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.