Archive for October, 2009

wrong trousers 1 copy

(UK 1993 31m) DVD2

Pick up a penguin

Christopher Moll  d  Nick Park  w  Nick Park, Bob Baker  ed  Helen Garrard  m  Julian Nott  art  Yvonne Fox

VOICES BY:-  Peter Sallis (Wallace),

Wallace the inventor with a passion for Wensleydale cheese always reminded me of the Beano’s Calamity James without hair and, like that comic creation, he has an infinitely more street-smart pet (substitute Gromit the dog for Alexander the lemming).  For any one of a number of reasons Wallace and Gromit became a national institution in the nineties, a source of endless pleasure for young and old and the source of instant fame for its modest creator with a taste for outrageous bow-ties, Nick Park.  Much was made of the incredibly pain-staking animation methods used and they are certainly as close to being a polar opposite to the CGI world of Pixar as could be offered.  But these films are more than mere animated shorts, they are classic comedies.  Period.  They belong with the best of Keaton, Chaplin and Laurel & Hardy.  And though A Grand Day Out and, particularly, A Close Shave are rightly feted, for me The Wrong Trousers is Aardman’s greatest film. 

            The film begins with Gromit pending the rising from bed of his owner, Wallace, and anxiously awaiting his birthday presents.  Eventually he is presented with a new dog collar (which he hates) and some leftover NASA space trousers to take him for walkies and leave Wallace to eat his cheese and invent his crackpot devices.  At the same time, money is running a little thin and Wallace is forced to take in a lodger, in the form of a suspicious looking penguin, who proceeds to take over Gromit’s room and force the poor old dog out into the kennel and, eventually, complete with yellow raincoat and trademark knotted spotted hankie, to leave home.  However, the penguin has sinister plans for Wallace, using his trousers to rob the local museum of a priceless diamond.  (more…)


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31 Days To Halloween Countdown…Continues with a review of the 1939 film “Son of Frankenstein” by Sam Juliano, from “Wonders in the Dark.”


[Editor’s Note: I want to take this time to express my sincerest thanks to Sam Juliano, for sharing his review of the 1939 film “Son of Frankenstein” and in order to visit Sam Juliano, his writers Allan Fish, Joel Bocko and all his readers from over there at Wonders just follow the link here… Wonders in the Dark …
Addendum: Since Today Is Halloween I asked Sam Juliano , If It Would Be All right With Him If I Shared His Review of the “Son of Frankenstein”…starring Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, and Boris Karloff With His Readers…And Maybe We Can Get Sam Juliano, To List His Top Ten All Time Favorite Horror Films (That is if he was stranded on a desert island what top 10 not, 11 or 12, but 10 films would he take with him…Well, Wonders in the Dark readers, the gauntlet has been thrown down now it’s up to you to let Sam Juliano, Allan Fish and the readers, here at Wonders in the Dark… know what your favorite top 10 horror films of all time are too this…Halloween! Thanks,

Universal’s Son of Frankenstein, released in 1939, was the final in the series to feature Boris Karloff as the Monster. Produced after a successful re-release of the original Frankenstein and Dracula as a double-bill the year before, the studio decided to bring out a second sequel with a replacement for James Whale, ,who fell into disfavor in the late 30’s. Rowland V. Lee, who had nowhere near Whales’ taste or sensibilities, but who was surely an excellent ‘imitator’ was versed in the Germanic school of filmmaking, which in the worst sense is plodding and theatrical.
Lee downplays physical action in the film, has the monster make a very late entrance, and runs the film to 99 minutes, the longest of any in the series. Karloff was reported to be very disappointed with his role, as it was less substantial than the ones in the first two Frankenstein entries, and he bowed out, even after the film racked up remarkable box office numbers, that convinced Universal to continued with monster movies for the next 20 years. (more…)

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after life 1

(Japan 1998 119m) DVD1/2

Aka. Wandafuru Raifu

Memories are made of this

p  Shiho Sato, Masayuki Akieda  d/w  Hirokazu Kore-Eda  ph  Yamazaki Hiroshi  ed  Hirokazu Kore-Eda  m  Yasuhiro Kasamutsu  art  Toshihiro Isomi, Hideo Gunji

Arata (Takashi Mochizuki), Erika Oda (Shiori Satonaka), Susumu Terajima (Satoru Kawashima), Tsuyoshi Naito (Takuro Sugie), Kyoko Kagawa (Kyoko Watanabe), Kei Tani (Kennosuke Nakamura), Sadao Abe (Ichiro as young man), Taketoshi Naito (Ichiro Watanabe), Tori Yuri (Shoda), Yusuke Iseya (Iseya), Hisako Hara (Kiyo Nishimura), Sayaka Yoshino (Kana Yoshino),

It’s one of my unavoidable characteristics when I come to watch a film for the first time, that I uncover essences in it that remind me of other films.  Yet with Kore-Eda’s late nineties classic, After Life, it’s difficult to bring to mind any other film.  The only one that does come to mind is the Ealing drama The Halfway House, made in 1943 prior to release the following year.  And that in itself is a joyous coincidence as the year 1943 is pivotal to some of the crucial events of Kore-Eda’s film.

            The film is set in a sort of halfway house/way station where the recently deceased come to spend a week before moving into their own idea of eternity – literally their own idea, in that the purpose of the week is to give them time to choose one memory out of their lives in which to spend the rest of time.  It is down to the boss, Nakamura, his two counsellors Mochizuki and Kawashima, and assistant Shiori to let the current crop of departed – twenty-two in total – choose their way of spending their afterlife.  (more…)

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by Marc Bauer

I typically don’t take the time to write film reviews. I prefer to discuss them once the last reel finishes spinning and talk about the highs and lows at once. This is It is a film that deserves watching, provided you are a fan of the late Michael Jackson. If you are not a fan, or if you still want him tried for the crimes they allege against him, stop reading, turn the page and move on, though I think you would be missing out. Is it hero worship? Without a doubt. But watching the two hours of the film, you never feel that it is contrived, forced or undeserved. MJ is meticulous in his design. He has a tremendous vision, and this film shows what he was working on to see that vision made a reality. In one scene he spends time singing the note he wants the female guitarist to hit. He explains that the band will go silent and the lights will be on her, it is her moment to shine, enjoy it. How many superstars let the background players shine? How many coach them on what to do in order to shine? And this isn’t the only moment where he does this; you can hear him say that the fans are coming for talent, so bring your all. He refers to his team as family, and it doesn’t seem contrived at all. If you are expecting to hear the hits, remember that this was culled together from rehearsal footage, so most of the songs are slower tempos to run through the pacing, and in deference to saving Michael’s voice for the big shows. You will get a good idea of what the show would have been would that it had been, and that show would have rivaled that of Barnum. You find yourself humming and tapping a foot along with the music. The set list was all hits, because, as MJ says it is for the fans, play the songs like the albums, they way they know the songs best.

It is more than MJ in the movie; it opens with the teary eyed interviews with dancers arriving to audition to be back-up dancers back in April. There are candid moments with the musicians working on pieces of the songs. There is footage on the making of the footage that would have been projected on the big screen. Smooth Criminal involved old footage featuring Bogart and Edward G. Robinson chasing MJ in black and white footage; faithfully recreating sets to film and splice together with original film. 10,000 choreographed dancers, 10 human and some great CG work to duplicate and extend the troup to infinity. Thriller used the classing Victor Price narration, but recreated the whole video with 3D footage, floating ghosts, and a haunted mansion feeling. They even take a few moments to talk with the costume designers. MJ has always been known for his style, and this show would have been nothing if it didn’t contain the same couture we’ve come to expect from him. Swarovski crystals and lighting effects, check. One designed ever makes a comment, if it is a joke or not is uncertain, that they have scientists working on new ideas that have never been seen before.

Through out the film you get the impression that This is It, the concert, was a swan song, as MJ said when he initially announced the shows to be, he plays the hits, and he plays them all, including a Jackson 5 medley to boot. There is even lavish pyrotechnical design, a surprise to many who would have thought he to shy away from fire since the famous Pepsi debacle that left him brutally scarred.

For what many will see as a way to recoup the massive losses the AEG were hit with, Randy Phillips and Kenny Ortega deliver a movie that has as much heart and compassion as the icon that it showcases. Sure there were concerns over his health, but this isn’t a movie about that, this is a film about the concert that would have been. This is not the man at his greatest, this is the man preparing to deliver his greatest. 

Final Rating:  *** (of 4)

Note:  Marc Bauer, a friend and member of the Fairview-based e mail network, is employed at The Agency Group, a music talent association based in Manhattan, which has among its clients Jack White.  Wonders in the Dark is thrilled to have Marc’s review of ‘Thi is It,’ a concert film that Lucille and I saw with all the kids last night at the Clifton AMC at 7:00 P.M.  Marc’s review pretty much reflects our own general opinion.

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Howards End 1

(UK 1992 140m) DVD1/2

Only connect

p  Ismail Merchant  d  James Ivory  w  Ruth Prawer Jhabvala  novel  E.M.Forster  ph  Tony Pierce-Roberts  ed  Andrew Marcus  m  Richard Robbins  art  Luciana Arrighi, John Ralph  cos  Jenny Beavan, John Bright

Anthony Hopkins (Henry Wilcox), Emma Thompson (Margaret Schlegel), Helena Bonham Carter (Helen Schlegel), Vanessa Redgrave (Ruth Wilcox), Samuel West (Leonard Bast), James Wilby (Charles Wilcox), Joseph Bennett (Paul Wilcox), Jemma Redgrave (Evie Wilcox), Nicola Duffett (Jacky Bast), Prunella Scales (Aunt Juley), Adrian Ross Magenty (Tibby Schlegel), Jo Kendall (Annie), Simon Callow (Lecturer),

What will the film historians of the future make of the films of Ismael Merchant and James Ivory?  Though I’d like to think otherwise, I think most ‘hip’ critics will dismiss them as an archaic form of prestige cinema, films not worth preserving from a time, cinematically speaking, when British cinema was trying to find a voice.  Their films were old-fashioned, but was that necessarily a bad thing?  Certainly some of their films don’t work, few could find anything too interesting in the likes of The Golden Bowl, Jefferson in Paris or Surviving Picasso, and despite The Remains of the Day, it’s for their E.M.Forster triptych that they are best remembered, and while A Room With a View and Maurice may be little better than prettified, well-acted large screen versions of TV costume dramas, Howards End transcends that.  The first of their films to be made on the widescreen, and certainly the best cast film they ever made, it seems quintessential cinema even when at times it verges on the negation of it.  It deserves any accolades of greatness given to it. (more…)

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jeanne la pucelle 1

(France 1994 336m) DVD2 (DVD1 only 228m)

Aka. Joan the Maid: Parts I & II (The Battles & The Prisons); Joan of Arc

I am sent by God

p  Pierre Grise  d  Jacques Rivette  w  Christine Laurent, Pascal Bonitzer  ph  William Lubtchansky  ed  Nicole Lubtchansky  m  Jordi Savali  art  Mau de Chauvigny

Sandrine Bonnaire (Jeanne la Pucelle), André Marcon (Dauphin), Jean-Louis Richard (La Trémoille), Patrick le Mauff (Jean, the Bastard of Orléans), Jean-Pierre Becker (Jean d’Aulon), Mathieu Busson (Louis de Coutes), Florence Darel (Jeanne d’Orléans),

Despite the transcendental experience of Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc, it never deterred other film-makers from telling the Maid of Orleans’ story.  Bresson was very much in awe of Dreyer when he made his film, and strangely, though the subject may seem to have been right up his street, his La Procès de Jeanne d’Arc was not one of his best efforts.  What’s ironic is that Jacques Rivette’s epic 5½ hour version (and it was only shown in the UK and US at the time at 4 hours) owes a lot more to Bresson than to Dreyer; the irony being that it’s not to Bresson’s Jeanne film, but rather to his later Lancelot du Lac.  Just as Bresson’s Lancelot overturned the conventional opulence of Camelot for a more Spartan, pure version of the Arthurian legend, so Rivette reduces the story of Joan of Arc to its bare essentials.  In doing so, he stretches it to what, to some, may be inordinate length, but which, in its own way, is mesmerising from the first frame to the final intensely moving fadeout.  (more…)

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wings of the dove 1

(UK 1997 101m) DVD1/2

Horror hath overwhelmed me

p  David Parfitt, Stephen Evans  d  Iain Softley  w  Hossein Amini  novel  Henry James  ph  Eduardo Serra  ed  Tariq Anwar  m  Edward Shearmur  art  John Beard  cos  Sandy Powell

Helena Bonham Carter (Kate Croy), Linus Roache (Merton Densher), Alison Elliott (Millie Theale), Elizabeth McGovern (Susie Stringham), Charlotte Rampling (Aunt Maude), Alex Jennings (Lord Mark), Michael Gambon (Lionel Croy),

When Helen Hunt received her Academy Award it wasn’t without a hint of incredulity, as if she, too, in good humour, realised the injustice.  In her speech she told of how, when she saw Judi Dench in Mrs Brown, she believed she’d seen the Academy Award winner.  Judi was gracious in defeat, and it’s true Judi would have been a far more deserving winner.  Yet giving Judi the award would have been recognition for a lifetime’s work, and perhaps a greater injustice lurked in the shadows…to Helena Bonham Carter. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

     I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the many people who have sent me moving  condolences for the family tragedy that came to pass last weekend.  All of us went through the most difficult time of our lives.  My own physical discomfort has continued, and I have my procedure scheduled for early this morning, after a postponement.  I have been dazed and aloof all week, and have been away from the computer room, and have spent most of the week at the homes of my 79 year-old father and 39 year-old brother.  I just checked the activity over the past week, and it has been typically outstanding.  Movie Man promised to “hold the fort” and he’s outdone himself in that regard.  But Tony, Dennis, Dave, Dee Dee, Bobby J., John Greco, David S., Bob Clark, Anu, Samuel Wilson and Ari among others have really stepped to the plate for the site.  I feel like a stranger now, but as I have always considered this a communal place, that’s a wonderful thing. 

    I see an impending wager with David Schleicher is imminent, as his Phillies and our Yankees will be meeting in the World Series.  This should be quite a match.

    I finally went out with Lucille over the weekend, as we had tickets that were purchased weeks in advance.  We went to a Saturday afternoon staging of Frank Galati’s The Grapes of Wrath, based on Steinbeck’s masterpiece, by the New Jersey Shakespeare Society in Madison, New Jersey.  The show was passable, but was rather dull, and conventionally performed.

     I saw Lars Von Trier’s Anti-Christ on Saturday with Lucille and Broadway Bob, and I must admit I was in no state of mind to endure what was probably the bleakest and most disturbing film I have ever seen in my life.  But I’m inclined to say that it’s still a masterpiece.

     Anti-Christ **** 1/2 (Saturday night; IFC Film Center)

     My apologies for not posting links this week, but I have been floored by what has transpired and am most uncomfortable.

     As always, everyone is asked to talk about what they saw, read, listen to, ate.  Sports and politics are on the table as well.

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leon 1

(US/France 1994/1996 132m) DVD1/2

Aka. The Professional

Me, Natalie!

p/d/w  Luc Besson  ph  Thierry Arbogast  ed  Sylvie Landra  m  Eric Serra  art  Dan Weil

Jean Reno (Leon), Natalie Portman (Mathilda), Gary Oldman (Stansfield), Danny Aiello (Big Tony), Peter Appel, Michael Badalucco, Ellen Greene, Elizabeth Regen,

Every so often someone appears on screen for the first time and you say to yourself “God, the camera loves you.”  One such moment came here with the arrival onscreen of Natalie Portman, her legs dangling between the railings of her upper floor apartment landing.  She looks a moppet, you just know this girl is wise beyond her years, but what we perhaps don’t expect is the most fearlessly precocious performance from a thirteen year old in American film since Jodie Foster.  The similarity even stretched to both showing an inherent disregard for acting in their formative late teen years and turning towards academia to prove the fierce intelligence their performances had already told those with eyes to see.  Besson knew she was on the verge, too, always dressing her in shorts and minis, with that Louise Brooks bob.  It’s perhaps the knowing attitude towards Portman’s budding sexuality that made the film so disturbing to some critics. 

            The eponymous Leon is a hitman, or a cleaner as he terms it, hired out by a Little Italy bigwig for various termination jobs.  One day his solitary life is gate-crashed by thirteen year old Mathilda, who he lets into his flat to save her life when her family are all killed by corrupt narcotics cops after a stash hidden by Mathilda’s father.  He warms to Mathilda, but his protection starts to erode his anonymity and eventually Mathilda’s desire for vengeance on the bad guys result in Leon making a fateful decision. (more…)

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Naked (no 42)

naked 1

(UK 1993 131m) DVD1/2

The end of the world is nigh

p  Simon Channing-Williams  d/w  Mike Leigh  ph  Dick Pope  ed  Jon Gregory  m  Andrew Dickson  art  Alison Chitty

David Thewlis (Johnny), Lesley Sharp (Louise), Katrin Cartlidge (Sophie), David Wight (Brian), Greg Crutwell (Jeremy), Claire Skinner (Sandra), Ewen Bremner (Archie), Susan Vidler (Maggie), Gina McKee (girl in café), Deborah MacLaren (woman in window),

If ever a film demanded to be referred to as apocalyptic, this was it.  If ever a film demanded to be referred to as nihilistic, call off the hounds, it’s here.  Yet to merely pigeonhole this film or attach such vague terms as these is an act of gross misunderstanding, for in many ways this is the very antithesis of nihilistic.  Here is a film about a society, and a protagonist, crying out for something to believe in.  At the time of its release, it shocked people, in the way too few films shock.  It may have won the big prizes at Cannes in its year, but it was ignored at most end of year award ceremonies.  True, 1993 was probably the greatest cinematic year of its decade, with masterpieces by Kieslowski, Spielberg and Campion also emerging above the horizon, but Leigh’s film has always been there, lingering like a bad smell that won’t go away.  Over ten years on, what at first seemed merely a radical change of direction for Leigh, and a graduation to cinematic maturity, now in many ways seems the most essential British film of its decade. 

            Johnny is an unemployed (unemployable?) Mancunian who leaves Manchester in a hurry after a sexual encounter in an alley (one assumes his rape of a married woman, who threatens to get him beaten up).  He steals a car and hotfoots it down to London, where on a whim he goes to the home of his ex, Louise, who has been working as a secretary in the city.  Finding her not in, he is let in by Louise’s unemployed flatmate, Sophie, and they spend the day chatting together waiting for Louise to get home.  Thus begins Johnny’s odyssey in the capital, one that will be a life changer for many he meets. (more…)

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