Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: October 2011

Friday, October 28, 2011

Blu-ray Review: The Four Feathers (1939)

by Tony Dayoub

My first viewing of Zoltán Korda's The Four Feathers, the fourth adaptation of A. E. W. Mason's Kipling-esque novel, left me feeling a bit sour. Its depiction of the Arab and African followers of the jihadist Mahdi (affectionately nicknamed "Dervishes" and "Fuzzy-Wuzzies" by the red-coated British conquerors locked in battle with them) is a simplistic caricature at best. Produced by the director's brother, Alexander, the famous immigrant mogul who made it big in England, the movie seems to push the virtues of British imperialism the way you would expect coming from a stranger trying hard to assimilate into the political/economic establishment of the country he now calls home. A second viewing demonstrated something more subversive, however. But first, a quick summary for those unfamiliar with the film.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ghost Story

Samurai, sensuality and spirits haunt Criterion’s new Blu-ray, Kuroneko

by Tony Dayoub

Feudal Japan: A tracking shot through the woods carefully follows a pale woman wearing a kimono that glows ghostly white as she seemingly skims almost inches above a muddy path. A lascivious samurai follows on a horse trotting close behind her, accompanying her home to “keep her safe” from road agents while mentally working out the best method of having his way with her. When she comes to a puddle, she hops above it in a manner that approximates… flying? Or so the samurai imagines. He shakes off the hallucination. But then, she’s gone. The camera has lost her, too. As it slowly dollies up the path where she once walked, her voice comes from offscreen. Cut to the woman now standing at the side of the samurai astride on his horse. The silence is deafening when the wind isn’t blowing through the trees...


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Movie Review: Party Girl (1958)

by Tony Dayoub

Halfway through Nicholas Ray's Party Girl, the film's big baddie, prohibition-era Chicago wiseguy Rico Angelo (Lee J. Cobb), holds a banquet honoring one of his henchmen. Angelo is the type of street tough you'd expect to find in this opulent MGM picture, one which bears little resemblance to the kind of real-life thug he's meant to represent. Up until this moment in the film, the eccentric Angelo (who we're introduced to at a party he throws for himself after actress Jean Harlow, unknowing object of his affections, gets married) has talked the talk—all "youses" and "dat guys"—but hasn't really come across as very threatening. Even his crippled lawyer, the lame Tommy Farrell (Robert Taylor), is unafraid to openly admit he'll defend the creep, but he won't sit to eat with him because Angelo is a "slob." So Party Girl finally gets a bit of a charge in this banquet scene, where Angelo is awarding an employee with a trophy shaped like a miniature pool cue, before his cadence and demeanor begin to turn from complimentary to seethingly resentful. Anyone who's seen Brian De Palma's The Untouchables will figure out what happens next, for this scene surely inspired it—Angelo begins beating his flunky with the pool cue until the poor sap lays bleeding in front of his horrified confreres.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Courtesy of SLIFR: Dr. Anton Phibes' Abominably Erudite, Musically Malignant, Cursedly Clever Halloween Horror Movie Quiz

by Tony Dayoub

"Take my wife... please." Vincent Price, Elizabeth Shepherd in The Tomb of Ligeia

And now for another capital questionnaire by that celebrated cinematic blogger, Dennis Cozzalio, up now at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. Visit his site to post your answers. My answers appear after the jump.

Movie Review: Gun Hill Road

by Tony Dayoub

Nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Gun Hill Road is a drama set in the Bronx's Puerto Rican community. It stars Esai Morales (La Bamba) as Enrique "Quique" Rodriguez, a recently released parolee finding difficulty reassimilating into life outside prison. His wife Angie (Judy Reyes) has mixed feelings about his return and is tentative in her one-on-one dealings with him. And Quique's friends on the street, still in the thick of criminal activities, represent an easy emotional refuge from his haunting experience in jail, an emasculation personified in the form of his gay son, Michael (Harmony Santana).

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Gothic Nightmares

A survey of British horror films on DVD and Blu-ray

By Tony Dayoub

Serena in Hammer's Vampire Circus

As the climate turns chilly, leaves fall away from skeletal trees and nighttime lasts just a bit longer, I’m always tempted to enjoy the run up to Halloween by binging on spooky films. In selecting a sampling of some of those horror films to share with all of you, I decided to focus on a cross-section of British horror films. Though this sample leans toward the more esoteric in theme, many of them feature very familiar monsters and are representative of the eroticism, gothic panache and propensity for colorful gore that characterizes screamers made in the UK...


Friday, October 14, 2011

NYFF11 Movie Review: Pina

by Tony Dayoub

The weightlessness, violence, inertia and, yes, humor of dance all express themselves in Wim Wenders's exhilarating 3D dance documentary, Pina. You may be tired of hearing it from me, but I can't help it if the New York Festival keeps raising the bar. Pina is yet another candidate for best film of 2011. And the reason is plain: Wenders imbues an already kinetic subject with the kind of immediacy and depth that makes it transcend its stage roots to become gloriously cinematic.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

An Epic Rivalry

Fifty-two years after its initial release, Ben-Hur arrives on Blu-ray in a 50th (?) Anniversary Edition

by Tony Dayoub

William Wyler’s Ben-Hur has finally made it onto Blu-ray in a special three-disc collection labeled as the 50th Anniversary Edition, despite the fact that the movie was actually released in 1959 (!?). Well, Warner Home Video’s mistake is our gain, since this gorgeous release is replete with all kinds of semicentennial-flavored goodness. In addition to the previous DVD version’s bounty of extras, the 1925 silent version of the film is again included, although it appears upgraded to 1080p high definition. New to the set is Charlton Heston & Ben-Hur: A Personal Journey, a feature-length hagiography that covers the star’s life offscreen with his family. They would frequently accompany him on extended shoots like the months-long lensing of Ben-Hur in Italy. The documentary is notable mainly for the extensive home-movie footage supplied by Heston’s family. Though perhaps of interest to completists, the Ultimate Collector’s Edition’s only additional extras are a hardbound book of the film’s production art and a hardcover replica of Heston’s personal journal. Otherwise, one can purchase the three-disc collection for a much lower price without all of the UCE’s stuffers...


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

NYFF11 Movie Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene

by Tony Dayoub

Tense as it is, I still can't wholeheartedly get behind Martha Marcy May Marlene, writer-director Sean Durkin's first feature. The title refers to all the names used to identify the lead character played by Elizabeth Olsen (younger sister of the famous Olsen Twins, Mary-Kate and Ashley). The movie unfolds utilizing a parallel story structure. One thread follows the protagonist's time as the member of a cult led by the creepily charismatic Patrick (John Hawkes). The other looks at her life after she leaves the cult and returns to live with her older sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and Lucy's husband, Ted (Hugh Dancy).

Friday, October 7, 2011

NYFF11 Movie Review: Shame

by Tony Dayoub

Shame is not simply the sex addiction drama it is being marketed as. More precisely it is a character study focusing on Brandon (Michael Fassbender), a lonely disconnected New Yorker moderately succeeding at imposing a controlled routine over his life despite an unusual neurosis. If Freud and Fassbender's other NYFF character, Jung, were to psychoanalyze Brandon and his equally detached sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), they'd find that, though each acts out in different ways, both are obviously reacting to a childhood in which they were exposed to sexual dysfunction. But director Steve McQueen (Hunger) wisely avoids diving into the murky waters of cinematic pathology, preferring instead for his audience to connect the various clues to Brandon and Sissy's background themselves. McQueen is more concerned with how that pathology plays out in the lives of his characters, relying heavily on Fassbender's talent for conveying the defeated torment of the introverted Brandon through what is largely a performance based on subtle gestures and inflection that the director catches by simply allowing his camera to get uncomfortably close and stay there as long as needed.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

All’s Welles That Ends Welles

Citizen Kane finally arrives on Blu-ray, and a second Welles classic tags along

by Tony Dayoub

Orson Welles’ roman à clef, Citizen Kane, was once derided by defenders of its alleged subject, publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. Largely because of their efforts to prevent its release, Kane failed to gain any box-office traction when it first premiered. But over the years, as any film school student can tell you, it only grows more and more important in the cinematic lexicon. Maybe it is because it was Welles’ first film, yet it demonstrates an astonishing grasp of film technique, melding some of Welles’ stage skills with Gregg Toland’s cinematography to shape an epic story on a relatively meager budget. Perhaps it is because it was cast with the same Mercury Theatre company he had used in radio productions, actors like Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead, and Everett Sloane, all of whom had never acted onscreen before. Or it could be that the film tells the quintessential American story about the rise and fall of a maverick entrepreneur whose success and failure is tied to his ability (or lack thereof) to connect with his friends and family on a human level, a popular archetypal saga told time and again in films like All the King’s Men or The Godfather movies...


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

NYFF11 Movie Review: A Dangerous Method

by Tony Dayoub

On the face of it, David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method, based on the play "The Talking Cure" by Christopher Hampton, seems like the perfect vehicle for the director's cerebral approach. In his films, Cronenberg is often accused of a detached, almost clinical, method of eliciting drama from circumstances in which the body turns on itself, i.e., The Brood, The Fly, and even less fantastic stories like that of Dead Ringers. So, at first glance, this story depicting the nearly filial relationship between Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and his protege, Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), and its eventual rupture over their contrasting approaches to mental illness, seems like the perfect marriage of artist and material.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

NYFF11 Movie Review: Melancholia

by Tony Dayoub

As the end of the world approaches, sensible Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) sits with her sister Justine (Kirsten Dunst) fretting about the way they should meet their doom. "You want us to all be together on the terrace, singing a song, surrounded by candles?" Justine asks. "You want to know what I think of your idea? It's shit. We should all meet at the toilet."

"Sometimes I really hate you," says Claire.

I'm not being glib when I say that Lars von Trier's apocalyptic Melancholia essentially boils down to this scene. It's suspenseful, laced with acrid black humor, and it explores the way each of us might face our own mortality — albeit in rather extreme circumstances — through one of the most realistic depictions of a relationship between two sisters I've yet to see onscreen. Von Trier being who he is — half-genius, half-overgrown prankster — Melancholia is reflective of both his propensity for staging gorgeous cinematic tableaux (like the ones depicted in a couple of these stills) and his tendency for capturing realism through improvisation and inappropriate humor.

Monday, October 3, 2011

NYFF11 Movie Review: Sleeping Sickness (Schlafkrankheit)

by Tony Dayoub

On paper, the premise for Sleeping Sickness is intriguing. The first half of the film is largely seen through the eyes of Dr. Ebbo Velten (Pierre Bokma), a white German whose 20-year tenure treating a sleeping sickness "epidemic" in Cameroon is over. While his wife (Jenny Schily) has mixed emotions about returning home, Velten's feelings are best exemplified by the awkward relationship between him and their teenage daughter (Maria Elise Miller), whose time away at boarding school has sharpened her sarcasm to the point that they can cut through any pretense that Velten might conjure regarding his relationship to her or his mother country. Velten has simply become more African than European after his time spent there, mired in the continent's intricate customs and practices.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

NYFF11 Movie Review: George Harrison: Living in the Material World

by Tony Dayoub

I wouldn't call myself a hardcore George Harrison fan. But, as I get older, when anyone asks me the oft-repeated "Who is your favorite Beatle?" question, my response has increasingly been George. His passing touched me more than that of any star I can remember, and what I knew of the man or his work was relatively little. Perhaps it is because of out of the four, Harrison seemed to lead the most aspirational — and inspirational — life. His growing disdain for all of the empty trappings of fame was at odds with the fact that it was celebrity which facilitated the spiritual journey upon which he embarked. With equal parts of wonder and world-weary cynicism informing his every move, Harrison was a living paradox, as the title of this HBO documentary George Harrison: Living in the Material World, alludes to. Still Harrison's lifestyle was one worth emulating, so it is no surprise that director Martin Scorsese, a man who himself has grappled with the dichotomy of the metaphysical versus the worldly, would be drawn to telling his story in this new HBO documentary.