• Blue Is the Warmest Color 2013

    ★★★ Watched 31 Dec, 2013

    Adèle is a high school student who discovers lesbianism when she encounters an older woman, the artist Emma, whose unconventionality is symbolized by her blue-dyed hair. That's the starting place for a 3-hour film which exhausted this viewer with its depiction of a passionate sexual love affair through all its ups-and-downs over the course of Adèle's coming of age. The acting is exceptional. Well, perhaps young actress Adèle Exarchopoulos maintains the affected schtick of playing with her hair a little too much; but technically this is one of the finest performances of the year, passionate and convincing. Léa Seydoux has less to do as the more mature lesbian whose love is tempered by practicality. But the two play well off of each other.

    I'll be honest. It took me three days of starts-and-stops to finish this film on video (which is one reason I wish I had watched it in the theater). I even had to fast forward through most of the extensive, explicit lesbian sex scenes. Director Kechiche apparently got completely authentic action and responses from the women. But (I don't know how to say this without coming off as a total jerk...but c'est la vie) overt lesbian sex squicks this Kinsey 6 viewer out. On the other hand, I had no problem with the heterosexual sex scenes, which weren't nearly as explicit as far as I could tell; but at least were pretty standard stuff.

    Kechiche is to be commended for breaking taboos. He has proven in the past to be a remarkable director who takes his time to develop his plots, and is very much attuned to the realism of his stories. He is no less realistic here, with a constantly roving camera which is often focused on brutally honest, emotionally fraught close ups of his actors. I am glad that this film was made. It is a true breakthrough in the convergence of [lesbian] pornography with high quality art film, much as what Alain Guiraudie's superb Stranger by the Lake did for [gay male] pornography (although, let's face it: lesbians are a lot more likely to win the Palm d'Or at Cannes.) Too bad that so far only the French seem to be making an effort to combine these genres in their cinema.

  • Porcelain Horse

    ★★½ Watched 14 Dec, 2013

    Two grown Ecuadorian brothers have been raised in an upper-middle class family. The elder, Paco, is heavily into drugs and having an illicit affair. The younger, Luis, is a punk rock singer who embarks on an affair with Paco's lover's gay husband. The film is filled with those kinds of unlikely narrative developments. Still, it might have been a shocking, but effective view of life among the dissolute younger generation in modern South America; but the subtitles were out-of-sync with the actual dialogue, which made it very difficult to follow for most of the film until I got used to it.

  • I Am Yours 2013

    ★★½ Watched 13 Dec, 2013

    Mina is a beautiful Norwegian Pakistani, a "liberated" divorcée from a traditional family. She shares custody of her 6-year old son with her Norwegian ex-, while embarking on a relationship with Jesper, an attractive Swedish man with commitment issues. Her family is shamed by her actions; and the film develops into a sad story of the effect of Westernization colliding with immigrant tradition. The film seemed to load everything against poor Mina, intolerant family, every man a heel. It was just too much.

  • Bethlehem 2013

    ★★★½ Watched 13 Dec, 2013

    The Israeli secret service recruits Palestinians as informers. This dangerous game is played by a teenage West-bank boy, brother of a wanted terrorist, who is playing both sides. His relation with his Israeli handler is portrayed as unlikely father to son. However, his role mediating the various Palestinian factions through his family connections is the stuff of heavy duty political thrillers. I did find the complex political divisions hard to follow...too many characters whose motivations were sketchily portrayed. But the inevitable conclusion was devastating, a measure of the degree of empathy that the film provided for the audience

  • The German Doctor 2013

    ★★★½ Watched 11 Dec, 2013

    The year is 1960. A family including the mother pregnant with twins and the daughter, undersized from premature birth, have returned to Patagonia to re-open the lakeside hotel that the mother was raised in. A mysterious doctor latches onto the family (not mysterious for long as he was a famous WWII fugitive whose name would be a spoiler.) The doctor is fascinated by the daughter's lack of physical stature and starts her on an experimental growth hormone. Anyway, that's the set-up for this sinister thriller which combines awe-inspiring vistas of lakes and mountains with the hunt for ex-Nazis who are seeking refuge in this deserted part of Argentina. The film is heavy on atmosphere, not so much on realistic character psychology.

  • Four Corners 2014

    ★★½ Watched 05 Dec, 2013

    The film takes place in the impoverished ghettos of Capetown, where several boys are missing, possibly victims of a serial killer. The area is part of a gang war between the 28's and the 26's, directly correlated to the American gangs, Bloods and the Crips, except even more violent; and the main character, a 28 general, has just been released from 13 years of prison. He is determined to quit the gang, settle down and find his 13-year old son, who has no knowledge of his father. The film is somewhat confusing as to motivations and quite disturbingly violent. This is an undoubtedly realistic slice of life; but one that I would just as soon have not experienced.

  • Heli 2013

    ★★★★½ Watched 03 Dec, 2013

    A working class Mexican family - father, married son Heli and his wife, baby daughter and young sister - are enjoying a normal, small town life when the "drug wars" intercept their innocent lives with horrendous consequences. Armando Espitia plays Heli with quiet, steely strength. The film is an absorbing thriller which lays bare the corruption and horrors of the cocaine trade, while also being an immensely moving family story. Not for the squeamish! There are torture sequences here which are almost unbearable to watch. But the film has such gritty truth to tell, is so well directed and acted, that it is a must-see.

  • Blind Spot 2012

    ★★★★ Watched 03 Dec, 2013

    A cop is murdered, and Olivier, his disgraced cop brother, is assigned to the case despite the obvious objections. That's the set-up for this fine policier where numerous red herrings confuse the issues as more and more deceptions are piled on until it is (more or less) clarified at the end. Jules Werner is excellent playing the closeted cop Olivier (his being gay is one of those red herrings.) Intrigue, corruption, revenge...this is the stuff of the best sort of crime detective movies. And this absorbing film has them all.

  • Neighboring Sounds 2012

    ★★ Watched 02 Dec, 2013

    A middle-class neighborhood in Recife, Brazil, with its high-rises and family domiciles in sight of the shacks of the neighboring favela, is the main focus in this sprawling character study. The film presents an impressionist view of several families, emphasizing their relationship to the environment: security issues, a barking watchdog, various trysts, family dynamics, the contrast between haves and have-nots. For me, there were simply too many characters and no coherent narrative to keep me involved. By the end I was bored; but the sheer magnitude of the filmmaking made me feel that perhaps I was missing something, perhaps a victim of fatigue since I may have dozed through some crucial exposition.

  • Of Horses and Men 2013

    ★★★ Watched 02 Dec, 2013

    The film takes place presumably present day in a rural valley where the inhabitants are all involved with raising and handling horses. In a series of connected vignettes introduced by action being reflected in various horse's eyes, we experience a variety of tragi-comic stories, which show the symbiotic connection between horse and man in this isolated environment. The scenery is stunning, the sound mix, the cinematography outstanding. But I have to say the subject matter left me questioning the psychology of these characters. I was left with the impression that I had watched an affectionate satire that went over my head.

  • The Old Man 2012

    ★★★★½ Watched 21 Nov, 2013

    Based on Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea," this is the story of a 73 year old codger who sets out with his little flock of sheep into the snow swept steppes, gets lost and battles wolves and the elements. This is another strong, visual epic by the director of the gripping, wordless, 2009 film Kelin: The Daughter-in-law. Kudos to elderly, feral eyed actor Erbulat Toguzakov, who gives a strong, physical performance as the Old Man. This is mythic man vs. the elements film making of the highest order.

  • Who’s the Boss? 2013

    ★★½ Watched 21 Nov, 2013

    This is a battle of the sexes romantic comedy in the vein of Doris Day vs. Rock Hudson. In this case about two people who both secretly believe that 3 months is the maximum that they're capable of having a relationship. He's cocky and sexist, she's beautiful and headstrong. The guy constantly breaks the third wall and talks to the audience, which was annoying. Totally predictable and trivial; yet despite that the film was entertaining enough, with a nice feel-good end credit sequence.

  • Battleship 2012

    ★½ Watched 26 Dec, 2013

    Not quite as bad as expected. On the other hand, how is it even possible to judge a film with such a ridiculous premise? I did stick around to the predictable, if totally unbelievable, ending. Do I get a medal too?

  • Girl Most Likely 2013

    ★½ Watched 28 Jul, 2013

    This is a film where just about every character is variously and annoyingly neurotic; and it isn't nearly as funny as it tries to be. It also shows, to my dismay, that Darren Criss doesn't have a romantic persona which transfers well to the big screen, although he can still burn it up singing and dancing given his brief time to shine. I just longed for a touch of subtlety with these characters and had my hopes dashed.

  • Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay 2013

    ★★★½ Watched 28 Jul, 2013

    Ricky Jay has been a famed magician since he was a kid. In this entertaining documentary he discusses and illustrates the art of slight-of-hand magic, mostly using a deck of cards. His historical references to past magicians in the golden age of vaudeville were refreshingly personal and utilize some amazing old film footage of their tricks in action. This documentary fulfills the duty to bring little known facts to light and does it logically and amusingly; but it lacks a certain gravitas in its presentation, which, for me, is the earmark of great doc filmmaking.

  • Blue Jasmine 2013

    ★★★★½ Watched 27 Jul, 2013

    A return to form for Woody. First, he's found the perfect younger replacement for his oft used muse Judy Davis in Cate Blanchett (who should be odds on for an Oscar here.) Second, he's channeling Tennessee Williams in a modern day take on "Streetcar" with Bobby Cannavale as Stanley, Sally Hawkins as Stella and Blanchett as Blanche. OK, maybe that's just one of the plots...but it's a great place to start, and all three actors ace their roles. Third, he's managed to set a film in San Francisco and avoid all the scenic clichés. If that isn't enough, he's made a drama that is amusing, polished and relevant, with a conclusion that's emotionally devastating. That's enough for me.