Film Review: ‘Double Play’

7 August, 2014 (06:26) | by Robert Horton, Documentary, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Richard Linklater and James Benning

Watching two film directors play catch is not a guarantee of interest. Put Brett Ratner and Jean-Luc Godard in a field with a couple of mitts and a baseball, and things could get ugly fast. But when the players are Richard Linklater and James Benning, the back-and-forth tossing becomes contemplative, a spur to ideas, and a salute to the value of getting in a good groove. Plus, both men have baseball in their blood—they both went to college on baseball scholarships, and have made films on the sport—so they actually know what they’re doing.

The simplicity of such a sequence fits the mood of this documentary by film critic Gabe Klinger.

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Film Review: ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’

7 August, 2014 (06:21) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Charlotte Le Bon and Helen Mirren

If you were working from a menu of “crowd-pleasing movie conventions,” you could do worse than to mark these boxes: the South of France, food, Indian culture, Helen Mirren. Mix with a generous amount of sugar and a brief nod to social concern, and you’ll have a surefire profit machine that goes by the title The Hundred-Foot Journey.

To be sure, this film doesn’t stumble into its formula by mere calculation. There’s a great deal of expertise involved: Director Lasse Hallström (Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, etc.) knows how to keep things tidy, and screenwriter Steven Knight has the fine Eastern Promises and Dirty Pretty Things to his credit.

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Film Review: ‘What If’

7 August, 2014 (06:19) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan

The underlying subject of many romantic comedies is chemistry, the mysterious rapport that draws people together despite whatever circumstances—being already married, having different sexual orientations—might be working against them. It’s a tough thing to simulate in movies because, well, that’s the nature of chemistry. So What If has a sizable gift in the casting of Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan, who either have terrific chemistry together or are able to fake it expertly.

In the opening scene, their characters, Wallace and Chantry, bond over refrigerator magnets at a party and he walks her home. She mentions her boyfriend at the usual moment for such things, and that becomes the major impediment to a quick resolution of this mutual-attraction club.

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Review: ‘Donkey Skin’

6 August, 2014 (09:15) | by Richard T. Jameson, Film Reviews, Musicals | By: Richard T. Jameson

[Originally published in Movietone News 45, November 1975]

Jacques Demy’s best films—Lola, The Young Girls of Rochefort—wave the silk scarf of an absurd romanticism so expertly over the abrasive realities of The World We Live In—unwanted pregnancies, painful, irrational separations, grotesquely violent death—that our appreciation of both textures is deeply enhanced in the delirious cinematic process. Donkey Skin, his 1970 retelling of the Perreault fairy tale, almost entirely lacks this sense of imaginative play and stylistic chance-taking. As such, it makes for a pre-afternoon-nap children’s story more elaborately visualized than most, but serves little other purpose.

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Videophiled Classic: ‘The Essential Jacques Demy’

3 August, 2014 (19:36) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

JacquesDemyThe Essential Jacques Demy (Criterion, Blu-Ray+DVD Dual-Format set) collects six features and a few early shorts from the Nouvelle Vague‘s sadder-but-wiser romantic. It’s not my intention to rate him against the movement’s most famous filmmakers – Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, Rohmer, Rivette, Varda – but just to find his place among them. Like so many of his fellow directors, Rivette loved American movies, especially musicals, but his taste for American musicals and candy-colored romance was balanced with a bittersweet sensibility. For all the energizing music and dreamy love affairs, his romances more often than not don’t really get happy endings.

Criterion’s 13-disc set, one of their last to come out in the Blu-Ray+DVD Dual-Format, picks six of his defining films from his 1961 debut to his 1982 Une Chambre en Ville, which makes its American home video debut in this set, all transferred from restored and remastered HD editions.

Lola (1961) is a bittersweet musical without the music, lovingly shot in Demy’s hometown of Nantes in black and white CinemaScope by Nouvelle Vague master Raoul Coutard, and set to a lovely score by Michel Legrand. Anouk Aimee, whose appearance in lacy tights, boa, and top hat made her an eternal pin-up dream, is a single mother looking for the father of her child in the port towns of Nantes. As in so many of his films, Demy reveals himself as both eager romantic and sadder-but-wiser realist, and for all the dashed dreams of the film it still manages to have its swoony romantic fantasy come true.

Continue reading at Cinephiled

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Who are the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’?

1 August, 2014 (17:28) | by Sean Axmaker, Essays | By: Sean Axmaker

So you know Captain America and Thor and Spider-Man and all those cool mutants from The X-Men. But just who are these Guardians of the Galaxy, as in the stars of the new film opening Friday? Some interstellar Avengers spin-off? Rejects from a Star Wars sequel? Are they even superheroes?

Marvel Comics is taking a big leap outside of its comfort zone of fan-favorite costumed heroes with this fairly obscure group of oddball anti-heroes. If early buzz and initial reviews are any indication, it’s going to pay off. The Guardians of the Galaxy promises to be the liveliest, most playful cosmic blast since the first Star Wars.

You don’t need to know the players to enjoy the ride, but all of the maverick characters had a history in Marvel comics before writer Dan Abnett and artist Andy Lanning plucked them from various corners of the Marvel Universe, tossed them together, shook vigorously, and sent them to the far reaches of the galaxy in 2007. Here’s a quick introduction to the team.

IMAGE: Chris Pratt

Chris Pratt stars as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, Marvel Studios

Peter Quill / Star-Lord, aka the human one (Chris Pratt)

Marvel-ous backstory: Introduced in 1976, the original Star-Lord was a NASA astronaut who was transformed into an intergalactic hero by mysterious forces.

Movie origins: Self-proclaimed galactic outlaw Peter Quill was orphaned young and scooped up into space by intergalactic soldiers of fortune. No surprise he grew up reckless, cocky and mercenary.

He got skills: He’s a marksman, a daredevil space jockey, and a con man. And he travels with his own soundtrack of 1970s pop tunes.

Heroic precedent: The charming rogue-for-hire with a souped-up space ship and a soft spot for underdogs is in the Han Solo mold with a dash of Captain Kirk. He does have that thing for green-skinned chicks, after all. Which brings us to…

Continue reading at Today.com

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of August 1

1 August, 2014 (10:39) | by Bruce Reid, by Sean Axmaker, Links | By: Bruce Reid

Claude Chabrol and Isabelle Huppert on the set of ‘Comedy of ‘Power

There are filmmakers so effortless, with careers unruffled by the type of obstacles and struggles that make for compelling narratives in their own right, that their reputations must be constantly shored up against those willing to airily dismiss them. Consider Claude Chabrol, in whose late, little-discussed films, a string from The Color of Lies to Inspector Bellamy, Jonathan Kirshner finds so much to admire and marvel at, well, why not call them masterpieces?

“If we are to understand Legrand’s canonization of Hajji Baba, we must understand it as championing an intoxicant, imagist cinema over a sober, responsible cinema. Because films like I Love Melvin and Hajji Baba have no redeeming social value beyond their cinematic brio, they are ideal rallying points for anyone championing “movies for movies’ sake,” as Hoberman and Rosenbaum identify the MacMahonist creed in Midnight Movies.” And then there are reputations that were ever burnished only by a cult, and have faded to obscurity. Nick Pinkerton can’t call himself a full convert to the cinema of Don Weis—he admits there’s so much to go through, especially if you count the TV work—but a screening of the director’s two iconic oddities has him understanding the fascination he held for a small band of ‘50s film critics.

Certain incidents on the set of Passion of the Christ—including dangerous lightning strikes—were taken by the more devout members of cast and crew as literal Satanic efforts to prevent the film from being made. If there’s any truth to that, the saga of Passion screenwriter Benedict Fitzgerald’s attempt to make a prequel on the life of Mary, which as Luke Dittrich relates includes lawsuits, extortion, and prison terms, has to be chalked up a clear victory for Mr. Scratch. Via Matt Singer.

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Film Review: ‘Get On Up’

1 August, 2014 (08:10) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews, Musicals | By: Robert Horton

Chadwick Boseman is James Brown

No screenwriter or director could possibly tie together the unlikely, turbulent life of James Brown — Soul Brother No. 1, the Godfather of Soul, the hardest-working man in show business. But maybe an actor could.

As though to acknowledge Brown’s brilliant and bizarre life, the makers of Get on Up present their story in a fragmented, time-jumping fashion. The man is depicted as an enigma whose erratic adult behavior connects directly to his rough upbringing. This approach has its ups and downs, but at least it isn’t just the same old showbiz rise-and-fall musical biopic. By skipping back and forth in time, we get the idea that Brown never escaped the harshness of his Georgia youth.

Whatever the riddle at Brown’s core, Chadwick Boseman has his pulse. The actor played Jackie Robinson in last year’s 42, and he gives another committed physical performance here.

Continue reading at The Herald

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Videophiled Classic: ‘Herzog: The Collection’

31 July, 2014 (19:02) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Werner Herzog | By: Sean Axmaker

Herzog CollectionHerzog: The Collection (Shout Factory, Blu-ray) is the biggest Blu-ray box set to get released this year. The collection presents 16 films on 13 discs spanning three decades, from his second feature Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970) to his documentary tribute / remembrance My Best Fiend (1999), which profiles his long, turbulent personal and professional relationship with Klaus Kinski. Apart from Nosferatu the Vampyre, the films all make their respective Blu-ray debuts in the U.S., mastered from new digital transfers produced by Herzog and supervised by Herzog’s longtime producer Lucki Stipetic. Some of the discs look better than others and

It’s not even close to Herzog’s complete output and it leaves out many of Herzog’s most interesting and offbeat non-fiction films (perhaps a second volume will follow if sales are good enough?) but it includes the major films Herzog created in the period, including both the German and English language versions of Nosferatu, which Herzog shot concurrently.

The films in the set were produced and financed by Herzog and he remains ownership of them all. Let’s take a tour through them. Not necessarily in chronological order.

Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970) is the earliest film on the disc and Herzog’s second feature, and Fata Morgana (1971), is his third fiction feature, a dreamy non-narrative meditation on the beauty of the Saharan Desert and the garbage brought to it by humanity. Both of these films, by the way, have commentary by Herzog in conversation with Crispin Glover, which is a highlight all in itself.

Werner Herzog’s breakthrough film Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) is an astounding vision of imperialism run amuck in the primitive, savage Eden of 15th century Peru and the film still entranced four decades thanks to the vivid, visceral filmmaking. It’s also Herzog’s first collaboration with madman and meglomaniac star Klaus Kinski, who delivered the most expressive performances that visionary director Werner Herzog ever put to film. Herzog in return gave Kinski his boldest roles. This collection features all five collaborations between the director and the actor, plus Herzog’s documentary tribute to the actor.

Continue reading at Cinephiled

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Film Review: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’

31 July, 2014 (06:58) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews, Science Fiction | By: Sean Axmaker

Chris Pratt is Star-Lord.

The giant apparatus required to create a 21st-century comic-book/sci-fi/action movie is expensive and unwieldy. Little wonder so many of these behemoths eventually collapse under their own weight, content to destroy a city while laboriously setting up the next installment in the franchise. Even the good stuff—Robert Downey Jr.’s antic presence in the first Iron Man, or the cheeky political thrust of Captain America: The Winter Soldier—must make way for grim destruction.

Therefore, give thanks to the Marvel gods for Guardians of the Galaxy. If you’ve ever had to suppress a giggle at the sight of Thor’s mighty hammer, this movie will provide a refreshing palate-cleanser

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Film Review: ‘Mood Indigo’

31 July, 2014 (06:53) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris

Michel Gondry’s capacity for imagining wacky designs and adorable contraptions is so boundless he makes Santa’s elves look like dull-witted slackers. The French director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Be Kind Rewind is on some kind of perpetual adolescent overdrive, his brain inventing new bits of business as though nobody’d ever asked him to be normal. In his best films, this can be charming. In Mood Indigo, it results in a fun opening half-hour followed by an increasingly tiresome hour of hyperactivity. (This is a truncated 94-minute cut of the 131-minute European release.)

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Videophiled: A different kind of Biblical epic in ‘Noah’

30 July, 2014 (19:19) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

NoahDarren Aronofsky takes a very different approach to the Biblical epic in Noah (Paramount, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) a film both earthy and mystical. This isn’t the Old Testament prehistory we’ve seen before—Aronofsky draws from both Christian and Jewish religious texts to fill out the story (which is actually quite short in the Bible) and offers bleak, poisoned world before the flood quite different from the Mediterranean deserts and forests of previous films—and it accomplishes something quite powerful, vivid and unexpected as a result.

Russell Crowe is Noah as God’s moral man, the last of the faithful who lives his life as Earth’s steward. He keeps his family (wife Jennifer Connelly, sons Logan Lerman and Douglas Booth, daughter-in-law Emma Watson) away from Cain’s offspring (Ray Winstone as a brutal tribal warlord) and the despoilers of the Earth. The creator (as God is called throughout the film) doesn’t speak in the dramatic voice so familiar to other films. He communicates through visions and they are violent, confusing things that Noah must take on faith. Noah undertakes his task as a solemn duty, helped by a race of rock-like beings who were once angels that were cast out of heaven and anchored to Earth.

Ancient mythology and modern cosmology come together in the story of Genesis, told in Noah’s own words and illustrated with imagery reminiscent of Cosmos, a wedding science and religion in a way respectful of both. Even the Ark itself looks different than we’re used to, which is curious considering it is designed according to the dimensions specified in the Bible (see the infographic below for details on scaling the ark, the flood and other details). It’s an epic canvas for a human story and Aronofsky shows great respect for the faith of the source while taking a creative approach to dramatizing the story and the world.

On Blu-ray and DVD. Aronosky shot much of the film in Iceland to get that barren, blasted landscape and he explores the location in the featurette “Iceland: Extreme Beauty.” It’s exclusive to the Blu-ray editions of the film, as are two addition featurettes: “The Ark Exterior: A Battle for 300 Cubits” and “The Ark Interior: Animals Two By Two.” The Blu-ray also features bonus DVD and UltraViolet digital copies of the film.

More New Releases on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital and VOD at Cinephiled

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Blu-ray: ‘Jodorowsky’s Dune’

29 July, 2014 (09:35) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Documentary, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

Film history is filled with legends and stories of what could have been great (or at least interesting) films but were never made for one reason or another. Such projects are all potential, giving fans the chance to dream of masterpieces that could have been without having to face the reality of compromise and transformation that happens in the real world of production. The documentary of the film that was never made is something of a recent phenomenon. Films like It’s All True, based on an unfinished film by Orson Welles (1993), Lost in La Mancha (2002) (about Terry Gilliam’s Don Quixote), and Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno (2009) mourn what could have been but there is also something romantic in these grand, unrealized visions, of the filmmaker as Don Quixote taking on the studio windmills.

Few dreams are as grand as the adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune that was developed by Alejandro Jodorowsky, the creator of El Topo (1970), the original midnight movie, and The Holy Mountain (1973), two movies that mix myth, spiritualism, primal violence, and surreal imagery. These low budget films were underground success stories, playing to small but passionate audiences and achieving cult status, and Jodorowsky planned to follow them up with an epic far bigger and more ambitious than anything he had ever attempted before.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

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Hell Italian Style

27 July, 2014 (09:53) | by Ken Eisler | By: Movietone News contributor

[Originally published in Movietone News 46, December 1975]

Deus ex machina, in the form of a lawyer with clout, at long last yanks a broken Alberto Sordi up and out of the hellish Italian prison system. Then we get the usual disclaimer: “Any resemblance, etc., etc…. ” But this grueling 90-minute total immersion in the system’s casual dehumanization rings entirely too true to be so easily dismissed.

Which is not, however, to dismiss Loy’s movie as mere agit-prop; far from it. Detained Pending Trial is a complex, fully fledged work of art.

I saw it in a jampacked 24-cent, triple-feature Mexican moviehouse. The audience began by laughing raucously and appreciatively at every new discomfiture suffered by the Sordi character. Well, why not? Here’s this comfortably upper-middle-class dude, after all, a professional, a land-surveyor: and he’s a bit of a, well, let’s face it, a … tool. We meet him in Sweden, on a terrace, all dressed up and handing drinks around to these middle-aged stuffed-shirt clients. He smiles, grins, bows—the works. A real toady. Sort of well-liked by the workers on his crew, mind you; but there’s a trace of contempt blended with their affection.

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Blu-ray: ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ (1920)

26 July, 2014 (07:48) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews, Silent Cinema | By: Sean Axmaker

Stage and screen legend John Barrymore took on the good doctor and his vicious alter ego from the famous Robert Louis Stevenson novel in this silent horror classic, adapted as much from the stage play by Thomas Russell Sullivan as from Stevenson’s original book. It wasn’t the first adaptation of the story but it became the most celebrated until Fredric March took on the role in the sound era, and it helped elevate the respected actor into a major big screen attraction.

As Dr. Henry Jekyll, the moral, religious man who keeps company with society gentleman who find Henry more than a little self-righteous, Barrymore takes on a theatrical nobility: quiet and subdued, he stand tall and stiff and favors his great profile to the camera. He runs a free clinic (called “the human repair shop,” a phrase that inadvertently brings to mind Frankenstein more than Hyde) that his friend Sir George Carewe (Brandon Hurst) sneers at. “You should live–as I have lived,” he advises the sheltered Henry. Sir George is the father of the proper young lady Millicent (Martha Mansfield), who admires and loves Henry, a seeming contradiction that he explains to Henry thusly: “I protected her as only a man of the world could.” After a visit to a seedy nightclub, where Sir George invites dancing girl Miss Gina (Nita Naldi) to get Henry all hot and bothered, Henry decides that maybe it’s time to let his baser desires out for a romp. But rather than sully his soul (or his reputation) he concocts a potion is release the evil buried inside (the original sin?), essentially releasing the id from his dominant superego, to take a Freudian approach

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