Category: Film Notes

February 12, 2009 / / Film Notes

By Jared M. Gordon

Casablanca -1942 – dir. Michael Curtiz

Enough of whether Valentine’s Day was invented by greeting card companies, created in St. Valentine’s dark laboratory of evil science, or if “Valentine’s Day should be every day” in a healthy relationship.  You love the candy, so what does it matter?

Valentine’s Day should be an excuse (for those of us who need an excuse) to be just a little bit nicer to those for whom we care.  It should be a day of reaching out, of reforging connections, and of gratitude to those with whom we share compassion.  What a nice day!

So why celebrate it by watching Casablanca – a film, by most definitions, about love lost?

February 9, 2009 / / Film Notes

By Chris Bamberger

TOP HAT (1935) dir. Mark Sandrich

In 2007 National Public Radio played an excerpt of Fred Astaire singing “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” and asked listeners to describe in a single phrase the quality of his voice. One participant’s entry was, “The boyfriend you longed for before you found out about sex.”

Oh, really?

Donald Spoto, in his biography of Audrey Hepburn, describes her one-time co-star as having “nothing erotic or even sensual about him… Fred Astaire was a gentleman up there on the screen—so much a gentleman, in fact, that there was never an atom of erotic appeal about him.”

It gets worse.

February 6, 2009 / / Film Notes

By Christina Moreno

(1990) John Waters

Though not the typical tacky filth-fest movie many of us know, Cry-Baby is definitely a John Waters film.  Full of over-the-top parody of teen culture of the 1950’s and a great performance by Johnny Depp’s cheekbones, Cry-Baby has reached the cult status like most Waters’ films.  Some other notable faces in the movie include Ricki Lake, Iggy Pop, and Traci Lords. It’s cheese and camp, which is a trademark of any good Waters movie and should be embraced by anyone who sees them.  For those unfamiliar with John Waters’ work, it may come across as a bad movie, but that’s what John Waters is known for: making bad movies (that are so bad they’re good).  Cry-Baby’s appeal is that it takes the squeaky-clean image of the 1950’s and rolls it around in the mud, but still keeps a nostalgic charm about it.  The ironic thing is, Cry-Baby isn’t that different from more “serious” teen genre flicks of the era, such as Rebel Without A Cause.  Just compare the two together.

January 29, 2009 / / Film Notes

By Rachel Thibault

Momma’s Man – 2008 – dir. Azazel Jacobs

Momma’s Man (Jacobs, 2008) is such an informal, simple title for a film that is anything but. It’s both modest and unassuming in both scope and visual style, but moves beyond the stereotype its title suggests. The film is a moving, complex ode to how we negotiate, define, and attempt to return to that place we call home.

January 15, 2009 / / Film Notes

By Peggy Nelson

Dr. Zhivago – 1965 – dir. David Lean

There are many characters in David Lean’s Dr. Zhivago (1965), the sprawling, epic portrayal of people caught up in the Russian Revolution, the least of which is, surprisingly, Dr. Zhivago himself.   In addition to Zhivago, Lara, Komorovsky, Pasha, and a host of others, there is the land, the weather, the first World War, the mountains, the interminable train ride, the tide of political events, the Five-Year Plans, even the giant posters of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, all playing their parts and threatening to upstage the action.  Beside all these a small story about love and betrayal should pale; as Strelnikov claims in the film, “the personal life is dead in Russia.”  But it is Lean’s achievement that it is not: it more than holds its own, and forms the core around which the rest crash and swirl.

January 15, 2009 / / Film Notes

By Peggy Nelson

Lawrence of Arabia – 1962 – dir. David Lean

Size DOES matter.

Some films need to be seen on the big screen.  I first saw Lawrence of Arabia (dir. by David Lean, 1962) on one of the biggest, the UC Theatre in Berkeley, California.  A giant screen is not only the appropriate frame for the stunning cinematography in this film, it is the only canvas large enough for its title subject.  T. E. Lawrence was one of those rare people whose life comprised a perfect storm of circumstance and talent, creating a man worthy of a 70mm, almost 4-hour film; a figure truly larger than life.

January 12, 2009 / / Film Notes

By Leo Racicot

Pillow Talk – 1959- dir. Michael Gordon

Audiences seem to have forgotten how for almost half-a-century, Doris Day dominated not only the movies but radio, the big-band circuit, stage and television. She WAS America in the way John Wayne WAS America. Her freckle-faced goodness and virgin-all-the-way persona mirrored American values and mores and was thus much-loved for decades. By the 1960s and ’70s, her star began to fade, a victim of  the sexual revolution and the unlikely stardom of less conventionally attractive actresses like Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli. Today, in her eighties, she lives a reclusive life in Carmel, California, answers only to the name, ‘Clara’ and very seldom engages in conversation about her Hollywood glory days.

January 12, 2009 / / Film Notes

By: Victoria Large

Repo Man – 1983 – dir. Alex Cox

I don’t remember how I first heard of Repo Man, only that its reputation preceded it. As a teenager I actually picked up a used cassette of the film’s famous punk rock soundtrack at my local record store long before I was able to hunt down a copy of the movie itself, which for me only heightened its grungy cult flick allure. (For you youngsters, this was back when there were audiocassette tapes. And record stores. And suburban video stores with unpredictable inventories.) When I did finally see Repo Man, it lived up to my expectations simply by defying them. “…[T]he only real response to it is the perception of brilliance or the belief that it’s an utter piece of garbage,” writes Film Threat’s Brad Laidman. That’s pretty much the textbook definition of a cult classic.

January 9, 2009 / / Film Notes

By Jared M. Gordon

The Sweet Hereafter – 1997 – dir. Atom Egoyan
(Filmmaker and author quotes from DVD commentary)

Adapted from a Russell Banks book and directed by Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan, The Sweet Hereafter is the sublime, aching story of a fatal school bus accident in rural Canada.  Most of the town’s children are killed as a result, and city lawyer Mitchell Stevens (Ian Holm) travels to the town to fan the flames of confusion and anger into a potentially lucrative class action lawsuit.  However, the town’s sorrow mirrors Mitchell’s own personal drama: the loss of his daughter to drugs and darker forces still.  The themes of confinement are rife within this drama of parents, children, lovers, and courage.

January 8, 2009 / / Film Notes

By Christina Moreno
The Shining – 1980 – dir. Stanley Kubrick

The Shining is one of the most respected and well-crafted films of the twentieth century.  There are few horror films that rise above the campy reputation of the genre, but those that do remain embedded in the nightmares of the millions of people who dared to watch them.  The ability to create fear within an audience is difficult, to say the least.  But the ability to keep that fear alive after the movie is over, to keep a person looking over her shoulder while she walks back to her car, is something even the most seasoned filmmakers have trouble doing.  The most disturbing aspect of The Shining is that the terror doesn’t rely on the ghosts or the bloody past of the Overlook Hotel.  It is the intense isolation of winter coupled with Jack Torrance’s spectacular fall into madness that provides the wonderful (or terrible, depending on if you enjoy being scared) adrenaline rush of fear.  With memorable performances by Jack Nicholson, Shelly Duvall, Danny Lloyd,  and Scatman Crothers, The Shining is an iconic horror film that continues to scare new generations of viewers.