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Archive for March, 2012

By Bob Clark

In honor of Jean “Moebius” Giraud’s recent passing, this piece is rerun.

The wonderful thing about science fiction set in outer space is the sheer size of it all. Though the cosmos isn’t exactly as infinite as hyperbole would suggest, it’s certainly almost inconceivably vast, far too far and wide for any single traveler to circumnavigate, even with the highest of technologies and the longest of lifespans. It is also too large for any single imagination to conquer definitively– more than any other setting for speculative sagas both grounded in professional rigour and unbound in flights of fancy, the night skies of outer space have been and remain the most reliably florid landscape for enterprising storytellers to weave tales of adventure and excitement the likes of which have little earthly comparison, and unlike so many of our own terrestrial locales for such mythic spin, it’s an environment big enough for everyone to share. After a while, nearly all of the locales we tell stories in around our own provincial planet grow stale from the influence of a handful or so storytellers and artists from whose shadow even the greatest masters can never fully escape. Westerns will always carry a debt to John Ford, Noirs will always bear the tell-tale fingerprints of Lang and German Expressionism, and literary fantasy will forever carry a debt to the hallmark tomes of Tolkien and all the Arthurian tradition that came before it. But space? Ah, there’s a canvas so wide and deep it all but puts to shame even the most accomplished contributions to its legacy beyond the stars. It’s a tapestry with room enough for a diverse assembly of creators to start at whatever fringes they choose and develop their weave in full, sometimes never quite overlapping with their brethren in all but the most superficial of family resemblances.

Jules Verne can take us to the moon on page, and Kubrick to the lunar monolith, beyond Jupiter and even infinity without owing too large an IOU to the French master. George Lucas can take us through hyperspace to a galaxy far, far away and never even have to worry about paying a toll for crossing through Buck Roger’s or Flash Gordon’s territories. Hideaki Anno can send teenage-piloted robots out into the universe or world-threatening alien monstrosities down to Earth without it crossing the same tracks as Leiji Matsumoto’s express lanes. Simply put, space is a big enough territory for all of the sci-fi masters of our world or any other to share, and as such there’s a quaint charm to the idea that the myriad worlds of all these creators might be shared, in some metafictional sleight of hand. As such, one wonders where exactly the worlds of director Rene Laloux’s features would be situated in the cosmos, owing so much as they do to their respective co-writers and artistic designers. Last week’s La Planete Sauvage would not be what it is without the sketchy illustrative style of Roland Topur, and next week’s Gandahar would be hard to imagine without the crisper designs of Phillipe Caza. Of all his feature collaborations, however, none are more affected by the presence of his co-conspirator than 1982’s Les Maitres Du Temps (“Time Masters”), where celebrated French comic-book artist Jean Giraud brought his inimitable sensibilities to the big-screen and in full, living animation for the first time. Though throughout the course of this film we may criss-cross from one celestial body to the next in the breadth of the Laloux galaxy, from start to finish our feet remain firmly rooted on Planet Moebius.

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by Allan Fish

(Sweden 1950 90m) DVD2 (Sweden only, no Eng subs)

Aka. Flicka och Hyacinter

Little Miss Lonely

p  Hasse Ekman  d/w  Hasse Ekman  ph  Goran Strindberg  ed  Lennart Wallen  m  Erland von Koch  art  Bibi Lindstrom

Eva Henning (Dagmar Brink), Ulf Palme (Anders Wikner), Birgit Tengroth (Britt Wikner), Anders Ek (Elias Körner), Marianne Löfgren (Gullan Wiklund), Keve Hjelm (Capt.Brink), Gösta Cederlund (banker), Karl-Anne Holmsten (Willy Borge), Anne-Marie Brunius (Alex), Björn Berglund (Insp.Lovgren), Alf Ostlund (Viktor Berger),

A woman is seen dancing with her partner.  They’re talking but we’re at ground level.  We notice an anklet round her foot.  The camera seems to pay attention to it, but it’s a red herring to make sure we’re paying attention.  Another man and woman are heard talking, we even get a bit of English.  Then we see our first face, a young blonde woman sat down.  We next see a couple on the stairs outside talking.  The blonde girl hares past them.  “She was in a hurry”, one says.  “She seemed strange, no?” the other replies.  Moving on, the blonde is now on bridge over a railway line.  An old man comes up to her; “let it go.  What you were thinking about, he’s not worth it.”  She can only reply “there is no ‘he’.”  “There always is”, he knowingly replies.  The blonde finally makes it home to her apartment, settles into an armchair, puffs on a cigarette, and her eyes are fixed on the ceiling.  In particular on a hook designed to hold old-fashioned candle chandeliers.   (more…)

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By Peter Lenihan

Apologies for the tardiness of this entry—I’m finishing up teaching a summer course and things have been a bit hectic. The next installment will be on Wagon Master, which I would suggest is one of the five or so greatest masterpieces the Hollywood studio system produced. Definitely see it before my piece drops, if you haven’t already.

The Iron Horse, Ford’s first mega-hit, is built around a premise that in 2012 (one hopes) we can all recognize as bullshit. As conceived, this is a film about what one intertitle describes as “inevitability,” and as such it’s a film of trajectories rather than possibilities, whose final outcome (that is, the bridging of “east” and “west”) is not a foregone conclusion because it’s what historically occurred, but because, if we’re to believe what the film is selling, it’s the only thing that could have occurred. As a particularly bombastic defense of Manifest Destiny, then, it’s stupid and racist and vulgar in a way that Ford’s films almost never are, and I would encourage any viewer to approach it with a healthy degree of ideological distrust.

At the same time, to discuss it in this way is to suggest that it was more thought out than it was, and we now know that it was essentially shot without a script. This was the freedom the twenties and only the twenties offered American filmmakers, and although the story had a basic treatment, Ford chose day-by-day what was going to be shot. In retrospect, it probably couldn’t have been done any other way. This was the filmmaker’s graduation into the big time, and he acted as both director and producer. The degree of management required for a planned shoot of this scale would overwhelm just about anyone, and for a relative novice like Ford it simply couldn’t have worked. So, he did what he had to do—he made it up as he went along. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Japan 1967 99m) DVD1

Aka. Ai no kawaki

The Fall of the House of Sugimoto

p  Kazu Otsuka  d  Koreyoshi Kurahara  w  Shigeo Fujita, Koreyoshi Kurahara  story  Yukio Mishima  ph  Yoshio Mamiya  ed  Akira Suzuki  m  Toshiro Mayuzumi  art  Kazuhiko Chiba

Ruriko Asaoka (Etsuko), Nobuo Nakamura (father-in-law), Tetsuo Ishidate (Saburo), Akira Yamauchi (Kensuke), Chitose Kurenai (Miyo), Yuko Kusunoki (Chieko), Yoko Kozono (Asako),

The name of Koreyoshi Kurahaha is not one that you will find in many lists of important Japanese directors, at least in western books.  With giants like Yoshida, Masumura and Oshima barely listed either, what chance did Kurahara have?  I first became aware of him for his 1957 noir film I am Waiting, which debuted on the Criterion Eclipse Nikkatsu Noir set.  It was a nice little thriller which, while not quite up to the masterworks of its type, at least merited a mention in despatches and gave its popular lead Yujiro Ishihara a role to relish as a knight in rusty armour. 

            The announcement later of an Eclipse set devoted purely to Kurahara was met with enthusiasm in eclectic circles.  Five important films were included; Black Sun and Intimidation seemed solid works but very much of their time, while The Warped Ones, which gave the boxset its title, likewise seemed a bit of a relic.  It was the other two that were of most interest; I Hate But Love, the only one of the five in colour, was an entertaining discourse on the mania of celebrity, with Ishihara again well cast as the hero who just wanted to be left alone.  Equally fine as his harassed female assistant was a young Ruriko Asaoka, an actress likewise rarely mentioned in western circles amongst the great Japanese actresses, but the same is also true of Ayako Wakao and Mariko Okada and Asaoka, while not perhaps having the brilliant series of roles that those two actresses’ favourite directors gave them, was always a welcome sight and here gives what surely ranks with her very finest performances. (more…)

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Screen capture from extraordinary "The Kid with a Bike" by Belgium's Dardanne brothers.

by Sam Juliano

Balmy weather that has had temperatures rising above 70 degrees in the northeast has basically sounded the death knell for Winter 2011-12, though there are some skeptics who warn not to count your chickens just yet.  Baseball season is around the corner, and some have even started plotting their summer vacations.  And with Easter break just weeks away still others are gearing up for a well-earned respite and short trips.  On the downside those with allergies are looking at what some experts are predicting will be the worst readings on record.

Sunday of course was St. Patrick’s Day and the sidebar greetings were posted by our dearest friend, Dee Dee, who typically keeps an eye out for the calendar.  Hope our Irish friends enjoyed a very special day.

The site’s regular contributors continued to post some stellar work over the psts seven days.  This includes our Chilean university student wunderkind Jaimie Grijalba, who offered up two superlative animation reviews, Jim Clark with a magisterial essay on Von Trier’s Breaking the Waves, Allan’s rare finds, and the continuing year-by-year survey of the cinema from the silent era to the present.  Here in NYC the Tribeca Film Festival committee have announced the schedule, and generally speaking some quality films are beginning to release on the art house circuit. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

As usual, straight to the results…a tie and several landslides…

Best Picture All Quiet on the Western Front, US & Earth, USSR (4 votes each)

Best Director Alexander Dovzhenko, Earth (4 votes)

Best Short A Propos de Nice, France, Jean Vigo (4 votes)

Best Actor Edward G.Robinson, Little Caesar (6 votes)

Best Actress Marlene Dietrich, The Blue Angel (12 votes – UNANIMOUS)

Best Supp Actor Louis Wolheim, All Quiet on the Western Front (8 votes)

Best Supp Actress Beryl Mercer, All Quiet on the Western Front (7 votes)

And straight on to my choices…can I just reiterate in response to a couple of emails, that Short films have to be under 40m in length.  So 38m is  short, 45m is a feature.

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by Jaime Grijalba.

(Japan, 70 min)

For those who read manga, even the name of Junji Ito may not be the most known or talked about in the inner circles of the hell known as the otaku fanbase. It is asumed that most of the guys and girls who read manga are just generic fans of it and don’t go beyond the themes and genres that the establishment has put for people, such as the ‘fighting’ mangas like Naruto, or sport issues that keep coming years after years. Not even with the surge of asian horror films of the 00’s the manga horror genre got a leap, as the figure of Junji Ito still remains underground for the main common occidental folk who is into the reading and collecting of the mangaka. But there is a group of people that are in the know, still quite a large number, but still not the majority, for those that the name of Ito is similar to dread and total fear, unmistakeable and dreadful fear, one that crawls under your skin, disgusts you and at the same time keeps hitting way too close to home in many of the themes it relies on, beyond the things that scare, as weird and strange as they are, they keep being way too close and harmful for anyone that has taken some time to read something from the master of the horror manga, something like Uzumaki, Tomie or… Gyo.

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1931 89m) DVD1

Raising sex to a dignified attitude

p  Hal B.Wallis  d  Mervyn le Roy  w  Byron Morgan, Robert Lord  play  Louis Weitzenkorn  ph  Sol Polito  ed  Frank Ware  art  Jack Okey

Edward G.Robinson (Randall), Marian Marsh (Jenny Townsend), H.B.Warner (Michael Townsend), Anthony Bushell (Philip Weeks), George E.Stone (Ziggy Feinstein), Ona Munson (Kitty Carmody), Aline MacMahon (Miss Taylor), Boris Karloff (T.Vernon Isopod), Oscar Apfel (Hinchecliffe), Frances Starr (Nancy Vorhees Townsend), Purnell Pratt (French), Robert Elliott (Brannegan), Harold Waldridge (Arthur Goldberg), David Torrence (Arthur Weeks), Evelyn Hall (Isobel Weeks), William H.Strauss (Jerry),

A film that begins and ends as if in perpetuum, with credits and fade out accompanied not by the traditional Warner library music but a cacophony of newspaper sellers crying “extra, extra”, “read all about it” and other such guttural clichés.  This is the newspaper business as only the pre-code could show it and it’s a stereotype perpetuated most of all at Warners, whether via the gossip columns of Lee Tracy in Blessed Event, the morgue chasers of Frank McHugh in The Mystery of the Wax Museum, or even Tracy again in Doctor X.  Most of Warners’ repertory played news hounds at some time or other and this was Robinson’s time and one of the definitive roles of its time.

            Robinson is Randall, editor of the muck-raking tabloid the New York Evening Gazette, which he tries to turn into a newspaper only to be dragged down into the gutter every time by his bosses out to boost circulation at any costs.  He toes the party line, if reluctantly, and sets out to reopen interest in a 20 year old murder case centring round Nancy Vorhees, who killed her lover and was left with a baby without a father.  What Randall doesn’t know is that Nancy has lived an honest life since, married to a financier called Michael Townsend, who walked out on his disapproving family to marry her, and that her daughter Jenny is now engaged to a Michael of her own, Philip, who is also prepared to let his snob Park Avenue parents disinherit him.  (more…)

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by Jaime Grijalba.

(Singapore/USA, 69 min)

What is this? This is my effort to widen my viewing of current films, which still it’s quite large, but I’m mad enough to watch any asian film that I can get during the calendar year of 2012. Of course film is a wide thing for me, but I won’t be including every series that I get across, but maybe some. This of course also counts for TV movies, OVAs, some miniseries, shorts and feature films. Every one will have its original name, the year and the director, as well as my rating out of five stars. Let’s start this crazy project. I’m posting on this day as Sam told me that James Uhler didn’t have time for his usually excellent entry on his ‘Getting People Over the Beatles’, so I decided to post here, and I shall continue doing so, looking for spaces like a rat looking for air under a sewer.

Many boys and girls (mostly boys) know about Ben Tennyson, it is today’s hero and a total badass in every way possible for them. Ben is the protagonist of Cartoon Network’s anchor show ‘Ben 10’ as well as other related shows and spin-offs, that are about a kid that finds himself with a huge power to save the world or a town or a city or himself from great danger, either extraterrestial or earthling kind. The power is in his own hand(s) in the form of some kind of clock that lets him transform into a different species of alien that he collects as he advances in his adventures. Of course, this already has a limited and knowable amount of species, each one with its own powers, so the viewers and fans just expect their favorite alien to appear with the dissorted voice of Ben and just cheer him as he goes on his adventures. Now, this particular thing I’m reviewing here is a TV movie special based on the original ‘Ben 10’ series, completely non-canon (it has no consecuence or any implication on the story of the series or what follows after it), and this one is the first films of the Cartoon Network Studios Asia in a coproduction with Tiny Island production house, based on Singapore, the reason for this film to be talked about in this ocassion… but maybe not the only one.

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© 2012 by James Clark

Over the past couple of decades the films of Lars von Trier have been submitted to what could be called a choppy reception. There have been traces of rather puzzled recognition that unusual lengths have been gone to, for the sake of an unusual vision. There have also been more noticeable stinging rebukes toward apparently health-endangering indulgences. Both angles on this work seem to beg the question of whether standoffish short shrift is enough. The complication and intensity there seem to put commentators in the mood for cherishing safe havens, as would those driving by some gruesome accident along the road. This matter bears some affinity to the Church Elder in the film at issue, chastising the protagonist by rhetorically asking her, “Can you tell me anything of real value that the outsiders have brought with them?” Wedded, as he was, to medieval sensibility, he does not immediately impress one that his dismissiveness has powerful merit. Pat and cavalier assault seems awkward to an extreme, in view of narratives suffusing the viewer with logical challenges extending all the way to quantum electrodynamics, as hard-wired into the title as to creatively disturbing (“breaking”) overtures, possibilities (probability “waves”), to an upshot of heightened dynamical power.

As in the films of David Lynch, which entail their own endeavor with quantum energy, Breaking the Waves (1996) presents agitations in the foreground so abnormal that a slack engagement readily infers the writer/director to be, if not criminally insane, unproductively disturbed. The film appears to such a viewer to be a celebration of decadence sustained by dregs of society, replete with savaging of religious, scientific and humanitarian esprit de corps. Let’s, for a change, though, approach it with some concentration. (more…)

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