Movies We've Watched on DVD - 2001

2001 Movie Total: 150

 

 

 

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Mon, Dec 31, 2001

The Lady Eve — Yup, 150 movies this year, and we ended it with a real gem. It's much better than Sullivan's Travels mostly because the tone (and humor) remains consistent throughout. Also, Stanwyck and Fonda are solidly great throughout the whole thing. The dialogue is the real star; the direction is a solid framework for the words, but has little to offer beyond that.

Sun, Dec 30, 2001

Get Carter — A fairly gripping revenge/gangster movie with some excellent acting, especially by Michael Caine. The cinematography is especially good, especially in the way it obscures things. Very little is shown overtly. It adds nicely to the tone of the whole thing. In the end the lesson is very bleak, which seems quite in keeping with the mood in Britain in the 70's.

Rebecca — Hitchcock's first American picture actually won a Best Picture Oscar. It's got quite a few Hitchcockian touches, but overall it doesn't really feel like one of his. The acting is superb, especially by Joan Fontaine, which carries it through some of the slower parts, especially in the middle.

Return to Oz — This is an awfully imaginative version of some of the Oz stories. It's got lots of eye candy and the acting is all very good. However, there's something missing just a bit from it. As it stands, it's a little too episodic, without enough energy from the start to carry the thing through to the end.

Shrek — For no particular reason I was prepared to dislike this movie. However, I have to say it really won me over. The real star is not the character Shrek, but his donkey, voiced by Eddie Murphy. Murphy does as good a job or better than his role in Mulan.

Sat, Dec 29, 2001

Le Trou — Extremely gripping prison break drama. Similar to Rififi in that it has men working together in a doomed enterprise.

Fri, Dec 28, 2001

8-1/2 — Watching this after all of the other Fellini movies I've seen diminishes the impact somewhat. The school memories are much less powerful than Amarcord, or even Roma. The most interesting aspects are the interactions with the movie crew, and Fellini's attitudes towards the women in his life. I think it probably needs another viewing to really appreciate, but the self-references seem a little too clever by half. Perhaps it was stunning on its release, but now it seems simply self-pitying. One review seems to imply that it only becomes worthwhile on repeat viewings, so perhaps that's the ticket.

The Wild Angels — One seriously goofy and silly exploitation movie whose claim to fame was using actual Hell's Angel's as cast members. Beyond that though the cast is pretty interesting: Peter Fonda, Nancyt Sinatra (!), Bruce Dern, and Diane Ladd, who looks almost exactly like Laura Dern. Even Peter Bogdanovitch is credited as assistant to the director Roger Corman. All in all, not a bad effort, and certainly not a total waste of time.

Thu, Dec 27, 2001

That Obscure Object of Desire — The astonishing simplicity of Bunuel's shots is just riveting. Nothing extra here, no fancy tricks, just a basic two shot or close-up. There's barely any coverage, and yet, somehow, it manages to be absolutely engrossing. Something about the extreme economy forces you to appreciate the smallest gestures, not to mention the hilarious asides. The waiter's comment about the fly in the martini is as funny as anything I've seen recently.

Wed, Dec 26, 2001

The Ruling Class — There's not much subtlety to this vicious and hideously funny attack on England's upper classes. Not much is spared either—sex, religion, the hunt, servants, the police, schooling, just about everything. In fact, the humor is pushed way beyond funny until near the end it's just horrific, which is the point of course. It's quite stagey, and a bit too long. Nevertheless, the writing is really good and the acting is world class. Despite the length, the funniest scenes last long after its over.

Notorious — Perhaps one of the most enjoyable Hitchcock movies I've yet seen. Based on a great script, it's got everything one could hope for. The denouement at the end is not quite as cathartic as one might hope for, but that is a minor quibble.

Tue, Dec 25, 2001

I Married a Strange Person — Absolutely bizarre and hilarious animated movie for grownups. Barely a coherent plot, but it's very, very funny.

Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould — The movie starts out with the incredible genius as well as kindness of Gould. The story is driven onward by the fact of his increasing misanthropy and drug addiction. It's a weird mix of documentary and biopic because while Gould is played by an actor, many of the people interviewed are the real folks. After all the weirdness though, the incredible power of the music stays with you.

Mon, Dec 24, 2001

Sleepy Hollow — I have to say I enjoyed this probably more than any other Tim Burton film. The acting is good, and the story, while slight, is weird enough to warrant the weird little Burtonian touches that he throws in. Johnny Depp really carries the movie, though the sets and design are surely worth checking out in depth

Dumbo — It feels full-length although its barely an hour long. Nevertheless, the riot of color and personality in even the inanimate objects is just wonderful to behold. The art is much more playful and energetic than others from the same early-Disney time period.

Sun, Dec 23, 2001

Pleasantville — What a nice little film. The logic of the whole premise doesn't hold up to too much scrutiny, but the whole things works quite well. Making it work is probably due to the amazaingly good acting in almost every part. Reese Witherspoon and Tobey Maguire show some great stuff here.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs — The colors are incredbily bright in this restored DVD edition of the movie. It almost looks too good, as if if the restorers juiced things too much, although it's more likely that we are just used to drab copies. The quality of the animation is still shockingly good, especially in the movement of the wicked witch as an old woman. Snow White herself is an incredibly boring character. It's the evil witch and the dwarfs that make this thing come alive.

Sat, Dec 22, 2001

Baraka — Very much in the same mold as Powaqqatsi and Koyaanisqatsi, this is one beautiful film. Filmed in 70 millimeter using the Todd AO camera, it is gorgeous to look at. It also has some amazing footage, the most disturbing of which is the stuff dealing with how young chickens are prepared for factory life. I really like this movie and it looks great on DVD.

Fri, Dec 21, 2001

Full Metal Jacket — Unlike Barry Lyndon, this movie has a small intimate feel. No huge troop movements here, just Matthew Modine and a few of his friends. The unbelievable power of the first half of the movie overshadows the still very good second part. It's Lee Ermey's movie and he is so good he has almost redefined the role of drill sergeant. It's through his actions that we understand the process of how someone becomes a soldier and what that can do to a person. Other great drill sergeant roles—Lou Gosset, Jr. in An Officer and a Gentleman or Christopher Walken in Biloxi Blues, to pick just two—are mere humans doing their job. Ermey is not a man, he's the whole military ethic, he's the reality of bombs landing on you. We know nothing about him as a person, except that after he's done with you walking into machine gun fire is a piece of cake.

Tue, Dec 18, 2001

Duel In The Sun — "Trash, trash, TRASH!" is how Jennifer Jones describes herself in a moment of rare clarity, although she could be easily be describing this goofy overwrought mess. There are some amusing performances from Joseph Cotten, Lionel Barrymore and Walter Huston, but the script and miscasting of Gregory Peck are fatal flaws which can't be overcome. The scenery and cinematography are really good however, apparently evidence of the uncredited work of Joseph von Sternberg.

Mon, Dec 10, 2001

The Stunt Man — This movie floored me when I first saw it in 1981, and it still has lots of appeal. There are some very interesting and clever tricks going on here and Peter O'Toole is a wonder to watch. It's still very good, but there are some strange moments, like the weird laughter at the end, which detract from the whole. The director Richard Rush couldn't quite pull it together, despite some heroic efforts.

Tue, Dec 4, 2001

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within — It doesn't quite look as good as all the reports, but perhaps that is because it's on the small screen. The story is pretty weak, but not nearly as bad as many reports. It has the feel of a middling anime. Overall, it's just not very good. Maybe interesting as a technical and historical footnote, but not worth much more than that.

Mon, Dec 3, 2001

Before Night Falls — A very moving story of a guy who suffers horribly throughout his life. It gives some sense of Reinaldo Arenas's writing, which is a difficult trick given the film format. The acting of Javier Bardem is pretty extraordinary.

Tue, Nov 27, 2001

Carl Th. Dreyer: My Metier — The basic thrust of this documentary is that the master's films might be boring, but that's because they were done by a real artist who had larger ideas than simple entertainment. It's factually informative, but not exactly revealing. Hopefully the movies will be better.

Sun, Nov 25, 2001

Zardoz — I remember seeing this movie in high school and being sort of impressed by it. What a load of silliness! One of those movies that is an embarassment to everyone involved. Maybe it would be fun in a big group where you can make fun of everything, but alone it is just deadly. It's a shame then that the disk looks so darn good. There is also a commentary track by the director which I couldn't bear to listen to, but started out giving a lot of insight into how the whole thing was put together. I should've watched that from the start and skipped the flick. I hope Sean Connery enjoyed the 200 grand he got paid, because he sure didn't help himself much with this thing.

Sat, Nov 24, 2001

The Night of the Hunter — Directed with a deadly acid tongue by Charles Laughton, this is one creepy tale of the evil that society can engender. There are several amazing performances, but the main one is Robert Mitchum as the psycho preacher with a taste for killing. The end peters out a bit, but the first hour is just riveting as the plot moves faster than you imagine and events get worse at every turn.

Mon, Nov 19, 2001

The Phantom Menace — I think this movie has taken a bum rap. While it may not have the same "mystery" as the first series, it is certainly diverting enough and a real treat for the eyes. As far as the acting goes, we've recently rewatched the first three movies on VHS and the acting there, with a few exceptions, is pretty awful. In a perfect world I probably would have preferred a first episode that started quite a bit earlier in the process, maybe with the birth of the Republic for instance, but this one does a nice job of starting off the story and definitely paves the way for the next two installments.

We also recently watched all of the extras on the supplements disk. The amount of stuff that went into this movie is simply incredible. Even more impressive is going back and looking at the movie again to watch for all the little things that are going on in the background. Especially interesting is the extended pod race sequence, which does a fantastic job of building the tension before the big race. Very well done, and it shows how important good editing is to the story.

Thu, Nov 15, 2001

Orlando — What a delightful movie! Apart from the "serious" gender message of this movie, it has a wonderful sense of humor and wonder at what is going on. the direction is good and the costumes are somthing, but what makes this movie so special is the amazing performance of Tilda Swinton in the title role. An amazing combination of knowledge and innocence plays across her face.

Tue, Nov 13, 2001

Citizen Kane — There's an odd feeling I get when watching an Orson Welles film, not that there're a huge number to work with of course. With this movie, as well as with The Lady from Shanghai and Touch of Evil, the movies have a richness and a wealth of intelligence which, while not obvious, demand a certain attention from the viewer. These movies, even the two lesser ones, which are clearly genre pieces far removed from the easy pleasures of their genre, demand a lot of work from the viewer. The work is worth it, of course, but the attention to details certainly makes the movies less easy to relax into and enjoy than even the best of their contemporaries. The Roger Ebert commentary on this disk is especially good with all sorts of interesting observations about how certain things were done and what it all means.

Mon, Nov 12, 2001

The Battle Over Citizen Kane — Although this is supposed to be about how William Randolph Hearst killed off Citizen Kane, it is actually much better on the beginnings of both Orson Welles and Hearst. The parallels between the two men are pretty amazing. Even better is the old footage of Welles's work on the "Voodoo Macbeth" and "War of the Worlds."

Thu, Nov 8, 2001

The Law — An interesting and complex view of the internal politics of a small Italian town. It's interesting as the work of Jules Dassin (him of blacklist fame, Brute Force, and Rififi). This time, there are women involved in the power struggles, unlike the two other movies by him. It's a little long, but rich in interesting characters and weird relationships in what turns out to be a shockingly amoral world. Well acted by Gina Lollobrigida and Marcello Matroianni.

Forever and a Day — Kind of a weird casting gimmick with all sorts of stars designed to improve morale during World War II. Definitely not as bad as it might have been and a brief cameo by Charles Laughton as a drunk butler is quite good.

Mon, Nov 5, 2001

Grey Gardens — "In the Hamptons, they can arrest you for wearing red shoes on a Thursday. It's true!" With this wonderful quote begins a truly weird documentary of two (once) rich and glamorous people who have pretty much let the world pass them completely by. The horrible sadness of their situation and squalor is offset by how nice and interesting they are. One couldn't make up characters like this. They're simply unbelievable. And related to Jackie Kennedy to boot! Incredible.

Sat, Nov 3, 2001

The Barefoot Contessa — Another Joseph L. Mankiewicz extravaganza, essentially trying to do for (against?) the movies what All About Eve did for Broadway. Unfortunately the horribly overwritten script and the barely decipherable plot are not up to the job. Although she's pretty in the role, Ava Gardner is certainly no Bette Davis, and the role itself barely makes much sense. Humphrey Bogart is miscast at best and one wonders what he himself was thinking about all this foolishness while he stood in the rain for what seemed like an eternity. The only interesting character turns out to be the public relations guy, who was supposed to be the comic relief. Even as camp it is too long and boring. One nice touch which does deserve a mention is the camera work by Jack Cardiff. As he did in the Powell-Pressburger movies, he makes you believe that Technicolor is the only real way to make a color movie. Wonderful colors throughout, especially with the scenes from Europe.

Fri, Nov 2, 2001

Salesman — Some amazing work about some real sad folks. At various times one wonders how it was possible to film this stuff since it's so very painful to watch. Incredible work by the Maysles brothers. Also interesting is to see the insides of all these '60s homes. They all have pianos!

Tue, Oct 30, 2001

Marty — Ernest Borgnine can actually act, although it's of a pretty broad and obvious sort. While the movie is pretty old, I guess I'm still surprised it won a Best Picture Oscar. It's well written (by Paddy Chayefsky) and the acting is not bad, but it just doesn't seem like Best Picture material.

Sat, Oct 27, 2001

Waking the Dead — When I first saw the "Egg Films" production credit at the start of this one I got a sinking feeling that I was in for some serious weepy chick flick-type material. I was not far off, but it was actually not that bad. A moderately diverting plot about the loss of the dreams of youth is really saved by some very good acting. Billy Crudup is good as the main star, but the truly fascinating one is Jennifer Connelly. I found myself amazed at what she was able to do with rather simple lines delivered in a hushed whisper. Not a classic, but hardly a turkey out of this egg.

Sun, Sep 30, 2001

Cabaret — The songs and dancing are good, but the clever direction doesn't quite overcome the incredibly slow pace. Liza Minelli is pretty amazing. It makes it easier to understand her appeal. Michael York, though, is a serious millstone dragging everything down.

Wed, Sep 27, 2001

Death Race 2000 — Surprisingly well-done farce that rises above it's incredibly low budget. Sylvester Stallone is a big surprise in this one, but the best part is the camera work by Tak Fujimoto.

Thu, Sep 20, 2001

Sullivan's Travels — Some very good lines, but the overall effect is a bit dated. Clearly the strength here is with the dialogue. The sheer number of speaking roles, very good speaking roles, is pretty amazing. Joel McCrea is quite good as the star. Good enough for me to look for other things that he's done. This movie probably gets better the more you see it.

Sun, Sep 16, 2001

The Outlaw — More like a soap opera or episodic series than a straightforward coherent story. Jane Russell has her charms (and it isn't her acting that's for sure) but the only real reason to watch the movie is to see Walter Huston in action. His dialogue, his actions, are riveting. When he's not around, the movie seriously drags. When he's there, it's really good.

Mon, Sep 3, 2001

The Fortune Cookie — A dark, acid-laced view of the world. It is anchored by some nicely written bits and truly amazing acting, especially from Walter Mathau as a greedy lawyer. But, it's too long, way too long. A nice treat is the very wide screen and some interesting camera angles, but the director Billy Wilder should have been willing to lose a few bits for the sake of flow.

Sat, Sep 1, 2001

Dogma — Pretty literate and well-acted apology for the existence of God. The overall impact is actually better than the sum of its parts, as Kevin Smith runs up against the limits of his juvenile, though well-meaning, view of the world. This might be as good as Smith gets if he can't move beyond sex and gay jokes and into a little more sophistication. It would be a shame if he couldn't because Smith's writing is quite good, and the characters very nicely drawn.

Office Space — Reasonably amusing comedy about how bad work can be. Pretty well done with a great soundtrack, but it hardly has much to recommend it for the long haul. Mostly interesting as the work of Mike Judge, who's gone on to better things with King of the Hill.

Thu, Aug 30, 2001

Reservoir Dogs — The violence is still pretty bracing in this movie, but you can really see the beginnings of Quentin Tarantino's technique and style. There is quite a bit of the "honor among thieves" theme that reached its zenith in Pulp Fiction. Still incredible is Tim Roth in this movie, who, though working with an great cast, manages to not only hold his own, but surpass the others in screen presence.

Wed, Aug 29, 2001

Swingers — Pretty well-written exercise on the mating habits of unemployed actors in Los Angeles. Some clever lines, but the delivery is the best part. The real surprise for me was Vince Vaughn. It's clear now why people want to see him in movies.

Sun, Aug 19, 2001

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters — When this movie came out I remember it floored me. On DVD it seems a bit smaller, and a little overlong. More important though is the fact that whatever good things about Mishima which might have impressed me 15 or so years ago, are now completely lost on me. Mishima is just a nut. While the stories are beautifully shot on gorgeous and fascinating sets, whatever quality the writing has doesn't quite come through. Nevertheless, the film has some real interesting things going on, those incredible sets in particular, but there are others as well. The commentary by Paul Schrader is really good. Watching it with the commentary I'm struck by how much Schrader is relying on the stories to tell the story of Mishima's life. From a theoretical standpoint, I don't like it when people read symbolism in stories quite so literally, so perhaps that's what's bothering me.

Thu, Aug 16, 2001

The Straight Story — A slow pace can be wonderfully rewarding when everything works together. That's the secret to this beautiful little movie. The direction, the editing, the writing, and most definitely the acting are seamless and pretty near perfect. Richard Farnsworth certainly deserved his Oscar nomination, but Harry Dean Stanton, even though he's only onscreen for a couple of minutes uses those minutes to make a slow careful look at a lawnmower one of the best expressions of love on the screen I've seen in a while. The craft in this movie is astonishing and makes what could have been a kitschy corny story extremely moving. If there is one flaw, it is in the character played by Sissy Spacek. Watching her in an unrewarding role made me wish she had more opportunities to show off her stuff.

Tue, Aug 14, 2001

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance — The twist at the end of this one perverts all sense of what we all believe history and reality to be. Dressed up as a classic Western, it's black, black, black. It's not quite as good as the other Westerns I've watched recently, but it's still easily good enough for classic status. If there's any doubt about John Wayne's acting ability, this movie dispels any doubt. Very impressive.

An extra bonus is the amazing cast of supporting characters: Strother Martin, Lee Marvin, Lee Van Cleef, John Carradine (!), Edmund O'Brien and a host of other greats.

Mon, Aug 13, 2001

Ulzana's Raid — Burt Lancaster got much better as he aged. Compared to the earlier stuff, he doesn't force things as much. He's more willing to let the pauses last as long as they need to. There's a weariness in his voice which echoes wisdom as much as the anger that was so dominant in his earlier movies.

This western is awfully good as Burt tries to educate the fresh lieutenant about the real horror of war. Bruce Davison does a very nice job. Lancaster is the man who doesn't fit into society, but instead of John Wayne in The Searchers, he hasn't given himself up to hate as much as come to understand how the Indian lives. In fact, part of the point is that racism will only lead to defeat. In The Searchers, the wild outside can be tamed by civilization. To do so might take an outsider, but the outsider cannot live with the civilization that he is trying to protect. Wayne's character might not like it, but civilization can even tame the wilderness in the form of the half-breed nephew. There's hope that eventually all will be allowed to live in peace. In this movie, civilization and Christian ideals no longer cut it. Man must either embrace the savage way of the Apache or face annihilation. The parallel with Vietnam is clear. Instead of hope, the sense is that if victory is achievable at all, it will be horrible indeed.

Sun, Aug 12, 2001

The Hidden Fortress — Lots of humor and humanity in this one. Along with some of the characters, George Lucas also clearly borrowed the slow wipes for Star Wars. Really nice looking stuff. Apart from the nice story, Kurosawa's use of the wide screen is quite amazing. The locations, ranging from forests and mountains to grassy plains, are great as well.

And the Ship Sails On — One of Fellini's last. Dissipated by time and prior exertion, the magic is still in the faces and minor characters. The love for people remains even though the barbs are dulled somewhat. It's more sad than angry, and in the end, while hardly his best, is still worth watching.

Dr. T and the Women — Robert Altman has a nice way of leaving the mystery in his movies. He provides the framework, in this case an excellent concept, and it's up to the actors to make it all come together. It doesn't work perfectly in this one, but it's not bad. Richard Gere doesn't quite pull it off. It's a good try though, with a strong supporting cast. Few movies have captured better what makes Dallas tick.

Sat, Aug 11, 2001

Akira — No uplifting message like Princess Mononoke, but it is beautiful to look at and it has a coherent plot, sort of unusual for an anime. Lots of predictable themes like a government conspiracy and disorder in the streets, but it is pretty interesting and I found it quite enjoyable. The supplements on the extras disk are quite good, with the kind of documentary on animation that Disney really should be putting on their disks. Definitely notable for the over 4,000 (!) stills also included. The art is quite something.

Traffic — Except for selected actors and perhaps the music there's very little to justify the trite messages in this drab and dreary movie. I guess one can be happy that it at least tries to be serious when so few new movies are, but I had real trouble getting through it. Don Cheadle, Luis Guzman, Miguel Ferrer, and Benicio del Toro are the reasons to watch this movie. Watching them eat breakfast together would have been more enjoyable. Michael Douglas is surprisingly bad compared to his excellent performance in Wonder Boys.

Fri, Aug 10, 2001

The Searchers — How do you define the strange sensation one gets while watching a genuine masterpiece. Everything seems to fall into place; you often barely notice how right even all the little details are. That's what this movie does. I think this is the third time I've seen it and it gets better every time. John Wayne's character is a perverted twist on his usual persona. His only redeeming trait is perseverance and stubborness, in balance to his racism and hate. This movie doesn't sit easily with other classic Westerns, even the structure, with it's long second act and abbreviated final shot, break up the expected rhythms. The last scene is as ambivalent and sad as I can remember: you may want a hero around when things go bad, but everybody's better off if he doesn't stick around for dinner when it's all over.

Tue, Aug 7, 2001

Big Trouble in Little China Before this one, I tried to watch the remake of The Getaway with Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. What a disaster. They took a pretty interesting story and sucked all life and inspiration completely out of it. I have to blame the director, who took no chances at all and made every obvious choice possible. I couldn't finish it. Compare that to this flick which revels in pure and simple fun moviemaking. It's a stupid movie that has a few fun lines but has almost nothing going for it except exuberance. The spirit behind it can be clearly heard in the goofy commentary track by Cirector John Carpenter and Star Kurt Russel. They had a great time making this movie and it shows.

Sun, Aug 5, 2001

Small Time Crooks — Woody Allen can write some great lines for stupid people, but when it actually comes to acting stupid he's not the best one for the job. The one who really takes the cake in this very funny movie is Elaine May. She and Tracy Ullman combine to make this one a real gem. More a series of skits held together by the thinnest of plots than a real story, it's still oodles of fun.

The Sand Pebbles — Big scope to this story and Steve McQueen is really good in it. As a whole, it isn't great, but parts of it are wonderful and the direction by Robert Wise is quite good. The story moves along pretty well, but the overall theme of confused motives seems a bit applicable to the movie as well.

Yojimbo — The basis for A Fistful of Dollars and Last Man Standing, this is one thrilling movie. It's pretty bleak in its portrayal of an amoral world. Luckily, one man can't quite seem to give up his morals completely. Worth it just to watch Toshiro Mifune's face.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being — The story is great, and the ending definitely pulls it all together. Yet, there is something lacking in this movie. There's a feeling of not quite being satisfied with the way everything fits together. Of course, part of the point is that things take a while to unfold, that there is a certain plodding and episodic nature to everything. The development of the central relationship, to some extent, needs to take some time before the characters can get to the point at the end where they are happy. Yet, it isn't quite perfect. Perhaps the story really needs to be told in a book, and it's too much to ask of a movie that all the layers of the book come through. Kaufmann in the commentary talks about the movie as an epic. But the story is too intimate for an epic. The movie could actually use a little more lightness. As it stands, Kaufmann wants to add weight to even the smallest details and it bogs things down.

Despite the problems in the movie, it is wonderfully edited. There is a lot going on in different scenes and the action never gets confused or muddled. To some extent this shows how important an editor is, but that it is the director who still controls the final shape of the film. The photography is full of warm and wonderfully backlit scenes so popular in arty movies. I would have preferred a slightly harsher, harder edge to things. One minor note: Daniel Day-Lewis's accent seems to ebb and flow, and never has much authenticity for me. It's possible that I'm just responding to the fact that his character is such an arrogant heel.

Sat, Aug 4, 2001

The Best Years of Our Lives — This is classic stuff: an emotional message movie, with great acting and a happy ending to boot. It's really effective and the story moves along surprisingly quickly for its almost three hours of running time. The talent abounds in this movie, especially the camera work by the great Gregg Toland. What's nice about this movie is how frank and straightforward people are about the problems they are facing. No sugar-coating here. One can easily understand how it won Best Picture: it's both well-done and has the sentimental crowd-pleasing favorites—the double amputee, for example—that drive Acadamy voters wild even today. One final note: Frederic March and Myrna Loy together are just wonderful to watch.

Ride in the Whirlwind — It's quite good, but definitely not the strongest of the Monte Hellman movies I've seen (this is the fifth). It tries for an existential feel, but it doesn't quite get it, at least not to the extent of the other movies. Specifically, it lacks the disorienting ambiguity that raises the other movies well above the norm. Cameron Mitchell, as the friend of Jack Nicholson, does the best acting in the movie. Hellman's direction isn't perfect, but it has some very nice touches, especially in some of the shots of the riders among the grass. One thing that is true that is repeatedly discussed in the commentary is that it has a very realistic feel; they put a lot of work into making things look right.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God — Very much like Fitzcarraldo, but without the happy ending. There's a very strong poetic feeling to this whole movie: poetic and tragic. The photography is incredible and Kinski is just plain riveting on the screen.

The Scarlet Empress — The profusion of stuff in the sets of this movie is really amazing. The weird twisted gargoyles that seem to be in every single scene defy any sense of reality. Marlene Dietrich is great, of course, but the guy who plays the half-wit Peter III is a riot. It's not a complex story, but the character change that happens to Catherine as she realizes the power she has is really something. At the same time there is lots of humor in the movie as the director seems to making fun of the whole situation as much as anything else.

Thu, Aug 2, 2001

Requiem for a Dream — Okay, it's nicely shot and acted, but what is the point? The fact that drugs are bad and kill off dreams is not exactly groundbreaking. The interest seems to be in the unsparing view of the decline and in keeping the story on the fact that it's two generations affected by addiction. Once again, not entirely new. The music is good, and the editing is excellent. As a film school exercise, it's fantastic, but it's a bit of a disappointment from the heady, original heights of Darren Aronofsky's first film, Pi. The commentary track from the cinematographer is really interesting on how all the technical stuff was done.

Croupier — Unbelievably good movie. Gripping, well-acted, and very well written. It does a particularly good job of reflecting the disorienting mix of sophistication, desperation, and sleaze that exists in a casino. Not a single misstep in the direction either. As close to a must-see as I've seen lately.

Wed, Aug 1, 2001

Best in Show — A lot funnier than Waiting for Guffman. The characters are more richly drawn and the actors are much more impressive in their portrayals. It's not quite as strong in the final act as in the opening, but that's a minor quibble. It relies a little too much on gay jokes. The stereotypes are old and the jokes aren't really necessary given the phenomenal straight characters.

Sun, Jul 29, 2001

Sweet Smell of Success — Not just dark. Way, way, over the top dark. Once again Tony Curtis carries the movie. Burt Lancaster is good, but it's Tony Curtis who has to do the heavy lifting and he is more than up to the task. The language is so mannered and unnatural that it loses some believability, but that's okay because the lines are just so darn good. Four movies today! Wonderful.

The Apartment — Simply incredible. Scary how good this movie is. There are no slow parts, it could have been written today, the acting is excellent, and it all comes together wonderfully. I've always thought that Jack Lemmon, in his comedy roles especially, has some mannerisms which I've always found annoying. It seems affected and it detracts attention from the material. This was true for me in Some Like It Hot. However, in this movie it works perfectly. The role as its written and played are perfectly in synch. Ray Walston, Fred MacMurray, and others as the evil guys are near perfection. Apart from the story, the scenes of the ranks of the insurance company clerks are truly scary. No matter how bad cubicles are now, they are certainly better than that.

Some Like It Hot — The biggest surprise for me in this was how good Tony Curtis is. He really carries this movie. Marilyn Monroe is awfully good as well. I wouldn't say it's the funniest movie ever, as AFI seems to think, but it is a lot of fun. The other big surprise is how risque it is, especially for a fifties movie. It is also hasn't aged much.

Almost Famous — A very good movie that is quite moving without being sentimental. The craft of the movie is extremely good, especially the acting. Kate Hudson was justifiably nominated for all sorts of awards for her role as Penny Lane. That said, this movie, as well as other Cameron Crowe films, seems to be lacking just a little something at the middle. This absence makes the movie just a little too easy. You get hints of pain in the Lester Bangs character, and clearly this is supposed to have some resonance for the hero of the film, but it doesn't quite come through. Even the stomach pumping scene is a little too pretty, not horrible or terrifying. This is rock-and-roll afterall, instead of always making it to the bathroom, someone should at least have thrown up on themselves. Despite living on a bus for days at a time, no one even farts. This weird lack of grit was summed up in the scene near the end where the lead singer blows his line about what rock-and-roll means to him. It's the most important line in the movie and "everything" should be screamed with passion. Instead, it's spoken with the same even modulation that plagues the whole movie.

Steven Spielberg is known for his treacly-sweet portraits of suburbia, but Cameron Crowe delivers a much more accurate rendition. Fast Times at Ridgemont High is still his best movie because Crowe's writing is filtered through the direction of Amy Heckerling. She brought an edge to the characters and situations: a feeling that any of these kids could fall off the cliff at any moment. This feeling is weirdly absent from this latest effort. I can't help but think what Heckerling or Penelope Spheeris might have done with this script.

Sat, Jul 28, 2001

Clerks: The Animated Series — By the end of the six episodes, this show is quite funny. The first couple of shows don't't quite add up, but it gets better and better (much to my relief since I'd already bought the disks). As with many View Askew productions, the commentary is very good. The look of the show is really neat, with a cool pallette and interesting line drawing of the characters. Of particular note are Alec Baldwin as the faux-British billionaire and the spoof of Korean anime in the first episode.

Fri, Jul 27, 2001

Brute Force — By Jules Dassin, the same guy who did Rififi, this one fills a depressing prison break movie with all sorts of idealistic social theory. It moves along pretty well, but there's nothing really to lift it beyond standard genre fare except for the fact that the director and writer did not feel the need to redeem anybody at the end by having a happy ending—unless you count the fact that the evil, sadistic captain, played by a scene-stealing Hume Cronyn, gets killed off along with everyone else. Cronyn's performance is wonderful.

The Terror — Cheesy, truly B-grade Roger Corman flick. Pretty slow, and the image is nearly indecipherable in many of the shots. It's interesting for Jack Nicholson's early performance, but especially for Boris Karloff. I'd never really seen Karloff before, but watching him talk and the way his lips curl is really weird. In fact, it's exactly the way Chuck Jones animated the mouth of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, which was narrated by Karloff. As a bit of trivia, both Monte Hellman and Francis Ford Coppola did some directing on the movie.

Wed, Jul 25, 2001

Iguana — Another Monte Hellman classic! It's strange, there is more interesting character stuff in this weird low-budget movie than in most of the Kubrick movies. Joni Mitchell apparently described this movie as a "poem". That's accurate in the sense that, like a lot of Hellman's movies, the movie can be interpreted in a whole series of ways. Is Warren Oates noble at the end of Cockfighter? The same question has to be asked of Everett McGill at the end of this movie. Both characters create their own morality, but are also trapped by their ignorance and stupidity. The female character could easily have been yet another example of a woman who falls in love with her kidnapper. It's a tribute to Hellman that the character in this movie is not nearly so simple. It's unclear even at the end if she loves the Iguana or is simply using him. Even the Iguana can't quite decide.

Tue, Jul 24, 2001

Barry Lyndon — I skipped A Clockwork Orange, but so far, this is the most interesting Kubrick film yet. The sumptuous and almost decadent play of the images is the famous part of the work and justifiably so. The battle scenes alone are spectacular. Ryan O'Neal does an excellent job of reflecting the shallowness of Redmond Barry, does it so well that I think he was too identified with the part. Even more so than A Clockwork Orange, I think this movie supports the idea that Kubrick saw the world and the people in it as mostly evil. Yet, it's in the grief and love over his son that leads Barry to do the only decent thing he ever does, not killing his stepson. Of course, this act of love is what leads to Barry's expulsion from the life of the aristocracy. Yet, the one act of redemption still is there, despite the evil of everyone else.

Kubrick may not have picked the best actors, but he always has people who really look the part. Simply watching the people is a lot of fun. However, as a whole, the movie is a bit annoying in the way that there is incredible effort and care taken to lay out what is essentially a pretty basic story. As good as everything is, one has the sneaking suspicion that it isn't quite the sum of its parts. This suspicion in the end makes one a bit frustrated about the whole enterprise. Nevertheless, it is always engrossing and a rare visual treat.

Tue, Jul 17, 2001

Gulliver's Travels — It's a little slow, but this 1930's Max Fleischer answer to the Mouse House has an awful lot going for it. The animation is really good. The movement of Gulliver actually looks like it was copied off of film it was so good. One thing I like about the style is that the color pallete is really neat. The colors are muted but have a real vibrancy and realism to them. Lots of fun.

Mon, Jul 16, 2001

2001: A Space Odyssey — What a pleasure to see this movie after the debacle of Lolita. Kubrick is much more in control of his storytelling; actually he reduces the story to almost nothing so that the amazing visuals can stand on their own. In fact the characters have almost no life at all. HAL 9000 is the most fleshed out thing there is and except for a little bit about one of the astronauts with his family and a scientist calling his daughter there is precious little you learn about the people in this thing. It seems part of the point, although the effect is a little disconcerting. On a separate note, I don't think this story would ever be made today. The idea that the evolution of man depends on the kindness of aliens seems pretty dated now.

One really interesting change is the development of Kubrick's sense of lighting. Lolita has this beautiful, but very artificial, backlighting on everything and everybody. This movie moves well beyond that. On the moon base, for example, there are huge completely white panels behind the characters. While this could be seen as realistic it also serves as a lighting tool. I don't know if the panels were the primary lighting used in the shot, as many shots in his later movies were done, but it is much more interesting than the earlier movies.

Sun, Jul 15, 2001

Lolita — All of the usual Kubrick virtues are on display here, in particular the extraordinary camera work and exquisite detail in the sets. Unfortunately, the movie overall is unbelievably boring. It has the feel of someone who has stitched together scenes from a long novel without figuring out a way to make it all hang together. There are some very funny scenes, especially involving Shelly Winters, but they are invariably too long. The movie could have been at least a half-hour shorter with little or no loss of impact. One very strange shortcoming is the seemingly endless scenes of Humbert and Lolita driving around in a car. For a road trip, these scenes have a weird static nature that make it feel as if nothing is moving at all. The script, credited to Nabokov but apparently by Kubrick, is very weak. Kubrick may have been trying to capture the silliness of everyday speech, but the result here just seems stilted and lifeless. After this one viewing I have real trouble understanding why people think this is such a good movie.

Sat, Jul 14, 2001

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb — I've seen this so many times and enjoyed it so much that what is left is pretty much studying the movie itself, apart from the great lines (mostly from co-writer Terry Southern). Unfortunately, there are some serious flaws. Mostly they lie where the camera tricks move ahead of what is necessary for the plot and become a distraction. This is especially true of the scenes in the bomber. The quick zooms into the radio dials are neat at first but fast become annoying. Individual shots are astonishingly good, but Kubrick isn't able to put it all together into a cohesive, consistent whole. He does, however, get full credit for understanding and putting a comedic face on the whole disaster.

Kiss Me Deadly — Very interesting film noir. Despite the strange nuclear ending, this is a quick-paced and gripping thriller. The plot is even essentially understandable, which is a nice bonus considering the usual convolutions of this genre. Despite one or two directorial missteps, the work by Robert Aldrich is thoroughly modern and wonderful to watch.

Thu, Jul 12, 2001

Apocalypse Now — So much of this movie has entered the popular mind that it's hard to separate the popular image from the movie itself. Nevertheless, what remains is the incredible photography and the acting of the crew on the boat. Lawrence Fishburne was close to fourteen when he was hired by Coppola to be in the movie.

Wed, Jul 11, 2001

High and Low — Much more a police procedural than social commentary, it has some very interesting moments. Perhaps the economic issues had more relevance in the Japan of 1963, when the economic boom was really getting underway. Despite being totally humorless, the movie nevertheless manages to keep one's attention for more than two hours—which would seem to indicate the movie is better than it first appears. Oddly the only character who seems to have much humanity is the chauffeur who is the father of the kidnapped boy. The purported center of the movie, the shoe tycoon Gondo, is actually less interesting than almost everyone else in the movie. One other interesting aspect is the picture of the Tokyo nightlife filled with dancing GIs and secretive heroin dealers. The collapse of the villain at the end seems more for the comfort of the audience than dictated by any character concerns. From a technical perspective, it is pretty amazing how Kurosawa is able to manage the movements of six or more people in a room and never lose track of camera angles or position. Kurosawa also shows some very nice use of a extremely wide frame (it looks at least like 2.5:1, although Amazon says its 2.35:1).

Mon, Jul 9, 2001

My Best Fiend: Klaus Kinski — No, it's not a typo, Werner Herzog really does mean fiend. This is a really interesting movie that seems part documentary and part exorcism as Herzog tries to explain why he went through what he did with Kinski. Clearly a nut, Kinski was also able to do some amazing things on film. But Herzog himself is a bit nutty and some of the best parts (all of it is quite good) feature Herzog talking about himself and his views of what was going on around him. As soon as I finished watching it, I watched part of it again, and it was just as riveting. Highly recommended!

Fri, Jul 6, 2001

Killer's Kiss — Kubrick's second film. This one is really short, only 67 minutes and the plot is pretty thin. Nevertheless, it bears the hallmarks of a visual master. The camera work is astonishingly good. He makes great use of lighting as well as really deep focus. There is a rooftop chase scene that is great. Also interesting is the editing work in the boxing match scene. Very fast and complicated stuff which gives a good sense of the action in the ring.

Wed, Jul 4, 2001

Snatch — Not quite as good as Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, mostly because it covers much of the same territory with a lot of the same kinds of people. Nevertheless, the cutting and filmwork are really fun to watch. It's pretty violent, almost gratuitously so, which was disappointing. Even the director Guy Ritchie seems to acknowledge that the movie has a few problems in his commentary. Interesting, but not a must see.

Mon, Jul 2, 2001

O Brother, Where Art Thou? — Gorgeous looking and a truly phenomenal soundtrack. But in the end, a bit of a disappointment. It's trying to send up Southern cliches, but to what effect? There's no heart at the core of the story to make all the trouble seem worthwhile. Even the dialogue was not quite up to usual Coen standards. Hair pomade is a interesting character device, but there's no payoff at the end. Listening to the music sure covers up a lot of problems, though.

Tue, Jun 26, 2001

Election — A real surprise. It's funny, very dark, and very original. You really have no idea how it's going to end until the last few minutes. Lots of fun. Great acting by the whole cast, many of them actual students from Omaha where the movie was filmed. One less than positive aspect is that the whole thing has a very strong misogynistic feel to it. All the men are portrayed as helpless fools, while the women are scheming, manipulative monsters. Not that this ruins the movie, but it does leave a slightly sour aftertaste.

Sat, Jun 23, 2001

The Witches — We didn't actually get all the way through this one because the kids got too scared. But we've seen it before and it's one of my favorites. Directed by the great Nicolas Roeg, the pace and tone are really well done. Rowan Atkinson is very funny as the miserable hotel owner.

Fri, Jun 22, 2001

Hercules — This Disney flick is best at showing, through its own failure, how hard it really is to make a good animated film. While all the elements are there for a big success, there is something that is lacking. It all seems a little too studied and too predictable for the movie really to make it. Also, I think there is a rare lapse in voice casting for the part of Megara, the heroine (not the Japanese monster). Lots of clever in-jokes, but it doesn't quite add up. Rip Torn as Zeus is right on target, though.

Sat, Jun 16, 2001

Love and Death on Long Island — It was marketed as a comedy, but it isn't really. I think the critics who raved about it probably were simply thrilled by a movie so different from most mainstream films. It really is a good movie, but it's not a comedy at all. The direction and script are excellent, with some good lessons on how little one really needs to say to get across a clear meaning.

Thu, Jun 14, 2001

Diary of a Chambermaid — This has lots of black humor, but the edge on the humor isn't funny, it's horrific. A serious indictment of the French countryside. Jeanne Moreau is pretty astonishing as one of the few characters who tries to do something good. The camera work is really interesting to watch as we swoop and dive around the actors. It's all quite something. I need to see more Buñuel.

Tue, Jun 12, 2001

Beat the Devil — A nice little throwaway from John Huston and Truman Capote (!). It's a fun spoof with a great cast. A good example of how a good cast can lift even light material way above the crowd. Actually it was much more fun to watch than North by Northwest. The direction was also quite good, with some nice camera work by John Huston.

Mon, Jun 11, 2001

North by Northwest — The high reputation this disk has for crisp picture and sound is enitirely deserved. Simply amazing to watch what can be done on a well-mastered DVD. Yet, the movie itself, which has a pretty extraordinary reputation itself, didn't do all that much for me. Cary Grant is lots of fun to watch, but the vaunted chemistry with Eva Marie Saint was perhaps more impressive when the movie first came out. The real standouts were James Mason and Martin Landau as the baddies. They were much more interesting than Cary Grant in every way.

Sat, Jun 9, 2001

Putney Swope — A wild, reckless satire that is often very funny and always shockingly un-PC. This was done by Robert Downey, Sr. and one can't really imagine someone doing a movie nowadays which not only makes fun of black- (and white-) owned companies but also presents the President as a midgt in the thrall of a neo-Nazi. Lots of fun.

Mon, May 28, 2001

Fitzcarraldo — Really amazing movie, which is really greater than the sum of its parts, mostly because the parts seem oddly wrong at times, for all their beauty and incredible acting. Klaus Kinski is simply spellbinding to watch and makes his dream of building an opera house almost believable. Funny coincidence that I would watch this film right after Picnic at Hanging Rock, because both deal with the efforts of man against an impervioius nature. This one is finally happy because Fitzcrraldo is able to achieve some measure of success even as he fails. I think the camera work is deceptively simple. As I watch the movie a second time, there is some astonishing work here, especially in the way the jungle shots build a tense and sombre mood for the film. The commentary track is really good because it has Werner Herzog talk very frankly about the problems and struggles he had with the film and its star.

Sun, May 27, 2001

Picnic at Hanging Rock — Most of the reviews seem to talk about the mystery of the disappearance. What it really seemed about was the effect of tragedy on these uptight Victorian people. These Europeans are simply unprepared for something so terrible to occur to them. They can't quite come to grips with the mysterious land in which they live which makes the the inability to understand what's going on around them all that more difficult. But the movie is not about the mystery as much as how people react to it. In that way it is a lot like Fearless, which Peter Weir also directed. In some ways it's very simlar to Walkabout, although Walkabout is much more symbolic (and, in the end, better).

The 400 Blows — Growing up in Europe must not have been all that much fun, if one uses this movie and Amarcord as examples. While the classrooms in both movies are pretty bleak, both also have humor. Unfortunately, where the humor of Fellini seems to reveal a deep warmth of feeling for the silly antics of adults, the humor here is a brief diversion from what is a terrifying view of the solitude of growing up. Truffaut does a great job of showing how even a light moment between the father and son is quickly destroyed when the father thinks the son has stolen a precious travel guide. Of course, the son is no angel, but he can't seem to catch a break on anything. Even his final punishment is a result of his trying to give the stolen typewriter back. Life is just crummy for folks in this movie. The boy is trying to live a better life, but has no way of knowing how to do it. He's trapped by the poor examples of everybody around him. Worth rewatching, especially for the time taken in some of the longer shots. Incredible to think that this was almost the first wide-screen movie made in France. Sort of neat given how personal and intimate the movie is for a format that is usually associated with grand epics. Excellent commentary track on the Fox Lorber disk.

Really well done was the final shot. The kid and his friend keep talking about the ocean like it's a great symbol of freedom. Yet, at the end he runs up to it and the look on his face reveals it's a barrier. Subtle, effective, scary, and sad.

Thu, May 24, 2001

Alphaville — A very strange film that wants to be both science fiction and a spoof of detective films. There's some really good camera work here, but the philosophical bits were just boring. The movie certainly doesn't make itself easy to understand. Not that that's a bad thing, but it didn't appeal enough to me to make it worth the extra work it demanded. Maybe I was just too tired. One thing that did make an impact is that it is clearly the work of a Frenchman who likes a lot about U.S. movies and culture.

Sun, May 20, 2001

Spartacus — Another blacklist-connected film, this time because of Dalton Trumbo the screenwriter. It's a great film mostly because of the bits surrounding the politics of Rome. The sections with Kirk Douglas and Jean Simmons are just too long. Peter Ustinov is absolutely fantastic. The movie is almost schizophrenic in the way it has both the serious political stuff and the movie matinee-idol scenes with Kirk Douglas. Though imperfect, still highly watchable.

Sat, May 19, 2001

Remember the Titans — I didn't really want to watch this movie, but am glad I did. It could be summed up as "integratiuon with a nice loud soundtrack," but the acting and the script raise it above the standard heart-warming story. Will Patton is very good and holds his own against the always impressive Denzel Washington. Nice DTS track as well that emphasizes the force of the tackles. I didn't listen to it, but the disk also has a commentary track by the two real-life people that are featured in the movie.

Thu, May 17, 2001

Rififi — Safe-cracking thriller from blacklisted director Jules Dassin. The picture quality on this Criterion disk is simply phenomenal. Terms like velvety and inky blacks really have meaning when you watch this film. The sound is not that important, mostly because of the movie's signature sequence when there is no dialogue for almost half an hour. Really gripping stuff. Although it's French, the movie clearly has an American film noir sensibility that reflects the director's origins. The director also plays a crook in the movie who is punished for revealing gang secrets—an interesting irony given the director's history on the blacklist.

Sun, May 15, 2001

King Lear — This is the BBC television version starring Laurence Olivier as Lear. The DVD itself is pretty crummy, with oversharpened video being the main failing. It also suffers from the fact it was shot on video in the first place, rather than film, so the contrast is low. It's a gripping version of the play, with great supporting actors like Diana Rigg, Leo McKern, and John Hurt. As I think I've said before, this play is still very, very relevant. I think as America ages and baby boomers move into retirement, the issues of this play—with its spoiled and selfish children and self-absorbed monarch—will continue to resonate.

Sat, May 12, 2001

The Emperor's New Groove — Very nice little movie. Eartha Kitt as the evil (and real ugly) Yzma is just great. Funny that this one didn't do so well in the theaters (at least compared to other Disney films), but perhaps it's all part of the John Goodman curse. As good as he is, he can't seem to star in a genuine hit. I thought the color scheme in this was particularly good.

The commentary track on this movie is particularly good. The movies creators talk a lot about story development and how the need to lay out the story meant certain choices had to be made as far as when and why characters were introduced. Very interesting. There isn't much of a story here. It is essentially just a structure to hang the comedy on. In that sense it is sort of unique in that Disney doesn't usually do just comedies. The animation of Yzma really reminds me of a Charles Addams cartoon, or perhaps Tim Burton. The character is really superb.

Thu, May 10, 2001

The Nights of Cabiria — This is one great movie. It's one of Fellini's realistic flicks, well before the weird mayhem of Satyricon and later movies. There is an uncomfortable pilgrimage scene that foreshadows the chaos of the miracle in La Dolce Vita, but it doesn't have nearly the same edge. In fact, this movie, while hardly pro-Church, is easily a "Christian" story, along the lines of Doestevsky's The Idiot. The amazing story really depends on the acting ability of Giulietta Masina, who is astonishing. The final scene is really worth the build-up. An interesting historical note: this story was the inspiration for the Broadway show and movie Sweet Charity.

Wed, May 9, 2001

Candy — This is one amazingly bad film. I think just being around this film made people worse at whatever they were doing. Richard Burton, Marlon Brando, James Coburn, and John Huston are made to look like absolute idiots. Walter Mathau is marginally better when he says "I've never had much dolce in my vita," but that is certianly the exception. Ringo Starr is simply appalling. All of this makes it fun to watch for about the first hour or so. The last 30 minutes are pretty darn unwatchable even for fun, however. Who knows, or even cares, what is going on at the end. There are Mystery Science Theater 3000 movies with more going for them than this flick.

Sat, May 5, 2001

Buffalo '66 — Yet another one about a kidnap victim falling in love with her kidnapper. This one is a very dark view of Buffalo. It does not have a very high believability quotient, mostly because the strokes drawn are a little too broad. Nevertheless, the acting is really good, with an incredible cast including Ben Gazzara, Angelica Huston, Christina Ricci and others. Weird color scheme no doubt designed by its director-star Vincent Gallo. Highly watchable.

Thu, May 3, 2001

Cecil B. DeMented — Very funny throughout. I really enjoyed the arcane references to movies and movie goers. One of the toughest things to do in a farce is to keep the same tone going throughout all three acts. It's a real mark of John Waters's skill that he managed to pull it off especially without the actors breaking character. The finish is very similar to a lot of Waters's films in that there is a big group sendoff in which all the major plot lines are resolved. The commentary track is great, but the movie itself is so good I watched it twice.

Wed, May 2, 2001

Battlefield Earth — It's not really as bad as everyone says. John Travolta is way, way, over the top, but he and Forest Whitaker do it in a way that is more fun than embarassing. The effects are nice looking and the surround sound track is pretty good too. The plot is all sorts of silly twists and turns; almost no character development at all. The director says in the commentary track that he was looking for a comic-book feel. It doesn't really work, but then, neither do lots of other films.

Tue, May 1, 2001

Alice in Wonderland — A bit episodic and one really doesn't develop much interest in Alice herself, since it's the people she meets along the way that are the point. Actually a bit disappointing compared to some of the Disney classics.

Sun, Apr 29, 2001

Beauty and the BeastThis weird Cocteau creation gets more interesting as you watch it. The lighting and costume work are extraordinary. The characters are less interesting. Belle particularly is really uninspiring. Belle in the Disney version is drawn with more depth. The beast is easily the best character around. When the Prince does appear at the end, he's pretty boring. Nevertheless, there is an ethereal quality to the movie which is effective long after it's over.

Sat, Apr 28, 2001

Roma — The most effective scenes are the early ones where the young Fellini is learning about Rome. There is a scene where the class reenacts the crossing of the Rubicon that is really funny. It really looks as if Fellini himself realized how good it was and decided to expand that theme into the (much better) movie Amarcord only two years later. Another highly memorable scene is where the whole town seems to be out eating on the street. Some of the rest of the movie is just wild shots of modern-day Rome with the film crew and camera playing a role themselves. At a minimum the chaos that is Rome is pretty well represented. One really good scene is the the discovery of a Roman house in a subway tunnel. It's wonderful until the frescoes are destroyed by the exposure to modern air.

Fri, Apr 27, 2001

Satyricon — This is one weird movie, full of Fellini's bizarre images. There isn't much to tie the different stories together, and some of the more extreme scenes (like the death of the hermaphrodite) are just disturbing rather than significant. Nevertheless, at many points, the simple beauty and power of the pictures transcends the apparent meaninglessness. I'm hoping that familiarity with the original source material makes the movie a little more significant.

Sat, Apr 21, 2001

The Lost Weekend — There is very little cheer in this grim story of alcoholism. What's surprising is how dark it really is allowed to be. One suspects that the message of the film helped put it over the top for Best Picture, but there is a lot of good stuff here, especially the direction. The writing has a nice funny edge to it which only emphasizes the horror of the story. I haven't seen Ray Milland in much, but he is quite remarkable here. Of particular interest is the weird theremin score. Very neat stuff.

Tue, Apr 17, 2001

X-Men — Nicely done big-budget action fare. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine is very good. The basic problem with the story of lots and lots of mutants is that there is too little time to develop much story for any of them. Even with that limitation, this flick does a surprisingly good job of working through the contradictions of both sides of the mutant fight. Tough to go wrong with Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart.

Wed, Apr 11, 2001

Wonder Boys — The reviews of this were good so I was expecting something nice. And I was definitely not disappointed. A real treat almost throughout the whole thing. Despite an ending that is a little too pat, the story is great and the acting phenomenal. Michael Douglas is much better than Russel Crowe, and thus deserved at least a nomination for Best Actor, if not the award itself. It has a similar tone to Rushmore, although a bit darker, in that a happy ending is never really in doubt, although what the happy ending might consist of isn't clear until the last few minutes. A very good movie.

Sun, Apr 8, 2001

Beginning of the End — There are some great silly special effect shots in this Mystery Science Theater 3000 extravaganza. The story involves some gargantuan radioactive grasshoppers that are threatening Chicago. A real howler. Peter Graves is the scientist responsible for both the bugs and their final destruction—mission impossible, indeed!

Wed, Apr 4, 2001

The Killing — Absolutely thrilling crime caper flick. The similarity to Reservoir Dogs is pretty obvious, but actually the script in the latter movie is better. The real talent here is behind the camera—it was Stanley Kubrick's first major movie. His technical wizardry keeps us glued to our seats. There is some thematic similarity between this movie and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The final scene in which the money blows away is almost exactly like the blowing gold dust in Treasure, which was made eight years earlier.

Sat, Mar 31, 2001

Marlene — Really weird movie about Marlene Dietrich, mostly because she refuses to participate in any way other than record some comments. No pictures of her at all. Maximilian Schell is one of my favorite actors, maybe because his voice is so perfect. His attempts to convince Dietrich to support a movie about her are pretty good. I think the movie is probably more interesting if you are already familiar with, and a bit of a believer in, the mystery of "Marlene Dietrich." Interestingly, the effect of the movie is to set up that mystery while at the same time showing her to be very matter of fact and direct. That, plus all the unanswered questions that the movie asks, but is unable to answer, is what makes the documentary work.

Fri, Mar 30, 2001

Henry and June — The history of Anais Nin and Henry Miller sounds pretty interesting, but this movie isn't the way to do it. Maria de Medeiros is quite impressive as Anais Nin, but the other three main characters are seriously miscast. Fred Ward may look like Miller, but his accent is awful and his acting is not up to this material. Uma's accent is a little more interesting, but only because it's a surprise, not for its believability. The good thing about the movie is the lighting and camera work. That is really extraordinary. Unfortunately, for all the high marks Philip Kaufman gets for that, he has to be marked down severely for the weak script.

Thu, Mar 29, 2001

Ben-Hur — Maybe a bit dated, but this is serious movie entertainment. An amazing achievement, given the intimate feel despite the mammoth reach of the story. The lighting, camera work, and direction are fantastic. The real benefit of the DVD is the super-wide original aspect ratio of something like 2.71 to 1. Seeing the chariot race in that ratio is like watching a completely different movie compared to watching it in regular TV format.

Wed, Mar 28, 2001

Time Bandits — Quite obviously a Terry Gilliam film. It has all the standard elements: reality vs. imagination, extraordinary detail in the sets and camera work, and, unfortunately, a fairly slow story. The disk has a very good commentary track from Gilliam, which is a real treat. An extra bonus is Kenny Baker, who played R2-D2, as one of the Time Bandits.

Fri, Mar 23, 2001

The Limey — Pretty amazing editing. The lighting throughout is also incredible. The arid luminescence of Los Angeles really comes through. A really enjoyable movie with a lot to think about. It's a little thin at times, for instance the all too convenient interruption of the DEA, but the way it all comes together makes up for that and adds a lot more. The commentary track is hilarious as the screenwriter tells Steven Soderbergh about all the mistakes he's made. It really gets brutal. Nevertheless, it's an interesting view of the differences in outlook which went into making the movie. The director and screenwriter each have very different ideas about what would make the story work.

Thu, Mar 22, 2001

The Fifth Element — Great looking, but almost campy as it moves towards the finale. Ian Holm, in particular, just gets sillier and sillier as the movie goes on. It really is a good reference disk for a surround sound system, though. Thus far, I have to say it is the best sounding disk I've played on my system. Lots of fun.

Wed, Mar 21, 2001

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon — I'm afraid it's just too dull and too complicated. Gorgeous fight scenes, especially the first one between the two women, but that really wasn't enough. Nicely photographed as well, but also not enough. This may be partly due to the fact that we watched it on a VCD, but the movie still has problems.

Wed, Mar 14, 2001

Affliction — Paul Schrader seems to specialize in men who can't communicate well. This is about as good as I've ever seen Nick Nolte be. This has got to be the best role he has ever had. His line readings are simply amazing, especially in the scenes with his daughter. It's also good to see Sissy Spacek back in a movie.

Sun, Mar 11, 2001

The Shooting — Hmmm, another incomprehensible movie, although this one is a western and has a weird existensial feel to it. As usual, Warren Oaters is great. Jack Nicholson is not all that convincing. It actually isn't incomprehensible so much as uncertain. You are never sure quite what people are doing and why. Nevertheless, very interesting and very well directed by Monte Hellman.

Sat, Mar 10, 2001

The Big Sleep — This disk is really slick. It provides both the original theatrical release of 1946 and the 1945 first edit. Apparently the first edit made the near incomprehensible plot a little more understandable, but at the cost of reduced chemistry between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. The movie is interesting from a trivia perspective since Willliam Faulkner helped write the script. At the same time, Howard Hawks apparently gave instructions to change as little as possible from the book. The plot is so convoluted even the author couldn't figure out who killed one of the minor characters. Even with all that, it is a very well-written movie, with one of the great screen couples of all time.

Man with a Movie Camera — I first saw this film in a university film class and fell in love with it. I went so far as to study it almost frame by frame to see how the edits fit together. By itself, even today it stands as a great example of the power of editing to make disparate elements seem related. The whole meta-film feel of actually watching the camera while also watching the film being shot and the audience watching the film is still captivating. This includes the superimposed shots of eyes and ears over cameras and radios. Very neat stuff.

Little did I know when I first saw the movie the political battle that Dziga Vertov was waging against artificiality in cinema and the struggles of various factions within the Russian film industry. The disk I watched has a great commentary track which reveals many of the subtle messages hidden within the everyday scenes of the movie. A truly great movie for the ages.

Fri, Mar 9, 2001

Cookie's Fortune — Wacked out Southerners are hardly ground-breaking, nor is there much else that's new in this cotton ball from Robert Altman. But, as usual, the acting is first-rate. Patricia Neal, Ned Beatty and Liv Tyler shine, but the real standout is Charles Dutton (of Roc fame). He is simply riveting. The result of all this talent is not earth-shaking, but it goes down smooth and is oddly satisfying.

Wed, Mar 7, 2001

Barbarella — This is laughably bad movie. It doesn't really bore the viewer, but the writing and acting, even the set design are just atrocious. It's fun as a look back at what might have passed for groovy '60s design, and to see a young Jane Fonda and Anita Pallenberg, but that is about it. The shag carpet spacecraft is a real winner!

Mon, Feb 26, 2001

Black Narcissus — It's not as action-filled as The Red Shoes, another Powell-Pressburger epic, but pretty amazing in its own right. The battle between flesh and spirit was probably more controversial in the forties, but the power of the pictures and camera work is still simply phenomenal. The eyes and creepy teeth of the crazed nun are really frightening. I can see why this thing had such an impact on Martin Scorcese.

Sat, Feb 24, 2001

Cockfighter — Warren Oates is amazing, even in a part where he doesn't speak. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and the mood of a certain group of people that it evokes. Not quite as impressive as Two-Lane Blacktop, another Monte Hellman film, but a little less allegorical and thus more realistic. The DVD also has a really interesting documentary about Warren Oates.

Sat, Feb 17, 2001

Showgirls — There are now three movies by Paul Voerhoeven on this list (joining Sam Raimi, John Lasseter, and Terry Gilliam with that honor). Whatever talent the man has, it certainly didn't save this film from its awesome badness. The acting, the writing, even the direction are lousy. One question is why even the sets, as in the supposed "big" Vegas shows, are so bad as well. If the makers intended this to be a subtle sendup of Las Vegas, they succeeded, but only at the cost of seriously embarassing themselves.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen — I really like this movie, although it's a bit long at times. I think it's better than the unrelieved dark mood of Brazil. It has humor, light, as well as the standard fantastical vs. realism themes that seem standard in all Terry Gilliam's films. The sets and costumes are just tremendous.

Tue, Feb 6, 2001

Robocop — It's interesting, 14 or so years after the release of this classic, how aged it looks. The effects, and even the sets, look pretty cheap. That said, it is also amazing how much of the dialogue ("you have ten seconds to comply!") has entered into everyday discourse. Paul Voerhoeven really put together an amazing film, whose cultural effect far surpassed the apparent value of the movie itself, on what was probably a relatively small budget. The real mystery is why such talent has now been used for such movies as Showgirls and The Hollow Man.

Sun, Feb 4, 2001

Lock Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels — Clearly inspired by Trainspotting, but not derivative in any sense. Instead of being dark, this one simply uses a crime setting to lay out a classic screwball comedy. A very successful one.

Sat, Jan 27, 2001

High Fidelity — A good (really good) cast, with good writing, despite a disappointing "message" at the end. The real star of this movie, a feature which moves it up into the ranks of "movies well worth watching", is the direction and editing. The way the stories and narration of John Cusack are intertwined is very effective and turns the movie into something really special. Stephen Frears was the director, and it's good to see him back in form after a bit of a hiatus. A special note: this movie was seen in Hong Kong during our little southern sojourn.

Fri, Jan 19, 2001

Amarcord — I don't think I got all the anti-fascist and political messages in this one, but it is still a very engaging picture of a poor Italian village where there is nothing to do but think about sex all day long. The copy on the box kept talking about a satirical portrait of Italy, but there is clearly a lot of love involved in this one as well. It doesn't have the fantastic elements of some of Fellini's other films, but some of the characters are pretty fantastical just as they are.

This movie won the best foreign film Oscar in 1974. I'm wondering if the 70's weren't particularly susceptible to movies about the illusions of youth. Fellini makes this much more than a simple portrait though. It's a fascinating movie all the way through.

Wed, Jan 17, 2001

The Red Shoes — One of Martin Scorsese's favorite movies, a surprise since it is primarily about ballet. It is really an amazing spectacle, and all of it in spectacular three-strip Technicolor! It has a really good script and interesting views of life backstage in a ballet company, even if it is a bit idealized.

Sun, Jan 14, 2001

One-Eyed Jacks — Half-interesting, and half-ludicrous. I guess overall it's a bit of a curiosity, especially the scene where you get to see Marlon Brando scream at a guy "Get up, you scum-sucking pig!" It's not a bad movie, but its messages about revenge are hardly clear (or a revelation) and Brando can't seem to decide what kind of character he wants to play. Karl Malden is not too shabby in an action, evil role that he is rarely seen in.

Sat, Jan 13, 2001

A Proposito de Buñuel — This is a very interesting documentary on the life and movies of Luis Buñuel. I had no idea that he lived for almost thirty years in Mexico. Learning about the background and history of great movies is always interesting. Invariably you find out that much-admired masterful shot or scene was simply an accident, or thought up at the last minute on the set.

Foolish Wives — This one took me quite a while to watch as it is a bit of a slog. That said, there is an awful lot of very impressive stuff here. Erich von Stroheim had a real eye for the seamy side of things. He himself did a great job of acting in this movie. There are some fantastic evil scenes that are still bracing: Count Karamzin rubbing a hunchback for luck and the Count dripping water from his hands to make it look like tears are just two examples. Unfortuately, the film itself is in very bad shape, even given the chopping up it got on its initial release. The weird color tinting for different scenes doesn't help either. From its original seven hours, the two and a half that remain are pretty barebones. The original (which was the most expensive movie of its day) must have been quite something.

Forbidden Planet — A true grandaddy of all great science fiction films. This one has everything: the cool robot, faster-than-light spaceships, the mad genius, laser guns, great effects (catch the credit for Disney artists on loan), a beautiful, innocent love interest for the captain, and even a self-destruct sequence. All this plus a really good Freudian plot. Wonderful!

The Little Mermaid — I hadn't seen this one before (nor had Elizabeth), and the fact that it is no longer on sale made it a compelling purchase. I had heard it was not as good as its successors in the great Eisner-Katzenberg Disney years, but I thought it was awfully good. The real highlight was the very impressive detail and color work in the animation. There isn't as much of the computer work that has taken over so much of what is done today and the extra handwork really seems to show. The backgrounds and character lines are as intricate as ever. One example is the water in Tarzan. The Tarzan water is better looking on its own, but it doesn't fit nearly as well into the rest of the picture as the foam and spray do in this one. No, it doesn't have quite the emotional punch of Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, but it's still impressive.

Fri, Jan 12, 2001

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie — Back in college I saw the Buñuel film El (This Strange Passion). It was just amazing. This one is much the same, although the truly weird stuff is much more subtle. I don't think I got anywhere near all of this movie, but I'm looking forward to seeing it again.

Sun, Jan 7, 2001

Shower (Xizao) — A really well-done Chinese film that presents the sadder elements of modernization behind a gently humorous story of life in an old bathhouse. It's quite well acted and written, and even the photography is pretty extraordinary. It's so well-done, in fact, that Suzanne decided to watch much of it again the next night.

Sat, Jan 6, 2001

Cool Hand Luke — Paul Newman is great, of course, but it is interesting to watch the amazing collection of character actors they have in the background. People like Strother Martin, Dennis Hopper, Harry Dean Stanton, even Wayne Rogers—they are the ones who make this movie. Can't forget the real star though: George Kennedy. Watching the role now, it's a little broad, but given how bad George has been in so many movies, it's a real pleasure to see him when he could really act.

Fri, Jan 5, 2001

Princess Mononoke — Absolutely gorgeous. Really one of the most beautiful movies I've seen. It was done by the same guy who did The Castle of Cagliostro, but is much better than that one. It has much of the same forest palette as the Firebird Suite section of Fantasia 2000, but it takes it much farther. The plot is also surprisingly complex and refuses to make the obvious choices while making its environmental points. A real pleasure to watch.

 

Movies Seen in 2000