Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 In Review: Music

**** Chrissie Hynde - Stockholm
**** Drowners - Drowners
**** Dum Dum Girls - Too True
**** Ex Hex - Rips
**** Jenny Lewis - The Voyager
**** La Sera - Hour of the Dawn
**** New Pornographers - Brill Bruisers
**** Pains of Being Pure at Heart, The - Days of Abandon
*** Architecture In Helsinki - Now And 4Eva
*** Army Navy - The Wilderness Inside
*** Belle Brigade, The - Just Because
*** Both, The - The Both
*** Broken Bells - After the Disco
*** Bryan Ferry - Avonmore
*** Inspiral Carpets - Inspiral Carpets
*** Kooks, The - Listen
*** Muffs, The - Whoop Dee Doo
*** New Mendicants, The - Into The Lime
*** Peter Buck - I Am Back To Blow Your Mind Once Again
*** Raveonettes, The - Pe'ahi
*** Roseanne Cash - The River And The Thread
*** Snowbird - Moon
*** Stevie Nicks - 24 karat gold - songs from the vault
*** Suzanne Vega - Tales From The Realm of The Queen of Pentacles
*** TV on the Radio - Seeds
*** Tacocat - NVM
*** We Are Scientists - tv en francais
** Honeyblood - Honeyblood
** Hooray For Earth - Racy
** Hospitality - Trouble
** Kitten - Kitten
** Larkin Poe - Kin
** Lust For Youth - International
** Neil Finn - Dizzy Heights
** Phantogram - Voices
** Robyn Hitchcock - The Man Upstairs
** Sarah McLachlan - Shine On
** Sharon Van Etten - Are We There
** Shonen Knife - Overdrive
** Sinead O'Connor - I'm not bossy, I'm the boss
** Sleeper Agent - About Last Night
** Spoon - They Want My Soul
** Temples - Sun Structures
** Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers - Hypnotic Eye
** Tori Amos - Unrepentant Geraldines
** U2 - Songs Of Innocence
** Vashti Bunyan - Heartleap
* Juliet Dagger, The - Hi-Ya
* Mr Little Jeans - Pocketknife
* Natalie Merchant - Natalie Merchant
* St. Vincent - St. Vincent
* tUnE-yArDs - Nikki Nack

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Wind Rises (2013) **

Gorgeously animated but the lack of a compelling story can't hold attention for its long running time. Disappointing.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Half of All Children Will Be Autistic by 2025, Warns Senior Research Scientist at MIT | The Alliance for Natural Health USA

"This month, the USDA released a study finding that although there were detectable levels of pesticide residue in more than half of food tested by the agency, 99% of samples taken were found to be within levels the government deems safe, and 40% were found to have no detectable trace of pesticides at all. The USDA added, however, that due to 'cost concerns,' it did not test for residues of glyphosate. Let’s repeat that: they never tested for the active ingredient in the most widely used herbicide in the world. 'Cost concerns'? How absurd—unless they mean it will cost them too much in terms of the special relationship between the USDA and Monsanto. You may recall the revolving door between Monsanto and the federal government, with agency officials becoming high-paying executives—and vice versa! Money, power, prestige: it’s all there. Monsanto and the USDA love to scratch each others’ backs. Clearly this omission was purposeful."

Shadows and Fog (1991) ***

With a look and story frame "lovingly ripped off" from Fritz Lang, Woody adds some good one liners, another who's who cast and some clever musings on the battle of the sexes and the nature of evil.

The Double (2013) ***

Part Kafka, Gilliam, Lynch and the first half is stunning but the overall impact falters as the story loses steam and the logic of the film seems to slip.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) *

Peter Jackson can REALLY stretch out a scene. The film is bloated, repetitive and heavy handed. The entire trilogy would have been a terrific single film. As it is, it's a sprawling mess.

Alice (1990) ***

Wonderfully designed and sumptuously shot fable about getting outside your comfort zone for true happiness. Great cast, typical Woody film (and that's a good thing).

Monday, December 15, 2014

Are You An Introvert Or An Extrovert? What It Means For Your Career | Fast Company | Business Innovation

"Introverted people are known for thinking things through before they speak, enjoying small, close groups of friends and one-on-one time, needing time alone to recharge, and being upset by unexpected changes or last-minute surprises. Introverts are not necessarily shy and may not even avoid social situations, but they will definitely need some time alone or just with close friends or family after spending time in a big crowd."

Monday, December 08, 2014

September (1987) ***

Apparently Woody doesn't think too much of this film, but it's another well written, acted and shot Chekovian study of (again, white elite) people and the secrets and lies they keep to avoid despair.

Interiors (1978) ***

Gorgeous looking examination of an insular elite family of upper crust New Yorkers and the havoc wreaked by the patriarch's divorce and remarriage. Well written and acted but doesn't quite reach universality although some of the characters are exceptionally well drawn.

Friday, December 05, 2014

The Police in America Are Becoming Illegitimate | Rolling Stone

"This policy of constantly badgering people for trifles generates bloodcurdling anger in 'hot spot' neighborhoods with industrial efficiency. And then something like the Garner case happens and it all comes into relief. Six armed police officers tackling and killing a man for selling a 75-cent cigarette.

"That was economic regulation turned lethal, a situation made all the more ridiculous by the fact that we no longer prosecute the countless serious economic crimes committed in this same city. A ferry ride away from Staten Island, on Wall Street, the pure unmolested freedom to fleece whoever you want is considered the sacred birthright of every rake with a briefcase.

"If Lloyd Blankfein or Jamie Dimon had come up with the concept of selling loosies, they'd go to their graves defending it as free economic expression that 'creates liquidity' and should never be regulated."

Random Harvest (1942) **

Well done weepie with excellent lead performances although Colman seems a bit too old for the part.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

The Front (1976) **

Never quite manages to rise above its contrived origins and Woody is miscast, but the great Zero Mostel is so good he almost pulls it off.

Monday, December 01, 2014

The Time Traveler's Wife (2009) *

Maybe Terrence Malick could have done something with the source material but this literal adaptation just does not work.

Fedora (1978) **

The story is just not as emotion packed as the director thinks it is and the actors just aren't capable of providing the difference. A little too "inside Hollywood".

Ida (2013) ***

Tightly paced, crisply shot in black and white, a portrait of human beings pushed to the brink of despair and sometimes beyond. Difficult, but well made and often profound.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Case for Policing Reform Is Much Bigger Than Michael Brown - The Atlantic

"As a longtime proponent of sweeping reforms to the criminal justice system, I'm extremely apprehensive of the impulse to treat the killing of Michael Brown as a focal rallying point, even granting that the case has mobilized people and attention. His death is a perfect illustration of the need for dashboard cameras on every patrol vehicle and lapel cameras on every police officer in America. The way officials in Ferguson reacted to the protests over his death did illustrate the alarming militarization of U.S. police agencies. But when it comes to the problem of police officers using excessive force, including lethal force, against people they encounter, there are scores of cases that better illustrate the problem."

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Why It’s Impossible to Indict a Cop | The Nation

"Wanton overpolicing had poisoned relations between the people and their government well before Darren Wilson shot dead Michael Brown. Less mediagenic than police militarization and far more insidious is law enforcement’s daily harassment of citizens for petty offenses. The local government in Ferguson has been treating its residents and neighbors less like free people with rights than like revenue milk-cows to be exploited to the max. Citations and fines for petty offenses are profligately inflicted on residents, particularly black residents. According to a blockbuster report issued by St. Louis’s ArchCity Defenders advocacy group, over 20 percent of city revenue comes from municipal courts (making them the city’s second-largest source of revenue), which issued enough warrants last year to slap three warrants, $312 worth, on every household in the town."

Friday, November 21, 2014

I Am Love (2009) **

Beautifully photographed with an appealing cast but the central love affair is unconvincing and it's hard to feel for the characters.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Birdman (2014) ****

Original, funny, audacious and inventive. The entire cast is outstanding led by a career re-defining performance by Mr. Mom.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

An Oral History of the Epic Space Film The Right Stuff | WIRED

"PHILIP KAUFMAN: We combined the great NASA footage with pieces that were built on the set. We were pioneering in that kind of insertion of actors into historical events. For example, we combined footage of the real Alan Shepard being loaded into the capsule with Scott Glenn doing it on the stage. We had Scott Glenn shaking hands with Kennedy; they did the same thing in Forrest Gump and made a big thing out of spending a million dollars to do it. We did that in one afternoon."

Moving from film stock to digital, at least so far, has achieved less creative results. All you have to do is animate the scene you want via CGI and show it in near darkness or with extreme short cuts so you can't really tell what is going on and the brain of the viewer fills in the blanks. Sad.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Quantum Experiment Shows How Time ‘Emerges’ from Entanglement — The Physics arXiv Blog — Medium

"The experiment involves the creation of a toy universe consisting of a pair of entangled photons and an observer that can measure their state in one of two ways. In the first, the observer measures the evolution of the system by becoming entangled with it. In the second, a god-like observer measures the evolution against an external clock which is entirely independent of the toy universe.

"The experimental details are straightforward. The entangled photons each have a polarisation which can be changed by passing it through a birefringent plate. In the first set up, the observer measures the polarisation of one photon, thereby becoming entangled with it. He or she then compares this with the polarisation of the second photon. The difference is a measure of time.

"In the second set up, the photons again both pass through the birefringent plates which change their polarisations. However, in this case, the observer only measures the global properties of both photons by comparing them against an independent clock.

"In this case, the observer cannot detect any difference between the photons without becoming entangled with one or the other. And if there is no difference, the system appears static. In other words, time does not emerge."

Genetically Modified Organisms Risk Global Ruin, Says Black Swan Author — The Physics arXiv Blog — Medium

"One of the arguments that genetically modified crops are safe is that it is no more unnatural than the selective farming that people have been doing for generations. However, Taleb and co argue that this kind of farming is different from the current practice because any mistake in the form of a harmful variation will almost certainly be localised and die out as a result. This is the natural process of selection.

"Over many generations, humans have chosen and adapted biological organisms that are relatively safe for consumption, even though there are many organisms that are not safe, including parts of and varieties of the crops that we do cultivate.

"By contrast, genetic engineering works in a very different way. This process introduces rapid changes on a global scale. But selection cannot operate on this scale, they argue.

“'There is no comparison between tinkering with the selective breeding of genetic components of organisms that have previously undergone extensive histories of selection and the top-down engineering of taking a gene from a fish and putting it into a tomato,' they argue. 'Saying that such a product is natural misses the process of natural selection by which things become “natural.”'”

Friday, November 14, 2014

Fading Gigolo (2013) ***

An appealing cast, just as long as it needs to be, interesting quirks, and Woody being "Woody" add up to an entertaining 90 minutes.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

BBC News - Reagan's apology to Thatcher over Grenada revealed

"The release confirms that President Reagan secretly recorded his discussions in the White House situation room, a habit that was previously thought to have ended with Richard Nixon's departure from office."

I guess some habits are just too hard to break.

via @HealeyParera

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Obamacare Architect Jon Gruber Says Deceiving Americans Necessary to Pass Bill | naked capitalism

"This recently-posted video (hat tip Daily Signal) shows Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber matter-of-factly stating that an honestly and simply described Obamacare would not have passed Congress. Preying on 'the stupidity of the American voter' was necessary to get the bill passed. Of course, Gruber deems that to be a good thing."

It's a shame we no longer prosecute fraud.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Interstellar (2014) **

The two stars are for a half dozen stunning space travel set pieces and some cool robots. Otherwise this is a bloated, heavy handed jumble of some of the hoariest sci-fi plot cliches ever filmed, and some troubling ultra-right messages. Very disappointing.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Alps (2011) ***

Follow up to Dogtooth is totally different yet very similar. Mind bending premise played out to horrific conclusions. Yorgos Lanthimos is a director to watch for.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Sophia Loren explains her infamous side eye in Jayne Mansfield photo | PopWatch | EW.com

"'She came right for my table. She knew everyone was watching. She sat down. And now, she was barely… Listen. Look at the picture. Where are my eyes? I’m staring at her nipples because I am afraid they are about to come onto my plate. In my face you can see the fear. I’m so frightened that everything in her dress is going to blow—BOOM!—and spill all over the table.'"

Monday, November 03, 2014

Jacques Pepin’s last series for KQED shares his 'Heart & Soul’ - San Francisco Chronicle

"He says it has not been any more emotional for him to film this series, even knowing this is his final one.

"After all, he’s adamant that this is not the last you’ll see of him. He plans to do a book tour next year, continue teaching at Boston University and the International Culinary Center, and appear at Aspen Food & Wine.

“'I’ll do the same as I’ve always done, but just less of it,' he says. 'I won’t become a hermit. There is no retirement. As long as I’m hungry, I will cook.'”

To me, his series are the best TV shows, not just cooking shows, ever.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Police Are Still Out of Control - Frank Serpico - POLITICO Magazine

"Today the combination of an excess of deadly force and near-total lack of accountability is more dangerous than ever: Most cops today can pull out their weapons and fire without fear that anything will happen to them, even if they shoot someone wrongfully. All a police officer has to say is that he believes his life was in danger, and he’s typically absolved. What do you think that does to their psychology as they patrol the streets—this sense of invulnerability? The famous old saying still applies: Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Thursday, October 30, 2014

St. Vincent (2014) **

The first half of this movie is terrific, riding on the marvelous performance by Bill Murray but not even he can save it from the awful denouement.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

so, alex goes... - "Relax, it’s a compliment."

"If you’re not a woman (or, in many cases, a gay man), you might not realize that we are the object of a pervasive, constant, and often stifling gaze. It is not unique to women, no, but women unequivocally, inarguably bear the brunt of it, and we see this in advertisements, on television, in movies, through dress codes, even in the way people talk to and compliment very small children. A lot of the images we find in media and pop culture cater to a powerful demographic and, thus, to the straight male gaze. The gaze is rewarded, consistently. It is used to being fed and satiated. But women aren’t here to sell men a product or a lifestyle or an image. Women do not exist to feed and satiate and appease the gaze.

"These are not compliments. These are leers that borrow the language of compliments."

The Blame Teachers Game: Has Anyone Heard of the South? | Beat the Press

"Of course if we look internationally, the best education outcomes on standardized tests are typically found in countries like Finland, where unionization of teachers is close to universal. One of the factors that might explain their success in education relative to the United States is that teachers are paid more relative to other professions. The ratio between the average pay of a doctor and a teacher in these countries is something closer to 2 to 1 rather than the 5 to 1 in the United States. And, they don't have a bloated financial sector where good performers can easily make 10-20 times the pay of an average teacher...The reality is that it is far-fetched to imagine that our schools will overcome all the disadvantages that poor children face. Countries that succeed in educating the bulk of their children don't have large portions of them living in poverty. They don't go to school hungry and worry about having a home to come back to."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Silence of the Lambs (1991) ***

Stylishly, but annoyingly, directed crime thriller boasts a fine performance by Jodie Foster and an even better performance by Anthony Hopkins. Strives to be something more than the sum of its parts and doesn't quite get there.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

He Walked by Night (1948) **

Prototypical pseudo documentary police drama/noir about the hunt for a master thief who has killed a cop. Richard Basehart is surprisingly good and there's some nifty camera work.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Billy Joel, Thirty-Three Hit Wonder

"They’d met in a hotel bar on the island of St. Bart’s. He was fooling around on the piano, and Brinkley, along with the model Elle Macpherson and a nineteen-year-old Whitney Houston, gravitated to the little sunburned dynamo on the keys who was hamming it up for the girls. Brinkley sang the Portuguese lyrics of 'The Girl from Ipanema.' Macpherson draped herself over the piano. Joel quietly thanked his mother for forcing him to take piano lessons. Houston said, 'I’d like to sing,' but Joel, focussed on the supermodels, didn’t pay her much mind. Eventually, she persuaded him to play 'Respect.' 'She knocked it out of the park,' Brinkley recalled. Joel wound up dating Macpherson for a while, before he got together with Brinkley."

Never feel bad for Billy Joel. Ever.

Children of the Corn (1984) *

This flick gives Plan 9 a run for its money on the awful meter. Extremely low budget, extremely nonsensical even for the horror genre.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972) **

One of Woody's earlier, funnier films. 7 segments, some successful some not so much, but always interesting.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Pack of pit bulls mauls seniors in Modesto home - SFGate

"An elderly man and woman were mauled and left in critical condition by a pack of pit bulls Tuesday evening in Modesto, officials said. Around 4:45 p.m. numerous 911 calls came into the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office reporting an elderly man was being mauled by four dogs in a yard on the 800 block of Glenn Avenue within blocks of elementary and middle schools."

I can see the comments now about how the dogs had bad owners or were mistreated, etc. But you know you never see a headline that says "Pack of Golden Retrievers mauls seniors" or "2 year old killed by family Dachsund". Other dog breeds are owned by bad owners and mistreated and they just don't behave like "mistreated" pit bulls. There are intrinsic differences between dog breeds. Pit bulls need to go.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Haunting in Connecticut (2009) **

Long, meandering ghost story wastes Virginia Madsen and a stunning Amanda Crew. Some effective creeps, but you can see them coming.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (1982) **

Much like his most recent picture this is a light, beautifully filmed bedroom farce with a number of good one liners. Not top tier Woody, but enjoyable.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Inside Scoop SF: Thomas Keller and Jacques Pepin on their Bouchon dinners, classics and generational bridges

"The idea was born during Bouchon’s quarterly brainstorming meeting, where Thomas Keller meets with the Bouchon chefs to discuss special dinners and the like. Doing a menu centered around the legendary chef was a natural fit, says Keller, and it worked out especially well because Pepin is currently in the Bay Area shooting a new television show."

Yes!

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Boxtrolls (2014) ***

Spectacular stop-motion animation plus some stellar voice work. The finale drags a bit and becomes too obvious, but some very inventive scenes and many "how'd-they-do-that" moments. Never quite reaches the essential level but comes close.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

It Is News That the AIG Bailout Was a Way to Give Money to Goldman Sachs | Beat the Press

"Finally, Sorkin again makes the annoying assertion on the AIG bailout that, 'we got our money back — with more than $22 billion in profit.'

"This one deserves derision. Access to liquidity back in 2008-2009 carried an enormous premium. We gave $192 billion to AIG at a time when other companies were dying for cash. We would have made an enormous profit if we had invested government cash almost anywhere. For example, if we lent $192 billion to Dean Baker's Excellent Hedge Fund, which used it to invest in the S&P 500 and then split the gains with the government, the country would have pocketed over $100 billion from the deal. So would Dean Baker's Excellent Hedge Fund.

"Saying that the government made a profit on the bailout deals is irrelevant in any meaningful sense. The people who make this assertion are either showing their ignorance or being dishonest."

Monday, October 06, 2014

My Darling Clementine (1946) ***

Prototypical Western showcases many iconic shots that would become the template for years to come. Stylized, romantic fantasy of "The West" skirts self awareness in some scenes. Henry Fonda is quite good.

How A 1977 Box-Office Bomb Became A Cult Classic 35 Years Later - Yahoo Finance

"Friedkin was certainly ambitious in how he shot the film. The most famous scene takes place on a rickety rope bridge as the trucks attempt to traverse it. In his memoir, the director explains that the entire sequence took over three months to shoot and construction of the bridge cost $1 million.

"When the original river meant for the scene went dry, the crew was forced to tear down and rebuild the bridge elsewhere at the cost of another million dollars. When the second river proved just as difficult, Friedkin and the crew were forced to add an artificial current and rainstorm. He says that it was the single most difficult sequence he ever filmed in his career."

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Quiet Ones (2014) *

Predictable "thriller" with nothing special to recommend it.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Secret Goldman Sachs Tapes - Bloomberg View

"It's an extraordinary document. There is not space here to do it justice, but the gist is this: The Fed failed to regulate the banks because it did not encourage its employees to ask questions, to speak their minds or to point out problems.

"Just the opposite: The Fed encourages its employees to keep their heads down, to obey their managers and to appease the banks. That is, bank regulators failed to do their jobs properly not because they lacked the tools but because they were discouraged from using them."

via @bnroj

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Colin Kaepernick of San Francisco 49ers reiterates that he didn't use N-word - ESPN

"Initially, Kaepernick said he did not say anything to Houston, though he was flagged for 'inappropriate language' and fined $11,025. Then, after Sunday's loss at the Arizona Cardinals, Kaepernick said he does talk on the football field when he was asked about Houston changing his story but that he did not say anything 'racially derogatory' toward Houston.

"Is that his final word on the matter, that he said nothing of a racial matter that night?

"'Yes,' Kaepernick said. 'I've said that multiple times.'

"Coach Jim Harbaugh, meanwhile, continued to back his quarterback. 'I have never heard Colin use that word,' Harbaugh said. 'And I've never heard him lie.' Then does Harbaugh think the reports are inaccurate? 'I think what I think,' he said. 'I'm very attuned to hearing that word, and I've never heard him use it.'"

What idiots. Both Kaepernick and Harbaugh. Why can't they just tell the truth in plain English? Rarely is a player fined for inappropriate language on a football field so it IS a legitimate news item. And we are told, the only reason a player would be fined in that manner is for use of the now infamous "n" word. So why lie about it? Heat of the moment, anger in battle, entirely forgivable, but now after such horribly stupid equivocation NOT forgivable. And Harbaugh! Too much these guys.

Billionaire must let public access Martins Beach, judge rules - SFGate

"The beach battle has focused national attention on California laws that are supposed to guarantee public access to coastal areas. The 1972 California Coastal Zone Conservation Initiative, which created the 12-member California Coastal Commission, and the California Coastal Act, passed in 1976, prohibit homes or developments from blocking access to beaches. They essentially make the entire coast, including all beach property below the mean high tide line, public property."

One of the great things about the greatest state.

Sinister (2012) *

Too long and you never really care about the main character since he is such a smug obnoxious prick (spot on casting by the way). You can see the scares coming from a mile away thanks to the noisy soundtrack and the completely unrealistic and cliched lighting.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Yes, it's official, men are from Mars and women from Venus, and here's the science to prove it - Telegraph

"The first big surprise happens before birth. All men in the world today are essentially biologically modified women, because we all start our embryonic lives as females (that is why, for example, men still have breasts, even though they serve no function). The biological differences that can be found between the bodies and brains of males and females are largely due to the way these embryos develop in the womb."

Monday, September 22, 2014

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) ****

Gorgeous cinematography, compelling subject, sharp direction add up to a wonderfully multi-layered film. Be warned: you'll never be satisfied with your local sushi place again.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Long, Hot Summer (1958) **

An over the top, Hollywood cartoon version of Southerners, is entertaining nevertheless thanks to a fine cast trying hard to keep some sense of reality in the proceedings.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Terry Gilliam on His Epic New Dystopian Film The Zero Theorem | WIRED

"There's probably $500,000 of savings in there in improved technologies—for example, Christoph and Melanie Thierry recorded some new lines on their iPhones while he was in Berlin and she was in France, emailed them back to me, and they're in the film. We couldn't have done that a few years ago."

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Myth That Sold the Wall Street Bailouts

"The second Great Depression mythologizers — including Geithner, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman and the editorial board of The Washington Post — assume they can say whatever they want and that people will accept it because they are important people whose conventional wisdom is rarely, if ever, challenged. They even managed to retain their authority after failing to see the economic threat posed by the housing bubble. The bottom line is that for these people, the goal was saving Wall Street — full stop. Whether the rest of the country suffered was beside the point."

Friday, September 12, 2014

Drag Me to Hell (2009) **

So-so "horror" flick which may have been ripped off from an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, nevertheless provides a nice showcase for Alison Lohman who is in nearly every scene.

A Most Wanted Man (2014) ***

A terrific final performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman and a great eye for visuals by director Anton Corbijn elevate this necessarily talky "spy v. spy" film to something memorable.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Cronos (1993) **

Technically well made but despite an interesting premise, the story goes nowhere and the thrills/chills are so-so.

Monday, September 08, 2014

A Void in the History of September 11th

"Thomas Kean remembers finally having the opportunity to read those twenty-eight pages after he became chairman of the 9/11 Commission—'so secret that I had to get all of my security clearances and go into the bowels of Congress with someone looking over my shoulder.' He also remembers thinking at the time that most of what he was reading should never have been kept secret. But the focus on the twenty-eight pages obscures the fact that many important documents are still classified—'a ton of stuff,' Kean told me, including, for instance, the 9/11 Commission’s interviews with George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Bill Clinton. 'I don’t know of a single thing in our report that should not be public after ten years,' Kean said.

Items are classified to protect power.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Your Brain on Metaphors - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education

"Lakoff and Johnson’s program is as anti-Platonic as it’s possible to get. It undermines the argument that human minds can reveal transcendent truths about reality in transparent language. They argue instead that human cognition is embodied—that human concepts are shaped by the physical features of human brains and bodies."

Monday, September 01, 2014

Dear Murderer (1947) ***

Clever and effective British murder mystery that features a terrific performance by gorgeous Greta Gynt as a femme fatale if there ever was one. Nicely directed with minimal music cues and excellent pacing.

Looper (2012) **

Inventive but confusing time travel yarn fails to make us care for the protagonist who is after all a cold blooded serial killer for hire. After a while nothing makes sense at all.

Lost Horizon (1937) **

Too talky and melodramatic, but there are moments mainly thanks to impressive production and the talents of leading man Ronald Coleman.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

An Audio Recording of the Michael Brown Shooting Has Reportedly Surfaced - The Wire

"Also of some serious importance, should the tape's authenticity be confirmed, is the fact that ten (or, by some counts,eleven) shots were fired at Brown by Wilson."

Friday, August 22, 2014

Drawing a Gun in Ferguson - The New Yorker

"In the eleven days since Michael Brown was shot and killed, we’ve been reminded of the many things that are not illegal (recording police actions) or, if they are, do not carry a death penalty (stealing cigarillos, jaywalking). Cursing police officers is on both of those lists. In an opinion piece in the Washington Post this week, an officer named Sunil Dutta wrote that the way to prevent police shootings is simply for people to show more respect for police authority. ('Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge.') That is not how it’s supposed to work, in this country, anyway. We respect the police as professionals because their job is so hard, and so important; it can involve chaotic nights and yelling crowds, or opening the door to an apartment where anything might be happening. Police officers don’t get to wave a gun whenever they think it might make everything easier—when they think it will just make people behave. That is not the sort of authority, in any sense of that word, that will calm the streets of Ferguson, or any city."

Magic in the Moonlight (2014) **

Sumptuously filmed and art directed, but the leads' chemistry is non-existent and the "magic" is not all it needs to be. Enjoyable but forgettable.

My Fair Lady (1964) ***

It's too long and the second act drags, but terrific leads, Shaw's words and ideas, Cecil Beaton's production design and costumes and some fine B'way tunes ably compensate. I would like to see an edit with Hepburn doing the singing (a major mistake to dub her) and the Alfred Doolittle and Freddy Eynsford-Hill songs cut.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Unknown (2011) **

Liam Neeson action vehicle has a few twists to keep things interesting and the wonderful Bruno Ganz, but things unravel at the end and the thin thread of plausibility is lost.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Takers (2010) **

Heist gone wrong actioner in a bit of a hip-hop style can't avoid the genre cliches despite some appealing players. Some exciting sequences.

The Forger (2012) **

Pleasant divertissement thanks mainly to location filming in Carmel, Ca. It's well filmed with decent production values, but the script could have used some more work and the male lead lacks charisma.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Lauren Bacall, Actress, Dies at Age 89 - WSJ

A magnificent woman on all counts. Worth re-reading a great interview with her from 2011. One of the greats.

Monday, August 11, 2014

WATCH: Cops aim weapon at local official, lock media out as Ferguson protests continue

"Alderman Antonio French posted the footage Monday night, following another protest criticizing police for the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Michael Brown. The video shows French being approached by officers in riot gear inside a parking lot. One officer has his firearm drawn toward French while another says, “Get the f*ck out of here” and motions away from the parking lot. It is not clear whether French identified himself as a city official during the encounter in the St. Louis suburb."

This is what you get when you militarize the police. Look how they are outfitted. More like soldiers than community police officers. They're out of control.

Hillary Clinton: 'Failure' to Help Syrian Rebels Led to the Rise of ISIS - The Atlantic

“'I think Israel did what it had to do to respond to the rockets,' she told me. 'Israel has a right to defend itself. The steps Hamas has taken to embed rockets and command-and-control facilities and tunnel entrances in civilian areas, this makes a response by Israel difficult.'

"I asked her if she believed that Israel had done enough to prevent the deaths of children and other innocent people.

“'Just as we try to do in the United States and be as careful as possible in going after targets to avoid civilians,' mistakes are made, she said. 'We’ve made them. I don’t know a nation, no matter what its values are—and I think that democratic nations have demonstrably better values in a conflict position—that hasn’t made errors, but ultimately the responsibility rests with Hamas.'

"She went on to say that 'it’s impossible to know what happens in the fog of war. Some reports say, maybe it wasn’t the exact UN school that was bombed, but it was the annex to the school next door where they were firing the rockets. And I do think oftentimes that the anguish you are privy to because of the coverage, and the women and the children and all the rest of that, makes it very difficult to sort through to get to the truth.'

"She continued, 'There’s no doubt in my mind that Hamas initiated this conflict. … So the ultimate responsibility has to rest on Hamas and the decisions it made.'”

Wow. Complete arrogance and disregard in the ideas and the language. Such blatant, reflexive imperialism. A truly evil person and a complete disaster if elected.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Yakuza (1974) **

Stately paced noir about Japanese gangsters and their bizarre rituals. Disappointing considering the top talent involved. Extremely talky and expository for the subject matter.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Breezy (1973) ***

Highly enjoyable '70's character study thanks to winning lead performances and nice direction by Clint. William Holden looks 10-15 years OLDER than he was at time of filming making the March-December romance even more "icky" and his penchant for wearing awful old dude sweaters doesn't help. Clint allows a major faux pas when he leaves in a sequence where the characters head for an obviously SoCal beach to watch the sun RISE out at sea! Totally dig the Laurel Canyon home though. Lots of wood and stone and yellow decor.

Adam and Evalyn (1949) **

Thanks to a lovely Jean Simmons this is a watchable rom-com hampered by strange directorial decisions such as filming a several minute sightseeing sequence showing nothing but the 2 main characters feet, and a totally unsympathetic male lead character.

The Simpsons Movie (2007) **

I'm not sure if it is the writers' fault or the audience's perceptions, but expanded sitcoms almost never work. There's something about going beyond the 22 minute expected time frame that's problematic. This movie is no exception. It's okay, about on a par with a weaker regular episode.

Terraces (TV Movie 1977) **

Interesting curio from the '70's is one of those so-bad-it's-good flicks. One of the first mainstream "pro-gay" TV movies is blessedly short and contains a scene stealing star turn by Catwoman.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Obama Says America Tortured, but That's Not Enough - The Atlantic

"There's a moral question: If torture really happened, shouldn't there be some sort of serious attempt to grapple with it? And there's a legal one: As my colleague Conor Friedersdorf and others have pointed out, the U.S. is a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture, which compels investigation of torture and referral of violators for prosecution."

If that's not an open and shut case for impeachment (at the very least) what is?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Taken (2008) *

Even though it is well-made, it's also preposterous and obviously a revenge fantasy which provides an emotional justification for incredible violence and torture. Despicable.

The Power of Two - The Atlantic

"As long as John and Paul were both alive, the possibility remained that they might remarry. According to Linda McCartney, during the 1970s Paul was 'desperate to work with John again.' John retreated from music in the second half of the decade, but in 1980 he and Yoko released Double Fantasy. He was murdered on December 8, 1980. Had he lived, who knows what might have happened? Jack Douglas, who produced Double Fantasy, said that John was actively planning to team up with Paul the following year."

The article is mainly a straw man diatribe ("the myth of the lone genius" is a thing?) and it is also guilty of the same facile compartmentalization of people the author accuses others of doing. Still it's tempting to consider what might have been in 1981...

via @TomIfNotThen

Monday, July 28, 2014

Lucy (2014) **

The in-your-face allegories (cheetahs stalking prey/innocent girl delivering a package) and faux-science expositions ad nauseum (completely unnecessary Morgan Freeman) waste the terrific presence of Scarlett Johansson. You can't expect close-ups to do ALL the work of engaging the audience. It's colorful and moves quickly (90 minutes thank you!) but the ideas are trite and the technique does not work.

Castle Keep (1969) **

Ambitiously eccentric WWII flick slips over into pretentiousness too often. Beautifully shot though.

Non-Stop (2014) ***

Pretty effective mash-up of airport disaster flicks and whodunits strains credulity to the max yet still delivers the thrills.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) *

One of those very dimly shot films necessitated by an overabundance of CGI effects. The first hour feels like 2 but then it picks up a bit but not enough to save it. Very silly and nonsensical with a waste of some good actors.

Simply Do it: Talking with Woody Allen About Directorial Style | Interviews | Roger Ebert

"When I see cool films, no matter how beautiful they are, there's something off-putting about them. I have all my characters—or 99% of the characters—dress in autumnal clothes, beiges, and browns, and yellows, and greens. And I have [production designer and long-time collaborator] Snato Loquasto make the sets look as warm as possible. And I like the lighting to be very warm, and I color-correct things so that they're very red.

"Sometimes, the cameraman will be shocked. Sven Nykvist said 'My God, their faces will all look like tomatoes!'

"And I said 'Well, let's try it.' He got to like it.

"And when Darius was color-correcting 'Midnight In Paris,' we went all out and made it red, red, red in color-correction. It makes it like a Matisse. Matisse said that he wanted his paintings to be a nice easy chair that you sit down in, and enjoy. I feel the same way: I want you to sit back, relax, and enjoy the warm color, like take a bath in warm color. It's like how I play the clarinet with a big, fat warm tone as opposed to a cool sound that's more liquid, or fluid. I prefer a thicker, richer, warmer sound. The same with color; I feel it has a subliminal effect on the viewer in a positive way."

Under the Skin (2013) ***

Tells its tale cinematically with original, arresting visuals and a terrific Scarlett Johansson performance.

In the House (2012) **

Well made intellectual exercise never gets beyond just that.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Five Easy Pieces (1970) ***

Offbeat and quirky character study of an extremely self-centered and misanthropic individual. Ok, he's an asshole basically. Very well shot and written with several iconic scenes. Always interesting, sometimes cringe inducing, sometimes silly. The kind of American film that doesn't get made much any more.

Perfect Sense (2011) **

It appears to be a failed attempt at a rom-com/dystopia hybrid. Not sure what it's supposed to mean but the two leads are appealing and it moves well.

The Lego Movie (2014) **

Could have been a very good movie but the creators just couldn't resist shoving every last shred of magic and wonder down our throats in a ruinous denouement that makes Spielberg look like Alain Resnais. Some nice voice work, clever animation.

Ethan Hawke's Heartwarming Tribute To A "Boyhood" With Music

"There’s this thing that happens when you listen to too much of the solo stuff separately — too much Lennon: suddenly there’s a little too much self-involvement in the room; too much Paul and it can become sentimental — let’s face it, borderline goofy; too much George: I mean, we all have our spiritual side but it’s only interesting for about six minutes, ya know? Ringo: He’s funny, irreverent, and cool, but he can’t sing — he had a bunch of hits in the ’70s (even more than Lennon) but you aren’t gonna go home and crank up a Ringo Starr album start to finish, you’re just not gonna do that."

Yet another reason to dislike Ethan Hawke. I can't imagine having such an insufferably pretentious father. Now excuse me while I go and "crank up" Time Takes Time.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013) ***

This chronicle of a young woman's first coup de foudre experience from start to finish is one of the few 3 hour movies to not feel overlong, thanks to good editing and a sensational performance by Adèle Exarchopoulos.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Months before their first words, babies’ brains rehearse speech mechanics | UW Today

“'Most babies babble by 7 months, but don’t utter their first words until after their first birthdays,' said lead author Patricia Kuhl, who is the co-director of the UW’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences. 'Finding activation in motor areas of the brain when infants are simply listening is significant, because it means the baby brain is engaged in trying to talk back right from the start and suggests that 7-month-olds’ brains are already trying to figure out how to make the right movements that will produce words.'”

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Life Itself (2014) **

Fairly straightforward documentary about the life of Roger Ebert but mainly about the final days and as such it is tough to take at times. Not exactly entertaining but informative and at times poignant.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Harper (1966) **

Paul Newman and a star supporting cast can't save this overlong, shoddily produced attempt at a hard-boiled detective noir. Some interesting glimpses of mid-60's Los Angeles and an unusual ending.

Almonds Are Sucking the Life Out of California - The Wire

"But even as the almond business booms, California ecology is heading toward a bust. In San Joaquin Valley, the ground has been sinking by an average of 11 inches per year, thanks to over-pumping of aquifers."

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Case for the End of The Modern Zoo -- NYMag

"It is hard to avoid the conclusion that in some way the animals understand that the world around them is an artificial one, that these phobias and psychotic episodes represent reactions to that artifice, or subversions of it. Which means that the central illusion of the zoo is no longer holding. The animals know."

The Pope and the Pederasts by Garry Wills | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books

"3. Patriarchy. The Vatican is not only the West’s oldest monarchy, but its most entrenched patriarchy. For long its official teaching was Thomas Aquinas’s assertion (taken from Aristotle) that “the female is a defective male.” Though the Vatican has tried in recent years to back off from that position, as late as 1976 Paul VI’s Curia said that there can be no women priests because women do not look like Jesus: they lack “this ‘natural resemblance’ which must exist between Christ and his minister.” Pope John Paul II said in 1994 that if Jesus had wanted to ordain women, he would have begun with the best of them, his mother. He ignores the fact that Jesus in the Gospels ordained no priests, male or female. The investigation of American nuns for daring to have opinions of their own shows how far Vatican officials are from understanding women. (How could they understand them?)"

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Bud Cort: 'Harold and Maude was a blessing and a curse' | Film | The Guardian

"Bud Cort has just come back from Ringo Starr's birthday breakfast. He has known Ringo for a while he says. 'He's a dear friend and he's my dog's godfather.'"

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Rapid Price Increases for Some Generic Drugs Catch Users by Surprise - NYTimes.com

"Insurers can sometimes react to high drug prices by bargaining with manufacturers for better rates. But, Dr. Kesselheim said, those negotiations tend to focus on very expensive new products, like infused drugs to treat arthritis and some cancer treatments, where a good discount could save tens of millions a year.

"With cheaper drugs, insurers use simpler tools to discourage use and prod doctors to think about other options: They require physicians to fill out forms — like the one that landed on Dr. Lindenberg’s desk — and move the drug to a category that requires larger patient co-pays.

"If markets function, the current high price of digoxin might induce some more drug companies to begin selling it, which should in turn bring prices back down. But a few years of higher bills could be a strain for older patients, most of them on Medicare, who must contribute to prescription drug costs."

Yet another example, as if we needed another, as to why ESSENTIAL things like food, water, basic medicines, basic energies really shouldn't be left completely to "the market".

Friday, July 04, 2014

Independence Day (1996) *

10 year olds might be ok with it, but this is a very bad movie.

Is there such a thing as the self?

"What LSD is no good for is 'mind control,' as the CIA, to its disappointment, discovered during the Cold War when it set up a string of brothels in San Francisco where prostitutes would slip their johns a tab of acid so agents could observe its effects through two-way mirrors."

Thursday, July 03, 2014

The Turning Point (1977) **

Classy soap opera involving the ballet world and long simmering rivalries/regrets. Way too many ballet excerpts pad the running time and make the film seem longer than it is.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Three Days of the Condor (1975) ***

Good leads highlight this 70's exercise in paranoia. Nowadays the implication that power + secrecy leads to bad things is taken for granted but in 1975 this was still, at least for the majority of Americans, a "shocker". Very strange and almost comical "love scene" really dates the picture.

Gambit (2012) **

Like a previous attempt at remaking an Ealing-esque film, this one's also a failure but the cast makes it watchable and even intermittently entertaining.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Island of Lost Souls (1932) ***

Charles Laughton is great in a Lecter-ish sort of way, in a nifty adaptation of the H. G. Wells tale of Dr. Moreau and his experiments in his "House of Pain". Pulls no punches and packs more menace and interesting ideas into 70 minutes than most modern films twice as long.

The Monuments Men (2014) *

Clooney tries to be Spielberg with bad consequences. Supremely arrogant and condescending propaganda.

The Human Stain (2003) **

Watchable but unbelievable due to poor casting. Some fine actors, just really not right for their roles.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) ***

Jim Jarmusch's offbeat take on the vampire genre is chock full of gorgeous images and intriguing ideas.

Interview: Jim Jarmusch Talks The Vampiric Charms Of ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ & Proposing To Muse Tilda Swinton|The Playlist

"That’s interesting that you say that because to me what was most inspiring for me to make this film was the last book by Mark Twain, 'The Diaries of Adam and Eve.' That’s why I named them Adam and Eve, not the direct Biblical thing, but via Mark Twain. That book is very funny, beautiful and kind of slight. It’s just diary entries of Adam and Eve’s vastly different perceptions of the world, via the fact that she’s female and he’s male. It’s a hilarious book and it really inspired me to want to make a film with two characters named Adam and Eve that sort of represented on some level the sun and the moon, but certainly very different perceptions of things."

Friday, May 30, 2014

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) ****

Brilliant on all counts.

Gattaca (1997) **

Cold and uninvolving with a great supporting cast, nice production values and a very weak lead.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) **

The film is beautifully shot but feels wildly overdone and the slight story cannot bear the burden.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Stress Test: The Indictment of Timothy Geithner | Op-Eds & Columns

"The reality is that we had a completely preventable economic disaster hit the country. The result was millions of people losing their homes and/or their jobs, in many cases seeing their lives and the lives of their children ruined. With almost no exceptions the policy makers responsible for the disaster and the bankers who profited from it are doing just fine. And Timothy Geithner can’t understand why everybody isn’t happy."

Monday, May 26, 2014

Jane Eyre (1943) **

This is the version with Orson Welles as Rochester. The acting is very uneven with a wonderful 11 year old Peggy Ann Gardner stealing the picture. The first half is very good, as most Jane Eyre adaptations are, but once Joan Fontaine gets involved things go down hill quickly. It seems the TV versions of this crazy story have been the most successful. This one is very good but if forced to choose, I'm partial to this.

Damsels in Distress (2011) **

Whit Stillman's films are worlds unto themselves and this one is no exception. An appealing cast, literate script, excellently shot, but overall it fails to gel into something more than a Stillman lark.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip (1982) **

Embarrassingly staged and filmed, this is Pryor near the end of his stand-up career and it shows a bit. Still, he can bring the laughs and improvise impressively with a memorable "last time anywhere" appearance by Mudbone.

Broadcast News (1987) **

If you can get past the straining-to-be-cute opening (which should have been cut), the film is as deluded, pretentious, self-righteous and annoying as its main characters. Holly Hunter is a great character actress not a romantic lead.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Like Someone in Love (2012) **

Opens with a great sequence of pure cinema but the film doesn't really end so much as stops leaving viewers in the lurch.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Valkyrie (2008) **

Clichéd and melodramatic with zero thrills since we know the outcome of the story. Un-imaginative direction to say the least. Why must all the "good" Germans be played by Englishmen or Americans?

Fantastic Voyage (1966) ***

Loads of cheesy fun mainly due to the dated political and social mores as presented. The film works though due to the no-nonsense approach to the story and it's treatment as actual, possible science. Smartly paced, colorfully designed.

Margot at the Wedding (2007) **

Bleak, black comedy about a supremely antisocial woman and her effect on people. Hard to watch and not all that insightful due to the extremes of behavior presented.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (2013) *

Only for those 10 and under. Imaginative "food-imals", but it's all very confusing and nonsensical.

Point Blank (1967) **

Hard boiled, existential mid-60's noir proves you can't beat The System. It's well made, just not enough of a standout. Effective use of Fort Point is a highlight.

What came before the big bang? - Boing Boing

"Translated into statements about the real universe, I am describing an origin in which space itself comes into existence at the big bang and expands from nothing to form a larger and larger volume. The matter and energy content of the universe likewise originates at or near the beginning, and populates the universe everywhere at all times. Again, I must stress that the speck from which space emerges is not located in anything. It is not an object surrounded by emptiness. It is the origin of space itself, infinitely compressed. Note that the speck does not sit there for an infinite duration. It appears instantaneously from nothing and immediately expands. This is why the question of why it does not collapse to a black hole is irrelevant. Indeed, according to the theory of relativity, there is no possibility of the speck existing through time because time itself begins at this point."

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Adaptation. (2002) ****

Audacious, original, hilarious, true. Nic Cage has never been better.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Witness to Murder (1954) **

Fairly run of the mill noir kept interesting by the alarming abuse of police authority in the pre-Miranda days, especially when brought to bear upon a "career" woman of a certain age. This has nothing to do with the plot nor is it presented as a subplot, it's just shown as a matter-of-fact aspect of American life in the '50's.

A Countess from Hong Kong (1967) *

Sophia Loren playing a Russian is the least of this overblown screwball comedy wanna-be's problems. The stars have no chemistry, the elaborately set up "jokes" fall flat, and the film is shot as if it is an epic drama on huge sound stages.

Eraserhead (1977) ****

Possible alternate title "Inside David Lynch" or at least his nightmares. A complete, disturbed vision with an amazing sound design.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Wild at Heart (1990) **

Even when he's not entirely successful, David Lynch is always interesting. At once inscrutable and overbearing, and the repetition of images does not help. The actors help out as much as they can, giving consistent over-the-top performances, but it never gels the way the best of Lynch can.

Klimt (2006) **

It worked here but John Malkovich playing himself in this film does not. A plethora of beautiful young ladies in various states of undress helps to maintain interest.

Secret Window (2004) ***

An exceptional cast overcomes a flawed script and pedestrian direction in this effective thriller. We've seen John Turturro's character before though.

Friday, May 02, 2014

An Unmarried Woman (1978) ***

Realistic portrayal of an upper middle class white woman with a fantastic Upper East Side Manhattan apartment coping with divorce. Nice time capsule of 70's NYC, intelligently written and played with a tour de force performance by Ms. Clayburgh.

William Friedkin on Sorcerer, his career, and fate / The Dissolve

"'I felt that the story embodied in The Wages Of Fear, the French novel and the film, fit that template very clearly...because I thought it was timeless. I had no interest in doing a remake or a shot-for-shot or anything like that, but I love the premise, the essential premise of four strangers who mostly didn’t like one another, delivering a load of dynamite, and they either had to cooperate or die. And that seemed to me like a metaphor for the world situation—even more so today.'"

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Frozen (2013) ***

Another weak 3 stars. Formulaic and too many songs but the tale has a slight fem-empowerment angle which is somewhat interesting and several well done sequences. Could have used a bit more editing.

Scalia Thinks Having Two Phones Is Suspicious -- NYMag

"Owning a second cell phone, like, say, a BlackBerry for work in addition to a better one for everything else, is not a concept familiar to the Supreme Court justices, never known for their technological acumen. During arguments today about the rights of police to search phones without a warrant following an arrest, Chief Justice Roberts, 59, and Justice Scalia, 78, expressed shock at the very idea..."

It's not that complex, really. It's just a series of tubes...

Monday, April 28, 2014

Angel Heart (1987) ***

Atmospheric noir thriller still holds up thanks to a good script and some very good performances particularly Lisa Bonet. (May not be entirely appropriate for members of PETA.)

Friday, April 25, 2014

A New Leaf (1971) ***

A weak three stars because this isn't the picture the director wanted to make and it shows. Still there are plenty of good one-liners and some good supporting work, but Walter Matthau, as good as he is, is miscast.

Capital Man - The Chronicle of Higher Education

"Piketty’s argument recently got an indirect boost from a much-discussed study published in February by the International Monetary Fund, hardly a radical body. The study, a multicountry analysis of income inequality, found not only that there is 'scant evidence that typical efforts to redistribute'—taxes and credits—'have on average had an adverse effect on growth,' but that lower inequality was generally associated with faster growth.' As Jonathan D. Ostry, the study’s lead author, put it in an email to me, 'this logic was indeed an eye opener for us.'"

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Seeing red? The mind-bending power of colour - Telegraph

“'The whole point of colour vision is not to inspire poets, but to allow contrast detection,' says Russell Foster, professor of circadian neuroscience at the University of Oxford. 'You’ve got a much better chance of detecting an object against a background if you have colour vision.' Birds are the masters at this, he says – they are tetrachromatic, having four colour detectors, and would see things that we see as a single red as an infinite, glorious wash of colours."

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Day Christ Died | TaborBlog

"Today, with Passover and Easter falling together during the same week, I write this post on a Thursday night, on the eve of 'Good Friday.' I have been convinced for several years now, as I explain in my book, The Jesus Dynasty, that Jesus died on Nisan 14th, which in the year A.D. 30, fell on a Thursday not a Friday. So this is indeed, the 'day Christ died.' He was put in the temporary rock hewn tomb just before sunset, and Friday, the following day, was the first day of Passover. This means the Passover meal or Seder was eaten that Thursday night, just as the Gospel of John records (John 13:1; 18:28). The next day, Friday, was indeed a 'Sabbath,' but not Saturday, the weekly Sabbath, but rather one of the seven “annual” Sabbaths of the Jewish festival cycle (see Leviticus 23:7). This means there were two Sabbaths, back to back, Friday and Saturday, that year. Sunday morning, when Mary Magdalene went early to the tomb and found it empty, it was indeed 'three days and three nights' that Jesus had laid in that tomb (Thurs, Friday, Saturday nights), which comports with the tradition that Matthew has received (Matthew 12:40). Surely a million Sunday school kids over the years have asked, not to mention adults, how can you get three nights, from Friday to Sunday morning. It simply will not work."

Monday, April 14, 2014

They Drive by Night (1940) *

This one doesn't hold up. George Raft and Bogie play truck driving brothers struggling to start their own trucking company. That's about as interesting as it gets.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) ****

As layered, detailed and delicious as the favorite treat of the central character M. Gustave H, concierge at the GBH. A film that demands multiple viewings if only to savor the production design. Style is the substance.

Jiminy Glick in Lalawood (2004) *

Martin Short is a very funny guy and his Jiminy Glick character is hilarious, but this movie is painfully un-funny. Ill conceived and a waste of a fine cast.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

8 Million Ways to Die (1986) **

Attempt at a modern noir starts promisingly but becomes repetitive and nonsensical. A waste of a good cast.

Barton Fink (1991) ****

Master class in how to take an intellectual exercise and turn it into a highly entertaining film. Spectacular, inventive, smart, funny, beautifully shot with a standout performance by John Turturro.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) **

I realize this is a sci-fi fantasy film, but the script relies on characters doing too many implausible things, and the director shoots action sequences without any regards for real physics. The final sequence on the Golden Gate bridge (and you KNOW the final sequence will be there since the picture is located in the Bay Area) is nicely done.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Mean Girls (2004) **

Not as funny as you'd think, but I'm told it nails some of the more annoying aspects of high school at the turn of the 21st century. Some enjoyable parts, just not enough of them.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Noah (2014) **

Like all of Darren Aronofsky's films, this one is about obsession and the lengths to which the obsessed will go to fulfill their perceived goal. Noah comes around eventually to see his error, but by that time the strident animals = innocence, humans = evil message along with the unrelenting dark and barren antediluvian existence drives home a very different feel. Some nicely put together montage scenes along with stellar CGI effects completely undermined by ubiquitous extreme closeups. Must we be able to count all the freckles on Emma Watson's face? You can count all the medium shots in this picture on one hand.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Twenty Feet from Stardom (2013) **

Run of the mill bio-doc about backing vocalists in the rock era, many of whom were a part of the most known and revered music yet remain unknown outside the industry.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Voracious Worm Evolves to Eat Biotech Corn Engineered to Kill It - Wired Science

"First planted in 1996, Bt corn quickly became hugely popular among U.S. farmers. Within a few years, populations of rootworms and corn borers, another common corn pest, had plummeted across the midwest. Yields rose and farmers reduced their use of conventional insecticides that cause more ecological damage than the Bt toxin.

"By the turn of the millennium, however, scientists who study the evolution of insecticide resistance were warning of imminent problems. Any rootworm that could survive Bt exposures would have a wide-open field in which to reproduce; unless the crop was carefully managed, resistance would quickly emerge."

Yeah go ahead, put the food supply in the hands of corporations whose primary, and usually ONLY, motivation is raising their stock prices. What could possibly go wrong?

via boing boing

Monday, March 17, 2014

Valley of the Dolls (1967) **

Unintentionally hilarious melodrama concerning what happens when "good girls" turn "bad". Colorfully and slickly directed but the story and dialogue are awful. So awful it's a classic. Almost gave it 3 stars for the lovely Ms. Tate alone.

Reports of the Death of a National License-Plate Tracking Database Have Been Greatly Exaggerated - The Intercept

"The next day, however, the Post called off the alarm. The plan, the newspaper reported, had been canceled. Threat averted. Move along.

"But the Post had gotten it all wrong. DHS wasn’t planning to create a national license-plate tracking database — because several already exist, owned by different private companies, and extensively used by law enforcement agencies including DHS for years."

Monday, March 10, 2014

Brazil (1985) ****

At the time the film was made, it was a stunning, scathing fantasy-satire. As time goes on it has become a stunning, scathing documentary. Brilliant direction. Loaded with perfect supporting performances.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Despicable Me 2 (2013) **

Tykes will love it (and obviously did given the box office) and there are a few chuckles and some inventive animation for adults to enjoy.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda by Timothy Snyder | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books

"Whatever course the Russian intervention may take, it is not an attempt to stop a fascist coup, since nothing of the kind has taken place. What has taken place is a popular revolution, with all of the messiness, confusion, and opposition that entails. The young leaders of the Maidan, some of them radical leftists, have risked their lives to oppose a regime that represented, at an extreme, the inequalities that we criticize at home. They have an experience of revolution that we do not. Part of that experience, unfortunately, is that Westerners are provincial, gullible, and reactionary."

Concise attempt at keeping the facts straight.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Uganda’s Anti-Gay Law: The Missing Science by Helen Epstein | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books

"Sexual preference may be analogous to the immune system. In the 1950s and 60s, Peter Medawar, Gerald Edelman, and others discovered that everyone’s immune system is unique. The complex collection of genes that determine how each one of us will respond to a particular germ are incredibly diverse and no two of us have exactly the same set of such genes—not even identical twins. That’s because the building blocks of our immune systems are created partly upon conception when sperm and egg meet, partly during embryonic development, and partly after birth in response to real-world germs."

Computer Chess (2013) ***

A trip down memory lane for computer nerds d'un certain âge with amazingly detailed performances, art direction and cinematography, even at the risk of rendering the film un-watchable for all but the devoted. The script is variable with several head-scratching moments and it doesn't quite gel into a whole, but if you can get into it, it's a hoot.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Priest of Love (1981) **

Poorly made biopic of D. H. Lawrence is confusing and seemingly disjointed throughout. Good actors doing good work, but doesn't add up to much. Nice to see Ava back on the screen in a too brief role.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Homeland Security Wants to Scan Every Single License Plate - The Wire

"To immediately damper any comparisons to the NSA, Gillian Christensen, a spokeswoman for the DHS's Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) stressed that the private company the agency chooses to use will store the data, not the government. Because that makes it so much better.

"The data gathered could also 'only be accessed in conjunction with ongoing criminal investigations or to locate wanted individuals,' and suspects that pose a threat to public safety. Gathering data from license plates would also reduce the time needed to perform surveillance, Christensen said."

Sadly, not from The Onion.

Emma Watson: Noah left me exhausted, delirious and ill - Telegraph

“'Because the film has a pro-environmental message, Darren didn’t want anyone drinking from plastic water bottles on set… so that made things slightly harder,'” she told Wonderland magazine.
'Everything we used had to be recycled or recyclable. Having no water bottles on set at five in the morning, when you’re exhausted and delirious, wasn’t ideal.'"

Um, Emma darling, there ARE a few alternatives to plastic water bottles that might have helped. Perhaps a few persons on "the bus" could have got one for you?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Nothing Lasts Forever (1984) **

Given a bit more polish and/or a respectable budget, this may have been a great film. As it is, it seems to be a heartfelt homage to 30's era "B" film fantasies that is in over its head. Lots of star cameos and interesting, clever quirks keep things watchable.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Vampire Squid Strikes Again: The Mega Banks' Most Devious Scam Yet | Politics News | Rolling Stone

"But banks aren't just buying stuff, they're buying whole industrial processes. They're buying oil that's still in the ground, the tankers that move it across the sea, the refineries that turn it into fuel, and the pipelines that bring it to your home. Then, just for kicks, they're also betting on the timing and efficiency of these same industrial processes in the financial markets – buying and selling oil stocks on the stock exchange, oil futures on the futures market, swaps on the swaps market, etc.

"Allowing one company to control the supply of crucial physical commodities, and also trade in the financial products that might be related to those markets, is an open invitation to commit mass manipulation. It's something akin to letting casino owners who take book on NFL games during the week also coach all the teams on Sundays."

via @robotwisdom

In Bruges (2008) **

Didn't really get the connection between the high concept of the film and anything resembling a purpose, but the actors are fine and the scenery is finer which makes it fairly enjoyable most of the time.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What’s the Point If We Can’t Have Fun? | David Graeber | The Baffler

"Zhuangzi was right. So was June Thunderstorm. Our minds are just a part of nature. We can understand the happiness of fishes—or ants, or inchworms—because what drives us to think and argue about such matters is, ultimately, exactly the same thing."

Perhaps, but also it might just be that what we call "play" in ourselves is actually also "an expenditure of energy...directed toward some goal, whether it be obtaining food, securing territory, achieving dominance, or maximizing reproductive success". It's a more comforting thought to accept "animal" play because that helps confirm our "free will" illusion.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Book Review: Schulz on The Sixth Extinction -- Vulture

"Meanwhile, we Homo sapiens traveled out of Africa en route to everywhere, encountered the Neanderthals in Europe, had sex with them, and, directly or through competition for resources, exterminated them. Some 30,000 years later, we rediscovered them, via their remains, in a cave in limestone cliffs in a valley in Germany. That cave no longer exists. Those cliffs no longer exist. We quarried the limestone, smelted it with coke and iron ore, and converted it to steel.
"What species does this? Only ours. Somewhere along the line, thanks to some twist in that 0.3 percent of uniquely human DNA, we became the sort of creatures who could level cliffs and turn stone to steel; 'the sort of creature,' Kolbert writes, 'who could wipe out its nearest relative, then dig up its bones and reassemble its genome.'”

Peter Frampton on Beatles Tribute: 'A Lot of Not-So-Dry Eyes' | Billboard

"'It doesn't get better than that,'" Frampton says. 'You think you know them because they're ingrained in your soul -- until you start to listen to them and work out the parts. They're very, very clever. It was eye-opening as we all went, 'Ah-ha!' Don found this place where you can download just about every Beatles number, the multi-tracks -- which shouldn't be out there, but they are -- and we were able to isolate our parts so we were able to come up with exactly the right parts for the songs. I think it was, like, 19 or 20 songs we learned for all the shows, total, so we had our work cut out for us.'"

In other words, "piracy" saved the day yet again?

Why Nutrition Is So Confusing - NYTimes.com

"And they do what are called observational studies, observing populations for decades, documenting what people eat and what illnesses beset them, and then assume that the associations they observe between diet and disease are indeed causal — that if people who eat copious vegetables, for instance, live longer than those who don’t, it’s the vegetables that cause the effect of a longer life. And maybe they do, but there’s no way to know without experimental trials to test that hypothesis.

"The associations that emerge from these studies used to be known as “hypothesis-generating data,” based on the fact that an association tells us only that two things changed together in time, not that one caused the other. So associations generate hypotheses of causality that then have to be tested. But this hypothesis-generating caveat has been dropped over the years as researchers studying nutrition have decided that this is the best they can do."

Sunday, February 09, 2014

The Two Jakes (1990) ***

Too slowly paced, but a number of nifty directorial touches and top notch performances keep things interesting in this complex noir sequel to Chinatown.

Friday, February 07, 2014

From Up on Poppy Hill (2011) ***

Impeccable animation of a completely realistic story that illuminates a side of Japanese culture rarely seen on film.

MASH (1970) ***

Modern sensibilities are not kind to this flick which from today's perspective looks like a mean spirited, deeply misogynistic frat boy comedy. Still it's an important film and for its time was innovative and shocking in it's blend of ribald humor and gory medical drama.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Harold and Maude (1971) ***

Quirky black comic fable deserves its iconic cult status. Nice compositions and long shots by director Hal Ashby makes lovely use of Northern California locations. Very impressive to teens, adults will find it less so but enjoyable.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Tetro (2009) **

Nicely shot in beautiful black and white widescreen, great visual appeal. The story fails to resonate however. Nice to see Coppola back making personal films again.

One from the Heart (1982) **

Interesting visuals and mostly appealing actors marred by a terrible story.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Cop (1972) *

French take on the heist genre focuses on the small details of an elaborate, and I mean elaborate, plan for the bad guys to swipe a drug shipment from the really bad guys. We're supposed to get character development and emotion from watching the details but it didn't work for me.

The Smart Set: A Brush with Evil

"The Coen Brothers twist in Inside Llewyn Davis is to make their folksinger an asshole. He is an asshole because he has nowhere to be. Much of the plot of Inside Llewyn Davis revolves around Davis trying to find someone who will let him crash at his or her house for the night.

"The problem of having nowhere to be is actually the problem of evil."

Monday, January 27, 2014

Lovelace (2013) **

Tough to watch biopic about the exploitation of Linda Lovelace, first porno superstar, by just about everybody she came into contact with. Good cast.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

All Night Long (1962) ***

Nifty riff on Othello set amidst early '60's jazz scene with some heavyweights playing themselves. Patrick McGoohan is a great Iago and if he's not playing those drums himself (and quite well) then there's some pretty amazing in camera tricks going on.

The Intruder (1999) *

Proves how good an actress Charlotte Gainsbourg is and how much the camera loves Nastassja Kinski. How these two managed to be in such an amateurish and nonsensical film is another matter.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Married Life (2007) **

Like an extended version of an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents only with top drawer acting talent in the leads. The tone is uneven, confusing and ultimately unsatisfying.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Truths Behind 'Dr. Strangelove' : The New Yorker

"In December, 1960, fifteen members of Congress serving on the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy had toured NATO bases to investigate how American nuclear weapons were being deployed. They found that the weapons—some of them about a hundred times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima—were routinely guarded, transported, and handled by foreign military personnel. American control of the weapons was practically nonexistent. Harold Agnew, a Los Alamos physicist who accompanied the group, was especially concerned to see German pilots sitting in German planes that were decorated with Iron Crosses—and carrying American atomic bombs. Agnew, in his own words, 'nearly wet his pants' when he realized that a lone American sentry with a rifle was all that prevented someone from taking off in one of those planes and bombing the Soviet Union."

American Hustle (2013) **

Entertaining mess of a picture, thanks largely to a good cast and a great, though anachronistic, soundtrack. The director is not really interested in the '70's or the plot, just lots of closeups and a moving camera. Wardrobe tape should get a best supporting actor award.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Captain Phillips (2013) ***

Nearly flawless actioner about the first American cargo ship in 200 years to be hijacked. Direction is tight, acting is no nonsense, production values top notch.

Nebraska (2013) **

I'm admittedly spoiled by Alexander Payne's previous film work so much that this sharply observed family comedy-drama focusing on the minutiae of Midwestern existence, well made though it is, fails to impress. The "In the Ghetto" karaoke scene is a show stopper though.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965) **

A number of intriguing elements plus some excellent black and white cinematography undermined by dated Hollywood psychology tropes. Sir Laurence is very good.

Young Adult (2011) **

Character study about a woman who just can't let high school go. Charlize Theron is a bit too fit for all the fast food she consumes in this picture.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) ***

The 1961 New York folk music scene from the perspective of an artist dealing with crippling grief and guilt and his own self defeating behavior. Meticulously constructed, as usual by the Coens, but the protagonist has so few redeeming qualities it leaves a sour taste.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984) **

Borderline camp pastiche of 30's-40's pulp fiction heroes re-imagined for 80's sensibilities doesn't quite work, but parts are fun. John Lithgow is a hoot.

Movie 43 (2013) **

Hit and miss collection of short segments played for laughs, with big stars and lots of foul language/humorously shocking situations. Similar to films like this and this from years past. Not as horrible as reviewed by most critics, but not entirely successful either.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Never So Few (1959) *

The Japanese and Chinese armies in WWII Burma try to put a damper in Frank Sinatra's love life and he goes ballistic. At least it seems that way. Appalling, self-righteous propaganda. Having said that, it's nice to see Dean Jones in a pre-Disney role as well as an early star making turn by Steve McQueen. Of course, it is always nice to see La Lollo.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Drinking Buddies (2013) **

Perceptive look at relationships with a chance to see Olivia Wilde do well in a lead role, but the copious amounts of beer and bad food consumed nearly non-stop by people who stay razor thin for no apparent reason is a bit distracting. The characters are not all that appealing either so they overall effect is a downer. Kudos for avoiding the typical rom-com tropes.

An Anxious Sally Hawkins, Onstage and in Auditions - NYTimes.com

"Mostly, though, Ms. Hawkins was focused on her performance. Usually having a writer-director means the freedom to ask about backstory, but given his filmmaking pace, Mr. Allen can’t really work that way.

“'He just doesn’t have any time for conversations like that, and he’s not interested in your process or what you’re thinking or how you work as an actor,' she said. 'He’s interested in you turning up and being it. But I love him for that, I think it’s so cool.'”

Fascinating how different directors work with actors. Woody's way seems to be extremely successful since many of his actors have been nominated and won many awards through the years. And he gets top notch performances in nearly all his films.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

3 Women (1977) ****

Enigmatic lucid dream of a movie more about emotion and mood rather than plot. At times hilarious, creepy, poignant. Shelley Duvall shines as well as Robert Fortier in a key supporting role. Another great film that failed horribly at the box office thanks to being released at the same time as Star Wars.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street: The Little Controversy That Could (and Should) - Grantland

"It’s a powerful fairy tale by which we as a country continually let ourselves be snake-charmed, which each new generation of pin-striped huckster-clowns quickly learns is their greatest tool. If you remember that cataclysmic crisis that nearly wiped our financial system from the map (and why would you with the Dow over 16,000?), Jordan Belfort was a small-time crook. Compared to those who ran our economy into the ground, Belfort’s literally a sideshow. How many of them did as much time as Belfort? Which of them are making restitution to their countless victims? Who gave them social license to act like sociopaths and lionized them deliriously as the markets soared ever higher? And, by the way, what’s going on with all those Dodd-Frank financial reforms?"

Monday, January 06, 2014

World War Z (2013) **

Manages to avoid a lot of (but not all) cliches of the genre and keeps things moving well, but it's still basically a zombie flick. As is typical with these things, lots of quick cutting during the action sequences and very dark lighting, which makes things easier for the 3D effect.

Play It Again, Sam (1972) ***

Some of the bits are dated, but there's still lots of Allen one-liners and a solid spine to this picture. Nice shots of early 70's San Francisco too.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Not Fade Away (2012) ***

A personal reflection on starting an artist's life in 1960's New Jersey by David Chase. Some anachronistic details, but gets a lot about the family dynamics of the time, or lack of them, right. Shifts in narrative drive and tone, with an enigmatic and thoughtful ending.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

The Lair of the White Worm (1988) ***

Ken Russell's version of a Hammer film, it's crazy, campy and highly enjoyable. Where have you gone, Amanda Donohoe?

The Sting (1973) ****

A couple of potholes in the plot, but a strong cast and even stronger direction make this popcorn movie always enjoyable. Its massive box office and critical success paved the way for future B movies to become A's.