Thursday, March 13, 2014


I know it's nearly mid-March but since I have a momentary break from crushing deadlines, here are my thoughts on the last several movies I watched in February. 

LATE SPRING (1949) Director: Yasujiro Ozu. Writers: Kogo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu. Cast: Chishu Ryu,

More subtle Ozu brilliance. Maybe not quite as intense or masterful as TOKYO STORY but there’s so much to admire about the way he tells a story. Especially the things he holds back from the audience. It’s always refreshing to see a film that's more powerful because the filmmakers understand what should and should not be directly told on screen.

Highly recommended.

I watched the Criterion Collection Blu-ray.

TOKYO-GA (1985) Director: Wim Wenders

Wim Wenders' travelogue doc ostensibly about finding the Tokyo he knew only from the films of Ozu. The big drawback here is Wenders himself. His ponderous, eye roll inducing narration makes it hard to take the film seriously. There are a few interesting interviews, particularly with frequent Ozu lead actor Chishu Ryu and cameraman Yuhara Atsuta. Even these are marred by Wenders translating the interviews with his own voice-over rather than letting us hear their voices and read subtitles. Still, the travelogue portions feature excellent photography by Edward Lachman.

This was included as an extra on the Criterion Collection Blu-ray of LATE SPRING.

GUSTAV COURBET (2007) Director: Romain Goupil

A great Realist painter and fascinating character. This doc is narrated by personal correspondence throughout his life and I have to say they are frequently hilarious. He was ridiculously pompous but frequently pompous on the side of right. A little slim on specifics but very entertaining.

In some ways the short doc included on this dvd about the history of his painting “The Origin of the World” is even more interesting.

PLUNDER ROAD (1957) Director: Hubert Cornfield Writer: Steven Ritch Cast: Gene Raymond, Jeanne Cooper, Elisha Cook Jr.

An oddly understated and stripped down low budget heist picture from the late fifties. I could imagine this coming off as clunky but I found it strangely compelling. The film has a pretty flat look but Olive Films gives it an excellent presentation on it’s BluRay.

PINOCCHIO (1940) Directors: William Conttrell, Norman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson, T. Hee, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts, Ben Sharpsteen. Producer: Walt Disney

I’ve been re-watching the classic Disney animated movies, though since I haven’t seen any of them since I was a very young child it’s kind of like watching for the first time.  After enjoying DUMBO, SNOW WHITE and LADY AND THE TRAMP to greater and lesser degrees, PINOCCHIO is the first one that really didn’t work for me.

Don’t get me wrong, the animation is spectacular. Particularly the whale sequence which is just amazing. The horrifying donkey transformation scene is also very effective.

It’s the misguided and highly moralizing story that I didn’t buy. Pinocchio is constantly being punished and force-fed these lessons yet there’s no way he could know what he did wrong in the first pace. He was born then shoved out the door by Geppetto with little concern for his safety much less given any preparation for the world that awaits him. His cricket conscience is just as big a deadbeat, abandoning the puppet kid at the first opportunity. They’re the characters who need to be taught a lesson. Give me that rat from DUMBO any day.

You could read this as existentialism but that would be pretty disingenuous. I’m not even sure the movie knows exactly what it’s trying to say. But it’s definitely nice to look at.

REVANCHE (2008) Writer/Director: Gotz Spielmann Cast: Johannes Krisch, Irina Potapenko, Andreas Lust

Excellent Austrian thriller, which takes a couple dubious turns but is entirely redeemed by its satisfying and surprising ending. Recommended.

PROTEUS: A NINTEENTH CENTURY VISION (2004) Writer/Director: David Lebrun

An informative documentary on nineteenth century biologist Ernst Haeckel and his study of one-celled microorganisms known as radiolarians. Nothing groundbreaking here but an interesting doc, none the less.

For more February movies, here's Part 1Part 2Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5.