• Red Post on Escher Street

    Red Post on Escher Street

    I have an odd relationship with Sion Sono. I like that he works so prolifically, tries out a wide range of ideas, and seeks to defy expectations. At the same time, I consider few of films to be entirely successful, and I consider more than a few of them bad. Maybe I like the idea of Sono the liberated, risk-taking artist more than I like his actual art. I'm OK with that. When so many movies are bland, formulaic, or…

  • Here and Elsewhere

    Here and Elsewhere

    ICI ET AILLEURS communicates a sense of helplessness above all. In the film, Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville note how in France (aka "Here") middle-class families complacently watch TV while in Palestine (aka "Elsewhere") revolutionaries mourn fallen comrades. The work incorporates documentary footage that Jean-Pierre Gorin shot in Palestine at a revolutionary training camp in 1970; the narration informs us that the footage was intended for a film called "Victory." That film was never made, and five years later, Godard…

  • The MacKintosh Man

    The MacKintosh Man

    This isn't an especially distinguished espionage movie, despite the presence of Paul Newman, James Mason, and Dominique Sanda, and (behind the camera) John Huston and a young Walter Hill. I read that Huston was unimpressed by the script, which (though credited to Hill) was worked on by at least a half-dozen people; he put little effort into directing the film, and this wrecked his relationship with Newman. Does this mean Huston's to blame for the film's looseness and thematic incoherence?…

  • All the Dead Ones

    All the Dead Ones

    I was excited to watch this when I read that it was co-directed by Marco Dutra, who also co-directed GOOD MANNERS, one of my favorite films of recent years. Unfortunately, when I got to the film, the working week had caught up to me, and I was too tired to engage with it properly. I sensed a certain thematic ambition and technical assurance, but (either because of my tiredness, the opaque style, or both) I couldn't grasp much beyond that. I'll have to revisit later.

  • The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

    The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

    The last time I watched this was in high school, at the after-school film club I helped run. I remember the movie went over well with almost all the students who attended; we rarely got such a positive response when we showed something made before 1960. Since then, I've grown skeptical of things that appeal to large groups of teenagers, and so I'd been reluctant to revisit THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE as an adult. I had the feeling…

  • Love at Large

    Love at Large

    This has become not only my favorite Alan Rudolph film, but one of my favorite films, period. I find the mix of 30s screwball comedy, 40s film noir, and 80s notions about love and dating so odd yet ingratiating. It reflects a very personal affection for genre cinema and a desire to connect it to real life—or maybe that's a desire to enhance the tribulations of real life (neuroses, messy relationships, etc.) with the pleasures of genre cinema. The banter…

  • The Night of the Iguana

    The Night of the Iguana

    Apparently the play on which this was based (and which, I admit, I haven't read or seen performed) was Tennessee Williams' last Broadway hit. It feels a bit like a greatest-hits collection of his accomplishments of the 1950s, touching on perennial Williams themes of squalor, lust, loneliness, failure, sin, and redemption. That isn't a bad thing necessarily, provided that the language is characteristically brilliant; based on what I heard in this adaptation, it is.

    Great black-and-white cinematography by Gabriel Figeuroa…

  • Ronin

    Ronin

    When I last watched this about 20 years ago, I failed to recognize just how much this is the work of David Mamet. Every scene proceeds like one of those acting exercises he's so fond of writing: the characters have next to no backstory, there are few colorful details, the drama is a succession of simple conflicting wants. That the behavior in RONIN seems relatably human is a credit to John Frankenheimer and the cast. Had the script been made…

  • Cenote

    Cenote

    I liked this more on second viewing; it seemed less like a collection of impressions and more like a structured essay. The film proceeds as a journey into death, a shaking-off of earthly concerns. You feel lighter when it's over.

    I recommended CENOTE to a friend who's the most knowledgeable person I know on experimental film, and he didn't care for it. He found it superficial, calling it "a film around a subject rather than a film about a subject"…

  • Decalogue VI

    Decalogue VI

    This episode of the DECALOGUE may be the most ambiguous in terms of how it relates to the commandment in question. Just who is committing adultery in the story? I don't think there's a single married character in it.

    One thing I admire about the fifth episode of the DECALOGUE is that it compels me to imagine how the God of monotheistic western religions might view humanity, something I've rarely done since childhood. The death scenes in that movie achieve…

  • The Unforgiven

    The Unforgiven

    Burt Lancaster produced and starred in at least a half-dozen revisionist westerns over the course of his career, which makes me wonder about the roots of his skepticism regarding the western. What drove Lancaster to deliver critiques of this genre again and again, apart from the obvious disgust at the false myths about American imperialism that the western helped propagate? In any case, Lancaster and the other producers of this film were more interested in making a hit than delivering…

  • Let There Be Light

    Let There Be Light

    Following a constructive group conversation Friday about John Huston, I watched one of the director's military documentaries, a portrait of wounded veterans re-adjusting to civilian life as harrowing and heartbreaking as THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES. The film feels unique among the Huston works I've seen in that it's by far the most sympathetic. Huston employs relatively basic cinematic grammar so that nothing distracts from the veterans' emotional pain; however modest and plainspoken, it is a boldly confrontational film.…