Thursday, May 31, 2012

Film Review: Chernobyl Diaries

I really have no one to blame but myself.  No one assigned this film to me.  I was not paid by any outlet to review this movie.  No one challenged me to see it.  No one dared me either.  No no no.  Not me.  I decided of my own free will and rather stupid volition to pay good money to see this film - knowing full well that what I was going to get would inevitably be something in the range of terrible to godawful.  Well guess what?  Yeah, I only have myself to blame.

With expectations quite low (and again, only myself to blame) I went to see this film and believe me when I say my expectations were indeed met.  This is the story of a group of genre-appropriately stupid twentysomethings who decide it would be a good idea to get in a van with a shady Ukrainian guy named Yuri and sneak into the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear facility for a tour.  Well guess what?  Yeah, that's right.  Let's just say it doesn't go quite as planned.  All the tricks and tropes of the genre are here.  Van doesn't start when they try to leave.  Creepy shadows in windows.  Strange noises that the characters go toward instead of run away from.  Creepy tour guide goes missing.  Dissension in the ranks.  A brother trying to prove himself.  More creepy shadows and noises.  Flesh-eating beasties.  It is all here, as is the eventual picking off one by one of these aforementioned genre-appropriate idiot twentysomethings, but none of it ever manages to scare and/or titillate for even a quick token moment.

We never get anything new or fresh here.  It is all pretty standard boilerplate stuff.  And therein lies the problem with the film.  A better script, with some more interesting characters and more interesting ways to die could have saved this film from the mediocrity it currently wallows in.  Sure, we can get past the inherent stupidity of the characters.  Kids are supposed to do stupid things in the horror genre.  They are supposed to go into the creepy attic.  They are supposed to split up and head to the woods to have sex.  We expect nothing less.  But the problem here is not the stupidity of breaking into a radioactive-laden abandoned nuke plant - we would be disappointed if they did not do such - it is how ordinary everything that comes after ends up being.  With no real imagination, first time director Bradley Parker and writer Oren Peli of Paranormal Activity "fame", hand us the blandest horror movie West of the Pecos.  Well, like I said earlier - I only have myself to blame.

Film Review: The Dictator

The comedy stylings of Sacha Baron Cohen can be easily explained off using the obvious but still quite appropriate metaphor of a tornado zig-zagging its way through the countryside like a whirling dervish of death and destruction.  It hits a farmhouse here and a trailer park there but completely misses a school house and a grocery store.  Never sure which way it will go.  Blindly blustering its way through the world.  This too is how one best receives the films of Mr. Baron Cohen.   Sometimes his jokes hit, and other times they do not.  The man's comic death and destruction (the old comic adage, he killed 'em) is as blind and blustery as any tornado.  This was the case with the pseudo-mocks Borat and Bruno, and it is certainly the case with the more straight narrative form he uses here in The Dictator.

The story of a North African dictator, who through some nefarious dealings, finds himself exiled to Brooklyn, Baron Cohan plays the character for laughs (of course) and sometimes goes low and sometimes high.  The comic can be a sly and even witty purveyor of jokes at times, and I think he does that more often here than in the rather inexplicably overrated Borat.  There are some legitimately laugh-out-loud moments here, and even though it is wildly uneven (par for the course for the comic) it has more going for it than against it.  Hitting like the aforementioned comic tornado, Baron Cohen peppers his film with both political satire, albeit of the most basic kind (some would call it racist or offensive, but then offensiveness is what the man is after, after all), and cheap dick joke laughs pretty evenly.  Never one for the more high brow end of things, Baron Cohen makes out better than usual here.

What we get is much less of the documentary-esque reality TV antics of Borat and Bruno, and more of a straight forward comedic narrative.  We do still get a lot of humour based off of uncomfortable situations, but here it scripted and not real people who invariably get pissed off and attempt lawsuits for the way they have been portrayed in Baron Cohen's films.  But still, the film is funny, and not just in the cheapened state that Borat was supposedly funny.  As for director Larry Charles, who was also at the so-called helm of the aforementioned Borat and Bruno, he puts in his two cents, but in actuality he is more window dressing than anything else.  These films are Baron Cohen's puppies and no one elses.  His films either live or die based on his jokes and his antics and his balls.  For the most part, The Dictator lives pretty well.  For the most part.  It sure as hell ain't rocket science when it comes to Sacha Baron Cohen, but when push comes to shove, The Dictator is pretty funny.  Imagine that.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

And the LAMMY Nominations Are Out.....

So here we are again true believers and faithful readers.  The LAMMY nominations have been announced.  This is my second year of eligibility for the awards (voted on by my peers and handed out by the fine folks over at The Large Association of Movie Blogs, aka the LAMB) and this is now also my second year of receiving exactly zero nominations.   Now to be honest, I wasn't really expecting to get any nods (my comments are so disastrously low that sometimes I wonder if anyone at all is even out there reading these damn posts), but still I had some rather high hopes (as can be sen by one of my FYC ads to the left), and I had my eye on at least Best Movie Reviewer and/or the Brainiac Award.  But alas, twas not to be.

Now I am not saying I deserve a nomination ahead of those that did receive them.  Many great sites were nominated.  Duke and the Movies, Garbo Laughs, The Hollywood Revue, Dan the Man's Movie Reviews, Deny Everything, Where Danger Lives, French Toast Sunday and a place I actually do some writing for, Anomalous Material, were all among the nominees, and they are all most deserving of such accolades.  Still though, it would have been nice to be among them.  But I do whole-heartedly congratulate each and every LAMMY nominee.  And meanwhile, I suppose I need to network my site a bit more.  As I parenthetically mentioned above, it seems like no one is out there listening - and that is something I need to change.

I see some of my favourite cinematic sites (Glenn Kenny's Some Came Running, Farran Smith Nehme's Self-Styled Siren, Marilyn Ferdinand's Ferdy on Films, Kim Morgan's Sunset Gun, Stacia over at She Blogged By Night, Dennis Cozzalio's Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, Rod Heath's This Island Rod) are just lousy with comments - almost as if a community of sorts.  So I suppose my goal for 2012 is to stop my whining and get to that level of followdom.  Then no one will ignore me dammit (insert maniacal laughter here please).  Seriously though, congrats to all the nominees and good luck in the final voting round.  I hope to be joining you next year at this time.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Bon anniversaire à Jean-Pierre Léaud

From childish stealings, wheelings, dealings
Arms stretched out to grasp what Cinema gave

Running, running, running toward nowhere
A lost youth, grown up into cinematic dissidence

May 1968 and the Cinémathèque Française
Shouting for freedom as pretty girls clung to the gates

Antoine Doinel!  Antoine Doinel!  Antoine Doinel!
Antoine Doinel!  Antoine Doinel!  Antoine Doinel!

Stealing kisses for amour, stealing for bed and board
A child of the New Wave, an icon of a cinematic left

Marked with permanent defiance, the most natural
A born actor, arrogant but affectionate, a born leader

For François, for Jean-Luc, for Rivette too
A boy, a man, a symbol of Gallic irreverence

Antoine Doinel!  Antoine Doinel!  Antoine Doinel!
Antoine Doinel!  Antoine Doinel!  Antoine Doinel!

Thirteen hours, the mystery of Balzac unraveled
A mother, a whore, two pretty English girls

Night, day, a legend growing up, on the run
A film with his idol, but never able to meet

A Godardian detective story, Midas without the touch
Godfather to a post new wave generation gap

Putting girls in skin-tight leather for silent art
Dangling from rooftops in homage to Feuillade

Antoine Doinel!  Antoine Doinel!  Antoine Doinel!
Antoine Doinel!  Antoine Doinel!  Antoine Doinel!

Giving Louis his cigarette flip, his eyes and mouth
Giving his wink and stare, his walk, talk & bravado

A boy grown up like Peter Pan, his scream intact
His shadow pinned to the great wall of cinephilia 

A man-child of je ne sais quoi, stealing, wheeling
Growing up in bohemian Parisian savoir faire

Born unto Les quatre cents coups, wheeling, dealing
Eternal icon of the New Wave and beyond 

Antoine Doinel!  Antoine Doinel!  Antoine Doinel!
Antoine Doinel!  Antoine Doinel!  Antoine Doinel!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek and How Preston Sturges Had to Marry Off Betty Hutton, and Quick

Poor Preston Sturges.  All he wanted to do was to make a movie about a girl who gets pregnant and then proceeds to convince the boy next door (not the father!) to marry her before her father finds out.  Simple enough.  Now if this had been done in the precode days before the Production Code was put into effect in 1934, he would have probably been able to do it.  If it were made today, he of course would have had no problem.  But in 1942 Hollywood?  No way José!  When the director handed in his script to the PCA (Production Code Administration), as was the required course of action in these days, the censors, always such progenitors of sensibility and taste, he said tongue firmly in cheek, stopped Sturges short when it came to the possibility of of an unwed mother being shown to all of America up on the silver screen. 

Sturges was told he had to marry the girl off before she could become pregnant.  Because, as everyone knows, a girl cannot get pregnant without the sanctity of marriage in their hearts and a gold ring on their finger.   This quite ridiculous and outdated attitude (at least by today's standards) of course would be countermand to the story Sturges had written, but if he wanted to get his movie made in 1942, he had to go through the PCA to do it.  Even a director like Sturges, who at the time was one of the biggest name filmmakers in Hollywood, was still subject to the puritanical whims of the dreaded Production Code.  But this temporary impediment was nothing for a writer as slick and as sly, and as willfully antagonistic as Mr. Preston Sturges.   

Sure, this age of censorship may have been a bane in writers and directors' existence, but it wasn't all bad.  One thing the Production Code did was make screenwriters more creative.  As opposed to the precode days, when sexuality and criminality could be shown and discussed without ramifications (well, other than the ramifications that would eventually lead to the Hays Office and the Production Code and all that, but that is another story altogether), the Hollywood of the mid 1930's through when the code began to crumble in the late 1950's, was a place where writers and directors had to weave their way around such so-called ethical problems, and in doing so perhaps created more subtly damning works of sedition.  Works of sedition that went right by the rather ignorant blind eyes of the censors and onto the silver screens of the nation's movie palaces.  This is just what Sturges did with The Miracle of Morgan's Creek.

What Sturges did actually, was to create for this oh so important marriage, the most ludicrous of circumstances.  The writer/director/producer gave his main character (the wonderfully named Trudy Kockenlocker, played with great feminine bravura by Betty Hutton) a night of promiscuous partying with a gaggle of departing G.I.'s.  Originally Sturges' intent was to "show what happens to young girls who disregard their parents' advice and who confuse patriotism with promiscuity" but since the censors were wary (and Paramount Studios as well), Sturges had poor simple Trudy getting married while wonky with the most convenient case of amnesia this side of screwball.  Now, with plucky Trudy's purity kept safely intact (though c'mon, a wedding night in a state of relative blackout is not exactly any more pure than Sturges' original idea) the movie could finally go on.  At least that was the plan.

With just ten or so pages of a script that were deemed appropriate, Sturges began filming in 1942.  Barely keeping ahead of the filming schedule, Sturges wrote furiously during the shoot.  Yet, even with winding around the problems brought on by the censors, and creating a screwball comedy that would go down as one of the director's best works, Paramount held the film until 1944.  Sturges would eventually leave the studio over problems such as these.  Upon the film's release though, critics praised the proverbial high heaven's out of the damn thing.  Many of them questioning how such a script got through the censors in the first place.  James Agee wrote of the film "the Hays office must have been raped in its sleep."  In the end, even with the censorship battles and the studio's changes, the film was heralded as a snarky masterpiece of depth and deception.  I will leave you with the words of New York Times über-critic Bosley Crowther: "Sturges has hauled off this time and tossed a satire which is more cheeky than all the rest."

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Film Review: Battleship

Prior to actually seeing the film, I had some sort of peculiar notion that I was going to start this review off by comparing Battleship to the Eisenstein classic Battleship Potemkin, stating similarities in style and structure and how this new film lives up to the legend of the silent masterpiece, before pulling the plug as it were and coming clean as to it being nothing more than mere fanciful falderal, and that in truth, Battleship is probably one of the worst films of the year.  But then something happened - I saw the movie, and realized that it wasn't half bad.  Now I am not saying it indeed should be compared to a classic work of cinema, any classic work of cinema, for that is most certainly not the case, but at the same time, it is a far cry from the shipwreck many, myself included, expected it to be.  In other words, the movie, though silly and quite ridiculous at times, is a rather enjoyable popcorny summer flick, and as far as movies based on board games go, it most certainly has its moments.

Now granted, these moments are intermingled with the cheesy dialogue, wooden acting and spot-on predictability that have harangued viewers of pretty much every Michael Bay film ever made - from Armageddon to Pearl Harbor to the Transformer series - but unlike the flatulent Bay, director Peter Berg gives his supercilious summer blockbuster something that Bay has never been able to - an adventure tale that you may actually care about.  Sure, the lines the actors give ring loud with a rather puerile, b-grade resonance, and the in-story situations are something akin to cheap theatrics, and the film falls quite deep into the dark waters of over-sentimentalized schmaltz, especially in the third act, but still we are given a sci-fi, action-adventure, call-to-arms motion picture spectacular that manages to rise above many of these inherent problems, and become the big ballsy meat-and-potatoes creature it so happens to be.  For better AND for worse, this is what we get from Battleship.

As far as the story goes, we have all the typical archetypes for such a tale.  The brash, fuck-up who everyone watching knows will eventually stand and deliver the day's winnings.  The good-hearted but frustrated older brother who must force some well-needed tough love on the aforementioned fuck-up, and probably pay some sort of price for it.  The beautiful woman back home who must find her own courage to help save herself and others.  The grizzled, disabled ex-military man who must battle through his own personal scars to once again save the day.  The tough-as-nails Admiral who must confront adversity in military matters, but through the love between his daughter and said fuck-up.  The Japanese captain who of course must make amends with his perceived enemy and together with them, learn to fight as a team.  The cocky ship's female gunner who can hit as hard and as fast as the big boys.  The hippy technician who must brave his own lack of courage.  Played with varying degrees of in-over-their-head to so-above-all-this by Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgård, Brooklyn Decker, Gregory D. Gadson, Liam Neeson, Tadanobu Asano, Rihanna and Hamish Linklater respectively, they are all here in all their resplendent action-movie cliche glory.

When all is said and done though, to use a vernacular from the original game itself (a version of which is rather smartly embroidered into the movie's narrative), there are more misses than hits most certainly, but the hits are fun enough to if not make you forget the misses, at least perhaps forgive them.  After all, this is a big budget summer blockbuster and they are supposed to full of blunderbuss and codswallow, and tubthumping, chest-pounding bombasticy, and no one is ever going to be able to realistically accuse this movie of strong narrative or character growth or anything even slightly resembling originality, but when the guns get to blasting and the bombs get to bursting and the heroes get to heroing, the movie actually ain't half bad.  Yeah, a satiric comparison to Eisenstein's masterpiece may have been a fun way to start things out, but in the end, I just didn't have the heart to tear down a movie that despite its oh so obviously preposterous and laughable Michael Bay-esque über-schtick, is a legitimately fun, all-out beginning of summer rompadoodle-doo.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Retro Review: 300 (Zack Snyder, 2006)

The following is part of a series where I bring back some of my "older" reviews (those written during my 2004-2011 tenure at the now mostly defunct The Cinematheque) and offer them up to a "newer" generation.


From the very first moment, as the Warner Bros. logo flashes and slashes its way across the darkened screen, as if forged by mighty Hephaestus himself, we instantly know that Zack Snyder and his X-Box-weened posse of computer geeks, graphic novel junkees and comic book fanboys are about to mightily thrust upon the unsuspecting public a vast and mighty display of ultrasupercoolawesomeness to the very freakin' tippy-top apex-eroding grody-to-the-max. Of course, for those of us who are not brought to the very precipice (or beyond) of orgasm by the thought of a CGI-created universe full of rabid bare-chested oiled-up steroid-pumped half-men half-beast warriors led by a pompous half-man half-pariah (all bad actor) who is just one note (and a lot less work-outs) away from a certain White House residing war monger of our own, fighting an equally rabid über-army of glimmer-masked marauders, gigantic Frankensteinian monstrosities and a few big-ass battle elephants led by some sort of mascara'd crossbreed of Marilyn Manson and Rupaul, way beyond Thunderdome, this film, full of lusty vim and vigor and spewing ultrasupercoolawesomeness out its proverbial watusi, gets real tired real soon - and I got real pissed off real freakin' fast.

Now to begin, please allow me to say that if your artistic sensibilities are not totally grossed out within the first ten minutes or so, as if someone had just thrown-up big fat chunks of falafel and moussaka all over you, then this is surely the movie for you - vacuous, demeaning, completely devoid of any substance whatsoever, replete with all the idiotic, brain-numbing, Nietzsche-praising video gaming geekocity one could ever dream of while sleeping snug and cozy at age 37 in their mommy's basement rec room, copy of Maxim under their pillow and thoughts of Pamela Anderson floating like sugar plum fairies throughout their heads. If this is you, then nothing I can say or do will ever sway your opinion away from the ultrasupercoolawesomeness of this computer designed crypto-movie atrocity that blatantly spits in the face of cinematic integrity, and perhaps you should just stop reading right now and go finish that saved game of World of Warcraft you've been so buggin' to get back to. Meanwhile, everyone else, my faithful readers perhaps, please read on, for I truly scathe only very few and far between and you wouldn't want to miss any of the mordacious tongue slathering that is sure to follow.

Based upon Frank Miller's graphic novel about the 480 B.C. Battle of Thermopylae, where the King of Sparta led his meager army of 300 strong against the interloping throng of the mighty Persian horde, which in turn was apocryphally based by Miller upon the 1962 film, The 300 Spartans, he saw as an impressionable (if not a bit ADHD) child, Zack Snyder, who gave us all quite the surprise with his quick-witted Dawn of the Dead remake a few years back, tries to have his cake and eat it too by attempting to recreate the feeling of cinematic overzealousness and pop-pulp flim-flam that was the last Frank Miller penned adaptation. Yet Sin City, even with all its many flaws, still managed to hit its intended target at least half the time, while Snyder's overwrought mega movie just falls deeper and deeper into the inevitable chasm of CGI-induced banality, ending up nothing shy of a deadened, terrifically dull, plodding slab of man meat-cum-action figure tableaux, perfectly in tune with the Maxim reading machismo of modern "man".

Snyder's film may indeed have its momentary visual exaltation of larks, but once one gets beyond such slapdash smattery and one-dimensional eye porn, one must surely see 300 for what it truly is - a simultaneously homoerotic and homophobic testosteronic monkeyshine, full of so much hokey ham-handed faux pixilated battle scenes, one trick pony actors-cum-glistening torsos, slathered in enough body oils to simultaneously and permanently ejaculate each and every last gay porn connoisseur from P-Town to the Golden Gate, naked writhing slave-girl oracles straight off of a Maxfield Parrish calendar and enough level-ending melees with every fanged, clawed and muscled monster this side of the Khyber Pass, to nearly eradicate the ever-blurring fine line between modern mass market movie making and the benighted art of video games, not to mention giving every person over the IQ of drooling monosyllabic Spartan, a headache the size of the Persian Empire at its glorious behemothic height.

As our mighty Spartan heroes, led by the churlish Gerard Butler, not even attempting to disguise his thick Scottish burr, form an "impenetrable phalanx at the hot gates" and the equally mighty 8-foot-tall man-muffin god-king Xerxes sends wave after wave of circus sideshow lallapalooza at them, one can not help but notice the totally ludicrous identity crisis this movie has in spades. Both sexually confused (this entire freakin' shama lama ding dong is full of enough beefcake bunnies and chest-piercing blood-n-gore for both the leather-boy and the frat boy to be both aroused by and bothered by) and politically metaphored (aka macho jar-headed white guys vs. interloping terroristic golden brown guys), Snyder has pounded every square peg into every round hole he could find and in doing so has let loose a Pandora's box of phallic Freudian psychobabble and right-winged rhetoric spin-doctoring unto an already applesauce'd burlesque of inanity.   

Ultimately, Snyder's sophomore (and sophomoric) film, though with nothing short of a twisted train wreck of an aura that makes even someone that would write this scathing takedown, unable to turn his head away in a strangely happy horror, forcing him to scream "By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth!" with every demented twist and turn (a possible so-called guilty pleasure in our future perhaps?), plays out as an excitably unexciting yet hilariously hysterical (as Nathan Lee of The Village Voice has called it) mélange of utter flapdoodle and mad cow-riddled absurdity - all fried up in a synthetically manufactured landscape of digital drudgery.   Run, don't walk from the blob that is 300

[Originally published at The Cinematheque on 04/01/07] 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Been Wondering What My Favourite Films Are? Thought So.

For all those oh so regular readers (and for all you irregulars too) that have taken the time to peruse the various tabs poised near the top of this, your favourite site in the whole web wide world, I am sure you have come across the one titled "My Favourite Films."  I am also quite sure that for near six months now, these inquisitive visitors have been stymied by a nearly blank page, with just two tiny words to unceremoniously greet them - coming soon.  Otherwise just a page full of nothing.  Nothing at all.  Nothing.  Nothing.  Nothing.  Nothing at all.  Well guess what true believers?  If you will excuse the purposely poor grammar - it ain't nothing no more.  In fact, it is decidedly something.  Something.  Something.  Something.

What it is, is just what it says - or wysiwyg for those acronym minded among you.  It is now a bonafide page of my favourite films.  Twenty-five of them to be exact.  My 25 favourite films.  These are, according to yours truly here, the creme de la creme of the film world.  Twenty-five damn fine works of cinema indeed.  But why just twenty-five you may ask.  Good question.  Actually this is just a start.  I plan on periodically expanding this list throughout the rest of the year until I reach a top 1000.  Yeah, you read that right - a top thousand.  That of course will not come to fruition until I finish My Quest in November.  For right now, it is a top 25.  Eventually a top 100 - in preferential order.  After that, I will extend it to the aforementioned 1000 - this time in chronological order, though with the top 100 still being highlighted. 

Anyway, I suppose you probably want to know what is on this list, huh?  Of course you do.  Well for starters, yes Citizen Kane is on there, but guess what?  It is not number one as it is in so many other lists.  But it isn't all that far down the list either.  There are a few surprises on the list, but none really shocking - even if my lovely wife questioned my number three choice (I believe ridiculous was an adjective she used during this questioning).  The big surprise is what is not on the list.  At least it came as a surprise to me.  No Wilder.  No Griffith.  No Fellini.  No Truffaut.  No Rossellini.  No Minnelli.  No Lubitsch.  No Keaton.  And stranger than strange - no Howard Hawks!?  Really?  I guess not.  Though a certain Girl Friday may be coming as soon as the list is expanded into a top thirty.

Anyway, as they say, perhaps it is about time you check out the list yourself.  And remember to periodically check back (at the tab titled "My Favourite Films" of course) as the list will be growing throughout the year.  And of course please give any feedback you wish in the comments section of the page, because I am sure there will be many disgruntled naysayers out there - and we always love hearing from them. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Film Review: The Deep Blue Sea

With his dark, somber colours and foreboding cinematographic style echoing the emotional state of his smouldering-at-the-edges heroine, Terence Davies' latest haunting, seething melodrama-cum-subversive post WWII betrayal drama, the director's first feature film in eleven years, is something on par with his earlier works, only perhaps a bit smaller in context - a bit more intimate one might say.  Now this is not to say his earlier films (Distant Voices, Still Lives, The Long Day Closes) are not intimate portraits of their respective characters, because they most certainly are, and with The Deep Blue Sea, this intimacy is even more contained in smaller spaces and more personal moments of fear and angst and implied tragedy than the aforementioned earlier films.  Let us face facts, this new film is pure Terence Davies, and once again the oh so English auteur has brought his characters into a terrifyingly up close and personal state of being.  But then, this is what the director does best.

Written by West End legend Terence Rattigan in 1952, Davies, who has said that it frightened him to adapt a play, has taken this already powerful work and molded it into the epitome of a Terrence Davies film.  Taking off from his younger self, Davies' has left the children of his previous films behind and instead focuses on the adults that would have been from the director's parent's generation, those who came of age as war began to spread its evil yet eager wings throughout the bubbling cauldron that was 1940's Europe.  Set in 1950, Davies shows us the tragedies not of war itself, for actual physical battles are never shown, but of what war leaves behind in its inevitable wake.  Hester, played admirably (and a bit more low key than normal) by Rachel Weisz, is a woman heading toward forty, who finds herself out of love with her older, well-to-do husband, and in essence her staid upper middle class lifestyle, and obsessed with the sexually desirous Freddie, a younger former RAF ace who has been floating lost since the end of the war.  Like many of these lost boys - these forgotten men - Freddie has come home from the terror and excitement of war to find a dreary, destitute London, still in financial and emotional shock from The Blitz.  It is this thrill of the exuberance of youth that lures Hester in but it is also this longing for a life unlike what he has fallen into that begins to rip asunder Hester's dumb blind love for her Freddie.  He is not her knight in shining armour, nor does he have any desire to be such.

Tom Hiddleston, the fine English actor who is currently best known for playing the Asgardian prima donna Loki in Thor and The Avengers, does a smooth, almost too-real-to-be-acting kind of performance as the brash, befuddled Freddie (and I mean that in the most complimentary manner), a performance that may remind some old classic Hollywood heads of someone like Douglas Fairbanks Jr. or even the sadly forgotten David Manners, but this is Hester's story, and therefore it is Weisz's picture.  The actress, usually more vocal, hands in a subtle and tragic performance as a woman for whom everything has fallen apart, and while her scenes with Hiddleston are electrified with mislaid passion, her scenes with stage actor Simon Russell Beale as her stoic, yet cuckolded husband, are things of quiet beauty.  Beauty between two people who are not out of love with each other, no matter how hard at least one of them tries to hide it.  But no matter the performances, in the end, as has been stated more than once here, this is a Terence Davies film - and a disarmingly honest one at that - even with its inherent melodramatic flare.   With allusions to the 1950's weepies of Douglas Sirk the director grew up with, as well as David Lean's wartime classic of disillusionment Brief Encounter, Davies goes about his business of building intricate characterizations around the misleadingly simple moments of a landlady handing out mail or a group of frightened Londoners huddled in the shelter of the tube, singing quietly amongst themselves as bombs blare above ground (and this is done with the most elegant of tracking shots).  In other words, this is a Terence Davies film - and that is more than enough.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Anomalous Material Weekly Feature: 10 Movie Moms You Do Not Want to Cross

Here we are once again true believers, with my latest weekly 10 best feature written for the fine folks over at Anomalous Material.  For those of you not in the know, those same said fine folks have given me a (possibly foolish on their behalf) regular gig as feature writer.  It is a series of top ten lists on various cinematic subjects - and anyone who knows me can attest to how perfectly suited I am to such an endeavor (yes I am a  list nerd).  This week's feature, my twenty-seventh such feature, in honour of Mother's Day happening this past weekend, is a look at movie moms.  The best moms, the worst moms?  Actually a little of both.  These are the movie moms with whom you do not want to mess.   Whether they are protecting their children from school bullies or outer space creatures, or whether they are a bit miffed over some ill-placed hangers or the devil roiling around inside their virginal daughter, these are the mothers of all mothers.  Find out who these ten (eleven sorta) movie moms are at the other end of the below link.

Read my feature article, "10 Movie Moms You Do Not Want to Cross" at Anomalous Material.

Below is a shot of one of the ones that did not quite make the list.  No, she's not crazy at all.  Just a sweet cookie-making mama who wants to save her daughter.  Okay, she's batshitcrazy.  And yes, I kinda felt bad kicking her onto the cutting room floor as it were (she is in one of my favourite films), but hey, someone had to be sacrificed, so why not this wicked ole witch.  But here she is now, so please enjoy.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Poem in Hitchcockian Meter

Below is my humble poetic contribution to the wonderful, all-important and quite spectacular world wide web event known as For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon III.  This blogathon is actually spread wide through three different websites, all amazing and unique in their own respective ways.  From the magnificent Marilyn Ferdinand at Ferdy on Films, to the sensational Self-Styled Siren herself, Ms. Farran Smith Nehme, to the razzle-dazzle of Roderick Heath over at This Island Rod, this six day event, meant to help financially with the online restoration and accompanying musical score of a 1923 film called The White Shadow, where a certain Mr. Hitchcock cut his teeth as assistant director, among other equally uncredited positions (hence the subject matter of this post), is sure to be filled with dozens and dozens of superb pieces on all things Hitchy - and some things not so Hitchy.  And remember cats and dolls, you too can be part of the fun by donating whatever you can spare to this great cause.  So, with silly nonsense poem in hand (I once considered myself a poet ya know, having had over a hundred pieces published in various magazines and such before turning my eye toward film criticism and the ilk), let's get on with the show...

A Poem in Hitchcockian Meter

There once was a man named Sir Alfred
Whose demeanor was so Rich and Strange
The dread in his soul, this Shadow of a Doubt
He knew he could never make change
So with Murder! in his eyes and full of Suspicion
This man he made way for the coast
North by Northwest he did so travel
A Notorious Bon Voyage he did toast
So taking up residence at the Jamaica Inn
He found himself with The Farmer's Wife
A woman of Easy Virtue in her Pleasure Garden
The one for who he had been searching all his life
Her name it was Rebecca by day
But he called her his Marnie at night
Ever fearing he was The Wrong Man
The Lodger he did suffer from Stage Fright
But our hero he so wanted this girl
Danced Waltzes from Vienna all day
Through the Rear Window he handed her a Topaz
And at night, The Skin Game they did play
Sir Alfred was surely Spellbound
He plied her with Champagne and such
Acting the Young and Innocent
He was secretly The Man Who Knew Too Much
And one day he did suspect Sabotage
As The Lady Vanishes without note
But it was The Manxman who did take her
Sailing away together in The Lifeboat
Sir Alfred was put into a Frenzy
To rescue her from doom so certain
This Saboteur he vowed to find
Searching behind every Torn Curtain
He enlisted the aid of a Foreign Correspondent
Who once helped him on The Paradine Case
Searching high and low To Catch a Thief
But Sixteen times they were slapped in the face
It was Number Seventeen where they did find a clue
But what it meant these heroes did not know
In the corner of the room sat the Secret Agent
A man with a bad case of Vertigo
He told them that it was a Family Plot
After Mr. and Mrs Smith they did marry
The cousin did not want any part of it
That was always The Trouble With Harry
So Sir Alfred and his friends moved on
Climbing The 39 Steps to the top
Aventure Malgache yelled the Frenchman
But our intrepid hero he would not stop
Downhill he would search Under Capricorn
Where The Birds chirped all round the clock
I Confess was yelled from the treetops
By none other than Juno and the Paycock
Elstree Calling for a stop to this Blackmail
The villains in The Ring could not touch
Sir Alfred he was named the winner
Once again The Man Who Knew Too Much
So tied together with Rope our lovers reunited
High above the city on a swinging steel girder
No longer Strangers on a Train to each other
They pick up the phone and together Dial M for Murder

Sunday, May 13, 2012

My Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films: #780 Thru #799

Here is a look at the latest batch of twenty films in my Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films.  A complete look at my quest can be viewed HERE.

#780 - The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) - (#131 on TSPDT)  More oft than not, the Best Picture Oscar winner is a rather tepid, ordinary kind of affair, and at first glance, The Best Years of Our Lives seems like it is going to be just that.  But then one gets a rather welcome surprise - the film is actually very good, and even maybe somewhat deeper than is to be expected.  The performances given by Dana Andrews, Myrna Loy, Teresa Wright and Fredric March really help this along.  Yeah, it does tend to get more than a bit schmaltzy now and then, but overall a surprisingly well-done piece of cinema

#781 - True Heart Susie (1919) - (#953 on TSPDT)  Griffith and Gish, together again.  The adorable Gish is at one of her more Gishier moments here and her performance makes this film shine much brighter than it most likely would have with someone else in the role.  Griffith, for all his supposed groundbreaking cinematic tricks and tropes (many of which should be rightfully attributed to others, but that is another story altogether), always had a rather Victorian mindset, but even with this inherent old-fashionedness, his films come forth as being ahead of their time in many ways.  But of course this film's best attribute is Gish at her Gishiest. 

#782 - The Spider's Stratagem (1970) - (#899 on TSPDT)  I would definitely call this lesser Bertolucci.  Sure it has some really fun cinematic moments - after all, it is Bertolucci - but overall the film drags too often to be considered great, and also too often to be included on this list, even at its rather low ranking.

#783 - Los Olvidados (1950) - (#115 on TSPDT)  I love love love this film.  No really, I love it.  I am not sure what I was expecting - my attitude toward Buñuel definitely runs hot and cold, though his Mexican period is usually the hotter era - but what I got was one of my favourite films of 1950.  In fact I would place this film, in all its Buñuelian glory (actually this is my favourite period in cinema, period), in my top 200 of all-time.  Maybe even in my top 150.  We will find out for sure when this whole quest is over and I actually compile said list.

#784 - The 47 Ronin (1941/42) - (#807 on TSPDT)  Grand and epic Mizoguchi.  Actually kind of boring, especially considering it is a film by a director who can make his winding camera make anything look good.  And yes, Mizoguchi's wandering camera does do its thing here, but even with my admiration for Japanese cinema and the Jidai-Geki genre particularly, I could not keep interested here.  A shame really.

#785 - The Shop Around the Corner (1940) - (#206 on TSPDT) Lubitsch is always great.  I tend to go more for his pre-code work but this is still a more than solid film with that always great Lubitsch touch and a pair of more than solid performances by James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan.  Witty and sometimes wicked (though not the way he was in his best work (Trouble in Paradise and Design for Living) the film is perhaps ranked a bit too high here.  I will probably end up placing it around 600 or 650.

#786 -  Providence (1977) - (#408 on TSPDT)  A strange strange English-language film from the usually more Gallic Alain Resnais.  Fun and quite twisted, taking place mostly in the mad mad mind of Sir John Gielguld's eccentric dying novelist.  The fun comes with how the story keeps changing, keeps evolving as our writer changes the story of his novel.  Fun indeed.

#787 - People On Sunday (1930) - (#978 on TSPDT)  This one was a welcome surprise.  Having bought the Criterion Bluray more than six months ago, I finally took this one off the proverbial shelf, and plopped it in the player.  What came out was a fascinating half-doc, non-actor, precursor to all the verite and reality cinema that has recently pervaded the cinematic world stage.  I actually sat in what one could and would call rapt attention.  Why it is so low on the list while much inferior films are well above it, we may never know.  Personally I would place it in the top 200 easy.

#788 - Gunga Din (1939) - (#747 on TSPDT)  Evidently I did not know much about this film going in because I was expecting a much more dramatic film that what I got.  Perhaps something more akin to Lawrence of Arabia or maybe Sgt. York.  Instead, Gunga Din, though it does have lots of action and drama throughout, is a quite funny film.  Much more comedic moments that I ever expected.  This does not make the film any lesser to me though.  It is a very fun film, and Cary Grant and Doug Fairbanks Jr. are both quite fun inside the film.  Hooha!

#789 - La Région centrale (1971) - (#593 on TSPDT)  Really!?  Really !?  Now anyone who knows me knows how much I hate experimental film - at least 97% of it anyhow - so it should come as no surprise how dreadfully bored I was while watching this 3 plus hour (!!???) work of supposed art.  I mean really!?  Michael Snow plants a robotic camera on the top of a mountain and turns it on, letting it spin back and forth and round and round, recording the sky and the dirt and the trees, and lets it go for more than three hours.  Really!?  Are we expected to watch this and enjoy it?  It is ridiculous!  Sure, some experimental film works (most notably the Snow-directed Wavelength) and most of it only works in short form.  Perhaps these images would be a nice inclusion between scenes of a Tarkovsky film, but on its own, for three plus hours?  No thanks.  Why this is is ranked so high, or why it is even on the list at all, befuddles the fuck out of me.  This is not cinema - this is something else.

#790 - A Touch of Zen (1971) - (#470 on TSPDT)  This film kinda blew me away.  The classic wuxia film that inspired such modern day wirefu films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero and House of Flying Daggers, this King Hu work (my first and so far only look at Hu) is a blast.  Long, wandering camera takes, quick-paced bursts of action, visually stunning shots, this film is, well, like I said, it kinda blew me away.  So much so that I wrote a piece for The Large Association of Movie Blogs' Wuxia event.  It can be read at A Touch of Zen and the Art of the Wuxia Film.  And we have another one for my personal top 200.

#791 - The Black Cat (1934) - (#987 on TSPDT)  Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, what could be better?  Seriously though, this is a fun fun fun b-movie from the classic days of Universal Horror.  I could listen/watch Karloff do pretty much anything and throw him into a classic piece of horror, and you got yourself a blast of a movie.  It certainly is not a great work of cinema, but for those of us who love cheap b-movies (see, I am not really a film snob after all) it is a blast.

#792 - Outskirts (1933) - (#640 on TSPDT)  When it comes to the Soviet cinema of the 1920's and 30's, one could easily make a claim for a seen-one-see-em-all kind of mentality.  Save for Potemkin and The Man With the Movie Camera, and maybe Earth, they really do blend in together for this critic.  Just a few weeks after seeing this film, which I remember being a solidly-made work of Soviet Cinema, I really cannot remember much else of it.  C'est la vie.

#793 - Cabaret (1972) - (#264 on TSPDT)  Between its dark tragic humour, its seventies-esque cinematography, its flashy, decadent musical numbers, the giddy, twisted performance of Joel Grey and the lustful Liza leering, Cabaret is a a much better film than I to be.  I am not sure why I expected so little out of the film, but for some reason I did, and in the end I was pleasantly surprised.  Enough of a surprise that now I am going to have to go and adjust by Best of the 1970's list.  

#794 - My Life as a Dog (1985) - (#461 on TSPDT)  I have never been much of a Lasse Hallstrom fan.  His films have a solid directorial foundation, but they always end up eyes-deep in schmaltzy phlegm.  This rather trite, cutesy-pie film (and yes, a film that is essentially a tragedy in many ways can still be cutesy-pie) is far from a bad film, but pretty damn close to a really really annoying one.

#795 - To Sleep With Anger (1990) - (#904 on TSPDT)  Upon hearing my rather tepid response to this film, many fellow cinephiles got all up-in-arms about how great this film is.  Sorry, I just don't see it.  Directed with the most pedestrian, Made-for-TV blandness and with a screenplay (based on the play) that never takes it beyond the aforementioned pedestrianism, this Charles Burnett film (and he made Killer of Sheep, one of the best films of the 1970's) ends up being one of the least interesting, save for most of the so-called experimental nonsense, films on the list.  Sorry all you lovers out there, I must call myself a hater.

#796 - Caro Diario (1993) - (#853 on TSPDT)  I had only seen one Nanni Moretti prior to this and quite liked it.  This film is not near as powerful as The Son's Room, nor is it as cleanly made, but still this pseudo-doc creature, reminding me a lot of a funnier, more absurdist Kiarostami, has many fine moments - especialy the quite hilarious "surprise" encounter with Jennifer Beals (Jenneefer Beeeals!!).

#797 - Mephisto (1981) - (#827 on TSPDT)  When discussing the individual performances in  films, one of the most cliche'd, hackneyed things to say (and we see it so often in the poster blurbs of all those poster whores out there) is how an actor/actress gave a tour de force performance.  The saying is pure critical drivel, and people like Mr. Travers of Rolling Stone should know better (just to name the most obvious big-name culprit of the bunch).  Of course after watching Mr. Klaus Maria Brandauer's bravura (probably another cliche'd term) performance in Mephisto, one is probably bound to let oneself go and say such a thing about said performance.  I will not, but you get the idea.  Sadly though, once one gets beyond Brandauer's performance, one is left with not very much at all.  But still, we have that so-called tour de force performance to keep us busy.

#798 - The Fireman's Ball (1967) - (#746 on TSPDT)  Loves of a Blonde is one of my favourite films, but I cannot say the same for the director's follow-up.  But then I would not say it was all that bad either.  Milos Forman, before coming to Hollywood and making a series of award winning but disdainfully middling pictures, was kind of a big thing in  the sixties movement known as the Czechoslovak New Wave, and therefore was part of an experimentalist cinema group that incorporated political satire into a sort of documentary style production, using mostly non-actors.  This style gives Loves of a Blonde a rather remarkable sense of foreboding.  In Fireman's Ball, though there are many moments of sheer absurdist comedy that keep the film on track, it does not hold up as well as Blonde.  It is still a better film that most of his future Hollywood mediocrities, even his two most-overpraised works, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus.   

#799 - The Story of Late Chrysanthemums (1939) - (#265 on TSPDT)  Definitely one of Mizoguchi's greatest works - and that is saying a lot considering the auteur's oeuvre.  Tragic to its very core, this film with the questionable title (sometimes it is listed as Last Chrysanthemum) is a hauntingly beautiful film.  Mizoguchi's ever-roving camera keeps the action going in stunning fashion.  Definitely deserves inclusion on the list.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Film Review: Damsels in Distress

Aside from the lack of a French setting and the lack of anyone speaking French (though there is a lone French character here), Whit Stillman's Damsels in Distress may very well be the Frenchest movie out there that doesn't have, well, that doesn't have a French setting nor anyone speaking French.  In other words, Damsels in Distress plays out, both narratively and cinematically, with a much more French aesthetic than an American one.  This is neither a compliment nor is it an insult, it is just an educated opinion from this particular film critic.   

What this new film is for sure, though of course this is mere opinion as well, is pure, unadulterated fun.   But it is a kind of fun with that aforementioned French aesthetic, which by definition shies away from any Americanized moviemaking traits such as over-explanation and typical three act story arcs, and therefore may very well be a welcome boon to we of the more cinepiliac bent, but will be, and has been from my perspective, the kind of so-called snooty art film from which the average multiplex moviegoer, and even many who call themselves indie film lovers, will run away from in either a fit of boredom at being subjected to something that is not so easily palatable and therefore not so easily understood for art's sake or one of indignation over their refusal to admit the damn thing went right over their respective heads.  In other words, Damsels in Distress is just the kind of film that this critic can hunker down and get all kinds of cozy with.  In other other words, it is a damn fine, damn witty and damn downright hilarious motion picture - no matter what anyone else may counter.

I keep harping on the reactions of the so-called huddled masses because as a person who not only writes about cinema for a living, but also runs an art house cinema with his lovely wife, I have seen first hand the droves of disgruntled filmgoers exiting the theatres with complaints of boredom and confusion over this very same film.  Whether they just do not get what is going on - the film is set in a rather straight-forward linear manner and should not be seen as confusing in any way - or they are just used to a less free-form style of moviemaking and inevitably become disinterested with Stillman's choices as a writer and director, not to mention his rather keen seventies-esque cinematography choices, I do not dare speculate.  But then I am not really here to take cheap jabs at those with more middle-of-the-road tastes than I or my film snob ilk (though, whether I like it or not, it is part of my rather snarky nature), so perhaps we should just end this line of questioning right now and move on to exactly what it was about this film that I enjoyed so much while others did not.

The smartness of the dialogue and the sly way Stillman manipulates us into changing allegiances several times throughout the film, are a big part of what this film does so so right.  Stillman, who has not made a film since 1998's acerbic look at the waning days of Studio 54, The Last Days of Disco, is the kind of filmmaker who would never pander to his audience - who would never dumb down.  Stillman's writing is pitch perfect in its wry and witty stylings and the way these words are put forth by the director's stable of peripherally known actresses is nothing shy of narrative brilliance, even if it is written and put forth in the most subtle, crafty manner.  The highlight of these aforementioned relative unknowns is Greta Gerwig.  Ms. Gerwig first gained cinephiliac prominence with the little-known but quite fascinating mumblecore film Hannah Takes the Stairs, before moving on to being Russell Brand's dream girl in the quite horrendous Arthur remake.  Gerwig is an actress who should be more well known than she is, especially after seeing her crazy-eyed sweetheart Violet in this film, and hopefully she will be as she has a Woody Allen film on this coming fall's horizon.

But it is more than mere words and acting that make this quite, unassuming film all that and a bag of chips.  Stillman's ability to blend a quick-witted, intellectuality (some would say, and some have said pretentious) with a unique charm that can only be called highfalutin' kitsch, makes for the most intriguing of films.  Sort of playing out as Heathers all grown-up - or at least slightly more grown-up - Damsels tells the story of a group of too-cool-for-school types who run a college suicide prevention center, and the random boys (listed as "Their Distress" in the credits) who either titillate or repulse their individual and oft-times ridiculously precocious sensibilities.  Stillman incorporates a real sense of old timey storytelling into his modern day march of mental problems, and thanks to Violet and her gal pal's idea of depression therapy through dance, a few fun dance numbers to boot scoot boogie to as well.  Why more moviegoers are not catching onto this film we may never know (though some rather snobbish reasons snarkily flit in and out of mind) but it is a shame that this film will be left wallowing in inevitable obscurity (outside of we freaky film folk) just because it is too smart or too witty or two "French" or too whatever.  But then, what a way to go.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Look Out, The LAMMYs Are Back

Well faithful readers and true believers, as one can see from my Mack the Knife-influenced post title, it's that time of year again.  Time for the annual LAMMYs.  You say you do not know what the LAMMYs are?  Heavens to mergatroid.  Let us remedy that right now.  You see, the LAMMYs are the most coveted of awards.  Right up there with the Oscars and Grammys and Emmys and Tonys.  As of today, no one has ever won all five awards.  No one has ever become a LEGOT.  Anyway, I digress.  What the LAMMYs really are are the annual awards given out at The LAMB, or elongated for better explanation to those not in the know, The Large Association of Movie BlogsThese are awards voted on by my peers (aka, other movie/film bloggers) and hold some esteem in the crowd I (sorta) run with.  Each year, akin to the Oscars and their ilk, nominations are handed out in fifteen different categories ranging from Best Movie Reviewer to Best Classic Film Blog to Most Prolific to Funniest Writer to, of course, the big kahuna, Best Blog.  There is even a Brainiac Award for the more knowledgeable set among us.  The nomination process runs until May 27th, and will be followed by a final voting for the actual awards, handed out, via cyberspace, in June.

Last year, in my first year of eligibility, I joined a not-so-exclusive club that also includes such famed and classic dignitaries as Errol Flynn, Maureen O'Hara, Joseph Cotten, Peter Lorre, Mirna Loy, Kim Novak, Edward G. Robinson and Marilyn Monroe.  Like them, I too was not nominated for a damn thing.  They for an Oscar, me for a LAMMY.  Oh well, I thought to myself, what great company to be in.  Seriously though, I really did not expect to receive any nominations, but I wasn't without hope.  This year though, is going to be my year.  I am hoping for at least two nominations - Best Movie Reviewer is my best and most desired hope, and/or maybe Most Prolific or the Brainiac Award.   Whatever the case, I still do not expect to actually win.  The awards themselves tend to go to the more established members of the LAMB, but still, as they are prone to say, the nomination is the real prize.  Granted, such a response is probably bullshit - of course it is better to win than to just get nominated - but really, I am hoping for, but not expecting anything more than a nomination or three.  But nominated or not, a fun part of the proceedings is putting together an FYC ad for the whole shebang.  Below is mine.  Appropriately, considering the title of my site, it involves the lovely Jean Seberg in Jean-Luc Godard's classic Breathless.

If you happen to be one of the aforementioned LAMB compatriots, and therefore eligible to vote, you can do so at the 2012 LAMMY voting booth.  Perhaps during your perusal of the categories you could throw this old salt a bone or two of a vote, but only if you think I am deserving - or maybe even if you don't.  Now as anyone who collects comics or trading cards or anything of that ilk knows, there are always bound to be some variant editions.  Below are your very own collector's item variant FYC ads.  Enjoy.  And remember to vote vote vote.  And in all sincerity (see, I can do more than just snarky), good luck to all my fellow LAMBs.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Sister Clodagh’s Superficially Spiritual, Ambitiously Agnostic Last-Rites-of-Spring Movie Quiz

Every now and again Dennis Cozallio, the great film writer over at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, comes out with a 30 or so question quiz that is posted on his blog and sent out to all those web-based critics and cinephiles for completion at their leisure.  Sometimes I participate, other times I do not.  Now the causes for my non-participatory parts of this equation really have nothing to do with the quality of the quizzes - for they are always fun stuff indeed - but more because I procrastinate and end up forgetting all about them.  Well not this time true believers (thanx Stan), for here is my completed quiz.  Take that!

The original post from Dennis' site can be read here and you can post yr own answers there as well.. 

And here is the quiz and my answers.

1) Favorite movie featuring nuns?  To be funny I suppose I could see Killer Nun or Nude Nuns With Big Guns (or even Lindsay Lohan at the end of Machete) but of course I will have to go with Black Narcissus.  Not only is this Powell/Pressburger film one of the best films ever made (nun-related or not) it also has Deborah Kerr and Kathleen Byron as the two sexiest nuns (in the most varying ways) ever on film.

2) Second favorite John Frankenheimer movie?  I have never seen either Birdman of Alcatraz or The Manchurian Candidate (believe it or not), nor have I seen Grand Prix (though currently perched rather high on my Netflix queue), and since Seconds is my sure fire fave Frankenheimer, I suppose I must go with the oft-overlooked 1964 film, The Train.  So there.

3) William Bendix or Scott Brady?  Gotta admit I do not know much about Scott Brady (I like his brother though) but since Bendix not only played Babe Ruth in a film, he was also a batboy for the Yankees in the 1920's and got to see the Bambino play (how's that for research for a role), I am going to go with him.

4) What movie, real or imagined, would you stand in line six hours to see?   Have you ever done so in real life?  I have never done so.  Perhaps an hour at most back in the day.  Star WarsRaiders.  The most recent was The Red Shoes at Film Forum two years ago.  Of course nowadays, with online tickets and advance ticket sales, lines need not be a big thing.   What film would I do that for?  Knowing me, pretty much anything I am really excited for.  I have no qualms about such a thing.

5) Favorite Mitchell Leisen movie?  I believe, though more thanks to Gene Tierney, Miriam Hopkins and Thelma Ritter than to Leisen, that I would call The Mating Season his best work.  Of course I have never seen Midnight, his most acclaimed work.

6) Ann Savage or Peggy Cummins?  Miss Savage may have been a great femme fatale in Detour, but no one beats Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy.  You would have to be crazy to not make this choice.  The sexual explosiveness of her character, her wild, untamed persona, the crazed look she gets in her eyes, and don't forget that cowgirl outfit, make this one a no-brainer in my book.

7) First movie you remember seeing as a child?  I have rather faint memories of watching Disney's The Jungle Book as a wee one, but considering it played in theaters the year I was born and was not rereleased in nine years later, I am guessing that was on TV (this was back in the days before home video possibilities).  I also remember seeing The Poseidon Adventure at our local drive-in when I was five or six, but the first film I remember seeing in a movie theater proper was Benji in 1974, when I was just seven years old.

8) What moment in a movie that is not a horror movie, made you want to bolt from the theater screaming?  The moment I realized I just spent hard-earned money on Titanic.  Seriously though, no matter how bad or even disturbing a film is (or even how dreadfully boring) I have never walked out, so I do not really have a serious answer for you on this one.

9) Richard Widmark or Robert Mitchum?  Now I love Richard Widmark.  His work in Pick-up On South Street and Kiss of Death are things of cinematic magic, but c'mon now, he is no Robert Mitchum.  Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter alone is cause enough to celebrate, and when you toss in things like Out of the Past, Crossfire, The Lusty Men, Angel Face, El Dorado and Track of the Cat...well, you get the picture.  He's Mitchum!

10) Best Movie Jesus?  Great question, and I have a great answer.  Enrique Irazoqui in Pier Paolo Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew.  Runners-up include Willem Dafoe in Scorsese's Last Temptation, Jeffrey Hunter in Nick Ray's King of Kings, and less traditionally, Don Sutherland in Johnny Got His Gun and Graham Chapman in Life of Brian.

11) Silliest straight horror film that you're still fond of?  Many horror films are just silly by nature but that is the charm of them.  I think any of the films by the infamously bad director Edward D. Wood Jr. would need to be included here.  Yes he was a terrible filmmaker.  Yes he couldn't make a competent shot if his life depended on it.  Yes his films are some of the most laughably bad works of horror/sci-fi ever made - and that is saying a lot considering the history of the genre.  But still, no matter the quality, Ed Wood loved making movies.  He was rapturous about the medium and would put everything he had into his films, trying harder than most of the hacks calling themselves directors in today's world.  He was an auteur of the genre and should be praised for his love of cinema, even if the finished product was quite ridiculous indeed.

12) Emily Blunt or Sally Gray?  This is an easy one, but only due to process of elimination.  You see, as far as I know, I have never seen a Sally Gray film, or if I did, it was not very memorable at all.  So, with that being said, my answer must be Ms. Blunt.  Now don't get me wrong, I actually like Blunt as an actress, though she does delve a bit too much into the schmaltzier side of town, but even if I did not, I would have to default to her anyway.

13) Favorite cinematic biblical spectacular?  If I actually believed in the idea of guilty pleasures (why should one feel guilt over something they enjoy!?) this genre would certainly be one of them.  So much so that it is quite difficult to pick just one.  My favourites, in no particular order, are Nick Ray's King of Kings, Cecil B. DeMille's Samson and Delilah and Victor Saville's much-chastised (even by star Paul Newman himself in later years) The Silver Chalice.  If we went back even further in the annals of history, we could add Howard Hawks' Land of the Pharaohs and Michael Curtiz's The Egyptian, but I suppose those are not necessarily biblical spectacles so much as ancient history spectacles.

14) Favorite cinematic moment of unintentional humor?  Does it make me a bad person to answer with the Singin' in the Rain rape scene in A Clockwork Orange?  Oh well, c'est la vie.

15) Michael Fassbender or David Farrar?  Man what a choice.  Both have a strange sexual predator vibe going on in nearly every one of their respective performances.  Still though, even with his performances in Black Narcissus and Gone to Earth (my two favourites) I believe Mr. Farrar is going to lose out to Herr Fassbender.  From Hunger to Fish Tank to Jane Eyre to Shame to his turn as Archie Hickox in Inglourious Basterds (the unfortunate victim of the number three) and his portrayal of one of my all-time fave X-Men, Magneto, Fassbender is the one who makes this straight man go all weak in the knees.

16) Most effective faith-affirming movie?  I know the question is alluding to faith in a higher being, God, Allah, Krishna, Jesus or whatever they are calling it nowadays, but my answer goes a slightly different direction.  I believe the second half of Murnau's Sunrise, where the couple go to the big city and find each other again, I mean really find each other again, is one of the best proofs of the existence of some sort of higher calling or power or what-have-you.

17) Movie that makes the best case for agnosticism?  Forrest Gump.  If we are to believe that God is accountable for the lifelong survival of the Gump-Dogg (and the downfall of all his less angelic compatriots) then that is a God with which I want nothing to do.  Well, also the fact that no loving god would ever make me sit through that damn movie...

18) Favorite song and/or dance sequence from a musical?  In a serendipitous moment of perfect timing, my latest "Best Of" list for the fine folks over at Anomalous Material (coming to a world wide web near you sometime next week) is on this very same topic.  As a preview of this list, my resounding answer here is the ballet finale in The Red Shoes.  Other great moments of the genre include "Remember My Forgotten Man" from The Golddiggers of 1933, "The Trolly Song" from Meet Me In St. Louis and "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  Enough of the preview, check out my upcoming list for the full story.

19) Third favorite Howard Hawks movie?  After my two favourites, Rio Bravo and His Girl Friday, comes the film in question, Only Angels Have Wings.  This is a choice that may take some by surprise, being a film that usually gets pushed aside when discussing the films of the great Howard Hawks.  It is a sweet, beautiful film that deserves more recognition than it gets.  No matter the greatness of films like The Big Sleep, Red River, Bringing Up Baby, Scarface, To Have and Have Not, Air Force, The Criminal Code and Dawn Patrol (and this list could go on and on), Only Angels Have Wings rises above all of them.  Well, except those aforementioned top two.

20) Clara Bow or Jean Harlow?  I have always been a dark-haired kinda guy, so I am going to go with that adorably sexy "It" Girl from Brooklyn, Miss Bow.

21) Movie most recently seen in the theater?  On DVD/Blu-ray/Streaming?  Theater: Damsels in Distress.  DVD: It's Always Fair Weather.  Blu-ray: People on Sunday.  Streaming: It's been a while, but the last one was The Nutty Professor (the Jerry Lewis version of course).

22) Most unlikely good movie about religion?  Monty Python's Life of Brian which was not only a Pythonesque game of whirling dervishing cinema, but also a rather poignant and thoughtful look at faith and belief.  Either that or Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo.

23) Phil Silvers or Red Skelton?  Actually, I have always found Mr. Silvers' comedy to be rather smart and sassy as opposed to Mr. Skelton's slaphappy idea of comedy.  Okay, they are both pretty slaphappy, but Silvers decidedly less so.

24) "Favorite" Hollywood scandal?  I like that favorite is in quotes.  Anyway, there are so many good, ripe and juicy ones, that it makes it kinda hard to choose just one.  I believe I will go with a lesser known one, and leave all the big name ones for others to sort through.  I love that Gloria Grahame was cheating on her hubby Nick Ray with Ray's thirteen year old son from a previous marriage.  I also love that seven years later, Grahame and her now twenty year old former stepson were married.  I love that they actually had a baby together that was of course the grandson of Nick Ray.  Ain't love grand?  And this was all in sunny California and not Mississippi or West Virginia.

25) Best religious movie (non-Christian)?  Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo?  No?  Okay, how about Star Wars.  The force and the ways of the Jedi are more than loosely based on the Eastern religions of Taoism and Shintoism. And Jedi is the fastest growing religion in the world.  I may be a total nerd for saying this (or for knowing the rate of growth of a movie religion) but so be it.  May the force be with you.

26) The King of cinema: King Vidor, King Hu or Henry King? (Thanks Peter)  Though they all have their own manner of greatness (I just saw Hu's A Touch of Zen for the first time recently and was pretty much blown away as they say - my ramblings of which can be read here) but between the one two punch of The Big Parade and The Crowd, my answer must be King Vidor.

27) Name something modern movies need to relearn how to do that American or foreign classics had down pat.  Howzabout being able to tell a story without having to explain every little thing in detail?  I remember watching Inception when it first came out and getting pissed off every time someone in the story paused to explain everything to Ellen Page's character, a character whose seeming only purpose was to hang around so things could be explained to the audience through her.  We are not total morons who need every little thing explained dammit.  Or at least we should not be, even if many moviegoers have been turned into the type of people who no longer understand subtly.  

28) Least favorite Federico Fellini movie?  A friend of mine would answer this by saying a tie, between all of them.  I am a bit more on the pro-Fellini side though so this is not my answer.  I suppose I would have to say Satyricon.  It is not terrible, but it is the most incomprehensible of Fellini's oeuvre.  This does not necessarily make it a bad film, but we must make our decisions.

29) The Three Stooges (2012) - yes or no?  Since I am a freelance kind of film critic (as in nobody pays me for this shit) I do not have to sit through a lot of the bigger pieces of cinematic sludge that come down the proverbial pike.  With that thought, please allow me to claim that I have not seen the 2012 version of The Three Stooges, and therefore can not make a claim as to their validity.  Should it have been made?  Probably no good reason for such a thing, so no.

30) Mary Wickes or Patsy Kelly?  Oh, this is a no-brainer.  I love Mary Wickes in every damn thing I have seen her in.  Her role in White Christmas, as well as the rest of that holiday classic, will always have a warm place in this not-so-secret sentimentalist's heart.

31) Best movie-related conspiracy theory?  I cannot think of a specific one off-hand, so let's just make one up and say the Academy Awards.  How there not be some sort of heinous conspiracy when things like Forrest Gump beats Pulp Fiction, Kramer vs. Kramer beats Apocalypse Now, Dances With Wolves beats Goodfellas, Ordinary People beats Raging Bull, Crash beats Brokeback Mountain - and the list can go on?  I could ramble on all night so let us move on.

32) Your candidate for most misunderstood or misinterpreted movie.  David Lynch's Wild at Heart.  A brilliantly subversive take on the inner id of The Wizard of Oz.  I remember when the film first came out, and I was working as a projectionist at a local cinema. I actually got into a heated argument with the local newspaper's film critic (back when local paper's still had film critics).  She found it loathsome and repugnant.  I found it to be a dark and demented work of pure and quite audacious cinematic genius.

33) Movie that made you question your own belief system (religious or otherwise)?  Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo.  'nuff said.