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Archive for January, 2009

“Jenny Bee,” one of Craig’s Kennedy’s most revered commenters at his fantastically-popular ‘Living in Cinema’ site today had fellow bloggers breathless and in awe of her defining treament of the Pixar masterpiece, ‘Wall-E’ today on the ‘Watercooler’ thread and its deeply-moving effect on so many critics and moviegoers.  The film was the year’s most critically-praised.

Explore the piece for yourself here…

http://livingincinema.com/2009/01/19/the-watercooler-11909/comment-page-2/#comment-36863

WALL-E is at its heart a celebration of humanity’s ingenuity, creativity, and capacity to overcome even our worst selfish, slothful impulses and grow into something better, for the sake of something bigger than our own bloated selves. It’s about the power of one, the power of two, the power of many. WALL-E himself is as much a human invention as the mess he was created to clean up; his character traits (resourcefulness, curiosity, loneliness, dilligence, loyalty, friendship, love, rashness, courage, the ability to learn) are a direct reflection of our own. Eve, too, is a product of us, directly or indirectly. It’s a story, not new, but told in new ways, that reminds us through hyperbole and metaphor of how much we, today, now, need to remember to cherish life in all its forms and have the courage to trust and reclaim our own creative spirit.

WALL-E tells this story in a dazzlingly beautiful technical feat of animation that on a somewhat meta level itself makes the same thematic case: Look what beauty we can create, how warm and imaginative this technology can be, bringing us closer together and to our best selves. We mortals cannot be underestimated, and neither can the possibilities of animation. The art direction, animated cinematography, editing, sound, all the technicals are top shelf.

And as a bonus for film critics, WALL-E simultaneously draws from eight decades of cinematic history–most notably, from the dawn of cinema–to quietly honor film’s most powerful and poignant role in our lives, that of sustaining us in the dark times and reminding us, through whatever improbable means (Hello, Dolly, of all films, is the one highlighted), of what’s really important. It’s a film rich in symbolism and layers of meaning that is steeped in film history and makes a strong argument for film’s future.

The screenplay gives equal weight to humanity’s dual talents for destruction and construction, using the current gathering environmental crisis as a trope that grounds the otherwise sci-fi fantasy in relevance to our immediate future. The real villains in the picture aren’t mutinous AI, but the demons within ourselves that compel us to consume more and more and faster and easier and forget what it is that makes us human, that creative spark and need to forge a path ever forward.

Meanwhile, it has a timeless love story between a bumbling but charming and well-intentioned Chaplin-esque male and a fierce and feminist female who connects to her softer core self, each of whom changes and grows better for knowing the other during the course of the film. That’s what real romance does, makes us better people individually and as a couple for discovering that soul-sustaining partnership. It is a love that was never programmed to be, and yet, must be.

It’s a film that like the best of sci-fi asks, “What if?” and then takes us on a bleak path that does not have to be. It’s a film that channels the deep undercurrent of hope, even amidst the darkest of crises–the death of our planet and the devolution of our species–and has a resounding echo of the rallying cry of a very frightening 2008: “Yes we can!”

To top it off, and almost as asides to its other many treasures, WALL-E also contains significant amounts of humor that don’t rely on fart jokes and pop culture allusions, a misshapen band of merry Island-of-Lost-Toys-esque robots who discover they still have value, a prolonged and joyfully magical cinematic sequence of robots in love spiraling through space, and an endearing cockroach who just won’t die.

 It’s one heck of a great film, in my opinion.

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another bit of fun…

by Allan Fish

It[‘s been away for a while, but now the holiday period is but a sad, distant memory, here we go again.  As usual, first correct answer gets the choice of Image Header…

Played Mercutio, King Louis XV and Henry Jekyll, saidI close the iron door on you” and was shot by Wallace Beery.

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 last-stage1

by Allan Fish

(Poland 1947 110m) not on DVD

Aka. Ostatni Etap

The life of No 14111

p  Wanda Jakubowska  d  Wanda Jakubowska  w  Gerda Schneider, Wanda Jakubowska  ph  Bentsion Monatsyrsky  ed  Wanda Jakubowska  m  Roman Palester  art  Csezlaw Pieskowski, Roman Mann

Tatjana Gorecka (Eugenia), Antonina Gorecka (Anna), Barbara Drapinska (Marta Weiss), Huguette Faget (Michele), Wanda Bartowna (Helena), Maria Winogradowa (Nadia), Barbara Fijiewska (Anielka), Anna Redlikowna (Urszula), Alina Janowska (Dessa), Zofia Mrzowska (Cyganka), Aleksandr Slaska, Barbara Rachwalska, Wladislaw Brochwicz,

Wanda Jakubowska’s film makes a point of stating, in its opening caption, that what follows, though based on authentic events, is “a fraction of the truth about the concentration camp at Auschwitz.  We remind you that at Auschwitz four and a half million people from various countries were exterminated under the Nazi occupation.”  One might hear oneself responding “as if we could ever forget“, were it not for the fact that such a response reeks of flippancy.  This is not a flippant film in any way, shape or form.  It’s literally deadly serious.  People used to having the horrors detailed in the likes of Schindler’s List may think the sequences lack the power of Spielberg’s later film, or indeed some of the sequences in Andrzej Munk’s later unfinished kindred spirit film, Passenger.  Yet it’s this very matter-of-factness that makes Jakubowska’s film so utterly chilling.  Besides, she and co-writer Schneider were actual survivors of Auschwitz, so I think we can safely say they knew better than us how to accurately portray the horrors that occurred within those theatres of death. (more…)

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moscow1

by Sam Juliano

When one ponders the cinema of Belgium, that crossroads once desecrated by the artillery and canons of Wellington and Napoleon Bonaparte, and the namesake of a popular kind of waffle, one immediately poses the work of the Dardenne brothers, a Cannes festival-celebrated pair who craft naturalistic films about lower middle-class life in their home country.  Filming in French (Belgium has two national languages, French and Dutch) the Dardennes’ films are stark but modest portrayals of young people at the fringes of society–immigrants, the unemployed or the inhabitants of shelters.  Both Rosetta and L’Enfant were awarded the Palme d’Or at Cannes, the only two Belgian films to ever earn such an honor.  Their influence can be documented worldwide, but especially at home, where young filmmakers are eager to emulate their successful style.      (more…)

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 odd-man-out-1-copy

by Allan Fish

next up in the near miss series

(UK 1947 115m) DVD1/2

Aka. Gang War

We’re going away together

p  Carol Reed  d  Carol Reed  w  F.L.Green, R.C.Sheriff  novel  F.L.Green  ph  Robert Krasker  ed  Fergus McDonnell  m  William Alwyn  art  Ralph Brinton, Roger Furse

James Mason (Johnny McQueen), Kathleen Ryan (Kathleen), Robert Newton (Lukey the painter), F.J.McCormick (Shell), Dan O’Herlihy (Nolan), Cyril Cusack (Pat), Robert Beatty (Dennis), Fay Compton (Rosie), William Hartnell (Fencie), Beryl Measor (Maudie), Maureen Delany (Theresa O’Brien), Joseph Tomelty (Carby), Elwyn Brook-Jones (Tober), W.G.Fay (Father Tom), Kitty Kirwan (Granny), Denis O’Dea (Head Constable), Maureen Cusack (Molly), Dora Bryan (girl in telephone box),

The Irish question has long been a thorny subject for the cinema, with the recent works of Neil Jordan coming down fairly unanimously on the side of those fighting for a united Ireland.  Certainly the few Hollywood films, such as The Informer, that dealt with the subject had similar bias, but for me there was only one great film about the Irish struggle; Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out.  And among various reasons, perhaps the most potent was that the said struggles were merely the backdrop for something much more intimate and universal.  In the Britain of the forties the IRA were not unfavourably depicted – as a recollection of Deborah Kerr’s Cromwell-hating colleen in I See a Dark Stranger will testify – but in the last few decades the film’s political stance has been less fêted.  The terrorist activities of that organisation (as they are referred to in the film) in recent times have made the film – and the subject – contentious viewing.  But perhaps this is unfair, because here is a film, and a British film no less, that comes close to not only depicting the real Belfast of the time – harsh and Dickensian, as David Thomson said – but also capturing the essence of the French poetic realist school of the late thirties, with Mason substituting for Gabin (even the dockside railings finale echoed Pépé le Moko).   (more…)

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 red-shoes-1-copy

by Allan Fish

the first in a series of near misses, great films that missed the top 50 cut on the 1940s countdown.

(UK 1948 133m) DVD1/2

The music is all that matters

p  Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger  d  Michael Powell  Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger  ph  Jack Cardiff  ed  Reginald Mills  m  Brian Easdale  ch  Robert Helpmann  art  Hein Heckroth, Arthur Lawson  cos  Hein Heckroth

Anton Walbrook (Boris Lermontov), Moira Shearer (Vicky Page), Marius Goring (Julian Craster), Robert Helpmann (Ivan Boleslawsky), Albert Basserman (Sergei Ratov), Esmond Knight (Livy), Leonide Massine (Grischa Ljubov), Ludmilla Tcherina (Irina Boronskaja), Jean Short (Terry), Gordon Littman (Ike), Hay Petrie (Boisson), Frederick Ashton,

In A Matter of Life and Death Marius Goring’s Conductor 71 famously complained at the lack of Technicolor in his ethereal world.  He could have no such complaints here.  The Red Shoes is one of the all-time great colour films, as well as being the last of the Archers’ four great colour masterpieces.  In short, it’s probably the greatest study into the religion of the creative performing arts that has ever been committed to celluloid.

            While he is in London with his world renowned ballet troupe, Boris Lermontov finds out that the score he is using for one of his ballets, ‘Heart of Fire’, has been plagiarised from another younger composer.  He hires the wronged youngster as his assistant conductor, and also takes on a young ballerina in whom he quickly sees potential.  Then, when his main star leaves to marry, he takes a chance on the youngster and promotes her in a new ballet written by his composer protégée, only for the youngsters to fall in love, much to the chagrin of Lermontov. 

            Right from the opening scene we are thrown into the tumultuous world of the creative process.  Deep down we know that what we are seeing is pure melodrama, its central romance rather trite and owing much to both Svengali and real life impresario Serge Diaghilev.  Yet Powell uses this to his advantage.  The story is not what interests him as much as the motivations of the characters.  As the caption says, “life rushes by, love rushes by, life rushes by, but the red shoes go on“, an adage tragically mirrored by the fatal ending.  Each one of the characters seem from stock, but come up smelling fresh, and he’s helped immeasurably by the cast, who are as hand picked as his creative team behind the camera.  Just think of those performances; Massine, Helpmann and Tcherina are memorable as the stars of the ballet (the former especially so as the histrionic Grischa), Basserman his usual adorable self as the elderly designer Sergei, and Knight suitably demonstrative as the chief conductor Livy, topped by the terrific leads.  Leslie Halliwell once said that Walbrook caressed his lines rather than spoke them and never was it truer than as Lermontov, whispering “ze red shooz” like no man alive, equal parts monster and father figure, reduced to a wreck by the final tragedy.  And who can forget Shearer, immortalised in one role as the doomed ballerina?  With her red hair looking incandescently gorgeous in Technicolor (like Deborah Kerr before her) and matching her almost possessed eponymous footwear.  Right from the opening credits we see her as a flame, shining brightly before just as quickly flickering out.  No wonder Walbrook’s Lermontov has to wear shades all the time and seems to be photographed in darkness; he’s truly dazzled by her.  So indeed is everyone around her, represented by the tearful Massine holding a pair of red shoes to his heart when he hears of the tragedy.  A tragedy made all the more touching by the incredible artistry of this creative team; Heckroth’s designs worthy of Basserman’s Ratov, Helpmann’s ballet choreography sublime even to non connoisseurs, Easdale’s musical suites indelible and, last but not least, Cardiff’s astonishing photography, full of a vibrancy and energy worthy of the subject, his camera breathing in the addictive fumes of the creative entity.  It may not quite be Powell and Pressburger’s best film, but as an artistic achievement, in every sense of the word, there is nothing in British cinema – nay, world cinema – to match it.  Toss whatever superlatives and encores in its direction you wish, it deserves every one of them.

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life-and-death-of-colonel-blimp-1-copy

by Allan Fish

(UK 1943 163m) DVD1/2

War starts at midnight!

p  Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger  d  Michael Powell  w  Emeric Pressburger  ph  Georges Périnal, Jack Cardiff (and Henry Haysom, Geoffrey Unsworth)  ed  John Seabourne  m  Allan Gray  art  Alfred Junge

Roger Livesey (Maj.Gen.Clive Candy), Deborah Kerr (Edith Hunter/Barbara Wynne/Johnny Cannon), Anton Walbrook (Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff), John Laurie (Lce.Cpl.Murdoch), Roland Culver (Col.Betteridge), James McKechnie (Spud Wilson), Albert Lieven (Von Ritter), Arthur Wontner (Embassy Counsellor), Ursula Jeans (Frau Von Kalteneck), Muriel Aked (Aunt Margaret), A.E.Matthews, Valentine Dyall,

There is something about the most ambitious of Powell and Pressburger’s wartime masterpieces that is rather nostalgic, even after all these years.  Sixty years on, it seems to belong to another age, an age and way of life also encompassed in a more insular way by TV’s later Upstairs, Downstairs.  Just as that series presented all that was most peculiarly English about us in the first third of the twentieth century, so does this 1943 masterpiece.  Yet it does so much more that that, for it encapsulates the very soul of not only England but what it is like to recognise your own nationality.  I am certainly no patriot, but even I feel my heart warmed by the timelessness of this film, a feeling increased by the fact that, in one of its numerous subtexts, it is not a patriotic film at all, but rather a study in the triumph of the human spirit, overcoming tragedy, heartache and more besides through inherent decency and affection for one’s friends, whatever their nationality. (more…)

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sullivans-travels-1-copy1

by Allan Fish

(USA 1941 90m) DVD1/2

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

p  Paul Jones  d/w  Preston Sturges  ph  John F.Seitz  ed  Stuart Gilmore  m  Leo Shuken  art  Hans Dreier, Earl Hedrick  cos  Edith Head

Joel McCrea (John L.Sullivan), Veronica Lake (The girl), Robert Warwick (Lebrand), Porter Hall (Hadrian), William Demarest (Jones), Franklin Pangborn (Casalais), Byron Foulger (Valdelle), Eric Blore (Valet), Robert Greig (Butler), Margaret Hayes (Secretary), Torben Meyer (Doctor), Jimmy Conlin (Trusty), Alan Bridge (The Mister),

If there was ever a film that personified the Golden Age American cinema not appreciating talent, it’s Preston Sturges’ masterpiece from 1941.  Perhaps it was because the film wasn’t easily pigeonholed; it was comedy, a satire, an oddball romance and a tragedy, all rolled up into one deluxe ninety minute package. Sturges made other great films, three of which are covered elsewhere in this list, but for me Sullivan’s Travels is his masterpiece, a work of genius for all time.

            John Lloyd Sullivan is in a rut.  The thirty-two year old director of such popular hits as Ants in Your Pants of 1939 is sick of making frothy films and yearns to make a serious social drama along the lines of The Grapes of Wrath, based on a worthy novel entitled O Brother, Where Art Thou?.  He decides that he needs to feel some of the misery for himself and sets off with a few cents in his pocket, dressed as a tramp, to look for trouble and despair to inspire him for his attempted magnum opus.  But events conspire to bring him back to Hollywood, where he runs into a young girl who is tired of the casting couch and lecherous executives and wants to go home.  But then she fancies the idea of tagging along with him as he goes out on his experiment. (more…)

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out-of-the-past-6-copy

by Allan Fish

(USA 1947 97m) DVD1/2

Aka. Build my Gallows High

We owe it all to Jose Rodriguez

p  Warren Duff  d  Jacques Tourneur  w  Daniel Mainwaring  novel  “Build My Gallows High” by Daniel Mainwaring  ph  Nicholas Musuraca  ed  Samuel E.Beetley  m  Roy Webb  art  Albert S.d’Agostino, Jack Okey  spc  Russell A.Cully  cos  Edward Stevenson

Robert Mitchum (Jeff Markham/Bailey), Jane Greer (Kathie Moffett), Kirk Douglas (Whit Sterling), Virginia Huston (Ann Miller), Richard Webb (Jim), Paul Valentine (Joe Stefanos), Ken Niles (Leonard Eels), Rhonda Fleming (Meta Carson), Steve Brodie (Jack Fisher), Dickie Moore (The Kid), Wallace Scott (Petey, the taxi driver), Mary Field (Marny the diner owner), Lee Elson (Lou Baylord), Frank Wilcox (Sheriff Al Douglas),

Back in 2001 I was watching cult TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Eliza Dushku’s Faith described her borderline psychotic psyche: “it’s like the whole world is moving and you’re stuck.  Like those animals in the tar pits; it’s like you just keep sinking a little deeper every day and nobody even sees…”  Totally unrelated though that may be, the quote made me think of this film and its antihero Jeff Markham, who likewise inexorably sinks deeper and deeper into his own proverbial pile of quicksand, and smiles as he does so.  To put it mildly, this is a quite sensationally cynical film noir, the best ever in the genre and one of the greatest, and most stylish, films of all time.  I won’t waste too much space with the plot, in which a private eye relates to his current flame how he got involved with a femme fatale he’d been hired to find by a big-time gambler, and concentrate on the impact. (more…)

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 citizen-kane-1-copy

by Allan Fish

(USA 1941 119m) DVD1/2

A declaration of principles

p/d  Orson Welles  w  Herman J.Mankiewicz, Orson Welles  ph  Gregg Toland  ed  Robert Wise  m  Bernard Herrmann  art  Van Nest Polglase, Perry Ferguson  cos  Edward Stevenson  spc  Vernon L.Walker  sound  James G.Stewart

Orson Welles (Charles Foster Kane), Joseph Cotten (Jedediah Leland), Dorothy Comingore (Susan Alexander), Everett Sloane (Mr Bernstein), Ray Collins (Boss Jim W.Gettys), Paul Stewart (Raymond), Ruth Warrick (Emily Norton), Erskine Sanford (Herbert Carter), Agnes Moorehead (Mrs Kane), Harry Shannon (Mr Kane), George Coulouris (Walter Parks Thatcher), William Alland (Jerry Thompson), Fortunio Bonanova (Matiste), Philip Van Zandt (Mr Rawlston), Buddy Swann (Kane aged 8), Sonny Bupp (Kane III), Gus Schilling (Head Waiter), Philip Van Zandt (Mr Rawlston), Georgia Backus (Miss Anderson), Richard Barr (Hillman), Joan Blair (Georgia), Al Eben (Mike), Benny Rubin (Smather), Frances Neal (Ethel), Alan Ladd, Arthur O’Connell,

What can I say about Kane that hasn’t been said by a thousand critics and commentators before me?  One feels almost in danger of inflicting paralysis by analysis.  Often referred to as the greatest film ever made, it’s certainly a worthy contender to that most arbitrary of titles, but there is so much talk these days about the drama behind the film’s making, both in documentary or dramatic re-enactments such as the cable TV movie RKO 281, that the film itself is often overlooked.  Now that it has, thanks to digital technology, been released pristinely to DVD it can be truly seen and appreciated as the masterpiece of the old Hollywood, typically rejected by its peers at the academy for How Green Was My Valley, as whopping an insulting oversight as has been offered before or since. (more…)

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