Me and My Gal

21 June, 2015 (09:59) | by Richard T. Jameson, Film Reviews, Raoul Walsh | By: Richard T. Jameson

[Originally published on Straight Shooting at Queen Anne News, September 30, 2012]

Just a quick recommend, before it’s too late. One of my very favorite movies is making a rare TV appearance Monday, Oct. 1, at 5 p.m. West Coast time on Turner Classic Movies. To “very favorite” let me add an endorsement from an erstwhile colleague and friend, the late Donald Lyons. When, in the early 1990s, a New York City–area PBS station was about to show Me and My Gal as part of a package of rare Fox Films productions from the 1930s, I urged Donald to catch it. A few minutes after the telecast ended, he phoned to say, “You told me to be sure and watch Me and My Gal. You didn’t tell me it was one of the best movies ever made.”

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Videophiled: ‘Killer Cop’

20 June, 2015 (11:25) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

KillerCopGiven the title of Killer Cop (Raro / Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD) a 1975 poliziotteschi from Italy, you might expect a rogue cop thriller, and ambitious young Commissario Matteo Rolandi (Claudio Cassinelli), a rising officer on a major drug case, certainly has good reason to go rogue. His case gets caught up in a major terrorist bombing and his best friend (Franco Fabrizi), a workaday veteran with a fidgety nature and a streak of bad luck, is murdered for stumbling across the prime suspect. He’s frustrated that he’s been bounced from the case by the Prosecutor General, a serious, stone-faced legend of dogged duty who has the unlikely nickname “Minty” (because he keeps popping breath mints while working a case) and is played by American star Arthur Kennedy (dubbed in Italian of course), so when his drug investigation winds back into the bombing he conducts his own investigation. It turns out the Prosecutor has his reasons for keeping the case close to the vest: the police force, the justice department, the entire political system in Milan is riddled with corruption and he doesn’t know who he can trust.

The northern capital of Milan, the symbol of modernity and progress in the Italian cinema of the 50s and 60s, is the epitome of official corruption and the urban mob in the crime cinema of the 70s. The violence here, however, is no mob war or message from the criminal underworld. It’s not even a terrorist attack, at least not as defined by the traditional “war on terror” yardstick. It’s… well, I’m not really sure, but as the masterminds explain it, “It was only supposed to be a demonstration.” The best I can figure is that it’s a conspiracy rooted in a cabal of industrialists, government officials, and mobsters and it is designed to stir things up. Which pretty much vindicates the fears of both Rolandi and Minty, who keep tripping over each other with a frequency that makes them both suspicious.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of June 19

19 June, 2015 (08:13) | by Bruce Reid, by Sean Axmaker, Links, Obituary / Remembrance | By: Bruce Reid

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in ‘The Battle of the Century’ (1927)

“James Agee, Harold Lloyd, and John Ford all named it as one of their favorites, although they couldn’t agree on the title or director, and no one remembered the boxing match, just the pie fight. As Henry Miller (yes, that Henry Miller) put it, ‘There was nothing but pie throwing in it, nothing but pies, thousands and thousands of pies and everybody throwing them right and left.’” One more (mostly) lost film recovered, and it’s a doozy: The Battle of the Century, the legendary Laurel and Hardy two-reeler containing what is surely the zenith of that enjoyable low-comedy staple, the custard pie fight. Silent London broke the news, and Matthew Dessem, who’s written a forthcoming book on director Clyde Bruckman, has the best account on how such a masterpiece went missing all these years.

“Sanaa had improved [at basketball], but not completely. She was better, but you couldn’t throw her out in a game and have her really hang. It just came down to finally my husband said, ‘Is this a basketball movie, or is it a love story?’ And at the end of the day, I realized it was a love story and you can fake a jump shot, but you can’t fake a close-up.” Lucy McCalmont compiles an oral history of Love & Basketball that’s not least rewarding for confirming that Gina Prince-Bythewood has known what she’s been up to from the jump.

At Mubi, a pair of articles on films that blend perennial genre verities with some fresh ideas. Jeremy Carr finds much to praise in Hondo’s admiring portrait of the Apache even as it hews to standard gender roles—however enlivened by Wayne and Geraldine Page—and tries to have it both ways in the action climax. (“But after the secure white victory, and with the consequential step toward the end of the Apaches as a way of life, Hondo laments, ‘Too bad. It was a good way.’”) While Sara Freeman notes that Basic, like all of McTiernan’s films, is concerned with its hero’s unlocking of a narrative puzzle, but that placing a woman in the role changes up the routine in rewarding ways. (“Captain Osborne feels perfectly in-sync with her environment. She even moves in perfect parallel with the wall paint. For the moment, she is in her element.”)

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Film Review: ‘Marie’s Story’

18 June, 2015 (04:05) | by Sean Axmaker, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

Isabelle Carré and Ariana Rivoire

Marie Heurtin was born deaf and blind to loving but overworked parents in 19th-century rural France. Kept at home because no institution but the asylum would take her in, she lived in sensory isolation, loved but untutored and unrestrained. The stubborn girl refused to change her clothes, wear shoes, or bathe. When her father brings her to a convent school for deaf girls, we see her arms and legs are covered in scratches from crawling across the floor and through the underbrush. She’s part infant in a teenager’s body, part wild child: loving and willful, yet completely resistant to any attempts to steer her behavior.

France’s answer to The Miracle Worker, Marie’s Story is also based on real events, and it is just as much the story of the girl’s resolute teacher—like Helen Keller’s Annie Sullivan.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Film Review: ‘The Wolfpack’

18 June, 2015 (04:00) | by Robert Horton, Documentary, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Krsna, Jagadisa, and Mukunda Angulo

You know your weird neighbors? They seem to be a big family, but nobody ever sees them, except when the angry-looking father goes out to get groceries. Sometimes you hear strange things going on. What are they doing in there?

Well, keep your camera handy, because behind those cardboarded-over windows might be a documentary film waiting to blossom. One such household is thrown open in The Wolfpack, the chronicle of six brothers raised inside a shabby New York apartment and only rarely allowed to go outside.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Videophiled: ‘Run All Night’ with Liam Neeson

17 June, 2015 (08:56) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

RunAllNightLiam Neeson is back in action in the gritty crime thriller Run All Night (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), his third and most satisfying collaboration with filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, Non-Stop). Neeson once again has a very specific skill set—his nickname isn’t Jimmy the Gravedigger for nothing—but he’s been pickling it in booze for years to drown the guilt of his mob assassinations for Irish crime boss Ed Harris. Then Jimmy’s estranged son Mike (Joel Kinnaman), a former boxer turned limo driver, lands in serious trouble when his job takes him to the wrong place at the wrong time where he witnesses a gangland murder. Jimmy sobers up quickly and takes on his former boss and best friend—not to mention the bad cops in his pocket—to do protect his boy.

In the world of high-concept crime thrillers, this is surprisingly down to earth. There’s no superheroics or spectacular Die Hard-style stunts here. It’s all handguns and car chases and blood and broken glass on the urban mean streets at night, and Collet-Serra creates a very turbulent, unstable ordeal. Things move fast and the violence comes abruptly, and the atmosphere is tense and jittery. It lives up to the title. But Collet-Serra also grounds it in actual relationships—a son who has no respect for a drop-out father, a mobster who respects his alcoholic best friend more than his reckless son, who would rather play gangsta than understand the balance of power and diplomacy in the criminal underworld, and two fathers who will do anything for their sons despite the past.

It’s reminiscent of seventies crime picture, with corrupt cops and criminal codes and a new generation of thug that has no respect for the old ways. If it never becomes anything more than a great paperback crime yarn built on coincidence, bad luck, and blood ties, it does the genre proud. Vincent D’Onofrio brings a weary gravitas to an old-school police detective whose sense of justice outweighs his desire to put Jimmy down and Common is enigmatic as a hired gun with his own specific skill set.

On Blu-ray and DVD with two featurettes and deleted scenes. Also on Cable On Demand, Amazon Instant, Vudu, Xbox, and CinemaNow.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinemaphiled

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Review: ‘Dreams and Nightmares’

16 June, 2015 (16:31) | by Rick Hermann, Documentary, Film Reviews | By: Rick Hermann

[Originally published in Movietone News 39, February 1975]

With The Sorrow and the Pity and A Sense of Loss, Marcel Ophuls raised historical cinéma vérité to the height of artistic creation. Osheroff’s style of documentary moviemaking, as applied to the political situation in Spain and the ways in which it has evolved since the Spanish Civil War, is similar to Ophuls’s in a number of ways. It employs, for example, the same device of intercutting between old footage and recent interviews with people who went through it all in a manner that lends perspective to the past events and provides a dimension of irony. But the human drama of individuals intersecting with history before our eyes is somehow made less powerful by the aura of anti-war proselytism which hangs about Dreams and Nightmares. Ophuls may be farther removed from Vichy France than Osheroff is from the Spanish Civil War (he fought in it), and Dreams and Nightmares does not try to camouflage its political barbs—no one can blame Osheroff for infusing his personal views into a film he made largely out of a sense of moral commitment. But then, Jane Fonda’s movie on Vietnam is persuasively pacifist without being politically blatant, and she is certainly just as committed as Osheroff.

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Review: ‘Murder on the Orient Express’

15 June, 2015 (03:53) | by Richard T. Jameson, Film Reviews | By: Richard T. Jameson

[Originally published in Movietone News 39, February 1975]

There’s an air of bad faith, not unlike the scent of bathroom deodorizer, about Murder on the Orient Express. I’m as fond of “production values” as the next fellow, maybe fonder, but I don’t wish to be force-fed them by a soulless dietitian who knows what I as a consumer ought to want. That’s the way Sidney Lumet has directed this film, and all of Geoffrey Unsworth’s filtered lyricism, all of Tony Walton’s art-deco design, all of Richard Rodney Bennett’s tongue-in-jolly-good-show-cheek music can’t convince me that Lumet gives a tinker’s fart about the Orient Express, the old Hollywood, Grand Hotel, or the artificial but scarcely charmless business of working out an Agatha Christie red-herring mystery.

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Videophiled Classics: Dziga Vertov – ‘The Man with the Movie Camera’

13 June, 2015 (11:44) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Film Reviews, Silent Cinema | By: Sean Axmaker

DzigaVertovManDziga Vertov: The Man with the Movie Camera and Other Newly-Restored Works (Flicker Alley, Blu-ray) presents four features (and one newsreel short) by the great Soviet filmmaker, all making their American Blu-ray debut. They have been newly scanned from the best sources available and digitally remastered by Lobster Films in France. The collection is a collaboration between Lobster, Film Preservations Associates (and the Blackhawk Films Collection), EYE Film Institute, Cinémathèque de Toulouse, and the Centre National de la Cinématographie and is presented in the U.S. by Flicker Alley.

The Soviet Union’s revolutionary documentarian and film theorist, Dziga Vertov was the head of production and editing of the Kino-Pravda newsreel unit between 1922 and 1925. He put his years of experimentation in weekly newsreels to work in the 1924 feature film with Kino Eye / The Life Unexpected (1924), a continuation of his work on the Kino-Pravda series. The mixture of slice of life observations (often captured with a hidden camera) with documentary studies and playful cinematic tricks was his first attempt to create a new kind of filmmaking celebrating life in the Soviet Union under communism. The episodic film is structured something like a variety show, with the recurring thread of “Young Pioneers,” a youth brigade of Soviet boys and girls dedicated to helping the poor and needy, running through the film as a kind of narrative glue. Nestled between these uplifting sequences are glimpses into taverns and bars, a state home for the mentally ill, and the black market, fanciful documentary investigations into the origins of bread and meat (from the slaughterhouse to the farm), and a scene of kids at play in the water that turns into a gorgeous diving montage that presages Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia by over ten years.

Continue reading at Cinephiled

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of June 12

12 June, 2015 (08:57) | by Bruce Reid, by Sean Axmaker, Links, Obituary / Remembrance | By: Bruce Reid

Jeff Chandler as Cochise in ‘Broken Arrow’

“The Western is a genre that, more than any other, has been connected to white chauvinism, but it’s also the only genre that, during its heyday, consistently gave the impression of the United States being what it actually was and is—an ethnically diverse polyglot experiment in democracy in which misunderstandings and outrages abounded and violence was frequently the first resort.” Nick Pinkerton runs through a dozen or so examples of Hollywood versions of Apache; nearly every one played by whites and “conciliatory rather than revolutionary,” but variously empathic, pained, and shamefaced for all that.

“Inspired by a childhood trip to a film festival honoring James Dean in the star’s hometown of Fairmount, Indiana, Jones decided Harry Dean was just as worthy. And though Stanton traveled from his adopted home of Los Angeles to Lexington in 2014, he was unable to attend the festivities this year, which seemed strangely fitting. As with most Harry Dean Stanton movies, you’re always waiting for him to appear.” James Hughes travels to Kentucky to visit the 5th Annual Harry Dean Stanton festival, whose attendees come off as charmingly obsessed as any other crew you’d find at a film convention, if considerably more laconic.

“‘Would you be shocked if I put on something more comfortable?’ she asks Ben Lyon in Hell’s Angels, taking joy and pride in the way she makes his temperature rise. The distinctive thing about Harlow is her total lack of shame about sex on screen, her sheer anticipatory enjoyment of it as an idea, and an ideal of pleasure, a force that totally loosens her up. Harlow’s relation to sex in her movies makes Bow seem slightly jittery and insecure about it in comparison, and makes Monroe look like a sexual basket case.” Dan Callahan’s superb series of actor appreciations continues with a salute to Jean Harlow’s tragically brief but so very, very bright incandescence.

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Film Review: ‘The Film Critic’

11 June, 2015 (04:02) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Dolores Fonzi and Rafael Spregelburd

He has the power to make or break careers. He is quoted all over town. His editors despair of his latest negative notice. He is . . . the film critic. This fantasy figure is the main character of a new film by Argentine director (and former critic) Hernán Guerschuny, and it’s a movie with only one comic idea. But it’s a fun idea: Although Victor Tellez (professorial grouch Rafael Spregelburd) loathes romantic comedies and regularly incinerates them in his newspaper reviews, he meets a woman, Sofia (Dolores Fonzi), who embodies all the bubbly, life-affirming qualities of the rom-com heroine—a stereotype now permanently fixed as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Film Review: ‘Saint Laurent’

11 June, 2015 (03:57) | by Sean Axmaker, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

Gaspard Ulliel

You get only fleeting views of Yves Saint Laurent (Gaspard Ulliel) sketching designs and perfecting his fashions on his models—no mannequins in his house, only living bodies—in Bertrand Bonello’s biopic. In fact, most of the familiar beats are either trimmed or completely snipped out of this languorous, luxurious film.

Bonello focuses on just a few years of Saint Laurent’s life: 1967 through 1975, the height of his success and influence in the fashion world. There’s no backstory, no rising through the ranks, no breakthrough moment where he comes into his own. He’s already running his own fashion house when we jump into his life.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Review: ‘Tendresse Ordinaire’

10 June, 2015 (09:14) | by Ken Eisler, Film Reviews | By: Movietone News contributor

[Originally published in Movietone News 39, February 1975]

Awful long on the ordinaire, this movie of Leduc’s, and kinda short on the tendresse; still, I liked it a lot. Once the wife, Esther (Esther Auger), and her cheerful friend Bernadette (Luce Guilbeault) get their cake into the oven, that is, and we switch, finally, to husband Jocelyn (Jocelyn Berube), who’s on a train heading for a four-month job in Quebec’s deep north. The movie opens with some ten minutes (more? less? my memory isn’t reliable here, it seemed like an eternity to me) of the left-behind wife and her pal moving about a small kitchen and preparing that cake. Talk’s pretty well limited to “pass me the sugar please”; and although a few details (the women appreciatively sniffing a vial of vanilla, a closeup of sifting flour) are pleasant enough, this opening scene is really one long drag. Now it happens I like to cook myself, and I don’t necessarily demand that movie cooking be jazzed up with flashy editing and photography, nor brightened by a running commentary of gags and hijinks à la Galloping Gourmet either. But—oh, my, those of us who saw Makavejev’s Switchboard Operator, will we ever forget those eggs, that cream, those luscious, lustrous tonalities of black and white? What happened here, I suspect, is that Leduc simply told the two women to go ahead and bake a cake, and “improvise” their dialogue as they went along. The taxing real-time result yields virtually nothing in the way of character insight yet fails to hold the eye. Ten (?) full minutes of purposeful kitchen activity, and it all comes out squirmworthiest temps mort. Oh, not as mort, maybe, as those long takes of the back of bored, lonely Esther’s head at the end of the movie—not that mort—but mort enough, I think, to turn off all but the most determined viewers.

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Videophiled: Politics on ice in ‘Red Army’

10 June, 2015 (09:12) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Documentary, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

Red ArmyRed Army (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) – Director Gabe Polsky, the Chicago-born son of Russian immigrants, dreamed of playing pro hockey and ended up making movies. This documentary, his directorial debut, finds the intersection of sports triumph, political gamesmanship, and personal sacrifice in the story of the powerhouse Soviet national hockey team of the eighties, when it won two Olympic gold medals and seven World Championships.

The story is built around interviews with Viacheslav “Slava” Fetisov, the former team captain, and Polsky begins the film with a scene of Fetisov more engaged with his cell phone than with the interviewer (“It’s business,” he explains) and flipping him the finger when Polsky keeps peppering him with questions. Clearly both Polsky and Fetisov have a sense of humor, which helps move us into the story through Fetisov and his teammates, which is not humorous at all. We learn about the rigorous training regimen that kept the men from their families 11 months out of the year, which drilled into them the distinctive playing style that confounded western teams. The players became national heroes, at least for time, but were essentially prisoners of their success. They were under constant pressure to win as a matter of national dignity and political pride.

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Review: ‘Young Frankenstein’

8 June, 2015 (02:56) | by Richard T. Jameson, Film Reviews | By: Richard T. Jameson

[Originally published in Movietone News 39, February 1975]

If I suggest that Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein is more fond than funny, I don’t mean at all to imply that it isn’t funny. It is. But the first response of any devotee of classic horror films, especially the cycle out of Universal Studios in the Thirties and early Forties, must have to do with Brooks’s—and Wilder’s, but especially director Brooks’s—conspicuous scrupulousness about and passionate love for the old films he’s remembering and celebrating. No opportunistic schmuck out to poke facile fun at antique movies is going to bother setting up his camera in such a way that it will observe Frederick (Froedrich?) von Frankenstein carefully framed at his breakfast table by two gracefully curving chairbacks; in such niceties of style even more than the restoration of the “original” laboratory equipment does Brooks reveal himself a true obsédé and an honorable heir to the eerily delicate comic-horror tradition of James Whale.

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