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Archive for October, 2012

by Brandie Ashe

Frenetic. It’s the first word that comes to mind when thinking about Preston Sturges’ 1942 comedy classic The Palm Beach Story. From the opening credits—a brief sequence with enough plot devices jammed in to fill an entirely separate movie—to the closing scene, the film proceeds at a breakneck speed, moving swiftly from one improbable situation to the next. The end result is one of the funniest comedies to ever be produced in Hollywood, one that defines the word “screwball” in every way imaginable.

That the film is a comedic masterwork should come as no surprise to those familiar with Sturges’ oeuvre, for no film director in history had quite as deft a hand in crafting wild, outrageous comedy as he. Not merely content to sit in the director’s chair, Sturges wrote and produced his own screenplays, in addition to dabbling in acting, songwriting, inventing, and playwriting, among other varied interests. A prototypical “Renaissance man,” Sturges brought a wide-ranging knowledge to his films, reflected in intelligent characterizations, sharp, witty dialogue, and furious pacing.

As I mentioned above, The Palm Beach Story begins with a wild opening sequence that barely makes sense—at least, until you reach the end of the film. A man and a woman are set to get married, but both are running late for the altar. We see a woman (Claudette Colbert) bound and gagged inside a closet, struggling to get free. Meanwhile, her doppelganger (Colbert again) runs out in a wedding gown as a maid faints in horror. The groom (Joel McCrea) races across town in the back of a taxi, trying desperately to throw on his tuxedo. The bound woman manages to kick a hole in the closet door—as her bound feet emerge, the maid faints dead away once more. The bride grabs a taxi and manages to make it to the altar just as the groom bustles in as well. As they proceed with the ceremony, title cards appear, telling the audience, “And they lived happily ever after … or did they?” No other explanation is given; the film simply moves on without further comment. (more…)

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by Dean Treadway

Before its tremendously successful 1982 release, the odds were against TOOTSIE working at all. For one thing, the project, spearheaded by its star Dustin Hoffman, had gone through an endless series of script reiterations over the previous four years. Based on a Don Maguire play called WOULD I LIE TO YOU?, the original screenplay, penned in 1978, was by Charles Evans (Robert Evans’ brother and the film’s eventual co-producer), director Dick Richards and screenwriter Bob Kaufman. Then Hoffman came on-board, and handed the project off to many of the era’s sharpest comedy voices, including Larry Gelbart, Elaine May, Murray Schisgal, and Barry Levinson. By the time Hoffman and the film’s director, Sydney Pollack, were putting the pieces together, the script reportedly looked like a ragtag, mismatched pile of colored scrap paper (with even a few scenes written on napkins to complete the melange). This is rarely the optimum way for a screenplay to begin its life.

On top of this, the ultra-serious Pollack was not known for his comedy stylings, and Hoffman was, on-set, a sometimes dictatorial presence–indeed, the sort of exasperating, exacting artist he plays in the film. In TOOTSIE, his Michael Dorsey is a struggling, out-of-work actor who’s told by his agent George (Pollack, in a role Hoffman urged him to take) that he’s too difficult to work with, and that directors all across New York City are refusing his services. He’s patently unemployable. So, having accompanied his harried best friend Sandy (the superbly flustered Teri Garr) to an audition for a soap opera called “Southwest General”–an audition she loses immediately–Michael decides to don hair, dress and makeup and go into the audition as “Dorothy Michaels,” a strong-willed, Southern-accented character actress (based partially on Hoffman’s friend Polly Holliday, who memorably appeared with him in ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, and partially on Hoffman‘s aunt, who used to call him “Tootsie,” thus the film‘s title). (more…)

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by Jaime Grijalba.

As promised last month, I shall continue with capsule reviews of a group of asian films from 2012 that didn’t caught enough interest or where I’ve already talked about their issues in other films for them to guarantee a full review. So, without further ado, let’s dwell inside the world of asian cinema and look what it’s there for us.

Che sau (2012)

a.k.a. Motorway

director Pou-Soi Cheang

Hong Kong, 90 min

This has been compared many times, either through reviews, previews, festival summaries and even blurbs about the film itself, to the american film of 2011 named ‘Drive’, one of the most critically acclaimed, and at the same time, polarizing films of the past year (alongside ‘The Tree of Life’, it was surely a year for discussion and debate). There have been articles and reviews that go point by point naming every simmilaritie and even supposed references made by this posterior effort to the earlier film. Now, while I wasn’t one of the hordes of fanatics of ‘Drive’ (I thought that the film was a good piece of filmmaking in the technical sense, and it managed to keep me somewhat interested in what was going on, but the overbearing and awkward silences, the feeling of a plot that was never really put to the ground firmly, really put me at times on the other side of the board, claiming that it wasn’t as good as everyone else was saying that it was), I can honestly say that it was a better movie than this ‘Motorway’ manages to be, mainly because it’s not original at all. ‘Drive’ had some visual and plot wise a general sense of originality (no matter how much it stole from the classic ‘The Driver’) that wasn’t seen in american films in a long time, this movie from Hong Kong just points out every cliché in the book and passes over it, boring us out of our minds, and while the visuals may seem interesting, you can always say that they were rip-offs of the earlier 2011 film (how time and influences pass). This is the story of a rookie cop that was put in the force because of his expertise managing cars, racing them fast to catch the bad guys, and once that the bad guys have escaped even if he was really fast, he has to learn again from a retiring police officer to really ride the streets the right way for him to be able to catch them. It’s so dissapointing, I expected so much more when it was compared to the american film (heck, I even expected to like it more than ‘Drive’) but it was found lacking, just for the visuals, this movie manages to catch some of your attention. (Rating: ***)
(more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1966 365m) DVD2

Hello, stranger…

p  Michael Bakewell  d  Christopher Morahan  w  John Hopkins  ph  Mark McDonald  ed  Howard Billingham  m  Wilfred Josephs  art  Richard Wilmot

Judi Dench (Terry), Michael Bryant (Alan), Margery Mason (Sarah), Maurice Denham (Ted), Pinkie Johnstone (Jess), Emrys James (Gordon), Windsor Davies (D.S.Wilson), Calvin Lockhart (Leonard), Maryann Turner (Mrs Hayter),

It’s nearly half a century now since John Hopkins’ trailblazing small screen drama first burst onto our screens.  For many years it went unseen and when it finally came to DVD it was as part of an eight drama Judi Dench Collection.  There’s some other very fine stuff included in that set, from a 1987 version of Ibsen’s Ghosts with Kenneth Branagh, Natasha Richardson and Michael Gambon to the famous play Going Gently, where Dench played nurse to Norman Wisdom and Fulton Mackay as too old dying cancer patients, but this is the great work among them.

She’s always been a big draw in the theatre, but it’s fair to say that Judi only really seemed to command the big screen when in her early sixties.  Oh she had her moments, but she never quite seemed in command as Maggie Smith did.  That’s not a unique phenomenon, of course; Vanessa Redgrave and Helen Mirren likewise never really commanded the screen – or at least took it seriously – until later in their lives.  For Judi the turning point came with Mrs Brown and Shakespeare in Love, after which Hollywood finally, as if communicating by a distant satellite off Jupiter, embraced her.  (more…)

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by Judy Geater

This is a film that has its wedding cake and eats it. James Stewart sums it all up beautifully in two caustic lines – on the one hand: “The prettiest sight in this fine, pretty world is the privileged class enjoying its privileges.” That’s certainly a big selling point for a movie set in an impossibly luxurious mansion on the eve of a grand wedding, amid a whirl of champagne and gowns by Adrian. But, on the other hand, as Stewart snarls on the phone: “This is the Voice of Doom calling. Your days are numbered, to the seventh son of the seventh son.” The Philadelphia Story, one of the greatest of screwball comedies, celebrates the quirkiness of rich society families, as epitomised in Katharine Hepburn’s haughty, upper-crust heroine, Tracy Samantha Lord. But it also suggests that their days are indeed numbered, and shows this American aristocrat having to change and bend with the times.

The opening scene is a brief silent drama which shows Tracy’s violent break-up with her husband, CK Dexter Haven (Cary Grant), as she contemptuously breaks his golf clubs and he retaliates by pushing her through a door, deciding against hitting her. From this dramatic break-up, it’s a case of going full circle and getting back to the point where the couple fall in love. Just as Tracy is about to marry a safe but boring businessman, George Kittredge (John Howard), Dexter turns up at the eleventh hour and starts turning everything upside down. He brings in a reporter and photographer from a gossip magazine, Spy, (he has been blackmailed into doing so) and things are soon becoming more complicated, and comic, by the minute. It turns out that the reporter, Macaulay/Mike Connor (Stewart) is really a poetic short story writer, and Tracy starts to fall under his spell, threatening her forthcoming marriage – while the rest of her eccentric family are busy causing their own brand of mayhem. (more…)

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Helen Hunt and John Hawkes in extraordinary “The Sessions”

Screen cap from perverse, melancholic and exhilarating French fantasy “Holy Motors” by Leos Carax

by Sam Juliano

Time is passing at record speed, and people stateside are thinking  beyond the trick-or-treat ritual and costume sharing of next week to the purchasing of butterballs at the local supermarket.  As it is pumpkins are to be seen on porches, office desks and at produce depots, and those with an aversion to brisk temperatures are actually turning on the warm air.  Here at Wonders in the Dark business moves forward as usual, with one of the most spirited posts in the four years and two months the site has been going, under the voting thread for 1961, won by a comfortable margin by the landmark musical West Side Story.  Travel there at your own risk!  So far about 230 comments have been posted, many of a rather contentious nature.  The comedy countdown is better than half way complete, and after the present week, there will be 40 entries remaining, meaning eight weeks up until #1 is unveiled only days before Christmas.

Redefining the ‘bionic man’ our Chilean friend and colleague Jaimie Grijalba continues with his own miraculous Top 100 ‘horror countdown’ at Exodus 8:2, while the petition trio of Dee Dee, Lori Moore and Barbara LaMotta head onward and outward with their own miracle project aimed at gathering support for a ‘John Garfield’ boxset.  Just on Sunday morning Dee reported a slew of new signatures, which can be accessed on the page thread denoted by the link under the sidebar photo of the iconic actor. (more…)

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Pat Perry in Shanghai, China during 2008 musical tour

by Sam Juliano

Note: This is the fourteenth entry in an ongoing series that honors creative bloggers who have really made a difference, raising the bar for quality and productivity on the cultural front.

There have been fifteen people covered in previous installments of WitD’s long-running “blogger’s appreciation” series, and it’s hard to imagine any single one matching Chicagoan Pat Perry by way of extensive diversity of travel, cultural experiences and the performing arts.  Perry, who grew up in an Indiana farm town 90 miles south of the Windy City, and who bleeds Hoosier blood,  has developed a multi-cultural palette that has embraced a wide array of interests ranging from classical music, art house cinema, a deep passion for the art museum, and an impressive travel background that has landed her in eight European countries, and to Shanghai, China, the last stop a proud 2008 appearance with a choir performing in some Olympic themed concerts.  A big fan of Turner Classic Movies, community theatre, romantic comedies, and the often misunderstood “chick flicks” Perry founded her film blog Doodad Kind of Town in March, 2007 after a stint writing poltical pieces and personal essays.  Blessed with a great singing voice and acting talent, Perry has made good with these endowments, playing major  parts in community theatre productions of The Women, Oliver!, Cabaret, Sweeney Todd and Nine.  Her favorite of these was the role of “Schneider” in Cabaret.  Perry admits that her love for the usical form dates all the way back to the time she was four years old, and the lasting influence Mary Poppins has on her.  The erstwhile fan of the form admits that the “unreality” of it all captured her imagination, and that she instantly took a liking to the expression of story through song.  Still for all her talent and interest in music and singing Perry divides her passion between the aural and the visual, with a lifetime of visits to art museums in New York, Chicago and Europe and a studied appreciation of all the great artists.  She identifies ‘Kandinsky’ as her personal favorite and enthusiastically opines: “I loved the retrospective of his work at the Guggenheim in 2009. I like to visit the Art Institute of Chicago, although their new Modern Art wing does not seem to be as thoughtfully curated as the rest of the museum. Another favorite is the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston, a fully restored Venetian palazzo (it was shipped, brick by brick, from Venice to Boston and rebuilt there) where the paintings are all jumbled without regard to putting works of the same period or artist in the same room It’s eccentric, but it’s wonderful.” (more…)

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Here we go again…

Best Picture West Side Story, US (7 votes)

Best Director Alain Resnais, L’Année Dernière à Marienbad (6 votes)

Best Actor Toshiro Mifune, Yojimbo (10 votes)

Best Actress Harriet Andersson, Through a Glass Darkly (11 votes)

Best Supp Actor Fernando Rey Viridiana (4 votes, Bill Riley thankfully saving a five way tie)

Best Supp Actress Rita Moreno, West Side Story (14 votes)

Best Cinematography Sacha Vierny, L’Année Dernière à Marienbad (10 votes)

Best Score Miklós Rózsa, El Cid (5 votes)

Best Short Very Nice Very Nice, Canada, Arthur Lipsett (2 votes)

And my own choices…

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By Bob Clark

Between books by the likes of J. Hoberman and David Denby and no end of speculation from online commentators, there’s been a lot of questions asked about the place that cinema has in the growing fog of mass-media communications and whatever role that true art plays in that versus the marketplace. In the case of many professional critics, there’s been far too much emphasis on the death of film as a physical tool, on the weaning end of celluloid as an instrument of cinema versus the rising popularity of digital-video among younger directors and thrifty producers, mostly with an eye for the loss of the old visual substance one had with the chemical process of old-school photography, ignoring the ways in which new technology has effectively democratized what once was the most expensive, and therefore least inclusive, of all the arts. While there’s every chance that this cheaper blend of cinematic tools will eventually help sire a new generation of savvy independent filmmakers beyond this past decade’s mumblecore crowd, so far we’ve mainly seen all the old stalwarts benefit from the rise of digital, from mainstream Hollywood filmmakers to institutional art-house relics. To a certain extent all of these forces are present on display in the new films showcased during each year during the New York Film Festival, which traditionally blends high-profile Oscar-bait like a professional fisherman opening a box of his latest lures, with a cornucopia of select international fare.

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by Jaime Grijalba.

How can you possibly think of killing such a sweet old lady? Well, given the circumstances in which these five criminals are found, I can’t say that I wouldn’t have wanted the same, but even then, why kill such a great and kind lady? Well, there are some levels in which the performance of Katie Johnson of the character credited in the movie as ‘The Old Lady’, and I think that there’s a certain cleverness on the decission to name her like that, because she is the embodiment of what we think about when we talk about old sweet ladies, she is the cliché before the cliché, the archetipe of the oversweetness of the english mother, one that was later satirized and forever encapsulated in the multiple renditions of them in the TV series ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’, being played by all the members of the troupe in one episode or another, being the most memorable the one called ‘Njorl’s Saga’. There is something in the performance that makes me think every time I see it, and I end up considering it one of the best supporting performances in the history of cinema (damn me if I remember if I actually voted for it in the polls, nevermind) because there is a documentary feeling about it, there is a natural charm that comes from within, as if this was any old lady that was stopped right in the middle of the street and asked if she wanted to perform in a movie called ‘The Ladykillers’ alongside the talent of Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom. There is something believable that is quite supported by the screenplay and the situations in which this old madame founds herslef in alongside these criminals, some naiveté, some obliviousness towards what is actually happening around her that makes it a memorable film, one of the best screen performances and the only element of ‘normal’ in this incredibly crazy british film. (more…)

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