Videophiled Classic: ‘Herzog: The Collection’

31 July, 2014 (19:02) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Werner Herzog | By: Sean Axmaker

Herzog CollectionHerzog: The Collection (Shout Factory, Blu-ray) is the biggest Blu-ray box set to get released this year. The collection presents 16 films on 13 discs spanning three decades, from his second feature Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970) to his documentary tribute / remembrance My Best Fiend (1999), which profiles his long, turbulent personal and professional relationship with Klaus Kinski. Apart from Nosferatu the Vampyre, the films all make their respective Blu-ray debuts in the U.S., mastered from new digital transfers produced by Herzog and supervised by Herzog’s longtime producer Lucki Stipetic. Some of the discs look better than others and

It’s not even close to Herzog’s complete output and it leaves out many of Herzog’s most interesting and offbeat non-fiction films (perhaps a second volume will follow if sales are good enough?) but it includes the major films Herzog created in the period, including both the German and English language versions of Nosferatu, which Herzog shot concurrently.

The films in the set were produced and financed by Herzog and he remains ownership of them all. Let’s take a tour through them. Not necessarily in chronological order.

Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970) is the earliest film on the disc and Herzog’s second feature, and Fata Morgana (1971), is his third fiction feature, a dreamy non-narrative meditation on the beauty of the Saharan Desert and the garbage brought to it by humanity. Both of these films, by the way, have commentary by Herzog in conversation with Crispin Glover, which is a highlight all in itself.

Werner Herzog’s breakthrough film Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) is an astounding vision of imperialism run amuck in the primitive, savage Eden of 15th century Peru and the film still entranced four decades thanks to the vivid, visceral filmmaking. It’s also Herzog’s first collaboration with madman and meglomaniac star Klaus Kinski, who delivered the most expressive performances that visionary director Werner Herzog ever put to film. Herzog in return gave Kinski his boldest roles. This collection features all five collaborations between the director and the actor, plus Herzog’s documentary tribute to the actor.

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Film Review: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’

31 July, 2014 (06:58) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews, Science Fiction | By: Sean Axmaker

Chris Pratt is Star-Lord.

The giant apparatus required to create a 21st-century comic-book/sci-fi/action movie is expensive and unwieldy. Little wonder so many of these behemoths eventually collapse under their own weight, content to destroy a city while laboriously setting up the next installment in the franchise. Even the good stuff—Robert Downey Jr.’s antic presence in the first Iron Man, or the cheeky political thrust of Captain America: The Winter Soldier—must make way for grim destruction.

Therefore, give thanks to the Marvel gods for Guardians of the Galaxy. If you’ve ever had to suppress a giggle at the sight of Thor’s mighty hammer, this movie will provide a refreshing palate-cleanser

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Film Review: ‘Mood Indigo’

31 July, 2014 (06:53) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris

Michel Gondry’s capacity for imagining wacky designs and adorable contraptions is so boundless he makes Santa’s elves look like dull-witted slackers. The French director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Be Kind Rewind is on some kind of perpetual adolescent overdrive, his brain inventing new bits of business as though nobody’d ever asked him to be normal. In his best films, this can be charming. In Mood Indigo, it results in a fun opening half-hour followed by an increasingly tiresome hour of hyperactivity. (This is a truncated 94-minute cut of the 131-minute European release.)

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Videophiled: A different kind of Biblical epic in ‘Noah’

30 July, 2014 (19:19) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

NoahDarren Aronofsky takes a very different approach to the Biblical epic in Noah (Paramount, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) a film both earthy and mystical. This isn’t the Old Testament prehistory we’ve seen before—Aronofsky draws from both Christian and Jewish religious texts to fill out the story (which is actually quite short in the Bible) and offers bleak, poisoned world before the flood quite different from the Mediterranean deserts and forests of previous films—and it accomplishes something quite powerful, vivid and unexpected as a result.

Russell Crowe is Noah as God’s moral man, the last of the faithful who lives his life as Earth’s steward. He keeps his family (wife Jennifer Connelly, sons Logan Lerman and Douglas Booth, daughter-in-law Emma Watson) away from Cain’s offspring (Ray Winstone as a brutal tribal warlord) and the despoilers of the Earth. The creator (as God is called throughout the film) doesn’t speak in the dramatic voice so familiar to other films. He communicates through visions and they are violent, confusing things that Noah must take on faith. Noah undertakes his task as a solemn duty, helped by a race of rock-like beings who were once angels that were cast out of heaven and anchored to Earth.

Ancient mythology and modern cosmology come together in the story of Genesis, told in Noah’s own words and illustrated with imagery reminiscent of Cosmos, a wedding science and religion in a way respectful of both. Even the Ark itself looks different than we’re used to, which is curious considering it is designed according to the dimensions specified in the Bible (see the infographic below for details on scaling the ark, the flood and other details). It’s an epic canvas for a human story and Aronofsky shows great respect for the faith of the source while taking a creative approach to dramatizing the story and the world.

On Blu-ray and DVD. Aronosky shot much of the film in Iceland to get that barren, blasted landscape and he explores the location in the featurette “Iceland: Extreme Beauty.” It’s exclusive to the Blu-ray editions of the film, as are two addition featurettes: “The Ark Exterior: A Battle for 300 Cubits” and “The Ark Interior: Animals Two By Two.” The Blu-ray also features bonus DVD and UltraViolet digital copies of the film.

More New Releases on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital and VOD at Cinephiled

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Blu-ray: ‘Jodorowsky’s Dune’

29 July, 2014 (09:35) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Documentary, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

Film history is filled with legends and stories of what could have been great (or at least interesting) films but were never made for one reason or another. Such projects are all potential, giving fans the chance to dream of masterpieces that could have been without having to face the reality of compromise and transformation that happens in the real world of production. The documentary of the film that was never made is something of a recent phenomenon. Films like It’s All True, based on an unfinished film by Orson Welles (1993), Lost in La Mancha (2002) (about Terry Gilliam’s Don Quixote), and Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno (2009) mourn what could have been but there is also something romantic in these grand, unrealized visions, of the filmmaker as Don Quixote taking on the studio windmills.

Few dreams are as grand as the adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune that was developed by Alejandro Jodorowsky, the creator of El Topo (1970), the original midnight movie, and The Holy Mountain (1973), two movies that mix myth, spiritualism, primal violence, and surreal imagery. These low budget films were underground success stories, playing to small but passionate audiences and achieving cult status, and Jodorowsky planned to follow them up with an epic far bigger and more ambitious than anything he had ever attempted before.

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Hell Italian Style

27 July, 2014 (09:53) | by Ken Eisler | By: Movietone News contributor

[Originally published in Movietone News 46, December 1975]

Deus ex machina, in the form of a lawyer with clout, at long last yanks a broken Alberto Sordi up and out of the hellish Italian prison system. Then we get the usual disclaimer: “Any resemblance, etc., etc…. ” But this grueling 90-minute total immersion in the system’s casual dehumanization rings entirely too true to be so easily dismissed.

Which is not, however, to dismiss Loy’s movie as mere agit-prop; far from it. Detained Pending Trial is a complex, fully fledged work of art.

I saw it in a jampacked 24-cent, triple-feature Mexican moviehouse. The audience began by laughing raucously and appreciatively at every new discomfiture suffered by the Sordi character. Well, why not? Here’s this comfortably upper-middle-class dude, after all, a professional, a land-surveyor: and he’s a bit of a, well, let’s face it, a … tool. We meet him in Sweden, on a terrace, all dressed up and handing drinks around to these middle-aged stuffed-shirt clients. He smiles, grins, bows—the works. A real toady. Sort of well-liked by the workers on his crew, mind you; but there’s a trace of contempt blended with their affection.

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Blu-ray: ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ (1920)

26 July, 2014 (07:48) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews, Silent Cinema | By: Sean Axmaker

Stage and screen legend John Barrymore took on the good doctor and his vicious alter ego from the famous Robert Louis Stevenson novel in this silent horror classic, adapted as much from the stage play by Thomas Russell Sullivan as from Stevenson’s original book. It wasn’t the first adaptation of the story but it became the most celebrated until Fredric March took on the role in the sound era, and it helped elevate the respected actor into a major big screen attraction.

As Dr. Henry Jekyll, the moral, religious man who keeps company with society gentleman who find Henry more than a little self-righteous, Barrymore takes on a theatrical nobility: quiet and subdued, he stand tall and stiff and favors his great profile to the camera. He runs a free clinic (called “the human repair shop,” a phrase that inadvertently brings to mind Frankenstein more than Hyde) that his friend Sir George Carewe (Brandon Hurst) sneers at. “You should live–as I have lived,” he advises the sheltered Henry. Sir George is the father of the proper young lady Millicent (Martha Mansfield), who admires and loves Henry, a seeming contradiction that he explains to Henry thusly: “I protected her as only a man of the world could.” After a visit to a seedy nightclub, where Sir George invites dancing girl Miss Gina (Nita Naldi) to get Henry all hot and bothered, Henry decides that maybe it’s time to let his baser desires out for a romp. But rather than sully his soul (or his reputation) he concocts a potion is release the evil buried inside (the original sin?), essentially releasing the id from his dominant superego, to take a Freudian approach

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of July 25

25 July, 2014 (08:45) | by Bruce Reid, by Sean Axmaker, Links | By: Sean Axmaker

‘Moonrise Kingdom’

Noting there’s nothing all that wrong about auteurs making themselves a known brand, David Bordwell breaks down the impeccable Wes-Andersonness of Moonrise Kingdom, finding some unremarked subtleties amidst the fussiness, including a looping chronology that can slip by you the first time through and a drift away from his trademark center-frame shot-reverse-shot that marks the emotional highpoint of the film, “[a violation of] the film’s intrinsic norm by bringing in a common technique—which now gains a force it doesn’t customarily have.”

For a first look at potential brandname auteurs of the future, Filmmaker Magazine’s annual list of 25 New Faces arrives. One intriguing development: the inclusion of film critics specializing in visual essays, such as Gina Telaroli and ::kogonada. Via Criterion.

“Philip took vivid stock of everything, all the time. It was painful and exhausting work, and probably in the end his undoing. The world was too bright for him to handle. He had to screw up his eyes or be dazzled to death. Like Chatterton, he went seven times round the moon to your one, and every time he set off, you were never sure he’d come back….’ John le Carré, who knows from observing behavior, offers a fine appreciation of Philip Seymour Hoffman.

“One inevitably develops an appreciation for Siskel, Ebert, and Roeper as actors, able to remain in-character despite flubs and technical snafus, and to read the teleprompter and then improvise an argument in the same voice. I never master these skills, because I am the wrong man for the job.” Of the many Ebert tributes inspired by Steve James’s Life Itself, by far the best—generous but clear-eyed about what thumbs-up, thumbs-down wrought—is Ignatiy Vishnevetsky’s account of his brief turn as co-host of Ebert Presents: At The Movies.

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Film Review: ‘And So It Goes’

25 July, 2014 (08:06) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton

Should you encounter a curmudgeon, someone so bitter and grouchy he seems unredeemable, fear not — there is a sure-fire remedy. Simply put this killjoy in the presence of a live birth and have him deliver a baby. It always seems to work in movies, anyway. Case in point: And So It Goes, a middle-aged comedy that uses the cranky-guy formula with very mild results.

The grump in this case is Oren Little (Michael Douglas), a widower who has amassed a fortune as a Realtor. He’s currently living in a small apartment while he waits to sell his million-dollar home, after which he’ll take off for retirement. Screenwriter Mark Andrus, who did As Good As It Gets, contrives a few complications to ruffle Oren’s life. He meets a neighbor, Leah (Diane Keaton), who wants to be a singer; as they are age-appropriate for each other and equally big stars, we can imagine something will happen between them.

Continue reading at The Herald

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Sex in Cinema: Surprises from the Archives

24 July, 2014 (17:46) | by Sean Axmaker, Essays | By: Sean Axmaker

How much sex can you handle? We were overwhelmed by just how much we found in our odyssey to create a Sex in Cinema infographic for Fandor. Who knew the rich history of sex in the cinema that went all the way back to the first short films shown to audiences?

Okay, a little context here.

‘The White Slave Trade’

When me and my fellow film history mavens and Keyframe contributors Dennis Harvey, Shari Kizirian and Sara Maria Vizcarrondo first embarked on the Sex in Cinema research project, we divided up the continuum and each tackled a specific era in depth. When we reconvened a few weeks later and compiled our research, we were faced with an overwhelming variety of films, sub-genres and oddities, far more than could be squeeze into the visually-oriented infographic. Any one of our surveys could have blossomed into a feature in its own right.

Much paring and editing was called for and many interesting streams and curious eddies in the churning waters of cinematic sex were necessarily left out of our final map. Did you know that white slavery dramas were a sensation in the early days of silent movies? That long before the drive-in exploitation market took off, independent exploitationeers promised salacious thrills in cheap, tawdry films that they personally hauled across the country? That Ang Lee has thoughtfully and sensitively challenged more sexual taboos than probably any other major filmmaker today?

Continue reading at Keyframe

See the full Sex and the Cinema infographic at Fandor here

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Videophiled Classic: ‘The Wind Will Carry Us’ at 15

24 July, 2014 (15:08) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

WindCaryUsWe didn’t know it at the time but The Wind Will Carry Us (1999) was the end of a distinctive mode of cinematic engagement for Iran’s Abbas Kiarostami. He had won the Palm d’or at Cannes in 1997 for A Taste of Cherry and had become the figurehead for Iranian cinema for his unusual mix of fiction and documentary and gently self-reflexive filmmaking. After The Wind Will Carry Us, however, he entered into a period of documentary and experimentation that lasted a decade until Certified Copy.

The Wind Will Carry Us: 15th Anniversary Edition (Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD) revives this landmark film with a newly remastered edition and a Blu-ray debut. Like his previous films, he mixes professionals with amateurs and draws character from his location, here a remote village in the mountains where a TV crew arrives to film a funeral ceremony of a dying woman. A three day trip stretches into two weeks as the old woman begins to recover and the filmmaker (Behzad Dourani, the only professional actor in the cast) gets anxious as he’s eaten away by twin impulses: his wish for the old woman’s recovery and the mercenary hope for her speedy death so he can complete his project.

Kairostami’s rigorous style has always been sensitive to the rhythms of people and the details of day to day existence, and like his best films The Wind Will Carry Us unfolds with a remarkable fidelity to (or a convincing facsimile of) real time. What may be surprising to fans of his films is the dry humor that permeates the picture. To Western eyes the pace may seem glacial, yet it’s the very embrace of the time it takes to walk through the village or scramble up a hillside “short cut” that allows Kiarostami to explore the spaces between the words and the landscape that envelopes his characters’ lives. The culmination of such astounding visions is a celebration of the human spirit is nothing short of sublime. (If that final sentence looks familiar, it might be because it’s quoted on the back of the disc case from my original 2000 review in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer; I was inspired to revive it from this review.)

Features newly-recorded commentary by film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum and Iranian scholar Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa, a 90-minute Q&A with director Abbas Kiarostami hosted and moderated by New York Film Festival director Richard Peña at the University of Indiana and a booklet with an essay be Peter Tonguette.

More classics and cult on Blu-ray and DVD at Cinephiled

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Film Review: ‘Boyhood’

24 July, 2014 (07:20) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Ellar Coltrane

The title Boyhood suggests something definitive, perhaps even a statement on the essential nature of growing up. Which is not at all what this movie is. Made up of stray moments, occasional bits of melodrama, and a gentle sense of time drifting by, the film is much better represented by its working title: 12 Years. Nothing grand about that, just a description of the awkward age of life. (Writer/director Richard Linklater decided to go with Boyhood after 12 Years a Slave came into the world.)

12 Years would’ve also been shorthand for the film’s making. It was shot in the director’s native Texas in short bursts over a 12-year period—Linklater knew the shape of the film, but would tweak its script as time marched on, incorporating topical issues and reacting to his performers. This means that unlike most movies, which remake the world and impose an order on it, Boyhood reacts to the world; as 21st-century history and its actors’ personalities evolve, the movie is changed by those things.

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Film Review: ‘Cannibal’

24 July, 2014 (07:17) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Antonio de la Torre

Most of the conventional horror is contained in the first 10 minutes. A surgically precise evocation of a lonely gas station at night gives way to reveal someone stalking a driver and passenger. A deliberate crash ensues. A dead woman is taken to a mountain cabin, where the stalker selects a knife from his collection and goes to work. Back home in Granada (this is a Spanish film), the killer fills his refrigerator with the outcome of the murder—the prime cuts stacked in rows. The movie is called Cannibal, after all.

After this terrifying opening, Manuel Martín Cuenca’s film remains a minimalist affair, cued to the deadpan central performance by (the bisexual pilot from Almodóvar’s I’m So Excited!). He plays Carlos, a meticulous old-school tailor whose skill at cutting suits is matched by his precision at—well, you know.

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Film Review: ‘I Origins’

24 July, 2014 (07:12) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Britt Marling and Michael Pitt

It begins as a science thriller: Researchers narrow in on absolute proof that the eye evolved in nature. Such confirmation would give the lie to creationists who sometimes use the complexity of the eye as evidence for an “intelligent designer,” which is another way of saying God. Alas, I Origins has more than science on its mind—it wants to pick fruit from The Tree of Life and other such exercises in magical hugger-mugger.

Molecular biologist Ian Gray (Michael Pitt, from Last Days) and his gifted intern Karen (Brit Marling) do the lab work; meanwhile, the supremely rational Ian indulges in a whirlwind affair with exotic Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey). She has uniquely patterned eyes, European manners, and beaucoup de hotness, so he is forgiven for tossing aside his usual scholarly method.

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Blu-ray: ‘Trans-Europ-Express’

23 July, 2014 (16:59) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

Alain Robbe-Grillet is best known as an experiment novelist in the nouvelle roman movement of the fifties and as the screenwriter of Alain Resnais’ elegant yet conceptually daring French nouvelle vague landmark Last Year at Marienbad. But Robbe-Grillet was also a filmmaker in his own right. He directed ten features in a career that spanned over 40 years. Until this year, only two of those films had been released on disc in the U.S.: the 1983 La Belle Captive (from the now defunct Koch Lorber label) and his final feature Gradiva (from Mondo Macabro). Now Kino Lorber, in partnership with the British label Redemption, has announced a slate of six Robbe-Grillet films for release on Blu-ray and DVD. Trans-Europ-Express is one of the first releases from this collection.

A lighthearted play with spy movies, erotica, and storytelling from 1967, Trans-Europ-Express is the director’s second directorial effort and his most popular success and audience-friendly production. It opens on a trio of movie folk–a director (played by Robbe-Grillet himself), a producer (actual film producer Paul Louyet), and a secretary / script supervisor (Catherine Robbe-Grillet–you get the idea)–boarding a train (the Trans-Europ-Express, naturally) and brainstorming a story for a film about drug trafficking between Paris and Antwerp. When the actor Jean-Louis Trintignant (fresh from furtively picking up a bondage magazine at the station newsstand) briefly ducks into their cabin, he’s recognized by the filmmakers and quickly cast as their main character, Elias, a smuggler involved in a big score with a shady criminal. Their sketchy, silly little plot (initially illustrated in a gag sequence right out of a silent movie parody) suddenly gets a face and a grounding. As much as a film that is constantly rewritten and revised can be said to be grounded.

Think of it as Robbe-Grillet’s Breathless, a pulp story refracted through the director’s own distinctive take on narrative deconstruction and sexual perversity.

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