10 to 11 (TCM app) 2009. Turkish director Pelin Esmer's feature film debut (part of Women Make Films Series) tells the story of an elderly tenant of a condemned building and its lonely caretaker, and how their interaction changes their lives. The tenant has been collecting "stuff" since the '50s and the caretaker has come to Istanbul from a village and knows nothing about the city. The tenant sends him on errands, thereby opening a new world for the younger man. By film's end, the young man has now entered the civil service and will be able to send for his family. A humanistic story that shows a man who is appreciated by the people he meets during his peregrinations around Istanbul, but who is ignored or disliked by his fellow tenants. Based on the director's uncle. Van der Valk (Mystery! PBS Passport HD) 2020 Episodes 1 and 2 (of 3) Police procedural series based in Amsterdam. Better than average mysteries and quite enjoyable, with a freer sexuality than their British counterparts.
I spent a large part of the evening visiting the Niles Film Museum (virtual), watched two rare silent shorts from the Vitagraph studios, and stayed for a webinar with film historians who covered the history of the Vitagraph studio, its stars and showed some of their product (including their very first film from 1898. Very informative. The World and the Flesh 1932. Oh, to be able to watch this film in a pristine transfer in order to enjoy the extraordinary lighting of DP Karl Struss! As it is, this strange pre-Code film follows the fortunes of a group of White Russians fleeing from Bolsheviks. Among them is Miriam Hopkins, a former woman of the people who became a famous ballerina and is now under the patronage of aristocrats. Captured by Reds commanded by George Bancroft, and like a seesaw, freed and captured again, Hopkins gives herself to Bancroft in order to free her friends. Alas, one night of passion with the burly sailor and she falls madly in love with her. And so starts a competition between them as to who will sacrifice whose life over whom. This is a rare Hollywood film where the Reds are triumphant. Van der Valk (Mystery! PBS Passport HD) 2020 Episode 3, last of the series. Quite satisfying police procedural with a lot of sexual content and violence. Even though it's a British series, the characters are Dutch and the setting is Amsterdam The Boy and the Pirates (TCM app) 1960. Old SD transfer. At least the colors were not faded. Strictly kiddie fare. I must have seen this way back in '60. Bert I. Gordon directed along with some good special effects. A time-travel story.
Originally Released: 04/28/2017
HDX (1080P) digital streaming on Apple TV app, upscaled to 4K via Roku Ultra
What do you get when you take a willful, sexually adventurous sociopath and deposit her into a loveless marriage in stiflingly repressed corner of Northern England in the middle of the 19th century? A high body count.
This was Florence Pugh's breakout role, and deservedly so; this is a character of an inherently limited emotional range who never the less undergoes a real transformation over the course of the film. Each bold act requires an even bolder act, until things get really out of hand. Through it all, there is a mesmerizing steadfastness to Pugh's performance; she plays Catherine as a young woman who knows what she wants and is willing to do whatever it takes to get it.
It is a very unusual period piece because, at a time when women were treated as property, Catherine is really the only character in the film who has any agency. Everybody else is reacting to her choices, and the consequences of her decisions. It's an interesting journey for the audience, too, because you start the movie very sympathetic to Catherine, who finds herself in a horrible and seemingly powerless position. But by the end of the movie, you're left feeling like Catherine got what she deserved -- if not off light.
Last night I watched Un Flic, another crime movie from Jean-Pierre Melville. This one has the ever charismatic Alain Delon in the title role of a police detective. Not Melville's best film but always engrossing. The disc includes a "making of" documentary which was exceptionally good, one of the best I've seen.
This Jean-Pierre Melville Blu-ray box-set is superb!
Not sure what I'll watch tonight but right now I'm in the mood for Exodus!
I spent the afternoon watching 6 Biograph shorts directed by DW Griffith, including his very first one, The Adventures of Dollie. These are part of a restoration project which will encompass all of his films for Biograph, some from original 35mm negatives, others from paper prints. The story of how they turn paper prints back into negatives and digital files is fascinating. The results are so pristine that you feel that these films were shot yesterday.
This I learned by joining another webinar courtesy of the Niles Film Museum (check their website). Then I watched an old favorite: Berkeley Square (TCM app) 1933. Leslie Howard's stage success garnered him an AA nomination in this fine film adaptation directed by Frank Lloyd. His American character time travels and plays his London ancestor who falls in love with his cousin (love not consummated) and that love transcends centuries. He returns to the present to live for that past love. Remade in 1951 with Tyrone Power as I'll Never Forget You, which I've not seen.
The Fits (Criterion Channel) 2015. Multiple-award winner first feature film directed by Anna Rose Holmer, anchored by an extraordinary performance from teen Royalty Hightower. She plays a tomboy who trains as a pugilist with her older brother but who wants to "fit" with the other girls by joining and performing with a drill team, "The Lionesses." When members of the team start to have strange fits brought about by mysterious causes, her sense of belonging, of fitting in, becomes distorted. Staying Vertical (Criterion Channel) 2016. When surrounded by wolves, stay vertical and show no fear. Crouch or run and you're done for. An earlier scene with human wolves showed our lead, Leo, succumbing to a pack. Strange film with people who are pansexual, slipping into sexual relationships with men/women/young/old with great ease (all consensual), and quite graphically, with genitalia, cunnilingus, erections, closeup of childbirth...Nonetheless, it is a love story between Leo and the child he sired and cares over all creatures on earth. Directed by Alain Guiraudie (Stranger by the Lake). The Intrigue (Kino BD) 1916. Julia Crawford Ivers wrote and Frank Lloyd supervised this spy story taking place during the Great War. A powerful ray is invented by an American (prior to US involvement in the war) and is about to sell the weapon to a foreign power, but another potency wants it; so it's spy vs. spy. A snappy 64 minutes later, the double crossers are disposed of and the ray is destroyed. The spy and the inventor are now a couple. Ben Blair (Kino BD) 1916. Also written by Ivers. This may be the first film directed by William Desmond Taylor that I've even seen. He's the director murdered by an unknown, but implicated were Mary Miles Minter and Mabel Normand. At any rate, this one stars Dustin Farnum as Ben, who as a child had grown very fond of Florence, a New Yorker of means. As they grow older, Florence's mother insists they return to NY and reclaim their rightful place in society. Will Ben accept this or will he take matter into his own hands? Well directed and a fleet 64 minutes.
Peg and I enjoyed our first-time-ever viewing of The Lady Eve.
We enjoyed it very much...mostly because of Stanwyck (especially) and Fonda. The supporting cast was also very strong. We didn't find it exceptionally funny. No real LOL moments (we don't usually find pratfalls, etc. all that amusing). But the writing was crisp with rapid-fire delivery which kept things moving right along.
One thing we commented on was how "scandalous" it must've been at the time to have so many scenes where the leads would disappear into a stateroom...together...alone. That must've been quite the talk back in 1941. Hollywood...always pushing the envelope.
Feel the Beat
Originally Released: 06/19/2020
1080P HD digital streaming on Netflix, upscaled to 4K via Roku Ultra
I've been battling a stomach bug for a couple days now, and I was looking for something last night that I could half-pay attention to between trips to the bathroom, and help distract me from my misery. I happened upon this one while scrolling through Netflix, and it was just what the doctor ordered.
The plot is essentially the same as The Mighty Ducks only with dancing instead of ice hockey. April Dibrina is a professional dancer who finds herself blacklisted on Broadway after an unfortunate couple of run ins with the Great White Way's most prominent and deep-pocked financier. Before she knows it, she's back in rural Wisconsin, and taking out her misery on everyone around her.
Just when all seems hopeless, an opportunity to regain her professional standing arises by taking the local misfit youth dance troupe -- the same dance troupe where she herself got her start -- to a national competition. Along the way, she is forced to reassess what matters most to her.
Sofia Carson, the latest Disney Channel starlet to make the jump to a slightly more adult role in a Netflix Original, is well cast as April. She is credible as a professional dancer -- because she kind of is one -- but she's also not afraid to be unlikable. It's a very cold performance for most of the movie, which makes the moments when a bit of humanity bleeds through all the more impactful.
The supporting cast really bolsters the movie's warm, family-friendly feel. Enrico Colantoni, TV's greatest dad from four seasons and movie of "Veronica Mars", operates in very similar territory (albeit with much flimsier material) as April's dad. Donna Lynne Champlin is wonderful as Miss Barb, the owner of the dance studio and April's first teacher. With a thick Upper Midwestern accent, and a heavy dose of Wisconsin nice, she initially seems like an easy character to laugh at. But there are glimpses where you get to see just how good of a teacher she is.
The kids in the dance troupe (and their parents) are all distinct and well defined, with different personalities and different motivations driving them. My favorite was Zuzu, played by young Deaf actress Shaylee Mansfield. Zuzu literally feels the beat, by dancing to the vibrations on the stage. Just a wonderfully expressive little girl. Eva Hauge gets the most screen time as Sarah, the younger sister of April's love interest. She has the most difficult role of the kids, because she has to reflect Sofia Carson's performance back at her.
Going in, you can guess every single thing that happens in this movie. But it was still a nice bright, warm confection that made a lousy time a little less lousy.
* * *
Anna and the Apocalypse
Originally Released: 11/30/2018
1080P HD digital streaming on Amazon Prime Video, upscaled to 4K via Roku Ultra
This is one of those movies, like the original Die Hard, destined to make the list for inappropriate Christmas movie marathons. "A Zombie Christmas Musical" is what it promises, and "A Zombie Christmas Musical" is what it delivers.
An ominous radio broadcast about the global pandemic reaching a lethal new phase is ignored by a father and daughter arguing on the drive to school, the daughter's best friend along for the ride. The father is the head of facilities for the local school in the suburbs of Glasgow, Scotland. He wants his daughter to focus on university so she can have a more prestigious career than he did. She wants to take a gap year and travel first.
For the first half hour or so, the zombies don't really play into the story at all. The movie uses this time to get to know the characters and their relationships with one another. The relatable, recognizable teenagers are the film's greatest strength. By the time the shit hits the fan, you're rooting for most of them to make it.
Ella Hunt has a starmaking turn in the title role, carrying the movie with ease. A terrific performance, solid vocals for her musical numbers, and casually gorgeous.
It's not the best musical I've seen. It's not the best Christmas movie I've seen. It's not the best zombie movie I've seen. But somehow, the whole is more than the sum of its parts, charming and delightful and at times surprisingly human.