Look Both Ways / Dominion a là Schrader

Look Both Ways is a rather good Australian movie about cancer, loneliness, uncontrollable thoughts, mortality, coping, smoking, children, purpose and family. Maybe it’s about more than that too, but it’s a good start. I’m eager to give the benefit of the doubt to any movie that tries to deal with dying, esp. when it’s both the person dying and the people left behind. I really admired The Barbarian Invasions for that reason. This doesn’t get nearly as deep and full of itself as that one; it just wouldn’t be Australian as if it did.

One characer is diagnosed with testicular cancer straight off, and another imagines scenes of her own demise around every corner. Do they meet and fall in love? Well, yeah. Nothing earth-shattering there, but the characters are believeable and try to do the right things, difficult as that may be. It’s too sappy and there’s a tendency to break into montage with some Damien Rice-esque Australian singer-songwriter strumming a tune far too often. But I give a lot of respect to the writer-director here anyway, Sarah Watt, who is primarily an animator. This is her first live-action film.

Dominion however, hoo boy. Continue reading Look Both Ways / Dominion a là Schrader

the ground truth and the road to guantanamo

i’ve been trying to write these reviews for days now. these are troubling movies, not only for what they say about the iraq war and the war on terror, but also for the feelings of identification and alienation they evoked in me.

according to the ground truth, the iraq war’s difference from other wars the US fought consists in the fact that a) the psychological conditioning of soldiers to kill people they don’t hate without inhibition has achieved a phenomenal success, b) the enemy is pretty much indistinguishable from the non-inimical civilian, and c) body armor and surgical technologies save many more lives than in past wars but don’t save limbs, faces, and psyches. what you get is a phenomenal, brutal, free-for-all bloodbath and a lot of seriously damaged veterans. none of this is news to any of us, but filmmaker patricia foulkrod gives these known facts the support of some pretty amazing (and shocking) footage, and a remarkable cast of interviewees. Continue reading the ground truth and the road to guantanamo


The most remarkable thing about this film is how old fashioned it is. Bill Condon has managed to “reinvent” the musical by simply ignoring MTV, and for that I guess many a purist are quite satisfied. The camera doesn’t move so much; the editing is not pushed to front and center; performers are allowed to sing and emote in full and medium shots. There is little razzle-dazzle (Krieger and Eyen ain’t no Kander and Ebb, that’s for certain and Bill Condon ain’t no Baz Luhrmann for that matter). Is it entertaining? Sure, in fits and starts. Continue reading Dreamgirls

I Want Candy

Saw Marie Antoinette yesterday, and I’ll say off the bat I was a little disappointed. I’m tempted to blame my fondness for Lost in Translation, but I think Sophia Coppola’s new film is just okay. It has its moments, most of which are carried by Kirsten Dunst who gives a really terrific performance. And Jason Schwartzman’s Louis Auguste is great. When crowned the new King of France after his grandfather (played by Rip Torn, who like Molly Shannon, Shirley Henderson, and the massive Marianne Faithfull, is underexploited) suddenly dies of smallpox, Louis Auguste bows down, turns his head upward and prays “God help us, we are too young to reign.” Continue reading I Want Candy

The Tenant – Polanski (1976)

I feel like a pig shat in my head. And not because I had too much fun drinking last night. Nope, not a thing to drink – just the normal blinding, incapacitating headaches that come with a life of fear and paranoia in the big city. Still, my apartment is a relatively safe haven, what with its bountiful reserves of candy and bed. Such peaceful abodes seem to have eluded M. Polanski who should have taken the presence of Shelley Winters as concierge as a bad sign from the get-go. Continue reading The Tenant – Polanski (1976)

Two Films

Down in the Valley is a strangely ethereal, contemporary western (deconstructed yes, but not overtly so) which centers on a tender/tragic love affair between Harlan (Edward Norton), a drifter pushing thirty, and a seventeen-year-old girl, October (Evan Rachel Wood), who picks him up one afternoon and takes him to the ocean. They fall in love. Dad (David Morse) gets in the way. Tobe’s diffident younger brother Lonnie (Rory Culkin) believes Harlan to be a kindred spirit; he’s the avuncular ideal Lonnie’s father can never be. Conflicts arise. Harlan’s desire to forge a new family unit by pushing dad aside sets into a motion a series of events where things go uncomfortably awry. I’ll leave it at that. It’s a great film. Continue reading Two Films

The Devil and Daniel Johnston

I first heard about Daniel Johnston through Yo La Tengo. I bought a 7″ record that features sleeve art by Johnston. The recording is simple: Yo La Tengo calls Johnston at his home and asks him to sing “Speeding Motorcycle” into the phone while they play along in their studio. His voice, thin and raspy to begin with, sounds tiny and hurt as it comes through the receiver. But he sings with a lot of emotion and gets carried away. And if you look at the sleeve art while listening to the record, you pretty much get who Johnston is. It’s a drawing of him on stage strumming his guitar and singing “Speeding Motorcycle” with an adoring crowd cheering him on. The documentary sticks with this idea: Continue reading The Devil and Daniel Johnston

Altman’s Quintet (1979) / Reel Paradise

Trying desperately to throw a couple of new things up here so that anyone can pipe in with things they’ve seen of late. I had low hopes for Quintet and high hopes for Reel Paradise, but neither one really met with my expectations.

I had never heard of Quintet. But geez – a late ’70s Altman sci-fi film starring Paul Newman? And featuring a macarbe version of backgammon in Earth’s “Last ice age”? Well, sign me up! This ddoes after all involve many of my favorite things: Paul Newman, backgammon (macabre backgammon no less), wild dogs, ruined relics of World’s Fairs past, Altman, and late 70s sci-fi. What could go wrong? Continue reading Altman’s Quintet (1979) / Reel Paradise

duck season

I watched this Mexican film last night, Duck Season, which was released by Warner Independent Pictures under Alfonso Cuarón’s deal with the studio. This is a charming, unforced, wry ensemble comedy about four characters who spend a lazy Sunday in a middle-class apartment complex in Mexico City. The apartment belongs to fourteen-year-old Flama, and it is currently something of a battleground as the kid’s parents are raging through a messy divorce. The one pleasure is Sundays when Flama’s mom travels to another city for the day leaving Flama and his best friend Moko alone to eat pizza, drink Coka-Cola and play video games. All is well until a power outage shuts down the game and then Flama’s sixteen-year-old neighbor, Rita, interrupts and asks to borrow his kitchen to bake a cake. When the pizza delivery man, Ulises (who looks to be in his mid to late-twenties), arrives eleven seconds late, Flama refuses to pay and Ulises refuses to leave. Continue reading duck season

v for vendetta

I don’t want to let ‘V for Vendetta’ enter obscurity without some mention on this blog. There are various complaints one could make about V, but it is still superior to most movies of the past year. It is a political thriller much more than an action movie, with a very real puzzle at its center. The story has been prettified from its comic book origins, and updated to include Iraq, but it remains a story about how fascism arrives in myriad small ways rather than a big bang, so that the tipping point between our present society and a fascist state is very hard to identify.

It is a remarkably smart movie about terrorism for this day and age, perhaps why critics had such a problem with it. Some of the dialogue, besides being quite beautiful, provides a far more intelligent discussion of the justifications for terrorism than anything on PBS or NPR.

And there are a series of strong and moving performances, of which Stephen Rea’s world weary police detective is the best.