Mineshaft Gap

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


Harold and Kumar go to White Castle is ridiculously funny. It is head hurting, side splitting greatness. I imagine if you were stoned it might be the greatest film ever made.

And there's Neil Patrick Harris.

Holiday Roundup.

Saw a bunch of movies when I went home, including Munich again. Definitely the most overrated movie of the year. Also:

The Fly: The best movie about AIDS ever made, as well as just all around brilliant filmmaking.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town: So good it makes you forget about Sandler's Mr. Deeds, and that is an amazing feat.

Monsieur Ibrahim: Omar Sharif is as charismatic an actor as we've had, and this sweet little film is a great showcase of that.

Bait: Overcooked, obvious thriller, but you can see what Jamie Foxx would soon become. Otherwise, pointless.

Wolf Creek: People attacking this film will be as wrong about it as they were about Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Wolf Creek is a solid, terrifying genre entry.


Munich refuses to say anything. People are calling Spielberg out for his "anti-Israeli" stance in Munich, and that is totally unfounded. His real problem is that he chooses to take no political stance. He simple says violence is bad and then doesn't appraise what that means in the situation. He refuses to let us truly see the horrors that the Israelis cause, all while telling us what they are doing is wrong. This disjoint cripples the film.

Meanwhile, Spielberg still tells us how to feel. He never lets an audience come to an emotion with explicit force to go there. He spends no time letting us see into the mind of the Eric Bana character, Avner. Once it is convenient for him to be remorseful, he is, but there is no progression. The film holds no emotional upswing. It has nothing to say or feel.

And the less said about that horrible sex/flashback scene, the better.


Le Petit Soldat is not considered one of the great Godard films for one reason: by the time it was first shown it was considered old news. It has all the style and flair of his other New Wave efforts, but includes certain brilliant scenes, like the disturbing torture sequence, that are atypical of this Godard.

Karina, in her first film with her soon to be husband, is beautiful and compelling. And Michel Subor is gives a very interesting central performance. He ends up actually being one of my favorite Godard protagonists.

Once again, Godard's amazing camerawork and natural style break shown in the immediacy of the film. As opposed to several films released this year, Godard takes a much more interesting look at this violence and revenge and actually has something interesting to say. Godard's view understands the politics of the situation and does not look at it in pure humanistic terms. He sees France-Algeria as a conflict of barbarians and argues against these sort ideals. But he does it in a way that is bother interesting and compelling.

It's in the Subtext.

Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale is a masterstroke of show don't tell. That is an amazing feat for a film concerned with wordy intellectuals and their downfall. Daniels and Linney are getting most of the acclaim, and rightly so, but it is Jesse Eisenberg that really steals the show. He is a wonderful director surrogate, and fits in with Antoine Doinel in honest portrayls of a director's youth.

Baumbach may only win writing awards at the end of the year, but his film is moving, funny and amazing.

Current 2005 Top 10:
1. A History of Violence
2. The Squid and the Whale
3. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
4. Brokeback Mountain
5. Broken Flowers
Grizzly Man
7. King Kong
8. Last Days
9. Hustle & Flow
10. The Constant Gardener

The Things They Carry.

Leave it to Terrance Mallick to make the Battle of Guadal Canal into a meditation on existentialism. And that is the best word to describe The Thin Red Line, because the events are of little to no importance in relation to the overarching emphasis on life, death and meaning. A wonderful film.

A Western.

I absolutely can't accept that Brokeback Mountain will be promoted and written about as though it were a "chick flick" or "woman's film". There is nothing wrong with either of those genres, but Brokeback fits into neither of them. It is a western, pure and simple. And in its own way it is as brilliant as Ford's The Searchers and Eastwood's Unforgiven. This is a revisionist western that looks again at the genre's classic themes of loneliness, family and loss.

Lee's film shows a great deal of respect for the western, including several visual homages to John Ford. And the screenplay, cowritten by great western writer Larry McMurtry, knows the story it is telling. This is a masculine tale that examines the nature of masculinity. These two men give up none of their manliness by being gay, and demonstrate this with dignity under the overwhelming pressures of society. Ennis and Jack, brilliantly played by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, go through their lives with the quiet longing that any John Wayne character might have displayed. It is a touching, moving portrait of a societal wrong. This is the type of liberal filmmaking that changes minds, it is not mere proselytizing. As someone in a committed heterosexual relationship, I couldn't imagine the pain of having to hide my true feelings behind that stoic mask. This puts such a forceful drama behind the simple argument for love that its power is manifold.

The Searchers reexamined race in the western, Unforgiven looked at violence, and now Brokeback Mountain looks again at masculinity and loneliness. It is a moving, powerful film.

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

Dissent in America.


Peter Watkins' underseen gem Punishment Park is a masterful look at dissent in America. Both wonderfully of its time and relevant to today, his vision of an American police state is hauntingly real.

1970. Two groups of radicals are detained by the US government and sent to stand trial before a civilian tribunal in the Californian desert. Upon sentencing, and all are found guilty, they are given the option of years in prison or to participate in the police training exercise called Punishment Park. In the Park the prisoners will have four days to reach a US flag some 50 miles away. They must endure heat, cold and dehydration all while avoiding the police. If they reach the flag they will be set free, that is if they can trust the police.

Watkins brilliantly interrcuts between the two groups, one undergoing questioning before the tribunal and one that has already been sent to Punishment Park. Through his pseudo-documentary style and use of nonactors he gets footage that is played as disturbingly real, and even more frightening, realistic.

These young people simply state their political views again and again, both to Watkins camera and to the inhumane tribunal, yet are constantly egged on into violence and anger. At one point one young woman attempts to reason with them that the so called violence of the students is exaggerated, while the system's violence is unreported. But then moments later she and her comrades are locked away and refused a chance to speak. Watkins' film states points like this in a way that is straightforward. He is making a political film, but one that also manages not to seem heavy handed.

Watkins filmmaking is visceral and moving. I can't imagine an audience that could have no reaction to the film. His verite camera as well as the voice of the TV crew director from off screen always put you close to the action, frequently too close in a way that becomes increasingly uncomfortable as you go along. His cinema is highly experiential. This film is a major find.


Punishment Park is presented in its original 1.33:1, with solid, crisp video that showcases some amazing handheld cinematography.


Clear, and well used. The sound design, fitting the pseudo-doc style isn't overdone but presents everything clearly.


Watkins appears in a half hour Introduction that discusses both the film in its original context as well as his feelings on current politics.

A Commentary by Dr. Joseph Gomez is scholarly, if dry as these tend to be.

Also included are a text essay and the original press kit which provide some great context.

To Sum Up:

As someone born far after the Vietnam war, Punishment Park was a great help for me in crystallizing what the radicals of the Vietnam era felt and thought. It is amazing the similarities in their worries and fears and many that I and my generation still have today. This is the type of charged, political filmmaking that we need to see more of, and I hope that the film's new release on DVD lets it become a focal point for this generation's young filmmakers.


Even though I'd never seen Creepshow when I was a kid, Romero's film filled me with a great sense of nostalgia. It reminded me of all the great films that scared the shit out of me when I was a kid. Back when the theme music for Tales from the Crypt was enough to send me under the covers.

Creepshow is just a great scary time. Some of the shorts don't work (the second one with King is downright awful) but some (especially the Leslie Nielson and Hal Holbrook episodes) are terrifying. It proves that Stephen King is an average writer, but Romero is the greatest horror director, bar none.


Peter Jackson's King Kong is obviously the work of a great fan. It's subtle references and homages to the great film are amongst the best aspects of the new film.

But that is saying far too little for Kong 2005, because it is a fucking great ride at the theater. Superb acting (and casting, damn it!) as well as Jackson's own madcap joy in storytelling lend itself perfectly to this kind of large scale filmmaking. He just simply knows what will excite us.

Everyone that dislikes the choices of Brody and Black are just wrong. They fit perfectly into these roles, and their changes are amongst the best changes from Kong 1933. But it is Watts that shines above all. An amazing actress that has fulfilled all her promise from Mulholland Drive.

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

10. The 40 Year Old Virgin


The best thing about the 1933 King Kong is that it still works. For the most part comedy, romance and drama will translate into the present time but it is always more sketchy with adventure. I don't know if it's just that the whole world is more nerve wracking now, or if its just the films, but it is almost an exception when one still works.

Kong does. From the first moments the tension is well built and exciting, and by the time we get to Skull Island you are with these characters all the way. Yes, the special effects have dated a bit on Kong himself, but it is only distracting in the closeups, from a distance he is just as terrifying as ever. And that T-rex fight is still hardcore.

The most remarkable thing is how viscous the film is, with a huge body count. It pulls no punches, and even if you know how the film will end, you are still terrified for Ann and Jack.


I finally got around to seeing Crash last night. There is not a single true beat in that entire film. Not one character is well drawn (maybe Terrance Howard, but that is more do to acting than writing) and every turn is telegraphed about 20 minutes out.

Haggis's film seems to want to deal with big issues, to have something important to say. It doesn't, but it thinks it does and pronounces that loudly. While his actors are fairly solid, though the better actors give the better performances, and his direction is okay, if gimmicky, Haggis's script is terrible. He simply has nothing new to say on the subject of racism, and it is obvious.

I wish that Haggis could sit down and watch anything of Kieslowski's The Decalogue. Then he might learn the concept of dramatizing his polemics. Either that or go full Godard and quit narrative all together. Otherwise, he just needs to stop making these damn boring films.

Pet Cemetery.

In comparison to Morris's rather brilliant A Thin Blue Line, Gates of Heaven is just plain boring. Perhaps that is a lazy criticism, especially for a film that is hailed as a masterpiece, but I simply could not connect to the film on any level. Every time a character or situation would bring me in, they would flash and leave the screen to their boring compatriots. While Morris clearly shows what would later become the hallmarks of his genius, in Gates he just has not yet mastered keeping an audience. But once he did, what a great filmmaker.

Errol Morris is awesome.

Well now I have to host an anti-Death Penalty film festival at some point. Combined with Kieslowski's amazing Decalogue V (I really need to see A Short Film about Killing), Morris's The Thin Blue Line should make any intelligent audience turn against the death penalty. Anyone that thinks that courts don't make mistakes, Morris has seemingly effortlessly, though with painstaking research, shown that Randall Adams killed no man, and it was a system that suffers human frailty that sentenced him to death. Now, his sentence had been commuted by the time that Morris proved his innocence, but that mean nothing on the front of death penalty politics. He would have been killed, or at least died in prison had it not been for Morris.

As a film, The Thin Blue Line is amazing. Morris's cutting, combined with his brilliant research is amazing, and he presents his case with perfect persuasion. The famed reenactment puts the film on line with Rashomon, as one of the handful of great films about truth.

Godard said that film lies at 24 frames per second, perhaps The Thin Blue Line was a time where the truth came through.


Godard doesn't relate well to young people. He had a brief window, right around A Bout de Souffle, where he could empathise with Belmondo and Karina and Seaberg, but by '65 he was entrenched as an intellectual working for the revolution.

It is precisely this disconnect that makes Masculine Feminin work. The tone is someone that remembers his youth and yet does not romanticise it. His look at the nature of being a young man or woman in Paris is a condemnation of ineffectual politics and pointless materialism. In the 15 tableaux that make up the film, we see politics, sex and shopping. Godard is clearly not pleased, and yet he still makes it all seem pretty damn cool.

Not a great Godard film, but an interesting point for the beginnings of shifting away from the New Wave.

Chance Encounters.

Coincidence has been incredibly fertile ground in cinema history. It is bed rock of film noir, and Hitchcock used it throughout his however. It serves for great melodrama, we can all be afraid of accidentally running into Norman Bates. But for Kieslowski, the coincidence looks into the nature of the universe.

In nature, the odds of any occurrence actually happening are infinitesimally small. Two people in love today could just as easily never have met, and two soulmates may never be together because of the cruel trick that they were born 50 years apart. Red tells such a story, though that is but one of its threads. It is a tale of Valentine and a retired judge, and what could have been. But just as importantly it is the story of of man's redemption. Throughout the Three Colors trilogy, Kieslowski presents us with a character that has lost everything, and must regain a life. From a woman who loses both a family and the ability to feel, to a man that loses his wife and station in life and finally, importantly, to a man that has forgotten what it is to care for another living creature.

The trilogy's ending has been discussed at length, but to me the most important aspect is how it works not just to tie the films together, but to elevate the themes of Red. Placed last in the series, Kieslowski clearly sees this as the culmination, the ultimate of its expression. Therefore the ending works two fold. It is both a further rumination on the nature of experience and the miracle of any occurrence, and it shows the primacy of the judge's redemption. Each film ends with a transcendent moment: Julie crying in Blue, Karol and Dominique in love in White, and in Red they, along with Valentine, create the moment for the judge. In his face Kieslowski tells us that beyond the redemption of feeling and the redemption of love is the redemption of simple human compassion. Of the ability for the Judge to rejoice in life, perhaps for the first time in his entire existence. Kieslowski chose this moment to end his career: the judge feeling alive for the first time since his youth, and Valentine frightened, but importantly not martyred, as we had feared the entire length of the film. It is Kieslowski screaming to all of us: live!

The benefits of film criticism.

Great films don't present themselves to you on the first viewing. Nobody expects to get Finnegan's Wake on the first read, so why should a film like White?

I wasn't sure how I felt about the middle pole of the Three Colors trilogy after I finished it the first time. It certainly had a handful of brilliant scenes, and it expressed Kieslowski's dark humor much better than Blue. But it was not nearly as satisfying an experience as the first film, nor was it as beautiful and moving. So I head to the critics. I had felt that I was not getting certain aspects, that many themes I had picked up fully. This is different than my reaction to Nashville, where I simply didn't care for the film, here I felt like I was being asked to explore more deeply.

It was in a review on a DVD website that I hit upon the facet that brought the film fully around for me. White is named so after the color in the French flag, which I knew, but I was not sure what it represented. Upon learning that white was equality, the film clicked. With this as a basis for all the other themes and interplay in the film White works wonderfully. It may never be as transcendent as Blue, but its wicked sense of humor gives it a different twist.

Juliette thinking.

In film 101 they tell you never to write anything in a script that you can't show on screen. Never write the word "thinks". Thank God Kieslowski and Piesiewicz skipped that day.

Blue is a film about the interior, a film about thinking. Though major changes occur in Julie(Binoche)'s life, we are always held outside. There is no dramatic speech where we learn of her feelings, no soliloquy to lead us along. All we get are closeups, and we are left to discern what it is she is experiencing.

And as the major stylistic conceit for a film, I can't imagine anything more beautiful.

Ghosts through a Japanese lens.

It feels dishonest to call Mizoguchi's Ugetsu a ghost story, though it is that and one of the greatest. It is in fact a deeply moving tale of the evils of unmitigated ambition. Mizoguchi's style, seeming very western, with it grand tracking shots and haunting sound design, conveys much emotion and he leads all members of the cast to heartbreaking performances. It is a film that is steeped in human frailties as well as the ghosts of all our mistakes.