Archive for August, 2009

by Sam Juliano

    While I have formally balked at writing a full-length review of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, in fear of irking some of WitD’s readers (most of whom have loved the film) I defer now to a highly-respected blog, run by Rick Olson, Coosa Creek Mambo, which takes the opposite position on the controversial film.  Translation:  I have no balls, and am putting Rick’s head on the chopping block and am hising behind him! After Olson’s blunt and ever-insightful piece are comments by Marilyn Ferdinand on Tarantino that seem to hit the nail on the head as far as I’m concerned.  When Rick says that the film is in large measure “boring crap” I can’t help but  nod my head in full agreement. In any case, it’s always good to see both sides, and I provide a link here to Rick’s place, for those who want to investigate: (if for some reason the click doesn’t negotiate, Coosa Creek Mambo is on the blogroll sidebar)  Note:  Rick’s review is not remotely a complete pan as he acknowledges the artistry and  a number of persuasive set pieces in the film. Furthermore, as Mr. Olson states, this is an initial and incomplete report.  He says he’ll have more to say in a few days, presumably in the form of a complete review.  His essay here is basically musings of the film in the context of disappointing summer offerings.


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marlene 1

(West Germany 1983 94m) DVD1/2

Your future is all used up

p  Peter Genée  d  Maximilian Schell  w  Meir Dohnal, Maximilian Schell  ph  Ivan Slapeta, Pavel Hispler, Harry Hauck  ed  Heidi Genée, Dagmar Hertz  m  Nicholas Economou  art  Heinz Eckmeie, Zbynek Hloch 

Did Schell approach Dietrich to do the film or did Dietrich approach Schell?  It’s an intriguing thought which could be answered either way depending whose versions you believe.  Dietrich had been asked for interviews countless times and turned them down.  Her contemporary Garbo, never gave one, of course, preferring to drift off into the horizon like Galadriel at the end of The Return of the King, or herself at the end of Queen Christina.  Garbo retired at 36.  At 36 Dietrich still had Destry Rides Again, A Foreign Affair, Witness for the Prosecution, Touch of Evil and Judgment at Nuremberg ahead of her, and endless concerts.  Did she meet Schell on the set of the latter, and if so it’s intriguing to think of Schell playing an attorney and Dietrich a witness.  What was Schell hoping for?

            The premise was that Schell was allowed several sessions, some in English, others in German – it’s all the same to Marlene – and set questions and notes to help him ask the right questions.  Some he knew wouldn’t be allowed an answer – there was a contract after all – and others he knew he’d get an evasive one.  Schell inter-cuts these snippets with clips from her films, other archive footage and memorabilia.  (more…)

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Sam with site regular Bobby McCartney at Film Forum on Sunday night

by Sam Juliano

As the dog days of summer wind down towards Labor Day, action at Wonders in the Dark was again remarkable with Allan’s The Elephant Man review attracting 99 responses, Tony’s Isle of Flowers examination landing 40 comments all of a scholarly slant, and the Henry V review landing over 70 submissions.  Joel Bocko’s Jaws piece from the Boston Examiner is up and running.  Several other threads received incredible support as well.

Around the blog world Dave Hicks’s Best of the Year series is up to 1970, where he listed The Conformist as his best film, John Greco’s review on Fritz Lang’s Human Desire is still headlining at Twenty Four Frames, T.S.’s Buster Keaton series is ongoing at Screen Savour, David Schleicher and Craig Kennedy heaped praise on Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, at The Scheicher Spin and Living in Cinema and Dee Dee continues to showcase reviews from Andrew Katsis at Noirish City. Ed Howard’s most recent gem is his review of Hitchcock’s Family Plot at Only the Cinema. There are many other friends who have stuff up, but I’ll acknowledge some of those next time.

The Brit Noir Festival continues at the Film Forum and I saw three double features this week again:

The October Man  ****  (Wed.)

The Green Cockatoo  ** 1/2  (Wed.)

Hell Drivers   ****  (Sat.)

Never Let Go   *** 1/2  (Sat.)

Gaslight (Dickinson)  **** 1/2   (Sun.)

Hatter’s Castle  ****  (Sun.)

As I stated in a prior post, I will have a full report of every film I’ve managed to see in a massive final consideration of the festival in September.

I saw two films otherwise:

Inglorious Basterds  ** 1/2  (Friday afternoon; Edgewater multiplex)

The Headless Woman   **    (Friday night; Film Forum)

I stated my views on the Tarantino, and will say more on this thread, and THE HEADLESS WOMAN was a torturous art house feature that gives a bad name to the genre.  Again, I will elaborate.

So, how about you?  This is a forum for film, theatre, music, food, sports, literature and politics.

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kagemusha 1

(Japan 1980 180m) DVD1/2

Aka. The Shadow Warrior

Immovable as a mountain

p  Akira Kurosawa  d  Akira Kurosawa  w  Akira Kurosawa, Masato Ide  ph  Kazuo Miyagawa, Asaichi Nakai, Takao Saito, Shoji Ueda  m  Shinchiro Ikebe  art  Yoshiro Muraki

Tatsuya Nakadai (Lord Shingen Takeda/Kagemusha), Tsutomu Yamazaki (Nobukado Takeda), Kenichi Hagiwara (Katsuyori Takeda), Hideji Otaki (Masakage Yamagata), Kota Yui (Takemaru), Hideo Murota (Nobufasa Baba), Daisuke Ryu (Nobunaga Oda), Jinpachi Nezu (Sohachiro Tsuchiya), Takashi Shimura (Gyobu Taguchi),

At the time of its release, in the west at least, Kagemusha was hailed as a supreme return to form from a master returned from the wilderness.  Certainly it was his best film for years, but when the splendour of Ran followed it five years later, it seemed that Kagemusha had been, in retrospect, the dress rehearsal for the real main event.  Kagemusha was, in many ways, perhaps, the double of Ran, holding fort until the real one was well enough to take over.  The story of how it came to be made, financed and co-produced by Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas – his way of repaying his stealing the plot of Star Wars from The Hidden Fortress – and then was cut by twenty minutes in the States and much of Europe, is well known.  As is the fact that many critics turned their back on Kagemusha, the sort of film intellectuals were to afraid to call tedious.

            Set in 1573, Lord Shingen is a powerful, ruthless, but loyally-followed warlord who is laying siege to his enemies when his brother, who frequently impersonates him in battle so he can be elsewhere, introduces him to a thief saved from crucifixion because of his remarkable resemblance to the lord.  He is instructed to learn to behave like the lord in case of emergency, but then the lord is fatally wounded by a sniper’s bullet and, when he finally dies, the double is hired to be his Kagemusha, not just part-time but 24/7, a task which he doubts he will be up to, but which he begins to enjoy.  One by one, Shingen’s enemies try and find out whether the rumours of Shingen’s death are true, but the ruse is maintained for nigh on three years until it is finally discovered when the Kagemusha is thrown from Shingen’s horse.  Now useless to the generals, his is sent packing, to wander in the wilderness and fall into insanity. (more…)

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Jaws, 1975, directed by Steven Spielberg

The Story: “Sharkkkkkkkk!!!!!!”

And yet it’s so much more than that. At its heart, of course, Jaws is a fantastic monster movie, a film that plays on fears – that employs Hitchcockian suspense and haunted house surprise to hold us in the grip of masterful entertainment. It has been blamed for a dumbing-down of movie audiences, an onslaught of blockbusters concerned only with reeling in adolescents, and a retreat from the edginess and depth of 70s cinema. Yet Jaws consistently holds human figures at its center – and not only because the mechanical creature malfunctioned through much of the production, while a 27-year-old newbie filmmaker, one Steven Spielberg, had to improvise shooting around it. At heart, Jaws is a story about people more than about a shark. (more…)

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last emperor 1

(UK/Italy/China 1987/1998 219m) DVD1/2

The New Lord of 10,000 Years

p  Jeremy Thomas  d  Bernardo Bertolucci  w  Mark Peploe, Bernardo Bertolucci  ph  Vittorio Storaro  ed  Gabriella Cristiani  m  Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Byrne, Cong Su  art  Ferdinando Scarfiotti, Bruno Cesari  cos  James Acheson

John Lone (Aisin-Gioro/Pu-Yi), Peter O’Toole (Reginald Johnston), Joan Chen (Wan Jung), Ying Ruocheng (The Governor), Ryuichi Sakamoto (Amakasu), Victor Wong (Chen Pao Shen), Dennis Dun (Big Li), Ric Young (interrogator), Tsou Tijger (Pu-Yi, aged 8), Richard Vuu (Pu-Yi, aged 3), Jade Go (Ar Mo), Maggie Han (Eastern jewel),

It seems incredible that one can look back on Bertolucci’s epic with a sense of nostalgia, but that is exactly what one feels approaching it two decades on.  It really was the last of the old fashioned epics, before the days of CGI and just at the very end of the period where masses of extras could be deployed.  When it was first released in 1987, and indeed won its hatful of Oscars, it seemed disjointed, fractious, tried to cram too much in and lacked cohesion.  One always sensed there was a great film there somewhere, and hoped that a longer coherent version would finally arrive.  It took a decade for it to reach the west, but reach us it did.  Finally the film justified David Thomson’s comment that it was “a true epic, but with an alertness in feelings as small and humble as a grasshopper.” (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

     Wonders in the Dark regulars Jamie Uhler and David Scheicher of The Schleicher Spin have come in with effusive praise on Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, which I saw yesterday.  While I remain disturbed by the sadistic violence and sustained boredom of the film, I respect the majority of critics and both Jamie, David, and our good friends Dorothy Porker of ITG and Craig Kennedy of LIC and Ari of The Aspect Ratio, all of whom really were impressed by Tarantino’s long-anticipated late-summer release.  While I will make mention of the film on the Monday Morning Diary, I won’t be able to write a full review, as I have been very busy with the Film Forum Brit Noir Festival (where I will be going a few minutes from now) and the special review series of 80’s cinema.

      Mr. Uhler says this about the film:  

“Yes, I was taken by this film. It seems to me to say so much about loving movies, and the movie going experience.

It’s also incredibly interesting as ‘film as wish fulfillment’, or a film working on an entire cultures desires. That, to me, is an incredibly interesting idea. When Eli Roth, who’s Jewish, absolutely destroys Hilters face you understand how incredibly cathartic film (and art) can be for the maker, or for the audience. seeing this with others is most important.”

David Schleicher’s full review is here:


     Although I won’t be here to comment tonight, anyone who has seen the film and would like to share their views, or others who may want to talk about Tarantino, please impart your insights on the thread.  I am really hoping to hear from Bob Clark.  Thank You.

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scarface 1

by Allan Fish

(USA 1983 170m) DVD1/2

Say hello to my little friend 

p  Martin Bregman, Peter Saphier  d  Brian de Palma  w  Oliver Stone  ph  John A.Alonzo  ed  Jerry Greenberg, David Ray  m  Giorgio Moroder  art  Ed Richards  cos  Patricia Norris

Al Pacino (Tony Montana), Michelle Pfeiffer (Elvira Hancock), Steven Bauer (Manny Ribera), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Gina Montana), Robert Loggia (Frank Lopez), F.Murray Abraham (Omar Suarez), Miriam Colon (Mama Montana), Paul Shenar (Alejandro Sosar), Harris Yulin (Mel Bernstein), Al Israel (Hector the Toad), Pepe Serna (Angel),

Is there any more mimicked character in movies of the last thirty years than Tony Montana?  Travis Bickle, Vincent Vega, Tyler Durden, you can have ‘em all.  Montana still seems to thousands of viewers the epitome of cool.  It was a cool born out of not the original cinema run, but out of endless VHS viewings through the eighties and into the early nineties, often of panned and scanned prints that mutilated de Palma’s mise-en-scène, but made the violence more up close and personal.  Ten years before his Natural Born Killers made another comment on the adulation of crime in the American media, Oliver Stone, in his last major writing assignment before turning to directing, had already made a defining statement on the subject.  And just as with NBK, the film divided critics; as many praising it for its almost operatic extravagance as hating it for its o.t.t. histrionics and bloated running time.  The Hawks original is undoubtedly the better movie, but de Palma’s film – his best, in my opinion – just doesn’t know when to go away, grinds you down with its sheer vicious power and overt megalomania.  (more…)

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city of sadness 2

by Allan Fish

(Taiwan 1989 158m) not on DVD

Aka. Beiqing Chengshi

Made in Taiwan

p  Qui Fusheng  d  Hou Hsiao-Hsien  w  Wu Nianzhen, Zhu Tianwen  ph  Chen Huai’en  ed  Liao Qingsong  m  Tachikawa Naoki, Zhang Hongyi  art  Liu Zhihua, Lin Chongwen

Jack Kao (Wen-Leung), Li Tianlu (Ah-Lu), Chen Songyong (Lin Wen-Heung), Tony Leung (Lin Wen-Ching), Wu Yifang (Hinoe), Ikuyo Nakamura (Shizuko), Xin Shufen (Hinomo), Gao Jie, Chen Shufang, Ke Suyun, Lin Liqing,

Hardly the only film made in Taiwan, but perhaps the only film to analyse that very birth, from the era just after the end of the Japanese wartime occupation to the expulsion there of Chiang Kai-Shek by the communists in the Chinese mainland.  It even begins quite deliberately with a woman giving birth, the labour pains of a country in a microcosm, and the microcosm through which this crucial period in the history of Taiwan is viewed are a simple family, a group of brothers whose fate is inextricably linked to the historical events around them, which are mentioned, but hover like vultures around a dying animal, Father Time circling around waiting to move in for the kill. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(France 1987 104m) DVD2 (France only, no Eng subs)

Aka. Grand Highway

I can see your civelle

p  Pascal Hommais, Jean-François Leppetit  d/w  Jean-Loup Hubert  ph  Claude Lecomte  ed  Raymond Guyot  m  Georges Granier  art  Farid Chaouche 

Anémone (Marcelle Lucas), Richard Bohringer (Pelo Lucas), Antoine Hubert (Louis), Vanessa Guedj (Martine), Christine Pascal (Claire, Louis’ mother), Raoul Billerey (priest), Pascale Roberts (Yvonne), Marie Matheron (Solange), Daniel Railet (Simon), André Lacombe (Hippolyte),

In itself you’d be forgiven for dismissing Le Grand Chemin as just another of those French films about childhood, about long summer holidays in the country, getting into scrapes, and all the high jinks that come with it.  Well, yes, it is that, yet it’s more besides.  Take the plot…

            It’s set in the summer of 1958.  Louis is a nine year old boy who is being taken by his mother to stay with friends of hers for the summer while she goes into preparation for having her second child.  It’s clear pretty soon that she’s now a single parent, that Louis’ father has left her, and that she’s doing the old trick of lying to her son to stop him thinking the worst (oh for the days when parents did that, rather than using their children as receptacles for their own hate).  Louis doesn’t want to go, but reluctantly is forced to stay with said friends, Marcelle Lucas and her husband Pelo.  We quickly learn that Pelo and Marcelle’s marriage has become very frosty, and it’s been that way for nine years since their child died in infancy.  She’s turned to God, he’s turned to drink in between doing the odd carpentry job, such as making coffins for the latest villager to pop his clogs.  (more…)

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