13 October 2014
Film: WHEN WILLIE COMES MARCHING HOME (d. John Ford, 1950, USA)
Forum: Home Format: DVD (home library)
Observations: A neither-fish-nor-foul feature that appears to have been conceived as a musical-comedy (several numbers were filmed and cut from the final movie, included as extras on the DVD). This film shares a commonality with the Preston Sturges film, HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO (1944) - a critique of American hero worship - but because Ford is not an ironist, it is presented as a straight and ungentle humiliation of Dan Dailey’s character: by his fellow soldiers, the townspeople, his parents and even his own girlfriend. The middle third is thus the most challenging (and finest) arc of the film.
12 October 2014
Film: FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (d. John Hughes, 1986, USA)
Forum: Doc Films Format: 35mm
Observations: Okay, we’re the last Chicagoans who’d never seen this vaunted feature, one of Hughes’s early successes. And about as crass and ham-handed as any of his features, though it features the singular charm of Matthew Broderick in his first major starring role. Also love seeing Chicago c.1985, a markedly different place than three decades hence. About twenty total in attendance for today’s matinee.
11 October 2014
Film: THE BOXTROLLS (d. Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable, 2014, UK)
Forum: AMC Fitchberg 18, Madison, WI Format: DCP
Observations: I am a sucker for stop-action animation, and this film is about as state-of-the-art as it gets. As storytelling, well, it’s the usual kind of kid’s tale (child of mean circumstances grows up to be brave and loyal, defending the helpless). Still, many wonderful bits of business that must have taken days and weeks to execute, the frame was packed with little jokes, and not a single product placement, superfluous song, or pop-culture reference in sight (until the credits). Little to no digital, either. Pretty nearly empty theatre (our group and maybe three more), but in fairness it was the last show.
4 October 2014
Film: GONE GIRL (d. David Fincher, 2014, USA)
Forum: Showtime ICON Format: DCP
Observations: Pressed to explain the difference between David Cronenberg and David Fincher as storytellers, I made a broad distinction between idealists (like Cronenberg) who see the possibility of another, less cruel world, and others (like Fincher) who take the world we live in as a given. I prefer Cronenberg.
3 October 2014
Film: THE PRINCESS BRIDE (d. Rob Reiner, 1987, USA)
Forum: Doc Films Format: 35mm
Observations: Doc back in operation after a four-week break. Autumn Quarter Friday’s feature directors Rob Reiner and John Hughes. I’d never seen this cult favorite until now. A bit of a shambles stylistically, and the attendees (80+) mostly knew the film intimately and laughed *ahead* of every punchline. Still, really, the only way to see such a feature, on the big screen with an appreciative audience.
2 October 2014
Film: JULIUS CAESAR (d. David Bradley, 1950, USA)
Forum: Block Theatre, Northwestern Univ. Format: 35mm
Observations: The Northwestern Chicago Film Society, after a lengthy hiatus, screened this feature by a native Evanstonian (Bradley), who was a prolific amateur - and later, a low-budget commercial - film director and producer. With a very modest budget, Bradley made city locations (MSI, the Field, Soldier Field, the Elks Headquarters) double as ancient Rome. Surprisingly accessible, though it dragged a bit in the second half; future stars Charlton Heston (as Marc Anthony) and Jeffrey Hunter (above, as a Roman citizen) drew later attention to this production, resulting in an actual theatrical release. The director appeared, convincingly, as Brutus.
21 September 2014
Film: BATMAN: THE MOVIE (d. Leslie H. Martinson, 1966, USA)
Forum: Private screening Format: 35mm
Observations: The inaugural Batman feature (there had been big-screen Batman before, in the form of a serial) is fascinating principally for its production history. It was filmed at the same time, with the same sets and cast, as the TV program (then in its first season on ABC). Absolutely no concessions to the needs of the big screen seem to have been considered. So the action sequences seem pinched and rushed (fists fail to make contact with their victims), the costuming is visibly frayed and Cesar Romero’s mustache pokes out under his white Joker make-up. Overall, though, very much fun to watch (I saw at the show as a kid).
17 September 2014
Film: LOS ANGELES PLAYS ITSELF (d. Thom Andersen, 2003, USA)
Forum: The Music Box Theatre Format: DCP
Observations: In advance of the anticipated home-video release of this esteemed essay film, the Music Box offered a single-night screening (it runs about three hours). Not a huge turn-out. Andersen edits together moments, sometimes mere blinks, of hundreds of fiction films to create a tableau of the city’s romance, mythology and (occasional) warts. The first half was highly entertaining (loaded with well-chosen, often acidic asides); discussions of the city’s landscape, architecture and transportation dominate. The second half was a meditation on what it takes to make a city. Well worth seeing.
14 September 2014
Film: MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT (d. Woody Allen, 2014, USA)
Forum: Davis Theatre Format: DCP
Observations: Took Mom to see this, and survived. Fitzgeraldian tale of a world-weary British conjurer enraptured by a American Midwesterner who claims to possess psychic powers. Chief virtue is Colin Firth’s nasty performance; chief demerit is Allen’s music track, laying the period music on with a trowel.
12 September 2014
Film: FOUR MEN AND A PRAYER (d. John Ford, 1938, USA)
Forum: Home Format: DVD (home library)
Observations: In comparison to my least favorite Ford film, the dreary multi-generational epic THE WORLD MOVES ON (1934), this modern-dress drama at least had the virtue of some spirited action sequences (including the repressed revolt, in the still above) and a fun cast (with George Saunders, Alan Hale and the sinister John Carradine as Gen. Adolfo Arturo Sebastian). But still, I’m unlikely to return to it.
4 September 2014
Film: STREET SCENE (d. King Vidor, 1931, USA)
Forum: Home Format: Recorded from TCM
Observations: Any time spent with a King Vidor film is an investment, a filmmaker so accomplished that it’s hard to understand why he does not enjoy a much wider following - other than, maybe, his taste for unfashionable prestige material (here, an Elmer Rice Broadway drama).
2 September 2014
Film: ONE WAY STREET (d. Hugo Fregonese, 1950, USA) and HARDLY A CRIMINAL (d. Hugo Fregonese, 1949, Argentina)
Forum: The Music Box Theatre Format: 35mm
Observations: More of the Music Box Theatre’s “Noir City,” with two films by Argentine director Fregonese, whose career took him from South America to Hollywood to budget cinema in Europe. HARDLY A CRIMINAL was a brisk and entertainingly derivative prison film set in Argentina, its chief asset being the urban backdrop of Buenos Aries, not often seen in movies in the States. ONE WAY STREET was a slow-moving, earnest crime drama about James Mason - doctor to the Mob - making a new life in Mexico before inevitably being drawn back to LA. Small audience and frankly hard to tell whether folks were really enjoying it or just getting their money’s worth (it was a double-feature price, and many attendees apparently had series passes). On the plus side, Eddie Muller was in attendance presenting (his introductions sometimes exceed the actual films in entertainment value) and Prof. Tom Gunning from UChicago (with a number of our movie friends) was up in the front row.