Screening Room: ‘THX 1138’

If you are not familiar with George Lucas’ first feature movie, THX 1138, then now is the time to seek it out.

My article about THX 1138 ran at Eyes Wide Open:

George Lucas’s most grown-up piece of work is, oddly enough, his first feature. He premiered his instant classic of dystopic angst, THX 1138, in 1971. It set off a downbeat decade in science fiction, crafting a template of futurism that saw technology as more threat than promise. But Lucas did not follow up on the movie’s promise with increasingly complex and innovative storytelling. Instead, six years later the first Star Wars began his steady decline of artistic maturity into increasingly cartoonish sequels. Though, to be fair, maybe that is where he wanted to end up all along…

Here is the trailer for the 2004 director’s cut:

Screening Room: Fellini’s ‘La Strada’

In Federico Fellini’s breakthrough classic La Strada, a girl from a poverty-stricken family is sold to a traveling circus performer who does not realize just what a miserable life he has consigned both of them to.

My review of the new Criterion Blu-ray DVD is at PopMatters:

La Strada became a quiet sensation upon its American release in 1956. Critic Christina Newland, in an essay that accompanies the recent Criterion Blu-ray, refers to its “paradigm-shifting effect” for the widespread of its influence. It quickly earned a prominent place in the arthouse canon that placed a small cadre of foreign directors—Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, François Truffaut—as standing for everything sharp, insightful, and humanistic that bloated, materialistic, and subliterate Hollywood apparently did not. In that respect, La Strada certainly fits the bill…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Ratcatcher’

The debut movie from Scottish director Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin) is a bracing combination of unflinching poverty and expressionist imagery.

My review of the new Criterion Blu-ray edition of 1999’s Ratcatcher is at PopMatters:

Living in tumbledown council housing blocks, many of the families pine for the day their number comes up on the list of people being moved across town to brand-new houses with yards. But even though this is a dream that seems destined to fall apart, Ramsay is more engaged by the nit and grit of these people’s lives – the actual sensation of cramped apartments with flickering TVs (a surreal mix of Tom Jones and news reports on rat infestation) and lurking rent collectors – than any desire to rub viewers’ noses in the pornographic poverty of it all…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Parallax View’

The Criterion Collection Blu-ray release of 1974’s The Parallax View is a fantastic way to experience this paranoid classic that still induces shivers today.

My review is at PopMatters:

The screenplay reads like the kind of thing that might play at the drive-in to a half-attentive Friday night crowd. But in execution, the film more closely resembles one of the year’s other cinematic landmarks, Coppola’s The Godfather Part II (1974), whose indictment of American corporate-political criminality was similarly ruthless but still somewhat toothless by comparison…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai’

Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai finally gets its overdue Criterion DVD release, just in time for holiday gift-giving. My review is at PopMatters:

An out-of-time transmission from the late 1990s, when auteurs were fully embracing genre and pre-millennium jitters was tossing old artistic certainties out the window, Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is a spectacular oddity that still confounds expectations…

The trailer is here:

Writer’s Desk: Don’t Hide Your Influences

In an interview published in Projections 11, director Jim Jarmusch talked about all the influences he put on screen in his 1999 genre mash-up Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai:

I’m not going to play a game like all those ideas are original and they’re mine: I want to talk about where they came from, because if someone sees Ghost Dog and it leads them to see films by [Jean-Pierre] Melville or Point Blank by John Boorman, or the films of Seijun Suzuki, or to read Don Quixote or something that I mention in the credits, then that’s a good thing…

If something inspired you to write, there is no reason to hide it. Putting that out there could lead somebody else to be inspired as well.

Screening Room: ‘Kiss Me Deadly’

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My article on Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly (1955) was published at Eyes Wide Open:

For sheer brazen strange, it’s hard to top Robert Aldrich’s 1955 noir adaptation of the skull-busting Mickey Spillane novel. It’s a mystery that never gets solved and a thriller that creeps more than excites. The closest that it gets to an explanation is a cynical, tired reference by the hero’s gal Friday to “nameless ones who kill people for the great whatsit.” All this confusion very likely derives from Aldrich clearly holding Spillane’s book in some contempt (as he did most things). But then it’s hard to say that a greater fidelity to the source material would have cleared matters up much…

Here’s the trailer for the Criterion release:

Screening Room: ‘In the Intense Now’

In Joao Moreira Salles’ beautifully wrought documentary, In the Intense Now, an impressionistic flow of amateur footage captures the joy and despair of the revolutionary movements of the 1960s. It’s an incredible trip.

My review is at PopMatters:

The movie’s first half (“Back to the Factory”) starts with the street battles that ripped through Paris in May 1968. As far as Salles tries to explain it, narrating with a sonorous moodiness and marveling wonder, the protests were a sudden flaring crucible in which all the ferment of the Sixties burned white-hot over a few short weeks…

Here is the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Virgin Spring’

My review of the Criterion Blu-ray edition of The Virgin Spring is at PopMatters:

You can easily imagine the characters in Ingmar Bergman’s devastating The Virgin Spring (Jungfrukällan, 1961) calling where they live “God’s country”. Their farm is situated in a kind of pristine wonderland of thick pine forests and gurgling streams. Religion plays a central role in most of their lives as well, with the mother, Mareta (Birgitta Valberg), seeming to spend her every waking moment in contemplation of God, and her husband, Tore (Max von Sydow), only slightly less fervent in his faith. They are certain of their place in the world, and God’s gifts to them…

Here’s a clip:

Screening Room: ‘A Matter of Life and Death’

There’s a new Criterion Blu-ray edition out with a gorgeous presentation of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1946 wartime afterlife romance A Matter of Life and Death. And yes, it’s pretty much required viewing.

My review is at PopMatters:

After making a run of cheery but subversive movies during World War II, always under the watchful eye of Winston Churchill — who refused to shut down the film industry as it was during the Great War — the Ministry of War came to [Powell and Pressburger] with a request: Could they make a movie that would make the British and Americans love each other? A seemingly odd request, given that the nations were at the time fighting tooth and nail to dislodge the Nazis from Western Europe…

Here’s a trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Baby Driver’

So here’s the pitch for the unlikely summer blockbuster Baby Driver: There’s this getaway driver who’s creepy good at his job. Only he has this thing where he listens to music all the time and doesn’t really talk to people. This annoys the bank robbers he works with. Sound good? Well, the soundtrack is, at least.

Baby Driver is out now on DVD. My review is at PopMatters:

In the desultory extras accompanying the DVD of Baby Driver, there isn’t much to explain the movie’s genesis besides the obvious. Writer/director Edgar Wright was obsessed with Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms” and thought it would be a great song for a car chase. So, like the eager fanboy that Wright is, he doesn’t wait any longer than the opening scene to drop that sequence…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Ghost in the Shell’

The Scarlett Johansson live-action remake of the classic 1995 anime Ghost in the Shell hit DVD and Blu-ray this week. My review is at PopMatters:

For a movie ostensibly about uniqueness and what makes us human, Ghost in the Shell doesn’t make a strong argument for either. This is a story in which the technology fascinates and the people bore. Sense memories of other movies proliferate until you forget quite what it was you were watching in the first place. That’s the sort of thing bound to happen when the star (Scarlett Johansson) is playing a role she can sleepwalk through and the story was only groundbreaking when first filmed over 20 years ago…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’

manwhofelltoearth-dvdIn 1976, David Bowie was a rock star, but pretty much still just that. Then Nicolas Roeg cast the singer/songwriter with the alien alter ego(s) as an alien wandering around Earth and having an existential crisis. The film was remembered less for itself

My review of The Man Who Fell to Earth, now out in a deluxe new Blu-ray/DVD release with fab new digital transfer, is at PopMatters:

The Man Who Fell to Earth is one of those curious sci-fi projects that are occasionally indulged in by filmmakers who didn’t have any particular interest in the genre per se, but found it a useful springboard for their ideas. David Bowie plays an alien who’s come to Earth looking for a water supply for his drought-ravaged planet. Calling himself Thomas Jerome Newton and looking like some kind of spectral hipster in his sunglasses and anorak, he’s first spotted wandering through a small New Mexico town, pawning a ring and drinking stagnant water as though it were the nectar of the gods…

Here’s the trailer.

Screening Room: ‘His Girl Friday’

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Criterion’s two-disc edition of Howard Hawks’s His Girl Friday hit stores last week and it’s a real pip. Packaged with all the usual supplemental features and interviews, you’ve also got the full edition of Lewis Milestone’s first film adaptation of the play The Front Page from 1931. But all you really need is the film itself, a sparkling new 4K restoration that makes every gag from this whirlwind-speed screwball comedy ring clear.

his-girl-friday-dvdMy review of His Girl Friday is at PopMatters:

Unlike his lionized peers Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford, Hawks didn’t stick to one genre. He made some crime and war dramas like Scarface and The Road to Glory, but was better known for romances and screwball comedies like Bringing Up Baby and Twentieth Century. His defining characteristic, though, served him in good stead for his newest project: speed…

Check out the trailer here.

Screening Room: ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’

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A young boy with one eye and a magical way with his guitar. A monkey sage with a wicked sneer. A giant beetle samurai. Moon gods and legend and beautiful vistas. You can find all that and more in the magical Kubo and the Two Strings, one of the year’s great films, available this week on DVD.

My review is at Eyes Wide Open:

Coming of age stories are a dime a dozen in the animated movie business. Or at least, they used to be. In 2016, it’s all about animals. From Finding Dory to The Secret Life of Pets, The Angry Birds Movie, Storks, Zootopia and the forthcoming Sing, anthropomorphized animals riddled with highly adult worries and neuroses (particularly about their jobs; a lot of these critters work) rule the screen. Travis Knight’s mythological quest, the stop-motion animation Kubo and the Two Strings, though, ignores this trend entirely and blazes its own fabulist trail…