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Archive for October, 2010

(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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(Charles Laughton, 1955)

(essay by Troy)

I’ll be back…when it’s dark

Such a line speaks to the deep rooted and irrational fears that all children have of the night, a time when they feel alone, unprotected, and at their most vulnerable.  It’s the time when the mythical boogeyman goes about terrorizing the young.  Building from this archetype is Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter, creating an all-too-real boogeyman in the form of Robert Mitchum’s monstrous wolf in sheep’s clothing, Reverend Harry Powell.  As elemental a horror story as one can come up with, it’s core is simplicity, the story of two children constantly on the run from the intimidating Powell, desperately searching for refuge.  It’s themes are universal; the fundamental battle of good versus evil, the duality of man (hammered home with the “love” and “hate” that our evil preacher has tattooed on his hands), and the need for children to be protected from the predators of the world, lest they be eaten up. It’s part Biblical allegory and part Grimm Brother’s fairy tale, viewed through the prism of the Depression era Deep South.
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    As per Wonders in the Dark tradition, whenever there is a three-day holiday stateside the Monday Morning Diary is delayed until Tuesday morning.  Hence, the Tuesday Morning Diary will appear here on these pages on Tuesday, October 12th.  Our friends abroad may not be aware that “Columbus Day” is celebrated every year on Oct. 12, but for all intents and purposes it’s moved either forward or backward to accomodate a three-day weekend that closes schools, banks, post offices and many businesses.

This will actually be the last time we will have a Tuesday Morning Diary until January, when Martin Luther King Day is celebrated.

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by Joel Bocko

In the old Westerns, an outlaw will saunter up to the out-of-town gunslinger and give him an ultimatum: git out, or meet me at high noon. In a more benign fashion, consider this advance notice to Wonders readers: next week, at 12 pm East Coast time (4 pm by the site’s numbers) on October 17, I will launch a new series, exclusive to Wonders in the Dark: “The Sunday Matinee.” In it I will discuss a personal favorite from cinema history – for the most part these will be neither obvious masterpieces (those have been well-covered here; besides, I want to save many of these for my eventual “favorite great movies” canonical series, which is still on the horizon) nor total obscurities (also well-covered on the site). Most of the movies will be readily available (quite a few will probably belong to the Criterion Collection), usually from celebrated auteurs, and coming from my favorite periods in film history (the 30s through the 60s, with some 70s thrown in; definitely nothing post-1980 and probably no silents) as well as my favorite national cinemas (American, French, and Italian). These will be excellent films which really connect with me for some reason, and with only one possible exception, films which have not yet been discussed on Wonders in the Dark. The possible exception is next week’s Fists in the Pocket, which may make a surprise appearance on the horror countdown (fingers crossed), but I will not be approaching at all from that genre’s perspective so if anything, the piece will provide a nice complement.

Here are a few reasons for and ideas behind the series:

1) Why these films? One thing I love about this website is that it has introduced me to so many unseen movies; yet at the same time it’s enriching to replenish ourselves at familiar hunting grounds. I was initially drawn to Wonders during the 60s countdown, and loved seeing unknown features alongside familiar classics, across a wide range of genres and styles. Since then, we’ve moved on to later eras and different channels of filmgoing, with more recent decade countdowns and the advent of genre explorations. I’m thrilled with both approaches, but admit that I also miss visiting and talking about what are, for me, the fundamental touchstones.

2) Why Sunday afternoon? This is a good question, particularly since weekends tend to be slow on blogs, and mornings are generally best to garner the most hits. I’ll admit I have a sentimental attachment to the time slot – it makes me think of spreading out a Sunday newspaper in a sunny living room, wiling away a lazy Sunday by exploring its pages before going out to the beach, or for a walk, or whatever else (no errands, though). The obligation of church is over, the impetus to activity not yet arrived, and the afternoon stretches before you with the opportunity to both relax and stimulate your mind and imagination.

3) Why Wonders in the Dark? ). Ultimately I decided to center the series on Wonders. It seemed a natural fit, since there are so many classic-lovers here and since it was Dennis Polifroni who first drew my attention to that reading reviews/Sunday newspaper connection last summer, in a discussion surrounding my write-up on Jaws. (Dennis, though he likes to keep to the comments, once penned his own superb memory piece on Jaws and the cinema-going of his youth – one of the signature pieces in the Wonders pantheon; you’ve got to read it.) All in all, this seemed a natural fit. So I hope you can make some room for me on your own lazy Sundays; see you next week!

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by Allan Fish

continuing the small series of pieces on films from 2000-2009 which were seen too late for the countdown

(Philippines 2007 540m) not on DVD

Aka. Kagadanan sa banwaan ning mga Engkanto

The Tomb of Mother Nature

p  Lav Diaz  d/w  Lav Diaz  ph  Lav Diaz  ed  Lav Diaz  m  Lav Diaz  art  Dante Perez

Roeder Camanag (Benjamin Agusan), Angeli Bayani (Catalina), Perry Dizon (Teodoro),

When the super typhoon Durian ripped through the rural Filipino area known as the Bicol in November 2006, one cannot help but have responded with a sense of déjà vu.  Images of the wreckage and desolation wrought firstly by the Sri Lankan tsunami of 2004 and then hurricane Katrina in 2005, one could forgiven for thinking that the Book of Revelation was being writ in letters large enough to even impress C.B.de Mille.  A fortnight after the first distressing scenes relayed around the world on CNN, director Lav Diaz journeyed to the Bicol region surrounding the village of Padang, the area where, but a few years earlier, he’d shot his docu-drama Evolution of a Filipino Family and where he’d also made Heremias.  His original intention was to make a documentary, to film the devastation for himself.  Interviews were conducted with various dispossessed, but still thankful to be alive, locals.  Yet somehow the documentary wasn’t enough, he needed to express his feelings in a more narrative-focused way, so that though the interview footage was used intermittently through the piece, they would be merely footnotes to the piece. 

            The main story focuses on a poet, Benjamin Agusan, who has been living for several years in the Russian town of Kaluga and who, upon hearing about the tragedy, returns to his Bicol village to find out what happened to his parents and family.  He finds that they are all dead, some buried alive, but he also meets up with two old friends; firstly his former lover, artist and sculptor Catalina, who he left over a decade earlier, and a fellow poet, Teodoro.  All three have their spectres, corporeal or otherwise, and their recollections, ruminations and emotional traumas form the core of the film. (more…)

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(Dario Argento, 1977)

(essay by Troy)

Suzy Banyon decided to perfect her ballet studies in the most famous school of dance in Europe. She chose the celebrated academy of Freiburg. One day, at nine in the morning, she left Kennedy airport, New York, and arrived in Germany at 10:40 p.m. local time.

So the narrator intones amidst a credit sequence consisting of a cacophony of pounding tympanis, screeching guitar strings, entrancing prog synths, and eerie background vocalizations.  It would have been just as appropriate for Dario Argento to insert a title card which states “Once Upon A Time…” as it soon becomes apparent that Suspiria is Argento’s stylized and lurid attempt at crafting a supernatural, gothic fairy tale (Argento has admitted to using the story and film of Snow White as an influence).  Even while mixing a few of his earlier giallo tropes into the mix —  the Grand Guignol setpieces and a mystery that hinges on an unresolved memory come immediately to mind — he begins moving even further away from the more literal constructs of those earlier films and into the dreamscapes that he would incorporate for his short run of intriguing films.

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by Allan Fish

(Japan 1935 80m) DVD3

Aka. Tokyo no Yado

Tomorrow we’ll make it

d  Yasujiro Ozu  w  Tadao Ikeda, Masao Arata  ph  Hideo Shigehara  ed  Hideo Shigehara  m  Keizo Horiuchi

Takeshi Sakamoto (Kihachi), Yoshiko Okada (Otaka), Chouko Iida (Otsune), Tomio Aoki (Zenko), Kazuko Ojima (Kuniko), Chishu Ryu (Policeman), Takeyuki Suematsu (Masako),

Probably Ozu’s least seen masterwork, An Inn in Tokyo is an important film for many reasons, but perhaps mostly because it rather goes against accepted movie history.  Mention the term neo-realism to most film connoisseurs and they will tell you it’s a naturalist movement in Italian cinema that began around the time of Visconti’s Ossessione and reached its greatest flowerings in the works of director Vittorio de Sica and writer Cesare Zavattini.   What we have with this Ozu gem, then, is an anomaly, a film that is neo-realist to its every frame, but which pre-dates that movement by the best part of a decade.  Indeed, the film itself seems out of step with conventional chronology in a number of ways, made as a silent in 1935, when Hollywood has not only had talkies for eighty years but had evolved to feature length colour films with Becky Sharp in that self same year.  In the end, however, that doesn’t even matter, as a great film is a great film, no matter what the time or circumstances. (more…)

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(Tobe Hooper, 1974)

(essay by Robert)
Tobe Hooper’s film changed the genre. Perhaps what is most impressive about Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the myth and legend it has become and the impact it has had.  So often imitated and so commonly misunderstood (or perhaps misremembered), the film was amazingly impactful.  Everyone is moved by the film, even people who have not seen it.

A lot is written of Hooper’s motivations for the film, I will not focus these here as I would rather emphasize the on-camera aspects. These are important though (hopefully comments will be posted) and can be read about in multiple articles.   I will say that I loved reading that he seemed to have been inspired  (in part) by standing in a long line in a store and the idea that he could get the people to move if he had a chainsaw.  This is not only humorous but also a perfect precise example of why this genre is so human and should be so much more embraced. (more…)

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