Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: November 2011

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ken Russell

by Tony Dayoub

What sad, unexpected news to return from vacation to. The passing of British director Ken Russell particularly touches me. As I shared with critic Carrie Rickey this morning, Russell was the first auteur I ever identified with, even before I was old enough to know what the word meant. As I matured, the flaws of excess in his work became more apparent to me. But Russell was nothing if not ambitious in his desire to take risks at the expense of being liked by the critical establishment.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gone to Earth: A Conversation With the Self-Styled Siren

by Tony Dayoub

Sadly, my other gig at Nomad Editions: Wide Screen is finito. I have mixed feelings about this. At times, it felt a bit like an echo chamber writing for it because of the lack of access to reader feedback, the numerous problems that readers encountered in actually connecting to the digital magazine (is it a website, a mobile app, or something else?) and, most of all, what seemed like an almost willful lack of promotion by the management(who's in charge, Bialystock and Bloom?). In the coming year, as contractual limits on what I can reprint come to term, I plan on posting pieces I wrote for Wide Screen here, in full. This will give non-subscribers a chance to read some of my best work (thanks to some actual vetting by the great copy editors led by Susan Murcko—Matthew Zuras and his predecessor, Ruth McCann). I will always remember Wide Screen fondly for being my first paid professional writing position as a film critic. It gave me a chance to work alongside some wonderful writers like Simon Abrams, John Lichman, Kurt Loder, Vadim Rizov, and Karl Rozemeyer. I had the best editor in the world, Glenn Kenny, to shepherd me through the ins and outs of professional film writing. And I was honored to call the Self-Styled Siren—one of my personal heroines and an angel to many film bloggers—a trusted colleague.

Fortunately, the last piece to grace the cover of Wide Screen is a collaboration, my very first, with the Siren (aka Farran Smith Nehme). We discuss a relatively obscure Powell and Pressburger film, Gone to Earth (1950). I had never heard of it until she was kind enough to invite me to Miriam Bale's rare screening of a beautiful print at the 92Y in Tribeca. Head over to the Siren's place to read a few extended excerpts. I've posted one after the jump that supplements the ones she selected:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Now It’s Dark

From prose to poetry: the Blue Velvet: 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray

by Tony Dayoub

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Blue Velvet, surely one of the most significant films of the last 25 years, is something rather ordinary for a movie with so many shocking and memorable images. It is the opening shot. Not the saturated opening shot of the red roses against the white picket fence of the film proper, mind you. I mean the fade up into the image of blue velvet flapping as if being blown by some mysterious wind. Composer Angelo Badalamenti’s timpanists roll right into the plaintive violins of his main theme, paving the way for a solitary clarinet repeating their melody. Initially, the clarinet’s crisp intrusion into the lushness of the violins is as transgressive as that of the film’s main character, Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) into the nightmarish beauty of his sleepy hometown, Lumberton. But eventually, the clarinet blends in with the violins, achieving a harmonic unity not unlike the one the naïve Jeffrey does when he gets simpatico with the twisted underbelly of his innocent-looking small town and its frightening denizens.

The Chicago Way: Crime Story back on DVD for its 25th Anniversary

by Tony Dayoub

Clockwise from top: Stephen Lang (as David Abrams), Anthony Denison (as Ray Luca), Darlanne Fluegel (as Julie Torello), Dennis Farina (as Lt. Mike Torello)
On September 18, 1986, director Michael Mann (Heat) made good on his promising career in TV and film with the debut of his new period cops-and-robbers saga, Crime Story. Not only did Crime Story’s feature-quality production design live up to that of its TV antecedent, Mann’s stylish Miami Vice; Crime Story also fulfilled its aim to present a morally complex world in which it was often difficult to tell those who broke the law from those who upheld it. Set in 1963, the show explores the multiple facets of a young hood’s rise to power in the Chicago Mob through the viewpoints of its three protagonists. Ray Luca (Anthony Denison) is the pompadoured criminal quickly ascending the ranks of the “Outfit.” Lieutenant Mike Torello (Dennis Farina) is the cop in charge of Chicago’s Major Crime Unit (or MCU) who bends the law in the service of justice. And David Abrams (Stephen Lang) is the idealistic young lawyer caught between the two men and their obsessive cat-and-mouse game. Today, a little over 25 years since its premiere, Crime Story: The Complete Series (Image Entertainment) comes out on DVD. At press time, review copies were not made available, so it’s impossible to ascertain if any improvements have been made over the questionable video quality of previous iterations. But this short-lived series, an influential precursor to the well-written serials littered throughout cable this decade (i.e., The Sopranos, Mad Men, Justified, and others), is worth owning despite any potential issues with its digital transfer.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

UPDATED: Blue Velvet 25th Anniversary Blu-ray Giveaway

by Tony Dayoub

One of my all-time favorite films, Blue Velvet, is now available for the first time ever on Blu-ray. A week from today, I should have a review up at my other outlet, Nomad Editions: Wide Screen, where I'll focus on the 50 minutes of lost footage that appears on the disc as a bonus feature.

To celebrate this release, I am happy to give away a free copy of the new 25th Anniversary Blu-ray (courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc.) to each of the first FIVE people who can correctly answer a question related to the bonus footage (hint: if you go back through some of my recent tweets you can easily find the answer). But first, the rules:

Saturday, November 5, 2011

RIP Cynthia Myers

by Tony Dayoub

Click for the uncensored version

“Russ had contacted Playboy’s publicity department in Chicago, specifically asking for Cynthia Myers. But even though he and Hef were old friends, the magazine didn’t seem to make an effort to put us in touch, or it just slipped off someone's desk. I’ve been told that I’m the prototype of a Russ Meyer girl. When we met, I said, ‘I guess I’m your kind of girl, huh?’ And he just gave out a big belly laugh and said, ‘I’m glad to finally meet you. Cynthia Myers--that’s a pretty good last name, isn’t it?’"

- Cynthia Myers, December 1968 Playmate of the Month, on her first meeting with the director who would immortalize her in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Cap and his Howling Commandos

Ensemble support in Captain America: The First Avenger

by Tony Dayoub

One of the most unexpected pleasures of some of the recent crop of superhero blockbusters is how adjustments to period and setting have freshened up what was fast becoming a moribund subgenre. Nearly half of Thor takes place in the mythological Norse realm of Asgard. X-Men: First Class isn’t just set in the 1960s; it takes place in a jet-set imaginary ’60s right out of the 007 films. The backdrop for Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger, the most recent of these films to come out on Blu-ray and DVD, is an art-deco-by-way-of-steampunk version of the ’40s not seen onscreen since Johnston’s last superhero film, The Rocketeer (1991). Such application of period and locale legitimizes what for many is an inherently childish class of film. (Personally, I prefer to think of superhero films as escapist but, nonetheless, my kneejerk stance when discussing one is to come out of the gate defending it.) This affords the filmmakers the ability to attract a higher caliber of actors or technicians while generally making it a tougher sell to general audiences. (2005’s noir-ish Sin City, based on a graphic novel series, comes to mind.) What it also does, though, is allow the knowledgeable helmer (such as journeyman Johnston) to have some fun with cinematic conventions, and not just the comic book in-jokes that have become de rigueur in these films.