Archive for March 29th, 2010

Dreamworks’ absolutely marvelous animated feature ‘How to Train Your Dragon’

Screen cap from gorgeous French feature "Bluebeard from Catherine Breillat

by Sam Juliano

All hail Allan Fish!  The sometimes onery and cantankerous Wonders in the Dark film genius will no doubt downplay his latest extended venture, but it’s frankly the most extraordinary achievement by a single person in the blogosphere since I’ve been here, and it’s something anyone will be hard pressed to match.   Taking the one genre in film that few have comfortable command or even rudimentary exposure to – silent cinema – and penning one hundred masterful reviews and an astonishing follow-up list of 150 nearlies, and then presenting a numerical listing that has not been provided by the best silent film volumes out there, Mr. Fish has proven he belongs on the film shelves of bookstores, an impending possibility I believe may come to well-deserved realization.  Providing stellar cast and filmmaker listings, taking into consideration films that never received any kind of DVD distibution (and securing copies and watching these films) Fish has done here what the most celebrated film critics nationwide and abroad have not done, due to some prohibitive restrictions, so to speak.  It’s an achievement of unparalleled authority, and I dare say it pretty much gets it all right down the line!

The site will accept individual lists for the next nine days, with the polling ending at 11:00 P.M. on Thursday, April 8th.  Those still planning on submitted a ballot under the silent film tab under the site header please do so over the next nine days.  Voting Tabulator Extraordinaire Angelo A. D’Arminio Jr. will be tabulting those ballots submitted (I think we have around a dozen to this point–not bad for this most underviewed of all time periods) and the site will then move to the 2000’s poll, which will again will feature a marathon Top 100 from Allan.

Dave Hicks is down to the final 30 in his always-engrossing noir countdown, and the humble proprietor has well-earned all the fantastic comments he’s received from so many under each and every one of his threads.  Likewise filmmaker Jeffrey Goodman, another internet sweetheart continues his terrific year–by-year countdown, which to this point has faithfully moved into the late 1970’s.

I went bonkers this week, catching an opera at the Met last Monday night (Verdi’s Atilla) an off-Broadway theatrical work at the St. Ann’s Playhouse in Brooklyn on Saturday night, and seven (7) films in theatres over the weekend, despite some restrictions due to my attendance at a Friday night wake and Saturday morning funeral for the father of one of my best friends, who passed on after a long illness at age 82.  My determination to see all these films (Lucille was there for some, the kids for others, and Lucille and Broadway Bob for a few others) is again a showing of OCD, the disease of having to see everything out there on pain of death!

On Monday night, I witnessed a superlative staging of Giuseppi Verdi’s gorgeous Atilla, an opera that would fall methinks, in a grouping after the Big Five: La Traviata, Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, Aida and Otello.  I hope to pen a review later this week if time permits, but the presentation of the fabulous score, the conducting and set design were top-rank.  This was not one of the operas offered this year on the HD broadcast schedule.

A first trip ever to the landmark St. Ann’s Warehouse, literally right “under” the intimidating Brooklyn Bridge on the Brooklyn side of the river provided a photo shoot session for our erstwhile cameraman Broadway Bob, who shot some photos of the bridge from point blank range as well as others involving Lucille and I.  The show, the critically-praised “A Life in Three Acts” stars ‘Bette Bourne’ a drag queen activist in the 1970’s, who uses a slide show to document his upbringing in the U.K. social scene, his own biography, and an often hilarious extended monologue (playing out like a stand up comedy routine) where he is sometimes interuppted by his production colleague Mark ravenhill to pose some lead-ons or pointed questions.  Christopher Isherwood’s New York Times review was extremely favorable, but you ahve to see this to really appreciate the unique approach to the material.  Again, hopefully, a review will follow.

The seven films I saw this week (all over the weekend) are as follows:

Dream Boy **          (Chelsea Cinemas)   Sunday night
Waking Sleeping Beauty    ****   (Landmark Cinemas)         Sunday night
The Eclipse   **      (Angelika Film Center)            Sunday afternoon
Chloe      ***    (Edgewater multiplex)          Friday, noon
Bluebeard  **** 1/2   (IFC Film Center)        Friday night, midnight
Vincere     **** 1/2    (Montclair Cinemas)   Saturday afternoon
How to Train Your Dragon  **** 1/2  (Paramus multiplex)   Fri. afternoon
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON is one of the great animation glories in recent years, blending a witty script, splendid voice working, soaring animation, and surprising emotional resonance to provide for an experience that will enthrall adults and kids alike.  I nearly went with a five star rating, but reserve the right to do so in the near future.  The film is so utterly exhilarating that I  smile from ear to ear while thinking about it.
VINCERE  Marco Bellocchio has crafted a film with unusual insight into the life of the woman Mussolini spurned, before marrying his wife, and the son he denied fathering.  Some breathtaking scenes of visual beauty and aural magnificence, the film boasts an electrifying performance by its leading female, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, and an expressionistic style and operatic underpinning that makes this film come very close to a five star rating.
Atom Egoyan can never be dismissed, and CHLOE is not a film that deserves some of the very bad notices it has received, even with some tacky plot contrivances on par with FATAL ATTRACTION, and some unexplained morivational aspects centering around Julianne Moore’s character.  Reportedly, Liam Neeson was suffering grief at his wife’s death while filming, and lamentably this seems to show, but the two female leads (especially moore) are excellent.  It’s trashy, but it’s seriously entertaining, which I think makes it worthwhile for a look-see

The Irish film, THE ECLIPSE is well acted, and there are some striking screnes and lovely scenery, but it’s a serious misfire, as it doesn’t know what it wants to be, and it has some rhythm or flow.  Even the “romance” advertised is only faintly hinted at, as the ghost story segments are completely alien to the story being played out.  Some are reading way more into this than what it’s worth.

WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY, a documentary about Disney’s last rise to the top in the late 80’s and 90’s is only 68 minutes long, hence it couldn’t go as far as it might have, but it’s still a joy for the lovers of this animation, and the creative process is presented in a highly informative an dentertaining fashion.  I admire the candid approach too.

Based on Clarles Perrault’s grisly fairy tale, Catherine Breillat’s sensuous BLUEBEARD is at at the same time psychologically insightful and stylistically minimalist, but it’s a morbidly intoxicating fable beautifully lensed and provocatively played out by an excellent cast.  Breillat’s cinema leaves always much more than meets the eye, but as was the case with her terrific THE LAST MISTRESS a few years ago, what you see is absolutely ravishing.

DREAM BOY, one of three features in a festival, is an amateurish gay coming-of-age tale with the typical stereotypes and a jarringly unpleasant conclusion.  Little chemistry between characters and a pedestrian script mitigating some minor perceptiveness.

Here are a number of great links for this week: (more…)

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