Monday, November 1, 2010

Where the hell am I supposed to find that???

To all those movie fans out there who have taken "The Book" into their hearts and have endeavored to actually view the movies listed, I thought I would use this opportunity to give you a heads up on where I have found some of the harder to find entries.

Turner Classic Movies has been an amazing source for finding some of the great foreign films, silent gems and a few modern classics.  On the up side,  TCM does tend to run in cycles. If you miss something special that they may feature, with a little patience, you can almost guarantee that you will get another opportunity within a year. On the down side, many films from the so called "Golden Age" of Hollywood, tend to be repeated "ad nauseum" but since they publish their schedule three months in advance on their web site, a DVR can almost get filled to capacity of movies on the life list.  Another note of caution, if you have an Obsessive-Compulsive movie fan hiding inside you (as do I), it may lead to straying from the list.  My movie collection has hit about 2400 as I have used the 1001 as a springboard to greater collections of the "Big Three" of silent comedy (extensive catalog including feature films AND earlier shorts with Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd ) 22 Lon Chaney movies, 10 Dreyer features, all things Marx Brothers and more Lang, DeMille, Griffith and Bergman then I can shake a stick at.

TCM has scheduled Oscar Micheaux's 1915 feature "Within Our Gates" for November 8, 2010 so if you have access to the best film channel available without a premium, you may want to set your DVR. offers a 3 month schedule.  I have added "La Roue", "The Phantom Carriage", "Killer of Sheep" and even "Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill" by keeping up with their schedule and who knows what else you may find.

Public Domain website ( has many titles that are also available at TCM for immediate viewing.  While the video quality may not always be the best available, it may provide access to titles not available without purchasing.  The entire 10 chapters of "Les Vampires" have been recently added, and "Salt of the Earth" are just a couple of titles that you can find here.

Those pesky avante-garde titles are some of the hardest to locate but proves a valuable tool.  Titles available here include "Flaming Creatures", "Blonde Cobra", "Hold Me While I'm Naked" and Jean Rouch's "The Mad Masters" (although so far it is limited to the original French WITHOUT English subtitles).  The down side with this site is that there are so many other films available, you can easily spend days in increments of 5 to 10 minute films, if you catch some kind of an experimental cinema fever.

So there you have it.  So many movies, so little time...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A matching pair of Fields

Seeing W. C. Fields at work is a must for any movie buff.  These may be considered his best.

It's A Gift (1934)  Fields is a shop owner named Bissonette (pronounce "bis-oh-nay")with a overbearing wife, a harpie mother-in-law, a daughter about marrying age and a rugrat of about the age of eight. When a rich uncle dies and leaves him some money he does the one thing his wife tells him not to.  He uses the windfall to purchase an orange grove, and packs up the family to take them to California.

The Bank Dick (1940) Fields is the unemployed Edgar Sousè (pronounced "sue-say")with an overbearing wife, a harpie mother-in-law, a daughter about marrying age and a rugrat of about the age of eight.  I'm guessing that you see the formula here. This one takes a couple of turns. W. C.'s character,  so easily goes from unemployed, to film director to bank guard in the blink of an eye talking his daughter's fiance into investing bank funds on a mine stock that is probably not a good call.

Watching these films back-to-back really draws attention to the similarities.  That said, I found them to be hilarious.  If you are a big fan of the Three Stooges shorts these films are sure to trip your trigger..

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Don't say they didn't warn you

In 1930,  Lewis Milestone, directed the first adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque's novel of the First World War.  I find it rather impressive that within a decade of the conflict,Hollywood would have presented a film that doesn't demonize the German soldier.  The principle characters and focus of the film are not "bad guys". these soldiers just happen to be German and could easily have been American, British, French or any of a number of nationalities  Starting off with a lot of fanfare, parades and marching music, the citizens of a small town are whipped to a frenzy by patriotism, as we see entire classes incited to enlistment for honor, glory and pride of country.  This film is full of some very stirring performances with some battle sequences impressive even by today's standards, with the first real battle (following the minor skirmish with the rats in the bunker) as effective as Spielberg's and Fuller's D-Day invasion.  "All Quiet On The Western Front" shows the mundane and exciting, bravery, cowardice, survival as well as a boiled down discussion among the soldiers from the trenches about politics and the need for war, even an interesting alternative.  It doesn't stop there, following the soldiers as they attempt to adapt as civilians after their experiences in the Hell that is War.

In 1940, Hollywood issued a plea to the conscious of the American movie viewers with Frank Borzage's "The Mortal Storm". With Hilter's rise to power in the Germany of the 1930s this film casts the spotlight on trouble yet to come.  Frank Morgan, who's voice is easily recognized a year after his portrayal of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz plays a college professor that sees his family torn apart by a divided loyalties to the rising Hitler.  James Stewart, a friend of the professor's family, feels no need to embrace the new fascist views rising throughout his homeland, even standing up to the oppression as he defends himself and others against attack from the Nazi fanatics.  In retrospect, it was quite an effective movie, while as a predictive cautionery tale, it surely deserves to be remembered.
As I watched the conclusion of the film, I recognized similarities to Jean Renoir's earlier film "Le Grande Illusion" which focused on activities during WWI.
Future TV stars Robert Young ("Father Knows Best" and "Marcus Welby, MD") and Robert Stack (The original Eliot Ness on "The Untouchables") play Nazi Party members and supporters as well as that staple of John Ford's troup Ward Bond, who is actually heard to deliver that stereotypical line "we have ways of making you talk" while interrogating a woman.

Notable Exceptions:
G. W. Pabst's "Westfront 1918" very much like "All Quiet On The Western Front" is another look at the same war from a German director and just as reviled by the rising Third Reich for it's bleak defeatist view.  I got this from TCM about a year ago, so be on the lookout.  It's well worth seeing.

Vincente Amorim's "Good" from 2008.  Viggo Mortesen stars as an intellectual author who, though unsupportive of the Nazi Party, rises in their ranks eventually when his book about compassionate euthenasia is favored by the fuhrer.  The benefits of recognition by the party and complacency lead to an abandonment of his own values.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Rapture (1991)

Mimi Rogers as Sharon, is a promiscuous telephone information operator, who juggles her job and her swinging lifestyle. After a series of incidents, she questions her lot in life and turns to the church to provide comfort and reassurance that there is redemption for her life with the coming of “The Rapture”. From this point she turns her back on her old way of life, embracing the prophecy as a slow burning fuse which ultimately will take her to salvation. Paraphrasing John Lennon, “life is what happens when you are making plans for something else”, she marries, has a daughter whom she is preparing for Heaven as well, and loses her husband to an act of senseless violence. When the prophecy proves not to be an instant pay-off, she withdraws from society to a desert park to wait out the impending call to heaven. Michael Tolkin tells this story with great feeling using little if not any special effects. While I really did not expect to find this film interesting, (I am not a “person of faith” actually looking up to Bill Maher as a spiritual leader) I was actually able to watch and care about the Sharon even though I knew what would come of her faith. Mr. Tolkin’s film actually provides an End Of Days with some rather interesting symbolism. Is this really a faith-based movie, or is it a cynical look at religious beliefs? I cannot be sure but I was certainly glad to have seen it.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sherman's March

I'm not sure when Ross McElwee decided to turn this documentary into a look at relationships in the early 1980s. It seems that it was his original intention and that the parallel between his love life and the life of William Tecumseh Sherman is more of an afterthought than a diversion. If you are looking for information about Sherman's March To The Sea, you are advised to look elsewhere, although there are certainly a few things that can be learned, the film begins with McElwee explaining his bad luck as his girlfriend has left him for a former boyfriend. From this point forward, we see him proceed immediately to his hometown in the Deep South and is subjected to family and friends good intentions trying to fix him up with a good southern girl. Meeting women along the way, he follows the path of Sherman's March, meeting women along the way, who drift in and out of his life without ever succumbing to his charms which must be easily ignorable considering the fact that he spends so much time filming their more personal moments. “Sherman's March” actually becomes more interesting because of it's mediocrity and if that is not enough of a lure to watch it, there is always the view of life seen before cellular technology, computers, and the other marvels of technology came along.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

El Topo (1970)

Take a Sergio Leone western, add a dash of Luis Bunuel's surrealism, a bit of Fritz Lang's "Metropolis", a sprinkle of Tod Browning's "Freaks"  and you've got an idea what to expect from Alejandro Jodorowsky's "El Topo". With a title that literally means "The Mole" my first question was why would they pick a name such as this for the title character.  Is the mole a ferociously identified icon of Spain?  That is not the answer but don't worry, it will come as the movie reaches the half-way mark. 
The first half of the movie plays out like a textbook Spaghetti Western, with odd, bad guys and good guys that aren't really all that good, they are just not as bad as the bad guys.  Beginning with Alejandro Jodorowsky in the title role riding through a desert with his naked son(except for the hat that I suppose is supposed to shield his eyes from the harmful effects of the sun) it was reminiscent for me of the "Lone Wolf and Cub" samurai series that hit comics and film in the late 80s and early 90s, but unfortunately loyalty and parental duties are not high on the list virtues for "The Mole", who leaves his son with a group of monks when a woman comes along.  But when the title character is introduced to a subterranean society, it takes an almost science-fictionesque turn, as he sheds his guns and black gunslinger garb (hmmm, now I'm beginning to wonder if this may have been somewhat influential to Stephen King for his "Dark Tower/Gunslinger series) in favor of a monkish robe, performing carnival acts for the above ground towns people (notice that I did not refer to them as normal), using his income to finance the tunnelling that he hopes will free the subterraneans.

While I am glad to have seen this particular movie, it falls more in line with a guilty pleasure cult film than a MUST SEE MOVIE.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Come And See (Idi I Smotri) 1985

The story of a young Belorussian farm boy who leaves his home to what he expects to be pride and glory fighting with the partisans during the German invasion of WWII.  To this point it is very much like an earlier Russian film that I saw and reviewed. Larisa Sheptko's "Ascent" from 1976, a very impressive study of the lengths a people of an occupied area will go to survive. "The Ascent" is not to be missed and may actually be a companion piece that may get you up to speed on the history of the time and area, but it can not fully prepare you for the depth and brutal portrayals of Elem Klimov's "Come And See". Upon initially seeing the boy, played by Aleksi Kravchenko the awkward lad seems to just float on a cloud.  When he finally is impacted by the war his whole life becomes a walk through hell with each level more atrocious then the last.  By the end of the movie, the look in the eyes of the boy reflects the sheer terror that they have seen and his posture shows the burden that his body has come to bear. 
 I cannot say enough about this movie. It's imagery will stay with me for a very long time.  While I highly recommend it, I also must warn that it is not for the timid or squemish.  I have seen many, many war/anti-war movies in my life but none in any language has been as effective as this one.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971)

"This film is dedicated to all the Brothers and Sisters who have had enough of the Man".

Melvin Van Peebles' Sweetback, is on the run.  When he witnesses the brutal beating of a black revolutionary by (do I even need to say) WHITE cops, Sweetback administers a little street justice.  Since the beating of (do I still need to say) WHITE cops is not something that the Man takes lightly, Sweetback is forced to take it on the lam, heading for Mexico.  The way is not easy and he is forced to deal with hardship (police as incompetant as they are racist and biker gangs looking for good times)as he makes a dash for the border. 

With today's culture, where The Man may be a little harder to identify (I guess that depends greatly on who you are and where you live since I am sure there are those today with whom the movie still resonates), I was a little disturbed by the open portrayal of stereotypes that I have spent years rejecting. 

This was an interesting look at what could have been the Godfather of Blaxploitation films. Though often seeming stiff and roughly cut, it seems that the feeling had been edited for a deliberate artistic feel.  The use of montages and spliced repetitive dialogue, while noticable is almost subliminal in it's affects.
"Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song" is a certainly worthy of it's place in The Book, although I might argue that being there, it over-shadows the other genre films of the time.  "Shaft" and "Superfly" making them easily removable. 

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Yesterday was Paul Newman's Birthday

While reading Edward Boe's blog for "Cool Hand Luke" he pointed out the passing of Paul Newman's birthday.  I have been a big fan for many years and though he is represented by five films in "The Book" there are several other performances that I have appreciated through his career.  While not necessarily "Must See" they are definitely worth a look.  

The Hustler (1961)-Robert Rossen's look at the seedy world of pool room hustling.  Newman would reprise his role as "Fast Eddie" Felson 25 years later, in Martin Scorsese's "The Color Of Money".  Previously referenced in "Once Was Definitely Enough" blog.

Hud (1963)- Martin Ritt's film of a modern day ranch family. Newman's Hud is the son that works as a ranch hand, avoiding responsibility whenever possible, probably driven to the lax work-ethic by his father's obsessively high expectations.

Cool Hand Luke (1967) A look at the chaining up of a free spirit. One of the few entries in the short list of PERFECT MOVIEs out there.
Mr. Boe covers this film outstandingly in his latest blog entry.

Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969)-George Roy Hill contributed to the "buddy" movie genre with Newman and Robert Redford.  A western story that weaves in and out of the historical track. The pair would work again in the seventies and somehow evade ever working together again on screen, despite their mega-box office appeal.

The Sting (1973)- George Roy Hill would bring Newman and Redford together again in a ragtime era con game that is great fun to watch if only for the atmosphere.  The feel of the Great Depression is well done, with a just enough hope for the future. Previously referenced in "Once Was Definitely Enough" blog.

Not in "The Book" but worth a look:

The Outrage (1964)- Martin Ritt remakes Akira Kurosawa's "Rashamon" as a western, a pretty successful formula if you consider "The Magnificent Seven".  Great performances by Newman and Edward G. Robinson make it worth a look.

The Life And Times Of Judge Roy Bean (1972)-John Huston directs.  Newman portrays this "Legend In His Own Time" figure of the American West with just the right amount of bravado and mirth.  His law west of the Pecos is especially swift when dealing with Stacy Keach as "The Original Bad Bob"

Slapshot (1977)- Newman stars as an aging hockey player that still has a few good moves.

The Verdict (1982)- Sidney Lumet directs Newman as an ambulance chasing lawyer that stumbles on a worthy cause.  You can practically see the switch being flipped that changes him from a cash register to a seeker of justice.

The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)-The Coen Brothers get to direct Newman in this wonderful era-piece.  Not a starring role but a chance for him to shine in a supporting role.  

Road To Perdition (2002)-Sam Mendez-s tale of 30's era gangsters and loyalty.  Newman is the patriarch that turns on the lead character, a hitman that has been part of "The Family" for years, but is singled out as a threat to an aspiring son.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Germaine Dulac's "La Souriante Madame Beudet" or "The Smiling Madame Beudet"

I applied to my local public library to see if they could get this one for me and they were able to borrow it (in VHS format from the library at Cornell University, how cool is that?

First, let me start by saying, considering the title, Madame Beudet didn't do a whole lot of smiling.  In fact she seemed quite unhappy.  Her husband shows her no respect and can actually be seen removing a gun from his desk, where he keeps it unloaded, and threatens to kill himself to stop his argument.  Madame Beudet, seems to feel that her loveless marriage may be best ended by placing bullets in the gun.  But when the next argument begins that jerkwad of a husband turns the tables and points it at her.  Recognizing the fact that the story and technology available to Madam Dulac was primitive, I was quite impressed by the story and technics used.
Notable Exceptions
The VHS borrowed also had a short surreal film titled "La Coquille et le clergyman" ("The Seashell and The Clergyman") which was a delightful short film.  Released in 1928, it may have been overshadowed by "Bunuel's "Un Chien Andalou" or may have even provided some inspiration.

This quote stolen from Wikipedia says it all for me:
The British Board of Film Censors famously reported that the film was "Apparently meaningless" but "If there is a meaning, it is doubtless objectionable"

Certainly, any one of these films deserves a place in "The Book"

Kreativ Blogger Award

Who! Me?

As much as I may want, I find myself unable to accept such an award for the following reasons...

I do not follow enough blogs to allow me to nominate seven.  If it wasn't for Mr. Boe's blog roll and movie related sites, there would be an even shorter list of blogs that I visit.

Finally, I really am not worthy.  While I am a movie buff, who may know a bit of trivial minutae about my subject of interest, I am not nearly as knowledgable as others at analyzing the subjects as clearly, technically and articulately. I know what I like and am prepare to say so but often I cannot provide a reason.

I can hear the orchestra warming up, so finally, I would like to thank Ed and the academy and say it's really is a thrill just to be nominated.

Monday, January 11, 2010

La Historia Oficial "The Official Story" 1985

When an upper-class mother begins to doubt the circumstances behind the adoption of her daughter, she must look at her own moral identity and that of her husband who was influential enough to have arranged the adoption of the child of a "Disappeared" political leftist.

Without giving away too much in my critique, I will say that I found this to be a very interesting and important film, well told by Argentinian director Luis Puenzo.  Much like German films looking at their role in the second World War and American movies about the handling of the Native Americans, this one shows that Argentina's political identity has a dark side and that they are prepared to get their story out for examination, especially noteworthy since the film was released less than two years after the fall of the military government behind the purge.

The acting, over all, seemed well done.  With Norma Aleandro's "Alicia" being quite well played.  The struggle she goes through is worn for all to see. Not just because of her own dilemma but also as she learns of the effects on others, strangers and friends alike.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Christmas Story

I did not see it when it came out. I was turned off by the director. I knew Bob Clark was responsible for the "Porky's" movies and I really believe that they were a waste of my time. I believed that I was above them and did not expect that he could actually create a movie that would interest me. I know that sounds awful snobby. Since that time, I have watched the first two of the franchise and found them much less offensive and more structured then I expected.

Anyway, it was my older brother that first introduced me to "A Christmas Story" in 1987 and I have not stopped watching it yearly since. Although the story reflects a generation other then my own, (I would have been Ralph's age in the 60s) I still can see certain things in the family interaction and the child's daily life that reminds me of growing up in general. Being one of a whole class full of goobers, using avoidance to deal with bullies and wishing for something big that proves to be less then what you expected. I am constantly using the dialog and events of this movie in daily conversation, that affect intensifying as the holiday draws near. I have even been known to serve duck instead of turkey and I must say it get rave reviews. Although it is centered around Ralphie, for me it is Darren McGavin that makes the movie the most enjoyable. I see parts of my father in him. Hearing him working on the furnace reminds me of being present when my dad worked on cars. He got the job done but still found that a steady stream of expletives provide the added torque required to free a frozen nut. I wonder if my daughter sees parts of me in the movie father as well.

"A Christmas Story" will always have just as iconic a stature as any other film, holiday themed or otherwise, even eclipsing the Granddaddy of all Christmas movies "It's A Wonderful Life". And I will always remember that my brother Steven gave it to me as the ultimate gift that keeps giving.

Steven always seemed to be an inside source to some great hidden gems like Penelope Spheersis' "Dudes" starring John Cryer and "Pass The Ammo" with Bill Paxton and Tim Curry. Ironically both of these have NEVER been released on DVD and I was forced to make a transfer from VHS just to keep them in my collection. On the other hand Steven loved Steven Segal movies as well. Just goes to show you that there is no accounting for taste, good OR bad.

Notable Exceptions: With the coming of Robert Downey, Jr. as "Sherlock Holmes" I am reminded of Bob Clark's contribution to the Holmesian catalog with "Murder By Decree". Christopher Plummer is the detective (one of my favorite outside of Jeremy Brett) supported by James Mason as Watson. Holmes goes after Jack the Ripper, and was the first time I had ever seen the conspiracy theories tying the Ripper to the British royals on film.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Falling in love in 1932

Love Me Tonight (1932) A early musical featuring the music of Rodgers and Hart, directed by Rouben Mamoulian is not as full blown as musicals would eventually become.  Maurice Chevalier is a lowly tailor who falls for a well stationed princess.  When the tailor presses an aristocrat to pay his unpaid bills, the deadbeat introduces the tailor to princess's family as a baron.  Not the first movie about love blossoming from different sides of the track, or maybe it really is.  Chevalier's performance of "Mimi" may have served as inspiration for a Flight of the Conchords song.

Trouble in Paradise (1932) Ernst Lubitsch directs a story of thieves and pickpockets that become part of a love triangle with a mark.

Inclusion of these titles in "The Book" is, in my humble opinion, a coin toss.  It's back story concerning the censorship of risque scenes and dialog in light of today's culture is probably the most interesting aspect.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Passions of the Other Mel

I had started reviewing Mel Gibson when I realized that his contributions were already covered in previous blogs(When Actors Direct & Once Was Definitely Enough), so rather then lose the killer title I am adapting it for Mel Brooks.

The Producers (1968)  I was an early fan of Mel Brooks and had loved "The Producers" decades before it was became an Off-Broadway musical sensation. The release of the musical is good, with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick providing wonderful performances, but Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder will always be my favorite Bialystock and Bloom.  Dick Shawn's LSD was a terrific salute to a bygone perception of the flower child.
Blazing Saddles (1974)  The first Brooks movie I ever saw and what a wonderful nonPC comedy.  With great performances all around.

Young Frankenstein (1974)  Mel Brooks broke the mold when he parodied the iconic genre film when he did this one.  From Gene Wilder's Dr. Fronk-en-steen, to Marty Feldman's Eye-Gor, to the Frau Blücher (hear those horses?) of Cloris Leachman and Peter Boyle's Monster this one is a keeper.  Must not shortchange Madeliene Kahn and her hot rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. 

Although Mel continued to provide laughs in his movies into the 90's they just were not up to the caliber of these three comic masterpieces.

Notable Exception:  A bit different from his other straight-forward comedy's is his "Twelve Chairs" with Ron Moody and a very young Frank Langella

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hoří, má panenko! or The Fireman's Ball

Milos Forman 1967 film "The Fireman's Ball" is a real find.  A celebration honoring a Fire Chief's 86th birthday seems like a pretty simple matter. As the planning breaks down, the resulting party is a hilarious interaction between awkward regular folk.  From the "Beauty Contest" almost totally devoid of beauty, to the disappearring lottery prizes to the response to the neighborhood fire is pure slapstick reminiscent of a silent comedy classic.   

Forman insistance that it was not a political film did not keep it from being banned in his own home country.

I found this one on the Independant Film Channel.  Be on the lookout for it.  Even if you are not a big fan of foreign films, the reading of the subtitles become almost unnecessary as the film unfolds.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

In The Year of the Pig (1969)

Emile De Antonio's documentary provides an account of the history of VietNam from the occupation by colonizing French troops to deployment of American troops.  As documentaries go, it is an interesting look at a time in history.  I was a student during the events filmed, the 9th grade when Saigon fell. I can't help but parallel many of the events with the more recent activities of the Iraq war.  It documents the American politics that lead to the U. S. involvement that, in hindsight, are quite shocking.  I must be careful to critique the film rather than the culture of the decade.  If you have no preconceived notion of the VietNam conflict this is certainly a good place to start, but be careful.  If you fall among the many millions that think that America can do no wrong, this film will probably upset you. I wonder if the hawks of DC released anything as a counterpoint to this, as I would be interested to see the spin that was produced.  While the politicians of the time viewed it as necessary measures to halt the spread of Communism, DeAntonio shows the activities as a civil war deserving no more foreign involvement then was provided during the American Civil War.  It provides a unapologetic look at the mechanics of warfare and a glimpse of the "Ugly American". Easily understandable why it was so vilified upon release during the height of the conflict.  Could not have eased any of the anti-war sentiment prevalent at the time. 

As a side note, the wife and I just purchase a brand new bedroom set (quite attractive I must admit) and upon delivery, I saw that it was manufactured in VietNam.  No really point in this, I'm just saying...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Killer of Sheep (1977)

The introduction of Charles Burnett's "Killer of Sheep" in THE BOOK is one of those Cinderella stories.  Originally filmed in 1977, it skyrocketed to fame when included in a survey of best movie of 2007 after a revival that included the Berlin InternationalFilm Festival.  Minimal filming technics allow a story of a common family living in the Watt's area of LA.  The lead character works in a slaughterhouse  while the time spend ON THE JOB in the movie is minimal, it seems apparent that the job itself and financial hardships, takes it's toll on him.  His interaction with wife and children though touching, seems saddened.  Though the family seems happy enough to be scrapping by, the influence of the neighborhood seems to really disappoint them at many different turns.  Also, a key element is the exposure of the children to a neighborhood where they are basically left to their own devices, and though an adult intervention would more than likely lead to stern direction, they seem to get through the growing up of their lives unscathed.  

"Killer of Sheep" was a great find.  It was shown on TCM along with several other Burnett works and and interview with the director himself.  Keep your eyes open for any opportunity to see this.


Monday, November 9, 2009

The Phenix City Story (1955)

This was one of those "ripped from the headlines" stories about a town that has let the lawless element run roughshod for too long.  It has all the elements of a good vengence movie, a gangster movie and a morality movie all rolled into one.  While a good, informative film, I could not help but see a comparison between it and the Original "Walking Tall" with Joe Don Baker and wish that it could be remade by Martin Scorsese.  While it was an interesting story it's telling seems to be only half completed.  When the people of Phenix City stand up against the criminal element, the movie ends when the Governor is called and persuaded to call out the militia. So much more seems ripe for the telling and Martin Scorsese seems perfect for it.

I caught this one on TCM, a great venue for the older films from "The Book".  With at least 4 scheduled per month, it has been instrumental in helping me see about 20 percent of the the films that were not already under my belt and finding great silent and foriegn films for my collection.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Ascent (1976) or "Восхождение" if you are actually Russian.

"The Ascent" tells the story of a Soviet Union occupied by Germany during WWII.  Directed by Larisa Sheptiko and released in 1976, this film illustrates the lengths those affected by war will go to for survival.  Filmed in black and white, I was immediately sympathetic as the subjects were partisans, part of a civilian army fighting for their own lives much more than for their party, they fight for their country and their way of life.  Lately I have been interested in seeing films that portray the acceptance of the conquered for the conqueror, as seen in Melville's "Army of Shadows" as well as 2006's "The Lives of Others".

As two partisans attempt to find food for their group, they encounter fellow Russians, some who have accepted their occupation and German troops.  Though they work together to fight off their enemies (German Soldiers AND the brutal Russian winter) they are eventually captured and interrogated by Russian Liaison to the occupying force.

Sheptiko's film is a great film worthy of a place in "The Book".

Monday, November 2, 2009

O Preston, Where Art Thou?

Preston Sturges had a short tenure as a Hollywood "golden" boy lasting little more than a decade, getting screenplay and director credits in over a dozen films, but his must see movies interestingly span a period of 2 years.  He reinvented the screwball comedy style of the thirties for a newer generation.

"The Lady Eve" (1941) Barbara Stanwyck stars as a con artist who is bested by her mark played by Henry Fonda.  She then attempts to pose as another high society heiress (apparently, a wig was all it took back then to become unrecognizable) just for a chance to beat the mark that bested her earlier, she falls for him and true love triumphs.

"Sullivan's Travels" (1941) When a Hollywood director (Joel McCrea) known for his shallow comedies, tries to get the green light for a meaningful drama of the downtrodden, he leaves his posh life behind (but never TOO FAR behind) and rides the rails to rediscover the common man.  He connects with a down and out Veronica Lake, who attempts to help him through his adventure without really knowing his real identity.

"The Palm Beach Story" (1942)  A story of marriage, and deception. Joel McCrea (again) stars with Claudette Colbert star as two sets of twins who hijack the wedding so that each can marry the other.  If this sounds confusing, I'm not surprised. Even with the confusion, this one is a great comedy full of kookie charactersand rapid fire wit that needs to be seen to really be appreciated.

Notable Exceptions: "Hail the Conquering Hero"  Eddie Bracken plays a man returning home with a little more fanfare than expected.  The stories that he told his mother about his assignment to combat are greatly exaggerated, especially since he was rejected by the marines for chronic hayfever, have gotten around town.  Now, instead of coming clean to his mother that he had been working in the San Diego shipyards, he is urged by a few marines, who out of respect for his dead father, (a WWI Marine hero) accept the hero's welcome.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Man of a Thousand Faces

Lon Chaney's contribution to cinema is often overlooked except by die hard fans.  The man who used make-up and physical contortion bordering on torture to create characters not easily forgotten has only been picked for two entries, making him one of the most under-represented actor in "THE BOOK".

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)  No shortage of stars have since played Erik but they all owe Chaney a genuine reverie. His make-up alone at the time was reported to have triggered screaming AND fainting.

The Unknown  (1927): A circus story (and he did many if these) has Chaney as a fugitive.  He makes his living as an armless knifethrower who uses his feet.  It seems his character in fact is not armless and fools everyone by binding his arms to his torso.  Why would someone do something so drastic, why to hide the easily identifiable double thumb on his right hand.  Just seeing Chaney perform armless is worth the time.  This, however, is a very dark ironic story

Notable Exceptions: "London After Midnight", the ultimate LOST FILM, with the best chance of seeing it is on TCM, who presents a version that incorporates what little motion footage available with production skills and full intertitles to get as close as possible to the original movie experience.  Chaney's vampire was one of the creepiest for many decades, second only to Murnau's Count Orlock. "The Hunchback of Notre Dame". Long before Charles Laughton, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Hopkins or the Disney animated slush, Chaney's Quasimodo rang the bells silently and still was able to chime in as the best. The Blackbird may be one of his more physically demanding roles since he portrays a criminal's twin who's body is twisted to a degree that even watching him move is painful. In the past 4 years, thanks to TCM and Sonic DVD burners I have added about 26 Chaney titles to my home collection.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fritz Lang's early German films

Fritz Lang's film making career began in post war (WWI) Germany.  As with many of the films coming from there at the time, his early expressionism was unique to the film industry. 

Dr Mabuse, Der Spieler a.k.a. The Gambler (1922) Part Fu Manchu part Moriarity, Dr Mabuse will do what is necessary to get a more scratch.  The criminal mastermind began his long career in movies in this film.  The diabolical doctor seems to have control over time as well, since it really seems to stand still getting through this one. Interesting enough if taken in small bites but I have been hard pressed to make it through in one sitting.

Metropolis (1927) This is probably Lang at his greatest.  A story about class, station and the respect for the parts that make the whole.  Even the lowest most insignificant piece, when stressed can break and shut down the machine.

M.  (1931) This one practically invented the film noir movement.  Peter Lorre wrote the book on creepy.  When the police are unable to stop a serial child murderer, the job falls to the criminal underworld.  Every eye and ear on the street is on the lookout and dispenses justice without a long drawn out court process.

Notable exceptions "Der Mude Tod" a.k.a. "Destiny" and "Die Nibelungen" a 2 parter  telling the saga of Seigfried and "Woman on the Moon" if only to see how space travel might have been anticipated.  The spaceship's dormitory sized rooms get a laugh out of me every time.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Biggest Shock from the earliest film

Viewing Luis Buñuel's "Un Chien Andalou" (1929) and "L'Age D'Or" (1930) was the point where I realized that "The Book" was going to take me on a wild ride.  I had actually found full versions on line, that since are not as easily findable. Buñuel used the camera, subject and film like a paintbrush, model and canvas creating one of the earliest WTF moment.  It's length alone makes it susceptible to multiple viewing in an attempt to interpret some kind of meaning.  Good luck with that, though I have seen it several times, since I first opened the book, I am no closer to a full understanding.  First off, I have no idea what this movie has to do with an Andalousian Dog. Collaboration with Salvador Dali is apparent.  The King of Surrealism's influence can be seen in the focus on ants and the rotting carcass just as his actual physical presence can be seen as one of the monks being dragged with the piano. "The Age of Gold"  though longer is no less enigmatic as many chapters seem to focus on a couple unable to comsummate their love, being constantly interrupted by pressure from family, society and the church.

Las Hurdes or Land Without Bread (1932) is an early documentary (though some consider it a parody) showing an area of Spain that has seen little or no progress who's sole livelihood is a locally made honey too bitter to be enjoyable. Abandoned by the Catholic Church, the inhabitants of the area are left to survive as best they can, with little help from a government that cares little for the region.  As a political message, this film was effective enough to be banned in it's country of origin.  As a cautionary tale it is at least interesting as a snapshot of a point in time for a certain area devoid of education and a caring influence, but as entertainment, it leaves a lot to be desired.   

This is only the beginning of an introduction to the work of Luis Buñuel.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Monty Python flies onto the Big Screen

As a fan of Monty Python's Flying Circus from their earliest American market (KERA in Dallas, Texas was the first American PBS station to introduce the show in 1975) any chance to see the troop was a golden opportuntity. 

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) The transition from short skit comedy to feature length comedy just worked well.  Since the members each played major and minor parts, they found a way to tie a bunch of short skits together to provide a story from beginning to end. 

Life of Brian (1979)  Monty Python takes on the bible in this one and it is so full of great scenes and acting that I laugh just thinking about it, from the not-so-virgin birth in another manger on Christmas Night to the final musical number at Golgotha.   Between Biggus Dickus and the legionaire that catches Brian in the act of defacing property with seditious graffiti and proceeds to give a Latin grammar lesson, this is probably the best of their big screen projects.

Notable Exception: If you are looking for items in the same vein as Monty Python, you can't beat "Yellowbeard". Graham Chapman in the spotlight as a womanizing pirate that tattooed his treasure map to his son's head.  The only thing keeping him from cutting it off is the fact that he doesn't want to have to carry around a rotting head.  Features just about every Python alum (with the exception of Gilliam) and other great comic actors, Cheech and Chong, Marty Feldman (died of a massive coronary within hour of filming his last scene) Peter Cook and Peter Boyle.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Man Bites Dog

Originally released in Belgium in 1992, directed by Rémy Belvaux , "Man Bites Dog" follows a film crew following a serial killer (flawlessly played by Benoît Poelvoorde) for a documentary. Filmed in black and white in a documentary style, Poelvoorde is followed as he commits crimes, mugging for the camera and  interacting with a society that does not understand his awkward personality.  The film crew is not above the danger (two members are actually killed) and eventually acts as accomplices for the sake of their story. Don't ask the obvious questions.  Where does one find an active serial killer that will allow a film crew to document their activities (in today's reality TV mentality, it is becoming less of a stretch), is there a moral obligation to stop filming and alert the authorities and is the film a document of the killer or is the killer a product of the documentary?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Steven Spielberg

Jaws (1975)  Spielberg's first real blockbuster. Three men and a boat against a humongous shark.  

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)  Richard Dreyfus as a man that is dealing with the knowledge he has that aliens are coming to earth. 

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)  The movie that introduced the world to Indiana Jones.  Spielberg collaborates with George Lucas, in an adventure that was inspired by the movie serials of days gone by.  With three sequels under his belt (and talk of a fourth) while all of them may be at least worth seeing, he has not been able to match the success of the original.  One of the perfect action movies.

E. T. (1982) Not a big favorite for me, but that doesn't mean that it's not good. Expands on his idea that space aliens would not necessarily be the kind that come to earth looking to dominate or destroy.  If anything could be dropped from "The Book" it would be this one.  I'll bet there are a lot of people out there that WOULD NOT agree.

The Color Purple (1985)  After years of action and sci-fi, Spielberg returns to the human drama.  I believe this is the point where Hollywood started taking him serious.

Jurassic Park (1993) Spielberg's adaptation of the Michael Crichton novel gave us an idea what could happen if man tried to reintroduce dinosaurs to the earth. 

Schindler's List (1993)  Liam Neeson is Oskar Schindler, a man using his position as a factory owner as a means of  saving as many as possible from the concentration camps.  Ralph Fiennes portrays a ruthless SS officer.  Filmed in black and white.

Saving Private Ryan (1998) After surviving the landing at Omaha Beach, an Infantry squad is assigned to find a soldier, who is  supposed to be sent home.  A good story that portrays squad relationships on the edge of civility as they argue the validity of their orders and gives an eye-opening vision of D-Day.  Makes you wonder how ANYONE could have walked away from the beach.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Avant-garde cinema, part 2

Heaven and Earth Magic (1962)  A sixty-six minute animation piece by Harry Smith, made using cut-outs from old catalogs accompanied by sound effects not necessarily related to the visual activities.  I couldn't help but feeling that this may have been an inspiration for Terry Gilliam when he was creating those animated segments in Monty Python's Flying Circus. I found this title on Youtube (cut into 7 separate parts).  May not be the greatest video quality, but for this film I'm not sure it took too much away.

Dog Star Man (1962) Stan Brakhage's short film is an assault on the visual senses.  Full of flashes of light and color, this is 60 minutes of confusion that may or may not have something to do with a man walking his dog up a mountain.  This idea of the screen as a canvas for splashes of light used as paint got real old, real quick.  Something about having those pictures introduced so quickly just left me confused and a little disoriented.  By the time that an image is recognized of something that might be noteworthy (or maybe even interesting) it is replaced by another that you have scant seconds to register, recognize and react to before another takes it's place.  Short of the man walking up the mountain , the most interesting thing is that he looks an awful lot like one of the cavemen in the Geico commercials. By the time I had made it through the Prelude and the four parts (not sure what the reason for the part segments) I really could have cared less what was going on.

Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance (1983)  Part of a trilogy of films by Geoffrey Reggio, now this type of avant-garde is a bit more to my liking.  While story and motive is still a bit of a mystery at least I was able to get clear extended views of the relationship between man, technology and the natural world.  Brilliant, vivid photography leave you with no doubts of what you are seeing. None of those flashes that could possibly lead to epileptic seizure.  Well worthy of viewing, with Philip Glass's musical composition adds to a mood and styling.

Notable Exceptions: E. Elias Merhige's "Begotten". Upon first learning of this film (a trailer attached to the "Shadow of the Vampire" DVD),  I went on a frantic search for a place to view it.  Finding it posted, in it's entirity on the internet, I was transfixed by the story that played out, though not immediately understandable, the filming is mesmerizing.  The unconventional processing of black and white film creates images that keep you transfixed, not always sure what is going on, but does not allow you to turn away. Not for the squeamish, since the film depicts graphic human pain and suffering.