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).

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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

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

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

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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”).

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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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Film Review: ‘Dracula Untold’

10 October, 2014 (10:17) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Luke Evans

The title is Dracula Untold. Which means that despite all the movies and TV shows and comic books over the years, there’s still something left to be said about Bram Stoker’s great fictional vampire.

Well, now it’s been told. And it’s pretty boring.

This movie skips past Stoker’s time period and concerns itself with the historical character cited as an inspiration for the blood-sucker: Vlad the Impaler. His rad nickname is just about the only thing that isn’t in dispute about the Impaler, but he was a 15th-century Eastern European ruler who battled the Ottoman Empire and managed to stick a number of his enemies onto large sharpened poles.

Continue reading at The Herald

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Film review: ‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’

10 October, 2014 (10:13) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Ed Oxenbould

A relatively simple children’s book gets pumped up into epic mayhem in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Apparently the filmmakers felt it necessary to live up to the humongous title. Published in 1972, Judith Viorst’s Alexander has charmed readers ever since. It’s about the travails of a kid who wakes up with chewing gum stuck in his hair — an early sign that everything is going to go wrong for him on this particular day.

Alexander (played by Ed Oxenbould) is having his birthday today, not that anybody else in his family seems overly interested — as usual. His unemployed dad (Steve Carell) has a job interview, mom (Jennifer Garner) has a big presentation at work.

Continue reading at The Herald

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