The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of November 28

28 November, 2014 (10:19) | by Bruce Reid, by Sean Axmaker, Links | By: Bruce Reid

Nastassja Kinski

While the recent career of Nastassja Kinski has taken some odd, intriguing turns worthy of attention, the Film Society at Lincoln Center’s retrospective of her early work has writers remembering that decade or so when she was the most consistently surprising of It Girls, walking through her movies with an erotic air so languorous you barely noticed how deftly she kept stealing them. Melissa Anderson has a brief overview of the films that best used her qualities of “deep wells of serenity and stillness behind a feral sexuality.” Peter Sobczynski goes in at greater length (appropriate considering she’s his “all-time favorite actress”) and gets some thoughts from Kinski herself on a few notable efforts. (“My love for animals, and that animal side inside of us. When or how would I ever be able to be that close to panthers, those big cats that belong to the wild, yet are only for us to see in zoos, sadly? How would it be to interact with them, and touch them and be so close to them? That to me was beautiful, like a dream.”) Via David Hudson.

The new issue of LOLA has begun rolling out its contents. Joe McElhaney surveys the work of German and Eastern European émigrés in Hollywood, finding everyone from Lubitsch to Dieterle to Sirk looking in two directions at once, “one eye focused on America, the other looking back at their cultural origins.” Dorian Stuber and Marianne Tettlebaum consider how To Be or Not to Be makes its great unspoken detail—Greenberg’s Jewishness—the one you can’t help noticing. (“Whereas his fellow actors are conscious that they must play roles other than themselves in order to survive, Greenberg realises that he must play a role simply in order to be himself.”) And Lesley Stern offers an academic tour of movies about performance—The Band Wagon, The King of Comedy, Bamboozled, among others—to trace the self-conscious acting style she terms “the diva gesture.” Via Mubi.

‘Dangerous Game’

“This is a story of what really happened….. and what might have happened.” Revisiting one of his old passions, David Bordwell uses his recent discovery of the 1934 film adaptation of Priestley’s Dangerous Corner to lay out the methods of the “what-if” or “forking-paths” movie.

The recent video release of The Shooting has led to much worthy praise of Monte Hellman and Warren Oates, but Nick Pinkerton salutes the woman who was there when the pages were as blank and foreboding as the movie’s landscapes: Carole Eastman, whose scant but compelling screenwriting career has been too long undervalued.

Staying at Film Comment, Genevieve Yue takes a look at the current state of experimental film and the university programs that teach it; a perhaps unavoidably symbiotic relationship, as the academies not only teach avant-garde filmmaking but provide one of the few viable platforms for its dissemination, but one Yue thinks has avoided most (not all) of the problems that come with such insularity.

“We were pioneering in that kind of insertion of actors into historical events. For example, we combined footage of the real Alan Shepard being loaded into the capsule with Scott Glenn doing it on the stage. We had Scott Glenn shaking hands with Kennedy; they did the same thing in Forrest Gump and made a big thing out of spending a million dollars to do it. We did that in one afternoon.” Alex French and Howie Kahn compile an oral history on the making of The Right Stuff, chronicling the unique mix of old-school and cutting edge that marked every aspect of the production, from the 1800 storyboards spread out over conference tables during the studio pitch to the hand-tooled special effects in which Philip Kaufman (quoted above) takes such pride.

‘The Right Stuff’

Antonio Monda wonders why Italian cinema has lost its favor with American audiences. Some good points are raised, but points docked for limiting the discussion to art-house cinema, excluding entirely giallo, zombies, and the dire consequences of inadvertently reading forbidden grimoires. Via Movie City News.

“And today a new man is being born, fraught with all the fears and terrors and stammerings that are associated with a period of gestation. And what is even more serious, this new man immediately finds himself burdened with a heavy baggage of emotional traits that cannot exactly be called old and outmoded but rather unsuited and inadequate.” Speaking of when Italian cinema could be a cultural touchstone, Criterion reposts Antonioni’s famous comments following the Cannes premiere of L’avventura. Call them prescient or pretentious, but the words remain one of the director’s most important statements of purpose.

“A lot of artists say anger or even the experience of fear or these things feeds the work, and so the suffering artist is a romantic concept. But if you think about it, it’s romantic for everybody except the artist. If the artist is really suffering, then the ideas don’t flow so good, and if [he is] really suffering, he can’t even work. I say that negativity is the enemy to creativity.” Ariston Anderson posts some of David Lynch’s comments at the recent Lucca Film Festival, ranging from the familiar (transcendental meditation, good; overthinking bad) to the surprising (he’s gotten over his dogmatic preference of digital to film).

“Now, Lee always said that America was founded on violence, like the destruction of the Indians. So he could only express himself through the violence in the cinema. I think you can take that position. There’s something cathartic about destruction. Though it’s always very easy to blow something up in the end. [Laughs.] But that’s much more basic: It’s really based on the Hindu notion of birth coming from destruction. That’s always my guiding principle.” John Boorman—so that’s Lee Marvin referenced above, natch—discusses movie violence, Marcello Mastroianni, and The Lord of the Rings with Simon Abrams.

Jim Jarmusch plays with Sqürl at the ATP festival in Iceland

“I love making films. I love collaborating with people. I love editing, where you shape it. I love the whole process. But it is a million questions that have to be answered constantly… Music is very different. To me it’s just a release. It’s communicating with just a few other people, not with words and just seeing where it goes.” Jim Jarmusch and Carter Logan talk with Melissa Locker about their band Sqürl (though not where the name comes from).

Paul Schrader’s latest endeavor, besides the web series and going around proclaiming the end of cinema as we know it, is the curation of a gallery exhibit entitled Absent Friends. He explains how it came about, and offers some more of his uplifting thoughts, interviewed by Courtney Duckworth. (“We didn’t have movies 100 years ago, and we did quite fine without them, and now they’re going to become something else again.”) The sample of the exhibit itself shows Schrader’s still brazen mix of high and low; and do note for all the director’s insistence he’s fine with leaving 35mm film, public exhibition, and all that “revanchist claptrap” behind, pride of place goes to one of Sugimoto’s ghostly, vacant movie theaters.

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.

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Film Review: ‘The Homesman’

26 November, 2014 (05:20) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews, Westerns | By: Robert Horton

Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank

Tommy Lee Jones, as actor and director, clearly cares a lot about the Western. Is there an audience that cares with him? The once-dominant genre has declined so steeply since the 1970s that each new one is an event, and Jones has become one of the few people still riding herd on the form. (Though ailing at the movies, the myth of the West is alive and well in American politics, currently full of gun-totin’, hog-castratin’ candidates.) The Homesman is so good it makes you wish Jones could somehow make a Western a year, just to keep exploring the pockets of American frontier experience that still need filling in. This one offers a series of new wrinkles, beginning with its route: The story goes from west to east, the opposite of most Westerns.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Film Review: ‘Horrible Bosses 2′

26 November, 2014 (05:16) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews, Westerns | By: Robert Horton

Jason Bateman

Maybe the bar wasn’t set especially high, but let’s not dampen the rare, humble pleasure of declaring that a sequel is better than the original. Horrible Bosses 2 is looser and funnier than its 2011 predecessor; and if its R-rated comedy misses as often as it hits, at least the timing is there. The first film’s trio of losers—played by Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day—is now trying to go the self-employment route by creating a new bathing gadget. But their idiotic invention, the “Shower Buddy,” brings them into partnership with a corporate shark (Christoph Waltz) and his conniving son (a manic Chris Pine, from Star Trek). When the boys get screwed over, their response is to kidnap the son and hold him for ransom.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Film Review: ‘V/H/S: Viral’

26 November, 2014 (05:13) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews, Horror | By: Robert Horton

Gustavo Salmeron

The third installment of the V/H/S horror-anthology series has just one decent segment in it. And by “decent,” I mean unhealthy and outrageous and fantastically bizarre. Like its predecessors, V/H/S: Viral rolls out spooky stories that appear to be found footage. Therefore, as with most examples of this form, we see many laborious reasons for scenes to be captured on security cameras and the like. Anyway. The movie overall is strictly for cultists, but the one good segment suggests a filmmaker ready to burst.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Videophiled: Joe Sarno’s ‘Dirty Movie’ and ‘What is Cinema?’

26 November, 2014 (00:37) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Documentary, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

LifeDirtyMovies A Life in Dirty Movies (Film Movement, DVD) – The work of Joe Sarno is little known outside of cinephile and cult cinema circles, and not widely seen even among cineastes. That’s because he, with the support and collaboration of his wife Peggy, made his low-budget explorations of adult sexuality within the confines of the sexploitation industry, where they played in grindhouse theaters under such titles as Sin in the Suburbs (1964) and The Love Merchant (1966). His films, however, were handsomely made, carefully composed and lit, and focused on the odysseys of women exploring their sexuality and their desires in a society stumbling through the sexual revolution. In a cinematic culture that focused on men getting their rocks off and women taking their clothes off, Sarno made women the active protagonists of his films. And while he satisfied the requirements of nudity and sexual spectacle (within the conventions and limits of the pre-X-rated era), his idea of a money shot was a close-up of a woman’s face as she reached climax. That sensitivity to women’s experiences and his lovely black and white photography earned him the nickname “The Bergman of 42nd Street.” In fact, he found more respect in Europe and even made films in Sweden, such as Inga (1968) and Young Playthings (1972), which played in the U.S. as foreign imports and earned Sarno a kind of critical respect his American films never received.

A Life in Dirty Movies gives viewers an overview of his career and its decline, when X-rated films displaced the softcore culture and Sarno was no longer able to make his kind of movies, but director Wiktor Ericsson is more interested in the couple themselves, together and still in love after more than 40 years, and on Joe’s doomed attempt at a comeback at the age of 88. Peggy actively encourages him and provides constructive criticism but confesses to the camera that Joe is hopelessly out of step with the times. His health was clearly declining while this documentary was being shot (he died in 2010, soon after production wrapped), and Ericsson finds his story in Peggy’s protectiveness and support of Joe in his decline, still defending her husband to her disapproving parents. Ericsson includes illuminating film clips but only a general overview of his career and he completely ignores 15 years when Sarno made X-rated films under a number of pseudonyms. The most interesting story is their long partnership, Sarno’s drive to keep making films, and Peggy’s determination to support his dreams even though she knows he’ll never make another film. Features bonus interview clips and two cut scenes.

WhatIsCInema

What Is Cinema? (Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD) isn’t so much a lesson in film history and aesthetics as a survey of the breadth of cinematic possibilities. Filmmaker Chuck Workman (most famous for his short films and clip montages at the Oscars) throws a wide net and gives documentary, avant-garde, and experimental filmmaking an equal footing with Hollywood classics, independent film, and foreign cinema. Among his commentators are David Lynch, Mike Leigh, Costas-Gavras, Kelly Reichardt, and Jonas Mekas, all sharing their cinema loves (Leigh basically talks about his own method), and the gamut of featured filmmakers run from Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Bresson and Robert Altman to Abbas Kairostami and Chantel Akerman and Bill Viola. It’s not so much about defining cinema as exploring the possible, a celebration more than a history illustrated with clips from 100 films. Workman is a wizard with clips and you can lose yourself in the montage of images and the enthusiasm of filmmakers talking about the films that inspire them. But it does feel more like you’re wandering through a film museum than getting a guided tour with a point of view.

Features 10 bonus experimental shorts glimpsed in the documentary, including three films commissioned by Workman.

More new releases at Cinephiled

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Videophiled: Mohammad Rasoulof’s ‘Manuscripts Don’t Burn’

25 November, 2014 (14:23) | by Sean Axmaker, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

ManuscriptsBurnWhat’s most startling about Mohammad Rasoulof’s 2013 Iranian thriller Manuscripts Don’t Burn (Kino Lorber, DVD, Netflix) is its audacity. Iranian filmmakers have a history of couching its criticisms of life in Iran in metaphor. This film puts its portrait of authoritarian oppression out in the open.

We open on a contract murder that plays like an American gangster picture dropped into dusty slums outside Tehran, then take a circuitous route through the workings of a totalitarian state that intimidates and terrorizes its intellectuals and dissident writers. Along with the web of writers connected by censored and suppressed works, we follow the thugs doing the dirty work for the vindictive minister of the security services, including a man whose motivation is simply money to pay for his son’s operation (it’s not a corny as it sounds). He’s constantly stopping along the route to see if the money has reached his account, interruptions that keep the political horror story firmly framed within the banalities and anxieties of everyday life.

The script is complicated and a little confusing, stirring in characters who appear without introduction, and it gets a little repetitive in the second act, but it seems churlish to complain that such a provocative, covertly-made portrait of the Iranian government as a brutally repressive regime could “use a little cutting.” The confusion sorts itself out as the intimidation turns into outright terrorism, 1984 by way of The Godfather, while an inspired formal twist puts the whole ordeal on continuous loop, a cycle of never-ending despotism. There are echoes of The Lives of Others in the routine surveillance of citizens but this is more confrontational and brutal and Rasoulof hasn’t the safe distance of exploring a fallen regime. His targets are current and he puts a target on his chest for his efforts. For that reason, he’s the only artist on the film who takes credit; the other names are hidden for fear of reprisals (we assume the actors are expatriates safely out of country). The film was, of course, banned in Iran and Rasoulof (against the advice of friends) returned home to Iran after premiering the film at Cannes (where it won the FIPRESCI Prize), where a prison sentence hangs over his head. His passport has been revoked and he is unable to see his family, whom he has already moved out of country. That’s some sacrifice.

In Persian with English subtitles. No supplements. Also available to stream on Netflix.

More new releases at Cinephiled

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Out of the Past: ‘Pather Panchali’

24 November, 2014 (09:22) | by Alan Williams, Film Reviews | By: Alan Williams

[Originally published in Movietone News 49, April 1976]

The camera looks up at a rooftop and balcony where we see an Indian woman, clearly upper-class from her dress, intently examining a piece of pottery. She calls out, “Who’s there?” and then looks up, off screen right. Cut to a longer shot, tracking backwards right to follow her as she walks toward something that is not within the image. “Look at her!” the woman exclaims, and addresses a long tirade on theft to another woman on the roof.

The important thing about this opening minute-or-so of Pather Panchali is that it is not like the openings of most Western narrative films. The subject of the woman’s monologue turns out to be a little girl who steals guavas from the orchard (unseen) near the house. About four minutes into the film we see (without knowing their relationship) the girl’s mother in a totally silent, forest shot. The mother’s position is in turn elucidated during a shot which introduces yet another unnamed but later-to-be-significant character: the mother’s best friend. After about 20 minutes of film, we have the complete explanation of the information conveyed in the film’s first two shots, central to which is the fact that the little girl’s family used to own the orchard. The film takes that long to answer fully its first verbal message: “Who’s there?”

Read more »

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Restorations, Revelations and Debuts of 2014

23 November, 2014 (12:40) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, lists, streaming | By: Sean Axmaker

Film history discovered and rediscovered on Blu-ray, DVD and digital formats.

We never stop recovering our film history. In 2014 alone we found a 1916 version of Sherlock Holmes starring the legendary stage actor William Gillette (the only known footage of the man considered the definitive Holmes of his era in character) and an unfinished orphan film shot in 1913 starring black Broadway star Bert Williams.

‘Too Much Johnson’

The digital tools have given filmmakers, producers, studios and film archivists and restorers the ability to resurrect damaged prints and rescue damaged footage previously beyond the scope of physical and chemical methods and the transition from film prints to theatrical digital formats for repertory and revival showings has created new incentives to restore and remaster classic films for new theatrical screenings. (There’s plenty of controversy over this shift, with many partisans arguing that movies shot and originally shown in celluloid should be preserved and only screened that way.)

But it’s still a specialized audience and film lovers outside of major metropolitan areas often have no opportunities to see these restorations and revivals on the screen. At least until they are made available to home video formats. For instance, while the new restoration of the original Todd AO version of Oklahoma! premiered at the Turner Classic Movies festival in April, it has yet to reach audiences outside of specialty theaters and the China Film Archive restoration of the 1934 Chinese classic The Goddess has only shown in film festivals.

So this list is focused on debuts and rediscoveries of classic films and cinema landmarks and restorations of great films and revivals of previously unavailable movies that became available to viewers at home in 2014. Not just a countdown of the best, it’s a survey of the breadth of restorations and rediscoveries that film lovers now have a chance to see regardless of where they live, as long as they have a web connection and a Blu-ray player.

Too Much Johnson (1938) (Fandor, streaming)
The home video event of 2014 is not a disc debut or a Blu-ray special edition but a piece of lost film history found, restored and streamed on the web. Shot by Orson Welles in 1938 (two years before he went to Hollywood and began production on Citizen Kane) as a kind of experiment to accompany a stage production of the theater farce Too Much Johnson, the film was never finished by Welles beyond a continuity work print that was thought to have been destroyed in a fire in Welles’ Spanish home in 1970. The 35mm nitrate work print was found in 2013 in a warehouse in Italy (in Pordenone, as it happens, home to the greatest silent film festival in the world) and restored in an international effort. After a series of special screenings, the film (in both the original 66-minute work print and a 34-minute “reimagined” version, with outtakes and duplicate shots removed and footage edited into an “educated guess” of how it would have played in finished form) was made available to audiences the world over for free via the National Film Preservation Foundation website and in an HD edition through Fandor. I celebrated the film and its discovery for Keyframe earlier this year.

Continue reading at Keyframe

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That’s not Art, that’s Smut!

22 November, 2014 (12:41) | by Sean Axmaker, Essays, lists | By: Sean Axmaker

Sex sells, as the saying goes, and movie producers, distributors and exhibitors have known this since pictures began to move.

In That’s Sexploitation, filmmaker Frank Henenlotter and exploitation legend David Friedman celebrate the freewheeling culture of sexploitation, the sensationalistic underground of independent filmmakers and studios who cashed in on promises of carnal thrills and forbidden spectacle, specifically naked flesh (mostly female). These are the films that sprung up between the cracks of the production code and studio restrictions and, as the moniker suggests, they aimed straight for the lurid and the tawdry.

But not all films that sold themselves with the promise of erotic thrills and taboo-busting presentations of sexuality were a matter of pure exploitation. American movies started taking on adults themes once again in the fifties while films from the more permissive Europe blurred the lines between art and erotica as they explored sexuality with both a maturity and a more graphic explicitness. In other words, people got naked and shared bed right on the screen. “That’s not smut, that’s art,” was the implicit argument, even if it was the sex that the exhibitors marketed.

Here are ten films from the heady days of the sexual revolution to the present that smudge the line between art and exploitation. Sex may be the subject, the subtext, or the motivation, but promise of steamy spectacle and erotic delights was used attract patrons that normally might not otherwise attend such fare and give them the cinematic equivalent to the time-honored justification for purchasing Playboy magazine: “I get it for the articles.”

‘Contempt’

Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard, 1963)
Blow-Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966)
Here are two examples of marketing skin to attract audiences to challenging films from European intellectual filmmakers. Contempt (1963) is an unlikely meeting between nouvelle vague legend Jean-Luc Godard’s anti-Hollywood sensibility and the showman aesthetic of (uncredited) producer Joseph E. Levine in an international co-production about the clash between art and commerce, the politics of artistic integrity and compromise and the dissolution of love. To meet his producer’s demands, Godard added an opening bedroom scene and inserted pin-up style nude shots of star Brigitte Bardot. Wouldn’t you know he actually makes them work as a comment on the very process of filmmaking compromise? Blow-Up (1966), the English-language debut of Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni, is an existential murder mystery starring David Hemmings as a jaded fashion photographer who may have taken a picture of murder and Vanessa Redgrave as the mystery woman of his photograph. Set in swinging London, full of mod fashions, free love, a score by Herbie Hancock and an appearance by the Yardbirds, it’s a timepiece by way of Antonioni’s brand of contemporary alienation and it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. It was also the first mainstream movie to show female pubic hair (however fleetingly) and that was a bigger selling point for a lot of the patrons.

Continue reading at Keyframe

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of November 21

21 November, 2014 (10:35) | by Bruce Reid, by Sean Axmaker, Links | By: Bruce Reid

‘Raiders: The Adaptation’

“What a fitting end to your life’s pursuits.” One of the most charming details of Eric Zala, Chris Strompolos, and Jayson Lamb’s Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation—I mean, aside from the terrier standing in for the monkey pulling off the Nazi salute—is how the filmmakers just skipped right over the fight at the airfield, even these reckless teens realizing dodging the menacing wings and propellers of a spinning plane as something best left to professionals. Now, three decades later and desperate to prove themselves precisely that, they’ve finally shot the sequence, though not without some hitches, as Amy Nicholson reports; along with some interesting thoughts on what damage home video culture has done to the love and business of movies. Via David Hudson.

If you’re not in the mood right now to hear any praise for Bill Cosby’s acting talent, I certainly can’t blame you. But Charles Taylor’s quite fine on the intimate, musical rhythms he and Robert Culp shared almost telepathically, playfully jazzy in I Spy, ragged and almost punishing (but always marked by mutual respect) in Culp’s only feature film as director, the intriguing, defeated Hickey & Boggs.

“This must be serious. Where’d you meet him?” “On the road.” “Now, don’t tell me you’ve fallen in love with a bus driver.” Farran Smith Nehme revels in the inclusive depression-era fantasy—“both escapist and egalitarian”—of It Happened One Night, and reminds us how practically no one involved thought they had anything special on their hands till about halfway through. (Or, in Colbert’s case, when her maid delighted in the sing-along.) Also at Criterion, Smith Nehme is interviewed by Molly Haskell about the influences behind her debut novel “Missing Reels.” (“But when I went to [the Laurel and Hardy fanclub’s] website, I did notice that, rather delightfully in an age when every day is casual Friday, they still have a dress code. So I used that, too. Now that the novel is finished, I really want to go to one of their meetings. Properly attired, of course.”)

Read more »

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Film Review: ‘Force Majeure’

21 November, 2014 (09:32) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

In the opening scene of Force Majeure, a family poses for a resort photographer as they begin their skiing vacation in the Alps. Everybody acts happy, and the pictures look really cute.

From that point on, this movie does everything in its power to ruin that image. But this Swedish film isn’t predictable about how it does this — instead, it sneaks up on you with off-kilter humor and tense, carefully calibrated conversations.

At the crux of the film is an incident. The members of the family — husband Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke), wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), and their two young children — are pausing in their winter getaway for lunch outdoors at the ski lodge. The resort conducts controlled avalanches, which explains the booming sound that reverberates day and night.

Continue reading at The Herald (limited access before paywall is triggered)

‘Force Majeure’

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Film Review: ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1′

21 November, 2014 (09:27) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Jennifer Lawrence

Suzanne Collins wrote the “Hunger Games” as a trilogy of books, but Hollywood is getting four movies out of it. It worked for “Twilight” and “Harry Potter,” so here’s the first half of the finale — hope you like cliffhangers.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 is the full mouthful of a title. Shell-shocked warrior Katniss Everdeen is now also known as the Mockingjay, and it’s hard to know which name is worse. She is played by Jennifer Lawrence, who is devoted as ever to the role but has much less running and jumping around to do in this installment. There are no actual Hunger Games this time, just the battle between the totalitarian government (led by preening President Donald Sutherland) and the rebel forces. Katniss has been hijacked away into the latter camp, and she’ll become a propaganda star for them.

Continue reading at The Herald (limited access before paywall is triggered)

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Videophiled Classics: Otto Preminger’s ‘Bunny Lake is Missing’

20 November, 2014 (09:54) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

Bunny Lake Is Missing (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) – In the late 1950s and early 1960s, no American director melded classic Hollywood style and cool modern European elegance better than producer/director Otto Preminger. His handsome films are celebrations of introspection and stylistic remove and his best work defined not by heroes and villains but complex, flawed, achingly sympathetic characters. On the surface, this 1965 mystery is no more than a smartly done, intelligently written thriller but Preminger’s fierce cinematic intelligence guides a fluid camera that effortlessly tracks, glides, and reframes characters as they shift through scenes, shifting our perspective along the way.

Carol Lynley is an American single mother who has just moved to London with her brother (Keir Dullea) and her young daughter Bunny, who we never actually see before she suddenly goes missing. Laurence Olivier delivers one of his best performances as a police inspector full of blank smiles, putting on a mask of practiced civility while investigating the disappearance of a child that no one can remember seeing. Lynley is another of Preminger’s lithe, lovely heroines who finds herself isolated and alienated, a stranger in a culture that feels just slightly off (Noel Coward is particularly unsettling as a landlord with questionable motivations), while devoted brother Dullea supports her through the ordeal. While Lynley’s panic tips into paranoia and makes us question her grasp on reality—does Bunny even exist?—Dullea’s glazed cool and dazed smiles make him a little questionable as well. Like Olivier, Preminger conceals his feelings, wielding the camera like a microscope examining the layers of his characters while setting in motion with a choreographer’s grace.

Please note, however, that the prominent billing of the British rock group The Zombies refers only to a rather contrived appearance on a TV screen in the background of one shot and a song playing on a transistor radio in another. They make no actual appearance in the film as such, yet I can’t help but grudgingly respect Preminger’s purely commercial movie. He made films his way, but as his own producer, he was savvy enough to play the promoter.

It’s a gorgeous CinemaScope movie and Twilight Time does the film up nicely, with a strong transfer of a good-looking HD master from Columbia Pictures, a studio with a superb record of preserving, restoring, and making high-quality digital transfers of their catalog. It’s a reminder that black and white films offer a whole new dimension on good-quality Blu-ray releases, not just added sharpness and clarity but a greater depth of gray scale and shading.

The original Twilight Time model was to provide high-quality releases of films from studio vaults in limited edition runs with minimal supplements beyond an isolated score track and a booklet with an essay by house writer Julie Kirgo. Since their launch, however, they have started including featurettes and other supplements from previous DVD releases where possible, and providing original commentary tracks on select releases. This release offers commentary by film historian Lem Dobbs with in-house historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman (who also founded the label), a trio that has done more than a few commentary tracks together, and their ease gives the track an easy-going quality as they dig into the film and offer historical and critical perspective. Also includes three trailers.

More classics on Blu-ray and DVD at Cinephiled

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The remarkable Mr. Champlin

19 November, 2014 (20:14) | by Sheila Benson, remembrance | By: Sheila Benson

It’s rare that you can say that one person changed the trajectory of your life, and for the better. Charles Champlin, who changed mine in every way, died on Sunday. He was 88, and at the end he had Alzheimer’s but the earlier deviltry was that in 1999, he’d developed age-related macular degeneration that left him legally blind.

Charles Champlin, 1979

That must have been purgatory for someone whose life had been the graceful  consideration of books and films, films and books. As the writer that he was, above all else, he wrote about his AMD too, in a sliver of a book, “My Friend, You Are Legally Blind.” Purportedly, it’s about ways to get the better of the disease; it’s really a look at lifelong gallantry.

The persona that Champlin presented to the world: a man foursquare as the aviator glasses that became his trademark, wasn’t all of him, not by a Hammondsport mile. The essential Champlin who could shift among a half-dozen settings and arrive intact and unruffled at each one, was compound-complex.  He’d have to be; he was functioning as an editor, an essayist, a critic, most certainly a teacher, a lecturer, a sometimes author and a card-carrying devotee of the hurly-burly of Cannes. And, somewhere in all that, he and his extraordinary wife Peggy were raising a family of six.

Continue reading at Critic Quality Feed

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Review: Supervixens

19 November, 2014 (09:07) | by Richard T. Jameson, Film Reviews | By: Richard T. Jameson

[Originally published in Movietone News 42, July 1975]

My experience of Russ Meyer films has been less than encyclopedic (Finders Keepers Lovers Weepers, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, The Seven Minutes), so I can’t state authoritatively just what breakthroughs SuperVixens may represent in his oeuvre. Complete frontal nudity was not featured in the others I saw, and I believe the man himself has cited this as the first instance of male frontal nudity, at any rate. It’s still softcore, although back in the groove resolutely enough to warrant an X-rating (Richard Corliss opined in print that the MPAA had ruled The Seven Minutes R instead of PG so as not to embarrass Meyer before his old fans). And it’s still the most energetic sex filmmaking, qua filmmaking, around: 2,800 setups, Meyer told an SFS preview audience, and they do go blazing past, so frenetically, and some of them downright dynamically, that anybody with camera- and cutting-sense is going to have a hard—make that a difficult—time keeping his mind on the ostensible subject.

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