Archive for July, 2012

By Bob Clark

It almost seems inevitable now that Christopher Nolan’s latest and last Batman movie should find itself treading upon so many political fault lines as it finds itself released this weekend. No, not for the tragic events which occurred during midnight screenings in Colorado or the debate it’s rekindling on the subject of national registration for firearms. And no, not for the false-flag buffoonery on the part of Rush Limbaugh for insisting that liberals would try to make a connection between the name of the film’s nearly 20 year old super-villain and Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s venture capital firm. Not even for the news that Nolan himself engendered when the film’s production shot on location in the New York financial district during the peak of the Occupy Wall Street movement, where the idea was nursed to put the protestors themselves onscreen as stand-ins for economic unrest in Gotham City, though that one strikes somewhat closer to home. Maybe it’s because Nolan allows his real-world vision of Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s comic-book creation less and less fictional filtration in this final installment– instead of the mostly set-bound Batman Begins and the anonymous Chicago look of The Dark Knight, this last film features long action-sequences and skyline shots that prominently feature iconic Manhattan architecture, from the Empire State Building to Trinity Church. As such, it’s harder to let all the explosive histrionics slide, nor the conclusions they help facilitate once all the smoke clears, and the only conclusion I can reach is one that I saw coming back when considering the previous entries of Nolan’s films of the Dark Knight detective– this is a Batman who favors his Right Wing.


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by Allan Fish

(UK 1964 170m) DVD1

A prince among Danes

p  Peter Luke  d  Philip Saville  play  William Shakespeare  m  Richard Rodney Bennett  art  Paul Arnt Thompsen  cos  Olive Harris

Christopher Plummer (Hamlet), Robert Shaw (Claudius), June Tobin (Gertrude), Jo Maxwell Muller (Ophelia), Alec Clunes (Polonius), Michael Caine (Horatio), Dyson Lovell (Laertes), Roy Kinnear (gravedigger), Donald Sutherland (Fortinbras), Steven Berkoff (Lucianus), Peter Prowse (Marcellus), David Calderisi (Rosencrantz), Bill Wallis (Guildenstern), David Swift (player king), Philip Locke (Osric),

It was a broadcast that had entered into legend, the first Hamlet to actually be shot at Elsinore, in the equally legendary Kronborg castle.  It was a co-production between the BBC and Denmark’s national broadcaster and while there was never a doubt about the tapes surviving, we only ever got to saw clips of it.  Several cast members, including star Christopher Plummer and Michael Caine tried to get it released and eventually, finally, in 2011, it made it to DVD, but only across the water in the US.

There had been other takes on Hamlet on TV before it as well as numerous on the large screen, including the three preceding this entry in the text, one of which was made concurrently across the Baltic Sea in Soviet Russia.  On TV among many versions, one recalls Derek Jacobi in the 1980 BBC Shakespeare entry with Patrick Stewart and Claire Bloom as Claudius and Gertrude.  More recently, in 2009, Stewart once more donned the guise of the treacherous uncle in a film of the RSC’s production.  That had a Dane from David Tennant which both delighted and perhaps surprised those who only knew him as the Timelord from Gallifrey, but while one admires both those versions, the best small screen version remains this 1964 broadcast. (more…)

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by Jaime Grijalba.

a.k.a. Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger vs. Space Sheriff Gavan: The Movie

(Japan, 64 min.)

As a child, one of my favorite TV shows was one silly, cheap-looking and badly-acted kid series called “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers”. It was a silly show that even to this day I’m not even sure what appealed to me (I wasn’t a kid that liked the Transformers cartoons besides those made in 3D animation… ‘Beast Wars’ I think it was called), it featured explosions and big robots that fought with rubber suited monsters from the silliest and wildest of our imaginations. The bad guys were monsters based on the predicaments or the lesson that the show tried to hammer into our fragile minds in a daily (at least in the schedule that followed my country, we got the show every single day, monday to friday, on the afternoon, just after school) basis. Obviously, it was just many many years later and after shrugging the series as a bunch of badly acted stunts mixed with some nice special effects, transformation sequences and a crazy assortment of characters, that the thing that I was seeing was just a diminished and changed version of something that may be of greater interest to me right now. Toei, a japanese production house famous for its sci fi and fantasy material, turned what would be one of the most profitable ideas in the history of kids television: the super sentai, five normal high-school kids (that look like they should be in college) one day receive the power of certain kind of animals or elements or whatever, from space, and they can transform and fight the bad guys that come in a weekly basis to try and destroy the world, they were called the SUPER SENTAI, and they were exactly the same as the POWER RANGERS. When I learned that I noticed that all the sillyness and bad acting from my childish days may have been probably not fault of the original product, but of the americanization and posterior conversion and plastering of bad ideas that we are so used to have whenever something foreign tries to get into the United States of America. So, when I was seeing the good bits, the fights of the power rangers and the rubber suited baddies, I was seeing unedited fights made by japanese guys from the original super sentai series (dubbed, but who cares), and when I was watching bad american actors, I was seeing reshoots of similar (or maybe entirely different, who can really tell unless you watch them back-to-back) scenes done originally with japanese actors and scenery. So, after many years of thinking about that, along comes an opportunity to finally see if the sillyness comes from the americanization or if it is an imbedded thing into the DNA of what a Sentai series should be, with a feature-lenght movie released on theaters based on the latest installment of the Super Sentai series. My body and mind were ready, so I clicked play and watched. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 2010-  532m) DVD1/2

I – O – U…

p  Sue Vertue, Rebecca Eaton, Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat  d  Paul McGuigan, Euros Lyn  created by  Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss  w  Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Steve Thompson  m  David Arnold, Michael Price 

Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock Holmes), Martin Freeman (Dr John Watson), Mark Gatiss (Mycroft Holmes), Una Stubbs (Mrs Hudson), Andrew Scott (Jim Moriarty), Rupert Graves (Chf.Insp.Lestrade), Lara Pulver (Irene Adler), Zoe Telford, Phil Davis, Louise Brealey, John Sessions, Russell Tovey, Amber Elizabeth, Douglas Wilmer,

We all have our own Holmes.  For the old brigade, no-one can top Basil Rathbone, and for sure on the large screen, while Robert Stephens and Peter Cushing were both admirable, he remains definitive.  Baker Street obsessives will say the best incarnations were on TV.  Hand on heart, if asked who the most accurate Holmes was on screen, it would be Jeremy Brett’s immortal incarnation that ran for a decade from 1984-94 and was faithful enough to build an entire Baker Street set (back to back with the Coronation Street set) on the Granada backlot.  Yet while they were the most authentic, the earlier series undoubtedly were the best (Brett’s ailments started to show towards the end).  Back a generation earlier there was a now rarely seen take with Douglas Wilmer a superb Holmes (he makes a lovely cameo appearance, aged 90, in the Series 2 finale).  Yet these were all faithful period recreations and they failed to make the main text, so how come a 21st century updating could prove the best of the bunch?  (more…)

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Screen grab from Steven Spielberg’s 1982 “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial” shown at Film Forum on Sunday as part of four-week Universal 100 Years Festival, running till August 9th.

by Sam Juliano

The comedy countdown will officially commence on Monday, August 6th with an essay on No. 100 by Sydney native and WitD alumni Tony d’Ambra.  Voting Tabulator Extraordinaire Angelo A. D’Arminio Jr. forwarded the final results of the Top 100 over the past week, and the listing and numbers were then e mailed to all those who cast ballots or were part of the e mail chain that also included a few who passed on voting but will still write essays.  With 100 essays scheduled to be published in reverse order all the way up to the Number 1 selection, the project will run until the third week in December.  As stated in previous posts, the countdown will not appear on Saturdays or Sundays.  A wide array of writers have volunteered to take the reigns in what will certainly be the most auspicious project ever attempted at the site, and one that will require a herculean effort by all those involved, not to mention a long hold on one’s attention spans through the fall and holiday season.  Those penning pieces include the aforementioned d’Ambra, Pat Perry, Judy Geater, Roderick Heath, Marilyn Ferdinand, Ed Howard, Jon Warner, Brandie Ashe, Jamie Uhler, John Greco, Maurizio Roca, Jaimie Grijalba, Dennis Polifroni, Richard ‘R.D.’ Finch, Sachin Gandhi, Allan Fish, Shubhajit Laheri, Bob Clark,  Joel Bocko, Dean Treadway, J.D.,  Jim Clark, David Schleicher, Mark Smith, Pedro Silva and Sam Juliano for a grand total of 26 writers, with most handling multiple assignments.  It is understood that some individuals who did cast ballots could not quite commit to writing during this busy summer season, but to all of them I extend my deepest gratitude for all you have done.

In Manhattan the ‘Universal 100th Anniversary Festival’ commenced this past Friday and will run for four weeks, taking in 72 films, with a number of double and even triple features on the schedule.  The big rarity is Clarence Brown’s 1925 silent The Goose Woman, scheduled to screen on Tuesday, July 24th with piano accompaniment by Steve Sterner.  The line-up includes a few silents, the Universal monsters, Douglas Sirk, Robert Siodmak, Alfred Hitchcock, William Wyler, James Whale, Robert Mulligan, Anthony Mann, Fritz Lang, the Coens, Michael Cimino, Jules Dassin, Spike Lee, Frank Borzage and a wide array of more contemporary studio releases. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

and once more onto the breach…

Best Picture  Out of the Past, US (6 votes, by 1 over Black Narcissus)

Best Director  Jacques Tourneur, Out of the Past (8 votes)

Best Short  The Cat Concerto, US, William Hanna, Joseph Barbera (3 votes)

Best Actor  John Garfield, Body and Soul (7 votes, by 1 over Robert Mitchum)

Best Actress  Deborah Kerr, Black Narcissus (10 votes)

Best Supp Actor  Edmund Gwenn, Miracle on 34th Street (6 votes – you soft bunch of fools)

Best Supp Actress  Kathleen Byron, Black Narcissus (7 votes)

Best Cinematography  Jack Cardiff, Black Narcissus (11 votes)

Best Score  Roy Webb, Out of the Past (8 votes)

and my own choices…


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By Bob Clark

If there is one basic rule of humanity that stretches across generations and cultural borders of every ilk, a good candidate might be that people will generally be as inhumane to one another as they see fit in order to stay alive. As such, telling stories about those who are trapped in and grow up around all kinds of suffering is an easy way to transcend national and other differences and elicit sympathy from filmgoers when aiming for as large an audience as possible. It’s an especially canny decision when you decide to engage in hybrid animation that mixes traditional hand-drawn 2D practices with newer CGI models for a blend that has every chance of alienating crowds as much as winning them. Granted, we’ve seen plenty of film and television animation that mix the two, usually just as a cost-cutting measure or to allow for more spectacularly explosive scenes than the time and labor intensive demands of purely hand-drawn craft allow (the Rebuild of Evangelion revamps of athletic Eva units and mind-bending Angels being an obvious example), but in some cases all of these considerations can come together into something that’s either affecting or at least tries hard enough for the attempt to stand out on its own. Might as well try to aim for the heart with experimental weapons if you’re going to fire them at all.

Two of the three animated releases from the New York Asian Film Festival this year highlight the creative challenges and virtues of joining new flavors of animation with visceral violence and affecting, almost downright sentimental content. Last year’s The King of Pigs from South Korean animator Yuen Sang-ho has been busy capturing attention in festivals like Cannes, while this year’s Asura (showcased as a part of the joint-participating Japan Cuts festival along with an adaptation of the Junji Ito manga Gyo) from The Big O designer and Tiger & Bunny director Keiichi Sato builds off the storied reputation of one of Japan’s most notoriously controversial mangakas, George Akiyama. Both are studies of abject brutality and inhumanity throughout all levels of class and society in contemporary South Korea and medieval Japan, but with a particular emphasis on how they affect children growing up amidst such hardship. Both are also horrifically, sometimes spectacularly violent, in ways that both disguise the limitations of and showcase the highlights of the cross-disciplinary digital melting pot they both practice, and help illustrate the creative potential for a new brand of animation when most practitioners and audiences alike are stuck thinking about 2D and CGI as competing strands of differing artistic value.


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by Allan Fish

(UK 2011 945m) DVD2

It looked like our dreams

d/w  Mark Cousins  ph  Mark Cousins  ed  Timo Longer  narrated by  Mark Cousins

with Sharmila Tagore, Kyoko Kagawa, Lars Von Trier, Stanley Donen, Xie Jin, Youssef Chahine, Norman Lloyd, Jane Campion, Amitabh Bachchan, Robert Towne, Bernardo Bertolucci, Yuen Woo-ping, Paul Schrader, Baz Luhrmann, Terence Davies, etc. 

There was a kids TV programme when I was growing up called Why Don’t You?  It showcased kids doing various things to amuse themselves and featured a theme song which told its viewer to “stop watching TV, turn it off, it’s no good to me”; the only TV programme that was basically repudiating its viewers.

Writing this essay gives me that feeling twice over.  This work is supposed to be a trawl through the great works of the moving image, but Cousins presents one with a dilemma; namely, that if the reader is coming to this as a beginner, he could do no better than to leave the screen or page they are reading and get the DVDs of this series and watch this before you start.  The problem is that even then I would be plagiarising Cousins; he told his readers to do exactly that in the book the series was based on, telling them to go off and watch certain Hitchcock films if they haven’t already.

The whole purpose of my work was to remove the blinkers, to say that, while canons and accepted film histories are fine and focus the would-be film student to certain definitive works, they also blinker, blur the periphery and lead to myopia.  As Cousins himself again said, setting out to show that movie history as we know it was “racist by omission.”  The purpose of Cousins’ original book was akin to trying to throw a lasso round the moon like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life.  To put all of film history in one single volume – it was an impossible task to begin with, but there are times when the attempt itself is significant and this was one such time.

I’d first seen Cousins like many of my generation as the presenter of BBC2s cult movie series Moviedrome and his inimitable, deliberate Belfast drawl either enchanted or infuriated.  He set about filming the documentary to go with the book the year it hit the shelves – 2004 – and interviewed dozens of people and visited countless locations in search of illustrations to the printed word.  Several of the interviewees listed after the ‘with’ had passed on several years before it came to air.

Then in the autumn of 2011, with little to no fanfare, it was shown on More4 in the UK prior to a film festival tour in 2012.  The pacing was ruined by those goddamned adverts that make almost all non-BBC TV impossible to watch with enjoyment and make you wait for the DVDs or Blu Rays.  While bemoaning the omissions from conventional film histories, many will be aghast at the absences here – no film noir, no Sturges, to name one to represent dozens – but the same had been true of Scorsese’s A Personal Journey for the BFI in 1995.  The difference was that Scorsese apologised for the omissions and listed them, much like I do in the Final Apologies here; Cousins makes no apology, and yet why should he?  It’s his personal journey after all, and the breadth of clips is amazing even to an old cynic like me who thinks he’s seen or heard of just about everything.  From the Lumières to Inception, from continent to continent and more establishing shots than a whole season of Alias, and with its capital seemingly in Dakar, Senegal, this is not for the complacent.  In his intro to each episode, he talked of how movies are “a multi-billion dollar global entertainment industry now.  But what drives them isn’t box-office or showbiz, it’s passion and innovation.”  And there we come to the crux of the matter.  Movies are all about money; art be hanged.  In Hollywood, the talented cannot escape the curse, they’re contaminated – the bauble, as Cousins would say.  This fifteen hour piece is his crusade against that, and anything written by the likes of yours truly cannot hope to have the same impact.  Yet like Cousins, I still write because, when failure is inevitable, how gloriously you fail matters.  And this is a truly glorious failure.

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© 2012 by James Clark


Robert Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest is a masterful exploration of a shattering marvel tenaciously hidden within our going about our business. As physical entities we find ourselves absorbed within skills (business) necessary for survival, but not necessarily conducive to lucidity in a wider sense we might want to discount but in all seriousness cannot. There is a film, namely, Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (2009), which likewise engages the rarity of discernment in its interpersonal implications. But instead of being an instance of “facing up to it” (as the old priest would rally the awkward beginner as to clerical business as usual), the recent instalment comes to grips with taking care of business in the absence of those sensitivities primed by an endeavor (namely, Christianity) concerning lucidity beyond that bolstering creature comforts, sensitivities, that is, touching (however numbly) upon an exigency of comprehensive love.

Even so, Antichrist begins with a couple copulating in their shower in a filmic aura of deliciously textured grey scale, slow-motion and choral sheen—Handel’s aria, “Let Me Weep,” (“Let me weep for my cruel fate and that I long for freedom”), as given an unearthly topspin by a mezzo soprano approximating the original castrato register—serving to impress upon us that a measure of uncanniness, of lucidity abnormal in rational world history, graces their experience. Suggestive that, as with the young celibate in Bresson’s film, visiting uncanniness is not the same as inhabiting it, their exploratory toddler plunges to his death from the upstairs window during their rapture, as if he were a baby bird taking its early exit. Likewise wrapped in very slow-motion, this misstep comes to be enfolded in a caress of delicate snowflakes, first floating into the place of ecstasy and then accompanying the one-way, downward proceeding, as also accompanied by the victim’s winsome little teddy bear, plopping into a cushion of snow, and bouncing, as if onto a forgiving trampoline. In the trajectory streaming along from this strange episode of domestic primality (their cyclical laundry machine, installed beside that shower comes to a halt at about the same moment tumescence ends), after he has strangled his wife after suffering nearly unspeakable injuries at her hands, the father, dragging himself homeward through a thick forest—in a reprise of the shimmering visual register just described (and a second rendition by that castrato manqué, now closer to him than ever)—encounters the mist-enshrouded presences of a deer, a fox and a bird, having, like the little bear, transcended harsh treatment, and in their pristine beauty, composure and (above all) penetrating equilibrium, affording a trace of sound discovery so remarkably rare in this saga so acutely mindful of Bresson’s nightmares. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1985 344m) DVD2

Once upon a time there was a town called Troy

p  Bill Lyons, Colin Adams  d  Bill Lyons  w  Michael Wood  Terry Oldfield, David Pash

presented by  Michael Wood

Though overshadowed by the often superfluous saturation of by-the-numbers historical documentaries offered up on satellite and cable television, there have been numerous impressive contributions to the genre from various prominent specialists.  We’ve had great works from Ken Burns, Tony Essex, Jeremy Isaacs and Angus MacQueen that dealt with comparatively recent history, and which are discussed elsewhere in this piece.  When it comes to older periods of history, we have had several superb, scholarly treatises by the likes of Simon Schama and David Starkey, as well as the work of tireless enthusiast John Romer, responsible for such impressive, idiosyncratic works as The Seven Wonders of the World, Byzantium and Great Excavations.  However, the man who has done perhaps most to promote history to the generally ill-educated masses has to be Manchester’s own Dorian Gray-like historian Michael Wood.  Wood had been off our screens for over a decade when he returned in 1998 with In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great, a mammoth undertaking which saw him follow in the footsteps of the great warrior conqueror and following the exact route of Alexander’s epic conquests, his irrepressible enthusiasm and intrepidity mixing successfully with a Michael Palin style travelogue.  It was great viewing, but it also made one nostalgic for the series that made his name in the early and mid-eighties.  He made various programmes and series all In Search of some person or period, from the Dark Ages to William the Conqueror, but his magnum opus still remains In Search of the Trojan War(more…)

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