Category: Film

HEAVEN’S GATE

I saw the film when it first came out at a packed screening in a 3rd Avenue cinema across the street from Bloomingdales. I think it was released on a Friday and withdrawn on the following Wednesday. Maybe that wasn’t a fair release but it was and is a terrible film. Seeing the full-length version recently confirmed that judgment and with some thirty years more experience watching and writing about films I am better able to articulate why.

LURED aka PERSONAL COLUMN

LURED (1947) is interestingly enough, the most Germanic film Douglas Sirk directed in the US. It’s not in his pre-war style, which was at least, on a superficial level, light and happy, no matter the dark world underneath in the human psyche. Rather this seems to be set in a certain milieu familiar to German filmgoers for the ‘20s and ‘30s – urban paranoia. The settings are a dance hall, police headquarters, night clubs, concerts, we see men wearing evening dress and “ein zilender”, black top hats, cigarette holders, the whole urban life which mixed French Fuillelades and urban decadence. Fritz Lang was the master poet of this genre whose films standout so much as individual works (“M”) that it’s difficult to envisage as an integrated genre. Try watching this film and ignore the English dialogue and it looks like one of these German crime films. The scenes in Scotland Yard with its strange antiquated high tech devices like the map case with its retinue of city maps. There are always maps in Lang’s films, especially considering the fact that for Lang the dark world underneath is also very literal.

UP THE DOWN STAIRCASE

The writer of the source material for this film, the novel UP THE DOWN STAIRCASE, Bel Kaufman, was Yiddish author Sholem Aleichem’s granddaughter. She was also the film’s “technical adviser”. She was my homeroom and English teacher at Taft High School in The Bronx circa 1960. Decades later when she was interviewed she admitted that she deliberately ignored the boys in her classes so she could concentrate on teaching the girls. Only the girls.

I AM AN AMERICAN

By its nature, propaganda is sly. However sometimes it is pure and unvarnished propaganda. When it’s believed that the message is so urgent that there is no shame involved in presenting the message as directly and robustly as possible.

THE LOST MISSILE

Really it’s a dreadful cheat of a film. Its 70-minute running time is very well padded with stock footage. The rest are non descript exteriors and drab interiors scenes. The plot exposition is very poorly rendered. They are all just perfunctory scenes sort of strung together. There is no attempt at drama in scene selection but rather drama is communicated by the intensity of the actors. Please don’t ask. What saves this film, somewhat uniquely, IS the stock footage.

THE SEA AROUND US

Before Irwin Allen went on to produce crappy, clumsy, cardboard disaster epics with gaudy but primitive special effects, he managed to get himself noticed by throwing together a film version of Rachel Carson’s bestselling (82 weeks on the NY Times list) The Sea Around Us. I say put together because this film, which impressed everybody (1953 Academy Award) in the early Fifties by merely having undersea color photography, because the footage was supplied by people and organizations with an interest in self promotion like oil companies, commercial fishing companies, shipping companies and the Australian National Tourist Board.

FADOS

Fado, the flamenco of Portugal is on full display here in Carlos Saura’s latest musical tribute FADOS. As with his earlier films, FLAMENCO (1995) and TANGO (1998), Saura tells the story of a lower class music genre without dialogue, just musical set pieces. Dating to the 1820s slums of Portugal and most likely earlier, fado (“destiny”) is composed of melancholic vocal and instrumental ballads of a sentimental nostalgic nature.

TOP 10 FILMS OF 2008

For the second year in a row I have seen less than 400 films (usually it’s way over 1,000).  The films are getting worse, or else I’ve finally decided it’s better to live life than sit in a darkened room watching navel gazing films that should have had their negatives (or hard drives for you newbies) burnt before being foisted upon the masses — or better yet, had the laptops taken away from their pretentious wannabe “writers” and mini-DV cams wrenched from the hands of their “auteurs” and run over with a steamroller.

THE DARK KNIGHT

Madness is like gravity; all it takes is a little push. If you were impressed with Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow, get ready for a truly horrifying performance about a guy who can’t be swayed by money or power – The Joker, portrayed by the incredible Heath Ledger. The living symbol of chaos, he just wants to see the human race fall apart.

WAR PAINT

A hot, dusty, situation-western filmed in the oven like alkali desert of Death Valley. Not really very good, it’s a variation on the “Lost Patrol” theme. It does have a thing in showing a remarkable variety of gun battles from cover. It’s almost like a stock shot catalogue of Winchester fights. There’s some excellent overwrought character acting here. Charles McGraw is at his most stalwart and he’s in fine voice here too – tough and gravelly. Paul Richards – I never realized he was so short! is the ripest of all and mercifully dies early. John Doucette has a different role here as a Polish immigrant who left Poland because they wanted to put him in the army. Peter Graves gets to try the villain thing before STALAG 17.