by Sam Juliano
With Thanksgiving Day 2010 now a footnote in history, focus is now in the direction of Christmas cards, shopping and home decorating, while those in the snow belt brace themselves for what Farmer’s Almanac has promised will be a ferocious winter. The twelfth month of year is always the most exciting time for movie lovers, when year-end lists, award contenders and prestige releases brighten the cinematic landscape and serve as prime motivational components in the movie equation. Likewise, football fans are now primed for playoff action, and theatre and music fans can look forward to the finest stretch of the year for performances. In every sense, this is the time for unbridled excitement for those in event-mode.
Marilyn Ferdinand rightly referred to him as a “film critic extraordinaire” when announcing his move from San Francisco to the Windy City last week, but Jon Joseph Lanthier’s relocation has instilled some newly-rekindled spark for film criticism followers and movie and music fans as a result of the gifted writer’s commitment to “renew his cultural vows.” Lanthier, a longtime friend of WitD, is a class act, and we all wish him and his girlfriend a long and fruitful stay in the shadows of Wrigley Field, in the general proximity of the residences of our dear friends Laurie Buchanan, Jamie Uhler, Marilyn and Pat.
Jim Clark hit a grand slam with his magisterial essay on Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, and readers responded with a boat load of fantastic comments. Jamie’s new entry in his “Getting Over the Beatles” series caught some serious late fire, while again Bob Clark has sparked the flames of controversy with another brilliantly penned marathon essay on Joss Whedon that has attracted all kinds of traffic from undiscovered country. Joel Bocko has again authored a superlative treatment of a profound subject for his weekly Sunday afternoon series, while in the UK Stephen-Russell Gebbett continues to astound animation lovers with one great piece after another in a countdown that will forever be referenced by those looking to immerse themselves in this beloved artistic form.
The traffic response this week to the “Film Preservation Blogothon” scheduled for February (being co-chaired by Marilyn Ferdinand, Greg Ferrara and The Self-Styled Siren) has been sensational, and many thanks to ecstatic advocate Dee Dee, for her terrific sidebar promotional work. Seeing film noir titan Eddie Muller comment at Ferdy-on-Films was quite a thrill for many movie lovers, especially genre fans. And the exemplary action continues at Movies over Matter, where Jason Marshall’s movie survey continues on with the final choices for 1937.
On the cultural front, it was (typically) mostly film for Lucille and I, though we spent Saturday night at a wedding in the Bronx, and I have been engaged in a formidable exercise regimentation.
On Friday evening, after a mid-afternoon showing of a John Ford classic (see below) my weekend troupe attended the latest production at the always-reliable Irish Repetory Theatre, BANISHED CHILDREN OF EVE, directed by Kelly Younger, adapted from the novel by Peter Quinn. The simple but effective staging brings to life a work about the “draft riots” that racked New York City in July of 1863 during the height of the Civil War. Irish immigrants comprised most of those affected by the outbreak. Some compelling individual sequences and impassioned performances mitigate some uneven narrative progression, and the off stage piano is well employed.
I saw the following films in theatres:
Fair Game ** (Tuesday night) Edgewater Multiplex Cinemas
Tangled **** 1/2 (Wednesday afternoon) Edgewater Multiplex Cinemas
Burlesque ** (Wednesday evening) Edgewater Multiplex Cinemas
The King’s Speech **** 1/2 (Sunday night) Union Square Cinemas
The Grapes of Wrath ***** (Friday afternoon) Film Forum
Tokyo Story ***** (Sunday morning) IFC Film Center
FAIR GAME, a well-reviewed political drama comes off as preachy and besides the point, resulting in a film with a plethora of exposition and little suspense. This tedious display of redundancy could have been a cogent expose of corruption, but instead relies on overused devised like the hand-held camera, which only serves to accentuate the tedium. There’s little here that we haven’t heard or don’t already know, and even Penn and Watts are nothing, if not on auto pilot. The stressed out marriage is far more interesting than the government betrayals.
TANGLED gives Disney yet another masterful animated film, that employs a modestly effective score by Allan Menken, a colorful canvas, and an intriguing take on Hans Christian Anderson’s “Rapunzel” about the maiden abducted by the witch and kept prisoner from infancy in a tower hidden in the woods. Her long hair is let down for access to the tower’s high window, and a fashionable prince arrives on the scene to save teh day and restore the the heroine to her just regal status. The film recalls in spirit and exquisite beauty, Paul Zelinsky’s Caldecott Medal-winning “Rapunzel” which resuurected a beloved fairy tale.
THE KING’S SPEECH comes within a hair of a five-star rating, and I may just go the distance after a second viewing. The story of the stammering monarch, King George VI, this prestige picture lives up to the hype. It’s an emotionally engaging and visually exquisite film, with a lovely score by Alexander Desplat (with some inspired help from ‘Beethoven’s Seventh’) and two spectacular performances by Colin Firth as George and Geoffrey Rush as the speech coach who gave the King the confidence to deliver a vital war-time speech to the English people. Without question one of the best films of the year.
The only open-ended question in regards to the musical BURLESQUE with Cher and Christina Aguilera is the measure of its derivation. The narrative is episodic, the music banal, and Cher, though a force of nature appears as a plastered mannequin. Only Aguilera shines, and the reason has nothing to do with acting or singing. Predictable and slick, this is one musical to disappoint even the most ardent genre fans, and a validation of it might seriously tarnish one’s value judgement.
Seeing two of my five favorites films of all-time on the same weekend (TOKYO STORY and THE GRAPES OF WRATH) on the big screen is cause for celebration even in the chilled night air, and I was thrilled to have my good friends Andrei Scala and Tony Lucibello on board for the Ozu. The Japanese masterpiece is being shown for ten days as an encore to the completed Ozu Festival, which ran on weekends from July to November. The film, inexplicably, was not shown during the duration of the festival, but was brought on in an acceptable print for this popular run. The print of THE GRAPES OF WRATH may be the best yet seen of this classic since it’s original run, and only serves to enhance the film’s status as one of the greatest of all American films. I will now (happily) be able to include TOKYO STORY in my full Ozu round-up a few weeks from now.
The extraordinarily gifted (and passionate) Samuel Wilson continues to pen astounding essays at Mondo 70, and his weekend piece on neglected silent clown Harry Langdon, considering Three’s A Crowd (1927) is a godsend for all cineastes, especially fans of silent comedy. What a labor of love here: http://mondo70.blogspot.com/2010/11/threes-crowd-1927.html
John Greco, back in the saddle, has authored a wonderful essay on George Lucas’ American Graffiti at “Twenty Four Frames”: http://twentyfourframes.wordpress.com/2010/11/27/american-graffiti-1973-george-lucas/
And John Greco again, at his second site, Watching Shadows on the Wall, has displayed some stunnings photos from his New Mexico trip. These are truly breathtaking: http://watchingshadowsonthewall.wordpress.com/2010/11/27/my-photography-scenes-from-albuquerque-new-mexico/
Tony d’Ambra has posted another of his stellar noir capsule collections with a deft consideration of Side Street, Mystery Street and High Wall at a spiffy and redecorated FilmsNoir.net: http://filmsnoir.net/film_noir/summary-noir-reviews-between-wall-street-and-a-high-wall.html
Once again at The Seventh Art, Just Another Film Buff has raised the bar with an utterly spectacular review of Olivier Assayas’ marathon cut of Carlos that deserves full attention off all cineastes: http://theseventhart.info/2010/11/27/lights-camera-revolution/
And speaking of Carlos, Jake Cole has also penned a spectacular review of it. Read JAFB and Jake’s assessment and you will have achieved Carlos nirvana: http://armchairc.blogspot.com/2010/11/carlos.html
At Speaking from the Heart, Laurie Buchanan continues with her magnificent study of health, optimism and application in an alphabetical presentation that most recently features “M for Mindfulness.”: http://wp.me/pP1C5-r7.
Judy Geater continues to write with passion, authority and appreciation at her Movie Classics blog, where as of late she has demonstrated a rapturous specialty with Shakespeare and American director William Wellman. Her newest post is a spledid appraisal of Orson Welles’ brilliant Chimes at Midnight: http://movieclassics.wordpress.com/2010/11/21/chimes-at-midnight-1965/
Marilyn Ferdinand has announced Film Preservation Blogothon for the beginning of 2011, and her comment thread includes the reactionof venerated Noir Kingpin Eddie Muller at Ferdy-on-Films: http://www.ferdyonfilms.com/?p=7177
Meanwhile at the same busy site Australian wonderkind Roderick Heath continues to demonstrate his astounding expertise with the horror genre with his fecund essay on The Karnstein Trilogy: http://www.ferdyonfilms.com/?p=7245
Terrill Welch, artist and nature denizen extraordinaire, continues to bring her island Pacific paradise in the homes of appreciative bloggers all over the world, and this weekend in a post entitled “Black Friday with a Red Bubble” she showcases some of her beautiful oil paintings available at excellent prices at the Creative Potager’s blog: http://creativepotager.wordpress.com/2010/11/26/black-friday-with-a-red-bubble/
Filmmaker par excellence Jeffrey Goodman is thrilled to announce the return of “Movie Maker” and a brand new interviw on Sasha Alexander from fans of her television show. It’s over at The Last Lullaby: http://cahierspositif.blogspot.com/2010/11/moviemakers-back-and-great-new-lullaby.html#comment-form
Troy and Trisha Olson are as pleased as pink at their Thanksgiving celebration with their daughter Madelyn (her first in the Olson household!) while the talented scribe ponders what director will win his sidebar polling to receive the royal Olson Treatment. It seems like a neck and neck battle beween Bresson and Powell & Pressburger. How about casting your own ballot?: http://troyolson.blogspot.com/2010/11/happy-thanksgiving.html
The other part of the Olson equation is educator and author supremo Kevin J. Olson, who is gearing up for his Ken Russell blogothon at Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies. Kevin takes a short break to give thanks to other bloggers, and what a beautifully magnanimous post he offers up for Thanksgiving. Kevin is quite a guy, but I’ve known this for a very long time: http://kolson-kevinsblog.blogspot.com/2010/11/thanks.html
Our friend in Tokyo, “Murderous Ink” has penned an utterly brilliant essay on a “Japanese World War II propaganda film” from 1937, The Fighting Soldier, at “Vermillion and One Nights.”: http://vermillionandonenights.blogspot.com/2010/11/exhausted-soldier.html
Shubhajit at Cinemascope has authored another dead-on capsule assessment of a film in the Humphrey Bogart DVD Collection, the classic They Drive by Night: http://cliched-monologues.blogspot.com/2010/11/they-drive-by-night-1940.html
Jason Bellamy and Ed Howard have again upped the ante with their incomparable “The Conversations” series entering it’s 22nd phase with a Part 1 consideration of master director Darren Aronofsky. They plan to examine his upcoming Black Swan as Part 2 next month. Here’s the link to Ed’s site, though you can also access the Slant mega-discussion at Jason’s “The Cooler”: http://seul-le-cinema.blogspot.com/2010/11/conversations-22-darren-aronofsky-part.html
Down in Santiago, Chile, our very good friend and writing colleague Jaimie Grijalba has penned an essential essay on Wes Craven’s 1972 cult film, The Last House on the Left at “Exodus 8:2”: http://exodus8-2.blogspot.com/2010/11/last-house-on-left-1972.html
Andrew Wyatt offers up an excellent capsule appraisal of Sylvain Chomet’s The Triplets of Belleville, which he recently saw at the St. Luis International Film Festival, at Gateway Cinephiles: http://gatewaycinephiles.com/2010/11/22/stliff-2010-day-eleven/
Greg Ferrara at Cinema Styles, one of the Film Preservation blogothon’s prime luminaries, has a loving tribute up to Hammer icon Ingrid Pitt, who passed on earlier this week at age 73: http://cinemastyles.blogspot.com/2010/11/ingrid-pitt-1937-2010.html
One of Michael Harford’s most affecting posts, “What do we know of one another” is headlining at the Coffee Messiah’s blog. As usual some arresting collage work showcases there: http://coffeemessiah.blogspot.com/2010/11/what-do-we-know-of-one-another.html
Longman Oz has returned (while he admits the Irish government is in dire straights) for an eloquent essay entitled “A Preulogy to Fianna Fail.” It’s heading up at the ressurected No Ordinary Fool, Dublin’s most accomplishedcultural blogsite: http://noordinaryfool.com/2010/11/22/a-preulogy-to-fianna-fail/
Jason Marshall, film, politics, theatre and literature specialist extraordinaire, continues on with his essential survey of the cinema since 1930, with a focus at present on 1937. The great work is on display at Movies Over Matter: http://moviesovermatter.wordpress.com/2010/11/21/best-pictures-of-1937-4-stage-door/
Craig Kennedy has authored an excellent review of Oscar hopeful The King’s Speech at “Living in Cinema.” His grad is three-and-a half stars out of five: http://livingincinema.com/2010/11/26/review-the-kings-speech-2010-12/
Kaleem Hasan’s Satyamshot is up and running after a most bizarre circumstance that closed the popular blogsite for 36 hours. Check it out: http://satyamshot.wordpress.com/2010/11/27/36-hours-later-and-apologies/
David Schleicher has headlined a noble piece on the independent arts and Robbie Girl at The Schleicher Spin that deserves fervant applause: http://theschleicherspin.com/2010/11/22/spotlight-on-the-independent-arts-save-yourself/
At Doodad Kind of Town, our good friend Pat takes a close look at two films that star ‘Jennifers’ – Lopez and Anniston. It’s a creative piece that examines common ground in both: http://doodadkindoftown.wordpress.com/2010/10/02/whos-your-daddy-a-tale-of-two-jennifers/
Ryan Kelly waxes lyrical about the just-completed World Series won by the San Francisco Giants at Medfly Quarantine: http://medflyquarantine.blogspot.com/2010/11/106.html
Dave Van Poppel considers Kelly Reichart’s Meek’s Cutoff as his latest stellar review of ‘realist cinema’ at Visions of Non-Fiction: http://visionsofnonfiction.blogspot.com/2010/09/meeks-cutoff.html
R.D. Finch has connected a pair of superbly-written essays on Italian cinema (De Sica and Antonioni) at “The Movie Projector”: http://themovieprojector.blogspot.com/2010/11/two-first-films-by-italian-masters.html
Tony Dayoub celebrates the recent releases on blu-ray of two Laughton classics: The Night of the Hunter and Modern Times at “Cinema Viewfinder”: http://www.cinemaviewfinder.com/2010/11/blu-ray-review-charles-laughton-x-two.html
Our friend Anu is still highlighting a very fine review of Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie at The Confidential Report: http://theconfidentialreport.wordpress.com/2010/08/12/dennis-hoppers-the-last-movie/
Dee Dee remains here with us in spirit and deed, and she continues to assist so many in ways tangible and not.
Disney’s ‘Tangled,’ latest animated gem