Review: Buster and Billie

10 November, 2015 (09:52) | by Kathleen Murphy, Film Reviews | By: Kathleen Murphy

[Originally published in Movietone News 36, October 1974]

It’s come to be almost a given that American communal life is pervaded with violence, contained or at large. Those filmmakers who aren’t examining contemporary urban jungles from vantage points of nihilistic glee or despair turn to the American rural past to disprove any vestigial illusions we might have had about the noble savage or the pastoral innocent. From Mean Streets to Badlands, from Bad Company to Thieves like Us, from Payday to Buster and Billie, the lay of the land remains the same: brave new worlds gone wrong, gone brutal, gone back from innocence either by accident or in cold blood. America, the home of hillbilly and ghetto crazies, killers pure in heart, traveling city streets and country backroads, dwarfed by skyscrapers or the prairie, always caught, mostly dead—the last American heroes.

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The classic: ‘Frankenstein’

9 November, 2015 (04:33) | by Richard T. Jameson, Film Reviews, Horror | By: Richard T. Jameson

[Written for the National Society of Film Critics anthology The A List (2006)]

In 1931, the director Robert Florey lived in a Los Angeles apartment with a view of a Dutch-style bakery and its logo, a windmill complete with turning vanes. Florey had just been assigned by Carl Laemmle Jr. to direct a production of Frankenstein for Universal, and as he mused on a possible look for the film, he found himself considering a windmill as a key location – perhaps the site of the scientist’s secret laboratory. As it happened, it would be James Whale, not Florey, who directed Frankenstein, and Henry Frankenstein would set up shop in “an abandoned watchtower.” But that windmill got lodged in the collective brain of the filmmaking team (also in one line of dialogue absentmindedly retained from an early script draft), and finally made it on screen as an opportunistic but aptly crazed-Gothic setting for the film’s fiery climax.


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Review: Spectre

7 November, 2015 (09:02) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Daniel Craig

The last time James Bond dusted off his license to kill, I lamented the franchise’s reluctance to simply go out and make a good spy movie. Skyfall had a glum Bond, too much psychology, and a tired revival of 007’s signature traits. Then it went and raked in a billion dollars, so it comes as no surprise that the long-running series brought back the Skyfall creative team for the new outing. But Spectre is, at least, a little more of a Bond picture — there’s less fretting about the hero’s state of mind, for starters.

Bond (Daniel Craig, returning for his fourth go at the role) has bounced back from his Skyfall adventure, but has one bit of business left to settle. It leads to the unlikely revelation that a mysterious super-villain (Christoph Waltz) might somehow be connected to all the nefarious action of the three previous 007 films.

That’s a reach, but it provides the excuse for the usual hair-raising stunts and globe-trotting espionage.

Continue reading at The Herald (paywall alert)

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Review: Tab Hunter Confidential

7 November, 2015 (08:58) | by Robert Horton, Documentary, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Tab Hunter

They called him Tab Hunter. The poor guy never had a chance.

In Tab Hunter Confidential, we learn the inside story of the manufactured movie star with the jokey name (and equally jokey reputation for his acting ability). It’s an entertaining Hollywood saga, even if it won’t change anybody’s mind about Hunter’s talent.

Born in 1931, Hunter was a painfully shy kid raised by a single mom. His blond good looks brought him to the attention of famed Hollywood star-maker Henry Willson.

Continue reading at The Herald

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of November 6

6 November, 2015 (12:28) | by Bruce Reid, by Sean Axmaker, Links, Obituary / Remembrance | By: Bruce Reid

Bill Murray

“You know, being famous is obviously not a Devil’s deal. I love the opportunity to work. It’s the thing I do best. I’m a much better person when I’m working. I’m at my absolute best, because it’s the ultimate terror. It’s the ultimate terror that I will not arrive, the ultimate terror that I am not. You know? That I am not.” No point expecting an objective portrait of Bill Murray from Mitch Glazer, who’s written for the man for years, including his recent Rock the Kasbah and his upcoming, much-anticipated Christmas special. But who wants one of those, when Glazer ably demonstrates even one of Murray’s oldest, closest associates can be befuddled and dazzled by the man, being dragged along to spontaneous adventures down the streets of Morocco, Cuba, and Charleston, South Carolina.

Dennis Lim’s David Lynch: The Man from Another Place is one of the more anticipated film books of the season, and two excerpts do a good job showing why. In the New Yorker Lim discusses the inherent incomprehensibility of Lynch’s narratives as one of his great strengths. (“It is not uncommon for artists to believe that their art should speak for itself. But Lynch’s aphasia is born of a protectiveness that verges on superstition. Words for him are not just reductive; they are anathema to his view of art as fundamentally enigmatic. He says often that his films should leave “room to dream.” To decode a film, to proffer interpretations, to divulge the source of an idea—all these simply mean less room and fewer possible dreams.”) While Criterion samples the book’s take on Mulholland Dr., which Lim finds fitting into as much of a literary tradition as a cinematic one. (“If the film resonates long after these questions have been answered, it is because they are somewhat beside the point. Much more than an enigma to be cracked, Mulholland Dr. takes as its subject the very act of solving: the pleasurable and perilous, essential and absurd process of making narrative sense, of needing and creating meaning.”)

“In 1921, Wanderwell set off for Europe on a tramp steamer. He advertised in London for “A good-looking, brainy young woman who is as clever a journalist as her appearance is attractive,” warning that “she must forswear skirts—and incidentally marriage—for at least two years, and be prepared to ‘rough’ it in Asia and Africa.” Most important, she must “learn to work before and behind a movie camera.” Wanderwell saw motion pictures as a way not only to finance his expedition but also to document it for posterity.” Daniel Eagan recounts the nearly forgotten career of Aloha Wanderwell, neé Idris Hall, who made some of the most popular travelogue silents both in collaboration with her husband and, with even more accomplished cinematic technique, on her own after his mysterious death.

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Blu-ray: William Gillette is the original ‘Sherlock Holmes’

5 November, 2015 (14:24) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews, Silent Cinema | By: Sean Axmaker

Sherlock1916Sherlock Holmes (Flicker Alley, Blu-ray+DVD) – The 1916 Sherlock Holmes was not the first film based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s great detective but it is by all accounts the first Holmes feature and in many ways it remains the most important Holmes film ever made. It’s an adaptation of the popular stage play written and produced by William Gillette, who drew his script from a collection of Holmes tales with the blessing of Doyle. Gillette toured England and the U.S. in the title role for years before hanging it up but revived the play one final time 1915. It was a smash on Broadway and Gillette took it on tour, ending up in Chicago where the Essanay Film Company struck a deal to bring the stage play to the big screen and bring Gillette’s signature performance before the cameras in a cast featuring both his roadshow actors and members of the Essanay stock company.

We’re not talking resurrected masterpiece here, mind you, but it is a fine piece of filmmaking and an entertaining feature from an era when features were still finding their form. More importantly, it is the sole film performance of William Gillette, a stage legend in his own right and the first definitive Sherlock Holmes, as conferred upon him by both audiences and the author Doyle himself. His interpretation not only informed the performances that followed but the screen mythology itself. Gillette elevated Moriarty (played in the film by French actor and Essanay company regular Ernest Maupain) from minor Doyle character to defining nemesis (and in some ways anticipated Lang’s Dr. Mabuse), gave Holmes his signature curved pipe, and added the term “elementary” to his repertoire. In other ways his version is unlike the Holmes of the page or later screen versions. He’s a cultivated patrician in elegant evening clothes and dressing robes before donning the signature deerstalker cap and familiar tools of the trade, he falls in love, and he even marries (with Doyle’s blessing).

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Review: The Assassin

5 November, 2015 (04:46) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Shu Qi

It’s been eight years since Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-hsien released a feature (his lone European project, Flight of the Red Balloon). Much of that time was spent on the sheer physical effort of mounting a meticulous period piece, a film that would find the arthouse filmmaker indulging in his first martial-arts picture. Well. One can only pity the unsuspecting chopsocky fan who wanders into The Assassin after spotting the groovalicious poster, which features Transporter star Shu Qi brandishing a dagger. The scenes of swordplay are brief, clean, and void of fun. They are a momentary distraction from the film’s real concern, which is something to do with emptiness and regret.

The time is the 9th century. A young woman, Nie Yinniang (Shu), has been trained in isolation as an assassin.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Review: The Wonders

5 November, 2015 (04:42) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Monica Bellucci

Here’s Tuscany, but without the romance. The cinematography is fuzzy, the people grubby, and the work, beekeeping, demanding. No travelogue under the Tuscan sun in The Wonders, just an oddball coming-of-age tale that creates loopy magic by the end. The growing-up is owned by Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lugu), the oldest daughter in a honey-making family. As the best worker on the farm, she has a special closeness to bossy German-born patriarch Wolfgang (Sam Louwyck), whose insistence on old-fashioned methods is testing the patience of his exasperated French wife Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher, from I Am Love). Gelsomina’s three younger sisters muck about the ramshackle place, in various states of wildness. (The dialogue is in Italian, but the characters have mixed Euro-origins.)

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Blu-ray / DVD: Buckley and Vidal are ‘Best of Enemies’

4 November, 2015 (14:18) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Documentary, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

Best of EnemiesBest of Enemies: Buckley vs. Vidal (Magnolia, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) – In 1968, William F. Buckley was the face of the new Conservative movement: editor of The National Review, host of the public television show Firing Line, a conservative media celebrity with a cool intellect and sharp tongue. Gore Vidal, born and raised as a member of the East Coast American political aristocracy, was a respected novelist, essayist, and outspoken liberal commentator who used his wit to provoke and satirize. The despised one another as much as they hated what the other stood for. ABC, the distant third of three networks going into the political conventions of the election season, hired these men to debate the events of the respective Republican and Democratic conventions over ten nights of network coverage. What they got in those brief minutes at the end of each program was less debate than verbal sparring matches between two erudite intellectuals attacking the political philosophy and public record of the other and they were out for blood. As Christopher Hitchens puts it, “There’s nothing feigned about their mutual animosity. They really do despise each other.”

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The Hong Kong Gesture

3 November, 2015 (09:40) | by Ken Eisler, Film Reviews | By: Movietone News contributor

[Originally published in Movietone News 35, September 1974]

A procession of horses and men winds through the gate and into the large courtyard of the Four Seasons brothel. They come to a halt; dozens of big wooden crates are simultaneously lowered to the ground. We watch a man break one open. Contents: one (1) cringing maiden. The new shipment has arrived.

Among those uncrated is the courtesan of the title, Ai Nu. But this one don’t cringe, boys. Out she steps, mad as hell, and it takes the best efforts of several of the pack train’s ruffianly marauders to restrain her.

Along comes the unruffleable madame of the establishment. Total cool; total authority, That’s wasted on Ai Nu, who attacks her like a wildcat. The battle is joined.

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Review: The White Dawn

2 November, 2015 (04:03) | by Rick Hermann, Film Reviews | By: Rick Hermann

[Originally published in Movietone News 36, October 1974]

At times one feels that the elemental motions induced by the instinct to survive almost dictate a pace of their own in this movie about the initial contact between a group of nomadic Eskimos and the English-speaking world back in the days when New Bedford sailors scoured the northern reaches of the continent in search of whales. There is a certain natural sense of episodic movement in the migration of a people from one village site to another as the food supply runs low and new, richer hunting grounds must be found. There is an ease and unhurriedness in the way the camera lingers on the things Eskimos really do (or did) with their time which avoids being static because it’s really pretty interesting, whether we are witnessing the hunting of seals or the building of an igloo or the ritual pairing-off of couples following an evening of vaguely familiar-seeming games and frenzied dancing by a few of the local boys decked out in antlers. Even without the story of three sailors who are stranded somewhere in Baffin Bay and subsequently rescued by Eskimos, this would make an engaging documentary on a foreign culture; and in fact it is so difficult not to be genuinely moved by the warmth and humanness which flows so generously from The White Dawn that one is tempted to believe it a better film than, perhaps, it is.

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Blu-ray: The Larry Fessenden Collection

31 October, 2015 (14:37) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Film Reviews, Horror | By: Sean Axmaker

LarryFessendenLarry Fessenden isn’t the most well-known of indie-horror filmmakers but he should be. As a writer / director, he’s taken the classic horror genres and turned them inside out, and he’s produced or co-produced dozens of films, including Kelly Reichert’s Wendy and Lucy and Night Moves, Ti West’s The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, and Jim Mickle’s Stake Land, through Glass Eye Pix, his own production shingle. He’s been a cheerleader, in his own words, for other independent filmmakers with a passion for horror, and his encouragement has made the genre much richer in the past couple of decades.

Scream Factory, the horror imprint of the Shout! Factory label, collects Fessenden’s first four directorial features and releases them on Blu-ray for the first time in The Larry Fessenden Collection (Scream Factory, Blu-ray). All four films are all newly mastered in HD transfers approved by the director and presented in separate discs with new and archival supplements.

No Telling (1991), Fessenden’s first feature as a director, takes on Frankenstein through the story of a research scientist who starts poaching animals from the nearby forest to experiment on while ostensibly on a summer vacation with his wife. Meanwhile a proponent of organic farming tries to get the local farmers to give up pesticides for the good of the land. It’s eco-horror in the modern age. The disc includes new commentary by Fessenden, a featurette, the short film White Trash (1997), and deleted scenes.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of October 30

30 October, 2015 (09:19) | by Bruce Reid, by Sean Axmaker, Links, Obituary / Remembrance | By: Bruce Reid

‘The Golem’ (1920)

“The Berlin of the 1920s, Paris and New York—these were cities of poverty and excess. Night clubs, cabaret, drugs, sex and alcohol jostled dangerously against poverty and radical politics. These were cities with one foot in the future and another in the medieval, Grimm forests of these country’s recent past; as a barbarous, magical life which slumbered in the recesses, ready to burst forth.” Which cocktail set the stage for expressionist film sets, Owen Vince argues, The Golem, Caligari, and Metropolis all serving up fractured reflections of the “real” world that found their fulfillment in the same Nazis that would eradicate their decadent designs. Via David Hudson.

“‘The biggest crime here was not stealing the dough, because Mickey could’ve made the dough back. The biggest crime was they turned Mickey into a dog-and-pony show, and nobody wanted to have anything to do with him.’” For Mickey Rooney fans, which title I happily claim, his whirligig indomitability is a large part of the appeal, the sense that when Hurricane Mickey roared into a room everyone had to shut up and listen. All the more tragic then, as Gary Baum and Scott Feinberg report, that he spent his final years under the abusive thumb of his wife and stepson. Via Movie City News.

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Review: Experimenter

29 October, 2015 (04:15) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Wynona Ryder and Peter Sarsgaard

If you become fixated on Peter Sarsgaard’s obviously fake beard in Experimenter, that’s all right. This is a movie that wants you to notice the artifice: It occasionally includes patently false backdrops, an otherwise unexplained elephant, and a protagonist speaking nonchalantly about his own death as he addresses the camera. Writer/director Michael Almereyda has been nothing if not an experimenter himself—his work includes the Gen-X Hamlet (2000) and a vampire film partly shot with a toy video camera, Nadja (1994). His approach works beautifully in Experimenter, an unexpectedly haunting account of the man who concocted a famous 20th-century psychology study.

If you don’t know the name Stanley Milgram, you know the obedience experiment: At Yale in 1961, Professor Milgram found that two-thirds of his subjects continued administering electric shocks to another participant until they reached the maximum level.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly


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Review: Rosenwald

29 October, 2015 (04:11) | by Robert Horton, Documentary, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington

The wonderful true story told in Rosenwald is a terrific history lesson, and an inspirational portrait of how one person can make a difference. And in a sly way, it’s also a rebuke—or maybe a challenge—to the new generation of freakishly rich people. The story of Julius Rosenwald stands in violent contrast to the profile of, say, the loathsome millionaire who hiked the price of the AIDS drug he now owns, or the pumpkin-haired TV star who has enchanted this country’s Republicans. The wealthy people of olden times weren’t all peaches and cream, but Rosenwald’s attitude—seen in vintage clips—was that any rich person is enormously lucky, and has a responsibility to give back.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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