Thursday, January 27, 2011
Joe Dante is one of my favorite directors and despite a wonderful Shout Factory release of PIRANHA on Blu-Ray (and of course GREMLINS, & THE TWILIGHT ZONE MOVIE which were already out), he's sorely missed on the Blu-Ray format. I would be so pleased to see THE 'BURBS, MATINEE, THE HOWLING, GREMLINS 2, EXPLORERS, INNERSPACE and SMALL SOLDIERS on Blu as well! Perhaps Shout Factory will yet dish out HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD in a nice BD edition as they have been working their way through the Corman classics. I was very saddened(as many were) to see Universal's shoddy treatment of the latest standard def DVD release of MATINEE last year. That would seem to indicate that there may be little hope of high definition releases of Dante's Universal films. I suppose there's a chance that we could see some of those films streaming in high-def or perhaps on cable HD channels though. Here's hoping for either!
Thursday, January 20, 2011
10. Grand Slam (1967) This is a fun, if slow at times, heist movie with an interesting cast and some nice suspense. It features a slightly sedated Klaus Kinski and a nearly Soylent Green Edward G. Robinson. It's also great to see Rio in the 60s.
9. The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006) I was (mostly) enthralled by this flawed but engaging film. Perhaps a little long, but the mixture of lushness and brutality makes for an interesting watch. Kudos to Cillian Murphy for mastering the Irish accent (kidding).
8. The Quiet Earth (1985) I was very pleasantly surprised by this superb post-apocalyptic New Zealand flick. If your post-apocalyptic films must involve motorcycles and spiked gloves, this may not be the movie for you but if you like the ‘Last Man on Earth’ theme, it’s a gem.
7. Night of the Demon(aka Curse of the Demon) (1957) I got a collection of MR James stories a while back and was inspired to watch this film. I don't know how I'd missed it up to this point. Jacques Tourneur really knows how to create atmosphere. Good, clean fun with some strong performances.
6. Decision at Sundown (1957) Perhaps the most unique and interesting of all of the and Randolph Scott westerns. It has a really cynical tone to it, and is very small in scale. Ahead of its time.
4. Cry of the Hunted (1953) This is a very atmospheric movie centered around a chase through bayous. Some film noir elements are presents, and the highlight is a trippy sequence in which the detective has swamp fever.
3. The Case of the Scorpion's Tail (1971) I really enjoyed this Sergio Martino Giallo. George Hilton is all charm, and gives a very nice performance. The wonderfully suspenseful scene in the grotto was a real highlight of the year.
2. The Station Agent(2003) Had a lot of great reviews upon release, but I never got around to it. A wonderful, quiet little film.
1. Rome Armed to the Teeth (1976) Kudos to the Gentlemen of the GGTMC for getting me interested in Euro Crime. I love the energy of this movie. It really rolls along, propelled by a terrific Micalizzi score.
People who have read my blog, seen me on TV, heard my DVD commentaries, or just spent more than 15 minutes listening to me opine on film, have always inevitably asked me the same question: "Why aren't you a full-time movie critic?" And for all the legitimately good reasons for not being one - the cutting of positions, consolidation of the press, the ubiquity of blog critics (including myself) and the glut of blurb-generating whores, the devaluation of professional criticism, the terrible pay - it ultimately comes down to one more self-indulgent one. There are so many movies that I have not seen, especially in a theatrical setting, that I would much rather catch up with them on my own dime than be paid to see something that I instinctively know won't be my cup of polymascotfoamalate. Having good friends who are lucky to have their time and prose compensated by major publications, I have learned first-hand of the regular regret of missing a revival screening in order to attend the premiere of the latest Platinum Dunes horror remake.
So when I was asked to compile a list of the the best films I finally saw for the first time in 2010, this was a validation of my non-career choice, because I have spent hundreds of fine evenings watching classics and crap of the past with virgin eyes. And these were what I thought were the most edifying to my film edjamacation.
First off, a Special to Nobuhiko Obayashi's 1977 HOUSE. Too many others who have submitted to this ongoing series of posts have already cited it on their lists, so I figured I should devote more time and text to other films. But I can't deny that I too was giddy with glee upon watching what, apparently, would be the results of hiring to create a Saturday morning teen girl saga.
I would also like to point out that except for one, all of these were seen in a theatre with a live audience. I won't say which one was home-viewed. No matter how great your home-theatre setup may be, and no matter how obnoxious some movie patrons can behave (as I learned first-hand at a recent midnight show of MEAN GIRLS), watching a film writ large among your felllow humans is the greatest way to experience the art form, because you know you're all having your emotional moments together in time and space. So, in ascending order:
JAILBIRD ROCK(1988; Phillip Schuman)
Tantalized for years by the market ads in Variety under it's original shooting title of PRISON DANCER, I finally caught an ultra-rare screening of this wonderfully contrived hybrid of FLASHDANCE and CAGED HEAT this past spring, and it did not disappoint. Years before founding the Pussycat Dolls, got sent up the river, and it was not a matter of Judge Shorty sentencing her to 30 days of learning the Hula-Hoop, Shing-a-Ling, and Afro-Twist. Not quite as deranged musically as THE APPLE or as talent-challenged as TROLL 2, it's still a hilarious waste of time to see the so-called hardened cellblock sisters going from lockdown to get-down.
BLOOD AND ROSES(1960; Roger Vadim)
Roger Vadim's 1960 interpretation of Sheridan Le Fanu's novella "Carmilla" was indeed a revelation, an elegant gothic tale of vampiric attraction, with a daring-for-the-era honesty about the sapphic nature of the main female character's relationship. Another film that is ridiculously hard to see, the one surviving 35mm print that was screened was itself incomplete; a local collector's 16mm print had to be used to fill a crucial narrative gap. Just goes to show that even in this era of streaming and downloads and new repertory popularity, some movies are still elusive and endangered.
THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT(1974; Michael Cimino)
Frankly, I am kind of surprised it took me well into adulthood to see this, since throughout my formative years it was a longtime staple of both drive-in double features and regular telecasts on ABC - I can still hear the great Ernie Anderson announcing the broadcast with his seductive "Parental Discretion Advised" disclaimer. Remember the A.T. & T. commercial where appeared to be directing a pyrotechnic-heavy action film? This is very likely what that film would have looked like. Using the framework of both a heist thriller and a buddy comedy, writer/director Michael Cimino's debut film is an peculiar mediation on the bonds between male friends, what has somewhat degenerated into the catchall of "bromance." We see how it can be a positive influence, as in the breeziness of and Jeff Bridges' criminal romps, and it's more destructive capabilities, witnessed in the behavior of Eastwood's previous partner turned nemesis . Plus, there is a wonderful deadpan midsection involving our crooks taking mundane day jobs to plan the heist that plays like a rehearsal for BOTTLE ROCKET.
THE EXILES(1961; Kent Mackenzie)
Another truly buried gem unearthed by the near-geniuses at Milestone Film and Video, Kent Mackenzie's 1961 documentary-like drama of Native Americans living a maladjusted existence of urban inertia is illuminating without being maudlin, letting us just watch people finding distraction and solace (or really, not finding it) in the big city. Filled with great music and beautiful B&W cinematography, it is both an elegy for the characters' heritage dissipating within society, and also for L.A.'s lost neighborhood of Bunker Hill, a former bastion of film noir atmosphere now gone and replaced by skyscrapers.
MASSACRE MAFIA STYLE(1978; Duke Mitchell)
With all the press being accorded to Bob Murawski's rescue of Duke Mitchell's previously-lost GONE WITH THE POPE, many have lost track of the fact that Mitchell's previous film also finally began to receive some long-overdue theatrical exposure, thanks to discovery of one surviving 35mm print. While many feel that it plays rather conventionally in light of the truly gonzo aspirations of POPE, MASSACRE is nonetheless still a knockout blend of cheap thrills and personal politics, with its protagonist alternately railing against Italian defamation and then violently reinforcing it.
VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS(1970; Jaromil Jires)
The 1970 Czech fantasy of a 13-year-old girl's sudden transition into womanhood and the tangled web of images, emotions, and attractions that occur is a striking epic of innocence on the edge. By it's surrealism we get to see how a girl can view one person as kind protector, dangerous predator, and desired lover all at once, that the world seems to want to protect and ravage, canonize and demonize, those qualities that make up the adolescent female.
TAMPOPO(1985; Juzo Itami)
In the pantheon of the great foodie movies beside BABETTE'S FEAST and BIG NIGHT, 1985 comedy is not so much interested in fine dining as it is in the myriad ways that it affects all of us from birth to death. Whether you actively get caught up in the ostensible main plot of creating the perfect noodle dish, or just revel in the bizarre behavior that food brings out in the tangential episodes, you will leave full and contented when it's over.
NIGHT MOVES(1975; Arthur Penn)
Much like the maxim of how you judge an ethnic restaurant by how many actual persons of said ethnicity dine there, plenty of people talk a good game about loving '70's movies, but Arthur Penn's 1975 mystery of regret and descent is a good gauge to determine the players from the potzers. And yes, that means I was in the latter camp for far too long, though partly because I was holding out for a proper theatrical presentation.
BONNIE & CLYDE(1967; Arthur Penn)
And speaking of the departed Mr. Penn, yes, it is to my shame that for all my fancy booklarnin' and ability to speak on its impact, I had never actually sat down and watched this goldurn classic from beginning to end. It's a big problem among this film school generation, to talk smartly on films you've not watched, thinking you still got the gist of things. Nope. Watching it is how you "get" it. And all the stuff that made it such a firecracker way back when still holds up to modern viewing.
Which brings me to the most important catch-up of the year 2010...
THE RED SHOES(1948; Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger)
Yes, despite its presence in the history books, the reams of scholarly text, even the muscle provided to 's reputation by , I had never made time to indulge in this bonafide masterpiece. Maybe I was put off by the ballet setting, or how the PBS airings as a kid made it look all hoity-toity, or maybe again wanting a big-screen experience instead of a home viewing one, or whatever lame excuse I can fathom. But I finally saw it large, and in an outstanding restored print made possible by Mr. Scorsese...and cursed myself for taking so long to do so. is a house on fire and Powell knows how to create the controlled burn. Schools should be scheduling yearly screenings of this in the same way they schedule field trips to museums and historical sites and make English classes read Shakespeare.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
TOP 10 REP FILMS SEEN FOR FIRST TIME IN '10 (alphabetical):
THE BURGLARS (1971, Henri Verneuil, 35MM)
Still not on DVD, I had the good fortune to catch this classic pairing between Verneuil and Jean-Paul Belmondo at last year's "William Lustig Presents" series at Anthology Film Archives. Featuring one of Morricone's greatest main themes, the story is based on David Goodis' THE BURGLAR (made into the earlier film of the same title with Dan Duryea) and has Belmondo's typically amazing stunt work and an exhilarating chase between Belmondo and adversary Omar Sharif.
DEEP END (1970, Jerzy Skolimowski, 35MM, Cable broadcast, Bootleg)
After wanting to see this for about 20 years I finally saw via bootleg, TCM broadcast, and 35mm print with Skolimowski in the house. A DVD and Blu-ray release is said to be in the offing for this year. Happily, DEEP END lived up to my expectations and then some. After viewing this, you will wonder how Paul McCartney, in his right mind, could ever break up with Jane Asher, you will be haunted by the film's atypical "coming-of-age" narrative, and you will have Cat Stevens' sublime "But I Might Die Tonight" running through your ahead for about 2 months afterward.
THE LAST FLIGHT (1931, William Dieterle, DVD)
One of the best things that I've seen come out of the Warner Archive so far, this taut, melancholy film follows several shellshocked WWI pilots as they drink their way through Europe rather than returning to civilian life in the States. Refreshingly unsentimental and frank in the way that so many pre-Code films tend to be, this is another fascinating vehicle for silent era star Richard Barthelmess, fast becoming a Warner Archive favorite.
MANIAC (1980, William Lustig, Blu-ray)
A video cover that I grew up being simultaneously entranced and frightened by as a child, I only finally saw Lustig's exploitation classic now, in my 30s, and, as with DEEP END, I was not disappointed despite the notoriety that already surrounds the film. Joe Spinell is a revelation as tormented mama's boy Frank Zito, who stalks and slashes lonely women on the seedy, pre-Giuliani streets of New York.
SHOAH (1985, Claude Lanzmann, 35MM)
I had recorded SHOAH off of public television for my survivor grandparents as a child in the '80s and watched part of this via New Yorker's passable DVD set, but when I finally saw this watershed film in full (9.5 hours), it was in the best possible way, via a brand-new 35mm print from IFC Films and with director Lanzmann in attendance and taking questions. I urge everyone reading this to go out and see it while it makes its way around the country in 2011.
SHOOT THE MOON (1982, Alan Parker, DVD)
Alan Parker had quite a run with BUGSY MALONE, MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, FAME, SHOOT THE MOON, PINK FLOYD: THE WALL, and BIRDY. I was mesmerized from start to finish by Parker's shattering story of a marriage in crisis; the filmmaker is helped immeasurably by the wonderful and brave performances from his leads Albert Finney and Diane Keaton, both of whom have never been better than they are here. The ending really got me. Love the use of the Eagles' "I Can't Tell You Why" and Seger's "Still the Same" in the climactic scene.
THE STORY OF TEMPLE DRAKE (1933, Stephen Douglas, 35MM)
Another film that I've been wanted to see for years is Stephen Douglas' controversial Faulkner adaptation that helped bring on the enforcement and tightening of the Production Code. Miriam Hopkins is amazing as Temple Drake, Jack LaRue essays the ethnic, city thug as only he can; the glorious Expressionistic compositions by Karl Struss (SUNRISE) and Paramount sets are beautifully represented on the newly restored 35mm print that's currently making the rounds via MoMA.
VICE SQUAD (1982, Gary Sherman, DVD)
The inimitable Wings Hauser lives up to his reputation as a great onscreen villain here as Ramrod the killer pimp, rightly acclaimed as one of the greatest cinematic villains. Star Season Hubley is equally good in a tough, brave role as Princess, hooker and single mother on the run from Ramrod. Kubrick d.p. John Alcott makes this seedy material look as good it possibly can, in what now stands as an invaluable time capsule of early '80s L.A.
WAKE IN FRIGHT (1971, Ted Kotcheff, 35MM)
Ted Kotcheff is best known for FIRST BLOOD, NORTH DALLAS FORTY, WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S, and UNCOMMON VALOR. This exemplary Aussie Outback DELIVERANCE / LOST WEEKEND hybrid should rise to the top of the list. A small town teacher gets waylaid in a "backwoods" Aussie burg on his way to Sydney and ends up hunting kangaroos and getting absolutely blitzed with a motley crew led by alcoholic "doctor" Donald Pleasance in this absolutely riveting and visceral experience.
WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD (1933, William Wellman, DVD)
Another hard-hitting, timely treatise from Warner Bros. and Wellman is this heartbreaking, progressive story of a group of kids who take to the rails during the depths of the Depression. One of the things I miss the most from the studio system, particularly in the early '30s, is the ability the films had, because of the speed with which they were conceived, filmed, and released, to almost immediately respond to social and political issues of the day; WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD is no exception to this concept, and, like THE LAST FLIGHT, wastes none of its short running time with the false moralizing or sentimentality that would trickle into Hollywood films after the enforcement of the Hays Code in '34.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
My friend Laurent Bouzereau was kind enough to give me a list of his favorite older films seen 1st in 2010!
Monday, January 17, 2011
Today we have a lovely list of older films from Jeffery over at JDBRECORDS! Good stuff!
1. 8 1/2 & Nights of Cabiria
I watched a lot of Fellini for the first time and all of them, in their own way, are perfect. 8 1/2 could be one of the best films I've ever seen. The complicated, layered script wrestles with pretty much everything--religion, failure, artistic expression, relationships--in consistently surprising and arresting ways. In Nights of Cabiria, Giulietta Masina is a treasure. The lovely ending continues to haunt me.
2. The Crying Game
I saw a lot of 90s films last year that I missed when they first came out. For those who haven't seen this in a while, I think it deserves a revisit. Highly original, fantastic script and acting (especially Jaye Davidson).
Bridget Bardot, that apartment scene, and that strand of music by Georges Delerue... where had they been all my life?
4. Night Moves
This was a recommendation I found browsing Rupert Pupkin Speaks. Great, rambling '70s noir. Interesting score by Michael Small. Gene Hackman is perfect as detective Harry Moseby, emblematic of those powerless and lonely male protagonists of the Watergate era.
5. Barry Lyndon
Anything by Kubrick is a work of art. Lavishly costumed, beautifully shot, great use of music and narration and featuring an underrated performance by Ryan O'Neal.
6. The Swimmer
The only thing that mars this is an over-the-top finale, but otherwise a fascinating portrait, based upon John Cheever's famous short story, of a man (a brilliant, believable Burt Lancester) who swims through the pools of his well-to-do suburban neighborhood. The odd, varied reactions of the neighbors, all distant from one another, slowly reveal the mysteries of the swimmer's past. Unusual and memorable.
7. The Bride Wore Black
Truffaut's stylish revenge thriller. Interestingly, Tarantino claims he's never seen it, though its influence on Kill Bill seems obvious.
8. Eyes Without a Face
A surgeon and his assistant kidnap young women in hopes to remove their faces and replicate them on his disfigured daughter. Very spooky, atmospheric.
One of Hitch's most economical pictures. A swift, "wrong man" story, with oddball characters, a patriotic slant, and a still-thrilling Statue of Liberty climax.
10. The Last Seduction
Something about this film sticks with me. I love its leisurely pace, early 90s feel and Linda Fiorentino makes such an alluring (and cold-hearted!) femme fatale.