Sunday, October 22, 2006

Movie Review - Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette (2006)
directed by Sofia Coppola
rating: 1 out of 5 cravats
seen on the screen at Malco Paradiso

The surprise isn't that it's terrible. The surprise is how conventional "Marie Antoinette" is, and how much it probably shares - from manipulative classical score (nevermind the Strokes) to conservative social values to just-right historical detail - with Flags of Our Fathers.

Movie Review - Sólo con tu pareja

Sólo con tu pareja (1991)
directed by Alfonso Cuarón
rating: 2 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from the vaults

Once again I'm left wondering why Criterion translates some titles and not others, and once again the repeat womanizer who finally falls in love just isn't the thematic powerhouse it never was. Oh sure, there's lots of deft and zany touches. There's the aerial photography of Mexico City and, of course, the pretty stewardess who likes to take her pretty hair down. But if there's anything original, it's the brief, grand illusion of airline flight as comfortable, carefree release. Nothing more.

Movie Review - The Mask of Fu Manchu

The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)
directed by Charles Brabin and Charles Vidor
rating: 3 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from the vaults

When the whole enterprise is so far into the fantastical - torture chambers, tomb-robbing expeditions, opium dens - it isn't so much an issue of racism as it is a film that feels, mostly for the better, every one of its 74 years. Karloff's clear regal lisp never dims beneath that moustache, and his studio funhouse and sadistic daughter (Myrna Loy!) are worth half the tea in China.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Movie Review - The 7th Victim

The 7th Victim (1943)
directed by Mark Robson
rating: 5 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from the vaults

Psychological, too, but not so much scary as sad, sad, sad.


"The movie that knows how it feels to be lonely. See it today."

Movie Review - Opera

Opera (1987)
directed by Dario Argento
rating: 3 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

You reel a guy in with witches and more witches, then throw him to the lion's den of too-human torture and silly psychology. Good movie, wrong season.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Movie Review - Bride of Frankenstein

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
directed by James Whale
rating: 5 out of 5 cravats
on DVD at JL's

For my money, the garbled bats and flat storytelling in Universal's historic reign of terror never matched up. Dracula is always my scapegoat, because it endures, it seems, more as nostalgia for childhood - the earliest monster movie so many kids saw - than for any honest scare. Why Lugosi instead of Schreck or the truly terrifying Caligari? But James Whale was different, and "Bride" is so overstuffed with camp, subtext, and melodrama that it's easy to forget how strange and cold - on par with vigilante, scarecrow Carrefour - Elsa's doomed hiss runs down the spine.

Monday, October 16, 2006

TV Review - The Wire

The Wire - Season One (2002)
aka I'm Not Listing Individual Episode Credits This Time
rating: 4 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from As Seen On TV

I'm about one acting break of Veronica Mars away from overdosing on this TV-on-DVD phenomenon forever (and I'm not even writing about round-two Northern Exposure). Until I do, 13 episodes of "The Wire" shows up the fluff the networks pack into 24. Not that there's much to compare them, otherwise: "The Wire" makes it a level moral playing field for good and bad alike, writes romance as mutual release, and gifts a minor redhead I wouldn't normally consider my type with twice the attraction of any other woman on all of these shows.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Movie Review - All the Vermeers in New York

All the Vermeers in New York (1990)
directed by Jon Jost
rating: 3 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

That languid scene in the bar especially, where Emmanuelle Chaulet and her friend convince a prospective suitor that only one of them speaks English, is as charming as the title. Jost films Wall Street brokers at work in their sea of phones and cross chatter with the same long shots as a walk through the gallery. I appreciate that craft in such a specific picture, but I wish there was more than composition behind it - "the hypocrisy of art and commerce in New York City" is lazy, trite, and, unfortunately, as little as the MOMA probably expects for a self-congratulatory narrative retrospective.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Movie Review - A Man Escaped

Un condamné à mort s'est échappé ou Le vent souffle où il veut (1956)
directed by Robert Besson
rating: 4 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

I can't think of a better way not to describe this movie than one fan's rant on IMDB:

"It's like the Shawshank of the 1950s."

Bresson's about as far away from that melodramatic poppycock as the revolving door of cinema can turn. Clean, sharp, and full of implications - and never, I'm sure, overrated at all.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

TV Review - The Sopranos

The Sopranos (1999-2000)
Ep. 9 - "Boca," dir. by Andy Wolk
Ep. 10 - "A Hit is a Hit," dir. by Matthew Penn
Ep. 11 - "Nobody Knows Anything," dir. by Henry J. Bronchtein
Ep. 12 - "Isabella," dir. by Allen Coulter
Ep. 13 - "I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano," dir. by John Patterson
Ep. 14 - "Guy Walks Into A Psychiatrist's Office," dir. by Allen Coulter
Ep. 15 - "Do Not Resuscitate," dir. by Martin Bruestle
Ep. 16 - "Toodle-Fucking-Oo," dir. by Lee Tamahori
Ep. 17 - "Commendatori," dir. by Tim Van Patten
Ep. 18 - "Big Girls Don't Cry," dir. by Tim Van Patten
Ep. 19 - "The Happy Wanderer," dir. by John Patterson
Ep. 20 - "D-Girl," dir. by Allen Coulter
Ep. 21 - "Full Leather Jacket," dir. by Allen Coulter
Ep. 22 - "From Where to Eternity," dir. by Henry J. Bronchtein
Ep. 23 - "Bust Out," dir. by John Patterson
rating: 5 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from As Seen On TV

Maybe the fortunes of "The Sopranos" rise and fall with the way the show writes Carmella. It takes a very great, magnanimous creator to make her struggle with infidelity so critical a part of season one, to resolve it as the crisis of a confused courter (the priest), and then to return to the inherent complications, thrills, and confusions of being a decent person trying to find her happiness in a messy, selfish world. She makes love to Tony just one episode prior - in a sweet, beautiful engagement - and when she closes the door and kisses Vic Musto, I couldn't be happier for anyone on TV.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Movie Review - The Amazing Mr. X

The Amazing Mr. X (1948)
directed by Bernard Vorhaus
rating: 3 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from the vaults

Better atmosphere than most three star oldies - there's really no comparison between this and, say, "The Narrow Margin" - but a bad ending can kill a crowd as easy as a gloomy monologue by moonlight wins me over.

Pick of the week.

Movie Review - Three Times

Zui hao de shi guang (2005)
directed by Hsiao-hsien Hou
rating: 1 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

Even before Sam pointed out the fatal flaw in this film's opening shot - "like pan-and-scanning Wong Kar-Wai" - the first love story wore thin, the second fell flat, and the third was just a waste of time. It's the kind of pretty vacancy that makes you rethink what you liked so much about Hou's other movies in the first place, or at least explains why IFC Films and Wellspring don't seem to be fighting off Criterion for distribution privileges.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Movie Review - The Departed

The Departed (2006)
directed by Martin Scorsese
rating: 2 out of 5 cravats
seen on the screen at Oxford Studio Cinema

Martie, haunted by past success, expectations, and reputation, can't make a movie that makes sense anymore. Since the stage is a half-assed half-Boston instead of a full-on Cinecittà extravaganza, the two-and-a-half hour running time drags as awkwardly and as senselessly as Martin Sheen's accent, Will Hunting's performance, William Monahan's screenplay, Thelma Schoonmaker's editing, and - not least - the Sausage King of New York's direction.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

TV Review - Around the World With Orson Welles

Around the World With Orson Welles (1955)
directed by Orson Welles
rating: 4 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from B. Sweet

There's lots to recommend these five episodes from Orson's "grande" * years - on lots of levels - but he really hits his stride when he teams up with lazy-eyed youngster Chris from the Basque country and starts demanding cherries ("I'm hungry"), translations ("In English, Chris"), and betting tips ("So that kid's the best pelote player?"). God rest your heckled soul, Mr. Welles.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Movie Review - The Narrow Margin

The Narrow Margin (1952)
directed by Richard Fleischer
rating: 3 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

When I think of a B picture from the old days, it isn't really on the same terms that made the "minor" half of a double feature its own genre. Maybe that's because so many B movies are considered classics today, even apart from the constraints and limitations that made them unique. But "The Narrow Margin" feels just like a B movie should: functional actors, trim plot, workman-like execution. Fun but not great.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

TV Review - Lots of Lost

Lost (2004-2005)
Ep. 1 - "Pilot (1)," dir. by J.J. Abrams
Ep. 2 - "Pilot (2)," dir. by J.J. Abrams
Ep. 3 - "Tabula Rasa," dir. by Jack Bender
Ep. 4 - "Walkabout," dir. by Jack Bender
Ep. 5 - "White Rabbit," dir. by Kevin Hooks
Ep. 6 - "House of the Rising Sun," dir. by Michael Zinberg
Ep. 7 - "The Moth," dir. by Jack Bender
Ep. 8 - "Confidence Man," dir. by Tucker Gates
Ep. 9 - "Solitary," dir. by Greg Yaitanes
Ep. 10 - "Raised by Another," dir. by Martia Grabiak
Ep. 11 - "All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues," dir. by Stephen Williams
Ep. 12 - "Whatever the Case May Be," dir. by Jack Bender
Ep. 13 - "Hearts and Minds," dir. by Rod Holcomb
Ep. 14 - "Special," dir. by Greg Yaitanes
rating: 2 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from JL

As television, "Lost" is pretty smart. As human drama, it's terrible. What makes the drama bad - too many characters - makes the TV easy. Start with a dozen "types" and intersperse a narrative arc through a series of backstory revelations/twists. Secret solved, but one caveat: the island has me hooked.

Movie Review - Double Indemnity

Double Indemnity (1944)
directed by Billy Wilder
rating: 3 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from B. Sweet

When the dust from this one settles it's damnation by faint praise. Nice sets, nice exteriors, and I like knowing how innovative all those darkly lit frames were. Since the privilege of DVDs is so much evidence against "Double Indemnity" as moviedom's Great Noir, the only thing to do is keep plowing through the rest of them.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Movie Review - Spirit of the Beehive

El Espíritu de la colmena (1973)
directed by Víctor Erice
rating: 4 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from the vaults

Knowing that the cinematographer of this beautiful picture went blind while making it says what it needs to for the loneliness and loss that make this a movie about Spain under Franco. The rest is a retort to something like Cinema Paradiso - that cloying fabrication of youth and film - and I hope it is enough to say that childhood did seem, once, as haunted and as strange.

Movie Review - Cemetery Man

Dellamorte Dellamore (1994)
directed by Michele Soavi
rating: 3 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from the vaults

If you're bothered by the lack of nudity in the Evil Dead franchise and like the idea of Ash as the melancholy British watchman of an Italian cemetery, have I got just the zombie-infested love story for you. The lengths Rupert goes to for the memory of his dearly departed (well, the Fellini model he slept with and then shot) make loss as tangible and delicate as the thin little wires that guide the graveyard's drifting blue spirits. And I think even Bergman might like our knight's retort to Death: "You and I are both the same. We kill out of indifference, out of love sometimes, but never out of hate."

Pick of this new week.