Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: October 2009

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Movie Review: Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

by Tony Dayoub

The very Catholic director, Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather), clearly approaches Bram Stoker's Dracula with an eye towards religious iconography, as photos below make the case. But I guess the point escaped me—until my recent viewing of it on Blu-ray—that Coppola views Dracula (Gary Oldman), not just as rebelling against God, but as Christ's antithesis in both action and appearance. Not necessarily an alien concept, that; but it is so blatantly obvious when one watches it silently (without the secondary romantic plotline there to distract), that I feel a bit foolish not having caught it before. So in honor of today's festivities, and anticipating tomorrow's holy day, a look at Dracula as the Antichrist.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Seventies Cinema Revival: The Brood (1979)

by Tony Dayoub

Is there a more terrifying sequence in the last 40 years of cinema than the climax of David Cronenberg's chiller, The Brood? In it, Oliver Reed—that handsome rake who (according to Derek Armstrong) once received 36 stitches in the face after one of his numerous bar fights—walks into a dormitory full of sleeping, monstrous, children to help another traumatized innocent escape her captors. And as the evil little devils begin to wake up, and jump down from their bunk beds to surround Reed (Tommy), it is he who we are afraid for.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Blu-ray Review: Wolf (1994)

by Tony Dayoub

I've got to confess something. I've always been partial to the werewolf. There must be something about the wild animal that struggles to break through the exterior of contemporary, mild-mannered man which speaks directly to me. I'm afraid my close friends can confirm it probably speaks to the nebbishy fellow that they all know so well. Which means when it comes to the werewolf movie, I'm, unfortunately, not able to be objective.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Movie Review: Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

by Tony Dayoub

The growing realization that childhood is finite fuels the sad Where the Wild Things Are. This means that I'm not ready for even my oldest son to see this beautifully rendered adaptation of Maurice Sendak's classic book. But Spike Jonze's film strikes me as less of an evocation of Sendak's tale than it does as a personal story for the often elusive director. It's as if one could see his therapist suggesting he draw on his own childhood issues to inform his next film, and this is what was spit out. That's not to say I wouldn't recommend the film. Actually, I believe it is a movie with rewards both large and small. But be forewarned. Those seeking the joyous celebration of innocence and thoughtless playful abandon will find the film lacking in this regard.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

DVD Review: Monsoon Wedding (2001)

by Tony Dayoub

This week, Criterion releases Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding, an intimate look at the group dynamics of a family that gathers from all around the world in Delhi for a traditional Punjabi wedding. This edition, available on both DVD and Blu-ray, is a significant improvement on previous releases of the film. Though the screener received was only a DVD, even in this version its picture is sharper, cleaner, and more saturated with brilliant color than any previous version. One could go on rhapsodizing about how the film looks, but it is becoming a bit predictable when it comes to Criterion reviews (and that's a good thing). Here's the real reason why this is the definitive version to own.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Joseph Wiseman

by Tony Dayoub

Joseph Wiseman was never a household name. Like any New York actor, he was equally adept in film, television, or theater. And like many Jewish actors of the time, he often played roles of other ethnicities in a less politically correct era. His most famous film role, was a brief appearance as the mysterious and eponymous half-Asian Bond villain of the first 007 film, Dr. No (1962). Brief appearance though it was, it did become the template for all of the succeeding villains in the series, iconic characters which were usually played by powerful character actors and had a glaring physical quirk; in Dr. No's case, mechanical hands. Of course, Wiseman had some other successes. His first was the small part he played in William Wyler's Detective Story (1951), an Italian American hood he played onscreen after first creating it for Broadway. He also played the fictitious Mexican revolutionary, Fernando Aguirre, a cold pragmatist who betrays Marlon Brando's idealistic Emiliano Zapata in Viva Zapata! (1952).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

UPDATED: The Wizard of Oz DVD Giveaway

by Tony Dayoub

Late last month, Warner Home Video released the 70th Anniversary 2-Disc Special Edition DVD of The Wizard of Oz (1939) (there's a pretty nice package on Blu-ray as well). It is a wonderful package which includes the newly remastered film, with commentary by historian John Fricke, a featurette on the restoration, a Dolby 5.1 Sing-Along feature, outtakes, deleted scenes, and much more. I have one copy of the DVD available to give away (courtesy of Warner Home Video) to the first person who can answer the following question correctly. But first, the rules:

Monday, October 19, 2009

Blu-ray Review: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994)

by Tony Dayoub

What a difference fifteen years can make. At the time of its release, Kenneth Branagh's version of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein struck me as uneven, and worst of all less than horrific. Its recent release on Blu-ray inspired me to watch it again for the first time since its initial release. I was impressed with its emotional resonance this time around, and reminded of just how powerful and horrific the film could be in one particular scene.

Friday, October 16, 2009

DVD Review: Warner Archive Ventures Into TV Movies

by Tony Dayoub

Once upon a time when there were only three major networks, a handful of local channels, and you received your television signal from an antenna, there were TV programs called telefilms, better known by the oxymoron, "TV movies." You see them from time to time on cable now. Lifetime Channel has made a virtual cottage industry out of them. But back in the seventies, they often served as testing grounds for the major networks. They were used to test new actors, or familiar actors in different types of roles than the ones they were known for. Duel (1971) was a telefilm that showcased the budding talent of director Steven Spielberg. Sometimes the networks used telefilms as a tryout for a new series concept. And some of the most risky concepts to test were science fiction or horror efforts. Well, I'm happy to say that Warner Home Video is now offering consumers some of their favorite telefilms—primarily in these genres—through the Warner Archive Collection.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Movie Review: A Serious Man

by Tony Dayoub

Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me. - Job 19:21

The Coen Brothers' latest black comedy, A Serious Man, is their best film since The Big Lebowski (1998). Like that film, it will face some adversity in reaching its audience since it is a little "inside sports" when it comes to Judaic religious rituals. But it should appeal to anyone with an open mind, a wicked sense of humor, and a love for the Coens' brand of hilarity.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sunday, October 11, 2009

NYFF09 CLOSING NIGHT Movie Review: Los abrazos rotos (Broken Embraces)

by Tony Dayoub

Forgive me for dropping names for a moment here, but sitting behind me at the press screening for Pedro Almodóvar's Los abrazos rotos (Broken Embraces) were directors Mira Nair and—if memory serves—Jonathan Demme. I say, If memory serves, because sometimes the mind can play tricks on you, especially when you start building associations. I had heard Demme's name being bandied about by colleagues just prior to the screening, and I did see him at another film, so maybe... ah, well. I digress. But the reason I brought these two filmmakers up, were because each of their cinematic sensibilities overlap. They all have a weakness for heightened drama, colorful backdrops, and moments that border on camp. As Los abrazos rotos wrapped up, and the last credit rolled offscreen, the critic next to me (who shall remain nameless) asked that loaded question I always hate, "So... what'd you think?" I gave her a non-answer, as I usually do. I wouldn't expect you to give me the answers to your "pop quiz," why should I give you mine? But she offered, "I thought it was a little too telenovela."

Well, that's sort of the point, isn't it?

NYFF09 Movie Review: Barbe Bleue (Bluebeard)

by Tony Dayoub

I'm starting to see a trend at this year's festival. Barbe Bleue (Bluebeard) is another film in this year's fest by a director who has earned a reputation for shocking moviegoers, Catherine Breillat. However, with Barbe Bleue she seduces us with the fearsome fairy tale's intrinsic luridness instead of her usual sensational embellishments. This exquisitely mounted fairy tale also, surprisingly, turns out to be quite a personal film for Breillat, making Barbe Bleue one of the festival's most wonderful surprises.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

NYFF09 Movie Review: Life During Wartime

by Tony Dayoub

Director Todd Solondz revisits the characters of his most (in)famous movie, Happiness (1998), in the sort-of sequel, Life During Wartime. In Happiness, the gag was how Solondz could mask the sickening acts perpetrated by a child molester/psychologist and an obscene caller—and how those acts affected their friends and family—with a defiant Leave it to Beaver vibe that made one's skin crawl even more. Life During Wartime is decidedly less repulsive, exploring the impact the events of the first film had on those characters more than a decade later, and whether forgiveness or redemption are even possible given the heinousness of such acts.

Friday, October 9, 2009

NYFF09 Movie Review: White Material

by Tony Dayoub

White Material must be the type of film that passes for an action flick in France. And you know what? That's not such a bad thing. Claire Denis' political thriller takes place in an unnamed African country and stars Isabelle Huppert as Maria Vial, a Frenchwoman who manages her ex-father-in-law's coffee plantation. A parallel story follows a wounded revolutionary, known as the Boxer (Isaach De Bankolé), who hides on her plantation while the local militia searches for him.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

NYFF09 Movie Review: Das weisse band (The White Ribbon)

by Tony Dayoub

The best new work I've seen at the festival so far is Michael Haneke's Das weisse band (The White Ribbon). That shouldn't surprise me too much since it did win the Palme d'Or at Cannes this year. The film is a meditation on the cycle of violence that begets more violence in a small German village just after the turn of the (20th) century. Handsomely mounted in crisp black and white, part of the reason it is so remarkable is because of Haneke's deftness at eliciting consistently strong performances from his entire cast. Not that one shouldn't expect it from a major director, but when the cast is as large as this one, and a significant portion of the actors are very young children, it is even more conspicuous.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

NYFF09 Movie Review: Al-mummia (The Night of Counting the Years aka The Mummy) (1969)

by Tony Dayoub

Forgive me for posting a blurry still for this movie. It does not do justice to the stunning imagery of the Egyptian masterpiece, Al-mummia. Restored so beautifully by the Cineteca di Bologna in conjunction with Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Foundation, Chadi Abdel Salam's picture looks absolutely breathtaking. And the new digital restoration captures the nuance of the shadowy cinematography effectively; the film was shot primarily in the twilight of the dawn and dusk. Coupled with the constant sound of the blowing wind, the lighting creates a disquieting mood of melancholy that mixes with the mystical atmosphere among the Egyptian tombs which serve as the backdrop for this haunting film.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Schedule for NYFF09's Final Week

by Tony Dayoub

The 47th New York Film Festival ends on Sunday. But part of the reason I came this week was because it is thick with films and events that I consider to be especially noteworthy.

NYFF09 Movie Review: Antichrist

by Tony Dayoub

There have been movies that continue to intrude on my psyche weeks after first having seen them. Movies that despite my initial negative opinion so surprised me with their subtle way of insinuating themselves into my thoughts that I couldn't help but reassess them. But there's rarely anything subtle about Lars von Trier's Antichrist. The film is like a bully that bludgeons you into submission when it really doesn't need to. Lars von Trier is known for his desire to take risks. Sometimes they pay off, like in the wonderful theatrical staging of Dogville (2003). But Antichrist betrays its director's lack of confidence in his own proven ability to move you.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Pasolini Retrospective - La rabbia di Pasolini (2008) at NYFF09's Views From the Avant Garde

by Tony Dayoub

While shooting his sequence for RoGoPaG (1963)—"La ricotta," which featured Orson Welles—Director Pier Paolo Pasolini created a Marxist film out of found footage called La rabbia (The Rage) (1963). A restored simulation (more on that shortly) screened last night as the 47th New York Film Festival's opener for its 13th annual Views from the Avant Garde series, running this weekend. While experimental films have never really been my bag (last night's moviegoers wondering who was intermittently snoring at the Walter Reade theater need look no further... it was me), the story behind the scenes is quite interesting.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Sneak Peek of My First Review When I Get Back

by Tony Dayoub

I just received Criterion's glorious upcoming DVD for Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding (2001). As you can see above and in the subsequent screen captures below, Declan Quinn's wondrous cinematography has never looked better. That's because the Criterion 2-disc set sports a new high-definition digital transfer, restored under the supervision of both Nair and Quinn. The DVD and (a no doubt even more remarkable looking) Blu-ray will both be available on October 20. A proper review will follow when I get back from New York, but until then feast your eyes on these few stills.