Tag Archives: Alfred Hitchcock

The Roundup: May 16, 2012

Well, the Roundup kind of took an unplanned hiatus while I recovered from the TCM Film Fest and struggled to get caught back up with the blogosphere. I’m still running a bit behind, but not by much, so let’s go ahead and try to get back into the groove here.

Featured Links

For the Love of Film Blogathon

The For the Love of Film Blogathon, now in its third year, supports film preservation by raising awareness of the need for preserving film and seeking to raise financial support for a specific film preservation cause of project. This year, the project is The White Shadow, the recently rediscovered 1924 film that Alfred Hitchcock worked on as assistant director (and many other things, most likely), currently the oldest film known to exist that Hitchcock played a part in making. In order to make it possible for more people to see the film, the National Film Preservation Foundation wants to put it streaming online, a conversion and delivery system that will cost several thousand dollars. Those of us blogging as part of the For the Love of Film Blogathon this year will be discussing Hitchcock’s work in general, his silent films, or other silent films in light of the importance of preserving this cinematic heritage and making it available to a wider audience. My piece about The White Shadow itself is right here. In the meantime, Marilyn Ferdinand of Ferdy on Films, Farran Smith Neame of The Self-Styled Siren, and Roderick Heath of This Island Rod are collecting the links to other participating blogs as articles get posted. It’s quite a collection already, which I look forward to delving into.

Tales of Hollywood: Preston Sturges’ Wild Ride by The Lady Eve of The Lady Eve’s Reel Life

Preston Sturges is one of my favorite writers and directors, and The Lady Eve (who has taken her pseudonym, of course, from one of his best films) has an excellent biographical piece about him and not only how he became one of a Hollywood’s first writer/directors (paving the way for Billy Wilder and many, many others), but about his other “job” as a restaurateur, starting the famous Players’ Club on Sunset, a popular hangout for many celebrities in the 1940s. She also tells of how the place basically ruined him. It’s a fascinating story that I really didn’t know anything about.

My 11 Favorite Cinematographers by Alex Withrow of And So It Begins

Cinematography is one of my favorite things about the movies, and it’s not uncommon that a movie that looks really beautiful or distinctive will jump up a couple of notches in my estimation no matter what I think about the rest of it (story, acting, etc.). It’s all too easy to fall back on auteurist shorthand and credit a film’s look to the director – which is not always totally wrong, but often when directors have a distinctive and consistent “look” to their films, it’s because they tend to work with same cinematographer over and over again. Alex Withrow jumps straight to the source here and talks about his favorite cinematographers. Then he realized there weren’t any female cinematographers on his list, and went specifically looking for women to feature, resulting in this post. Then he went to find the films that he loved the look of, but weren’t by otherwise known cinematographers, and came up with this post for B&W cinematography and this one for color cinematography. All in all, an excellent set of posts.

Thomas Edison and the Origin of Sound and Color in Films by Lara at Backlots

Quick, film history 101: when did sound come into motion pictures? 1927, with The Jazz Singer. What about color? 1936 with Becky Sharp. Both common answers and not totally incorrect, and yet also…incorrect. As much as I love B&W films and think color is an option, not a necessity, and as much as I’ve grown to love silent cinema and think it was just as high an art form as sound film eventually became, the early pioneers of cinema were no more content with B&W and silence at the dawn of cinema than they were in the late ’20s and early ’30s, and color and sound experiments started way back with Thomas Edison, one of the original developers of cinema. Lara lays out his experiments with both color and sound in a highly informative and interesting post.

The 10 Greatest Movies of All Time (According to the Internet) by Cole Abius at Film School Rejects

If you follow Roger Ebert on his blog or on Twitter, you may have noticed him debating over his votes for this decade’s Sight & Sound poll, which creates a top ten list every decade based on the lists submitted by prominent (and invited) film critics. The poll has a certain cache, but it understandably leans heavily on accepted canon. Not necessarily a bad thing, but FSR decided to hold their own poll, inviting various prominent members of online media and film-related websites to make their own poll, which has some interesting results – about half accepted canon, and about half what I’d consider the canon of 30-year-old men, in other words, well-beloved 1980s favorites. Which is fine, and actually creates a more diverse list that captures something of our zeitgeist. Both lists have their place, and it’s fun to see alternative takes on the “best” movies of all time.

The Future is Female: 2012 is the Year of the Empowered Girl by various writers at Row Three

A group effort by a bunch of Row Three writers, in which I played only a humble part, writing about Katniss Everdeen. Others covered Haywire, Prometheus, The Avengers, The Secret World of Arrietty, Brave, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, A Lonely Place to Die, and more, talking about how this year seems to be something of a watershed in terms of having a large number (and variety) of female leads in the kinds of films that are traditionally centered on male figures. Lots of room for disagreement, additions, or even wondering whether making such a list actually negates its own purpose, so come on over and leave your thoughts.

More Links!

  • Christopher Morris at The Cinementals lists his top five Ginger Rogers films (sans Fred Astaire)
  • Joanna at Man I Love Films acclaims Steve McQueen as the original badass, and she is totally right
  • Dan Heaton of Public Transportation Snob picks out ten of his favorite podcasts; I already listen to and enjoy a few of these, but I’ll definitely be checking out some more!
  • Richard Brody calls for Every Movie Now – can’t say I disagree with him, but restoration/digitization I’m sure is a barrier
  • Where Danger Lives turns up a veritable plethora of Joan Crawford posters
  • Max Steiner is pretty much the father of movie scores, and Lara at Backlots (again!) runs down his career and influence thoroughly and engagingly
  • Seems like everyone I know has been writing about Murnau’s The Last Laugh lately, and now Chris Edwards of Silent Volume joins his voice to the throng – apparently I gotta see this thing, and soon
  • Andrew at Row Three (and other sites, but I saw it here first, regardless of favoritism) highlights some fun facts about Universal Studios as they turn 100

Cool Trailers, Videos, and More

  • Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Emma Stone, etc., in a period neo-noir? Based on that and this trailer, I’m there the day Gangster Squad opens
  • I keep forgetting Safety Not Guaranteed exists, but with Aubrey Plaza in a time-travel-esque film, I gotta quit doing that – here’s the trailer
  • Can Ben Affleck go three for three as a director? Judging from this trailer for Argo, it seems very possible
  • Criterion has Three Reasons for The Gold Rush
  • Classic film fans! Check out this group photo and see how many you can name – I only got 15-20 or so (right click and say “open in new tab” to see it larger)

Noteworthy News

  • The Avengers is just setting records all over the place – $200m first weekend, $100m second, and over $1 billion worldwide
  • Jessica Chastain drops out of Iron Man 3 (boo!), but Rebecca Hall may be her replacement (yay!) – I love Hall almost as much as Chastain, and she definitely deserves more exposure, so I’m stoked
  • The existence of promo posters for Sin City 2 and Machete Kills suggest what Robert Rodriguez is up to lately
  • Edgar Wright‘s next movie may be The World’s End, a third film with Pegg & Frost; he’s still planning Ant-Man, though!
  • Apparently Film Socialisme isn’t to be Jean-Luc Godard‘s last film, after all; he’s prepping Goodbye to Language (which should really be the title of all his movies), and it’s gonna be in 3D – sorry JLG, I gotta *eyeroll* that
  • Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof working on a mysterious sci-fi project? Yeah, I’m there

Scorecard: April 2012

[At the end of every month I post a rundown of the movies I saw that month, tallying them according to how much I did or didn’t like them. You can always see my recent watches here and my ongoing list of bests for the whole year here.]

AKA, the TCM Classic Film Festival edition. There are a few others mixed in, but the majority of these are from that Fest. Which means it was a damn good month of moviewatching. Oh, and apparently my two favorite new-to-me films were both silent. I honestly do not try to do this, people. It just happens that way, I swear.

What I Loved

Girl Shy

I wouldn’t say Harold Lloyd is a recent discovery for me as I continue my odyssey through silent film; I saw Safety Last quite a while ago and always included him as one of the great silent comedians. But beyond that obligatory name-checking, I hadn’t had a lot of exposure to his work. I was very grateful to put that to rights this month with not one but THREE Lloyd films seen at the TCM Fest and at Cinefamily, and the presentation of Girl Shy at the Egyptian Theatre will definitely go down as a lifetime filmgoing highlight. This film is awesome, taking the nerdy, girl-shy Harold through a series of misadventures whereupon he meets a girl and overcomes his stuttering shyness as he tells her about his book – which is about how to get all kinds of women to fall in love with you. It’s extremely charming and quite funny, and all capped off with one of the most incredible chase stunt sequences I’ve ever seen, and yes, I’m including Keaton’s motorcycle chase in Sherlock Jr. in that assessment. Just when you think Lloyd has done about all he can do with this gag, he tops himself and does something even more gasp-worthy. Insta-favorite. Full review on Row Three.

1924 USA. Director: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor. Starring: Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston, Richard Daniels, Carleton Griffith.
Seen April 14 at the TCM Film Fest, Egyptian Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 372 out of 2930

For Heaven’s Sake

My other Lloyd experience was a double feature (the other one is a bit lower on the list) Cinefamily and the Silent Treatment showed in honor of Lloyd’s April birthday. These were actually before Girl Shy, and were already enough to solidify my Lloyd fandom, I liked them so much. Particularly this one. Thoughtless millionaire Lloyd accidentally funds an inner-city mission, but his apathy turns to extreme interest when he meets the preacher’s lovely daughter. I really enjoyed this film, which has two fantastic extended chase/action sequences – one with Lloyd provoking all the street thugs he can find into chasing him right into the mission (where he wins their loyalty by nonchalantly passing the collection plate to rid them of stolen jewelry before a police search), the other with Lloyd trying to corral a group of five drunk friends and get back to the mission for his wedding. Both are filled with physical gags and insane stunts, all done with a charm and physicality that belies Lloyd’s milquetoast first impression.

1926 USA. Director: Sam Taylor. Starring: Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston, Noah Young.
Seen April 4 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 512 out of 2930

Cabin in the Woods

I’ve been looking forward to this Joss Whedon-penned horror film for literally years now, as it went through distributor hell along with everything else MGM owned as they fought bankruptcy. In fact, I’ve been watching its progress so long that I remember being disappointed that I was going to have to watch a horror film to keep up with Whedon, because I wasn’t into horror films yet. Thankfully by the time it came out, I had overcome that hurdle and managed to see and enjoy most of the films Cabin in the Woods references, plus this film isn’t really going for scares as much as laughs and meta in-jokes, which are precisely up my alley. I had a great time with this film, which is extremely clever in the way it plays with expectations, horror tropes, and manipulation. I won’t go as far as some in saying that revolutionizes the horror genre – it doesn’t do that so much as celebrate it, poke loving fun at it, and layer a great workplace comedy in on top of it. It’s a lark, not a deep satire, and that’s fine. I laughed a lot, gasped some, and had a ginormous smile plastered on my face the whole time.

2012 USA. Director: Drew Goddard. Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz, Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams, Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, Amy Acker.
Seen April 21 at AMC Burbank 16.
Flickchart ranking: 534 out of 2930

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The Roundup: March 23

Featured Links

Detour‘s Detour by David Kalat at Movie Morlocks

For my money, you won’t find a more quintessentially noir film than 1945’s Detour – it’s got it all, from low contrast lighting to defeatist narrator to femme fatale, and in many ways, Detour displays the most primal forms of all these noir tropes. A while back I argued that Tom Neal’s desperate narrator is a basically good man pulled inevitably towards tragedy, but David Kalat has a slightly different and pretty convincing take on it as well – that Al is a misanthrope who could quite possibly be guilty of everything that seems fated to happen to him. He also brings in much more about the source novel, its author Martin M. Goldsmith, and director Edgar G. Ulmer than I ever knew, making this a fascinating read – and making me want to rewatch the film again immediately.

Narration, Voiceover, and the Shape of the World by Bilge Ebiri at They Live By Night

Voiceovers are often condemned ipso facto because they’re seen as being clumsy expository devices or ways to tell the audience about an event or character without just showing us. And certainly, they can be used that way, as lazy storytelling devices. But there are lots of other ways to use voiceover as well, and many voiceovers are inextricably part of a given film’s appeal. Try to imagine Badlands without Sissy Spacek’s dreamy, poetic voiceover (or True Romance, for that matter). Bilge Ebiri uses Malick’s early films as examples, as well as several others that use voiceovers either poetically or to actually comment on or counteract the narrative-as-shown. There’s a lot more than could be written about this topic, for sure, but this is good entry on the subject.

Fortress of Solitutude: Jeanne Dielman… by Dennis Cozallio at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule

Chantal Akerman’s three and a half hour long opus Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai de Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is something of a test of endurance – it shows three days in the life of the title character, three days of carrying out menial housework, cooking, cleaning, caring for a neighbor’s baby, writing letters, and entertaining a gentleman caller (yes, that’s a euphemism). Dennis Cozallio’s excellent essay points out how effectively the film conveys “the crushing weight of Jeanne’s mundane day-to-day existence,” and he’s totally right. It’s a perfect example of how to make a “boring” film really well – when shifts in her routine do happen, the effect is immense.

In Character: William H. Macy by Alex at And So It Begins…

I’ve shared entries from Alex Withrow’s always-worthwhile series on character actors before, but when he got to William H. Macy, I couldn’t resist. Macy is one of those actors who always perks up a film with his presence, and in fact, I’ll often go see films just because he’s in them. Even so, there are a lot on Alex’s list I haven’t seen, so I’ll have to get on that. I do particularly recommend The Cooler, which actually stars Macy, even though he’s still in a very “character actor” kind of part. And though Alex didn’t mention it, he’s a ton of fun in Mystery Men.

10 Little Known Movies You Need to See Now by Kevyn Knox at Anomalous Material

Kevyn Knox comes up with some pretty awesome lists for his Anomalous Material column, and though this one is largely unthemed, it’s still a really great read. I’ve only seen a couple on here (one of them is Detour; see above for how much I love that film), but I’m definitely planning to move the others higher on my list. I hope Kevyn does more lists like this in the future. As if my to-watch list NEEDED to be any longer :)

Film Art: An Introduction Reaches a Milestone With Help from the Criterion Collection by David Bordwell

After pioneering the use of actual film captures instead of production stills for their textbook Film Art: An Introduction, David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson are going on step further, partnering with the Criterion Collection to include video clips with commentary for teachers to use along with the textbook. You’d think this kind of thing would be a given by now, but copyright laws are difficult even in an academic context, where you’d assume fair use would reign supreme. So getting Criterion’s cooperation on this is a large step forward, and hopefully will open the door for more distributors and film textbook authors to take advantage of digital media in the classroom. Here’s an example of what they’re doing, with Thompson discussing Eliptical Editing in Varda’s Vagabond. (click link to open in a lightbox)

Help Rescue the Hitchcock 9 at BFI

Hitchcock’s films remain some of the most well-known and best-loved films of the entirety of classic cinema (and I’m not only speaking for myself there, I think), but there are still some of his films in need of preservation and restoration – especially his nine surviving silent films. The fact that only one of his silent films has been lost is amazing in and of itself, but these nine still need our attention. A few of them have been released on DVD, but the video quality is not the best. To rectify this situation, the BFI is undertaking the huge project of restoring all nine of these features to present as a retrospective in London in 2012, and they’re still raising funds to complete the project.

10 Reasons Why 21 Jump Street Exceeded Expectations by Oliver Lyttleton at The Playlist

Oliver Lyttleton was killing it this week over at The Playlist, with at least three or four editorials that I considered featuring. I decided to go with this one because these ten reasons are so solid regardless of the film at hand – if more studio filmmakers would remember these ten things, we’d have such better Hollywood films all around. I haven’t actually seen 21 Jump Street myself, but I’m far likelier to check it out at some point with articles like this floating around.

More Links!

Cool Videos, Trailers, and More

Full Prometheus Trailer – wowsers
Sound of My Voice TrailerAnother Earth‘s Brit Marling as a cult leader/possible time-traveler? I’m in.
David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis Teaser (NSFW)
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Trailer #2
Snow White and the Huntsman Trailer #2
Mondo artist Kevin Tong’s Edgar Wright Triple Bill poster – WANT

Noteworthy News

The Roundup: 18 Feb 2012

And another series back from very long hiatus (with a new name), and another well-meaning intention to do a better job of keeping up. I’d really like to do these every week, a task made more challenging and yet more fun by deciding to include more sections of links. The idea being that I can just keep this up as I read blogs and sites thoughout the week and have it all ready to go by the end of the week. Here’s hoping. As usual, most of these are movie-related links, but that won’t necessarily always be the case, and there are some music and gaming links in the subsections. Anything that’s a video will open in a lightbox, so you won’t have to go anywhere else to watch them.

Featured Links

For the Love of Film III: The White Shadow by the Self-Styled Siren

The For the Love of Film Blogathon is now in its third year, with bloggers focusing on a specific aspect of film preservation, with the intent to raise awareness and funds for the National Film Preservation Foundation. This year, the focus is on the recently unearthed early Hitchcock film The White Shadow, one of a few films Hitchcock assistant-directed under director Graham Cutts in the early 1920s. The funds raised will support the costs of the NFPF streaming the film (that is, the four reels of it that still exist) on their website for four months. I’ve actually seen the film – I was at the Academy screening the Siren mentions – and though it certainly isn’t among the best silent films you’ll ever see, it does have more than historical interest, and it has a whole lot of that. The blogathon goes live in May, and I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it then.

Hitchcock’s Most Beautiful Shot Ever by Joel Gunz, guest-posting at The Lady Eve

Speaking of Hitchcock, The Lady Eve has been hosting a whole series on Vertigo, with this close-reading of a single shot of the film one of the highlights. Guest poster Joel Gunz looks at the shot of Madeline standing under the Golden Gate Bridge in terms of composition and cinematography, as well as artistic antecedents and psychological readings. By the end, he’s explicated a lot about Vertigo as a whole, simply by analyzing this one gorgeous still. Makes me want to go watch the film again immediately.

Why Don’t the Critics, Oscar, and Audiences Agree? by Jim Emerson on scanners::blog

It’s almost a cliche at this point to mention that the films the end up on critical best lists (whether print critics or bloggers), the films that end up the year’s box office champions, and the films nominated for Oscars are pretty much three different groups of films. There may be some overlap here and there, of course, but by and large, the goals of each group seem to be irrevocably dissimilar. Jim Emerson invokes an article from Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir to explain a bit about the Academy’s point of view, and then points out that their nominations used to be more actually populist, rather than prestige-y the way it is now.

It’s An Honor to Be Nominated, But These Iconic Films Never Were by Wilde.Dash at Love and Squalor

Lots of Oscar-y type talk this week, and I doubt that’ll stop until after the awards are announced and everyone’s done dissecting them. Here the always entertaining Wilde.Dash highlights a bunch of films that are widely considered top-notch classics yet weren’t even nominated for Academy Awards. Some of these (2001, Psycho) absolutely appalling to me. Just goes to show you, these little statuettes? Not that big a deal in the grand scene of things.

Culture Warrior: The Importance of Honoring Motion Capture Performances by Landon Palmer at Film School Rejects

In a year when the Academy doesn’t nominate Andy Serkis for acing (perhaps because motion capture is too cartoony to go against live action) and doesn’t nominate The Adventures of Tintin for Animated Feature (perhaps because motion capture is too live action to go against animation), Landon Palmer discusses why mocap seems to be such a disdained technology – because the very idea of motion capture, which renders actors unrecognizable behind a veil of CGI, threatens the concept of celebrity upon which Hollywood is built. (To be fair, I wouldn’t necessarily argue that either of the “perhaps” clauses above are correct; but Palmer’s assessment of the threat of mocap is an interesting read.)

Pioneers of Animation: Ub Iwerks – The Early Disney Years by Brandie at True Classics

Everyone knows Walt Disney. But not everyone knows Ub Iwerks, who was with Disney almost every step of the way, from the very beginning when they were partners in Kansas City working on Laugh-o-Gram shorts, through the move to Hollywood and the creation of Oswald the Rabbit and Mickey Mouse. But Iwerks isn’t only Disney stuff – he also had many successful cartoons of his own in the early sound era. Brandie has the full story in two posts (the second part is here, and they’re well worth reading – just as Iwerks’ films are well worth watching.

48 Hidden Images in Black Swan by Sati at the Cinematic Corner

Even a single viewing of Black Swan reveals the constant parallels that Aronofsky is making between Nina and Lily, with their faces often morphing into each other for split seconds here and there. But Sati has gone through the film with a fine-tooth comb and screencapped a TON of trick shots that I certainly never noticed before. As you look through these, some will seem obvious (Nina seeing herself on the subway or the sidewalk, or Lily’s face swapping for Nina’s during the sex scene), but most of the things during the club scene I hadn’t seen at all. Kudos to Aronofsky for his attention to detail, and kudos to Sati for uncovering that detail.

In Character: William Fichtner by Alex Withrow at And So It Begins

One of the most memorable and consistently awesome “hey, it’s that guy!” actors working today, William Fichtner shows up all over the place, and he’s often the best thing in any movie he’s in. Like, oh, say…Drive Angry for example. And many, many others. Alex Withrow runs down Fichtner’s best roles in this entry into his ongoing series highlighting character actors (the whole series is worth reading).

Katie-Bar-the-Door Awards by the Mythical Monkey

Speaking of ongoing series, I’ve been away from the blog-reading long enough I didn’t even notice he was doing this until now, but the Mythical Monkey has been posting entries every day with his alternate Oscars for each year since 1927. The awards (named for his wife) were his original impetus for starting his blog, but he’s since gotten lost in the silent era – lost in the best possible way. But he recently decided to get these posted and out there, and I gotta say, these awards are awesome. I don’t necessarily agree with them all (though mostly in cases where I haven’t seen all the films in question!), but they’re pretty great to read through. He just posted 1970, and is taking a break, but the whole series is worth a peruse.

More links!

Sam Fragoso of Duke and the Movies asks us to choose between Howard Hawks or John Huston. I picked Hawks, but that’s a tough question!
Kim Wilson at the Classic Film and TV Cafe reviews Man in Grey, a little-known British film that sounds rather transgressive for its time!
Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence announces the March in March blogathon – posts about Fredric March, in the month of March.
Hollywood Reporter explains why there are only two Best Song Oscar nominees this year.
Ryan at The Matinee kicks off his Blind Spot series by watching John Carpenter’s The Thing.
Alex Withrow of And So It Begins runs down the entirely of Spike Lee’s career.
Wilde.Dash of Love and Squalor picks her 30 most anticipated movies of 2012. Some great stuff to look forward to, for sure!
Nicolas Winding Refn talks to The Playlist about Drive
Bonjour Tristesse reviews Dario Argento’s The Bird With a Crystal Plumage, and likes it quite a bit. One I definitely want to catch up with.
Monty at All Good Things counts down his favorite actresses – some great picks here! Love the Lombard love.

Trailers of Interest

(videos open in a lightbox)

Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress
Justin Kurzel’s The Snowtown Murders (though I think this one is better; so is the former name)
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s Intruders

Max Payne 3
Far Cry 3

Cool videos

(videos open in a lightbox)

The ABCs of Cinema by Evan Seitz
The Knights Who Say Ni! Kinetic Typography by Evan Seitz
Salvador Dali on “What’s My Line”
Music Video: Jack White’s “Love Interruption” (from upcoming album Blunderbuss)
Music Video: YACHT’s “Shangri-La” (from album Shangri-La)
Live Performance: James Mercer singing “September” (from upcoming Shins album Port of Morrow)

News of Interest

Joss Whedon is writing a RomCom. Not my fave genre, but okay.
Netflix is developing an original series with Weeds creator Jenji Kohan
People are planning to remake Hitchcock’s Rebecca and Suspicion. WHY? Although, of all his films, those two are among the least untouchable.
Gina Carano lines up another action film: In the Blood. I’ll watch it.

Bonnaroo lineup is announced

Rockstar is bringing the original Max Payne game to iOS. Cool!
Touch Arcade reviews Beat Sneak Bandit, a new iOS game. I downloaded it; we’ll see what I think.

Scorecard: September 2011

[At the end of every month I post a rundown of the movies I saw that month, tallying them according to how much I did or didn’t like them. You can always see my recent watches here and my ongoing list of bests for the whole year here.]

What. I actually got a monthly recap type post in on time? Even early (which is okay, I’m not planning to watch a movie tonight)! This has never happened, to my remembrance, in the history of my blog. Don’t get used to it, though I’m going to try to stay on task. A decent variety this month. Incidentally, in other postings about the two silent films, people have asked me where they can see them. I wish I had a better answer, but as of right now, both these films can only be seen if a repertory cinema in your area screens them. They’re not on DVD, and both of them are rare enough, I think, that they can’t be found online. I’ll see if I can find out more next time I see the archivists who run The Silent Treatment shows; a web archive of some of these harder-to-find movies would be fantastic, but either the archives that own the prints aren’t interested in doing that or they simply don’t have the funding.

What I Loved

Changing Husbands

I always love the Silent Treatment nights at Cinefamily, where a couple of UCLA and Academy archivists bring in rare silents, but I have to admit (as do they) that a lot of the films are more historically/academically interesting than actually good. But this one is genuinely charming and entertaining, and I pretty much loved every second of it. Leatrice Joy plays two roles – one a bored wife of a rich man who only wants to be a stage actress despite her husband’s wishes to live a quiet life, the other a struggling actress who just wants to be out of the spotlight. Yep, you guessed it, these women meet, realize their resemblance, and switch places – supposedly just for a few days, but the rich husband turns up and takes the actress home for the holidays, never suspecting the switcheroo. Joy does great in both roles, and the two men who confuse the women are charmingly hapless. There’s quite a bit of wonderful innuendo, giving pre-Code fans a lot to enjoy in the film.
1924 USA. Directors: Paul Iribe and Frank Urson (supervised by Cecil B. DeMille). Starring: Leatrice Joy, Victor Varconi, Raymond Griffith.
Seen September 7 at Cinefamily.

Night Train to Munich

A recent addition to the Criterion library, but I recorded it from TCM a few months ago and just now got around to watching it. Well, that’s not QUITE true. I started watching it a while back, but my mood wasn’t right and I wasn’t paying close enough attention and I was missing stuff…so I held off until I could concentrate on it. And I’m really glad I did, because though it’s not a particularly complicated film, it does have a number of plot turns, as befits a WWII spy thriller. Margaret Lockwood’s dad is a Czech scientist who needs to escape before Prague is taken over by the Nazis; he does, but she gets intercepted by the Gestapo and sent to a concentration camp, where she meets Paul Henreid, a freedom fighter who manages to help her escape. But is he what he seems, and what of the dashing British agent played by a very young Rex Harrison? Double-crosses abound, and it all leads to a tense cross-continent train trip where precarious identities may be uncovered at any second, and a final action scene that prefigures whichever Bond film had the gondola setpiece. It starts off a little slow, but man does it pay off by the end, and they know just when to stop it, too. No awkward overlong coda, just DONE. Love it.
1940 UK. Director: Carol Reed. Starring: Rex Harrison, Margaret Lockwood, Paul Henreid.
Seen September 19, on TCM (via DVR)

What I Liked

Contagion

I wasn’t too interested in the plot of this film when I first heard about it, but with Soderbergh directing and a cast like THIS? I mean, look at it. Yeah. In an all-too-possible scenario, a deadly virus quickly spreads across the whole world, involving the CDC, the WHO, bloggers and media, ordinary citizens, scientists, government officials, etc. as they try to stop the spread of both the virus and the growing panic of the population. There’s a LOT going on here, and the pace is brisk, but steady. The balance between micro and macro is held quite well throughout, though the connections of the Marion Cotillard story and to some extent the Jude Law story were a bit tenuous. Overall, though, it’s a tremendous achievement of pure craft, and the use of major stars allow quick identification with characters that otherwise have little time to develop. Full review here.
2011 USA. Director: Steven Soderbergh. Starring: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, Jennifer Ehle.
Seen September 10 at an AMC multiplex.

My Winnipeg

There aren’t any other filmmakers quite like Guy Maddin. Not that I’ve seen anyway. A Canadian filmmaker working somewhere on the fringe of experimental, Maddin uses styles and techniques from early cinema that have all but faded from use by pretty much everybody else. It’s as if in some alternate universe, German Expressionism and Soviet montage live side by side, accompanied by classic Hollywood tinting and iris fades, with voiceovers, dialogue, and title cards all working together for maximum effect. This is one of the more accessible Maddin films I’ve seen, a sort of documentary, sort of memoir, sort of fantasy about his home town of Winnipeg, Manitoba. It’s mesmerizing and fascinating.
2007 Canada. Director: Guy Maddin. Starring: Darcy Fehr, Ann Savage.
Seen September 22 and 23 on Netflix Instant.

Hard Boiled

I’ve been meaning to see this for quite some time, but my desire got stronger after seeing the film name-checked in Matthias Stork’s video on chaos cinema, as a stellar example of action setpieces. He was talking about the final shoot-out, which unfolds in a few very long traveling shots that manage to never lose spatial orientation no matter how hectic the action gets. And that sequence is for sure incredible, the standout in the film. The rest of it is good, too, but I have to admit to zoning out a bit here and there during some of the “plot” parts due to tiredness – thankfully it didn’t seem to matter too much, but I would like to go back sometime and fill in the gaps. It gets a little ridiculous what with the baby and all (pretty sure this was a major influence on the goofy Shoot ‘Em Up), but Chow Yun-Fat is earnest enough in his role to make it work.
1992 Hong Kong. Director: John Woo. Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Tony Leung Chiu Wai.
Seen September 2 on DVD.

Falling Down

My boyfriend Jonathan and I have been taking turns showing each other films that mean a lot to us, and this was one of his for me. I’d never ever heard of it before he started talking about it, but since then I’ve come across a lot of other people who think pretty highly of it, too – a good sign that Schumacher can’t be simply written off based on his involvement in Batman & Robin. When he does smaller things or more indie things, he’s got quite a good eye and sensibility. This film has Michael Douglas basically in “I can’t take this anymore” mode as he leaves his car in a huge traffic jam and heads across Los Angeles on foot to see his daughter on her birthday – sounds like a great idea, except his ex-wife has taken out a restraining order against him, our first sign that maybe not all is quite right with Mr. Douglas. It’s kind of fascinating though, how the script and Douglas’s performance paint this character – he’s psychotic to some degree, but at the same time, you kind of totally understand where he’s coming from, and a good bit of the financial angst it is certainly still relevant. And it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t even realize how his actions come across to others – when he invades a pool party with a machine gun he’s picked up along the way, it doesn’t occur to him why the people are scared of him. I didn’t love it as much as Jonathan does, but it’s certainly solid, and I’d rewatch it at some point.
1993 USA. Director: Joel Schumacher. Starring: Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall.
Seen September 17 on DVD.

The White Shadow

In a way, it’s tough to review this one, since only three reels of it exist. But on the other hand, it’s not like I’ll ever get to see the rest of it. Unless by some miracle the rest of it pops up somewhere. This film was discovered among the New Zealand Film Archive silents by an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences archivist working to catalog the American films being held there. You may recall the big “discovery” of these films a couple of years ago – a lot was made of finding John Ford’s Upstream and some others. More are being identified all the time, and this one turns out to be one of the earliest films Alfred Hitchcock worked on, as assistant director to Graham Cutts. The story involves a pair of sisters played by Betty Compson, one sweet and demure, the other wild and “soulless”. The rather convoluted plot involves mistaken identity, the wild daughter running away, the repentent father trying to find her, and the sweet girl marrying a man who was attracted to the wild daughter and never realized she had a double. Yeah. It’s pretty crazy, and the ending (read to us at the screening by Eva Marie Saint based on the copyright documents, since the last two reels of the film are still lost) sounds even crazier. But the opportunity to see films like this is such a treat – it’s both a saddening reminder of the state of silent film preservation (some 50-80% of all silent films are lost) and a hopeful indication that perhaps some films long thought lost actually do exist somewhere, in some form.
1924 UK. Director: Graham Cutts. Assistant Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: Betty Compson.
Seen September 22 at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

A Foreign Affair

I’m a big fan of Billy Wilder and have seen most of his films, but I put this one off for quite a while because I’d heard mixed things about it, and that’s pretty close to right. Jean Arthur as a stuffed-up congresswoman investigating the unseemly conduct of American servicemen in post-WWII Berlin doesn’t quite fly, and her transformation into someone with actual emotions thanks to the attentions of a not-quite-on-the-level John Lund is a bit unbelievable. I frankly found her character so irritating in the beginning I didn’t care much about the turn, which says a lot, because I LOVE Jean Arthur. That said, all the parts with Marlene Dietrich are ace, especially the two nightclub numbers she does in her inimitable way. Arthur has some good isolated scenes, like when she breaks down telling about a past failed love affair, but they’re not enough. There’s also a Nazi spy subplot that’s intriguing but doesn’t quite go anywhere. When the ending came, it felt pretty opposite what I wanted to happen. Some really good parts, fairly unsatisfying whole.
1948 USA. Director: Billy Wilder. Starring: Jean Arthur, Marlene Dietrich, John Lund, Millard Mitchell.
Seen September 26 on TCM (via DVR)

What I Didn’t Like

Stone

I mostly watched this so I could have another film to add to my Milla Jovovich post on Row Three, but I did think I’d like it more than I did. Edward Norton is a guy in jail about to come up for parole, Robert De Niro is the case officer who will decide whether he’s fit to leave or not, and Milla Jovovich is Norton’s wife who tries to get De Niro to look favorably on her husband. Which she does by seducing him. It looks like a cat-and-mouse thriller, but it’s a lot more about De Niro’s own demons and how the situation with Norton and Jovovich affects him. Meanwhile, Norton has a whole religious experience that didn’t work for me at all, and while Jovovich gives a really good performance, I couldn’t ever really grasp her character’s motivations. Plus the whole thing has this dour, broody feel going on – and not in a good way.
2010 USA. Director: John Curran. Starring: Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Milla Jovovich.
Seen September 5 on Netflix Instant Watch.

Rewatches – Love

Drive

I saw this back at the LA Film Festival (my review) and promptly declared my love for it. I was curious whether a second viewing would diminish my love, as festival screenings carry their own high with them that sometimes fades under normal moviewatching conditions, but no. If anything, I liked it BETTER the second time, because I could just sit back and enjoy the leisurely pacing, the gorgeous cinematography, the bursts of violence, and the whole dreamy/brutal tone of it all without worrying about what I thought about it or what to write about it. It will almost certainly be near the top of my Best of 2011 list.
2011 USA. Director: Nicholas Winding Refn. Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks.
Second viewing September 17 at an AMC multiplex. First seen June 2011 at the LA Film Festival.

Bringing Up Baby

It’s been a long, long time since I saw this movie, and I was really glad Jonathan picked it out of my collection to watch. It’s still among the zaniest movies ever made, and I can’t help but get caught up in its breakneck pacing. I don’t care if Hepburn’s character is a manipulative, conniving piece of work, or that Grant’s 180 degree turn towards loving her is totally unbelievable. She’s a force of nature in this film, and it somehow seems natural that everything else gets caught up in her wake. And as utter farce, it’s jaw-achingly funny.
1938 USA. Director: Howard Hawks. Starring: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Dame May Whitty, Charlie Ruggles, Barry Fitzgerald.
Umpteenth viewing September 25 on DVD. First seen many, many years ago, probably on VHS.

Marie Antoinette

Can I just say how much I love that Jonathan chose this himself as one to watch, because he wanted to get more familiar with Sofia Coppola’s films? I figured he would like it, because its pop-art take on history is a flavor that both of us like, and he did. I did, too…I actually haven’t seen it since it first came out on DVD, so I was glad of the rewatch on it to confirm that it really is as surprisingly good as I thought it was.
2006 USA. Director: Sofia Coppola. Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Rip Torn.
Second viewing September 18 on DVD. First seen soon after DVD release on DVD.

Totals:

Films seen for the first time in September: 9
Rewatches in September: 3
Films seen in theatres in September: 4
List of Shame films seen in September: 0
2011 films seen in September: 2 (1 rewatch)
2000s films seen in September: 5 (2 rewatches)
1990s films seen in September: 2
1940s films seen in September: 2
1930s films seen in September: 1 (1 rewatch)
1920s films seen in September: 2
American films seen in September: 8 (3 rewatches)
British films seen in September: 2
Canadian films seen in September: 1
Hong Kong films seen in September: 1