of the gems of 1968 was The Lion in
Winter, a multi-nominee for the Oscars (including Best Picture and
Director), and one of the better period costume dramas that seemed to be so
popular in the 60s. Capitalizing on the success of Becket and A Man for All
Seasons, Winter is based on a stage play by James Goldman, who also wrote
the screenplay and won an Oscar for it.
the picture is a handsome production, its primary asset is the acting. What a
cast, and what performances! Katharine Hepburn, as Eleanor of Aquitaine, picked
up the Best Actress trophy (although that year there was a tie—she shared the
award with Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl).
Peter O’Toole stars as Henry II for the second time (he played a younger
version of the man in Becket, four
years earlier), and received a nomination for Best Actor. For my money, this is
the performance out of many nominations for which he should have won—he
dominates the movie with a commanding, almost-mad presence. Interestingly, the
actor was only 36 when the film was made, and he plays a Henry who is in his
fifties. On the other hand, Hepburn was 61 when she made the picture, and she
plays a 45-year-old Eleanor. The miracle is that one doesn’t notice either
actor’s true age.
rounding out the cast are Henry’s three sons, played by a young Anthony Hopkins
(as Richard the Lionheart), John Castle (as Geoffrey), and Nigel Terry (as
John, who later became King John). While all three are terrific, and it’s
especially enlightening to examine Hopkins’ performance and compare it to his
later more renowned work, the real revelation in the picture is the appearance
of a very young Timothy Dalton as
King Philip II of France. Dalton is outstanding
in a small but pivotal role upon which the plot hinges.
year is 1182. Henry II decides to hold a Christmas party at the castle, so he
lets his wife Eleanor out of prison (!) so she can attend along with their
three surviving sons (the others are long dead) and Henry’s young mistress,
Alais (Jane Merrow). Eleanor has long accepted with grace and humor that Henry
beds other women and that their marriage is over—although throughout the course
of the story it is apparent that there are deep wounds in her heart. All three
sons are vying for the throne since Henry, being in his fifties, is on his way
to the grave—although one wouldn’t know it from the energy he displays. Henry’s
favorite is young John, who is a bit of a bumpkin. Eleanor prefers Richard.
Geoffrey prefers himself. Oddly, whoever is chosen gets Alais!
short, The Lion in Winter is the
story of a dysfunctional family. Eleanor wryly delivers the line that is the
title of this review at a key moment after the men attempt to kill each other.
In fact, the script is full of great lines. Henry: “What shall we hang?—the
holly, or each other?” Eleanor: “In a world where carpenters get resurrected,
everything is possible.” Eleanor (to one of her sons): “Hush dear, mother’s
Lorber’s newly restored 4K Blu-ray looks marvelous, and the sound is excellent.
It shows off John Barry’s Oscar-winning score (play it loud!) and includes an
audio commentary by the late director Anthony Harvey. There is a supplemental
interview with sound recordist Simon Kaye, which is fine, but one wishes there
could have been interviews with some of the surviving stars such as Hopkins and
Dalton. The theatrical trailer and other Kino Lorber title trailers are also
The Lion in Winter is a top-notch
exercise in superlative acting and grand writing. It is prestige cinema at its
finest. Don’t miss it.
Pinter was one of the groundbreaking playwrights that emerged out of the 1950s,
along with Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, and a handful of others. They changed
the landscape of what audiences could expect on the stage. Pinter’s first
decade of remarkable plays (and a few screenplays) fall into a category dubbed
by critics as “comedies of menace.” They feature (usually) working-class
Britons in situations in which an ambiguous threat lies underneath the surface
of an otherwise mundane existence. The subtext
is everything in a Pinter play. Known for the pauses in dialogue
(specifically designated in the scripts), Pinter was able to pack weighty
meaning in what is not said, more so
than perhaps any other modern playwright.
The Birthday Party was his first
full-length play (written in 1957, premiered in 1958) and is one of his
most-produced and well-known works—although probably not so much by anyone who
isn’t an aficionado of the theatre. You’re not going to see a production of The Birthday Party at your local high
school. The Homecoming (1967) won
Pinter the Tony Award, and, for my money, is his greatest work (it was
brilliantly filmed by Peter Hall in 1973 for the American Film Theatre
experiment). As a screenwriter, Pinter’s work on The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981) and Betrayal (1983) received Oscar nominations, and he received the
Nobel Prize shortly before his death.
filmmaker William Friedkin, who had yet to make The French Connection and The
Exorcist, had seen a production of The
Birthday Party in England in the early 60s and, by his account, was knocked
out by it. He personally met with Pinter to convince the elusive playwright to
allow him to adapt the play into a film. It took some doing, but finally Pinter
relented and wrote the screenplay himself. The picture was produced on a
shoestring budget, but Friedkin managed to employ several outstanding British
actors—many of whom were already a part of Pinter’s unofficial “repertory
those familiar with Pinter, the results are outstanding. For everyone else—The Birthday Party could very well be a
Shaw stars as Stanley, a nervous boarder in a seaside village rooming house run
by Meg (Dandy Nichols) and Petey (Moultrie Kelsall). It may—or may not
be!—Stanley’s birthday. Enter two mysterious new boarders, Goldberg (Sydney
Tafler) and McCann (Patrick Magee), whom we know have an agenda with Stanley
but we’re never sure what it really is. We just know it’s a threat, and they
make things very uncomfortable for him… and the audience. Shaw and Magee,
especially, deliver riveting performances.
say more would be a disservice to the viewer and to Pinter, for much of the
power of The Birthday Party is its
mystery and ambiguity. Just know that by embarking on this journey you will be
entering a heightened realism in which characters never say what they mean and what
they don’t say means more. As an adaptation of Pinter’s play, Friedkin’s The Birthday Party is quite faithful and
Lorber’s new Blu-ray presents a 1080p transfer that looks fair enough for its
age and intentionally drab cinematography and setting. The nearly half-hour supplemental
interview with director Friedkin is fascinating—he relates the entire history
of how he got involved with Pinter and the film, and he throws in anecdotes
about the playwright and a few other characters (like Joseph Losey). Theatrical
trailers for this and other Kino Lorber releases—many related to Pinter—are
The Birthday Party will certainly be
appreciated by those of us who were theatre majors many years ago, and by the
art house cinema crowd. For others, the picture might be an acquired taste.
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,
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.
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.
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!
Woody Allen’s 1990 film Alice after
all these years brought on many emotions. I instruct the students in my Film
History class at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, that one must
always judge a film within the context of when it was released. These days,
it’s difficult to do so with the formidable filmography of Woody Allen. Can one
put aside the context of when this film
was released? Alice was made while the
writer/director’s relationship with his star, Mia Farrow, was supposedly still rosy,
less than a couple of years before the familial scandal erupted that has dogged
the filmmaker ever since. Can one ignore the presence—throughout the film—of
young Dylan Farrow, playing the role
of Alice’s daughter? Or, ironically, the small role played by James Toback in the film? (Readers
familiar with what’s been going on in Hollywood lately will understand that
the same time, Cinema Retro’s
editor-in-chief recently said, “What, are we to pretend that Allen’s entire
career never existed? Our job is to evaluate the artistry, not the personal
morality. Otherwise we’d quickly run out of people to write about.”
I couldn’t help examining Alice as an
omniscient behind-the-scenes spectator. Oddly, I’ve reviewed several new
Blu-ray releases of Allen’s movies for Cinema
Retro over the past few years, and I’ve never felt this kind of discomfort.
That doesn’t mean I can’t critique the movie’s merits, it’s just that Woody
Allen’s oeuvre now comes with baggage.
One must simply unpack it and look at what’s there on the screen.
Alice is actually a pretty
good entry in the director’s work. Considering that he’s made nearly fifty
films, this one probably belongs in the lower half of the list in ranking, but
certainly nowhere near the bottom. It’s a solid 2-1/2 or 3-star effort (out of
4), mainly due to Mia Farrow’s excellent performance as the mousy but rich
Manhattan housewife who desperately wants to change her life—but doesn’t know
is married to wealthy, but stuffy, Doug (William Hurt), who has a high-powered
job. This leaves Alice to tend to her two small children (when they’re not
cared for by nannies and maids), hang out with her socialite friends, and get
her nails and hair done. It’s a very superficial life until she meets Joe (Joe
Mantegna), a divorced father, at her children’s school. Another hard left turn
is when Alice visits a mysterious Chinese doctor (Keye Luke), who hypnotizes
her, gives her strange herbs to take, and pushes her into a fantasy world that
turns her own upside down.
many ways, Alice is a companion piece
to The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985),
another of Allen’s more whimsical pieces that deals with fanciful situations.
In Alice, Farrow’s character can
become invisible and spy on people, she can meet up with her deceased first
boyfriend (Alec Baldwin) and fly over the city with him, and she can recreate
childhood memories involving her parents and sister. It’s these elements that
make Alice a fun, if fluffy, romp. It
is also in many ways somewhat an homage to Federico Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits (1965), in which a
bored housewife ventures into fantasy sequences to escape the doldrums of her
philandering husband and to better her own life.
owns the movie. For most of it, Alice is timid, nervous, and hesitant to try
new things—but Farrow infuses these qualities with a great deal of charm. She
literally lights up the screen with beauty and a winning pathos. Then there are
the moments when she breaks out of this “shell”—such as when one of the
doctor’s herbs makes her suggestive and flirtatious, notched up to eleven. Her seduction scene with Joe in
the school waiting area is not only hilarious, but her transformation is masterful. One comes away from it
thinking, “Wow, I didn’t know Mia Farrow could do that!” (Farrow was nominated
for a Golden Globe—and she won the Best Actress award from the National Board
of Review—for her performance.)
Allen’s second feature film as director/writer/actor is ranked #69 on AFI’s 100
greatest comedies list… and it is indeed a very funny, zany picture (arguably
one of Allen’s funniest) that today says more about the early 1970s than
perhaps was intended at the time. But would millennials find Bananas funny in this day and age? Would
they get the jokes? Can an audience that hasn’t “grown up” with Woody Allen
movies get past what has been said about his personal life since the 1990s? I
can’t answer those questions. But I can place
Bananas within the context of when it
was released and attest that it still makes me laugh.
this point in his career, Allen was mostly interested in making low budget movies
with little substance, but with lots of gags. He was still developing his
nebbish bumbling on-screen persona (his character’s name in Bananas is “Fielding Mellish,” and that
in and of itself is funny). And, as he would do so throughout the decades, he
co-stars with either the current or former lady in his life—in this case,
Louise Lasser, to whom Allen was married from 1966-1970 (they remained friends
after the divorce; Bananas was made
immediately afterwards, so go figure). The jokes are plentiful, bang-bang-bang,
all the way through—today some of them fall flat and some are shockingly
inappropriate given the “standards” of 2017, but others are still as classic and
hilarious as they were in 1971.
story concerns a revolution in the fictional Latin American country of San
Marcos. New Yorker Mellish, in trying to impress liberal activist Nancy
(Lasser), goes to San Marcos to get involved. Eventually he becomes a
revolutionary himself, ending up replacing the dictator as the country’s
president (albeit in disguise). On a diplomatic visit back to the U.S., he is
exposed and put on trial for fraud. Nevertheless, Mellish ends up getting
together with Nancy anyway for a happy ending.
asked why the film was entitled Bananas,
Woody Allen replied, “Because there are no bananas in it.”
1971, the film was rated M—for mature audiences. This rating was eventually
replaced by PG. In those early days of the 70s, society was still experiencing
a sexual revolution that had begun in the 60s. Hollywood movies pushed the
envelope in this regard, and sexual humor was commonplace in comedies. Bananas is full of it. While it’s not
quite R-rated material, it is assuredly not for younger kids. If there had been
an equivalent rating back then, it would have been PG-13. (One memorable bit is
the scene in which Mellish peruses the adult magazines in the crowded
convenience store in New York and attempts to buy one mixed in with Time, Newsweek, and others; the
proprietor ringing him up calls loudly out to his colleague, which everyone in
the place hears, “Hey, how much is a copy of Orgasm?” Mellish, is, of course, suitably mortified.)
courtroom scene is perhaps the highlight of the picture. A black woman who is
allegedly “J. Edgar Hoover in disguise” testifies against Mellish; the court
reporter reads back testimony that is the antithesis of what was actually said;
and even Miss America shows up to testify. There are other notable moments—for
example, famed TV sportscaster Howard Cosell has two memorable sequences in the
movie, and a young and unknown Sylvester Stallone pops up (uncredited) as a New
York subway mugger.
with Allen’s first feature, Take the
Money and Run (reviewed <here>), the filmmaking is clumsy and
unsophisticated. The director was still learning the ropes, but that’s not
what’s important here—Bananas is all
about the laughs.
Time’s limited edition (only 3,000 units) Blu-ray looks fine in 1080p High
Definition, taking into account the low budget video quality of the original
film. The 1.0 DTS-HD sound is terrific. The only supplements are an isolated
music track and the theatrical trailer. Julie Kirgo provides the essay in the
Bananas is a little time
capsule that captures where we were at in 1971 (there is even a sight gag
involving then U.S. president and VP, Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew). Ribald
jokes, political satire, and freedom of expression—if this is your bag, then
check out Bananas… but leave your
political correctness at the door.
“A DASH OF UNUSUAL
BRILLIANCE BEHIND A FACE WITH WHITE GLASSES”
By Raymond Benson
somewhat snobbish critic John Simon has said that the only “great” female film directors are Leni Riefenstahl and Lina
Wertmüller. I’m sure we can all take issue with
such a sexist comment, but he is correct that both women were indeed “great,”
even though the former is known for Nazi propaganda films of the 1930s. Wertmüller,
on the other hand, made different kinds of scandalous pictures—but at least ones
that were, and still are, entertaining. (They also sometimes had whimsically
long titles, such as The End of the World
in Our Usual Bed on a Night Full of Rain.)
the early to mid-1970s, Wertmüller was the face of
a daring new Italian cinema. When her movies were imported to America and the
U.K, she was dubbed the “Female Fellini.” In fact, she was once an assistant
director for the auteur. But Wertmüller’s
work took Fellini’s extravagance and pushed it to an extreme, creating her own
signatory brand of comedy, theatricality, biting satire, political commentary, and
often shocking truths. Four of her films released between 1972-1975, in which
she collaborated with the brilliant actor Giancarlo Giannini, established Wertmüller
as a powerful force of artistic vision. It is no small feat that she was the
first woman to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director.
Lorber has recently restored and released several Wertmüller
titles on Blu-ray and DVD, along with an excellent documentary on the woman
herself. Cinema Retro received an
assortment of them, all of which will be discussed here.
jewel in the crown of all of Kino Lorber’s Wertmüller disks is Seven Beauties (1975; released in the
U.S. and U.K. in 1976). It was the picture for which she received the Oscar
nomination (she lost to John G. Avildsen, for Rocky). It also received nods for Best Foreign Film, Best Actor
(Giannini), and Original Screenplay. Beauties
is a tour-de-force that features Giannini at his best as the swaggering
Pasqualino, a minor hood in Naples during World War II. He takes great pains to
protect the honor of his seven sisters, even though he isn’t so honorable
himself. When he is captured by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp,
Pasqualino audaciously figures he can save himself by “seducing” the female
commandant, a monster of a woman played by Shirley Stoler.
has an uncanny ability to combine the horrors of the Holocaust with the
absurdity of Pasqualino’s Chaplin-esque pathetic bravado. You wince and shudder
at the brutality on display—and then you find yourself laughing. Giannini, who
acts more with his eyes than anyone else I can think of, totally engages the
viewer with pathos and ridiculousness. In the end, Seven Beauties is a powerful statement about what man will do to
survive, and how expendable “honor” really is.
Lorber’s Seven Beauties Blu-ray is a
gorgeous 2K restoration with 2.0 stereo audio, in Italian with optional English
subtitles. Supplements include an interview with filmmaker Amy Heckerling about
the film and Wertmüller, an excerpt from the separately-released
documentary, Behind the White Glasses,
and trailers for other releases by the director. The booklet features essays by
director Allison Anders and film historian Claudia Consolati, PhD. Click here to order from Amazon.
Summer Night (or: Summer Night with Greek Profile, Almond Eyes
and Scent of Basil) (1986) stars Mariangela Melato (who co-starred with Giannini
in three of the 70s pictures) and Michele Placido in an obvious attempt to
recreate the magic that was Wertmüller’s crowd-pleaser,
Swept Away by an Unusual Destiny in the
Blue Sea of August (1974). Summer
Night, like the earlier film, is a bawdy romance between two characters with
fiery dispositions and opposite political stances. While this sexy romp is
somewhat entertaining, and the cinematography of the locales—set around
Sardinia—is breathtaking, the film doesn’t work. Both leads are too unlikable
to fully grasp onto. The Blu-ray, however, is an excellent presentation, also
with a 2K restoration and 2.0 stereo audio. The only supplements are trailers,
and the booklet features an essay by critic John Simon. Click here to order from Amazon
Dr. David Ruben’s sex manual Everything
You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (But Were Afraid to Ask) was published
in 1969, it became a best-seller and quickly entered the mainstream. Everyone
talked about it. It was even office water-cooler fare. It wasn’t meant to be
funny—just informal, straight, and to the point. The book was organized as a
series of questions, such as “Why do some women have trouble reaching an orgasm?”
and the author would answer.
1972, Woody Allen freely adapted it as a comedy, taking a handful of the questions
from the book and creating a series of seven vignettes that are, well,
ridiculous. It became one of Allen’s biggest hits of his entire career—right
now BuzzFeed ranks it as his fourth highest box office earner when adjusted for
was only Allen’s third picture (not counting Play It Again, Sam, which he didn’t direct and was released earlier
in ’72), so the auteur was still
finding his way. He was still all about making zany, but smart, movies that
were all about the gags. But because of the episodic nature of its structure,
some sketches work better than others. Of the seven “questions” that are
illustrated, I would say two are 5-star brilliant, two are 4-star good, and the
rest just okay. In 1972, some of the material was R-rated shocking in a
dirty-joke, nudge-nudge way. Today, Everything
comes off a bit tawdry and dated in places. However, it’s still a
worthwhile picture with some major laughs in key sequences.
two highlights are “What is sodomy?”—in which Gene Wilder delivers a brilliantly
subtle performance as a doctor who gets it on with a sheep; and “What happens
during ejaculation?”—which is presented like a NASA-mission with a “control
room” inside a man’s brain manned by Tony Randall, Burt Reynolds, and others,
and featuring Allen as a bespectacled sperm who is afraid to leap out, paratrooper-style.
funny moments are “Do aphrodisiacs work?”—with Allen as a court jester in
Shakespearean times, trying to seduce the queen (Lynn Redgrave), and “Are the findings
of doctors and clinics who do sexual research and experiments accurate?”—in
which Allen and a journalist (Heather MacRae) visit a mad doctor (John
Carradine), whose lab work produces a giant-monster-breast that terrorizes the
game show What’s My Line?-parody
(retitled What’s My Perversion?) is
clever, as it’s presented in old television black and white kinescope style
with the original host (Jack Barry) and contestants. Other actors appearing in
the film are Louise Lasser, Anthony Quayle, Geoffrey Holder, Lou Jacobi, and
Twilight Time Blu-ray looks fine in its 1080p High Definition; but frankly, the
old 1970s film stock just doesn’t lend itself well to HD. Does it look better
than standard DVD? A little. The 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio is an improvement,
however; the pictures sounds terrific.
usual with Allen’s Blu-ray releases, the only supplements are an isolated music
and effects track, and the original theatrical trailer. Julie Kirgo provides
the knowledgeable essay in the booklet.
this sex comedy worth buying on Blu-ray?” The Answer—yes, especially since this
release is limited to only 3000 units. And while it doesn’t rank as one of
Woody Allen’s best movies, it will
make you laugh, especially while having sex.
Cinema Retro's Raymond
Benson’s new stand-alone novel, THE SECRETS ON CHICORY LANE, will be published
October 10, 2017, by Skyhorse Publishing, but it is trickling into stores now.
The book is also listed on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Links to retailers can
be found here.
Raymond has signing
events scheduled for October 4 and
October 8 in the Chicago area, and signed books can be pre-ordered from these
outlets as well prior to the appearance date:
From the New York Times
bestselling author comes a new novel of suspense involving a small town
neighborhood street where first love, a child abduction, and abuse collide.
Sixty-one-year-old Shelby Truman, a best-selling
romance novelist, receives a request to visit her childhood friend, Eddie, who
is on Death Row. Though mentally ill, Eddie is scheduled to be executed for
As Shelby travels home to Texas for the unnerving
reunion, she steps into the memories of her past, recalling her stormy
five-decade-long relationship with Eddie in order to understand what led the
beautiful and talented—but troubled—boy who lived across the street to become a
Shelby fears that her flashbacks, whether they
occurred in the nearby public park, in their respective houses, or in their
“secret hiding place” where they could escape Eddie’s abusive father, might be
shocking . Most significant was the tragedy of one summer that set in motion a
lifelong struggle against an Evil—with a capital “E”—that corrupted their
With only a few days left for Eddie to live, Shelby
braces herself for a reunion that promises to shed light on the traumatic
events that transpired on her street, changing everything Shelby thought she
knew about the boy on Chicory Lane.
Raymond Benson with Hefner at the Playboy Mansion.
true American innovator and icon has left us.
I would never claim to be one of this brilliant man’s inner circle of close longtime
friends or family, I was privileged to know him for nearly three decades. I was
a guest at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles on numerous occasions, many times
along with my wife and even my son, who first visited when he was eight years
old! Hef was always a generous host—kind, warm-hearted, and full of
conversation. He also had integrity. His championing of civil rights and First
Amendment freedoms is legendary. He gave us the permission to embrace the
sexual revolution—and, believe it or not, he was a strong advocate of women’s
rights. The women who truly knew him loved
first “met” through correspondence after the publication of my 1980s book, The James Bond Bedside Companion. I had
been a Playboy reader and subscriber
since I was old enough to be one (and was sneaking it into the house before
that!), so I knew the magazine well, its philosophy, and its impact on popular
culture. I also was well aware that Hef was a James Bond fan. Playboy was the first American
periodical to publish fiction by Ian Fleming. Beginning with the March 1960
issue, Playboy published several of
Fleming’s short stories and excerpts from his novels during that decade. The
magazine also featured pictorials from the films that lasted into the 80s.
sent Hef a copy of the Bedside Companion and
I was surprised and pleased that he wrote me back, thanking me for the book and
relating a little of how he first screened Dr.
No at the Chicago Playboy Mansion in 1962, months before its official ’63 release
in the U.S. Additional occasional correspondence between us ensued over the
next few years, and then, in 1994, I was invited to visit Playboy Mansion West
on “movie night” while I was attending a James Bond convention being held in
Los Angeles. A year later, I landed the gig to become the first American author
to pen official 007 novels. I suggested to the Ian Fleming people that we
approach Hef to do an exclusive short story for the magazine and re-establish
the Playboy/Bond connection. The
result was the publication of my Bond fiction in six issues of Playboy between 1997 and 2000.
Raymond took this snap from the sidelines in 1999 as the 45th Anniversary photo is taken of Hef and hundreds of Playmates. (Photo copyright by Raymond Benson. All rights reserved.)
of the more memorable weekends I spent in Hef’s company was during the “Playboy
Expo,” held in L.A. in 1999 for the 45th Anniversary of the
magazine. I was invited to be a guest speaker at the expo, which ran for two
days and featured the appearances of around 300 Playmates, past and present. I
was on the sidelines when the iconic photograph was taken at the Mansion of Hef
and all the women present who had graced the centerfold since the 1950s. That
was surely a “pinch me” moment.
normally visited the Mansion on “movie nights.” These were held on Sundays,
when up to fifty guests were invited for a buffet dinner and the screening of a
current film. When no other events were happening, Hef had “classic” movie
nights of old movies on Fridays and/or Saturdays. Hef was a serious movie buff!
fact, Hef made many contributions to the world of cinema. He was one of the
movers and shakers (and financiers) for the restoration of the famous “Hollywood”
sign that had come into disrepair by the 70s. Playboy Enterprises had a working
film production company during that decade and made a few memorable pictures.
For example, the first Monty Python film, And
Now for Something Completely Different (1971), was a Playboy production.
Roman Polanski’s Macbeth (also 1971)
was executive produced by Hefner.
work in television was also pioneering. His Playboy’s
Penthouse, that aired for two seasons in 1959-1961, was the first variety
show to break the “color barrier” by ensuring black performers mingled with
impact that Hef’s magazine had on the world cannot be capsulized in this short
tribute. I will leave that task to others. Just know that a young Hugh Hefner
created Playboy on his kitchen table
in a modest Chicago apartment with very little money. Now the rabbit logo is
one of the most widely recognized symbols around the world. Hef is a perfect
example of someone who pursued the American Dream and achieved it.
in Peace, Hef, and thank you.
Cinema Retro extends its deepest
condolences to Hugh Hefner’s family—Crystal, Cooper, Marston, Christie, and
(For Raymond Benson's exclusive interview with Hugh Hefner about the films he produced, see Cinema Retro issue #5)
Allen came off an incredible run of five superior films released between 1983
and 1987 (Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose, The
Purple Rose of Cairo, Hannah and Her
Sisters, and Radio Days) and then
delivered one of his occasional “serious” pictures (without his presence as an
actor) in late ’87 that was so dire that it only grossed approximately $500,000
in its initial run.
a six-character “play” that takes many cues from the works of Anton Chekhov, September is set in a Vermont country
house where depressed Lane (Mia Farrow) is recovering from a suicide attempt.
Her best friend Stephanie (Dianne Wiest) is there for moral support. Lane is in
love with tenant/writer Peter (Sam Waterston), and neighbor/teacher Howard
(Denholm Elliott) is in love with Lane. She doesn’t share Howard’s affections,
but Peter, however, is in love with Stephanie. Coming to visit into this
quartet of woe is Lane’s extroverted mother, a former actress named Diane
(Elaine Stritch) and her second husband Lloyd (Jack Warden). Diane and Lane
have a complicated relationship. When Lane was young, she found her mother
being abused by a man and she killed him (shades of the infamous real-life case
involving Lana Turner, her daughter, and a mobster).
sound like one of Woody Allen’s laugh-fests, does it?
September was a problem project
for the writer/director from the beginning. He had originally cast Christopher
Walken as Peter, started shooting, and then decided that wasn’t working. He
recast the role with Sam Shepard. Maureen O’Sullivan was playing Diane, and
Charles Durning had the part of Howard. Allen shot the entire movie and edited
it. He was unhappy with it for some reason, so he decided to recast the
roles of Peter, Diane, and Howard, and remake
the entire movie. I’m sure the studio, Orion Pictures, loved that
prospect—but at that time Allen’s stock was uncommonly high and he had the
clout to do it.
acting is good enough, I suppose. Elaine Stritch, in particular, shines in the
showy role of the crazy show biz mom. The problem is that these are people we
can’t really care about. The love and angst on display quickly becomes
no one has ever seen the first version of September
that Allen shot, I can’t imagine that the picture we saw in the cinema in
December ’87 was any better. For the record, I will state that Woody Allen,
with nearly fifty titles under his belt, is one our national treasures as a
filmmaker…but September ranks as one
of the worst five movies he ever made. Luckily, he followed the picture with
one of his best “serious” titles—Another
Woman (also available from Twilight Time).
looks gorgeous, though! The cinematography
by the late, great Carlo Di Palma emphasizes the autumn colors of Vermont with
a pastel palette that is very pleasing to the eye. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray
1080p High Definition transfer is admirable, accompanied by a fine 1.0 DTS-HD
Master Audio. The only supplements, however, are an isolated music and effects
track (the music consists of Allen’s typical Great American Songbook jazz
standards), and the theatrical trailer.
September—a nice product of
only 3,000 (limited edition) units—will appeal to Woody Allen completists.
Allen’s very first directorial effort (not counting What’s Up, Tiger Lily? from1966, which was, in actuality, a
Japanese spy movie that Allen rewrote, dubbed, and re-edited into a comedy) was
the low budget, no frills Take the Money
and Run, released in the summer of 1969 to an unsuspecting audience. While
Allen was already somewhat familiar to the public via his numerous television
talk show and stand-up appearances, as well as his small roles in three late-60s
motion pictures, no one was quite prepared for the zany, nebbish onscreen
persona that Allen debuted in Take the
Money. It was a cinematic guise he would keep to the present day.
intellectual Jewish nerd that Allen presented (here his character’s name is
Virgil Starkwell) quickly became the guy whom we all thought Woody Allen really
is. Some folks might have said, “Oh, he’s just playing himself.” Perhaps
certain characteristics of the real Woody Allen may have been a part of Virgil
Starkwell, or Fielding Mellish, or even Alvy Singer, but like Groucho Marx and his onscreen persona, we now know that Woody
Allen is not that guy. In truth, he tends to be surprisingly shy, quiet, and
introverted. This revelation makes the performances in his movies that much
Take the Money and
also a milestone because of its “mockumentary” format, a comedy sub-genre that
had been rarely explored up to that point. Something like A Hard Day’s Night might be called a mockumentary, but it wasn’t
until Allen’s landmark unveiling of his first feature that we saw the comedic
possibilities of presenting a story as if it were real news—complete with
documentary-style narration (provided in this case by veteran Jackson Beck).
movie is the tale of a common serial thief, and how his love life and eventual
marriage (to Louise, played by Janet Margolin) affects his “career.” The
hilarious biographical narrative includes wacky robberies, failed attempts to
go straight, and numerous stints in the pen. One cannot easily forget the
classic bank holdup scene in which Allen passes a note to the teller, who can’t
read the handwriting. Before long, the entire staff of the bank is attempting
to decipher whether Starkwell wrote “gub” or “gun.” “Is this a holdup?” one guy
for roughly $1.5 million, the picture looks, well, cheap, and it has that 1960s
shot-on-newsreel-cameras feel, which of course is entirely appropriate. The
direction is competent; Allen has long acknowledged the contribution of editor
Ralph Rosenblum to his early comedies. It’s not unfair to say that Rosenblum
may have taught Allen essential lessons in directing. That said, it’s also no
small feat to act in, direct, and co-write (with Mickey Rose) a movie. Despite
the low rent vibe of the picture, the jokes really do come every few seconds,
and this is worth the price of admission. It is a very funny movie.
Kino Lorber Blu-ray transfer looks fine, although the video quality of the
original picture wasn’t particularly great to begin with. Unfortunately, like
with most Allen Blu-ray releases, there are no supplements other than trailers
for other Kino Lorber releases.
Take the Money and Run is a
worthwhile examination of a genius artist’s baby steps. There’s no question
that Allen’s career began with an impressive laugh riot—and things would only
is a tough one. On the one hand, Bring Me
the Head of Alfredo Garcia a picture that has gained a cult status and a
reputation among some cinema enthusiasts and certainly Sam Peckinpah fans as a
retro classic. On the other hand, this is one nasty piece of work.
remember immensely disliking the picture in 1974 (as did most audiences and
critics) when it was first released. I appreciated its dark humor and Warren
Oates’ superb study in futility and frustration—it was nice to see the longtime
supporting actor be a lead—but the overall nihilism of the movie left a sour
taste. I was eager to view to new DVD release by Kino Lorber on the chance that
perhaps my opinion would have changed over the last forty-three years, given
the title’s cult acceptance.
afraid my views have not changed.
Sam Peckinpah always had a confrontational relationship with Hollywood studios.
He was a rebel who liked to do things his way. By the time of Alfredo Garcia, he had pretty much given
up on Hollywood and was forging his own path. Luckily for him, United
Artists—known for indulging auteur filmmakers
in those days—gave him enough money to make the picture in Mexico with an
all-Mexican crew, save for a few key personnel. The film is perceived as one of
the director’s most personal statements.
story, by Peckinpah and Frank Kowalski, and adapted to screenplay by Peckinpah
and Gordon Dawson, follows an American ex-pat in Mexico, Bennie (Oates), as he
attempts to locate the body of deceased Alfredo Garcia, remove the head, and
return it to Mexican crime boss El Jefe.
Apparently, poor Alfredo impregnated El
Jefe’s daughter and ran off, so the boss has placed a million-dollar bounty
for her lover’s head. Bennie and his reluctant Mexican girlfriend, Elita (Isela
Vega), are in competition with various hit men and fortune hunters. Lives are
lost, women are tortured, shootouts occur, and violence (done in trademark
Peckinpah slow-motion) follows Bennie wherever he goes. Once he’s in possession
of the head, which Bennie carries around in a rucksack, flies are his only constant
don’t need Smell-O-Vision for this picture—you can swear the odors of sweat,
death, and blood penetrate the screen.
my biggest objection to the picture is Peckinpah’s treatment of women. Yes,
we’re talking about Mexico here, and we’re focusing on bad guys and prostitutes
and bar girls. But the misogyny and cruelty inflicted on the female characters
is cringe-worthy, especially today, when we’re supposed to be a little more
sensitive to this stuff. The sequence in which bikers (one is played by Kris
Kristofferson) attempt to assault Elita, and her “here we go again, let’s get
it over with” attitude toward it, is disturbing—and not because it’s supposed to be disturbing. I get that.
The problem is that the entire scene is unnecessary.
action bits/shootouts are well-done, and the latter half hour with Bennie
lugging around that head with the flies buzzing around it is grossly comical.
Hit men played by Robert Webber and Gig Young are fun to watch, and Oates’
performance elevates the picture to something that is, granted, watchable… the
same way you might slow down and rubberneck on the highway to gawk at an
Lorber’s transfer looks very good, but there seems to be something wrong in the
mastering with regard to subtitles. A lot of the movie’s dialogue is in Spanish
(for example, the first five minutes, which takes place at El Jefe’s home). There is no default for English subtitles here.
You must go to the main menu and manually turn on the subtitles. That solves
the problem for the Spanish dialogue—but then, the subtitles continue
throughout the picture even when English is spoken. Very annoying.
only supplement is an interesting and insightful audio commentary moderated by
Nick Redman and featuring film historians Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, and
David Weddle, all who have written separate books about Sam Peckinpah. There’s
the theatrical trailer, and several more trailers for Kino Lorber releases.
Bring Me the Head of
Alfredo Garcia just
might be your cup of tea—it’s probably beloved by the “Tarantino crowd”—so if
it is, then this DVD is for you.
Roy Hill’s 1964 comedy, The World of
Henry Orient, is based on a novel by Nora Johnson that fictionalizes her
own experiences as a schoolgirl in New York City when she and a friend
allegedly had crushes on pianist Oscar Levant. She and her father, Nunnally
Johnson, adapted the book to screenplay.
the story of two mid-teens, competently played by newcomers Merrie Spaeth
(“Gil”) and Tippy Walker (“Val”), who attend a private girls school in the
city. Gil’s parents are divorced and she lives with her mother and another
divorcee in a nice Upper East Side apartment. Val’s parents are still married,
but unhappily, and they’re constantly traveling the world for her father’s (Tom
Bosley) business. This leaves Gil and Val to indulge in precocious imaginary
“adventures” around the city.
develops an infatuation on eccentric womanizing concert pianist Henry Orient
(Peter Sellers) and the pair stalk him around town as he has first an affair
with a married woman (the delightful Paula Prentiss) and later Val’s own snobbish
mother (Angela Lansbury). Orient spots the two girls several times, leading him
to have paranoid fantasies that they are spies working for the cuckolded
husbands. In short, the youngsters’ shenanigans end up running the naughty man
out of town.
movie is really an odd little coming-of-age tale concerning children from
dysfunctional or broken homes. It works well enough (it was positively received
upon release), but it’s hardly a “Peter Sellers movie,” as the publicity
campaign promises. Sellers, who receives top billing, is barely a supporting
player in the story, although he is indeed very funny. His antics with Paula
Prentiss—a highly underrated comic actress who shines in her brief moments—are
enjoyable, and the crazy Carnegie Hall concert in which he performs his latest
avant-garde composition is hilarious—worth the price of admission.
the film focuses on the two girls, who, for their debut performances, aren’t
bad at all, but don’t quite have the screen charisma to elevate the film to
intended heights (Spaeth never acted again; Walker went on to do some
television and a couple of other films before retiring from show business in
film might be a delight for anyone who knows New York City. As the picture was
made on location, it’s a virtual tour guide for the sights, mainly Central Park
and the Upper East Side. Elmer Bernstein’s lively score is memorable—especially
the catchy main title theme and Orient’s wacky P.D.Q. Bach-like “symphony”
(that includes a fog horn).
Lorber’s DVD release comes with no supplements other than trailers for other
releases by the company. The video image is fine.
little-seen today, The World of Henry
Orient is an interesting time capsule from its era, most significant for
being one of three 1964 pictures in
which Peter Sellers starred. He was, arguably, at his peak.
Scorsese has made several films that are challenging for an audience. Even some
of his most acclaimed pictures, such as Raging
Bull, are difficult to watch and “enjoy.” Scorsese tackles hard truths
about the human condition, and many times they’re unpleasant and disturbing.
Sometimes the dramas he explores are not what one would call a “good time at
doesn’t mean they’re bad. On the contrary, great art often requires an audience
to meet it halfway, to capitulate and embrace the pain that is at the heart of
what the artist has intended to convey.
Silence is one of those
films. A decades-long passion project for the director, based on the novel by
Shūsaku Endō, it is about the
“silence” of God that is the biggest obstacle faced by people of faith. The
subject matter would have been at home in hands of someone like Ingmar Bergman,
who tackled this topic several times in his career. Nevertheless, Scorsese’s oeuvre has often been informed by his
Catholic upbringing and his struggles with it. While his 1988 film, The Last Temptation of Christ, was a
deeply personal and, yes, a religious picture,
it was met with controversy and even banning in some territories. Silence is an even more religious
statement from the master filmmaker, and it, too, has received mixed responses.
Some hailed it as a masterpiece. Others said it was an overlong, colossal bore.
Silence is a period piece
that takes place in 17th Century Japan, when Portuguese Jesuit
priests were attempting to bring Christianity to that feudal kingdom. One
particular priest, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), had gone to Japan on such a
mission, but news comes back to Portugal that he has renounced his faith and disappeared.
Two young priests, Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe (Adam
Driver) are sent to locate him to find out what happened—and spread the Gospel
while they’re at it.
doesn’t go well. The priests encounter the cruel and calculating samurai known
as the “Inquisitor” (magnificently portrayed by Issey Ogata), who does
everything in his power to crush the priests’ objective, wipe Christianity from
his land, and keep an iron hold on the citizens’ beliefs. Different methods of
torture are his preferred weapons of rule. As time passes, the priests’ faith
is severely compromised—but Rodrigues hangs on, fighting with every fiber of
his being to the bitter end.
doesn’t come for two hours and forty-one minutes.
lies the problem I had with what otherwise was one of the most
gorgeously-photographed motion pictures I’ve seen in years. The cinematography
by Rodrigo Prieto earned an Oscar nomination—and probably should have won. The
production and costume designs by Dante Ferretti should have also at least received
nods. The movie is indeed beautiful to look at, on par with such visual feasts
as Barry Lyndon, Days of Heaven, and The Tree
just… long. And very slow. The meditative pace, intentional as it is, serves
the subject and the picture well up to a point. The movie is additionally extremely
quiet; the soundtrack consists of mostly sounds of nature along with delicate period
music of an Eastern flavor by Kathryn and Kim Allen Kluge. The relentless
suffering of the characters—in silence—takes its toll. Perhaps that’s what
Scorsese wanted to do. To test the audience, just as the priests are tested.
acting, especially by Garfield, shows extreme dedication to the material. Both he
and Driver lost a good deal of weight for their roles. At one point during
filming, as recounted in the documentary supplement on the disk, the entire
cast and crew broke for lunch on a beach—but the two actors chose to stay in a
boat away from shore and not participate in the meal.
new Paramount Blu-ray disk exquisitely captures the film. It looks fantastic,
as it should, with a 1080p High Definition transfer. There are several sound
options—5.1 DTS HD Master Audio in English, and other languages in 5.1 Dolby
Digital. The only supplement is the aforementioned making-of featurette, Martin Scorsese’s Journey Into Silence,
which provides a satisfying overview of the production and its genesis.
of Martin Scorsese should give Silence a
chance, but don’t expect the flash-bang editing of GoodFellas. This is an art film of the highest order, one that you
may find very rewarding if your endurance makes it to its final, glorious image
before the end credits.
Allen has written and directed several dramas over the years (none of which he
appears in)—and there are indeed a few that are worthwhile endeavors. The 1988
release, Another Woman, might be one
of Allen’s least-seen films, and yet it belongs in a list of the artist’s
solid, good pictures—not one of his
masterpieces, but certainly not a clinker (with over forty-six titles, his oeuvre runs the gamut!)
few months ago, I reviewed Allen’s first drama, Interiors, here at Cinema
Retro and acknowledged
the obvious influence of Ingmar Bergman in the work. But it was stated that Interiors was really more Eugene O’Neill
than Bergman. Here, Another Woman is
definitely channeling Bergman; in fact, many critics spotted the similarity—or homage—to the Swedish master’s classic Wild Strawberries (1957), in that the
film is about a person reflecting on a past life, discovering painful truths,
and resolving to change paths moving forward. In Strawberries, the protagonist is an old man; in Woman it’s a female turning fifty. The
Bergman comparison is made even stronger by the fact that Bergman’s longtime
and Oscar-winning cinematographer, Sven Nykvist, is the DP on Allen’s picture.
He shoots it in striking, picture-perfect color.
(sensitively played by the great Gena Rowlands) is an intelligent philosophy
professor on sabbatical, and she’s hoping to write a book. She’s in her second
marriage to Ken (Ian Holm), who is also in his
second marriage. His teenage daughter from the first union, Laura (Martha
Plimpton), is closer to Marion than her own mother (Betty Buckley). Marion has
rented an apartment to get away from construction noise at her home so that
she’ll have peace and quiet to write. However, the walls are thin and she is
next to a psychiatrist’s office. Marion can hear the patients talk about their
problems. One particular subject, Hope (Mia Farrow), is pregnant and suicidal.
Listening to Hope triggers a crisis in Marion, who begins to face turning fifty
and what her life has meant. She soon discovers that she’s been in denial over
a lot of things, mainly that she isn’t perceived by people close to her in ways
that she had thought.
film then takes the Wild Strawberries route
as Marion reflects on events from her past (shown in flashbacks and dream
sequences). Instances of infidelity, jealousy, elitism, and abortion come back
to haunt her—and Marion resolves to do something about it.
to Interiors, Another Woman is much more confident in its direction, and the
control over the piece is more relaxed. Experience counts, for Allen had one
other dead-on drama under his belt (the dreadful September) and several pieces one could call “dramedies” before
tackling Woman. His work here with
Nykvist is masterful. The cast is excellent—besides everyone previously
mentioned, the film also features Blythe Danner, Sandy Dennis, Gene Hackman,
Harris Yulin, John Houseman (in his last screen performance), Frances Conroy,
Philip Bosco, and David Ogden Stiers.
music—made up of classical and Allen-esque jazz selections—is also very
effective. Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1 serves
as a theme of sorts, and its melancholy pervades the picture.
Time’s new Blu-ray release looks marvelous, showing off Nykvist’s photography
with vivid hues. As with most Allen releases, though, the supplements are
sparse—only a theatrical trailer and an isolated music score are present on the
disk. A perceptive essay by Julie Kirgo adorns the inner booklet.
eighties may be Woody Allen’s strongest decade of work, and Another Woman is a fine example of the
“A LONG DAY’S JOURNEY
INTO A LITTLE NIGHT SILENCE”
By Raymond Benson
Allen’s first dramatic feature film, Interiors,
released in 1978 on the heels of his hugely successful and Oscar-winning
masterpiece, Annie Hall, was met with
praise by some and head-scratching by others. Most critics, however,
acknowledged that the picture was a step the artist needed to take in his evolution
as a filmmaker.
to Annie Hall, Allen’s films were
zany comedies—the “early funny ones,” as facetiously described in a later work,
Stardust Memories. Beginning with Annie, Allen made a quantum leap forward
in originality, confidence, and stylistic maturity. He reinvented the romantic
comedy. In many ways, Annie Hall is a
movie with a European sensibility. It could be argued that Allen’s body of work
post-Annie resembles the kind of material
made by a director like, say, Francois Truffaut—small, well-written, intimate
gems about people, relationships, and life
that can be comedies, dramas, or “dramedies.”
Interiors is one of the dramas
and it’s deadly serious. The influence of Ingmar Bergman is heavily prominent,
but there’s also a palpable strain of playwright Eugene O’Neill running through
it. The movie is about an upper class
dysfunctional family that could be right out of an alternate version of
O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night.
(Geraldine Page) and Arthur (E. G. Marshall) are a separated couple with three
grown daughters—Renata (Diane Keaton), Joey (Mary Beth Hurt), and Flyn (Kristin
Griffith). Renata is a successful poet, Joey is a lost soul searching for
meaning to her life, and Flyn is an actress. Renata and Joey are in flawed
relationships with Frederick and Mike (Richard Jordan and Sam Waterston,
respectively). Eve has a history of depression and suicide attempts. Arthur
just wants to get a divorce and move on with his life, especially with
new-found fling Pearl (Maureen Stapleton). Angst, recriminations, self-destruction,
and guilt abound.
not a happy story, but it is a
fascinating ensemble piece that demonstrates an uncommon mastery of cinematic
language. Allen’s direction is superb, and Gordon Willis’ color photography is
striking. The acting, though, is what places the picture above the bar. Page
was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar (and won
the BAFTA, although she was in the supporting category), and Maureen
Stapleton was nominated for a Supporting Actress Oscar. Allen himself received
nominations for Directing and for his Original Screenplay. A fifth Academy
Award nomination went to production designers Mel Bourne and Daniel Robert for
what are stark, creepily sterile interiors—hence,
is especially striking in Allen’s direction is the total lack of music—there is
a little source music here and there, but no underscore. There is
sound—dialogue, clocks ticking a la Bergman,
the roar of the tide—but basically this is a movie that overwhelms a viewer
with its silence.
Time’s limited edition Blu-ray (only 3000 units!) is a 1080p High Definition
transfer with a 1.0 DTS-Master Audio. It looks quite good, on a par with the
recent Allen releases by the label. Unfortunately, as with most Allen home
video products, there is little in the way of supplements—here, it’s only the
theatrical trailer that is included.
Interiors has its detractors,
to be sure, but, as evidenced by the five Oscar nominations, the picture also
has many supporters. Still—it’s probably not for everyone. Woody Allen fans
will certainly want to give it a shot. For my money, in examining Allen’s
handful of dramas he’s made over forty-seven years, it’s one of the better
“You’ve got to live a
little, take a little, and let your poor heart break a little—that’s the story
of, that’s the glory of love.”
popular opening song by Billy Hill and sung by Jacqueline Fontaine, “The Glory
of Love,” sets the tone for this classic, delightful motion picture that
addressed a social issue at the time that we take for granted today—interracial
marriage. Hey, in 1967, this was a hot topic. The Supreme Court had decided the
Loving vs. Virginia case, which
prohibited states from criminalizing interracial marriage, only six months
prior to the film’s release (and that legal battle is dramatized in the film Loving, currently in cinemas). Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was indeed
timely, certainly controversial in more conservative areas of the country, and
a powerful statement about tolerance and the rights of American citizens.
comedy/drama was a hit and was nominated for ten Academy Awards, including Best
Picture, Director (Kramer), Actor (Spencer Tracy), Actress (Katharine Hepburn),
Supporting Actor (Cecil Kellaway), and Supporting Actress (Beah Richards). It
won only two—Hepburn took home the prize, and William Rose was honored for his
intelligent and warm Original Screenplay.
Kramer produced many “important” pictures before taking up the directing chores
himself in the late 50s, and he often tackled difficult social issues—racial
issues in The Defiant Ones (1958),
nuclear war in On the Beach (1959),
the teaching of evolution in schools in Inherit
the Wind (1960), and the Holocaust in Judgment
at Nuremberg (1961). He seems to have been just the man for the job, as
this new 50th Anniversary Blu-ray release emphasizes—there are three separate
supplements on the disk about Kramer himself, plus an appearance by his widow
Karen in an introduction to the film, as well as his presence in two more
featurettes about the making of the picture.
anyone who’s never seen this wonderful movie, it concerns an upper class
liberal couple (Tracy and Hepburn) whose daughter (Katharine Houghton, who
happens to be Hepburn’s real-life niece) has surprised them with her engagement
to a black doctor (Sidney Poitier). Suddenly, the parents’ liberal attitudes
are challenged and they’re not so sure this is a good idea. Complicating the
matter, the daughter has invited her fiancé’s parents (Roy E.
Glenn and Beah Richards) to join them for dinner to “meet the in-laws.” A
cordial white priest (Kellaway) and a feisty black housekeeper (Isabel Sanford)
add to the crisis of musical chairs. It’s a talky film that takes place mostly
indoors in the family’s home—it would have made a terrific stage play—but
Kramer’s deft hand at directing keeps everything fresh. This is a film about
the writing and the acting, and everyone is terrific.
only mild criticism I would have—and it echoes that of many critics at the
time—is that Poitier’s character is too perfect. Apparently Kramer and the
screenwriter did that on purpose so there would be no way anyone, that is,
anyone white, could object to him.
After all, Kramer had no idea what kind of backlash the film would receive upon
was extremely ill during the filming; in fact, he couldn’t be insured. Hepburn
and Kramer had to guarantee their salaries as collateral to get the film made.
Tracy died about two weeks after the production wrapped. It’s one of his
greatest performances. His final speech at the end of the movie to the rest of
the cast concerning his “decision” about the marriage is sure to well up any
viewer’s eyes. Poitier is very good as well—1967 was his year, as the actor had
also appeared in To Sir, With Love and
In the Heat of the Night along with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Hepburn
steals the film, though, if that is possible opposite Tracy and Poitier. Her
eyes maintain that fine line between almost-crying and bawling throughout the
picture. It’s a magnificent performance.
The Sony Blu-ray (to be released February 7) looks splendid in its 1080p High Definition glory with a 5.1 DTS-HD
Master Audio. It comes in a deluxe digibook with plenty of photos and an essay
by Gil Robertson. The problem with the disk itself is that there are no new
supplements—they’re all ported over from the 40th Anniversary DVD... but if you’ve never seen them, they’re all
quite well done. You have a choice of four different introductions to the
film—the previously mentioned one with Karen Kramer, and others each by Steven
Spielberg, Quincy Jones, and Tom Brokaw. Along with the featurettes about the
film and Stanley Kramer, you get a gallery of photos and the theatrical
Guess Who’s Coming to
a milestone from the late 1960s—a relic of a turbulent time in America’s
history, but also an often funny—and gently principled—entertainment.
Perhaps the first film we saw
that convinced us that Woody Allen could actually act—i.e., not be his nebbish, nervous comic persona from his early
directorial efforts—was Martin Ritt’s 1976 comedy/drama, The Front, which appeared a year before Allen’s Annie Hall.
The Front was
perhaps the first Hollywood film to tackle the subject of “the blacklist” that
occurred in the movie industry in the late 1940s and throughout most of the 50s.
This abominable practice was due to the investigation of “Communist
infiltration” in Tinsel Town by HUAC—the House Un-American Activities
Committee. It was truly a dark time in U.S. history, one in which friends were
pressured to “name names” or face the prospect of unemployment or worse, such
as jail time. Note that the Hollywood
studio heads were responsible for the actual blacklisting. The powers-that-be
decided to cooperate with HUAC by targeting stars, writers, directors,
producers, and other personnel who may have
had some connections to the Communist Party, even if it was as far back as the
1920s and 30s. It was insane.
Director Martin Ritt, who himself
was a victim of the blacklist, shows us just how insane it really was. The film
was written by Walter Bernstein, also a blacklist victim. Actors Zero Mostel,
Herschel Bernardi, and Lloyd Gough—who appear in the picture—were also once blacklisted.
The Front knows what it’s talking
about. There are laughs, to be sure, but there is also a subtle seriousness to
the proceedings that is frightening.
Allen plays Howard, a lowly
restaurant cashier who is friends with screenwriter Alfred (Michael Murphy).
Alfred gets blacklisted, so he gets Howard to be his “front”—Alfred writes the
scripts and then Howard puts his name on them and takes a percentage of the
fee. The problems start when the scripts are so good that Howard becomes known
as a talented writer and suddenly becomes in demand. Soon he’s the front for
several writers, and of course, it gets out of hand. During the course of the
story, Howard befriends actor Hecky (Mostel), who also becomes blacklisted, as
well as lovely and smart studio script editor Florence (Andrea Marcovicci),
with whom Howard falls in love. How is he going to keep his secret from
Florence, especially when she’s just as enamored of his “writing” as the studio
The Oscar nominated original
screenplay is savvy and biting, Ritt’s direction is assured and knowing, and
Zero Mostel is so good that he should have received a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination
for The Front—but it is Woody Allen’s
performance that is the soul of the movie. He literally lights up the screen
with a fully fleshed-out character that, at the time, was a refreshing
surprise. His passion for the material is evident, and one could almost think
that the film is one of his own from his late 1980s period.
Twilight Time’s Blu-ray edition sports an all-region 1080p High Definition
restoration that looks sharp. It is accompanied by a 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
soundtrack, as well as an informative audio commentary by Andrea Marcovicci,
and film historians Julie Kirgo (who also provides the booklet notes) and Nick
Redman. Other supplements include an isolated score track (Dave Grusin, composer)
and the theatrical trailer.
As with most Twilight Time
releases, the Blu-ray edition is limited to 3,000 units, so snatch it up before
they’re gone. The Front is a timely
piece of political filmmaking that still resonates, especially today.
cinephiles know that Woody Allen is a huge fan of Ingmar Bergman. Allen has
paid homage to the Swedish master several times, and his 1982 work, A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, is an
example. It draws upon one of Bergman’s very few comedies, Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), which is also the basis of the
Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical and later film, A Little Night Music.
Smiles takes place at the
turn of the last century (1800s to 1900s) in a rural village in Sweden, and the
story follows the bawdy escapades of several couples. Likewise, Allen’s Midsummer takes place in the same time
period, although the story is transplanted to “the country” somewhere in New
York state, and concerns an ensemble of six characters—three couples—who also
embark on bawdy escapades.
original film, in turn, is inspired by the works of Anton Chekhov. Smiles of Summer Night is light,
intellectual, and explores manners and morals with an undercurrent of serious
sexuality bubbling underneath—just like some of Chekhov’s comedies. The Russian
playwright’s comedies are not belly-laughers; instead they are subtle, amusing,
and effervescent. You smile at them.
Bergman’s Smiles is the same way, as
is Allen’s Midsummer.
said, Midsummer is not one of Woody
Allen’s better films. It’s all right—it’s not bad, it’s just very, well, light.
A fluff piece. Something he made to fill some time. He had actually shot Zelig prior to making Midsummer, but the visual effects of the
former film were taking longer than expected—so Allen wrote, produced, edited,
and released Midsummer in the interim
(Zelig was released in 1983).
are perhaps two significant aspects to Midsummer—one
is Gordon Willis’ gorgeous color cinematography, which excellently captures the
“enchanted” forest and pastoral mood of the film, and the other is that it’s
the first of Allen’s releases featuring Mia Farrow as a co-star. Unfortunately,
as opposed to several other of the director’s movies made later in the decade, Midsummer does not show off Farrow’s
talents particularly well.
plays Andrew, an “inventor” married to Adrian (Mary Steenburgen). They are
having marital problems, although their love for each other is evident. They’ve
invited two couples out to the country for a weekend—Leopold, a randy old
professor (Jose Ferrer) and his young fiancé Ariel (Farrow), and
Maxwell, a randy young doctor (Tony Roberts) and his adventurous nurse, Dulcy
(Julie Hagerty). Throughout the course of the weekend, couples mix,
relationships are challenged, and the promise of sex dominates everyone’s mind.
Throw in a little magic (the forest is “enchanted”),
and you have a light little romp of a comedy.
Time’s limited edition Blu-ray (only 3,000 units) features a 1080 High
Definition transfer that beautifully brings out the colorful settings. It comes
with a 1.0 DTS-Master Audio soundtrack, plus an isolated music track (the score
is made up of lively classical pieces by Felix Mendelssohn). The theatrical
trailer is the only supplement. The booklet contains an informative essay by
film critic Julie Kirgo.
the grand scheme of Allen’s nearly fifty titles, Midsummer resides somewhere in the lower third, to be sure. Nevertheless,
it provides 88 minutes of amusement in the way a nice European pastry is
pleasing to the palate. Enjoyable while it lasts, but then it’s gone.
one facetiously counted the number of films Woody Allen made beginning in 1969
and throughout the 70s, there would be eight that he wrote and directed (seven
of which he also starred in), plus a movie that he only wrote and starred in—Play It Again, Sam, for which I’ll count
as 1/2, making Stardust Memories number
9-1/2. Appropriately, this film seems to intentionally pay homage to Federico
Fellini’s own masterwork, 8-1/2
(1963), which was about a filmmaker who didn’t know what movie he wanted to shoot
next. Stardust Memories, released in
1980 after the huge successes of Annie
Hall and Manhattan (with
critically-acclaimed Interiors in-between),
is also about a filmmaker in search
of the picture he wants to make.
wasn’t well-received at the time. I recall leaving the theater in anger. How
could Woody be so contemptuous of his audience? It was as if his character, the
rather egotistical and unlikable filmmaker Sandy Bates, hates his fans,
especially the ones who clamor for his “earlier, funnier movies”—and of course
we couldn’t help but superimpose Sandy Bates with Woody Allen. And that’s where audiences misinterpreted the picture.
Bates is no more Allen than Marcello Mastroianni is Fellini in 8-1/2. While Allen (and Fellini) may
have infused their “alter-egos” with autobiographical aspects of themselves,
the characters were indeed fictional representations.
no secret that Allen often likes to mimic European filmmakers he admires—his
love of Ingmar Bergman is evident in several pictures. This time, with Memories, Allen does invoke Fellini and
that director’s signature stream-of-consciousness and non-linear storytelling
with flights of fantasy and surrealism. Filming in black and white for the
second time in a row, Allen, like Fellini, throws in outdoor circus scenes,
grotesque and freakish extras, radical editing techniques, and meandering love
affairs. Instead of coming off as mere imitation, though, Allen’s picture
succeeds on its own merits. It’s a challenging, highly intellectual piece of
cinema that must be viewed more than once to fully appreciate. Allen himself
has said that Stardust Memories is
one of his favorite films that he’s made. I’d place it in the upper third of
his by now numerous works.
story follows Sandy as he attempts to please his producers, the studio, the
fans, and himself—all the while haunted by the failed and tragic relationship
he had in the past with Dorrie (luminous Charlotte Rampling). Along the way
there are dalliances with other women (Jessica Harper and Marie-Christine
Barrault). The dream sequence at the opening of the film, in which Sandy is
trapped on a morbid, claustrophobic train from hell, while looking out at another train where inside there’s a
lively party going on (and young Sharon Stone blowing kisses at him through the
window), is one of Allen’s most memorable set pieces. The whimsical middle, in
which Sandy and Harper’s character escape a film festival to watch magic acts
in a field is pure effervescence. The jump cut close-ups of Rampling’s face
during a breakdown toward the film’s end is one of the most powerful sequences
Allen ever shot.
there are the many familiar and unusual cameos that pop up—Tony Roberts,
Laraine Newman, Daniel Stern, Amy Wright, Brent Spiner, and even Allen’s ex-wife
and co-star Louise Lasser... Gordon Willis’ spectacular cinematography... Dick
Hyman’s wonderful adapted score of Cole Porter and other old-school tunes... it
all adds up. There is much to savor
in Stardust Memories.
Time’s limited edition (only 3,000 units) Blu-ray sports a 1080p High
Definition picture that looks wonderful, along with a 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
soundtrack. The only supplements, sadly, are an isolated music score, a booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo and the
original theatrical trailer.
Stardust Memories was a divisive movie
for Allen fans, but time has been kind to it. Give it another go—you may be
surprised by how masterful and engaging it really is.
The Life and
Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby may not immediately come to mind when naming
the most well-known of author Charles Dickens’ novels, but it’s arguably one of
his best. Besides being a cracking good story in print, the Royal Shakespeare
Company famously produced an 8-1/2-hour long Tony Award-winning play (staged in
two parts, with a dinner break) in 1980 that was one of this reviewer’s most
treasured theatrical experiences.
motion picture, released in 2002 to positive critical acclaim but little
enthusiasm from ticket-buyers, is also a delight. Writer/director Douglas
McGrath whittled down Dickens’ massive tome to a mere 132 minutes, and yet one
doesn’t miss the extracted bits. The screenplay is an essential lesson in adaptation. Now a gorgeously
rendered Blu-ray release from Twilight Time, Nickleby can be re-evaluated and appreciated for the superb
achievement it is.
story is typical Dickens—in mid-19th Century England, the death of Mr. Nickleby
leaves Nicholas (winningly played by a young Charlie Hunnam), his sister, and
mother without a penny—so they must go to London and depend on the charity of
Uncle Ralph (Christopher Plummer), who is a characteristically cruel and greedy
Dickens villain. Nicholas is at first sent to a boarding school run by Mr.
Squeers (Jim Broadbent), who is also cruel and greedy and likes to beat the
children. There, Nicholas meets the crippled Smike (Jamie Bell) and the pair
become fast friends. Nicholas succeeds in getting Smike out of the school, but
then they run into the eccentric Vincent Crummles (Nathan Lane) and his wife
(played hilariously by Barry Humphries—yes, a man), who put the young lads in
their traveling theatrical troupe. Misadventures and calamities continue to
befall Nicholas, not withstanding his romance with Madeline (Anne Hathaway),
which Uncle Ralph is determined to quash.
one can see, the cast is amazing. Add to these principles the likes of Alan
Cumming, Timothy Spall, Tom Courtenay, Edward Fox, and several other notable
British actors, and you’ve got an ensemble piece to be reckoned with.
(perhaps best known as Woody Allen’s co-writer and Oscar nominee for Bullets Over Broadway, writer/director
of Emma, and writer of the Broadway
smash Beautiful: The Carole King Musical)
brings intelligence and a colorful visual style to the material. Why the film
wasn’t nominated, at the very least, for Production Design or Costume Design is
1080p High Definition transfer looks wonderful, and the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
also comes with an isolated score track (by Rachel Portman) and a valuable and
informative “how-I-did-it” commentary by McGrath. Other supplements include two
making-of documentaries ported over from the original DVD release, as well as a
“view from the set” multi-angle feature. The original theatrical trailer rounds
out the package.
Nicholas Nickleby most likely slipped
by you back in late 2002 when it played in theaters—here’s your chance to check
it out before the limited edition run of 3,000 copies sells out.
a recurring theme in Woody Allen’s work over the past twenty years—“the heart
wants what the heart wants.” The writer/director (and, now, only occasionally
an actor) has lately tackled this topic with varying results. You have to hand
it to him, though—the guy has consistently made more or less a movie a year
since 1969. There have to be a few clinkers in there—even Hitchcock had some.
Luckily for us, though, Café Society is a pretty good entry in Allen’s canon—not
one of the masterpieces of yesteryear, but it’s probably the best thing he’s
done since the excellent award-winning Midnight
Café Society is a period piece that takes place mostly in
Hollywood in the 1930s, and therein lies much of its charm—the production
design and costumes, along with Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography, immediately
provides eye candy that looks fabulous in high definition. Fans of American
cinema history will find a lot to admire in the picture’s references to old
story is familiar territory. Jesse Eisenberg is the Woody-surrogate this time
around, playing New Yorker Bobby, who goes to L.A. to get a job at the studio
run by his Uncle Phil (Steve Carell). There, he meets a secretary, Veronica
(Kristen Stewart), and falls in love. Little does he know that she is involved
with Uncle Phil. Another woman named Veronica (Blake Lively) enters the tale a
little later, when Bobby is back in New York. In short, Café Society is a love story that
spans several years with a boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-meets-another
girl, boy-runs-into-first-girl-again plot structure.
are laughs, to be sure, but overall the film projects a bittersweet,
melancholic mood that is disarming for a Woody Allen film. Is the ending a
happy one? That’s not a guarantee; in this case what the heart wants may not be
what’s best for the heart.
performances are of high caliber, especially those of Stewart and Lively. The
former creates a deeply conflicted character in Veronica 1, while the latter
lights up the screen as Veronica 2. Parker Posey is always a welcome addition,
and Corey Stoll, as Bobby’s mobster brother, is hilarious.
a solid 3-out-of-4 stars Woody Allen flick. The one thing that definitely could
have been deleted was the voice-over narration (delivered by Woody himself),
which is unnecessary and, at times, annoying.
with most home video releases of the director’s pictures, the Lionsgate Blu-ray
(packaged with a DVD and digital copy) comes with little in the way of
supplements. In this case, there’s only two-minutes of “red carpet footage” and
a trailer—but the feature film is a little gem.
Film noir was still a valid Hollywood
commodity in 1951, and director Nicholas Ray was one the style’s star
practitioners. He had begun his career with the classic They Live by Night, and just the previous year he had brought us In a Lonely Place (see Cinema Retro’s
review here). On Dangerous Ground, which stars Ida Lupino (who reportedly
directed some scenes when Ray was ill) and Robert Ryan, is a fair
representation of the movement—it’s not bad, but it’s not particularly great,
it comes across as two different movies. The first forty minutes or so are deep
in film noir territory—it has an urban
setting, a cynical and violent protagonist (Ryan, as a police detective in the
city), night scenes, hard-boiled dialogue, harshly contrasting black and white
photography (by George E. Diskant), and sultry dames. Then, the story shifts
“up north” to snow-covered landscapes and mountains, a bright sky, and a completely
different plot than the one we started off with. Ryan, after chasing after
mobsters in the city, is sent upstate to help out with a murder investigation
in a rural area (which also doesn’t make sense, jurisdiction-wise). There he
meets a lovely blind woman (Lupino) and abruptly softens his tough guy act. His
affection for her affects the way he treats her younger, mentally challenged brother,
who of course is the killer. At this point the movie doesn’t know if it wants
to be a crime thriller or a love story.
performances are fine, although Ward Bond as the father of the slain victim is
ridiculously over-the-top. The direction is competent, and the cinematography
is striking. The problem is the script by A. I. Bezzerides—it’s weak enough to
sink the entire picture. Fortunately, the film is saved by another member of
the production team—the inimitable Bernard Herrmann. He provides the exciting score, and fans will immediately recognize motifs that
sound as if they could be practice riffs for his music in Vertigo and, especially, North by Northwest. Bernie’s work makes On Dangerous Ground completely worthwhile
and a lot of fun to watch.
restoration and transfer of the Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray disk looks
darned good. The images are sharp and clear, and the blacks and whites are
vivid—the snow sequences are notably gorgeous. The movie comes with a commentary
by film historian Glenn Erickson. The theatrical trailer is the only
of film noir should consider picking
up this release—and Bernard Herrmann enthusiasts should grab it without
thinking about it.
Are you a MOVIE BUFF? Do you think you know a lot about
MOVIES? Well, then, Movie Buff is the party accessory for you!
What is it? Movie Buff is a fast-paced, open-ended, very clever trivia card
game for “folks who love spouting movie lines and film facts.” It’s tag line is
“Finally!—a place for all that useless knowledge!”
During the course of the game, players
create “Takes” that consist of a movie title, actor(s) in the movie, role(s) in
the same film, and even applicable quote(s). “Strategy” cards can be thrown to
manipulate the play of the game. Because the game relies on players’ own store
of trivia knowledge, the same game can never be played twice. No expansion
Recently, Cinema Retro correspondent and reviewer RAYMOND BENSON encountered
JUSTIN PURVIS, the creator/designer of Movie
Buff, at Chicago’s Flashback Weekend. He sat down with Justin to find out a
little more about Movie Buff.
RETRO: How did Movie
Buff come about? What’s the origin
JUSTIN: Honestly, I feel
like I've been working on Movie Buff my entire life. Ever since I was old
enough to start watching movies, I have had this connection with films and the
actors in them. And movies became a huge part of my life when I was fourteen,
and I was diagnosed with a rare degenerative eye disease that began to slowly
steal my eyesight, leaving me with less than 10% of my vision remaining today.
But when I was diagnosed, I had no idea how long I would be able to see, so I
dove into the escapism of movies, and found that I had a knack for remembering
useless knowledge, like actors in small roles in movies and lines of dialogue
after only watching a movie once. My brother and I would even have
conversations and movie quotes around my parents and they would sit there
quizzically looking at us as if we were speaking a foreign language.
As I grew older, my friends and I started playing different games
to try and stump one another; one was a game that we just called "the
movie game," where I would name an actor and then the next person would
have to name a movie that that actor was in and then the next person had to
name a different actor in that same movie and then the next person had to name
a different movie that the second actor was in, continually moving from a movie
to actor to movie until one of us was stumped and couldn't figure out another
movie or another actor without repeating them. And then in the 90s the game 6° of Kevin Bacon became extremely
popular where any actor can be connected to Kevin Bacon within six steps using
the movie they've done, so my brother and I and our friends would play games
where instead of naming an actor we connect to Kevin Bacon, you name any two
actors, and we would connect them in six steps or less, seeing who can connect
them either the fastest, or in the shortest amount of connections, or in the
most obscure ways.
And coming from a military family, we traveled around a lot. Every
time we would move, we met new friends and found that they were playing this
game that I thought I had invented. And they always had different kinds of
spins on it, anything from the ability to go obscure once in a while, or if you
did something, you could reverse it back on the other person. That got me
thinking about ways that we could create a unifying game that everyone could
play and share their love of films without being snobbish about it, or not
being as snobbish about it. Which prompted me to take this verbal game
that I had been playing most of my life and turning it into a physical game
with more strict rules to cement the game's idea, but also provide the ability
to play strategies to help you overcome obstacles that show up eventually.
Around 2005 or so, I had finally decided that I was going to try
make a prototype of this game and I went online to a "create your own
cards" website and bought the software and the card stock, creating my
very first prototype of what I was calling Movie
Buff at the time, On Set! I went
and got some generic images from the Internet and put them on these cards and
used them, play testing it with friends or with students that I would teach. I
used to teach Improv in Washington DC, and after the classes or the shows we'd
go out for drinks and I would break out the game and we'd play it.
Slowly over that time, in between full-time jobs, full-time life,
and full-time hobbies, I kept chipping away at the idea, putting it aside
whenever something "more important " came along. It wasn't until 2014
when my wife became pregnant with our first child that I realized I had to get
a real job, or make this game a reality. It was after a long conversation with
my wife, Corrie, that I sat back down to re-write out the entire rules and make
sure all the cards I had were the right ones for the game. We then launched
into starting a Kickstarter campaign and reaching out for help in finding a
print house and graphic designer, as well as making sure all of our legal
obligations were met in protecting the game. And then, nine months after our
successful campaign ended in August 2014, I had the very first printing of Movie Buff in my hands. We immediately
began selling it up and down the East Coast at conventions and festivals, as
well as in local comic and game shops. Never being afraid of a challenge, I
even approached non-gaming stores. I'm proud to say that you can even find Movie Buff in the occasional hardware
store and RV sales buildings. Because, let's face it, everyone can benefit from
RETRO: Are there plans to try and sell it to a bigger
JUSTIN: Absolutely! Every
convention we go to, we make new connections with people and we find out new
ways to spread the word about Movie Buff.
And we have been introduced to many people who are connected with game
companies/distributors. We are currently in conversations with a few companies
and are very excited about the prospects of this upcoming year. Of course, we
will let people know any good news we hear from these companies once we lock
down something with them.
On a potential side note, one of the ways we have really felt like
we have made headway is with the celebrities at the conventions we attend. For
those who have seen us at conventions, you know that we have a fun spread set
out, we make fresh popcorn to give out to people, we have a candy dish filled
with goodies, and when we are less busy, I try to make my rounds to the
celebrity tables to offer them popcorn and candy, since they don't always get a
chance to leave and get a meal until the end of the day. And at a lot of these
conventions, after a weekend of plying the celebs with chocolates and popcorn,
they usually ask me about two things - 'what's the deal with the cane?' (I am
legally blind, so I usually have my cane out when I am delivering candy, just so
people don't think I’m a jerk if I bump into them) and 'what is Movie Buff?' (which I then tell them
briefly about and, on many occasions, has resulted in them buying a copy from
me). So there is a small group of celebrities who have become as in love with
the game as we are, which we couldn't be happier about.
RETRO:Tell us about future updates or spin-offs.
JUSTIN: We have some great
games in the Buff Family coming your way soon! For December 2016, we are
debuting TWO new games. Or, rather, one new game and one Director's Cut!
First we are going to have Movie
Buff - Director's Cut!, which will have three new Trivia Cards to add to
the already amazing game. Also debuting will be the second game in our Buff
family, TV Buff. As we have discovered
through our travails in the convention world, we have a pretty unique game
mechanic and it lends itself to some awesome spin-offs. Much like Fluxx, or Monopoly, you can use the same game dynamic and take it in a whole
new direction. TV Buff will use your
own “useless knowledge” of TV shows and make you the Big Shot of the Boob-tube!
After that, we will be debuting Music Buff in Summer 2017, and following that more additions to the
Buff Family will include Comic Book Buff,
Video Game Buff, History Buff, Sports Buff,
and many others, that will allow every single person who has been told that
they have “useless knowledge”' a venue to prove it is worth something
anyone ever said you remind them of Paul Rudd?
JUSTIN: Yes, they have. And
every single time they do, I have one thing to tell them - Totes Magotes,
Joben. I am very glad to hear it, since he is an incredibly handsome man and
quite funny to boot! In fact, when the movie I Love You, Man first came out, I sat down and watched it with my
girlfriend at the time, and when it was over, she turned to me and said, "This
is like watching a home movie of you."
Check out the Movie Buff website to watch other demo videos, find out where
Justin Purvis will be demonstrating the game near you, and how to order the
game, t-shirts, caps, and other useless ephemera to go with Movie Buff. The game itself sells for
only $25.00 plus shipping.
defines “mockumentary” as a portmanteau (a linguistic blending of two words) of
the words mock and documentary. Essentially, it’s a phony,
comic documentary. Woody Allen didn’t invent this sub-genre of the comedy
motion picture, but he delivered two of its more successful examples—his very
first directorial feature, Take the Money
and Run (1969), and Zelig, released
in 1983. The latter can safely be counted as among the writer/director/actor’s best
movies—and seeing that to date he has directed forty-six titles (and that’s not
counting pictures he wrote but didn’t direct), that’s saying a lot.
Zelig, which takes place
in the late 1920s to the early 30s,is
the story of Leonard Zelig (Allen), a “chameleon man,” a nobody who
inexplicably assumes the physical and aural characteristics of whoever he’s
with. If he’s around scientists, he begins to speak the lingo and carry himself
in an academic, erudite fashion; if he’s associating with Chinese folks, he turns
Chinese, facial features included; and if he’s around African-Americans, his
skin darkens. No one can figure out why this marvel occurs.
he knows it, Zelig becomes an international personality. The newsreels “of the
day” are full of him as he rubs elbows with the contemporary rich and famous like
F. Scott Fitzgerald or Jack Dempsey or even Adolf Hitler (all of whom appear in
some way in the remarkable footage on display in this picture). As it was the
“jazz age,” Leonard Zelig’s strange ability is celebrated in popular songs,
dance crazes (everybody is “Doing the Chameleon”!), and merchandise befitting
the lizard-like misfit.
and his cinematographer, Gordon Willis (who was nominated for an Academy Award
for the first time, unbelievably, for Zelig
after acting as DP for such titles as The
Godfather, The Godfather Part II,
All the President’s Men, Annie Hall, and Manhattan, among many others) painstakingly inserted Woody Allen
into frames of black and white still photographs and old newsreels—Forrest Gump-style, but without the
benefit of CGI—to accomplish the amazing visual treatment for Zelig. The look of the film is simply
remarkable, and totally believable, even more so than in Gump.
color footage features 1983-era intellectual luminaries, such as Susan Sontag,
Saul Bellow, and Irving Howe, providing “interviews” and commenting on the
Leonard Zelig phenomenon as if it had really occurred.
only other star of note besides Allen is Mia Farrow, who plays a psychiatrist
who attempts to treat the “chameleon man.” Of course, Zelig and his doctor fall
in love—it wouldn’t be a Woody Allen romantic comedy without the romance. It’s
interesting to note that Allen actually started filming Zelig after Stardust Memories
(1980) and it was the first of twelve films he made with Farrow. However,
the visual effects took so much longer to achieve after principle photography
was shot, that Allen wrote, directed, and released A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982) before Zelig was completed.
by Patrick Horgan, a British actor with a voice that sounds astonishingly like
one of those war-era documentarians, Zelig
is a top-notch, sophisticated, and very funny comedy that is brilliantly photographed and directed.
It was well-received at the time, and it launched Allen into a very successful
run of several financially and critically-acclaimed pictures in the mid-1980s.
And, as with all of the writer/director’s films, it helps if the audience knows
a little bit about history, art, and literature—Woody Allen’s movies, then and
now, are intended for a cultured crowd.
Time’s Blu-ray edition looks terrific—and you can’t complain about the
artifacts and blemishes in the images because these were all intentional to
make the old newsreel footage that much more believable. The disk comes with an
isolated score track (and the “original” 20s-era music, adapted by Dick Hyman,
is hilarious and dead-on), and the theatrical trailer. A collector's booklet with extensive liner notes by Julie Kirgo about the making of the film is also included.
too, will be singing along with “You May Be Six People, But I Love You.” Limited
to only 3000 copies, Zelig is a
must-grab for Woody Allen fans.
book that claims to be a collection of the “best” of something—whether it is a
listing of movies, music, art, and so forth—has to be taken with a grain of
salt. These kinds of things are entirely subjective; although in this case, TCM
(Turner Classic Movies) does have a kind of clout and expertise in the matter.
said, we have this beautifully-designed and illustrated coffee-table trade
paperback that contains not 1000, not 100, not 50... but 52 “essential must-see movies.” TCM’s spokesperson, Robert Osborne,
explains the criteria in his Foreword—“The Essentials” is a weekly Saturday
night event on the television network in which a guest host (the likes of Rob
Reiner, Sydney Pollack, Peter Bogdanovich, Drew Barrymore, and more) introduce
a picture he or she believes is an Essential. The book is a collection of some
of these Essentials, with some sidebar comments by the various hosts who
appeared on the program.
big question is... why 52? Why not an
even 50? Why not 100? Aha! It’s meant to
be a movie-each-week. Fifty-two weeks in a year, one Essential per week.
every single entry in the book is indeed an essential must-see motion picture.
No question about it. Of the 52 included, I personally own 47 of them on DVD or
Blu-ray in my home library and have of course seen the others. Author Jeremy Arnold does a superb job presenting
the reasons why a particular film matters, and it’s not easy to vary
superlatives, which are what it takes to describe these great works of
the ones you expect are there—City Lights,
It Happened One Night, Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane, Casablanca,
Sunset Boulevard, Singin’ in the Rain, Rear Window, The Searchers, Lawrence of
Arabia, Jaws... as well as a few
that I was particularly happy to see listed (Duck Soup, King Kong, Double Indemnity, The Bicycle Thief, Seven
Samurai, Dr. Strangelove, Once Upon a
Time in the West, Annie Hall...).
enough, although after going through the book, one can’t help but think, but what about ___? Why isn’t The Godfather an Essential? 2001: A Space Odyssey? The Wizard of Oz? A Bergman? A Scorsese? A Fellini? I found
myself scratching my head in befuddlement at the lack of some truly significant
mentions. There is also nothing more recent than 1984’s This is Spinal Tap, althoughit’s
understandable that many pictures from the 70s and beyond might not be included
because TCM doesn’t have the rights to broadcast them.
so forget about what’s missing and concentrate on what’s there. Once a reader
decides to do that, then The Essentials is
an entertaining read and, in fact, a lot of fun. Arnold does manage to mention
other titles not contained in the book that may have been influenced by one
that is. The book also has some great stills, both color and black and white.
For a preliminary “bucket list” of must-see
movies, especially for younger aficionados who might want to get a jump start
on their film history class, The
Essentials is a good place to start.
the most informed of Stanley Kubrick fans will know that Emilio D’Allesandro was,
in short, the filmmaker’s personal assistant, driver, builder, repairman,
cleaner, organizer, cook, amateur vet, house-sitter, pet-sitter, babysitter,
and confidante for thirty years. D’Allesandro probably knew Stanley Kubrick better
than anyone outside of the director’s own family. In many way, he was a part of the Kubrick family.
Stanley Kubrick and
a magnificent memoir that was first published in Italy in 2012. The English
translation, by Simon Marsh, is now available and is a must for Kubrick fans.
There have been numerous books about Kubrick—he’s likely the second most
written-about director after Hitchcock—but these tomes are typically about the
films themselves (analyses, the makings of, and so forth). There have been a
couple of biographies, notably one by Vincent LoBrutto, but these fail to
present Kubrick’s personal life in any substantial way—they rely on hearsay and
interviews by other people and are inadequate in that regard. Emilio
D’Allesandro knew Kubrick in such an
intimate way that he was in the perfect position to tell the world exactly what
the director was like as a man.
began working for Kubrick in 1970, just as A
Clockwork Orange was at the end of shooting and beginning the editing
stage. He therefore was behind-the scenes for all the subsequent pictures—Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Full Metal
Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut, as
well as the development of discarded projects like A.I.—Artificial Intelligence, and Aryan Papers. There are chapters in the book devoted to
D’Allesandro’s work on all of these, but the bulk of the memoir is more about
the rapport and camaraderie between the two men in-between productions.
example, D’Allesandro talks about Kubrick’s love of animals—at one time there
were nearly ten dogs and just as many cats in the Kubrick household. The
filmmaker’s devotion to his animals bordered on obsessive compulsive disorder.
The same is true about his three daughters. When Katharina, Anya, or Vivian
finally grew old enough to leave the family home and go out on their own,
Kubrick was a “concerned dad” to a painful, but endearing, degree. There was a
lot of: “Oh, since you’re going to be in the city, could you possibly drop in
on Vivian and make sure she’s okay?”
author also goes into how Kubrick’s brain worked in “compartments,” that the
man was capable of multi-tasking unlike anyone the assistant had ever known.
D’Allesandro had to take it upon himself to organize Kubrick’s many-faceted
projects, ideas, and paperwork so that anyone else—and Kubrick himself—could
in opposition to the unflattering accounts in the press that speculated that
the filmmaker was a mad “recluse” or a “hermit,” the author provides solid
evidence that all this was nonsense. “In the collective imagination,”
D’Allesandro writes, “Stanley Kubrick was a kind of ogre. A misanthrope, who
lived alone in his castle, isolated from the world. Stanley was quite the
opposite: he was an altruistic man, capable of generosity without the need for recognition,
an artist who valued his privacy because it allowed him to devote himself to
what he cared about most of all: his family, his animals, and the cinema.”
Stanley Kubrick and
a beautiful picture of a genius who had perhaps the most unique arrangement for
making films in all of cinema history. The book is not only essential reading for fans of the director, but for
film buffs as well.
Janson-Smith passed away on Friday, April 15, 2016, at the age of 93. He was a
giant in the world of British publishing, a major figure in that arena for
nearly seventy years. Serious James Bond fans will know him as Ian Fleming’s
literary agent, the man who spearheaded the exploitation of Fleming’s 007
novels around the world from 1956 until Peter’s retirement in 2002.
a personal level, Peter’s death is a great loss. For me, he was a mentor, a
friend, a teacher, and someone I called my “English dad.” He was instrumental
in the research for my 1984 book, The
James Bond Bedside Companion, and he hired me to write the continuation
James Bond novels in the mid-90s. In short, I owe much of my career to him.
was born on September 5, 1922, in Navestock, England, which is now overtaken by
the sprawl of greater London, but he spent much of his childhood in Dorset. Peter
went to university in 1941, attending St. Edmond Hall at Oxford, where he
obtained what was then called a Wartime Degree. During the war, Peter served as
a 2nd Lieutenant in the army, becoming the adjutant of an anti-aircraft battery
that was part of the defenses for the city. He ended his military duties as a major.
Actress Honor Blackman meets with board members of the Ian Fleming Foundation in 2008. (L to R: Raymond Benson, Doug Redenius, David Reinhardt, Dave Worrall, Peter Janson-Smith, John Cork, Michael VanBlaricum.)
his release to civilian life in 1946, Peter signed on as a trainee literary
agent to A. D. Peters. He joined Curtis Brown Ltd. in 1949 as the manager of
the agency’s foreign language department, where he started selling author Eric
Ambler’s translation rights. It was Ambler who encouraged Peter to leave Curtis
Brown and strike out on his own as a literary agent, which he did in 1956.
same year, Ian Fleming phoned Janson-Smith on Ambler’s recommendation. Fleming
was unhappy with his foreign sales and hired Peter to act as his agent for the
world, excluding England and the U.S. Beginning in 1960, Peter began handling
Fleming’s British sales and all matters of serialization, including the comic
strips in the Daily Express. In 1964,
after Fleming’s death, Peter was appointed to the board of Glidrose
Publications (the company that oversaw Fleming’s literary business), and later
became Chairman. Glidrose is now called Ian Fleming Publications Ltd.
supervising the post-Fleming continuation 007 novels by Robert Markham (aka
Kingsley Amis), John Gardner, and myself, as well as the John Pearson and
Christopher Wood offshoot Bond projects in the 70s, Peter worked with a number
of respectable authors, including Richard Holmes, Gavin Maxwell, and even
Anthony Burgess (Peter sold Burgess’ A
Clockwork Orange). Peter was for some years a Family Director of Agatha
Christie Ltd., and responsible for the works of Georgette Heyer. For over
thirty years was the Executive Trustee of the Pooh Properties Trust (i.e.
Winnie the Pooh), the senior treasurer of the Royal Literary Fund, and the
president of the Ian Fleming Foundation.
Peter Janson-Smith was married three times and
had four children. His partner since 1985 was Lili Pohlmann, whom he declared was
the “love of his life.” He will be dearly missed by his family, his publishing colleagues, and his many friends around the globe.
Altman in the 1970s was a force to be reckoned with. Mostly his work displayed
unconventional experimentation with form, narrative, and especially sound—and
too often his stylistic choices failed to connect with a large, general
audience. The iconoclastic director made some truly great pictures (M*A*S*H, Nashville) and some eccentrically inventive ones (Brewster McCloud, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The
Long Goodbye, 3 Women, A Wedding). He was often hit-or-miss, and
certainly more on the miss side when he got into the 1980s. The 90s found
Altman back on stable footing with a couple of additional brilliant films (The Player, Short Cuts), and more misses.
was, and still am, a Robert Altman fan. I “got” what he was trying to do in his
ensemble pictures—the ones featuring a large cast and a loose, improvisational
storyline. However, in 1976, when Buffalo
Bill and the Indians was released, I was not impressed. I remember
intensely disliking the picture, especially after Nashville had been my favorite film of the previous year. I wrote
off Buffalo Bill as one of Altman’s
misses, and I never saw it again over the next forty years.
now viewed Kino Lorber’s new Blu-ray release, I feel as if I’ve just seen a
completely different movie from what I remembered. Granted, Buffalo Bill is still not one of the
director’s classics—it assuredly belongs in the “miss” category (or rather, in
this case, a “misfire”)—but it is much more fascinating and entertaining than
it was for me in 1976.
by Arthur Kopit’s Broadway play Indians,
the film attempts to be a revisionist satire on show business, myths and
legends, and the Wild West itself. The opening titles proclaim it as “Robert
Altman’s Absolutely Unique and Heroic Enterprise of Inimitable Lustre!” Set in
the 1880s, Buffalo Bill focuses on
William F. Cody himself (wonderfully played by Paul Newman) and his “Wild West
(Show)” that toured the country and Europe, “re-enacting” famous Indian battles
and other historical events in front of an audience. It was the “Medieval
Times” of its day. The entire movie takes place at the arena where the company
aka Buffalo Bill, was a man whose exploits were turned into myths by
journalist/writer Ned Buntline (played in the film by Burt Lancaster), and he
has come to believe them. Egocentric to the nth degree, Cody rewrites history for
the benefit of showmanship. Newman is often hilarious in the role, but he gives
the character a disturbing layer of madness. His entire team—his producer (Joel
Grey), his nephew (Harvey Keitel), his publicist (Kevin McCarthy), and others
in the troop— treats him like royalty, and Cody won’t have it any other way.
things change when none other than Sitting Bull (Frank Kaquitts) is hired to be
a performer. The fearsome Sioux chief (who really did perform in Buffalo Bill’s
actual Wild West show for a few months) turns out to be a small, silent man who
speaks through his large, imposing interpreter (Will Sampson). Sitting Bull
eventually causes Cody to face the hard truths of his “lies.” By his insistence
on recreating history as it actually happened, Sitting Bull symbolizes the
plight of the Native Americans at the hands of the white conquerors.
stuff for a movie released in America’s bicentennial year.
performances are top notch, especially those of Newman, Grey, and Geraldine
Chaplin as Annie Oakley. (There are also fine cameos by Altman regulars Shelley
Duvall, Pat McCormick, John Considine, and Allan Nicholls.) The picture elicits
quite a few laughs throughout, and the overall look and feel of the piece is
dead on. What doesn’t work is the haphazard structure, the Ned Buntline
interludes, and the bizarre finale in which Sitting Bull comes back from the
dead to haunt Cody. It’s an acquired taste, something I apparently didn’t
achieve back in 1976 when I first saw the picture. I like to think I’m older
and wiser now, and therefore today the movie made more sense.
Kino Lorber Blu-ray looks all right, very colorful, if not pristinely restored.
The extras include a not-quite five minute behind-the-scenes featurette, the
teaser trailer, and the theatrical trailer.
new release is a purchase for Robert Altman and/or Paul Newman fans, and, if
you’re like me, someone who hasn’t seen the film since its original release. It
might be time to give Buffalo Bill and
the Indians a revisit.
Capra was a superstar Hollywood director in the 1930s. He had a string of
critically-acclaimed and successful pictures after joining Columbia Pictures
and elevating the studio from “poverty row” to a force that competed with the
big leagues. Two of Capra’s Columbia movies won the Oscar for Best Picture, and
Capra became the first filmmaker to win the Oscar for Best Director three times, all within five years. You Can’t Take it With You was Capra’s
second Best Picture winner and his third Best Director achievement.
his films have been called “Capra-corn,” because they are usually steeped in
Americana, explore themes of social class inequality, feature casts of
eccentric—but lovable—protagonists and greedy, heartless villains, and contain stories
about the Everyman’s struggle against the Establishment. Capra was also one of
the developers of the screwball comedy, in which mismatched couples, usually
from different social classes, fall in and out and back in love.
You Can’t Take It
With You was
based on the Broadway play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, which was still
playing in New York when the film opened. It’s a story with Capra’s classic oddball
characters—this time a whole family of them—and their clash with the moneybags
banking world (a hot topic in the Depression-weary 1930s).
Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore) is the patriarch of a poor but extremely happy freedom-loving
houseful of misfits that include his daughter Penny (Spring Byington as a pulp
writer and painter) and her husband (Samuel S. Hinds, a maker of fireworks),
his granddaughter Essie (a very young Ann Miller as a would-be ballerina taking
lessons from a mad Russian instructor played by Mischa Auer) and her husband Ed
(Dub Taylor as a vibraphone player and printer), a couple of other hangers-on
who create things in the basement (Donald Meek and Halliwell Hobbes), and the
obligatory comic African-American maid and butler (Lillian Yarbo and Eddie
“Rochester” Anderson). Oh, and then there’s the other granddaughter, Alice
(Jean Arthur), who is relatively normal and works as a secretary in the big
bank building owned and run by “A.P.” Kirby (Edward Arnold), who wants to buy
Grandpa’s house and land so that he can develop on it. Grandpa is the only
holdout in the area and refuses to sell. The complication comes when Alice and
Kirby’s son Tony (James Stewart, in his first major role and first for Capra) fall
in love and want to marry. Socialite Mrs. Kirby (Mary Forbes) disapproves with
such viciousness that she practically
becomes the real villain of the piece.
the Capra ingredients are all there—odd and funny characters, a conflict
between upper and lower classes, and a screwball romance. Add in a healthy dose
of Americana songs like “Polly Wolly Doodle” and you have a classic that in
many ways still resonates today as a cautionary tale of greed. As the title
states, you can’t take your money with you when you’re gone, so you might as
well have fun and not worry about it while you’re here on earth.
performances are first rate all around (although Byington received the only
Oscar nomination, for Supporting Actress), and the adaptation by Robert Riskin
is superb (despite radical changes to the third act of the play). There are
some very funny moments, such as when the Kirbys come to the Vanderhof home for
dinner on the wrong night, causing the nutty household to spring into action to
accommodate them. Familiar-face Harry Davenport has a wonderful comic turn as a
night court judge when everyone is thrown into the drunk tank for disorderly
conduct and illegal manufacture of fireworks.
yet, of Capra’s most well-known pictures of the 30s (It Happened One Night, Mr.
Deeds Goes to Town, Lost Horizon,
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and
this one), You Can’t Take It With You is
perhaps the weakest. The problem is that it’s too long, at times ponderous, and
it takes a while to get going. I do question whether or not it really was the
Best Picture of 1938—other nominees such as The
Adventures of Robin Hood, Grand
Illusion, and Boys Town may have
been more deserving. And yet, You Can’t
Take It With You is still a very good time at the movies.
new Blu-ray release is outstanding. The film was fully restored and mastered in
4K (1080p high definition) and looks marvelous. There’s not a blemish to
behold, and the grain is welcome. The audio is Mono DTS-HD MA with several
languages from which to choose. Supplements include an audio commentary by
Frank Capra, Jr. and author Cathrine Kellison that is well-informed and
entertaining. A 25-minute documentary, “Frank Capra, Jr. Remembers...You Can’t Take It With You” features
Capra’s son and others talking about the history behind the making of the film.
The original theatrical trailer is included, and the hard-case inner booklet
features a comprehensive and studious essay by film historian Jeremy Arnold.
line—it’s a must for cinephiles, Capra fans, Jimmy Stewart enthusiasts, and
lovers of glorious black and white. Enjoy it... while you can.
Rudolph has had an interesting Hollywood career. He was a protégé
of Robert Altman, for whom he worked as assistant director, and then went on to
write and direct his own oeuvre of
quirky, art-house pictures for four decades. Like Altman’s films, they are ensemble productions often using a stock
company of actors. Stylistically, though, they are much more lyrical, almost
pretentiously arty. Thematic elements in Rudolph’s movies nearly always involve
romanticism and fantasy, and the good ones such as Welcome to L.A. (see Cinema Retro review), Remember My Name, Choose Me, Made in Heaven,and Trouble
in Mind,were critically acclaimed
and modestly successful.
Love at Large, unfortunately, is
not one of the good ones. The movie seems to be in search of a story as it
follows private investigator Harry Dobbs (Tom Berenger, mugging a lot and using
an odd, gravelly voice) on a bigamy case, but the path is really a labyrinth of
possible love affairs for nearly all of the main characters. While Harry’s in
the process of breaking up with his current girlfriend (Ann Magnuson), he meets
a hot client (Anne Archer, whose beauty does not make up for the extremely
mannered performance of a “mysterious dame”) with whom there’s a chance at some
hanky panky. He’s also in competition with a feisty, sarcastic female private
eye named Stella (Elizabeth Perkins, who delivers the most believable and
honest performance in the movie), with whom Harry just might be in love. Each
of the women also has her own individual journey of seeking romance. It’s all
on the level of a soap opera.
was experimenting with this one, and the result doesn’t really work. It
attempts to be a movie about relationships and the “meaning of love” (a
favorite topic of Rudolph’s) overlain with a highly stylized neo-noir detective plot—a lighter Trouble in Mind, perhaps. The problem is
that the noir aspects, and the case
Harry is investigating—cries out to be much more than it is. If it had been a further
developed, gritty crime plot that actually elicited suspense, the picture might
have jelled. Furthermore, the hunt-for-love story, really the backbone of the
movie, resolves abruptly and unsatisfactorily for three of the five sets of
couples involved. With the sometimes laughable performances and the odd tone
with which the actors have been directed, Large
at Large is a head scratcher. It might have been much better in the concept
stage, but the movie doesn’t realize its potential.
said, the writer/director’s permeating quirkiness is interesting enough to
warrant a viewing. And any movie that
casts rocker Neil Young as Archer’s sinister and violent boyfriend is worth
seeing for the novelty factor. (Ted Levine, Annette O’Toole, and Kate Capshaw
also appear in the picture, completing the list of familiar movie faces from
the late 1980s.)
Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray of Love at Large looks very good with its colorful Oregon countryside
locations and Portland bars and hotels. The transfer is clean and blemish-free.
There are no supplements on the disc other than trailers of other Kino Lorber
when everyone thought director Brian De Palma’s work couldn’t get more
controversial than 1983’s Scarface,
out came 1984’s Body Double, which
was simultaneously praised and reviled. Just as they had with 1980’s Dressed to Kill, feminist groups
protested Double with even more
vitriol due to the picture’s perceived violence against women. Many critics and
audiences dismissed the movie as merely a small step above porn, given the fact
that much of the plot does deal with Hollywood’s “other industry” that was soaring
to new heights in the mid-80s thanks to the rise of home video and VHS. And
yet, Body Double is now a certified
cult classic, a De Palma fan favorite, and, frankly, in this reviewer’s
opinion, one of his most accomplished and stylish efforts.
working in full Hitchcock Homage Mode, De Palma borrowed some of the plot of Vertigo, in which a killer uses a
look-alike woman to fool our hapless and naive protagonist into believing the
lady is someone else. With Pino Donaggio’s lush orchestral score accompanying
the action, one is indeed reminded of Bernard Herrmann’s romanticism from that
1958 film. The suspense is plotted and paced in the manner of the Master of
Suspense, and the picture also contains much of Hitch’s penchant for dark humor
Wasson (remember him?) plays Jake, a struggling Hollywood actor who is recently
separated from a cheating wife. He’s also claustrophobic, which of course plays
into the plot. He meets another actor, Sam (Gregg Henry) at an audition; Sam
graciously allows Jake to house-sit at a fancy home in the hills while Sam goes
on tour. The bonus for Jake is the eye candy that can be viewed with a
telescope—every night, a woman across the way performs a tantalizing striptease
in a window. Jake falls for the woman (former Miss USA, Deborah Shelton) and he
also unwittingly witnesses her brutal murder.
Holly Body, a porn star (winningly played by Melanie Griffith in one of her
first major roles), who might be somehow involved with the killing. Naturally,
Jake sets out to solve the crime and insinuates himself into Holly’s world in
order to do so. As we learn on the disc’s supplements, De Palma had considered
casting a real porn star in the part—but Hollywood would have turned its back
on him. Griffith convinced him that she could
do the required “moves,” and her casting is a revelation.
this is a story about voyeurism and victims, reality and illusion, truth and
trickery. Hitchcock often explored the same themes; in De Palma’s hands, Body Double becomes an exercise in visual
style and storyline thrills. It’s also a scathing and humorous poke in the eye
at Hollywood itself, especially the world of cutthroat auditioning and casting.
film is very explicit; apparently De Palma once again had to fight the censors
for the film to receive an “R” rating. Griffith unabashedly did her own nude
scenes, even the celebrated peep-show dance through the telescope (which is set
to Donaggio’s mesmerizing trace music).
Body Double got an extra
publicity boost with the inclusion of the hit song “Relax” by Frankie Goes to
Hollywood; a music video running regularly on MTV at the time contained tied-in
clips from the film.
Time’s Blu-ray looks and sounds fabulous. Stephen H. Burum’s cinematography is lavish
and colorful, very conducive to the HD format (1080p). Shot in and around
Hollywood, the locations are familiar, such as scenes in the famous restaurant,
Barney’s Beanery on Santa Monica Boulevard, the Beverly Center, and the Rodeo
Collection mall on Rodeo Drive.
include four well-done featurettes on the making of the film, with interviews
with De Palma, Griffith, Shelton, and Dennis Franz, who plays a film director
molded on De Palma himself. There’s also an isolated score track; Pino Donaggio
collaborated several times with De Palma—Body
Double may be his best team-up with the filmmaker. The audio is 5.1 DTS-HD
Time’s release of Body Double is
limited to 3000 copies.
(Note: this title is sold out at the Twilight Time web site. However, it is available from dealers on both Amazon and eBay.)
year 1948 was the pinnacle for film noir in
America, although this style of crime picture would continue for at least
another decade. Yes, it’s a style, not a genre. For the most part it was also
an unconscious style, for the filmmakers who brought us film noir had no idea they were making “film noir”—it wasn’t until the late 1950s that a bunch of French
critics coined the term after looking back at this strange, cynical, dark breed
of crime stories.
Pitfall is a corker, and
while it’s certainly a movie about a crime and contains many of the film noir trademarks such as a femme fatale, a jaded protagonist,
brutal violence (for the time), high contrast photography of light and shadow,
an urban setting, and unstable alliances, it’s really a movie about the hazards
Powell plays Johnny, a bored insurance adjuster in Los Angeles who is looking
for a little excitement in his dull and monotonous life, even though he has a
devoted wife (Jane Wyatt) and young son. Enter fashion model Mona, played by Lizabeth
Scott—the actress who starred in more film
noir pictures than anyone else—who is not really a bad girl but is
certainly an enticement. She is the femme
fatale—a woman who will lead an otherwise good man to his downfall, but to
her credit she doesn’t particularly set out to do so. Her former boyfriend,
Smiley, is in jail for embezzlement, and Johnny is assigned to recover as much
of the money as he can from the “gifts” Smiley gave to Mona. Instead, he falls
a crooked private detective, Mac (played with sinister creepiness by Raymond
Burr), has also fallen for Mona, and he’ll do anything to get her—even if she
wants nothing to do with him. Thus, the plot becomes a love triangle of sorts,
with poor Jane Wyatt clueless as to what is going on. Then things get trickier
when Smiley gets out of jail.
Lizabeth Scott is the object of Raymond Burr's unwanted attentions in "Pitfall".
are terrific all around, but kudos must especially be given to Scott. She was a
competitor of Lauren Bacall, Barbara Stanwyck, Rita Hayworth, and others who
specialized in playing smoky hot dames; and while Scott never became a superstar,
she is certainly admired by film noir fans
as being perhaps the leading femme fatale of all time. With her husky
voice, a body that won’t quit, the blonde hair, and the bedroom eyes, who
wouldn’t fall for Lizabeth Scott? Powell’s Johnny may be making a huge and
terrible mistake, but he’s a heterosexual male primed for temptation. And that seems to be the point of Pitfall—we all make errors in judgment
because that’s the downside of being human. In the end, though, it’s Scott for
whom we feel the sorriest.
Lorber’s new release is mastered in high definition from a 35mm dupe negative
preserved by the UCLA Film and Television Archive. It looks very good, but it’s
not pristine. An entertaining and informative audio commentary by film noir expert Eddie Muller is a
welcome addition. Otherwise the only other supplements are trailers for other
Kino Lorber releases.
line—Lizabeth Scott fans shouldn’t miss this one and film noir enthusiasts will most likely want to add it to their
an artist as prolific as Woody Allen, someone who’s essentially made nearly a
film once a year since 1969 (forty-four and counting), there’s bound to be some
misses along with the hits. The thing is, with Allen the misses can be
rewarding in their own right. Ever since the writer/director stopped making the
“early, funny” zany comedies and jumped light years in maturity with Annie Hall in 1977, Woody Allen became a
“European filmmaker.” In other words, his films began to resemble the art-house
foreign works of say, Francois Truffaut—small, intimate, slice-of-life comedies
(or dramas) about people and their
lives. Yes, there were the Ingmar Bergman influences, and sometimes inspiration
from Federico Fellini. Mostly, though, Allen developed his own voice, style,
and thematic material that has been appreciated by an intellectual,
Woody Allen movie is a little “gem” that seems to reside in one of three tiers.
Tier One is, of course, the masterpieces—the ones that prove that Allen is a
brilliant writer and director (and sometimes actor)—of which there are maybe
around twelve to fifteen. Then there’s Tier Two—pictures that are not complete
successes, but they have a lot going for them and are enjoyed by his fans.
These might include experimental works where Allen tried something different.
The bulk of his work is here. Tier Three contains the complete misses, of which
there are a few, to be sure, but even these might have moments that shine—these
are strictly for Allen completists.
Shadows and Fog, from 1991,
belongs near the bottom of Tier Two, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an interesting
and worthwhile experience at the movies. It helps if you know your Bertolt
Brecht and Kurt Weill, German Expressionism, and Franz Kafka. Filmed in black
and white with lots of contrasting light and shadows by Carlo di Palma, the
style of the picture evokes the works of F. W. Murnau, G. W. Pabst, Fritz Lang,
and other practitioners of German silent cinema of the 1920s. The references
are boundless, and the more you know about this stuff, the more you will enjoy
story takes place in some sort of fantasyland of a German Expressionistic
village in a period that resembles the ‘20s or ‘30s. A serial killer is on the
loose, and bands of vigilantes are roaming the town looking for him. Kleinman
(Allen) is a nervous clerk who is drafted into the gang, but he is quickly lost
in the labyrinth of the winding cobblestone streets. On the outskirts of town
is a traveling circus. There, the sword swallower (!) Irmy (played by Mia
Farrow) is in a relationship with a clown (John Malkovich), but the clown is unfaithful
to her—he has intentions with the tightrope artist (Madonna). When Irmy runs
away from him and the circus, she meets a bevy of prostitutes at a brothel
(played by Lily Tomlin, Jodie Foster, and Kathy Bates!), a rich student customer
(John Cusack), and eventually Kleinman. As with any Woody Allen film, there is
much existential discussion, meditations on the meaning of life, and a few
funny lines, too. In the end, it takes a village (literally) to get rid of the
Shadows and Fog is one of Allen’s
experiments. It doesn’t totally work, but the picture is still fascinating a)
if you’re familiar with the Expressionistic references and b) for the game of
“spot the player” with the amazing cast that Allen assembled. It’s an all star
vehicle with familiar faces popping up throughout, mostly in cameos. Besides
the aforementioned actors, you’ll see Donald Pleasence, Kenneth Mars, Philip
Bosco, Fred Gwynne, Robert Joy, Julie Kavner, William H. Macy, Kate Nelligan,
James Rebhorn, John C. Reilly, Wallace Shawn, Kurtwood Smith, Josef Summer,
David Ogden Stiers, Charles Cragin, Fred Melamed, Eszter Balint, Richard
Riehle, Peter McRobbie, Victor Argo, and Daniel von Bargen. Apprently even
Peter Dinklage appears uncredited as a circus dwarf.
music—always a treat in an Allen film—is mostly by Kurt Weill. You’ll hear
selections from The Threepenny Opera,
Seven Deadly Sins, “Alabama Song,”
Time’s new Blu-ray release doesn’t really clean up the blemishes and artifacts
in the image, but the black and white cinematography is sharp and good-looking.
The grain is welcome for the style with which the film was made. There are no
supplements other than the trailer, a collector's booklet with extensive liner notes and an isolated score track. As with all of
Twilight Time’s releases, Shadows and Fog
is a limited edition of 3000 units, so get it while they last!
general consensus among critics and fans alike is that Jamaica Inn, the last British film Alfred Hitchcock made before
moving to America to work in Hollywood, is not one of the director’s best. It
isn’t. It definitely belongs in the lower echelon of his canon. However, there
is still much to savor in the picture, and the new Blu-ray restoration by the
Cohen Film Collection is a worthwhile medium with which to revisit this odd
on a novel by Daphne du Maurier (the first of three works by the author that
Hitchcock adapted), Jamaica Inn is a story
of pirates operating out of an English coastal village in the early 1800s, thus
making it one of Hitch’s few period dramas. Charles Laughton was a co-producer
on the film as well as the star, and accounts of the production reveal that
much rivalry existed between Laughton and his director. For example, Laughton
insisted on playing the character of Sir Humphrey Pengallan, a wealthy squire
and justice of the peace, as something of a mixture between Henry VIII (a role
for which Laughton won the Academy Award for Best Actor) and a foppish dandy.
The result is a performance that is certainly over the top, and much too
comical for him to be taken seriously as a villain.
notable is the fact that Jamaica Inn
served as the debut starring role for the late Maureen O’Hara (she had previously
made a couple of pictures with smaller roles). O’Hara—even in a black and white
movie—is radiant, and this is a strong reason to give the film a chance. Also
in the cast as another villain is old Leslie Banks (who starred as the good
father in Hitch’s 1934 version of The Man
Who Knew Too Much), and, the hero is surprisingly played by Robert
Newton—who made a career playing villains!
story is straightforward—Pengallan is the mastermind behind a gang of pirates
led by Joss (Banks), who runs the inn. Mary (O’Hara) is the orphaned niece of
Joss’s wife—she comes to town to live with her aunt and uncle. James (Newton)
is an undercover law officer in the gang, and he and Mary eventually work
together to take down Pengallan and the pirates. There are twists and turns, to
be sure, but Hitchcock was apparently forced to reveal Pengallan as the main
villain too early in the film, which does dampen the suspense. Still, the guy
is fun to watch. A famous—and laughable—climax involves Laughton falling from
the mast of a ship, yelling, “Make way for Pengallan!”
O’Hara’s sincere performance and Laughton’s cabaret turn, the action-adventure
elements of the movie are quite good. The shipwreck sequence at the beginning
and subsequent scenes “at sea” were all done in the studio—and they’re very
convincing. Despite having to deal with an unruly actor and co-producer,
Hitchcock manages to keep the action appear credible and the pacing brisk. In
the end, one can admit that Jamaica Inn is
not all that bad, and that in fact it is a fairly entertaining 98 minutes of
Cohen restored Blu-ray contains the full U.K. cut. Many sub-par (and public
domain) DVDs released in America and elsewhere are missing at least eight
minutes of the film. An older Kino Video restored these eight minutes, but now
we have the full picture on Blu-ray, and it looks very good. (Another curiosity
is that most accounts on the Internet claim the U.K. version was 108 minutes,
but this could be a mistake—the 98 minute version is the full film, while the
old inferior American releases were 90 minutes; perhaps this is where the
and film historian Jeremy Arnold provides an intelligent and informed audio
commentary. His knowledge of the production—for such a minor Hitchcock movie—is
exemplary. Extras include the trailer and a short piece on the film featuring
Hitchcock biographer and expert Donald Spoto.
Jamaica Inn is not essential
Hitchcock, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless—even with Charles Laughton chewing
We hate to brag but sometimes we just have to. Our own intrepid columnist, Raymond Benson, is enjoying some very exciting news. His acclaimed series of books based on The Black Stiletto character has been optioned by actress Mila Kunis's production company which is developing the property as a TV series for ABC. Kunis will executive produce the series, which centers on a female hero who, in the tried-and-true tradition, keeps her real identity a secret. Raymond has been a contributor to Cinema Retro since issue #1, way back in '05. His column of "Top Ten Films" of specific years has already covered the entire 1960s and 1970s and is now focused on films of the 1950s. (If he doesn't slow down, we'll soon be covering the greatest hits of Wallace Beery as fodder for his column.) Raymond also writes reviews of the latest DVD and Blu-ray releases, many of which can be found in his own column on this page and in the Criterion Corner section. His contributions to the success of Cinema Retro have been immeasurable so we take great pleasure in congratulating him on this major achievement.
Shakespeare’s Richard III,one of the playwright’s earlier
efforts, is generally classified as one of the great history plays, but it’s
also considered one of the better tragedies. It’s also among the bard’s
bloodier and nastier pieces of work. After all, the protagonist is the
villain—and oh, what a villain Richard III, the deformed and power-mad king of
England who ruled the land for a couple of turbulent years in the mid-1480s,
truly is. Throughout the course of the story, he manages to murder or give the
order to murder nearly the entire supporting cast.
play has been filmed before, most notably by Laurence Olivier in 1955, but director
Richard Loncraine’s 1995 film production, based on the stage production by the
Royal National Theatre, takes the story into a very different universe. It’s
always risky to mess with Shakespeare’s temporal settings, but this particular
experiment works like gangbusters.
an alternate fascist England in the late 1930s/early 1940s, in which the story
takes place within something similar to the world of a Nazi propaganda film,
namely The Triumph of the Will, which
documented Hitler’s rise to power. Here, Richard III, superbly embodied by Ian
McKellen (who was also a producer of the film) is a Nazi-like dictator,
complete with a Nazi-like uniform, SS-like henchmen, and a WW2-era military to
serve his wishes. British landmarks are easily recognizable in the picture, and
the Oscar-nominated art direction and costumes brilliantly legitimize the brave
concept. If anything, Richard III is
a sumptuous visual feast.
said, I believe this is a Shakespearean adaptation that is accessible to general
audiences. Those familiar with the play will enjoy what the filmmakers did with
the piece, and those who can’t stand Shakespeare will probably find themselves
totally engrossed. The all-star cast is terrific—Annette Bening, Robert Downey,
Jr., Jim Broadbent, Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith, Nigel Hawthorne, and a
who’s-who of other British supporting players join McKellen, who dominates the
film with a bravura performance. They all manage to properly deliver the
Shakespearean dialogue with clarity; when the acting is spot-on in Shakespeare,
it’s not difficult to comprehend the meaning behind the language.
yet, the running time is less than two hours—screenwriters Loncraine and
McKellan cleverly cut the piece (which is the second longest play Shakespeare
wrote) into a tight, fast-moving spectacle of villainous treachery. McKellen’s
breaking of the fourth wall to address the audience adds to the nudge-nudge,
wink-wink factor that gives the film its irony. There is humor, to be sure, and
one of the better laughs is how the line “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a
horse!” is employed.
Time’s new limited edition Blu-ray is a delight. The transfer is above average,
with sharp images and bold colors. Extras include an isolated music and effects
track and the theatrical trailer.
fans will certainly want to pick up this one, and it’s a good bet that most
cinema buffs will appreciate the thriller aspects, the acting, and the
exquisite look of the inspired and daring re-invention of the play.
youngest daughter of the great French author, Victor Hugo, was a victim of
schizophrenia. Although she was devastatingly beautiful, history tells us that Adèle
Hugo was seriously disturbed.
the time of America’s Civil War, Adèle became fixated
on a British soldier, one Lieutenant Pinson. She followed him across the
Atlantic to Nova Scotia, where he was stationed, for she was convinced that he
loved her and would marry her. In fact, the couple had experienced a brief
relationship in England (while Victor Hugo was living in Guernsey, in exile
from France), but Pinson ultimately rejected Adèle and wanted no
more to do with her. Even though he was obviously a rakish cad, the girl became
obsessed with the man and went to great lengths to pursue him.
days we would call it stalking.
Truffaut’s The Story of Adèle H. is the true account of a young woman’s
descent into a kind of madness that was sadly misunderstood in the 1800s, for
after the events in the picture took place, the real Adèle spent the rest of her life in an institution.
film is one of the director’s best. Beautifully shot by Nestor Almendros, it garnered
a Best Actress Academy Award nomination for Isabelle Adjani, who in 1975 was
the youngest actress ever to be nominated in that category. For my money, she
should have won (Louise Fletcher snagged the award for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; but, arguably, time has shown that
Adjani went on to a long career of remarkable work, mostly in French films,
whereas Fletcher...?). I remember seeing Adèle H. on its release and falling head over heels
in love with Adjani. Despite playing a woman that all sensible men should run
away from, her physical beauty was indeed intoxicating. Those expressive blue
eyes worked wonders. It is this element of “tragic beauty” that makes
Truffaut’s picture all the more powerful.
lies and cheats and deceives everyone she meets in order to get closer to
Pinson (played by Bruce Robinson). She
creates fantasy scenarios in her head about her relationship with Pinson, and describes
them to anyone who inquires. As he continues to reject her, Adèle attempts to
destroy the soldier’s reputation. She also cruelly leaves
other men in her wake who probably could have cared for her and loved her
deeply—such as the handsome but lame bookseller who dotes on her. Instead, she
ends up breaking his heart. She constantly
lies to her father in correspondence (Hugo is very much a character in the
story, even though he is never seen) and it’s implied that her parents’ worry
and concern for their daughter is the cause of Madame Hugo’s untimely death. By
the end of the picture, the tale has moved to Barbados, where Adèle
has pursued Pinson yet again—and it is here that she finally succumbs to her
the conclusion, we find ourselves almost admiring the poor woman for her
determination and perseverance, even though we know she’s headed for the
madhouse. Her vulnerability and desperation is heartbreaking. The price of
beauty? Perhaps, but Truffaut doesn’t provide an opinion... nevertheless, he
directs the film with a this-is-how-it-was objectivity, utilizing his signature
mise-en-scène of short scenes,
some voice-over narration, and lyrical, sweeping story-telling. The director
was very good with period pieces such as Jules
and Jim, The Wild Child, and Two English Girls. The Story of Adèle H. is another
excellent entry in that category of Truffaut’s body of work, as well as a fascinating
character study and canny look at 19th Century relationships.
Time’s new Blu-ray release looks wonderful, but then Almendros was one of those
great European cinematographers who was particular good at capturing the
splendor of period settings. The limited edition release of 3000 units is short
on extras—there’s an audio commentary by film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick
Redman which is interesting, an isolated score track (the orchestral music by
Maurice Jaubert is fabulous), and the theatrical trailer—but the quality of the
digital transfer is worth the price of admission.
is a film as beautiful as its lead actress—don’t miss The Story of Adèle H.
Rudolph directed two forgotten horror flicks in the early seventies before joining
Robert Altman’s team; he served as Altman’s assistant director and in other
positions for several years. In the interim, Altman produced Rudolph’s third
feature film, Welcome to L.A., which
premiered in 1976 and was released to the general public in the spring of 1977.
best work is obviously inspired by Altman’s method of telling the personal
stories of an ensemble of quirky and neurotic characters over a sprawling
canvas (M*A*S*H, Nashville, A Wedding, Short Cuts, for example). Rudolph’s Welcome to L.A. does just that, only this
writer/director’s style is even more loosey-goosey than Altman’s. Rudolph’s
approach is much more poetic, slower, and dreamier. More serious, too, I might
Carradine plays Carroll, a character much like the guy he played in Nashville—a songwriter who is coolly
arrogant and a cad, but all the women love him anyway. He’s been living in
England when his agent and former lover, Susan (Viveca Lindfors), hooks him up
with singer/musician Eric (Richard Baskin, who wrote all the film’s songs); so
Carroll comes back home to L.A. He doesn’t get along with his millionaire
father (Denver Pyle), but manages to seduce his father’s girlfriend,
photographer (Lauren Hutton). Throw in the realtor of his rented house (Sally
Kellerman), a seriously-disturbed and unhappy housewife (Geraldine Chaplin), and
a wacky housekeeper who vacuums topless (Sissy Spacek), and we’ve got a real
merry-go-round of one-night-stands (in fact, one of the songs beats us over the
head that they’re “living in the city of the one-night-stands”).
are other men, too—Harvey Keitel is quite good as Chaplin’s husband, who
happens to work for Pyle and has his sights set on some co-stars, and John Considine,
who is married to Kellerman—he, too, manages to have dalliances with other
female cast members. The entire movie’s “plot,” as it were, is how all of these
characters will hook up with the others in the space of a few days.
what the movie is really about is
loneliness. These people are middle-to-upper-class Hollywood types and they’re
caught in the malaise that Los Angeles of the mid-seventies had become (and
Rudolph’s filmmaking smacks of the 1970s in look and feel—not that this is a
bad thing). The picture seems to be saying that even if you’re rich and
beautiful/handsome and talented, you still need love and connection—but
unfortunately, the one-night-stand mentality is a dead end, as many of the
characters learn. And Carradine’s character, something of an omniscient
angel/devil, floats through this world caring about nothing but himself, but
therein lies a central truth—this guy is the unhappiest of them all.
film is beautifully shot, and if you can get past the somewhat now-pretentious
and arty device of people looking into mirrors and delivering soliloquies, you
may be impressed with the mise-en-scene.
Some folks, I remember, criticized Baskin’s songs and singing as being
annoying; on the contrary, I’ve always found the movie’s soundtrack to be very
well done. After all, the point of the picture is that it’s a musical journey
through vignettes that dramatize the lonely search for interconnection.
film is available as an MGM burn-to-order title. A card before the movie claims that the transfer was made from the “best
sources possible,” which means they probably used an existing print rather than
negatives to strike the DVD. Colors have faded significantly and the image
looks rather drab, which is unfortunate.
Nevertheless, if you’re a fan of Rudolph, or Altman, and you want to experience
something different that was hitting the art house circuit in the
mid-seventies, take a look. I would place Welcome
to L.A. near the top of Alan Rudolph’s idiosyncratic, but usually quite
the world of the Jewish Conservative Orthodox community, a divorce is truly
final only when the husband presents his wife with a “get”—a document in Hebrew
that grants the woman her freedom to be with other men. Likewise, the wife must
accept the get before the man can re-marry, too.
is the crux of the story behind Hester
Street, an independent art-house film that appeared in 1975, written and
directed by Joan Micklin Silver. Starring Carol Kane, who was nominated for
Best Actress for her performance as Gitl, a newly arrived immigrant to New York
City in 1896, and Steven Keats as her husband Yankl, who, in an attempt to
assimilate, in public goes by the name “Jake.” Jake has been in America for a
while and isn’t looking forward to the arrival of his wife and son from Europe,
for he has begun an affair with a wealthy, assimilated actress in the Yiddish
theatre named Mamie. When the very traditional Gitl arrives with her son, the
Gitl meets Bernstein, an Orthodox man who is much more suited for her
requirements, seeing that Jake has become something of a capitalist cad.
Therefore, she needs a “get” from Jake so that both husband and wife can
divorce and go their separate ways. That’s when Mamie’s money comes into play.
beautifully rendered this period drama on a miniscule budget. Location shooting
took place in and around New York’s lower east side, where much of the flavor
of the late 19th Century Jewish Orthodox community is still pretty much the
same. Replace the cars with horses and buggies, get the correct vintage
costumes, and you’re more than halfway there. The dialogue is mostly in Yiddish
(with English subtitles), thus making it an American foreign language film—an
oddity in 1975, to be sure (although Coppola’s The Godfather Part II appeared a year earlier with a great amount
of its dialogue spoken in Sicilian).
plays Jake as a rake and a rascal, but our perception of him is not that of a
villain. In many ways, he is the generic immigrant who came to America and
sincerely tried to assimilate, become “American,” and leave the Old Country
traditions behind. His fault is that he dreams of making big money in the States and this becomes his all-consuming desire,
forgetting that he has a wife and son. Kane’s character and spot-on portrayal
not only illustrates the role of females in the Orthodox community, but in many
ways is a commentary on the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s.
Hester Street is a terrific
little film that went out of print on DVD years ago and became a collector’s
item on the resale market. Kino Lorber has thankfully re-issued the movie on
Blu-ray (and DVD). Filmed in black and white by Kenneth Van Sickle, the picture
is grainy and flat—much like the early silent cinema of the that era!—which
actually is quite appropriate for the movie’s setting. There are no extras.
Hester Street is an excellent synagogue
discussion-group item for American Jews who want to explore the immigration
scene and the topics of tradition and assimilation; but it is also a good
educational piece for non-Jews who want to learn a little bit about New York
history and the Jewish Orthodox religion. Recommended.
last of Woody Allen’s “early, funny” films, 1975’s Love and Death, is a delight, especially for those in the audience
who already have an appreciation for Russian literature (e.g., Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky)
and classic foreign cinema (e.g., Eisenstein, Bergman). Unlike his previous
works in the late sixties and early seventies, Love and Death is targeted more to a hip, intellectual audience,
the one that has pretty much remained his loyal following ever since. It was
after this picture that Allen began to specialize in the art-house, mature, and
less-zany comedies about relationships that became his trademark (Annie Hall was Allen’s next film, in
you’re able to get all the references to War
and Peace and The Brothers Karamazov or
to Battleship Potemkin and The Seventh Seal, then Love and Death is indeed one of the funniest—if
not the funniest—pictures Allen ever
made, as well as one of the best comedies of that decade. Not only is the
movie’s script witty and smart, the two stars—Allen and Diane Keaton—are in top
satirical form. Keaton, specifically, comes into her own with dead-on comic
are terrific gags all the way through, such as when Woody has to enlist in the
Russian army and finds himself berated by a tough, all-American, black drill
sergeant. Or the one about his father that “owns a piece of land” (and he carries
it around with him). Or the ongoing pseudo-philosophical discussions between
Allen and Keaton that contain such lines as—
Allen: “Nothingness... non-existence... black emptiness...”
Keaton: “What did you say?”
Allen: “Oh, I was just planning my future.”
plus for the movie is its score, almost all of it taken from orchestral pieces
by Prokofiev. The composer is a perfect choice for his music’s liveliness and
obvious Russian flavor. You’ll actually find yourself humming the main theme
(from Lieutenant Kijé Suite) for a few days after a viewing.
making his previous few films in the U.S., Allen shot the picture in France and
Hungary; afterwards he swore he’d never make a movie outside of New York again.
For him, it was a horrible experience having to deal without the comforts of
home. At one point during the shoot he contracted food poisoning. Allen
eventually broke his homegrown decree in 1996 and has, more often since 2005,
made several films in Europe and England.
Time’s release is limited to 3000 copies. Ghislain Cloquet’s colorful
cinematography looks great, but I’m not sure the image is that much better than
the original MGM/UA DVD. The only extra is the theatrical trailer and some
other Twilight Time trailers.
Nevertheless, if you’re a Woody Allen fan, and
if you don’t already own the DVD, you’d better grab this collector’s item fast
while there are still copies available. It’ll warm the cockles of your heart.
And, you know, that’s just great—there is nothing like hot cockles.
The Blu-ray contains an isolated music and effects track, a collector's booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo and the original theatrical trailer.
Altman was a very quirky director, sometimes missing the mark, but oftentimes
brilliant. His 1973 take on Raymond Chandler’s 1953 novel The Long Goodbye is a case in point. It might take a second viewing
to appreciate what’s really going on in the film. Updating what is essentially
a 1940s film noir character to the
swinging 70s was a risky and challenging prospect—and Altman and his star,
Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe (!), pull it off.
one of those pictures that critics hated when it was first released; and yet,
by the end of the year, it was being named on several Top Ten lists. I admit
that when I first saw it in 1973, I didn’t much care for it. I still wasn’t
totally in tune with the kinds of movies Altman made—even after M*A*S*H, Brewster McCloud (an underrated gem), and McCabe & Mrs. Miller. But I saw it again a few years later on a
college campus and totally dug it. Altman made oddball films, and either you
went with the flow or you would be put off by the improvisational, sometimes
sloppy mise-en-scene that the
director used. And the sound—well, Altman is infamous for his overlapping
dialogue (one critic called it “Altman Soup”). If you didn’t “get” what the
director was doing with sound, then you would certainly have a hard time with
Elliott Gould plays Philip Marlowe. A very different interpretation than
Humphrey Bogart, obviously. And yet, it works. Gould displays the right amount
of bemused cynicism, as if he had been asleep for twenty years and suddenly
woken up in the 1970s. And that’s exactly how Altman, screenwriter Leigh
Brackett (who co-wrote the 1946 The Big
Sleep), and Gould approached the material. Altman, in a documentary extra
on the making of the film, called the character “Rip Van Marlowe.” He is an anachronism
in a different time. For example, Marlowe can’t help but be bewildered by the
quartet of exhibitionist lesbians that live in his apartment complex. And he
still drives a car from his original era. And therein lies the point of the
picture—this is a comment on the 70s, not the 50s.
plot concerns the possible murder of the wife of Marlowe’s good friend—the
friend is a suspect—as well as a suitcase of missing money belonging to a
vicious gangster (extrovertly played by film director Mark Rydell), an Ernest
Hemingway-like writer who has gone missing (eccentrically played by Sterling
Hayden), and the author’s hot blonde wife who may know more than she’s telling
(honestly portrayed by newcomer Nina van Pallandt). The story twists, turns,
hits some bumps in the road, and finally circles back to the initial beginning
may not be one of Altman’s best films, but it’s one of the better ones. It’s
certainly one of the more interesting experiments he tried in his most prolific
period of the 70s.
Lorber’s Blu-ray release, however, doesn’t really improve on the original DVD
release of some years ago. It appears to be a straight to Blu-ray transfer with
no digital restoration of any kind. Hence, the image looks not much better than
the DVD version. Since the soft photography and low lighting was intentional,
any attempt at high definition is lost. The extras—the aforementioned “making
of” documentary, a short piece on cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, an animated
reproduction of a vintage American
Cinematographer article, the trailer, and a few radio spots—are the same.
if you’re an Altman fan and don’t already own the out of print DVD, you may
want to pick up the new Blu-ray. It probably won’t be long before this, too,
like Philip Marlowe himself, is a rare collector’s item.
one of Woody Allen’s best films, The
Purple Rose of Cairo, released in 1985, is a treat. It’s got laughs and
pathos and is an excellent treatise on the conflict between fantasy and
reality. Purple Rose represents a
period when Allen was at the peak of his powers, when he was considered one of
America’s greatest auteurs, and
before there was the stigma of scandal hovering over his work. In 1985, Allen
could do no wrong, and The Purple Rose of
Cairo does everything right.
doesn’t appear in the film. The picture belongs to Mia Farrow, and she delivers
one of her best and most poignant performances as Cecilia, a meek and unhappy
housewife/waitress in New Jersey during the Depression area. She is married to
Monk (Danny Aiello), who is abusive and pays little attention to her needs.
Thus, Cecilia escapes to the movies and sometimes sits through the same picture
repeatedly. One such picture is the film-within-the-film, The Purple Rose of Cairo, a fictional RKO movie about Manhattan
socialites who have just returned from Africa. They’ve brought along an
archaeologist, Tom Baxter (winningly played by Jeff Daniels), who notices
Cecilia in the audience, falls in love with her, and then breaks the fourth
wall by stepping out of the screen and into the real world. Cecilia and Tom
have a whirlwind romance, even going back into the movie together for a “madcap
hilarity comes, of course, with Baxter’s reactions to the universe of color and
places beyond the scenes in the movie he was in. But his vacating the picture
has caused problems—the other characters in the movie don’t know what to do
with themselves and their story halts. The picture’s producer and Gil Shepherd—the
“real” actor who played Baxter onscreen—comes to remedy the situation. Cue the
love triangle complications.
draws from a number of influences, most particularly Buster Keaton’s 1924 film,
Sherlock Jr., in which Keaton is a
theater projectionist who slips into the movie that’s playing. Allen takes the
premise further, in several different directions, and the result is a bittersweet
comedy that even Allen himself (who is normally self-deprecating about his
work) thinks turned out well. The picture also features an early appearance by Glenne
Headly and Allen regular Dianne Wiest.
Time has released a limited edition Blu-ray—only 3,000 units—which
automatically gives the title collectors’ item status. In terms of picture quality, it appears that the movie
was simply transferred to Blu-ray without any restoration. There is a lot of grain
in outdoor scenes, and artifacts and blemishes can be seen throughout. That
said, Purple Rose is still a
good-looking picture on Blu-ray (the cinematography was by the late, great
Gordon Willis, whose contrasts in lighting work well with the theme of the
story). The only extras are the theatrical trailer and trailers for other titles
released by the company.
forking out $29.95 for The Purple Rose of
Cairo might be of interest only to die-hard Woody Allen fans. I’m not sure
the Blu-ray improves significantly over the original DVD release from a decade
ago. But if you don’t already own it, and you’re either an Allen fan or a
cinephile who appreciates some of the best the 80s had to offer, then The Purple Rose of Cairo is for you.
Altman’s 1974 crime drama, Thieves Like
Us,when viewed today, seems to
be a cross between Bonnie and Clyde (which
preceded Thieves)and O Brother, Where Art
Thou? (which appeared twenty-six years later). It’s the Depression-era
story, based on the novel by Edward Anderson, of a trio of escaped convicts who
go on a bank-robbing spree. But it’s also a love story between one of the
thieves, Bowie (played by a young Keith Carradine), and a country girl, Keechie
(portrayed by a young Shelley Duvall), and this is the aspect of Altman’s film
that truly shines. The novel was also the source inspiration for Nicholas Ray’s
1949 film noir, They Live By Night,
starring Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell. As much as I like 1940s and 50s
film noir, for my money, Altman’s is the better version.
who had a decidedly hit-and-miss career over six decades, was on a roll in the
early seventies. Thieves Like Us is
indeed one of his hits—from a critical standpoint—although it didn’t
necessarily do bang-up box office. Filmed on location in Mississippi, Altman
and his production team managed to find authentic 1930s settings, lending a
you-are-there feel to the period piece. More importantly, Altman chose not to
use a traditional musical score but instead relied on vintage radio programs to
fill out the ambiance. That part was a stroke of genius.
director also often utilized a stock company of actors, many of whom appeared
in multiple pictures. In this case, besides Carradine and Duvall—who are
terrific in their roles—there is John Schuck and Bert Remsen as the other two
thieves, and Tom Skerritt as a shady service station owner. Louise Fletcher, in
a pre-Cuckoo’s Nest performance, is
effective as Remsen’s sister-in-law, who aides and abets the criminals until
she has a change of heart.
the picture belongs to Carradine and Duvall, whose love scenes are intimate,
honest, and endearing. Their characters are extremely likable and exude an
innocence that is a counterpoint to the violence depicted in the rest of the
picture. The fact that these two relatively unknown actors (at the time) were
cast as leads attests to the New Hollywood attitude of allowing auteurs do their thing. It’s too bad
that the studios clamped down on risk-taking after the 70s.
Lorber’s Blu-ray has A high-definition transfer of the film—which looks fine—and the theatrical trailer and a commentary by
Altman himself as extras. The location scenery—especially the muddy roads, the
rain, and the back-country hills and shacks, are strikingly beautiful, thanks
to Jean Boffety’s soft cinematography.
of the better “lovers on the run” pictures, Thieves
Like Us is worth grabbing.
few weeks ago, I posted a review of The Criterion Collection’s excellent
Blu-ray release of George Sluizer’s 1988 Franco-Danish film, The Vanishing. This excellent thriller
was well-received by critics and the public alike, prompting Hollywood to step
forward and produce an American remake in 1993. The screenplay, based on Tim
Krabbé’s novel Het Gouden Ei (as was the original), was written by
actor/screenwriter Todd Graff. Sluizer returned to direct the remake, which in
many cases is practically a shot-by-shot repetition. However, there are differences.
not sure who at the conference table decided that the American remake of The Vanishing should have a happy
ending, as opposed to the more-terrifying, bleak finale of the original, but it
happened. Perhaps the studio figured that U.S. audiences would not accept the
earlier culmination, in which the villain triumphs and we realize that the
movie was about him all along. This
time around, the bad guy gets his comeuppance and our heroes win the
cat-and-mouse game that was set in motion at the picture’s beginning.
if you’ve seen the original 1988 version, then you’ll most likely be
disappointed with the 1993 edition. However, if you haven’t, then you may very well enjoy the remake for what it is,
and especially for the extremely bizarre performance by Jeff Bridges as the
creep. And creepy he is. Speaking with a strange accent (or is it merely an odd
elocution?—hard to say), Bridges steals the movie (as did Bernard-Pierre
Donnadieu in the original role). A young Kiefer Sutherland is our hero this
time, and his vanishing girlfriend is played by Sandra Bullock (pre-Speed) when she was relatively unknown.
That said, the real heroine of the remake is Nancy Travis, as Sutherland’s new girlfriend, and this is where the
new movie differs the most from its predecessor.
takes charge of the story in the last act and, without providing too much of a
spoiler, brings a more feminist take to the tale. Is the new ending satisfying?
Sure, from a Hollywood by-the-book standpoint. The problem is that the picture
loses what may have been the point of the original story—that evil can lurk
where you least expect it, and it can, more often than not, win.
Time’s limited edition (to 3,000 copies) high definition Blu-ray looks fine and
dandy; the only extra is the theatrical trailer. Fans of the film may want to
pick this up; but in my book, the 1988 original is still the more effective
you’re too young to remember it, you’ll recall that Twin Peaks was a short-lived phenomenon on television in the year
1990. The frenzy lasted into 1991 but sadly fizzled out quickly due to the
network’s (ABC) futzing around with time slots, days-of-the-week for airing,
and unexplained hiatuses. What began as the number one show on television for
several months somehow derailed during its underrated second season and lost
its viewership. The program was cancelled, leaving the fans of the series with
an unresolved cliffhanger that haunts us to this day.
Lynch and Mark Frost were the men behind Twin
Peaks. At the time, in the late 80s, Lynch was just coming off the success
of his 1986 feature film, Blue Velvet,
when he teamed up with TV veteran Frost to create a PG-rated show that explored
many of the same themes as Velvet—only
for a television audience. The fictional town of Twin Peaks, in Washington
state, is gorgeous (those beautiful Douglas firs!), has a diner that serves the
best pies in the world, and a seemingly “normal” population of families and
mill workers. However, like in Blue
Velvet, a dark underbelly exists beneath the safe exterior, one that is
supernatural and evil.
thrust of the show’s first season and half of the second season was solving
the mystery of “who killed Laura Palmer?” Once that storyline was resolved, it
was clear that the writers and creators weren’t sure where to go from there.
The episodes did falter a bit mid-second-season,
but for my money, they found their footing in the last quarter with the new
storyline involving master criminal Windom Earle. The show was just building to
a new dramatic peak (no pun intended) when the axe fell.
bounced back quickly, though, and made a feature film, released in 1992,
entitled Twin Peaks—Fire Walk With Me.
Not many people liked it, including the die-hard fans of the show (who had, in Star Trek fashion, begun letter-writing
campaigns to the network with pleas to renew the show). What was wrong with the
feature film? It lacked the quirky humor and most of the eccentric characters
from the TV show and instead focused on the very sordid and tragic story of
Laura Palmer’s final week of life before her murder. It also didn’t address the
cliffhanger ending of the series—or did it? At any rate, the movie failed, and the Twin Peaks phenomenon was over.
the aforementioned die-hard fans formed fan clubs, an annual pilgrimage to the
show’s locations in Washington state, and the cult grew over the last twenty-four
years. It is now generally recognized that Twin
Peaks was way ahead of its time and that it was the catalyst for the
“episodic” television dramas that came after it—Northern Exposure, The
X-Files, and pretty much everything else we watch today on cable channels. Twin Peaks showed the networks that
audiences would stick with a storyline that developed over many episodes. It
was a new way of doing things on television. The show was also groundbreaking
in that it dared to take viewers into surrealistic territory—something that
hadn’t been done since, say, 1968’s mini-series of The Prisoner. Twin Peaks also
began the cult of water-cooler discussions the next day at work. “What did that
mean?” “Who was that dancing dwarf?” “I think so-and-so killed Laura.” “No, I
think whozit did.” And so on.
the years went by, several releases of the show on VHS and later DVD exacerbated
the confusion because the two-hour pilot episode (1:34 without commercials) was
owned by a different company and was never issued in America. People were
buying the two seasons without seeing the all-important, foundation-laying
pilot (and still the best “episode” of the entire story). This was rectified in
2007 with the “Definitive Gold Box” DVD release that contained both complete
seasons, remastered with bonus material (but not Fire Walk With Me). Additionally, over the years, it was learned
that Lynch’s initial cut of Fire Walk
With Me was nearly four hours long and it did contain scenes with the other characters from the town. The
director had been forced to cut the movie down to a manageable 2:15 by
contract, so he decided to just focus on Laura’s story. Fans have been howling
for these “missing pieces” to be released, but the rights were tied up in legal
and financial complexities.
we now have it all. These “missing pieces” have been assembled, remastered, and
edited by Lynch himself to create a somewhat “new” Twin Peaks movie (called, of course, “The Missing Pieces”). This
Holy Grail for Peaks fans, along with
the gorgeously restored and digitally remastered Fire Walk With Me (first Blu-ray release in the USA) and the two
television seasons with pilot, now comprise Twin
Peaks—The Entire Mystery, a lavish box set that begs to be devoured with
several slices of pie and some of that “damned good coffee.”
“The Missing Pieces” emphasizes how much better Fire Walk With Me would have been had Lynch been allowed to release
the longer version. It would have felt more like the television series. There
are sequences that help explain a lot about the ending of the show, too. While
Lynch elected to remain vague about FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper’s fate in the
Black Lodge and his earthly body’s possession by BOB the Killer, there are
clues in the “Missing Pieces” that at the very least address the situation.
theatrical cut of Fire Walk With Me needs
to be critically reassessed as well, now that we’ve seen many more David Lynch
films of its ilk (Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire). It works best if you think of the picture as a
horror film—which it is—and a very disturbing one at that. Sheryl Lee delivers
a courageous and brilliant performance as Laura, far surpassing anything she
did on the television series.
for the two seasons of the show, Kyle MacLachlan is a revelation as Agent
Cooper—this was the role the actor was born to play. Other standouts in the
cast are Michael Ontkean, Ray Wise, Grace Zabriskie, Lara Flynn Boyle, Sherilyn
Fenn, James Marshall, Dana Ashbrook, Madchen Amick, Eric Da Re, Everett McGill,
and Jack Nance.
extras in the box set include new video interviews between Lynch and the Palmer
family (Leland, Sarah, and Laura), and then the actors who portrayed them
(Wise, Zabriskie, and Lee). Very effective stuff. There is a new Fire Walk With Me making-of documentary,
a couple of documentaries ported over from the 2007 Gold box, the Blu-ray
version of the “international” pilot, and some new collages of “atmospheres”
from the show that combine imagery and music into short, themed vignettes.
twenty-five years later, Twin Peaks—The
Entire Mystery serves as a reminder that Lynch and Frost’s show was even
more brilliant than it was first suggested, and that it needs to be
rediscovered and re-evaluated. There is much to savor.
1982, Meryl Streep had already made a big splash in the motion picture
industry, having won a Supporting Actress Oscar for 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer, and securing a Supporting Actress nomination
prior to that for 1978’s The Deer Hunter and
a Best Actress nomination for 1981’s The
French Lieutenant’s Woman. With Sophie’s
Choice, the actress snapped up the Best Actress Oscar pretty much without a
contest—everyone knew that if she didn’t win, then a terrible crime had been
committed by the Academy. In short, in this reviewer’s opinion, Streep’s
performance in Sophie’s Choice is one
of the greatest pieces of acting ever presented on the silver screen. Period. Since
then, Streep has gone on to prove, over and over, that she is arguably the most
talented actress in the history of cinema, but Sophie remains her masterpiece.
a damned good movie, too, and it should have at the very least secured
nominations that year for Best Picture and Best Director. It’s faithfully
adapted from William Styron’s best-selling novel and it’s beautifully made. And
while Streep dominates the film with her bravura characterization of a tortured
Polish Holocaust survivor, her two co-stars, Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicol,
are also very good (in fact it was Kline’s film debut as Nathan, Sophie’s
bi-polar lover). Pakula’s direction is sensitive and intimate, although it’s a big story that encompasses three
distinct personalities amidst a backdrop of post-war ennui.
you’ve never seen it, you’re probably thinking, Oh, a Holocaust movie, what a downer, who wants to see that? Well,
there are Holocaust films and then there is Sophie’s
Choice (actually only a small portion of the film reveals Holocaust scenes
in flashback). Primarily it’s a love story, albeit a tragic one. It will move
you and shake you, and you will come away from the experience a different
person. Seriously. This is Alan J. Pakula’s best motion picture, All the President’s Men notwithstanding.
best thing about the new Shout Factory Blu-ray release of the film is the fact
that it’s anamorphic widescreen—which the only other U.S. DVD edition wasn’t.
The disc is worth buying for that alone; however, the 1080p high-definition
presentation looks very good. The soft focus used throughout the picture by DP
Nestor Almendros is perhaps a detriment to the overall appearance of the image,
but still—it’s much better than what we had before. The audio commentary is by
the late director himself.
only extra is a long, recent roundtable discussion between Streep, Kline,
Pakula’s widow, William Styron’s widow, and two of Pakula’s colleagues. The
group goes through the film’s casting and production, revealing many
interesting gems about the business.
Choice is one of the best films of
the 80s. Experience it on Blu-ray today