Saturday, June 30, 2007

Bug (2006, William Friedkin)

Tense as hell, and rare in that the tension stems primarily from the unhinged nature of the film's principal characters. Yes, there are moments of shock, and by the time the principals have wallpapered the set in tinfoil the style has long since gone off the deep end, but it all feels like the extension of the main characters' frenzied personalities. With such ratcheted-up-to-11 material, you need completely committed performances, and Michael Shannon and Ashley Judd don't let us down. Lots of reviews have questioned why a woman would take in a guy as nuts as Shannon is here, but Judd's damaged goods too. She's had problems with dangerous men (I doubt her ex-husband is the only one) and there's the issue of her missing kid. So when Shannon- strange and intense but surprisingly gentle to her- comes around, he may be crazy, but he's the RIGHT kind of crazy for her. P.S.: Friedkin is back, making his best movie in two decades. I only wish that meant more... Rating: 7 out of 10.

Syndromes and a Century (2006, Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

As with most of "Joe's" films, I watched this like Homer Simpson watching TWIN PEAKS- "amazing! Incredible! I have no idea what's going on..." I mean, yeah, I got most of the broad outlines of this, but how everything fits together doesn't exactly compute. But then, is it really supposed to? As with TROPICAL MALADY, I think the most important thing when watching this film is to be mindful of the strange corners it lights up in your mind. Joe's movies refresh the parts most other movies can't even reach. Also, they've got what plants crave and, as Chris observed, they most likely have curative powers. If only we give ourselves over to them, that is. P.S.: Filmbrain uploaded the awesome song from the final scene. You're welcome in my opinion. Rating: 8 out of 10.

Waitress (2007, Adrienne Shelly)

Might have been a 6 had I not just seen a better exploration of a troubled marriage- that'd be KNOCKED UP, folks- earlier today. The simplistic brushstrokes with which Shelley paints the marriage between Russell and blue-collar meathead Jeremy Sisto takes quite a bit of the fun out of this. When he protested her pregnancy by saying "I'm afraid you'll end up loving the baby more than me" I was sort of tempted to give up on this. Glad I didn't since the rest is pretty beguiling. The stuff in the diner is fun on the level of a good sitcom and the affair between Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion (both very good) has an off-kilter sweetness. But it's Shelley who steals her own movie as Russell's mousy coworker, Dawn, hiding under lank hair, butterfly specs, and an eternally-worried expression. The joy that overtakes her once she has fallen in love is really a touching sight, and it's a damn shame she didn't live to see the film's release. Two final thoughts: (1) the Fillion-is-the-new-Harrison-Ford hype is totally warranted, although Fillion's even better with the romantic stuff; and (2) I'm not usually one for movie tie-ins, but I'd be seriously tempted to buy a WAITRESS recipe book. Rating: 5 out of 10.

The Valet (2006, Francis Veber)

Why do I keep bothering with Veber? I don't expect histrionics from my farces, but the dude's movies are so anti-dramatic that scenes that might lend the characters a little, I dunno, CHARACTER are elided completely. Like, say, the scene where our hero actually meets the supermodel for the first time- rather than allowing us to observe them getting first impressions of one another, so as to have those impressions transcended later on, she just fucking shows up in his apartment all of a sudden. What gives? Are these people only meant to serve as pawns in this dopey plot? That's pretty boring in my opinion. Also, for a movie that barrels through its narrative like Refrigerator Perry, this thing is pretty damn slack. Plus it's chintzy-looking and hardly anyone outside of Kristen Scott Thomas seems to be having any fun. Watching a great actor like Daniel Auteuil mugging and foaming at the mouth is just depressing. Rating: 3 out of 10.

Knocked Up (2007, Judd Apatow)

People need to stop bitching about how long this is in my opinion. Yes, we all know that comedies should only be 90 minutes long. But I'd be selling this movie short if I thought it was merely a comedy. Yes, it's often hilarious- there are surprisingly few dry patches among the obvious comedy scenes. But Apatow's game plan here is less like THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN than like FREAKS AND GEEKS- using the funny to leaven the dramatic scenes. There has also been some complaining that the film's central relationship- smokin' career woman Heigl and unemployed shlub Rogen- strains credibility, and admittedly this is a little hard to swallow if you don't think Rogen is awesome. However, I do, and he's pretty damn great here- funny as hell, as expected, but also more than pulling his weight in the more serious moments (helps that he has a better face for drama than, say, Will Ferrell or Ben Stiller). Heigl holds up her end of the bargain too, projecting a real intelligence and sensitivity so that her role doesn't turn into a killjoy or worse, eye candy. But what distinguishes this from a facile pregnancy dramedy a la SHE'S HAVING A BABY is the storyline involving Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann as an uneasily married couple, one that addresses some thorny issues in marriages and relationships. Whereas a plot thread like this would in a lesser movie feel mostly like a little break for the main stars, here it comes off less as a garden-variety subplot as something akin to a counter-melody in music, complementing the main story while possessing an emotional tenor all its own. And as good as Rudd is, it's Mann who shines in these scenes- she's never had a chance to really dig into a role like she does here, and the character feels like a gift from Apatow, her husband (also, their kids, who appear as Rudd and Mann's daughters, have clearly benefited from their comedic pedigree). Good stuff all around- I plan to see it again soon, and I don't anticipate it dipping in quality the second time the way THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN did- funny as that was, this one's funnier, and deeper besides. Rating: 7 out of 10.

Ocean's Thirteen (2007, Steven Soderbergh)

Yes, it's more or less a "cavalcade of starfuckery," but it treads so lightly one would be churlish to complain. While TWELVE had a ramshackle, whoever-was-available-that-day story construction, this one feels like the cast actually came to play, and it shows- everyone gets a little vignette of his own to dig into, and it's nice to see guys like Cheadle, Casey Affleck, and even Eddie Jemison get some of the spotlight for a change. And why haven't more critics mentioned how bloody gorgeous this movie is? With its rich, screen-filling colors, this is the most Vegas-y OCEAN'S yet, which is a good thing. Doesn't add up to much, but you can't have it all. Also (swipe once you've seen the movie): is it just me, or has Super Dave Osborne done more funny stuff so far this decade than little brother Albert Brooks? Between this and ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, dude's on a pretty sweet run. I don't believe for a second that he and Cherry Jones could've produced a kid who looks like Matt Damon, but he's so funny here that I didn't mind.} Rating: 6 out of 10.

Paris, je t'aime (2006, various)

The first thing that jumps out at you even before you actually watch it is the relatively low caliber of directors participating in this thing. Sure, you've got the Coen brothers, Cuaron, and Assayas, but Wes Craven? Gurinder Chadha? Vincenzo Natali? Gerard frickin' Depardieu? Compared to the equally blah TEN MINUTES OLDER movies, this feels like they were scraping the bottom. This wouldn't be such a problem, however, if the shorts themselves were better. Alas, they're mostly mediocre, with a few risible entries (Sylvain Chomet, Christopher Doyle) and one or two memorable ones. The biggest sin many of the filmmakers commit, aside from not trying all that hard, is that they really don't do much with Paris. Not a problem per se, except when the project is called "Paris, je t'aime" it would probably be good to tell stories that couldn't just have easily taken place in Sheboygan. In the end, Cuaron's film proves the most disappointing- more listless than a Cuaron film set in Paris and starring Nick Nolte and Ludivine Sagnier has any right to be. On the other end of the spectrum is Alexander Payne's closing short, which contains some of the patronizing humor that marred his last couple of features but also culminates in a surprisingly moving epiphany. Way to go out on a high note, folks. Better luck with your NYC film. Rating: 4 out of 10.

Malcolm X (1992, Spike Lee)

One of the most unlikely of masterpieces, an "important" movie that actually does justice to its subject. Not only that, but it's a great adaptation, a great grand epic, and a great entertainment to boot. MALCOLM X is the kind of movie that could have only been done right by a filmmaker who has both genius and a whole lot of bravado going for him. It's not perfect- I'm a bit iffy on the SPARTACUS-inspired coda, and I find the Theresa Randle subplot kind of offensive even while I recognize the intent behind it- but it's so powerful that the problems are of a piece with the tapestry of the movie as a whole. Most of all, MALCOLM X is a superior example of its genre because it's one of the few that really cut to the heart of the idea that great men and women are all products of their circumstances. Like him or not, Malcolm was important because he was called to action by his times, and oh man did he ever answer. Rating: ****.

Hostel (2005, Eli Roth)

Starts off with a pretty potent premise, seemingly cribbed from travelers' urban legends- American backpackers get seduced by hot European chicks only to find themselves caught in a torture-by-the-highest-bidder ring. But what might in other hands be a good way of milking the ugly-Americans-abroad archetype instead turns into little more than a lot of fake blood and gore makeup. The big problem is Roth, who (a) isn't director enough to make this thing atmospheric, stylish, or even, y'know, scary, and (b) can't be bothered to keep his cheesedick tendencies in check. It's not even clear that he really wants the audience to be scared, really- more than he grooves on the geek factor of showing lingering closeups of a principal characters slashed Achilles' tendons or a girl with an eye hanging out of its socket. Plus he forgets to give us an identification figure- we see most of the action through Jay Hernandez's eyes, but he's not compelling or sympathetic to really care much. Honestly, I'm inclined to believe that Roth identifies most with the Rick Hoffman character, a vulgar American would-be torturer who can't contain his excitement about getting in on the torture. Overall, it's juvenile, a little boring and just kind of sad. Rating: 3 out of 10.

Superman (1978, Richard Donner)

There seems to be a school of revisionist thought among the kids today that says this movie isn't awesome. Sorry, but you're wrong. Sure, by today's CGI standards the effects are shoddy, but that's what I love about this movie. It's from a time when spectacle wasn't simply about photo-realism, and the filmmakers' ambitions outweighed the technology at hand. In other words, they didn't have computers to do the effects work- if they wanted to do something, they had to figure it out (e.g. the unbroken shot in which Superman flies off Lois's rooftop and Clark comes in her door a few seconds later, accomplished with a screen and a projector). In our angsty, super-sensitive age, we've all gotten used to anguished, workaday superheroes, but Superman's always been a breed apart- he's not human, after all- and I like that the filmmakers don't try to psychoanalyze the Blue Boy Scout. If I want work-class heroes, I'll watch a SPIDER-MAN movie; if I want darkness, I'll catch BATMAN. What I want from Superman is stalwart heroism, and grandeur, and above all fun, which this has in spades. Seriously, this movie makes me laugh more than most comedies, especially when Lex Luthor (whose brilliance is only rivaled by his enormous amusement with himself) shows up. One word: "Otisburg?" Plus Christopher Reeve does effortlessly what his successor, Brandon Routh, couldn't- he makes Clark Kent as much fun to be around as Superman. Whereas with Routh we were just marking time until he got back into the suit, we care about Reeve's Clark. Man, this movie's so damn cool. Rating: ***1/2.

Hostel, Part II (2007, Eli Roth)

Markedly better than the first one, mostly because it's got much more of the sick humor that's Roth's real forte. In addition, now that he's gotten the initial shock of his premise out of the way, we can now delve into the mechanics of the hostel operation, seen mostly but not entirely through the eyes of a pair of Americans who "pay for the privilege," so to speak. Still not scary, but more interesting from a thematic standpoint, and I'd give this thing a 5 or even a 6 if not for the whole Heather Matarazzo thing. It's abundantly clear from the get-go that she's doomed- simpering around and generally acting like a grown-up Dawn Wiener, she exists to be a victim. Granted, she accepted the role and no doubt read the script, and as Hollywood's token nerd girl she's had more than her share of onscreen indignities vested upon her over the years (after all, she's worked with Todd Solondz). But seeing her hanging upside down, naked, as a female torturer (torturess?) toys with her with a scythe, not to get all Ebert/BLUE VELVET on you, but I honestly felt bad for her. Not the character, mind, but Matarazzo herself, and this feeling took me right of the movie and left me with a really bad taste in my mouth. I won't use the word "rape" like David Poland did, but goddamn Roth, that's pretty shameless. Rating: 4 out of 10.

A Mighty Heart (2007, Michael Winterbottom)

Basically, this is made up of two different stories at cross purposes with each other- a gritty true-life procedural, and a less interesting but more Oscar™-baity portrait of the Strong, Courageous Mariane Pearl. For a while, the procedural side dominates, with Mariane part of the ensemble, and even some extended scenes that don't feature her at all (e.g. the actual searching for Daniel Pearl). Alas, the prestige-picture side of the story ends up winning the day, overtaking its competition around the time Daniel gets beheaded- when Winterbottom's camera follows Mariane into her bedroom and takes in every second of her anguished cries, the movie stops working. Tight storytelling might have helped remedy this problem, but narrative tightness has never been Winterbottom's strong suit, even in his best work (hell, both 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE and A COCK AND BULL STORY seemed to take the idea of flailing about as a narrative governing principle, and bless them for that). Also, it's not that Angelina is bad in the role, or even that she doesn't disappear into it like she should- a.k.a. Nicole Kidman/COLD MOUNTAIN disease- but that her performance just doesn't mesh with the rest. Jolie's performance is very actorly, very "on," while everyone else around has been cast to type, and even the recognizable faces give naturalistic performances. Then again, Jolie has always been more of a soloist, and engagement with other people onscreen is not her strong suit, which doesn't help. Rating: 4 out of 10.

Comedy of Power (2006, Claude Chabrol)

Not so much a suspense movie as a study in behavior, with judge Isabelle Huppert pitting herself against the patriarchal forces at the center of French society. Most of the points this has to make are made early and often- a woman has to be more ruthless than the men around her to survive, et al- and compared to something like, say, DEMONLOVER it's pretty quaint. Still, Huppert never fails to fascinate. I was a little taken aback by her character's voice at the outset- deeper and throatier than Huppert's normal speaking voice- but when she eased off of it in the scenes at home it became clear that it was just part of the character's mystique. Chabrol may never make another masterpiece, but I'm glad he's still around to make movies like this. He can practically do them in his sleep, but when they're better than most directors' A games it seems churlish to complain. Rating: 6 out of 10.

Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967, Jean-Luc Godard)

Perhaps the wankiest of Godard's 60s classics, but it's fascinating stuff. It's pretty much a feature-length defying of expectations, a game that Godard has played for decades. Godard has his protstitute heroine (foxy Marina Vlady) disrobe repeatedly but always frames her from the neck up. She's married with kids, but it's unclear whether he knows about her other job- at any rate, he never finds out during the course of the film. And being conditioned by Godard to expect a death at the end of the film, it's surprising that it never comes. Visually, it's Godard playing around with the 'Scope frame, isolating his characters at the corners or at the bottom center of the frame as they're dwarfed by Paris behind them. Otherwise, the style feels almost comic book-ish, with colorful intertitles, shots dominated by brightly-colored consumer products, and dialogue that feels mostly like thought balloons. And just when it runs the risk of getting a little old, Juliet Berto shows up. Good times. Rating: ***1/2.

Live Free or Die Hard (2007, Len Wiseman)

Never quite feels like a DIE HARD movie- even McClane himself doesn't feel the same- but it's highly entertaining for a Hollywood action programmer. Much like the original DIE HARD, LIVE FREE is a fish-out-of-water story, only whereas the original film saw his New York sensibility in a high-stakes white-collar milieu, this one shows the McClane taking on the "digital world." Consider his two major fight scenes, the first with Asian stunner Maggie Q- and her stunt double- as he counters her martial arts skills with old-school brawling, and the second being totally confounded by a henchman's parkour skills, prevailing only by smartly evading his athletically superior opponent. Honestly, that's always been McClane's trump card- his street smarts and ability to improvise under extreme pressure. The rest of the movie is a serviceable cyber-terrorism story writ large- dig the way the villain uses a YouTube-style montage of Presidential speeches as a televised threat- but it's fun and the action scenes are sweet and surprisingly well-sustained. This being a DIE HARD movie, the plot details don't so much strain credibility as leave it with giant stretch marks, but honestly- what do you want from this? Rating: 6 out of 10.

Sicko (2007, Michael Moore)

In terms of the issues it addresses, this may be Moore's most important film yet, as it explores the way certain policies and practices have more or less killed quite a few unfortunate people. Moore paints the American health care establishment as an institution that has betrayed its trust with these people by valuing profit margins over people's well-being- after all, people don't sign up and pay for health insurance without expecting the companies to help them in their time of need, making them bankrupt, disillusioned, and even left to die. But in Moore's eyes, it goes deeper than that- the insurance companies, health care providers, and even our government have created a giant cluster fuck that has made this dire situation practically unsolvable in our current societal climate. In Moore's eyes- and frankly, in mine- this feels like a betrayal of our democratic principles, and that a government of the people, for the people and by the people should be accountable to the people first rather than maybe eventually. Despite Moore's occasional- and increasingly unfortunate- on camera shenanigans, many of his points are made by those he interviews, especially British parliamentarian Tony Benn, who credits the UK's universal health care to a renewed faith in democracy and neighborly goodwill that sprung up after WW2 (compare this to the audiotape that Moore plays of Nixon and Ehrlichman musing on the benefits of then-nascent HMO plans). Moore largely avoids the issue of the tax increases necessary to fund national health care- which would no doubt be a sticking point for many Americans who want others to help them but would rather not pay for it- but otherwise his points hit home. It's not perfect, but as agitprop it cuts deep. Rating: 7 out of 10.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

June 2007 mini-reviews

6/29- The Adjuster (1991, Atom Egoyan) [**1/2] {I guess I'm not a die-hard Egoyan fan, since while I respected this early title beloved by his fans, it just didn't hit me like his best work does. It's very chilly stuff, with Elias Koteas' character proving to be a fascinating conundrum- a man who bends over backwards to serve people for his job, but who's distant from his own family. Egoyan shines a light in rarely-illuminated corners of society- the mindset of censors, the escalating sexual gamesmanship between an affluent married couple- but it doesn't really build as much as I was hoping. Can't argue with the performances though, in particular Koteas and Maury Chaykin.}

6/26- Sacco and Vanzetti (2005, Peter Miller) [6] {Still-fascinating (and timely) true crime story gets a somewhat pedestrian documentary treatment, but thankfully the format is sturdy enough that it takes a backseat to the material, instead of dragging it down. No big revelations here, but a damn good primer to those unfamiliar with the case. Tony Shalhoub's Italian-accented reading of Sacco's last letter to his son is a highlight.}

6/23- I Don't Want to Sleep Alone (2006, Tsai Ming-liang) [5] {After the phantasmagoria of THE WAYWARD CLOUD, this feels like Tsai's greatest hits again- urban alienation, a sudden half-explained climate emergency (this time smog), a polysexual love triangle, heroes who are practically mute, Lee Kang-Sheng getting harm visited upon him (we always hurt the ones we love, eh Tsai?). All seen through Tsai's impeccable eye, although I still think his post WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? films have suffered visually from the lack of Benoit Delhomme. Can't argue with the framing, but this gets kinda draggy at times, and really I do wish Tsai would try a little harder.}

6/22- 1408 (2007, Mikael Håfström) [5] {A pretty decent haunted-house flick distinguished by the presence of John Cusack, who's better here than he's been in years. After too many bad chick flicks in which Cusack got called on fill in the blanks for his character, it's nice to see him wandering well outside his usual comfort zone. I'd go so far as to say that this wouldn't be half as good without Cusack- it's one thing to see an actor prone to histrionics in the central role here, but because it's Cusack, perhaps the most composed and laid-back of contemporary leading men, it actually works. We buy the self-possessed cynic at the beginning ("let's Encyclopedia Brown this bitch"), which makes it all the more effective when he loses his shit. Bonus points for (SPOILER) actually pulling off the double-fakeout, which to my recollection no film has done since AUDITION. Well done, guys.}

6/20- Mutual Appreciation (2005, Andrew Bujalski) [5] {Pretty good, but this movie talks so much that when it's over there isn't a whole lot left to say about it. I still prefer FUNNY HA HA somewhat- the hem'n'haw dialogue feels less affected here, but the unpredictability of that film's characters made it more compelling. Also Kate Dollenmeyer > Justin Rice, acting-wise. Thusfar, I'm cool with Bujalski, but I think the people proclaiming him the voice of my generation need to settle the hell down. Although I certainly prefer him to, say, Zack Braff.}

6/18- /Punch-Drunk Love (2002, Paul Thomas Anderson)/ [****] {I think a big reason why I had trouble fully embracing this the first few times I saw it is that the small, incidental touches are pretty much the entire movie here. The way Barry cordially says "goodbye" after his sister has already hung up on him. The small cake he brings to the birthday party. Lance faithfully showing up at work in a suit just like Barry does. The matter-of-fact, indifferent voice Lena's desk clerk uses when asking "are you Barry?" The inside-joke feel of the comedic moments- "business is very food." Barry randomly noticing the 99 cent sign when he's cornered by the Mormon brothers. Lena's red dress, out of focus, down the aisle from Barry at the supermarket. The exaggerated soundtrack when Barry tears apart the men's room. How Barry, thwarted in his attempt to acquire his frequent flier miles, simply buys a ticket to Hawaii. The presence of the Atlas Van Lines truck in several key shots. Lena girlishly swinging her arms as she runs toward Barry. The way Barry hands the tire iron to the weakest Mormon brother, cowering in the back of the truck, after Barry has used it to beat up his brothers. Barry carrying the phone receiver back to the hospital, and then all the way to Utah. Mattress Man getting his haircut when Barry shows up. The phrase "beat the hell from you." And all the little lens flares, momentary swaths of color, funky shadows, and percussive Jon Brion music in between.}

6/17- Man's Favorite Sport? (1964, Howard Hawks) [***1/2] {I might be risking sacrelige here, but I actually prefer this to BRINGING UP BABY, of which this is a quasi-remake. This is mostly due to the more relaxed style that Hawks had when he was older, which gives the characters and comedy a little breathing room, all the better to be taken off guard by the bizarre touches (the bear, the stock footage of the trains, and so forth). And while Rock Hudson would never be mistaken for Cary Grant, I prefer Paula Prentiss' daffy performance to Kate Hepburn's more studied comic style, which has always been my big hangup with BABY. In other words, I believe Prentiss in the role in a way I don't believe Hepburn, whose fussy performance upstages the character. Lots of fun.}

6/17- /The Fugitive (1993, Andrew Davis)/ [***1/2] {Even better than I'd remembered. The direction is solid but not great, but I'm not sure it'd work with flashier filmmaking. In fact, it'd probably get in the way of the acting (not just Ford and Jones, but from a supporting cast chock full of handpicked character actors) and the taut screenplay. What really makes this work is that the film's two opposing protagonists are both smart- Dr. Kimble time and again makes good decisions and avoids falling into easy traps, and Gerard is left to piece together not only where Kimble's going, but also why he's been where he's been. Probably couldn't be made today- not only is it rare to see a big-star vehicle this lean, but the policier has become so self-aware since '93 that studios (let alone big audiences) couldn't be bothered with one this straightforward.}

6/14- In the Pit (2006, Juan Carlos Rolfo) [6] {As one interviewee says, "this bridge has taken many souls," and this film deals with a handful of the souls who've survived its building. Rolfo wisely sticks with the people who pour their sweat and energy into the project but will never receive any credit other than a little money. Not only that, but the workers are so poor that few have cars and probably won't get much benefit from it. Also, special mention to the dude who says, "a man can get used to anything, except work." Amen to that, hermano.}

6/13- La Vie en Rose (2007, Olivier Dahan) [4] {There's a reason why musical biopics are irresistible prestige projects- there's a familiar story arc, ample opportunities for the stars to indulge in great big Acting, and a ready-made soundtrack. Unfortunately, Dahan's only new wrinkle on the genre is that he insists on telling the story out of order, which was no doubt an attempt to shake up the formula, but instead only underlines the episodic nature of these things. Seeing as how Piaf's songs can be easily found, the only reason to watch this is Marion Cotillard, who might engage in awards-friendly mimicry, but does it so convincingly and fiercely that she's kind of hypnotic to watch. But other than that, this is little more than an arthouse MARCHE LA LIGNE.}

6/10- /Modern Romance (1981, Albert Brooks)/ [***1/2] {Man, it's been too long since I saw this last, and having been through a start-and-stop-and-start-again relationship myself (though not to the same extent) it hit me a lot harder this time. In a comedic way, yes, but the laughs catch in the throat, like when Brooks spends the night after the breakup getting gooned on quaaludes (in my case it was booze, but never mind) and randomly calling a girl in his Rolodex. Perhaps the key to the movie can be found in Brooks' ironic use of Joe Cocker's "You Are So Beautiful," whose simple-to-the-point-of-being-dopey lyrics contrast rather sharply with Brooks' constant neurosis and self-analysis. Plus it's really funny, which you already knew.}

6/9- Manufactured Landscapes (2006, Jennifer Baichwal) [6] {I liked how Baichwal's camera mimicked the style of the film's subject, Edward Burtynsky, while at the same time probing into his photographic subjects in ways he can't with a still camera. Overall, an interesting look of industrialization and modernization in contemporary China.}

6/9- Sex and Fury (1973, Norifumi Suzuki) [***1/2] {Righteous. This is about six notches above Suzuki's SCHOOL OF THE HOLY BEAST in terms of quality, not least because the characters and story are more engaging, rather than simply functioning as a clothesline for sacreligious imagery. Was expecting the film to go downhill after an amazing early fight scene, but surprisingly it kept on truckin'. I was a little let down that protagonist Reiko Ike didn't end up teaming with foreign guest star Christina Lindberg for some two-headed ass-kicking, but at least we got the scene of Lindberg whipping Ike, so that was cool. Will definitely have to seek out more (a) Japanese pinky-violence flicks, and (b) Lindberg movies- not sure if she's much of an actress, but she's some kind of wonder, and that's just as special in movies like this, perhaps even more so.}

6/8- Surf's Up (2007, Ash Brannon and Chris Buck) [6] {Between MONSTER HOUSE and this, Sony Pictures Animation is the only animation house who's actually trying to compete with Pixar from a visual standpoint. The filmmakers actually get a lot of mileage from the mockumentary format, as the unconventional (for a 'toon) camera movements freshen up a somewhat pro forma sports storyline. Bonus points for Jeff Bridges for more or less resurrecting The Dude, currently abiding in animated penguin form.}

6/7- Jigoku (1960, Nobuo Makagawa) [**1/2] {The first hour of this is actually kind of a slog, mostly devolving into a pattern of sudden killings taking place around the most cursed character probably ever. Gets more interesting once everyone winds up in Jigoku (which doesn't translate as "Heaven," fyi), with some sweet colored lighting schemes- gee, wonder if Argento saw this?- and theatrical effects. Still not sure how good this is, but it's pretty fascinating.}

6/5- El Topo (1970, Alejandro Jodorowsky) [***1/2] {It's not quite on the HOLY MOUNTAIN plane of awesomeness, but it's still pretty astounding stuff. Unlike HOLY MOUNTAIN, which is amazing from stem to stern, this only really kicked into gear for me after the big honkin' jump-forward in the middle. Don't get me wrong, the stuff with the gun masters is pretty fun, but this really cooks in the last 45 minutes or so. Man, I'd love to see me some Jodo on the big screen.}