Archive for June, 2012

By Bob Clark

Sometimes the cutting edge comes at the end of a blunt instrument. In a career that has included live action, animation and special-effects supervising, Fumihiko Sori has assembled a diverse creative output in the past fifteen or so years. That mix in his work from live action films, like 2002’s Ping Pong and 2008’s chambra Ichi and his three CGI animated efforts put him in a somewhat different register than other directors who freely jump from one discipline to the other. Plenty of anime creators have put live action time under their belt as well– some, like Mamoru Oshii, have almost as many traditional features to their credit as they do animation, and others like Hideaki Anno have pushed their craft in new experimental ways that even their animated fare has trouble keeping up with at times. But for the most part, these cross-disciplinary filmmakers have based their talents in hand-drawn animation, constituting a much sharper contrast between the qualities of their work in that medium to how they handle live sets, actors and cameras in the other. For directors working in CGI, however, the line is a bit more blurred, as even in animation they’re forced to work with physical sets, characters and action, albeit of a synthesized nature. This makes Sori’s work an interesting case study in the creative evolution of computer animation as a maturing art form in and of itself, and of the trajectories in general for digital tools in 21st century filmmaking.


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by Allan Fish

(UK 1953-1959 549m) DVD2

Do not proceed beyond this point

p  Rudolph Cartier  d  Rudolph Cartier  w  Nigel Kneale

Reginald Tate (Prof.Quatermass), John Robinson (Prof.Quatermass), André Morell (Prof.Quatermass), Isabel Dean (Judith Carroon), Duncan Lamont (Victor Carroon), Monica Grey (Paula Quatermass), Hugh Griffith (Dr Leo Pugh), John Stone (Capt.John Dillon), Rupert Davies (Vincent Broadhead), Christine Finn (Barbara Judd), Cec Linder (Dr Matthew Roney), Richard Shaw (Sladden), Anthony Bushell (Col.Breen), Paul Whitson Jones (James Fullalove), Brian Worth (James Fullalove), John Stratton (Capt.Potter), Hugh Kelly (John Paterson), John Glen (Dr Gordon Briscoe), Frank Hawkins (DS Best), Ian Colin (Chief Insp.Lomax), Herbert Lomas, Wilfrid Brambell,

Watching Quatermass over half a century on is rather like a televisual excavation.  That is to say, just bear in mind when it was first seen; 1953, coronation year.  We had sci-fi on the large screen of course – The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Thing from Another World – but we were still six years off the launch of The Twilight Zone, while The Outer Limits, Doctor Who and Star Trek were still over a decade away.  When first shown,Britain effectively shut down for half an hour a week.  The original broadcasts in 1953 were live, too, as if their existence wasn’t enough, but it certainly added to the urgency in the performances. (more…)

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by Jaime Grijalba.

Anyone who is at least aware where his head stands above your shoulders should know who Ai Weiwei is, and if you don’t well, shame on you. Ai is, first of all, an artist, acomplished and famous around the globe for his take on post-modern art, his work in the United States in his formation years and as one of the most important figures coming from the asian art in the last decades. He is famous for his work with art and museum installations, as well as the curation of other expositions and projects, being interested in the areas of photography, architecture and more than ever, film. And as an artist, he’s a concious man, and as a man living in China, he’s a very complicated guy, and as an artist living in China, he can’t be other thing than an activist, a social and political critic of the current communist party of China that is trying too hard to cover up and stop talking about the most important matters of these days in a world that we see as approaching a social-responsive peak: democracy and human rights. The corrupt, menacing, dictatorial, murderous and simply evil government of China is actively trying to silence this artist, either whenever he is in his home country or whenever he’s out, trying to deligitimize his image to the international community, and even these days we can follow his tweets and cries for help even beyond the thick wall of the censorship in China when he’s being accused of some economical crime (like tax evasion, obviously smoke and mirrors) and he can’t even go to the court to make his discharge, and he may even go to jail without the possibility of defending himself. What kind of country is that? The one that Ai Weiwei tries to portray in the two films he has released in this year in secret, hiding from the chinese authorities and filming and accusing some of the attitudes and downright criminal face of the government of China.


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by Allan Fish

(UK 2004 352m) DVD2

The Las Vegas of the North

p  Kate Lewis  d  Coky Giedroyc, Julie Anne Robinson  w  Peter Bowker  ph  Lukas Strebel  ed  Anthony Combes, David Rees  m  Robert Lane  art  Grenville Horner

David Morrissey (Ripley Holden), Sarah Parish (Natalie Holden), David Tennant (DCI Peter Carlisle), Thomas Morrison (Danny Holden), Georgia Taylor (Shyanne Holden), Steve Pemberton, David Bradley, Bryan Dick, Kevin Doyle, Emily Aston,

We feared the worst when we heard the premise of Blackpool.  The idea of characters bursting into lip-synched song had been patented by Dennis Potter all those years ago, and one had to ask who could really aim to do it as well, let alone better.  Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark took it a step further by having a star in Björk who didn’t have to lip-synch, but Blackpool would revert to formula.  In actual fact, though, it wasn’t quite the same as Potter, for in Blackpool the actors do sing the songs, it’s just that they sing them low and are deliberately heard behind the original song (listen very carefully and you can tell).  It’s a showy show, a gaudy show, but also a dark tale of love and death on the Golden Mile.  It was the big unexpected hit of 2004.

Ripley Holden is a fortyish proprietor of an amusement arcade on the promenade who dreams of a casino hotel to rake in the punters, wanting to bring a touch of Las Vegas to Blackpool.  Problem is that he’s doing it on the never-never with the help of a shady accountant.  To complicate matters, just as planning permission is about to be granted, a body is found on his premises.  Normally his close friendship with one of the police chiefs would paper over that crack, but an outsider – a Scottish detective based in Kendal – is called in and he instantly sees Ripley as the guilty party.  If that wasn’t complicated enough, Ripley’s wife meets said detective, and they fall in love.  Oh, and then there’s Ripley’s two kids… (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Note:  This essay on the 1959 ‘Ben-Hur’ is Wonders in the Dark’s contribution to Richard R.D. Finch’s William Wyler blogothon, a venture that launched on Sunday, June 24th at ‘The Movie Projector.’

William Wyler’s Ben-Hur is one of those artistic properties that resists and defies criticism, even those among its detractors will argue till the end of time that is encompasses all that is wrong with epic movie making. The second film based on a potboiler novel released at the turn of the twentieth century by a Civil War commander named General Lew Wallace that sold a then-record 400,000 copies and inspired a stage play that ran for twenty years, Ben-Hur never tried to hide its philosophy that ‘big is better’ and it has more dramatic climaxes than any film in history. Yet what often gets lost in the translation is that it is the most intimate big-budget epic spectacular in movie history, and one that impressed critics as much as audiences upon it’s 1959 release. Naming the film the year’s best the prestigious New York Film Critics Circle, normally committed to smaller and independent films, displayed rare agreement with the Oscars, who honored the film with a record-breaking total of eleven Academy Awards, a feat that has since been equaled twice. With critics and award givers on board, it is little wonder that the film has retained audience popularity for nearly six decades, and in a career of cinematic milestones of every capacity it makes a strong case as the crowning achievement in William Wyler’s storied career.

Such prohibitive success will of course doom any film with the elitist movie intelligentsia, who often equate wide popularity with pedestrian artistry, and are naturally predisposed against the movie epic as a form lacking artistic discipline, and one prone to excesses of every kind.  These observers might also make claim that Wyler forfeited his particular style and personal trademark by holding the reigns on a film by it’s very substance plays to audience emotion and religious fervor in a big way.  The great Italian opera composer Giacomo Puccini was savaged by the critics of his day for wearing his emotions on his sleeves and for pandering to his audience’s insatiable appetite for unadulterated melody and uncomplicated story lines. There are a number of critics today who have steadfastly stood by that unflattering estimation. Yet audiences then and now have shouted down the criticism and have unfailingly filled opera houses year in and year out with the composer’s beloved works, much in the same way that Ben-Hur has ravished audiences for 53 years, by way of theatre revivals, holiday broadcasts on television and the endless releases on video formats since Beta and VHS made their mark in the early 80’s.  The one element or factor that can be found in both the operas of Puccini and William Wyler’s epic is naked emotion. When audiences are moved to this kind of  life-affirming depth, attempts at summary criticism can rightfully be seen as “beside-the-point” in view of the work’s astonishing power to move and enthrall.  Worldwide fans of the film have attested to seeing the film hundreds of times through the years, despite it’s exorbitant length, and have identified it’s famed set pieces as among the most spectacular ever filmed. (more…)

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Legendary critic Andrew Sarris (1928-2012)

by Sam Juliano

Famed auteur critic Andrew Sarris passed away at age 83 during this past week, and movie fans have lost one of the greatest and most intelligent film adherents.  Sarris is one of the last from the generation that first greeted foreign cinema on these shores, and many of his reviews (like the masterpiece he wrote on Bergman’s The Seventh Seal) are models in deft interpretation and thematic assessment.  Of his generation depleted by the passings of Pauline Kael, Dwight MacDonald, James Agee, Vincent Canby and a few others, only Stanley Kauffmann (age 96) and John Simon are still living.  I once got the opportunity to speak to Sarris back in 1998, when he appeared at the Lincoln center Barnes & Noble to sign his new volume on criticism and to moderate a discussion on contemporary cinema.  I asked why the science-fiction film Gattaca seemed to be lost in the shuffle, and he went off on a tangent as to why he loved teh film so much and complimented me on my similar taste,  Indeed, as a close friend reminded me a few days ago, there was no other critic who I agreed with as much as I did with Sarris.  My annual ‘ten-best’ list shown remarkable similarity in choices, and I well remember back in 1987 when Sarris called Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun the best films of the year, and a few years later one of the best of the decade.  It was a position I fully endorsed.  But there are so many more instances, much too numerous to document here.  Sarris was an original, who forged his own path, and wasn’t afraid to engage in contentious dialogue, particular the combative Kael, with whom he engaged in some of the most hearted critic wars on record.  Sarris, who was married to fellow film critic Molly Haskell up until his death from complications of a  fall, was in his element with the French New Wave directors, Bergman, Antonioni and Ophuls.  He’s on record as proclaiming the latter’s Lola Montes as the greatest film ever made.  His most celebrated published volume is The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929-1968, a work in which he asserted that there were 14 essential “American” directors who stood above all others, and this included Europeans who director a number of films stateside: Flaherty, Ford, Griffith, Hawks, Keaton, Welles, Lang, Lubitsch, Murnau, Ophuls, Von Sternberg, Chaplin, Hitchcock and Renoir.  At that time he downplayed the significance and artistry of Lean, Kubrick and Wilder, but later recanted on the latter, elevating him to the top rank with the others.  Sarris had the highest respect for Bergman, Antonioni and the French New Wave, all of whom commanded a good deal of his focus through the years.  Sarris, who is said to have greatly influenced fellow critics Hoberman, Turan, A.O. Scott and Armand White, was in turn influenced himself by the Cahiers du Cinema.  He wtote for many years, including stints for the New York Bulletin, the Village Voice and The New York Observer, and was a Professor of Film at Columbia University. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

straight to it again…

Best Picture  Double Indemnity, US (9 votes)

Best Director  Sergei M.Eisenstein, Ivan the Terrible Part One: Ivan Grozyni (8 votes)

Best Short  Jammin the Blues, US, Gjon Mili (6 votes)

Best Actor  Laurence Olivier, Henry V (11 votes)

Best Actress  Barbara Stanwyck, Double Indemnity (14 votes)

Best Supp Actor  Clifton Webb, Laura (7 votes)

Best Supp Actress  Margaret O’Brien, Meet Me in St Louis (9 votes)

Best Score  Sergei Prokofiev, Ivan the Terrible Part One: Ivan Grozyni & David Raksin, Laura (4 votes each, TIE) (more…)

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