Sunday, September 18, 2011


Roman Polanski, 1979 (8.4*)

One of the more visually sumptuous of all the filmed classic novels, this is based on Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the D’urbervilles (here called Durbeyfield). A young peasant woman may or may not be related to the aristocratic family of the title. She crosses paths with two men, one older and one much younger and closer to her age, who easily fall in love with her and hence classic entanglement problems ensue. I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot, but you’ve likely seen enough of novel from this era to know what to expect. This film is more about the beauty of cinema than the story of the novel, for me anyway.

Nastassja Kinski, daughter of intense German actor Klaus Kinski, who had to be stopped by the crew from beating director Werner Herzog with a rock, made a stunning acting debut in the title role, winning several acting awards.

The beauty of this film was rewarded with Oscars for cinematography (Geoffrey Unsworth won four awards for this), costume design, and art direction. It also won 10 more awards including four for Polanski as best director.


Monday, September 5, 2011

In a Better World

Susanne Bier, Denmark, 2010 (8.6*)
Best Foreign Language Film (AA, GG)

Bier finally got a well-deserved Oscar® for foreign language film for this one about a doctor who shares his time between a refugee hospital in Africa and his family life in Denmark. Bier excels at paring away the surface of complex psychogical relationshiops between family members. Her earlier films After the Wedding,  (2006), which also had a Danish man volunteering to help the needy (in that case orphans in Mumbai, India), and Brothers (2004, about a husband that goes missing in the Afghanistan war and whose brother begins to take his place at home) were excellent works of art about intra-family relationships and self-discovery. I thought both deserved this long overdue award for her.

In this story, the horrors of Africa are at least partially offset by finding romance back in Denmark, when Anton, played by Mikael Persbrandt, newly separated, becomes interested in the divorced mother of one of his son’s schoolmates. The two boys become good friends first, when Anton’s son, new at school, comes to the aid of a boy targeted by bullies.

The film starts slowly but subtly escalates into some unforseeen territory, especially the story involving the boys. A little schoolyard bullying is just a prelude to more dramatic events. The adults in Bier’s films often have their lives shaped and affected by their children, and their own plans and designs become secondary to the immediate reality of being involved in the lives of others through being a parent. In most of her stories, the well-being of the group as a whole outweighs the desires of the individuals.

These are intelligent adult dramas in which there are no pat answers or typically ‘Hollywood’ solutions, which often means that two people agree they are in love then all the other problems magically disappear, film over. Bier is arguably the best woman director in the world right now (ok, I’ll say top three with India’s Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair), and her films never provide easy outs to complex stories, but rather require huge emotional commitment on the part of her characters to face life’s challenges head on.

In a Better World won 5 awards out of 13 nominations, not as many as her earlier films. For those who haven’t seen her work, I’d start with Brothers (13 awards), and the original not the U.S. remake, and then After the Wedding (9 awards), which I think is a masterpiece.

Susanne Bier


Friday, September 2, 2011


Aka Hoppity Goes to Town, Mr. Bug Goes to Town
Dave Fleischer, 1941 (8.5*)
Early animated classic from the Fleischer Brothers studio, those animation pioneers who created Popeye and Betty Boop, and also many technical devices that advanced the art to cinematic proportions.

In this story, bugs have a nice community going in a deserted lot near Broadway, where people rarely go by – some that do pose a threat by tossing lit cigarettes or cans, which become housefires and earthquakes for bugville. It’s actually part of an estate that’s seen better days, but is now in the hands of a struggling songwriter, played by Kenny Gardner, but based on songwriter Hoagy Carmichael, who wrote the song “Castle in the Sky” used here. Dick Dickens (yep..) needs to sell this song to keep the house, and those metaphorical lyrics become important to this plot.

Meanwhile in Bugville, Swat the Fly and Smash the Mosquito are the eyes and ears of evil landowner C. Bagley Beetle, who wants everything for himself. They spy on the happy inhabitants which include Hoppity, who’s courting Honey Bee, whom Beetle also desires, and whose dad runs the local Honey Shop, which is the local hangout of all the other bugs. (Ya gotta love a film with Swat the Fly as a character)

Hoppity takes off one day and finds the main house, with a well-tended garden, which he sees as paradise, and returns to the lowlands bugville and convinces the others he’s found a nicer, safer home. Along with garden hoses causing floods, the bugs find many other impediments to finding a new happy home, including climbing a skyscraper, a story which is paralled by the human character Dick, the songwriter.

I saw this long ago as “Hoppity Goes to Town” [see below], and couldn’t understand why it’s not as well-known as the Disney classics. It’s certainly in the classic 30’s animation style, it’s full color, is pretty funny, and has some pretty good music, especially the Castle in the Sky song by Carmichael. Plus it has BUGS! Decades before Bugz, and A Bug’s Life, Antz, and all the others (I’m just making up titles now.. but you get the picture, lotsa varmints in the cartoons..)


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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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