Tuesday, January 25, 2011


No nomination surprises me more than the best foreign language nomination for the Greek film Dogtooth. The movie is not what one would call an 'Academy friendly' film. But one thing I do find sort of appealing is the fact that there will be many curious people out there who will seek it out and, man, are they in for a shock.

It's a rather twisted film in which a mother and father keep their two kids locked up in compound of sorts [a house in the country] to keep them protected from the outside world. They teach them incorrect words for things, they convince them that anything from the outside is evil including cats - and to satisfy their sexual needs they bring in a guy to have sex with them.

Of course things go horribly wrong.

I read the film as a metaphor: The parents represent the government, the children represent the people and the compound is the country [Greece, perhaps].

I don't think the film works too well except as a black comedy with some shock value. Mainly because I found the kids too old for the part. If the kids were 10 then it would have been more convincing [and more disturbing no doubt]. But they are around 20 and, frankly, the situations that come up seem highly unlikely to me.

One thing I know is that the Academy nomination process for foreign language films is not understood by many. Basically, a very small number of folks nominate the films and apparently Dogtooth was really liked by one person who had influence.

It won't win but it is now on the map. Score one for Kino International and for Greece.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Anticipated Movies 2011

A list of some of the most anticipated movies of 2011 in the art house and the multiplex.
If half of these are good or great films it will be a good year in film.

Terrence Malick's Tree of LIfe
Pedro Almodóvar's Skin That I Inhabit
Alexander Payne's The Descendants
Wong Kar-wai's The Grandmasters
Alexander Sokurov's Faust
Lars von Trier's Melancholia
Bela Tarr's The Turin Horse
Guillaume Canet's Little White Lies
Lynne Ramsay's We Need To Talk About Kevin
Walter Salles' On the Road
David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method
George Clooney's The Ides of March
Michael Haneke's Love
Susanne Bier's In A Better World
Aki Kaurismaki's Le Havre
Richard Linklater's Bernie
Dardennes Bros.' Set Me Free
Arnaud Desplechin’s Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian
Hou Hsiao-Hsien's The Assassin
Jia Zhang-ke's In the Qing Dynasty
Terence Davies' The Deep Blue Sea
Jason Reitman's Young Adult
Steven Spielberg's War Horse
David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Martin Scorsese’s Hugo Cabret
Steve McQueen's Shame
Steven Soderbergh's Contagion
Jon Favreau's Cowboys and Aliens
Cameron Crowe's We Bought A Zoo

Friday, January 14, 2011

Lost Island of VHS...IX

The Clouded Yellow - Ralph Thomas - 1950

This is a terrific British thriller made in 1950 that has more than one comparison with the best of Hitchcock.

Trevor Howard plays David Somers a former British Secret Service agent who is in need of a break. He finds it by going to work off in the countryside cataloging butterflies for a couple at their estate. While there he befriends the couple's niece Sophie (Jean Simmons). The job is about as far removed as you can be from his former job. Until, that is, the local gamekeeper ends up murdered and Sophie becomes the prime suspect.

Somers realizes something is not right so he helps Sophie escape arrest and they lead the police on a cross-country chase in what seems to be a virtually impossible escape. The film is an entertaining combination of romance and suspense. I saw it at UCLA a couple of years ago and the audience loved it; reacting to each scene as it built toward it's terrific climax.

I am not sure why it is not on DVD yet but perhaps one day it will show up in a box set of British noirs or thrillers.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Bitter Rice

I just saw the movie Bitter Rice, which was one of the big European films to hit the American screens in the 1950's. It combines Italian Neorealism with Hollywood elements and a little sex appeal. At the time it was actually banned in some places due to some of the racy shots of scantily clad women working in the rice fields. But seen today it is rather tepid - not to mention dated.

I dug up the original New York Times review and darn if the critic doesn't make it sound a whole lot better than it is. The review was by Bosley Crowther who seemed to be a fuddy duddy 17 years before he flubbed his infamous negative review of Bonnie and Clyde. Here are some of the highlights of his Bitter Rice review.

>"Passion toils and tumbles through it like the wrestlers in a gas-house free-for-all, and torments of carnal hunger are boldly and rawly exposed.
>[The director's]candid and natural presentation of the robustness and earthiness of life in a camp full of migrant women workers is bulging with vitality, and his episodes of violence and love-making are slices of life in the raw.
>[T]he ultimate seduction of the oddly perverse heroine is a wildly accelerating traffic in mayhem, sadism and reckless lust. And the final resolution of personal conflicts in a white tiled slaughter house, amid blood-dripping beef cadavers, is literalism carried close to the absurd.
>Silvana Mangano, [is] full-bodied and gracefully muscular, with a rich voice and a handsome, pliant face, she handles with vigor and authority the characterization of a tortured libertine. It is not too excessive to describe her as Anna Magnani minus fifteen years, Ingrid Bergman with a Latin disposition and Rita Hayworth plus twenty-five pounds!"
I want to see this movie! I mean, I did see it. But I want to see the one Crowther describes.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Lost Squadron

The Lost Squadron Press book

The Lost Squadron is a terrific aviation picture made in 1932 about a group of airmen who get a job after the war as stuntmen for a sadistic film director played by Erich von Stroheim [who else] who in order to get realism into his film rigs it so the airplanes will go down in mid-flight. It's got action, comedy and a good amount of irony. It is also a darker film than you might expect from the period - except it should be noted that there was a certain fatalism in many of the aviation pictures of the time, which reflected some of the malaise soldiers felt after the affects of World War I.

The press book link is from the William K Everson archive at NYU. For those who don't know William K Everson seek out his views. He was a film publicist / historian / programmer who knew everything about American cinema in the pre-VHS/DVD world of film. Which means he was watching movies on the big screen, programming them and writing extensive notes to keep viewers informed about great films. The archive has many of his notes and press kits to peruse. He also wrote a good number of books that are worth seeking out. I consult his Screwball Comedy book all the time as it is about the best on the subject.

[It should be noted that Everson was a mainstay at the Telluride Film Festival for the first few years after it's inception. He helped with programming and introduced many films].

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Older Film Discoveries 2010

Here are 11 great films I finally caught up with or discovered in 2010.

The Landlord [Hal Ashby, 1971] - Ashby started his career with this terrific social comedy about a rich white kid who takes over a tenement building in NYC housing black tenants who won't pay their rent. Pure seventies cinema.

Humanity and Paper Balloons [Sadao Yamanaka, 1937] - A fine Japanese film about lonely masterless samurai in feudal Japan. Made by a filmmaker of great skill who died too young.

Léon Morin, Priest [Jean-Pierre Melville, 1961] - Melville never disappoints. Here again he has such great style and high quality acting with a good story.

La Chinoise [Jean Luc Godard, 1967] - One of the few Godard films from the 1960's that I had not seen. Revolutionary polemics and cinematic poetry in only the way Godard can do it.

La Femme Publique [Andrzej Zulawski, 1984] - A notorious Polish film that is more an assault on the audience than a quality film but that makes it a rather unforgettable experience.

Wife, Be Like a Rose! [Mikio Naruse, 1935] - This was the year I finally caught up with Mikio Naruse films. I managed to watch five of them [thanks in part to YouTube]. This was possibly the best of the bunch. All were terrific in their own way.

The Night Of The Following Day [Hubert Cornfield, 1968] - I always stayed away from the less-than-classic Brando pictures and after seeing this I wonder why I did. This is an enjoyable, nasty and arty little thriller. I guess it's not mainstream but all the more reason to recommend it.

The Treasure of The Sierra Madre [John Huston, 1948] Yeah so I have to admit I had never seen this. A classic that lives up to the hype.

Los Angeles Plays Itself [Thom Andersen, 2003] - Fascinating critical documentary on many films that have been shot in Los Angeles. Every film buff should see it even if they disagree with some of the points the filmmaker makes.

84 Charing Cross Road [David Hugh Jones, 1987] - A good, literate and engaging film about two people who sort of fall in love through letters. A different era than the one we know today yet not so long ago really.

Le Combat Dans L'ile [Alain Cavalier, 1962] - A forgotten French [New Wave] film about a man caught between his passion for a woman and his passion for a lost political cause. The French do this so well.