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Archive for December 22nd, 2009

by Joel Bocko

Despite its cheerful Yuletide title – which is in fact so warm and snug as to initiate Grinch or Scrooge-like reactions post-haste – A Christmas Tale displays all the surface signs of being a cynical, darkly comical take on the holiday. The director, Arnaud Desplechin, has already made a specialty of family dysfunction, asocial charm, and passive-aggressive relationships in his 2004 film, Kings and Queens. Matieu Amalric, who played the slightly mad musician in that one, returns as another difficult personality – this one possibly more sane, if no less aggravating. In this round of Desplechin’s friendly feud with the nuclear family, Almaric plays Henri, the middle child of grand old eccentrics Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon) and Junon Vuitton (Catherine Deneuve). Henri is returning home (to Roubaix! the opening credits inform us, exclamation point and all) for his first holiday celebration in years – ever since his older sister banished him from her sight. And that’s only one crumbling cornerstone of the family edifice: death, illness, depression, infidelity, age-old scars and new wounds alike, are all ingredients in the tastily rancid eggnog Depleschin serves up with delight. Ultimately, given the bulky nuggets of dysfunction stuffed into the film’s bulky stocking (and A Christmas Tale runs for 2 1/2 hours), it almost goes without saying that the movie has, more or less, a happy ending. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

     Ultimately, one visits movie theatres with the expectation of having their intellect challenged, their mind engaged and their emotions stirred.  Few films pull off this nearly unattainable hat trick, as the brainy films are often models of frigidity, the poignant fare often leaves little to think about as its premise or main characters may be contrived or stereotyped, and the entertaining films are fun at the moment but forgettable after one leaves the theatre.  James Cameron’s previous film, Titanic, released all the way back in 1997, succeeded on the last two counts, but failed miserably on the first, leaving cinema fans with a hollow shell of a movie that now makes people wince when they hear it’s title brought up.  Earlier films like The Abyss, Terminator 2 and Aliens never explored the emotional possibilities of the characters, relying on some scattered humor and male bonding to fill in the gaps.  It may have partially succeeded at the time, but few would make claim that any of these films are not primarily seen now for their technical prowess first and foremost.

    Five years ago Cameron announced that his next film would be a technologically astute blend of live-action and computer-generated imagry that would alter the cinematic landscape.  His story of humans invading the planet Pandora in the year 2154, begins as an exploratory tale involving a team of two scientists and a crippled ex-Marine named Jake Scully who replaces his late twin brother in a scientific experiment, by which he assists in roaming the planet with other remote-controlled bodies, which have been cloned from human and indigenous DNA (the avitars of the film’s title).  This distant world is the source of a valuable and expensive mineral.  The controlled beings are a close approximation of the of the planet’s native Na’Vi, a tall, blue and cat-like species. Jake begins his “sojourn” as an observer, and he soon discovers the beauty, enchantment and danger of Pandora.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Germany 1925 112m) not on DVD

Aka. Varieté; Vaudeville

Trapeze triangle

p  E.A.Dupont, Erich Pommer  d  E.A.Dupont  w  E.A.Dupont, Leo Birinsky  novel  Frederick Hollander  ph  Karl Freund  m  Erno Rapee  art  Alfred Junge

Emil Jannings (Boss Huller), Lya de Putti (Bertha), Maly Delschaft (Frau Huller), Warwick Ward (Artinelli), Georg John (sailor), Werner Krauss,

The first thing one must say about Dupont’s celebrated silent classic is that the version you are likely to see is a butchered American release version shown a year later, running only 75m.  Even I have never been able to see the full 112m version recently restored in Germany but, for some reason, as yet unreleased to DVD.  Dupont remains a somewhat forgotten figure, but for this and his later British companion piece Piccadilly, he should be reclaimed as one of the masters of twenties camera artistry.  For a long time the success of Variety was attributed to Karl Freund, but analysis of Piccadilly shows that the same photographic skill, camera dexterity and aesthetic artistry were purely Dupont’s.

            Take the change in the plot.  The framing device of a murderer in prison, seen as No 28, relating his story to the governor in exchange for his parole, is still in situ.  Essentially it’s an old-fashioned love triangle, which in the version commonly seen sees Jannings’ trapeze artist married to the younger de Putti and happily so until Italian Ward, previously one half of a brothers trapeze act, enlists them for his act and sets about seducing de Putti.  De Putti resists at first, but soon Jannings’ cuckoldry is the talk of the town and, eventually, he finds out about the affair and sets plans to confront Ward with his knowledge, with fatal results. (more…)

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