Archive for November, 2012

By Bob Clark

There are few movies from my childhood that I find my perspective more changed about than George Seaton’s classic Miracle on 34th Street. That’s not to say that I’ve stopped enjoying it since then, but rather that the way I view it has evolved so much over the years that it’s just as interesting for me to think back on how I used to look at it as it is for me to revisit the film itself. Viewed now, as an adult, it’s still a perfectly charming piece of holiday entertainment– granted, it’s by no means up there with Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, the Alastair Sim Scrooge or even any number of animated television specials from the season (nothing beats the Rankin-Bass Rudolph or Good Ol’ Charlie Brown), but nevertheless it’s still a smart, funny piece of Christmastime fairy-tale spinning that greatly benefits from its contemporary setting. Even today, there’s little dated about the 1947 film– sure, Gimbels may have long since gone out of business, but Macy’s still holds its annual balloon-assisted Thanksgiving day parade and fights fierce competition with rival stores for holiday bucks, and plenty of court-cases are still won on pure technicalities or publicity (though nowadays you need bigger help than the U.S. Postal Service).


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by Jon Warner

Mel Brooks became known as a spoof-artist (if spoofing can be considered art). But his first film is quite an original, and perhaps his funniest work because of it. Armed with an insane premise, a wacky set of characters and some great talent, Brooks made his best film, or at least very close to it. I must say that I had seen this film before about 10 years ago, but upon viewing it for the second time recently I found it even funnier. In fact, as far as belly laughs go, this film ranks right up there with the greatest comedies of them all. It’s a non-stop, heaping dose of insanity. It also contains the first real extended performance (not counting Bonnie and Clyde) from Gene Wilder who would become a comedic icon and one of the essential comedians of his era.

The Producers stars Zero Mostel as Max Bialystock, a conniving Broadway producer, who woos a small armada of little old ladies in order to drum up cash to fund his productions. When an accountant named Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) shows up at Max’s office to check the books, he finds out that Max has been doing some “creative accounting”. In order to avoid legal trouble, Max decides to bribe Leo into a scheme which will make both of them rich. They will produce the worst play that they can possibly come up with (which they believe will close within the first few days of opening) and they will fund their play with money from the “little old ladies”. The play they choose is a tribute to Hitler and Nazi Germany called “Springtime for Hitler”, written by a former Nazi named Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars), who is whacked out of his gourd and living in NYC in a highrise apartment where he talks to his pigeons on the roof. They presume that the play will crash and that they will abscond with the money and fly to Rio. That is of course assuming that the play fails (Dun Dun Dun!!!). (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 2011 236m) DVD2

The City of Dreadful Night

p  David M.Thompson, Steve Lightfoot, Greg Dummett, Ed Rubin  d  Marc Munden  w  Lucinda Coxon  novel  Michel Faber  ph  Lol Crawley  ed  Luke Dunkley  m  Cristobal Tapia de Veer  art  Grant Montgomery, Ussal Smithers  cos  Annie Symons  make up  Jacqueline Fowler

Romola Garai (Sugar), Chris O’Dowd (William Rackham), Shirley Henderson (Mrs Cox), Amanda Hale (Agnes Rackham), Mark Gatiss (Henry Rackham Jnr), Gillian Anderson (Mrs Castaway), Richard E.Grant (Dr Curlew), Tom Georgeson (Henry Rackham), Claire Louise Connelly (Janey), Blake Ritson (Bodley), Katie Lyons (Clara), Liz White (Caroline), Elizabeth Berrington (Lady Bridgelow), Isla Watt (Sophie),

Keep your wits about you.  This city is vast and intricate and you do not know your way around.  You imagine from other stories you’ve read that you know it well, but those stories flattered you.  You are an alien from another time and place altogether.  You don’t even know what hour it is, do you?”  It’s an opening narration to command attention, to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention like school children upon the arrival of teacher.  It accompanies a sequence that has been described by some as resembling a laudanum induced nightmare and yet notice the person, for is much of that sequence not shot in subjective camera.  The critics are right to point out the drug-induced, shallow-focused haze in which much of the action takes place, as if entirely shot in front of gaslights playing tricks with the eyes.  The camera, prowling like a restless disembodied spirit, leads you quite literally by the hand, like Cocteau’s mirror walk on opium, to a place where you really are like an alien.  It plays for the first three episodes like Jane Eyre if Jane was a prostitute and Lowood a brothel.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1932 30m) DVD1/2

Where are Pickfords when you need them?

p  Hal Roach  d  James Parrott  w  H.M.Walker

Stan Laurel (Stan), Oliver Hardy (Ollie), Billy Gilbert (Professor Theodore Von Schartzenhoffen), Charlie Hall (postman),

What can one say about this?  The Music Box is three reels of absolute perfection, thirty minutes of laugh upon laugh, wince upon wince and shudder upon shudder.  The great duo made many great shorts in their early talkie days, including Towed in a Hole with its boat-wrecking scene, Busy Bodies with the car being sawn in half, Laughing Gravy with the poor eponymous dog and Dirty Work with Sam Adams’ unctuous butler declaring “you can’t miss the fireplace, it’s up against the wall.”  All are great in themselves, but none of them are as immortal as The Music Box or cause so much destruction. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1932 82m) DVD1

It must be marvellous

p/d  Ernst Lubitsch  w  Samson Raphaelson, Grover Jones  play  “The Honest Finder” by Laszlo Aladar  ph  Victor Milner  ed  Merrill White  m  W.Franke Harling  art  Hans Dreier  cos  Travis Banton

Herbert Marshall (Gaston Monescu), Miriam Hopkins (Lily Vautier), Kay Francis (Mariette Colet), Edward Everett Horton (François Filiba), Charles Ruggles (the Major), C.Aubrey Smith (Adolph Giron), Robert Greig (Jacques the butler), Leonid Kinskey (revolutionary), George Humbert, Luis Alberni, Rolfe Sedan,

I hardly know where to begin discussing the innumerable merits of Ernst Lubitsch’s masterpiece.  Truly great film comedies are rare and it’s the director’s own individual style that makes them great.  But without wishing to overlook the merits of such masters as Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges, Frank Capra, George Cukor and Mitchell Leisen, none of them ever really got to grips with that rarest of styles; pure unadulterated sophistication.  The sort of the film that is sublime to the nth degree and sublime in its ridiculousness without ever in itself being ridiculous.

Of course such films as Cukor’s The Philadelphia Story were sophisticated, but brilliant though that film is, its sophistication belongs to a more moral age, an age where Tracy Lord can go for a swim with a fellow and even kiss him, without any sense of any immorality having taken place.  Crooks such as Sydney Kidd are looked upon and viewed as slimeballs not to be trusted as far as you could throw them.  Trouble in Paradise meanwhile belongs to an altogether more risqué period, when sophistication stretched to sexual dalliance and sophisticated badinage exchanged not just to insult and get one up, but as foreplay. (more…)

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by Jaime Grijalba.

(Japan, 96 min.)

I’m not a fan of reviewing bad movies, I don’t like reading negative reviews either, specially from those writers that only seem to have two modes: praise or hate. I don’t see film criticism that way, I see it as an opportunity to talk about this miracle that is making a film and then receiving it, with this I mean, the beauty that is having a film reach you, whatever the method may be, that is an accomplishment, it found you and you are watching it, that is a feeling of accomplishment already for the director and for the viewer/reviewer himself. It all comes down, film criticism, to a matter of taste, and as we all know taste varies from critic to critic (or viewer to viewer, even though they would be less acute in the wording of their appraisal or condemnation, or not, sometimes the best judgements come from people in the street, those that are so maligned nowadays, I find myself learning more and more from gut reactions coming out of a theatre than reading 5 different blogs or newspapers, no offense to those writers). What I feel when I read a negative review, specially one that tries to burn and make the director pay for ‘wasting his time’, is sadness, not because they aren’t in their right mind to not like a film, but hate and condemnation is something that is never constructing and that out of spite is just trying to demonstrate some kind of higher level of intelligence that the critics supposedly have, but that is not actual fact nor real. When a critic reviews a movie, it should first be thankful that he is being able to do so in a world that is rapidly evolving and that seems to need serious film criticism less and less. So, I’m not advocating for a mutis from critics towards bad films, because if you think a film is bad, nothing should ever silence you from saying so, but hate, discrimination and name-calling is not the way to review films nowadays. So, what do you do? You go the other way around, there’s nothing more clear to see that a movie is bad is how easy it is to make fun of it, and in this topic we’re not disrespecting the filmmakers nor the movie itself, we’re just using it as a medium of comedy, while not being seriously critical, it is a easy way out for those uncontrolled critics that can’t muster up more than a few ‘they should be ashamed’ or ‘they should be burnt at the stake’ or ‘this movie shouldn’t exist’ or ‘this director should retire already’. Keep it funny, you’re still saying the movie is bad, but you’re not letting yourself show that you’re a complete asshole. (more…)

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by Samuel Wilson

Buster Keaton grew up on trains. Travelling from town to town with his vaudevillian parents as The Three Keatons, Buster might have been expected to take trains for granted, but his movies demonstrate a continuing sense of wonder about them. While his ultimate train movie, The General, is a fantasy of power and destruction, in his earlier Our Hospitality a train figures in the young hero’s rite of passage. The film, co-directed by Keaton with John G. Blystone, is a mock epic that slowly and slyly reveals its parodic character, opening with a deadly earnest prologue explaining the feud of the Canfields and the McCays. The little tale of mutual murder in a rainstorm, the darkness illuminated by lightning and gunshots, with a third man’s good intentions curdling into vendetta and a new widow recoiling in sheer terror from a new corpse, is genuinely horrific. The intertitle narrative retains the prologue’s portentous tone even as Keaton’s imagery undermines it. His resort to a footnote claiming that a forthcoming vision of 42nd Street and Broadway circa 1830 as a barren hinterland derives from “an old print” is a jab at D. W. Griffith and others who asserted authenticity in that pedantic fashion. Throughout the funniest section of the picture, Keaton exaggerates the primitive state of the country and its youthful feebleness that makes 1830 America an analogue for his character, a McKay scion raised in safety far from the feud yet returning to the kill zone to claim an inheritance – and vice versa. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1984 750m) DVD1/2

It’s Kumar, not Kumar

p  Christopher Morahan  d  Christopher Morahan, Jim O’Brien  w  Ken Taylor  novels  “The Raj Quartet” by Paul Scott  ph  Jon Woods, Ray Goode  ed  Edward Mansell  m  George Fenton  art  Nick King, Vic Symonds, Alan Pickford  cos  Diane Holmes, Esther Dean

Tim Pigott-Smith (Ronald Merrick), Art Malik (Hari Kumar), Susan Wooldridge (Daphne Manners), Geraldine James (Sarah Layton), Charles Dance (Guy Perron), Peggy Ashcroft (Barbie Batchelor), Eric Porter (Count Dimitri Bronowsky), Saeed Jaffrey (Nawab), Rachel Kempson (Lady Manners), Rosemary Leach (Aunt Fenny), Nicholas Farrell (Teddy Bingham), Zia Mohyeddin (Mohammed Ali Kasim), Fabia Drake (Mabel Layton), Wendy Morgan (Susan Layton), Judy Parfitt (Mildred Layton), Om Puri (Mr De Souza), Anna Cropper (Nicky Paynton), Matyelok Gibbs (Sister Ludmila), Zohra Segal (Lili Chatterjee), Nicholas le Provost (Nigel Rowan), Stuart Wilson (Jimmy Clarke), Peter Jeffrey (Mr Peabody), Hilary Mason (Mrs Roper), Marne Maitland (Pandit Baba), Warren Clarke (“Sophie” Dixon), Janet Henfrey (Edwina Crane), Frederick Treves (Col.Layton),

The idea of filming Paul Scott’s series of novels set in imperial India was probably first formulated when Scott’s semi-sequel, Staying On, was filmed in 1980 with Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard.  The critical rapture surrounding Granada’s Brideshead Revisited was still raging when they announced this even more ambitious project.  Just as Jane Austen would have here day in the nineties, the early eighties were definitely preoccupied with India, coming as it did in between Gandhi, A Passage to India and The Far Pavilions, with cast members often working on more than one of the quartet.  Two years in the making, it was a gargantuan task to even capture the spirit of the chronologically tangled web of plots weaved by Scott, let alone to cut it down to 12½ hours of drama from what, if told with the same intricacy as Brideshead, would have been three times that.  (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

After Halloween was taken from us by a wrathful Mother Nature and the northeast has come back from a month of grief and deprivation, those of us in the blighted areas will still join the rest of America in celebrating Thanksgiving on Thursday.  Turkey Day, which normally gets relatives together for that all-too-rare annual occasion, always signals the beginning of the holiday season, and the buying of gifts and home decorating.  Here at Wonders in the Dark, the staff wishes all those celebrating the holiday stateside and overseas to have a peaceful and enjoyable day.  Moderation is always the best policy of course, and a brisk walk could do wonders between watching the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys strut their gridiron prowess.

Late November also means the best part of the movie season is upon us.  Still to come in addition to the films seen during the week covered by this MMD, are Amour, Rust and Bone, Les Miserables, The Hobbit, Hyde Park on the Hudson, The Life of Pi, Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained, Hitchcock and The Promised Land.  Those attempting to compile the foundation of a year-end Ten Best List will find the exercise most frustrating until the table is run with the imminent openings.  It does seem at this point though that films like The Turin Hose, Holy Motors, War Witch, Oslo August 17th, Monsieur Lazhar, The Kid with a Bike, The Deep Blue Sea and Lincoln will be hard to keep off the final shortlist.  But that’s eight, so there would be only two more openings, so a revamp seems inevitable. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

It bloody had to happen.  A tie for Best Picture.  You lot are about as decisive as the People’s Front of Judea.

Best Picture Pierrot le Fou, France & Repulsion, UK (5 votes each, TIE)

Best Director Jean-Luc Godard, Pierrot le Fou (6 votes)

Best Actor Richard Burton, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (6 votes)

Best Actress Catherine Deneuve, Repulsion (11 votes)

Best Supp Actor John Gielgud, Chimes at Midnight (9 votes)

Best Supp Actress Paola Pitagora, Fists in the Pocket & Shelley Winters, A Patch of Blue (5 votes each, TIE)

Best Cinematography Frederick A.Young, Doctor Zhivago (9 votes)

Best Score Vince Guaraldi, A Charlie Brown Christmas (10 votes)

Best Short A Charlie Brown Christmas TV, US, Bill Melendez (7 votes)


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