Wednesday, May 27, 2015

20th Century Fox (2000)

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#1,744. 20th Century Fox: The Blockbuster Years (2000)

Posted: 26 May 2015 10:35 PM PDT


Directed By: Kevin Burns, Shelley Lyons

Starring: Irwin Allen, Robert Altman, Don Ameche




Tag line: "Step Inside a Hollywood Dream Factory"

Trivia: In Spain, this documentary was shown under the title The Golden Years of Fox








20th Century Fox: The Blockbuster Years picks up where The First 50 Years left off: with 1965's The Sound of Music. Heralded as the picture that saved Fox following the debacle that was Cleopatra, The Sound of Music was a box office sensation (after its initial run, the movie had brought in over $100 million worldwide). But despite the film's overwhelming success, audiences in the late '60s and early '70s were in the mood for something new, and as a result, big-budget musicals like Hello, Dolly and Dr. Doolittle failed to recoup their costs. As it had been just a few years before, 20th Century Fox was once again on the verge of collapse, and it would take a whole new approach to the art of filmmaking to turn its fortunes around.

With James Coburn returning as narrator, 20th Century Fox: The Blockbuster Years covers what I consider one of the most exciting periods of creativity in cinematic history: the 1970s, when brash young filmmakers took the industry by storm, delivering the kind of entertainment that people were clamoring for. In 1970, the studio released two very different war movies: Patton, a biopic about the controversial WWII general; and Robert Altman's MASH, an irreverent comedy that, despite being set during the Korean War, had plenty to say about Vietnam as well. The era also saw such films as the hyper-realistic The French Connection (which, like Patton, was named Best Picture by the Academy) and the incredibly fun Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In addition, The Blockbuster Years chronicles the birth of the disaster genre (which kicked off with a pair of Irwin Allen productions, The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno), and takes us back to May 25, 1977, when the worldwide phenomenon that was Star Wars first hit the scene.

From Alien to Revenge of the Nerds, and from The Omen to Edward Scissorhands, 20th Century Fox: The Blockbuster Years is, like The First 50 Years before it, an exhaustive, clip-heavy documentary about one of Hollywood's most prolific dream factories, and a glowing memorial to the movies that made it great.







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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

CAGNEY: LADY KILLER (1933)

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#1,743. Lady Killer (1933)

Posted: 25 May 2015 10:38 PM PDT


Directed By: Roy Del Ruth

Starring: James Cagney, Mae Clarke, Margaret Lindsay



Tag line: "Is Hollywood howling ! at this inside story of The Screen Idol Who Threw -?- -?- -?- Out Of His -?- -?- -?- On Her -?- !"

Trivia: Based on the story "The Finger Man" by Rosalind Keating Shaffer






Poor Mae Clarke! Two years after he shoved a grapefruit in her face in The Public Enemy, James Cagney was at it again in Lady Killer, only this time around he got a bit rougher with the actress, dragging her through an apartment by her hair before kicking her out the front door. It's but one of many memorable scenes from this frantic 1933 crime / comedy, which, along with featuring another fine Cagney performance, rarely slows down to take a breath.

Instead of losing his cool when Myra (Clarke) and her male cohorts Spade (Douglass Dumbrille), Duke (Leslie Fenton), Smiley (Russell Hopton) and Pete (Raymond Hatton) con him out of $50, former movie house usher Dan Quigley (Cagney) talks them into letting him join the gang. With Dan's help, the group is taking in more money than ever before, but when a simple heist goes wrong, Dan and Myra hop the next bus bound for L.A., where they hope to lay low until the smoke clears. Soon after their arrival, however, Dan is picked up by the cops, at which point Myra (urged on by Spade) skips town with every cent he had in the world. Dead broke, Dan signs on as an extra in a movie, and before long he's a big star, dating fellow actress Lois Underwood (Margaret Lindsey) and enjoying his moment in the sun. But when Myra and the others suddenly resurface and threaten to expose his turbulent past, it may spell the end of Dan's Hollywood career.

Cagney is a veritable bundle of energy throughout Lady Killer, rattling off jokes and one-liners early on (in the opening sequence, he loses his job as an usher by poking fun at a couple of customers), then squaring off against Myra and the others later on (It's when she shows up unexpectedly, ruining his date with Lois, that Myra experiences the full effect of Dan's wrath). In addition to Cagney's spirited performance, director Roy Del Ruth keeps Lady Killer moving along at a brisk pace, filling the screen with a series of excellent scenes; the sequence where Dan fakes a car accident to gain access to a wealthy widow's mansion (so that he and the others can rob it) is a definite highlight, as is the big chase at the end of the picture, which concludes with a thrilling police shoot-out.

Jam-packed with one great moment after another (aside from what's detailed above, we also spend time on various movie sets, watching Dan go from a nameless extra to a Hollywood star), Lady Killer accomplishes more in 75 minutes than most films do in two hours







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Fwd: How Did Nicole Kidman's 'Grace of Monaco' Go From Cannes Opener to Lifetime Movie? The Movie's Writer Tweets All


Friday, May 22, 2015

Little Caesar (1931)

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#1,740. Little Caesar (1931)

Posted: 22 May 2015 09:53 AM PDT


Directed By: Mervyn LeRoy

Starring: Edward G. Robinson, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Glenda Farrell



Line from this film: "I don't want no dancin'... I figure in makin' other people dance"

Trivia: Warner Brothers' head of production, Darryl F. Zanuck, decided to make this film after one of his close friends was killed by a bootlegger






Though not the first American gangster movie ever made (most agree that honor belongs to D.W. Griffith's The Musketeers of Pig Alley), Little Caesar kicked off a series of films that focused on the anti-hero, a criminal whose fearlessness and fortitude carried him to the top, making him king of the underworld. Usually lumped together with The Public Enemy (released later that same year) and Scarface (1932), Little Caesar made a lot of people sit up and take notice, and not everyone liked what they were seeing.

Two petty hoods, Cesare Enrico Bandello (Edward G. Robinson) and Joe Massara (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.), tired of working in the sticks for chump change, head to the city, where they hope to make a name for themselves. For Massara, that means leaving the criminal life behind and becoming a professional dancer. Paired with the lovely Olga (Glenda Farrell), Joe headlines at a posh nightclub, and before long is a big star. As for his pal, Cesare Enrico (who likes to be called "Rico" for short), he wants one thing and one thing only: power! Starting out as the muscle in a gang headed by Sam Vettori (Stanley Fields), Rico's blinding ambition and tough-as-nails mentality (as well as his knack for knocking off the competition) helps him rise through the ranks. But along with the power comes notoriety, and before long police Sergeant Flaherty (Thomas Jackson), who's sworn to take down the city's criminal element, comes gunning for Rico. Will the pugnacious hood remain on top, or is this the end of Cesare Enrico Bandello?

Aside from initiating the Hollywood gangster craze, Little Caesar is the film that made Edward G. Robinson a star. A diminutive actor hailing from Bucharest, Romania, Robinson brought a calculated determination, as well as the feistiness of a rabid dog, to the role of Rico, and in so doing made him the most charismatic character in the entire film (even an actor as experienced as Douglas Fairbanks Jr. seems boring when compared to Robinson's portrayal of Rico). From the get-go, we know exactly what Rico is after, and never once does he veer from that path. It isn't even the money he wants; he tells Joe early on that it's the power he's after, the knowledge that he's on top, and people will obey his every command. This is what drives Rico to kill and steal, and watching his meteoric rise is what makes Little Caesar such a fascinating motion picture.

As it was with Cagney in The Public Enemy and Paul Muni in Scarface, Robinson's performance ensured that the lawless Rico was the focal point of Little Caesar, a fact that didn't sit well with either the censors or the moral majority (at one point, the American Legion, fearing their influence, threatened to boycott all gangster films). But try as they might to change the tide of public opinion, American audiences connected with these anti-heroes, who used tenacity alone to climb the ladder of success. It didn't even matter if Johnny Law won out in the end; for a while, Little Caesar's Rico, The Public Enemy's Tom Powers, and Scarface's Tony Camonte were on top of the world looking down on the rest of us, and for audience members still dealing with Great Depression, this taste of victory, however brief, was surely better than what the world was offering them.







#1,739. Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990)

Posted: 21 May 2015 09:36 PM PDT


Directed By: John Harrison

Starring: Deborah Harry, Matthew Lawrence, Christian Slater



Tag line: "Four Ghoulish Fables in One Modern Nightmare"

Trivia: Laurel Productions initially announced a sequel to this film in October 1990, but it never came to fruition







I was a fan of the Tales from the Darkside television series, though admittedly I came to it a bit late (it launched in 1984, but I didn't start watching until '87, at which point it was on its last legs). But even if I'd never seen the show, I'd have wanted to check out 1990's Tales from the Darkside: The Movie. A horror anthology featuring segments written by Michael McDowell (who penned Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas) and George A. Romero (the Living Dead series), one of which was based on a short story by Stephen King (Creepshow, Pet Sematary), Tales from the Darkside: The Movie already had enough going for it, but throw in makeup effects by Robert Kurtzman (Predator, From Dusk Till Dawn), Howard Berger (Drag Me to Hell, This is the End), and Greg Nicotero (Day of the Dead, Wishmaster), and you have a film sure to pique the interest of most red-blooded genre fans.

Betty (Debbie Harry), a witch living in a posh suburban neighborhood, is preparing a dinner party for eight, and the main course is going to be her paperboy, Timmy (Matthew Lawrence), who she has chained up in a small dungeon that's adjacent to the kitchen. Hoping to stall his imminent demise, Timmy relates his three favorite stories from the horror-themed book that Betty gave him to pass the time. The first, titled Lot 249, is about a nerdy college student named Bellingham (Steve Buscemi) who's been cheated out of a fellowship award by classmates Lee (Robert Sedgwick) and Susan (Julianne Moore). An antiquity major, Bellingham takes his revenge by bringing an ancient Egyptian mummy (Michael Deak) to life, then ordering it to kill his two adversaries. But will Bellingham's neighbor Andy (Christian Slater), who also happens to be Susan's brother, thwart his plans before they come to fruition? Story #2, aka Cat from Hell, tells the tale of an elderly rich man (William Hickey) who offers a professional assassin (David Johansen) $100,000 to kill the black cat that's been hanging around his mansion. Yet what at first appears to be an easy hit takes a terrifying turn when the cat starts fighting back. Finally, there's Lover's Vow, in which Preston (James Remar), a struggling New York artist, witnesses a murder committed by a gargoyle. Instead of finishing Preston off as well, the gargoyle makes him promise never to tell anyone about what he's just seen. Preston agrees, and over the course of the next 10 years, his career takes off. What's more, he marries a beautiful woman named Carola (Rae Dawn Chong), the love of his life and the eventual mother of his two children. For Preston, it's the realization of all his wildest dreams, but some dreams have a way of turning into nightmares.

With decent performances from both Debbie Harry and Matthew Lawrence, the framing story gets the job done, but it's the three segments that truly stand out. Aside from featuring a sexy Julianne Moore (in what would be her big-screen debut), Lot 249 (which McDowell adapted from a short story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) is also a nod to the classic monsters of Universal's heyday, a reminder that even a mummy can give you the shivers . Written by Romero and based on a work by Stephen King, Cat from Hell is the film's funniest sequence (thanks in large part to William Hickey, whose over-the-top portrayal of a drug-addicted millionaire had me laughing out loud), but it also has one of the movie's best special effects, a moment that will have you laughing and cringing all at the same time. And even though the final twist in Lover's Vow is a tad predictable, it's still an effectively romantic tale (and the gargoyle is awesome as hell).

With the crisp storytelling of the TV series combined with plenty of R-rated gore, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie is the best of both worlds, and that alone is something to celebrate. Whether you're a fan of the show or not, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie is definitely worth a watch.







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Thursday, May 21, 2015

This week on MUBI: Watch Nostalghia

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With only 7 feature films, Andrei Tarkovsky created a world: of prophesy, madness, grace, and spiritual transcendence. Made in exile from the USSR, _Nostalghia_ is a uniquely personal masterwork that stands with his best. Winner of Best Director at Cannes, an honor he shared with Bresson! In HD. Weekly
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Nostalghia

Andrei Tarkovsky, 1983
With only 7 feature films, Andrei Tarkovsky created a world: of prophesy, madness, grace, and spiritual transcendence. Made in exile from the USSR, Nostalghia is a uniquely personal masterwork that stands with his best. Winner of Best Director at Cannes, an honor he shared with Bresson! In HD.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Bicycle Thief

<center>if charlie parker was a gunslinger,<br>there'd be a whole lot of dead copycats</center>


The Huddled Masses #2

Posted: 18 May 2015 11:10 AM PDT


The Bicycle Thief, 1948, d. De Sica

50 years of (twentieth century) #Fox

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#1,737. 20th Century Fox: The First 50 Years (1997)

Posted: 19 May 2015 03:46 PM PDT


Directed By: Kevin Burns

Starring: James Coburn, Julie Andrews, Roddy McDowall




Tag line: "Step Inside a Hollywood Dream Factory"

Trivia: The fifty years covered are 1915 through 1965








Director Kevin Burns' 1997 documentary 20th Century Fox: The First 50 Years is a veritable feast for cinephiles; an intensive documentary about one of the major Hollywood studios that, over the course of 2+ hours, shows us how it got so big in the first place.

Narrated by James Coburn, 20th Century Fox: The First 50 Years shuttles us back to the beginning, when Hungarian immigrant William Fox, toiling in New York's garment district, decided to take a chance on the brand-spanking new motion picture industry. Selling everything he owned, Fox opened a chain of theaters, and before long was producing his own movies (his first being Life's Shop Window in 1914). Hoping to expand, he eventually moved his fledgling company, Fox Films Corp., to the west coast, settling in the up-and-coming town of Hollywood, California. With the help of actress Theda Bara (who, in films like 1917's Cleopatra and The She-Devil in 1918, gave birth to the Hollywood "Vamp") and a series of popular westerns (including John Ford's The Iron Horse), Fox was soon a major force in the industry, and even though he lost the race for introducing sound to movies (Warner Bros. beat him to the punch with 1927's The Jazz Singer), Fox's sound-on-film system would become the standard for decades to come (among the earliest pictures to feature this new technology was F.W. Murnau's brilliant award-winning masterpiece, 1927's Sunrise).

Soon after the stock market crash of 1929, a nearly bankrupt Fox was forced out of the studio he founded, clearing the way for Darryl Zanuck to take the helm. Merging Fox with his own company, 20th Century Pictures, Zanuck would lead this new powerhouse (aptly named 20th Century Fox) into Hollywood's Golden age, introducing future stars like Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart to movie audiences (both actors made their feature film debut in 1930's Up the River) and producing some of John Ford's most beloved classics (Drums Along the Mohawk, The Grapes of Wrath, How Green Was My Valley). During World War II, Zanuck, who volunteered with the Signal Corps, instructed his studio to concentrate on flag-waving war films (Winged Victory, Guadalcanal Diary) and lighthearted musicals (most starring Betty Grable, who'd become the most popular pin-up girl for G.I's serving overseas), which gave Americans hope, and something to smile about, during this difficult time.

Oddly enough, the above only brings us to the halfway point of 20th Century Fox: The First 50 Years. And believe it or not, the second half is every bit as extensive, covering the turbulent 1950s, when TV forced movie screens to get bigger (with Fox leading the way with 1953's The Robe, the first film presented in the Cinemascope widescreen process) and a young starlet named Marilyn Monroe (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Seven Year Itch) took Hollywood by storm. From social consciousness (Gentleman's Agreement, The Snake Pit) to Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals (Oklahoma, The King and I), and from Sci-Fi ( The Fly, The Day the Earth Stood Still) to Elvis Presley (Love Me Tender), 20th Century Fox remained on the cutting edge. Hell, they even found a way to survive the debacle that was the production of 1963's Cleopatra, which ran years over schedule and millions of dollars over budget. The good times and the bad, the classics and the box office duds, are all there for the taking in this exhaustive, highly informative documentary.

There are brief interviews with some former stars (Roddy McDowall, Debbie Reynolds), but for the most part, 20th Century Fox: The First 50 Years is all about the movies, told by way of clips from over a hundred of the studio's films. This, coupled with Coburn's narration, makes 20th Century Fox: The First 50 Years much more than a history lesson; it's an homage to Hollywood's illustrious past, and a celebration of all the cinema has to offer.







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