Review: Hennessy

21 October, 2014 (09:12) | by Richard T. Jameson, Film Reviews | By: Richard T. Jameson

[Originally published in Movietone News 43, September 1975]

Hennessy … the name offers to hang over this movie the way “Juggernaut” and “Drabble” spiritually pervaded theirs (Drabble having been the original title of The Black Windmill). That a fellow named Hollis lays more of a claim on our attention, let alone imagination, says a lot about the present object of inquiry. That Hollis is played by the man who dreamed up the original story, Richard Johnson, could say even more. He’s the English cop, specialist in Irish affairs, who’s become an obsessive on the theme of Hibernian politics of violence, to the extent that his own humanity seems ever on the verge of immolation by the fires of his corrective passion. There’s no getting away from seeing him as the counterpart of the eponymous Irish explosives genius who, shaken out of his determined pacific by the crossfire killing of his wife and daughter, has swaddled himself in gelignite and set out to blow up the Queen and most members of both Houses at the opening of Parliament. In this role Rod Steiger does his tightlipped, violence-benumbed shtick, and hence—inadvertently, I’d say—becomes a straightman to Johnson’s overtly raging hunter.

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Review: The National Health

20 October, 2014 (09:19) | by Ken Eisler, Film Reviews | By: Movietone News contributor

[Originally published in Movietone News 43, September 1975]

by Ken Eisler

The National Health, adapted by Peter Nichols from his own stage play, remains pure farce, but the form has undergone a marvelous cinematic sea-change. The characters, governed as before by Humours and idées fixes, enter, exit; doors slam on them—the doors, in this case, of death. The antics of these six quirky patients and their harried medical caretakers on the decaying Sir Stafford Cripps Ward, seen, let’s say, from the first balcony, must have struck audiences as grimly hilarious, though just a touch cold and detached, perhaps. But watching these hapless six on the big screen up there is another matter. You just try to distance yourself from them now.

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Doppler Effect at the Dunbar

18 October, 2014 (11:32) | by Ken Eisler, Film Reviews | By: Movietone News contributor

[Originally published in Movietone News 43, September 1975]

by Ken Eisler

In the city of Vancouver, a foreign-film addict enjoys two major connections, the Pacific Cinémathèque (downtown) and the University of British Columbia’s Cinema 16 series (on campus). Both sources dry up during the summer, but fortunately in mid-July along comes Don Barnes’ annual International Film Festival to stave off withdrawal symptoms.

The festival was held this year at the Dunbar Theatre with two-a-night features ranging from amusing pap like Berri’s Le Sex Shop to “political” cinema from Italy such as Lulu the Tool and Love and Anarchy. Political themes were more heavily represented than usual this summer, in fact, with Hearts and Minds treating U.S. involvement in Vietnam and two French-Canadian features set in the troubled province of Quebec.

I didn’t see Bingo, a fiction film about a group of young terrorists, but Michel Brault’s sober, powerful Les Ordres is one of three festival films I wouldn’t mind looking at again if they return for a regular run during the year.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of October 17

17 October, 2014 (09:10) | by Bruce Reid, by Sean Axmaker, Links | By: Bruce Reid

‘Days of Heaven’

“I met this guy named Ding-Dong. He told me the whole Earth is goin’ up in flame. Flames will come out of here and there and they’ll just rise up. The mountains are gonna go up in big flames, the water’s gonna rise in flames. There’s gonna be creatures runnin’ every which way, some of them burnt, half of their wings burnin’. People are gonna be screamin’ and hollerin’ for help.” Peter Labuza’s new book, Approaching the End, concerns intimations of apocalypse in American films. A fine excerpt on Days of Heaven measures the biblical weight of Malick’s fable, and how the film darkens its famously beautiful vistas by situating noir tropes in a land so far from their typical mean streets. Via David Hudson, who further spotted Labuza selecting A Walk Among the Tombstones as the current film he’d most like to include in the collection.

“Whether his higher claims are merely self-justifying or not is ambiguous, since we see him through Lisa’s worshipful eyes and through his own. And through these eyes, the one-night-stand they share might be the most sublime one-night-stand in cinema.” Imogen Smith is lovely on the tragic illusions at the heart of Letter from an Unknown Women, and how their lack makes an earlier adaptation of the Zweig story, Stahl’s Only Yesterday, so unmoored and bathetic, despite such felicities as an admirable feminist sensibility and Margaret Sullavan (in her debut).

‘My Darling Clementine’

“As the men sashay and leap into position, a stagecoach suddenly cuts across the field of play. Wyatt uses the resultant dust cloud to his strategic advantage. Though easy to dismiss as a rudimentary mechanism to build tension, it’s also a lovely reminder of the multitudes who remain untroubled by this fateful showdown, another drama playing out on the same turf. Another narrative. Another film.” David Jenkins examines the “wide-open,” almost anti-genre qualities of My Darling Clementine, and offers the definitive argument for the handshake that was Ford’s preferred ending.

Another fragmented anti-narrative, another Godard film, another daunting array of references and quotations to look up. Ted Fendt starts off the heavy lifting with an (admittedly preliminary and incomplete) alphabetical listing of works cited in Adieu au langage, from Alain to Wittgenstein with lifts along the way from Borges, Rilke, and (natch) Howard Hawks.

“I say throw him to the sharks!” The latest issue of Interiors examines the deliberate arrangement of the actors after a crucial moment in Lifeboat. (One quibble—it seems to go against precisely what Hitchcock was arguing to identify every actor except Canada Lee.)

“In the Public Hall, at Barnsley./The children went to view/The animated pictures,/As children love to do.” Luke McKernan recalls the horror of the 1908 Barnsley disaster, where 16 children attending a bargain-priced screening were crushed to death when the balcony was closed due to overcrowding. He also has some kind thoughts for George Gresswell, whose reproduced verses commemorating the tragedy might be doggerel, but recreate the events with memorable simplicity, “a quality that connects them with calypso or some reggae lyrics, passing on the stories of the hour in a memorable and shareable form.” Via John Wyver.

‘Days of Being Wild’

“It’s difficult to imagine any of Wong’s characters occupying Tiananmen or Central. They are stuck in ruts, cycles, moments, memories and dead-ends. But they do seem to express, heartbreakingly so, the longstanding anomie and angst that has served to fuel the current student movement.” Anthony Kaufman can’t quite draw the line between the listless Hong Kong heroes of Wong Kar-wai’s early features As Tears Go By and Days of Being Wild and the city’s current, brave, vitalized protestors, but consider this the first sketch toward a connection that will seem too obvious to bother mentioning in a few years’ time.

Ray Kelly recounts the sad life of Rebecca Welles, estranged daughter of Orson and Rita Hayworth, without pretending insight into whom to blame for the troubled relationship: Parents made rootless and inaccessible by ambition and mental illness, or a daughter who responded to their distance by withdrawing even further from the whole damned thing. Via Movie City News.

Offering inadvertent support to the argument that David Fincher’s films present a horrifying portrait of society drowned in and shaped by our electronic/information devices, Nate Jones and Abraham Riesman collect a harder-than-you-might-think quiz of short audio samples to be identified as Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross soundtracks or household appliance. I scored 20 out of 22, having been fooled by a water heater and an air conditioning unit.

In an end run around contractual non-disclosure agreements preventing them from disparaging a film taken out of its director’s hands, Paul Schrader, stars Nic Cage and Anton Yelchin, and producer Nicolas Winding Refn have made their own poster for Dying of the Light.

J.K. Simmons in ‘Whiplash’

“Some people think of practice as “You do what you’re good at, and that’s naturally fun.” True practice is actually about just doing what you’re bad at, and working on it, and that’s not fun. Practice is about beating your head against the wall. […] If every single thing is enjoyable, then you’re not pushing yourself hard enough, is probably how I feel. But this movie takes it to an extreme that I do not condone. [Laughs.]” Interviewed by Tasha Robinson, Damien Chazelle displays the kind of measured, intelligent self-awareness that suggests his debut feature Whiplash will be far from a one-time fluke. (And also his love of genre if you’re wondering how Grand Piano fits into all this.) Chazelle also talks to Interview’s Emma Brown, but what you want to read there, however brief, is Brown’s talk with J. K. Simmons. (“You think you’re on top of the world and they’re asking for a ‘J.K. Simmons-type’ and then, before you know it, they’re asking for a ‘J.K. Simmons only younger.’ The next step is for a ‘J.K. Simmons-type… Oh, you mean he’s still alive?’”)

“What’s really laughable is that even if I were to make a film where people are mowing each other down left and right with machine guns, and I had one scene of a leaf falling from a tree, the critics would say it had a delicate feminine gaze and was a very sensitive picture. I think there is this desire to identify only one quality of womanhood and of being feminine as being feminine out of all the things that are being found. That is what’s happening with this film, this attempt to find this one female aspect to the film, when in fact everything is female.” Discussing her Cannes award-winner The Wonders with Violet Lucca, Alice Rohrwacher is as good talking about the big themes like feminism and a media-saturated society as she is describing how she got around Italian labor laws that would have prevented her from filming with live bees.

“Immediately, Warner Bros. was like, ‘How can we use [the Northridge earthquake] for our marketing? To be able to drive around L.A. and get destruction footage, everyone was gleeful about that. But it struck me as very Hollywood.” Wes Craven and Heather Langenkamp (quoted above) discuss—separately—with Louis Peitzman the making of and messages behind arguably the most original entry in any genre series, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. Via Matt Singer.

To echo Adrian Curry’s comments introducing his gallery of posters for Volker Schlöndorff films, the selection isn’t just varied; the quartet of posters for The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum alone could fuel hours of discussion about how designers take in and reflect back a film.

Elizabeth Peña

Obituary

Elizabeth Peña passed away this week at the age of 55. The Cuban-American actress had a busy and successful career on both the big and small screens for 30 years, making her breakthrough in the comedy Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986) and playing the mother of Richie Valens in La Bamba (1987). She co-starred in the short-lived but critically celebrated TV series Shannon’s Deal, which was created by John Sayles, and had a recurring role in Modern Family, while on the big screen she appeared in Blue Steel (1989), Jacob’s Ladder (1990), Lone Star (1996), Rush Hour (1998), and Tortilla Soup (2001) and voiced the femme fatale of the animated hit The Incredibles (2004). Elizabeth Blair remembers her legacy for NPR.

Stanley Chase, a theater producer who went on to television and feature films, co-produced the first successful American production of Brecht’s “The Threepenny Opera” Off Broadway in 1954. In Hollywood he worked largely on television (he was instrumental in developing Peyton Place and The Fugitive) but also produced the features The Hell With Heroes (1968) and Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970). David Colker at Los Angeles Times.

Czech actor and political dissident Pavel Landovsky mostly worked in theater, often with playwright and future Czechoslovak president Vaclav Havel, but he also appeared on television and in films, most notably Jiri Menzel’s Closely Watched Trains (1966), The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988), which he made while in exile in Vienna, and Jan Sverak’s Empties (2007). He returned to the Czech Republic in 1990 and remained there until his death this week at the age of 87. More from William Yardley at The New York Times.

American actress Misty Upham made her debut in Chris Eyre’s Skins (2002) and co-starred opposite Melissa Leo in Frozen River (2008), for which she received an Independent Spirit Award nomination. The Native American actress also appeared on the TV series Big Love and the features Django Unchained (2012), Jimmy P. (2013), and August: Osage Country (2013) and was active in speaking out about Native American issues. She was reported missing earlier this month and was found dead this week at the age of 32. More from Entertainment Weekly.

Seattle Screens

SIFF Cinema presents a Robert Altman festival in conjunction with the debut of Ron Mann’s documentary Altman. Films screening at the Egyptian this week include M*A*S*H, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Nashville, Popeye, The Player, Short Cuts, and Gosford Park. Details on the series here.

Not a film event per se, but film critic Tom Keogh is also a Sherlock Holmes expert and will present the final presentation of his talk “Dr. Doyle and Mr. Holmes: The Cultural Staying Power of Sherlock Holmes” at the Shoreline Library at 7pm on October 23. The event is free. More details here.

Visit the film review pages at The Seattle TimesSeattle Weekly, and The Stranger for more releases.

View complete screening schedules through IMDbMSNYahoo, or Fandango, pick the interface of your choice.

The weekly links page is compiled and curated by Bruce Reid, with obituaries curated by Sean Axmaker, and other contributions from friends of Parallax View.

Film Review: ‘Fury’

17 October, 2014 (08:14) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf

The longer Fury goes on, the more surreal it becomes. The action takes place during a single day and night at the end of World War II, but there can’t possibly be enough hours in a day to accommodate everything that happens. Probably this was intentional on the part of writer-director David Ayer (End of Watch). Ayer’s goal here seems not so much a slice of realism but a distillation of hell, in which each new horror lasts long enough to prepare us for the next one.

Our world is a U.S. Army tank in Germany in April 1945. The leader of this crew is Don Collier (Brad Pitt), whose unsentimental ways have kept his men alive since North Africa. Most of them, anyway — as the film begins, a baby-faced typist named Norman (Logan Lerman) is abruptly conscripted to take the place of the soldier just killed inside the tank. Norman’s first job is to clean up the remains of his predecessor.

Continue reading at The Herald

Film Review: ‘St. Vincent’

16 October, 2014 (08:58) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Melissa McCarthy, Jaeden Lieberher and Naomi Watts

Bill Murray has a honking fat role in St. Vincent, his biggest part in an out-and-out comedy since The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. That’s pretty much the sole draw for the movie, and given Murray’s unique screen presence, it’s something. He really looks juiced in this one, doing loose-limbed dances—his great ungainly body remains a vehicle for endless comic possibilities—and bellowing insults to friends and enemies alike. He even remembers to adopt a New Yawk accent at times. If it were a better movie, this would be a signature role, because it’s all about the Murray persona: a deeply sarcastic man struggling to find his way to sincerity. That struggle is why Murray looks so melancholy in so much of his work.

But it’s not a good movie. Murray’s slovenly misanthrope is Vincent, who reluctantly agrees to babysit the 12-year-old son (Jaeden Lieberher) of his new next-door neighbor (Melissa McCarthy, toning it down here).

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Film Review: ‘Rudderless’

16 October, 2014 (08:54) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Billy Crudup

The ghosts from a school shooting hover over the otherwise Sundance-y story of Rudderless, a low-boil drama directed by the actor William H. Macy. The shooting is left offscreen, and the bulk of the film takes place two years later, the sorrow still fresh in the mind of our central character. This is Sam (Billy Crudup), whose son died in the college killing. Once a go-getter of an advertising man, Sam has dropped out; he lives on his boat on an Oklahoma lake and paints houses. Grief leads him to transcribe the songs his late son was writing, and when he performs a tune at an open-mike night, a 21-year-old musician named Quentin (Anton Yelchin, the Chekov from the Star Trek reboot) gets excited about the music. Maybe they should start a band? As antisocial as Sam is, this process will drag him back to the stage—but he doesn’t tell anybody the songs were written by his son, a secret we suspect will detonate at a key moment.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Film Review: ‘The Best of Me’

16 October, 2014 (08:51) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden

Even by the standards of The Notebook author Nicholas Sparks, his 2011 novel The Best of Me employs an extremely simple setup. Twenty-one years after they last saw each other, high-school sweethearts Amanda and Dawson meet again, and an old glow is rekindled. Perhaps because of the simplicity and universality of this situation, Sparks has added a cornucopia of insane plot developments: an accidental death, an organ transplant, surprise instructions in a will, and a family of drug-baking hillbillies who make the Deliverance crew look unassuming.

Along with the deep-fried melodrama, there’s a dicey storytelling thing going.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: The Great Waldo Pepper

15 October, 2014 (09:59) | by Richard T. Jameson, Film Reviews | By: Richard T. Jameson

[Originally published in Movietone News 43, September 1975]

I just realized I can’t remember how the line begins, so I’m going to fake it: “Technicians provide realism—artists supply truth.” “Technicians” almost certainly wasn’t the word but the rest is legitimate as a quote. A Hollywood director says it to Waldo Pepper, who was just too late to do his stuff as an ace in the Great War and now has a job, under a phony name, as a stunt flyer for the early talkies. Pepper has just pointed out that the wrong planes are being used by the movie squadron, which happens to be reenacting the legendary air battle he knows by heart and hearkens back to in support of his personal romantic code. George Roy Hill has left himself a lot of loopholes, as usual: The director who delivers the line is, or at least would be in many imaginable circumstances, right to prefer poetic truth to the documentary variety. But he’s wrong within the emotional context of the film, and he’s pompous and defensive to boot. But Waldo’s righteousness is somewhat compromised by our memory that he more or less opened the film by laying down a verbal account of the original battle, fascinating both his immediate, Nebraska farm family audience and its counterpart out there in the darkened theater, winning them and us with a charming blend of self-effacing softspokenness and ingenuous egoism, and shortly thereafter was exposed as a fraud for having cast himself in the story at all. But Hill implicitly tipped us to that particular con by preceding his Technicolor movie proper with monochrome archive stills showing aviation heroes giving up the ghost while stunting for movie cameras; this, plus our association of Robert Redford and Hill with that earlier, supposedly pleasurable screwing-over The Sting—similarly punctuated by (painted) illustrations of a movie crew filming con artists in their maneuvers—surely constituted some kind of fair warning.

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Videophiled: John Ford’s ‘My Darling Clementine’ on Criterion

14 October, 2014 (18:06) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews, John Ford, Westerns | By: Sean Axmaker

MyDarlingClemMy Darling Clementine (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD), John Ford’s sublime reinterpretation of the Wyatt Earp story and the Gunfight at OK Corral, rewrites history to become a mythic frontier legend and one of the most classically perfect westerns ever made.

Henry Fonda plays a hard, serious Wyatt Earp leading a cattle drive west with his brothers when a stopover in the wild town of Tombstone ends in the murder of his youngest brother. Wyatt takes up the badge he had turned down earlier and tames the wide open town with his brothers (Ward Bond and Tim Holt), waiting for the barbarous Clanton clan, led by a ruthless Walter Brennan (“When you pull a gun, kill a man!” is his motto), to give him an excuse to take them down. Victor Mature delivers perhaps his finest performance as gambler Doc Holliday, an alcoholic Eastern doctor escaping civilization in the Wild West and slowly coughing his life away from tuberculosis.

Ford takes great liberties with history, bending the story to fit his ideal of the west, a balance of social law and pioneer spirit. Though the film reaches its climax in the legendary gunfight between the Earps (with Doc Holliday) and the Clantons, the most powerful moment is the moving Sunday morning church social played out on the floor of the unfinished church. As Earp dances with Clementine (Cathy Downs), Fonda’s stiff, self-conscious movements showing a man unaccustomed to such social interaction, Ford’s camera frames them against the open sky: the town and the wilderness merge into the new Eden of the west for a brief moment. It’s a lyrical ode to the taming of the west when manifest destiny was an unambiguous rallying cry. Ford’s subsequent westerns became less idealistic.

Along with the 97-minute release version, Criterion has included a new HD transfer of the 103-minute pre-release version (which was also on the earlier DVD), which features footage cut from the release version as well as alternate scenes and other minor differences (such as alternate musical cues). The differences are illustrative of the differences between Ford’s artistry and love of communal atmosphere and 20th Century Fox boss Darryl Zanuck’s efficiency. Ford’s preview cut (which is not a director’s cut) is more open and lanky, always responsive to the community around him, and quieter (he resists burying scenes in orchestral scoring). The release version is tighter, more dramatically pointed, scored more emphatically, and features new shots inserted into Ford’s scenes. It’s a companion, not a replacement, for as we may mourn the loss of Ford’s sensitive and subtle moments, the release version is still the Ford masterpiece. It just got some help from Zanuck, who pared Ford’s loving background to strengthen the characters at the core.

my_darling_clementine_04_blu-ray__My Darling Clementine has been released in multiple editions on DVD by Fox. Criterion has created a new 4K digital master from the 35mm nitrate composite fine-grain held by the Museum of Modern Art for the Blu-ray debut and DVD upgrade. The previous DVD edition looked very good. Criterion’s release looks amazing, crisp and clean with a rich gray scale. The 103-minute pre-release version is an HD master which has not gone through the same digital restoration and shows scratches and grit but otherwise looks mighty fine in its own right.

Criterion has packed this edition with supplements. New to this release is informed and informative commentary by John Ford biographer Joseph McBride (who provides historical and production background as well as critical observations), the 19-minute video essay “Lost and Gone Forever” by Ford scholar Tag Gallagher (one of the best practitioners of this relatively new form of critical analysis), and a new interview with western historian Andrew C. Isenberg about the real Wyatt Earp. Carried over from the Fox DVD is the 40-minute documentary “What Is the John Ford Cut?” with UCLA archivist Robert Gitt, comparing the versions, commenting of the differences, and filling in the gap with production details and studio records.

First among the collection of archival supplements is the 1916 silent western short A Bandit’s Wager, directed by Francis Ford (his brother) and starring John and Francis. This is not a restoration and shows a lot of wear and tear but this transfer is stable and shows great detail, and it features a bright piano score by Donald Sosin.

Also features excerpts from the TV programs David Brinkley Journal (on Tombstone, from 1963) and Today (on Monument Valley, from 1975), the Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the film from 1947 starring Henry Fonda and Cathy Downs, and a fold-out leaflet with an essay by critic David Jenkins.

More new releases on disc and digital at Cinephiled

Review: Sssssss

14 October, 2014 (08:20) | by Robert C. Cumbow, Film Reviews, Horror | By: Robert C. Cumbow

[Originally published in Movietone News 43, September 1975]

Like Bug, its current traveling companion, Sssssss (which made the rounds as a top feature in 1973) is a preposterous horror film that never quite gets itself organized enough to make you want to suspend that old disbelief. But it is definitely the better half of the double feature, if for no other reason than that Bernard Kowalski knows a little bit more about making movies than Jeannot Szwarc. Kowalski, a Corman alumnus, knows enough, for example, to play for comedy until he can win audience credulity with more fully developed characters and situations. He knows how to understate, build atmosphere, and even create a middling suspense sequence now and again. And if he hasn’t yet made a good movie, his efforts have not been without their fringe benefits: the memorable caricature of sweaty, sleazy Everglades lowlifes in Attack of the Giant Leeches; the sustained transposition of masculine and feminine sexual imagery in Night of the Blood Beast; the color composition and special effects of Krakatoa—East of Java; and the Fulleresque mise-en-scène of Stiletto.

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‘Horrors of the Black Museum': Herman Cohen’s Lurid Horror with a British Accent

13 October, 2014 (05:52) | by Sean Axmaker, Essays, Horror | By: Sean Axmaker

Hammer wasn’t the only studio in Britain mining the vein of horror films that made them such attractive imports for American theaters. Before Amicus and Trigon arose in the 1960s, American producer Herman Cohen made a deal with British studio Anglo-Amalgamated to produce a pair of lurid horrors with British accents. Horrors of the Black Museum (1959), starring Michael Gough as a crime reporter who takes too much delight in the most grotesque murders, is the first of them, arriving in theaters after Hammer had brought new life to old horror icons with full, blood-dripping color, lurid Gothic style, bodice-ripping sexuality, and villains who revel in their power.

‘Horrors of the Black Museum’

Back in America, Herman Cohen took a different approach to reviving the old monsters for a new generation, aiming his film at the teenage audience by writing them directly into such low budget, high concept exploitation films as I Was a Teenage Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (both 1957), both of which became big hits for American International Pictures. Fresh off those successes, he headed for England and took a cue from Hammer, mixing continental class with grisly material and delivering production value (widescreen and brutally vivid color) and classy talent on a budget to AIP. Anglo-Amalgamated was not previously a horror studio—the biggest success for the British B-movie studio came from Carry On Sergent (1958), which spawned the lucrative Carry On series—but as the British distributor of AIP pictures it had successfully released its share of American horror films. Horrors of the Black Museum was their first homegrown horror.

Continue reading at Keyframe

Videophiled Binge Watch: ‘Penny Dreadful’ and more horror TV

12 October, 2014 (15:14) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Horror, Television | By: Sean Axmaker

PennyDreadfulS1Let’s catch up on a month of TV releases. And as Halloween is coming, let’s begin with some shows from the dark side.

Penny Dreadful: Season One (CBS, Blu-ray, DVD) takes a premise similar to the graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentleman: the characters and supernatural beings of 19th century horror literature all exist in the real world.

Oscar-winning screenwriter John Logan created this series, which revolves around a trio of original characters who take on the supernatural underworld of London, and scripts all eight episodes of the debut season. Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) is searching for his daughter Mina, who has been taken by a vampire (as in the novel Dracula), with the help of Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), a medium with a troubled past and a possible curse upon her. Josh Hartnett is the American Ethan Chandler, who comes to London as part of a Wild West show and hires himself out as a gunman to the team. Assisting the team is Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), whose first experiment (Rory Kinnear) has returned to demand a mate, and weaving through their stories is the decadent Dorian Gray, who woos Vanessa. One episode reworks The Exorcist and the season finale suggests that Bride of Frankenstein and Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde will be part of the story next season.

The title captures the tone of the series and horror director J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage) sets the ominous, shadowy mood as he helms the first two episodes. It features impressive production values, strong writing, excellent actors, and a Gothic atmosphere that favors mood over spectacle, and Logan intelligently and creatively weaves the classic stories into this original drama. Dr. Frankenstein after all abandoned his first born, essentially setting the moral yardstick for his offspring, and the show offers a compromised human Frankenstein and an angry, outraged creature with both the sensitivity and the emotional instability of a child that can rip the heart out of another person. And while the vampire of this tale is never referred to as Dracula, the show offers an interesting take on the story. But it’s the original characters that are the most compelling, notably the rocky relationship between bereft father Malcolm and tormented Vanessa, a kind of foster daughter in the shadow of his absent daughter, both needed and rejected by Malcolm. If blood defines family in the first episodes of the show, loyalty and sacrifice defines it by end of the season, and it is the American cowboy who brings that lesson home. I have a fondness for dramas built around makeshift families and offbeat teams who earn the loyalty of one another, and through the course of the season, Penny Dreadful turns into that kind of series.

It’s one Showtime’s most popular and most acclaimed shows to date, and outside of a Showtime subscription or a la carte digital purchases of individual episodes, disc is the only way to see the show. If you’re a horror fan, it’s definitely worth it. Eight episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with numerous featurettes and bonus episodes of other Showtime original shows.

More TV on disc and streaming at Cinephiled

A Dalmatian Called Nixon

11 October, 2014 (10:12) | by Ken Eisler, Essays | By: Movietone News contributor

[Originally published in Movietone News 44, September 1975]

The Doberman Gang was playing all over Mexico City when I was there last June—including the front-page headlines. Passing up Byron Chudnow’s three-year-old dog biscuit (retitled El Gran Asalto de los Doberman) was easy, but I did find myself drawn guiltily, morning after morning, into the details of a real-life Doberman gang whose hefty dark chieftain went by the name of “La Jitomata” (“The Tomato”).

Her gang, according to the papers, had racked up more than two years of robberies, assaults, stabbings and homicides using a Doberman called “Samson,” a Dalmatian called “Nixon,” two bulldogs (“La Troya,” “El Goliat”), and assorted other attack dogs to terrorize victims. The gang’s depredations ranged from the capital to Puebla and Acapulco. Now the police, with much selfcongratulation, had rounded up the malefactors; and each day’s newspaper brought new revelations regarding the size of the gang and the Dickensian nature of its internal affairs. “Le Jitomara,” it seemed, was given to recruiting extremely young boys, orphans, seducing them, legally adopting them, and sending them out into a life of crime. Hence, I suppose, the gang’s own sobriquet: “La Banda del Pañal” (“The Diaper Gang”).

Read more »

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of October 10

10 October, 2014 (11:10) | by Bruce Reid, by Sean Axmaker, Links | By: Bruce Reid

Anna May Wong and Marlene Dietrich

“Wong’s acting was subtle and unmannered; her eyebrow game was on point. She had a piercing stare that made you feel as if she saw the very best and very worst things about you, and her signature blunt-cut bangs made her face seem at once exquisitely, perfectly symmetrical. Given the quilt work of exotic roles she’d played on the silent screen, audiences expected her to speak with a broken, accented, or otherwise un-American English. But her tone was refined, cool, cultured, like a slap in the face to anyone who’d assumed otherwise.” The latest excerpt from Anne Helen Petersen’s Scandals from Classic Hollywood salutes Anna May Wong and condemns the Orientalist prejudices of filmmakers and fans that had her running to Europe once she realized better parts weren’t on offer. Via John Wyver.

The new issue of Senses of Cinema is dominated by an exhaustive dossier on John Flaus. If you’re asking who, you’re apparently not from Australia, where his contributions as “scholar, teacher, poet, cinephile, actor, broadcaster, tireless board member, mentor, script advisor, milkman, receptionist and later script assessor for Patricia Edgar at the Australian Children’s Television Foundation, much in-demand voiceover artist, archivist collector, writer and, always, anarchist” (as Adrian Danks catalogues it) are legion and legendary. Danks, the aforementioned Edgar, Filmnews editor Tina Kaufman, and Bryan Brown, among others, offer the heartfelt tributes and biographical details; and a generous selection of Flaus’s criticism—including pieces on the “visceral rather than cerebral” style of Siegel, the “cognitive dissonance” of Sirk, Lang’s “exceptionally disciplined” mise-en-scène, and the mix of myth and realism (“they have had to travel through the cycle of myth and romance in order to regain the normal plane of action”) in the Boetticher-Scott collaborations—displays an informed, prickly, original voice it’s well worth discovering.

“The light is what brought people here: the good weather and the light. But the light is magical, because for me, it is like a happiness—a light that gives you energy and an indication that anything is possible. It’s, I think, critical for me to feel that light.” While the big news this week is that David Lynch will be returning to Twin Peaks, Michael Nordine praises how well Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire captured the qualities, including the light Lynch praises above, of the world-away-in-every-sense-of-the-word Los Angeles.

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