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    • The Essential Jacques Demy: The Criterion Collection on Blu-ray

    • The Criterion Collection's prime function is making great filmmakers accessible to the home video audience. Their new dual-format disc set The Essential Jacques Demy contains excellent restorations of the marvelous French director's best films. Always a loner exploring new avenues of music and romance, Demy's work will delight fans of his international success The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

      Jacques Demy is not categorized as a French New Wave filmmaker, but his Lola (1961) has the look of a Nouvelle Vague feature. It was filmed mostly with available light on location in the seaport of Nantes, with all audio dubbed in post-production. The B&W Franscope images slowly build a dizzying tangle of romantic relationships that center on the handsome but aimless Roland Cassard (Marc Michel) and a singer and bar hostess, Lola (Anouk Aimée). Roland meets an attractive widow (Elina Labourdette) in a bookstore, and offers advice to her daughter Cécile (Annie Duperoux). Roland encounters Lola and soon falls in love, but the timing isn't right. Lola spends the night with an American sailor friend, yet is saving her heart for a long-lost love that abandoned her with child seven years ago.

      In Lola fate takes the form of accidental meetings, which happen easily in an ornate courtyard shopping arcade frequented by most of the characters. All of the lovers have histories of mistakes and broken hearts, but none of them realize that their personal stories are part of a larger, repeating pattern. Lola would rather wait for her dream lover to return than commit to Roland. When young Cécile is taken to a fun fair by Lola's sailor friend and falls madly in love with him, she's unaware that the exact same thing happened to her mother, and Lola as well. Jacques Demy is reminding us that our romantic experiences are private, yet shared by all.

      Despite the gray realism of the cinematography, fantasy elements slip in. Sailors dance and drink at Lola's nightclub, where every working girl has a heart of gold. Cécile is barely in her teens, but we see her enraptured by love and ready to make a life-changing decision. 'Magical' timing brings people together and keeps them apart. Roland just misses an appointment for a job with a diamond smuggler, an accident that saves his skin. Appearing periodically through the picture is a tall man in a white Cadillac, who may hold the solution to several relationships.

      Demy references other romantic movies as well. Elina Labourdette starred in the classic Les dames du Bois de Boulogne as a woman trapped in a sordid compromise; her character in Lola is determined to save her daughter from the same fate. Roland Cassard attends a matinee of Return to Paradise, in which Gary Cooper's sailor abandons his own daughter on the South Seas island of Matareva. When another character seeks to explain his long absence, he talks about being marooned on an isle called Matareva. Demy converts these previous movies into quasi-prequels.

      Because its original negative was destroyed in a fire, the fine-quality restoration of Lola seen here is a genuine rescue job. Demy and his cameraman Raoul Coutard don't frequently film Anouk Aimée in extreme backlight, and she persists in looking ravishing even when the image is purposely overexposed. Criterion's extras include a 2012 interview with Ms. Aimée, another with Agnés Varda and four complete early films by Jacques Demy. One early student film points directly to what would later become the director's main theme: a young man wallows in self-pity after a romantic breakup.

      Judging by the success of Lola director Demy had his pick of actresses for his next film. Bay of Angels (La baie des anges) features a remarkable performance by Jeanne Moreau as Jackie Demaistre, a serious gambling addict. Demy once again gravitates to the seaside, this time to the casinos of Southern France. Bored bank clerk Jean (Claude Mann) catches the gambling bug after winning half a year's pay in just a couple of hours. He meets and beds Jackie, an utterly charming but hopelessly corrupted devotee of the Roulette Wheel. Having left her ruined marriage behind, Jackie bounces erratically from city to city and also from man to man. Both she and Jean have excellent luck. Jean finds out what it is like to buy expensive clothes and dine at the most exclusive eateries.

      But the troubled Jackie doesn't know when to quit, and loses money almost as fast as she wins it. When he first sees her, in fact, she's being ejected from a casino for attempting to steal chips. The practical Jean averts disaster more than once by announcing that he's held some cash in reserve. Jackie soon loses track of whose money is whose, and simply assumes that he'll give her everything he's got.

      Other directors' movies about gambling addicts almost always end in tragedy. At first Bay of Angels makes winning a lot of money seem a possible way to make a living. But the emptiness of the lifestyle comes through as well. When he meets her, Jackie has nothing left except the clothes on her back. She talks about redeeming the jewelry she's pawned but keeps returning to the tables instead. The longer Jean stays with her, the more she revises her backstory to align with the truth, rather than the face-saving lies she told him on meeting.

      Demy's direction of one of France's top stars is flawless. Just as notable is his refusal to criticize or condemn the unpredictable Jackie, no matter how reckless or abusive she becomes. Jean accepts her for what she is, and sticks with her. They're a remarkable couple; even if their lifestyle seems wholly unsustainable. The movie is a fascinating peek at a curiously detached existence.

      Criterion's extras emphasize Jacques Demy's appeal to potential actresses, as the usually calm Jeanne Moreau enthusiastically endorses him in an old television interview. Instead of choosing mainstream work, Demy concentrated on expressing his romantic themes. His main collaborator would be the composer of the music for his first two films, Michel Legrand.

      1964's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Les parapluies de Cherbourg) is the movie that put Demy on the map. In America it has been rediscovered by succeeding generations of French language students, in the same way that The Red Shoes inspires budding ballerinas. French directors admire American musicals but only Demy has found success adapting the highly artificial genre to his own temperament. A fully sung jazz operetta, the movie's soundtrack had to be finessed and recorded before filming took place, so that Demy's non-singing actors could lip-synch to the lyrics. Michel Legrand's music is nothing less than enchanting, and his main romantic tune is still an instantly recognized standard. Adding to the film's legend is its 'discovery' of Catherine Deneuve, one of the most enduring of French stars.

      For his first film in color Demy adopts an extravagant visual style, even though most of the film was made in a realistic setting, the port of Cherbourg. Just as in an MGM musical, bright primary colors are everywhere and costumes and props are carefully matched to the sets. Yet the story Demy tells is not an escapist fantasy. Umbrella shop girl Geneviève and mechanic Guy (Catherine Deneuve & Nino Castelnuovo) fall madly in love but are forced to separate when he's called up for military duty in Algeria. When she becomes pregnant and Guy's letters stop coming, Geneviève's practical mother (Anne Vernon) insists that she accept a marriage proposal from a wealthy diamond merchant. An undefeatable Great Love seems doomed to tragedy, as Geneviève realizes that she's just another victim in the world's oldest story.

      The film surprised audiences everywhere. The format takes just a few seconds to win us over. Because the entire movie is sung to music, there are no awkward transitions between normal dialogue scenes and musical numbers. As in West Side Story we don't mind hearing people sing instead of talk in completely realistic backgrounds, such as an auto repair garage. Unlike West Side Story, the romantic fantasy flows, without stylistic breaks for ordinary scenes.

      The Umbrellas of Cherbourg puts some audiences through an emotional wringer. The lovers' farewell at a rainy train depot fully conveys the desire to die rather than be separated, when two years seems an eternity. But Geneviève and Guy have already succumbed to their passion in a scene that of powerful visual symbolism. The inevitability of it all is expressed when they drift in the direction of Guy's house, without walking. The lovers know where they'll end up, and the film simply cuts to static images of the path to Guy's bedroom.

      The bright colors seem to depart for the later chapters, when reality forces Geneviève to betray her love. It's at this point that Umbrellas takes the leap into Jacques Demy's world of 'romantic relativity'. The cool diamond merchant sees and wants Geneviève, and maneuvers himself into a proposal as if conducting a smooth business negotiation. He's none other than Roland Cassard from Lola, played again by Marc Michel. Roland's music cue returns as well. Having lost the love of his life, Roland found his calling in the diamond trade and is more or less shopping for a wife and family on his own terms. He's sincere but cool, and by no means the same broken-hearted man who moped around Nantes. As Roland tells Geneviève's mother about Lola, we suddenly see that ornate shopping arcade again, this time in color.

      We spend the rest of the movie dreading what will happen when Geneviève and Guy meet again, for each has betrayed the other. Demy and Legrand have such control over the film's emotional flow that the snowy climax of Umbrellas achieves an impact equal to that of a classic opera.

      The extras grant us a full appreciation of how difficult it must have been for Demy and his designers to build a stylized reality from scratch. Demy and Legrand timed out the entire movie soundtrack in advance, leaving room for stage business and transitions. It's amazing that the final action and performances never seem locked into a rigid pattern. Several interviews cover the making of the show. Ms. Deneuve underwent a full makeover to become the film's blonde, virginal Geneviève, a change that she initially resisted. Only a director like Demy could inspire such trust.

      1967's The Young Girls of Rochefort (Les Demoiselles de Rochefort) spreads the musical-cinematic ideas of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg across a larger canvas and adds the dimension of dance. Its multiple romances play out similarly to Lola: when a music & dance company comes to Rochefort for a big boat and recreation show, a dozen potential lovers criss-cross in the streets, almost making the right romantic connections. Every line of dialogue is sung to Michel Legrand's music score and all the stage business is choreographed. Demy's newest collaborator is Hollywood's own Gene Kelly.

      This time the tone is light and breezy. Show dancers Etienne (George Chakiris) and Bill (Grover Dale) must find replacements when their female counterparts decide to run off with sailors. Enter the Garnier twins, ballet teacher Delphine (Catherine Deneuve) and piano teacher Solange (Françoise Dorléac). Delphine is breaking up with the owner of an art gallery who displays a painting by young soldier Maxence (Jacques Perrin) that looks just like Delphine. Maxence has never met Delphine but he does know her mother Yvonne (Danielle Darrieux), and tells her that he's searching the world for the feminine ideal represented in his painting. Yvonne pines for the lover she spurned ten years before for frivolous reasons. He's Simon Dame (Michel Piccoli), who's just returned to Rochefort thinking that Yvonne's long gone to Mexico. Simon is soft on Solange, but she wants to go to Paris to meet successful composer Andy Miller (Gene Kelly). Add to that several other characters whose random destinies hinge on chance encounters in Rochefort's charming streets, and it's hard to tell who will end up with whom.

      The film's ambition seems to be to revive and develop Hollywood's abandoned tradition of MGM musicals. Every scene has at least one song, and even more combine singing with dancing -- lots of dancing. The leading characters dance on the street, in hallways, just about everywhere. The twenty or so squeaky-clean show dancers do large-scale numbers in every open space in town.

      The lengthy Rochefort eventually wears us out. Michel Legrand's music has energy and style but is short on truly memorable melodies. There are also talent issues, in that the non-singing actors can be dubbed but they can't become real dancers overnight. Thus pros like George Chakiris, Grover Dale and Gene Kelly rein in their skills, while the gorgeous sisters Deneuve and Dorléac seem stretched beyond their abilities. They move well and have grace to spare, but are no match for the pro dancers around them. Yet they're a knockout in shimmering crimson dresses, in a dance modeled after Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe's big number in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

      Demy's charming screenplay is more than a little quirky. For several characters romantic Nirvana is just a chance meeting away. All subsist on their romantic dreams. Most of the older generation must live with bad decisions in their past. Yvonne told Simon she was pregnant with his child but left with another man to live in Mexico -- because she didn't like his name. In contrast to the mix 'n' match sweetness of most of the proceedings, a bizarre tangent surfaces about an axe-murderer. The weird subplot is treated as no big deal, yet has two songs associated with it.

      Criterion has located vintage interviews with Demy and his collaborators, as well a TV show about the making of the film. Also included is Agnés Varda's retrospective documentary The Young Girls Turn 25. Sadly, co-star Françoise Dorléac was killed in a car accident not long after the premiere.

      1971's Donkey Skin (Peau d'âne) takes Jacques Demy in a new direction. It's again a musical, a faithful adaptation of a classic Perrault fairy tale with a conclusion very much like Cinderella. Told in simple terms yet given an eccentric spin, Demy and composer Michel Legrand's show is often hilarious but never disrespectful. It was intended for all ages, although today's PC-minded parents might object to the story's main conflict as unsuitable for children. Part of the charm of Donkey Skin is Demy's refusal to soften elements of the original fairy tale. It stars the perfect fairy tale princess Catherine Deneuve.

      A happy kingdom despairs when its Blue Queen falls ill: she makes her husband The Blue King (Jean Marais of Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast) promise to remarry only when he finds someone more beautiful than she. Pressured to produce a male heir, the King discovers that his own daughter, the Princess (Deneuve) is the only woman more beautiful than her mother. Confused, the Princess is willing to marry her father because she indeed loves him. But the opinionated Fairy of the Lilacs (Delphine Seyrig) counsels that one mustn't confuse two different kinds of loves. She has the Princess stall her father with demands for the making of three fabulous dresses. When the King still insists on marriage, the Princess asks a price that the Fairy is convinced he won't pay -- the skin of the King's magic donkey, which produces not manure but gold and jewels. But to the Princess's horror, her father makes the sacrifice and delivers the donkey skin. Now the Princess has no choice but to run away.

      To our surprise, the incest theme in Donkey Skin turns out not to be a problem. As Demy and a collection of psychologists explain in the disc's interview extras, when young girls are asked who they want to marry, many will say, "Daddy". The story also includes a wealth of amusing details unlikely to surface in a Disney-fied fairy-tale adaptation. The sight off the 'Royal Donkey' defecating gold coins and rubies is hilarious, as is an obnoxious crone character that literally spits toads. Told that anyone whose finger fits into a tiny ring can become the bride of the handsome Prince Charming (Jacques Perrin), ladies and maids boil the fat off their fingers or whittle them down with knives.

      Demy's fairy tale land is designed and constructed with remarkable taste, making the movie highly enjoyable just on the visual level. The servants in the Blue Kingdom are literally blue, as are their horses. The hairstyles are ornate and the three magic dresses are impressively designed. The 'dress like the weather' appears to have clouds flowing across its folds. Michel Legrand's songs carry playful lyrics that criticize the characters. When the Princess disguises herself as a ragged peasant in the forest, the villagers sing lyrics about how filthy she is. Te lovers' duet has words almost as silly as their instant affection. The story works its way to a logical conclusion without hyping the Perrault original. It turns out that the Lilac Fairy had a secondary motive in not allowing the King to marry his own daughter. His arrival on a 'magical' transport never fails to get a laugh.

      Demy planned for years to make 1982's Une chambre en ville, an original opera for the screen that takes a much darker direction than his earlier work. This time his musical collaborator is Michel Colombier, who provides duets much more like traditional opera than Michel Legrand's more playful jazz themes.

      A terrific B&W opening scene sees striking shipyard workers in Nantes of 1955 squaring off with riot police, and exchanging chanted lyrics in a call & response pattern. When the police charge the film suddenly cuts to color. The strike then becomes a background for the problems of François Guilbaud (Richard Berry), who argues with his wealthy landlady 'Baroness' Margot's Langlois (Danielle Darrieux). Guilbaud has decided that his faithful and adoring girlfriend Violette (Fabienne Guyon) bores him, but he goes crazy for Edith Leroyer (Dominique Sanda), a runaway wife. To spite her impotent husband Edmond (Michel Piccoli), Edith has taken to prowling the streets for lovers, wearing only a long mink coat. Guilbaud discovers that Edith is actually Margot's estranged daughter. Violette is expecting a marriage proposal, not knowing that Guilbaud has instantly committed himself to Edith; while the insanely jealous Edmond threatens to kill Edith with a straight razor.

      Une chambre returns us to the city (and shopping arcade) of Lola, adding story elements from Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Just like Genevìeve and Guy, Guilbaud meets Violette after work, but their relationship is one of discord. The strike situation seems to throw everything off-kilter, as Guilbaud chooses this time to argue with Margot and dump poor Violette, and the unbalanced Edith walks the streets looking for a way to escape a husband she's grown to loathe. It's no wonder that audiences didn't respond, as the film's mood is cheerless and there's nobody to root for. The movie is a highly personal effort by Demy, yet its meaning is elusive -- the impressively executed 'musical riot' scenes fail to connect with the overheated personal tragedy. The troubles don't let up until one person is beaten to death and two others have committed suicide.

      In the extras we learn that a group of French critics took out ad space in newspapers to ask the public to give Une chambre en ville a chance. But the film didn't find an audience. Looking at it now, restored to visual perfection, in stereo sound, we admire Demy's clear storytelling. The strike-oriented material comes off very well, with the violent standoff in the streets playing like Les misérables in miniature.

      The extras let us know that Demy wanted to film Une chambre en ville right after Donkey Skin, but he couldn't secure his dream cast of Catherine Deneuve, Gérard Depardieu and Simone Signoret. Richard Berry does well as the confused Guilbaud, but Dominique Sanda only seems freakish as the sexually deranged Edith.

      The extras finish off with two impressive documentaries. James Quandt analyzes Demy's style and themes with a multitude of visual observations in Jacques Demy, A to Z. Agnés Varda's feature-length ode to her husband, The World of Jacques Demy illustrates Demy's life and work with many stills and movie clips.

      The Criterion Collection's delightful Dual-Format Edition Blu-ray + DVD set The Essential Jacques Demy is a treasure of impressive filmmaking and entertainment. The director's work has held up better than that of many of his contemporaries.

      The boxed set also celebrates Agnés Varda's decades-long mission to restore Demy's pictures to their original color and sound. The delicate colors make Umbrellas, Young Girls and Donkey Skin pop off the screen, and new stereo mixes are in place. Each title except Donkey Skin comes with a trailer and four of the titles have restoration demonstrations.

      Criterion producer Kate Elmore's 68-page insert booklet contains essays on the films by Terrence Rafferty, Ginette Vincendeau, Anne E. Duggan, Jim Ridley, Jonathan Rosenbaum, and Geoff Andrew, and Berthomé.

      By Glenn Erickson

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  1. New Books

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    • My First Time in Hollywood: Stories from the Pioneers, Dreamers and Misfits Who Made the Movies

    • By Cari Beauchamp

      Film Historian and author Cari Beauchamp has assembled a terrific line-up of Hollywood legends for her latest book, My First Time in Hollywood. Utilizing a wide array of archives, she has traced back to the beginning days of Hollywood and the siren call that brought so many people westward to find their fame and fortune in the movies.

      Actors, directors, screenwriters, cinematographers and editors--half of them women--recall their initial impressions of Hollywood, their struggle to find work and the love they had for making movies that kept them going. From Herbert Marshall to Noel Coward, she covers the first twenty years of the western migration that brought the cinematic pioneers to the sleepy little sun-kissed community that would become internationally known as Hollywood.

      Throughout the book, legends such as Mary Pickford, Harold Lloyd, Lillian Gish, Myrna Loy, Cecil B. DeMille and many others talk about what inspired them to come west and their first impressions of the dusty roads and orange groves that dominated the landscape of the future home to the dream factories.

      Drawn from letters, speeches, oral histories, memoirs, and autobiographies-and with over sixty vintage photographs and illustrations, each story is intimate and unique but all speak to our universal need to follow our passions and be part of a community that feeds the soul.

      Cari Beauchamp is the award-winning author of Without Lying Down: Francis Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood;, Joseph Kennedy Presents, Adventures of Hollywood Secretary, and other books on Hollywood history. She has written and produced documentaries, writes for Vanity Fair and is the only person to be twice named as an Academy of Motion Picture, Arts and Sciences scholar.

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    • Madeline Kahn: Being the Music, A Life

    • By William V. Madison

      Madeline Kahn was one of the brightest comedic stars of her generation. Beginning with her scene-stealing (and Oscar-nominated) roles as Trixie Delight in Paper Moon and her wonderful homage to Marlene Dietrich in Blazing Saddles, Kahn lit up the screen with her hilarious portrayals and witty sense of timing.

      After her break-through role in Paper Moon, she became part of the Mel Brooks stock company, co-starring in Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and High Anxiety. She starred on Broadway as well as television, enjoying much success along the way.

      In private, though, she was as reserved and refined as her characters were bold and bawdy. Almost a Method actor in her approach, she took her work seriously. When crew members and audiences laughed, she asked why--as if they were laughing at her--and all her life she remained unsure of her gifts.

      The book explores her film career, from her well-known roles to her underappreciated and often overlooked performances in films like Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother and Judy Berlin. Author William V. Madison also focuses on her Broadway career where she found great success and remarkably bad luck in equal doses, culminating in a disastrous turn in On the Twentieth Century that left her theater reputation in tatters. It took her fifteen years and a Tony-winning performance in The Sisters Rosensweig to regain her stature on Broadway.

      Drawing on new interviews with family, friends, and such colleagues as Lily Tomlin, Carol Burnett, Gene Wilder, Harold Prince, and Eileen Brennan, as well as archival press and private writings, Madison uncovers Kahn's lonely childhood and her struggles as a single woman working to provide for her erratic mother. Readers will discover the paramount importance of music in Kahn's life. A talented singer, she entertained offers for operatic engagements long after she was an established Hollywood star, and she treated each script as a score. As Kahn told one friend, her ambition was "to be the music" and she always delivered her best.

      William B. Madison is a former producer at CBS News and a former associate editor of Opera News; he was the lone production assistant on the Broadway musical Rags in 1986. A graduate of Brown University and of Columbia's School of Creative Writing, he is a native Texan currently living in New York City.

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    • In the Company of Legends

    • By Joan Kramer and David Heeley

      In the Company of Legends gives its readers an insider's view of some of Hollywood's most elite and well-known stars of the silver screen. With their captivating behind-the scenes stories of some of the town's most beloved but hard-to-get interviews, Joan Kramer and David Heeley offer a rousing reading adventure.

      They began documenting the lives and careers of many of the stars of the golden age of Hollywood in 1980 with their award-winning profile of Fred Astaire, and they quickly gained a reputation for finding the un-findable, persuading the reluctant and maintaining unique relationships long after the end credits rolled. They revitalized the genre of star biography with their high-quality, definitive portraits and helped turn the genre into a mainstay of modern television programming.

      The roster of stars who sat down for interviews with them includes Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis and Audrey Hepburn, along with many others. The stories of the productions and the personalities involved are amusing, sometimes moving, and some are revealed for the first time.

      Joan Kramer and David Heeley began their long producing partnership WNET before forming their own production company, Top Hat Productions. Their programs have received five Emmy awards, twenty Emmy nominations and national and international honors.

      .

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    • A Fine Romance - New autobiography by Candice Bergen

    • By Candice Bergen

      Candice Bergen has had a varied career that has included being a film actress, an award-winning television star as well as an acclaimed photographer. Her first memoir, Knock Wood covered her early years growing up with her "brother" Charlie McCarthy and breaking into acting. This new memoir details her later life--her marriage to French film director Louis Malle, her success with Murphy Brown, the birth of her daughter, the tragic loss of Malle to cancer and forging a new life from that loss. Throughout the book, Bergen talks frankly about the journey of her life and shares it with a writing style that is honest, down-to-earth and often hilarious.

      As she writes in this memoir, falling in love with Malle changed her life in many ways. The director's huge appetite for life broadened her horizons, and their romance flourished despite the ups and downs of their career choices. But, the heart of the story is in her love for her daughter, Chloe. After years of ambivalence about motherhood, Bergen discovered the overpowering love and bond that can exist between mother and daughter. As Chloe grew up, Bergen found her comic genius in the biggest TV role of the 80s, Murphy Brown, and made headlines as the storyline of the show spilled over into the presidential campaign politics in 1992.

      Fifteen years into their marriage, Malle was diagnosed with cancer, and Bergen is unflinching in describing her and Chloe's despair over his death. But after years of widowhood, she discovered she missed the company of men and was surprised to find love anew with a man very different from Malle. She takes us through the first years of her new marriage and shares the bittersweet journey of watching Chloe leave home and flourish, while finding comedy in being an older actress in Hollywood and the losing struggle with wrinkles and extra pounds.

      Candice Bergen has penned numerous articles, written a play as well as her first memoir, Knock Wood. Her film credits include The Sand Pebbles, Carnal Knowledge, Starting Over (for which she received an Oscar nomination), and Miss Congeniality. On television, she made headlines as the tough-talking broadcast journalist and star of Murphy Brown, for which she won five Emmys and two Golden Globes. She later starred with James Spader and William Shatner in the critically acclaimed series Boston Legal.

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  1. DVD Reviews

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    • Point Blank on Blu-ray

    • When documentary filmmaker John Boorman made the leap to feature filmmaking with Catch Us If You Can (aka Having a Wild Weekend, 1965), a low-budget rock-n-roll vehicle for the Dave Clark Five, he transformed the quickie into a surprisingly biting satire of popular culture set to a bouncy soundtrack, displaying a remarkable sophistication and creativity unexpected from such a project. It was enough to land him his first American film, Point Blank, where he revealed an even greater ambition and talent.

      Based on the novel The Hunter by Richard Stark (a pen name for Donald Westlake), Point Blank shuffles the lean, straight-forward story of a gunman named Walker (Lee Marvin), who is double crossed by his partner in crime and returns (seemingly from the dead) for revenge, into a surreal, abstracted crime drama. The plot is faithful to original novel, a hard-boiled piece of crime fiction reimagined for the underworld culture of the sixties, but Boorman and Marvin, who requested the young director and supported his unconventional vision for the film, refract it through a modern lens. Walker's odyssey from Alcatraz in San Francisco to the underworld of Los Angeles is splintered with short, sharp shards of memory that cut through his story, as if reflecting Walker's attempts to put the pieces of cause and effect together in his mind.

      Boorman views L.A. through an alienated lens and edits it more like a European art film than an American crime thriller, but fills it with offbeat, ultra-stylized scenes of violence. It opens on a gunshot that should have killed him and he struggles to put it all together when he wakes up: "Cell. Prison cell. How did I get here?" Marvin is enigmatic, to say the least, as he tracks down his unfaithful, guilt-ridden wife (Sharon Acker), his wife's sister (Angie Dickinson), his old friend turned double-crossing heist partner Mal Reese (John Veron), and finally the syndicate bigwigs, all just to get his due: "I want my 93 grand."

      This vision of urban Los Angeles is alternately crowded and noisy and urban, and austere and empty and dislocated. His footsteps echoing through an empty, anonymous hallway becomes the disembodied beat of his march of revenge. A scatting, screaming R&B singer at a chic night spot called The Film Club is the feral soundtrack of a brutal backstage fight, at once visceral and abstracted in the clutter of 35mm film cans and nightclub supplies. The aftermath of a suicide becomes a psychedelic vision of destruction, which disappears in a cut to the apartment suddenly empty, a ghost house with no evidence of life or death, just transition.

      The dialogue is loaded with references to "a dream" and characters constant remind Walker that he's supposed to be dead. Keenan Wynn adds another level of remove as the devil whispering in Walker's ear, another unreal figure with a carefully concealed agenda who is preternaturally attuned to Walker's movements. More than an informant, he appears from nowhere to provide a name, an address, a piece of information on the trail to the top man in the Organization as Walker's debt keeps getting passed up the chain of command.

      Walker is both an unstoppable sentinel who seems more than flesh and blood and a vulnerable man wounded by betrayal who has armored over his emotions with a mission. Marvin delivers both sides of the character without compromising either. There's a cold fury under his deliberate movements and his eyes betray a moment of regret and sadness when he finds his wife dead by her own hand, but it is all pushed down and kept in check by his single-minded focus. "I just want my money" is his mantra, not a matter of greed but a debt to be settled to balance the scales. Marvin is at once deliberate and relaxed, a veteran criminal soldier alert to everything, which makes his character even more fascinating. He doesn't demand attention on screen, he commands it through confidence and ability and cool focus.

      That alone makes him more admirable than Mal, who is played by John Vernon as an oily, arrogant, amoral rat, selling out anyone and everyone to buy his way back into the Organization. The rest of the members of the cast don't play characters as much as cogs, functionaries in a criminal enterprise as a cutthroat corporation, simply doing their jobs as if Walker was a rival in a hostile takeover. Only Angie Dickinson's Chris has the passion and fury and emotional life of a human being, siding with Walker out of both loyalty and for payback against Mal ("He makes my flesh crawl") and the Organization that has taken over her business and her life. Sharon Acker, who plays Walker's wife, comes off less haunted than simply weak. She barely leaves an impression, which is fitting for her character but fails to offer any sense of tragedy to her story, and she's almost instantly forgotten after she exits the film. It's really the only weak element of the film, which otherwise is strong, confident, and sure from beginning to end.

      Point Blank has been called a modern film noir but it has more in common with Performance, another crime thriller that fractures time, offers enigmatic and ambiguous characters, and equates organized crime with big business. Boorman delivers meticulously executed set pieces that are designed for the wide CinemaScope frame with a sure sense of space and a dispassionate perspective. He emphasizes intelligence over action and presents Walker as total professional, never flustered and always emotionally removed from the situation. And if Walker is an extreme incarnation of the revenge driven noir anti-hero, the modern syndicate has transformed the old school mob into a world of paper jungles and corporate businessmen, an alienating concept to a two-fisted, gun-wielding independent like Walker. "Profit is the only principle," is their motto. Almost 50 years later, it's more modernist than modern, a fascinating time capsule of an era when young directors brought nouvelle vague style to classic genres, and a cryptic crime thriller that turns Marvin into the most enigmatic criminal professional in the movies.

      Boorman creates a hard, austere look for the film and the new Blu-ray delivers a sharp clarity to his vision of Los Angeles as an impersonal modern city. Apart from a few scenes, he strips the frame down to isolated figures in an empty urban landscape under the hard light of the California sun. It's an urban desert and the disc preserves that atmosphere of a ghost city by day and a shadowy underworld at night when the crowds gather on the streets and in the clubs. The impersonal palette of concrete surfaces and blank office interiors in the day gives way to the color of human habitation after dark, which oddly enough has a warmer atmosphere than the harsh light of day.

      Carried over from the earlier DVD release is an audio commentary track with director John Boorman and fellow director Steven Soderbergh, a fan of the film who essentially hosts the commentary. He engages Boorman in conversations about the film's style, the use of color and camera lenses, working with Lee Marvin (who became close friends with Boorman), and making his Hollywood debut with a film that refused to play by the studio rules. Soderbergh's The Limey was clearly indebted to Point Blank in both its theme of revenge and in its fractured storytelling and unconventional use of flashbacks. Taking part in this commentary is like paying tribute to his inspiration.

      Also features the vintage promotional featurette The Rock (in two parts), which looks at shooting the film on location in Alcatraz, and the original trailer.

      by Sean Axmaker

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    • Ravenous on Blu-ray

    • Ravenous (1999) channels the story reminiscent of the Donner Party disaster and the legend of Alferd Packer (the only American ever convicted of cannibalism) into a gruesome survival thriller with a crimson-hued streak of black humor and an elemental hint of the supernatural. The resulting film takes top honors as the definitive frontier cannibal movie. Not that there's a long list to choose from, mind you, but this earns its position with honors, thanks to a gleefully weird and savagely bloodthirsty sensibility.

      Guy Pearce is Captain John Boyd, whose battle cowardice during the Mexican-American war inadvertently results in making him an accidental hero. The ordeal of playing dead under the bleeding corpses of his fellow officers also puts him off meat, as the opening scenes so vividly illustrate. Director Antonia Bird cuts straight to the heart of the situation as she intercuts soldiers devouring bleeding-rare steaks at a military luncheon with the bloody casualties of battle stacked like cordwood: meat is meat, at least as far as this film is concerned. Boyd's commanding officer (John Spencer of The West Wing), who knows that his valor is a fraud, ships him out to the fringes of military reach: a fort in a California mountain pass, which runs with a minimal compliment during the impassable winter months. "This place thrives on tedium," smiles fort commander Colonel Hart (Jeffrey Jones), who takes everything with a bemused indulgence. How else to survive a company made up of a useless drunk second-in-command(Stephen Spinella), a giggling weed-head idiot (David Arquette), a twitchy, mumbling chaplain (Jeremy Davies), and a macho soldier boy (Neal McDonough) who holds the rest of the company in utter contempt?

      The tedium is quickly dispersed when a bedraggled disaster survivor (Robert Carlyle) stumbles into camp. He spins a horrific story of a lost wagon train and an incompetent scout who strands them in the mountains, where as the winter snows traps them and desperation leads to feeding on human flesh. It's a tale right out of the Donner Party until it turns feral, but it's not even close to the real story of Carlyle's wild-eyed survivor. For a starving man, he looks remarkably fit when he doffs his shirt, and other clues suggest that this is no production gaffe. One night, while camping on the trail to his old camp to search for survivors, he's caught licking the bleeding wounds of an injured soldier. You know, tasting his next potential meal.

      That's when the film takes its twist into weird and wild horror, a bizarre plot that doesn't really make much logical sense but sure makes for a wicked mix of psychodrama and visceral body horror. The Native American Wendigo myth is referenced to explain madness, but you could say it's a vampire tale without the supernatural dimension--it turns out human flesh is addictive, and it helps to have a nest of fellow flesh-eaters to keep the diet coming--or call it a particularly gruesome metaphor for manifest destiny. However you label it, it is off-the-charts crazy, an eat-or-be-eaten thriller served very, very rare.

      British director Antonia Bird seems like an odd match for this material. She honed her craft on TV drama and made her reputation with the tough, wrenching dramas Priest and Face, two films with complex characters and socially conscious themes. What they have in common with Ravenous is star Robert Carlyle, who recommended Bird after the film's original director Milcho Manchevski was let go after three weeks and the producer's chosen replacement, Raja Gosnell, was rejected by the cast. Bird (who passed away last year at the relatively young age of 62 after a battle with thyroid cancer) was frustrated by the conditions of the production and the oversight of the producers and she complained that her cut was compromised in post-production. That may explain the awkward pace, jarring turns, and a climax that feels tossed together--an uninspired way to end such a devious film--but she is clearly the architect of the odd, offbeat key of the film's blackly comic tone and surreal atmosphere and Carlyle is her partner in outsized madness. He leads the cast in playing their eccentricities big, though next to Carlyle's juicy performance, Arquette and Davies come off more like actor's studio sketches in twitchy weirdness or fidgety indecision than actual characters. Guy Pearce provides the contrast, creating a character fighting to maintain control and keep his emotions and his reflexive revulsion in check as everyone else lets their freak flag fly. It oddly enough makes him the most intense character on screen. As all that fear and disgust and anxiety just bottles up behind his desperate eyes and increasingly battered body, Pearce shows us the toll this ordeal exacts on him. In this survival drama, he's the one in true survival mode.

      Scream Factory's Blu-ray features a solid new HD transfer that preserves the dynamic contrast between the white-out daylight scenes of snow and the ominous shadows of the deep forest and the dark rough-hewn quarters of the frontier fort. Night doesn't have to fall for the darkness to seep into the image. Given the elemental quality of the imagery--much of the film takes place in the snowbound wilderness, with the Tatra Mountains of Slovakia standing in for California--the transfer has a satisfying level of grain that not only preserves the texture of the film but gives the entire atmosphere an added level of authenticity. These images feel like they were carved into the film.

      The film was previously released on DVD over a decade ago with three separate commentary tracks. Director Antonia Bird and composer Damon Albarn team up for the most informative track, with Bird talking in detail about the physical challenges of the production. Screenwriter Ted Griffin and co-star Jeffrey Jones tend to lapse into silences in their track and actor Robert Carlyle is even more intermittent in his the solo track. Also carried over from the earlier disc is a collection of deleted scenes (many of them in rough-cut form) with optional commentary by Bird and a gallery of stills. New to this edition is a 20-minute interview with Jeffrey Jones, who looks back on the themes of the film.

      by Sean Axmaker

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    • Southern Comfort on Blu-ray

    • A motley crew of Louisiana National Guardsman wade out into the swamps for weekend maneuvers. It's 1973, as the war in Vietnam is grinding away the soul of America and the heart of the military, and this platoon of weekend warriors--a volatile collection of rednecks, hotheads, jokers, and guys who probably signed up to steer clear of the draft--are like fresh recruits going into battle for the first time. They've got the fatigues and the cocky attitude but dubious discipline and training and their machine guns are loaded with blanks as they head into the bayou. To the Cajun swamp folk, the trappers and hunters living on the fringes of society, these men are invaders who trample their camps and steal their boats. And when one of the soldiers lets loose a burst from his weapon, laughing like the class bully after humiliating the new kid, these shadowy swamp dwellers defend themselves, becoming a guerilla strike force waging a war of terror on the utterly unprepared toy soldiers. They don't know that it's just blanks in those guns but it likely wouldn't matter if they did. They've been attacked and they will respond. These city dwellers are out their element and after their commanding officer (Peter Coyote) is gone, the first casualty in the war of attrition, they are out of their depth, flailing around with a panic that dumps their radio, compass, map, and pretty much everything else that was supposed to keep them alive.

      Southern Comfort will never be mistaken for a Nation Guard recruitment tool. Call it an anti-platoon movie. Hill gives the squad the outward accoutrements of a real fighting force, down to the uniforms and weapons, but this is a military unit in name only. Beyond the swaggering banter of the soldiers and self-deprecating comments of Spencer (Keith Carradine), the self-appointed company joker, they have no real training, no experience under fire, and no commitment to one another. These guys are more like barroom buddies playing soldier than a disciplined force.

      There are two voices of restraint in the wilderness, Spencer and new guy Hardin (Powers Booth), a transfer from Texas who doesn't know anyone in the company but sizes up their weaknesses quickly and realizes that they haven't much a chance as long as wild cards like Reece (Fred Ward) and Stuckey (Lewis Smith) go charging through the swamps looking for payback. Casper (Les Lannom) takes command by virtue of an essentially meaningless detail of rank and bumbles around quoting regulations and making speeches, doggedly following the book because he hasn't a clue what to do next. The filmmakers don't make him a figure of ridicule, mind you, just a guy falling back on the only thing he knows. In fact, none of them are necessarily "bad guys," though like any Hill ensemble, it has its share of jerks, bullies, racists, and anger management candidates and the pressure brings out their worst instincts.

      So yes, it's a story of American soldiers in an alien land, lost in an unfamiliar landscape and outmaneuvered by a guerrilla army at home in the jungle. Director / screenwriter Walter Hill and producer / co-screenwriter David Giler insist to this day that Southern Comfort was never intended to be an allegory for Vietnam, simply a survival tale in an overwhelming and unfamiliar environment. It's hard to take them at face value but it is easy to forget the allegory in the heat of the drama. It also shares DNA with Deliverance, another film about city boys with guns who take their sense of ownership and entitlement into the wilderness, threaten the locals, and end up hunted by them. But where John Boorman's primal thriller turns his Appalachian backwoods men into brutal outlaws who take pleasure in stalking the city invaders, Hill and Giler keep their Cajun soldiers hidden, seen as figures in the distance or blurs running behind the trees, ghosts on the fringes of sight. They treat the would-be soldier like wild game, silently shadowing their progress and whipping them into a state of panic to steer them into their traps. And whatever the short-fused guys in the platoon think, this is no cultural conspiracy to wipe out the invaders. Their enemy consists of a handful of isolated hunters who didn't start the war but by God are determined to finish it. The rest of the Cajun folks they meet don't seem to be a part of it, though after a couple of days in the swamps, the paranoia is powerful enough to make every sidelong glance look ominous. Ry Cooder's eerie and haunting score only intensifies the paranoia.

      What ultimately differentiates them from the soldiers of a classical platoon drama is that they haven't bonded under fire and have never had to put their trust in one another. This group unravels and tears itself apart from fear and panic and unfocused rage. And in classic Hill manner, there are no philosophical musings or existential conversations. The closest the film comes to putting its theme into words is from the mantra of a terrified Simms (Franklyn Seales), who finds himself cut off from the group and suddenly aware of just how vulnerable he is. "I'm not supposed to be here," he repeats, as if begging the universe to correct some cosmic planning error. And then he's no longer there.

      While this band of infighting brothers wades blindly through the swamp without a clue as to their bearings or direction, Hill's direction never falters. He has always had a sure hand as a storyteller, keeping his plots uncluttered and letting the details of character, conflict, and the world around them define the story. Southern Comfort limits the world to the middle of the swamp, where we (like the soldiers) are unable to find any point of reference, and observes how the discomfort of the environment and the constant disorientation takes its toll on what little good sense the characters bring with them to the mission. It exacerbates the already dysfunctional dynamics of this platoon of battle virgins and is as deadly on its own as the native hunters who use the environment as a weapon in their arsenal. It's not necessarily skill or even luck that saves the guardsmen who survive the ordeal. In classic Hill fashion, it is a matter of intelligence, awareness, teamwork, and the commitment to do what is necessary to survive. There's no sense of victory in survival, merely relief.

      Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack. Both discs feature the new HD master but the Blu-ray of course features superior clarity and richness of color. Both are clean, strong images while the Blu-ray shows off excellent detail. The Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack puts the mix right up front. A couple of scenes of chaos and confusion overwhelm the dialogue with background sound, which is surely intentional but still seems a little out of balance to my ears.

      New to this release in an original 27-minute featurette with new interviews with actors Keith Carradine, Powers Boothe, Lewis Smith, and Peter Coyote and, on low-resolution video via Skype, director Walter Hill and producer David Giler, who collaborated on the script with Hill. The actors share stories of shooting in the Louisiana swamps in February with wet suits under their uniforms, six weeks of working in the cold and damp, and they remind us that they were all in it together. The crew endured the same conditions so no one had the right to complain. More interesting is the discussion around the themes of the film. Hill and Giler maintain that while they did not intentionally set out to make a Vietnam allegory they were aware that audiences would make that connection, while the actors admit that they knew it was an allegory from the moment they read the script. Keith Carradine's reading is particularly detailed and interesting. Curiously, none of the six participants mention Deliverance.

      Carried over from the old DVD release is a brief collection of outtakes and the original trailer. All of the supplements are featured in both the Blu-ray and DVD discs of the Combo Pack.

      By Sean Axmaker

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    • Tess on Blu-ray

    • Tess (1979), Roman Polanski's film adaptation of Thomas Hardy's 1890 novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles, has in 2014 received a sublime Blu-Ray and DVD release from Criterion. Restored by Pathe under the direct supervision of Polanski himself, the movie looks and sounds magnificent. At first glance, the lushly beautiful Tess is a seemingly unusual work for Polanski, whose films we tend to associate with horror and sex, but this was actually a highly personal project for the master filmmaker. It was his first picture after fleeing the United States in 1977, and also a project that his wife, Sharon Tate, had suggested he make as a vehicle for herself -- just before she was murdered by the Manson gang in 1969. Polanski read the novel after her death and realized it was indeed right up his alley, and he dedicated the eventual film to her with an on-screen inscription.

      Hardy's tale, to which the film is very faithful, is about a poor English girl, Tess, whose father learns he is a distant descendant of a once prominent, rich family, the D'Urbervilles. He sends Tess to the home of a remaining D'Urberville to find employment (or at least a handout), but Tess winds up being seduced by the ne'er-do-well Alec D'Urberville (Leigh Lawson), who becomes obsessed with her. Fleeing Alec, she eventually finds work at a dairy farm and starts a passionate relationship with a young farmer named Angel Clare (Peter Firth). But in this society, the revelation of the sins of her past, even if they were not her fault, could doom Tess to shame, ostracism and worse. Ultimately, Tess is about a woman struggling to make her way in the world, looking for happiness, or at least survival, but finding that a judgmental society, timing and even luck are all working against her.

      Polanski explores this theme vividly, sympathetically and cinematically. Costumes, speech and physical mannerisms of the actors all convince the audience of the time period and of the distinctions among the social classes, and the film's pictorial beauty does much to stress the contrasting cruelty of some of the characters. The movie is not "pretty" for prettiness' sake. Most important, one really feels the isolation of Tess throughout the film, which is at once sprawling and intimate. The plot itself, while important, feels less vital here than the depiction of Tess' emotional experience of the world she is forced to inhabit, and as a result, the long running time feels entirely appropriate and never tedious.

      Tess was shot entirely in France, mostly on locations in Normandy and Brittany, because Polanski worried that if he traveled to England he would be extradited to the United States. Polanski later wrote, "To tell the story at all, it was essential to find the proper setting, a twentieth-century equivalent of Hardy's nineteenth-century Dorset. The only way to convey the rhythm of his epic was to use that setting as an integral part of the film, signaling the passage of time and the change in Tess herself by means of a visible, almost palpable change in seasons. Once our rural locations were chosen, we would have to film throughout the year from early spring, through high summer, to the depths of winter." With such a shooting strategy, filming wound up lasting nine months over 80 separate locations, and Tess became, at $12 million, the most expensive film ever made in France to that point. Freak weather and labor strikes only added to the overall time and expense.

      If Tess is atypical of Polanski, it's in the way that The Age of Innocence (1993) is atypical of director Martin Scorsese. But in fact, both films are completely emblematic of their directors' concerns and are indeed suffused with violence. It's just that the violence is emotional, an undercurrent beneath a pristine surface -- exactly like the societies the films depict.

      That being said, it's hard to shake some of Tess's most exquisitely beautiful imagery, such as the lovely natural light of an outdoor dance, or the riders and dogs on a fox hunt who appear out of a sublime mist, or the face of Nastassia Kinski, who is heart-stoppingly gorgeous (a quality, incidentally, that is vital to the story). Cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth, who had shot such films as Becket (1964) and Cabaret (1972), died a few weeks into production and was replaced by Ghislain Cloquet, who sadly would himself pass away two years later. They shared the Oscar for Best Cinematography. The film also won for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Score.

      Criterion's dual-format release contains one Blu-ray disc and two DVDs, with both formats containing the film and identical extras. And there are plenty, starting with three short documentaries about the film's making (originally included in Columbia's 2004 DVD release), directed by Laurent Bouzereau and totaling 73 minutes in length. Bouzereau expertly interviews key players like Polanski, producers Claude Berri and Timothy Burrill, co-writer John Brownjohn, actors Nastassia Kinski and Leigh Lawson, set decorator Pierre Guffroy, costume designer Anthony Powell, hair and makeup artists, the crew electrician, the assistant editor and others. The artists discuss fascinating details of production, like the challenge of getting the "strawberry seduction" scene between Kinski and Lawson just right (which astonishingly was shot on a rainy day despite looking on-screen like the height of warm summer), the creation of the Stonehenge set outside of Paris, and the design of the costumes to be authentic and truly expressive of character -- beautiful without being decorative. Powell is fascinating as he discusses his approach, and also about the little splotch of blood he put on the hem of Tess' dress at a key point in the story, which Polanski shot for maximum impact.

      Burrill recalls that on location the filmmakers were only able to see the rushes days after shooting, rather than the next day, and not always under the best conditions. But gradually, he says, "we started to see what was happening, the magic that was coming off the screen, and the extraordinary professionalism of Nastassia.... I don't think there was ever one day when she fluffed a line. She was word-perfect, always."

      Second is a 52-minute documentary from 2006 by Daniel Ablin and Serge July entitled Once Upon a Time... Tess. This is also interesting, but it covers much of the same material as the Bouzereau pieces, with many of the same interviewees telling the same stories. It's also not as smoothly edited. But unlike the Bouzereau film, it includes composer Philippe Sarde, and delves more into Polanski's pre-Tess life and career. It also recounts the difficulties in Tess's post-production, particularly concerning the running time. Francis Coppola was brought in by producer Claude Berri to trim the film, which was deemed overlong, but Polanski hated the result, leading to a falling-out between Berri and Polanski and between Polanski and Sarde. Polanski himself eventually trimmed the film by about 20 minutes, resulting in the current running time of 171 minutes.

      Third, there's a 1979 episode of the French TV program Cine Regards, running 48 minutes, that looks at the making of Tess and interviews Polanski during the film's production. The interviews with Polanski are revealing, but the real strengths of the piece are the long, uninterrupted slices of life on the set as Polanski directs and thinks through scenes, conducting his orchestra of crewmembers. These sequences go on long enough to make us feel as if we are there.

      Fourth is a 1979 episode of the British TV program The South Bank Show, 50 minutes in length, in which host Melvyn Bragg interviews Polanski. And Criterion rounds things out with the film's trailer as well as a handsome printed booklet containing a fine essay by Colin MacCabe and crisp, colorful photos from the film, almost all of which feature the entrancing Nastassia Kinski. It's a beautiful package and motion picture, all very highly recommended.

      By Jeremy Arnold

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    • Used Cars on Blu-ray

    • The opening of Used Cars (1980) has the ominous, wind-scoured character of a modern crime film in a desperate southwest town where a Sergio Leone western wouldn't be out of place. The camera cranes down from a high shot over a struggling used car dealership, where a few pathetic beaters line the lot, and slowly glides over to one car with someone is crammed under the dashboard. The only sound is the lonely wind--the kind of strangled, desolate howl you get in dustbowl dramas and desert survival thrillers--and the grunts of the man struggling with the mechanics under the dash. And then we see the odometer turn back, shaving some 40,000 or so miles from the record. The title hits the screen, a brass band jumps in with "Stars and Stripes Forever," and the unidentified mechanic wriggles out to reveal Kurt Russell in a cheap, loud suit making his rounds to mask the sorry condition of the cars on the lot. It turns out that this is a crime movie after all, or at least a film of multiple misdemeanors and bald-faced misrepresentation, and the perpetrators are the good guys.

      The second feature from director Robert Zemeckis and co-writer and producer Bob Gale, Used Cars comes right out of the screen comedy culture of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the underdogs snubbed their collective noses at authority, propriety, property and privacy laws and anything else that crossed their paths in slobs vs. snobs comedies like Animal House (1978), Caddyshack (1980) and Ghostbusters (1984). Used Cars is raucous and reckless and far more gleefully corrupt than any of its brothers in rebellion, embracing the confidence games and illegal stunts pulled by the skeleton crew that works for Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden), who is the closest thing that the film has to an honest man. The devotion of salesmen Rudy (Russell) and Jeff (Gerrit Graham) and mechanic Jim (Frank McRae) to Luke is really all that separates them from Luke's rapacious brother and across-the-street rival Roy L. Fuchs (Warden again) and his slick sales force. That and the fun they have ripping off the rubes who wander on to their lot.

      The premise of film - two used car outfits at war with one another - was hatched by John Milius, who was one of the executive producers (along with Steven Spielberg), but the script is pure Zemeckis and Gale. The rivals are twin brothers, the Cain and Abel of used car dealers. When impending freeway construction threatens to destroy bad brother Roy's dealership and make the good brother Luke rich, Roy finds a way to speed the demise of Luke's bad heart and Rudy makes good on his promise to keep Roy from taking over the lot. Rudy has his own, more immediate motivation, of course--he's trying to buy his way into the local political machine and he's still a little short on the down payment--but it's also personal. Luke is something of a father figure to the crew, which makes them the mischievous sons who break the rules whenever dad's back is turned. After Luke dies, their antics more outrageous, from secretly burying Luke on the lot (his beloved convertible fittingly serves as his casket) to jamming satellite signals with wild pirate commercials replete with gratuitous nudity and senseless destruction of private property. The plot seems to careen from one comic collision to another but there's a nicely-constructed plan under it all, simple but ingenious enough that you don't actually see how the pieces are laid in place until it all comes together in the ragged spectacle of final act.

      It's not really a satire of American business so much as a wicked lampoon: lie, cheat and steal as the American way, as long as you do it with a sense of fun. Kurt Russell was just breaking out of his clean-cut post-Disney persona when he took on the role and he sinks his teeth into Rudy, turning the brash characters into the epitome of the smiling mercenary selling lemons to suckers with dirty tricks and phony promises. Gerrit Graham is his partner in commercial piracy, unfazed by anything but harbingers of bad luck, notably red. Deborah Harmon is both romantic interest and plot complication as Luke's long lost daughter, who shows up just after dad's death. Jack Warden has a field day playing twin brothers and Frank McRae is hilarious as the giant adrenaline-pumped mechanic. The crotch-grabbing Mexican junk car wholesaler is ubiquitous character actor and future director Alfonso Arau in his first great comic role in an American film (Romancing the Stone and Three Amigos soon followed). But the entire cast is in danger of being upstaged by the adorable dog Toby, who has his own role to play in the sale stunts. This pooch's hilarious performance makes him one of the greatest movie dogs.

      Zemeckis matured into a polished filmmaker and an ambitious storyteller and went on to make more sophisticated, more provocative, and certainly more subtle films, but he never made anything as savagely funny as Used Cars. Its banged-up ingenuity and rough-and-tumble energy and warped mirror reflection of the American Dream as a snatch and grab free-for-all is wickedly funny. Everyone is a crook here and the epilogue even enshrines mendacity as a virtue, at least when it comes to stepping into the used car game.

      Used Cars has a remarkably tidy visual aesthetic for a film about a seedy, shabby culture, with a screen that is uncluttered and flooded with desert sunlight in day scenes and blasted with floodlights as bold as a football stadium night game for the after-dark stunts. The new HD transfer shows a well-preserved print and is sharp and clear. Simply put, it looks superb.

      The commentary track with Zemeckis, Gale, and Russell, carried over from the 2002 DVD reelease, is almost as fun as the movie. "We wanted Jimmy Stewart in It's A Wonderful Life, except he's totally corrupt," is how Zemeckis explains the genesis of Rudy. Kurt Russell laughs back: "So you cast me!" These guys are having a blast laughing their way through their remembrances, but they manage to stay on track and keep the production stories coming. Few commentaries manage to balance the information and entertainment so well.

      There's a four-minute reel of outtakes (apparently taken from surviving video dub; it's all quite hazy), a radio interview with Russell, a car commercial featuring Russell, galleries of art and stills, and not one but two isolated score tracks: along with Patrick Williams' musical score heard in the film is an alternate, unused score by Ernest Gold. We don't quite get it in the context of the film (at least not with dialogue and sound effects) but it's a more conventional, less satirical approach. The accompanying 8-page booklet features another fine essay by Julie Kirgo.

      By Sean Axmaker

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  1. Press Release

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    • TCM and Ball State University Offer Free Online Film Noir Course

    • TCM today announced a collaboration with Ball State University and Canvas Network, an open online educational platform from Instructure, to present Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir, a free online multimedia course open to the general public. The open online course is one of several interactive initiatives TCM is launching in connection to its Summer of Darkness programming event for fans that want to dive deeper into the world of film noir. Enrollment begins today and noir fans can sign up for the course at tcm.com/summerofdarkness

      "We are excited about the opportunity to collaborate with Ball State on this exciting and innovative approach to learning," said Jennifer Dorian, general manager Turner Classic Movies. "TCM at its core is about context, curation and connections and by working with Ball State on this online course we are able to engage with our passionate film audience in another exciting and new way."

      The free, nine-week course will be offered on Canvas Network and will be taught by Richard Edwards, Executive Director of Ball State's iLearn Research and film noir expert. The course, designed in part with TCM's Summer of Darkness Programming event, will bring together an online community of film noir students and fans to learn about the genre and its place in cinematic history. The course will feature:
      • Educational lecture videos
      • Access to TCM's online archives, including movie descriptions, original photos, movie trailers and original essays on film noir
      • OTTO (Open Text Tool for Online video) annotation software developed by Edwards and Christopher Turvey, a Ball State researcher/developer allowing students the experience of having real-time discussions about specific film titles
      • Online video chat with Summer of Darkness primetime host, Eddie Muller

      "As an educator I am excited to coordinate Ball State's learning opportunities with TCM's programming efforts to present students with a rare opportunity to engage with the material and genre," said Edwards. "With 'Summer of Darkness,' we can bring together a worldwide community of film noir students, to investigate and discuss these great films in depth."

      In addition to its work with Ball State, TCM is creating social activations to provide additional engagement opportunities. Both students and fans will share #Noirsummer to discuss the genre and films shown in addition to social media contests the network will run throughout the programming event.

      For enrollment and additional information, please visit tcm.com/summerofdarkness

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    • 3-D Summer at MoMA in New York

    • June 13-July 4, 2015

      On June 10, 1915, the Astor Theater in Times Square presented the first documented public exhibition of three-dimensional motion pictures. In the century since, 3-D filmmaking has gone through at least three boom-and-bust cycles, but the process is still with us and, thanks to the new digital technologies, is in many ways better than ever.

      Perhaps the most fertile of the 3-D fads was that of 1953 to 1955, when an advance in technology (clear polarized lenses replaced the red and green filters of the first 3-D glasses) aligned with the desperate need of the studios to offer spectacles beyond the reach of the movies' new rival, television. Fifty feature films and countless shorts were produced in those years, but just as 3-D was graduating from low-budget exploitation films (such as the notorious Robot Monster) to major studio productions with A-list stars and directors, the market evaporated--not because audiences disliked the new process (as the box office figures demonstrate) but because it was too difficult to keep two projectors in perfect synchronization, as the technology demanded.

      With digital projection, however, those problems have been largely eliminated. The last few years have seen a resurgence of "golden age" 3-D films, remastered from original dual-strip elements for digital presentation. Our centennial celebration begins with the New York digital "re-premiere" of perhaps the most sought-after of the golden age stereoscopic films, John Farrow's 1954 Western Hondo, starring John Wayne and Geraldine Page, presented in a newly scanned DCP courtesy of Gretchen Wayne and Batjac Films. This series also includes a brand-new scan of George Sidney's 1953 MGM musical version of Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate, as restored from the original Ansco Color negative by Ned Price and his associates at Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging; and three presentations of 3-D Rarities, a collection of historically significant and/or plain silly stereoscopic films newly preserved by Bob Furmanek and Greg Kintz of the 3-D Film Archive.

      Organized by Dave Kehr, Adjunct Curator, Department of Film.

      Special thanks to Gretchen Wayne, Ned Price, Bob Furmanek, and Greg Kintz.



      3-D Rarities

      Archivist Bob Furmanek (who brought us The Bubble last year) returns with the world premiere of a new, feature-length, eclectic collection of 3-D films. Included are the earliest surviving stereoscopic film, Thru the Trees: Washington, D.C. (1922); a 1940 promotional film for the Pennsylvania Railroad, Thrills for You; the 1953 stop-motion animation The Adventures of Sam Space; and a 1940 Technicolor 3-D short, New Dimensions (aka Motor Rhythm) produced for the Chrysler Pavilion of the New York World's Fair. Courtesy 3-D Film Archive. 97 min.

      Saturday, June 13, 2015, 4:30 p.m., Theater 2, T2

      Sunday, June 28, 2015, 2:30 p.m., Theater 2, T2

      Tuesday, July 7, 2015, 2:00 p.m., Theater 2, T2


      Hondo

      1953. USA. Directed by John Farrow. Screenplay by James Edward Grant, from a short story by Louis L'Amour. With John Wayne, Geraldine Page, Ward Bond, James Arness, Leo Gordon, Paul Fix. Striding with all of his mythical stature into the 3-D space created by long-take specialist John Farrow (with an assist from uncredited second unit director John Ford), Wayne is a dispatch rider who takes rancher Geraldine Page and her young son under his protection in the unsettled Southwest of 1874. Courtesy Batjac Productions. 83 min.

      Saturday, June 13, 2015, 7:00 p.m., Theater 2, T2 (Introduced by Gretchen Wayne)

      Sunday, June 14, 2015, 5:00 p.m., Theater 2, T2

      Monday, June 15, 2015, 7:00 p.m., Theater 2, T2

      Tuesday, June 16, 2015, 7:00 p.m., Theater 2, T2

      Wednesday, June 17, 2015, 7:00 p.m., Theater 2, T2

      Thursday, June 18, 2015, 7:00 p.m., Theater 3, mezzanine, Education and Research Building

      Friday, June 19, 2015, 7:00 p.m., Theater 2, T2

      Saturday, July 4, 2015, 4:30 p.m., Theater 2, T2


      Kiss Me Kate

      1953. USA. Directed by George Sidney. Screenplay by Dorothy Kingsley, from the musical Kiss Me Kate, book by Samuel and Bella Spewack, music and lyrics by Cole Porter. With Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Ann Miller, Keenan Wynn, Bobby Van, James Whitmore, Bob Fosse, and Ron Randell. Backstage intrigue alternates with onstage extravagance as composer Cole Porter (Ron Randell) struggles to mount a Broadway musical adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, while tensions between his formerly married stars (Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel) find reflections in Shakespeare's plot. Ann Miller is the tap-dancing other woman; Bob Fosse performs with Carol Haney in his first choreography for film (all 48 seconds worth). Courtesy Warner Brother Classics. 109 min.

      Sunday, June 28, 2015, 5:30 p.m., Theater 2, T2

      Monday, June 29, 2015, 7:00 p.m., Theater 2, T2

      Tuesday, June 30, 2015, 7:00 p.m., Theater 2, T2

      Wednesday, July 1, 2015, 7:00 p.m., Theater 2, T2

      Thursday, July 2, 2015, 7:00 p.m., Theater 3, mezzanine, Education and Research Building

      Friday, July 3, 2015, 7:00 p.m., Theater 2, T2

      Saturday, July 4, 2015, 6:30 p.m., Theater 2, T2


      For more information, links and showtimes, visit www.moma.org.

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    • Dick Dinman and Pat Boone's "April" "Journey"

    • DICK DINMAN'S "JOURNEY" WITH PAT BOONE (PART ONE): Acclaimed home video outfit Twilight Time has just released sumptuous-looking and sounding 4K Blu-ray restorations of two much sought after Pat Boone classics: the one, the only, the original THE JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH which remains to this day one of the most popular science fiction classic films in cinema history as well as the buoyant and tune-filled musical confection APRIL LOVE and to celebrate these great releases radio and television recording legend and cinema icon Pat Boone frankly reveals to producer/host Dick Dinman his initial reservations about embarking on this JOURNEY. EXTRA ADDED ATTRACTION: The beautiful and talented Arlene Dahl chimes in on the challenges involved in co-starring in the physically demanding Jules Verne epic and candidly discusses for the first time her somewhat frosty relations with costar James Mason.

      DICK DINMAN'S "JOURNEY" WITH PAT BOONE (PART TWO): In the second part of this salute to Twilight Time's fabulous 4K Blu-ray incarnations of the original THE JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (as well as the romantic musical delight APRIL LOVE) top-billed star Pat Boone discusses his refusal to co-star with Marilyn Monroe on another film, an accident on location in Carlsbad Caverns, and how he became a profit participant in the landmark science fiction film classic.

      DICK DINMAN'S "JOURNEY" WITH PAT BOONE (PART THREE): Producer/host Dick Dinman's guest Pat Boone talks about his nearly fatal accident on the set of THE JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH and sheds new light on the oft-repeated story about his "refusal" to kiss co-star Shirley Jones (his co-star in APRIL LOVE) and frankly reveals why he later in his film career accepted the against-type role of an initially immoral character and the previously unscripted bedroom sex scene which almost caused him to walk off the film.

      The award-winning DICK DINMAN'S DVD CLASSICS CORNER ON THE AIR is the only weekly half hour show devoted to Golden Age Movie Classics as they become available on DVD. Your producer/host Dick Dinman includes a generous selection of classic scenes, classic film music and one-on-one interviews with stars, producers, and directors. To hear these as well as other DVD CLASSICS CORNER ON THE AIR shows please go to www.dvdclassicscorner.com or www.dvdclassicscorner.net.

    • More >
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    •  
    • John Wayne Birthplace Museum Grand Opening

    • WINTERSET, Iowa--Over the past 30 years more than one million visitors have journeyed to historic Madison County to tour the modest four-room home where film icon John Wayne was born on May 26, 1907. Guests have included President Ronald Reagan, movie legend Maureen O'Hara, Wayne's widow and all of his children and fans from 50 states and 40 foreign countries. And, as testament to the star's enduring popularity, they keep on coming.

      To provide a more meaningful visitor experience, the Birthplace organization has announced the May 23rd Grand Opening of the John Wayne Birthplace Museum, a brand-new 5,000 square ft. facility which will offer an astounding collection of memorabilia from the screen legend's life and motion picture career. The only museum in the world dedicated to John Wayne, it will feature the largest diversified exhibit of John Wayne artifacts in existence, including original movie posters, film wardrobe, scripts, letters, artwork and sculpture, one of his customized automobiles and, of course, a movie theater.

      A birthday celebration of this magnitude requires considerable flourish and the weekend of May 23-25 will not disappoint. Providing patriotic fanfare for the opening ceremonies will be the 100-member Iowa Military Veterans Band, in addition to rodeo queens, reduced price admission to the new museum, free John Wayne movies, food and merchandise vendors, cowboy mounted shooters and much more.

      A highlight for many will be the Museum Benefit Dinner ($150 per person) headlined by country music legend and RFD-TV star Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives. Also featured will be an auction of unique and one-of-a-kind John Wayne collectibles including artwork and film wardrobe.

      For further information call 877-462-1044 or visit the website at
      www.johnwaynebirthplace.museum/birthday

    • More >
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  • Wednesday, March 20, 2011

  • Removed: 10:00pm Springfield Rifle
    12:00pm Casablanca
    Added: 1:00pm Virginia City
    12:15pm Casablanca
  •  
  • Wednesday, March 20, 2011

  • Removed: 10:00pm Springfield Rifle
    12:00pm Casablanca
    Added: 1:00pm Virginia City
    12:15pm Casablanca
  •  
  • Wednesday, March 20, 2011

  • Removed: 10:00pm Springfield Rifle
    12:00pm Casablanca
    Added: 1:00pm Virginia City
    12:15pm Casablanca