Quick takes on new films seen in the past month

Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows (2007, Kent Jones) IMDbscreened December 11, 2007 at the Walter Reade Theater, NYC yes

Into the Wild (2007, Sean Penn) IMDb screened December 30, 2007 on DVD in South San Francisco, CA Didn't expect it to sneak up on me at the end -- I wonder if they should have told the film in strict chronological order just to get Holbrook's amazing presence in there sooner. yes

Persepolis (2007, Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Parounnaud) IMDb screened December 31, 2007 at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, NY I much prefer the graphic novels - they are more evocative and not as ingratiatingly cutesy as I found this movie to be.  Stlll I hope this film opens a lot of doors for greater understanding of Iran - boy do we need it more than ever. yes

The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: A Veggie Tales Movie (2008, Mike Nawrocki) IMDb review in Slant Magazine NO

There Will Be Blood (2007, Paul-Thomas Anderson) IMDb second viewing screened January 7, 2008 at BAM YES 

Jour de Fete (1949, Jacques Tati) IMDb screened January 6, 2008 at Walter Reade Theater, NY Saw the color print at the Walter Reade in Lincoln Center with Jonathan Rosenbaum introducing it. Not as highly touted as his later films, but I actually prefer it to M. Hulot's Holiday and Mon Oncle, due to its inside-out knowingness of its characters and the world they inhabit, which allows it to exploit nearly every opportunity for humor and shrewd observation of social values and behavior. I suppose one could make the same argument for all of Tati's great films, and in fact Rosenbaum has made the point that Tati's films work together to make an epic chronology of everyday life in France in the modern era. Indeed, the pathos of this film doesn't fully register unless you watch Mon Oncle or Playtime as a point of contrast - as a time capsule of a lost world it is quite poignant. YES

Still Life / Sanxia Haoren (2006, Jia Zhangke) IMDb second viewing screened January 8, 2008 at Magno Studios, NY Saw at a press screening in 35mm. DVD was much better - HD colors and lines really popped, on film it's dark and muddled. Not as many subtexts blossomed out in the second viewing as I had expected, but it's still a compelling film with some of Jia/Yu Lik Wai's most inspired compositions, with an emerging subtext of masculinity and brotherhood not dealt with so deeply by Jia since his breakthrough Xiao Wu 10 years prior. Han Sanming is terrific in the lead. yes

Lake of Fire (2006, Tony Kaye) IMDb screened January 10, 2008 on DVD in Weehawken, NJ gutsy film - in my mind it subtly sides towards pro-choice (they seem to get the last word at every chapter in the story),but it shows more sides to the debate than any film I can think of. The last half hour is incredibly powerful, when we move past the rhetorical tug of war and get to spend time with a woman as she undergoes the procedure - and we see just how morally and emotionally conflicted an experience it is -- and the sheer humanity of these scenes transcends political or rhetorical posturing. yes

No End in Sight (2007, Charles Ferguson) IMDb screened January 10, 2008 on DVD in Weehawken, NJ my only grievance is the absence of the key top-level players (no fault of the filmmakers, they tried I assume) and their account of what they were thinking (or not thinking) leaves a big frustrating chasm of accountability in this blistering narrative. yes

Ne touchez pas la hache / The Duchess of L'Anglaise (2007, Jacques Rivette) IMDb screened January 14, 2008 at Magno Studio in New York, NY last half hour is really great, but there's a lot of stuffy costumed hemming and hawing that, while attentive to the gamesmanlike customs of the era it depicts, isn't depicted with the singularity one would expect from a name like Rivette. mixed