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Archive for February, 2011


by Jaime Grijalba

I won’t bore you to death with my ramblings on how the Oscars don’t represent a thing, how they end up giving the awards to the same kind of movies. You know why? Because in the bottom of my soul I love them, they give us thrills as we expect our favorites to win, we expect surprises, the speeches, the glamour even, who can blame someone in love with these awards? They’re addictive. Proof of that is my own blog, in which for the second consecutive year is reviewing every one of the 10 movies nominated for best picture in the order in which they are nominated (take a look at them if you want to).

So, let’s start with every category with who will win and who Should win (according to me, of course, and in those categories in which I’ve seen more than half of the nominees):

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Director: Elia Kazan

Producer: Sol C. Siegel

Screenwriter: Richard Murphy and Daniel Fuchs

Cinematographer: Joseph MacDonald

Music: Alfred Newman

Studio: 20th Century Fox 1950

Main Acting: Richard Widmark and Jack Palance

There are three main reasons Panic In The Streets is an interesting film noir to me. Number one: it was directed by Elia Kazan, who was still in the early stages of his illustrious career. Never again would the director dip a toe into the world of noir except to vaguely reference some of that same visual style for his snitching-is-cool movie, On The Waterfront. Number two: it was almost exclusively shot on location in New Orleans and included a cast filled mainly with locals (and non-actors at that). Number three (and my favorite reason): Richard Widmark is given the sympathetic role of Clinton Reed, a loving family man and U.S. government employee for the Public Health Service, who is out to stop the spread of the positively medieval bubonic plague from afflicting Louisiana and beyond. Gone is Widmark’s usual assortment of flawed—and sometimes evil—characterizations asked of him throughout his years in Hollywood. Reed is a role that shows a different side of the vast majority of Widmark’s noir work. He doesn’t just portray a caring man, but one looking to save society from a catastrophic illness that is threatening the greater good. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(France 1951 94m) DVD2 (France only, no Eng subs)

Aka. The Red Inn

A body in the snowman

d  Claude Autant-Lara  w  Jean Aurenche, Pierre Bost  ph  André Bac  ed  Madeliene Gug  m  René Cloerec  art  Max Douy

Fernandel (The Monk), Françoise Rosay (Marie Martin), Julien Carette (Mons.Martin), Marie-Claire Olivia (Mathilde), Didier d’Yd (Jeannou), Jean-Roger Caussimon (Dauvin), Nane Germon (Elisa), André Cheff (The Dandy), Jacques Choron (Rodolphe), Luc Germain (Fetiche), Yves Montand (narrator),

Director Claude Autant-Lara has long been regarded as the sort of figure who represents what is bad in French cinema; literary worthiness.  He’s generally seen as a more literate director than he is a visual craftsman, and for sure he made various rather dull films based on novels and historical figures that are best forgotten.  He did, however, make two supreme farces either side of 1950; the first, Occupe Toi d’Amélie needs no introduction (it was one of Leslie Halliwell’s favourite films, rating it the supreme farce of the cinema).  The other, selected here, is also barely seen in this country – not on TV in over fifteen years and never on DVD or video in the UK or US.  L’Auberge Rouge is very much the dark side to Occupe’s light, a pitch black comedy farce of the type which the French do so well.  The theatrical origins were inescapable, yet Autant-Lara contrived to make cinematic virtues of them, rather than allow them to stagnate. (more…)

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Director: Jules Dassin

Producer: Mark Hellinger

Screenwriter: Richard Brooks

Cinematographer: William Daniels

Music: Miklos Rozsa

Studio: Universal 1947

Main Acting: Burt Lancaster and Hume Cronyn

Many people might vote for Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption as the greatest American prison drama film. Me, I’ll stick with this 1947 Jules Dassin picture. Bleak, somber, and with more than its fair share of suffocating gloominess, the relentless despair is served on a cold plate like the rancid food the convicts are forced to eat. Inside the jail house walls, Captain Munsey (played brilliantly with reptilian grace by Hume Cronyn) presides over the proceedings with an obsessed dictator’s calculated preciseness: nothing exceeds his grip without his approval and know-how. For Dassin, the prison is a place where morals vanish, or at the least, get trampled on. Absolute power over the incarcerated is the ultimate ambition for the corrupt authority figures. Rehabilitation is not a concern, only the ability to exert one’s supremacy over the hapless many. As Warden A. J. Barnes (played by the future blacklisted actor Roman Bohnen) says near the beginning of the movie, “You know what this prison is, one big human bomb. You say kick it and it will be quiet, smash it and it won’t explode.” A dire warning unheeded. Continuous oppression will only result in an uprising, a deadly revolt. (more…)

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By refusing to broadcast Honorary Awards for the second year running, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is blowing a raspberry at the luminaries of film history. Perhaps we should return the favor.

by Joel Bocko

This is not a clever “Top 10” list of reasons why not to watch the popular broadcast this Sunday. There are many reasons to ignore, criticize, or make fun of the Academy Awards, but right now I’m only interested in one. That said, a brief bit of background may be in order.

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Gripping and emotional documentary feature "The Last Lions"

by Sam Juliano

Film noir is the subject of choice these days.  While the wildly popular ‘Film Preservation Fundraiser’ continues on with the exceptional leadership of Marilyn Ferdinand, Greg Ferrara and the Self-Styled Siren has focused in on this quintessentially American film style, here at Wonders in the Dark, fecund and impassioned Brooklynite Maurizio Roca has just launched his Top 50 countdown, focusing in exclusively on the classic cycle from 1941 to 1958.  The decision has won the approval of none other than noir authority Tony dAmbra, who feels a wider range may be counterproductive for this kind of polling.  Needless to say, both ventures are attracting tons of attention by bloggers, many of whom have been showcasing their own film noir reviews in support of the fundraising blogothon.  John Greco and Ed Howard have been offering up new essays just about every day in fact.  Behind the scenes, Dee Dee continues to provide tireless support for the blogothon and for Wonders in the Dark’s own contribution to the venture as she links up to numerous posts here at the site that have attracted remarkable traffic and all kinds of comments.  Simultaneously, the incomparable blogger and artist has also focused on the upcoming Oscar broadcast, offering up various polls and calls for predictions in category breakdowns.

This past week saw several of Mr. Roca’s posts making a big showing, while site regulars Jim Clark, Jamie Uhler, Bob Clark and of course Allan Fish have authored their own exceptional essays.

With the classic film festivals completed, I spent the larger part of the past week at home, though I came to life again over the weekend, and also saw a Wednesday night staging of Tennessee Williams’s Small Craft Warnings on Theatre Row (42nd Street) with Lucille and Broadway Bob, and then five films over the weekend to play catch up on some of the recent releases. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(South Korea 2010 141m) not on DVD

Aka. Akmareul boatda

Spare my life

p  Kim Hyun-woo  d  Kim Ji-woon  w  Park Hoon-jung  ph  Lee Mogae  ed  Nam Na-young  m  Mowg  art  Cho Hwa-sung

Lee Byung-hoon (Kim Soo-hyeon), Choi Min-sik (Jang Gyeong-chul), Jeon Gook-hwan (Chief Jang), Jeon Ho-jin (Chief Oh), Oh San-ha (Joo-yeon), Kim Soon-yeo (Se-yeon),

His previous film had been The Good, the Bad & the Weird, a manically enjoyable roller-coaster of a movie which has already found a place in this work.  No-one could call it serious cinema, but God was it fun, fun enough to make one look forward to his next work with baited breath and a lump in the chest.  It’s a feeling, or rather a description of the said feeling, that I would come to regret using. 

            Kim Soo-hyeon is a young cop on the homicide squad who rings to tell his fiancée he can’t meet her for her birthday as work has got in the way.  Their love is all too clear, and as it happens her car has broke down so she was going to struggle to get there anyway.  A passing driver, with a school minibus, has stopped to help her, but as it turns out, help is the last thing he wants to offer.  He smashes up her car, beats her brutally with a hammer and drags her away to rape, torture and kill her at a remote location.  When her decapitated head is found in a somewhat circus-like forensic hunt, Kim Soo-hyeon swears revenge on behalf of his fiancée and her father, who it transpires is one of his chiefs.  Armed with a GPS tracking capsule and profiles of the four likely suspects, he takes a two week sabbatical from work to keep his promise to make the killer suffer 10,000 times more than his beloved.  (more…)

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By Bob Clark

When moviegoers were still anxiously awaiting the release of Revenge of the Sith in 2005, I stumbled across an odd online whisper about a character who was said to be returning for this, the final film of the Star Wars series. Though I’d made it a personal policy to strictly avoid all traces of spoilers in fan forums and online discussion boards for the first two installments of the Prequel Trilogy, this time I pursued a somewhat more relaxed policy, allowing myself to occasionally indulge in the odd rumor here and there, giving into the occasional temptation of foreknowledge like a Jedi apprentice letting go for an instance to feel the magnetic pull of the Dark Side. I didn’t want to know too much about The Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones going into either of these movies, but by the third film, I figured that whatever blank spots were left in my knowledge of the events leading up to A New Hope could more or less be filled in by my imagination, if only in broad strokes, and therefore felt safe in the idea of peeking in once or twice to satisfy the occasional tidbit of trivial curiosity. Most of the secrets of that then upcoming movie turned out to be utterly bogus– General Grevious being rendered as a near carbonite copy of the Vader, instead of the coughing, wheezing cyborg villain; Anakin wielding a laser sword whose blade changes from blue to red after surrendering his soul to the Sith, a weapon dubbed “kaleidosaber” by fanboy prognosticators; dreams of an illicit affair between Obi-Wan and Padme (perhaps colored by wishful thinking from those whose idea of romance is inspired more by tabloid sex-scandals and less by courtly, star-cross’d love). Occasionally the rumors hit close to mark, though wound up being mostly unimportant– hints and confirmations that Mon Mothma, figurehead of the Rebel Alliance in Return of the Jedi, would be featured in a number of meaty sequences as the leader of an opposition movement against the Emperor in the Senate were greeted with enthusiastic support, at least until news broke out that they would be excised from the feature and included only as deleted-scenes on the DVD.

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Director: Byron Haskin

Producer: Hal B. Wallis

Screenwriter: Charles Schnee

Cinematographer: Leo Tover

Music: Victor Young

Studio: Paramount 1948

Main Acting: Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas

There are many unexplained mysteries in the world. What fascinates me the most is how certain choice films can be completely unavailable yet they tend be the ones that deserve to be mass produced for an appreciative audience. Film noir has its fair share of pictures that have never seen the light of day in a proper release. I Walk Alone is one such example—a quality movie filled with big stars and more than decent production values. The fact that it languishes in obscurity in some dusty vault as film nitrate slowly eats away at all the wonders possessed inside is some form of unspeakable tragedy. TCM occasionally airs this 1948 movie late at night or even early mornings (strange considering its a dark film noir). And that’s how I was lucky enough to be able to catch it a few years ago.

Back then, I was just starting to get into the genre and had no idea about I Walk Alone‘s scarcity. I just remember thinking that it was a great movie that must have been a high point for this new type of film I was finding interest in. It wasn’t until I tried purchasing a copy and failed miserably, did I realize the film’s availability issues. Amazon seemed to suggest it did not exist, as if I had conjured up the movie in my mind. Video stores didn’t have any in stock or couldn’t even recall knowing of the picture’s existence. Defeated, I quickly moved on to other film noirs that I could find and enjoy. Finally, years later, I got my second viewing through Netflix. With their streaming option, I was able to watch it on my Mac and relive those past nostalgic glories. Even though it didn’t end up being quite as mind-blowing as I had built it up from all that anticipation, it still turned out to be a fine film that deserves much higher recognition.

While the string-heavy score by Victor Young plays slightly more melodramatic than necessary, overall this is an above average film noir that is worth the trouble of tracking down. At times, Frankie Madison reminds me of what might have been if Joe Collins from Brute Force had gotten out of jail and continued his life. The bitterness of being confined in a cell is conveyed well in both pictures, but obviously in different ways. After doing time for 14 years, Frankie gets out of the slammer and looks for his old partner, Turner who had escaped a prison term and is now swimming in dirty money. Naturally, he is not looking to shower old Frankie with any of the profits he has acquired in the intervening years. Wendall Corey is great as the sad sack Dave and Kirk Douglas is always wonderful as the icy cold villain. Douglas as the greedy corrupt businessman screwing over everyone around him echo’s some of Force Of Evil‘s withering attacks on capitalism. Mike Mazuki, who happens to be my favorite peripheral noir character, gets a sweet little role as Dan the doorman.

Frankie Madison, a man who has fully paid his debt to society, becomes the sympathetic center of this movie. He’s the sentimental good guy who is loyal and thus gets trampled on by unscrupulous forces that don’t want to share in the profits and wealth being accumulated. Think of him as Polonsky’s numbers racket workers being manipulated and taken advantage of… “I’m at the plate, you’re doing the pitching.” Sadly, life can sometimes throw a curve ball into the dirt.

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by Allan Fish

(France 1949 86m) DVD2 (France only, no English subs)

Aka. Keep an Eye on Amelia

Avec caleçon

p  Louis Wipf  d  Claude Autant-Lara  w  Jean Aurenche, Pierre Bost  play  Georges Feydeau  ph  André Bac  ed  Madeleine Gug  m  René Cloërc  art  Max Douy  cos  Monique Dunand

Danielle Darrieux (Amélie Pochet/d’Avranches), Jean Desailly (Marcel Courbois), André Bervil (Étienne), Julien Carette (Amedée Pochet, Amélie’s father), Grégoire Aslan (Prince Nicolas de Palestra), Victor Guyau (Van Putzeboom), Charles Deschamps (La maire), Lucienne Granier (Palmyre), Colette Ripert (Charlotte), Louise Conte (Irène),

It’s been unseen in the UK since its original run in with the censors in 1950, and indeed unseen in France for a long time due to rights issues.  Finally, it resurfaced on French TV and DVD but an English friendly edition seems as likely as finding the original cut of Greed.  Even the original Feydeau play is no longer in print in a decent English translation, and can only be tracked down through rare book sellers.  It was a film I’d wanted to see for years, raved about by Leslie Halliwell in both his Film Guide and his ‘Halliwell’s Hundred’ book, the ultimate French sophisticated farce.  He talked of how subtitles have problems keeping up not only with the pace of Feydeau but with the wit, and indeed the language occasionally goes too far for English translation of the day – French speakers will smile as one character declares “I’ll fuck off!”.  It’s easy to find details of the plot online, and armed with a copy of the original play in English and very roughly translated subtitles for the film, one sits down to try and watch it with a sense of trepidation.  (more…)

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