Archive for the ‘Allan Fish bonanza encore series’ Category

farmer 1

by Sam Juliano

Surely a prime reason why odds makers never set betting lines for the Caldecotts and the Newberys is that they are noted for being notoriously unpredictable, not to mention there being something rather unsavory about plopping down money on childrens’ book awards.  But heck, there is active wagering on who will become the next Pope, and that contest is pretty much just as difficult to call.   Sure there have been instances where front runners have emerged (The Lion and the Mouse, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, Flotsam were all seen as ‘favorites’ in their release years for generally held logic that went beyond speculation).  While all three are extraordinary picture books, the deal was sealed when one author-illustrator was deemed overdue for decades, another book visited the hallowed grounds of our worst national tragedy, and the other was the absolute masterpiece by one of the profession’s most venerated and awarded artists.  Yet, recent gold medal wins by Brian Floca, Jon Klassen, Chris Raschka, Brian Selznick and Simms Taback were not a sure thing according to the book pundits, in fact a few -Selznick’s and Raschka’s (A Ball For Daisy) seemed to come out of left field, though I’d be hard-pressed to name a more worthy winner than the former’s towering The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  In any case, if such a system were in place, I’d venture to predict that Marla Frazee’s spare, loving and creative The Farmer and the Clown would be established as the favorite for several most significant aspects. (more…)

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by Alan Fish

This review, aimed at honoring the star of this year’s ‘Mr. Turner’, is the thirty-second in the continuing Allan Fish Bonanza Encore series at Wonders in the Dark.

(UK 1999 182m) DVD1/2

The Gadarene Club

p  John Chapman  d/w  Stephen Poliakoff  ph  Bruno de Keyser, Ernie Vincze ed  Paul Tothill  m  Adrian Johnston  art  John-Paul Kelly  cos  Susannah Buxton

Lindsay Duncan (Marilyn Truman), Timothy Spall (Oswald Bates), Liam Cunningham (Christopher Anderson), Emilia Fox (Spig), Billie Whitelaw (Veronica), Arj Barker (Garnett), Blake Ritson (Nick), Andy Serkis (Styeman), Sheila Dunn, Jean Channon,

It’s time for a personal favourite here, one of the great achievements of either screen in the last two decades, but also typical of the way television is overlooked for its bigger brother.  And yet look at films such as Dekalog, BerlinAlexanderplatz, Heimat, Das Boot and Fanny and Alexander.  All are works that are listed in film guides and yet were originally made for the small screen.  Of writers at their peak around the time of the millennium, surely the best would have to be Stephen Poliakoff, whose delights have ranged from the enigmaticFriends and Crododiles to the affecting Gideon’s Daughter, from the intricatePerfect Strangers and the less successful but still memorable The Lost Prince.  All of which leads one to beg the question, why go for this? (more…)

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Scarlett Johansson Under the Skin

This review, originally published in March of this year, is the thirty-first in the continuing Allan Fish Bonanza Encore series at Wonders in the Dark.

by Allan Fish

(UK 2013 108m) DVD1/2

The girl who fell to earth

Nick Wechsler, James Wilson  d  Jonathan Glazer  w  Jonathan Glazer, Walter Campbell  novel  Michel Faber  ph  Daniel Landin  ed  Paul Watts  m  Mica Levi art  Chris Oddy

Scarlett Johansson (Laura), Paul Brannigan (Andrew), Jessica Mance (alien), Krystof Hádek (swimmer), Scott Dymond, Michael Moreland,

After watching Under the Skin Mark Cousins tweeted “if movies hadn’t evolved out of other art forms, like the novel or theatre, what would they have looked like?  Like Under the Skin.”  Ne’er a truer word was tweeted, and yet it’s a statement that also gets to the heart of why the film was always going to be so divisive.  Many film writers, critics and commentators and the vast majority of audiences are set in their ways.  They like their films to have a linear narrative.  They can jump forward and back in time, so long as they explain everything by the end credits.  Under the Skin is a film that is happy to explain nothing.  It revels in its ambiguity.  To appreciate it one has to take a quantum leap, not to wonder what will happen next but to wonder what we will see next.  (more…)

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This review of ‘The Big Combo’ is the thirtieth in the continuing Allan Fish Bonanza Encore series at Wonders in the Dark.

by Allan Fish

(USA 1955 89m) DVD1/2 (Spain only)

First is first and second is nobody

p  Sidney Harrison  d  Joseph H.Lewis  w  Dalton Trumbo  ph  John Alton  ed  Robert S.Eisen  m  David Raksin  art  Rudi Feld

Cornel Wilde (Lt.Leonard Diamond), Richard Conte (Mr Brown), Brian Donlevy (Joe McClure), Jean Wallace (Susan Lowell), Robert Middleton (Capt.Peterson), Helen Walker (Alicia Brown), Ted de Corsia (Ralph Bettini), Lee Van Cleef (Fanty), Earl Holliman (Mingo), John Hoyt (Nils Dreyer), Jay Adler (Det.Sam Hill),

One of the last great hurrahs of American noir and one of the pivotal films of the 1950s in the depiction of screen violence, The Big Combo is a film that gets more and more enjoyable with each passing year.  Six years after his masterpiece Gun Crazy, Combo probably doesn’t quite match its predecessor, but there’s so much to enjoy, so much to revel in, that it comes pretty darn close to matching it.

Lieutenant Diamond is a thirty-something detective who’s spending too much money for his sympathetic captain’s liking trying to achieve the impossible.  His target is the enigmatically named Mr Brown, the head of an organised crime racket in New York known as ‘The Combination’.  With the help of his former boss, Joe McClure, now affected with hearing problems and forced to pay lip service to Brown, and two favourite hoodlums, Fanty and Mingo, he runs things in New York.  Diamond tails his girl, Susan, in an attempt to get some information, but when she attempts suicide, Brown starts to get annoyed by the Lieutenant’s harassment and steps up the heat himself.  Diamond comes to realise that there’s a dark secret in Brown’s past, which may revolve around his missing wife, Alicia, an anchor, and his equally conspicuous by his absence partner Grazzi, who had led the Combination back in the old Prohibition days. (more…)

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Note:  This review of a 70’s masterpiece is the twenty-ninth in the ongoing ‘Allan Fish Bonnaza’ Encore series at WitD.

by Allan Fish

(UK 1971 137m) DVD1/2

A bit of the old ultraviolence

p  Stanley Kubrick, Bernard Williams  d/w  Stanley Kubrick  novel  Anthony Burgess  ph  John Alcott  ed  Bill Butler  m  Walter Carlos (including Henry Purcell, Edward Elgar, Giacchino Rossini, L.Van Beethoven, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov)  art  John Barry, Russell Hagg, Peter Shields  cos  Milena Canonero

Malcolm McDowell (Alex de Large), Patrick Magee (Mr Alexander), Michael Bates (Chief Guard), Warren Clarke (Dim), James Marcus (Georgie), Michael Tarn (Pete), Anthony Sharp (Minister of the Interior), John Clive (stage actor), Adrienne Corri (Mrs Alexander), Miriam Karlin (Miss Weathers), Carl Duering (Dr Brodsky), Clive Francis (Joe), Dave Prowse (Julian), Philip Stone (Dad), Sheila Raynor (Mum), Aubrey Morris (P.R.Deltoid), Godfrey Quigley (prison chaplain), Paul Farrell (tramp), Steven Berkoff (cop), John Savident (conspirator), Margaret Tyzack (lady conspirator),

Viddy well at this horror show cine, o my brothers.  Kubrick’s most controversial film, this was the definitive cult film in the U.K after its withdrawal from our eyes for 26 years.  (Indeed, I still remember the sweaty-palmed glee with which I devoured the film for the first time when a friend imported a video copy from the US.)  A horror comic masterpiece of sorts, without a shadow of a doubt, it follows the story of a young murderer cum rapist in a futuristic nihilistic Britain who is released from prison after undergoing the Ludovico experimental treatment, this time as a victim of society. (more…)

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Note:  This is the twenty-seventh entry in the ongoing ‘Allan Fish Bonanza Encore series.’  It considers a Terence Davies masterwork that Allan placed at No. 2 during his 1990’s countdown of a few years ago.

(UK 1992 85m) DVD2

Shining a torch into the night sky

p  Olivia Stewart  d/w  Terence Davies  ph  Michael Coulter  ed  William Diver  md  Robert Lockhart  art  Christopher Hobbs  cos  Monica Howe

Marjorie Yates (mother), Leigh McCormack (Bud), Anthony Watson (Kevin), Nicholas Lamont (John), Ayse Owens (Helen), Tina Malone (Edna), Jimmy Wilde (Curly), Robin Polley (Mr Nicholls),

Watching Terence Davies’ autobiographical piece was, to this reviewer, rather like flicking through a family album, heralding from a family barely removed from that depicted in the film, in location, time and spirit.  It isn’t a prerequisite to be acquainted with the north, or with Catholicism, or remembrances of the 1950s, but it certainly helps.  And though those who cannot tick those boxes can and do enjoy and celebrate the film, they do miss something in the translation.

It’s more than merely an exercise in nostalgia, critics both professional and amateur have talked of it being like a stream of the subconscious, and in many ways they’re right, with remembrances of different years and moods taking place seemingly at the same time.  Essentially, the viewer is transported much like Scrooge by the spirits of Christmas into the childhood remembrances of Bud, an 11 year old from the terraced streets of Liverpool.  All the expected reminiscences are present and correct, from canings to show the kids who’s boss and visits to Nitty Nora the Bug Explorer to the mind-numbing tedium of assembly and warm welcomes to black men who mistakenly come to the door to begging for a shilling for the pictures and neighbourly gatherings on the doorstep.  It really is a different world, and one so dreamlike that one is not surprised when seemingly otherworldly voices ring in one’s ear, reminiscences not just of Bud’s but of our own collective movie-going subconscious.  Those with ears to hear will recognise choice sound-bites from Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Happiest Days of Your Life, Meet Me in St Louis, The Ladykillers, Private’s Progress, Great Expectations and, several times, The Magnificent Ambersons, mixed with songs from Nat King Cole, Doris Day and Debbie Reynolds (Tammy, naturally).  To this, add several choice snippets of hymns known to anyone who’s suffered through a Catholic primary education, Waltons-like ‘goodnights’, and a friend of the family who lives to do Cagney and EGR impressions.  To this add a truly stunning visual sense, which bathes the film in a romantic, nostalgic glow despite actually being very gloomy in its surface aesthetics.  Rain, as befits the wet North-West, is never far away, and the reflection of rain patterns on windows on wallpaper in darkened rooms adds a further ethereal touch.  And not for nothing does the film open with a credit time lapse shot of a bowl of roses slowly wilting and dying, a simple but telling metaphor for the fleeting nature of those happiest days of Bud’s, and Terence’s, lives.  (more…)

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Note: This great review of Lars Von Trier’s ‘Dogville’ is the twenty-sixth in the ongoing Allan Fish Bonanza Encore series.  It was chosen by fellow Von Trier adherent, WitD writer extraordinaire Jim Clark.

by Allan Fish

(Denmark 2003 178m) DVD1/2

A Nightmare on Elm Street

p  Vibeke Windelov  d/w  Lars Von Trier  ph  Anthony Dod Mantle  ed  Molly Malene Stensgard  m  “Vespers of Sorrow” by Antonio Vivaldi  art  Peter Grant

Nicole Kidman (Grace), Paul Bettany (Tom Edison Jnr), Stellan Skensgard (Chuck), Philip Baker Hall (Tom Edison Snr), Jean-Marc Barr (Man with the Big Hat), Patricia Clarkson (Chuck’s wife), Chloë Sevigny (Liz Henson), James Caan (The Big Man), Lauren Bacall (Ma Ginger), Harriet Andersson (Gloria), Ben Gazzara (Jack McKay), Udo Kier (Man in the Coat), Jeremy Davies (Bill), Zeljko Ivanek (Ben), Siobhan Fallon (Martha), Bill Raymond (Mr Henson), Blair Brown (Mrs Henson), John Hurt (narrator),

One thing you have to say about Lars Von Trier; he isn’t afraid of controversy, not after Breaking the Waves (which I loved), The Idiots (which I didn’t) and Dancer in the Dark (which didn’t work).  Dogville was his most controversial work yet, one which goes against the ethics of Dogma 95, with non-existent sets which bring new meaning to minimalist.  Thank goodness the original thoughts of explicit sex were not carried through, for this is a film about simmering emotions below the surface, like the iceberg below sea level and the lava within the volcano.  An eruption is waiting to happen, it’s just a question of time.

Dogville is a small town in the Rockies in the 1930s, sort of Black Rock for the wintry states, a mini-community consisting around one principal street, the romantically and inaccurately named (as there is no such tree) Elm Street.  Into it comes a young woman, on the run from gangsters, who the townsfolk at first harbour willingly, but then grow to use, abuse, rape and all but imprison into slavery (“there was quite a bit of work Dogville didn’t need doing…” opines the narrator).  However, the townsfolk don’t know about the gangsters, and what will happen if they come back? (more…)

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Note: This fourth Halloween entry in the classic Allan Fish Bonanza Encore series is the twenty-fifth in the series overall to post over the past weeks at WitD.

by Allan Fish

(UK 1945 105m) DVD1/2

Just room for one more inside, sir…

p  Sidney Cole, John Croydon  d  Alberto Cavalcanti, Robert Hamer, Basil Dearden, Charles Crichton w  John Baines, Angus MacPhail  stories  Angus MacPhail, John Baines, H.G.Wells, E.F.Benson  ph  Douglas Slocombe, Stan Pavey  ed  Charles Hasse  m  Georges Auric  art  Michael Relph

Mervyn Johns (Walter Craig), Roland Culver (Eliot Foley), Judy Kelly (Joyce Grainger), Mary Merrall (Mrs Foley), Anthony Baird (Hugh Grainger), Sally Ann Howes (Sally O’Hara), Frederick Valk (Dr Van Straaten), Ralph Michael (Mr Courtland), Googie Withers (Joan Courtland), Esmé Percy (antique dealer), Renee Gadd (Mrs Craig), Basil Radford (George Parratt), Naunton Wayne (Larry Potter), Michael Redgrave (Maxwell Frere), Miles Malleson (hearse/bus driver), Elisabeth Welch (Beulah), Hartley Power (Sylvester Kee), Peggy Bryan (Mary Lee), Michael Allan (Jimmy Watson),

Considering their incredible reputation as a producer of classic British comedies, it would be easy to forget that Ealing also produced various classic dramas, among them Went the Day Well?, The Next of Kin, The Captive Heart, It Always Rains on Sunday, Mandy and The Cruel SeaBut it is this truly disquieting ghost story compendium that remains their non-comic masterpiece.  Considering that it has been parodied and pilfered in numerous other films and TV plays, it’s quite surprising how fresh it still remains after sixty years.  Even the use of several directors doesn’t harm it, adding a different style to each of the individual stories that adds to the dreamlike texture.

Architect Walter Craig drives out to spend the weekend with a potential customer, Eliot Foley, who wants extra bedrooms added to his country house in Kent, Pilgrim’s Farm.  Once he arrives he acts strangely around everyone who is there, until he admits to the other guests that he has seen them all in his nightmarish dreams and that each one plays a part in his dream.  Only the visiting psychologist, Dr Van Straaten, refuses to believe this psychological phenomenon, but when each of the guests relates a spooky tale of their own, everyone’s preconceptions are eradicated. (more…)

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Note: This third Halloween entry in the classic Allan Fish Bonanza Encore series is the twenty-fourth in the series overall to post over the past weeks at WitD.

by Allan Fish

(Germany 1922 96m) DVD1/2

Aka. Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens

A true symphony of horrors

Albin Grau  d  Friedrich W.Murnau  w  Henrik Galeen  novel  “Dracula” by Bram Stoker  ph  Fritz Arno Wagner, Günther Krampf  m  Hans Erdmann/James Bernard/Art Zoyd  art/cos  Albin Grau

Max Schreck (Count Orlock), Alexander Granach (Knock, the estate agent), Gustav Von Wangenheim (Wutter), Greta Schröder (Ellen),

Werner Herzog is of the belief that Nosferatu is the greatest German film ever made and certainly it would have to be a serious contender to that crown, and Herzog paid it his own homage with a fair remake with the loathsome Klaus Kinski in 1979.  However, there is only one version of the tale and Murnau’s film, freely adapted from Bram Stoker’s masterpiece of Gothic horror, is the greatest vampire film of them all, a film that truly lives up to its subtitle, “a symphony of horrors.”  If it were a symphony, it’s worthy of those eternal children of the night Dowland, Moussorgsky, Borodin and Kilar.

Many versions of Dracula have followed, with the 1931 Universal (with the immortal Bela Lugosi and Dwight Frye) and the 1958 Hammer (covered previously) standing out and a mention in despatches for the romantic Frank Langella.  They may indeed stick closer to the novel and keep the characters’ names, but the very term ‘Nosferatu’ isn’t just referring to the undead, rather a sort of pestilent plague that spreads after sunset.  Indeed the opening titles refer to the tale that follows as “A Chronicle of the Great Death of Wisborg – 1838.”  The story, which we shall not waste space detailing, may be changed radically from the original, being set in Germany and Transylvania rather than England and with rather dramatic changes to the rest of the characters, but it’s still a truly disquieting movie to this day.  There are scenes here that truly chill over eighty years on; the first vision of the Count, beckoning on his guest into the castle with cadaverous glee, lusting after his blood when he pricks his finger; the shot of Orlock standing on the deck of the ship of the dead; the immortal shadow of Orlock climbing the stairs and unlocking Ellen’s room; his death as the sun rises over the very houses opposite which he owns; and arguably most memorably of all, the numerous shots of sunsets and sunrises over the German countryside.  Murnau has always been fascinated with temptation and the symbolism of sunlight and of the earth itself (just check outThe Burning Soil, for example), but never has it been more prevalent than here in his first true masterpiece.  It’s here that we first see the imagery that would be so perfectly deployed in Hollywood in Sunrise(more…)

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Note: This second Halloween entry in the classic Allan Fish Bonanza Encore series is the twenty-third in the series overall to post over the past weeks at WitD.

by Allan Fish

(USA 1960 109m) DVD1/2

A boy’s best friend is his mother

p Alfred Hitchcock d Alfred Hitchcock (and Saul Bass) w Joseph Stefano novel Robert Bloch ph John L.Russell ed George Tomasini m Bernard Herrmann art Joseph Hurley, Robert Clatworthy tit Saul Bass

Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates), Vera Miles (Lila Crane), John Gavin (Sam Loomis), Janet Leigh (Marion Crane), Simon Oakland (Dr Richmond), Martin Balsam (Milton Arbogast), John McIntire (Sheriff Al Chambers), Patricia Hitchcock (Caroline), Lurene Tuttle (Mrs Chambers), Frank Albertson (Tom Cassidy),

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is a stand alone in his filmography. It’s not the cruellest or most cynical film he ever made, which would probably be either his often repulsive Frenzy or his earlier British film Sabotage (blowing a small boy up on a bus, it doesn’t get much more cynical than that!) but Psycho is Hitch’s last masterpiece, an unsettling last hurrah. Unsettling in that it is deliberately shot cheaply (as befits it being shot quickly by a crew from his TV series) and that it killed off its nominal star but a third of the way in.

The action begins in Phoenix, Arizona, on Friday 11th December at 2.43pm, where secretary Marion Crane is enjoying a lunchtime love-making session with her boyfriend before returning to work. There she is asked by one of her boss’s clients to deposit $40,000 for him into the bank on the way home. Rather than deposit the money, she absconds with it to go off to meet her lover. She trades her car, somewhat hurriedly and suspiciously, and gets caught up in a rainstorm, forcing her to miss her turn-off on the freeway and wind up at a desolate motel, where she decides to spend the night. (more…)

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