Archive for December 21st, 2009

Screen grab from James Cameron's extraordinary "Avatar"

by Sam Juliano

A raging snowstorm blanketed the NY metropolitan area, dropping over a foot in the city, northern New Jersey and on Long Island, leaving behind a white landscape that will reportedly insure a white Christmas, but preliminary findings indicate more may be coming around the 25th.  While the holiday spirit and shopping has cramped the schedules of movie goers and music lovers, it has surely fueled the end of the year excitement that always makes this time the most special of the year.

At Wonders in the Dark, the 90’s poll results were announced in a lively post, where Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas was named top film in a close race with Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Blue, and the “silent” poll, (which is actually films released before 1930) commenced with Allan’s extended Top 100 countdown.  Discussion has been typically most impressive.  A series of posts from Joel Bocko on contemporary films, which were first posted at the Boston Examiner have been appearing and several, like Grizzly Man, and Kings and Queen have attracted film lovers in the comment sections.  Bocko’s reviews will be ongoing.

Lucille and I had a busy week, first attending an off-off-Broadway play at a small theatre in a housing complex on 26th Street titled In Fields Where They Lay.  this two act play was rather torturous to sit through even if the central idea, the real-life Christmas truce between the French and German soldiers during Christmas of 1914 is a potentially potent one (the film Noel from a few years ago dealt with it far more successfully) but the staging was static, the dialogue muffled, and the lighting ineffective.  Too bad, as small productions by unknown but dedicated artists are what we normally need more of.

On Friday night, we saw a one-man show with famed filmmaker and comedian John Waters at the Landmark State Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey, but I’m sorry to say that the one-hour presentation of peppered one-liners was stale, redundant and only sporadically amusing.  But the audience questions afterward were far more interesting.  At $47 a ticket, I think we got taken to the cleaners, even if I am a lifelong fan of the director and think Female Trouble and Desparate Living minor masterpieces of raunchy comedy.  Even the “turkey burger” I had at Fuddrucker’s afterwards was a losing proposition.

But then after the beginnings of the two-day blizzrd things really hit their stride starting with a Saturday afternoon HD multicast of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann aired from the Metropolitan Opera House at nationwide theatres at 1:00 P.M.  The staging, brand new at the Met, was directed by Barlett Sher, who also helmed the musical show South Pacific, which is running across the courtyard at Lincoln Center.  The result was spectacular, and the singing, set design and costumes of this lyrical masterpiece were visionary.  Again the question of whether HD broadcasts are actually a better experiences than attending the opera is a valid one.  In fact my most updated views will be expressed in a review that will appear at WitD on Thursday.

Then came the two recent films I saw in theatres:

Nine (Marshall)  *** 1/2   Saturday night (Ziegfeld Theatre, Manhattan)
Avatar (Cameron)  *****   Sunday afternoon (Edgewater Multiplex)
    Rob Marshall’s NINE is nowhere near as bad as some critics claim, but it has some obvious narrative issies, and not all the songs in this average score are remotely memorable.  Still, with magic moments like “Italia” and Judy Dench’s solo number, as well as that terrific beginning, there’s at least a trace of Fellini in the air and the chain smoking Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicole Kidman, marion Cotillard, Ms. Dench and Sophia Loren are all up to the task.  Marshall’s fluid editing, the strength of his past work, manages to conceal the slightness of the material.  It’s fun though, and that’s a good part of why we go to the movies.
     Then came one of those sublime, enrapturing experiences that we get only once or twice a year, and when it happens it restores your faith in contemporary cinema.  The fact that the man who created the film is none other than that infamous “King of the World” James Cameron makes this a highly unlikely development.  But there you have it.  AVATAR is a masterpiece – an often operatic, lyrical and sweeping spectacle that stirs and moves on a level rarely aspired to, much less achieved.  To look for flaws (every film ever made has flaws) or to attempt to downplay the film’s transporting quality and its transcendence it to willfully deny one of the greatest cinematic experiences of recent year’s and for me a film that seriously challenges Jane Campion’s Bright Star as film of the year.  There are some set pieces in the film’s middle are so visually stunning and ravishing, that you are left mouth open, chilled down your spine, and tears running down your cheeks.  The whole affair makes you happy to be have been still alive to witness such greatness.  Nah, I don’t wanna talk about suggested flaws.  Who really cares?  Pedestrian dialogue isn’t the point, when that is not the focus of this extended and immersive “tone poem.”  It’s a ruminative ride that won’t ever be forgotten, and it’s clear Cameron was influenced here by Malick and Jackson’s The Return of the King and Darren Aronofsky’s metaphysical slant in The Fountain.

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1918 84m) DVD1

So elergant

p  Jesse L.Lasky, Mary Pickford  d  Marshall Neilan  w  Frances Marion  novel  William J.Locke  ph  Walter Stradling  ed  uncredited  m  Philip C.Carli  art  Wilfred Buckland

Mary Pickford (Stella Maris/Unity Blake), Conway Tearle (John Risca), Marcia Manon (Louisa Risca), Camille Ankewich, Josephine Crowell (Aunt Gladys Linden), Herbert Standing (Sir Oliver Blount), Ida Waterman (Lady Eleanor Blunt), Lou Conley (nurse), Gustav Von Seyffertitz (surgeon),

Trying to watch a Mary Pickford film in the UK is like searching for the sangraal.  None of her films have ever been released on video, let alone DVD, and they are never seen on the box.  Did she do something to provoke her cousins across the Atlantic to such a boycott, or is there perhaps a more explainable reason to do with copyright?  Could it even be that there wouldn’t be much of a market for them?  It’s true, some of her films are almost unwatchable today, not because of their technique, but their sentiment.  Try watching The Poor Little Rich Girl, Heart of the Hills or Suds now without laughing, or even more so her most famous dual role, in Little Lord Fauntleroy.  Better than all these are My Best Girl and Sparrows, two family gems of their day with much to interest any serious devotee of the silent movie art form.  There’s no doubt, however, which is her best film, the only one which has any claims to being called a classic, and another in which she played two parts.  (more…)

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