Monday, January 18, 2021

IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (Frank Capra, 1934)

 


Ellie is a rich spoiled brat possessed by a loveless covenant who has built a wall around her heart which all comes crashing down once she learns to blow her darling’s trumpet! Frank Capra’s prosaic yet profound parody finds two protagonists at opposing polarities (OK, I’ll stop with the alliteration) whose volatile association allows them to discover more about themselves in their tempestuous discourse! Ellie goes from King to Commoner to find true love.

The setup: Ellie escapes from her well-meaning yet domineering father in Florida to be with her new husband King Westley in New York City. The story: Everything that happens in between! Capra’s film has become the template for the Screwball and Romantic Comedies that have since graced the Silver Screen in the past 80+ years but, on its own merit, remains one of the greatest. Every facet of this production is top-notch, from the screenplay to Capra’s deft direction, to the beautiful photography and wonderful chemistry between Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, which isn’t apparent in the first act but gradually is earned. The editing and suspense in the final act is taught and efficient leading the audience (and the characters) to literally a last second conclusion! And it’s the little details that accumulate throughout the film that make a big difference: Ellie learning to dunk donuts, Peter undressing in front of her as she looks on dispassionately, the woman on the bus who faints from hunger and the kindness shown towards a little boy, the talkative traveler who bugs them to death and he himself who is “Bug-ed” to death (or the threat of), the hitchhiking trial and error, and the motorist who hitches their belongings, to the final last second epiphany.

Ellie changes from severe and obstinate to a more sympathetic and charitable companion and Peter evolves from his dour and pessimistic monologues to one of hope. And a little toy trumpets this to the mean old world.

Final Grade: (A)

Saturday, January 16, 2021

BACK PAGE (Anton Lorenze, 1934)

 

A big city reported becomes a small town editor, Jerry’s headline may be censored but her font is bold. Peggy Shannon’s performance probably deserves a better film but she gets an A for effort in this low-budget B film. Sterling Holloway steals every scene he’s in and one wishes he were the romantic interest instead of the bland and tepid Russell Hopton! Even the stuttering grocery store owner and family historian who is boorish yet kind makes a more lively love interest for our independently willed heroine.

Peggy’s breaking story about a suicide, mistress of a wealthy businessman, is quashed by her city editor because said businessman has stock in the newspaper. She confronts the boss and is fired but her exit was assured anyway, and her boyfriend gets her a job on small newspaper far away in a small dusty town. The elderly editor Samuel Webster of the Apex Advocate is surprised Jerry is a woman, one too pretty to be smart! She handles his condescension well and soon changes his Victorian-era attitude. It’s to Sam’s credit that he actually gives her a chance as his whole life and identity, his entire self-worth, is tied up with his newspaper. One imagines ink coursing through his varicose veins! Peggy is shrewd and cunning yet not mean-spirited and soon has local businesses increasing their advertising. She’s not above the quid pro quo.

Of course there has to be a sordid story in a small town and this one involves an oil well that most of the poor townsfolk have invested in, run by an out-of-town businessman and the local banker. Happenstance along with solid reasoning skills leads Jerry to believe that it’s all a scam to bilk the townsfolk out of their hard-earned depression-era money. It is but not in quite the way we expect. The oil well is considered a loss by the original investors and the banker will buy back some of the debt of the poor citizens. But it isn’t dry! It seems Jerry was raised in an oil town and her investigation leads her to believe the well is going to be a gusher! And her newspaper will break the story...and the bank.

But the cigar-chomping fat banker has one more Ace up his sleeve as he takes control of the newspaper at the last minute, putting Sam Webster out to pasture or the junk yard, wherever old printing presses go to die. Her boyfriend is the nephew of the greedy banker and he urges her to stay on as Editor and his Uncle will invest in new presses and employees making the Advocate the apex it deserves. But no deal, Jerry has integrity and loyalty to the man who gave her a chance. She reveals her knowledge of the scheme to the banker and his protégé and blackmails them into signing the Apex over to Sam. Her doughy boyfriend is back and they embrace but one wonders what she sees in his disloyal and patriarchal attitudes.

The direction and photography seem rather disinterested in the story they’re telling, the sets seem quickly reorganized to appear as disparate locations, and the actors occasionally flub a word and soldier on. Peggy Shannon carries the film on her back, holds it aloft like a brazen headline in Valiant typeface and makes a B picture earn it’s final grade.

Final Grade: (B)

Thursday, January 14, 2021

BLACK MOON (Roy William Neill, 1933)

 

Juanita is lured back home to the old haunts of childhood by a voodoo curse, its mystic rhythm in her very flesh and blood as undeniable as her own beating heart. Director Roy William Neill and DP Joseph August are like Alchemists, combining disparate elements of melodrama and horror into a magical elixir. The use of overpowering shadows and dutch angles pared with sharp direction and editing would later be perfected by Jacques Tourneur in his work for Val Lewton.

Juanita must return home to the island of St. Christopher. As the film begins with an extreme close-up of her lovely visage, her eyes seem focused past the camera and into some ethereal realm of consciousness as she plays a rhythm on a native drum for her little girl Nancy. Her husband Stephen must work but agrees that she, Nancy and the nanny should take a boat and revisit her childhood home, unaware of the dark violent past of her childhood. Enter the beautiful secretary who avows to resign from Stephen’s employment stating she is having “relationship problems” which is code that she is secretly in love with him. Stephen is just thick enough not to notice and Gail just naïve enough to conceal it. But Stephen convinces her to travel with his wife and decide on her job when she returns. Such a trite little melodrama is soon merged with the supernatural horror of voodoo sacrifice.

Juanita's uncle is angry when she appears at his estate (the very place where her parents were sacrificed!) but she is candid about her desire to stay. Soon her husband joins her with his sidekick Lunch (a wonderful Clarence Muse) and her strange disappearances into the jungle cause alarm. Until one night Stephen and Lunch stealthily follow her and see her participate in a voodoo ritual. The religious and sexual energy is released like a frenzy, a rabid danse macabre and Stephen, unable to remain passive, shoots the priest when he’s about to murder Lunch’s girlfriend! The feverish congregation gasps and Juanita picks up the machete and delivers the killing blow! Holy shit, maybe time for a divorce.

The final act involves the fight for survival between the hysterical parishioners now led by Juanita and the new family unit of Stephen, the child and Gail. With the uncle and Lunch, they barricade themselves in the estate’s tower. Hell, Juanita almost sacrifices her own child to the voodoo gods and to Gail’s credit she never reveals her secret until the wife becomes ex. When they are burned out of the tower, locked behind heavy doors with nowhere else to run, the skewed angles, long shadows and thick smoke slowly devouring the frame is very suspenseful.

Though the film is ripe with contemporary racial stereotypes about voodoo and the black islanders, it earns some credit with the heroic role of Lunch as a secondary character with ample screen-time. The acting is mostly wonderful: Fay Wray as the stoic secretary who hides her true emotions, Dorothy Burgess as the cursed wife and Clarence Muse as the staunchly loyal cohort. Jack Holt’s performance is rather bland and dimensionless yet he has an earnest quality about him. Overall, a really good film that comes together into a satisfying whole.

Final Grade: (B+)

Monday, January 11, 2021

DELUGE (Felix E. Feist, 1933)

 

A professional swimmer survives the end of the world but drowns in her jealous greed for a married man. DELUGE may be one of the very first Post-Apocalypse films to depict not only the destruction of New York City in miniature detail but the rag-tag collection of humanity as it descends into anarchy. It’s rather brutal at times (We see a savaged woman, raped and hog-tied whom we only glimpse in extreme close-up) and yet wholesome in its portrait of other women who miraculously manage perfect hair and makeup! It denounces anarchy as the Commune in the final act encourages democracy but it’s a hard-won victory.

The story is thrust upon us from the very first moment as a scientist declares a major storm is coming while checking a barometer. Soon, an Eclipse causes earthquakes that rattle the continent as the West Coast falls into the sea and the Gulf of Mexico devours coastal states (or so we’re told via scientists and radio announcements). As the earthquakes extend towards New York City, we are introduced to the three characters who shall be our focus in the next two Acts: Professional swimmer Claire and the married couple Martin and Helen (and their two children). The couple flee from their crumbling home to the apparent safety of a quarry and Claire just treads water, I suppose. It’s never explained exactly how they survived as the Second Act begins but Martin and Helen are separated and both assume the other dead.

The miniature destruction of New York City is awe inspiring especially for an early Pre-Code drama. Even though it isn’t Ray Harryhausen stop-motion magic, the disintegration of NYC by earthquake and tsunami is brilliantly realized in slow-motion and detailed close-up as skyscrapers break apart and collapse onto throngs of panicked citizens. The huge wave that follows crashes into the rubble as only the Statue of Liberty remains standing, arm raised in defiance against the wrath of god. The devastation lasts for a good five minutes of screen-time until every last building is swallowed by the sea. The strident score’s continuous riptide is overwhelming and is like a thunderclap in a storm of strings and brass. The entire film is scored with this non-diegetic music which, in my experience of early talking pictures, is rare.

Of course Claire and Martin discover one another after she escapes from two men who fight to the death for access to her dissenting body. Soon a mob of entitled white men descend upon the pair as they hide out in a cave, their desire for ownership of her sex their only goal. But another group of survivors from a nearby settlement appear just in time to save our weary protagonists. So Claire and Martin fall in love but they soon discover that Helen and the children have survived and are part of the commune. A happy reunion turns sour as Claire feels pushed aside, her possessive love dominating her instincts. Helen even understands and approaches Claire to form a bond, to share their feelings (and possibly Martin) but Claire is too angry, her good conscience submerged in the deluge of jealousy.

Martin is elected leader by the group which is trying to create a new stable democratic government by vote, but it’s unclear if women and the black survivors are included in this new constitution. Could it be the dawning of a new era of equality, or will the new Boss be the same as the old Boss? Claire gives up and strips to her birthday suite, swimming away to a sure death. She could have inherited the Earth but she didn’t want to share it.

Final Grade: (B)

Saturday, January 9, 2021

ARIZONA (George B. Seitz, 1931)

 

A couple with a mutually consenting open-ended relationship fumble at the goal line and penalize themselves with jealousy and comeuppance. This is no Western as John Wayne portrays Lt. Denton, an Army cadet whose heroics on the football field (and with women) are graduating points of honor to everyone but Evelyn, the girl who loves him. And here is where the conflict begins...and eventually ends.

The first act quickly shows us the two of them together before Denton breaks off their relationship in which both agree was a mutually open-ended engagement: no promises. By happenstance, Evelyn later meets Denton’s superior (and the man who raised him) Col. Bonham while bidding on a signed football. The Colonel soon falls for the much younger Evelyn and when she discovers his relationship to Denton, she quickly acquiesces to a marriage proposal. She never tells her husband of the past relationship and when Denton is transferred to the Colonel’s post in Arizona (hence the film’s title), Denton begins to date Evelyn’s little sister Bonnie in retaliation. Fearing that he will marry Bonnie, especially after seeing him in a drunken revelry with another woman (mistakenly, it must be noted), she decides to accuse him of sexual assault. WTF?!

Let me take a moment and state my bias: I dislike John Wayne. So when a film makes me actually feel sorry for his character, shifts the sympathy (what little was accruing, mind you) from the previously jilted woman to his one-dimensional patriarchal entitled countenance, then I get angry. Evelyn turns out to be a rotten person, Denton is a prick, and neither had the decency to be forthright with the good Colonel until they have so much to lose. It is left undisclosed if poor Bonnie ever learns the truth! At least Evelyn doesn’t beg for the Colonel’s forgiveness as she packs her bags. But the Colonel proclaims his love and they embrace: but we’re left to ponder if it’s actually a happy ending.

Final Grade: (D)

Thursday, January 7, 2021

VIRTUE (Edward Buzzell, 1932)

 

Mae is a Street Walker who is tired of being walked upon and she aims to make a living standing on her own two feet. Jimmy is a Taxi Driver who knows all the “tricks” about women yet remains blinded, unable (or unwilling) to see Mae as nothing but a stereotype. It’s this friction that causes the story to heat up!

The film begins with a Censorship declaration: The first few minutes are blacked-out because it was improper to show the Judicial System in an unflattering light. (Ha! I have 21 years experience in the Judicial System and there is nothing flattering about it!) Yet sound is retained so we can hear the Judge bang his gavel and sentence a gaggle of prostitutes to 90 days on a Work Farm or choose to leave NYC on the next train, never to return. The film then fades-in to Carole Lombard as Mae (who must have been one of the aforementioned prostitutes) being forced by a Detective to buy a one-way ticket to Danbury. Of course at the first opportunity she disembarks and makes her way back to the City. Her confidante Lil (a wonderfully nuanced performance by Mayo Methot!) warns her away from her old haunts and habits and tries to set her straight. Lil slips her a loan and Mae goes to repay a cab driver she stiffed (not sexually, mind you) when she fled from the train.

Jimmy and Mae begin to fall in love but she keeps her past a secret, the courtship lasting while she has honest work at a restaurant. They are soon married and Jimmy works overtime to afford a partnership in a gas station: all he needs to save is $500. Through a series of mishaps and miscommunication, coincident and causality, Jimmy believes Mae is “earning” her money on the side while also being accused of murder! Jimmy sinks towards despair while Mae is resolute, resigned to her fate in prison, knowing the circumstantial evidence points directly to her. Jimmy and Lil actually hold the key to her salvation and the true murderer is finally exposed.

VIRTUE is extremely well written and the characters are interesting and multi-faceted, not mere tropes in a genre film. The narrative twists and turns are surprising and create suspense because we care for Mae, Jimmy and Lil and hope everyone lives happily ever after. For Mae, she has to come to terms with her past so she has no secrets from her husband; Jimmy needs to learn to trust Mae and realize he has no right to judgment upon her; Lil must do the right thing for Lil and her own conscience. The film ends with Mae pumping gas, grease streaked upon her face, as Jimmy finally realizes his dream of ownership (of the gas station, not Mae.) Virtue has multiple definitions: for Mae it’s about finding merit in herself despite her past and for Jimmy it concerns the restructuring of his high moral patriarchal standards. It’s to the story’s strength that they all change...for the better.

Final Grade: (B+)

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

KOROVA THEATRE AWARD WINNERS 2003 - 2019

If a film title is this color, click to read my review! 

Korova Awards: 2019


  1. PARASITE (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea)
  2. ONE CUT OF THE DEAD (Shin'ichirô Ueda, Japan)
  3. ONCE UPON A TIME...IN HOLLYWOOD (Quentin Tarantino, USA)
  4. JO JO RABBIT (Taika Waititi, USA)
  5. JOKER (Todd Phillips, USA)
  6. THE LIGHTHOUSE (Robert Eggers, USA)
  7. UNCUT GEMS (Josh & Benny Safdie, USA)
  8. IN FABRIC (Peter Strickland, UK)
  9. PAIN AND GLORY (Pedro Almodovar, Spain)
  10. MIDSOMMER (Ari Aster, USA)

Korova Awards: 2018

  1. FIRST REFORMED (Paul Schrader, USA)
  2. THE FAVOURITE (Yorgos Lanthimos, UK)
  3. BLACKKKLANSMAN (Spike Lee, USA)
  4. ROMA (Alfonso Cuaron, Mexico)
  5. SHOPLIFTERS (Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan)
  6. COLD WAR (Pawel Pawlikowski, Poland)
  7. BURNING (Lee Chang-dong, South Korea)
  8. BLINDSPOTTING (Carlos Lopez Estrada, USA)
  9. SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (Boots Riley, USA)
  10. SUSPIRIA (Luca Guadagnino, Italy)

Korova Awards: 2017

  1. ZAMA (Lucretia Martel, Argentina)
  2. DETROIT (Kathryn Bigelow, USA)
  3. GET OUT (Jordan Peele, USA)
  4. THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (Yorgos Lanthimos, UK)
  5. PHANTOM THREAD (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA)
  6. BLADE RUNNER 2049 (Denis Villeneuve, USA)
  7. I DON'T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE (Macon Blair, USA)
  8. GOOD TIME (Josh & Benny Safdie, USA)
  9. YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE (Lynne Ramsey, UK)
  10. THE LOVE WITCH (Anna Biller, USA)

Korova Awards: 2016

  1. THE LOBSTER (Yorgos Lanthimos, UK)
  2. AMERICAN HONEY (Andrea Arnold, UK)
  3. CERTAIN WOMEN (Kelly Reichardt, USA)
  4. PATERSON (Jim Jarmusch, USA)
  5. THE WITCH (Robert Eggers, USA)
  6. THE HANDMAIDEN (Park Chan-wook, South Korea)
  7. WEINER-DOG (Todd Solondz, USA)
  8. RAW (Julia Ducournau, France)
  9. THE SALESMAN (Asghar Farhadi, Iran)
  10. TONI ERDMANN (Maren Ade, Germany)

Korova Awards: 2015


  1. SON OF SAUL (Laszlo Nemes, Hungary)
  2. WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi, New Zealand)
  3. A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE (Roy Andersson, Sweden)
  4. THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL (Marielle Heller, USA)
  5. HARD TO BE A GOD (Aleksei German, Russia)
  6. 45 YEARS (Andrew Haigh, UK)
  7. SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE (Mark Burton & Richard Starzak, UK)
  8. VICTORIA (Sebastian Schipper, Germany)
  9. SOUTHBOUND (Radio Silence, Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath, USA)
  10. WILD TALES (Damian Szifron, Argentina)

Korova Awards: 2014

  1. INHERENT VICE (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA)
  2. BLUE RUIN (Jeremy Saulnier, USA)
  3. NIGHT MOVES (Kelly Reichardt, USA)
  4. IDA (Pawel Pawlikowski, Poland)
  5. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (Wes Anderson, USA)
  6. TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT (Luc & Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Belgium)
  7. UNDER THE SKIN (Jonathan Glazer, UK)
  8. A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (Ana Lily Amirpour, USA)
  9. WILLOW CREEK (Bobcat Goldthwait, USA)
  10. ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (Jim Jarmusch, UK) 

Korova Awards: 2013

  1. POST TENEBRAS LUX (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico)
  2. ONLY GOD FORGIVES (Nicolas Winding Refn, Denmark)
  3. SPRING BREAKERS (Harmony Korine, USA) 
  4. UPSTREAM COLOR (Shane Carruth, USA)
  5. FRANCES HA (Noah Baumbach, USA)
  6. BLUE JASMINE (Woody Allen, USA)
  7. STOKER (Park Chan-wook, USA)
  8. NEBRASKA (Alexander Payne, USA)
  9. GRAVITY (Alfonso Cuaron, USA)
  10. THE ACT OF KILLING (Joshua Oppenheimer & Christine Cynn, Denmark)

Korova Awards: 2012

  1. THE MASTER (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA)
  2. BEYOND THE HILLS (Cristian Mungiu, Romania)
  3. ZERO DARK THIRTY (Kathryn Bigelow, USA)
  4. AMOUR (Michael Haneke, France)
  5. HOLY MOTORS (Leos Carax, France)
  6. LOVELY MOLLY (Eduardo Sanchez, USA)
  7. ALPS (Yorgos Lanthimos, Greece)
  8. MOONRISE KINGDOM (Wes Anderson, USA)
  9. ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey)
  10. COSMOPOLIS (David Cronenberg, Canada)

Korova Awards: 2011

  1. THE TURIN HORSE (Bela Tarr, Hungary)
  2. MEEK'S CUTOFF (Kelly Reichardt, USA)
  3. TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (Tomas Alfredson, UK)
  4. THE KID WITH A BIKE (Luc & Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Belgium)
  5. DRIVE (Nicolas Winding Refn, USA)
  6. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (Lynne Ramsey, UK)
  7. MELANCHOLIA (Lars von Trier, Denmark)
  8. TAKE SHELTER (Jeff Nichols, USA)
  9. TYRANNOSAUR (Paddy Considine, UK)
  10. THE THING (Mathijis van Heijningen, Jr., USA)

Korova Awards: 2010

  1. RED RIDING TRILOGY (1974-Julian Jarrold; 1980-James Marsh; 1983-Anand Tucker, UK)
  2. CARLOS (Olivier Assayas, France)
  3. DOGTOOTH (Yorgos Lanthimos, Greece)
  4. FISH TANK (Andrea Arnold, UK)
  5. A PROPHET (Jacques Audiard, France)
  6. MOTHER (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea)
  7. WHITE MATERIAL (Claire Denis, France)
  8. SCOTT PILGRAM VS THE WORLD (Edgar Wright, USA)
  9. CERTIFIED COPY (Abbas Kiarostami, France)
  10. GHOST WRITER (Roman Polanski, UK)

Korova Awards: 2009

  1. THE HURT LOCKER (Kathryn Bigelow, USA)
  2. TOKYO SONATA (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan)
  3. PONYO (Hayao Miyazaki, Japan)
  4. ANTICHRIST (Lars von Trier, Denmark)
  5. LORNA'S SILENCE (Luc & Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Belgium)
  6. MOON (Duncan Jones, UK)
  7. HUNGER (Steve McQueen, Ireland)
  8. THE LIMITS OF CONTROL (Jim Jarmusch, USA)
  9. GOODBYE SOLO (Ramin Bahrani, USA)
  10. ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL (Sacha Gervasi, USA)

Korova Awards: 2008

  1. THE FALL (Tarsem Singh, USA)
  2. IN BRUGES (Martin McDonagh, UK)
  3. CHOP SHOP (Ramin Bahrani, USA)
  4. 4 WEEKS, 3 MONTHS AND 2 DAYS (Cristian Mungiu, Romania)
  5. BREATH (Kim KI-duk, South Korea)
  6. FLIGHT OF THE RED BALLOON (Hou Hsiao-hsien, France)
  7. FUNNY GAMES (Michael Haneke, USA)
  8. THE EDGE OF HEAVEN (Fatih Akin, Turkey)
  9. MAD DETECTIVE (Johnnie To & Wai Ka-fai, Hong Kong)
  10. PARANOID PARK (Gus Van Sant, USA)

Korova Awards: 2007

  1. THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA)
  2. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (Ethan & Joel Coen, USA)
  3. EASTERN PROMISES (David Cronenberg, UK)
  4. WAITRESS (Adrienne Shelly, USA)
  5. ONCE (John Carney, Ireland)
  6. GRINDHOUSE: PLANET TERROR (Robert Rodriguez, USA)
  7. THE HOST (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea)
  8. PAPRIKA (Satoshi Kon, Japan)
  9. THE BOSS OF IT ALL (Lars von Trier, Denmark)
  10. TIME (Kim Ki-duk, South Korea)

Korova Awards: 2006

  1. UNITED 93 (Paul Greengrass, USA)
  2. MANDERLAY (Lars von Trier, Denmark)
  3. BATTLE IN HEAVEN (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico)
  4. L'ENFANT (Jean Pierre-Dardenne & Luc Dardenne, France)
  5. THREE TIMES (Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan)
  6. SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE (Park Chan-wook, South Korea)
  7. DUCK SEASON (Fernando Eimbcke, Mexico)
  8. THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU (Cristi Puiu, Romania)
  9. CAVITE (Neill Dela Llana & Ian Gamazon, Philippines)
  10. THE PROPOSITION (John Hillcoat, Australia)

Korova Awards: 2005

  1. 2046 (Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong)
  2. A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (David Cronenberg, USA)
  3. OLD BOY (Park Chan-wook, South Korea)
  4. 3-IRON (Kim Ki-Duk, South Korea)
  5. KONTROLL (Nimrod Antal, Hungary)
  6. THE RETURN (Andrei Zvyaginstev, Russia)
  7. OR (MONS TRESOR) (Keren Yedeya, Israel)
  8. LAST DAYS (Gus Van Sant, USA)
  9. THE HOLY GIRL (Lucrecia Martel, Argentina)
  10. NOBODY KNOWS (Hirokazu Koreeda, Japan)

Korova Awards: 2004

  1. DOGVILLE (Lars von Trier, Denmark)
  2. OPEN WATER (Chris Kentis, USA)
  3. NAPOLEON DYNAMITE (Jared Hess, USA)
  4. BEFORE SUNSET (Richard Linklater, USA)
  5. KILL BILL VOLUME 2 (Quentin Tarantino, USA)
  6. FAHRENHEIT 911 (Michael Moore, USA)
  7. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (Michael Gondry, USA)
  8. HERO (Yimou Zhang, China)
  9. SHAUN OF THE DEAD (Edgar Wright, UK )
  10. THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD (Guy Maddin, Canada)

Korova Awards: 2003

  1. ELEPHANT (Gus Van Sant, USA)
  2. LOST IN TRANSLATION (Sofia Coppola, USA)
  3. 21 GRAMS ( Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, USA)
  4. SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER...and SPRING (Kim Ki-Duk, South Kores)
  5. AMERICAN SPLENDOR (Shari Springer Bergman, USA )
  6. CITY OF GOD (Fernando Meirelles, Brazil)
  7. TIME OF THE WOLF (Michael Haneke, France)
  8. KILL BILL VOLUME 1 (Quentin Tarantino, USA)
  9. LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (Peter Jackson, USA)
  10. THE STATION AGENT (Thomas McCarthy, USA)

HELL’S HEROES (William Wyler, 1930)

 

Three Unwise Men escape from the hangman’s noose in New Jerusalem only to find salvation by returning from the desert with a gift, not for a child but with one. One of many films based upon the story THE THREE GODFATHERS, William Wyler’s first sound film is a symphony of violence and pathos, shot mostly on location in the blistering heat which imbues the film with a sobering reality.

Bob, Wild Bill, Barbwire and Jose stumble upon the desert town of New Jerusalem, welcomed by a sign that plainly states it’s a bad town for bad men, while a noose hangs swaying in the hot desert breeze. They end up in a raucous saloon where Bob confronts the salacious Sheriff before encouraging a cat-fight between two of his paramours. DP George Robinson makes sure to get some seemingly exploitative low-angle shots of the dancing woman before all Hell breaks loose. This is more than mere Pre-Code exploitation though as it gives an important insight into the Sheriff’s nature as he pretends to drop something onto the sawdust floor so he can look up her dress. It’s a neat and compact revelation and tells us that everyone is tainted in this dirty town. In a few minutes even the Pastor will gun down one of the fleeing criminals!

Bob jokingly threatens to rob the local bank as he saunters from the saloon and, well, that’s exactly what he does. The four men, depicted as no less than thugs and murderers, rob the bank and one of the clerks is shot-down right through the “pump”. Barbwire and Wild Bill even argue about who got the killing shot, like some badge of dishonor. As they escape on horseback, Jose is killed (by the aforementioned Pastor) and the trio make their way into the arid wasteland. But a huge sandstorm is both a blessing and a curse, as it covers their tracks from the posse but also scares away their mounts. Now on foot, they trudge through the sand in tattered clothes, without shade or respite from the heat with lowering supplies hoping to survive until they reach a local watering hole. The first one is poisoned and the second one dry. But they discover a broken wagon and its seemingly succulent cargo: a young woman who seems to be moaning in ecstasy. They argue about who will be first to rape her (these are not morally forthright men) until Bob discovers that she’s about to give birth. The men also learn that her husband (and the baby’s father) was the man they murdered in the bank. The baby is delivered and the three men are stuck with a tiny bundle and a huge problem! Practically dying of thirst themselves, they baptize the baby in sand and grudgingly decide to deliver it back to New Jerusalem.

Bickering and arguing all the while, the men trudge back towards their fate as they drop-off one-by-one: Barbwire, shot in the arm during the heist, commits suicide when he can go no further; Wild Bill sleepwalks to his doom because there’s not enough water for both the men and the baby; and Bob, the last who agreed to help the child, drinks the poisoned water which gives him just enough energy to reach the town. On Christmas Day, Bob delivers his own miracle as he crumples to the floor of the church holding the crying child. Hell has given parole to three of its own and one hopes they have earned salvation.

Final Grade: (A)


Tuesday, January 5, 2021

THREE WISE GIRLS (William Beaudine, 1933)

 

Jean Harlow discovers jerking sodas in small town USA ain’t much different than jerking sodas under the bright lights of the big city. And no man will make a jerk of her! The seductive Harlow, the perspicacious Mae Clark and the unpretentious Marie Provost are the titular women whose wisdom cannot always save them from love’s forlorn consequences.

In Harlow’s first starring role, DP Ted Tetzlaff wastes no time in focusing the camera upon her beautiful figure, following her home from work and methodically undressing before climbing into bed...with her mother! But we soon learn Cassie is not content with her $15/week salary and longs to earn more money in the Big City like her friend Gladys, who just purchased her own mother a brand-spanking new Ford motorcar. Cut To: Cassie jerking sodas once again but this time in the city. As a drunken and suspiciously well-dressed man stumbles to the counter Cassie literally floors her boss for his “hands-on” training procedures. She quits and demands her two-days pay. When he refuses the drunken customer stands up for her. Thus begins a blossoming romance that soon wilts under the klieg lights of unholy matrimony.

Cassie and the upwardly mobile Jerry soon begin to date at the urging of her roommate Dot, whose homespun worldly wisdom is greater than the hackneyed letters clacked out from her Underwood. Marie Provost is wonderful as the roommate, often mocking her own shortcomings with humor and wit while never surrendering to their abased social status. In one scene, she holds up a small “shriveled wienie” and imparts sage advice for gals like them: ‘ya know, even small wienies have something to offer! Hot damn, fuck the Hayes’ Code! Cassie and Gladys are soon reacquainted but Gladys’ happiness seems precipitous, likely to fall because she’s the mistress to a wealthy man. Cassie sees the superficial glamour but her childhood friend’s insight is acute and she warns Cassie about getting involved with her own married man. And Jerry is a married man, a fact he has kept hidden. In fact, Jerry is trying to convince his wife to divorce him which predates Cassie’s involvement so he’s not the Cad she mistakenly believes. Dot hooks up with Jerry’s chauffeur and finds love of her own. Gladys is the tragic one, whose downfall was almost terminal velocity but induced by poison instead.

Believing Jerry is a jerk and suffering from the loss of her friend, Cassie heads back home to the coffee-stained counter of her previous life. But a surprising headline and a trio of visitors sweep her away again: Jerry is divorced and Dot is engaged...to the chauffeur! It’s all a rather trifling affair though the death of Gladys is poignant. In THREE WISE GIRLS, the three actresses outclass the mundane script.

Final Grade: (C) 

Monday, January 4, 2021

LADIES THEY TALK ABOUT (Howard Bretherton & William Keighley, 1933, USA)

 

Nan Taylor is no one’s Patsy; her badge of honor is Loyalty. Barbara Stanwyck as Nan is a force of nature, an emotional tsunami whose riptide drowns those who she believes cheats or takes advantage of her.

The film begins with an extreme close-up of Stanwyck making an emergency call to the police. As she jumps into a car with three tough-looking men inside we quickly discover her ruse: it’s a distraction so they can rob a bank. Unfortunately, the hold-up goes awry and Nan is left holding the rap. But she remains loyal to her partners-in-crime and doesn’t give them up to the DA. Even her childhood friend, the reform-minded Evangelical David Slade, can’t change her mind...or attitude. He confesses his love for her but she finally admits her part in the crime and assertively, with head held high, walks down her time. Interestingly, she remains stoic about her cohorts but not out of love or passion for them, at least not in a purely physical way. The story doesn’t reveal any of them as a typical love interest and Nan isn’t objectified as the “dame” or “Femme Fatale” (a term not coined yet in ‘33) for their minor syndicate: they are equal partners and seem to respect one another. This was an attribute to be admired during the Depression as tough circumstances make tough families, blood be damned.

The next two Acts depict Nan serving her time in San Quentin. Our introduction to the prison seems typical at first: hard men marching in orderly lines overseen by even harder men, the guards! Not a word is muttered, just the stomp of work-boots upon cement. This cuts to: women bustling down a tight corridor, walking and talking freely. Welcome to the Women’s side of San Quentin! DP John Seitz (see Note at end of review) truly captures the empty faces and steely eyes of the other women starring down Nan as she enters. But she is up to the task and puts her bully in her place: she eventually knocks her out cold! We soon learn that the women have much more liberty in their incarceration and when Nan’s partners are sentenced for an old crime, it’s used to their advantage in an escape attempt. We even get a short musical number from Lilian Roth as she sings to a picture of actor Joe. E. Brown (of all people)!

But Slade hasn’t forgotten about Nan. He visits her nearly every month though she isn’t much interested. He even unwittingly helps in her escape attempt but Nan mistakenly believes he betrayed her. True to her code, she will kill him the first chance she gets. After the death of her compatriots during the ill fated escape, Nan’s limited involvement leads to a longer sentence but she doesn’t complain. She bides her time until she can be paroled and hunt down that scum David Slade. Wasting no time, she makes her way to one of his Revivals on the first night or her release! In a heated argument that rivals Edward G. Robinson’s tormented soliloquy in the great film TWO SECONDS, Stanwyck bursts apart, angry tears and spittle flying, screaming into Slade’s face inches away. His confusion only torments her and she shoots to kill but only wings him. Realizing her mistake that Slade didn’t betray her, and Slade still loving her for her moral consistency (I suppose) he proposes amid the chaos. It’s a happy yet somber ending because neither Nan nor David had to rearrange their moral reasoning to seek redemption. Sometimes fruit falls far from the poisonous tree.

FINAL GRADE: (A)

NOTE: Cinematographer John Seitz is a legend! Look at his filmography online but I’ll name a few of my favorites: SUNSET BOULEVARD, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, THIS GUN FOR HIRE, THE BIG CLOCK, INVADERS FROM MARS. No wonder this film looks so good.


Sunday, January 3, 2021

SHOPWORN (Nick Grinde, 1932)

 

Kitty Lane isn’t a one-way street though her relationship seems to hit a dead-end. Barbara Stanwyck depicts a Blue-collar working girl whose beauty and independent spirit are more substantial than the glamour and wealth of her paramour’s estate.

The film begins with tragedy: Kitty’s father is a miner who is crushed to death by a landslide. She goes to live with her Aunt Dot (another wonderful performance from Zasu Pitts!) whose husband owns a dingy diner in a College town. She gains quite an undeserved flirtatious reputation before a wealthy student David Livingston becomes smitten with her and pursues her romantically. If you want to see Barbara Stanwyck read the dictionary and excitedly proclaim she knows the meaning of ejaculate, then this film’s for you!! However, David’s widowed mother is possessive and overbearing and has her friend Judge Forbes arrest her for indecency or immoral behavior (was that a title 18 crime is ‘32?). Kitty is locked up in a women’s work farm for 90 days; just enough time for David to leave the country with mother. The film isn’t a confrontation between lovers, David is actually very fond of Kitty and the feeling is reciprocated honestly, but a showdown between mother and son. The story’s weakness may also be considered its strength in that David is ineffectual and so emotionally hamstrung by his domineering mother that it’s difficult to like him. But this plays well against Kitty’s spirited persona and you love her earnest attempt at romance even more! When Judge Forbes returns and offers Kitty a $5,000 bribe to spurn David, Barbara gets to go Full-Stanwyck on his ass: she throws the wad of bills into his face and screams him into silence. Well, to be more precise, she fucking winds-up and practically punches the money into his jowls!

Kitty, now believing that David has cast her aside, picks herself up by the boot-straps (or garters) and we are treated to a montage of success: in the following months she becomes a burlesque star, earning her own independent living. When David enters the picture once again his mother is going to end the romance permanently. Now the film seems cut as it leads towards the final act, as there is a romance and murder (?) shown briefly in a newspaper headline with Kitty as the mistress: maybe a married-man love triangle that ends in death? This would have given the mother’s near-fatal act more gravitas as the film nears its conclusion: as is, her appearance with a handgun to kill Kitty seems a bit preposterous. But if she actually believes Kitty is a murderess then it makes more sense. Finally, Kitty and Mother come to an understanding and Kitty pretends to scorn David but the Truth wins out for a happy embrace. I’m sure David is going to learn that ejaculate is not only a transitive verb but a noun.

Final Grade: (C+)

Saturday, January 2, 2021

TEN CENTS A DANCE (Lionel Barrymore, 1931)

 

Barbara O'Neill may sell her soles for ten cents a dance but her soul is not for sale. Barbara Stanwyck once again shines through the detritus of the Depression as a smart, wisecracking gal who can handle her own whether it be fisticuffs or verbal sparring. Stanwyck is so genuine and earnest in her role it’s heartbreaking.

Barbara is a Taxi Dancer who lives night to night earning her living by dancing with any man who has a ticket. She is disillusioned but reticent, accepting her place in the social hierarchy while at the same time rebelling against it. This frisson creates the energy that propels her character throughout the story. She’s in love with Eddie Miller, a down-on-his-luck young man who grudgingly accepts her help and vows to pay her back. A rich businessman Bradley Carlton has also become smitten by the beautiful dancer and tips her $100 (which she gives to Eddie to pay his rent) and buys her an expensive dress. His affections seem authentic and it’s to the story’s strength that he isn’t portrayed as a tyrant or bully, though it sets up the eventual showdown between love interests. But here, expectations are upended and it’s the wealthy man who has the moral high ground!

Barbara gets Eddie a job in Carlton’s accounting office and she and Eddie soon secretly marry. Barbara spurns Bradley in the nicest way possible (which makes me love her performance even more) and again, to his credit, he graciously accepts her declination of his affections. She returns the expensive dress unworn and he turns it in to the coat-check and gives her the ticket: if she ever changes her mind she can always come back for it. Richard Cortez as Bradley is wonderfully nuanced, he’s handsome and charismatic yet humble and sincere, as we the audience expect some twist that reveals him for a Cad! Instead, we are led to empathize with Eddie as he struggles to support himself and Barbara (who never complains, mind you) but as the narrative progresses his true self emerges. My wife and I called him Sniveling Little Rat Faced Git! When Barbara Stanwyck loves you unconditionally, is willing to struggle with you emotionally, financially and physically through thick and thin, professes unwavering support and you condemn her, blame her for your shortcomings...you’re a fucking Sniveling Little Rat Faced Git. To Monroe Owsley’s credit, he makes the audience feel sort of bad for Eddie at first then gradually becomes a prick: he’s very convincing!

The denouement involves Eddie stealing $5,000 from his office which he lost in the Stock Market (which makes me even angrier at him, it’s 1931 for fuck’s sake!). Barbara has to swallow her pride and go to Bradley and ask for a loan to keep her husband out of prison. It’s heart-wrenching to see this willful lady ask her once-upon-a-time suitor for a loan she can probably never pay back. She doesn’t prostitute herself (physically or emotionally) and it doesn’t seem to cross Bradley’s mind: he sees a women he loved in need so he helps her. No strings attached. However, once Eddie learns where she got the money he’s sure she “earned” it and goes on a tirade against her. But Barbara holds her own and destroys his manhood with a few well-placed words. Now in charge of her own affairs, she retrieves her destiny for the cost of a single dance: ten cents.

Final Grade: (B)