Month: July 2005

Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975), Peter Weir, B-

I agree — if I saw this movie for the first time when I was 19 years old I’d hail it as brilliant. But when you get to be my age, moody open-ended films begin to lose their charm. Begin to lose their charm when that open-endedness is supposed to wow you. For a movie to have an open ending and work for me is when what you see in the body of the film is so important that something as mundane as a solution just seems like an afterthought. John Sayles’ “Limbo” is a great example. This film seemed to be screaming at me, “I’m going to wind up as art!” I knew this movie was going to be open-ended from the beginning scrawl (and so would you, so this isn’t a spoiler.) There is still a lot to enjoy. The first section has a wonderfully eerie quality to it. In fact, it is because the first third of this film is so strong that the remainder seems so lackluster. By the end, it just feels as if the movie has run out of gas. There are some women on the internet who are insane for this movie — I experimented with Ann & made her watch it to gauge her reaction. And I certainly think she was more engaged in it than I was. So — maybe...

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The Last Wave (1977), Peter Weir, C

This movie wants so much to be a great existential horror film in the vein of “The Shining” or The Tenant or the earlier works of Cronenberg. And it just is. . .too stupid. Sorry, no better way to explain it. When the premise is this thin (Indian burial ground, basically) it is hard to rationalize away the lapses in logic and purple dialogue. Individual shots are very memorable, but not the scenes. Great cinematography, great sound design, thumbs way up on overall mood — but I have to put my foot down and demand more of a...

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South Jersey Shore, July 2005

Here is Hoffman in his borrowed wheels at the Cape May Bird Observatory. We saw a Great Blue Heron and a Great Egret. One of the best arcades is on Beach Ave. in Cape May. For one American dollar you can play this crazy virtual reality game where you stick your head in a yellow thing and shoot aliens. And, of course, there is skee ball. Ann, it turns out, had some natural abilty. (And, yes, it does have a South Jersey history.) Our room was lovely. Ann was particularly taken with the stained glass window. I was fond of this funny, old telephone. On the boardwalk in nearby Wildwood there was no shortage of fine dining options. And also no shortage of reactionary T-shirts. Don’t let anybody tell you South Jersey isn’t the...

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Fuck Vertical Catwalk, No Good Schweinhunds

Perhaps you’ve heard about some controversy on double decker buses lately? Let me tell you the real scandal. Munich-based dance group Vertical Catwalk was in town today for a double decker tour. There was about 35 of them on my bus. They basically took over, holding us up as their group was first on the bus, then off the bus, then waiting for someone — then asking to make an announcement over the microphone in German, then asking me to go off the route to check out “cool clubs, not so much old buildings” and so on. And they wouldn’t shut up about how they were going to be on TV the next day doing their performance at Rockefeller Center. “We are world famous!!” they said. And they wouldn’t sit down. I have only one rule on the bus: sit down. I sometimes stand, but I know where all the low hanging traffic lights and overpasses are. If you are standing up, taking photographs, it is very dangerous, and if you get killed on the bus I have to fill out paperwork. So I make it very clear to sit while the bus is moving. I even said it in German (I knew how to say “Sitzen Machen” from Billy Wilder’s “One, Two, Three.”) They still wouldn’t sit. When we drove past Rockefeller Center, they had to tell the...

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The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), Carl Theodor Dreyer, C

Dreyer’s film (a masterpiece of cinema art, yes, yes) actually has a lot in common with that other Passion movie. Neither have anything resembling a backstory (luckily, I know most of the Joan of Arc saga from that Luc Besson film) or a plot. Basically, all that happens here is that Joan, looking quite unappealing in close up, is yelled at by some judges. She mumbles some psycho bullshit about being sent by God to smite the British. (Would God really choose the Brits over the French? I’ll have to mull this one over for a while.) The judges, also looking heinous in close up, yell at her and say she must repent. She will not. So they take her to a torture room. Here, Dreyer parts company with Mel Gibson, because no actual torturing takes place. Joan passes out before we get to see any of that. Then she is threatened with burning at the stake. Joan’s eyes go wide. Oy, do they go wide. Just when you think her eyes can’t get any wider or any more glassy, there she goes. Finally, she agrees to repent. She signs some piece of paper and is allowed to eat a Ritz cracker. Then her eyes go even wider, she cries even more, and then rescinds her repentance. You know the rest from the Smiths song: The flames rose to...

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China: A Century of Revolution (1989-1997), Sue Williams, A

Sue Williams’ three independent films about China, “China in Revolution: 1911-1949” from 1989, “The Mao Years: 1949-1976” from 1994 and “China: Born Under the Red Flag” from 1997, have been collected into one massive six-hour collection. There is nothing in this six hours that isn’t absolutely fascinating. From Dr. Sun Yat-Sen to the British handover of Hong Kong, the tale of China in the 20th Century plays out like a thrilling political and social soap opera. Basically, the entire country was ensnared in some kind of war, famine or massive fucked-up radical social program from 1911 to 1976, picking up again briefly in 1989. All the political leaders are riddled with paradox — Deng Xiaoping seems like such a cool guy. . .before all the executions begin. The film avoids Burns-esque expert vox-pop and listens only to the people who were there. Voice-of-God narrated footage is remarkable, as well. Who knew Mao brought a camera with him on the Long March? Anyway, anyone interested in human events owes it to themselves to check this out. I found myself taking current American events and putting them in context. I recognized that warfare against citizens is as old as the oldest Chinese proverb, and that even well-meaning governments are corrupt. I also realized just how well the average American has it, and even with Bush eroding our civil liberties it ain’t...

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Jordan Hoffman is a New York-based writer and film critic working for The Guardian, Vanity Fair, Thrillist, Times of Israel, NY Daily News and elsewhere.

He is the host of ENGAGE: The Official Star Trek Podcast, a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and challenges you to a game of backgammon.

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