Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mystery Train

Chris Evans and Jamie Bell in Snowpiercer

When I first heard the premise of Snowpiercer (2014, directed by Bong Joon-ho), I thought it sounded ridiculous. I thought, actually, that it sounded like something that would show up on the SyFi channel. Still, the director gave me pause. This is the man who made Memories of Murder and Mother, after all, to say nothing of The Host. He's proven his chops both as a gifted director and as a gifted purveyor of genre entertainments.  And when you get right down to it, it's not a more ridiculous premise than, say, anything by Park Chan-Wook or Kim Ji-Woon. And then I heard that Harvey Weinstein wanted to slash twenty minutes out of it. Bong actually won that power struggle, but it limited the film's horizons. Seeing it at the earliest opportunity became for me a moral imperative. It turns out that my initial impression of the whole thing was correct: it's utterly ridiculous. It's also kind of awesome.

Note: here there be spoilers.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Death on the Installment Plan

Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow

It would be a mistake to think of Edge of Tomorrow (2014, directed by Doug Liman) as a mere rip-off of Groundhog Day filtered through Starship Troopers. I mean, sure. It is exactly that. Its just not only that. I'm probably going to regret saying this, but it seems to me that director Doug Liman is an auteur in the classic sense of the word, and that this film, one that plays around with both identity and cinematic chronology is very much of a piece with films like The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Go. Oh, Liman is an entertainer first and foremost, but like other "entertainers" I could name, he seems drawn back to the same themes again and again, much like the hero in this film is drawn back to the start of his sojourn as an unwilling soldier over and over and over. Edge of Tomorrow might be Liman's magnum opus. Whatever it is, it's a lot of fun to watch, and not only for the dubious pleasure of watching Tom Cruise being horribly killed on repeat. Though that's fun, too.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Death in the Family

Paddy Considine in Honour

I'm at something of a disadvantage when it comes to writing about the British crime film, Honour (2014, directed by Shan Khan), because I don't want to step into the landmine of racial politics it engenders. It would be easy--poisonously easy--to deplore the cultural norms that give rise to honor killings in the Muslim world in a way that crosses into outright racism. The last thing I want to do is turn myself into Richard Dawkins, railing about the awfulness of Islam. The world isn't that simple and Islam is not monolithic. The film itself is intensely aware of its racial politics, but charges ahead with its story anyway.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The John Ford Blogathon Day 7

And we're almost to the end. There's been a lot of fabulous writing this week. The blogathon will be open for business for a while, though this is the last day I'll be posting updates, so if you're writing something that isn't quite finished, send me the link when you're done and I'll add it to this last post. Thanks to everyone who participated.

This morning brings us Lee Price's final essay on Wagon Master. Lee is an old friend and we're happy to have him. He concludes with a piece entitled "Portait of the Artist as a Hoochie Coochie Artist," and it's a doozy.

Girls Do Film get in under the wire with a sterling look at The Grapes of Wrath.

Longtime friend of the blog, Ivan at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear comes through with a clear-eyed look at The Prisoner of Shark Island.

Willow at Curtsies and Hand Grenades sees Young Mr. Lincoln as a superhero origin story.

Mayerson on Animation has a series on The Grapes of Wrath that breaks things down into its storytelling components.

Kellee at the marvelously named Outspoken and Freckled is roused to a fiery passion for The Quiet Man..

Stacia at She Blogged by Night looks at Fort Apache, a film that smuggles its politics past HUAC.

Mildred's Fatburgers chimes in with a look at The Lost Patrol, the only film Ford made with the great Boris Karloff.

Anna at Bemused and Non-plussed delves deeper into the Ford at Fox box and comes up with 3 Bad Men and Up the River, the latter being the screen debuts of both Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart.

Finally and belatedly, The Girl with the White Parasol delves into the enigmatic Henry Fonda and the cold thoughtfulness he brings to Young Mr. Lincoln.

Your humble bloginatrix offers a gushing assessment of her own favorite John Ford film, How Green Was My Valley.

Check back throughout the day and beyond as more posts are added.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The John Ford Blogathon: How Green Was My Valley

This is my principle entry into The John Ford Blogathon. I sometimes spill out my entire head when writing about my favorite films. I hope you'll indulge me.

How Green Was My Valley (1941, directed by John Ford) is a film that one should not approach with a cynical eye. It's far, far too earnest a film to reward such a viewer. It's a film so drenched in nostalgia and sentiment that the fact that it's a really dark, really disillusioned film isn't immediately obvious. But it is. It's a film about loss: lost innocence, lost loves, lost loved ones, a lost place, a lost era. It appeared at a point in time where the hinges of history were turning, and it's very much of its zeitgeist.

The John Ford Blogathon Day 6

The air conditioning here at Stately Krell Laboratories had crapped out for the weekend, so your humble bloginatrix is going to be spending the day in the comforting coolness of a movie house. Meanwhile, the Blogathon rolls on.

Michaël the Cinephiliaque looks at Ford's last film, 7 Women, and finds it enjoyable and intriguing.

My partner in crime, Anna, over at Bemused and Non-Plussed looks at the role of children in Ford, particularly in Just Pals, Wee Willie Winkie, and How Green Was My Valley.

Aurora at Once Upon a Screen takes a close look at Rio Grande, the price Ford paid in order to make The Quiet Man. All such compromises should come out so well.

Jon over at Contemplations on Classic Movies expands on his piece on Donovan's Reef today.

The Vintage Cameo looks at the legend of Wyatt Earp--who Ford actually met once upon a time--as filmed in My Darling Clementine.

Check back throughout the day for more entries.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The John Ford Blogathon Day 5

We're entering the home stretch now. Hopefully the weekend will bring the fireworks.

We start off again with Lee Price at 21 Essays, who speculates about how his grandmother would have received Wagon Master before looking at some of the animal stars of the film.

Anna at Bemused and Non-plussed takes on the collaboration between Ford and Will Rogers in Judge Priest and Steamboat Round the Bend as she continues to mine the Ford at Fox box.

Your humble bloginatrix wrote a long essay about Stagecoach some years ago that seems appropriate here. Taking you "Along the Scenic Route."

Portaits by Jenni has a terrific look at Sergeant Rutledge, in which Woody Strode steps into the starring role.

Marilyn Ferdinand of the excellent Ferdy on Films sends us an older piece on The Quiet Man that's so thorough that it drops the mic.

Check back throughout the day as new entries roll in.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The John Ford Blogathon Day 4

We're rounding the bend today. I hope you've been reading along, because the quality of work being posted by everyone is outstanding. I'll post my own entries near the end. In the meantime, here are today's offerings.

Lee Price at 21 Essays continues his examination of Ford by way of Wagon Master, this time looking at the role of Native Americans--particularly Ford's stock company of Navajo--in both the film and in Ford's life. As usual, it's a complex relationship.

W. B. Kelso at Micro-brewed Reviews takes a long look at The Searchers--a film that deserves a long look I might add--and puts it into context with both Ford's career as a filmmaker and with the Western itself.

The Public Transportation Snob includes some gorgeous screen caps in his write-up of She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.

The wonderfully named Cary Grant Won't Eat You chimes in with an assessment of the debacle that is Mister Roberts, a film whose ills are largely the result of John Ford.

Make sure to check back later as new posts roll in.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

The John Ford Blogathon Day 3

Day three of the blogathon sees your humble bloginatrix procrastinating her own entries, but fear not! I'll get a couple of somethings up by the week's end.

Meanwhile, groove on the work of our other excellent participants:

Lee Price at 21 Essays kicks things off again today with the third entry of his epic examination of Wagon Master. Today, he looks at the geography of "The Promised Land," and the film's view of Mormonism.

Caftan Woman joins us this morning, too, with an excellent piece of Ford biography through the lens of The Informer.

Movies Silently goes all the way back to "Jack" Ford's first year of directing for a look at Bucking Broadway and a portrait of Ford's early career in silents. Lots of stills!

Christy Putnam looks at Maureen O'Hara and Ford's way with women in a post that spans their entire collaboration.

Jon at Contemplations on Classic Film and Music sends us a piece on Donovan's Reef and his lovely Ford gallery.

Be sure to check back as other entries roll in. I have a feeling this event is going to end with a bang.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The John Ford Blogathon Day 2

The John Ford Blogathon--Grapes of Wrath Banner

A quiet morning here at Stately Krell Labs, but we're just getting warmed up.

We start off with another piece by the inestimable Lee Price at 21 Essays about Wagon Master (the second of six). This time out, he casts his eye at Ben Johnson.

It's John Ford all the time at Directed by John Ford, so if you're looking for that perfect still or a list of resources, stop by.

The Round Place in the Middle turns their gaze toward Lana Martin, Claudette Colbert's character in Ford's technicolor epic, Drums Along the Mohawk.

Dan over at The Hitless Wonder Movie Blog looks at The Horse Soldiers and comes to the conclusion that even "minor" Ford is better than the best of a lot of other directors.

My lovely co-host, Anna, over at Bemused and Non-Plussed kicks off her blogathon entries with a look at Four Sons and Pilgrimage from the Ford at Fox box.

Crítica Retrô joins us with a look at The Iron Horse and its place among Ford's Westerns in a post in Portugese (but with an English translation button).

Sunday, July 06, 2014

The John Ford Blogathon: Day 1

The John Ford Blogathon--Clementine

Annnnd....we're off. Welcome to the John Ford Blogathon, in which folks from around the movie-o-sphere write about the great, the bad, and the ugly of one of the cinema's central figures. Love him or hate him, Ford is one of the foundational filmmakers of the American film industry, and we're here to pay tribute to his greatness, grouse about his shortcomings, and raise a glass in his honor.

Today's posts:

David Meuel kicks things off with a look at Six Under-appreciated Roles For Women in the Films of John Ford, which looks beyond Maureen O'Hara and Jane Darwell.

Meanwhile, Silver Screenings takes on Ford's own favorite among his films, The Sun Shines Bright, and finds it lacking. Her response is blistering. (Silver was hesitant to post this, but I'm down with negative reviews. Ford had some serious shortcomings and ignoring them in favor hagiography seems dishonest to me).

Jon at Contemplations of Classic Movies and Music sends us an older piece on My Darling Clementine.

Lee Price gives us the first of six essays on Wagon Master at his wonderful 21 Essays blog.

Meanwhile, Mike Mayerson takes a break from animation to join us with a piece on Submarine Patrol, a film mysteriously omitted from the Ford at Fox box.

Over at The Stop Button, we have The Whole Town's Talking, which features the rare pleasure of Edward G. Robinson playing opposite Edward G. Robinson.

Sean at The Joy and Agony of Movies takes on They Were Expendable, putting into context with Ford's service as a documentarian during World War II.

Rod over at Ferdy on Film trains his usual meticulous analysis at Ford's 7 Women.

Blogathon participants: If you've posted something today (Monday the 7th), let me know in the comments and I'll add you to the roll, or send me an email at archaeopterxy_wtw (at) yahoo (dot) com.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Prejudice and Pride

Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Sarah Gadon in Belle

I didn't grow up reading Jane Austen. The cult of Austen has always eluded me. I've often been sympathetic to Mark Twain's attitude to Austen, which he summed up as a desire to exhume her bones and brain her skull with a thighbone every time he tried to read Pride and Prejudice. In the interests of full disclosure, I admit to having had stereotypically masculine reading tastes when I was young, and I thought that Austen had very little for me. I never expected to marry or even embrace my own gender identity. I put on a good front of masculinity when I was a teen and young adult. Lately, though, I've been enjoying the hell out of entertainments that are deeply influenced by Austen to the point where I think I might have to revisit her. I've spent the last ten years reading books like Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin books, which are sometimes equal parts Austenian comedy of manners and C. S. Forester naval adventure and, more recently, Mary Robinette Kowal's Glamourist books, which introduce a touch of magic to the regency romance. I hesitate to suggest that this is a gendered response. It might be. It might not be.

Here's the thing, though: we are living in an era where diversity is becoming more and more the norm and part of that process is reevaluating the past from a post-diversity point of view. Reevaluating, I say, and reinterpreting. Adding an awareness of race and gendered oppression and intersectionality to new works derived from old ones has a tendency to engergize them. Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights, to name one example, turns that story into something radical by adding color to Heathcliff (something that has some justification in the text of the novel, it should be said). Casting Djimon Honsu as Caliban and changing the gender of Prospero in The Tempest does the same thing. People who complain about this sort of thing should probably examine why it is we need new not-diverse versions of these kinds of stories when the mountain of human history is littered with non-diverse versions just for the picking? This does not subtract from them. They're still there. No one is burning them or adding them to lists of "politically incorrect" proscribed works. Last time I checked, Sense and Sensibility was still on the shelf at my local library in its original very white, very English form. So was Conrad's The Nigger of the Narcissus. So was Gone With the Wind. But, really, it's time to move on.

It is an awareness of race and oppression that enlivens Amma Asante's Belle (2013), which is otherwise a painfully straightlaced costume drama of a sort you've seen a hundred times before. In its particulars, this is a Jane Austen story in which two sisters--one an heiress, the other destined to be penniless unless she marries well--navigate the waters of matrimony, searching for the right match, avoiding fortune hunters when they can. The film complicates things considerably with the race of its heroine, and therein lies the film's hook.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The 1967 Blogathon: Dragon Inn

This is my second entry in the 1967 Blogathon, hosted by Silver Screenings and The Rosebud Cinema. Pay them a visit over the weekend and check out all the other writing by fine bloggers across the net.

1967 was a watershed year for the wu xia film as it began its transformation into the modern martial arts movie. Chang Cheh, working within the Shaw Brothers studio system, began his major work with The One-Armed Swordsman. King Hu, who had directed the successful Come Drink With Me for the Shaws a year earlier had broken ranks and moved to Taiwan. No longer under the thumb of Sir Run Run Shaw and the restrictive rules imposed by the Shaw formula, Hu was free to explore his own ideas of what the wu xia film was capable. The resulting film, Dragon Inn (sometimes called Dragon Gate Inn) is entirely under Hu's control. It's a film that casts a long shadow: remade twice (both times by Tsui Hark) and a centerpiece of Ming-liang Tsai's arthouse film, Goodbye Dragon Inn, in which Hu's film is a talisman for a fading cinema, it's one of the foundational films of Taiwanese cinema. This is in addition to being one of the first shots fired in what would eventually become the Hong Kong New Wave of the 1980s and 90s. It's all of this, yes. An important movie. But more than that, it's hugely entertaining. These things are not unrelated.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The 1967 Blogathon: Branded to Kill

Joe Shishido in Branded to Kill

This is my first entry in the 1967 Blogathon, hosted by Silver Screenings and The Rosebud Cinema. Pay them a visit over the weekend and check out all the other writing by fine bloggers across the net.

By 1967, director Seijun Suzuki had had enough of formulaic Yakuza films. These were the kinds of assignments that his home studio, Nikkatsu, kept feeding him. He was a good soldier, turning out what the studio wanted in films like Detective Bureau 2-3: Go To Hell Bastards or Underworld Beauty. Indeed, some of Suzuki's Yakuza films were some of the best films of their types. Suzuki, speaking years afterward, is without guile when he says that he continued making these films because they provided him a living, but he chafed at the restrictions of genre. his films between 1964 and 1967 became increasingly ambitious and daring stylistic experiments as he pushed against the limits of what he could get away with and still deliver what the studio required. When allowed out of the genre, he produced personal almost-masterpieces in Gate of Flesh, The Story of a Prostitute, and Fighting Elegy.

His restless experimentation began to creep into the Yakuza films, too. Tattooed Life, Youth of the Beast, and, especially, Tokyo Drifter show a director who had more to offer than Nikkatsu was interested in using. The living end of Suzuki's growth in the 1960s was 1967's Branded To Kill, which is one of the masterpieces of the Japanese New Wave. Nikkatsu, famously, didn't see it that way. They fired Suzuki for making, "incomprehensible movies," a designation for which Suzuki sued them for defamation. The damage was done, though. Suzuki's career as one of the lions of the Japanese New Wave was effectively over. It would be ten years before he made another feature film before finally reviving his career with his arty and challenging Taisho trilogy in the 1980s. What a waste.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Once in a Blue Moon

An American Werewolf in London

There's a full moon tonight. It's June 13th. A Friday. I'm told by social media that the next full moon to fall on a Friday the 13th will be August 13th, 2049. I'm sure this blog will be long forgotten by then, a distant echo on the electronic aether, assuming human beings are even still alive by then. Friday the 13th is a date so linked with horror films anymore that it seems a shame to let one pass without watching and writing about one. Given the lunar rarity of this date, I chose An American Werewolf in London (1981, directed by John Landis), a film with a more than passing acquaintance with the cycles of the moon.