Mineshaft Gap

It's a screening log, no more no less. Maybe I'll have something interesting to say one of these days...

George A's Third Zombie.

Romero's Day of the Dead is the weakest of his zombie films, but still has much to offer. A muted satire on the American military and machismo in general, the film also include some genuine scares and Savini's great makeup.

The best of all is Romero's own knack for narrative propulsion. Even if nothing much is occuring, his films just hurt towards a climax so the audience is never left bored. Plus the "Romero zombie killshot" is a thing a beauty.

70s Altman.

Everyone told me I'd love Nashville. It's a classic of the 1970s, Altman's "best film" and the prototype of the ensemble drama. So why was I so disappointed?

Though many of the performances are stellar, and the screenplay draws the characters all completely and Altman's direction manages to keep them all in focus with loosing any threads, it seems as it is all in service of nothing.

But it isn't really nothing, is it? Perhaps the converse is true, it is simply a film about too damn much to keep up with everything. The film very much feels like what I imagine living five days in Nashville in the mid 70s felt like, but if I want Frederick Wiseman I'll go watch High School.

Ebert says that the film truly let's you know what you were doing in the 70s, and perhaps that is my problem. Born in '84 I have no basis on 1975. But then again, I shouldn't have to.

Maybe I don't need a reason to dislike Nashville. Maybe it just doesn't speak to me the way it does to others. And maybe that's okay.

The Grandest of Epics.

When you see what heights it could fully achieve, it becomes even harder to watch the dregs that we call television. I used to say Lynch's Twin Peaks or Potter's The Singing Detective was what all TV should aspire to, but now I've seen Kieslowski's The Decalogue.

A series of 10 short films, all dealing with one of the Ten Commandments, Kieslowski's reflections on the nature of God and the Universe becomes the greatest epic I've ever seen by focusing on the miniscule. The films each focus on a simple story involving less than four characters. Each has a small event as it's catalyst, whether an affair, a teenage pregnancy or a childhood tragedy, things begin small, balloon to overwhelm a life and then project out onto all of us.

Kieslowski and his co-writer Piesiewicz don't use the framing for simple morality plays, they don't judge and none of the episodes are simple illustrations of a single commandment,many have to do with several, and some with all the commandments. This seems to be the major thesis that Kieslowski presents, humanity is struggling with every facet of morality every day, in both the mundane and the extraordinary.

As a director Kieslowski is amazing. His command of mood and atmosphere bests (yes bests) Hitchcock, and he controls pace to the nth degree. And included in the Decalogue is the best piece of liberal filmmaking I've seen, V: Thou shalt not kill is an amazing condemnation of capital punishment.

The best episodes: V, II, VII, and I. Though that's is like choosing the best songs on Revolver: every thing in the Decalogue would be the ultimate achievement of almost any other filmmaker.

I can't wait to watch more of Kieslowski's films.

Jimmy Dean, Street Hoods and Anime Rats.

Three more films over the weekend:

Rebel without a Cause: The acting is brilliant and Ray's visual direction is stunning, but Rebel is showing some major signs of age. Its story of a wayward James Dean looking for meaning is written as Freud-by-numbers, including a really awful decision by Ray to put Jim Bacchus in an apron for the duration of one of the climactic scenes. It's really only some stellar acting by the three leads that elevates Rebel above the other "teens run amok" films of the 50s. Dean's iconic status is well deserved here, even if the Method now feels very baroque. Godard said that "Nicholas Ray is cinema" and as a visual stylist, Godard was spot on. In dealing with his themes, however, Ray seems to murky here, as though his own childhood were to far away to relate. But Dean pushes Ray's stasis away and paints a fully believable character of aimless, tortured youth.

The Warriors: I thought there was no way this could live up to the hype. With little idea of what to expect except for a bizarre late 70s action movie, I had heard this was a great ride. I had no idea it was also a really good film. Hill's direction is lean and the screenplay cooks up some great lines and characters. While my girlfriend pointed out to me that it is really impossible to like any of these guys, you get past that by just enjoying the sheer amorality of it all. Though he still will be that guy from Xanadu in my mind, Michael Beck manages to almost get away from the rollerskates and be an action star. Not quite, but almost. Pretty damn cool flick.

Spirited Away: My God is Miyazaki a great storyteller. It is almost cliche to point that out, but he is truly the best living director of the narrative film, Spielberg be damned. Spirited Away is such an amazing tale, and all the grand set pieces that little Chihiro gets herself into, from the steep stairs to the stink god to baby, I only hope that her adventures will move into a classic of children's cinema. A film that should be seen by everyone that loves movies.

The inventor of cliches.

Shane Black's new film, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, is both the best action film and the best comedy of the year. An absolute blast of a self parody, the man who created the Hollywood action-comedy has now come out of retirement to skewer himself and his imitators.

Robert Downey, Jr., Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan all deliver hilarious performances, perhaps the best of the first two actor's careers. Downey's narrator leads us through the seedy story of cross and double cross in LA, and his self knowing narration brings us in from the first frames.

Shane Black knows all the beats, he wrote them first. So his playful attack of Hollywood action films are hilarious and acutely observed. In a way this is both a genre reimagining and a career culmination for Black, as it pulls together his classic buddy cop schtick, but twists it and applies it to the film noir.

It can't be said enough just how hilarious Kiss Kiss is, even funnier than Apatow's The 40 Year Old Virgin earlier in the year. Both Downey and Kilmer are wonderful comic actors (Back to School and Real Genius, anyone?) and I wish they would do more work in this vein. Michelle Monaghan is wonderful as well, and I wish the film were doing better to act as a launching pad for her.

For some reason, people aren't going to see Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. This is a travesty. Honestly, see this film if it is anywhere near you. Well worth any price.

Current 2005 Top 10:
1. A History of Violence
2. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
3. Broken Flowers
Grizzly Man
5. The Constant Gardener
6. Last Days
7. Hustle & Flow
8. Kung Fu Hustle

9. The 40 Year Old Virgin
Batman Begins

Witty men and quick women.

So now I've seen in a two week period Pride & Prejudice, Emma and Sense and Sensibility. The first film suffered in a lack of Firth, the second by a weak ending, but S&S managed to avoid both of these pitfalls(Firth to Hugh Grant is a lateral move). Lee's film demonstrates a knowledge of how to turn in exactly what is expected of this sort of period piece. Thompson's script delivers all the necessary beats, and the amiable cast plays their parts to the hilt, with all the leads acquitting themselves very well.

That plus Lee's sure visual hand, never lingering in a place, hurrying the story along as much as you can with Austen, let the film play out without much lingering power, but with great romance in the moment.

There is one shot that deserves discussion, when the family comes to their cottage for the first time, and their benefactor approaches them out of his carriage, the dogs that leap out are followed in a jarringly different style. It is as if Sam Raimi came in to shoot one shot, with the dogs running to the family, and then Lee takes back over with his austere style. An absolutely bizarre moment.

Despite a cast of very talented actors...

... I fucking hated Rent.


I've started reviewing DVDs for the blogcritics.com site, I managed to get a screener of Criterion's new Ran DVD for my first review.


Every great director hits a point where they look back. Rarely their greatest films, these career retrospectives say much more about the than perhaps any of their previous films. Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, Hitchcock’s North by Northwest both play like this, but by far the best career culmination was Akira Kurosawa’s Ran.

From the opening moments, the hallmarks of AK are present. His greatness in the presentation of action flows smoothly into human interactions and character. We meet Tatsuya Nakadai’s emperor, and with great economy establish the entire course of the film, from the feuding lords, his ungrateful children, excepting the loyal youngest son, and most importantly his decent into the madness that will grip his for most of the film are all laid out within the first minutes.

A free adaptation of King Lear, Ran works in the same vein as the greatest of the Shakespearean adaptations by pushing aside the staid staginess and moving the work into humanity and barbarity. The best Shakespearean translators, Kurosawa and Welles, stage Shakespeare as an animalistic, base instincts writer. It is ferocity of the acting, especially in the leads, that opens these overanalyzed texts into living films.

Ran’s greatest strengths lie in Nakadai’s performance the direction of Kurosawa. Kurosawa’s transition from black and white to color was as accomplished as any director from the west, and his use of color here is masterful. And his staging of the epic battle scenes is more impressive than even the height of Peter Jackson’s computer driven hordes. Kurosawa moves his action beyond Shakespearean tragedy into the realm of Noh abstraction and back again. The battle at the center of the film exists in the sublime.

While not as great or flawless as Seven Samurai, Rashomon or Ikiru, Ran’s grandeur and the brilliance and joy in Kurosawa’s telling lends itself to a film that overwhelms the viewer and leaves them reeling.


Three times through and a company finally nails the transfer. After a failed pressing for Fox and a sub par Wellspring effort, the amazing crew at Criterion turns in another spot on effort. The colors look dead on and the inherent 80s grain have been reduced to their lowest possible level. In a film this virtuosic with imagery, it’s wonderful that a company finally took the time to get it right.


A solid Dolby 2.0 mix, without the noticeable quality loss of earlier efforts.


No one can touch Criterion. Their time and effort in collecting the best special features to put the film in the appropriate context is still unrivaled. Across the two discs of Ran are a wealth of wonderful features including:

Disc 1-

Commentary by Stuart Prince: Very informative, although quite academic and dry. Prince has literally written a book on the subject, so the track works best to sample than for a listen straight through.

Trailers: An odd international trailer plus three interesting Japanese trailers. The Japanese seem to have realized what they had on their hands here. It is wonderful that this was respected as the last great work of a true artist.

Disc 2-

Akira Kurosawa: It is Wonderful to Create: An episode of the Toho Masterwork series, the profile uses archival footage mixed with new interviews to create a much more personal vision of Kurosawa than you are presented elsewhere on the disc. The half hour piece gives you a great sense of the man himself.

Image: Ran’s Continuity is an interesting, if failed, attempt to synch Kurosawa’s conceptual artwork with music. Another feature that is brilliant to sample, but shouldn’t be sat through in its entirety.

Tatsuya Nakadai: A short, slight 10 minute interview with the actor. Nothing not revealed elsewhere on the disc.

A.K.: The jewel of the set is a 74 minute film by another Criterion worthy filmmaker Chris Marker. Brilliant in his own right, Marker’s film mostly follows the atmosphere of the set as Kurosawa creates his final epic. Part cinema verite, part essay film (a genre created by Marker) the intimate look into the production was used to promote the Ran’s release, which makes it by far the best promotional material ever made.

To Sum Up:

Even if you own one of the previous releases, Criterion’s Ran is worth the double- (or triple-) dip. Vastly improved in audio, video, and special features the new version is the best possible presentation of Kurosawa’s last masterwork. Epic in scope, and yet still retaining all of the humanism that so marks his work, Ran is one of the ultimate classics of the Japanese cinema.

The Joys of Unlimited Rentals.

Boy is it fun when a local video store gets unlimited rentals. So here's the rundown from this weekend.

Dawn of the Dead(2004): While it would be impossible to surpass Romero's masterpiece, this is a taut, intelligent thriller that is well acted and very slickly produced. A great ride.

Emma: Stacey wanted me to see this since we had just gone to Pride & Prejudice. I actually enjoyed this much more than the newer film, it benefits from great casting and a better ensemble, but the ending falls short of P&P. The staging of Emma's big scene cuts all the tension, and though I enjoyed these characters much more than the rather tiresome Bennets, I wasn't moved nearly as much during the big kiss between Emma and Knightly. Still a good film, though, especially in the parts of Alan Cumming and Ewan McGreggor.

Throne of Blood: Perhaps the best film of Macbeth ever made, topping even the great, savage version that Welles made in 1947. Kurosawa's film from 10 years later ups the ante in terms of animalistic performances and Mifune's Macbeth is a vision of terror and sadness at the same time. The ghost is terrifying and haunting, and for the first time works as a cinematic character and not just a theatrical device. A great film with a brilliant ending.

Plus one film I saw in the theaters.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: The best entry in the series, the first to work for all three acts. While the kids may have reached the end of their acting range, it has reached a level of naturalness that works well even if it is nothing inspiring. Mike Newell and Ralph Fiennes are really the stars of the show, with wonderful action and Fiennes struts very memorably in his scene. I can't wait for the next one.

No Cassavetes, but Still Good.

Marty Scorsese is an avowed John Cassavetes fan. Cassavetes liked his first film, and gave him tips along the young filmmaker's way. So it's not surprising that in 1974, Scorsese jumped at the chance to direct the very Cassavetian Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore.

Playing like a Hollywood version of a Cassavetes film, Alice stars Ellen Burstyn as the titular mother who, after the death of her abusive husband, strikes out with her son to regain the life she knew before. Her string of men, including Harvey Keitel, and lousy jobs lead her eventually to Tucson, waitressing and Kris Kristofferson. The trajectory is straight down the line of early women's lib, and Alice eventually finds a way to be her own person.

While well made and very funny, the flaw in the film is the gloss, the sheen that let's you know from the first frame that everything is going to be all right. This is where there is a difference between Scorsese and Cassavetes, that gloss of the well made film was something Marty still struggles with. When he is on his game it is almost non-existent (Raging Bull, Goodfellas) when he is off that is all you can see (Gangs of New York). Here Scorsese is making a push to break into the mainstream, and he acquits himself well. It is amazing to think of a time when a film this formally adventurous could be considered this Hollywood, yet the narrative still functions on that happy ending tripe.

The film is very good, and leaves you quite satisfied even with a slightly off ending. Again, my own issue is that I watched this much too close to the devastating Woman Under the Influence, to which Alice can never compare. But on its own, this is quite a great film and a gem in the Scorsese oeuvre.

Spirituality, Religion and Christ.

Au Hasard Balthazar is the best film about Christ I have ever seen. It is of course fitting that as opposed to Gibson's snuff film, here Christ is not a bleeding, portentous man but a simple donkey that allows for redemption in a world that offers none.

The story of Marie and Balthazar, of the struggling, weak human and the seemingly divine creature that gives her peace is heartbreaking and uplifting in equal measures. All the credit must go to Robert Bresson, a genius of the cinema. His film functions as a fully devout work, reverent and in awe of Balthazar and the divinity he represents, and at the same time is a scathing attack on the church and it's hypocrites. From the satanic Gerard, singing in the choir to the ineffectual, placating priest that comes to comfort Marie's mother the church is position at odds with the simple peace and transcendence of Balthazar.

Pessimistic about all of humanity, and yet clinging to the last thread of hope in redemption Au Hasard Balthazar culminates in austere beauty on a hillside, the donkey's terrible travels done. He has gone through his stations, and comes to rest in simple forgiveness and understanding. It is the most beautiful closing sequence I have ever seen.

In the end this is a film for the true believers as well as all those who wish to be.

My 10 favorite films of all time:
1. Citizen Kane
2. Rashomon
3. A Woman Under the Influence
The Royal Tennenbaums
5. Dr. Strangelove
6. Playtime
7. Au Hasard Balthazar
Band of Outsiders
9. Hannah and Her Sisters
10. Ghostbusters

An update.

I figured it might, and now it has.

My 10 favorite films of all time:
1. Citizen Kane
2. Rashomon
3. A Woman Under the Influence
The Royal Tennenbaums
5. Dr. Strangelove
6. Playtime
7. Ghostbusters
Band of Outsiders
9. Breaking the Waves
10. Hannah and Her Sisters

The saddest thriller ever made.

Is it the actors or Cassavetes? Or is it both? Or perhaps is it just that they were the first to try.

Killing of a Chinese Bookie was the fifth Cassavetes I have seen, and the fifth to feature at least one brilliant performance. Gazzara gives one for the ages, and he makes Cosmo yet another of the blisteringly real characters in the Cassavetes roster.

Everyone talks about genre subversion and Bookie, but what is more interesting is the genric development. It seems to me that the film is less a different take on the noir as much as simply one developed out of its time. It's the same American, Horatio Alger ethos that is being subverted, but it is coming out of the 70s gloss and not the post-WWII hope. The pretenses that Robert Mitchum characters saw dying away have disappeared totally. All that is left is the decay.

A Serious lack of Firth.

I quite liked the Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice. Managing to almost completely overcome a serious dearth of Firth, the film is quite witty and well acted, especially Knightley and Donald Sutherland's tiny part as her father. Unfortunately, Angus McFadden will not be using this as any sort of jumping off point. Perfectly average in the film, the best thing I can say about him is that I was not constantly angry that he wasn't Colin Firth. Other than that, he broods his way through the film, solid but unspectacular. Joe Wright acquits himself solidly as well, though he loves zooms as much as 70s Altman. He manages to find the humor in each of the scenes, and stages the dramatic ones quite, well, dramatically.

I'm not a huge fan of costume dramas, but P&P works by avoiding most of the pitfalls of the genre and working towards wit. Plus looking at Keira for 2 hours doesn't hurt the eyes at all.

Gena Rowlands.

In the last two days I watched Cassavetes' A Woman Under the Influence and Opening Night. Gena Rowlands in now officially my favorite actress. What she does in these two films is amazing work. The most remarkable, however, is that she takes two characters so similar and makes them living, breathing individuals.

Opening Night now features my answer for the best acted scene that I have seen. The final interplay between Rowlands and Cassavetes on stage, the free form improvisation between two great actors who are intimately familiar lent itself to such an amazing give and take. Both films should be studied by everyone, EVERYONE that wants to be an actor.

A Woman Under the Influence is the better film by far, though. With more interaction and time to develop, Peter Falk and Rowlands go even deeper than the husband and wife did in the later film. As someone with experience being in a relationship with a person with mental disorder, the interaction here cuts straight to the core, reminding me most directly of my experience with Faces. In Woman, Rowlands and Falk or so commanding, so virtuosic that it almost unseats Faces on my top ten list. One day it might, actually, but for now Faces is safe.

With that focus on the acting, which is so easy in discussing these films, not enough attention is paid to the bravura filmmaking by Cassavetes. His focus on the gesture, the individual moment that changes a life and the intimacy of the shooting, he brings you inside characters more than any director before or sense. Performance itself is so central to Cassavetes work, both an actor and a character are examined in the act of performing. It is through this that he attempts make us all see the nature of a person that can only be revealed under the mask of performance.

George Romero's America.

I think that alternate title about sums up the true push of the Romero's classic Dawn of the Dead. Much has been written ad naseum about the anti-consumerist fable aspect of the film, so I won't hash over it again, but Dawn presents an incredibly well observed look at what an apocalyptic disaster would cause in this country. That answer? We'd head to the mall.

As someone who spends a larger amount of time in malls than I'm willing to admit, Dawn strikes close to home. We are all people who are defined, as George Carlin put it, by our stuff. I'm not sure what I'd do without my DVDs and my books, and the greatest want in my life is a widescreen TV. Sure, I'll proclaim that it is all in the service of my favorite art, but still it is the material trappings that I desire.

My thought as I went into Dawn was simple, and revealing. Wow, what a great place to be trapped if there was a monster attack. My emotions turned with the same arc as the characters, and Romero forced me to examine what it is I find important, and whether I was simply wrong.

Not a bad accomplishment for a zombie movie.

The problem of cultural osmosis.

I can only imagine how powerful a film Psycho must be if you came into it cold. Due to cultural osmosis, we all know that Marion Crane dies half an hour in, and that Norman Bates is the killer. It’s such an open secret that I don’t even feel hypocritical writing that down. We all know.

And that’s sad, since it strips the first half of the film of any of the tension it builds so well. As we sit there waiting for the shower scene, the great misdirection that Hitchcock is using falls by the wayside. This film is the ultimate red herring, and yet it will never work again.

I envy my girlfriend, in a weird way, since she saw the film so young she didn’t know the twists. Of course, since she was six it probably scarred her for life, but it was a sacrifice to the cinema.

That’s a joke… I think.

Anyway, one more note on Anthony Perkins. What an underrated career this guy had, and what a waste that it wasn’t more. I mean he was brilliant in Psycho and Orson Welles’ The Trail. What have you ever done with your life?

JLG is very liberal.

Oh how I love watching a film by Godard. From Bande a Parte to Le Mepris his styles and content are always beautifully in synch or amazingly dissonant. Les Carabiniers has left me a little puzzled, though. As I read about the film now, I am told that it is Godard's black comedy. And while yes there are classic Godard bad joke touches, especially the magazine underwear scene, the film is more sad than anything. The sequence with the spoils of war, the photos, are not a scene of escalating hilarity, they are in fact the tragedy of lost promises that all the bourgeois make to the poor.

The writing and performances are all top notch, and the individual tableaux are incredibly effective. Albert Juross, as the younger of the two brothers sent to war, is quite wonderful in his almost naive terrorizing, and Odile Geoffroy leaves a major impact in her scene, the best in the film.

Godard's camera is also as superb as is normal. Though without the self consciously cool shots of Breathless or My Life to Live, Les Carabiniers contains stark war imagery that communicates to the experience as well as any film extant. The fireworks, shown in negative near the end of the film, is one of the great Godard images and one of the most haunting I have seen.

They convey all you need to know about the true victims in any war.

Then again, maybe I'm not confused at all by this film. With all of Godard's art there is an element of the viewer constructed narrative. He wears his Brecht on his sleeve. And with Les Carabiners, he seems to me to be hiding his playful side, buried much more in his second brush with the political filmmaking that would take up much of his life.