Cat People (1942)

 ★★★★

 

When I was a child my home didn’t have a cat. At some point we had dogs, birds, hamsters, turtles, and rabbits, but Cat Peoplenever were we allowed to bring a cat into our home. Whenever we went to the zoo and got to the large cats, my mother somehow found a reason to stay far away while the rest of us enjoyed trying to find them all hidden between the trees and in their caves. Once I became a teenager (and a movie fanatic) my mother finally told we why she was deathly afraid of cats: Val Lewton and his 1942 masterpiece, Cat People.

In 1942, when Val Lewton became the head of the horror division at RKO he knew exactly what was expected from his movies. They all needed to have titles approved by the studio, they had to run under 75 minutes and the budgets could never reach above $150,000. Universal was having enormous success with their horror series, but Cat Peopleeach one was costing a small fortune to make. With audiences screaming for more horror, the struggling RKO saw a quick way to capitalize by making cheaper movies that could scare up a quick profit.

For his first project he chose Cat People and teamed up with director Jacques Tourneur on the first of three films they would make together. Lewton carefully planned out all the details before he began. He decided to make “terror” films rather than “horror” films focusing on cheap thrills, with the firm belief that less is always more. His films were filled with a reflective mood where his characters always appear to be searching for something. His characters also were made to be easily identifiable for a 1940’s Cat Peopleaudience. They were seen doing everyday normal activities, and always were seen in their workplace. This was in direct contrast with the Universal horror movies where the main characters were “unusual” and specialized people. It is hard to identify with Dr. Frankenstein or Erique Claudin (Phantom Of The Opera) because we have very little in common with these men, but in Cat People, Kent Smith and Alice Moore both play characters that could be any one of us.

Cat People tells the story of Irena (Simone Simon) and the mystery of a terrible curse that is upon her. In the opening scene she is seen watching the black leopards in the Central Park Zoo. She is sketching clothing designs that will be made to look cats-like when she is Cat Peoplenoticed by Oliver Reed (Kent Smith). They feel an instant connection toward each other and Oliver wants nothing more than to be with her. She is attracted to him also, but explains that where she was raised, in Serbia, her village had once turned to witchcraft and devil worship. King John had come in to destroy the evil “cat people” but the smartest and most evil of them escaped to the mountains. Irena believes that she is a descendant from these cat people, and is afraid that when she is angry or sexually aroused she may become violent. They are married anyway and during the reception at a local Serbian restaurant, a strange woman (Elizabeth Russell immensely resembling a cat) walks up to Irena and says “Moya Sestra”. She walks away and everyone wants to know what the woman said. Irena reveals that the woman simple called her sister.

Irena no longer feels comfortable putting Oliver in danger, and he agrees to wait for her patiently. As the months go byCat People Oliver becomes increasingly frustrated and eventually turns to his co-worker, Jane (Alice Moore), who in turn admits that she is in love with him. Irena seems to have control over herself, but now that another woman is trying to steal her husband, her claws are coming out to defend what is rightfully hers.

Out of all of Val Lewton’s movies, Cat People is my favorite.  It is so original and creative that every time I watch the film I find myself smiling at the simplicity in which it was crafted. Lewton and Tourneur understood the fears that people had of darkness and fully took that fear, turned it around and used to be the best filmmaking tool at their disposal. I am not afraid to say that I think Val Lewton was a genius producer and his filming of these “B” movies made a lasting impression of the filmmaking world. When it was done, Cat People had been filmed over 24 days in the summer of 1942, and cost a grand total of $141,659. Lewton followed all of the guidelines that had been set before him, and thanks to his ingenuity and creative, inexpensive style, he was able to make a film that would continue to scare and haunt audiences for decades to come. Including my mother.

This post is my entry for the Val Lewton blogathon hosted by my friends at Speakeasy and Classic Movie Man. Be sure to read all of the other entries as well.

Blue Sky (1994)

 ★★★

 

Some movies are designed to be acting driven films. Although the story is often enjoyable and entertaining, it is the acting that makes the movie memorable. Blue Sky (1994) is the perfect example of fine filmmaking that ends up being completely reliant on the actors and their performances.Blue Sky

In the early 1960’s, Major Hank Marshall (Tommy Lee Jones) is having trouble getting anyone to listen to him. He is a nuclear engineer in favor of underground nuclear testing, but his superiors are all looking to test above ground. In addition to his work related problems, his wife, Carly (Jessica Lange), is causing him, and everyone who sees her, immense distraction due to her obsession to look and act like the movie stars that she idolizes. Because of these problems their family is transferred from Hawaii to Alabama. Carly is highly disappointed with the transfer and hates their new housing. Upon arrival, Carly loses control and goes on a destructive tear through the home. Her daughters (Amy Locane, Anna Klemp) seem used to these kinds of tirades and although they are upset and embarrassed, they have grown accustomed to these childish fits and know to stay far away from their mother. Hank is forced to chase his wife through the base and into a store in order to talk her into calming down and returning to their new home. His understand of her and her emotional Blue Skyproblems is sad and somehow touching at the same time.

Carly obvious suffers from a desire, and even a need, to be the center of attention and desired by all men, as well as her constant fear of growing older. Hank used to enjoy his wife’s pride in her sexual appearance, but as he is getting older he seems embarrassed by her ridiculous behavior. Things only escalate when his new superior, Vince Johnson (Powers Booth), disagrees with Hank’s nuclear testing thoughts and is set on seducing Carly at any cost. Carly’s volatile ways can only lead to self-destruction, unless she finds a way to pull herself out of the avalanche of trouble that she has made for herself.

Blue Sky is the kind of character driven movie that pops up every once in a while and surprises audiences not because of some original story or amazing technical aspect, but because the entire cast is in top form, bringing the best performancesBlue Sky they possibly could to the screen. Apart from the acting, Blue Sky actually doesn’t hold anything too special. Tommy Lee Jones gives a wonderful performance that shows his versatility as an actor, but it is Jessica Lange who steals the show. In a career full of marvelous roles, she pulls out all the stops to make Carly be the beautiful bombshell and the crazy sex obsessed temptress at the same time. After her Academy Award winning performance for Supporting Actress in Tootsie (1982), Lange had been nominated for Best Actress for Frances (1982), Country (1984), Sweet Dreams (1985) and Music Box (1989). It wasn’t until Blue Sky that she finally received the Academy Award for which she seemed destined to win.

Tony Richardson, who won two Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director for his 1963 film Tom Jones, directed Blue SkyBlue Sky. He finished Blue Sky in 1991, just before his own death, but due to Orion Pictures bankruptcy the film wasn’t released until 1994. It must have been odd for Jessica Lange to win an Academy Award for a role that she had finished filming four years earlier.

New Blu-ray and DVD Releases For October 30th, 2012

Well we have another week of new releases that cover just about every end of the entertainment spectrum. With election day right around the corner and Halloween just two days away, there are some last minute, late-night favorites for all upcoming occasions. Also released this week is what could quite possibly be the greatest Blu-ray collection ever assembled, and sure to be a huge holiday item.

  • Alfred Hitchcock The Masterpiece Collection (1942-1976): The long awaited and highly anticipatedAlfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection Masterpiece Collection is here, and Blu-ray is now better thanks to this release. This collection includes 15 of Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest films, many being released on Blu-ray for the first time. Also included in this collection is 15 hours of bonus features and a collectable book. The films included are Saboteur (1942), Shadow Of A Doubt (1943), Rope (1948), Rear Window (1954), The Trouble With Harry (1955), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Vertigo (1958), North By Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963), Marnie (1964), Torn Curtain (1966), Topaz (1969), Frenzy (1972) and Family Plot (1976).
  • Rosemary’s Baby (1968): One of the scariest films of all time, Rosemary’s Baby is the story of a pregnant woman (Mia Farrow) who fears her husband (John Cassavetes) has promised her baby to the eccentric older couple (RuthRosemary's Baby Gordon & Sidney Blackmer) living next door. In exchange, her husband would receive help from the occult obsessed couple with his career. Directed by Roman Polanski, Rosemary’s Baby has earned acclaim and controversy since its first release, and still terrorizes viewers today. It won an Academy Award for Supporting Actress for Ruth Gordon and was nominated for Best Screenplay as well. This is being released on Blu-ray and DVD as part of the Criterion Collection and is full of bonus features for anyone who can’t get enough of this film. It could be the perfect movie to watch this Halloween, especially if you haven’t seen it before. Good Luck.
  • The Campaign (2012):This is a political satire film from director Jay Roach (Austin Powers International ManThe Campaign Of Mystery, Meet The Parents, Borat) that has been appropriately released just in time for the upcoming election. Starring Will Farrell and Zach Galifianakis as opponents for Congress, these two encounter every ridiculous scenario that is possible on their way to the polls. Although The Campaign didn’t receive stellar reviews, it is considered to be one of the funnier movies released this year, and well worth watching if you enjoy this kind of humor. With a supporting cast that includes John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd, Brian Cox and Dylan McDermott, this movie is sure to bring a smile to the face of anyone feeling let down by their current political standings.
  • Safety Not Guaranteed (2012): This is a comedy film about an intern at a magazine who is sent to investigate aSafety Not Guaranteed classified ad that simply reads: “Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. Safety not guaranteed.” They meet the ad’s writer and discover that he is trying to go back in time in order to prevent the death of his former girlfriend, in 2001. Safety Not Guaranteed has earned positive reviews and looks to be a quite interesting film that is said to boast strong performances from the entire cast.
  • Ruby Sparks (2012):In this intelligent comedy, Paul Dano plays a struggling novelist who awakens to find thatRuby Sparks his main character, Ruby (Zoe Kazan), has come to life. As he continues to write about her character in his story, he can manipulate how she acts in their lives. This film has garnered some positive reviews and has been praised for its originality and ingenuity. The screenplay was written by its star, Zoe Kazan (the granddaughter of director Elia Kazan), and she had her then boyfriend, Paul Dano, in mind while she was writing. Also staring Antonio Banderas, Annette Being and Elliot Gould, Ruby Sparks is a comic delight in the spirt of Mannequin (1987) and Groundhog Day (1992) that promises to please those willing to give it a chance.

After I wrote this post, I was able to see Ruby Sparks and you can read my full review, here!

  • Americano (2011):This is a French film directed by and starring Mathieu Demy. Living in Paris, Demy is forcedAmericano to return to Los Angeles, where he was raised, in order to deal with events surrounding his mother’s recent death. He obviously has issues with his past, but when trying to settle an inheritance problem he has to go to Mexico and track down one of his mother’s friends, Lola (Salma Hayek), who is working as a dancer at the club, Americano. There he is forced to deal with his past, in order to understand the mysteries of his own mother. Also starring Geraldine Chaplin, Americano has received some mixed reviews but could end up being a surprising little film.

I have since seen Americano and you can read my full review here!

  • Long Day’s Journey Into Night  (1962): This drama from 1962, tells the story of the dysfunctional Tyrone familyLong Day's Journey Into Night one fateful day in August of 1912. All members of the family are addicts of some kind and have trouble dealing with their other family members. It was directed by the great Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, Network) and has an all star cast that includes Katharine Hepburn (in one of her Academy Award nominated roles), Jason Robards, Dean Stockwell and Ralph Richardson.

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954)

 ★★★★

 

I wish Disney still made live action, family films with the same quality that they did in the 1950’s and 1960’s. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954) is still considered a monumental achievement in filmmaking, as well as being a great adventure movie. Boasting some great actors and brilliant, cutting edge special effects, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea will always remain one of the best films produced by Walt Disney.

Loosely based on the Jules Verne novel, a giant sea monster has been attacking ships on their way to Asia from San Francisco. Professor Arounax (Paul Lukas) and his assistant, Conseil (Peter Lorre), have been stuck in San Francisco for some time, waiting for a ship willing to risk the perilous journey. The United States Government enlists him to go on a special voyage, trying to track down and kill the sea beast, and along with an expert harpooner 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea named Ned (Kirk Douglas), the voyage begins.

They spend months at sea before finally giving up hope of seeing the creature. They are about to give up hope, but finally come across him and begin firing their cannons. The creature attacks and collides with the ship, sending Ned, Professor Arounax and Conseil overboard. The ship is damaged by the collision and it floats away without them. Later, all three men find that the sea monster is really a man made submersible ship made of metal. Professor Arounax goes inside the ship and is amazed by the advanced technology around him. He is able to see into the ocean where the occupants of the submersible are walking underwater, performing some kind of funeral. Before our heroes can get away, they are20,000 Leagues Under The Sea spotted and captured by Captain Nemo (James Mason). At first he thinks about killing them but he recognizes Professor Arounax and thinks he can be of value to his own life’s mission.  The three men remain on board, but Ned is constantly looking for ways to escape because he thinks that Nemo has gone crazy, even though Professor Arounax is captivated by the genius of Nemo’s mind.

When I was a child I loved to watch movies like 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea because it made me feel as if I was watching a real, grown up movie. I find that today my children feel very much the same way. What amazes me now is that the story is so intense and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea the special effects so good that as an adult I am just as engrossed by this film today. Of course it doesn’t hurt to have four incredibly talented actors working together. James Mason gives an astonishing performance as Captain Nemo. There is no telling what this brilliant madman is capable of doing in the right (or wrong) circumstances. It is one of his greatest performances, and one that should be more remembered today. He has the same crazy look in his eyes that he has two years later in Bigger Than Life (1956), when he becomes the victim of a cortisone addiction.

When 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea was released it was the most expensive movie ever made. The underwater sequences proved to be extremely difficult and expensive. The camera work was done masterfully and still looks beautiful today, even after James20,000 Leagues Under The Sea Cameron has brought the art of underwater filming to an all time high. Everything worked out in the end, as the film went on to be the second highest grossing film of the year and earned three Academy Award nominations, winning for Art Direction and Special Effects.

Of all the live action movies Disney produced in their early days, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea was the first to star major Hollywood actors. This proved to be enormously popular with audiences, and would be something that Disney continued to do in their future films. Of course I think the highpoint in having these actors in a movie such as this is that we get to have Kirk Douglas singing “Whale Of A Tale”.

20,000 Leagues Under The SeaRecently there is a lot of Hollywood talk about director David Fincher teaming with Disney to make a new 20,000 Leagues under The Sea. I must say that my curiosity is peeked to see what type of film they could make today, almost 60 years later. There is word that David Fincher is even trying to get his favorite leading man, Brad Pitt, to be in the film. I only wonder if he might do some singing for us as well.

 

Gone In 60 Seconds (1974)

 ★★

 

I love a good car chase in a movie. It doesn’t matter what kind of movie I am watching, there is something about a quality car chase that makes a film more exciting. Whether it’s Bullitt (1968), The French Connection (1971), Ronin (1998) or Gone In 60 Secondsone of the several Fast And Furious movies, I will sit through anything that promises to be full of high speed car chasing. Through the years I have often heard about the car chase from the original Gone In 60 Seconds (1974), but I had never seen the movie. Recently this film has been released in a newly re-mastered Blu-ray and DVD combo pack, and with the distinction of including the longest car chase in movie history, I simply couldn’t miss the opportunity to finally see it.

Mandrian Pace (H.B. “Toby” Halicki) is an insurance investigator who also runs a high-end chop shop in Long Beach, California. He makes a deal with a drug lord to steal 48 high quality cars in 48 hours. He pulls together a team of thieves, including his fiancé, Pumpkin (Marion Busia), and her brother, James (Stanley “Sage” Chase). They steal all 48 cars and are ready to make delivery, but it turns out that the 1973 Ford Mustang Mach 1 (Eleanor) is uninsured. Since Pace is in the insurance Gone In 60 Seconds business, he refuses to steal uninsured cars and he chooses to steal a different Eleanor in order to complete delivery. Unfortunately, James has double-crossed Pace and the police are waiting for him as he pulls out of the garage with Eleanor. The police begin chasing Pace in what is the longest car chase in movie history, boasting the feat of crashing 93 cars in the 40 minute scene.

To say that Halicki loved cars would be a serious understatement. He dedicated his life to collecting (and crashing) some of the greatest cars. Gone In 60 Seconds was his vision and passion that he wanted to share with the world. He directed, starred, produced and wrote the film, although much of the dialogue is improvised. He even performed all of his own stunts, often leading to some serious injuries. He made the independent film for Gone In 60 Seconds$150,000, using non-professional actors and his own car collection for the car wrecks. Gone In 60 Seconds has gone on to gross over 40 million dollars worldwide, to date.

The film itself is a mess. The first half of the film looks like a typical low budget film from the 1970’s, with no attention to quality or details. Most of the dialogue is inserted in voice over, and there are only a couple of scenes that seem to be thought through ahead of time. But, it really doesn’t matter anyway because you shouldn’t be watching Gone In 60 Seconds for the back-story anyway. The second half is where the payoff comes through, and Halicki doesn’t disappoint. Every moment is packed with precision driving, unbelievable crashes and amazing stunts. Editor Gone In 60 SecondsWarner E. Leighton was given the incredible job of taking all of this footage and piecing together the unparalleled chase sequences, and he did a fantastic job. One can only imagine how daunting the task must have seemed, considering how much similar looking footage was handed to him.

In August of 1989, H.B. Halicki died while filming a scene for Gone In 60 Seconds 2. His lasting legacy is forever captured in this film, and has gained even more popularity thanks to the Touchstone produced remake in 2000, starring Nicholas Cage. Today, this low budget film is still considered one of the best car chase movies ever produced and even if it does feel like 40Gone In 60 Seconds minutes of destruction derby, it is still highly enjoyable for car chase fans. The now famous Eleanor has become trademarked due to the film’s popularity, even though the car model was changed in the 2000 film. Eleanor also holds the unusual distinction of being the only car to ever receive top billing for a film.

 

Phantom Of The Opera (1943)

 ★★★★

 

Although each film is drastically different, Phantom Of The Opera has been adapted to film several times. Based on the novel (Le Fantome de l’Opera) by Gaston Leroux, each of these films has changed the story to included different amountsPhantom Of The Opera of horror, music and drama in an attempt to create the ultimate film adaptation. In a somewhat ironical sense, the silent 1925 Phantom Of The Opera starring Lon Chaney is regarded as the best of all film versions, but in 1943, Universal made a rather interesting remake staring Claude Rains as the mysterious phantom that proved to be extremely popular with audiences, even if the story was altered significantly.

Erique Claudin (Claude Rains) has been a violinist in the opera house for twenty years, but now due to an ailment in his fingers that is affecting his performance, he has been fired. Unfortunately he has spent his life savings anonymously paying for singing lessons for an up and coming soprano named Christine (Susanna Foster). Claudin tries to publish a concerto in order to raise enough money to continue paying for Christine’s lessons, but Phantom Of The Operamistakenly thinks that the publisher is trying to steal his work. In a moment of rage, Claudin strangles one of the publishers, and in an attempt to stop him, an assistant throws a tray of etching acid on his face, disfiguring him.

Claudin, now on the run from Inspector Raoul D’Aubert (Edgar Barrier), hides in the sewers and makes a home underneath the opera house. Raoul, along with Christine’s other suitor, Anatole (Nelson Eddy), dedicate themselves to protecting Christine now that Claudin’s violent nature and obsession with her have become public. Claudin (or the Phantom) continues to try to help Christine’s career, and is willing to do anything that is necessary to achieve her stardom.

Of all the Universal “horror” films from the 1930’s and 1940’s, Phantom Of The Opera is the least horrific. Perhaps it isPhantom Of The Opera because the original novel and early movies versions are filled with “horror” elements that lead us to expect this film to head in a similar direction, but with this film director, Arthur Lubin makes more of a dramatic musical than a horror film.

Arthur Lubin directed several movies in his career, including five of the Abbott and Costello movies in 1941 and 1942. Abbott and Costello movies are always remembered for being great comedies, but they have included some truly remarkable musical numbers as well. Lubin used his musical experience to create some unforgettable opera sequences in Phantom Of The Opera. Some have said that the opera sequences are too much to intertwine into this movie, and they are probably right. Instead of small segments of a particular song, Lubin chose to include full opera scenes, which with the use of Technicolor and phenomenal sound recording look and sound exquisite. Also by using a wonderful cast of singers, Lubin has made certain that all of the opera scenes have an authentic Phantom Of The Operafeel to them. With the strong musical sequences and the subplot of Christine continuously being told that she will have to choose between a personal life and a professional life, one can’t help but think of The Red Shoes (1948) and wonder if Phantom Of The Opera served as an inspiration or influence for Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s film.

Phantom Of The Opera proved to be a success, and it is easy to see why. The sets and art direction are impeccably crafted, including using some sets from the original 1925 film. Phantom Of The Opera won two much deserved Academy Awards for the Art Direction as well as the Cinematography. It was also nominated for Sound Recording and Music, which is understandable, especially considering the lovely piano concerto, “Lullaby Of The Bells” that Edward Ward wrote for the film.

While not one of the scary “Universal Horror Films”, it is still an enjoyable film that focuses more on the feelings andPhantom Of The Opera motivations of the “Phantom” and less on his murders and violence, although Lubin did include the intense “chandelier” scene that is quite memorable. Claude Rains was perfect for this role because so much of the film takes place while he is just a lovesick man and not a killer. He plays the role of killer well too, but there are few actors that can portray a character to be pitied and feared at the same time. It is similar to his own role in The Invisible Man (1933), only in Phantom Of The Opera it is easier to sympathize with him due to the 30 minutes of back-story that we are given and the maturity that Rains had achieved as an actor by this point in his illustrious career.

Strangers On A Train (1951)

 ★★★★★

&

My Hall Of Fame

 

Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train (1951) is one of his most amazingly crafted movies, yet today it is not one of his most popular. Most movie fans have seen his more famous movies like Psycho (1960), Vertigo (1958), Rear WindowStrangers On A Train (1954) and North By Northwest (1959), but just a few years before all of these classics, Hitchcock made one of the most underrated and technically beautiful films of his career with Strangers On A Train.

Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, Strangers On A Train tells the story of amateur tennis player, and political hopeful, Guy Hains (Farley Granger). As the film opens we see two men both arriving at a train station and sitting net to each other in the same train car. They accidentally bump into each other and Guy begins a conversation with Bruno (Robert Walker).  As it turns out, Bruno knows all about Guy, his career ambitions, his girlfriend, Anne (Ruth Roman), and even his wife, Miriam (Laura Elliott). Miriam has been having affairs Strangers On A Trainand she and Guy have been separated for some time, but now that she is pregnant with another mans child, she intends to remain married to Guy in an apparent effort to keep Guy miserable, and away from Anne.

While talking on the train, Bruno tells Guy about his own troubles, including his wealthy father’s ambitions to keep Bruno far away from the family fortune. Bruno expresses his desire to be rid of his father, and even explains to Guy that he thinks he has figured out the plot for a perfect murder. Bruno suggests that he and Guy trade murders. Bruno would go to Miriam and kill her while Guy is in another city. Then Guy could later kill Bruno’s father, and because neither killer has any connection to the victim, nobody would ever suspect them of the crime. Guy patronizes Bruno’s plan, but after they part, Bruno puts the plan into play by murderingStrangers On A Train Miriam. Now Guy is linked to a madman who will stop at nothing to get the inheritance he feels he deserves.

At the time of pre-production, most people wrote off the story for Strangers On A Train as being slow and without much substance. Hitchcock made several attempts to have famous and notable writers work on the screenplay, including the great Raymond Chandler, but none of these “writing teams” ever worked out well. Then Hitchcock hired Czenzi Ormonde and teamed her with his associate producer Barbara Keon and his wife, Alma. These three women joined with Hitchcock himself and turned out a phenomenal screenplay, and all in just the final few weeks before shooting was to begin. Many writers are credited with this screenplay in different stages, but this final Strangers On A Trainteam brought together fresh ideas and made the screenplay into the masterpiece it is today. They are also who is responsible for the famous carousel scene in the film’s climax.

Strangers On A Train also marks the first time Hitchcock worked with cinematographer Robert Burks. Together on this film they created some of the most amazing and technically advanced shots in movie history. In fact, Burks received an Academy Award nomination for his work on the film. It doesn’t matter how many times I watch Strangers On A Train, I am still blown away by what these two men were able to accomplish together. The shot of Miriam being strangled through the reflection of her own glasses is an extremely beautiful and complex shot that surprises and inspires me every time.Strangers On A Train

The carousel scene at the film’s climax is awe-inspiring. It is hard to understand how the director and cinematographer were able to achieve such a complex sequence and have it turn out so magnificently. And yes, the old man who crawls under the moving carousel was really a carousel operator who volunteered to perform that feat, even at the risk of his own life. There is no trick photography there, and Hitchcock later admitted that shooting that scene was the scariest day of filming in his career. The scene is edited superbly by William Ziegler and remains one of my favorite examples of perfect editing.

Strangers On A TrainSo many of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies are “must see” movies, and I have always believed that Strangers On A Train deserved a spot along with his other masterpieces. It is a film that can be talked about, discussed and dissected endlessly, and thanks to a newly release on Blu-ray, Strangers On A Train can hopefully be seen by more and more new viewers helping to increase it’s popularity in the coming years.

The Forgiveness Of Blood (2011)

 ★★★★

 

The Forgiveness Of Blood (2011) is an Albania drama film directed by Joshua Marston. It is Marston’s second feature film, after his stunning debut, Maria Full Of Grace (2004). Although Joshua Marston has only made these two films, he has already established a reputation for his intense themes and magnificently constructed stories. He pours his heart andThe Forgiveness Of Blood soul into his films, and the result leaves a lasting impression on its viewers.

In a small town in Albania, a family becomes entangled in a blood feud when the father, Mark (Refet Abazi), becomes an accessory to a murder that escalated from a land dispute. Mark goes into hiding to avoid the police and retaliation from the victim’s family. Since Mark has not been punished for his crime, the victim’s family wants to fulfill their lost blood by killing either Mark or one of his sons. His oldest son, Nik (Tristan Halilaj), is about 16 years old, but his younger son is only about six years old. Both boys are forced to remain in their home as a sign of respect to the grieving The Forgiveness Of Bloodfamily, as well as for their own protection. If either are seen outside they will be killed. Nik’s slightly younger sister, Rudina (Sindi Lacej), is also forced to quit going to school and take over Mark’s job delivering bread.

Nik and his younger brother spend countless days upon weeks trapped in their small house, isolated from the outside world, with no end in sight. Although Nik is open to trying to bring in a mediator to help move things along, everyone else involved (including Mark) wants to wait and see what time will do to help the situation. Nik’s isolation quickly turns to frustration and anger because he sees the possibility of spending the rest of his life trapped in the once safe walls of his home, that have now become his own prison.

It is not very often that a movie introduces me to a world to which I have absolutely no comprehension. The story in TheThe Forgiveness Of Blood Forgiveness Of Blood was a completely original idea for me. Obviously I am aware that situations like this do happen today, but I have never before seen it on film. In an era where films all seem vaguely familiar, this one is fresh and deeply intriguing.

One of the most interesting parts of The Forgiveness Of Blood was watching the drastically different “trapped” situations that Nik and Rudina are in. They have both been taken from their youthful existence and forced into completely new and unsettling worlds. Rudina is forced to spend her days selling bread among the townspeople, who all stare at her with their knowing and judging eyes. She has no interest in being responsible for the family, but she does it anyway. Nik, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to be an active member of the family. The Forgiveness Of BloodFrom the very beginning, Nik wants to be involved and even be part of the negotiation process. His entire world has now become what he can see through windows, curtains and planks of wood he has set up around the rooftop gym he has built on his home. He has become completely cut off from everything he once loved.

Joshua Marston and Andamion Murataj have written an extremely emotional story filled with a depth that is invigorating. It is a magnificently shot film, showing the beauty of the country and giving the story a much needed authenticity. Without the location shooting, and unknown actors it would have been hard to embrace the story in the same way, but of course Marston understood this. His keen eye for detail and his desire to educate peopleThe Forgiveness Of Blood everywhere has left me eagerly awaiting his future projects.

The Forgiveness Of Blood is a recent addition to The Criterion Collection, and is available for purchase through their site or on Amazon.com. It is also available through Amazon’s Instant Streaming.

 

New Blu-ray and DVD Releases For October 23, 2012


Here is a list of some of the premiere new releases to both DVD and Blu-ray for this Tuesday, October 23, 2012. There is a wide variety of choices this week that includes some much anticipated, hard to find films.
  • Magic Mike (2012): This summers hit comedy about the on the rise business of male stripping. From AcademyMagic Mike Award winning director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Oceans 11, 12 and 13), this film was a huge success this last summer and promises to continue its popularity due to positive reviews and Matthew McConaughey’s significant Oscar buzz for his supporting role in the film. This movie also stars Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer and Olivia Munn. You can read a full review at French Toast Sunday.
  • Fear And Desire (1953): Stanley Kubrick is one the most acclaimed filmmakers of all time. Fear And Desire is his first full-length feature and has never before been released on any home media. In fact, it is hard to find people who have even seen this film. The rumor was that Kubrick himself tried to destroy all the prints he could find, but luckily for us there were some prints in private collections and now, through Kino Lorber, we are able to see this hard to find war/adventure movie. Stanley Kubrick served as the films director, producer, editor and cinematographer.
  • Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012): Yes, this really is a movie. Despite negative reviews, this movie had a relatively decent showing at the box office, and with Halloween around the corner, could be something worth watching in the upcoming weeks. (Although I doubt it.)  I don’t think I need to explain the plot here because the title pretty much tells you all you need to know. This title will also be available in 3D.
  • Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World (2012): A large asteroid is heading for Earth and all efforts to stop it have failed. With three weeks left before impact everyone is acting differently. Dodge (Steve Carell) wants to find his high school sweetheart and his neighbor, Penny (Keira Knightley), wants to return to England. Together they form a friendship that will last…well, as long as it can. This movie received mixed reviews and was a box office failure. Many critics said that the movie had several problems, but the comedic performances on the parts of Carell and Knightly were still enjoyable.
  • Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971): This drama film from director John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy) is the storyTinkerbell And The Secret Of The Wings of a bisexual artist (Murray Head), who is involved in a love triangle with a male Jewish doctor (Peter Finch) and a female consultant (Glenda Jackson). Although this film has been previous available on DVD, this edition, on both Blu-ray and DVD is being released through the Criterion Collection and will include their usual array of phenomenal special features. 
  • Tinkerbell And The Secret Of The Wings (2012): This is a direct to DVD and Blu-ray movie that is the fourth in the Tinkerbell series. Although I have no idea if this movie is any good, the previous three in the series have all been decent movies that have proven enjoyable to the young audiences for which they are made. One downside to this film is that Disney is also releasing it on Blu-ray 3D, and they have packaged them all together in a combo pack at a ridiculously high price. If you don’t need the Blu-ray, you can buy a single disc DVD edition at a more reasonable price.
  • Blade Runner (1982): I think there might be more editions of Blade Runner than any other movie in existence, however I must say that my curiosity has been peeked for this 30th anniversary Blu-ray set. Director Ridley Scott has re-cut the film (yet again) to include new scenes, as well as extended scenes. It is a five disc collection that also includes the 1982 “Theatrical Version”, the 1982 “International Version”, the 1992 “Director’s Cut”, the extremely different “Workprint Version” and hours upon hours of bonus features and documentaries. Right now Amazon.com has this collection for the low price of $23.99.
  • The Penalty (1920): In one of Lon Chaney’s breakout performances, he plays a man whose legs were mistakenly The Penaltyamputated as a child. His anger has grown over the years, and as an adult he has become a gangster determined to get revenge on the doctor who operated on him years before. This film is brought to us by Kino Lorber. You can purchase this film at their website (www.kinolorber.com) at the sale price of $23.46 on Blu-ray or $14.96 on DVD. 
  • Finally this week, there will be three more additions to the Bond Blu-ray collection, You Only Live Twice (1967), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). All of these were of course included in the Bond Blu-ray collection released last month, but this is the first time you can buy these films on Blu-ray individually.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

 ★★★★★

 

Whenever there is an opportunity to talk about a Wes Anderson movie, you can rest assured that I will be there. With this week’s release of his latest film Moonrise Kingdom (2012) on DVD and Blu-ray, I can use this opportunity to complimentMoonrise Kingdom one of the most visionary and creative filmmakers working today. His films take us to other places that often resemble our own lives, but are uniquely different and far more colorful.

In 1965, Sam (Jared Gilman) is a 12-year-old runaway from his “Khaki Scout” troop’s campsite on the small New England island of New Penzance. Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) enlists the help of the local police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), who proceeds to knock door to door searching for the young boy.

Soon Sharp knocks on the door of Walt and Laura Bishop (Bill Murray & Frances McDormand). After Sharp leaves their home, Laura sneaks out the back and meets Sharp, with whom she is having an affair. All of this is watched through the Moonrise Kingdombinoculars of Laura and Walt’s 12-year-old daughter, Suzy (Kara Hayward).

Sam and Suzy met last summer on the island and have been pen pals ever since. After a year of writing to each other about their troubled lives, they have grown a close bond and have now planned to run away together. Sam is an orphan who constantly jumps between foster homes and Suzy is regarded as a “different” child by her parents, three younger brothers, teachers and friends. The only place they have ever felt comfortable is with each other.

Now Social Services (Tilda Swinton) is on her way to pick up Sam and take him to “juvenile refuge” (and possible shock Moonrise Kingdomtherapy), unless Sam and Suzy can get away in time.

There are so few romance movies with 12-year-olds for main characters. In many ways it’s a shame because these kids seem to understand so much more than the adults that inhabit the same island. Even with the issues that Sam and Suzy face in their personal lives, they are still by far the most mature people they know. Guided by the common bond of being labeled an outsider, and their passion for each other, Sam and Suzy are destined to be together. Whenever they are involved in a conversation with the plethora of other characters in this film, it is always these two that come out as the voice of reason. All the adults are far too concerned with Moonrise Kingdomwhat is “right” or “logical” to ever see the needs that these two amazingly profound and enlightened children have. Sam and Suzy beat all the odds to be together, and much in the same way as Harold And Maude (1971), they have obtained the status of being one of the great romantic couples in film history.

Wes Anderson has invented another world on this island, and because of his enormous attention to detail, he has taken this “fantasy” island and made it a part of our reality. It is like a place right out of a book; only because of the way Anderson (along with co-writer Roman Coppola) shows every detail of their world, New Penzance Island feels real and accessible in an uncanny way. I would love to go exploring across the old trails and forests, finally making my way to “Moonrise Moonrise KingdomKingdom” for a late afternoon swim. I just need a record player, and some Hank Williams to help set the mood.

Many of Wes Anderson’s movies are famous or popular because of his ability to have an abundance of great characters that top tier actors often seem to flock toward. His casts are always full of the biggest names in Hollywood, but for Moonrise Kingdom he has made a film where the two leading characters are completely unknown because of their age. (Although I am sure we will be seeing much more of them in the future.) These two “tweeners” carry the film on their shoulders, yet Anderson has also filled the Moonrise Kingdomrest of the roles with some of the most interesting and entertaining supporting characters of all of his films. Particularly Jason Schwartzman, who though he is only on the screen for less than ten minutes, fills each one of these minutes with non-stop laughs. The delivery of his lines is pure comic perfection, and he adds so much to this movie, even if it’s only for a brief time.

Moonrise Kingdom proves that even today a great script, wonderful characters with equally wonderful performances, and a director with a desire and ability to be a great storyteller are still enough to entertain audiences. It is a wonderfully touching film that can inspire all the “different” people in the world to be themselves and swim against the flow called normal.