Donkey Skin (1970): Who’s the Fairest of Them All?

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To view Donkey Skin click here.

I always love seeing what happens when international directors make it big on the foreign-language film circuit and start getting pressured to shoot films in English. The results tend to fall into certain categories: divisive but with fan followings, as in the case of François Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 (1966) or Fellini’s Casanova (1976); interesting but almost immediately forgotten, as in Ingmar Bergman’s The Touch (1971) or Wong Kar-Wai’s My Blueberry Nights (2007); or, on rare occasions, a language-transcending masterpiece like Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966), something he didn’t quite manage to replicate again with commercial audiences. (Exactly where John Woo falls on that spectrum is still being sorted out.) [...MORE]

The Slipper and the Rose (1976): A Different Kind of Cinderella Story

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To view The Slipper and the Rose click here.

For some movies, finding a receptive audience is all a matter of timing, Upon its initial release, The Slipper and the Rose (1976), a sterling reinterpretation of the Cinderella story, missed its window of opportunity because it came out after a string of box office disasters had nearly buried the musical forever. And make no mistake; this is a musical through and through courtesy of intricate, tongue-twisting and enchanting songs written by the unbeatable team of Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman. Distanced from its musical cohorts, let’s reexamine the merits of this film and give it a fair shake. [...MORE]

You’re Never Too Old to Discover Danny Kaye

HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN, Danny Kaye, Joey Walsh, 1952.

To view Hans Christian Andersen click here.

I have a confession to make, and this is just between us, ok? Up until a few months ago, I had never seen a Danny Kaye film. Not a single one. And before you think I’m accidentally forgetting White Christmas (1954) –nope. Never seen that one, either. For whatever reason, all these years I had rather stubbornly made up my mind that I didn’t like Danny Kaye. I had no explanation and entirely no basis for this formed opinion of mine. I even playfully argued with a good friend, and when he pressed me for a reason why, my response was simply, “Meh. Not my cup of tea.” How ridiculous is that? It’s a completely unfair, unreasonable and irrational stance. And after watching my very first Danny Kaye film, I felt embarrassment and regret for casually reducing the enormous contributions of such an immensely talented entertainer, one who left an indelible mark on Hollywood and pop culture, to an arrogant “meh.” The more I think about it, perhaps I owe my unfounded dislike to Clark Griswold and his hysterically colorful Christmas Eve tirade. I’m sure at some point I thought, “Ha! That’s a funny joke. Well, that’s all I need to know about Danny Kaye. I think that’ll do.”

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When Jerry Lewis Met Norman Rockwell

blogNormJerryJerry Lewis, the consummate auteur, exerted a degree of creative control over all of his solo films. In 1959, Lewis was working with Frank Tashlin on Cinderfella: He served as producer and star while Tashlin was hired to direct. A gender-reversal version of the classic fairy tale, Cinderfella had been written by Tashlin as a vehicle for Lewis, who maintained absolute control over his comic persona. He also had input into the marketing of the film.

It was Lewis’s idea to hire legendary illustrator Norman Rockwell to do the art for the Cinderfella poster. According to Lewis in a recent article for Intelligent Collector, “My whole idea was to get an icon in the world of art and have that icon sell the movie for me. And Norman Rockwell brought that.” Why was Lewis adamant about hiring Rockwell as that icon? I think it had something to do with Rockwell’s image as the premier painter of Americana whose content was the everyday life of the American family—holiday celebrations, childhood rituals and games, first dates, the pleasures and ease of small-town life. Though Rockwell painted other content, including topical subjects of racism and integration, the public associated him with sentimental or nostalgic images of family life.

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Six Irish Tales of Terror & Imagination

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Many of my favorite horror and fantasy books are short story collections or compact novelettes. Some excellent examples of this include Irish author Sheridan Le Fanu’s In a Glass Darkly, which contains his chilling vampire tale Carmilla among other fright-filled stories, or Oscar Wilde’s classic The Picture of Dorian Gray that runs a mere 176 pages (give or take a few depending on what version you may own). I’m also extremely fond of horror film anthologies made up of brief tales of terror that provide a variety of shocks in a short amount of time. It’s worth pointing out that before 1980 horror films generally clocked in under the two-hour mark but that isn’t the case anymore. Today I frequently find that many modern horror films tend to run too long and are bogged down by unnecessary filler. They often lose momentum and fail to maintain suspense so in turn, they end up relying on cheap jump scares to excite audiences and keep them in their seats. In my quest for more fulfilling fright films I’ve come across some exceptional shorts that manage to engross, amuse and startle viewers without wearing out their welcome and they rarely rely on jump scares to entertain.

To celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day I thought I would share a collection of outstanding short Irish horror and dark fantasy films that readers can view online free of charge. The six films I’ve selected showcase the talents of some up-and-coming Irish filmmakers who frequently incorporate Gaellic folklore and legends into their work. These films also demonstrate how potent a succinct shock to the system can be when it is thoughtfully executed by creative writers and directors. In fact, some of these short films are so accomplished and effective that you might find yourself wishing that they were full-length features.

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December 26, 2015
David Kalat
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Waging War on Christmas

There are many pop culture traditions at Christmastime that are important to me. Charlie Brown Christmas, of course—its power only grows over time. The Grinch (the original 60s cartoon). A Christmas Story, preferably on some kind of marathon loop. And then there’s Jalmari Helander’s looney cult flick Rare Exports. Perhaps that one is less familiar to you.

I wrote about it here several years ago, and to help give my revisit a fresh perspective, I asked my son Max to join me this year in paying tribute to this gloriously insane holiday horror movie.

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KEYWORDS: Jalmari Helander, Rare Exports, Santa Claus
COMMENTS: 6
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Mr Arkadin: Don’t Believe That Scorpion

arkadinopenerMore than twenty years have passed since I last saw Mr. Arkadin, Orson Welles’s unconventional tale of an eccentric but powerful man. I look forward to revisiting this dark drama when TCM airs the film Friday, May 8, at 11:45pm as part of this month’s Friday Night Spotlight on Welles. The film is part of “Classic Noir” night, which also includes Touch of Evil, The Lady from Shanghai, and Journey Into Fear. While Mr. Arkadin is hardly ‘classic noir,’ any context for showcasing the film is alright with me.

Distributed in 1962, the film was shot in the mid-1950s. Welles had been reprising one of his signature roles for a second season of the BBC radio series Adventures of Harry Lime when he wrote an episode titled “Man of Mystery.” Intrigued by his own premise for this episode, in which a powerful man hires Lime to investigate his mysterious past, Welles decided to turn it into a feature film, Mr. Arkadin. The film stars Robert Arden, who had worked alongside Welles on the radio program, as Guy Van Stratten, a small-time criminal. Van Stratten crosses paths with the enormously wealthy Gregory Arkadin, a shadowy figure who dotes on his beautiful daughter Raina. Arkadin, who claims to remember nothing about his life prior to 1927, hires Van Stratten to research his past. The criminal-turned-investigator travels across Europe interviewing people who knew Arkadin, but the mystery deepens when these former acquaintances turn up dead.

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THE WIZARD OF OZ – 75th Anniversary

75th Anniversary of THE WIZARD OF OZ

A blurb written in 1998 by Rick Polito for a TCM screening of The Wizard of Oz was resuscitated on the internet two years ago and went viral: “Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.” Eight years before that, during my college years in 1990, space limitations on the calendar film series I was programming inspired similarly curt descriptions. Mine, however, were not funny and only annoyingly glib. For 2001: A Space Odyssey I wrote one sentence: “Do we really need to write a description for this?” My flippant entry for The Wizard of Oz was no better: “You know this one too. It’s not like it hasn’t been on TV every year for the last 25 years.” Had I done my homework I would have known that, at the time, it had actually been on TV for even longer than that but, either way, readers were not amused. And rightly so, because no matter how familiar you are with The Wizard of Oz, the film has many layers, it deserves more than flippant sentences, and it rewards repeat viewings. More to the point, people who are only familiar with The Wizard of Oz from television will have a  big-screen opportunity to tremble under the earth-ripping power of those opening cyclone shots, thanks to TCM and Fathom Events which will be bringing the movie to select theaters nation-wide on January 11th. [...MORE]

Back to the Drawing Board

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)Next Monday, October 6, TCM presents an evening of early American animation, a must-see for cartoon fans of all ages. The line-up begins with the cartoons of Winsor McCay, followed by animation from two companies lost to the history books, the Bray Studio and the Van Beuren Studios. At 12:15 am, Lotte Reiniger’s unique Adventures of Prince Achmed airs, followed by the 1939 version of Gulliver’s Travels and the Japanese feature Magic Boy. Chuck Jones’s beloved Phantom Tollbooth concludes the evening’s entertainment, which has been dubbed “Back to the Drawing Board” by TCM. Of the vast array of styles and stories represented in this selection of pre-classic animation, I am most excited to see the work of the Bray Studios and Prince Achmed by Reiniger (above).

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Happy 100th, Danny!

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I haven’t been around here in a while, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to wish success to TCM’s Danny Kaye 100th Birthday celebration all day this coming Sunday — tomorrow.  As I showed in several posts in the past, I’ve been a Danny Kaye connoisseur nearly all my life, since the days I used to skip junior high to watch his movies on TV during the day (this is pre-VCR and DVR, although I used to record the soundtracks on reel-to-reel tape!).  I bought my first copies of those “Movies on TV” books because of Danny, too, because I wanted to go through and find all his movies.  Little did I know then that he only made 17, but we are fortunate that TCM will be bringing us a good selection of those on Sunday, plus some rare TV goodies.

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