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Archive for the ‘author Dennis Polifroni’ Category

Unforgiven (1992)
by Dennis Polifroni

Over the years I have had many different jobs.  Both before and after college I had worked in a restaurant as the head chef, overlooking assistant cooks, waiters and bus-boys.  I drank heavily in those days and most of my free time was taken up in bars after my shift was completed.  I remember a local pub down the block from where I kept my first apartment and the owner had piped in illegal cable TV where me and the rest of the lush-lives in the area drunkenly argued over the merits of the movies showing on Turner Classic Movies and HBO.  Once the bartender yelled out last call, I would, usually, slither home and sleep the rest of the day away until my work shift started again and found myself repeating the same routine from the day before.  In those days, the arguments and discussions about film that I had with that very bizarre crew of know-it-alls was usually forgotten and would start up all over again the moment my first beer and shot were poured the next night.  I know, somewhere in there, in the middle of the countless bottles and cans and overflowing ashtrays, there was some merit in the theories and observations we were making about the movies we watched in that dimly-lit shit hole of a pub.  The unfortunate part about all of this is that we often lost track of the interesting points we were making the more we drowned our livers in booze.

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butch 3

by Dennis Polifroni

How does one categorize a film like BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID?

butch 2

Sure, it’s a western of some sort.  Revisionist?  Definitely.  It takes place in times long gone and forgotten but is imbued with a lot of the values and morals of the modern age.  Neo-Western?  Kind of, as its a western of it’s time and the time is not the time depicted in the film.  BUTCH is most definitely a product of the late 1960’s.

As one of my 25 “favorite” films of all time (in my book there is a great difference between “best” and “favorite”.  “Favorites” are movies that I have loved ever since my youth and, more often than not, films that I view more than once a year for pure joy), BUTCH fills out a list that includes the likes of Richard Donner’s SUPERMAN (1978), Mike Nichol’s THE GRADUATE (1967), THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939), the monumental KING KONG (1933), Disney’s FANTASIA (1940), Chaplin’s CITY LIGHTS (1931) and Spielberg’s JAWS (1975)(see my full list at the bottom of this page).  These films, like BUTCH, put an immediate smile on my face and, at times of great reflection when thinking about my youth and the times that no longer exist, bring tears to my eyes because of the feelings I first discovered when they joined me in this adventure called life.  BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID was also, and this is important to me in a big, BIG way, the very first film I ever saw in a movie house.  Even at the ripe age of 6 years old, I knew that what I was seeing on that immense screen was something special and, in the case of seeing Paul Newman for the very first time (in my eyes, at that moment, a mile tall), a reminder to me that gods DID truly exist (I fell in love with Paul Newman after this film and never missed a chance to see him on the big screen from that day forward.  To me, Newman was the very definition of a great actor who was also an out-n-out movie star).  BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID is a film that I will defend till my death, a surefire crowd-pleaser and one of the rare films that can make me stop in my tracks if I see it playing on TV or I find showing at a revival theatre.  The film is like a beloved family member, one who is so interesting and pleasing to me that I almost become hypnotized every time I’m in it’s company.

But, what kind of western is BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID exactly? (more…)

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Annie Hall 6

by Dennis Polifroni

(USA 1977 93m) DVD/Blu Ray

p. Jack Rollins, Charles H. Joffe d. Woody Allen w. Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman  ed. Ralph Rosenblum ph. Gordon Willis art. Mel Bourne cos. Ruth Morley

Woody Allen (Alvie Singer), Diane Keaton (Annie Hall), Tony Robert (Rob), Paul Simon (Tony Lacey), Carol Kane (Allison Portchnick), Janet Margolin (Robin), Colleen Dewhurst (Mrs. Hall), Christopher Walken (Duane), John Glover (Annie’s Ex), Shelley Duvall (Pam), Marshall McLuhan (himself), Truman Capote (himself)

April 27, 1977

This was it.   The date that would change the world in their perception of a comedian and film-maker named Woody Allen.

There is a moment, almost half way through ANNIE HALL, where the main character, one Alvie Singer, is sitting at a dinner table with his girlfriend and, for the first time, her family.  Jewish, nervous, a bit of an intellectual and brought up on the streets of Brooklyn, Alvie sits quietly, observing the camaraderie of a very tight-knit, white-bread, WASP family.  The family speaks of swap meets and familiar, local drunks that amuse them while they shopped in town.  They praise Annie’s Grandmother on a wonderful dinner (“it’s a great sauce!”), but the old lady doesn’t respond.  Grandma just keeps chewing and, regularly, eyes her grand-daughters new beau with looks of bewilderment and disdain.

It’s a seemingly ordinary moment with a family that resembles, as Alvie would comment on earlier in the film, a Norman Rockwell painting from the cover of an issue of THE SATURDAY EVENING POST.

BUT…

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by Dennis Polifroni

(USA 1934 70m) DVD

p William le Baron d Norman Z. McLeod w Jack Cunningham story W.C.Fields,

J. P. McEvoy ph Henry Sharp art Hans Dreier, John B.Goodman

W.C. Fields (Harold Bissonette), Kathleen Howard (Amelia Bissonette), Jean Rouverol (Mildred Bissonette), Julian Madison (John Durston), Tommy Bupp (Norman Bissonette), Baby le Roy (Baby Ellwood Dunk), Charles Sellon (Mr Muckle), Tammany Young (Everett Hicks), Morgan Wallace (Jasper Fitchmueller), Josephine Whittell (Mrs Dunk), T.Roy Barnes (salesman)

There is a deep, almost personal connection I have with the work of W. C. Fields. Unlike the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, The Stooges, yeah, even my beloved Chaplin, Fields holds a special place in my heart. To me, he’s more connective, speaks to me directly, and comes off as a real person.

My father, the greatest guy I ever knew (and know), is the toughest man I ever met. Standing up at a height of 6-feet 5-inches and built like a stone statue of a Greek god, he is the very essence, even at his current age (70), of what the ideal male form is. In his working life, he pounded steel with a hammer and blow-torch, carried and fused miles and miles of electric cables up hundreds of flights, over-hauled cars and created and monitored a thriving restaurant through years of sweat and determination. My father was a rock. He worked long hours, never missed a days work and, through thick and thin, ALWAYS provided for his family. He was a dreamer as well. After years of physical labor he saw his dreams of owning his own business (the aforementioned restaurant) come to fruition and he struggled every day that he oversaw his business to make it the rousing success it is still remembered as. Even when he retired he dreamt. Florida was always on his mind. An avid golfer and a lover of athletics, my father dreamt of a simple place in the sunshine state, overlooking green grass and bodies of moving water, that he could nestle into and live out the rest of his days in fresh air and peace. (more…)

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by Dennis Polifroni

(U.S.A. 1952 103 min.) DVD

p. Arthur Freed  d. Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen  w. Betty Comden, Adolf Green  m. Nacio Herb Brown  lyrics. Arthur Freed  ph. Harold Rosson  e. Adrienne Fazan  art. Cedric Gibbons, Randall Duell

Gene Kelly (Don Lockwood), Debbie Reynolds (Kathy Seldon), Donald O’Connor (Cosmo Brown), Jean Hagan (Lina Lamont), Millard Mitchell (R. F. Simpson), Rita Moreno (Zelda Zanders), Douglas Fowley (Roscoe Dexter), King Donovan (Publicity Head), Judy Landon (Olga Mara), Madge Blake (Radio Interviewer), Cyd Charisse (Dream Girl/Gun Moll)

It really is an iconic moment when you think about it…

The protagonist struts out of a doorway and onto an open-air set that fans out to the entire expanse of the film frame.  Smiling, he strolls past the camera with a slight spring in his step.  The slow appearance of a curl that will lead to a big smile begins to grow on his face the way a weed would grow in the presence of many a rainy night.  He continues to stroll, the happiness of his day has lead to his evening and the man begins to hum.

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by Dennis Polifroni and Sam Juliano

When Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast opened in November of 1991, the New York Times’ famed theatre critic Frank Rich called it “the best Broadway musical of the year” even though the object of his praise was not a play, but a movie.   Fully stocked with melodic music and Busby Berkeley-styled show stopping tunes, the film did indeed invite comparison with the Broadway shows of old and musically eclipsed anything that was being done on the Great White Way at that time and several years hence.  The second release in the ‘Disney Renaissance’ that began in 1989 with The Little Mermaid, and ended in 1999 with Tarzan, the Gary Trousdale-Kirk Wise-directed feature was a major triumph of traditional animation and computer-generated imagery.   The celebrated score by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken is the most vital ingredient in the film’s success, as it represents the high water mark of their musical collaboration, wedding energy and audacity with lyrical felicity and melodic invention.  Rising to the demands of the story’s emotional underpinnings, composer Menken wrote some of his most ravishing melodies, and lyricist Ashman responded with his own measure of poetry.  Ashman, who died from AIDS complications eight months before the film released, never got to see the resurrection of a genre that had in large measure laid dormant for decades.  Ashman, who wrote the lyrics for The Little Mermaid, also provided the words for four songs that were used in the final cut of Aladdin, releasing in 1992.  But while the interest in musicals were beginning to take hold with those films, Ashman never could have imagined where he would be taking the genre with Beauty and the Beast.  By many critics’ accounts, Beauty and the Beast is the musical by which all modern musicals are now measured. (more…)

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“Fixing a Hole” is a new series, edited and sometimes written by Joel Bocko, whose sole purpose is to review films that have not yet been covered on Wonders in the Dark. Every month has its own theme, and October 2011 is “Universal Horror.”  While Joel selected all the titles, he has assigned certain films to guest writers.

This first essay is by one such guest – a “?” in the spirit of the film being reviewed.

Frankenstein (1931/United States/directed by James Whale)

stars Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Dwight Frye

written by Francis Edward Faragoh, Garrett Fort, Robert Florey, John Russel, from Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s novel and Peggy Webling’s play • photographed by Arthur Edeson • designed by Charles D. Hall • music by Bernhard Kaun • makeup by Jack P. Pierce

The Story: On a dark and stormy night, lightning strikes, Dr. Frankenstein flips the switch, and his monstrous creation stirs – “It’s Aliiiiiiiiiiive!”

_____________

Dead Man Walkin’

Usually, I’m the first one to say that the visuals are the key.  Toss out the writer.  Who cares about the actors?  Damn the composer and the sound men.  The rulers of the roost are the ones in charge of what we see.  King Director.  Vice President Cinematographer.  Let’s not forget about the good citizen production designers and editors.  As a fine artist (I paint and draw, sculpt on occasion), I’m immediately drawn into a film by what is SEEN.  My feelings about everything are informed by my eye and, more often than not, the story and the characters are secondary to what the visuals can do to me.  For me, it’s the visual world a movie can create, more than anything, which grabs me.

Visuals. This is my connection, my relationship with film that almost acts like a direct blood line in a personal heritage.  I feel that I am tied directly to film because I CAN create visual art.  My connection to film is a tether because I know what (slightly) the artist (director) goes through during his creative process (and, if it’s a true vision, you can bet your last nickel that it’s full of blood and sweat and neurosis).  I look at film the same way many look at paintings or sculpture in an art museum or gallery presentation and allow the visual to stir me from the outside into the inner parts of my mind and soul.  I have rallied behind recent films like Road to Perdition and Minority Report and Boogie Nights and sang their praises because, beyond everything else, their visuals are what made them transportive experiences.  I cheer for the film that can take me to another place and time and this can only be truly done by what is seen.  These worlds can be from times forgotten long ago or, perhaps, from places only found in the imagination and taking place a million light years away. (more…)

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by Dennis Polifroni

(U.S.A. 1986 94mins) DVD

Downtown. Where your life’s a joke.

p. David Geffen d. Frank Oz w. Howard Ashman lyrics. Howard Ashmanm. Alan Menken score. Miles Goodman p. Robert Paynter e. John Jympsen art. Steve Spence, Roy Walker

Rick Moranis (Seymour Krelborne), Ellen Green (Audrey), Vincent Gardenia (Mr. Mushnik), Steve Martin (Orin Scrivello, DDS), Tichina Arnold (Ronette), Michelle Weeks (Shirelle),Tisha Campbell (Crystal), Jim Belushi (Patrick Martin), Christopher Guest (Florist Customer), Miriam Margoyles (Nurse), Bill Murray (Arthur Denton), John Candy (Wink Wilkenson),Levi Stubbs (voice of Audrey II)

It’s really hard to believe that prior to THE LITTLE MERMAID anyone knew who the hell Howard Ashman and Alan Menken were. Starting with that little gem based on the Hans Christian Anderson story, this duo song-writing team took home six consecutive Oscars in the categories of Best Original Song and Music Score for their work on three back-to-back Disney animated films (THE LITTLE MERMAID, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and ALADDIN) and, in one glorious foul swoop, made themselves a household name. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, basically, ushered in a whole new interest in the film musical and reminded everyone seeing these films what a Broadway show was like without ever having to step foot near Times Square. They borrowed from many (in the case of BEAST it was Busby Berkeley) and turned what they liked so much about popular music into their own. Big band jazz (ALADDIN), Karen Carpenter (THE LITTLE MERMAID) and hints of Max Steiner (BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) were all evident in their work and it had viewers from around the world not only embracing every phrase, flourish and lyric, but loving the familiarity they brought to each song. Surely, this was a matter of two guys just being in the right place at the right time and giving it everything they got to a company desperate to regain the old glories of the 30’s and 40’s that happened with films like PINOCCHIO, BAMBI and SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS. Two true originals were busting out into the sun-light and two newbies in the music world were born. (more…)

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by Dennis Polifroni

(U. S. 1993) DVD/Blu-Ray

Dr. Seuss meets Frankenstein as performed by the Metropolitan Opera

p. Denise DiNovi, Tim Burton  d. Henry Selick  w. Caroline Thompson,
Micheal McDowell, Joe Ranft  poem/designs. Tim Burton
m/songs. Danny Elfman  ph. Pete Kozachik  art. Dean Taylor  ed. Stan Webb

Danny Elfman (Jack Skellington-singing voice), Chris Sarandon (Jack Skellinton-dialogue), Catharine O’Hara (Sally), William Hickey (Dr. Finklestein), Glen Shadix (Mayor), Danny Elfman (Lock), Catharine O’Hara (Shock), Paul Reubens (Barrel), Ed Ivory (Santa Claus), Ken Paige (Oogie Boogie)

An iris slowly opens and a crooked scarecrow appears, clinging to its post.  A leaf strewn gust of wind turns the straw-man on its hitch and the pumpkin-headed specter of the fields points with an outstretched, wooden, knobby finger.  He beckons and suggests a path we might not readily take.  The path is towards a dark place and the ghosts that seemingly rise from nowhere, jelly-like apparitions with deep black holes for eyes, begin to chant.

Thump. Thump. Thump. Thumpaaaa.  Thump!

But, what’s this?  MUSIC?

It’s here that all fears and feelings of uneasiness drag slowly away like a corpse towards dissipation and we find ourselves in a town square.  The squares designs are a combination of cartoonist Charles Addams and the architectural masters of German Expressionism.  An assortment of ghouls and creatures that lay dormant till night jump for joy and sing, like a chorus of children rowdy from too much sugar and games heavy with competition, glee filled and anxious.  This is music of celebration, a chorus of affirmation, and the excitement in the singers voices signify the congratulations wished upon each other for jobs well done.   It is a social celebration of a community that has pulled together in a joint effort. (more…)

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  By Dennis Polifroni
    
Right around this time of year, as it often happens, the film year begins
to rev up and start strutting its stuff in anticipation for a big movie summer.
Amidst the kiddie garbage that dots this season coming, many a big-time director
decides to alleviate the tension by unleashing their newest project on an
unsuspecting film-going world.  For every ten TRANSFORMER and FAST AND THE
FURIOUS franchise dud that surfaces, often the work of an inspired director
slips in and bowls us over.  Spielberg often saves us from the doldrums of the
season (his upcoming LINCOLN biography starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field
has movie hounds salivating with anticipation), and PIXAR seems to never let
most of us down (particularly if we have children in the house) but, rarely,
does the work of a reclusive genius rear its head towards us with the promise of
something truly special.
Terrence Malick is a slow mover in the same vein of the late, great Stanley
Kubrick.  His work takes time and his work habits are methodical and as paced as
a great thinkers should be.  Taking his time to perfect and make perfect every
frame of film that will click at 24 a second, his films often show themselves as
works of inspired intelligence that were truly worth the wait.  (more…)

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