1961: 3 movies

posted 2014 October 3
Blast of Silence added on 2018 March 15


Catalog
Directed by John Whitney Sr.

   Abstract animation which was in full bloom in the early 1920s, went underground and finally had a comeback in 1958 with the opening credits sequence of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. That was the project of John Whitney Sr. and Saul Bass. Here, three years later, Whitney treats us to a 7-minute feast of his visuals which hypnotize and stimulate. Sensuous, stellar, mysterious, and mathematical all at once. The screen is born anew with this movie!


Blast of Silence
Written and directed by Allen Baron
Narration written by Waldo Salt
Produced by Merrill S. Brody
Music by Meyer Kupferman
Cinematography by Merrill S. Brody
Editing by Merrill S. Brody and Peggy Lawson 
Art direction by Charles Rosen 
Narration by Lionel Stander
Starring Allen Baron, Molly McCarthy,
and Larry Tucker

   A gruelling week in the life of a hit-man. You feel the city, you feel the loneliness, you feel the sick emptiness of the job. The photography has never been topped, the editing too. The people who put this together were fierce monsters of art. It seems to be related to Kubrick's "Killer's Kiss" (1955) in its raw energy and gritty splendor.

The Misfits
Directed by John Huston
Written by Arthur Miller
Produced by Frank E. Taylor
Music by Alex North 
Cinematography by Russell Metty
Editing by George Tomasini
Art direction by Stephen B. Grimes and Bill Newberry
Set decor by Frank R. McKelvy
Costumes by Jean Louis and Dorothy Jeakins
Music by Alex North
Starring Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable,
Eli Wallach, Montgomery Clift,
and Thelma Ritter

   Take the woman most widely considered to be the most beautiful in the world, take a screenplay by her Pulitzer-prize winning husband, take Hollywood's finest cast and crew, and voila! You have a movie that can not be duplicated. At times, it feels like a grown-up version of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, especially since it's about an fragile and idealistic young woman who seems to find surprises wherever she turns, except that the surprises in this case are human weakness and death. At other times, it feels like the last chapter in the cowboy/Western genre since it takes place among washed up cowboys in a world that doesn't need them as much anymore.
   Part of the movie's success is in how their is no clear black and white morality to it. All of the characters are struggling to stay afloat and to survive in a grey world. This can make it challenging viewing since everyone in the movie has major flaws, but instead of making the movie distasteful, we watch on, hoping for answers, and because the movie carries truth. Even Roslyn, who is our stand-in and gives us our perspective, who is so pure and in love with life, at times even she comes across as flawed. On the negative side of her spectrum, she's a victim, a martyr for no one, an unreasonable idealist, a perfectionist addicted to pointing her finger at everyone else. But through it all, the movie belongs to her and the actress who portrays her, Marilyn Monroe. Her character's compassionate convictions still speak true today. It's hard to divorce one's perception of Roslyn from Marilyn, but this doesn't take away from the movie. It could be one of the only movies where the audience's familiarity with an actor enhances the movie-watching experience. The movie shows us the much-needed positive angle of Marilyn Monroe's lesson to us: you must have compassion to have true and pure joy.
   Through it all, the camera moves around like a dream. It captures shots of people, city streets, small-town streets, the mountains, and animals. Shots that you don't ever want to let go. It builds tension by tightening the arguing actors in a frame, and shows loneliness by capturing a single body against an endless sea of wild country. The days, the nights, the interesting characters, settings, and thrilling experiences, Marilyn's performance makes a poem around them, and it's a beautiful, frightening, and heart-breaking one.

1918: 1 movie

(Last updated 15 March 2018)

A Dog's Life
Directed, written, edited, and produced
by Charles Chaplin
Production design by Charles D. Hall
Cinematography by Roland Totheroh
Costumes by Mother Vinot
Starring Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Albert Austin, and Syd Chaplin

   By our count, this marks Chaplin's eighth cinematic gem in 5 years! Not that he made eight in five years, he actually made over 40! This is just the eighth that has made this list of superior movies. It's an epic accomplishment, historic, rewarding and instructional. I mean, this is literally the first five years of the era of movies for mass consumption, and all the best ones were made by this one person! This makes us curious what it is about Chaplin's work that has resulted in so many gems, and his fame and beloved status in cinema. I think it is that he took something that he took something that was turning into a business, a sort of mindless factory, and he injected it with personality, humor, real emotion, and intelligence. He saved the medium by commenting on movies being made and poking fun at them, like in the scene in this movie where he rolls his cigarette with one hand. We instantly understand what he's doing, he's trying to be cool, but he's just not. And in showing us this, we think he's even more cool for showing us his vulnerable, un-cool self. By the way, the movie he references is "The Return of Draw Egan" (1916), an action-Western where the hero walks into a bar and rolls his cigarette with one hand while the other patrons try to size him up.
   Building on his theme of compassion for the poor, Chaplin goes all out in this one. Chaplin's tramp lives on the street, eats trash, and can't find work, and yet none of this is shown to us as a reason to despair immobilized. It all moves too quickly for that. The tramp is always on the move, looking for food, drink, friendship, love, and money, and this is what makes him endearing to us. He becomes our role model, or patron saint. Through his journey we witness many injustices, but they whizz by as we cling on to the tramp's coat, eager to see what he'll do next and if he'll ever find success.
   The inclusion of a dog as his companion, and the various interconnecting scenes all go to prove Chaplin's standing as the premier artist in the movie-medium at this time. It's like a stage play, but too action-packed for that. It's like an adventure story but it's too funny for that. It's like a comedy but it's too true-to-life for that. It's in a class all it's own. Cinema is the only single word for its macabre, bizarre, and romantic spirit.

1999: 4 movies

posted 2018 February 23

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch
Produced by Richard Guay, Jim Jarmusch,
and Diana Schmidt
Music by RZA
Editing by Jay Rabinowitz
Art direction by Mario Ventenilla
Starring Forest Whitaker, Isaach De Bankolé,
Camille Winbush, and Tricia Vessey

   Where Italian gangster culture meets African-American gangster culture meets Japanese gangster culture meets cartoons. How is this even possible? And then there's the French-speaking ice cream man! Welcome to the mind and soul of Jim Jarmusch. It's a universal poetry that will fill you with appreciation for the samurai's code which honor commitment and fearless perseverance over all things.
   The short scene where the movie's composer meets the lead actor and narrator is not just a neat cameo, but a central point since the soundtrack is so essential as to be almost the beat over which the poetry speaks over, as in a rap song. The movie's main theme is making the right action, saying the right things, thinking the right thoughts, living by striving towards perfection, and Jarmusch and team make it a mind-blowing event to behold! The cinematography seems a little uninvolved and the Italian gangsters come across as almost off-puttingly comic, but there is so much else to love, such as the editing and whole overarching ethic that this can be forgiven and on some viewings even appreciated. Possibly Forrest Whittaker's best role.

Hendrix: Band of Gypsys
Directed by Bob Smeaton
Produced by Neil Aspinall and Chips Chipperfield
Cinematography by Eugene O'Connor
Editing by Julian Caidan
Fillmore East concert photography by Jan Blom
and Woody Vaskula
Editor of Fillmore East concert footage (black and white):
Andy Matthews
Editor of Fillmore East footage (color): Amalie R. Rothschild
Starring Billy Cox and Buddy Miles

   Really fascinating documentary that takes you through all the steps towards a great concert and album. I mean, it captures the time, the personalities, the legal aspect, really in-depth look at the music industry, and it all flows with historic clips, interviews, photos, and concert footage. It documents the tumult of the late 1960s, and Jimi Hendrix's struggle to play music relevant to both black and white audiences. At some points, some of the interviewees seem to differ on their accounts and takes of Hendrix and his goals, but the artistry of the movie is that everything is all laid out splendidly for audiences to take and make up their own minds with.
   The soundtrack is flawless. And the star of the show, Hendrix, is worthy of the attention because of his fascinating music, politics, philosophy, humor, compassion, physical beauty, and fashion. The Band of Gypsys emerges with the glowing verdict that they not only created one of the greatest concerts and albums of all time, but that they are one of the greatest rock bands that has ever existed. Solid Billy Cox comes across as the rock, the shimmering, pulsing throne, the steady launching and landing pad. Jimi comes across as the god, the pilot, Icarus flying to new and untested heights. And Buddy Miles is the madman, the screaming, tantrumming baby, the rocket fuel, sometimes the show-stealing atomic bomb. It's where the blues, jazz, R&B, pop, British invasion, psychadelic, funk, progressive rock, experimental noise, protest, gospel, hard rock, and heavy metal all meet. And uncannily, the movie demonstrates this. The concerts the album was based on were sold out, the album has been certified as double platinum, and the movie itself has been certified platinum. Good to know justice has been served regarding this gem and all of its components.
   The 57:39 of supplemental live footage is amazing and can stand as a pretty epic movie by itself.

Run of the Mill
Direction by Børge Ring
Written by Børge Ring and Joanika Ring
Produced by Karsten Kiilerich, Willem Thijssen,
and Christine Thårup
Editing and coloring by Dorte Westh Lehrmann
Animated by Sara Koppel and Børge Ring
Music by Børge Ring and Mike del Ferro

   I didn't want to like it. I wanted to turn it off. And by the end, I was stunned, completely speechless, unable to move. Such perfect story-telling, such deep-rooted emotion. Denmark's Borge Ring is one of the great movie-makers, if you didn't already know that after his "Anna & Bella" 1984, and "Oh My Darling" 1978. He is a master of mood and making the viewer completely rethink the meaning of our lives.


1998: 5 movies

Posted on 2018 February 16

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Written by Terry Gilliam, Tony Grisoni,
Tod Davies, and Alex Cox
Produced by Patrick Cassavetti, Laila Nabulsi,
and Stephen Nemeth
Music by Ray Cooper
Cinematography by Nicola Pecorini
Editing by Lesley Walker
Production design by Alex McDowell
Art direction by Chris Gorak
Set decor by Nancy Haigh
Costumes by  Julie Weiss
Starring Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro,
and Tobey Maguire

   A celebration about smart people who just can't deal with slow pace of progress, and so they turn to wild drugs to watch the world turn into a fantasmagoria that is at least entertaining since it cannot be just and reasonable. In this way, these doped-out of their minds, stumbling, slurred-speech losers are actually protesters, taking a kneel on life, or Don Quijote-like warriors of justice in the battle against conservatism. The performances, music, and cinematography are perfectly haywire, and the writing somehow, brilliantly, makes sense. Possibly the best movie in the career of everyone involved, including director Burton and actor Depp. It's also a strong contender for best drug-movie ever. Related to "Easy Rider" and "Bonnie and Clyde". The cinematography and editing are beautiful, grotesque, and frenzied as if Federico Fellini directed Goodfellas while on LSD.

Pecker
Written and directed by John Waters
Produced by John Fiedler and Mark Tarlov
Music by Stewart Copeland
Cinematography by Robert M. Stevens
Editing by Janice Hampton
Production design by Vincent Peranio
Art direction by Scott T. Pina
Set decor by Patty Burgee
Costumes by Van Smith
Starring Edward Furlong, Christina Ricci,
Lili Taylor, and Lauren Hulsey

   Neck and neck for #1 of the year. So great! Seriously, it's one of the coolest movies ever, because of its bold proclamation of the truth while at the same time, somehow miraculously, staying humble, never snobby, and funny! The movie helps us understand the mind of an artist, but with never a dull moment. The mood walks a constantly surprising line between punk rock and earnest goodness. It feels autobiographical, from the good old days, but also somehow very current. And the soundtrack is as spot-on as soundtracks get!
   It's also commendable how director John Waters seemed to find a nice synthesis after his 1970s and early 80s movies with their wretched trashy sentiments and the sugary sweet "Hairspray" (1988). Here there are little touches of uncleanliness sprinkled throughout, but the whole universe in the movies kind of celebrates that, and makes us realize that life is not a sanitized glamour show, and so our art should not be either.  The movie doesn't just sprinkle this punk sentiment, it throws it right in the face of glossy, clean celebrity and wealth. It allows the clash to unfold fully to show clearly that genius cannot be sanitized and removed from its origins and core meaning. It is camp triumphant! 
   I must warn you: full nudity and titillating situations are depicted. But it's not gratuitous. It furthers the message that art can occur in unlikely places, and it furthers the argument for freedom of expression. Lastly, it is possibly the first document to contain the vulgar terms "teabag" and "dutch oven".

B. Monkey
Directed by Michael Radford
Written by Chloe King, Michael Radford,
and Michael Thomas
Produced by Colin Vaines and Stephen Woolley
Music by Luis Bacalov and Jennie Muskett
Cinematography by Ashley Rowe
Editing by Joëlle Hache
Production design by Sophie Becher
Art direction by David Hindle
Set decor by Careen Hertzog
Costumes by Valentin Breton Des Loys
Starring Asia Argento, Jared Harris,
and Jonathan Rhys Meyers

   Two movies crashed into one with nice results. On the one hand, it is a movie about a grade-school teacher who works nights as d.j. for a hospital, who seeks to do find satisfaction in his life, to fill his loneliness. On the other hand, it is a movie about a jewelry-thief who is trying to go clean even though her family is made up of unstable, violent criminals destined for a grim ending. The two protagonists meet and lead us to volatile, violent, and steamy results. The leads are perfect. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers is exceptionally fiery.


1996: 3 movies

Posted on 2017 February 17
Genre added on 2018 February 15

Looking for Richard
Directed by Al Pacino 
Produced by Michael Hadge and Al Pacino
Music by Howard Shore
Cinematography by Robert Leacock 
Editing by William A. Anderson, Ned Bastille,
Pasquale Buba, and Andre Ross Betz
Art Direction by Kevin Ritter 
Costumes by Yvonne Blake, Aude Bronson-Howard, 
and Deborah Lynn Scott
Starring Al Pacino, Frederic Kimball,
Penelope Allen, Alec Baldwin,
and Kevin Spacey

   Interesting in that it blends many genres and themes. It's not just a production of Shakespeare's play Richard III, but it's also a making of a theatrical production, the making of a movie. It's an explanation of a play. And it's something new: it's like a multi-media meditation on a 17th century play, its meaning, and its applications to today. Bravo, and some really great performances and most importantly, the brilliant editing which is monstrously good.

Breaking the Waves
Directed by Lars von Trier
Written by Lars von Trier and Peter Asmussen
Produced by Peter Aalbæk Jensen and Vibeke Windeløv
Cinematography by Robby Müller
Editing by Anders Refn
Costumes by Manon Rasmussen
Makeup by Sanne Gravfort, Morten Jacobsen,
and Jennifer Jorfaid
 Starring Emily Watson, Stellan Skarsgård,
and Katrin Cartlidge


   It's a celebration and an homage to steadfast faith. And it explains that steadfast faith comes from an all-powerful love. Yes, not everything in the movie is exactly relatable, and a part or two might seem a tad exaggerated, but the parts that work, really work, and those parts are impassioned and ingenious. Some scenes are even shockingly good, especially the ones where Emily Watson's character is talking to God and as God. Those scenes make the ground quake as we are left to wonder if she is actually tapped into something or if she is psychotic. The divide and crux of the movie is right there! And really what is she doing wrong? Is it not the world that she lives in that is undeserving of her? In this sense, it's also a look at justice and where we are at this moment as a species.

Genre

Written, directed, produced, and animated
by Don Hertzfeldt
Music by Dave LaDelfa
Cinematography by Cary Walker
Editing by Kevyn Eiselt

   Hertzfeldt takes his talent to a Fleischman level with the drawings coming off the page and blending animation with live-action. The humor is just as violent, sardonic, and cathartic. But it is funny nonetheless. And gleefully creative.

1985: 3 movies

Desperately Seeking Susan added on 2018 February 15

Rendez-vous
Directed by André Téchiné
Written by Olivier Assayas and André Téchiné
Produced by Alain Terzian
Music by Philippe Sarde
Cinematography by Renato Berta
Editing by Martine Giordano
Production design by Jean-Pierre Kohut-Svelko
Costume Design by Christian Gasc
Music by Hubert Bougis and  William Flageollet
Starring Juliette Binoche, Jean-Louis Trintignant,
Wadeck Stanczak, and Lambert Wilson

   The movie starts with a scene in an office that is so subtly realistic that it's amazing, especially since nothing much happens except that it serves as a lightly humorous way to introduce the main character in this serious drama. The main character is played by Juliette Binoche, who is already so watchable and talented that she seems like the reincarnated spirit of Ingrid Bergman. The movie opens up like a playground full of romantic joys and problems, and keeps the viewer's mind actively drawing comparisons to their own relationships.
   As the movie plays, Binoche's character makes her decisions, and lives through a handful of relationships, each one seeming to lead her to a chauvinistic dead-end. Will she ever find the way to a love based on respect? She may be on the right path when she meets a director who is staging "Romeo and Juliet". Played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, who was the definition of cool in 1970, it's a treat to see a master actor performing with newcomer Binoche. His filmography travels nicely with him here, and his trademark gravitas proves he's still got it.
   By the end of the movie, the viewer gets the feeling that love is a huge, breath-taking edifice, and that nothing matters more. This movie is a brilliant ode, parable, and poem to love where every line, every word is placed with care. The title translated from French means what it means in English, "Appointment".

Desperately Seeking Susan
Directed by Susan Seidelman
Written by Leora Barish
Produced by Sarah Pillsbury and Midge Sanford
Music by Thomas Newman
Cinematography by Edward Lachman
Editing by Andrew Mondshein
Production design by Santo Loquasto
Art direction by Speed Hopkins
Set decor by George DeTitta Jr.
Costumes by Santo Loquasto
Starring Rosanna Arquette, Madonna
Aidan Quinn, Mark Blum
and Robert Joy

   Of course, it's fun and colorful and filled with stars. But these are just used as a welcome mat so viewrs can experience a well-rounded production. The most awesome aspect of the movie is the tremendous cinematography, notably the scenes in the dance-club and the magician club, as well as those in alley-ways and shop-lined streets. Lachman wanted to show the grit of the New York he knew, enticing and yet menacing. And his lens choice, filters, and panning combine to achieve a screen that looms in front of the viewer like little we have seen before.
   The silly drama of a housewife mixing places with a carefree, hustling nomad isn't really silly once the movie gets going, but rather it is a mirror on the split nature of our society. The mood and flow is regulated by the director who was schooled on French New Wave, so that helps keep the project from being forgettable pop trash, and rather a comment on pop and trash. And then there are the fun themes of magic and superstition, music, and the more valuable themes of everyday life and feminism. The understated but committed performances and the bright multi-colored art direction keep it all in the joyful realm.

The Purple Rose of Cairo
Written and directed by Woody Allen
Produced by Robert Greenhut
Music by Dick Hyman
Cinematography by Gordon Willis
Editing by Susan E. Morse
Production design by Stuart Wurtzel
Art direction by Edward Pisoni
Set decor by Carol Joffe
Costumes by Jeffrey Kurland
Makeup by Fern Buchner
Hair-styling by Romaine Greene
Starring Mia Farrow, Jeff Daniels,
and Danny Aiello

   It's a soothing movie, even as it is awakeningly deep. With its story of a woman living a hopeless life during the Great Depression, we are treated to a glimpse of a fellow sufferer's trials and her joy of escaping into glamourous romantic movies. The genius of the movie comes when we get a glimpse of the business behind cinema magic. Splltting the dashing character on the screen from the actor who plays him, we are able to see that the protagonist, awesomely played by Mia Farrow, it might even be her best performance, is being used for her money by the actor even as she has a real relationship with the character. The comedy helps the whole heart-breaking affair go down easy.

1978: 3 movies

posted 2017 September 25


In einem Jahr mit 13 Monden
Writing, direction, production,
art direction, and cinematography
by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Production Design by Franz Vacek
Music by Peer Raben
Editing by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Juliane Lorenz
Makeup by Jo Braun
Starring Volker Spengler, Ingrid Caven,
and Elisabeth Trissenaar

   Slow and at times absurd, this beautiful and ground-breaking tale ushers us through the life of a married man who has fallen in love with someone other than his spouse. He has changed his sex for love but now is abandoned. In fact, he's been abandoned many times since then. That's what makes the story interesting: everything has happened already, and now the characters are only searching around for why, they try to recreate it, and they try to repair it. As down as this movie sounds, the gripping angles, the colors, art direction, and performances keep our eyes glued. Also, having a little knowledge of writer/director Fassbinder's personal tragedies gives this a sense of autobiographical importance and urgency.
   The title translates from Deutsch to "In a Year with 13 Moons".

Par desmit minutem vecaks
Written and directed by Herz Frank
Produced by Herz Frank and Pauls Pakalns
Cinematography by Juris Podnieks
Art Direction by Gunars Kondrats
Sound by Alfreds Visnevskis

   It's pretty amazing how interesting this movie is despite it's lack of story, one single shot, and no other subject other than a few toddlers watching a stage-show. There are no camera movements besides zooming in, zooming out, and panning. But what there is is nearly ten minutes of behavioral revelation. With nothing else to go on, we scan this child-audience for clues on what they are watching. When one of the children seems profoundly disturbed by the show, we might think about the morality of such a project. Is this wrong to subject a boy to something that can bring him to tears just for the sake of a movie? But as he moves so easily back to a calm and pleased state, we think this is not really cruelty but a matter of nature. People are simply emotional beings. Then the camera shifts to other children with less pronounced reactions and we wonder if there was something particular about the first boy, maybe we are not like him. The other children are cute as well, and we are grateful to the camera-operator for the way we are shown a variety of a children, but we are especially grateful when the camera pans back to the first boy, because somehow in such a short while we have already come to miss him, his dramatic shifts of mood, his impassioned features, the way his spirit spills out of his eyes, nose and mouth. 
   The music cleverly and amusingly dramatizes the shot, intriguing us by not moving parallel to the scene on the stage, but rather parallel to the reactions of the audience members. In the end, what we have learned is hard to put into a clever paragraph, it is more experiential, like staring into a mirror and playing with the limits of our own face and the way it relates to our mind. The title translates from the Latvian to "About ten minutes older".

Oh My Darling
Direction and music by Børge Ring 
Produced by Nico Crama
Sound Effects by Boy van Hattum

   No words or actors, only music, sound effects, and spell-binding animation. A simple tale of human generation, family, and the conflicting tugs of the heart. Story-telling great as a classic Greek ode.

1997: 6 movies


Bacheha-ye aseman
Written and directed by Majid Majidi
Produced by Amir Esfandiari and Mohammad Esfandiari
Cinematography by Parviz Malekzaade
Editing by Hassan Hassandoost
Music by Kayvan Jahanshahi
Starring Amir Farrokh Hashemian, Bahare Seddiqi, 
and Mohammad Amir Naji

   A gem. One of the best movies of all time, because it is as real and pertinent as it is beautiful. A real slice of life in Iran. The performances are so good, they're unreal! It's focused on children, yes, but the movie isn't childish. It's almost overwhelmingly humanist, heart-breaking in its poetry, humorous with its surprising observations, and suspenseful in its cinematography, editing, and economic writing. The family and inter-personal dynamics are enlightening and strongly tear-inducing, and inspiring. The climax by the lake is a cinematic highlight. 
   The title translates from the Farsi to "Children from the heavens".


Washington Square
Directed by Agnieszka Holland
Written by Carol Doyle
Produced by Julie Bergman Sender and Roger Birnbaum
Cinematography by Jerzy Zielinski
Editing by David Siegel
Production design by Allan Starski
Art direction by Alan E. Muraoka
Set decor by William A. Cimino
Costume design by Anna B. Sheppard
Makeup Department
Hair-styling by Sherri Bramlett, Wayne Herndon,
and Aaron F. Quarles
Make-up by Barbara Lacy and Micheline Trépanier
Music by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek
Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Albert Finney

   One of the most perfect performances by an actor in a movie.Every movement, sound, look, every moment and part of Jennifer Jason Leigh's physique that is caught by the camera is perfectly in tune with the spirit of the movie, and the spirit of the movie is strong and multi-faceted. It is the story of a love between a father and daughter, also between two lovers, and between a woman and herself. It is a story of growth, of tremendous pain and loss, and it is a story about truth and true power. The camera moves in intimately and out imperceptibly. Its feminism begins with a fearful whisper and ends with a proud scream. 
   It is based on the Henry James' novella of the same name.


U Turn
Directed by Oliver Stone
Written by John Ridley
Produced by Dan Halsted and Clayton Townsend
Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography by Robert Richardson
Editing by Hank Corwin and Thomas J. Nordberg
Casting by Mary Vernieu
Production design by Victor Kempster
Art direction by Dan Webster
Set decor by Merideth Boswell
Costumes by Beatrix Aruna Pasztor
Make-up by John Blake, Ken Diaz,
Rob Hinderstein, Mark Sanchez
an Natalie Wood
Hair-styling by Cydney Cornell, Dino Ganziano,
and Melissa Yonkey
 Starring Sean Penn, Jennifer Lopez,
Billy Bob Thornton, Jon Voight,
Powers Boothe, Nick Nolte,
Joaquin Phoenix, and Claire Danes

   In look, editing, plot-twists and camera angles, this movie succeeds because it rejects the regular way that movies usually behave in. It's as if every shot is the director cursing in the face of what cinema has been, and a bold, punk-rock yell for something new. It's wild, unbridled, fun, and an ugly mirror on our capitalist culture. Story-wise, it's basically a bloody nightmare made with wit style and humor that also parallels the story of bottomless human greed. The editing is masterful, the way a secondary character can be talking, and then, for a second, we see that character through the eyes of the main character. It's an unsettling technique especially because it really gets us aligned with the main character even if we don't want to be. If you can make it through the violence and sexual abuse, it is a treat of a movie. A film noir "bonnie and clyde"-type movie for our over-the top, jaded times.


1995: 4 movies

Posted on 2016 December 20

Party Girl
Directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer
Written by Harry Birckmayer, Sheila Gaffney,
and Daisy von Scherler Mayer
Produced by Harry Birckmayer and Stephanie Koules
Music by Anton Sanko and Bill Coleman
Cinematography by Michael Slovis 
Editing by Cara Silverman 
Production design by Kevin Thompson 
Set decor by Jennifer Baime
Costume design by Michael Clancy 
Make-up by Angela Johnson
Hair-styles by Barri Scinto
Starring Parker Posey, Guillermo Díaz,
Omar Townsend, and Sasha von Scherler

   A simple story told in such a novel way that it cannot be ignored. The lead actor is extremely magnetic because of her range, her unpredictability, and charm. The editing, sets, costumes, and photography create a dizzying whirlpool of sex, music, and drugs to convey the rush of the party-lifestyle. In the end, it's about a young woman's search for self-sufficiency and for her true self, a ride which is uniquely and humorously enjoyable. A liberated production, and one proud of its liberty.


12 Monkeys
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Written by David Webb Peoples and Janet Peoples
Produced by Charles Roven
Music by Paul Buckmaster
Cinematography by Roger Pratt
Editing by Mick Audsley
Production design by Jeffrey Beecroft
Art direction by William Ladd Skinner
Set decor by Crispian Sallis
Costume design by Julie Weiss
Make-up by Allen Weisinger, Christina Bartolucci,
and Christine Beveridge ... hair designer / makeup designer 
Hair-styles by Peggy Nicholson, William A. Kohout,
and Christine Beveridge
Starring Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe,
and Brad Pitt 

   It's a new shift in screen-writing. It knocks us off-track from the usual patterns, and introduces us to a new type of movie experience, one where there is no wrong to right, and no goal to reach. The goal is simply to know, as in: to live and to experience. And the visuals and performances add 100% to the production, direction, and writing. They create a feeling sharply direct and visceral. 
   The fact that time is fluid in this story makes it possible for the viewer to turn on any scene and get a sense of the whole. It's action-packed, funny, suspenseful, and often makes us doubt our own readings. And through it all, there is a deep mourning about time, mortality, and the irretrievable past.         
   The attention to detail just adds to this masterpiece's deliciousness.


A Streetcar Named Desire
Directed by Glenn Jordan
Produced by Glenn Jordan
Music by David Mansfield
Cinematography by Ralf D. Bode
Editing by David A. Simmons
Production design by Fred Harpman
Art direction by Janet Stokes
Set decor by Tom Pedigo
Costume design by Theoni V. Aldredge
Makeup by Alan Friedman
Hair styles by Susan Mills and Linda De Andrea
Starring Jessica Lange, Alec Baldwin,
Diane Lane, and John Goodman

   At this time of this writing, the most famous version of this Tennessee Williams play is the 1951 movie with Marlon Brando. But after seeing this more recent version, I ask why the former is so well-regarded. Is it because it's older, because it's in black & white, because Marlon Brando is in it, or because so many people have seen it? None of these reasons is a fit justification for art. This 1995 version, on the other hand, has a more realistic Blanche. It's more realistic all-around. When the lines are spoken, I feel like this is the right way they should be spoken. I never really understood Vivien Leigh's Blanche. But Jessica Lange is amazing to watch, so is Diane Lane, John Goodman. And Alec Baldwin seems so new and fresh and real, and yet somehow a little Brando sneaks in so that we won't miss his performance. Best of all, it feels unbearably painful to watch because of the emotions and reality of the situation. The other looked so good, I just liked the look and sounds. It was like a pop song, but this is the true symphony. There is no reason to look elsewhere in cinema, this is the definitive version of this play about men and women, sisters and bros, fantasy versus realism, art versus matter, and elite versus common. It's tragic the way it should be, meaning it leaves you feeling like something is all wrong. It's not cute and beautiful. It's messy, real, and an accurate depiction of society's cruel rape and murder of beauty and imagination.



1994: 5 movies

posted 2016 December 9


Il Postino
Directed by Michael Radford
Written by Furio Scarpelli, Giacomo Scarpelli,
Anna Pavignano, Michael Radford,
and  Massimo Troisi
Produced by Mario Cecchi Gori, Vittorio Cecchi Gori,
and Gaetano Daniele
Music by Luis Bacalov
Cinematography by Franco Di Giacomo
Editing by Roberto Perpignani
Production Design by Lorenzo Baraldi
Costume Design by Gianna Gissi
Starring Massimo Troisi, Philippe Noiret,
and Maria Grazia Cucinotta

   It relies so heavily on Troisi's performance that you feel like his performance is the star, like it's the glue, the backbone, like it's the landing after a gymnastic flying leap. The whole story about the worldly poet and the poor village-dweller is fascinating and well-written. 
   The struggle inherent in this movie is to consider whether Troisi's character would have been better off not meeting Neruda or whether Neruda gave his life meaning and made him a hero. The title translates from the Italian to "The mail-carrier."

Ed Wood
Directed by Tim Burton
Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski
Produced by Tim Burton and Denise Di Novi
Music by Howard Shore
Cinematography by Stefan Czapsky
Editing by Chris Lebenzon
Production design by Tom Duffield
Art direction by Okowita
Set decor by Cricket Rowland
Costume design by Colleen Atwood and Stephanie Colin
Makeup by Carrie Angland, Rick Baker,
Jim Leonard, James McLoughlin,
Ve Neill, and Matt Rose
Hair styles by Bridget Cook, Lucia Mace,
and Yolanda Toussieng
Starring Johnny Depp, Martin Landau,
and Patricia Arquette

   Making a good movie about a man who made bad movies is a complicated affair. It involves understanding the very nature of good and bad in cinema. It involves respecting personal vision, integrity, and perseverance, and it also involves plenty of humor. Somehow, Tim Burton's team was able to find the pitch perfect balance between humor and respect, inspiration, and pity. There is very little mockery, if any. Instead, the movie takes an admiring, amused tone, and that's what makes it good. So does Depp's sincerity, and the breath-taking, classic-Hollywood-styled lighting and cinematography. 
   There's something punk-rock about the movie, the way it laughs in the face of big budget, big money, and instead honors friendship and practicality. This movie makes us wonder what cinema would look like if it was more about having a good time and creating something true rather than seeking a perfect form with no substance.

Una pura formalità
Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore
Written by Giuseppe Tornatore and Pascal Quignard
Produced by Mario Cecchi Gori and Vittorio Cecchi Gori
Music written and conducted by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography by Blasco Giurato
Editing by Giuseppe Tornatore
Production design by Andrea Crisanti
Set decor by Vincenzo De Camillis and Mauro Passi
Costume design by Beatrice Bordone
Hair-styling by Vitaliana Patacca
Makeup by Maurizio Trani
Starring Gérard Depardieu and Roman Polanski

   Spooky as heck, a beautifully woven exploration into the human psyche. The editing is flawless, the writing a dream. The acting sublime. It's an amazing feat of art when something makes you think about the definition of life. It's also a rare treat when a movie so intelligent and psycological is able to come across as suspenseful to the point where the audience bites their finger-nails!
   The title translates from the Italian to "A pure formality".