(Author Gabriel Hershman has written "Black Sheep: the Authorized Biography of Nicol Williamson" (The History Press). Williamson, who passed away in 2011 at age 75, was an enormous talent. John Osborne called him "The greatest actor since Brando". However, he had many personal demons that sidetracked what should have been a far more successful career. Hershman explores the peaks and valleys of this temperamental man's dramatic life and career and in this article reminds us of why his talents and work should be rediscovered.)
BY GABRIEL HERSHMAN
Peter O’Toole, Richard Harris, Oliver Reed, Alan Bates, Albert Finney,
Tom Courtenay and … Nicol Williamson. Just a few of the most influential actors
of their generation.
Were you surprised when I mentioned Nicol’s name? He was, at the time of
his death, the least well known of
that generation of actors. And yet, in my opinion, Nicol should have topped that
list. Anybody who saw Nicol in Osborne’s InadmissibleEvidence, sweating, combustible,
driven by almost orgasmic self-loathing – ‘the greatest performance in a modern
play’ in Michael Coveney’s words – knew they were watching an extraordinary
If only we could re-visit Waiting
for Godot, Diary of a Madman, The Ginger Man and, of course, Hamlet – a performance that led Nicol to
the White House to give a one-man show in front of Richard Nixon – then it
would be clear: Nicol was the
foremost actor of his generation.
But … Nicol’s stage triumphs made his screen career
seem desperately unsatisfactory by comparison. Yes, Nicol wanted to be a film
star. An early meltdown at Dundee Rep came when Lindsay Anderson chose not to
cast him as Frank Machin in ThisSportingLife (1963). If he’d got that role – and there’s no reason to
assume Nicol would have made a lesser impact than Richard Harris – then Nicol’s
film career could have been different. Sadly, it was several years before
audiences would see him in a major role, to glimpse that blowtorch talent on
Nicol shone in The
Bofors Gun (1968), playing a deranged, alcoholic squaddie who kills himself
and, in so doing, scuppers the career prospects of a mild-mannered bombardier
who’s desperate for promotion. It was a barnstorming portrayal.Pauline Kael later criticised this and other performances
of Nicol’s as ‘too strong’ – but she was wrong. Take LaughterintheDark
(1969). He was vulnerable and oddly affecting as the businessman blinded by
infatuation (and a car crash) in Tony Richardson’s otherwise ineffective
re-working of Nabokov’s classic.
Nicol was on top form again with one of his serial
collaborators, Jack Gold, in The Reckoning
(1970), a powerful story of class and revenge. It should have been up there
with GetCarter but it was overlooked. The film of Hamlet – although too dark and claustrophobic – at least captured Nicol’s
nasal, deliberately unsexy prince for posterity.
By 1970, despite not having a movie hit, Nicol was a
genuine superstar. He wed gorgeous actress Jill Townsend who would enjoy small-screen
success with Poldark. Yet an essay by
Kenneth Tynan, written at the time of Nicol’s White House triumph, hinted at the
demons that eventually destroyed him. In particular, it seems to me, that Nicol’s
altercations– unlike those of Harris and Reed – were often with influential
people. ‘Victims’ included Broadway producer David Merrick, whom Nicol punched
when the legendary showman demanded cuts to InadmissibleEvidence, Dick Cavett, whose chat
show he once unceremoniously exited, and, later, Evan Handler, who got a beating
during the infamous Broadway performance of I
Perhaps – for all their hellraising and vitriolic
behavior – guys like Reed and Harris knew who to be nice to. Perhaps they were
simply more endearing drunks? Either way, by the early Seventies, Nicol was
losing ground. He stumbled again on film. Who remembers his Red Bull
performance in The Jerusalem File? Or
TheMonk? (Don’t worry, even diehard fans of Seventies movies don’t
know them!!) They have disappeared.
Nicol offered a brilliant interpretation of Arturo Ui
– the Hitler-like gangster in a TV version of Brecht’s classic drama. But it
was soon forgotten. Nicol made a memorable villain (his son, Luke, thought it
was his greatest screen performance) in The
Wilby Conspiracy. But it didn’t do much for his screen career. Playing
Sherlock Holmes in The Seven Per Cent Solution
looked like a breakthrough. Yet some enthusiasts had trouble accepting Nicol as
a drug-addled Holmes.
Williamson starred as Sherlock Holmes opposite Robert Duvall as Watson in the 1976 film "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution".
By then Nicol’s life was increasingly troubled. He
stormed out of Enemy of the People and
times before a scene was shot. He eventually took the lead in TheHumanFactor, Otto Preminger’s
cash-strapped tale of political double dealing. Yet again it was a troubled project. Preminger
seemed to be in the early stage of Alzheimer’s. It needed Hitchcock to bring it
to life. Yet in Nicol’s self-effacing, benevolent lead – a political agnostic
caught between despicable ideologies – there was so much nuance and subtlety.
Stage success continued to come Nicol’s way, in Coriolanus and TwelfthNight, in a Royal
Court revival of InadmissibleEvidence, and, especially, in a Broadway
production of UncleVanya. George C. Scott, his notoriously
fiery co-star, was driven to apoplexy when Nicol won better notices. Yet
genuine film stardom was elusive. Sadly for Nicol, who hated TV, it’s likely
that an episode of Columbo was his
best remembered screen performances of the decade. (Rosebud?!) See, I told
The Eighties finally gave Nicol a palpable hit – as Merlin
in Excalibur. Such was Nicol’s
perceived unreliability, and lack of box office clout, that John Boorman had to
fight to win approval to cast him. Nicol enjoyed the role but, strangely, it
did little for his film career. Instead he played third fiddle to Oliver Reed
and Klaus Kinski (whom he cheerfully described as ‘a cunt’) in the enjoyably
hammy Venom. To be fair, if anyone
caused trouble on that film, it was not Nicol.
After that? Who remembers I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can? Or his portrayal of Mountbatten in
the TV series The Last Viceroy? A late
supporting role (well, he was only 50 but approaching the end of his film career)
in BlackWidow gave a hint of what could have been. He played, with
endearing tenderness, a successful but lonely museum director. If you re-visit
the film, watch Nicol’s performance carefully, the way he fiddles with his watch
when he meets Theresa Russell, his little jig when he shows her his Seattle
dream house. Ah, what a talent Hollywood missed out on in the Eighties!
Nicol continued to shine on stage. But great
theatrical performances exist only in memory. Trevor Nunn, a particularly
insightful contributor to my biography, remarked that ‘the achievements of
those who work in the theatre are no more than writing on the sand. There may
well be a vivid and important message for all to see, for a while, but by and
by the tide comes in, and when it next goes out, that writing has disappeared’.
All too true, sadly. Nicol continued to appear on
stage, memorably in his one-man show Jack:
A Night on the Town with John Barrymore. A contributor to my book, Saskia
Wickham, told me she thought Nicol was “mesmerising and just sublime … a
genius”. This, in the end, is where the appeal of Nicol and – my biography – resides.
Nicol was perhaps a great screen actor lost. But I suspect that history will
regard him as probably the greatest stage actor of his generation nevertheless.
Russell’s controversial but widely-acclaimed adaptation of D. H. Lawrence’s
novel, Women in Love, might have had
a better and more appropriate title—Men
in Love. While touted as being an examination of the nature of love and
sexuality between two men and two women, in the end we are left with the more
potent notion that there is a love that can exist between two males—as friends—that is more powerful and
“eternal” than the love a man will have for a woman.
in 1969 in Britain and in 1970 in the U.S. (hence, its four Oscar nominations
for the year 1970), Women in Love has
not aged well in terms of its arty and borderline pretentious direction… but as
I tell my Film History students, “judge a film within the context of when it
was released.” In that regard, Women was
a groundbreaking and daring motion picture of its time. In the U.S. it played
only in the big city art house theaters, probably due to its frank nudity (both
female and male—one of the first
mainstream pictures to feature full frontal men in the raw) and subject matter.
the early 1920s in the English countryside, where class standing is very much a
thing; but a movement is afoot for the emancipation of women, free-thinking,
avant-garde art, and the breaking of social taboos. While the story focuses on
four characters—Rupert (Alan Bates), Gerald (Oliver Reed), Gudrun (Glenda
Jackson), and Ursula (Jennie Linden)—the “protagonist,” as it were, is Rupert.
In fact, it is how he approaches his relationships with his best friend Gerald
and the woman he eventually marries, Ursula, that is the crux of the story.
Jackson, however, won the Best Actress Oscar as the free-spirited,
take-no-prisoners Gudrun in what is honestly a supporting role in the story.
This statement is not meant to take away from her engaging, charismatic
performance—she’s terrific. There is no question that she steals the movie. But
Linden has more screen time as her younger, more conservative sister.
made the film a cause célèbre at the time was the
much-talked-about nude wrestling scene between Bates and Reed—which, apparently,
they had to talk Russell in to filming because they were keen to do it. Beautifully
shot by Oscar-nominated Billy Williams, the rumble in an English manor study by
firelight rightly is a remarkable piece of cinema.
Russell received his only directing Oscar nomination for the film. Some might
watch it today and think that his work—and the acting as well—is over-the-top.
The truth is that Russell intentionally stylized
the movie with a heightened realism that matches the passion and intensity
of its subject matter. This is a picture in which style and substance are
notched up to eleven. Russell, in his later career, would often be accused of extravagance
and pretentiousness—but here, Women in
Love is relatively tame in comparison.
gorgeous period piece with heady dialogue, editing influenced by the French New
Wave, lovely costumes, and beautiful scenery, is showcased by the Criterion
Collection’s new restored 4K digital transfer with an uncompressed monaural
include two different commentaries from 2003 (one by Russell, one by
producer/screenwriter Larry Kramer); new interviews with DP Billy Williams and
editor Michael Bradswell; vintage interviews with Russell and Jackson; an
interesting on-location piece featuring Bates, Linden, and Kramer; and the
most striking supplement is Russell’s own biopic autobiography, A British Picture—Portrait of an Enfant
Terrible (1989), a bizarre but fun piece in which a little boy plays
Russell throughout the years, even when Russell is an adult. Another
interesting, but less successful, inclusion is a 1972 short film, Second Best, based on a D. H. Lawrence
short story, produced by and starring Bates. The booklet features an essay by
scholar Linda Ruth Williams.
English, and literature buffs will certainly appreciate Women in Love. For those willing to position it in its appropriate
historical place, it’s a scrumptious and sensual delight.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from the BFI Southbank:
From Monday 2 April – Monday 30 April, BFI Southbank will celebrate one
of the undisputed masters of cinema, Sergio Leone, with screenings of all his films,
as well as a complementary season of contemporary westerns. The season
coincides with the re-release of AFistful of Dollars (Sergio Leone,
1964), which is back in selected
cinemas courtesy of Park
Circus on Friday 13
April, and plays
on extended run during the season. Also included in the season will
be the other two films in Leone’s Dollars Trilogy –Fora Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad
and the Ugly (1966) – as well as his virtuosic
Once Upon a Time in
the West(1968), and the American gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America(1984).
There will also be a talk from Leone biographer Sir Christopher Frayling on Friday 6 Aprilexamining the distinctively
Italian character of Leone’s unique films and
charting how they’ve been
interpreted and celebrated over the years. Leone continues to influence filmmakers, from Edgar Wright
(whose first film was a parody called A Fistful of Fingers) to Quentin
Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and David Mackenzie, and to complement the season,
there will be screenings of modern takes on westerns, including feminist interpretations and those
which explore the African diaspora's contribution to
the genre; these will
include My Pure Land (2017), followed by
a Q&A with director Sarmad
or High Water (David Mackenzie, 2016) and a preview of Chloé
Zhao's The Rider (2017).
Sergio Leone came from a filmmaking family, cutting his teeth working on dozens
of features including Ben Hur, and directed his first
Colossus of Rhodes (1961), a traditional
Italian ‘swords and sandals’ film, before moving
on to the genre that would define his career.A Fistful of
Dollars (1964) was the film that put Leone on the map, a
that flips the American western and gives it some European punch. The first
part of Leone’s Dollars
Trilogy, which is re-released on Friday 13 April, firmly sets out
the winning blueprint for the other two: not least in establishing both the
role of Clint Eastwood’s nameless anti-hero and his
memorable collaboration with Ennio Morricone. It’s
sequel For a Few Dollars More (1965) boasted double the budget of its predecessor and saw Lee Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood play a couple of smart but ruthless bounty
hunters closing in on a vicious gang and their horrific leader. Eastwood’s final
film with Leone The Good, the Bad
and the Ugly(1966), which
completed the Dollars Trilogy, ironically
produced some of their finest work during a period of deteriorating relations.
Eastwood stars as Blondie who, in competition with two equally dangerous and
resourceful men, is after a stash of stolen confederate
gold. The resulting film is undoubtedly one of the greatest westerns ever made.
Also screening in
the season will be Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) starring Henry Fonda, Charles
Bronson and Claudia Cardinale. A piece of land with a
vital water source becomes the focus for this epic
piece covering all the best aspects of the Wild West;
it is both a homage to what
came before and a thoroughly
entertaining addition to the genre. Leone’s final
western A Fistful of Dynamite(1971) is set during the Mexican Revolution in 1913 and
sees a bandit and a British explosives expert
reluctantly team-up in a
tale that reflects the
political instability and violence rocking Italy at the time. Though often overshadowed by his
previous work, his final western is a rarely seen
treat. Completing the programme is Leone’s final film
as director, Once Upon a Time in America(1984), which saw the director transfer his ‘adult fairytale’ approach to the American gangster genre, following the friendship between four
youngsters from New York’s Lower East Side as they rise within the ranks of
organised crime. Despite an all-star cast including
Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern and Joe Pesci, the film was overlooked
critically and commercially in the US, but has since been re-appraised
as one of the greatest gangster films in cinema history.
westerns screening alongside the Leone titles bring
the genre right up to the present day, with recent releases and previews of
brand new features, and regular BFI series WOMAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA and AFRICAN ODYSSEYS alsofeaturing
films from the genre. Based on a true story, My Pure Land (Sarmad Masud, 2017) is a western with a feminist
twist which centres on a land dispute in rural Pakistan; the screening on Thursday
12 April will be followed by a Q&A with director Sarmad Masud.
Another western with a distinctly feminist perspective is Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (Mouly
Surya, 2017), which intelligently blends the western genre with arthouse
sensibilities; the film, which previews as part of the BFI’s WOMAN WITH A
MOVE CAMERA series will be followed by a Q&A with the director Mouly
The works of William Shakespeare were ideally
suited to the sensibilities of Orson Welles. More than once, on stage and in
the cinema, The Bard’s scenarios supplied a prime source for Welles the auteur,
and the dramatist’s distinct personalities manifest themselves in grandiose roles
skillfully personified by Welles the actor, in his straightforward Shakespearian
adaptations and in characters created to embody correspondingly epic types (Charles
Foster Kane, as the most notable example). This artistic appreciation and cross-form
application was most outstandingly realized in Chimes at Midnight, from 1965, but the same impassioned devotion—aesthetic
and thematic—is likewise evident in the dynamic, striking Othello (1951), otherwise known as The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice, an unsung Welles film now
available on an exceptional Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
love affair with Shakespeare began at a young age, when he published an
annotated series of Shakespearean texts at the age of 12 and, later, at just 16,
when he performed in assortedproductions
at Dublin’s Gate Theatre, an outing that would prove significant to Othello’s genesis. Fleeing the infamous
blacklist business in America, Welles arrived in Rome to star in Gregory
Ratoff’s Black Magic (1949), and it
was around that time that he embarked on the disorderly path toward what would
be his second consecutive cinematic rendering of a Shakespeare primer,
following 1948’s Macbeth. What ensued
was a convoluted lesson in haphazard, yet thoroughly determined independent
filmmaking, with years of on-again, off-again shooting, different
cinematographers and editors, several locations (Rome, Venice, Morocco, etc.),
miscellaneous financial interruptions, and multiple casting changes—there were two
Desdemonas before Welles settled on Suzanne Cloutier, whose voice he
nevertheless had dubbed by Gudrun Ure. Othello
was initially (finally) released in 1952, when it shared the Grand Prize with Two Cents Worth of Hope (1952) at the
Cannes Film Festival. But that was not the end of its difficulties. The details
of the whole process are recounted (and frequently repeated) on the Criterion
disc, dispersed amongst a range of interviews and documentaries and in Geoffrey
O’Brien’s accompanying essay. But what matters most, is that while a decent
film managing to survive the turmoil would be remarkable enough, that a very good film was the ultimate result
is even more impressive.
Beginning just after the death of
Othello (Welles assumes audiences know how and why this happened and so spends
little time worrying about exposition), Othello
flashes back and delves into the intricate web of deception that led to the Venetian
general’s demise. Prominent in this charade is Othello’s traitorous ensign,Iago
(Micheál MacLiammóir), whose dubious, ambiguous motives are born not from some pure,
abstract malevolence, but from an ordinary professional, personal resentfulness
(or, so Welles would also interpret it, potential impotency). Driving a wedge
between Othello and his radiant wife, Desdemona (Cloutier),
the weaselly Iago takes advantage of Roderigo’s (Robert Coote) jealousy—he,
too, has amorous eyes for Desdemona—and the two of them devise a ruse to drive
Othello mad with suspicion and to concurrently sew discord between he and his favored
lieutenant, Cassio (Michael Laurence). Cloutier is at her best in moments of
unknowing bewilderment, her chaste beauty convincingly stunned by Othello’s
rage and his distrust, while MacLiammóir, who co-founded the Gate and was
fundamental to Welles’ early theatrical career, is the embodiment of deceit; hovering
always on the periphery, scheming and biding his time, he is all vacillating slants
and slithering movements. Welles, of course, is center stage, his performance
descending from one of class, command, and charm (“I think this tale would win
my daughter, too,” says one onlooker as Othello captivates the crowd—and the
viewer), to one of deadening confusion and despair. And yet, even as the seeds
of doubt produce an ensnaring crop of gradual torment, Welles loses none of his
booming, prevailing presence, nor the magnitude of his theatrical inflection.
Welles had openly criticized Laurence
Olivier’s approach to Shakespearean cinema, regarding his interpretations as
little more than filmed theater. So, it stands to reason that Welles, already a
visual mastermind, would render his Othello
in extraordinary illustrative fashion. There may be less polish—a result of
budgetary restrictions and the movie’s slapdash assembly—but there is a tangible
increase in filmic vigor, as Welles treats the material not as something
required for “serious” actors and directors to undertake, but as something to
be passionately fulfilled. Translating this enthusiasm with requisite care and affection,
Welles advances Othello as an artful
mélange of stark, expressionistic designs and vivid, textured imagery, like
engravings animated by the complex balance of light and shadow for which he was
so renowned. Part of his innate, virtuoso style has to do with nearly shot-by-shot
ingenuity, crafting (and Othello feels
very much like an artisanal creation) a rich production design detailed in
depth and accented by astonishing camera angles, reflective surfaces, and
crossed shadows generated by tapestries, iron bars, and thatched roofs. Gloomy
interiors portent the delirious, devastating downfall to come, while outside,
the backdrop of bleak skies and raging waters induce a similarly imposing
it was announced that Flowers in the Attic was lined up for its UK Blu-ray
debut, it occurred to me that I had no real memory of my one and only dip into
writer-director Jeffrey Bloom’s adaptation of the controversial, best-selling
Virginia (V.C.) Andrews novel – which I guess would have been right back upon
its initial release in 1987. Interest to revisit it duly piqued, my
anticipation was tempered a tad by the sense that being unable to remember it had
surely to be indicative that it wasn’t actually very good. Although it still
amuses me that a guy named Bloom wrote and directed a film with Flowers in the
title, regrettably my reservations proved well founded. It really is rather
awful. There be spoilers ahead!
the death of her husband, Corinne Dollenganger (Victoria Tennant) falls on hard
times and is forced to return, with her four children in tow, to the childhood
home she left in disgrace 17 years earlier. Corinne’s puritanical mother, Fran
(Louise Fletcher), isn’t best pleased to see them and, although she evidently
despises both her own daughter and the grandchildren she’s never met, she
reluctantly allows them to stay, telling them that she’ll give them food and
shelter but never kindness and love. The children (Jeb Stuart Adams, Kristy
Swanson, Ben Ganger and Lindsay Parker) remain upstairs out of sight, whilst
Corinne makes an effort to reconnect with her bedridden, dying father (Marshall
Colt). She tells the siblings that if she’s able to atone for her past
transgressions before he dies, and most importantly convince him that she never
had children, then he’ll write her back into his will and they’ll be well-heeled
for the rest of their lives. But as the days pass it becomes apparent that the
children have become prisoners – visited in their locked room only to be fed –
and Corinne becomes ever more distant, spending less and less time with them.
What can she possibly have done all those years ago that was so terrible? And
what is the purpose of those four child-sized holes being dug in the woods?
sounds rather intriguing, doesn’t it? An adaptation of the first in a quartet
of novels (with a tweaked denouement) it’s certainly a nice set up; once the
family receive a frosty welcome at grandma’s abode all the pieces are in place
for a potentially gripping and increasingly sinister tale. Unfortunately, things
quickly devolve into a bit of a slog, the various plot turns becoming ever more
irksome as the children – who are far from dullards – fail to do what anyone
with half a brain cell trapped in their situation would.
When you think of a touching movie about the adventures of an elderly man and his beloved cat, chances are "Harry and Tonto" springs to mind. However, there is another worthwhile movie that merits a look, even if it doesn't boast Art Carney in his Oscar-winning performance. "Frank and the Wondercat" is a 2015 documentary by Pablo Alvarez-Mesa and Tony Massil that won acclaim on the film festival circuit a few years ago. It's now been released on DVD by BrinkVision and is streaming on Amazon Prime. Ostensibly, it's an amusing tale that follows 80 year-old Pittsburgh native Frank Furko as he reminisces about Pudgie Wudgie, his tabby cat of fourteen years who was not only his constant companion, but the center of his life as well. However, as the movie progresses it becomes a poignant examination of sentiment, loneliness and dignity in old age. Frank learned early on that Pudgie was somewhat unique among cats in that he was agreeable to being dressed up in all types of exotic costumes and disguises. Pudgie was also adept at learning some tricks that could be performed on stage. For Frank, he proved to be the perfect tonic following a divorce after 20 years of marriage. Before long, Frank became a local sensation even in the era in which "hi tech" meant VHS tapes, upon which Frank dutifully recorded all of Pudgie's appearances. From charity performances to fairs to schools to local TV stations, Frank and Pudgie's legend grew. The documentary makes good use of the battered VHS archives Frank keeps stuffed in drawers inside his cluttered home, which is a monument to his departed best friend. We see gloriously scratchy videos with garish colors as we relive Frank and Pudgie's moments of glory. There is also a clip from the nationally-syndicated "Maury Povich Show" where Pudgie won first prize in a pet contest and Frank discusses how the duo were invited to New York to appear on David Letterman's show. But the comedic aspects of the film are matched by the moving examination of Frank's personal life now that Pudgie is gone. He reflects on his early life and relives painful episodes with his strict father, his undying love for his late mother and his on-going dedication to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The NFL team maintains a museum where there is a wall dedicated to Frank and Pudgie, who never missed a game. (Pudgie would attend in full fan regalia.) We watch as Frank stands by the wall and explains to passersby just how special the Frank and Pudgie team were to local fans. We also see him pay visits to the cemetery where Pudgie is buried in the same plot as Frank's parents (albeit they didn't get their images engraved on the stone.) Frank shows off stacks of condolence letters he received from people everywhere upon Pudgie's passing. It's clear they still provide a much-needed balm for his ailing soul.
"Frank and the Wondercat" is emblematic of the many fine documentaries that often go unnoticed. Fortunately, for this one there is a happy ending with its exposure on DVD and Amazon Prime. Filmmakers Alvarez-Mesa and Massil never mock or exploit their subject and present Frank and his story in a dignified manner. He's eccentric, to be sure, but he's a lovable eccentric. One would think that their film is appreciated by him as the grand achievement of his "partnership" with Pudgie. You don't have to be a cat a lover to admire the movie, but if you are, chances are you'll end up loving it.
One need not be an enthusiast of silent-era cinema to
find Bill Morrison’s illuminating Dawson
City: Frozen Time a totally engrossing, masterfully assembled
documentary.Anyone with even a passing
interest in the history of the 19th and 20th centuries,
of the Klondike Gold Rush, of film preservation, or of time-capsule newsreel
footage will find this film absolutely fascinating and rewarding.Aside from a bit of on-screen prefatory and postscript
talking-head commentary - courtesy of the two surviving and earliest on-site “lost
film” investigators - most of Morrison’s two-hour long film is presented to us as
an intriguing mosaic; an emotive montage expertly combining the imagery of
long-lost vintage newsreels, miraculously salvaged snippets of silent film
footage, and an astonishing series of rescued glass-plate negative photographs –
the latter courtesy of Klondike Gold Rush chronicler Eric Hegg (1867-1947).
There is, perhaps surprisingly, no accompanying audio
narration present on the soundtrack, as combination director/editor/writer Morrison
chose to share the tale almost exclusively through visuals alone.His documentary, in a sense, mimics how a vintage
silent film itself would unspool before us.It’s this composite of photographs, film reels, broadsides, and vintage
newspaper clippings alone that propel the narrative forward. Morrison’s own succinctly
composed inter-titles are overlaid images to provide necessary detail or to impart
historical context.Alex Somers’ moody
and evocative musical score perfectly underpins the gentle historical drama.
The film begins, fittingly, in 1978, more or less at the mystery’s
starting point in a remote Canadian township.It was in the summer of that year when a backhoe operated by the town’s
Pentecostal minister unearthed a most curious discovery:hundreds upon hundreds of film canisters dating
1903 through 1929 were found buried in the permafrost beneath Dawson City’s moribund
recreation center.Thankfully, and with
the gratitude of scholars and filmgoers worldwide, the backhoe operator chose to
engage a work stoppage.Rather than
plough the canisters forever and for all time into oblivion, he decided it prudent
to contact local authorities about this mysterious trove of unearthed film reels.This unusual cache of film prints – most in
various stages of decomposition - was first brought to the attention of Michael
Gates of the Canadian Parks Service.Sensing this find might be an important one, Gates brought in an expert,
Sam Kula, director of Canada’s National Film, Television, and Sound Archives.Shortly after, Kathy Jones, the director of
the Dawson City Museum, was also brought in to assist and help monitor the
Ultimately some 1,500 reels of film were excavated from
the construction site, though – frustratingly - only three hundred and
seventy-two or so of these were eventually deemed salvageable.The enormity of the find - combined with the
fact that many of the unearthed films were identified as early Hollywood
productions - caused the National Archives of Canada to enlist the assistance
of the U.S. Library of Congress.Together the cultural branches of both Canada and the U.S. were able to
save and restore some 533 reels – to one degree or another – salvaging what an
inter-title describes as the “last remnants of 372 silent film titles.”The 372 reels that did survive were found
beneath a former ice skating rink/swimming pool housed inside the old community
recreation center, once owned and operated by the Dawson Amateur Athletic
Association.It was in 1929 that the
film canisters were ingloriously deposited as landfill under the rink at center-ice,
a clumsily engineered attempt to smooth over the complaints of skaters fretting
about the unevenness of the surface at midpoint.
Chances are you never heard of Oscar Micheaux. However, if you read about his remarkable life, you'll be impressed- especially if you are a retro movie lover. Micheaux was a pioneer in African-American cinema. Like most black people, he was appalled by the content of D.W. Griffith's 1915 cinematic sensation "Birth of a Nation". While the film was a landmark in terms of its technical achievements, it was also one of the most racist films the industry would ever produce, extolling the Ku Klux Klan as heroes while vilifying black men as dangers to civilized society. Micheaux, an industrious young man, had already found success writing and publishing novels. In 1918, he decided to also try his hand at making movies. In those days many theaters were still segregated and Micheaux made intelligent, adult films for black audiences. They became sensations with grateful viewers who were sickened by seeing members of their race depicted in degrading manners in mainstream Hollywood production.s. Micheaux would go on to make 44 films and had just started to bridge the gap into desegregated cinema when he passed away. Writing in The Daily Beast, Gil Troy looks back on the life and career of this under-appreciated filmmaker. Click here to read.
McQueen steals a high valued automobile from a wealthy Mississippi family and heads
to Memphis with two friends in order to woo a prostitute. He gets involved with
a horse race and learns a thing or two about life. This isn’t a Steve McQueen
action movie, but it is the basic plot of “The Reivers,” a 1969 movie based on
the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by William Faulkner and available on Blu-ray from
Kino Lorber. Part road movie and part coming-of-age story, this is the second
feature directed by Mark Rydell. “The Reivers” is dipped in Southern
sensibility and cinematographer Richard Moore gives 1905 Mississippi a
nostalgic dream-like appearance. A reiver is a thief and Steve McQueen plays
Boon Hogganbeck, a friend and employee of the McCaslins who run a plantation in
rural Mississippi. Boon was adopted by the family at a young age and is a sort
of mentor to 11-year old Lucius (Mitch Vogel). When “Boss” McCaslin (Will Geer)
purchases the first automobile in the county, it’s not just any car, but a
brand new yellow Winton Flyer.
Lucius’ grandfather, runs the family and farm with a firm, but thoughtful hand.
A death in the family requires Boss and Lucius’ parents to depart for four days
to attend the funeral. Lucius is left in the care of Boon with strict orders for
the car to remain locked up. Boon takes Lucius home in the Flyer after dropping
the family at the train station. He gives Lucius a driving lesson and informs him
of his intentions to take the Flyer on a trip to Memphis so he can meet up with
his girlfriend Corrie (Sharon Farrell) and invites Lucius to join him. They
devise a tangled web of white lies and misinformation to deceive various
relatives and soon head off for Memphis. Shortly after departing, Ned McCalin
(Rupert Crosse) is discovered hiding in the back seat under a blanket (how he
went undiscovered back there is hard to explain, but it’s not important). Ned
is a bi-racial cousin to the McCaslins and, like Boon, works for the family. Along
the way the three reivers get stuck in a mud trap set by a local farmer named
Edmonds (played to the hilt with dripping chewing tobacco by character actor Charles
Tyner) who sits in wait after flooding a depression in the road making it
impossible for horse carts or automobiles to get through without his mule
towing services. The three clean their muddy mess after stopping at a local
Memphis is a big deal and Lucius is given the honor of driving the Flyer into
town as they arrive at a boarding house run by Mr. Binford (Michael
Constantine) and Miss Reba (Ruth White). Ned departs to stay in the black side
of town (this is 1905 Mississippi) and Lucius is introduced to Miss Corrie who
he perceives as an angelic vision of motherly virtue. The wonders of adult life
are presented to Lucius in quick order when he is offered beer at dinner and gets
into a fight with Corrie’s nephew Otis (Lindy Davis) who informs Lucius that
Corrie is in fact a whore and they are staying in a brothel. Defending her
honor, Lucius starts punching and Otis cuts Lucius in the hand with a knife before
Boon arrives. Touched by Lucius’ gesture, Corrie vows to give up her life as a
prostitute and be the virtuous woman Lucius sees in her.
a new Tomb Raider in town and she’s not… well…she’s not your older brother’s Tomb
Raider.Gone is the statuesque,
pistol-packing Angelina Jolie of the iconic video game character’s first movie incarnation.Alicia Vikander’s Lara Croft is pared down to
the essentials - a dangerous tomboy who is smart, feisty and tough as nails.
we meet this Lara Croft she’s broke,
toiling as a London bicycle messenger, getting her ass kicked in MMA training
and still reeling from the disappearance of her father (Dominic West) seven
years ago.He had vanished exploring a
mysterious island off the coast of Japan. When she discovers the key to his
hidden workroom, she becomes hooked on his quest and decides to follow his
trail all the way to the jungle tomb he was desperately trying to keep from
ever being opened.
by the aptly named Finnish director, Roar Uthaug, the film starts off at a breakneck
pace and rarely slows.The action moves like
a bullet train from a bike chase in Central London to a Hong Kong dock melee
and then on to a remote island as forbidding and dangerous as the one King Kong
calls home.There, Croft encounters her
father’s nemesis – a shadowy organization called Trinity which is laser-focused
on finding the final resting place of an ancient Queen known as “The Mother of
Death.”Their archaeological dig is run
by a psychotic thug played with real verve by Walton Goggins (Justified), who could clearly give
Hannibal Lecter a run for his money.When he steals Croft’s father’s journal, the path to the tomb and its
hideous contents is revealed and the final battle begins.
is fit and relentless, yet vulnerable for an action hero – when she takes a
beating, you feel it.The amount of
training Ms. Vikander had to endure for the role must have been epic.As the New York Times’ review pithily noted,
she has “a washboard stomach you could play the blues on.”(Sorry, that was too sweet not to reuse!) Cinematographer
George Richmond makes great use of the lush South African scenery, and his zooming
camerawork flies through jungle canopies and ancient tombs with equal finesse.
Vikander’s Lara Croft isn’t as snide or as sexualized as her predecessor, hers
is a strong debut and like Daniel Craig’s Bond, she’ll make this iconic
character her own.
RAIDER is released by Warner Bros. and MGM. The film makes its North American debut on Friday, March 16.
Cinema Retro receives many film-related books from publishers who desire that we feature them on our web site and in our magazine. One of the most impressive we've received recently is "The Films of Broderick Crawford" by Ralph Schiller. It's an engrossing biography that you may need two hands to lift and it's packed with interesting facts about one of Hollywood's most neglected leading men of a bygone era. We've asked Mr. Schiller to provide an overview of Crawford's career based on information in his meticulously-researched book.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Tickets are now on sale for the first in a series of
events celebrating the talented specialists behind the James Bond films.
Lyricist Don Black and composer David Arnold will be in conversation with
broadcaster and writer Edith Bowman on Tuesday 20 March 2018 at the London Film
Museum, home to the Bond in Motion exhibition.
Bowman will be talking to Black and Arnold about the songwriting process and
the inspiration for their songs.
Award-winning lyricist, Black has written over a hundred
songs for motion pictures including a quintet of James Bond theme songs - Thunderball,
Diamonds Are Forever, The Man With The Golden Gun, ‘Surrender’ from Tomorrow
Never Dies, and The World is Not Enough.
A fan of the James Bond film series and its music from an early age, Arnold is
best known for scoring Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, Die
Another Day, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.
A huge movie fan and respected film presenter, broadcaster Edith
Bowman has hosted TV and radio shows across all the major networks. She
has her own successful podcast, Soundtracking, which explores the relationship
between film and music.
The evening will commence at 6:30 pm with a Champagne Bollinger reception during
which guests may enjoy the Bond in Motion exhibition which features over 100
original items from the long-running film franchise including cars, boats,
motorbikes, concept drawings, storyboards, costumes, and model miniatures. The
event will finish at 8 pm.
London Film Museum is located at 45 Wellington Street,
Covent Garden, London, WC2E 7BN.
Tickets will be dispatched up until 4:00pm Friday 16th
March. Following this time, please select the "Click &
Collect" option at checkout to pick up your tickets directly from London
Tony Curtis, like most aspiring screen stars, slogged through bit parts in unmemorable films when he first broke into the industry in the late 1940s. By the mid-1950s, however, he was a major star, even if the films he top-lined were relatively undistinguished. With his boyish good looks and New York wise guy persona, Curtis excelled at playing charismatic rogues and, perhaps improbably for a guy born in the Bronx, cowboys, knights and other exotic men of action. But Curtis was more than just a pretty face and by the late 1950s he was getting challenging roles that allowed him to show off his dramatic acting skills. He was brilliant in "Sweet Smell of Success" and "The Defiant Ones" and gave one of the great comedic performances of all time in Billy Wilder's "Some Like It Hot". By the late 1960s, however, his star power was fading. He still had enough clout to get the male leads in lightweight comedies like "Sex and the Single Girl" and "Don't Make Waves", but the bloom was off the rose. Ironically, he won fine reviews for his convincing performance in the 1968 film "The Boston Strangler", but most of the good roles would continue to elude him. Like many fading American stars, he turned toward European productions, starring in "Those Daring Young Men in the Jaunty Jalopies" and "You Can't Win 'Em All", the latter with fellow U.S. import Charles Bronson who found major stardom in Europe long before he became a big name in America. One of the least prestigious films that Curtis appeared was titled "On the Way to the Crusades, I Met a Girl Who...", a 1967 sex comedy filmed in Italy and which would not be released in the USA until 1969, when it had limited distribution. Perhaps because theater owners in the UK and USA had pity on the poor souls who had to stand on ladders and put film titles on theater marquees letter-by-letter, the English language version of the film was shortened to the more provocative "The Chastity Belt". Curtis wasn't the only English-speaking actor in the otherwise all-Italian production, as Hugh Griffith and John Richardson were co-starred.
The film opens with Curtis playing against type as Guerrando de Montone, a sniveling, cowardly and bumbling opportunist who finally is granted his wish to be made a knight. As his reward, he is entitled to claim a vast tract of land as his own. Guerrando is quick to abuse his power over the peasants, especially when he discovers that the local game warden and his voluptuous daughter, Boccadoro (Monica Vitti) live on his land. Although Boccadoro is initially attracted to him, Guerrando's misogynistic ways quickly alienate her. Guerrando informs her that he is her lord and master and will use her for sexual pleasure whenever he pleases. Most of the fun in the script, which was co-written by the esteemed Larry Gelbart, centers on the buxom beauty's strategies to avoid going to bed with Guerrando, who becomes increasingly frustrated. To solve the problem, he forces her to marry him but she delays the consummation of the marriage by invoking a rare, ancient ritual that commits them both to spending three days in constant prayer. When that obstacle is removed, Guerrando is ready to make his move only to find that he has been summoned to join the Crusades and leave Italy for a period of years. To ensure that Boccadoro remains chaste, he has her fitted with a chastity belt which causes her to swear vengeance. The film meanders through the couple's misadventures with Boccadoro intent on finding her husband and murdering him. She poses as a knight in armor and infiltrates his camp but both are kidnapped by an evil, horny sultan (Hugh Griffith) who forces Guerrando to convert to Islam while he makes plans to open the chastity belt and have his way with Boccadoro.The whole thing ends in a madcap chase with heroes and villains chasing each other about a castle.
Italian cinema-goers were very enamored of sex farces during this period. "The Chasity Belt" is one of the tamest, as there is no nudity and the most provocative aspects are plentiful shots of Ms. Vitti's ample bosom bouncing around during the many chase scenes. Like most films of the genre, there are plenty of moments of slapstick and narrow escapes. What impresses most about this modest production is director Pasquale Festa Campanile's light touch and the ability to move the action at such a rapid pace that you don't ponder how predictable it all is. While it's still a bit of a shock to see someone of Curtis's stature in this "B" level comedy, he is in good form and provides plenty of laughs by not even attempting to disguise his New Yawk accent. He is matched by the very likable Vitti and Hugh Griffith, who recycles his lovable rascal shtick from "Ben-Hur". What is stands out most are the rather spectacular locations. Most of the action is shot outdoors in ancient ruins and castles that add a good deal of atmosphere to the goings on.
"The Chasity Belt" is the kind of film that Curtis probably did very reluctantly. He would later try his hand in television co-starring with Roger Moore in the sensational action series "The Persuaders", but it lasted only 24 episodes. A later series, "McCoy" lasted only a single season. Curtis would still turn up in a few major films like "The Mirror Crack'd" and "The Last Tycoon" but only in supporting roles. Nevertheless, he remained enjoyable to watch and always gave his best effort. Perhaps for that reason, "The Chastity Belt" is a lot more worthwhile than you might imagine.
The Warner Archive DVD is generally very good with a few blotches and grainy frames, but one suspects there aren't too many archival prints of this long-forgotten film floating around out there. There are no bonus extras.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
from some of the comedy classics of the silent era, it’s arguable that the one
picture of the period you should make a point to see is Carl Th. Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, a film that
has appeared on Sight and Sound’s top
ten films poll five times and consistently cited as one of the most essential
motion pictures in history.
high praise, and it’s deserved.
those of you who won’t watch silent movies because you think they’re boring or
slow or whatever—forget it.The
Passion of Joan of Arc is one of the most riveting pictures you’ll ever
see.Its brevity (only 81 minutes at 24
frames per second) is a strength, but its power lies in the faces of its
actors.Dreyer has focused the camera
(with superb cinematography by future Hollywood director Rudolph Maté)
on facial close-ups—the eyes, the mouths, the wrinkles in the skin… and it all
masterfully reveals the inner turmoil of the characters.
that of Joan.The performance by stage
actress Renée Jeanne Falconetti in the title role is
nothing short of miraculous.At the time
she was an acclaimed performer in the theatre to such an extent that her name
in the credits is simply listed as “Falconetti.”What eyes, what expressions, what pain… what passion!As she is overcome by the rapture that envelops her, Joan is transformed
to a thing of otherworldly beauty.
familiar with Joan’s story knows what the film is about.Young Joan had led French armies against the
English during the Hundred Years’ War, was captured, and, because she claimed
to be able to speak with God, was put on trial for heresy by French clergy loyal to the English.The film depicts her trial and ultimate
adapted the actual handwritten court transcripts in writing the screenplay;
thus, the intertitles are real testimony delivered in the proceedings.The piece begins dramatically, with crowds
outside the court gathering to hear news of the trial.Sideshow performers and midway vendors turn
the thing into a circus.Inside, Joan is
led to confront a group of all-male judges who question her about her choice of
clothing (she dresses as a “boy”), her sexual orientation, her alleged
communication with the Lord, and if she’s really consorting with the
Devil.Joan has an intelligent,
reasonable answer for every question, but the judges have one goal in
mind.They move on to a torture interrogation
and finally the sad conclusion that would be the basis for Joan’s Sainthood.
Cinema Retro was invited to the special preview screening
of the new documentary film My Generation, which is to be screened with a
Q&A with narrator Sir Michael Caine in selected cinemas throughout the UK on
March 14th 2018.
Lt. Gonville Bromhead, Harry Palmer, Jack
Carter, Charlie Croker and simply Alfie: these key names in British cinemaall have one thing in common- they all share
the iconic characteristics of one man and, bar Carter, all come from the latter
part of the era that defined him as one of the
“Faces” of the 60s, Sir Michael Caine. From A-Z, Alfie to Zulu, this is an
actor whose roles literally cover all the bases when it comes to memorable 60s cinema,
although, as Caine himself points out, “The 60s didn’t really end till 1971” so
that being the release date of Get Carter, we’ll happily include it in that
iconic “role call”.
There’s no better star to take us through a
documentary of what made the 60s the 60s than Caine. This is the era that
defined him and he knows all the other people who could easily have fronted
such an undertaking, many of whom feature in revealing conversations with the
once Maurice Micklewhite. Incidentally, he famously changed his name to Caine
after speaking to his agent from a phone box in Piccadilly and when asked for a
stage name, saw a sign for The Caine Mutiny starring his favourite actor Humphrey
Bogart and the rest is history- just like the documentary itself. “It’s a good
job I didn’t look up the other way” he says “As I don’t think Michael 101
Dalmatians has the same ring to it”.
The colleagues and friends I referred to whose
stories bring many of the still photographs of the time to life include David
Bailey, Paul McCartney, Marianne Faithfull, Roger Daltrey, Sandi Shaw, Donovan,
Penelope Tree and Terry O’Neill to name just a few. The title of the film, once
vocalized so memorably by Daltrey when he fronted The Who, now takes on a
greater meaning; one of reflection rather than the youthful disdain it once did
when Daltrey sang “Hope I die before I get old”. The lyric took on a different
meaning to me after seeing this documentary. I’d always wondered if its writer,
Pete Townshend, had ever regretted singing it so often, especially when he got
into his sixties, but now I see it very differently. The fact that the talking
heads aren’t seen as they are now in 2018 but simply vocalize images of their
younger selves is a master stroke by director David Batty. The wiser words of
hindsight of those featured stars, looking back at themselves as well as the
era as a whole, gives the piece genuine pathos. What I gleaned from this is
that fact that they may have aged but none of them really did get old. There’s
still a fire and a sense of amusement as they divulge their stories over the
footage of their younger selves. They now look upon this time and its seismic
changes with the same wonder and disbelief as the viewer does in 2018. As Caine
himself re iterates “The 60s was and is a mindset, not just a number”.
Michael Caine was and is the face of 1996
rather than just 1966 to me. This is because he was seen by this next
generation of “lads” as the ultimate symbol of Cool Britannia, the granddaddy
of hip. His face adorned just as many magazines as it had 30 years earlier and
the reason for that is that these pictures, like the decade they were taken
from, were seen as iconic; the time when Britain was the epicenter of fashion,
film and music. Simon Fuller, the man behind the Spice Girls in those Cool
Britannia days, kept pushing the idea of this documentary film to Caine. It
took three years to complete due to Caine’s still incredibly busy acting
The Daily Mail reports that British scientists are working with Disney to help reverse the deterioration of classic animated film cells used to create cinematic masterpieces. The original cells were painstakingly created by teams of artists and craftsmen to "animate" Disney films from the early days of the company through the release of "The Little Mermaid" in 1989. This was the era in which CGI effects had not been perfected. Single cells from Disney films that have surfaced in the private collectors market bring many thousands of dollars on auction circuits. However, Disney maintains the bulk of the cells, which are deteriorating with age. The scientists have methods to stop the deterioration and to ensure that this priceless aspect of film history will be preserved properly for generations to come. Click here to read.
Kino Lorber has released the 1945 film "Hangover Square", directed by John Brahm, as a Blu-ray special edition. George Harvey Bone (Laird Cregar) is a sensitive,
talented composer who has been working very hard, perhaps too hard, on a new
concerto for piano. A well-known conductor (Alan Napier) thinks it’s a worthy
piece of music and is going to debut it at Symphony Hall once it’s finished.
The conductor’s daughter Barbara (Faye Marlowe) not only adores George’s music,
she adores him as well. Sounds like an ideal situation, but in this 1945 20th
Century Fox film noir, you know things are not going to work out very well. You
see, George has a problem. He has blackouts that are caused whenever there are
loud dissonant noises around him. And when he blacks out he kills people.
The film actually starts with a murder scene. We see
George stabbing an antiques shopkeeper to death and setting the place on fire
(fire is a major motif in the film). He escapes before the police can catch him
and walks through the foggy London Streets to his home on Hangover Square,
where he finds Barbara and her father trying out his unfinished concerto. He’s
forgotten what he just did but when he sees a newspaper headline (they printed
them fast in those days), he has a bad feeling that he might have done
something naughty. He tells Barbara about his misgivings and decides to go see
Dr. Allan Middleton (George Sanders) a forensic psychologist who works for the
police. Middleton does some tests on George’s clothes and the knife he found in
his possession and tells him there’s no evidence of any connection with the
murder. But he’s still concerned about George having these weird blackouts. He
tells him he needs to get some rest, relax, and get away from that damned
concerto for a while. Turns out to be the worst doctor’s advice ever.
George goes out to unwind at a local music hall and gets
an eye full of Netta Longdon (Linda Darnell), a singer/dancer and a
card-carrying member of the International League of Femmes Fatales. In fact,
she’s probably president of the local chapter. George is flattered when she
pays a little attention to him after finding out he’s a composer. She’s trying
to make a name for herself on the stage and needs some new songs. She coaxes
George to write some tunes for her. Being a totally naïve sucker who never had
much experience with women, other than the decent Barbara, he’s totally out of
his league with Netta, who has several other guys on leashes, including her
piano player and a handsome playboy type she meets one night while in George’s
One night, amidst this abuse, he’s walking home in that
perpetual 20th Century Fox fog and a horse- drawn wagon carrying
steel pipes hits a ditch and the loud cacophony of the pipes hitting the ground
sends George off into another one of his spells and you know what happens. What
I like about “Hangover Square” is that there is no explanation for why George
has blackouts whenever he hears discordant sounds. It’s just how it is.
Something in his brain is screwed up and, I suppose, being a musician, he’s
sensitive to sound. If they did a remake today, you’d have tons of psychobabble,
and flashback scenes of how his parents abused him when he was a baby, blowing
loud duck calls in his face in the bathtub or something similar. There’s none
of that. There’s the gimmick of the loud noises and flashbacks and that’s it.
Anyway, George starts neglecting the concerto and Barbara
and finds himself consumed by Netta and her insatiable demands for music. That
might have been okay, except every time he tries to get close to her, spend
some time alone with her, she’s always busy, or has a headache (or has a date
with another guy). Frustration builds up and explodes when George goes to her
apartment and asks her to marry him so he can devote all his time to her and
discovers she’s actually going to marry that slick playboy rat. Bad mistake. I won’t
tell you what happens next and it’s not what you think. Not right away. There’s
actually still a lot of the movie left. A lot of it is taken up with George debuting
his concerto. The soundtrack score, including the concerto for “Hangover Square”
was written by the inestimable Bernard Herrmann. There’s music throughout the
film, with scenes of Laird Cregar at the keyboard actually playing some of it.
The big scene at the end features 10 minutes of the concerto, a significant
piece of film music in its own right.
hindsight, the most enjoyable thing about Manhattan
Murder Mystery was Diane Keaton’s return to co-star with Woody Allen in what
will most likely be their last screen appearance together. Released in 1993, Murder Mystery was Allen’s obvious
attempt to regain public favor after an acrimonious split with Mia Farrow and
the surrounding uproar of allegations and custody battles. Keaton’s presence
served to remind us that the old chemistry between the two actors could still
generate sparks, and it did.
critics at the time commented that the pair could have been playing the characters
of Annie and Alvy (from Annie Hall) sixteen
years later, now settled in an imperfect, but comfortable, marriage. In fact,
much of the plot of Manhattan Murder
Mystery was originally a part of Annie
Hall! That 1977 classic, co-written by Allen and Marshall Brickman,
contained not only the Annie/Alvy love story but also a murder mystery the
couple attempts to solve. Eventually that was all thrown out of Annie Hall (thank goodness!). Years
later, Allen and Brickman decided to resurrect the discarded plot elements and
fashion a brand-new script in which a couple like Annie and Alvy—now middle-aged—get themselves embroiled in
(Allen) and Carol (Keaton) live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan (where
else?) and meet their apartment building neighbors, Paul (Jerry Adler) and
Lillian (Lynn Cohen). The next day, Lillian has died of a heart attack. Larry
and Carol notice that Paul doesn’t seem too broken up about it. Furthermore,
Carol discovers an urn full of ashes in Paul’s kitchen, even after Paul has
said that Lillian was buried in their “twin cemetery plots.” Enter Larry and
Carol’s friend Ted (Alan Alda), who encourages Carol’s imaginative speculation
that Paul murdered his wife. Larry’s client, Marcia (Anjelica Huston), gets into
the act as well, and the foursome embark on exposing Paul’s nefarious scheme
that involves a series of lies, a mistress, and his wife’s twin sister.
plot is far-fetched, but Allen treats the material as a farce anyway. It works well
enough. Much of the fun of the picture is watching Allen and Keaton as their
characters do astonishingly stupid things, such as when Carol, thinking Paul is
out of the building for a while, sneaks into his apartment to snoop. Of course,
Paul returns, forcing her to hide under the bed and lose her glasses at the
has included references to cinema history that are a lot of fun—clips from
Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944)
and Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai (1947)—inform
the story with thematic and visual motifs. There are laughs, to be sure, but Manhattan Murder Mystery does not rank
among Allen’s best comedies. It’s enjoyable fluff, and perhaps that was all it
was meant to be.
Time’s limited-edition Blu-ray (only 3000 units) looks very nice in its 1080p
High Definition transfer, showing off Carlo Di Palma’s colorful cinematography
and New York City landmarks that are always a treat in a Woody Allen film. The
audio is 1.0 DTS-HD MA, with an isolated score and effects track. The
theatrical trailer is the only supplement.
for a lightweight romp around the Big Apple, Manhattan Murder Mystery will please fans of Allen and, especially,
wasn’t what audiences expected from a “Martin Scorsese Picture.” A period
“costume drama” with no violence, bloodshed, or curse words? And yet Scorsese
himself described it as one of his most violent films.
is true, perhaps, when one considers the emotional
violence that occurs between the characters in this beautifully-rendered,
but curiously lifeless adaptation of Edith Wharton’s 1920 novel about New York high
society and manners in the 1870s.
many ways, The Age of Innocence is
one side of a Scorsese coin that includes Gangs
of New York on the other. They both take place in Manhattan in roughly the
same time frame (Gangs is in the
1860s) and focus on two extremes of the social ladder—the upper crust in Age, and the lower class in Gangs.
story is simple—Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a member of New York’s
high society set. He’s a quiet, introverted, but good-looking man who could
probably have any lady he wants. But he has settled on May Welland (Winona
Ryder), a straight-laced younger woman who is practically his equal in
temperance. Enter May’s cousin, Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer), who has come
home from Europe after a bad marriage and—shocking!—is
planning a divorce. In high society of the time, that was tantamount to marking
a woman with a scarlet “A.” Newland becomes infatuated with her and almost
calls off the marriage to May. The gossip mill begins, and lives roll into
turmoil. Does Newland end up doing the right thing by dropping Ellen and
keeping his promise to May? Do we care? In the interest of a no-spoiler review,
I won’t answer either question.
lies the main problem with The Age of
Innocence. While Day-Lewis is easily one of our greatest modern actors, his
role here does not give him much to do but to look forlornly at the two women
in his life. Yes, there is torment in his soul, and the two female leads go
through the same sentiments—but revealing
those emotions was forbidden by society. It was what people did not say to each other that contained the
weight of conflict. It was all kept inside. And, thus, it’s all kept inside the
In my critique of the 90th annual Academy Awards ceremony, I criticized the Academy and host Jimmy Kimmel for wasting valuable air time on an elaborat (and unfunny) comedy sketch that deprived viewers from seeing some of the honorees who had received Oscars earlier at a ceremony hosted by the Academy's Governors. Among them was one of the world's finest and most enduring actors- Donald Sutherland, who surprisingly never received a nomination despite giving movie lovers a rich selection of characterizations ranging from those found in screwball comedies to intense dramas. Sutherland delivered a humorous, classy and gracious acceptance speech that viewers never got to see. However, we found this clip of his entire speech that was made available by the Academy. In fairness, the Academy argues that by giving their honorary awards away from the main ceremony, it allows the recipients to speak at length and not be bound by artificial time demands. That's a valid point. However, our guess is that most of the honorees would happily deliver shorter speeches in order to have their moment of glory shared with viewers around the globe.
"There's got to be a morning after" went the strains of the Oscar-winning song from the 1972 film "The Poseidon Adventure" and that somber warning always pertains to coverage of the Oscar events show itself. After last year's abysmal event that saw awful comedy bits, offensive omissions of major stars from the memorial tribute and the historic snafu in which the wrong film was initially announced for Best Picture, there was no where to go but up. Much of the success or failure of these shows rests on the back of the host. I thought it was going to be a mistake to bring back Jimmy Kimmel, as I was generally unimpressed with his performance last year. However, the second time was the charm- or almost. (More on that later). In general, this year's telecast was more tightly structured and moved at a faster clip even though it still ran about three-and-a-half hours. Helping matters was the fact that there was an exciting and highly diverse selection of films competing in the key categories and they boasted some brilliant performances by an eclectic array of actors. Gone are the days when viewers had to suffer through the mandatory opening musical production number, which was generally measured in terms of how misguided it proved to be. Kimmel started off with a witty dialogue that was surprisingly and refreshingly light on the political barbs in spite of the fact that the White House had just gone through a couple of miserable weeks that had brought out a surrealistic number of self-imposed scandals and crises.I had thought there would be so many quips about this that I expected to see President Trump's name listed among the key contributors to the show. (There were, however, some deep digs at Harvey Weinstein, who does not have a political base that can be offended.) However, I was relieved that Kimmel kept himself in check because I'm among those that think major awards shows should try to stick with the subject at hand: the work and the personalities involved in creating it. With Kimmel having decided to follow the old adage and "Leave the messages to Western Union", it fell upon others to promote diversity and equality. Great efforts were made in both areas with Best Actress winner Frances McDormand movingly calling for all female nominees to stand up. It was a moment that illustrated how fast and furiously Hollywood is moving to finally provide opportunities to females in the industry. Similarly, there were many minority artists on stage as presenters, performers and winners. I was glad to see triple-threat Jordan Peele, the director, writer and producer of the ingeniously quirky "Get Out", become the first African American to win the Best Original Screenplay award.
The awards dispensed during the show all went to worthy winners, though I would have liked to have seen "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" take home the Best Picture prize. Gary Oldman and Frances McDormand were popular, if predictable, winners based on their superb performances. "The Shape of Water" took Best Picture, as did its director Guillermo del Toro. The elaborate presentations for Best Song just emphasized the strengths and weaknesses of each of the nominees in this category, as the songs themselves ranged from pleasant to dreadful, which is often the norm. The show was moving along swimmingly until Jimmy Kimmel took viewers and participants on a major, ill-advised detour just as he had last year by introducing an elaborate gag in which people in an adjoining movie theater were used as unknowing props when Kimmel brought an array of celebrities from the Oscars ceremony next door to surprise them. Incredibly, it was a variation of the same awful shtick he pulled off the previous year. There's something rather condescending about bringing in a boatload of rich people to dispense candy and hot dogs to the grateful masses. It's like watching benevolent nobles toss some trinkets to their loyal serfs. Worse, the gag ate up valuable air time that could have been used for more appropriate purposes. Earlier in the show Kimmel made a snide remark about showing some of those honored with Oscars being dismissed with "blink-and-you-miss-them" clips from a ceremony that had been held previously. He correctly needled the Academy for pointing out that these artists and technicians, who would have once been allowed on stage at the "real" event, were now excluded. But his hypocrisy was revealed when he launched his dopey sight gag later. If you think I'm being a grump then ask yourself if it was more appropriate to spend time showing Kimmel and company tossing food to audience members or have the opportunity to see and hear Donald Sutherland accepting the Governor's Award for lifetime achievement.
The segment that honors artists who passed away in the last year should also be retired. Although sensitively presented and well-edited, the number of inexcusable exclusions is now almost downright offensive. Yes, it's great to honor those who make the cut (I counted three personal friends in the montage of artists who have left us in the last year), but if you can't extend the segment for even another few minutes in order to include other worthy honorees, then let's just eliminate it altogether. (The Academy does provide a more comprehensive tribute on their web site. Click here to view).
In viewing the first half hour of the 1970 British May/December romance Say Hello to Yesterday, I was sorely tempted to hit the "eject" button the DVD player and pass this title along to one of our other reviewers who might not have such an immediate disdain for the film. Why did I have such a visceral reaction? Because I could not recall a romantic film that featured such an irritating, annoying leading man, in this case played by Leonard Whiting. From the very opening sequence which introduces him as the somewhat estranged son from London who drops in, unannounced and uninvited, on his birthday to visit his working class mother and father. The reception he receives is a rather cool one. He accompanies his dad as the older man makes his daily trek to some rather Orwellian-looking dead end job in an industrial plant. At first, your tempted to to sympathize with this unnamed lad, given his father's constant criticisms about the way he is leading his life. The elder man accuses his son of being a shiftless grifter who can only enjoy the bright lights of the big city by mooching off of friends and acquaintances. The younger man dismisses the criticisms and remains so perpetually cheerful and jolly that you soon begin to resent him, too. The scenes depicting the young man's strained home life give way to his taking a commuter train back to London. On board is a forty-something, attractive woman (Jean Simmons), whose character also remains unnamed during the course of the story. (For the sake of convenience, I will very creatively refer to them as "the man" and "the woman"). A brief introduction to her home life makes it clear that she is a typical suburban housewife with a successful husband and a couple of kids. Outwardly, you can see she lives a comfortable life and doesn't want for materialistic things. However, her body language conveys the fact that she is not satisfied with her lot in life, as she coldly bids her husband goodbye. She's off to spend an entire day in London, ostensibly to go shopping and to have tea with her mother. Yet, the viewer can immediately sense that her real purpose is to temporarily escape her rather mundane daily routine.
On board the train, the man, who is in his about twenty years old, is chatting up an attractive girl his own age when he spots the woman sitting in a crowded passenger compartment, surrounded by stuffy businessmen. He is intrigued by the fact that she obviously wants to smoke but has been consigned to a non-smoking compartment. He is amused by the fact that she is trying to unobtrusively peel the "No Smoking" decal from the compartment window. He is also immediately infatuated by her, despite their age difference. (Who can blame him? She's Jean Simmons!) Soon, they meet cute but she isn't interested for good reason. The man comes across as an obnoxious case of arrested development, badgering everyone in the compartment with juvenile and cynical quips. She finds him slightly amusing, but when she discovers he is following in her footsteps around London shops, she becomes exasperated- especially when his flirting ritual includes causing an embarrassing commotion in a department store. Soon, she is running through the streets of London with the man in pursuit and a posse of good samaritans chasing him down, thinking he intends to harm the woman. In the end, he finally catches up with her and uses his charm to begin to win her over. By this point in the story, credibility goes out the window. The woman is obviously cultured and intelligent and it defies reason that she would put up such a grating would-be paramour simply because he's young and hunky. The man is the human equivalent of nails scraping on a blackboard. Yet, I persevered, if only because the performances by Seberg and Whiting were so engaging. A strange thing happened along the way: I became increasingly engrossed in the story and fate of the characters. Whiting is on hyper-ventilation mode most of the time but in the few sequences in which he talks calmly to the woman, he tells poignant and moving stories about his tragic past. Yet, she suspects- and so do we- that these may be tall tales, because it seems this modern Walter Mitty is also a compulsive liar. Nevertheless, his infatuation with the woman flatters her, even though she repeatedly attempts to escape his company. Yet, even buses and taxis won't deter him. (He catches up with the taxi and jumps on the running board in an act that is supposed to be charming but would strike most women as the action of a potential serial killer.)
The film was clearly inspired by David Lean's 1946 masterpiece Brief Encounter, in which two everyday people begin to fall in love after a chance meeting at a train station. The resemblance ends there, however, as the man in this story is a far cry from the sober, sane and classy character played by Trevor Howard in the Lean production. The plot consists of the woman alternately accepting the man's company, then trying to repel him. She is outraged when he secretly follows her to her mother's apartment and barges in to introduce herself. In an amusing plot twist, the mother (wonderfully played in a wry turn by Evelyn Laye) thinks the young man is her daughter's lover. She not only accepts this but encourages her daughter to carry on with secret liaisons with him, confessing to her astonished daughter that she, too, had enjoyed an affair decades ago. ("It was a long war", she says ruefully). Ultimately, the man and woman do decide to consummate their one-day affair, though by this time the woman is still of decidedly mixed emotions. She feels a sense of guilt. As with the straying married woman in The Bridges of Madison County, she recognizes that her husband is a good man and that the "crime" of being dull shouldn't justify a sexual affair with a man she has just met. In the film's best sequence, they gain access to rental flat and go through the always-awkward process human beings have to engage in when they bed a lover for the first time. This prolonged sequence is the heart of the movie and leads to emotional rollercoasters for both the man and the woman, as he tries to persuade her to leave her humdrum existence for the fun, yet insecure, life he would provide. By this time, I found myself completely engaged in the story line and caring about how matters would be resolved.
Director Alvin Rakoff is to be credited for the sensitive handling of this material. He also deserves high praise for shooting mostly on location, which provides some stunning views of London in 1970. Simmons and Whiting are both terrific and the latter can't be blamed for the fact that his character never really matures beyond the state of a "man-child". The film features a lush musical score by Riz Orolani and some chirpy pop love songs that make The Archies' "Sugar Sugar" seem cutting-edge. Nevertheless, the film does boast some superb cinematography by the late, great Geoffrey Unsworth and it's a rich looking production throughout.
Scorpion Entertainment has released a first-rate special edition DVD of this modest film that most retro movie lovers probably never even heard of. Film historian Tony Sloman does yeoman work on the commentary track with Rakoff, who is refreshingly candid about his criticisms of various aspects of the movie, including the title, which he disdains to this day. Rakoff tells some marvelous anecdotes that sometimes divert from the film at hand, but are nonetheless interesting. They involve frustrations that emerged when working with Bette Davis, who felt she didn't need any direction. He also recounts getting fired from films because of creative differences with the powers-that-be. He is nonetheless proud of Say Hello to Yesterday, though he admits to cringing at some of the man's over-the-top comedic antics. He rightly lavishes praise on Jean Simmons, pointing out that although "cougars" might be all the rage today, it was considered daring to present a love story in 1970 in which a young man is involved with an older woman. Rakoff says that Simmons was self-conscious because she felt she had "bad legs", thus she shows only a glimpse of them above her boots. He also bemoans the fact that Whiting should have had a very successful career in films, but it inexplicably petered out shortly after this movie was released. Rakoff also tells interesting stories about filming in London and points out a brief walk-by cameo done by Rod Steiger, much to Tony Sloman's amazement. Both men are rather astounded at how sparse the traffic and crowds were in the London of this era- a far cry from the teeming masses that populate the city today. The special edition also includes the original trailer.
Say Hello to Yesterday is in many ways a flawed film but it is nonetheless a highly engaging one. Recommended, especially if you are as enamored of retro British cinema as I am.
Orchids for Miss Blandish premiered in London in 1948, it created controversy
that extended all the way to British Parliament. The Monthly Film Bulletin called the movie “the most sickening
exhibition of brutality, perversion and sex ever shown on a cinema screen.” The Saturday Pictorial called it “a
piece of nauseating muck.” The Observer’s
reviewer wrote: “This film has all the morals of an alley cat and the sweetness
of a sewer.” Some politicians were also offended. The Parliamentary Secretary
to the Ministry of Food said that the film “was likely to pervert the minds of
the British people.” Eventually, the British Board of Film Censors was
compelled to offer an apology for approving the film’s production.
Attempts to release the movie in the United
States by distributor Richard Gordon were met with threats by the New York
Censor Board as well as the Customs Department to confiscate it. Gordon had to
bring the movie into the country through New Orleans but it would still take three
years of bargaining and the removal of 12 minutes of objectionable scenes to
obtain approval for exhibition. Nevertheless, the edited version was still greeted
with harsh reviews. Time called it,
“ludicrous claptrap from a claptrap novel.” The
New York Times chastised it as “an awkward attempt on the part of the English
to imitate Hollywood’s gangster formula.”
The critical disdain has never stopped. In
the multi-volume reference work, The
Motion PictureGuide,Jay Robert Nash and Stanley Ralph Ross
write “This a sick exercise in sadism (and) is about as wretched as they come.”
The annual Halliwell’sFilm Guide summarizes the movie as “hilariously
awful (and) one of the worst films ever made.”
The movie is based upon the 1939 novel of the
same name by British author James Hadley Chase that was called everything from pulp
trash to borderline pornography. When it was published in America three years
later, it received equally terrible reviews with many critics accusing the
author of plagiarizing William Faulkner’s 1931 novel, Sanctuary. The novel concerns the daughter of a wealthy Kansas City
businessman who is kidnapped by the notorious Grisson gang, led my Ma Grisson
and her psychopathic son, Slim; she is subsequently subjected to repeated rapes
by Slim while in a drug-induced stupor. (Note: when Robert Aldrich directed his
film version in 1971, he changed the name from Grisson to Grissom for The Grissom Gang.)
After several attempts to film the novel were
aborted by the BFFC, producer George Minter signed playwright St. John Clowes
to write a script that eventually was approved. The script eliminated much of the
novel’s sleaze but, as it turned out, not enough. Clowes, who had directed one
previous film, also signed on to direct. Casting proved to be difficult because
of the novel’s notoriety. After several Hollywood actresses refused the role,
Minter signed British actress Linden Travers who had played Miss Blandish in
the London stage version which had been a huge success in 1942. (As in the
novel, Miss Blandish’s first name is never revealed.) For the role of Slim
Grisson, Minter hired Hollywood actor Jack La Rue whose most famous role had ironically
been as the gangster/rapist called Trigger in The Story of Temple Drake, the 1933 film version of Sanctuary. Due to that film’s infamy, La
Rue’s career had subsequently stalled and he had been reduced to playing bit
parts until he accepted the role of Slim Grisson.
Clowes changes the setting of the story from
1930s Kansas City to 1940s New York City and converts the sordid tale into a
love story. Slim Grisson is still a killer but is also a sensitive gangster who
has always had a torch for the heiress. Instead of being held prisoner and
sexually abused, Miss Blandish chooses to voluntarily stay with her captor and
become his lover. The other members of the Grisson gang remain murderous thugs who
become furious over Slim’s refusal to demand ransom from his paramour’s father;
this will lead to carnage within the gang. Mr. Blandish also undergoes some
changes from a cold patriarch to a caring father who longs for his daughter’s
return. Dave Fenner, the private detective of the novel, becomes a
wise-cracking reporter who discovers the culpability of the Grisson gang and
becomes their target. Meanwhile, the police are determined to end the gang’s
reign of terror. With all of these forces against their alliance, the lovers’
plan to escape to another country is doomed.
Regarding the controversy, the film contains numerous
scenes of depraved criminals committing acts of brutality along with periodic
scenes of suggestive sexual interludes among various characters. What particularly
shocked British gentry was the suggestion that an aristocratic woman would not
only voluntarily elect to have a sexual relationship with someone beneath her
social class but would actually enjoy it. This was simply unacceptable. Also, the
film’s depiction of a gang of killers with no redeeming qualities angered
social reformers who believed that lawbreakers were products of their
environment and could be rehabilitated if taken away from such milieu. Furthermore,
many British film critics disapproved of the popularity of Hollywood gangster
films and resented the idea of a home-based film emulating this despised genre.
Thus, the condemnation of the film was at least in part due to factors other
than the quality of the movie.
There were so many fine films released last year that it's difficult to call any clear cut favorite for the Oscars. Guillermo del Toro's "The Shape of Water" seems to have the momentum, but one should not underestimate "Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri", a British film that perfectly captures the look and feel of a small town American community. Like Guillermo's movie, "Billboards" presents a superlative role for a mature actress, this time in the form of Frances McDormand, who gives the performance of her career as Mildred, a no-nonsense independent woman who has recently divorced her philandering husband, who is carrying on with an air-headed beauty young enough to be his daughter. Mildred is trying to juggle her threadbare financial existence by working in a charity shop and scrounging to put food on the table for her teenage son. However, she is obsessed with a family tragedy that permeates every moment of her day. We learn that she had another teenage child, a daughter, who was killed seven months ago when she was accosted on a remote road, raped and horribly murdered. When we first meet Mildred, she is all-to-apparently carrying the weight of that incident on her broad shoulders and she is obsessed with finding her daughter's killer. She's fed up with what she feels is lack of progress on the part of local police chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), who she suspects has let the case go cold. Willoughby maintains he and his small department are doing all they can but there are few clues to follow up on. Mildred decides to take drastic, if unorthodox, action by renting out three billboards that sit abandoned on a road rarely traveled by locals since a highway rendered it superfluous. She puts up insulting messages to the chief in the hope it might shame him into being more assertive in solving the case. The tactic unleashes a backlash of bad will in her direction. Willoughby is a popular figure in the town and any sympathy Mildred's tragic situation has elicited from her neighbors vanishes overnight. She becomes the object of everyone's anger and she can find solace only among a couple of loyal friends. Her main antagonist is Dixon (Sam Rockwell), one of Willoughby's deputies. He's an uncouth hard ass who is determined to defend the department's honor by taking on Mildred personally through harassment and insults. The end result is to bring the simmering tensions to a boil in a spectacular, if misguided, act of violence on the part of Mildred.
I don't want to divulge too much more about the plot because the main strength of writer/director Martin McDonagh's screenplay is its sheer unpredictability. Every time you think you know where the plot is heading, McDonagh takes you in a different direction. Friends become enemies, enemies become allies. McDormand is a cinematic force of nature in the leading role. She's not entirely sympathetic, as she uses her barbed-wire wit to attack friend and foe alike. We later learn there is an additional emotional burden on her that can never be resolved: she feels a sense of personal responsibility for her daughter's fate. Refreshingly, the three main characters are not presented as stereotypes. If Mildred is the protagonist we are rooting for, she is also a flawed human being who seems at times to be devoid of any feeling of rapprochement even when Willoughby offers her every imaginable olive branch. He's a decent man with his own family and he's also carrying his own secret burden. Dixon, however, is initially presented as a bumbling Deputy Barney Fife-like character but with a sadistic streak. The interactions between these characters make for some fascinating scenarios that are brought to life by three actors who give the performances of their careers. (McDormand, Harrelson and Rockwell are all up for Oscars.) The film is also peppered with some truly remarkable performances by a supporting cast that seems cherry-picked to perfection. Among them is Peter Dinklage, who provides some much-needed humanity and gentleness.
I don't know how Three Billboards will fare at the Oscars, but it's my choice for Best Picture. Martin McDonagh has provided us with a highly original and compelling work (and it has a great soundtrack, too).
was the film that convinced audiences and critics alike that Jane Fonda could
act. After appearing throughout the Sixties in glamour-girl and comic roles (Cat Ballou, Barbarella) that barely scratched the surface of what this talented
actress could do, along came They Shoot
Horses, Don’t They?, which featured a tough, cynical, mean-spirited, and
take-no-prisoners Jane Fonda as Gloria, a down-on-her-luck contestant in a
Depression-era marathon dance contest. The showy role resulted in her first
Best Actress Oscar nomination.
picture also awarded Sydney Pollack his first Directing nomination; in fact,
the film received a total of nine Oscar nominations, including Adapted
Screenplay, Supporting Actress (Susannah York), and Supporting Actor (Gig
Young, who won); but it did not, curiously, land a Best Picture nod. It
dance marathon contests in the early 1930s were an American display of
spectacle and madness. On the one hand, they provided cheap entertainment for
audiences who wanted to watch the progression of misery as dancers remained on
their feet (aside from occasional ten-minute breaks for food and very rare
longer breaks) for hours, days, weeks… until one couple was left standing. On
the other hand, it provided some kind hope for the contestants themselves, as
the payout was a whopping $1500—a big chunk of change in Depression-stricken
(Fonda) matches up with Robert (Michael Sarrazin) by default. There’s also
Alice (York), a Jean Harlow wannabe, aging former Navy man Harry (Red Buttons),
and married couple James and pregnant Ruby (Bruce Dern and Bonnie Bedelia). The
proceedings are MC’d with ringmaster showmanship and a canny sense of sardonicism
by Rocky (Young, who is marvelous in his award-winning role). “Yowza, yowza,
yowza!” he calls into the microphone, as the contestants go through hell in the
guise of showbiz.
the picture was released in 1969, it provided a social commentary that was a
metaphor for life itself—that we’re competing in a never-ending marathon of
hardship until you either drop out, drop dead, or win the big prize. The final
irony is that the big prize isn’t such a big prize after all. Not a feel-good
movie, to be sure, but certainly a thoughtful statement on the human condition.
Pollack’s direction is superb, an early indication of the long career he would
have in Hollywood.
The year 2017 was a particularly gratifying one in terms of watching a virtual tidal wave of impressive young talent emerge both on screen and behind the cameras. It was also a year in which the major studios finally afforded a good number of talented females plum leading roles. The one constant, however, is that while the major studios became even more obsessed with tentpole franchise films based on comic book characters, it fell to the smaller, more creative independent films to remind us of just how wondrous cinema can still be. Case in point: "Lady Bird", which has received numerous major Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress. If you think the movie is the biography of President Lyndon Johnson's wife, known affectionately by one and all as "Lady Bird", you're in for a rude awakening. The film marks the directorial debut of 34 year-old actress/writer Greta Gerwig, and she has come through with flying colors. The film is a bittersweet comedy/drama set in the early 2000s and centering on Christina McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), a senior in a Catholic high school who dreams of grand achievements that include leaving her hometown of Sacramento, California and heading east to the Big Apple where she wants to attend college and begin making her mark on society. She is fiercely independent, self-confidant (a bit too self-confidant), highly intelligent and in possession of a sarcastic wit that all too often strays into the realm of outright cynicism. So desperate is Christina to establish her own unique identity that she insists upon being called "Lady Bird", although the name doesn't seem to have any significant meaning beyond Christina thinking it has some sort of profound impact.
When we first meet Lady Bird, she is grappling with the challenges that senior year presents to most kids her age. She is eager to move into adulthood but not quite as well-equipped to do so as she might imagine. She's likeable, funny but also somewhat narcissistic. She is trying unsuccessfully to cope with the fractious relationship she has with her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf), a hardworking nurse who often seems tone deaf to her daughter's dreams and ambitions. At a time when a teenager's quests in life are usually encouraged by their family, Lady Bird gets a daily dose of reality tossed in her face. Her mother eschews her plans to apply to notable universities on the east coast, reminding her that they are literally living on the other side of the tracks from most of Lady Bird's more affluent friends. Indeed, the family is barely clinging to vestiges of the lower middle class. Lady Bird has a hands-off relationship with her brother (Jordan Rodrigues) and his girlfriend (Marielle Scott), who was invited to live with the family when she fell on hard times. Both indulge in the goth look that would make them seem at home in the Addams Family mansion. It puts a chasm between them and Lady Bird, who argues often with them and her mother. The only respite or sympathy she finds in the household is from her adoring dad, Larry (wonderfully portrayed by acclaimed playwright Tracy Letts). They share a gentle, humorous relationship that masks over the fact that he's got a world of trouble of his own, having just been fired from his job. (In one of the film's most disturbing scenes, the ever-desperate Larry goes on a long-shot job interview only to find himself competing with his own son). However, the core of the film focuses on the mother/daughter relationship and captures it in a way most mothers and daughters can relate to. They are both fundamentally decent people who care for and love each other but neither is particularly open to seeing life from the other's viewpoint. They spend most of their time caught up in emotionally-shattering debates and verbal duels. Lady Bird needs her dreams to be nurtured. Her mom understandably wants some recognition that she is working herself to death just to keep a roof over everyone's heads. At school, Lady Bird finds more frustrations. Her school adviser seems immune to reading her desires for higher education. Her frumpy but sweet girlfriend Jule (a marvelous Beanie Feldstein) is someone who has already thrown in the towel in terms of achieving her life's ambitions. Lady Bird angles for a good role in the senior class stage musical but finds nothing but irritants. She's determined to have sex before she graduates but her hunky first boyfriend turns out to be too good to be true. She latches on to a creepy intellectual (Timothee Chalamet, an Oscar nominee this year for "Call Me By Your Name") and ends up losing her virginity on the basis of his deception.
Greta Gerwig's script and direction are pitch perfect. One assumes the only logical reason that the film is set in the early 2000s is because that's when she attended high school. If that's the inspirational motive for the setting, fine with me. It allows us to revisit the last time period in which people still conversed with one another instead of gazed endlessly into a cell phone. Gerwig also gets a star-making performance from Saoirse Ronan, who won acclaim for her performance in "Brooklyn" a few years ago. However, it is this role at the tender age of 23 that stands to make her a major player in the film industry. She is matched by Laurie Metcalf, who has justifiably snared a Best Supporting Actress nomination. Even the minor roles are wonderful enacted. The film bristles with domestic tensions but ends on a beautiful and poignant note. "Lady Bird" is a film by women and about women, but it's appeal extends to anyone who appreciates great movie making.
Husbands and Wives was released in
September 1992, the news was full of the Woody Allen/Mia Farrow/Soon-Yi Previn
scandal, which had recently broken. The studio, Tri-Star, seemingly rushed the
release of the film to capitalize on the gossip, and, as a result, the picture
did pretty good box office (better than Allen’s previous two films). Although
the public found out about Allen’s dalliance with Farrow’s adopted daughter a
little later, Farrow discovered it at some point during the filming of Husbands and Wives. Talk about what must
have been a tense set...!
so this is a case in which a reviewer can’t look at a movie without the
real-life baggage encroaching on the evaluation. In fact, I’ll argue that it’s
impossible not to do so.
said, Husbands and Wives is one of
Woody Allen’s greatest—albeit darkest—works. It might be his most insightful,
honest, and disturbingly analytical treatise on affairs of the heart,
especially as they apply to American—and specifically New York City—upper and
upper-middle-class men and women.
a “reality TV” approach to the way it’s shot and directed, with hand-held
cameras and a narrator/interviewer (the voice of Jeffrey Kurland, the costume designer of the film!), who elicits
commentary from the characters outside the main action of the story. This was a
revelation at the time, since the concept of reality television had been only teased
on MTV during the 1980s and had not fully developed as a primetime phenomenon.
Allen’s regular director of photography, Carlo Di Palma, provides a gritty,
jerky, documentary feel to the proceedings, and it works beautifully.
(Allen) and Judy (Farrow) are married with no children. He’s a college
professor in literature. Their best friends Jack (Sydney Pollack) and Sally
(Judy Davis) are a couple that announces at the beginning of the film that they
are getting divorced. They’re both ostensibly okay with that, but Judy and Gabe
are shocked and upset. Jack and Sally, throughout the film, begin to date
others. Jack sees Sam (Lysette Anthony), a much younger aerobics teacher who is
intellectually incompatible with him. Judy matches Sally with Michael (Liam
Neeson), although Judy has the hots for Michael herself. Sally is too neurotic
and so-not-ready for dating again that it doesn’t work out with Michael.
Meanwhile, Gabe becomes infatuated with a very
young college student, Rain (Juliette Lewis), who has a history of dating
this a film fraught with art-imitating-life syndrome, or what? Without
revealing how these romantic and not-romantic liaisons work out, let’s just say
that Allen consistently shows us ugly truths about lies, trust, and compromise.
Is it a comedy? Yes and no. There are laughs, but mostly this is a biting, dark
satire that is more akin to the works of, say, Jules Feiffer, than Woody Allen.
There are moments of sheer brilliance, and others that are too close to the
headlines for comfort.
the most revelatory statement in Husbands
and Wives is that Gabe, Allen’s character, refuses to take his involvement
with student Rain any further after one kiss (that she asks for on her birthday) because it’s “not right.” It’s
amazing that Allen’s character
performs with wiser moral integrity than Allen himself did in his personal
life, considering that the movie was written and made while he was courting a
much younger woman. Ironic, if anything.
Davis received a much-deserved Academy Award nomination for Supporting Actress
for her performance. Pollack (director of such works as Tootsie and Out of Africa),
too, is exceptional, and it’s a wonder why he never got more recognition for
his occasional acting stints. Jack and Sally’s story is the most engaging piece
of the film. Allen’s script, a striking piece of work, was nominated for
Time’s Blu-ray release looks and sounds exemplary, with its 1080p High
Definition transfer and 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The only
supplements are the theatrical trailer and an isolated music and effects track.
The essay in the booklet is by critic Julie Kirbo.
to only 3000 units, Husbands and Wives is
a collectors’ item that explores the hurricane that can exist within a relationship,
and one that blew up in the tabloids.
Joe Dante's addictive "Trailers from Hell" web site presents the original trailer for Jerry Lewis's 1964 madcap comedy "The Disorderly Orderly", one of his best solo efforts. The trailer has a commentary track by John Landis, who provides a lot of fun facts in the brief running time. For instance, he informs us that the film was shot at the famed Greystone Mansion, which was also where key scenes from the film "Westworld" were shot. On top of that, there are snippets of Sammy Davis Jr. singing the title song...
the old saying goes, “You can’t go home again.”Having seen Scream And Scream
Again decades ago, I remembered it as being thrilling and suspenseful... now,
47 years (!) after its release, not so much.The story is a hodgepodge of sci-fi and social commentary as a brusque
police inspector (Alfred Marks) and a curious doctor (Christopher Matthews)
investigate the brutal deaths of several young women, eventually connecting them
to a scientist (Vincent Price) who is creating synthetic humans using body
parts from unwilling live donors.Christopher Lee is the head of British Intelligence, whose agency is – I
think – secretly funding the experiments.A subplot with a sadistic official (Marshall Jones) from a fictional Eastern
European nation (think East Berlin) in collusion with the Brits is also in the
mix. (In an interview years later, even Vincent Price admitted he didn’t know
what the film was really about!)
directed by Gordon Hessler, who made a number of Price Edgar Allen Poe films
including The Oblong Box; Scream And Scream Again is a time
capsule of late 60s England:there are
several nightclub scenes featuring the then-popular Welsh band Amen Corner
singing away, with audience members gamely trying to look hip… one guesses the
object here was to contemporize things: “Look
Kids! No more stodgy castles!” Still,
there is a lot to recommend the film – the opening sequence of a hapless jogger
running through London, waking up several times to find more and more of his
limbs being removed is as effective now as it was in 1970, and Hessler’s use of
hand-held camera to put the audience IN the action was innovative for its time.Another standout sequence is a wonderful
faceoff between a nattily dressed Lee and Jones in Trafalgar Square. (Jones’
knit pom-pom cap remains a bold wardrobe choice for a hulking villain!)
Price and Lee are at the top of their game and if you’re a Christopher Lee fan,
there are many loving close-ups of his sneering visage. Unfortunately the
wonderful Peter Cushing is used in only one scene – blink and he’s gone.According to filmmaking lore, Vincent Price
insisted on doing his death scene (sinking into a vat of acid) himself.The harsh chemicals used in the fluid caused
him serious sinus problems for years.
Twilight Time DVD release is welcome for overcoming some longtime rights issues
and returning the original music to the film. The colors are crisp in 1080p HD
and the DVD is loaded with extras including a 23-minute documentary, Gentleman Gothic: Gordon Hessler At AIP, which
features an interview with Hessler, who passed in 2014, as well as film historians
discussing his work.There is also a
still file, radio spot, original trailer (which erroneously identifies actor Marshall Jones as the iconic Peter Cushing!) and a subtitled interview with German
actress Uta Levka, who played the impersonal “composite” nurse in the
film and an illustrated booklet with liner notes by historian Julie Kirgo.It’s safe to say, this will
forever be the definitive release of Scream and Scream Again!.
This is a region-free, limited edition of 3,000 units. Click here to order.
Gilbert on the set of the 1977 James Bond blockbuster The Spy Who Loved Me with production designer Ken Adam and producer Albert R. Broccoli at Pinewood Studios, London.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Cinema Retro mourns the news of director/producer Lewis Gilbert's death in London at age 97. Gilbert was a good friend to our magazine and gave what is probably his last interview to our correspondent Matthew Field several years ago. It ran in three consecutive issues of Cinema Retro (#'s18, 19 and 20).
Gilbert had a remarkable career that began early in life as a music hall performer and an actor in small roles in British films. During WWII he served in the RAF, producing and directing documentaries for the military. His first feature film as director was "The Little Ballerina", released in 1947. Gilbert toiled through directing low-budget, often undistinguished films, honing his craft along the way. He earned praise for his 1958 WWII-themed espionage film "Carve Her Name with Pride" and had a major hit in the WWII genre with the release of the 1960 film "Sink the Bismarck!" As Gilbert's clout in the industry rose, so, too did his production budgets. He directed the 1962 adventure film "Damn the Defiant!" (UK title: "H.M.S. Defiant") starring Alec Guinness and Dirk Bogarde followed by the 1964 Cold War thriller "The 7th Dawn" starring William Holden. He rose to even greater prominence by producing and directing the 1966 anti-Establshment comedy "Alfie", a major early hit for Michael Caine that was accorded great critical praise and numerous Oscar and BAFTA nominations. Gilbert proved to be eclectic in his abilities to move between genres. He was a seemingly unlikely choice to direct the 1967 James Bond epic "You Only Live Twice" starring Sean Connery, which was set in Japan, but the film was an enormous boxoffice success. Ten years later Gilbert returned to the Bond genre to direct Roger Moore in two back-to-back 007 films, "The Spy Who Loved Me" and "Moonraker". Both films were major international hits. Gilbert had also directed the 1970 big-budget screen adaptation of Harold Robbins' bestseller "The Adventurers", but it was a troubled production that flopped with critics and the public. In 1971 he directed a popular, small-budget teenage love story, "Friends" which featured original songs by Elton John early in his career. Four years later he directed the film's sequel, "Paul and Michelle". In 1980 he directed the sophisticated comedy "Educating Rita" which won Oscar nominations for Michael Caine and Julie Walters, followed by "Shirley Valentine" in 1989.
A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Stephen Spielberg directs another winner with "The Post", which covers in spellbinding detail the legal and political intrigue leading up to the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Then, as now, the New York Times and the Washington Post were locked in a professional competition, as the two symbols of the gold standard of American newspapers. The film begins with a brief segment set in 1966 in the battle zones of Vietnam as we watch military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) on a Pentagon mission to personally evaluate how the war is unfolding on the ground. Ellsberg is reporting to President Lyndon Johnson's Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood). The U.S. military presence which began modestly under presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy has been ratcheted up to new heights, with LBJ's administration pouring increasing numbers of troops and resources into beleaguered South Vietnam to thwart the invasion from the communist north. Ellsberg shares his findings with McNamara and they are not encouraging. He sees the U.S effort as stymied and incurring increasing costs in blood and treasure with only incremental, temporary gains on the battlefield. McNamara informs Ellsberg that he shares his conclusions but continues to assure the American public that things are going swimmingly and that victory is inevitable. Disillusioned, Ellsberg continues his services to the Pentagon while stateside and contributes to the massive study of the war that ultimately became known as the Pentagon Papers. He concluded that while the Johnson administration concurred the best America could hope for was a costly stalemate in Vietnam, the American public would continue to be mislead by the president and his key military personnel. Ultimately, Ellsberg- at great personal legal risk to himself- managed to photocopy the massive report and leak it to the New York Times, which began printing key aspects of the papers. The publication became an international sensation but the Times was served with an injunction by a judge to cease publication while the courts considered whether further aspects of the papers could be suppressed due to the fact that they were considered Top Secret documents by the Nixon administration.
With the Times fighting the administration in court, Washington Post editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) senses an opportunity to capitalize on his rivals' court-imposed inertia. The Post's assistant editor Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) suspects the leaker was Ellsberg, an old acquaintance. He gets Ellsberg to photocopy the papers he had originally given to the Times and turn them over to the Post- but this puts in play a legal and ethical dilemma. The Post is owned and run by Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep), a Washington socialite and heiress who inherited the newspaper from her revered late husband. The unspoken feeling among even her staffers is that a woman is not fully capable of running such a business. Indeed, the Post is facing financial hardships and Graham makes the difficult decision to raise capital by selling shares in the company. Bradlee imposes on her to take the moral initiative and allow the Post to print excerpts from the Pentagon Papers while the Times is precluded from doing so. The brilliant script by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer follows in painstaking detail the risks that Graham had to evaluate by doing so. The threat of inevitable legal action by the Nixon administration to keep the Papers suppressed might scare away investors and lead the Post into insolvency. Against this is Bradlee's compelling argument that a free press must reveal the lies that the American people have continued to be told by the current president and his military brass. (Note: although Nixon wasn't president when the Pentagon Papers were completed, he had good reason to keep them under wraps because he was continuing to follow the same practices as Johnson's administration and had made a campaign promise that he had a "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War when, in fact, he intended to keep escalating it).
Spielberg manages the difficult task of turning "The Post", which is enhanced by a typically fine score by John Williams, into a suspense-packed Cold War thriller despite the fact that we already know the outcome. It's no small feat and he's enabled by superb performances by Hanks and Streep, who plays Graham as a woman on the razor's edge of landmark historical decision. Ultimately, she decides to go for broke and defy the president by publishing the Papers in the hope that the Supreme Court will side with the Post on the basis that the American people have a right to know when they are being lied to by their elected officials. Nixon is only seen as distant figure through the White House windows but his presence looms large over the drama. When Graham finally gives permission to get the presses rolling with the story, it's the kind of rousing scene that draws cheers from audiences. Nixon would survive this scandal and go on to win a massive re-election victory the following year, but the publication of the Papers forced him to ultimately sue for peace and begin withdrawing American troops. Ironically, he would lock horns with the Post once again when the Watergate scandal unraveled in its pages- and lead to his political demise. It's all hinted at in the film's poignant epilogue.
At a time when the bastion of America's democracy- its free press- is once again under intense attack by politicians who may have a lot to hide, Spielberg's big wet kiss to the nation's "fourth estate" comes as a welcome reminder that real heroes aren't confined to battlefields but also can be found in the mundane settings of newsrooms.
"The Post" has been nominated for Best Picture and Best Actress (Meryl Streep).
2018 is the official centenary of Mickey Spillane, we at Cinema Retro thought it would be a good idea to examine this
excellent digest of the author’s works on the silver screen and on television.
and filmmaker Max Allan Collins (probably best-known for writing the graphic
novel Road to Perdition, the basis of
the 2002 film, but also author of 100+ other books) is the literary executor
for the estate of Mickey Spillane. Not only has he co-written this excellent
“bedside companion” on Spillane’s big-and-small screen adaptations, Collins has
co-authored/finished manuscripts originally begun by Spillane before his death
in 2006 at the age of 88. Co-author James L. Traylor has also had a long career
of writing critical analyses on crime authors and novels. One can be confident,
then, that in Mickey Spillane on Screen,
the authors know what they’re talking about.
Spillane wrote many popular hard-boiled—very
hard-boiled—crime novels published over five decades. His most-famous
character, detective Mike Hammer, first appeared in Spillane’s debut novel, I, the Jury (1947). Noted for its atypical
(for the time) sex and violence, the novel was not initially a success in
hardcover; but when it was published in paperback a couple of years later, it
became an international best-seller. Further Mike Hammer novels appeared, along
with books featuring other characters such as Tiger Mann and Morgan the Raider,
and stand-alone pulp fiction titles.
also had a love/hate affair with Hollywood. The first adaptation of I, the Jury was released in 1953
(featuring Biff Elliot as Hammer), directed by Harry Essex and produced by
Victor Saville, with whom Spillane had a long business relationship. Saville
would go on to produce three more pictures based on Spillane’s properties
(including one non-Hammer movie, The Long
a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction scenario, Spillane was also an actor—and he
played his own character, Mike Hammer, in the 1963 adaptation of his novel, The Girl Hunters, directed by Roy
Rowland. This U.K. production co-starred none other than Shirley Eaton, a year
before she appeared as the “Golden Girl” in the James Bond blockbuster, Goldfinger. Spillane’s first big screen
role was as himself in the crime drama, Ring
of Fear (produced by John Wayne’s production company) in 1954. Older
readers of Cinema Retro may remember
the Miller Lite TV commercials in which Spillane spoofed himself.
you know that there was a TV pilot made in 1954 by director Blake Edwards,
starring Brian Keith as Mike Hammer? This is a revelation I learned in reading Mickey Spillane on Screen.
Unfortunately, that pilot wasn’t picked up, but it was made available in a now
out-of-print DVD box set that Collins put together entitled The Black Box Collection—Shades of Neo-Noir
(2006). Perhaps you can find a copy on eBay or Amazon Marketplace.
book, which is illustrated with scenes from the films, is divided into sections that cover a brief biography of Spillane, the feature
films, and television adaptations. The latter, of course, examines the many
episodes (and TV movies) of the very popular Mike Hammer series (1984-1998) starring
Stacy Keach. The critiques and background stories behind the movies and
television series are thorough and spot-on. I agree with the authors that the
1955 Robert Aldrich masterwork, Kiss Me
Deadly, is perhaps the best Mike Hammer interpretation we ever got.
recommended for aficionados of crime films and television, Mickey Spillane on Screen is especially a love letter for the
author’s fans. Happy 100th Birthday, Mickey!
A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water illustrates just how far the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has evolved when it comes to recognizing major achievements in film genres that were once generally ignored when it came to Oscar recognition. The once-gentrified Academy would occasionally bow to popular sentiments and nominate blockbusters like The Exorcist, Jaws and The Exorcist for major awards but no one ever truly expected them to win. More often than not, horror and sci-fi-oriented movies were generally recognized in the categories of special effects to the exclusion of recognition for picture, director, screenplay, etc. As a new generation that was weaned on the artistic merits of these genres came of age, the Academy began to reflect their values and at last the artists who created great works in these areas were afforded attention. The Shape of Water is a cinematic oddity that is admittedly an acquired taste, so it speaks well for the Academy that del Toro has been nominated for Best Director and Original Screenplay (with Victoria Taylor) as well as Best Picture.
If you haven't seen it, do so, because the greatest asset of the movie is that you never know in what direction the script will veer. The film is set in the early 1960s with Sally Hawkins as the protagonist, Elisa, a cleaning lady who is employed at a top secret government facility that is dedicated to Cold War espionage research. Elisa lives a lonely existence and she is suffering from a severe handicap: she is a mute. She shares a modest apartment above an old world movie theater with Giles (Richard Jenkins), an aging gay graphic designer and artist who is living on the financial edge, having lost full time employment and trying to subsist on a decreasing number of freelance assignments. He and Elisa are the closest of friends and he acts as combination parental figure and intellectual companion who has learned to communicate with her with ease. Elisa's life takes a dramatic turn when she discovers that government agents have brought an extraordinary find into the facility: a creature that resembles a human in form but which has gills and lives underwater in a river in South America. The creature, which we will refer to as a merman (no, his name isn't Ethel), is being examined and routinely tortured by short-sighted government agents led by Richard Strickland (a mesmerizing Michael Shannon), a mean-spirited who quickly decides the creature has no real value in terms of helping to win the Cold War and advocates having him destroyed. Elisa secretly makes contact with the merman and takes pity on him, sneaking him food and helping to ease his pain. She realizes he is an intelligent creature who has human qualities and vulnerabilities. With his execution imminent, she organizes a daring rescue for the merman, assisted by Giles and her best friend and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer). This unlikely trio of misfits orchestrates the plan in a manner that is both ingenious, amusing and very suspenseful. By now, Elisa is madly in love with the merman and thereby introduces perhaps the first inter-species romance seen in a major film. Call it Creature from the Black Lagoon by way of Hunchback of Notre Dame. I won't divulge much more except to say the performances are truly superb and Hawkins, Jenkins and Spencer have all been justifiably nominated for Oscars along with Alexandre Desplat for his impressive score.
There are a few nitpicks I can make, primarily that del Guillermo throws in some superfluous sex scenes. We know Elisa is a lonely soul, but is it necessary to demonstrate that by having scenes of her masturbating in the bathtub? Similarly, a scene of Strickland playing tyrannical husband to his obedient, attractive wife includes an out-of-left-field tidbit in which she plops out one of her breasts, thus leading to a scene in which he makes love to her in a manner that most women would consider to be sexual assault. Not to be a prude, but such gimmickry seems reek of crass commercialism rather than ingredients that add measurably to the story,
The Shape of Water is a moving and genuinely beguiling love story unlike anything the Academy would have considered honoring had it emerged decades ago. It's not for everyone but even those who don't warm to the premise will admire the outstanding performances and production values.
A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
(This review originally ran during the film's initial theatrical release in 2017)
BY MARK CERULLI
so could have been a by-the-numbers genre movie: “Sensitive boyfriend goes to meet hot girlfriend’s parents in secluded
country home and mayhem ensues…” and that’s exactly what happens in Get Out, the new thriller from
writer/director Jordan Peele, but in a totally unexpected way.
filmturns every horror trope on its
head while tackling racist stereotypes along the way. Daniel Kaluuya is excellent as Chris, an
aspiring young photographer who happens to be black. His beautiful, Ivy League-ish girlfriend,
Rose (Allison Williams from HBO’s Girls)
is bringing him home to meet her parents for the first time – a momentous
occasion in any new relationship but even more so when it’s interracial, a fact
the movie meets head on. Once at the
family estate, Chris feels that something is truly off – from the mind-gaming
father (Bradley Whitford) and his spooky psychiatrist wife (Catherine Keener)
to Rose’s hostile brother (Caleb Landry Jones). Their all black staff goes out
of their way to tell Chris how happy they are to be there, which just makes him
more uncomfortable. And then there’s the
family gathering Rose forgot to tell him about, where cousins and uncles leer
at Chris as if he’s on display, making clueless, subtly racist comments in a
perfect sendup of East Coast liberal elitism. Chris gamely endures all this while Rose seems genuinely mortified – but
it’s all an act! Chris has been brought
there for a sinister purpose and after Rose’s mom slyly hypnotizes him, that
purpose is revealed and Get Out moves
into high gear.
Peele, who made his name acting and writing in comedies like MAD TV and Keanu, deftly blends laughs and horror, all leading up to a truly innovative
climax as Chris desperately tries to escape. Daniel Kaluuya (Sicario) is
spot on as a budding artist trying to navigate a difficult social
situation. Allison William’s Rose is
appropriately seductive and Milton “Lil Rel” Howery is hysterical as Chris’
loyal wingman, Rod, a TSA Agent who investigates when his friend goes
missing. Produced by genre hitmeister
Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity, Split,
The Purge), Get Out is a mystery
thriller that truly delivers while skewering today’s pervasive racial
stereotypes. It’s also is a stunning
directorial debut for Jordan Peele, who will doubtlessly be able to work in
whatever genre he chooses.
A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
BY LEE PFEIFFER
The most over-rated of this year's Best Picture Oscar nominees is director Paul Thomas Anderson's "Phantom Thread", a bizarre, off-putting drama that succeeds in presenting unusual characters in offbeat situations. It's a film saturated in atmosphere and intriguing plot scenarios that ultimately never delivers on presenting satisfactory conclusions to any of them. Daniel Day Lewis, in what is his self-described final screen appearance before entering retirement, is Reynolds Woodcock, a London dressmaker who has become a legend in his own time. The House of Woodcock designs top-line dresses for the international jet set as well as royals from around the globe. He prides himself on his obsession with his work and he runs the business with his humorless, equally dedicated sister Cyril (Lesley Manville). Their design house is run like a military base with discipline and dedication expected of their devoted, if not too happy, employees. The only vices Reynolds allows himself are short-term relationships with women, which he enters into with charm and intensity only to inevitably discard his lover when he tires of her. The film opens with the story's leading female character, Alma (Vicky Krieps) relating in flashbacks how she became the object of Reynolds' desires. He meets her in a small country bed and breakfast where she is working as a nondescript waitress who he finds charming. That evening, he takes her to a lavish dinner and then brings her back to his house where she understandably presumes he will attempt to bed her. Instead, the quirky Reynolds immediately orders her to stand for a fitting in order for him to make her an exquisite dress. More bizarrely, this promising first date is further detoured by the arrival of Cyril who begins to assist in the measurements of the dress, though it's clear she resents the younger, more attractive woman. Why? The implication is that she might have an unhealthy sexual interest in her own brother but, like so many of strands of this "Thread", nothing concrete is ever presented regarding the origins of Reynolds' and Cyril's strange relationship. It's one of several promising story scenarios that are presented in a confusing and sometimes incomprehensible manner, while others are hinted at but dropped altogether. At times it feels as though Anderson simply tore up the last twenty pages of his script during production.
Over their courtship, Reynolds proves to be a charming, highly intelligent beau. Alma is obviously from humble origins but the script fails to tell us anything about her life, background, or even nationality (she speaks with a rather exotic accent that is difficult to pin down). Soon, she moves into Reynolds' apartment building, which doubles as his design studio. She begins to learn the clothing trade from the bottom up, resenting after a while that her status as the boss's lover doesn't get her any perks. She's treated the same as the rest of the obedient staff. Soon, Alma begins to see disturbing personal traits in her lover. He has many eccentricities. He requires complete silence at breakfast while he contemplates his design work The slightest deviation from his standards can result in him erupting in anger. The film traces these outbursts and how Reynolds and Alma alternate between having a fractious and loving relationship. Ultimately, they marry- but that is only the beginning of the psychological agony they will both endure before finding a bizarre scenario that pleases them both, based on the "Munchausen syndrome by proxy" (Google it) that involves a peaceful coexistence established through poisoning by mushrooms. If it sounds weird, the premise seems even weirder when played out on screen.
Throughout most of "Phantom Thread" I was duly impressed by the superb production design (the film is set sometime in the 1950s but doesn't specify exactly when) along with the wonderful classical/original score provided by Johnny Greenwood. Then there are the mesmerizing performances. Lewis is predictably superb but the real find is Vicky Krieps, of whom much more should be heard in the near future. Like Woodcock's design creations, every aspect of the film looks perfect so it's disappointing that director/screenwriter Thomas never allows the plot to come together in a satisfying manner. The key plot point involving mushrooms is a bit wacky and doesn't fit in with the general tone of the movie. It's like having Godzilla appear at the finale of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and there's no getting around the fact that poisoned mushrooms makes this feel like a watered down premise of that seen in "The Beguiled".
There's much to admire in "Phantom Thread" including the lush cinematography (also provided by an uncredited Paul Thomas Anderson). Anderson enjoys a loyal following among critics and film fans who enjoy the quirkiness of his scripts and direction. Consequently, I wonder if that devotion extends to overlooking the obvious flaws and tangled, unsatisfying aspects of his work, of which there are plenty in "Phantom Thread". This may not be the case of the emperor having no clothes, but at a minimum, he is scantily clad.
Mill Creek Entertainment has released a DVD of two Dean Martin romantic comedies from the 1960s, "Who Was That Lady?" and "How to Save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life.
Of the two features, "Who's That Lady?" is the far superior entry. Based on Norman Krasna's play "Who Was That Lady I Saw You With?", the modestly-budgeted B&W production offered an undemanding role for Martin, who was coming off acclaimed dramatic performances in "The Young Lions" and "Some Came Running" following his breakup with Jerry Lewis. Tony Curtis gets top billing in the film playing David Wilson, a chemistry professor at Columbia University in New York City. Before the credits finish unspooling, we see him caught in a compromising situation when his wife Ann (Janet Leigh) catches him in the act smooching with one of his students. She storms out and makes preparations to file for divorce. David pleads with her to reconsider but she won't hear of it. In desperation, David turns to his best friend Mike Haney (Dean Martin), a charismatic bachelor and serial womanizer. He also happens to be a screenwriter for CBS television and possesses a fertile imagination. Mike hatches an audacious scheme to get David off the hook. He gets a pistol from the CBS prop department as well as a custom-made faux F.B.I. identification card made with David's photo on it. The two men then tell Ann that both of them have been secretly moonlighting as F.B.I. agents for years and that the girl David was kissing was a suspected spy who he had been ordered to flirt with in order to win her confidence. Ann is initially skeptical but the appearance of the gun and I.D. card changes her mind. Suddenly, she is greatly impressed with her husband, who she now regards as a macho man. However, the lie turns into a giant headache when a real F.B.I. agent (James Whitmore) gets a tip that David has a phony ID from the agency. Adding to David's woes is Mike's insistence that they play upon Ann's gullibility by going out on more "missions" that involve seductive women. The house of cards eventually comes crashing down in a frenzied climax set in the bowels of the Empire State Building where David and Mike are mistaken by Soviet spies as real agents and kidnapped.
"Who Was That Lady?" is a pleasant time-killer that relies primarily on the deft comedic performances of the three leads, each of whom delivers the goods. There's great chemistry between Curtis, Martin and Leigh (the real-life Mrs. Curtis at the time) and the film boasts an impressive supporting cast aside from the always-impressive Whitmore. John McIntire is there along with Simon Oakland and Larry Storch as the commies. Barbara Nichols and Joi Lansing add some laughs as a couple of busty, bubble-headed Marilyn Monroe-type who Mike earmarks as dates for him and David- a plan that ends disastrously. The film, directed by George Sidney, is best in the first half when the action and characters are set in the real world. However, the film delves into slapstick elements that prove to be more distracting than amusing. Still, "Who's That Lady?" is a generally funny effort, even if it's an undistinguished one- and you get to hear Dino croon the catchy title song.
Sam Fuller is one of these iconic directors that
independent film makers like Quentin Tarantino andRobert Rodrigues idolize for being a maverick
who frequently got away with making movies his own way, even if the studios
that employed him didn’t always like it. But even though he preferred to make
hard hitting, semi-expose movies like “Shock Corridor” and “The Naked Kiss,”
Fuller also knew which side of the bread was buttered and could make a movie
that both he and his studio bosses knew could be a commercial success. “Hell
and High Water” (1954), released by 20th Century Fox, is one of those. Made at
the height of the Cold War, it capitalized on America’s fear of the atom bomb,
the Red Menace, and catered to the belief that private individuals can sometime
be more effective than government at solving the world’s problems.
A group of such individuals, scientists from around the
world, want to investigate suspicious activities on an island in the North
Atlantic by the Chinese communists (though their nationality is never
mentioned).They hire former submarine
commander Capt. Adam Jones (Richard Widmark) to take them to the island in a
rebuilt Japanese sub (the kind that Captain Jones calls “a sewer pipe”). The
scientists suspect that the island is being used as the site for the building
of an atom bomb and are scheming to start WW III. Fuller had a hand in writing
the screenplay as well as directing and so Capt. Jones is your typical Fuller
hero. He’s tough, he’s brash, he’s honest, and he’s cynical. He agrees to take
the idealistic scientists to their destination but only because they’ll pay him
50 G’s to do it.
He assembles some of his old crew, including Gene Evans
(a Fuller regular), and Cameron Mitchell, the sub’s sonar man. The lead
scientist in charge of the expedition is Professor Montel (Victor Franken), who
is fond of saying: “Every man has his own reason for living, and his own price
for dying.” Just for the sake of spicing things up a bit, the old professor
brings along an assistant-- a sexy young French female scientist played by
Bella Darvi. Darvi’s personal story is both interesting and tragic. She was
discovered in Monaco by Darryl Zanuck and his wife Virginia. Mrs. Zanuck
thought she had star potential and even created Bella’s screen name. Darvi is a
combination of Darryl and Virginia. She made only three Hollywood movies before
a sex scandal involving Zanuck broke out, causing Virginia Zanuck to split.
Darvi’s career never really took off and after the scandal she returned to
Europe where she eventually committed suicide at age 42.
But to return to our story, of course, the presence of a
woman on board a salvaged Japanese sub manned by a bunch of horny, sweaty guys
is a totally believable thing and isn’t going to cause any sort of plot
complication. But then believability isn’t a word you’d associate with “Hell
and High Water.” Especially not when the sub encounters another submarine, (Chinese?
I guess, who knows for sure) demanding to know what the hell they’re doing
there. What follows is the usual cat and mouse sequence you find in most
submarine movies. After a torpedo is fired at them, they dive for the bottom.
The torpedoes on Jones’s sub don’t work because they didn’t have time to get
them in working order before they started out. They stay there trying to not
make any noise so they don’t get pinged by sonar. The other sub lands a few
hundred yards away and they try to outwait each other. Finally, Jones and his
men have had enough and the captain orders the ship to make a break for it.
He’s got a new plan. He rams the “sewer pipe” into the other sub and sinks it.
Hooray, the good guys win. But wait. This is supposed to be a peaceful
scientific expedition. What about all the Chinese sailors (or whatever they are)
killed on the other sub? Wouldn’t that be like an international incident?
Wouldn’t that actually be an act of war itself that might lead to WWIII, just
the very think they were trying to prevent?
“Junior Bonner,” (1972) may not be director Sam
Peckinpah’s greatest film, but in many ways it’s one of his most honest. There
are no outlaws with guns blazing in a suicidal battle with the Mexican army (“The
Wild Bunch”) . No down and out tough guys scrounging their lives away in
Mexican dives on a quest to get the head of a dead man worth $1 million (“Bring
Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia”). No CIA contractors skulking around San
Francisco’s Suisan Bay with telescopic rifles (“The Killer Elite”). None of that.
Instead “Junior Bonner” is the story of a modern day, every day rodeo cowboy
fighting an honorable and impossible battle against the forces that are
changing the people and the land that he knew—changing them for the worse.
Steve McQueen, in one of his most realistic, understated
performances, plays the Arizona cowboy who’s been riding the rodeo circuit a
little too long, and he knows it. He’s the son of former rodeo star Ace Bonner,
and he returns to his Prescott, Ariz., home in time for the town’s annual
Fourth of July rodeo festival. At the last stop on the circuit he got “throwed”
by a bull named Sunshine and his goal is to have a rematch with Sunshine in
front of his home town crowd. In a way he’s fulfilling one of the precepts of
the Peckinpah canon laid down in “Ride the High Country,” in which Joel McCrea,
as an aging former lawman, says “All I want to do is enter my house justified.”
Peckinpah rather brilliantly presents the theme of
changing times in the early scenes of the film, when JR drives his big old
white Cadillac convertible and horse-carrying trailer to his father’s home and
finds it is now a tumble-down shack about to be demolished by a wrecking crew.
The land it is on is being bulldozed into a gravel pit. After going inside the
house and finding nothing but an old picture in a busted frame of Ace in his
heyday, he drives out to the pit and asks if they know where Ace is. “Never
heard of him,” they tell him. And, in a scene reminiscent of “The Grapes of Wrath,”
when he tries to drive out of the pit he gets into a head-to-head confrontation
with a bulldozer operator who won’t let him pass. For a minute it looks like JR
might take him, but instead he’s forced to back up.
We next meet JR’s young brother, Curly (Joe Don Baker), a
real estate developer who’s selling off his father’s land to build a trailer
park. When JR finds out he only paid $15,000 for four sections of land, he’s
not too happy about it. And when Curly offers to bring him into the business because
he doesn’t want his older brother to “end up like the old man,” JR does what
any good Peckinpah cowboy would do. He knocks him through a picture window.
The film features two veterans playing JR’s parents,
Robert Preston as Ace and Ida Lupino as Elvira Bonner. Ace in his old age, is something
of a clown, a dreamer and the town drunk. His current ambition is to go to
Australia to punch cows. Elvira is the disillusioned wife and mother who knows
the best days of their lives are over and is just trying to hold on to what’s
left. Preston had just the right amount of charm and personality to make Ace a
convincing character and Lupino, who had been working steadily in TV after
years as a successful actress and director, is both touching and beautiful in
her return to the big screen. Also on hand are Ben Johnson as Buck Roan, the
man who runs the rodeo, as well as familiar faces such as Bill McKinney (“Deliverance”)
and Don “Red” Barry (in westerns too numerous to mention).
Peckinpah filmed the movie on location during the actual
Prescott Rodeo event, utilizing the local color and many non-actors, giving the
picture an authenticity that can’t be duplicated on studio sets. It’s that
direct simplicity that makes “Junior Bonner” work. In the end, it’s the story
of people coming to terms with the truth of who they are and facing the consequences
It's no secret that director Christopher Nolan is a major league James Bond fan. However, the Oscar-nominated "Dunkirk" director has put the kabbosh on rumors that he will be directing the next, as yet untitled, James Bond film which is scheduled for release in November, 2019. Appearing on BBC Radio 4, Nolan expressed his admiration for the series and its producers, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, but said that he felt the series is in good shape and that it wouldn't be the proper time for him to take the helm of one of the productions. However, he did reiterate his desire to direct a Bond film down the road. There is speculation that Nolan wants Daniel Craig to complete his final film in the series before he considers joining the franchise. It is presumed that Nolan would only come on board when its time for the next dramatic reboot of the Bond series, which occurs after the next film, which Craig has vowed will be his last mission On Her Majesty's Cinematic Secret Service. Click here for more.
UPDATE: Danny Boyle said to be on short list to direct next Bond film.
in 1977, Scalpel is one of only two films bearing the director credit John
Grissmer. A decade apart, the other is 1987’s marginally less satisfying Blood
Rage. Which isn’t to suggest that Scalpel itself is particularly good, because
it’s not. It is, however, the better of the pair.
surgeon Dr Phillip Reynolds (Robert Lansing) is in a bit of a quandary. His
wife is some while dead and his father-in-law, who despised him, has just
passed away bequeathing a fortune to Reynolds’ daughter Heather (Judith
Chapman). The problem is that Heather disappeared after witnessing Reynolds
committing a dreadful crime and she hasn’t been seen for over a year. And
Reynolds wants that money! A solution presents itself when he’s out driving one
night and almost runs over Jane, a stripper who’s been savagely beaten up and
is laid unconscious in the road. Whisking Jane off to the hospital where he
works, Reynolds hatches a scheme to refashion her smashed face to replicate that
of the missing Heather. As she recovers he makes her a proposal: successfully
pass herself off as Heather until the cash is signed over and they will split
it down the middle. It sounds perfect. But with $5 million at stake there’s
trouble ahead and Reynolds’ cunning plan is about to be derailed by an
circulating under the title False Face – which arguably has less exploitation
value plastered across a marquee than Scalpel, but is technically more
pertinent – John Grissmer’s debut film is a bit of an oddity. Although on first
run it feels mired in a pervasive grubbiness, when you step back and analyse it
that’s more down to the sickly yellow glaze that bedecks the entire movie (the
artistic intent of cinematographer Edward Lachman) than anything particularly
disturbing content-wise. In fact, a fleeting flash of nudity and a splash or
two of graphic bloodshed aside, Scalpel could almost pass as a TV production. This
impression is enforced by the headlining presence of prolific actor Robert
Lansing, whose work on television (in a fistful of made-for-TV movies, but
mostly in episodes of a myriad of series) outweighed his big screen appearances
14 to 1. Nevertheless, he’s on excellent form here as the nutty surgeon with as
much of a fixation on his daughter – the manifestation of incestuous desire may
be fairly tame but it’s scarcely subtle – as he has on lining his pockets with
ill-gotten millions. Judith Chapman meanwhile is every bit his equal in the
contrasting roles of Jane and Heather and there’s some very efficient split
screen work served up on those occasions that she’s called upon to share the
screen with herself.
Grissmer also penned the script, based on an original story by Joseph
Weintraub, and if it’s not exactly thrill-a-minute stuff it certainly manages
to keep one engaged enough through a number of (mostly predictable) twists,
although for my money it badly fumbles the ball in the penultimate act with a
daft sequence in which one of the main characters descends into gibbering
you don’t go in expecting to be wowed, you shouldn’t come away too
disappointed. But the bottom line is that it’s always pleasing to see a movie
brought back from the brink of obscurity – for every naysayer there’s always
going to be someone else rejoicing – and for that reason alone Scalpel is well
worth a look.
this instance it’s the ever reliable Arrow Video breathing new life into the
borderline obscure and the package they’ve put together for Scalpel is very decent
indeed. There are two versions of film to choose from, one faithfully retaining
the original, rather off-putting yellowish-green hues of the
aforementioned cinematography, the other being Arrow’s own newly tweaked version
with the colour grading adjusted to attain a more naturalistic look; although
staunch traditionalists will favour the former, the latter makes the film more
palatable by far. Whichever you select, there’s the option to watch in the
company of a commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith. 45-minutes’
worth of all-new interviews with director John Grissmer, DOP Edward Lachman and
star Judith Chapman, a slideshow gallery of stills and artwor