Saturday, May 21, 2016

PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (1928, FRANCE), DOCKS OF NEW YORK (1928), THE CROWD (1928), STORM OVER ASIA (1928, RUSSIA)

1928

"It is a painful irony that silent movies were driven out of existence just as they were reaching a kind of glorious summit of creativity and imagination, so that some of the best silent movies were also some of the last ones."-Bill Bryson, One Summer: America, 1927

I was looking at some original film critiques from the  New York Times Film Reviews and thought I would share some of the original thoughts on some films from 1928 from that source.

The Passion of Joan of Arc

 "In The Passion of Joan of Arc, M. Carl Dreyer has produced a singularly arresting and original film, which will certainly be much discussed. He presents the heroine in the new realistic manner as an inspired peasant girl, without the gaudy trappings of legend, and the figure he makes of her is no unworthy companion to the stage picture drawn by Bernard Shaw."-W. L. Middleton, New York Times Film Reviews, August 12, 1928.

The Docks of New York
"Nine-tenths of the persons seeing the Paramount's offering this week will like it. Perhaps the most serious objections the other tenth will have are that The Docks of New York is a little too long and that it has an anti-climax. The picture as a whole is good, however, with able acting and occasional bits of exceptional directing."-Mordaunt Hall, New York Times Film Reviews, September 17, 1928.
Storm Over Asia
"Excellent photography and sterling work by the eminently suitable cast are the conspicuous assets of Vsevolod Pudovkin's silent cinematic contribution, Storm Over Asia...There is, however, much that is compelling in this production in the early scenes, but in the closing episodes it becomes hysterical and absurd events occur, including a man, who through injuries, is hardly able to move around, suddenly becoming a veritable Samson."-Mordaunt Hall, New York Times Film Reviews, September 28, 1930.

The Crowd
"The Crowd is on the whole, a powerful analysis of a young couple's struggle for existence in this city. Throughout this subject, Mr. Vidor shrewdly avoids the stereotyped conception of setting forth scenes and in more than one case he uses the camera in an inspired fashion."-Mordaunt Hall, New York Times Film Reviews, February 20, 1928.

 "The last full year of Hollywood's silent era, 1928, produced some of its greatest masterpieces,"-Martin Ruben, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

"I do wish silent films had endured as an art form alongside the "talkies." But let us enjoy the ones that still survive."-Chris Cox, 1001: A Film Odyssey

Saturday, May 14, 2016

SUMMER WITH MONIKA (1952, SWEDEN), AUTUMN SONATA (1978, SWEDEN)


Summer With Monika
Ah, Ingmar Bergman. The man who brought us a series of Nordic, nihilistic, philosophical films from the 50's to the 80's that many (me included) consider some of the greatest works of art that cinema has ever produced. I had finished watching all the 1001 listings when the earlier Bergman film Summer With Monika popped up one of the updated editions. This story of young love and how youthful adventures can so often be stymied by the realities of the real world is a worthwhile viewing experience for Bergman fans, but I wouldn't put it in the category of his best. I'd start with The Seventh Seal or Winter Light and work my way back. You may even want to start with his uncharacteristically upbeat Smiles of a Summer Night. You probably don't want to start with Persona, though that one wouldn't  isn't a bad place to finish.

I also decided to see Autumn Sonata, one of the later Bergman films and not one that made the 1001 book. It is an emotional masterpiece that has at its center the relationship between a complicated daughter and an even more complicated mother. This story gives no easy answers to who you should sympathize with and that is to the films credit.

From the DVD extras, it's interesting to listen to the director talk about how difficult it was for Bergman (Ingmar) to get the performance out of Bergman (Ingrid) that he wanted. But the end result is as good as you could hope for and I can hardly imagine her ever being better. But let us not forget Liv Ullman as the daughter. Liv and Ingrid are great in their scenes together and this film is highly recommended if you are a fan of complicated family dynamics in your drama.

Autumn Sonata

Saturday, May 7, 2016

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957), DUEL (1971), I AM LEGEND (2007), TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975)

The Incredible Shrinking Man
The Incredible Shrinking Man is the story of a man named Scott Carey who is exposed to an unknown force and begins to slowly get smaller.  This film could have easily  fallen into the category of one of those 50's science fiction movies that is remembered more as camp, such as Attack of the 50 foot Woman or The Amazing Colossal Man, but always manages to rise above that level.

I love the special effects for this film. I mean this in the fact that there really was not much of a budget for special effects and the filmmakers had to get creative in making oversize household items or shrinking clothes or a giant book of matches or putting Scott in his daughter's dollhouse to be terrorized by the family cat! And don't get me started on that spider! This movie also was clearly an inspiration for one of the favorite shows of my childhood, Land of the Giants.

The Incredible Shrinking Man is based on a story by Richard Matheson. Matheson is one of my favorite writers, not only of science fiction stories, but other genres as well. His story collection Steel and other Stories is a fine short story collection, and reminiscent of Stephen King, who credits Matheson as being a major influence. I also enjoyed one of Matheson's last books, The Legend of the Gun, which was a straight up Western!

I looked up Matheson's IMDB writing resume, and it was impressive in how wide ranging it was. His credits are two numerous to mention, but I did go back and look at his Twilight Zone episode of Steel. (His most famous TZ is probably Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.) An altered version of the Steel story was made into the big budget movie Real Steel with Hugh Jackman.

The Twilight Zone: Lee Marvin in Steel

I also wanted to see Matheson's Duel, a  1971 TV movie about a man driving home that is terrorized by a truck (and presumably a driver) that relentlessly chases him down. Duel may be best remembered as the feature length debut of Stephen Spielberg. Glad I finally got around to seeing it! It's got lots of drama and action and has the fine Matheson story that Spielberg uses as a blueprint for what I think should still be in the director's top ten.

Dennis Weaver in Duel

I Am Legend is another famous Matheson book about dealing with vampires, zombies, the Apocalypse and the last man on earth. Despite the way it sounds, it's a largely introspective piece that if followed doesn't seem to lend itself to cinematic interpretation. But it has been brought to the screen several times. I have a friend that I asked about it and said he said they've made movies based on this book five times, none of them any good! The version I saw was the relatively recent one with Will Smith. I liked the movie okay and Smith is good, but I found myself wondering if the filmmakers had even read the book at all!

Will Smith and friend in I Am Legend

I finished my Mathesonfest with another TV movie from the early 70's, Trilogy of Terror, something I hadn't seen if forty years! The three Matheson stories all starring Karen Black are of varying quality, with the most famous of the trio having Black terrorized by a Zuni warrior doll. Many who saw this segment had nightmare about it for years to come.

That scary Zuni doll from Trilogy of Terror

Thursday, April 28, 2016

RASHOMON (1950, JAPAN), IKIRU (1952, JAPAN), THE SEVEN SAMURAI (1954, JAPAN), DERSU UZALA (1974, RUSSIA)

The Seven Samurai
I had never seen an Akira Kurosawa movie until about fifteen years ago when I decided to finally pick up a copy of The Seven Samurai from the Criterion Collection. And after my viewing, I have to admit I was blown away. It's definitely on the short list of greatest films of all-time by any definition. 

It's the story of seven samurai warriors hired by villagers to save their village from the onslaught of oncoming bandits. It's great as an adventure film, a philosophical treatise of good vs. evil, right and wrong and there are so many stories within the film's many characters, that one can watch it many times and always get something new out of it. I liked it watching it for the third or fourth time this time out and hope not to wait so long before watching it again.

The Seven Samurai was remade in America as The Magnificent Seven, but that film pales when put up against the original in my opinion.

Rashomon
After that first time I watched The Seven Samurai, I felt compelled to watch other Kurosawa movies and thought Rashomon was a good place to continue. Rashomon is a film whose very title has become a part of our language when a situation arises that involves competing and contradictory points of view. The presentation of this drama with its four (maybe five) stories really is food for thought about how we perceive things. If anyone asks me where to start with Kurosawa movies, I'd probably recommend Rashomon first before jumping into The Seven Samurai.

Ikiru
Ikiru is a story that seems to look better the older you get. The plot involves a by-the-book office manager who finds out he has only a few months to live and decides to do something meaningful with his life. It doesn't sound all that exciting by the description, but it is in an emotionally charged and inspirational film if you are in the right mood for it. The unusual storytelling order with the last half of the movie being told in flashback is another effective touch.

I've watched many other Kurosawa films doing his great period between the late 40's and mid 60's, including: Druken Angel, The Idiot (based on the Dostoevsky story), Throne of Blood (A variation of Macbeth), The Hidden Fortress (One of the inspirations for Star Wars), The Bad Sleep Well (which contains elements of Hamlet), High and Low (a very effective crime story), The Lower Depths (based on Maxim Gorky's story),  Yojimbo (Samurai film remade by Sergio Leone as A Fistful of Dollars), Sanjuro (the sequel to Yojimbo) and Red Beard.

This is quite an impressive list of films and compares to the prominent works of Alfred Hitchcock and Ingmar Bergman that they made during roughly the same time period.

It's also interesting to see Kurosawa's acting stock company in all of these films, all starring Toshiro Mifune (With the exception of Ikiru.)

Dersu Uzala
Completing the movies from the Kurosawa 1001 list, Dersu Uzala is a film Kurosawa made in 1975 in Russia and is about an early 20th century tribesman who becomes a frequent guide over time for a band on explorers. There is a lot of peril that the tribesman has to find to get the guys out of and they come to respect and revere him over time. The saddest moment in the film is towards the end when the tribesman tries to live in the city, but can't adjust to these strange people that live "in a box." This is a good film, but I can't say I liked it as much as some of the director's classics from the 50's and 60's.

I've already seen Kurosawa's Ran, and this 1985 Samurai version of King Lear seems to be the one film by consensus of his later films that rate as highly as his older classics.