Archive for November, 2009

la conf 1

(USA 1997 136m) DVD1/2

Paging Rollo Tomassi

p  Arnon Milchan, Curtis Hanson, Michael Nathanson  d  Curtis Hanson  w  Curtis Hanson, Brian Helgeland  novel  James Ellroy  ph  Dante Spinotti  ed  Peter Honess  m  Jerry Goldsmith  art  Jeannine Oppewall  cos  Ruth Myers

Kevin Spacey (Sgt.Jack Vincennes), Guy Pearce (Lt.’Ed’ Exley), Russell Crowe (Off.Bud White), James Cromwell (Capt.Dudley Smith), Kim Basinger (Lynn Bracken), Danny de Vito (Sid Hudgens), David Strathairn (Pierce Patchett), Graham Beckel (Dick Stensland), Ron Rifkin (D.A.Ellis Loew), Matt McCoy (Brett Chase), Paul Guilfoyle (Mickey Cohen), Amber Smith (Susan Lefferts), Darrell Sandern (Buzz Meeks), Simon Baker Denny (Matt Reynolds), Shawnee Free Jones (Tammy Jordan), Tomas Arana (Breuning), Michael McCleery (Carlisle), Gwenda Dracon (Mrs Lefferts), Brenda Bakke (Lana Turner),

Of all the great films released in the nineties, few could have been greeted with such joyous surprise as LA Confidential.  Firstly it was directed by someone who, up until that time, had seemed no more than a journeyman director and, secondly, it was a throwback to the old fashioned noirish dialogue and seedy atmosphere of the forties, with added modern censorables.  Furthermore, if it still isn’t as complex or delicious as the novel on which it is based and the finale does slightly disappoint, it’s still a damn near magnificent achievement that also showcased new talents in front of the camera. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

This morning’s installment of the Monday Morning Diary is the last before the Thanksgiving weekend, which traditionally is a time for family interaction, turkey dinners (some ravioli or lasagna too if you’re Italian-American) NFL football (of the Cowboys and Lions variety) and a late night trip to the multiplex.  This year, The Road, based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, would seem to be an excellent choice.

Action at Wonders was again most impressive, with a thread on the classic TV series Thriller, Allan’s countdown review of Fargo, and another on composer Bernard Hermmann, all attracting great traffic and hefty comment totals.

On Friday night I attended a wedding of a young female teaching colleague, but rallied to pack six movies on Saturday and Sunday, half of which were seen with the entire family and one on this past Monday for a total of seven:

The Sun (Sokurov) **** 1/2   Sunday 1:00 P.M. – Film Forum
Broken Embraces (Almodovar)  ****  Sunday 10:30 A.M. – Landmark Cinemas
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call  (Herzog)  **** 1/2   Saturday night – Chelsea Cinemas
Twilight: New Moon  (Weitz)  *    Saturday afternoon – Edgewater Multiplex
The Blind Side (Hancock)   **    Saturday afternoon  – Edgewater Multiplex
Planet 51  (Blanco)   *        Sunday evening  – Edgewater Multiplex
Pirate Radio (Curtis) *** 1/2  Monday evening – Edgewater Multiplex
Sokurov’s claustrophobic, meticulously observed study of Emperor Hirohito during the closing moments of World War II, The Sun humanizes the monarch, but neither passes judgement on him nor shows him as undeserving of his fate.  The  central performance of Issy Ogata is brilliant, and the film, which opened in 2005 at the New York Film Festival, just now received a USA theatrical release.  The Russian helmer’s spare, brooding, almost surrealistic style shows some stunning prosaic segments of the devastation of war.
Almodovar’s Broken Embraces isn’t one of the great director’s best movies, but it’s nonetheless a passionate, tragic and satiric film that despite some narrative contrivances and convolutions, still manages some fascinating characters and some superlative individual scenes that recall the most mature Almodovar.  Cruz again leaves a strong impression.
Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call makes excellent use of the Katrina-ravaged environs of New Orleans, and some surrealistic touches involving iguanas is wed to a mesmerizing noirish tale that provides Nicholas cage to deliver his best performances in years as a drug-addicted corrupt cop.  The film recalls Aguire the Wrath of God.
The new installment of the “Twilight Saga,” New Moon is tedious, vapid, and inane and those might  be its better points.  My daughter 13 year-old Melanie, however, has been waiting for this for a long time and she and the other kids were not at all disappointed.  Lucille thinks I’m being too harsh, but I just haven’t the patience for this.
Sandra Bullock is as good as she’s ever been in The Blind Side, but that’s not really saying all that much.  The film is formulaic and it plays shamelessly for the big emotional moments.  The film does contain some intermittant humor too, but a day later it’s completely forgotten.
The derivitive Planet 51 is trite, inert and derivative, and after just a few minutes it’s clear it’s low-grade stuff.
     Pirate Radio wasn’t always fun to watch, but it’s still hard to resist and the music of course is simply to die for.
     I was hoping to see John Woo’s Red Cliff, but I couldn’t do any better than I did, so perhaps during the week.
     As always there’s a treasure chest of riches aroung the blogosphere:
At “The Life and Times of Troy” our very good friend, Troy Olson (no Kevin, we have not forgotten about you!) has a superlative round-up of 90’s films he recently saw in preparation for casting a ballot:
Two of Wonders in the Dark’s most-revered friends, have posts up on classical Universal horror.  John Greco has a superb piece on display at his place for The Raven:

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Lone Star (no 13)

lone star 1

(USA 1996 134m) DVD1

A sixty room hotel with bars on the windows

p  Maggie Renzi, Paul Miller  d/w  John Sayles  ph  Stuart Dryburgh  ed  John Sayles  m  Mason Daring  art  Dan Bishop  cos  Shay Cunliffe

Chris Cooper (Sam Deeds), Elizabeth Peña (Pilar Cruz), Joe Morton (Col.Delmore Payne), Miriam Colon (Mercedes Cruz), Ron Canada (Otis Payne), Clifton James (Hollis Pogue), Kris Kristofferson (Charlie Wade), Frances McDormand (Bunny), Matthew McConaughey (Buddy Deeds), Eddie Robinson (Chet Payne), Stephen Mendillo (Cliff), Stephen J.Lang (Mickey), Joe Stevens (Deputy Travis), Richard Coca (Enrique), Jeff Monahan (young Hollis), Latanya Richardson (Priscilla Worth),

Welcome to the world of John Sayles, the modern master of cinema’s small town community autopsies.  To be more accurate, welcome to Mexican border town Frontera, in Rio County, Texas, a veritable melange of culture clashes, bitter resentment and racial tension (or, as Chris Cooper’s sheriff sarcastically calls it, “gateway to inexpensive pussy”).    Though Sayles has made other superb studies of small town communities in crisis (Matewan, the brilliant City of Hope and Sunshine State in particular), Lone Star is his finest work, a film that shows how the shadow of the past can linger and darken a community years on. (more…)

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Heimat 2 (No 14)

heimat 2 1

(Germany 1992 1,059m) DVD1/2

Aka. Die Zweite Heimat; Heimat: The Next Generation

Art or life?

p  Joachim Von Mengershausen, Edgar Reitz  d/w  Edgar Reitz  ph  Gernot Roll, Gerard Vandenberg, Christian Reitz  ed  Susanne Hartmann  m  Nikos Mamangakis  art  Franz Bauer  cos  Billie Brassers, Nikola Hoelz

Henry Arnold (Hermann Simon), Salome Kaller (Clarissa Lichtblau), Gisela Muller (Evelyne Cerphal), Anke Sevenich (Schnüsschen), Noemi Stauer (Helga), Lena Lessing (Olga), Daniel Smith (Juan), Eva Maria Bayerwaltes (Aunt Pauline), Eva Maria Schneider (Marie-Goot), Michael Seyfried (Ansgar), Michael Schönborn (Alex), László I.Kich (Reinhard), Peter Weiss (Rob), Frank Roth (Stefan), Armin Fuchs (Volker), Hanna Köhler (Frau Moretti), Susanne Lothar (Esther), Anna Thalbach (Trixi), Alfred Edel (Herr Edel), Ivan Desny (René Christian), Franziske Traub (Renate), Edith Behleit (Mother Lichtblau), Hannelore Hoger (Frau Cerphal), Kurt Wagner (Glasisch),

Heimat was, upon its release in 1984, regarded as an unquestionable masterpiece and, for its director, a summit he could not hope to top.  After all, how does one go higher than Everest?  The answer of course is that you don’t, you tackle the Eiger.  And that’s just what he did with this sequel, making the cinematic equivalent to the North Face of the Eiger.  True, not the height or scope of Everest, but the period it did cover was covered so meticulously, and was so important and challenging as to represent the most difficult option open to him.  Ask any mountain climber, what would they rather climb, Everest or the North Face of the Eiger, they’d head off to Nepal every time. (more…)

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brighter summer day 1

(Taiwan 1991 237m) not on DVD

Aka. Guling Jie Shaonian Sha Ren Shijan

Love is not fun and games

p  Yu Welyan  d  Edward Yang  w  Edward Yang, Yan Hongya, Yang Shunqing, Lai Mingtang  ph  Zhang Hulgong, Li Longyu  ed  Chen Bowen  art  Yu Welyan, Edward Yang 

Liu Zhiming (Ming), Zhang Zhen (Xiao S’ir), Zhang Guozhu (Zhang Ju), Elaine Jin (Mrs Zhang), Wang Juan (Juan), Zhang Han (Lao Er), Jiang Xiuqiong (Qiong), Lai Fanyun (Yun),

It’s fair enough to say that, up until the mid eighties, Taiwanese cinema was generally supposed to be pretty much summed up in the martial arts spectaculars of King Hu.  Then along came Hou Hsiao-Hsien, an eclectic and sometimes impenetrable director who gave his nation’s cinema its own identity.  Yet despite Hou’s unforgettable The Time to Live and the Time to Die, it was left to his compatriot, Edward Yang, to make what I consider the greatest of all Taiwanese works, A Brighter Summer Day. (more…)

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another in the TV classics series

(UK 1996 628m) DVD2

Because tomorrow’s too late

p  Charles Pattinson  d  Pedr James, Simon Cellan Jones, Stuart Urban  w  Peter Flannery  ph  John Daly, Simon Kossoff, John Kenway ed  Greg Miller  m  Colin Towns  art  Rob Hinds

Christopher Eccleston (Nicky Hutchinson), Daniel Craig (Geordie Peacock), Gina McKee (Mary Soulsby), Mark Strong (Tosker Cox), Peter Vaughan (Felix Hutchinson), Freda Dowie (Lorrie Hutchinson), Daniel Casey (Anthony Cox), Tracey Wilkinson (Elaine Craig), David Bradley (Eddie Wells), Malcolm McDowell (Benny Barratt), Alun Armstrong (Austin Donohue), Tony Haygarth (Roy Johnson), Saskia Wickham (Claudia Seabrook), Donald Sumpter (Harold Chapple), David Schofield (John Salway), Daniel Webb (Ron Conrad), Peter Jeffrey (Colin Blamire), Nicholas Selby (Sir Edward Jones), Louise Salter (Julia Allen), Angeline Ball (Daphne), George Sweeney (Leonard Harris), Geoffrey Hutchings (John Edwards), Jo MacInnes (Francine Volker), Julian Fellowes (Claude Seabrook), Terence Rigby (Berger),

There are some works in all art-forms that defy convention, that break rules and are imperishable to the mind’s eye.  Peter Flannery’s monumental TV drama of the mid-nineties is just that and more.  Of all the British TV dramas in this selection, along with numerous European TV masterpieces from directors as important as Kieslowski, Fassbinder, Bergman, Reitz and Syberberg, more than any other this masterpiece belongs up there with them in the stratosphere.  This is, in many ways, the British Heimat, and also comparable to the later drama The Best of Youth which covered a similar period in time in Italian history.  For anyone who lived through the period of 1964-1995, this is not just compulsive viewing, it’s like reading your own life story. (more…)

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Film’s Greatest Ever: Bernard Herrmann

by Sam Juliano

     If one is asked ‘Who is the greatest classical composer of all time?’ answers will almost always equally divide between Bach, Mozart and Bethoven.  Similarly a query trying to ascertain the pre-eminent composer of opera will almost always split between Mozart, Wagner, Verdi and Puccini.  One would be hard-pressed to choose among Kern, Porter or Gershwin in American musical theatre, and in popular music the choices for the top spot are really endless, depending on one’s perspective or value judgement.

     As a composer of film the top spot is uncontestable.  There are surely some strong runners-up: Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Alfred Newman, Miklos Rosza, Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota, Michel Legrand, Carl Davis, John Barry, Franz Waxman, John Williams, Elmer Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith, Victor Young, Dimitri Timkin, Charlie Chaplin, Michel Legrand, Georges Delerue and some contemporary composers certainly for one reason or another have either made their mark with a prolific run, or for a few great works.  But one composer, Bernard Herrmann, gifted in many styles, was a symphonic genius, who was both able to present character traits in his musical motifs that in many instances was  more successful than the film’s writers.  His late-career fall-out with Alfred Hitchcock, with whom he recorded some of his greatest triumphs, vies with his epic symphonic work for fantasy titan Ray Harryhausen, and his early RKO work on Citizen Kane and The Devil and Daniel Webster as his most noteworhy multiple achievement, but combined with equally  magnificent work on films like Ray’s noir On Dangerous Ground and Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, the remarkable scope and versatility of his work is unequalled by any other composer, living or dead.  What’s truly incredible is that this estimation of him is almost unanimous, both within the film community and in music circles.  His filmography is extensive: (more…)

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raise the red 1

(China 1991 125m) DVD1/2 (Japan only)

Aka. Da Hong Deng Long Gao Gao Gua

Isn’t that a woman’s fate?

p  Chiu Fu-Sheng  d  Zhang Yimou  w  Ni Zhen  story  “Wives and Concubines” by Su Tong  ph  Zhao Fei  ed  Du Yuan  m  Zhao Jiping  art  Cao Jiuping, Dong Huamiao

Gong Li (Songlian, Fourth Mistress), Ma Jingwu (Chen Zuoqian, The Master), He Caifei (Meishan, Third Mistress), Cao Cuifeng (Zhuoyan, Second Mistress), Jin Shuyuan (Yuru, First Mistress), Kong Lin (Yan’er), Ding Weimin (Songlian’s mother), Cui Zhigang (Doctor Gao), Chu Xiao (Feipu),

The third of the six collaborations between director Yimou and Gong Li, Raise the Red Lantern may well be the coldest film of the sextet.  It also pushes Ju Dou very close to the honour of being the best.  One is drawn into the story from the very matter-of-factness of the opening scene, in which the nineteen year old Songlian discusses her prospects with her mother upon the death of her father.  Songlian sees no out but to marry a rich man.  “Marry a rich man and you’ll be his concubine” her mother warns.  “Then I’ll be a concubine”, she replies emotionlessly.  “Isn’t that a woman’s fate?

            In 1920s China, Songlian, daughter to a recently deceased father, becomes the Fourth wife (or Mistress as they are called) to the head of a powerful, long-standing family, Chen Zuoqian.  His four wives live in separate quarters within his estate, each trying by hook or by crook to obtain his favour for the privileges it brings with it.  The master chooses which wife he will sleep with on any given night by having red lanterns placed in front of her door.  In addition, Songlian also makes an enemy out of a sullen serving girl who herself had dreams of becoming the Fourth Mistress. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

      Last fall I penned a formal review of Boris Karloff’s Thriller, an early 60’s anthology series, that achieved it’s greatest exposure and success in syndication.  The show ran for two seasons (1960-61) and 67 hour-long episodes were produced, airing on NBC at the same time the popular Alfred Hitchcock Presents was being seen on the same station on a different day and time slot.  Purportedly, Hitchcock exerted his enormous clout at the station and demanded Thriller’s cancellation, as he secretly saw it as competition for his own show, and was rather envious of the horror show’s increasing popularity.  While producer William Frye, who was responsible for the upsurge in the ratings after a very slow beginning, where mystery rather than horror was stressed, was respected by network executives, he couldn’t compete with Hitchcock.  Hence, the show’s legacy are two seasons of black and white shows that are marked by gothic atmospherics, German expressionism, and in some instances some of the most horrifying set pieces ever seen on network television.  Two of the shows, “Pigeons From Hell” and “The Incredible Doktor Markeson” are horrific masterpieces that far eclipse anything shown before or since. Several others, like The Cheaters, The Weird Tailor, The Grim Reaper, Well of Doom, The Devil’s Ticket, Waxworks, The Premature Burial, La Strega and The Hungry Glass are superlative shows that stand up to the best of both The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, as well as Hitchcock’s show.  “Lighter” episodes like Masquerade and A Good Imagination were also quality presentations marked by fine acting and engaging screenplays.  Some of the earliest episodes (before the show found it’s footing) were awkward and rather poorly executed, but once the reigns were turned over to Frye, the show took flight.  No less a horror authority than Stephen King himself has called Thriller  “the best show of its kind ever to run on network television.” (more…)

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thin red line 1

(USA 1998 170m) DVD1/2

Isaste san palikarta mu

p  Robert Michael Giesler, John Roberdeau, Grant Hill  d  Terrence Malick  w  Terrence Malick  novel  James Jones  ph  John Toll  ed  Billy Weber, Leslie Jones  m  Hans Zimmer (including “In paradisum” by Fauré)  art  Jack Fisk  cos  Margot Wilson

Sean Penn (Sgt.Welsh), Adrien Brody (Cpl.Fife), Jim Caviezel (Pvt.Witt), Nick Nolte (Lt.Col.Tall), Ben Chaplin (Pvt.Bell), Elias Koteas (Sgt.Staros), Woody Harrelson (Sgt.Keck), John Cusack (Capt.Gaff), George Clooney (Capt.Bosche), John C.Reilly (Sgt.Storm), John Travolta (Brig.Gen.Quintard), John Savage (Sgt.McCron), Jared Leto (2nd Lt.Whyte), Dash Mihok (Pvt.Doll), Tim Blake Nelson (Pvt.Tills), Miranda Otto (Marty Bell), Kirk Acevedo (Pvt.Tella), Arie Verveen (Pvt.Dale),

At the end of the seventies, the future for Terrence Malick, esq. looked rosy.  Critical acclaim and cult status had been bestowed on his debut feature Badlands, while his follow up, Days of Heaven, though finding no real audience, did contain some of the most gorgeous imagery of its decade and some sublime reworkings of Saint Saëns by Ennio Morricone.  And yet it was twenty years before his third film was announced, and it was not without some anticipation that it was greeted.  Malick’s film is an adaptation of that most popular of authors, James Jones, who had also provided the source material for From Here to Eternity and Some Came Running, as well as an earlier, uninspiring version of Line by Andrew Marton in 1964.  It might at first have seemed a strange choice, and it’s one that can take some time to adjust to, but, once that adjustment is made, it’s hypnotic.    Line is set in the middle of World War II and tells the story of a group of servicemen, from the brass hats through the brave lesser officers to the plain privates, who fought in the South Pacific at Guadalcanal.  And that’s it really, but it’s what the film says that really hits home.  This is not the propaganda of the Preston Foster and Richard Conte flick, but a stately, contemplative, ruminative and well nigh magnificent treatise on the futility of war and its after effects.  Of course many films have had the same mission statement, and Malick even pays homage to some of them (most memorably All Quiet on the Western Front with its diverse shots of gorgeous butterflies), but what Malick is showing is not so much that ‘war is hell’, as ‘hell is a place in paradise’.  Never was a war film shot in such an ethereal location as these islands; as the opening line in the film states, “why this war in the heart of nature?  Why does nature vie with itself?”  (more…)

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