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Archive for February 22nd, 2010

*** 1/2

by Bob Clark

How does one begin a review to a typical modern-day puzzle movie? With caveats to the unprepared reader, with spoiler-alerts and warnings to proceed no further until walking out of the theater? How much of the film’s narrative, hinging so dependently upon last-minute twists, left-field turns and deus ex machina expositions, can be safely divulged to those who have not yet made the decision to pass the palms of their local box-office with silver, like curious visitors to so many gypsy fortune-tellers? Are such storytelling concerns even entirely relevant to the larger considerations of the quality of a film’s aesthetics and performances? This last question begs itself even more starvingly than usual when the film in question is directed by that latter-day cinematic maestro and walking film PhD, Martin Scorsese—after all, when a filmmaker of his caliber sets his sights to a project, does it really matter all that much what the story is, or how much of it you might know beforehand? Isn’t the smartest thing to just go see the movie no matter what, and to stop asking such questions?

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Martin Scorsese's spectacularly-entertaining "Shutter Island"

by Sam Juliano

Snow and cold weather continues to grip the northeast, as Oscar fans map out their plans for their annual Oscar parties. Winter Olympic Game followers have no doubt enjoyed the unexpectedly fantastic performance by the USA contingent, which presently leads the field in medals.  Congratulations to Joel Bocko on the launching of  his new site and for the splendid series that began posting at WitD this past day.  Action at Dave Hicks’s site continues with tireless enthusiasm for the greatest film noirs, while Jeffrey Goodman is up to the mid 40’s in his consideration of the greatest films of all time.  Of course at Wonders in the Dark, Allan’s silent films marathon countdown has reached #36 with Vertov’s Man With A Movie Camera.  Dee Dee and Tony have collaborated to navigate the Oscar prediction posts, and the work there is outstanding.

On the movie front it’s been a memorable week in theatres, the best of 2009 in fact, led by triumphant returns by film masters Martin Scorsese and Roman Polanski, and an exquisitely beautiful and spiritual  French film, Lourdes, reviewed here at the site on Friday.  I saw four films, one with the entire family, one with Lucille and Bobby McCartney, and two by my lonesome:

Lourdes  **** 1/2  (Film Forum) Wednesday evening
Phyllis and Harold  ** 1/2  (Cinema Village)  Friday evening
Shutter Island  **** 1/2  (Edgewater multiplex)  Friday afternoon
Ghost Writer  ****  (Saturday night)   Union Square Cinemas
As a partial description of the film LOURDES, I’ve opted to post part of my own review: As a work of religious custom and orthodoxy, and as a showcase of the somber, almost intimidating meditative beauty of Christian rituals, Lourdes is unquestionably an arresting film, right from the opening scene where visitors are gathered in a holding area, while Franz Schubert’s ravishing “Ave Maria” is sung on the soundtrack with an entrancing spirituality, through it’s adherence to tradition and reverence, beautifully lit by cinematographer Martin Gschlacht, in a number of stationary shots.  But Gschlacht wisely lets the magnificence of the settings stand on their own.  The painterly compositions are often underscored by some of J.S. Bach’s most spiritually captivating organ works……the question remains of course, as to what the director, Jessica Hausner is implying here, but she wisely remains non-committal.

The major issue with the passably made documentary PHYLLIS AND HAROLD is that it’s really like watching the home movies of someone who hardly know.  The two “subjects” are not very likable people to begin with, and the film’s director Cindy Kline (who is married to Andre Gregory of MY DINNER WITH ANDRE fame) seems detached from her parents, making for a very awkward emotional connection to anyone.  These aren’t people I would like to spend any time with.  In any case in a crowd of almost all seniors on Friday night, when the director appeared aat the Cinema Village to engage in a Q & A, I was sold a senior citizen ticket at the box office without asking for it, so it’s official now!  Ha!

Martin Scorsese’s long-awaited SHUTTER ISLAND, turns out to be a spectacularly-entertaining film, that will still have at least a few bloggers crashing the party, telling us about it’s ‘narrative inconsistences’ as if we were  first-graders.  Those of us having a roller-ride of a time don’t give one iota about such insignificant issues, as we’re being whisked around at atmospherically-enthralling island, visiting a lighthouse, cave, cemetery burial vault, a prison cafeteria and a doctor’s study among such other deliciously intoxicating places.  I never read Dennis Lehane’s novel, so I was thrown for a loop by the terrific ending, and as always was mightily impressed with Ralph Richardson’s weathered lensing and Scorsese’s excellent use of a Dachau flashback structure.  Red herrings abound of course, and Leonardo Di Caprio gives his most mature performance to date, and a bevy of supporting players, especially Patricia Clarkson are superb.  I already have plans to see this a second time on Tuesday night with sire regular Dennis Polifroni.

Then there’s good old Roman Polanski, who also does not shirk the call of duty with GHOST WRITER, turning in a taut, witty an dparanoid thriller, which recalls David Mamet’s ability to impart vital information in the silences between words.  It’s a place Polanski has never visited before, but he’s adept at holding you enthralled with this political film with Hitchcockian pacing and subtle performances, anchored by Ewan McGregor in the title role.  It’s a vivid and complex piece about among other things, missed chances.

So how was your week?  You know the menu!  Let’s hear it. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1929 85m) DVD2 (Germany only)

Knife!!!!

p  John Maxwell  d  Alfred Hitchcock  w  Alfred Hitchcock, Ben W.Levy, Charles Bennett  play  Charles Bennett  ph  Jack Cox  ed  Emile de Ruelle  md  John Reynders  m  Campbell and Connolly  art  Wilfrid Arnold, Norman Arnold

Anny Ondra (Alice White), John Longden (Det.Frank Webber), Sara Allgood (Mrs White), Donald Calthrop (Tracy), Charles Paton (Mr White), Cyril Ritchard (Mr Crewe),

The version of Hitchcock’s Blackmail everybody knows is the one finally released late in 1929.  The film commonly regarded as Britain’s first talkie, with a silent first few minutes, originally shot as a silent, then reshot by Hitch for sound without telling the producers.  It was a marvellous coup, and shows that Hitch had as much mastery of the new medium as those in Hollywood – no better film was made in Hollywood in 1929, and very few as good.  That film, however, has its faults; Anny Ondra’s Bohemian accent was so wrong for a London tradesman’s daughter, they hired Joan Barry to speak her lines off-screen, in perfect sync, but also with such clipped tones she seemed to come more from the height of the West End, not the gutteral other half of the city.  The silent version somehow survived, and by the eighties there were enough people interested in it, with the advent of video, for it to gain some exposure.  Finally remastered and shown on DVD it not only seems a better and more fluid film than the talkie that superseded it, but virtually as good as that other classic Hitchcock silent The Lodger. (more…)

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