Tuesday, December 27, 2011

THE BUTCHER'S BILL 2011. As the old year wanes, it's time once again to reflect on those notable celebrities who dropped off the twig this year.
  • Verne Langdon, record producer/makeup artist "An Evening with Boris Karloff & Friends"
  • Margot Stevenson, actress "The Shadow"
  • Pete Postelthwaite, actor "The Usual Suspects", "The Shipping News"
  • Anne Francis, actress "Forbidden Planet"
  • Jill Haworth, actress "Tower of Evil"
  • Gerry Rafferty, singer "Baker Street"
  • Aron Kincaid, actor "The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini"
  • Peter Yates, director "Bullitt"
  • Margaret Whiting, singer
  • David Nelson, actor "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet"
  • Paul Picerni, actor "The Untouchables"
  • Dr. Creep, TV horror host
  • Susannah York, actress "Superman", "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"
  • Don Kirshner, record producer
  • Sargent Shriver, politician
  • Jack LaLanne, TV fitness expert
  • Charlie Louvin, singer "The Louvin Brothers"
  • Charlie Callas, comedian
  • John Barry, film composer "The Lion In Winter", "Somewhere In Time"
  • Charles Sellier, film producer
  • Maria Schneider, actress "Last Tango In Paris"
  • Tura Satana, actress "Faster Pussycat Kill Kill"
  • Lena Nyman, actress "Autumn Sonata"
  • Gary Moore, guitarist "Thin Lizzy"
  • Donald S. Sanford, screenwriter "Boris Karloff's Thriller"
  • Kenneth Mars, actor "The Producers", "Young Frankenstein"
  • Betty Garrett, actress "Laverne & Shirley", "All In the Family"
  • T.P. McKenna, actor "Callan", "Doctor Who"
  • George Shearing, pianist
  • David F. Friedman, producer "Blood Feast"
  • Len Lesser, actor "Seinfeld"
  • Nicholas Courtney, actor "Doctor Who"
  • Suze Rotolo, artist / cover model "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan"
  • Rick Coonce, drummer "The Grass Roots"
  • Jane Russell, actress "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
  • Johnny Preston, singer "Running Bear"
  • Mike Starr, bassist "Alice In Chains"
  • St. Clair Lee, musician "Hues Corporation"
  • Hugh Martin, songwriter "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"
  • Ronnie Hammond, singer "Atlantic Rhythm Section"
  • Ferlin Husky, singer
  • Michael Gough, actor "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors", "Batman"
  • Jet Harris, musician "The Shadows"
  • Warren Christopher, former Secretary of State
  • Dorothy Young, actress/assistant to Harry Houdini
  • Pinetop Perkins, musician
  • Elizabeth Taylor, actress
  • Richard Leacock, director "Monterey Pop"
  • Diana Wynne Jones, author "Howl's Moving Castle"
  • Geraldine Ferraro, politician
  • H.R.F. Keating, author
  • Farley Granger, actor "Strangers On A Train", "Rope", "Senso"
  • Scott Columbus, drummer "Manowar"
  • Sidney Lumet, director "12 Angry Men"
  • Arthur Marx, author/son of Groucho Marx
  • Sol Saks, screenwriter "Bewitched"
  • Trevor Bannister, actor "Are You Being Served?"
  • Michael Sarrazin, actor "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"
  • Elisabeth Sladen, actress "Doctor Who", "The Sarah Jane Adventures"
  • Madelyn Pugh Davis, screenwriter "The Mothers-In-Law", "I Love Lucy"
  • Marie-France Pisier, actress "The Other Side of Midnight"
  • Poly Styrene, singer "X-Ray Spex"
  • Phoebe Snow, singer "Poetry Man"
  • William Campbell, actor "Dementia 13", "Star Trek"
  • Yvette Vickers, actress
  • Sada Thompson, actress "Family"
  • Arthur Laurents, screenwriter
  • Dana Wynter, actress "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"
  • John Walker, musician "The Walker Brothers"
  • Dolores Fuller, actress "Glen or Glenda"
  • Norma Zimmer, singer "The Lawrence Welk Show", "The Champagne Lady"
  • Edward Hardwicke, actor "Sherlock Holmes", "Shadowlands"
  • Leonard Kastle, writer/director "The Honeymoon Killers"
  • Kathy Kirby, singer
  • Randy Savage, wrestler "Macho Man"
  • Bill Hunter, actor "Gallipoli"
  • Hughette Clark, heiress
  • Jeff Conaway, actor "Taxi", "Grease"
  • Gil Scott-Heron, singer "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised"
  • Clarice Taylor, actress "The Cosby Show"
  • Harry Redmond Jr., special effects artist "King Kong"
  • Dr. Jack Kevorkian, activist
  • James Arness, actor "The Thing from Another World", "Them"
  • Andrew Gold, singer "Halloween Howls", "Lonely Boy"
  • Lilian Jackson Braun, author "Cat Who series"
  • Leonard B. Stern, writer/director/c0-creator of Mad Libs "The Honeymooners", "Get Smart"
  • Roy Skelton, voice actor "Doctor Who"
  • Gunnar Fischer, cinematographer "The Seventh Seal", "Wild Strawberries"
  • Jeff Jones, comic book artist
  • Charlotte Joko Beck, author "Everyday Zen"
  • Wild Man Fischer, singer "Young at Heart", "My Name Is Larry"
  • Clarence Clemons, musician "Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band"
  • Ryan Dunn, stuntman "Jackass"
  • Mike Waterson, singer "The Watersons"
  • Fred Steiner, composer "Star Trek", "Twilight Zone"
  • Peter Falk, actor "Columbo"
  • Gene Colan, comic book artist "Tomb of Dracula", "Captain America"
  • Alice Playten, actress
  • Martin H. Greenberg, anthologist
  • Elaine Stewart, actress "The Bad and the Beautiful"
  • Jimmy Roselli, singer
  • Anna Massey, actress "Peeping Tom", "Vault of Horror"
  • Betty Ford, US First Lady
  • Michael "Wurzel" Burton, musician "Motorhead"
  • Patricia "Mrs. Noah" Merbreier, actress "Captain Noah"
  • Sherwood Schwartz, TV producer "The Brady Bunch", "Gilligan's Island"
  • Googie Withers, actress "Dead of Night", "It Always Rains on Sunday"
  • Amy Winehouse, singer "Back To Black"
  • G.D. Spradlin, actor "The Godfather Part II"
  • Michael Cacoyannis, director "The Trojan Women"
  • Robert Edwards, anthropology professor "Glassboro State College"
  • Polly Platt, producer/screenwriter "Say Anything...", "Targets"
  • Gene McDaniels, singer
  • John Wood, actor "WarGames"
  • Bubba Smith, athlete/actor
  • Jimmy Sangster, screenwriter/director "Horror of Dracula"
  • Jerry Lieber, songwriter "Hound Dog"
  • Richard Svehla, managing editor "Midnight Marquee"
  • Nick Ashford, singer/songwriter "Ashford & Simpson"
  • Joey Vento, founder & owner "Geno's Steaks"
  • David "Honeyboy" Edwards, singer
  • Cliff Robertson, actor "Spider-Man"
  • Frances Bay, actress "In the Mouth of Madness"
  • David Croft, writer/producer "Are You Being Served?", "Dad's Army"
  • Steve Jobs, inventer/CEO "Apple"
  • Diane Cilento, actress "The Wicker Man"
  • Charles Napier, actor "The Blues Brothers", "Star Trek"
  • Bert Jansch, musician
  • Sylvia Robinson, singer "Love Is Strange"
  • George Baker, actor "I Claudius", "The Prisoner"
  • Al Davis, owner "Oakland Raiders"
  • Roger Williams, pianist
  • Patricia Breslin, actress "Twilight Zone - Nick of Time"
  • Pete Rugolo, orchestra leader/composer
  • Norman Corwin, radio writer/producer
  • Tom Keith, comedian "A Prairie Home Companion"
  • Richard Gordon, producer
  • Andy Rooney, TV journalist "60 Minutes"
  • Les Daniels, author "Living In Fear"
  • Margaret Field, actress "The Man From Planet X"
  • Joe Frazier, boxer
  • Heavy D, rapper
  • Ricky Hui, actor "Mr. Vampire"
  • Bil Keane, cartoonist "Family Circle"
  • Dulcie Gray, actress/author
  • Gary Carcia, musician "Buckner & Garcia", "Pac-Man Fever"
  • John Neville, actor "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen"
  • Anne McCaffrey, author "The Dragonriders of Pern"
  • Ken Russell, director
  • Svetlana Alliluyeva, author/daughter of Josef Stalin
  • Dobie Gray, singer "Drift Away"
  • Harry Morgan, actor "M*A*S*H*"
  • Jerry Robinson, comic book artist "Batman"
  • Harold Hopkins, actor "Gallipoli"
  • Susan Gordon, actress "Twilight Zone - The Fugitive"
  • Alberto de Mendoza, actor "Horror Express"
  • Joe Simon, comic book writer "Captain America"
  • Eduardo Barreto, comic book artist "New Teen Titans"
  • Kim Jong-Il, silly North Korean leader
  • Cesaria Evora, singer "Sao Vincente de Longe"
  • Ronnie Wolf, screenwriter "On the Buses"
  • Ralph MacDonald, songwriter "Where Is the Love", "Just the Two of Us"
  • Vaclav Havel, playwright/Czech President
  • Don Sharp, director "Kiss of the Vampire", "Callan"
  • Pedro Armendariz Jr., actor "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark"
SONG OF YESTERDAY - Black Country Communion
50 WORDS FOR SNOW - Kate Bush
WORDS OF LOVE - Patti Smith
SNOWFLAKE - Kate Bush & Albert McIntosh

Saturday, December 24, 2011

THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS . . .MOVIES. Hark the herald dvd player spins bringing to us some yuletide viewing pleasure. If I were to have my druthers (and when do I not) and I could programme 12 movies I'd want to see around Christmas time, this is the list I'd compile. And in this viewing order, too.
  1. MIRACLE ON 34th STREET (1947) - So sue me, it's a classic. Starting off on Thanksgiving Day with the Macy's parade, the perfect traditional lead-in to the holidays. Oscar-winner Edmund Gwenn, the heavenly Maureen O'Hara, precocious Natalie Wood, stalwart John Payne and even a career-making cameo by Thelma Ritter. How can you go wrong?
  2. CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945) - A favourite from my kiddie days. Barbara Stanwyck is a "perfect homemaker column" writer who doesn't know pen and paper from pots and pans; she gets stuck into faking an "old-fashioned Christmas at home" when her boss and a returning G.I. invite themselves to her house in the country. Great cast includes Sydney Greenstreet, Dennis Morgan, S.Z. Sakall (remember him from CASABLANCA?), Una O'Connor (remember her from BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN?) and more.
  3. THE BISHOP'S WIFE (1947) - Bishop David Niven and his wife Loretta Young are having problems until angel Cary Grant shows up to put things right at Christmas. Monty Wooley, Gladys Cooper, Elsa Lanchester and James Gleason are featured in the cast.
  4. DESK SET (1957) - I usually watch this movie every Christmas. Katharine Hepburn heads the research department at a television studio and efficiency expert/electronic brain inventor Spencer Tracy starts snooping around. Love those fifties! Joan Blondell and Gig Young add to the stellar cast. This movie might make "pudding in a cloud" a Christmas staple with me!
  5. WE'RE NO ANGELS (1955) - Three escaped prisoners from Devil's Island plan to rob a store but instead end up helping the store's beleaguered family when the owner threatens to toss them out in the street. Humphrey Bogart, Aldo Ray and Peter Ustinov are the convicts, Basil Rathbone is the stingy owner and Leo G. Carroll & Joan Bennett are the put-upon storekeepers.
  6. DIE HARD (1988) - Nothing says Christmas like blowing up shit! And scrunching your toes into the carpet helps a lot too. Bruce Willis gets the snot beat outta him by Alan Rickman and his band of do-badders.
  7. THE LION IN WINTER (1968) - It's Christmas in 1183 and we're all barbarians! A festive family medieval Christmas with Peter O'Toole as King Henry II and Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor of Acquitaine and a family who are at each others throats: Anthony Hopkins, John Castle, Nigel Terry (later to play King Arthur in EXCALIBUR), Timothy Dalton and Jane Merrow fill out this stupendous film's cast.
  8. NOBODY'S FOOL (1994) - One of my favourite Paul Newman films. This takes place from Thanksgiving through Christmas and features Paul Newman's Sully; who can never seem to do anything right. Jessica Tandy, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith also star.
  9. THE HOUSE WITHOUT A CHRISTMAS TREE (1972) - I first saw this TV movie as a kid when it first aired and it haunted the back of my mind until I found it on VHS sometime in the late 1980s. Jason Robards stars as a father who refuses to allow a Christmas tree in the house because the loss of his wife. However, his daughter and his mother decide to work on him and change his mind. The wonderful Mildred Natwick also stars.
  10. TRU (1992) - This filmed stage play aired on PBS's "American Playhouse" and showcases Robert Morse's magnificent one-man show portraying Truman Capote during Christmas 1975 when his rich and powerful friends ostracized the author for the publication of "ANSWERED PRAYERS".
  11. PETER'S FRIENDS (1992) - A group of friends are invited to Peter's country estate between Christmas and New Year's. Much more than just "the British Big Chill", the cast includes Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Imelda Staunton, Phyllida Law and co-writer Rita Rudner.
  12. A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983) - The old perennial. How can one escape it? Amazingly enough, no matter how many times I see it, I still laugh. And Darren McGavin shows what a real father SHOULD be like.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

IF YOU MEET SARTANA, PRAY FOR YOUR DEATH (1968) aka "Se incontri Sartana prega per la tua morte" is the first in a series of spaghetti westerns featuring the enigmatic, black-clad wanderer Sartana (played wonderfully by Gianni Garko). Directed by Gianfranco Parolini on a shoestring, "SARTANA" became one of the most successful and influential of Italian westerns helping to push the genre more towards a "tongue-in-cheek" attitude (which would sadly eventually degenerate into parody). Obviously influenced by Sergio Leone's "Dollars" movies, Sartana had his own catchphrase he would give to those he was about to kill: "I am your pallbearer". The plot of this film is filled with twists and turns and may require several viewings before you get a grasp on it. First a stagecoach carrying a strongbox full of gold is robbed by a gang who is then attacked and killed by Morgan (Klaus Kinski) and his gang. However, Sartana shows up and kills all of Morgan's gang except Morgan who escapes. It is discovered that the strongbox is actually just full of rocks! A group of town bigwigs including a politician and bank manager (Sydney Chaplin and Gianni Rizzo) are trying to perpetrate an insurance fraud by having a Mexican gang led by General Don Jose Manuel Francisco Mendoza Montezuma de la Plata (make sure you get that name right, pardner!!!) aka "Tampico" (Fernando Sancho) steal the strongbox. Another stagecoach is robbed by the Mexican gang but is which is then killed by Lasky (William Berger) who tells his gang to meet up with him later. Lasky then has his now-partner Morgan go off to kill Sartana after losing all his money to the enigmatic stranger in a card game. Morgan tries. Morgan fails. Lasky collects a gang to go kill Sartana but the gang is in turn killed and Lasky gets away. Lasky blackmails the bigwigs who in turn tell Tampico that it was Lasky who killed the Mexican gang. Tampico captures Lasky and beats the snot out of him so he will reveal the real location of the gold. Lasky tells them that only Sartana knows. And on and on and on. There are plot twists and turns about every five minutes and everybody is double-crossing everybody else and it all adds up to a fun spaghetti western. Gianni Garko makes a great anti-hero as Sartana. Besides his dark attire, Sartana is also given a 007-like gadget (director Parolini was a fan) of a four-barreled derringer with a playing card cylinder which fakes out shot-counting opponents by giving Sartana more shots than he should have. Klaus Kinski's character is given the nicely flamboyant touch of having little bells attached to his spurs while Sartana himself frequently opens a musical watch to unnerve his victims. The entire film was shot in the Lazio area near Rome and the hacienda belonging to Tampico is actually a villa once owned by Mussolini! There would be four more official Sartana movies with all but one starring Garko. These sequels would be lighter in tone (leading to the eventual deterioration into parody of the genre) as directed by Giuliano Carnimeo. This trend would eventually lead cheeky fans to alter the title of the first Sartara movie to 'Se incontri Sartana, digli che è un stronzo' which means "If you meet Sartana, tell him he's an asshole!" Ah, the fickle fancy of genre fans.
ASPETTA . . . "NAPOLI VIOLENTA" (1976) aka VIOLENT NAPLES aka DEATH DEALERS is one of the better of the Italian "poliziesco" genre. The "poliziesco" is an Italian crime film which flourished in the sixties and seventies alongside the even more popular "spaghetti western" and "giallo" genres. Many of the directors of polizieschi also simultaneously turned out movies in these other genres as well. VIOLENT NAPLES director Umberto Lenzi is a case in point; he also directed gialli like "SEVEN BLOODSTAINED ORCHIDS" (1972) and cannibal horror movies such as "THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER" (1972) and the later "CANNIBAL FEROX" (1981). in VIOLENT NAPLES, Lenzi declares himself to be a master at the action film in a movie which rarely slows down for a second.
A "Dirty Harry"-like cop named Commisioner Betti (Italian genre hero Maurizio Merli) arrives in Naples to take on the mob. Almost immediately, an affluent couple are robbed and the wife raped by a couple of hoods working for mafia boss The General (Barry Sullivan). There is also a mob financier named Capuano (John Saxon) who double-crosses the boss, a protection racket terrorizing local business owners and a bank robber named Casagrande (Elio Zamuto) who is secretly knocking over banks all over Naples. Casagrande is out on parole and has to sign in at the police station every day at 1pm; he robs the bank at a few minutes before 1 and then hops on the back of a motorcycle (driven by an actual Italian motorbike champion) who whisks him through Naples at breakneck speed so that he'll appear at the police station at 1 thereby making the police his alibi. Commissioner Betti spends the movie roughing up crooks while his superior complains about his methods. The General and Capuano spend the film double crossing each other. The protection racket smashes shop windows and torches garages. One fleeing hood impales himself through the chin on a wrought-iron fence, a father is burned to death while his son is crippled by the protection racket, a 68 year old woman is pushed down a flight of stairs by muggers, and a man is killed with a bowling ball! (Here Barry Sullivan's strike is about to meet stoolie's face!) This is a gritty and violent movie but not in an overly unpleasant way; the violence is not graphic (by today's standards) and the action is kept at a high pace so that you never get bogged down in the details. Particularly thrilling is the motorcycle footage shot from on the bike itself throughout the actual streets of Naples with the notorious Italian traffic making for a pulse-poundingly realistic sequence of many actual near-misses. There is a lamentable use of sped-up camera at the end of one of these sequences but it is meant to be obvious and almost Keystone Kops-like. And also, if you have an aversion to cheesy mustaches, this movie may frighten you because there's almost wall-to-wall porn-star mustaches throughout. Hey, it was the seventies what can ya do?!? If you're in the mood for a frantically-paced Italian crime film with lots of punches and gunshots and high speed chases than VIOLENT NAPLES is perfect for a Saturday afternoon in front of the telly with a bowl full of spaghetti.

Monday, December 19, 2011

2011: THE YEAR IN MOVIES. At the end of each year I like to look back over those movies which I watched for the very first time in the preceding year. Some were new but most were old movies I'd missed up till now. Just as a library full of books - all of which you've read - has no real use, a history of movies - all of which you've seen - would be terrible; the joy of being a film buff is discovering previously undiscovered movies and watching them for the first time. These are 50 of my favourite films I saw for the first time in 2011:
  • AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE (2010) - rollicking documentary of trashy American movies from the time of Edison right up to the 21st century. Now all I have to do is track down a copy of "OLGA'S HOUSE OF SHAME" (1964).
  • BAGDAD CAFE (1987) - quirky and bizarre tale of a group of misfits who meet up at a desert cafe. Jack Palance has a welcome supporting role.
  • BANDE A PARTE (1964) - Jean-Luc Godard's "BAND OF OUTSIDERS" uses a caper plot as an excuse to do what Godard does. Anna Karina is ravishing and the film makes us all wonder why we don't do "The Madison" anymore.
  • THE BLOODSTAINED SHADOW (1978) - little known and stylish Italian giallo from director Lino Capollicchio (who helmed "THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS")
  • BMX BANDITS (1983) - I don't believe in guilty pleasures because if you like something you like it and shouldn't have to apologize for it. Put together three teenagers (including Nicole Kidman), three BMX bikes, stolen experimental walkie-talkies and a group of hoods and what've you got? Silly, empty-headed entertainment Australian style.
  • BIGGER THAN LIFE (1956) - Nicholas Ray's brickbat thrown into fifties American suburbia. James Mason is a teacher who becomes addicted to cortizone and decides he needs to sacrifice his son "Abraham and Isaac-style".
  • BORN INVINCIBLE (1978) - kung fu flick featuring the great Lo Lieh. The mastering of Tai Chi makes one become invulnerable to all weapons and the villainous "white eyebrows" (Carter Wong in a super performance) makes life difficult for everyone
  • BRIDES OF BLOOD (1968) - One of the awful "blood trilogy" filmed for cheap in the Philippines featuring hoyden Beverly Hills (late of "THE COMEDY OF TERRORS") and native trees which boff and then scoff young maidens.
  • CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGERS (2011) - Enjoyable if rather sedate film bringing Cap to the screen for the first time in a non-embarrassing way!
  • CINEMA PARADISO (1988) - Oscar-winner for best foreign film in 1989 is totally manipulative but nonetheless manages to warm the cockles of a film buff's heart by demonstrating what the cinema can mean to a film lover.
  • CRIES AND WHISPERS (1972) - devastating performances by some of the greatest film actresses ever: Harriet Andersson, Liv Ullman and Ingrid Thulin. Sisters are gathered together as one is dying from cancer in Ingmar Bergman's Oscar-winning red-and-white masterpiece.
  • THE CRIPPLED AVENGERS (1978) - otherwise known as RETURN OF THE FIVE VENOMS, this film is in no way a sequel to the earlier kung fu classic but features the actors who would forevermore be known as "The Venoms" in another excellent film wherein a group of disabled kung fu fighters much conquer their evil oppressors.
  • DAY OF THE DEAD (1985) - George Romero's third part of his "Dead trilogy" is incredibly awful during the first half but gets much better around the middle point. Nowhere near the dual masterpieces of "NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD" and "DAWN OF THE DEAD", "DAY" is nevertheless a movie with a great deal to offer.
  • DEAD SNOW (2009) - Superb Norwegian zombie movie which evokes memories of both "EVIL DEAD" and "SHOCK WAVES". A group of shiny young people in an isolated mountain cabin are attacked by Nazi zombies looking for hidden Nazi loot.
  • DEAD-END DRIVE-IN (1986) - Ozploitation maestro Brian Trenchard-Smith's wacky dystopia of a society who locks their "undesirable delinquents" inside a drive-in from which there is no escape.
  • THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGOISIE (1972) - Luis Bunuel's surreal Oscar-winning best foreign film of a group of friends who just want to sit down to dinner! The exquisite Delphine Seyrig, Stephane Audran, Jean Pierre Cassel and Fernando Rey are featured in the cast.
  • EAT PRAY LOVE (2010) - Hollywood's attempt to film the book (which I admit not having read) came off rather successfully for me - despite the fact it stars Julia Roberts. Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir of her travels to Italy, India and Bali on a spiritual quest after her devastating divorce.
  • THE 400 BLOWS (1959) - Francois Truffaut's nouveau vague classic of the trials and tribulations of a 12 year old "ne'er do well" who always seems to be in trouble with his parents and his school.
  • GERMANY YEAR ZERO (1948) - The third of Roberto Rossellini's "war trilogy" showing the devastated post-war Germany and the crushing effect on a young boy.
  • THE IDIOT (1951) - Akira Kurosawa's operatic filming of Dostoyevsky's novel with masterful performances by Toshiro Mifune, the divine Setsuko Hara and Masayuki Mori. Kurosawa's superb filming of the snowy landscape literally makes the snow a character in the film.
  • JEANNE DIELMAN, 23 QUAI DU COMMERCE, 1080 BRUXELLES (1975) - Belgian feminist/anti-illusionism director Chantal Akerman's hypnotic masterpiece starring Delphine Seyrig as a housewife/mother who leads a double life as a prostitute. Absolutely absorbing film named the Village Voices 19th greatest film of the 20th century already!
  • L'ATALANTE (1934) - Jean Vigo's one and only completed feature before his untimely death is a masterpiece concerning newlyweds encountering life on a canal barge. Dita Parlo, Jean Daste and Michel Simon are all magnificent.
  • LE DOULOS (1962) - Jean-Pierre Melville's crime flick starring Jean Paul Belmondo and Serge Reggiani in a tale of jewel heists and murder.
  • LEGENDARY WEAPONS OF CHINA (1982) - Lau Kar-Leung's excellent kung fu romp starring Gordon Liu and Alexander Fu Sheng. Assassins are out to get Gordo in a series of fights which utilize China's legendary "Eighteen Weapons".
  • LESBIAN VAMPIRE KILLERS (2009) - Vampire Queen Carmilla descends on a British village and there's nothing but a couple of knuckleheads (Mathew Horne and James Corden) to defeat them. Yet another in the run of recent quite good horror comedies.
  • LOOKING FOR RICHARD (1996) - Al Pacino's documentary/performance film of his attempts to stage Shakespeare's RICHARD III.
  • MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED (2010) - Director Mark Hartley (of "NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD") helms this documentary on the wild and wooly exploitation films made on the cheap in the Philippines.
  • THE MERCHANT OF VENICE (2004) - Excellent version of Shakepeare's play featuring Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons.
  • NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD (2008) - Documentary filmmaker Mark Hartley's acclaimed debut about the wonderful world of Ozploitation.
  • ORDET (1955) - Carl Theodor Dreyer examines the many aspects of faith.
  • PAISAN (1946) - The second in Roberto Rossellini's "war trilogy" (and my favourite of 'em) concerning the invasion of Italy by the Allies in World War II and the interaction between Italians and Americans. The episodic film starts in the south and works its way up the Italian peninsula to the north.
  • THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (1928) - Carl Theodor Dreyer's masterpiece is often on many lists of the top ten greatest films of all time. The trial of Joan of Arc is depicted in a truly stunning performance by Renee Jeanne Falconetti.
  • THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE (1921) - Silent Swedish film starring and directed by Victor Sjostrom (much later to star in Bergman's WILD STRAWBERRIES) is generally considered one of the central works in Swedish cinema history. The film concerns the legend that the last person to die each year must spend the following year working for "strict master" Death collecting the souls of all those who die in that year.
  • PRIVATE LIVES (1931) - Hollywood adaptation of Noel Coward's play featuring Norma Shearer, Robert Montgomery, Reginald Denny and Una Merkel in this comedy of sex and divorce.
  • RED (2010) - Hollywood bang-bang-shoot-em-up adaptaion of Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner's DC Comics series is actually a lot of fun. Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Mary Louise Parker and Morgan Freeman join in the hijinx.
  • RICHARD III (1955) - Laurence Olivier's wonderful pantomime-villain version of Shakepeare's play with ravishing colour and a wicked sense of fun. A dream cast includes Cedric Hardwicke, Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud, Pamela Brown, Claire Bloom, Michael Gough, Michael Ripper, John Laurie, George Woodbridge, Esmond Knight, Patrick Troughton, Stanley Baker and many more.
  • RUSSIAN ARK (2002) - Not a documentary. Not a drama. What exactly is it? Like no other film ever made. Half tour of the Russian Hermitage museum and half peek at hundreds of years of Russian history with a little ghost story thrown in, director Alexander Sokurov filmed the entire film in one take only. Dreamlike and surreal.
  • SAPPHIRE (1959) - Crime film dealing with racism in London against immigrants from the West Indies. Directed by Basil Dearden, SAPPHIRE won a BAFTA Award for Best Film. A cast of exemplary British character actors includes Nigel Patrick, Yvonne Mitchell, Rupert Davies, Paul Massie and Michael Craig.
  • SCOTT WALKER: 30 CENTURY MAN (2006) - Documentary about singer Scott Walker examines his career from pop idol in the Walker Brothers to avant-garde music experimenter. The music will make you leap for your Scott Walker albums!
  • SECRET MYSTERIES OF AMERICA'S BEGINNINGS VOL. 1: THE NEW ATLANTIS (2006), VOL. 2: RIDDLES IN STONE - THE SECRET ARCHITECTURE OF WASHINGTON, D.C., (2007) and VOL. 3: EYE OF THE PHOENIX - SECRETS OF THE DOLLAR BILL (2009) - I love a good conspiracy theory and these three DVDs feature a boatload! The Freemasons, the Rosicrucians, the Illuminati . . . they're all here and more. You gotta love it!
  • SENSO (1954) - Luchino Visconti's ravishing depiction of the Italian-Austrian war of unification and romance gone sour. Alida Valli and Farley Granger star.
  • SH! THE OCTOPUS (1937) - poverty row comedy-thriller-horror movie with no name cast and no budget. Actually much better than one might think with a delirious, almost hallucinatory plotline, an effective tentacled monster attacking a group of people trapped in an abandoned lighthouse and a superbly shocking transformation special effects scene at the end. This one's a rare duck and an odd one.
  • SHAOLIN MANTIS (1978) - another cracking Shaw Brothers kung fu movie starring David Chiang as a martial artist who learns a new style by studying the praying mantis.
  • SHAOLIN VS. LAMA (1983) - One of the best Hong Kong kung fu films with wall-to-wall super action!
  • SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION (1970) - Hollywood adaptation of Ken Kesey's second novel (following "ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST") concerning an Oregon logging family who cut down trees for a local mill in opposition to striking unionized workers. Paul Newman, Michael Sarrazin, Henry Fonda and Lee Remick star.
  • A STAR IS BORN (1954) - Vincent Minnelli's troubled remake starring Judy Garland and James Mason as an actress whose star is on the rise while her husband's is falling fast.
  • THE TAKING OF POWER OF LOUIS XIV (1966) - Roberto Rossellini's epic movie for French television depicting the rise to power of Louis XIV and his gradually education in how to wield that power. Non-professional actor Jean-Marie Patte stars in the title role in an echo of Rossellini's neo-realist past.
  • THOR (2011) - Following their string of hit super-hero movies, Marvel brings us this good if not great adaptation of the Norse thunder god's comic book adventures directed by Kenneth Branagh of all people. Chris Hemsworth is perfect casting as Thor.
  • WALK, DON'T RUN (1966) - Cary Grant's final film is a frothy bit of pleasant nonsense also starring Charlotte Rampling and Jim Hutton. This remake of the 1943 film "THE MORE THE MERRIER" transposes the romantic comedy to Tokyo during the Olympic games.
  • X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011) - Surprisingly good prequel to the previous three X-Men movies, this features the origins of the X-Men team as well as Magneto. Michael Fassbender is particularly good as the young Magneto.

Here's looking forward to much more movie watching in 2012!!!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

LIKE NO OTHER FILM I'VE EVER SEEN; THAT IS "RUSSIAN ARK". This 2002 film by director Alexander Sokurov (in Russian "Русский ковчег") doesn't fit any category I can think of. Filmed on location in the actual Winter Palace of the Czars which is now the Hermitage Museum, the entire 96 minute film was shot IN ONE TAKE! No cuts. No edits. And there are 2000 people in the cast; all wearing period costumes who all had to know their cues and enter at the proper moment or else the entire film would've been spoiled! Seriously!?!? The film is half about the building itself and its history and half about the masterpieces of art which the Hermitage now houses. Sokurov's obvious love of both art and Russian history permeates every frame. And each and every frame was captured with a digital Steadicam in one single take. I'm sorry, I just can't get over that. Directors from Orson Welles to John Carpenter to Martin Scorsese have been chasing the "extended take" in their films for years but here's a guy who shoots his entire movie in one take. Actually, the first two takes were spoiled by "technical difficulties" and Sokurov only had time for one more attempt before his time allowed in the Hermitage expired. Luckily, the final take went off without a hitch and that is the movie as we now have it. Sound was redone in post due to the director's habit of cursing loudly whenever something didn't quite go perfectly. The film opens with a totally black screen and our on screen narrator (director Sokurov himself) explains that he was in some sort of accident and somehow finds himself here. Wherever that is. The entire film is shot from the camera's/narrator's POV. We shortly find ourselves in the Hermitage where the narrator encounters people dressed in the clothing of various historical eras. The narrator soon meets a character known simply as "The European" (Sergei Dreiden) who actually represents the 19th century French diplomat Marquis de Custine; the Marquis wrote a famous book on his travels in Russia "LA RUSSIE EN 1839". The eccentric "European" winds his way throughout the Hermitage with our narrator/camera in tow encountering people from all different eras in Russian history. We even see Catherine the Great, Peter the Great and Czar Nicholas II and his ill-fated family. The off-kilter, dream-like quality of the film is remarkable and there is a certain dream-logic at work here. Also there is a very real probability that the narrator (and "The European") are dead and merely ghosts gliding through the museum. The European sometimes interacts with the people he meets (especially the staff who constantly seem to be shoo-ing him out of rooms) and sometimes appears completely invisible to those around him. We witness a grand ball with an orchestra playing Glinka, a theatrical performance, Czar Nicholas I received the grandson of the Shah of Iran for a state "apology" at the murder of a Russian ambassador, Catherine the Great bounding down a snow-path (presumable to make a romantic assignation) and even a man building his own coffin during the World War II siege of the city. Add to this the frequent stops to examine works of art in the museum: Rubens, El Greco, Canova, et. al. The surroundings -- being the actual Hermitage itself -- are obviously stunning to look at; as are the works of art. The costuming is extraordinary. Lighting by Bernd Fischer and Anatoli Radionov is unbelieveable considering they were constantly on the move for 96 minutes. And the photography by Tilman Büttner is nothing short of a miracle. Then, of course, we come to Sokurov's direction which required a cast of 2000 to know their lines, their cues, their choreography and their timing so as not to spoil the one take. If for no other reason, this film is worth watching just for the technical accomplishment. But the film is much more than that. It's a slightly dizzing, often exquisitely beautiful, sometimes surreal and occasionally funny experience which resembles no other film out there. And for anyone with even the slightest interest in art or history, RUSSIAN ARK is a delightful Faberge egg of cinema.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

"A half-step up, with the massive break-timber overhead, and into the ship's main cabin. Eight more bunks ranged around. Ten tons of fresh water tanked beneath the floor. Books and books and books -- some five hundred volumes in all. Books of the sea and books of the land, some of them streaked with salt, collected with love and care over more than twenty-five years.
Melville, Conrad, London, Stevenson; Gauguin and Loti and Rupert Brooke; Lubbock, Masefield, De Hartog -- Slocum and Rockwell Kent; Trelawney and Cook and Bligh; Chapelle and Underhill -- Nansen, Frobisher, Villiers and Scott and Louis Becke. Homer, Geribault, and Tompkins. Hundreds more: all cast in a common mold -- blessed with the genius that makes men feel, and dream, and go.
And a special section of books that deal with the greatest frontier of all -- the relationship between men: Marx and Whitman, Thoreau and Henry George, Victor Hugo, Thomas Paine and Jefferson. Lincoln and Emerson, Rousseau, Voltaire and Upton Sinclair, Shaw, Byron, Mark Twain, Roosevelt, Garrison, Jack London again and Shakespeare.
Five hundred books, distillate of distant seas, of a hundred thousand night watches. Of despair and agonies and conviction. Standing by this night, peering out from recessed shelves onto the inert and blanketed forms of seven young men and women come together -- haphazardly perhaps -- yet drawn as though by magic to the soft and urgent promise of the windship's lonely world. . .
. . . Storm sails and trade wind sails; mooring lines; hardwood, softwood, brass and galvanized rod. A bale of tarred oakum at rest by a barrel of pitch, and the tanned hide of a cow. All sorted and lashed in place. The rudderpost encased in a brute of a boxlike shaft.
Poised this night: seven children and thirteen adults; ten tons of water, six tons of fuel; a four-month supply of food; three hundred charts -- within the trussed shell of the last merchant-built windjammer to fly the American flag (museum ships excepted). Primed and able to go.
So near, yet so far -- three miles to the Golden Gate; fifteen miles to the inshore boundary of the high seas; six hundred miles to the realm of the northeast trade; four hundred and eighty miles to the rancid Mecca corner of Hollywood and Vine.
The stilled form of a wanderer, somewhat asleep in his bunk. Pillow swept in a locked embrace -- lamp turned low on the wall -- empty sheepskin coat above dank and hollow boots. Over his head a telltale compass peering down with dry card inverted -- older than the ship, brassbound, incorruptible, absolute.
How does she head this night? North by east it is.
What is her port of hail? San Francisco.
And where is she bound? Nowhere.
So they say."
-- Wanderer by Sterling Hayden
Benny Hill & Michael Jackson!

Thursday, December 01, 2011


For me, boredom is not the opposite of amusement; . . . Boredom to me consists in a kind of insufficiency, or inadequacy, or lack of reality . . . . The feeling of boredom originates for me in a sense of the absurdity of a reality which is insufficient, or anyhow unable, to convince me of its own effective existence . . . . from that very absurdity springs boredom, which when all is said and done is simply a kind of incommunicability and the incapacity to disengage oneself from it.

-- Alberto Moravia

La Noia