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.