Author: Chelsea Spear

September 13, 2013 / / Main Slate Archive

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The small yet achingly tender feature film MUSEUM HOURS is the source of small celebration, in part due to one of the names above the title: Mary Margaret O’Hara.  Her name might not ring a bell, but since the end of the ‘80s she has amassed an eclectic CV as a character actress, voiceover artist, illustrator, and composer of film scores.

August 23, 2013 / / Main Slate Archive

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Since its release in 1983, LOCAL HERO has attracted a small, but vocal, audience of cinephiles.  Though the understated magical realism of its story and its gorgeous depiction of the Scottish coastline has won it great acclaim, Burt Lancaster’s fans treasure it as one of his finest late-career performances.  Just as Lancaster was winding down his career, though, a fellow cast member had started building an impressive filmography of his own.  Peter Capaldi, who made his second film appearance as the hapless Oldsen, would go on to become one of the pre-eminent character actors of his generation.  American audiences may know him best from IN THE LOOP, in which he played a government spin doctor with a short fuse and an impressive vocabulary.  Earlier this summer, Capaldi’s career took another surprising turn when he was announced as the next actor to headline the iconic British sci-fi series Doctor Who.  

July 11, 2013 / / Main Slate Archive

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For listeners who come to …For All the World to See with no context, the music of Death will sound startlingly modern.  The Midwestern trio plays forceful punk with passion and precision.  Spiraling riffs and shout-a-long choruses drive their songs, but the band also switches things up by shifting into unusual time signatures and experimenting with psychedelic soundscapes.  Lyrically, they write from the perspective of the outcasts and outsiders.  Many of their songs deal with mortality (as would befit a band called Death), but their awareness of how time is running out gives their songs a greater sense of urgency than you might expect.  The airy, minimal production shows off each band member’s musical abilities and the near-intuitive chemistry among them.

June 28, 2013 / / Main Slate Archive

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Almost forty years after the release of Phantom of the Paradise, the music of Paul Williams is experiencing a bit of a revival.  His most famous song, “The Rainbow Connection”, appeared in the latest Muppet Movie, and up-and-coming artists like the Alkaline Trio and Rachel Yamagata covered his tunes on The Green Album, a tribute to the Muppets.  Fans of the visionary French robotic duo Daft Punk have heard his disembodied voice on their latest album, Random Access Memories.  Even one-man corn syrup factory Jason Mraz paid tribute to the songsmith in an event hosted by ASCAP.  Still Alive, a highly personal documentary about Williams’ showbiz career and his work as a substance abuse counselor, opened to great acclaim in NYC and LA earlier this year. 

April 23, 2008 / / Film Notes

By Chelsea Spear

Woman in the Dunes – Hiroshi Teshigahara – 1964Woman In The Dunes

The titles of the 1964 drama Woman in the Dunes fill the screen with heavy, rough lettering, spelling the Japanese title out in sumi-e, a traditional form of calligraphy. The opening shot depicts the lead character, Niki Jumpei (played by Eiji Okada of Hiroshima Mon Amour) wandering the dunes in a dress shirt and jacket that give him the appearance of a salary-man on holiday. In these early shots of the film, director Hiroshi Teshigahara contrasts elements of the contemporary and the mythic, a juxtaposition which will drive his trademark film.

July 3, 2007 / / Film Notes

By Chelsea Spear

Equal parts expressionist horror film, childhood reminiscence, crime procedural, and Grand Guignol reverie, Brand Upon the Brain! is the story of a teenaged girl detective investigating eerie abuses at an orphanage wracked by unseemly youthful desire. The juvenile sleuth befriends an adolescent brother and sister, and, lusting after the latter, goes into drag to seduce her. The young brother, meanwhile, falls under the spell of both the female and the male versions of the detective, forming a love triangle from just two people – dangerous geometry for children!

April 6, 2007 / / Film Notes

In a decade full of smart, independent heroines, Preston Sturges created some of the most indelible female protagonists to grace the screen. His leading ladies crackled with intelligence, possessed rapier wits, and had the kind of resourcefulness to find benefit in some rather difficult accidents. That Sturges worked with some of the most recognizable and enduring talent of his era – among them Barbara Stanwyck, Claudette Colbert, and Betty Hutton – helped take his work from merely memorable and clever to unforgettable.

February 8, 2007 / / Film Notes

Imagine that you’re an American director who – after ten years of helming popular television shows and working on the occasional film-for-hire – has become an overnight sensation. Your third feature, a sardonic war comedy with blood-drenched sequences and a passel of irreverent characters, has struck a chord with audiences who see the film over and over again. Critics hail you as an innovative force, breaking new cinematic ground with your observational style and inscrutable, yet perfect, new techniques. You’re nominated for the Oscar. What do you do to follow up?

October 25, 2006 / / Main Slate Archive

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.

August 25, 2006 / / Film Notes

Chelsea interviewed director Stuart Cooper in December 2005

U.K., 1975. 85 min. Jowsend. Cast: Brian Stirner, Davyd Harries, Nicholas Ball, Julie Neesam, Sam Sewell John Franklyn-Robbins, Stella Tanner; Cinematography: John Alcott; Editing: Jonathan Gili; Music: Paul Glass Produced by: James Quinn; Written by: Stuart Cooper and Christopher Hudson; Directed by: Stuart Cooper.

Every cineaste worth their stack of Criterions has a list of “holy grail” movies – films whose titles have been lost to time or whose availability has been restricted due to pressing distribution or legal issues. Chief among mine was Overlord, a British feature from the 1970s that used archival footage from the Imperial War Museum to observe the story of a doomed British soldier. I’d first heard about the film from John Gianvito, an esteemed local cineaste who recommended it to me after seeing a dreadful short I’d made that incorporated found newsreel footage. Unfortunately, Overlord’s entire American distribution amounted to a few broadcasts on the esteemed LA pay cable station Z Channel, followed by a weekend engagement at New York’s Walter Reade Theatre in 1985. While bootlegs of the Z broadcast and British VHS tape existed, finding them on the cult-driven black market made for a challenge.