Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on February 7, 2013
I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, horror is my favorite film genre. But that doesn’t stop me from occasionally getting aggravated by some of the female stereotypes that populate it. From madwomen in the attic to resilient final girls and overprotective mothers, horror is a genre that rarely deviates from the tired and true tropes that have captivated audiences for decades. Enter Florence Cathcart (played by actress Rebecca Hall) in a new British horror film called THE AWAKENING (2012). Florence is a spunky science minded young writer who spends her days debunking séance-holding charlatans who prey on a grief stricken nation with promises that they can communicate with the dead. The year is 1921 and England is recovering from a world war that killed over a million British soldiers, including a young man who Florence once loved. Con artists masquerading as spiritualists thrived during the country’s postwar recovery and routinely targeted vulnerable individuals who wanted to reunite with lost loved ones. Florence, a proud atheist who’s just as comfortable in a pair of man’s trousers as she is a long skirt, is driven to expose these frauds and has just published a popular book about her exploits. Her professional occupation is buoyed by her unspoken desire to reconnect with phantoms from her own past and put them to rest. In simple terms, she is a ghost hunter on a personal mission. She also happens to be one of the most interesting and well-constructed horror film heroines I’ve encountered recently.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on December 18, 2012
For as long as there are aging matinee idols looking for a quick paycheck, there will be commando movies there to pay them. While the painfully self-conscious Expendables movies brought this prestigious genre back into box office glory, it’s a format that has been cranking along for decades. Before Stallone, the most successful old man revitalizer was Andrew V. McLaglen (son of actor Victor), who cranked out fogey action flicks from the 60s through the 80s, after a long career in TV Westerns. Cult home video outfit Severin has just released The Wild Geese (1978) on Blu-Ray, which stars the leathery trio of Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Roger Moore. McLaglen’s favorite among his films, it is a bloody imperialist fantasy in which a group of ex-Special Ops Brits parachute into Africa to rescue a deposed leader from a tyrannical despot. Fitfully released in the United States as its distributor was going through bankruptcy, it exudes more testosterone per film frame than Stallone’s pec-flexing opus.
Posted by keelsetter on December 2, 2012
Last night Alex Cox and I sat down for a private screening of O Lucky Man! (Lindsay Anderson, 1973). Alex had met both Anderson and Malcolm McDowell back in the seventies, and had even presented Anderson with a script for a film that never got made (Scousers). At one point Alex, who had not seen O Lucky Man! in a very long time, couldn’t help but blurt out that “it’s even better than I remember!” Alex was also surprised by how certain sequences in the film had clearly influenced his own Highway Patrolman (1991), and we both marveled at how, despite being almost 40 years old, the film retained all its original power and packed a prescient edge. O Lucky Man! is even more relevant now to the U.S. because at the time of its release it was chronicling the nervous collapse of English society from an engineering country to a service country. It’s the same spasm that now grips the U.S. psyche. READ MORE
Posted by davidkalat on November 3, 2012
For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been looking at secret Hitchcock remakes—movies that may or may not have taken direct inspiration from Hitchcock’s classics, but at least pretended they didn’t. Those films attempt to stand on their own merits, independent of any comparisons to Hitchcock that their content might invite.
But we haven’t yet addressed the thorny mess of overt Hitchcock remakes—the ones that openly identify themselves as updates of movies made by the Master of Suspense. Somehow that makes a significant difference—and the direct comparisons are never flattering.
So when we come to something like Hammer’s 1979 version of The Lady Vanishes, not only do we have the worrisome aspect of a direct Hitchcock remake, we also have the exceedingly problematic audience expectations generated by the phrase “Hammer does Hitchcock.”
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on March 29, 2012
The term ‘auteur’ is rarely associated with Jack Clayton. When critics and film scholars refer to the British director by name they usually describe him as being a “talented craftsman” or “skilled technician.” Credit for the extraordinary look and feel of Clayton’s best work is too often attributed to the skilled cinematographers (Freddie Francis, Oswald Morris, Douglas Slocombe, etc.) or screenwriters (Truman Copote, Harold Pinter, Francis Ford Coppola, etc.) that he teamed-up with but the director’s own vision is paramount. Andrew Sarris famously said that, “The only Clayton constant is impersonality.” But with only a handful of films in Clayton’s oeuvre I find it easy to link them together through their literary ambitions, parallel themes and stylistic directing choices. And of course there’s the remarkable performances he was able to extract from his actors. Clayton was particularly adept at directing women. Under his watchful eye renowned talents like Simone Signoret, Deborah Kerr, Anne Bancroft, Mia Farrow and Maggie Smith gifted us with some of their most memorable roles.
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on November 17, 2011
Albert Finney as Arthur Seaton in SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING (1961)
On Saturday, Nov. 19th (and Jan. 17th) TCM will be airing Karel Reisz’ SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING (1961). This bleak but beautifully shot kitchen-sink drama features Albert Finney in his screen debut as one of Britain’s original angry young men. The film is based on a novel by the British author Alan Sillitoe who also wrote the screenplay. Alan Sillitoe died last year at age 82 but I recently had the opportunity to discuss his screenwriting career and contributions to British cinema with Neil Fulwood and David Sillitoe (Alan’s son). Both men are part of the recently formed Alan Sillitoe Committee, which is trying to raise awareness of the author’s work and commission a statue in his honor.
Posted by keelsetter on September 25, 2011
Both are English, but the title is a trick question. To be more accurate, it would read: “What should H.G. Wells and Wallace and Gromit have had in common?” Around the mid-1990′s a very interesting project almost saw the light of day: a faithful film adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds that was to fuse the talents of Aardman Animations and director Alex Cox. “It would have been the biggest project I’d ever done,” says the director. Sadly, the whole enterprise was torpedoed by one musician. I recently sat down with the director for more details to this story. READ MORE
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on September 13, 2011
Two sixty-something masters of their domain have new work showing in the U.S. John Landis, a dean of the low farting arts, has his morbid comedy Burke and Hare playing cable-on-demand services and a limited theatrical run. Harun Farocki, of the high brow-furrowing arts, has a new exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art entitled Images of War: At a Distance. Landis has been tagged with artistic decline, something Hollywood directors have to deal with as soon as they sprout their first grey hair (Burke is his first narrative feature since 1998, was financed and made in the U.K., and released there in Oct. 2010). This kind of ageism doesn’t appear in the gallery world, where Farocki is now being embraced after decades as an experimental video artist. The MoMA exhibition is running his most recent work on a loop, Serious Games I-IV (2009-2010), but also providing nearby monitors that are showing nearly all of his previous videos (which they acquired for their library). As artists, they are similar mainly in their dissimilarity, but both have a deep and playful sense of film history.
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on May 19, 2011
When it came time to cast Dr. No (1965) director Terence Young’s first choice to play James Bond was actor Richard Johnson. Johnson’s movie star good looks, captivating voice and masculine charm made him the perfect candidate to play a sly British spy that effortlessly seduces beautiful women while saving the world from vicious criminals and madmen. Johnson declined an exclusive 7-year contract that the producers of the James Bond franchise offered him because he didn’t like the idea of being tied to a particular character for any length of time. But that didn’t stop him from playing a spy in other films. Richard Johnson was terrific as Hugh ‘Bulldog’ Drummond in the lighthearted and extremely stylish espionage adventure Deadlier Than the Male (1967) and its sequel Some Girls Do (1969). But I think Johnson’s most interesting and challenging role as a British intelligence agent can be found in Seth Holt’s ambitious spy thriller DANGER ROUTE (1967). DANGER ROUTE lacks the camp appeal and visual allure of Deadlier Than the Male but it provided Johnson with a complex character that he effortlessly brought to life and showcases why the actor was a prime candidate to play Bond.
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on March 3, 2011
Are human beings inherently cruel or do we learn cruelty by example? Does our genetic makeup dictate our personalities at birth or are we shaped by numerous circumstances including our environments and upbringing? To borrow the title of a current popular song, are we “born this way” or are we more complex creatures than our personal DNA map might suggest? The nature vs. nurture debate has been going on for centuries and many films have attempted to tackle it head on. One of the best examples of this is Peter Brooks’ extraordinary film adaptation of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1963), which argues that people are savages at heart and in the right circumstances we’re all likely to turn on one another. Another film, which I recently had the opportunity to watch, champions the other side of the argument. John Mackenzie’s haunting film adaptation of Giles Cooper’s radio play UNMAN, WITTERING AND ZIGO (1971) questions the example set by Lord of the Flies and suggests that we’re taught savage behaviors, which could manifest in acts of violence.
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