Friday, July 31, 2009

Popdose: Repulsion on DVD

Roman Polanski's horror classic comes to DVD, courtesy of the Criterion Collection. Beware the clutching hands!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Zhang Yimou's next... a remake of the Coen Brothers' 1984 debut film Blood Simple. As Woody Allen says, whatever works. Meanwhile, the Coens are remaking Zhang's 1987 debut, Red Sorghum.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Popdose: Summer Shorts

All around the indie movie scene, with Sam Rockwell in Moon (pictured), plus Francis Ford Coppola's Tetro, Woody Allen's Whatever Works, and the difficult-to-define Chilean film Tony Manero.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dillinger is dead

Seventy-five years ago today, outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago. The Biograph was a movie house for many years after Dillinger bought it, following a screening of Manhattan Melodrama. I saw a lot of films there when I was a Northwestern student, and recall its annual screenings of the William Powell-Clark Gable-Myrna Loy hit on this date, at Depression-era prices. The theater itself is 95 years old this year, and today is a live venue for the Victory Gardens Theater (now housing the excellent play Blackbird, with William L. Petersen). I assume the bronze plaque commemorating this day in history is still in place.

As for Depp's Dillinger--I liked Public Enemies well enough, but wish Bryan Burrough's superb book had been made into a more expansive HBO miniseries, as originally intended. It's certainly a return to form for Michael Mann, after the catastrophic Miami Vice movie, but I'm not all that crazy about his form these days: The soundtrack, which favors gunshots and an irritatingly "contemporized" score over dialogue, is something of a chore, the digital cinematography sometimes lapses into instability, and the movie is "over-cast," with too many good actors lost in the shuffle. (One who isn't is Stephen Lang, superb as a taciturn law enforcer.) Mann is clearly aiming at the immaculately designed purity of a Jean-Pierre Melville picture like Le Samourai, but the Dillinger story wasn't the right vehicle. Still, it's handsome, has rousing sequences, and is blessedly adult. But I think Warren Oates' 1973 Dillinger may have been closest to the mark.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Live Design: Next Fall

Patrick Breen and Maddie Corman co-star in Geoffrey Naufft's Off Broadway hit, at Playwrights Horizons through Aug. 8.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

RIP Frank McCourt

The author, a New York schoolteacher for many years, chose not to look back in anger, and came up with one of the best memoirs ever written. Angela's Ashes finds beauty, tenderness, and humor amidst terrible deprivation; the literal-minded 1999 film version, unfortunately, found only the latter. It was, and is, meant to be read, not recreated. A tremendous, and tremendously generous, later-in-life accomplishment.

A Brooklyn Fiesta

Ford's "Follow the Fiesta" promotion pulled into Brooklyn last night, as "agent" (and longtime friend) Brad Nelson and his girl Friday, co-agent Emma Frankland, had a siesta at our place before heading northwards. The Oregonians are on a monthlong jaunt through the Lower 48 as they put their magenta Euro-car through its paces before its reintroduction in the U.S. market (discontinued stateside in the 80s, the Fiesta is now the top-selling car on the Continent). It's been quite an adventure, what with 127-degree temps in the Nevada desert, torrential rains and fearsome lightning at Disneyworld, various only-in-the-U.S. oddities along the way, and their first meeting with Lora and Larissa last night, who were in top form. After breakfast at the nearby Ocean View Diner and communication with "Mission Control" they're on the road again--bon voyage, and let's meet up sometime soon at home base in Medford, OR.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Nicholas Ray at Film Forum

The punch-in-the-gut style of director Nicholas Ray (pictured) is in the spotlight at NY's Film Forum, starting with tomorrow's week-long run of 1950's In a Lonely Place, a classic, sad-eyed noir with Humphrey Bogart and Ray's then-wife Gloria Grahame, followed by a two-week festival of some of his best work, including films that the likes of Scorsese, Godard, and Truffaut described as some of their favorites. I heartily concur. Some of the selections include the fast-rising cult movie Bigger Than Life, with James Mason; Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge in the indescribable, must-see Freudian Western Johnny Guitar; the affecting noir of They Live By Night and On Dangerous Ground; the colorful gangster melodrama Party Girl, with Robert Taylor and Cyd Charisse; and of course his most famous picture, Rebel Without a Cause. You can't go wrong with much of a well-culled set of choices, including a movie I've never seen, the Budd Schulberg-scripted Wind Across the Everglades, with Christopher Plummer and Burl Ives. (It was ubiquitous on syndicated TV stations back in the day, then vanished in the cable era.) Two lesser-known Rays I like: 1952's The Lusty Men, an excellent rodeo drama, with Robert Mitchum, Arthur Kennedy, and Susan Hayward, and 1957's World War II saga Bitter Victory, with Richard Burton and Curt Jurgens. Pick a few and strap in for turbulence and fireworks.

First rule of Fight Club

It's only a movie, kid.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

On TCM: The Case Against Brooklyn

TCM has put my DVR into overdrive these last couple of nights. There were a bunch of rarely shown Stewart Granger pictures on, mostly Westerns--not normally the kind of thing that gets me going, but I had a sudden jones for Stewart. (Richard Brooks' The Last Hunt, with Granger and Robert Taylor, really needs to be on DVD.) And there was also "undercover" night, which brought a cache of movies about undercover cops, like the entertaining B Bunco Squad, out of hiding.

Most enjoyable was 1958's The Case Against Brooklyn, which, as the trailer and poster italicize, is one of those torn-from-the-headlines melodramas, pitting young cop Darren McGavin against a laundry-based protection racket that uses crooked law enforcement officers as muscle. I doubt the filmmakers got much past the Columbia backlot for principal photography (a truck chase is very SoCal in location), but it was fun to hear "Atlantic Avenue" and "Prospect Heights" name-dropped for verisimilitude, and to see my neighborhood portrayed as it was in the bad old days, as a hotbed of vice and corruption. Making the case for Brooklyn was McGavin, a whip-smart actor (always to be remembered as Kolchak: The Night Stalker) in a typically colorful performance. He's Brooklyn, baby.

Great Shakes

The Public Theater has Shakespeare in the Park--the Film Society of Lincoln Center has Shakespeare in the dark, as it begins a two-week series of film adaptations from around the world. The Olivier and Welles chestnuts are there, and also Roman Polanski's stellar 1971 Macbeth (pictured), but the interesting films are further-flung: An Indian Macbeth, and a Kiwi Merchant of Venice, among them. To go or not to go? Go.

Popdose: The Edge of Love

The two ladies vie for the affection of Matthew Rhys' Dylan Thomas in a drama that's truly "smokin'."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Popdose: For All Mankind

Woodstock has Woodstock; the other big event of 40 years ago in summer (other than my younger sister's birth) is beautifully commemorated in Al Reinert's artistic record, in a new edition from Criterion.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Popdose Flashback '89: Cosmic Thing

Recalling a favorite traveling companion from my expat years, when I roamed all around the world.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

"Shocking facts"

Cinema Styles is hosting a "Spirit of Ed Wood Blog-a-thon" all this week, in honor of the auteur behind the 50-year-old Plan 9 from Outer Space. And make no mistake about it--Wood was an auteur, with a style and signature all his own.

I introduced my classmates to Wood at a public speaking course I took in the 11th grade, in 1982. I was enthralled by Michael and Harry Medved's Golden Turkey Awards, which has come out a year or two earlier. I saw the movie after I had read the book, when it started making the rounds on Philly TV stations that my family could get with the arrival of cable, and it didn't disappoint. Surely this was the worst film ever made. So, when it came time to pick a topic for our final public speaking presentation, I picked, "The Worst Film Ever Made."

And I have to say, I killed. The usual stories that I knew from my limited knowledge of Wood and the movie made for great material. Just quoting from the film was enough to get everyone laughing. Wood's life and legacy were an A+ that day.

But I only got a B+. Why? Because I went over five minutes in my presentation. There was too much funny stuff to cram in and I didn't want to let any of it go. I loved whomping on Plan 9 too much.

In time, I came to change my opinion, as I learned more about Wood, and as my notion of what constituted a "bad" or "worst" movie altered. The bulk of bad movies are simply boring-bad, too dull and inert to raise any response. The worst movies are those that commit the unpardonable sin of putting you to sleep. But Plan 9 , like Glen or Glenda and Bride of the Monster before it, gets the pulse racing and the synapses firing. You feel the guiding hand, however shaky and unsteady. It's utterly unique and eccentric; there's nothing cookie-cutter about it. Its belief in itself is inspiring.

To paraphrase the great Eros, with my ancient, juvenile mind I developed explosives too fast for my mind to conceive of what I was doing. I was a callow teenager, passing on the received wisdom of my ignorant elders. A half-century later, Plan 9 from Outer Space endures as some kind of monument, one that wobbles but never falls down.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Live Design: Twelfth Night in Central Park

Some enchanted evening, Shakespeare-style, as a feisty Anne Hathaway makes merry in the Delacorte production of Twelfth Night.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Disaster porn

Roland Emmerich's upcoming intellect scrubber, 2012, gets a drubbing in a YouTube spoof of its trailer, which reduces the whole uselessly expensive thing to the level of the movie-within-the-movie in 1976's Drive-In. Dig the shag carpet era music, too.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Popdose: Uwe Boll on Tunnel Rats

The two-fisted stinkmeister is back, with--surprise--a not-bad Vietnam movie. I have the review, plus a few words from the filmmaker to get the Boll rolling.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

RIP Karl Malden

Unlike this week's other passings (including Pina Bausch) it can't be said that the Oscar-winning actor died before his time. Indeed, he lived to enjoy a full and active career onstage, onscreen and on TV, and made the most of his unprepossessing looks in a string of outstanding character parts. He was an effective counterweight to outsized or more obviously charismatic performers like Marlon Brando in their three terrific films together (A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, and Brando's One-Eyed Jacks), George C. Scott in Patton, Burt Lancaster in Birdman of Alcatraz, Warren Beatty in All Fall Down, Rosalind Russell in Gypsy, and Steve McQueen in The Cincinnati Kid; wonderful opposite Eli Wallach and Carroll Baker in Baby Doll (my favorite of his roles); and easily fit into quirkier pictures, such as the Matt Helm spy goof Murderers' Row, Ken Russell's Billion Dollar Brain with Michael Caine, and Dario Argento's Cat o'Nine Tails. A "regular guy" with a truly above-average resume, he, like Michael Jackson, was raised in Gary, IN.

Also gone: Harve Presnell, the musicals star who graduated to gruff, chrome-domed character parts in Fargo and Saving Private Ryan, and Jan Rubes, co-star of Witness and Dead of Winter. A rough patch.

Me on the Hudson

I concluded my contribution to last year's Cineaste film criticism symposium with this:

"In changing times, where critics try to maintain a livelihood, and relevance, in old media and the new bully pulpit, and question whether or not to continue at all, the most powerful person in the blogosphere isn’t a critic. It’s GreenCine editor David Hudson, for the hits he brings us when we are anointed for his daily aggregation. If he or GreenCine Daily decided to pull the plug, we would all be adrift until someone else with stature, authority—and the patience to wade through all this stuff—took over the rudder."

Hudson left GreenCine at the end of last year for a new gig at IFC. And now he's left that, to set up a new venture, with a new format, elsewhere. Every independent film blogger owes him a tremendous debt for his diligent six-year effort with the Daily, which clued me in to numerous new voices while raising my own above the happy clamor from time to time. The first time he linked to me, more than three years ago, was quite a rush, and I always got a thrill seeing my blog (or writing for Cineaste and Popdose) up on the "big board," as they call it in Glengarry Glen Ross. He's a Facebook friend now, so, in closing, I say auf Wiedersehen--and keep those updates coming.