Stalag 17

When Gil Stratton’s character “Cookie” announces in the voiceover that opens Stalag 17 that “it always make me sore when I see those war pictures — all about flying leather-necks and submarine patrols and frogmen and guerillas in the Philippines… what gets me is that there never was a movie about P.O.W.s” he wouldn’t have been accurate, even in 1944 when the film was set; Renoir’s The Grand Illusion was released in 1938, but it’s French. What’s really happening there is Billy Wilder is already winking at the audience to think about what POW films have been made, and I’m guessing he was betting that his audience hadn’t seen The Grand Illusion, or British productions like 1947s The Captive Heart or 1950s The Wooden Horse. Read more of this post

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

In one issue of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, it’s revealed that there’s a library in the realm of The Dreaming that contains not just every book ever written, every film ever made, etc. but also every book, film, etc. ever conceived. You can just imagine that within that library exists the other 8 hours of Stroheim’s Greed and the lost hour of Welles’ The Magnificent Andersons. You can add David Lynch’s Twin Peaks to that collection, in which the third season and everything cut from the film remains locked away. It’s a tremendous shame too, as the show’s first season revolutionized American television, bringing an unheard of cinematic quality to the medium, as well as adding Lynch’s unique brand of surrealism, humor, and art-house tendencies. Read more of this post

Alternate Perspective: Summer Wars by JH

“Anime? You mean the Japanese cartoons like Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh!” or “Anime? You mean the Japanese cartoons full of sex and violence?” are probably the two most common responses by “normal” people when they find out that someone watches anime; I can’t help but find the polar opposite associations rather hilarious. Nobody would ever say “oh, you read poetry, you mean that stuff about flowers?” or “oh, you read poetry, you mean that stuff about wars?” The Association stem from the confusion that anime is a genre rather than simply animation from Japan; it’s no more a genre than French films are a genre. Once I’ve explained that to people unfamiliar with anime the next question is inevitably “why do you watch cartoons?”.  Indeed, the stigma against animation has something only suited for kids or outrageous satirical comedy is pervasive in most of the West. The simple answer behind why I watch it is that the creative freedom inherent in animation, and frequently expressed through animation, far outweighs that in the vast majority of live-action films, and Mamoru Hosoda’s Summer Wars is a prime example of that imaginative explosion. Read more of this post

Camille

Is there a greater repository of lost classics in the entire canon of world cinema than classic Hollywood? Today, major studios have learned that the real money is in putting all their eggs into one-basket blockbusters that cost hundreds of millions to make and can gross into the billions, but, back in the day, Hollywood was all about mass production. The initial inclination is to condemn this as a homogenized, manufactured approach to filmmaking, but the truth is closer to the opposite. Because Hollywood, especially the major studios, produced so many films they had the freedom to take risks that modern studios don’t. Classic Hollywood also had a cadre of the greatest technicians, artisans, and, yes, artists that filmmaking has ever known. It’s always an adventure to scan the credits of a classic Hollywood film to see what talents work on it. Read more of this post

Just One Look

Wong Yau Nam, a child, and Shawn Yue work the fishball stand in 1970's Cheng Chau.

Riley Yip’s Just One Look is a pleasant surprise of a film. Given the pop star pedigree of the cast, which includes young idols Shawn Yue, Wong Yau Nam, and both Twins (Charlene Choi and Gillian Chung), it’s not hard to come in expecting a lightweight commercialized youth romance. While romance is indeed involved, the film is also about of bitter grudges, martial arts, the transformation into adulthood, and of course, the love of cinema.

The films starts out with Fan, played by Li Ting-Fung as a child and Shawn Yue as an adult, witnessing an argument between his father (Sam Lee), a decorated policeman, and Crazy (Anthony Wong), a local triad who Fan’s father is in debt to. The two see a movie shortly afterward, and partway through, the father gets up to leave, taking one last look at his son before entering the bathroom, where gunshots are soon heard from. While the death is largely assumed to be a suicide, Fan swears for many years that Crazy was responsible. Read more of this post

Boris Barnet: Outskirts/The Patriots & Girl with the Hatbox

The Girl with the Hatbox (1930)

Outskirts/The Patriots (1933)

Outside of Jonathan Rosenbaum, who called Outskirts and By the Bluest of Seas masterpieces, Boris Barnet is a little-known figure even in cinephile communities. It’s a shame too, as the two films on this DVD point towards an early master of Soviet cinema. Of course, even mentioning “Soviet cinema” brings to mind the likes of Eisenstein, montage theory, and propaganda, but Barnet is the rarest of birds: an early master of Russian cinema that shies away from propaganda, and is supremely tasteful and judicious in his use of montage. The Girl with the Hatbox closely recalls the silent comedies of Charlie Chaplin in its elegance and charming humor. In the case of Outskirts, the truth is more devious; it’s a film that’s almost anti-Soviet in its satire, mixing comedy, drama, war, as well as sound and images in utterly original ways for a film from 1933. Read more of this post

The Fighter

Micky: “Everyone said I could beat him.”

Charlene: “Who’s everyone?”

Micky: “My brother, my mother.”

Between the ultimate stand-up-and-cheer-for-the-underdog Rocky, and one of the most brutally visceral character studies ever in fiction in Raging Bull, one wonders if there’s anything left in the field of the boxing sub-genre to cull. All those since have added precious little to the formula, except Million Dollar Baby, which substituted a female boxer and became a film about the most unusual of friendships. Really, the best boxing films all have one thing in common, and that’s that they’re about character infinitely more than boxing. Even Rocky would be nothing without Stalone’s iconic performance, and who can imagine Raging Bull without DeNiro’s ferocious Jake LaMotta? At its core, The Fighter is another such character study. Read more of this post