era is in two distinct parts. In the first, a group of Marine recruits are punished in basic training by real army vet R. Lee Ermey as Sgt. Hartman. Vincent D'Onofrio is an overweight and slow recruit who becomes the target of everyone's ire, with unforeseen consequences. This half of the film is pretty basic, and goes on far too long.

The second part follows one of those recuits, Matthew Modine as Pvt. Joker, who now covers the war for the Stars and Stripes military newspaper. His squad is sent into the harrowing streets of Hue during the Tet offensive. This half of the film is much better than the first, which is similar to The D.I. with Jack Webb. The photojournalistic approach works really well with a city war controlled by snipers. There's some terrific war footage here, as well as some riveting and tense scenes.

You're made to feel like a part of this squad from the beginning, so in that regard it's one of the more realistic war films. I would have loved to have seen more of Vietnam and a lot less of basic training, and it would have perhaps been a perfect war film.


Lord of War

Andrew Niccol, 2005 (8.6*)Nicholas Cage plays arms dealer and Russian immigrant Yuri Orlov, who learns early in life in Odessa that guns rule, and gun dealers make money. He eventually elevates himself up to a level that makes him a worldwide target for Interpol, with agent Ethan Hawke doggedly on his trail.

Cage deals with anyone with the money, for him it's just a business, a way out of poverty; his brother Jared Leto thinks otherwise. There are some major revelations here about how the major arms dealers operate, and their impact on hot spots around the globe. Cage is in his element here, cool and confident while dealing with some of the most dangerous people on the planet.

This has some exciting action as well as the feel of a Bond film, but it's based on a true story.


Monday, March 21, 2011


Fredi M. Murer, Switzerland, 2006 (9.0*)
One of the more unique stories I've seen about a child music prodigy, in this case a young boy named Vitus von Holzen, who could play a keyboard when he first sat in front of one. He is played by Fabrizio Borsani at age 6, and Teo Gheorghiu at age 12, who has most of the film and who does the real playing. His gifts were foretold at birth in a horoscope from a friend of his parents. His mother, Julika Jenkins, diligently makes him practice daily while not allowing him a normal childhood that might injure his hands.

Julika Jenkins as the mom instructs Fabrizio
Borsani as Vitus at age 6

Meanwhile, his grandad, joyfully played by the gifted and versatile Bruno Ganz (who played Hitler in 2004 in Downfall), schools the young boy in happiness, in finding your own dream. His was always to be a pilot, so he passes along his desire to fly to young Vitus. His dad, Urs Jucker, is a hearing aid engineer, who makes enough to keep them comfortable and allow music teachers for Vitus.

Of course, this story is full of metaphors. Vitus is almost too smart for the mundane daily affairs of the world (his IQ is 180), and he begins to resent his lack of freedom, so the flying references are a little obvious. Still, this is a good G-rated film, a rarity these days, one with no violence, no sex, no danger, just character growth and development, and self-discovery.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

John Ford, 1949 (8.4*)
Despite the terrible title, this is one of the best of the John Ford westerns, my favorite of his 'cavalry' films with John Wayne. In this more believable story, Wayne plays a retiring colonel, who is sucked into one last Indian war, something he hoped was all in his past by this point.

The title comes from a young lady, Joanne Dru, at the local fort who's playing one young lieutenant vs another (John Agar and Harry Carey Jr.), and doesn't appear to care which one wins the game. This provides an unnecessary distraction to the real story; unfortunately they chose this particular plotline for the film's title.

I think what I liked about this film vs. the other Ford-Wayne collaberations is that Wayne is finally human, he's simply old and worn out from decades of warring with no end in sight. He's no longer the superhuman ass-kicking American, he's ready to retire in his armchair in front of the tv or radio or perhaps drowsily fishing on a lake somewhere with his dog.

Beautifully photographed, winner of a cinematography Oscar® for Winton C. Hoch


Saturday, March 19, 2011


Robert Altman, 1970 (8.4*)
Palm d'Or, Cannes
Best Comedy or Musical Film (GG)

Though obviously not very intelligent, in the words of Major Hot Lips Hoolihan, "this is not a hospital, this is an insane asylum". Altman has conceived of a Korean war comedy meets the Marx Brothers in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, MASH for short. Here the humor is used to literally cut through the fatal gravity of war and mutilating battle injuries, and mix in a little late 60's references as well (the football players pass a doobie during the game).

Primarily this is about little more than army officers trying to bed nurses in between rushed calls to emergency surgery, and various other ploys to get them undressed, such as concocting their own home brew in the officer's tent. There's also a few tidbits thrown in about the army's bureaucratic bungles, and other SNAFU's. As with most humor, some of it hits and some misses; this one at times becomes a little slapstick (such as an intra-army football game), but it's still full of some classic lines.

The film was nominated for five Oscars®, best picture as well, winning one for Ring Lardner Jr.'s screenplay. Sally Kellerman's hilarious performance as a straight-laced career army officer, 'Hot Lips' Hoolihan, a major in command of the nurses, was rewarded with a supporting actress nomination. Others are funny in different ways, Donald Sutherland and Eliott Gould play Hawkeye and Pierce, with tentmate Tom Skerritt, and Robert Duvall as Major Byrnes, the man they love to torment. Gary Burghoff as Radar was the only cast member to repeat his role on the tv show (the one bogged down by the moralizing of Alan Alda)

Both more insane and more literate than the tv show, this was a winner of 15 awards overall, including a Golden Globe and a Palm d'Or at Cannes.

Hoolihan: How does a man of such low moral character reach a position of rank in the U.S. army?
Father Mulkahey: He was drafted..


Friday, March 18, 2011

Black Hawk Down

Ridley Scott, 2001 (9.0*)
Super intense war film has a very simple premise: a U.S. helicopter has been shot down in the city during the occupation of Somalia. It's now the mission of ground forces to rescue the crew while they are under attack from all sides in this war against warlords. It seems that every civilian has an AK-47 in this city [see Nicholas Cage in Lord of War for how they got armed] and each individual army has a common enemy: americans.

The focus is constantly shifting from the soldiers in the crashed helicopters to those on the ground trying to fight their way to the crash site through the enemy in the streets. This is riveting, thanks to super editing, cinematography, and sound. It's hard to believe we're seeing special effects and not the real thing. Some of the more recognizable cast in include Eric Bana, Ewan McGregor, Josh Hartnett. Tom Sizemore, and Sam Shepherd.

Based on a true story, Scott (Alien, Gladiator) has made one of the best war films of the post Vietnam era.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Stray Dog

Akira Kurosawa, Japan, 1949, bw (9.0*)
One of famed director Akira Kurosawa's earliest films, about a rookie detective, played by Toshiro Mifune in one of his first starring roles, who has his gun stolen on a crowded bus. He then searches for his revolver relentlessly after it is used in the commission of a crime, as he then feels personally responsible for any victims of whoever is using his weapon. At the same time, he faces the dirision and ridicule of fellow detectives for having lost his gun to thieves on the street.

Beautifully shot in post-war Tokyo, much of in the dangerous black market streets and alleys. In fact, an assistant director stood in for Tishiro Mifune in some of the scenes shot in dangerous locales where guns were sold and criminals rule. Rarely shooting scenes straight on, most are shot from odd angles as if the viewer is spying, like crime witnesses, on the action from behind walls, doors, from earth level (sometimes you only see the feet of the detective), through windows, or rooftops. Kurosawa has put his own stamp on a tense thriller in the style of American film noir, and he actually caused a wave of Japanese police films following the success of this film.

A must-see classic for fans of Kurosawa and Japanese cinema; from the Criterion Collection. It may be argued that his early black-and-white period, which includes his masterpiece The Seven Samurai, was his most successful creatively - it's certainly my favorite era of his.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Some Kind of Wonderful

Howard Deutch, 1987 (8.5*)
One of the best sophmoric love stories ever, it's reputation seems to have grown with age. Pretty boy Eric Stoltz has a crush on unattainable and popular Lea Thompson (the mom in Back to the Future), while his best platonic friend Mary Stuart Masterson hides her real feelings from her guy, fearing she may drive him away if she openly displays affection. She actually agrees to chauffeur him on his first date with Thompson.

I'm not sure exactly what it is about this film, but I think it's Masterson's performance that has the audience pulling for her the entire film, while in reality all of us guys fell for the glamour of the high school cheerleader type babes and secretly wanted them instead of our true friends who loved us in spite of ourselves.

This is a mature film, usually described as thoughtful and perceptive, in spite of the high school subjects, and rises far above the pack of typical John Hughes films like Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. It's endured for two decades now, and is often mentioned as a favorite romance by people today.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Mike Nichols, 1983 (8.3*)
This film is based on a true story and a mystery that has never really been solved. A metallurgy worker named Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep) begins to notice many safety violations at her Kerr-McGhee nuclear plant, some involving exposing workers to radioactive material. She begins to file complaints and instead of conditions being made safer, she begins to get harassed and threatened as a result. She is contaminated, perhaps on purpose, as are other workers at the plant.

Cher and Kurt Russell play her roommates with credible performances. Cher, Streep, and Nichols were all nominated for Oscars, and Cher won a Golden Globe for supporting actress. With the threat of a possible meltdown looming in Japan, and the question of nuclear plant safety now on the front burner worldwide, this will be an important film to re-watch for many viewers.

Her story has been the subject of an A&E documentary, this film by famed director Mike Nichols, and many other smaller news stories. Her story has been shown to kids in school. The end result is that the nuclear plant was shut down a year later, and many lives in Oklahoma were likely saved as a result. Her story proves that U.S. corporations value the bottom line above people's lives, as if anyone doubted that in light of recent economic developments; in fact, just a few individuals value their own wealth more than the well-being of the nation or even the world.

At IMDB, it's only been rated by 5000+ fans, which is miniscule for such an important film. It always amazes me how when a film gets a couple of decades old, the public entirely loses interest, while in terms of geological time this is not even one second in the history of the earth.


Monday, March 14, 2011

A Boy Ten Feet Tall

Alexander Mackendrick, 1963 (8.6*)

aka Sammy Going South (the novel and original film title)
A young British boy living in Port Said, Egypt, played by Fergus McClelland, narrowly escapes a bomb from an air raid during the 56 Suez crisis that destroys his apartment block, killing both his parents. With little alternative, he decides he has to travel (on foot and any other way he can) to Durban, South Africa, to be his only remaining living relative, an aunt. During his 4500 mile journey from north to south africa, which mirrors his transition from boy to man, he experiences firsthand the varied cultures of the dark continent, such as the slave trading, animal poaching, and criminal smugglers.

One smugller he meets along the way is Edward G. Robinson, in one of his last film roles (Cincinatti Kid followed in 65) as a man who takes the kid under his wing, saves his life, and adds to his self-confidence as he makes his way down the continent. This was a perfect chance for the academy to give Robinson his first Oscar® nomination and first win; it's hard to believe he was never even nominated.

This was very inspirational to me as a kid of 12 when it came out, and features some stunning views of colonial Africa. It's hard to believe that it's not on dvd in the U.S. (just a PAL version in England under it's original title), and that only 213 people (now 214) have voted for it at IMDB, with an average rating of 6.9 - this is a much better children's film than 95% of the G-rated animated pablum being produced nowdays.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Gorky Park

Michael Apted, 1983 (8.1*)
A homicidal puzzle turns into a Cold War mystery in this entertaining spy thriller. William Hurt plays a Russian detective, who is baffled by three bodies discovered in Moscow's public Gorky Park, which have had their faces removed to prevent identification.

In the course of his investigation he discovers that the upper levels of government are stonewalling his efforts - it seems that he may have uncovered an uncomfortable conspiracy. He crosses paths with mysterious American businessman Lee Marvin, who has a few skeletons in his closet, even if he's not responsible for these murders. Joanna Pacula provides the proper eye candy and romantic interest, while Brian Dennehy provides his particular brand of homicidal bravado (he was a real assassin in Vietnam, often killing targets with a knife).

Maybe not a bona fide classic, but still a better mystery than most that are filmed nowdays, and one with some unique and unforgettable images, especially toward the film's climax. If you enjoy all these new forensic investigative police drama, here's one that takes place in Russia, and in a large-budget film with a couple of previous Oscar® winners in Hurt and Marvin.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

All Quiet on the Western Front

Lewis Milestone, 1930, bw (8.5*)
Best Picture (AA)

Winner of the Oscar® for best picture of 1930, this classic anti-war film is based on the novel by Frenchman Erich Maria Remarque. Ironically, in shooting this film, which is about young, idealistic German soldiers, director Lewis Milestone, also an Oscar®-winner for best director, chose to have the Germans speak English, yet the French are speaking French! go figure..

The lead role went to young Lew Ayres, just 19 at the time and with no major film credits. At times he overacts a bit, as do most actors of that era, used to making exaggerated facial expressions, a holdover from the silent film era. If you can get past the dated look of this film, and the resulting stilted dialogue, then it's actually a pretty good war epic.

There are many scenes of WW1 action that are probably close to reality. We've become so accustomed to Hollywood war films that a realistically shot war film will likely look more tame to us than celluloid war. Unfortunately the pace of the war sections are broken up by visits home, visits to wounded comrades, too much marching, and much searching for food. In short, this 150 minute film could have been under two hours with a drastic improvement in pace for the viewer.

I wouldn't call this one of the great war films by modern standards, but it's an important war film in the history of cinema, and pretty good for its era, coming soon after the first best picture winner, Wings, also about WW1, but a silent epic. This should make an interesting double feature with Jean Pierre Jeunet's A Very Long Engagement, a 2002 French film about WW1, one of the most beautiful color films ever shot, about a woman's search for her fiance, missing from the front lines. We see his story in flashbacks until its conclusion.

Ranked #212 all-time on the IMDB top 250


Friday, March 11, 2011


Terry Zwigoff, 1995 (8.5*)
Documentary biopic of legendary hippie cartoonist Robert Crumb, creator of Mr. Natural, Zippy Pinhead, among many others, and the women who all have giant butts and long legs. Crumb said this is from remembering lots of aunts as a kid, and since he was less than waist high to them, they all were out of proportion in his mind's eye, so he draws them from memory as they looked to him then.

Crumb's comic books were often passed around by the thousands at rock music festivals, to kill the time between bands, or during the ever present rain delays (did the government seed the skies above pop festivals?) He likely had the greatest word-of-mouth following in the history of graphic arts. He also did some famous rock album covers, the best being the one for Big Brother and the Holding Company, Janis Joplin's first album, where he created a color cartoon for each song on the lp.

You don't have to be an aging hippie from the 60's like me to appreciate this documentary. It offers a truly rare biography of an influential artist during his times, something we'll never have regarding great artists of the past.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

One False Move

Carl Franklin, 1999 (9.1*)
Terrific crime film that is one of the best films yet from an African-American director, former actor Carl Franklin. The story begins with a brutal robbery-murder of drug dealers in Los Angeles, spearheaded by Billy Bob Thornton. The gang then flees toward a member's ex in Arkansas.

Meanwhile, using what few clues they have, the feds send one pair of FBI agents to a small town in Arkansas where they liaison and enlist the aid of local sheriff Bill Paxton (Aliens, Big Love) just in case the gang heads toward the ex.

This is the perfect synthesis of plots. We have the countdown factor of impending forces coming together (not at a time, but at a destination), we have a road trip for the killers, and we have bigoted southern cops dealing with interracial federal agents. This makes for terrific suspense, and Franklin's sense of pace keeps you riveted until the conclusion. This is now one of my favorite all-time crime films.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Judgment at Nuremberg

Stanley Kramer, 1961, bw (8.6*)
Dramatic re-enactment of the famous Nuremberg trial of the major Nazi war criminals, held in 1948. German actor Maximilian Schell, as the defense attorney for the Nazis, steals this film from all the major American actors (which include Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, and Montgomery Clift), and won an Oscar® for best actor for the performance of his lifetime. In fact, it's one of the best of all-time, one of the most impassioned ever committed to film. Others in the all-star cast include Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, and Richard Widmark.

It's really little more than another courtroom drama, only in this case the defendants are the biggest criminals of the century, if not all time - those who planned and ordered the systematic execution of the Jews during WW2.

The film is based on the actual legal transcripts of the famous trial. Each defendant claimed to have been "just following orders, under penalty of death", so the trial becomes an issue of when does an individual draw the line when his country and his orders become immoral and inhumanitarian. To what higher authority does a man owe his utmost allegiance? To country, to self, or to God? Thus the film deals with universal issues that face individuals in any time of war, and becomes an indictment of mankind itself, for no war is really different as the innocent die along with combatants.

A black-and-white classic, one of the last from a nearly extinct art form as nearly all films today are made in color.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey, 2006 (8.4*)
This is a beautiful film to watch, but those looking for much action will likely be disappointed. On the surface, it's about a marriage of a teacher, played by director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and his tv director wife, played by Ceylan's real life wife, Ebru Ceylan. Their relationship is growing more estranged over time, even though they travel together to have some quality time togehter. Most of the film centers on feelings, thoughts, space, and environments, much like a Bergman film, in which the environments become metaphors for emotions and the dynamics of relationships.

Ceylan is an artist enough with film to keep the discerning fan interested throughout, though the story really doesn't elicit much sympathy for any of the characters; none seem to be very warm or sharing people, instead they appear self-centered and disinterested.

Ceylan's films are so beautifully shot that the story can take a back seat. They are the type of films that approach art, please critics, then gross about 100k nationwide as they get no PR and little attention from the masses, who apparently can't get enough police films, G-rated cartoon movies, and high school comedies.

This film won 8 awards, mostly at film festivals. It won best film and audience favorite at the Istanbul Film Festival, and a FIRESCI prize at Cannes.
Awards page at IMDB


Monday, March 7, 2011

Inside Job

Charles Ferguson, 2010 (9.0*)
Best Documentary (AA)

This is probably the most important documentary made in our lifetime, as it covers the biggest financial crime ever committed which will have worldwide repercussions for decades to come. Actor Matt Damon narrates a story that is pure nightmare become reality, one that has touched most of the world by now in one way or another. (Many lost jobs, houses, life savings, pension plans - the rest will pay higher taxes and have higher inflation as a result)

Director, author, producer Charles Ferguson does a good job explaining exactly how this all happened, and won an Oscar® for documentary as a result. I for one am glad he included the repeal in 1999 by a Republican Congress of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which was put in place to prevent banks from taking unnecessary risks in order to prevent the exact scenario which took place within a decade after it's repeal. (me and many financial experts predicted this exact outcome over time - my friends called me a "doomsayer"; now they don't call me at all - they're probably broke; I pulled all my money out of the market in 2003) Every time you hear someone ask for "deregulation", remember that it's NEVER WORKED YET, so get ready to be fleeced again by con artists. (it was deregulation that caused strikes, riots, and death squads in Argentina; it was done as a condition for a loan from the World Bank, controlled by the U.S., which was, of course, to allow corporations to pillage Argentinians as a test)

This film shoud infuriate everyone. Hopefully, many people not currently in prison will be put there eventually, especially the fat cat execs at the superbanks like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bear Stearns, etc.. One of these guys (Fuld at Bear Stearns?) pulled 246 million out of his company in "compensation" just before it went bankrupt. Good grief, this would bankrupt 99% of all companies in America. How could we NOT have gotten his money back? If this nation was any more spineless, we'd have to be reclassified as earthworms, and at about that level, for letting these crooks get away with pillaging the world's wealth for their own private benefit.

The most maddening part is that Obama hired many of the same criminals himself - perhaps they really work for the Corleones and Sopranos and everyone has a gun to their heads. That's the only possible explanation for this entire baffling chain of events, especially giving the same crooks even more money to throw into their private coffers.

This film will hopefully ignite a fire under someone here with BALLS - it's obvious that NO ONE in our government has any, and the populace is suffering as a result. This truly is a government "of, by, and for the corporation", as Jim Cramer on MadMoney termed it. We are living proof that "democracy" just plain doesn't work, due to the corruptable nature of humans, who will sell out to the highest bidder, in this case the corporations willing to pay them off in the guise of "campaign contributions", so it has the appearance of legitimacy.

How typical that NY Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, interviewed here, who tried to go after some of the crooks, was then painted with the "immoral" brush for using hookers, something the Wall Streeters did by the tens of thousands, according to one high price escort madame interviewed in this film. He paid a personal price while the crooks have gotten off scot free so far. If I were these guys, I'd not only leave the U.S. for good, but I'd hire a small army of bodyguards, as they won't be able to sleep safely anywhere in the world now that Al Quaeda and everyone else knows who they are.

Share this film with everyone you know!

Note: everyone should read journalist, and former corporate corruption investigator for the insurance industry, Greg Palast's eye-opening expose of U.S. corporations and politics "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy", about how all western politicians are controlled by big money who simply buys the favorable legislation they want, and who also control the media that refused to report or even print his findings. In England, the government ransacked his office and gave him death threats, likely due to pressure from the U.S. "Freedom of the press" and "free speech" are just expressions used by politicians - if they have to tell us that we have them, then we really don't, which is obvious to everyone by now. In fact, in the Smother Bros vs CBS trial, U.S. government lawyers testified for CBS, and said "freedom of speech is only for owners, it was never implied for individuals". That was news to nearly everyone who has read the Constitution.


Sunday, March 6, 2011


David Lean, 1955 (8.6*)
Beautifully shot soap opera as American spinster Katharine Hepburn (at her most beautiful), while traveling in Venice, strikes up a romance with married Rossano Brazzi. There's nothing deep here, but Lean's direction makes eye candy of both the city and both stars. This is one of the best and most palatable romances ever put on film. Lean never allows the melodrama to go beyond credibility; I'm sure most viewers have had a travel romance similar to this one.

David Lean, who would later helm best picture (and director) winners Bridge On the River Kwai and
Lawrence of Arabia, was nominated for a best director Oscar®, and he won the NY Film Critics award for director. Hepburn was deservedly nominated for a best actress Oscar® in one of her most credible and touching performances. This is a romance that I can watch over and over, which is rare for this type of film.


Saturday, March 5, 2011


Tobe Hooper, 1982 (8.5*)
"They're here!"
Produced by Steven Spielberg, with special effects from the Industrial Light and Magic studio, this is one of the most effective ghost stories ever filmed. Coming on the heels of Star Wars and Close Encounters, the same production values went into this tale of a suburban nightmare in which a little girl, played by Heather O'Rourke, along with the family dog, senses the attempts of contacts from "the beyond".

Pot-smoking parents Craig T. Nelson and Jobeth Williams are skeptical and confused at first but thanks to a miraculous display of kitchen chair stacking, both become aware that something supernatural may be present in an otherwise normal and boring household.

This may get a little over the top toward the latter stages with a lengthy ending, but it's still a bone-chilling excursion into the unknown. Add the fact that over 70% of Americans surveyed feel that they've been contacted by deceased loved ones, and that eerily two cast members died shortly after the film's release (O'Rourke died, and Dominique Dunne, the older daughter here, was murdered by an ex-bf), this story strikes a familiar and credible nerve in most people.


Friday, March 4, 2011

Frozen River

Courtney Hunt, 2008 (8.3*)Grand Jury Prize, Sundance
Melissa Leo made a star-making performance in this film of a single mother who lives along the Canadian border in New York, who can't make the payments on her new trailer with just her part-time job. One day she helps a Native American woman from a nearby reservation, which spills over into Canada, with a ride. She ends up helping the woman transport two illegal immigrants back into the U.S. after driving over the border on a frozen river.

This begins a nerve-wracking new career, that of smuggling people over the border. Every time she begins another trip over the river, the viewer expects the worst, as this activity can't continue to be as easy as the first time. This is a good suspense film of an average person trying to survive in a harsh economy.

Winner of 23 awards overall, with an Oscar® nomination for Melissa Leo for lead actress, who would later win for supporting actress for 2010 for The Fighter


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Wages of Fear

Henri-Georges Clouzot, France, 1953, bw (8.4*)
aka La Salaire de la Peur
Best Picture (BAA)
Excellent French film in classic b&w, now considered by many an all-time classic. Yves Montand leads the cast as one of four hungry, jobless men in the middle of nowhere in South America who agree to drive trucks of nitro-glycerin for an oil company in order to put out an oil well fire. Naturally, this is an extremely explosive situation, the slightest jolt could set off the chemicals.

One of the more tense, suspensful films ever made, so popular that it was reshot in 1977 as Sorcerer by William Friedkin, shortly after his success with The French Connection.

Beautifully shot by master director Clouzot, who made The Raven and Diabolique, and many other classic films. The beautiful babe playing Linda is Clouzot's wife Vera Clouzot. This was her first film - she only appeared in films by Clouzot, Diabolique being the most famous. [photo below]

Winner of 5 awards, all best film awards, including a BAFTA for "best film from any source". Now #174 all-time on the IMDB top 250, which is amazing for a French bw film from thr 50's..

Vera Clouzot, wife of director Henri-Georges, a Brazilian born musician -
she only appeared in Clouzot films, notably Wages and Diabolique


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Red Dragon

Brett Ratnor, 2002 (7.6*)
This was author Thomas Harris' first of the Hannibal Lector novels, and it was actually filmed first as well, by Michael Mann as the tv movie looking Manhunter, with William Peterson. The film went unnoticed, and thankfully after the success of The Silence of the Lambs (1991), a best picture Oscar® winner, it was refilmed by director Ratnor in the style of Silence, with Anthony Hopkins repeating his role as Hannibal. Unfortunately the only other cast member aboard is Anthony Heald as Dr. Chilton, head of the prison where Lector is confined.

This film starts with Hannibal being discovered by FBI agent Will Graham, well played by Edward Norton, though it seems a bit odd seeing him on the proper side of the law - after Primal Fear and American History X (1998) , many viewers will expect Norton to be somewhat psychotic and out of control. Ralph Feinnes stars as the serial killer known as the Tooth Fairy, who, like real serial killer Ted Bundy, likes to bite his victims after they're dead.

This was a pretty eerie book, perhaps a better novel than Silence, yet the film isn't as creepy as Silence, perhaps due to Jonathan Demme not directing, perhaps due to the story. There is one major positive in this one: the painting Red Dragon by William Blake, the metaphysical artist, poet, and philosopher, which becomes the metaphor for the transformation of a human into a super-being, in this case a human-devouring dragon.

It certainly has an impressive supporting cast, as Emily Watson plays Feinnes blind girlfriend, and Philip Seymour Hoffman is a scandal rag journalist, for the "National Tattler" (read "Enquirer"), who likes to think he's a major crime reporter with national importance. Mary Louise Parker is unfortunately miscast as Graham's wife.

For fans of Harris' novels and Demme's film, this is a spine-tingling must-see, for others it will likely be a tossup.


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Artist, photographer, composer, author, blogger, metaphysician, herbalist

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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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