Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on April 14, 2016
This month Turner Classic Movies is spotlighting “The Best of the Barrymores.” The Barrymore family regularly appears on TCM but every Monday evening throughout April viewers can tune in and catch a selection of films featuring one or more of the Barrymore siblings in some of their best roles. Next Monday (April 18) the TCM spotlight will shine on Ethel Barrymore and one of the films scheduled to air is The Spiral Staircase (1946) at 10 PM EST/7 PM PST.
The Spiral Staircase is a longtime favorite of mine and the film has been hailed as a prototype for many of the best giallo; the Italian genre films that I touched on just last week in a piece titled Death Walk Twice: A Giallo Double Feature. With thoughts of murder and black-gloved killers still running through my mind, it seemed like a good time to revisit this classic thriller that features an Academy Award nominated performance by Ethel Barrymore as the bedridden matriarch of a wealthy family that is concealing some unsavory secrets.
Posted by Richard Harland Smith on April 13, 2016
Just when you thought it was safe to rent a creepy old country house at a surprisingly affordable rate…
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on April 12, 2016
Only Angels Have Wings keeps growing stranger with age. This studio-era classic is about a group of nihilist flyboys who enact their dreams of self-destruction out of an imaginary South American cabana. Howard Hawks insisted on the film’s realism, as he based it on the stories of some ragged pilots he met in Mexico, but the movie is as realistic as the Star Wars cantina. The invented port town of Barranca is pure Hawks country, an extension of the death-driven pilots he depicted in The Dawn Patrol, Ceiling Zero, and The Road to Glory. Revisiting Only Angels Have Wings in the new DVD and Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection (out today), one is struck by the sheer lunacy of the fliers, ready to sacrifice their lives for the chance to deliver the mail. Only Angels Have Wings pushes Hawks’ love of professionalism to the extreme – death is a natural part of the job, and beyond just accepting it, they seem to embrace it. In Only Angels Have Wings, to work is to die, and these jokey nihilists, including the the female interlopers who are integrated into this group – cheerily embrace the void.
Posted by Susan Doll on April 11, 2016
The 18th annual Sarasota Film Festival (SFF) has wrapped, and, as usual, I have mixed feelings about the event. But, I am always glad to attend because of the opportunity to catch indie, foreign, and documentary films that will never be widely released in theaters or touted by reviewers. Some of these titles may find outlets for distribution, but if they don’t get any buzz in the media, viewers will not know to look for them.
Such are the conditions of film exhibition and consumption in America. For example, way too much attention has been paid in the press to that clunker of a comic-book flick that shall remain nameless. The stars worked the talk-show circuit; the film’s opening made the news; and, even its box-office disappointment generated Internet headlines. Meanwhile, I have seen very little buzz for a far superior film, Midnight Special, which premiered at South by Southwest and played opening weekend at SFF. Directed by one of my new favorite filmmakers, Jeff Nichols, this slice of sci fi tells the story of a gifted boy named Alton who is on the lam across the South with his father and a family friend. Alton, who is played by Jaeden Lieberher, knows way too much about secret codes and satellite coordinates, and he has unusual powers that are gradually revealed. Small wonder that various government agencies, who have not lightened up much since E.T., are pursuing them.
Posted by gregferrara on April 10, 2016
Today, TCM runs one of Hitchcock’s biggest hits of the forties, the suspense wartime thriller with Tallulah Bankhead, William Bendix, and John Hodiak, Lifeboat. Lifeboat is notable for taking place entirely on one confined set, the lifeboat that all of our characters are aboard for the duration. I can’t even imagine the story board sessions for a movie like this but it would be a daunting assignment for any director to undertake a movie where the setting just doesn’t change. At all. Fortunately, Alfred Hitchcock was at the helm so everything worked out just fine. Indeed, Lifeboat is one of my favorite one set wonders, though admittedly, I don’t have many. A film that takes place at the same location from start to finish needs to have crackling writing, enthusiastic and energetic acting, or virtuoso cinematography or all three. Otherwise, it’s going to be a long two hours.
So this is not a review of Batman V Superman. For one thing, TCM doesn’t take kindly to us Morlocks spending too much time on contemporary movies when there’s so much classic cinema yet to explore. But more importantly: why? I mean, it’s a practically Nietzschean film—beyond being good or bad. It just is. Despite near universal critical disapproval, it opened to a juggernaut of tickets sales that staggers the imagination, and even a near 69% drop (!) in attendance from week 1 to week 2 still left it as the nation’s top movie. So what difference would it make one way or another what I thought?
And I’m not even sure I have a coherent opinion. It’s such a mess of competing and contradictory impulses and ideas, some of which are excellent, some of which are abhorrent, and a lot of which are intriguingly off-kilter ideas that cannot help but feel wrong no matter how they were done. But in the end, I have to say I’ve spent the last several weeks obsessively turning the thing over in my head, trying to make sense of my reactions, to claw my way to a coherent opinion. I haven’t spent so much time wrestling with a movie since Primer, and before that, since The Testament of Dr. Mabuse or Playtime. And those are some of my favorite movies of all time. So while I hated a lot of this, I have to admit it provoked a deeply engaged reaction from me. I can’t easily dismiss that.
But as I said, this isn’t about Batman V Superman. Instead, I plan to hash out some of my thoughts by revisiting where this all started—the 1978 Superman The Movie, which I hope we can all agree was pretty wonderful. But if it weren’t for the one, we wouldn’t have the other.
Posted by gregferrara on April 8, 2016
Tonight TCM airs one of the all time classics by anyone’s yardstick, The Wizard of Oz. It’s a movie that occupied a great deal of my childhood imagination as its annual showing was a highlight of each passing year, long before the days of cable and VCRs and DVDs when making sure you were home in front of the tv on Good Friday was your only chance to take in the magic of Oz. And a magical movie it was, and is to this day. It’s also a movie that can easily lead off a list I’ve wanted to do for some time: The First Time I Ever… What does that mean? Let’s start off with The Wizard of Oz and it should be clear.
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on April 7, 2016
The fine folks at Arrow deserve applause for their diligent efforts to release a number of exceptional giallo films on Blu-ray in recent years. Some of the giallo titles you can currently purchase from them include the suggestively titled Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972) and What Have You Done to Solange? (1972) as well as cornerstones of the genre such as Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace (1964), The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1969) and Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970) along with Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), The Bay of Blood (1971) and Deep Red (1975). Arrow discs typically boast beautiful packaging that rivals Criterion and they come loaded with extras including accompanying booklets, audio commentaries and video interviews with the film’s creators along with other industry professionals.
Their latest offering is a limited edition double disc Blu-ray box set titled Death Walks Twice that contains two outstanding examples of the genre, Death Walks in High Heels (1971) and Death Walks at Midnight (1972). Both films were directed by Luciano Ercoli and feature Ercoli’s wife, actress Susan Scott (a.k.a. Nieves Navarro). Like many of the best Italian thrillers, these two budget conscious productions look more luxurious than their American counterparts thanks to the creative direction, exotic European settings (Milan, Paris, London and Catalonia) and their innovative use of period specific aesthetics and attitudes including the music, architecture, fashions, and shifting sexual mores of the times. Comprised of labyrinth-like plots inspired by classic Alfred Hitchcock movies and the best Film Noir, Arrow’s new Death Walks Twice box set should appeal to genre novices as well as seasoned giallo fans.
Posted by Richard Harland Smith on April 6, 2016
Have you checked the children… for signs of possession?! [...MORE]
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on April 5, 2016
Paris Belongs to Us presents the city as a labyrinthine stage which invites its residents/performers to invent and inhabit vast conspiracies. Mysteries lie behind every open door, if only an intrepid investigator would crack it open and peer behind. It is a paranoid Alice in Wonderland in which its Alice, here called Anne, goes down the rabbit hole with a group of poor actor-artists staging Shakespeare’s Pericles. Every door Anne walks through expands her vision of the world as she is drawn into the macabre fantasy life of artists with too much time on their hands. The film lays out ideas that Rivette would explore the rest of his career, from the nature of performance to the city as game board. Jacques Rivette began shooting Paris Belongs to Us in 1958, though it would take two years for it to be completed and released in 1961. The 400 Blows and Breathless both made it to cinemas first, and their phenomenal success relegated Paris to the background. The film, like many of Rivette’s features, would become cult cinephile objects, beloved because of their rarity. But that is slowly being rectified, as the legendary 13-hour Out 1 is now streaming on Netflix, while the Criterion Collection has released Paris Belongs to Us on beautiful DVD and Blu-ray editions.
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