Whatâ€™s immediately striking about 1946â€™s Beauty and the Beast, the French film that preceded and profoundly influenced the famous animated Disney version of the 1990s, is that it doesnâ€™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. Itâ€™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 canâ€™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 directorâ€™s handwritten text scrolls by to sound of an expectant drum roll: a lesson on how to watch the film. â€œChildren believe what we tell them,â€ the text reads. â€œThey 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, childhoodâ€™s â€˜Open Sesameâ€™: Once upon a timeâ€¦â€
Author: Victoria Large
â€œMaybe itâ€™s something in his glands,â€ 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 FranÃ§ois Truffautâ€™s stunning, semiautobiographical 1959 debut feature The 400 Blows (the English title is a puzzlingly literal translation of a French phrase meaning roughly, â€œto raise hellâ€). Of course it isnâ€™t Antoineâ€™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, heâ€™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 filmâ€™s final shot â€“ a freeze frame close-up of Antoine on the beach â€“ 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 doesnâ€™t lessen the brilliance of that parting shot â€“ a celebrated and hugely influential film critic before he got behind a camera, Truffaut knew a good thing when he saw it.
Rob Reiner’s 1987 film The Princess Bride represents that most remarkable of rarities: an excellent…
Though we often forget it, the Universal horror films of the 1930s are among the most enduringly iconic in the history of cinema. Look around next Halloween and consider it. A great majority of the representations of Dracula, from costumes to dolls, will be in the likeness of Bela Lugosi, and the ubiquitous green-skinned, square-headed images of Frankensteinâ€™s monster will be derived from Boris Karloff in his makeup. Universalâ€™s classic monster movies have long since made the rare and momentous leap from the screen to the collective subconscious. You neednâ€™t have seen the films to recognize the characters and or even quote them offhand, imitating the accent of Lugosiâ€™s vampire count or the exultant â€œItâ€™s alive!â€ spouted by Colin Cliveâ€™s Dr. Frankenstein. The films have been imitated and lovingly parodied through the years, and, in the realm of pop culture, their representations of the famous monsters have largely superseded even the novels from which the creatures originated. Perhaps it is appropriate then that The Bride of Frankenstein, the 1935 sequel that ranks as perhaps the most highly-regarded of all the classic Universal horror films, introduces another truly iconic â€“ and this timely wholly original â€“ monster in Elsa Lanchesterâ€™s characterization of the eponymous Bride.
Released in 1987, The Hidden makes no apologies for being what it is: a gritty genre flick out for a joy ride, replete with action set pieces and over-the-top violence (nine out of ten fans will use the word â€œflamethrowerâ€ when asked to offer a brief description of the pictureâ€™s content). We arenâ€™t ten minutes in when the first big chase starts, complete with a car hurtling into a sheet of plate glass and the two men who are carrying it across the street. The high octane action of The Hidden is also anchored by that time-honored movie stand-by: a pair of mismatched buddy cops, reluctant partners who bond en route to saving the day. So what makes it special â€“ more memorable than the dozens of other films in the same vein that loaded up video store selves in the 1980s, shiny guns and bright orange explosions splashed across cardboard sleeves on rows of VHS tapes? Part of the appeal of The Hidden is that it embodies these familiar genre tropes with great energy and humor, clipping along at a good brisk pace and topping everything off with a nifty sci-fi twist. Michael Nouri plays Tom Beck, an L.A. cop and family man investigating a string of crime sprees in the city. A young Kyle MacLachlan, fresh from his descent into the suburban hell of David Lynchâ€™s Blue Velvet and a few years away from his defining role as Special Agent Dale Cooper on Lynchâ€™s TV oddity Twin Peaks, also stars as one of our heroes. Like Cooper, MacLachlanâ€™s character here carries an FBI badge, but in this case itâ€™s only a cover â€“ his Agent Gallagher is actually a benign alien whoâ€™s hunting down the murderous body-switching extraterrestrial creature that killed his family. Beck and Gallagherâ€™s uneasy partnership is the heart of the film and punctuated by great bits of winking humor (When Beckâ€™s wife asks Gallagher where heâ€™s from, he simply points upwards. â€œWhatâ€™s that?â€ she asks, â€œNorth?â€), but the body-switching villain that gives the film its title is well worth examining as well.
When sitting down to watch The Dark Crystal, a labor of love directed by legendary puppeteer Jim Henson and his frequent collaborator Frank Oz, you know you’re in for something unique in the truest sense of the word: not merely unusual, but one-of-a-kind. There really hasn’t been another film quite like it before or since. A “digitally enhanced” sequel titled The Power of the Dark Crystal is rumored to be in the works, but even that film won’t match its predecessor for sheer daring and ambition. Released in 1982 after being in production for five years, The Dark Crystal was conceptualized by Henson and British artist Brian Froud as the first live action film to feature only puppets and not a single human actor. This was a dream project for Henson, an attempt to explore new territory and push his art further.
USA. 92min. 2002. Silver Sphere Corporation. Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Ella Joyce, Heidi Marnhout, Bob Ivy, Larry Pennell. Music: Brian Tyler; Cinematography: Adam Janeiro; Produced by: Don Coscarelli & Jason Savage ; Based on a Story by: Joe Lansdale; Written by: Don Coscarelli; Directed by: Don Coscarelli.
Upon hearing a brief description of Bubba Ho-tep, one might assume that it was an intensely campy, irreverent B-movie that was pretty thin on characterization. The plot, can, after all, be summed up to some extent with the phrase, â€œElvis versus a mummy.â€ Itâ€™s easy to imagine some caricatured version of the King of Rock nâ€™ Roll taking on the monster. By now Elvis as an icon is as much a part of our collective subconsciousâ€”and as likely to be a Halloween costumeâ€”as any creature from the old Universal horror films. Elvis impersonators, Elvis on velvet, Elvisâ€™ face repeated again and again like an Andy Warhol silkscreen; the idea of Elvis has become a vaguely tacky pop culture touchstone. Yet thankfully, Bubba Ho-tep is a more complex, and far more interesting, film than that phrase â€œElvis versus a mummyâ€ can convey. Writer-director Don Coscarelli, working from a short story by the idiosyncratic Joe R. Lansdale, succeeds in humanizing his Elvis and developing him far beyond a few rhinestones and a curled lip. As played by Bruce Campbell (himself a horror movie icon owing to his indispensable presence in Sam Raimiâ€™s Evil Dead trilogy), this Elvis becomes a hero to root for, not an object of ridicule.
USA, 1953. 89 min. Stanley Kramer Productions. Cast: Tommy Rettig, Peter Lind Hayes, Mary Healy, Hans Conried, John Heasley. Music: Frederick Hollander and Nelson Riddle; Cinematography: Franz Planer; Art Direction: Cary Odell, Rudolph Sternad; Produced by: Stanley Kramer; Written by: Dr. Seuss and Allan Scott; Directed by: Roy Rowland.
I first rediscovered director Roy Rowlandâ€™s 1953 film The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T years ago, tracking it down based on vague recollections from childhood. I remembered a very strange and very dreamlike movie, and, upon watching it again, I found my remembrances confirmed. In the years since it was released to relatively little acclaim, an appreciative cult following has sprung up around 5,000 Fingers, and Itâ€™s easy to see why. For lovers of unusual cinema, this is a real find. Right from the start itâ€™s clear that 5,000 Fingers is something left of center, a more twisted take on standard Technicolor musical fare like MGMâ€™s singing sailor flick Hit the Deck, which Rowland would a direct a few years later. Where did this oddity spring from?
USA, 1963, 119 min. Cast: Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Plushette, Veronica Cartwright; Produced by: Alfred Hitchcock; Original Music: Bernard Herrmann; Written by: Daphne Du Maurier; Screenplay by: Evan Hunter; Cinematography: Robert Burks; Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock.
One of the most striking reoccurring figures in the films of Alfred Hitchcock is that of the overbearing mother who seeks to control her grown son. Overbearing mothers appear as supporting characters in both Notorious and North by Northwest, while Psycho takes the characterization to a shocking extreme. Another Hitchcock horror film, The Birds, also features a conflict between mother and son that should not be overlooked. There is a good reason why discussion of mother Lydia Brennerâ€™s possessiveness regarding her son Mitch dominates as much of the filmâ€™s dialogue as the titular birds do. A close examination of the mother-son relationship in The Birds reveals Lydiaâ€™s fear of abandonment as a central source of conflict in the film; one that lends even the mysterious behavior of the birds a greater meaning.