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Archive for October 12th, 2010

by Joel

#89 in Best of the 21st Century?, a series in which I view, for the first time, some of the most critically acclaimed films of the previous decade.

As Gosford Park opens, with its funereal tones, its period decor, its stately music and mise en scene (evoking the world of Merchant-Ivory), it hardly seems the most modern of Robert Altman’s pictures – let alone the most postmodern. Yet, as the story of Gosford Park itself never tires of reminding us, appearances can be deceiving. Gosford Park is a delicious subversion of itself, and its narrative arc subtly mirrors a society’s decline and eclipse – an age-old aristocracy faced with a rumbling underclass and a vulgar modernity (represented by an American visiting the estate; he is, of course, in the motion-picture business). A subtle society drama becomes a murder mystery becomes a farce becomes a happy ending; the movie opens with a rainstorm and closes in sunshine, and if there’s something a bit ironic in its ultimate optimism, it’s nonetheless cheerful and sincere after a fashion. The movie does not quite wear its twistiness on its sleeve, but by the end of the film the characters have broken all the rules of the game and come out smelling like roses – or dirt anyway, which is equally earthy.

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(AKA Aquarius; AKA Bloody Bird; AKA Deliria)
(Michele Soavi, 1987)

(essay by Kevin)

Stage Fright is a lot more fun than it has any right to be. By that I mean Michele Soavi’s debut film is nothing original – in fact it was about this time that the entire slasher genre was declared dead on arrival as not even big franchise sequels like Halloween, Friday the 13th, or A Nightmare Elm Street could rake in the cash they once did. Most of that was due to the fact that audiences were no longer interested in the tired old clichés this particular subgenre leaned on. Soavi, however, made Stage Fright’s rather familiar premise more than tolerable by employing a number of eerie images and ratcheting up the tension seldom seen in such a familiar subgenre; in addition to the glossy execution of horror tropes, Soavi’s film is ultimately a sardonic work, riffing (and reworking so they’re better) on tired old slasher motifs. There’s a lot going on here, and it’s why I really wanted to showcase this particular Italian horror film higher than all of the other great entries showcased on this countdown. In fact, my overall hope is that this leads film buffs to the work of Michele Soavi – a man I believe to be the most talented Italian horror filmmaker.  


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Aaron Johnson captures Lennon's essence  in Nowhere Boy - Nowhere Boy review
Aaron Johnson as John Lennon in “Nowhere Boy”

by Sam Juliano

Invigorating fall weather has settled on the leaf-changing and colorful Northeast, while Halloween shoppers have depleted candy and decoration supplies in department and specialty stores.  National Football League fans are firmly in the thick of their favorite team’s schedule, while baseball fans are feeling World Series fever.  After their three-game sweep of the Mineesota Twins the Yankees are poised to defend their championship, but have quite a challenge from either the Tampa Bay Rays or the Texas Rangers.  Meanwhile in the City of Brotherly Love, the hometwon NL Champs the Phillies have been the darling of bookmakers, who are envisioning another series ring.

At Wonders in the Dark the wildly-successful horror countdown continues to receive a first-class presentation from Jamie Uhler, Troy and Kevin Olson and Robert Taylor, who has exceeded modest expectations with astounding scholarship and exquisite taste.  At the Chicago International Film Festival “johnny-on-the-spot” Marilyn Ferdinand has staged an extraordinary performance of her own with a slew of brilliant reviews on her prolific coverage of an amazing line-up in the Windy City, that includes the latest films by some of our finest contemporary directors.  Joel Bocko has announced an exciting new series here at Wonders called “The Sunday Matinee” which promises some priceless trips down Memory Lane for movie lovers.

On the movie front Lucille and I saw only one new release this week, though I did manage four other festival offerings at the Film Forum and IFC Film Center for the on-going “Heist” and Ozu festivals.  Sammy and Danny tagged along for the Friday night screening of the John Lennon early-age biopic, Nowhere Boy.  In any case, here is what I saw this week in theatres:

Nowhere Boy   ****   (Friday night)  Film Forum

The Asphalt Jungle  ****  (Saturday night) Heist Festival at Film Forum

The Killing  **** 1/2  (Saturday night)  Heist Festival at Film Forum

Le Cercle Rouge   *****  (Sunday afternoon) Heist Festival at Film Forum

Floating Weeds  *** 1/2 (Sunday morning) Ozu Festival at IFC

The John Lennon formative years bio-pic, NOWHERE BOY is narratively schematic, but it’s a sweet piece of nostalgia with an acute sense of time and place, all navigated magnificently by Aaron Johnson, who makes you believe you know Lennon better than you ever did, even while growing up with the greatest lyricist of the rock era, (bar none) and the eventual anchor of the best band of all-time.  It’s conventional, but it impressively documents the always-fascinating relationship of Lennon and his aunt.  The music does rock too!

Seeing three of noir’s most celebrated works, Jean-Pierre Melville’s LE CERCLE ROUGE, John Huston’s THE ASPHALT JUNGLE and Stanley Kubrick’s THE KILLING on the big screen was quite a treat, and the lovely color by ace cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa in the 1958 FLOATING WEEDS (Ozu) is always a treat, even if the film is not nearly as good as one it is based on – THE STORY OF THE FLOATING WEEDS (also by Ozu).

So how was YOUR weekend and holiday weekend?  Movies? Plays” DVDs? CDs? Sporting events?  Restaurants?  Politics?  Traveling?

A number of new and exciting features and reviews have appeared this past week at some of our favorite pit stops:

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by Allan Fish

(Japan 1942 87m) DVD3 (Hong Kong only)

Aka. Chichi Ariki

Old badger

p  Yasujiro Ozu  d  Yasujiro Ozu  w  Tadao Ikeda, Takao Yanai  ph  Yushun Atsuta  ed  Yoshizazu Hamamura  m  Gyoichi Saiki 

Chishu Ryu (Shuhei Horikawa), Shuji Sano (Ryohei), Mitsuko Mito (Fumiko), Takeshi Sakamoto (Makoto Hirata), Shin Saburi (Yasutaro Kurokawa), Haruhiko Tsuda (Ryohei as a child), Masayoshi Otsuka (Seichi), Shinichio Himori (Minoru Uchida),

One of Yasujiro Ozu’s least seen films, There Was a Father was shot on the back of Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family and was released just after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Ozu then remained quiet for several years, not returning to directing until 1947, and his earlier films remained forgotten for a long period of time.  It may not quite have the power of his later great masterworks, but it’s a cherished film for all that, and marked a turning point in his career. 

            Shuhei Horikawa works in a small town as a teacher and lives for his work.  His son, Ryohei, goes to the same school.  One day, however, while on a school trip in the shadow of Mount Fuji, a student in his care dies in an accident (oh for the days when teachers could take kids on trips without filling in multiple Risk Assessments and a mountain of paperwork akin to a small novel) he sees himself as a failure as a teacher, letting his students down, and retires with his son to a country temple retreat.  The problem is that in doing so he can’t earn enough money to send him to the best schools, so he leaves for Tokyo to get a better job, but realises he will rarely see his son as he grows up.  His son only wants to spend time with his father, but it is not until he’s been through school and university, and become a teacher in turn, that he gets to spend some quality time with his father. (more…)

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