Category: Main Slate

March 10, 2009 / / Main Slate

The Mummy – 1999 – dir. Stephen Sommers

Whether it’s action, romance, or angry, angry beetles, Stephen Sommers’s 1999 hit The Mummy has what you’re looking for.  Marketed as a next-generation’s Indiana Jones, The Mummy succeeds as a film by delivering exactly what it promises – and a little bit more.

With an ensemble cast including Brendan Fraser, pre-Oscar Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, and Arnold Vosloo, there are enough contrasting, zany characters for any “Which character are you” Internet quiz.  But what keeps The Mummy from being just another visual-effects-laden Hollywood song and dance?

April 6, 2007 / / Main Slate

By Julie Lavelle

Considered the first Polish film to spurn World War II as either text or subtext, Knife in the Water won the Critics’ Prize at the Venice Film Festival, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and was heralded on the cover of Time Magazine. Roman Polanski was considered a wunderkind, and Knife on the Water proof that the new wave of experimental European cinema was not limited to the films produced by the French.

April 6, 2007 / / Main Slate

What’s immediately striking about 1946’s Beauty and the Beast, the French film that preceded and profoundly influenced the famous animated Disney version of the 1990s, is that it doesn’t begin as we would expect a fairy tale movie to begin, with a storybook opening up or pixie dust being sprinkled. Instead we have director Jean Cocteau writing the title of the film and the names of the principal members of the cast and crew on a chalkboard. It’s an odd beginning, an ordinary but jarring sight, as if the magician has let you backstage before performing a single trick. And there is a reason why Cocteau chooses it. He is highly aware of the adults in his audience, knows how reluctant they may be to believe in magic, so he knows he can’t begin with magic right away. Instead, as foreshadowed by the appearance of the chalkboard, we get a lesson. There is a quick glimpse of a slapping production slate, and then Cocteau himself requests un minute to set these adults straight. The director’s handwritten text scrolls by to sound of an expectant drum roll: a lesson on how to watch the film. “Children believe what we tell them,” the text reads. “They have complete faith in us. They believe that a rose plucked from a garden can plunge a family into conflict. They believe that the hands of a human beast will smoke when he slays a victim, and that this will cause the beast shame when a young maiden takes up residence in his home. They believe a thousand other simple things. I ask of you a little of this childlike simplicity and, to bring us luck, let me speak four truly magic words, childhood’s ‘Open Sesame’: Once upon a time…”

April 6, 2007 / / Main Slate

“Maybe it’s something in his glands,” one teacher haplessly suggests when trying to determine just what it is that has gone wrong with Antoine Doinel, the troubled adolescent protagonist in visionary French director François Truffaut’s stunning, semiautobiographical 1959 debut feature The 400 Blows (the English title is a puzzlingly literal translation of a French phrase meaning roughly, “to raise hell”). Of course it isn’t Antoine’s glands that are the problem. Neglected and too-obviously unwanted at home, Antoine finds little of the care and understanding he needs at school either. The first time we meet him in the film, he’s already in trouble, caught with a dirty picture that was passed to him by the other boys. His luck continues in this fashion, and soon the sensitive and intelligent but misunderstood boy has gone from cutting school to running away from home and engaging in petty theft. The film’s final shot – a freeze frame close-up of Antoine on the beach – has become one of the most iconic and most often imitated images in world cinema, a simple but extremely potent portrait of a young man alone and uncertain of his future. The story, apocryphal or not, that Truffaut actually ran out of film on the beach doesn’t lessen the brilliance of that parting shot – a celebrated and hugely influential film critic before he got behind a camera, Truffaut knew a good thing when he saw it.

November 1, 2006 / / Main Slate

Written by Sean Rogers
Carl-Theodor Dreyer had not completed a feature film for over a decade when he undertook production on Day of Wrath; another decade would pass before he finished his next major feature. These long pauses in his career feel as loaded with ineffable significance as those in his films: small shifts in meaning and purpose seem to have occurred, but only in retrospect might we discover them. In 1932, Dreyer released Vampyr, a fever dream of a movie soaked through with the uncanny, while 1954 would see his Ordet, a film fundamentally concerned with faith. 1944’s Day of Wrath mingles the two modes. Less overtly weird than Vampyr, and having less to do with Ordet’s crises of faith than with faith’s very structures and strictures, Day of Wrath is a strange hybrid: a deceptively humdrum melodrama, insidiously inflected.

October 25, 2006 / / Main Slate

Written by Paul Monticone

Although not programmed together in this series, Japanese master Kenji Mizoguchi and citoyen du monde Max Ophuls share much in common. Both filmmakers were born at the turn of the century, and each died before he turned sixty, just as the international art cinema was entering its heyday. Each often worked in genres associated with women—Ophuls in the melodrama and Mizoguchi in its Japanese analogue, adaptations from shinpa theatre. Both filmmakers are regarded as mature, baroque artists, probably because they are known primarily through their late period films (in Mizoguchi’s case, the majority of his early work is lost), but both were active during the transition to talking pictures, making films when the vagaries of early synchronized sound briefly made the long take the art’s norm. Perhaps it was at this time that Mizoguchi and Ophuls developed an affinity for the device, which became a cornerstone in the distinctive and renowned style of each master. A series celebrating high-brow cinephilia—which Janus Films undeniably represents—is certainly occasion for a note that is purely formalist in its concerns, so, at the exclusion of their complex themes and fascinating biographies, I offer some notes on how we might value the contribution of Mizoguchi and Ophuls to the art form today.

October 25, 2006 / / Main Slate

In the late 1930s, director Jean Renoir had reached an artistic peak he may not have predicted at the dawn of his career. Many early critics viewed the elaborate star vehicles he concocted for his first wife, Catherine Hessling, saw his famous surname, and wrote him off as a dilettante papa’s boy. Instead of retreating to the mediums he worked with before he picked up a film camera, however, Renoir persevered, and the public greeted his work with both acclaim and controversy.

July 14, 2006 / / Main Slate

by Jason Haas

Gilda is a strange movie, and an unlikely classic. Artistically, it is no failure, but it is also far from an unqualified success. It is often mentioned in the company of the most famous film noir pictures, but it manages only to borrow from the genre without having many of the classic elements of noir. Instead, the movie turns on the personality and star-power mega-wattage of Rita Hayworth. Columbia boss Harry Cohn developed the film as a vehicle for this starlet on the rise, and few if any of her other films contributed so notoriously to her fame. While some of the star-vehicle concessions should just have turned Gilda into a passably entertaining film that time forgot, Hayworth does something rare – she earns the attention the camera gives her.