Sunday, March 2, 2014


TOKYO STORY (1953) Director: Yasujiro Ozu. Writers: Kogo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu. Cast Chishu Ryu, Chieko Higashiyama

I had never seen this before and I have no excuse. Now that I have, I think it’s one of the greatest films ever made. Ozu’s story of generational change in post-WWII Tokyo is so subtle, carefully made, and well observed I’m actually glad I didn’t see it when I was younger. I might have dismissed it as a teen. There’s nothing outwardly sexy here but the way the layers build is just amazing. The entire movie is under the surface. You need to see this if you haven’t.

IN THE MIRROR OF MAYA DEREN (2002) Director: Martina Kudlacek

I didn’t know much about early experimental filmmaker Maya Deren before watching this documentary beyond a passing familiarity with her name. Starting in the 1940’s, she made films on accessible 16mm to express visually what she had been unable to get across in the poetry she had pursued up to that point.

This doc may be most interesting as a chronicle of the bohemian New York City circles she moved in during the 1940’s -50’s. The artists and writers of that period in that city are endlessly fascinating to me. She was friendly with Joseph Campbell and the film spends much time on her foray into amateur anthropology in Haiti. She brought back Haitian traditions which she integrated into her films and dance.

I’d be interested in watching her films to get a sense of her work beyond the clips in this doc. I never caught the Maya Deren program at Anthology Film Archives.

THE GREAT GATSBY (2013) Director: Baz Luhrmann Writers: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce Cast Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan

 I read the book. I saw this movie. The book is brilliant. I hate this movie.

AMER (2009) Writer/Directors: Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani Cast: Cassandra Foret, Bianca Maria D’Amato

Look at that poster. I wish the movie was that good.

There’s really nothing to this film. It’s a disjointed Giallo homage made almost entirely of extreme close-ups of eyes and tight sweaters. After stringing along with virtually no narrative there’s a twist at the end so obvious you almost have to admire their gall. The dopey twist and the extreme close-ups go hand in hand so at least there’s that.

THE SOUND OF MY VOICE (2012) Director: Zal Batmanglij Writers: Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling. Cast: Brit Marling, Christopher Denham, and Nicole Vicius.

I’ve been meaning to see this for a while and I wasn’t disappointed. A very low budget indie but an excellent script and top notch performances, particularly co-screenwriter Brit Marling as the charismatic cult leader who claims to be from the future despite a total lack of evidence. As a skeptic, I’m fascinated by cults and the way they manipulate. It’s something I think nearly anyone can get roped into. THE SOUND OF MY VOICE does an excellent job confounding expectations and transcending its limited budget.

TATSUMI (2011) Director: Eric Khoo

An animated Documentary about one of my favorite cartoonists, Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Though it’s much more a series of animated adaptations of his harsh and difficult 1970’s stories. It was nice to see them, they’re still great stories but I probably would have preferred a straight biographical doc. Tatsumi’s A DRIFTING LIFE is one of my favorite graphic novels. I recommend you read it and the collections of his short stories, then watch the film. Hopefully this doc will introduce his work to a wider international audience.

THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (1973) Writer/Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky Cast: Alejandro Jodorowsky

So…here’s another classic of world cinema that I’m not fond of. I saw this in high school and didn’t love it but I wanted to give it another chance because I assumed that my shallow adolescent sensibilities weren’t prepared for Jodorowsky's genius.

Turns out THE HOLY MOUNTAIN may be even shallower than I was. I know people love this for it’s audacious craziness but for me the last truly intriguing sequence was the opening. All of the Christ imagery does noting for me. The one-dimensional war symbolism, corny gags, and obvious spiritual allusions are kind of painful.

And this is not a small thing: the movie looks like garbage. The photography has all the style and finesse of a second season episode of GET SMART. Except that I like GET SMART. Jodorowsky is well known in comics circles for his collaborations with Moeibus. It’s a testament to Moeibus’ genius as an artist that those comics are so beautiful and inventive, something Jodorowsky couldn’t pull off on film.

The bold ending? Didn’t Ingmar Bergman, Monte Hellman and Haskell Wexler all do a variation on this before 1973? And they actually used the medium to send that message, not literally stating the idea. In words. Like a dummy.

I watched the Anchor Bay Blu-ray.

BRAZIL (1985) Director: Terry Gilliam Writers: Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, Charles McKeown. Cast: Jonathan Pryce, Robert DeNiro, Ian Holm, Kathrine Helmond, Kim Greist

Another movie I’m revisiting for the first time since high school. I always liked this one though I’ve never been a Gilliam devotee. Watching BRAZIL as an adult, it really suffers from bearing its influences on its sleeve. 1984, Kafka, Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It’s just too much. But once you get past the tepid plastic surgery satire and DeNiro shows up, the movie really gets going. I can’t deny that I got sucked into this world and really enjoyed the movie in the end, despite its shortcomings. Also after the crummy look of THE HOLY MOUNTAIN it was nice to really be immersed in a rich visual world.

I watched the Criterion Collection Blu-ray.


Look, I’m not going to apologize for watching this. I’m interested in guys like PENTHOUSE publisher Bob Guccione. Sure, I like to laugh at his horrendous taste and horror at the misogyny but in this day of faceless corporations it’s good to remember that there was a time when one person ran a company. An individual made choices and had real relationships with his employees.

This doc is a puff piece, meant to glorify Guccione. With controversial characters like this, you never get journalism. It’s uncritical praise or a witch hunt. Still, there’s some interesting stuff here.

This is streaming on Netflix.

24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE Director: Michael Winterbottom Writer: Frank Cottrell Boyce. Cast: Steve Coogan.

Love this movie. We’ve watched it a million times.

RAPTURE (1965) Driector: John Guillermin. Writer: Stanley Mann. Cast: Patricia Gozzi, Dean Stockwell and Melvyn Douglas.

A very interesting movie I’d never heard of before. It starts as an unpromising coming-of-age melodrama about a disturbed girl being raised by her widower father on the rural coast of Brittany but develops into something much more. Great performances by Patricia Gozzi, Dean Stockwell and Melvyn Douglas. Stylish scope B&W photography by Marcel Grignon is worth the price of admission.

For more February movies, here's Part 1, Part 2Part 3 and Part 4.