My article ‘Is Gone with the Wind a Classic? Or How Things Change’ went up yesterday over at Eyes Wide Open:
A couple years back, a Memphis theater decided that, because of complaints, they were not going to show Gone with the Wind again. One would imagine conservatives would appreciate a small business not wanting to anger its customers. But by definition, conservatives tend not to like change. It’s in the name…
Back in 1980, a movie about West Indian youths in London scrapping for a piece of something to call their own premiered in Cannes and promptly disappeared from sight over concerns about its controversial treatment of racism and violence.
It’s in many ways clumsy and ham-fisted. And yet, somewhere in between the densely layered dub and reggae soundtrack, Chris Menges’ evocative cinematography, and the sharp spark of political agitation, there’s something to the movie that cannot be so easily dismissed…
Jackie Chan cemented his hold on the Asian box office with the launch of his high-kicking cop movie series in 1985. Starting today, Police Story and Police Story 2 are getting a limited theatrical re-release in advance of the launch of their remastered editions in the Criterion Collection.
Sporting the same shaggy mop of hair and the slightly bemused look of a sleepy John Cusack, Jackie Chan rolls into 1985’s Police Story like some kid fresh out of the Peking Opera School and not a pro who had already been working in the Hong Kong film industry for over 20 years. It’s part of the reason why attempts in the previous decade to turn him into the new Bruce Lee never quite worked…
What kind of movie will best describe the Trump presidency for future generations? Will it be high-minded drama replete with sarcastic asides, soaring speeches, and a grand view of the arc of history ala Aaron Sorkin? Maybe trashy overkill gutter-punk in the vein of John Waters or Bobcat Goldthwait would be more appropriate. How about a monster movie? Better yet, one with an extremely obvious yet potent visual metaphor that predated the current catastrophe? If the latter, then 2010’s Monsters might be a good place to start…
My essay on masculinity, the movies, Westerns, and Bradley Cooper’s remake of A Star is Born ran today in Eyes Wide Open:
…instead of lashing out, sometimes the men just drop out. That’s the case in A Star is Born. On the face of it, this star vehicle doesn’t have anything to do with these stories of men marooned by modernity. The fourth iteration of William Wellman’s original 1937 tearjerker of a doomed celebrity romance double helix of fates, it has nary a firearm on offer and only the odd half-drunk bar fight in terms of violence. But in between all the melodrama about addiction, talent, and poisoned family trees, it’s hard to miss the lurking subtext about the place of men (well, straight men) in its world. In short: They just don’t seem to be hacking it…
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…
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.
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…
The Washington Post‘s Ann Hornaday has just addressed an obvious lacuna in movie criticism by declaring first that not only has the Great Movie Canon remained stubbornly fixed for too long (Vertigo, Citizen Kane) but that there are many movies post-2000 that stand up alongside all the greats of yesteryear.
Hornaday’s article “The New Canon” is an absolute must-read. She also selected a fairly unassailable list, excepting maybe Spike Lee’s adventurous but uneven 25th Hour and Kenneth Lonergan’s solid but somewhat unremarkable You Can Count on Me. Her list is here but it’s best reading her arguments are each of them as well:
August is here and, just in time, Film Forum has reopened after a long-overdue renovation. The place is almost a half-century old. “Not bad” (as their website notes) “for a scrappy non-profit that started with 50 folding chairs and a 16mm projector the size of a breadbox.”
More than just another arthouse, Film Forum is one of the last standing temples of American cinephilia, the sort of place that can mix obscure spaghetti westerns and avant-garde documentaries with an Andrei Tarkovsky retrospective and the latest in Iranian or South Korean cinema without missing a beat. Plus, the popcorn is amazing, even sans butter.
A new restoration of Agnes Varda’s One Sings, the Other Doesn’t from 1977 is in limited release now. Check it out while you have the chance. There’s absolutely nothing else like it playing at any theater anywhere near you.
When Agnès Varda’s delightfully gonzo song-studded paean to sisterhood “One Sings, the Other Doesn’t” opened the 1977 New York Film Festival, it landed in the middle of a differently fraught world for women’s rights issues. Abortion, which is a recurring theme in this newly restored and re-released classic, had only been legal in the United States for five years and in Varda’s native France, for just two. The campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment was grinding to a halt in the face of conservative opposition. Female directors were still essentially unheard of in the movie industry. Expectations were high…
Did you ever hop around on one foot while shouting, “’tis but a flesh wound!”?
Can you sing “The Philosopher’s Song” without referring to notes?
Was there a point during the United Kingdom’s recent snap election where you wondered whether there should have been a candidate from the Very Silly Party?
If you answered “yes” or asked “what’s all this, then?!” then it’s about 583% likely that Monty Python FAQ is the book for you!
Scribbled down in crayon by yours truly and his boon companions Brian Cogan and Jeff Massey, and then lovingly transcribed into proper book form by the dedicated editors at Applause Books, Monty Python FAQ is just about everything you ever wanted to know about the Python boys. That includes:
Words! Pictures! Lots of ’em.
An exegesis of every single Monty Python’s Flying Circus episode.
More than one could ever want or need to know about fish-slapping.
The deep, dark secret behind the one American Python, who hailed from the mystical, faraway land of … Minnesota.
Exploding penguins, dead budgies, Grannies from Hell … you get the picture.
It’s on sale now. Here. And here. And here. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
… even though the water-cooler factor of all this frantic locking of eyeballs to screens is at an all-time high, nobody is really talking about it much beyond “wasn’t that funny?” or “did you see that coming?” It’s almost as though people just don’t have the time or tools for talking about what they’re watching. That’s one of many factors that makes Ann Hornaday’s Talking Pictures such a vital book for this moment.
In 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…
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.
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…
In 1971, former martial-arts director King Hu embarked on an epic reimagination of what the genre would look like. The three-hour A Touch of Zen was magical, weird, and breathtaking, often in the same scene. It was mostly ignored in its butchered release, except for some brief acclaim after finally getting a proper showing at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival.
Since then, the film—which deeply influenced Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon—has been mostly confined to obscurity. Thankfully, Janus Films gave it a proper release earlier this year, and now there’s also a beautiful new Criterion DVD edition.
The film’s second third comes as a relief after the deliberate mannerisms and fussy perfectionism of the first third. Here, A Touch of Zen pivots from quiet pastoral with supernatural elements to more John Sturges Western. As villainous forces marshal against Yang and the two fugitive generals who came to her aid, Ku uses his study of classic works of strategy to plan their defense. The set-piece battle in which the small army of guards are lured into the supposedly haunted fort for a spectacular night-time ambush is a marvel of geometric precision and subterfuge…
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