Revisiting Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (1996)

HAMLET (1996)

To view Hamlet click here.

Late last year I had the great pleasure of seeing Derek Jacobi perform MEASURE + DIDO (directed by Jacobi’s partner of 38-years, Richard Clifford), a modern update of William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure that includes excerpts from Henry Purcell’s chamber opera Dido and Aeneas. Jacobi was marvelous as Angelo, the lusty, scheming and very funny deputy to the Duke of Vienna. With apologies to the other players, Jacobi owned the stage and effortlessly commanded Shakespeare’s ornate language. I was in awe of his powerful performance and in the process, I gained a new appreciation for Shakespeare’s comedy. But if truth be told, I prefer the Bard’s tragedies to his comedies so with the experience of seeing MEASURE + DIDO still somewhat fresh in my mind, I decided to revisit Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (1996) now streaming on FilmStruck.

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The Past Is Always With Us: The Naked Kiss (1964)

NAKED KISS, THE (1964)

To view The Naked Kiss click here.

Samuel Fuller developed a reputation over time of being the tough guy director of movies like Pickup on South Street (1953), The Steel Helmet (1951) and The Big Red One (1980). This is all well and good but his films have a sense of style, and insight at their core, that belies the notion that Fuller can be pigeonholed as the cigar-chomping model of masculinity behind the camera. He may well have been, but the man put together more movies about regret and despair than most directors and occasionally dipped deeply into the well of sentimentality. In 1964, he put together a movie whose story and plot could have easily been mistaken for the kind of movie directed by Douglas Sirk, although with completely different results. In fact, The Naked Kiss (1964) may be described as the best movie Douglas Sirk never made.

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Under the Volcano (1984) with Albert Finney

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To view Under the Volcano click here.

One of my favorite actors is presently getting the red-carpet treatment at FilmStruck; “Starring Albert Finney” is a new theme that presents a batch of Finney’s films for your enjoyment including Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), Tom Jones (1963) and A Man of No Importance (1994). If you’re new to Finney, it is a great opportunity to familiarize yourself with one of Britain’s finest exports and if you’re a longtime fan like myself, it’s a good time to reacquaint yourself with some of his best work.

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The Confession (1970) Takes No Prisoners

THE CONFESSION (1970)

To view The Confession click here.

One of the great things about the explosion of movie titles in the last few years, both streaming and on physical media, is how you can learn so much more about and totally reassess how you see a filmmaker. A favorite example I like to cite is Ingmar Bergman, whom I grew up watching in film classes via murky 16mm prints and borderline unwatchable VHS transfers. Now that we’ve had the chance to go back and see the majority of his work in pristine quality, it’s like pulling off a dirty pair of glasses to reveal a far more vibrant, multi-faceted filmmaker than before. [...MORE]

Fox and His Friends (1975): Remembering Two German Giants

FOX AND HIS FRIENDS (1975)

To view Fox and His Friends click here.

The recent death of legendary cinematographer Michael Ballhaus is one that stings just as much as any movie titan in recent memory. Fans of American cinema know him as the gifted eye behind such films as The Departed (2006), The Age of Innocence (1993), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) and Broadcast News (1987), to name just a few of the titles that earn him a place in the upper Hollywood ranks. However, the Berlin-born maestro really cemented his reputation on the world stage with his decade-long collaborations with the great Rainer Werner Fassbinder, a collaboration that spanned from Whity (1971) through Lili Marleen (1981). [...MORE]

Hollywood Babylon: The Big Knife (1955)

BIG KNIFE, THE (1955)

To view The Big Knife click here.

In The Big Knife (1955) Jack Palance is a blunt instrument, barreling his way around a Bel Air living room set like a finely chiseled bull in a china shop. He plays Charlie Castle, a self-loathing movie star being blackmailed by the head of his own studio. So he signs whatever contracts are put in front of him, and his Bel Air home becomes a gilded prison, a well-appointed depository of his rage. The film never strays far from his living room, giving it a claustrophobically theatrical feel. It is an adaptation of the Clifford Odets play, done faithfully by director Robert Aldrich and screenwriter James Poe. The first independent feature Aldrich directed, for his newly formed The Associates and Aldrich Company, it is a relentless, and at times exhausting, jeremiad against the dehumanizing manipulations of Hollywood executives. Shot quickly and simply, it is a showcase for the performers, and Palance is matched against Rod Steiger as studio president Stanley Hoff, a Mephistophelean string-puller with a flair for the dramatic pause. Even more unsettling is Hoff’s reptilian assistant Smiley Coy, who Wendell Corey portrays with a smooth monotone, unfurling both compliments and death threats in the same uninflected hiss. The only human in the house is Castle’s long-suffering wife Marion, who Ida Lupino instills with a stubborn, sandpapery grace. The Big Knife is now streaming on FilmStruck with five other features under the The Lives of Actors theme.

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I Know I Am: Breaking the Waves (1996)

BREAKING THE WAVES (1996)

To view Breaking the Waves click here.

There are two moments near the beginning of Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves (1996) that capture a little bit of what I love so much about his style of filmmaking, moments that make the film seem unrehearsed, almost as if it weren’t a narrative piece at all. The first is after Bess (Emily Watson) walks outside after meeting with the council of her church elders seeking permission to get married. She breathes in the air and then looks directly at the camera, smiling. The second occurs during the wedding of Bess and Jan (Stellan Skarsgård) as we see Bess coming down the aisle. She smiles shyly at everyone then looks right into the camera and sticks her tongue out. Both are fourth wall breaks but are done without irony or sarcasm, done not to wink at the audience but to leave the impression that you’re there, with Bess, in the moment, sharing her story. Lars von Trier makes movies that infuriate people and I admit, it took me some time to appreciate his nuances, but once I did, I found myself rewatching his works and rediscovering an emotional intimacy few other filmmakers accomplish.

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Sister, Act: English Lit, French Style with The Brontë Sisters (1979)

BRONTE SISTERS, THE (1978)

To view The Brontë Sisters click here.

The love affair between European cinema and the literary works of the Brontë sisters has been a fascinating one for decades, though it’s often overlooked in favor of Hollywood’s more publicized adaptations like Wuthering Heights (1939) and Jane Eyre (1943). Over the years we’ve seen versions of their novels come from such disparate filmmakers as Luis Buñuel, Jacques Rivette, Franco Zeffirelli, Andrea Arnold and Robert Fuest, all of whom offered their own unique takes on the windswept, tormented romanticism that fueled their classic novels. The fascination with the Brontës continues to this day, as seen by the buzz over the BBC One television film, To Walk Invisible, a biography of the Brontës that debuted this month in the United States on PBS’ Masterpiece.

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Margaret Lockwood is The Wicked Lady (1945)

WICKED LADY, THE (1945)

To view The Wicked Lady click here.

“I’ve got brains and looks and personality. I want to use them!”
- Barbara Worth (Margaret Lockwood) in The Wicked Lady (1945)

During WWII, many British citizens were desperate for movies that allowed them to forget about the destruction and mayhem engulfing the world. Against the backdrop of war, it’s not surprising that female film viewers began flocking to historic melodramas offering a momentary escape. The horrors of modern combat were left at the ticket counter while audiences immersed themselves in another time and place. Gainsborough Pictures was at the forefront of this trend buoyed by a stable of attractive and talented actors that included James Mason, Stewart Granger, Patricia Roc, Michael Rennie and Margret Lockwood. Lockwood (The Lady Vanishes [1938], Night Train to Munich [1940], Cast a Dark Shadow [1955]) was Gainsborough’s most popular female performer and although she never had much success in Hollywood, the actress became a household name in Britain during the 1940s. Her voluptuous beauty attracted both sexes but women were particularly drawn to the strong-willed characters she portrayed and her most successful film was The Wicked Lady (1945), which is currently streaming on The Criterion Channel at FilmStruck.

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Adolescent Adventure: The World of Henry Orient (1964)

WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT, THE (1964)

To view The World of Henry Orient click here.

FilmStruck has been singled out as a great resource for film aficionados but it also includes exceptional family friendly entertainment that can provide younger viewers with an eye-opening introduction to classic and foreign cinema. From Charlie Chaplin’s silent antics as the lovable Tramp in The Kid (1921) to the colorful Japanese fantasy film Jellyfish Eyes (2013), subscribers will discover a wide range of films available for all-ages. One stand out example is The World of Henry Orient (1964), a charming and extremely funny coming-of-age drama directed by George Roy Hill that is currently streaming as part of the “Female Friendships” collection.

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Streamline is the official blog of FilmStruck, a new subscription service that offers film aficionados a comprehensive library of films including an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign and cult films.