steven soderbergh is aware of all cinema traditions. all of them. he is aware of them all. (denver premieres 2/27/09)
Can Che Guevara haz cheezburger and wide-release in theaters now?
Che - If you take a little time to sort through the mountains of early reviews of Steven Soderbergh's many-minuted-meditation on the life and times of one-time, one-man importer/exporter of revolution and once-and-future king of t-shirts, Ernesto 'Che' Guevara (GreenCine Daily's got a great round up of the Cannes buzz here, and late '08 squawk here), you get the sense that Soderbergh isn't necessarily interested in telling a political story in the conventional sense - a story of a sharpening sense of right and wrong and and then escalating choices, or of maturing or perverted personal politics - but assuming an entirely different perspective altogether, a pomo experiment that treats Guevara, right up front, as a kind of text: so if he is in fact now more textual than real, more than just a mere historical figure, Soderbergh seems to be saying, one for whom so many people around the world are continually attempting to "author" on their own even today, how do you go about assigning him one particular persona? Maybe Che is more like a question, one posed both to cinematic and narrative form: how do you bypass the intertextuality of Che Guevara, and what would a movie that could do that look like?
Che's audaciousness -it's length, it's subject matter, it's reflective, even confrontational style, it's nod to radical chic that will no doubt appeal more to cinephiles than dyed-in-the-wool-lefties, and the fact that it will probably take a few viewings to get a handle on, in spite of all of these things - is something to celebrate, a reminder of that movies can also challenge us as filmgoers and the baggage we often bring to movies ("did you like it, or not?"), and not just film fans. It's also great to see something like this swagger into theaters right now as we officially depart Hollywood's silliest season and are now expected to suck Zack Snyder's dick. (Dex)
The Class - In what could have easily been another paint-by-numbers film about an “Inspiring teacher and the students whose lives he changes,” Laurent Cantet’s The Class is rather a multi-leveled discussion on not only the subject of classroom dynamics within a urban middle school but also, in an allegorical sense, a study of the social pressures that have arisen of late in France that pit the country’s need for national identity against the multi-ethnic diversity of the increasing immigrant population. Structured as if it were a year-in-the-life type documentary, the film centers on a progressive minded teacher (ex-middle school teacher François Bégaudeau who wrote the memoir upon which the film is based) and his class of multi-cultural, multi-lingual students (played by untrained middle-school students) as they banter back and forth in a constant struggle for the upper hand position even in what seems to be the most inconsequential of matters. For the first two-thirds of the film, it rolls along in this manner without any overt plot points and it is in these scenes when the film seem most confident. It is only after a plot of sorts is introduced that the film hiccups a couple of times before getting back on track towards its subdued and contemplative ending. As the lights went up at the screening I attended during last year's Denver International Film Festival, I could overhear the comments floating around, and I realized that the subtext of film completely slipped by this well-heeled crowd. To them it was just a story about a teacher trying his best in a adversarial situation and how hard that must be. I would say The Class is subtle but not overtly so. How that audience reacted to the film and, I must say, how even professional critics like Minohla Dargis, David Denby and Andrew Sarris are all over the board on this one surprises me. Although it is not a movie that will blow you away with its brilliance, The Class is a solid movie made with care and one that will give you some food for thought after the credits roll. And really, that's not such a bad thing, considering that you won't have anything in theaters like it until well after the sugar-rush of a summer season is over. (Pike)
Jonas Brothers in 3-D - Catch them in their big screen debut before they shotgun their parents to death. (Dex)
Donkey Punch - This is another film that played at the Denver International Film Festival, but one that I purposefully avoided. A suspense thriller set on a yacht full of O.C. rejects, with a plot set in motion by the absolutely expected outcome of someone going through with the fabled donkey punch. (Honestly if you don’t know what it is, don’t look it up. You are a better person for not knowing!) Well that sounds positively stupid! If you want to read a good review of this movie, go read Wesley Morris’ take over at the Boston Globe were he writes, “Anyone looking for a stoned and bikinied update of L'Avventura, Purple Noon, Dead Calm, or other boat-bound chillers will have to settle for The Real World: Death Yacht." Well I'm glad to see that the film is not being falsely advertised. (Pike)
Echelon Conspiracy- A man (Shane West from E.R. and some movie Dex decided not to see) finds a magic cell phone that will grant him all of his worldly desires but some evil corporate and/or government types want it back and will stop at nothing to get it. I'm pretty sure that if you substitute the cell phone for a magic sheep's skin or animal horn of some kind, and you substitute the corporate/government types with the gods atop Mt. Olympus, there is a Greek myth that this story was pilfered from. The film also stars Ving Rhames, Ed Burns and Martin Sheen. (Pike)
Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li- Steven Soderbergh's four-hour adaptation of the beloved two-player arcade game - one aficionados say did not achieve its full genius until its incarnation as a Sega Genesis cartridge - is doubly curious, as it's also a seq....oh, you know what? Here. Just, just - here. (Dex)
Two Lovers - The new film by director James Grey (Little Odessa, We Own the Night, The Yards) is yet another loose adaptation of the Dostoevsky short story White Nights, which puts it in the prestigious company of Luchino Visconti’s Le Notte Bianche, Robert Bresson’s impossibly hard to see Four Nights of a Dreamer, and the recent Bollywood epic Saawariya. Two Lovers is basically about a lonely man who falls hard for the capricious but unstable girl-next-door; all the while he is being set up by his parents with a stable daughter of some family friends. Emotional complications ensue for our hero who by the end will make the responsible choice he should have made in the first place, if only he could have realized that wild hearts can’t be tamed or some such nonsense. If you’ve been in the mood for one of those character driven relationship films that are normally released in the late fall as a "prestige picture", and the idea of Gwyneth Paltrow and Joaquin Phoenix in the same movie doesn’t put you off, then this film might just be up your alley. If, on the other hand, you are looking for something with a little more artistic merit to it or at least a spectacular visual sense, then go rent the Visconti or the Bollywood film mentioned earlier. (Pike)
A shiny happy Blu-Ray release of the lovely Adrienne Barbeau in John Carpenter's The Fog almost makes you forget that the technology's meant to break and corral adventurous movie fans. Almost.
US DVD Releases:
- Blood, Boobs & Beast ( Documentary about Don Dohler. Includes film Nightbeast)
- Chris & Don: A Love Story (documentary)
- Coup D'Etat (dir. Ryszard Filipski)
- Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (documentary)
- Epitaph (dir. Sik Jung who worked as asst. dir. under Park Chan-Wook on Oldboy and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance)
- Extreme Movie (starring Michael Cera and Frankie Muniz)
- Fidel! (documentary)
- Four Flies on Grey Velvet (dir. Dario Argento)
- The FTA (documentary - 1972)
- The Haunting of Molly Hartley
- Hounddog (starring creepy Dakota Fanning)
- Ironweed (starring Jack Nicholson)
- The Last House On The Left- Collector's Edition (dir. Wes Craven)
- Late Bloomer (review)
- A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn
- Lullaby (starring Melissa Leo)
- Man Walking on Snow (starring Ken Ogata)
- Matador: The Story of Passion, Tragedy, Triumph, and Love! (documentary)
- Matisse/Picasso: Twin Giants of Modern Art (documentary)
- Mr. Average (advertised as the Bollywood Knocked Up)
- Pear Tree (dir. Dariush Mehrjui)
- Poil de Carotte (Carrot Top - 1932) (dir. Julien Duvivier)
- A Policewoman in New York (starring Edwidge Fenech)
- Protege (starring Andy Lau)
- Requiem for a Vampire (dir. Jean Rollin)
- Running Hot (starring Eric Stoltz)
- Scorpion with Two Tails (dir. Sergio Martino)
- Sexy Battle Girls
- Sins of Sister Lucia (starring Rumi Tama)
- What Just Happened (dir. Barry Levinson, starring Robert De Niro)
- The Whole Shootin' Match (dir. Eagle Pennell)
US Blu-Ray Releases:
- The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (dir. Dario Argento)
- The Fog (1979) (dir. John Carpenter)
- Freedomland (starring Samuel L. Jackson, Julianne Moore)
- The French Connection (dir. William Friedkin)
- French Connection II (dir. John Frankenheimer)
- Friday the 13th Part 2
- Friday the 13th Part 3
- Ronin (dir. John Frankenheimer)
- Sex Drive
- Vanishing Point (1971) (starring Barry Newman, Cleavon Little)
- What Just Happened?
- Zulu (starring Michael Caine)
Multi Region DVD releases:
- Achilles and the Tortoise (dir. Kitano Takeshi)- Japan Region 2
- Alice et Martin ( dir. Andre Techine)- UK Region 2 PAL
- Alone Across the Pacific (dir. Ichikawa Kon)- UK Region 2 PAL
- Entranced Earth (dir. Glauber Rocha)- UK Region 2 PAL
- Gazwrx: The Films of Jeff Keen- UK Region 2 PAL
- Hunger (dir. Steve McQueen)- UK Region 2 PAL
- Kokoro (dir. Ichikawa Kon)- UK Region 2 PAL
- Klass (dir. Ilmar Raag)- UK Region 2 PAL
- Lady Cop and Papa Crook (dir. Alex Mak, Felix Chong) Hong Kong All Region
A warning to the curious from Pike Bishop about the following releases plus some odds and ends:
DVD Releases from Raunchy Tonk/Midnight Choir
- Biker Mania!
- House on Haunted Hill: 50th Anniversary
- The Long Hair of Death/An Angel for Satan (a review that confirms my fears)
- The Sadist
- Sweeny Todd/Incredible Crimes at the Dark House
- The Whip and the Body/Conspiracy of Torture
As enticing as the idea of a good looking release for titles like The Sadist, The Whip and the Body and The Long Hair of Death might be to the cult connoisseur, I would caution the prospective purchaser from going into buying these titles blind. They are being put out on labels owned by Johnny Legend who is a gent that, by most accounts, is a fan, supporter and promoter of cult cinema, but who has a lengthy history of releasing sub-par DVDs of films that are either poorly (and some question whether legally) ported from previous European releases while others are just fluffed up public domain properties. It wouldn't be so bad if these titles were in the 6-8 dollar price range like Alpha Video releases, but rather they are coming out with a $19.99 MSRP. The best bet is to wait for some reviews to come out and see what kind of effort was put into these discs. As for House on Haunted Hill, it is rumored that Martin Scorsese and Sony are working on a William Castle box-set that will undoubtedly include the film, so wait for that to hit the shelves if you are looking for a proper DVD.
As for the rest of these week's releases, I want to point out some interesting foreign releases along with some first-time-on-DVD cult film coming out domestically. First up, Mondo Macabro is releasing another Nikkatsu Roman Porno film titled The Sins of Sister Lucia. It is a little Nunsploitation number that promises some anti-catholic fun sprinkled throughout with surreal, candy colored images shot in the kinetic style that the Japanese excelled in during the early 70s. In somewhat the same vein, PinkEiga is releasing two relatively modern Pink films, Sexy Battle Girls and The Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn. Sexy Battle Girls is film based on the Sukeban Deka (Delinquent Girl Detective) manga series and looks to be a manic, schlocky school-girl revenger that shows its budget limitations but makes up for it with a hyperactive sense of inventiveness. The Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn, on the other hand, is about a widow who, after her senile father-in-law loses his prized cow, begins to substitute for the cow during the morning milking. More unusual though is that even with this lurid set-up, the film plays out more like a Japanese art-house melodrama about devotion to family and respect for the elderly! On the Blu-Ray front, we get two great pieces of car porn in Ronin and Vanishing Point. In Ronin, Robert De Niro and a cast of great character actors like Jean Reno, Stellan Skarsgard, and Jonathan Pryce beat the hell out an Audi S8, some Citroens, a BMW, a Mercedes Benz and the entirety of the oncoming traffic in the Pont de l'Alma tunnel. In Vanishing Point, Barry Newman elegiacally drives a beautiful white 1970 Dodge Challenger into oblivion. Of final note, I would like to point out two new Ichikawa Kon (Burmese Harp, Fires on the Plain, Tokyo Olympiad) releases from the folks across the pond at Masters of Cinema- Alone Across the Pacific and Kokoro. These films have never been released in the west and I, for one, am grateful to the folks over at MoC for continuing to release some of the more obscure titles from the careers of world class filmmakers. It gives someone like myself, who doesn't live in a city with a rich cinema culture (i.e. New York, L.A., San Francisco), the ability to see things that would otherwise be unavailable. I have the Ichikawa discs coming from Amazon UK and will review them in the near future.
Dex on Dario:
Though Dario Argento's career continues to sink into ignominy with every dreary one of his giallo retreads and shitty sequels, there's still his body of work from the early 1970s, a cycle of "animal thrillers" featuring catchy titles and typically (but not ridiculously) convoluted plots seeded with sex, scandal, cool hairstyles, and general Euro-weirdness. While these films are heavily influenced by Argento's mentor Mario Bava (and spiritual godfather Alfred Hitchcock), they're also compact and exciting, and a reminder of the skill Argento once possessed and has since somehow lost. The last of the animal trilogy, 1971's Four Flies on Grey Velvet, is finally getting a Region 1DVD makeover courtesy Mya Communications with all the goodies: trailers, teasers, and photo gallery.
Patrick on Last House:
Especially with an undoubtedly shitty remake in the works, there's cause to check out this repulsive little bit of shock cinema yet again. Craven and his cast worked a vein of intense and brutal horror here that's certainly a forerunner to what we call "torture porn" today, but Craven - and his contemporaries like Romero and Tobe Hooper - were operating in reaction to a society that had seemed to them to have lost all the value placed on human life. Last House is a response to My Lai, to Kent State, to the madness of the Vietnam War itself - a mirror to show a society they're at odds with just how horrific they saw life around them. To say it's unpleasant to watch is an understatement, but the graphic power of the documentary feel Craven sought and achieved is unnerving in the extreme, even if undercut by hammy attempts at humor that are thoroughly at odds with the tone of everything else in the film. It is otherwise a downward spiral of violence, in which the revenge is every bit as horrific and no more cathartic for the protagonists than that of the antagonists.
Critter: Poisoned ants, now armed with poison
Size: Less than 0.5 inches long
Modus Operandi: Attack in groups, bite victims and are somehow armed with poison derived from pollution, also equipped with “stickers on their legs that cling to you”
How the Menace Emerges: Unleashed by construction (bulldozers make the ants very angry)
End Goal: To take over a fancy, seaside resort
“Whatever it is, it’s mad because we disturbed it.” Whoooo, scary!
I wanted this to be The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie with ant footage, but sadly Ants! (a.k.a. It Happened at Lakewood Manor) lacks any social commentary whatsoever. It was made for TV and it shows. In theory, this is supposed to come across as a nature-seeks-revenge-for-human-misdeeds flick, but instead it comes across as a love song for bulldozers, fire trucks and helicopters. One of the main difficulties with a number of sub-par horror flicks is a weird obsession with numerous melodramatic plotlines involving people that we’d rather not take the time to know. If the stories mattered or if the characters were humorous caricatures, I’d be happy. Unfortunately, that is not the case in Ants!.
Despite the fact that a number of ants were involved in the making of this picture, the ant invasion is mainly indicated by a confusing bit of black spray paint and coffee grounds. The filmmakers were so proud of the outdoor shot that they used it three times, but it took until the second before I could discern what the heck they were getting at. I suppose that I should be happy that this was made before CGI could ruin the d.i.y. creativity of set designers and special-effects guys, but somehow, I’m still sad.
It does earn extra points for the following scenes: 1) the most ridiculous fall off of a balcony, ever, 2) a delightful scene of cheering onlookers being hosed down with a fire hose after a helicopter accidentally blew ants all over them and 3) a despicable character’s mistaken impression that he could land in a swimming pool from the third story.
Nit-picking Science: Oh, Tom, I sincerely doubt that your “just be still and don’t breathe on them” advice would work in real life, but it did make for a kooky scene I almost enjoyed.
think of it this way gang - it's only one more week until 'che' opens! (denver premieres for 2/20/09)
Take - nay, drink - this photo of Natalie Portman in, and drink well, for she does not have a movie opening this weekend.
Rather than sell us their usual slate of big screen offerings this weekend, Hollywood has been busy instead attempting to sell us on the awesomeness of their televised prom this Sunday, aka the Academy Awards. And bless their little botoxed and coked-out hearts, for they obviously know not what they do; with a handful of exceptions, this is a pretty wretched Oscar year, even by the Academy's annually shitty standards. But don't take my word for it - Rodger Grossman certainly doesn't - if you're itching for something to see before Sunday's Hughpocalypse, you can wander on over to the Landmark Theater and Starz sites yourself for times and schedules of most of this year's Oscar-worthies.
Elsewhere, a large black man dressed as a woman is sent to prison for brandishing a weapon and proceeds to go on a rampage, terrorizing the other inmates, and two horny young men and cheerleaders and nude wackiness.
The deleted scenes from High School Musical 3 look AWESOME.
Hello! Releases, releases, releases! Here are your DVD releases for the week of 2/17/09! Goodbye! :
- Body of Lies
- Changeling (2008)
- Faces (Criterion Collection directed by John Cassavetes)
- Flash of Genius
- Hard Country (1981)
- The Helen Morgan Story (starring Paul Newman)
- High School Musical 3
- Hobson’s Choice (Criterion Collection directed by David Lean)
- I Served the King of England
- Midnight Meat Train
- Moses & Aaron
- Out at the Wedding
- The Outrage (starring Paul Newman) (1964)
- Quarantine (2008)
- Rachel, Rachel (directed by Paul Newman)
- Shadows (Criterion Collection directed by John Cassavetes)
- Silver Chalice (starring Paul Newman)
- When Time Ran Out (starring Paul Newman)
Critter: The deadliest wolf spider in the movie world, Lycosa carnivora
Modus Operandi: Bites victim and injects poison that is so excruciating the victim is driven to suicidal madness
How the Menace Emerges: Brought to London from central Africa by an eccentric entomologist and spider-collector, purchased and unleashed by the clever, but deadly "mistress of murder"
End Goal: To bite men while they are sleeping in their “pyjamas” and drive them to suicide so that their mistress can get rich
Our first entry in the guide that comes from outside of the horror/sci-fi genre is also our oldest thus far. Like the poor, winged honey-makers in The Deadly Bees, the spiders in The Spider Woman are the hapless victims of an evildoer with a murderous urge. This fun little WWII set piece is stocked with comic-book characters and more British cleverness than you can shake a stick at. Basil Rathbone is the iconic Sherlock Holmes, and he does not disappoint. Gale Sondergaard (The Cat and the Canary) gives a fantastic performance as the spider-wielding, pygmy toting villainess with enough brains to give old Holmes a sly grin. In a Holmes mystery, realism goes out the window, but the witty dialogue and clever twists are enough to keep butts in the seats. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a Sherlock Holmes flick, but if they’re all as snappy as The Spider Woman, I’m game.
Nit-picking Science: Come, come Dr. Gilflower, surely you recognize that a spider isn’t an insect! Et tu, Holmes? Tsk, tsk.
"Just as you suspected, Clive - it was Liam Neeson all along."
The International - Even though director Tom Tykwer made a big splash with his massive art house hit Run, Lola, Run, he has since failed to recapture the wider public's attention with any of his subsequent films. Following Lola, Tykwer went on to do The Princess and the Warrior, Heaven and Perfume, The Story of a Murder but in the best light these films can only be described as workman-like entertainments. Sure they have a great visual sense about them but in one way or another they come across as being a little under-cooked. Tykwer could be grouped in with other modern filmmakers such as Phillip Noyce (Dead Calm, Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Quiet American) and Phillip Kaufman (The Right Stuff, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Henry and June, Quills) who make solid but ultimately weightless films inside a studio system, but I feel that the mold for the type of filmmaker he is was cast some fifty years earlier by Fred Zinnemann, director of High Noon. With films like the afore mentioned High Noon along with From Here to Eternity, Oklahoma!, The Nun's Story, The Sundowners, Behold a Pale Horse, A Man For All Seasons, The Day of the Jackal and Julia, Zinnemann forged a solid but ultimately middling career by not reaching for greater thematic depth or artistic expressiveness in his films. In an essay over at Senses of Cinema, Robert Keser asks a fundamental question about Zinnemann:
"Is Zinnemann a great director? His claim to innovation was his application of Robert Flaherty's principles and neo-realist practices to studio-bound film production. In contrast, his contemporaries – Nicholas Ray, Jacques Tourneur, Anthony Mann, Vincente Minnelli – all deployed style to make art within Hollywood's artifice, counterpointing the surface structures with underlying layers of meaning. Auteurist critics who mined these strata have rejected Zinnemann because his is a literal-minded cinema of the spectator, where the images and narrative are displayed with craft and artistry, but which do not ask the viewer to participate in completing the equation of form and content."
I emphasized that last line not only because I think it sums up Zinnemann's career but because I also feel it describes Tykwer's approach to film, giving me a pretty compelling reason as to why I feel underwhelmed by his output so far. As for his new film The International, it looks to be a conspiracy-minded political thriller coming out thirty-five years past its prime. With a shootout taking place inside the Guggenheim and the main characters named after literary figures (Clive Owen plays Interpol agent Louis Salinger and Naomi Watts plays a DA named Eleanor Whitman), the film also seems to be aiming itself at an audience that has since disappeared- namely one that is familiar with and respectful of the high arts. If this would have come out when films like The Parallax View, Executive Action or Zinnemann's own The Day of the Jackal were in theaters it would not have seemed so out of place, but as it is now, with most of the major banks crippled by their own stupidity, it is hard to imagine a world where those same banks are masterminding all of the world's evils. Who knows though, maybe the current revival of conspiracy theory-minded idiocy, the kind that has turned crap like Loose Change and Zeitgeist, The Movie into Internet phenomena, is numbered with enough mouth breathing true believers to turn this ho-hum sounding film into a hit. (Pike)
Confessions of a Shopaholic - If you loved "Sex in the City," you'll something something this movie, which stars Borat's girlfriend and Hugh Dancy. (Dex)
Friday the 13th - Of all the criminal, bone-headed, lame-brained, ass-faced, make-you-so-mad-and-confused-you-wanna-punch-a-baby-in-the-face genre remakes that The International - sorry, The Industry - has coughed up since 2003, this flashy new model for what is essentially horror's Big Mac is not only the least offensive of the movement but also it's most promising: this is, however, only because the first seventy movies they squeezed out of this idea were so mind-bogglingly stupid, and thus the proverbial bar is thusly pretty fucking proverbially low. One can only hope that, like uberhack Renny Harlin's Nightmare on Elm Street 4 (1988), this piece of uberhackwork will possess some flash of originality, sense of flair, or a hot lesbian scene that'll make it worth the price of an eventual DVD rental. (Dex)
Cherry Blossoms- When it comes to the recent spate of films being made in 'homage' to the late Japanese director Ozu Yasujiro, I seem to prefer the ones that realize that Ozu's study of the profundity in the mundane focused not so much on the development of a plot but rather on the passing of small moments. The recent films Cafe Lumiere by Hou Hsiao-Hsein and Five by Abbas Kiarostami have captured this sense the best. As for Cherry Blossoms, a film about a German woman and her husband that visit their self-interested children a la Tokyo Story, I get the feeling after watching the trailer and reading some of the early reviews that it is more interested in replicating Ozu's plot developments, and hoping that some of his profundity comes in tow. There also seems to be some of that Lost in Translation-style, outsider-looking-in cultural reductionist crap that, although not as derogatory as the stereotyping Mickey Rooney stooped to in his role as Mr. Yunioshi for Breakfast at Tiffany's, it still comes across as lazy western short-hand that paints the Japanese people and their culture with a projected patina of odious exoticism. (Pike)
The Secrets- I can’t really tell what this is going to be like- “Heavenly Creatures” without the killing? I have no idea so I will give you the blurb from IMDB:
“In The Secrets, two brilliant young women discover their own voices in a repressive orthodox culture where females are forbidden to sing, let alone speak out. Naomi, the studious, devoutly religious daughter of a prominent rabbi, convinces her father to postpone her marriage for a year so that she might study at a Jewish seminary for women in the ancient Kabalistic seat of Safed. Naomi's quest for individuality takes a defiant turn when she befriends Michelle, a free-spirited and equally headstrong fellow student. When the pair encounters a mysterious, ailing foreigner with a disturbing past named Anouk (the iconic French actress Fanny Ardant) they begin a risky journey into forbidden realms. In the hopes of easing her suffering, Naomi and Michelle secretly lead Anouk through a series of Kabalistic cleansing rituals. The process opens up overwhelming new horizons for the girls who find themselves caught between the rigid male establishment they grew up in, and the desire to be true to themselves, no matter the cost.” (Pike)
Nevermind the Nolans and and the Bales.
Tim and Michelle have got this.
- Back to the Future (series)(special edition)
- Batman (1989, directed by Tim Burton)(2 DVD special edition)
- Batman & Robin (2 DVD special edition)
- Batman Forever (2 DVD special edition)
- Batman Returns (2 DVD special edition)
- Black Orpheus – (Criterion Collection directed by Marcel Camus)
- Blindness (2008)
- Chocolate (2008)
- The Enforcer (1995)
- Essential Art House Vol. 2 (Criterion Collection)
- The Exterminating Angel (Criterion Collection directed by Luis Buñuel)
- Fist of the Warrior (2006)
- The 400 Blows – (Criterion Collection directed by Francois Truffaut)
- Frozen River
- Ikiru – (Criterion Collection directed by Akira Kurosawa)
- La Strada (Criterion Collection directed by Federico Fellini)
- The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Criterion Collection directed by Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger)
- The Lodger (1927) (directed by Alfred Hitchcock)
- Miracle at St. Anna
- My Name Is Bruce
- Nights in Rodanthe
- Ode to Billie Joe (1976)
- Otto: Or Up With Dead People
- The Paradine Case (directed by Alfred Hitchcock)
- Pygmalion (1938) (Criterion Collection directed by Anthony Asquith)
- Sabotage (directed by Alfred Hitchcock)
- Simon of the Desert (Criterion Collection directed by Luis Buñuel)
- Soul Men (2008)
- Young and Innocent (directed by Alfred Hitchcock)
Dex does W. :
Though Oliver Stone's attempt to deconstruct Bush Time provides us with another marvelous performance from Josh Brolin - who is now three-for-three in his interpretations of surly white guys who've found themselves walled off from the rest of the world - what W. needed was a shot of Natural Born Killers' (1993) faux-transgressive-zaniness: in spite of the piles of dead bodies, ruined lives, shattered ecosystems, massive graft, and an economy that's been blown out like a bad knee, it seemed impossible for anyone else to take the last eight years seriously - did I mention all those dead Iraqis? - so shit, why start now? Stone has always been a good director of actors, so stick around for Brolin's clenched Chief Exec, who only stops buzzing with frustration and self-consciousness when he's stretched out with the dogs watching sports or cuddling with Laura (Elizabeth Banks). But be warned that W. peters out quick with tinkly pianos, humorless, expository dialogue, and way too much bleating about unloved sons (again).
Critter: Genetically modified killer honey bees, Apis mellifera var. madmanicus
Size: Less than an inch long
Modus Operandi: Attracted to the distilled smell of fear, attack in swarms, stinging victims to death
How the Menace Emerges: These bees are reared and trained by a madman to attack anyone smeared with an adrenaline-derived “smell of fear” ointment
End Goal: Hapless victims of a madman sent on suicidal murder missions, they’d rather be making honey.
Our first entry into the Field Guide from overseas is Britain’s The Deadly Bees, from Hammer’s little brother, Amicus. Freddie Francis (Tales from the Crypt, The Skull) directs this Robert Bloch (Psycho) script, and it carries itself with that 60s British sense of class well above the material involved. The Deadly Bees is not a great film, but like most of Francis’ work, it is solid enough: decent acting, competent color schemes and good camera work. Its weaknesses include horrible bee effects, a plot full of holes and a lead gal that just can’t gain our sympathy, yet it still comes off OK. The pacing keeps it from being too dull, and the battle between the overly nice, friendly beekeeper and the overly rude, cold beekeeper on this tiny island is a nice touch. This is certainly Saturday afternoon fare, but you could certainly find worse in the dangerous bee film camp.
One of the nice things about The Deadly Bees is that, in true Amicus style, someone at least did a bit of their homework. The death’s head moth (Acherontia atropos) does indeed make a sound, and they do raid honey from hives. They do so by smelling like a bee, rather than making a hypnotic noise, but that’s creative license for you.
Nit-picking Science: I could complain about the claim that bees and all insects smell fear and attack, but I’d just feel silly being that picky.
The following is a list of DVDs that came out in 2008 that I was excited to see for the first time or that were restored to such a degree that it felt like it was my first time really seeing them. Some of these discs come from overseas so I have labeled what region they come from. Region 0 and 1 are playable on DVD players coded for the U.S. market. To play the others, you will need to get an all-region player which you can get from Amazon of other online retail stores for around sixty bucks of so. If you do not have an all-region player but have an interest in films from other countries then it is my opinion that one is almost mandatory. I think over half of the DVDs that I own are from other regions.
1.) Judex/Nuits Rouges- Georges Franju
(Masters of Cinema- Region 2 PAL)
Georges Franju teamed up twice with Jacques Champreux, grandson of Louis Feuillade, to pay tribute to Feuillade’s silent serials, Judex and Fantomas. In the first film, Judex (1963), the American magician Channing Pollock plays the title character whom, in an early scene, gets to perform his most popular stage trick (pulling doves out of thin air) in the midst of a party where he and the other guests are wearing amazingly life-like avian masks. Set to Maurice Jarre’s haunting score, the scene captivates with its assured interplay of surreal imagery and poetic symbolism, gracefully introducing the fantastical world of the film to the viewer and capturing the wonderment that was both Feuillade’s and Franju’s stock in trade. As for Nuits Rouges (1974), it is a film cobbled together from a series of misfortunes. Initially the project was to be a full-blown Fantomas serial where money was no object. As it turned out, money became an object and the rights to the character Fantomas were lost. What is left is a fairly dark and convoluted tale of master thieves, underground lairs, some vengeful Knights Templar and an army of zombie assassins all wrapped up in the look and feel of a more serious in tone, less garishly designed Danger: Diabolik.
2.) 4 By Agnes Varda/Jacquot de Nantes- Agnes Varda
(Criterion Collection- Region 1/Cine-Tamaris- Region 2 PAL)
The Criterion box set contains the films La Pointe Courte (1956), Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962), Le Bonheur (1965), and Vagabond (1985) and is a good introduction to Varda through her most highly touted fictional films. Varda's films have always felt to me like a personal piece of correspondence from an especially bright and inquisitive friend who periodically drops a line or two about some nuance in human nature she has discovered while on her travels. These four films are great pieces of cinematic art but more importantly, show Ms. Varda's irrepressible humanism in full bloom. Jacquot de Nantes (1991) while still projecting Varda's warmth and humanity, feels a little more like something personal to Varda. It is a cinematic biography of and love letter to Jacques Demy, her husband who passed the year before the film's release. I think that we would all consider ourselves lucky to have someone care about us to the degree that Varda cared about Demy. Jacqout de Nantes is incredibly touching and a great film to boot.
3.) Vampyr- Carl Theodor Dreyer
(Criterion Collection- Region 1/Masters of Cinema- Region 2 PAL)
An incredibly atmospheric horror film from the early talkie days, Vampyr (1930) remains to this day an outstanding cinematic journey into the world of feverish phantasmagoria. The new restorations provided on these two discs are absolutely astonishing, and if you think you have seen this film before, either on the old VHS tape or the Image DVD, think again. Watching either of these new DVDs is like seeing the film for the very first time. According to the DVD Beaver comparison between the two discs, the Masters of Cinema disc retains more of the atmospheric haze that cinematographer Rudolph Mate achieved by supposedly shooting through a piece of cheese cloth, but both it and the Criterion disc are absolutely superlative. The Criterion disc features a commentary by Tony Ryans while the Masters of Cinema disc's commentary is by Guillermo del Toro. Both men, in their own way, are aces when it comes to talking about the subject of Cinema Fantastique.
4.) Valerie and Her Week of Wonders- Jaromil Jires
(Second Run- Region 2 PAL)
Yet another vampire film, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) is a fantastic little film full of unsettling themes and surreal imagery. The film centers on the main character Valerie who, upon her first menstruation, begins to see the disturbing nature of the adult world- the greed, the lust, the violence, the predatory nature of romantic love and the corrupt actions of the powerful. I have read in some reviews that there is a lot of Wilhelm Reich-style psychoanalytic subtext in this film, but I would have to say that it is more enjoyable to watch Valerie and Her Week of Wonders without that outmoded school of thought getting in the way of the implicitly fairytale-like language of the onscreen imagery . This film has been available from Facets in the U.S. for a while but this new region-2 disc from Second Run is far and away a better looking presentation.
5.) Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women- Mizoguchi Kenji
(Eclipse- Region 1)
This Eclipse box set presents Osaka Elegy (1936), Sister of the Gion (1936), Women of the Night (1948) and Street of Shame (1956) together to showcase one of the themes that Mizoguchi would return to again and again- the pragmatic needs of women in a society run by selfish and greedy men. All of these films deal with the subject of women falling into prostitution by one means or another with one film (Sisters of the Gion) focusing on the (even then) old-fashioned tradition of geisha. This box set is the first time that these films (with the exception of Street of Shame) have been available on an English subtitled DVD.
As a side note: If you are looking for a good version of Mizoguchi’s The Empress Yang Kwei Fei, Chikamatsu Monogatari, Gion Bayashi or The Woman in the Rumour then I would recommend the Region 2 Masters of Cinema discs released in 2007/2008.
6.) The Furies/Man of the West- Anthony Mann
(Criterion Collection- Region 1/MGM- Region 1)
Anthony Mann’s second western and his last true ‘psychological’ western both received DVD releases this year and both films are great, if somewhat left-field offerings from the director’s catalogue. The Furies (1950) was released in the same year as Winchester ’73 but could not be more different from that film or the rest of Mann’s westerns. It stars Barbara Stanwyck as the Electra-esque daughter of a cattle baron who gets severely bent out of shape when her father brings home a new bride-to-be. The Criterion disc comes with the Niven Busch (Duel in the Sun) novel, a rare television interview with Anthony Mann and a 34-page booklet that includes a new essay by Robin Wood and an interview with Mann. The bare bones release of Man of the West (1958) from MGM might not have gotten the lush treatment that Criterion gave The Furies but at least it is finally available. In Man of the West, Gary Cooper plays a man who realizes he hasn’t quite left his past behind him after he runs into his old mentor (a violent, and half-crazed outlaw played by Lee J. Cobb) after a train robbery. Much like a Peckinpah film before it’s time, Man of the West portrays the more violent and hostile side of the American west- the side that was always alluded to in prior westerns but that, until Mann’s film, was never emphasized so unflinchingly.
7.) Syndromes and a Century- Apichatpong Weerasethakul
(BFI- Region 2 PAL)
A unique film full of symmetries and parallels, Syndromes and a Century is about as difficult to describe as it is enjoyable to watch. If you go into this film with the knowledge that it does not rely on a narrative through-line so much as a music-like structure of theme and variation, it will be a less baffling experience. The film plays out in two distinct parts. The first part takes place in a rural Thai hospital 40 years ago where the head doctor (a female) is interviewing a new male doctor assigned to the post (Weerasethakul has said that he based this part of the story on his parents who began their romance while working as rural doctors). Surrounding this introductory story are these little vignettes of the auxiliary characters carrying out their daily activities. The second story begins in the same way with the same two doctor characters, only this time it is present day and the hospital is in a big city. With the dynamics of time and place changed, the variation of the character-based vignettes change, giving the viewer a very different experience than the first part of the film. The interesting part about all of this though is that once the second part of the film gets going, all of the elements of the film begin to slowly play off of one another, communicating back and forth to create an ever expanding combination of contextual possibilities from which to appreciate the film’s developing themes. Much like with Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, Facets put out a DVD of this film in the U.S. but the Region 2 BFI release from the U.K. is the better looking disc by far.
8.) The Films of Budd Boetticher- Budd Boetticher
(Sony- Region 1)
Many fans of the Western genre consider the teaming of Budd Boetticher and Randolph Scott to be in the same rank as the pairings of John Ford/John Wayne and Anthony Mann/James Stewart. After watching the five films in the box set, it is easy to see why. Boetticher’s Westerns, especially the ones written by Burt Kennedy (Seven Men From Now, The Tall T, Ride Lonesome and Comanche Station), are masterful exercises in the art of spare, economical storytelling. Centered on Randolph Scott’s guilt tarnished and laconic hero, these films emphasize the inner codes and moral conflicts of a small group of main characters set in relief against the desolate and beautiful terrain of Lone Pine, California. Film critic Andrew Sarris once wrote that the Boetticher/Scott westerns were, “constructed partly as allegorical Odysseys and partly as floating poker games where every character took turns at bluffing about his hand until the final showdown.” Coming from someone as laden by French film theory as Sarris is, that’s a pretty spot on and insightful take on these films. The box set includes the films The Tall T (1957), Decision at Sundown (1957), Buchanan Rides Alone (1958), Ride Lonesome (1959), and Comanche Station (1960) . Along with the DVD release of Seven Men From Now from a couple of years ago, the release of this box set pretty much covers the entirety of the Boetticher/Scott pairing. The one film that has not received a DVD released from the pair, Westbound (1959), was a contractual obligation of Scott's to Warner Brothers but neither the critics nor those involved with its making really care for it.
9.) The Queen of Black of Magic- Liliek Sudjio
(Mondo Macabro- Region 0)
When she is falsely accused of using black magic against the patrons of her smarmy ex-boyfriend’s wedding procession, Marni (Indonesian horror queen Suzzanna) is hunted down by the people of her village and thrown over a cliff. A hermit (who also happens to be a master of the dark arts), finds Marni unconscious and takes her into his hut to nurse her back from the edge of death. Once her health is regained, Marni’s rage boils over and pushes her, under the guidance of the hermit, to travel down the path of vengeance by becoming the queen of black magic. Very well shot and containing some practical effects that are ahead of the curve in regards to the 80s horror explosion (i.e.- an exploding head that outdoes the famous scene from Scanners two years later), The Queen of Black Magic (1979) is a fun little film from the culturally conservative Muslim nation of Indonesia. It slyly got away with its massively over-the-top gore shots by framing them within a “good Imam from the big city casts out the evils of a small village and teaches the natives how to be good Muslims” story arc. It is as if the director said, “Sure, there might be a scene with a guy ripping his own head off, but come on Mr. Censor, isn’t it inspiring to see a handful of villagers build an impromptu mosque and pray to Allah?” Mondo Macabro brings this movie out of obscurity in superb style with a brand new digital transfer struck from the original negative. Although amazingly entertaining now, The Queen of Black Magic is one of those films that, if shown to me when I was first stumbling across films like Sam Raimi's Evil Dead or Frank Henenlotter's Basket Case, would have completely blown my mind.
10.) The Ballad of Narayama- Imamura Shohei
This long overdue DVD release of Imamura's Palm d'Or winning retelling of the Fukuzawa Shichiro novel of the same name, The Ballad of Narayama (1983) was to me the bittersweet surprise of 2008. On the one hand I was glad that this film was finally getting a DVD release but on the other hand I had hoped that The Criterion Collection would have put this out rather than Animeigo. In the past, Animeigo had put out some spotty DVDs (e.g. Samurai Assassin) and I feared, based on how other Imamura films had fared on DVD in the Hong Kong and U.S. markets, that my waiting for a proper release of this film would have to continue. So it was to my surprise then, after watching the DVD, that Animeigo did an excellent job with this film (solid blacks (no 'dancing' pixels), good color representation, no weird artifacts and no combing or ghosting effects thanks to it being a progressive scan disc). I still wish this could have come from Criterion with an abundance of extras, but as it is this is a fine disc of a great, great movie. As for the film itself, here is a link to a good review by Stuart Galbraith IV over at dvdtalk.com. I think he probably got a defective DVD to review based on his comments (the problem he has with the repeated frames I do not have on my disc) but besides that his description of the film is on point.
Here are some of the other notable DVD releases from this past year (Region 1 if not otherwise noted):
-Akasen Chitai/Yokihi (Mizoguchi Kenji)- Masters of Cinema R2 PAL UK
-An Autumn Afternoon (Ozu Yasujiro, 1962)- Criterion
-Antonio Gaudí (Teshigahara Hiroshi, 1984)- Criterion
-The Apartment Collector's Edition (Billy Wilder, 1960)- MGM
-The Big Trail (Raoul Walsh, 1930)- 20th Century Fox
-Boat People (Ann Hui, 1982)- Edko R3 NTSC
-Bohachi Bushido: Code of the Forgotten Eight (Ishii Teruo, 1973)- Discotek Media
-Carve Her Name with Pride (Lewis Gilbert, 1958)- United Artists
-The Case of the Bloody Iris (Giuliano Carmineo, 1972)- Blue Underground
-Chikamatsu Monogatari/Uwasa no Onna (Mizoguchi Kenji, 1954)- Masters of Cinema R2 PAL UK
-The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection Vol. 1 & 2- Universal
-Come Drink with Me (King Hu, 1966)- Dragon Dynasty
-Daisy Kenyon (Otto Preminger, 1947)- Fox Home Entertainment
-Der letzte Mann (F.W. Murnau , 1924)- Masters of Cinema R2 PAL UK
-Eclipse Series #8: Lubitsch Musicals- Criterion
-El Cid 2-Disc Limited Collector's Edition (Anthony Mann, 1961)- Miriam Collection
-The Fall of the Roman Empire (Anthony Mann, 1964)- Miriam Collection
-The Films of Sergei Paradjanov- Kino
-Five (Abbas Kirostami, 2003)- BFI R2 PAL UK
-Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2007)- IFC
-Fox Classic Western Collection- 20th Century Fox
-Georges Melies: First Wizard of Cinema- Flicker Alley
-German Expressionism Collection- Kino
-Hammer Icons of Adventure Collection- Sony Pictures
-Hammer Icons of Horror Collection- Sony Pictures
-The Horse Thief (Tian Zhuangzhuang , 1986)- Xi'an Film Studio R3
-James Stewart Western Collection- Universal
-L'Argent (Marcel L'Herbier, 1928)- Masters of Cinema R2 PAL UK
-Le Deuxieme Souffle (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1966)- Criterion
-Le Doulos (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1962)- Criterion
-Les Vampires (Louis Feuillade, 1915)- Artificial Eye R2 PAL UK
-Life Is a Bed of Roses (Alain Resnais, 1983)- Kino
-Love Unto Death (Alain Resnais, 1984)- Kino
-Mafioso (Alberto Lattuada, 1962)- Criterion
-The Major and the Minor (Billy Wilder, 1942)- Universal
-Melo (Alain Resnais, 1986)- Kino
-Midnight (Mitchell Leisen, 1939)- Universal
-Miss Julie (Alf Sjöberg, 1951)- Criterion
-Moontide (Archie Mayo 1942)- Fox Film Noir
-Murnau, Borzage and Fox Box Set- Fox Home Entertainment
-The Naked Prey (Cornel Wilde, 1966)- Criterion
-The Nanny (Seth Holt, 1965)- Fox Home Entertainment
-The One That Got Away (Roy Ward Baker, 1957)- United Artists
-Opera Jawa (Garin Nugroho, 2006)- Yume Pictures R2 PAL UK
-Psycho Special 2-dic Edition (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)- Universal Studios
-Rear Window Special 2-disc Edition (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954 )- Universal Studios
-Road House (Jean Negulesco, 1948)- Fox Film Noir
-Rocco and his Brothers (Luchino Visconti , 1960)- Masters of Cinema R2 PAL UK
-Roman Holiday 2-disc Special Edition (William Wyler, 1953)- Paramount
-Sabrina 2-disc Special Edition (Billy Wilder, 1954)- Paramount
-The Secret Invasion (Roger Corman, 1964)- United Artists
-Shimizu Hiroshi Collection Vol. 2 (Four Seasons of Children)- Shochiku Home Video R2
-Short Night of Glass Dolls (Aldo Lado, 1971)- Blue Underground
-The Small Back Room (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1949)- Criterion
-Sunset Boulevard 2-disc Special Edition (Billy Wilder, 1950)- Paramount
-Tai-Chi Master (Yuen Woo-Ping, 1993)- Dragon Dynasty
-Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004)- Second Run R2 PAL UK
-Ugetsu Monogatari/Oyu-Sama (2 films by Mizoguchi Kenji)- Masters of Cinema R2 PAL UK
-Vertigo Special 2-disc Edition (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)-Universal Studios
-Warner Gangsters Collection, Vol. 3- Warner
-Warner Gangsters Collection, Vol. 4- Warner
-Warner Home Video Western Classics Collection- Warner
-White Dog (Samuel Fuller, 1982)- Criterion
-Who Saw Her Die? (Aldo Lado, 1972)- Blue Underground
-The Wolves (Gosha Hideo, 1972)- Animeigo
And finally, If you want to see what other, more knowledgeable folks had to say about the DVD releases of 2008, then here are some more "best of" lists from beyond the great internets:
-Sight and Sound
the woods are lovely/dark and deep/but i have promises to keep/and miles to go before i sleep (denver premieres 2/06/09)
I have clothes older than this weekend's big star.
He's Not That Into You - Through long hours of painstainking internet research, it's become clear to us here at the Projection Booth that this film, an adaptation of a self-help book for people who think that the things which happen in the hour Oprah Winfrey occupies on daytime television has some relationship to reality, is nothing more than a plot by the lizard people who live in the center of the earth to steal the last of the employed, youngish urban professional-type women and make them into mindless sexbot killers. If a loved one, co-worker, or neighbor has mistakenly entered a theatre playing this film (which features Scarlett Johanssen, Scarlett Johanssen's boobs, Jennifer Connelly, Drew Barrymore, the Mac guy, and some other blandly handsome second-tier leading man types), you may still have a chance to save them: look them in the eyes and recite the lines from the Robert Frost poem we've inserted in the title of this post. Stay calm, and don't worry - the lizard people may have their hypno-date movies, their weather control machines, and their USOs, but we still have key bits of dialogue we can rip from classic spy films. (Dex as Richard "Ringo" Langly from the X-files- pictured center)
Push - Not only is Push a new movie with that guy from Amistad, Chris Evans, Camilla Belle, and a weirdly-Uma-Thurman's-daughter-looking Dakota Fanning about people who shop at the Gap and have super powers, "push" also happens to be a very funny word if you stare at it for a while. Push. Push. Push. Hectare is also another funny word. (Dex)
The Pink Panther 2- Steve Martin returns as Inspector Clouseau for this second installment in the updated Pink Panther series. Although I don't really have a problem with the idea of putting a new actor in the role of Clouseau and retooling the Pink Panther franchise for a new audience, I have to say that the makers of these new films don’t really give me any reason to think that it’s a particularly good idea either. I do hope though, that what ever financial hole Steve Martin has gotten himself into can be climbed out of on the backs of the gullible and humorless that will spend their hard earned money to see this movie. If you are one of these people, at least you have the comfort of knowing that Roberto Benigni is not in this version as Clouseau Jr. (Pike)
Coraline- Although I have seen nothing in the pre-release material for Coraline to get me interested in or, conversely, irritated by this movie, I can’t deny that the visual design Henry Selick brought to this project is pretty interesting. I have a feeling that this movie is going to be the City of Lost Children for today’s Tween crowd. What I mean is that no matter how ultimately hollow or uninteresting the narrative might be, the atmospheric spell that the film’s visual creativity casts upon the receptive viewer will long live in that person’s imagination. Just for that reason alone, this might be the best option from this week’s crap list of new releases. (Pike)
Eden- The producers of last year's “two people fall in love through the power of music” feel-good hit Once bring us this feel-bad story about a marriage falling apart. Although I appreciate the symmetry in their distribution model, I really hope that these “producers” stop with the cloying indie preciousness. After watching the trailer for this movie I am beginning to realize that today’s indie cinema is overrun by pasty-faced dorks who think that the cinematic equivalent of a Bjork ballad is the emotive high water mark they should be aiming for in their narrative films. If I see another movie coming out about grown men and women who deal with a bumpy relationship like a bunch of over-emotive high school drama class nerds, I'm going to find a rifle and a water tower just outside of Park City, Utah around the time of the Sundance Film Festival and make a day of it. Grow the fuck up people! Our parent's and grandparent's generation made it through times where drunken beatings, psychological abuse and family abandonment were the norm and you are worried about a little lack of intimacy!?! Go fuck yourselves you pathetic losers! Sorry... sorry kids, shhhh, don't cry. I didn't mean to yell. shhhh... it'll be alright. We'll go out and get ice cream. Does that sound good? Alright then, go get your cardigan sweaters on and we'll go... (Pike)
A nostalgic look back at boyhood from Fellini? Impossible! OK, maybe not so impossible. In fact, a significant part of his catalog features his memories of provincial youth and this one is perhaps his finest early example of it, centered around a group of friends making that painful transition from their fly-by-night runaround ways into adulthood - most abruptly in the case of Fausto, who is made to marry a young woman he's gotten pregnant instead of following through on his plan of skipping out of town. While they're on honeymoon, the rest of his group scams, schemes, slacks, and dreams big without doing anything about changing their situation. But the specter of their forcibly adult-ed friend hangs over things and they start to worry about really facing up to life. That's basically the thrust of it, though of course in Fellini's hands, he really invests the people with a life that my description lacks. He understands the young, small town dreamers who would like to think they're one big break from turning their lives around and he's in sympathy with their plight, even if he's not uncritical. Before he started making his films into intricate puzzles and three-ring circuses, he made these types of character studies. This is one of the best - possibly the best - of his early works.
Ashes of Time Redux (dir. Wong Kar-Wei, 2008)
Ichi the Killer (dir. Takashi Miike, 2001)
Tokyo Twilight (dir. Yasujiro Ozu, 1957)
This is as overtly (melo)dramatic as any Ozu I've ever seen. That's not to say that it's not good, just that there are dramatic outbursts onscreen that are uncharacteristic of his work and come off as pretty startling and unexpected. Two sisters - one troubled and pregnant, the other separated from her husband - live with their father while they attempt to sort out their lives and deal with the knowledge that the mother they have long believed is dead may well be alive. I've read complaints about the plot, about the drama, but it doesn't really bother me, the film is still shot beautifully and anything with both Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara in it is gonna be worth my time, if perhaps not yours. It's not great, for sure, but it's certainly worth a look, and for those who find his films a little dry, it may even be a good way in to understanding his world better.
Judgment at Nuremberg (dir. Stanley Kramer, 1961)
An exceptional pair of performances anchor this film to prevent it from becoming too preachy - Burt Lancaster and the great Spencer Tracy both set about giving some of the best work of their careers as (respectively) one of the Nazi judges on trial and the American judge brought in to act as part of the tribunal trying them. (Please note that this is not a slap at the rest of the supporting cast, nearly all of whom do superb work here, just that these two roles call for more from the actors, both of whom rise to the occasion.) Where it could easily have wandered into a mere recreation of Nazi horrors and condemnation of them, it's aiming higher, more broadly about the act of making sure that we do not let these things go once they're supposedly over and done with, ready to be buried. Nearly everyone in the film encourages Tracy's character to let bygones be bygones, drop things and acquit the judges but he persists, he wants to understand especially how a judge like Lancaster's moralist - and by extension anybody - could slide to condemning people to concentration camps from which they'd never emerge. The viewer gets to understand it too, understand that each compromise, each lie told to the self to accomodate things moves everyone closer to the atrocities that are only late in the film explicitly shown. I'm not fan of courtroom dramas, but this one really got me.
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (dir. Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger, 1943)Another great one from my chronological examination of Powell and Pressburger. Though it is perhaps not quite as exciting as 49th Parallel - and that's fine - it's yet another nuanced character study, which is what makes their films so great, or at least so interesting to me. Maybe it's a little long at 2 1/2 hours, taking time getting to where it's going in fleshing out the people involved, but there's never a scene where it feels like I don't want to be spending time with Blimp, with any of Deborah Kerr's three characters, or with Anton Walbrook's Kretschmar-Schuldorff - they're all so brilliantly drawn and acted that I don't mind that extra time. Anyway, it's a wonderful character study, putting aside even the extraordinary circumstances of the filming. Not as dazzling as I had expected for a wartime epic, but perhaps all the more affecting for the smart portrayals that it puts across that can cut across time like this.
I've always found Chaplin just a hair too sentimental for my tastes, even while being fully engaged by his works - love the gags a lot of the time, but am not always on the side of The Tramp, as I think I'm supposed to be. That doesn't apply here. I found this brilliant throughout, totally engrossed and drawn in to the story beginning to end. The boxing scene in particular is great - I'd seen it before out of context and loved it then - but really, the bittersweet romance, the ups and downs with his friend the drunken millionaire, the ambiguous ending, they all add up to the most consistently entertaining and emotionally engaging of his films that I've seen yet. Helps too that I saw it with the Colorado Symphony performing the score live along with the film. Somehow Gold Rush and Modern Times both seem to have eclipsed this in the Chaplin canon and I don't know why, I think it's the best of the three, and though I haven't seen his entire catalog of full lengths I can't imagine them getting better than this. But unlike the reactions I had to the other two films just mentioned this one has made me really want to make it a priority to see them.