Archive for April, 2011

By Bob Clark

When it comes to anime directors, like any filmmakers, it pays to look back and see where they came from, who they studied under while learning their particular craft before eventually taking hold of the reins themselves in full. It helps put the work of Hideaki Anno into better context when one understands how he cultivated his skills as an animator under Hayao Miyazaki– though the two would seem to represent almost polar opposites in terms how technique, style and subject-matter as far as the medium is concerned, it becomes easier to see a kind of innocence at the heart of even the bleakest parts of Evangelion when one appreciates the creator’s work as an animator on Nausicaa of the Valley of the Winds (it also helps trace the source of some of those obsessions with adolescent angst and turmoil– Asuka’s traumatic past with her suicidal mother is closely taken from the Ghibli film). Anno himself would later shepherd his own team of animators and crew-members to full-fledged directors themselves as he worked on his own masterpieces, with no-one achieving more under his wing than assistant-director Kazuya Tsurumaki, with whom the director has shared an over twenty-year long creative collaboration. Working as an animation-director and storyboard artist on Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water and the seminal Neon Genesis Evangelion, he proved to be an invaluable addition to the team and one who was even able to helm a fair amount of the subsequent Evangelion theatrical features alongside the director, himself. One can see Tsurumaki’s energetic voice most clearly in sequences like Unit-Two’s doomed heroism in the battle against the Mass-Production Evas from End of Evangelion, or the battles against the imaginative new Angels from the Rebuild series.



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by Allan Fish

(UK 1938 84m) not on DVD

Doing the nine o’clock walk

p  Jerome Jackson  d  Arthur Woods  w  Derek Twist, Paul Gangelin  novel  James Curtis  ph  Basil Emmott  ed  Leslie Norman  m  Bretton Byrd  art  Peter Proud, Michael Relph

Emlyn Williams (Shorty Matthews), Anna Konstam (Molly O’Neill), Allan Jeayes (Wally Mason), Ernest Thesiger (Walter Hoover), Ronald Shiner (Charlie), Yolande Terrell (Marge), Julie Barrie, Jenny Hartley, William Hartnell, Will Hay Jnr, Iris Vandeleur,

Occasionally you come across something to warm the cockles of your heart.  I’d long known of Arthur Woods’ ‘B’ crime pic, indeed I remember reading about it in the Halliwell Guide, where he called it, with typically succinct idiosyncrasy, an “excellent little-seen suspenser.”  It was years later when I finally got to see it, and in a wretched print, too.  It’s never shown on TV, and as for video or DVD you’re having a laugh.  Yet here’s a film that wouldn’t be disgraced in comparison with the best of Hitchcock in the thirties.  It may not be The 39 Steps or The Lady Vanishes, but it’s at least as good as anything else Hitch made in that decade.

            Shorty Matthews is a penny and shilling crook who’s been inside for 18 months for some petty crime or other, and who is released on the day a man is hanged for murder.  He decides to go and look up some friends in his old haunts, and then makes his way to see his old flame, Alice, now living the high life as a dance hall hostess.  When he gets to her lodgings, he’s horrified to find her dead, strangled with a silk stocking, and, fearing that he’d be the principal suspect, he makes a run for it.  Sadly for him, he’s seen leaving the scene of the crime and the police have a description posted in all the evening papers.  He decides to catch a lift with some lorry driver up north, and runs into a friend of Alice’s who he convinces of his innocence, and who conspires with him to try and do what they can to find the real murderer. (more…)

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Director: Jules Dassin

Producer: Samuel G. Engel

Screenwriter: Jo Esinger

Cinematographer: Max Greene

Music: Franz Waxman

Studio: 20th Century Fox 1950

Main Acting: Richard Widmark and Gene Tierney

Night and the City was filmed in London by an American director and three principle American actors. It was produced by 20th Century Fox and moved out of the country to better protect Jules Dassin from the impending blacklist he would face in the very near future. Darryl Zanuck was key in getting the film made and allowing the foreign setting to materialize. The U.S. version was also truer to Dassin’s overall intention, as it kept the bleak ending and was scored by the filmmaker’s choice of Franz Waxman instead of Benjamin Frankel. Still, in many ways, this 1950 film noir is as much an English production as it is a Hollywood one. A menacing London is the heart of all of the action and the rest of the cast and crew was composed of local talent. Chock full of more shadowy, sinister backdrops than any New York or Los Angeles location, the world inhabited by Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) is one infused with peril and continuously broken ambitions. As the most clear-cut “fusion noir” ever created, Night And The City can rightly contend as not only the greatest American noir, but the most effective British one as well. Here is the picture that I personally would recommend a film-noir newbie watch to understand the classic movement. It can’t possibly get any better  than this… (more…)

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Copyright © 2011 by James Clark

Complainers tend to be a bore, and complainers about their emotional states seldom come close to the level of fascination. This is an intuition that has consigned the films of Michelangelo Antonioni’s prime to a precarious stature. Particularly as sustained by his go-to exponent of nausea, the actress, Monica Vitti, Antonioni has made difficult headway in enunciating a bind that, in the casino of movie production, has moved him to commit all his chips. Was this a mistake, or what?

In view of the demonstrable fact that that plunge has galvanized a goodly portion of subsequent film production, we have to recognize that, at the very least, it spotlights a consequential addiction. There has, of course, always been historical friction; but that conflict has, until quite recently, always implied a fraternal disorder, allowing of an ultimate resolution, such an upbeat approach to conscious interaction being the essence of that rationality defining civilization as universally understood. (more…)

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Director: Robert Siodmak

Producer: Mark Hellinger

Screenwriters: Anthony Veiller, Richard Brooks, and John Huston

Cinematographer: Elwood Bredell

Music: Miklos Rozsa

Studio: Universal Pictures 1946

Main Acting: Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, and Edmond O’ Brien

Since I already focused extensively on the opening scene of another noir on this countdown, I will keep my adoration for the beginning of The Killers brief and limited to a single paragraph. I will say that it challenges and even surpasses Kiss Me Deadly in effectiveness. Robert Siodmak (no stranger to this countdown) really comes out punching with that opening right cross to whichever “bright boy” you care to inflict bodily harm on. That first image is basically lifted by both Aldrich and Lynch in their own filmographies and put to extensive use. Focusing on a car barreling down a dark road with a behind-the-shoulder shot, we are quickly placed in the prototypical noir universe of a stylized and menacing Brentwood, New Jersey. Rozsa’s intense and rousing score sets up the mood perfectly, as Sodmak’s name on the screen can’t cover up the two figures stalking about in the background. Their initial destination is a service station that looks closed and empty. They instead walk across the street to Henry’s Diner which is open and accepting customers. Unfortunately, these guys are not really looking for “roast pork tenderloin with apple sauce and mashed potatoes.” What they really want is the whereabouts of The Swede (Burt Lancaster) and to plug him with enough holes that he looks like one of those old cartoon characters that takes a drink and begins to spout water all over his body. The tension elevates to almost unbearable proportions as the duo takes the whole eatery hostage and we wonder what these assassins will do next. Fortunately they go away without any bloodshed. They have only one intended target, and he sits hopelessly in bed, waiting for the end to come. (more…)

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Director: Nicholas Ray

Producer: Robert Lord

Screenwriters: Edmund H. North and Andrew Solt

Cinematographer: Burnett Guffey

Music: George Antheil

Studio: Columbia Pictures 1950

Main Acting: Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame

John Donne once wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself.” I wonder what he would make of Nicholas Ray’s In A Lonely Place, a profound and moving look at not just one person’s detachment from all those around him, but also the fallacy of male masculinity and the curse of an artist’s temperament. Ray’s film is equally about all three things. You get the sense that Donne’s quote may not be entirely absolute, at least in regards to this film—sometimes one can become an island through the actions he chooses.

Ray was always fascinated with exploring the outsiders of society, those who for whatever reason have either been pushed or gladly removed themselves from normal human interaction. Dix Steele (Humphrey Bogart) is such a figure. A screenwriter who can’t seem to connect with other people, he is a stunning mass of contradictions. Equally intelligent and sensitive one moment, then he’s animalistic and tortured another. This is an exploration of how someone could possess both an acute discerning eye for the depths of human emotion, while succumbing to every base conceived injury or insult. A violent yin and yang split that constantly leads to his continual drift away from everyone in which he comes in contact. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1934 90m) DVD2

A little springtime in your heart

p  Michael Balcon  d  Victor Saville  w  Emlyn Williams, Marjorie Gaffney  play  “Ever Green” by Benn W.Levy  ph  Glen MacWilliams  ed  Ian Dalrymple, Paul Capon  md  Louis Levy  m/ly  Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Harry Woods  art  Alfred Junge, Peter Proud  ch  Buddy Bradley

Jessie Matthews (Harriet Green/Harriet Hawkes), Sonnie Hale (Leslie Benn), Betty Balfour (Maudie), Barry Mackay (Tommy Thompson), Ivor McLaren (Marquis of Staines), Hartley Power (George Treadwell), Betty Shale (Mrs Hawkes), Marjorie Brooks (Marjorie Moore), Miles Malleson,

Evergreen manages to live up to its title.  It’s that most bizarre of contradictions in terms, an excellent British musical.  If I’m perfectly honest with myself, it might not quite be worthy of the classic epithet seventy years and more on, and yet it represents so much of cultural importance.  It represents the British cinema of the time as much as the early thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock and costume histories of Alexander Korda.  It also starred one of the great musical stars of them all, Jessie Matthews, at her absolute zenith.

            Harriet Green is a top-liner music hall entertainer in the Edwardian period – or ‘yesterday’ as the caption tells us – giving her final performance before retiring to marry aristocrat the Marquis of Staines.  Everything seems ideal, only for her bad penny ex-, George, to return and blackmail her into giving him more money in exchange for keeping quite about their past, which included a daughter.  Harriet decides she must escape from everything, running away to South Africa, leaving her beloved fiancé behind and her daughter in the care of her friend, Hawkie.  Cut forward a generation to ‘today’ and Harriet’s daughter is struggling to make her way in the same profession, until she finds the backing of the besotted Tommy Thompson and one of Harriet’s old friends, the recently widowed Lady Shropshire, better known as Maudie.  They cook up a scheme for Harriet to impersonate her mother, complete with grey hair, in the greatest comeback of the British stage, but her perpetual bad penny father steps in to try and get a piece of the action again.  (more…)

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Director: Jacques Tourneur

Producer: Warren Duff

Screenwriter: Daniel Mainwaring

Cinematographer: Nicholas Musuraca

Music: Roy Webb

Studio: RKO Pictures 1947

Main Acting: Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, and Jane Greer (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

April showers bring May flowers.  Well that timeworn adage is certainly applicable for the those residing in the Northeast, as the wet stuff has been hindering activities, even while the temperatures remain pleasingly moderate.  Here at Wonders in the Dark, the tireless young Brooklynite Mauricio Roca is nearing the completion of his remarkable 10 week project on the film noir genre, a venture that has attracted consistently excellent site traffic, loads of comments and the good will of a number of newbies who are big genre fans.  Roca’s fair-mindedness, good selection and placement sense, and impressive writing skills have combined to make for a highly entertaining and scholarly examination of the greatest films in the film noir pantheon falling in the specified time window of 1941 to 1958.  It’s been a great ride, and one of the site’s proudest moments for sure.  This coming week, readers will learn what Roca proposes as the Top 4 noirs of all-time, and many of us are dying from the suspense.

The Tribeca Film Festival has officially launched, and Lucille and I were there on opening night (Saturday, April 23 at 9:00 P.M.)  to take in the French thriller Point Blank (‘A Bout Portant’) at the AMC Loews Village 7.  The taut thriller was overipe with deceptions, chases and narrow escapes, but it manages to rivet for most of it’s running time.  Sure we’ve seen some of this before, and aside from one prety potent shock, it follows a predictable path.  Still, a propulsive and entertaining ride. (more…)

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Director: Orson Welles

Producer: Albert Zugsmith

Screenwriters: Orson Welles, Paul Monash, and Franklin Coen

Cinematographer: Russell Metty

Music: Henry Mancini

Studio: Universal 1958

Main Acting: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Orson Welles

Long after the unmitigated tragedy of having The Magnificent Ambersons taken away and butchered by his studio, Orson Welles was back in the system making another film. He had previously been given a few other rare chances at directing in Hollywood proper (one of which made this countdown), but he basically was a nomad walking the earth like Caine from Kung Fu trying to scrounge up some money to pay for projects. With the generosity of Charlton Heston, Welles was hired to direct Touch Of Evil during the last days of classic film noir. Like the true artist that he is, Welles relished the chance to work with any kind of budget and set out to create a baroque visual masterpiece with an intriguing—if inscrutable plot—filled with all sorts of quirks and mishaps. The innovative aspects start right at the beginning with a wallop of an introduction featuring a three-minute-plus tracking shot that encompasses a glorious exposition of the whole border town. Slowly, the roving camera fixes upon newlywed couple Miguel and Susie (Heston and Leigh) as they unknowingly encounter a mysterious vehicle with an odd-looking couple trying to cross the border. From these early moments, we can speculate accurately that we will be watching something special. The camera does not stop moving and neither does the excitement from witnessing such a spectacle. (more…)

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