Archive for December 28th, 2009

by Sam Juliano

It’s everybody’s favorite time of the year, but it’s taxing in so many ways, and for many it’s time to relax and uncoil.  With Christmas now behind us, preparations are being made by many for a big New Year’s Eve celebration.  In the New York area, a rainstorm just about washed away the remnants of last week’s snow, and temperatures went up a bit.  It’s cold, but not frigidly.

At Wonders in the Dark, Allan’s silent poll countdown went into full gear, and although the holiday has reduced the kind of hands on involvement we’ve had for poll after poll, it’s expected that after January 1, there will be some serious action.  As it is the review for James Cameron’s Avatar has attracted a bushel load of comments, most quite perceptive.  Joel Bocko’s Boston Examiner reviews continue to post here and all always receive impressive responses.  The newest one is appropriately, the French import A Christmas Tale by Arnold Despletchan.

I’ll let Dave Hicks, Joe and perhaps Joel fill us in on the NFL, though I did see that the Jets pulled a shocking upset over previously-undefeated Indianapolis, which actually kept their playoff hopes alive.

As expected, with the year-end releases opening on Christmas Day and before, I was busy in movie theatres, and even got to see Avatar a second time (this time in 3D) with Dennis Polifroni on Tuesday in Edgewater, and again it was enrapturing.  The 3 D enhanced the visual perspective, but the overall experience was the same as the first viewing, methinks.

In  addition to the repeat of Avatar, here is what I saw in theatres:

Police, Adjective   **** 1/2   IFC Film Center – Wednesday night
Sherlock Holmes   **          Edgewater multiplex – Friday afternoon
Crazy Heart       ****           Angelika Film Center – Friday night
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassas  *** 1/2    Sony – Sunday afternoon
     The Romanian Police, Adjective was a minimalist police procedural, that was so meticulously observed, and so fascinating in detail, that it hardly mattered that nothing was really going on.  The last 15 minutes, which features a police director’s lecture on the difference between “conscience” and “justice” ranks as one of the greatets single sequences in any film this year, certainly the equal of the restaurant scene in 35 Shots of Rum, the lyrical “prologue” of Antichrist and the scrapbook segment near the beginning of Pixar’s Up.
      The new Sherlock Holmes film by Guy Ritchie was loud, tedious, and ludicrously-plotted, and there were pyrotechnics galore, but there’s no denying that Robert Downey Jr. gives a flamboyant and charismatic reading, which holds the stage, regardless of the weak script he has to negotiate.  Our good friend Judy at Movie Classics, seems to have had a generally positive reaction though.
     Jeff Bridges may well have won the Oscar for his extraordinary performance in Crazy Heart, and despite a few very minor quibbles, this is quite the vehicle for his big artistic comeback, following in the footsteps of 1983’s Tender Mercies, where Robert Duvall, who plays a supporting role in this new film, portrays a character with a number of similarities to the one Bridges plays.  The country music by T. Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton is infectious, too.
      As far as Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassas, sure it’ds uneven and it often makes no sense, and sure there’s a lot of indulgence on display, but I’ll still take much of this any day as it’s a dazzling fun-ride, Ledger, Depp, Law and Christopher Plummer aboard to populate some wonderous, mysterious and exquisite tapestries, which do have Gilliam’s stamp all over them.
     I am close to completing both my ‘Best Films of 2009’ list, and am also working on my decade ‘Best of’ too.’  I will have elaborate picture and essay spreads on this soon.
     Around the blogosphere, many have taken a short sabatical, both some others have posted religiously:
Tony d’Ambra has a fantastic roundup of his best posts of 2009 up at FilmsNoir.net, and I can vouch for the choices myself.  For anyone who hasn’t yet seen them they are in the links after you link here to the lead piece:

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1925 59m) DVD1

He still wanted to tell her he loved her

p  Joseph M.Schenck, Buster Keaton  d  Buster Keaton  w  Clyde Bruckman, Jean Haver, Joseph A.Mitchell  play  Roi Cooper Megrue  ph  Elgin Lessley, Byron Houck  ed  Buster Keaton  m  Robert Israel  art  Fred Gaboune

Buster Keaton (Jimmie Shannon), Ruth Dwyer (Mary Jones), T.Roy Barnes (Billy Meekin), Snitz Edwards (lawyer), Frances Raymond (Mrs Jones), Erwin Connelly (clergyman), Rosalind Byrne, Jean Arthur, Constance Talmadge,   

It’s somewhat surprising to learn just how much Buster Keaton hated this film.  He had the project forced on him by Joe Schenck, and did it only under protest.  At initial screenings it didn’t perform that well either, and he went back and shot an extra reel with a new finale.  That finale – and thus the film itself – entered silent comedy legend.  We all have our favourite images of Buster, on the side of the train which starts up, rowing a wheel-less car like a boat, standing against a cyclone, or having a side of a house fall on him.  This beats all.

            He plays Jimmie Shannon, a broker who has loved Mary Jones for some time.  We see him declare his love for her as the seasons pass, starting in spring, through autumn and winter and back to spring, the passage of time illustrated not merely by the foliage on the trees but by the growing size of Mary’s pet pooch.  Come the spring, however, he has problems in business, as his broker’s business, in which he is the junior partner, is in trouble after a misbegotten deal has gone awry leaving them on the verge of bankruptcy and shame.  Out of the blue, he hears that he will inherit seven million dollars belonging to his grandparents if he marries by seven o’clock on the evening of his 27th birthday.  The problem is that that’s today, and he has only a few hours to get married.  He goes back to Mary, but cocks things up in making it seem to her he’d marry anyone to get the money.  After trying to propose on the spot to numerous female acquaintances, with literally laughable results, his partner puts an advert in the evening newspaper, and then things really start to hot up. (more…)

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