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  1. Top News Stories

    • Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project on Blu-ray

    • Film study literature has done its best to praise and promote filmmaking from around the world, produced and directed by local talent. Undeveloped countries in the 20th century had a spotty filmmaking tradition, mostly due to the domination of commercial films from America, Europe and more cosmopolitan regional neighbors. Yet distinctive and vibrant films were made in South America, Asia and Africa, sometimes supported by governments. In film school we were shown sample features by the Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène and the Brazilian political firebrand Glauber Rocha. None of the film prints were in particularly good shape. As art film houses couldn't draw a crowd with obscure foreign fare, film festivals were often a dead-end for 'World Cinema'. Politics also militated against the free circulation of films. When the Los Angeles Film Exposition showed a large number of post-revolution Cuban I.C.A.I.C. films in the mid- 1970s, most had not been screened here previously.

      Much more troubling is the poor state of film preservation in nations without developed film industries. For decades, much of the early film heritage of Argentina and Mexico was held in private hands, in unknown condition and mostly unavailable to the public. Conditions in Africa and Asia are worse.

      Martin Scorsese started The Film Foundation in 1991, connecting with studios to promote the preservation of neglected American cinema. In 2007 he helped initiate a program called The World Cinema Project, which in six years has restored nineteen feature films from around the world. Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project gathers six notable features from five continents, spread between 1936 and 1981.

      1973's Touki-Bouki is a 'young lovers on the run' picture with a unique vision. Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambéty's story expresses the desire of a generation to break free of the limits of reality in a former French colony where ordinary people have few or no opportunities. Less violent than Perry Henzell's Jamaican-set The Harder They Come, it's a surreal dream of freedom played out against realistic backgrounds. Mambéy has a great eye for arresting images, and gives the film pace and dramatic tension, not to mention animal imagery and a playful use of his soundtrack. Vintage French songs by Josephine Baker represent the elusive dream of Paris. Will the hero take the boat from Dakar to Paris? Should he?

      The picture is in excellent condition, restored from the original negative elements. Colors are bright and accurate, and George Bracher's cinematography is a fine match for Mambéy's visual imagination.

      Martin Scorsese provides brief intros for all six features. On Touki-Bouki he first reminds us that American awareness of foreign films has been limited mostly to a few name directors, often one per country. The visual essay on Mambéty's picture is by Abderrahmane Sissako, who does his best to express the director's special genius. Third World directors often go to America or France for formal film educations, but Djibril Diop Mambéty was self-taught. The remarkably accomplished Touki-Bouki was his first feature.

      Released in 1936, Mexico's Redes strains the ground rules of 'World Cinema' in that its co-director Fred Zinnemann and cinematographer Paul Strand came from abroad, much as had Sergei Eisenstein with his legendary unfinished project Que viva Mexico! But we're given to understand that this film's style set the standard for visuals in the Golden Era of Mexican filmmaking that followed: beautiful scenery and proud compositions of earthy figures silhouetted against the sky. Acclaimed photographer Strand also made impressive film art in America, the experimental 1921 short Manhatta and the poetic pro-union feature Native Land from 1942. Featuring the artistic input of John Dos Passos and composer Silvestre Revueltas, Redes is a committed, if formulaic drama about the exploitation of working men. Performed almost entirely by non-actors, it is often compared to Luchino Visconti's Italian neo-realist La Terra Trema, made over a decade later.

      The story concerns a fishing village doing poorly in a bad season. A local boss owns most of the boats and buys good catches at a price he determines, enjoying large profits at the markets in Vera Cruz. Fisherman Miro's child dies because the boss won't advance him money for a doctor. When the boss cuts salaries for a good day's fishing the bitter Miro leads an angry movement to set up a fisherman's cooperative. Unfortunately, a candidate for local office offers to serve as the Boss's henchman in exchange for financial assistance for his campaign. The candidate's talk of tradition and honor splits the fishermen into opposing camps. When a fight breaks out the opportunity arises to silence Miro with a gun.

      The film was made by a committee. Mexican co-director Emilio Gómez Muriel worked with the actors; cameraman Paul Strand imposed the aesthetics of still photography on most of the shots. Strand favored static poses while co-director Fred Zinnemann reportedly did his best to interject action into the frame. Zinnemann would later helm such classics as High Noon and From Here to Eternity. Backed by Silvestre's impressive music score, several montage scenes are works of visual art.

      Critic Kent Jones' visual essay for Redes presents a multitude of back-stories. His visual analysis of this attractive film is especially acute. The film exists only in surviving positive prints, but Criterion's transfer raises its presentation to a high standard. Scratches and a tiny bit of film damage remain, yet most scenes are remarkably sharp and Paul Strand's images retain the look of fine art photography.

      Redes won a pictorial spread in Life magazine but won little success commercially, as with much of critically acclaimed World Cinema. 1973's A River Called Titas is an epic-length tale of a lost way of life on the rivers of what is now Bangladesh. Director Ritwak Ghatak made few movies, and this one was considered too pessimistic to attract a wide audience. Yet the 2.5-hour show has enough story complications for three movies.

      While visiting a neighboring village fisherman Kishore (Probir Mitra) marries Basanti (Rosi Samad) and has barely had words with her before she's kidnapped on the river. She's found alive by strangers, but has lost her memory of the crime. She doesn't know her husband's name or have a clear idea what he looks like, but she remembers the name of his village. Ten years later she sets out with his son to find him. Basanti's story is only the first chapter in a long, impassioned series of events and side stories that eventually lead to even bigger tragedies. One emotional climax is almost unbearably sad.

      The movie sways between melodrama and documentary-like recreations of a riverside culture that has mostly disappeared. Occasionally, a burst of fantasy wish fulfillment will occur, as when Basanti's son envisions his mother as an idealized, bejeweled goddess. Much of the acting is primitive, and in some scenes the post-synched dialogue makes no effort to match the actors' lips. Some of the plot turns can be unclear for a few minutes, yet the movie is always compelling. Beautiful images record an entire cultural lifestyle -- the boats, the customs, the rituals.

      Ghatak's compositions are bold but his film is never merely pictorial in impact. We see fascinating moments of cultural interaction, as when the lovers on their wedding night are too shy to speak to each other. Ghatak makes good use of his soundtrack. One scene has only the sound of heavy breathing, and another, falling rain. We see several ceremonies and an impressive boat race.

      The movie is pessimistic in that the potential for disaster seems built-in to the lives of these people. They depend on the river for everything, and old men worry that it will some day dry up. A landowner uses his influence to bring legal and monetary penalties against the entire village. Some villagers seem cruel in refusing to share their food with needy new arrivals like Basanti. But that's only because the possibility of starvation is always near.

      A River Called Titas was restored from incomplete elements, so the film quality changes in a few scenes. An unsteady shot or two appear to be the result of a problem with the original cinematography, but most of the film is in extraordinary shape.

      Visual essay host Kumar Shahani tells us that director Ritwik Ghatak was deeply critical of the political situation in Bangladesh, and used his films to express the feelings of pain and loss in his partitioned country. Ghatak worked extensively in the theater as both a director and an actor. He plays an old boatman in a number of scenes.

      The Turkish Dry Summer (1964) was a big local hit for director Metin Erksan, and won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Erksan's tale could be a story from the Bible. The greedy farmer Osman (Erol Tas) has the only water spring in the valley. He decides to cut off his neighbors without a drop, against the wishes of his younger brother Hasan (producer Ulvi Dogan). Osman also covets Hasan's lovely new bride, Bahar (Hulya Kocylgit). When the other farmers take reprisals, Osman shoots one of them and then persuades his brother to go to prison in his place. Instead of helping as promised, Osman destroys Hasan's letters and begins a slow seduction of his lonely sister-in-law.

      An elemental story of universal interest, Dry Summer asks whether water resources are to be owned by some or shared by all. The loathsome Osman claims that he's a fair man safeguarding his interests, but those interests include lording it over his neighbors and finding a way to possess his own brother's wife. The gullible Hasan has no idea that his older brother spies on their lovemaking, and trusts that leaving major decisions to him is the right thing to do. We watch Dry Summer aghast at Osman's black-hearted deeds, fearing that he'll not be punished for his crimes.

      Metin Erksan's direction is superb. Bahar uses a mirror to signal Hasan for a romantic chase through the thick trees; the sexual attraction between them is expressed in positive, healthy terms. Erksan sketches his characters quickly. His 'sex scenes' are chaste yet supremely sensual; Bahar's flesh is as magical as Osman's water supply. Erksan makes the most of the precious substance water: hoarded in Osman's pond, running through his canals and restrained by an improvised spillway gate. In the satisfying ending Osman and his water become one and the same.

      The B&W presentation is excellent. The title sequence was lost so Criterion has provided a substitute. Although the production is modest at best, Ali Ugur's cinematography is precise and resourceful. Those mirror reflections figure several times in the film, and when Bahar becomes delirious with grief, the camera spins madly. Some of the film's music is by the celebrated Manos Hatzidakis. Viewers should be forewarned that one graphic scene shows what appears to be the actual shooting of a dog.

      In a new featurette Turkish director Fatih Akin praises Dry Summer and explains its historical context. He says that Turkey acted like Osman to the Syrians in the 1990, withholding water from a major river. Director Metin Erksan appears in an older interview to declare that the greatest enemy of Turkish cinema is oppressive censorship. Although it is a common custom for a surviving brother to 'inherit' his brother's widow -- to keep the land from being split up -- the censors objected to scripted scenes of Osman marrying Bahar.

      Trances from 1981 confirms that this grouping of films really is Martin Scorsese's personal selection. The director's The Last Temptation of Christ credits the Moroccan musical group Nass-El Ghiwane for inspiration. Trances is a concert movie showing the band performing their rhythmic, hypnotic songs. Traditional elements are present, especially with the ancient musical instruments being played. Repetitious chants predominate. The remarkable feature of a Nass-El Ghiwane concert is the participation of the audience, which becomes so complete that individuals work themselves into real gyrating trances.

      Director Ahmed El Maanouni gives us plenty of interview material with the band members. Nass-El Ghiwane began in 1969. Its member-musicians are more like traveling troubadours than performing celebrities. They perform in ordinary street clothes. Huge audiences dance in place, wave their shirts and come on stage if allowed. More than one band member says that music isn't 'something he does', but instead part of his essential personality.

      Also included are documentary scenes of Moroccan neighborhoods, and a few staged moments. Known as "the Rolling Stones of North Africa", the band's lyrics are a combination of non-militant calls for freedom and lamentations for lost family traditions.

      Martin Scorsese's intro explains how he discovered Trances while watching the TV show Night Flight during all-night editing sessions on The King of Comedy. The lengthy featurette includes input from Scorsese, director Ahmed El Maanouni, producer Izza Génini and Nass-El Ghiwane musician Omar Sayed.

      The Housemaid (1960) is a suspense thriller by Kim Ki-young, a once-forgotten director now championed by a new generation of Korean filmmakers. Made under heavy censorship rules, it is nevertheless a scathingly subversive critique of 'family values' among the emerging middle class. As if Luis Buñuel had moved to Seoul, director Kim's film is a series of socially uncomfortable, volatile confrontations. A blood-dripping main title tips us off that this tale of "Father Knows Best" will go in dark directions.

      The audacious film easily bests American thrillers about families disrupted by a sexual intruder. The husband (Kim Jin-kyu) is a handsome music teacher in a girls' factory school, who proudly moves his wife (Ju Jeung-nyeo) and two children into a larger house. Following school rules, he reports a student who slips him a mash note, and she's suspended. The girl's best friend becomes the husband's private piano pupil, and helps him find a maid to work in the new house. It's not long before the scheming housemaid (Lee Eun-shim) discovers a way to sexually compromise the husband. She wants to take the wife's place, and exploits the fact that her employers will do almost anything to avoid a scandal. The situation gets so bad that murder seems the next step -- and all know that there's a bottle of rat poison in the kitchen.

      The Housemaid's amorous intruder reminds us of Buñuel's Susana, a caustic satire about a sexy female convict who invades a 'proper' Mexican hacienda. A close look reveals that director Kim's happy Korean family is anything but. The outwardly decent husband only thinks that he can resist the temptations of the factory girls he teaches. The mother has another baby on the way, and overworks herself to better justify the television she covets. The children are not idealized. The daughter is a polio victim, and her selfish little brother swipes candy while openly making fun of her crutches. In keeping with the Korean culture of tough love, the parents do not object; the father declares that the steep stairs in the new house will force the daughter to exercise more.

      The mercenary, two-faced housemaid initiates a series of petty blackmail threats that escalate into a war of nerves. When she becomes pregnant all notions of normality break down: the servant's new orders include sleeping rights with the husband. Things go over the edge when a demand that the housemaid abort her unborn child leads to outright murder attempts. She becomes a monster, haunting the house by pounding on the keys of the husband's piano.

      With its lurid tailspin into despair and doom, The Housemaid is like a Douglas Sirk domestic drama gone mad. It defies prevailing entertainment norms that exalt family values as a shining ideal, and even a trick ending can't dissipate its power. Korean audiences must have felt that the uncompromising film revealed truths about middle class values, as it was very popular -- Kim Ki-young remade it twice at ten-year intervals.

      The World Cinema Project had a difficult time rescuing The Housemaid. It was considered lost for years because two reels of its negative could not be located. An export print was found in the 1990s, albeit marred by intrusive English subtitles. For two nine-minute sections, the film quality drops considerably. The digital patch job used to eliminate the burned-in subs is a little distracting as well.

      The expertly directed movie is a masterpiece worth seeing in any condition. The plaster patterns in the walls of the new house soon begin to resemble spider webs, or the 'cat's cradle' string game played by the children in the first scene. The director punctuates the seduction of the husband with a blast of lighting striking a tree. The family's perfect home soon becomes a house of horrors. I can see a lot of attractive housemaids losing their jobs, back in Seoul of 1960.

      In the featurette for The Housemaid director Bong Joon-Ho (The Host) expresses his enthusiasm for Kim Ki-young in no uncertain terms, noting the film's taut camera moves and superb direction of actors. Bong also provides a cultural analysis of the characterizations, especially the portrait of the 'perfect' Korean wife -- who also joins the murderous scheming as soon as her comfortable social status is threatened.

      Criterion's Blu-ray + DVD of Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project is a good cross-section of worthy international films not likely to be revived through normal commercial channels. Scorsese's selection covers a wide range of appeal. All of the restorations were performed at the Cineteca di Bologna. Most of the HD transfers yield excellent results, with flaws occurring only when original elements were missing or damaged. The English subtitles are up to Criterion's high standards. We hope that more World Cinema Project collections are on the way.

      As with all new Criterion releases, the disc set is a Dual-Format Edition with identical contents. Three Blu-rays share two feature films each, while each title also gets its own DVD disc. A 64-page booklet contains essays on the Project's aims as well as scholarly pieces on each of the pictures by Richard Porton, Charles Ramírez Berg, Adrian Martin, Bilge Ebiri, Sally Shafto and Kyung Hyun Kim.

      By Glenn Erickson

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  1. New Books

    • Vanessa: The Life of Vanessa Redgrave

    • By Dan Callahan

      "She has made mistakes, but there is a case for her as the best actress alive, ready for further challenge." -Biographical Dictionary of Film , David Thomson

      Vanessa Redgrave has never taken the easy path. She has played formidable women, has been outspoken about her political beliefs, has followed her heart and been criticized throughout her career for the choices, both personal and professional, that she made. Now, Dan Callahan has written the first-ever biography of the woman some have called our greatest living actress.

      Vanessa was born into a distinguished acting family (her father, Michael Redgrave, was co-starring with Laurence Olivier in Hamlet at the Old Vic, when Olivier announced her birth to the audience during a curtain call) and made her motion picture debut in 1966's Morgan!, receiving an Academy Award nomination for her performance.

      Fiercely independent, she protested the war in Vietnam, marched to ban the bomb and became involved in various human rights and left-wing causes. In 1962 she married director Tony Richardson and they had two daughters, Natasha and Joely. When Richardson fell in love with French actress Jeanne Moreau a few years later, Redgrave divorced him. While filming Camelot (1967), she fell in love with her co-star, Franco Nero, and had a son out of wedlock with him in 1969, creating a scandal in the press both in Britain and America.

      Against this backdrop of changing social mores and dissenting political beliefs, Redgrave continued to lead her life the way she wanted, not the way others expected.

      She won an Academy Award for her supporting performance opposite Jane Fonda in Julia (1977). Prior to winning the award, she had been outspoken in her support of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the audience audibly booed political remarks she made during her acceptance speech.

      Despite the career ups and downs (often attributed to her political outspokenness), Redgrave was not one to focus on the past or wonder "What if?" She kept working and found success on Broadway and in the London Theater.

      She also found happiness later in life, reuniting with Franco Nero and marrying him in 2006. But she has had tragedy as well, as her daughter Natasha Richardson died in 2009 due to a tragic skiing accident, and a year later, she lost her brother Corin and her sister Lynn.

      Now in her seventies, Redgrave continues to live life on her terms and continues to act, proving that talent like hers knows no age limits. Dan Callahan is the associate editor at Siman Media Works. He wrote Barbara Stanwyck: The Miracle Woman and has published theater and film reviews in Time Out New York, Sight and Sound, The L Magazine and Slant Magazine. He lives in New York.

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    • Cimarron: Vintage Movie Classics

    • By Edna Ferber

      Brand new from Vintage Books comes the Vintage Movie Classics collection--new editions of great American novels that inspired classic films, in a handsome trade paperback format with new forewords from today's leading scholars of film and literature. Among the first titles to be released is Cimarron. This vivid and sweeping tale of the Oklahoma Land Rush, from Pulitzer Prize winner Edna Ferber, traces the challenges of settling an untamed frontier in the years following the Civil War.

      Cimarron is the nickname of Yancey Cravat, the larger-than-life hero at the center of the story. The book begins with Cravat recounting his participation in the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889 to the family of his wife, Sabra. Soon after, Cravat convinces Sabra that they should leave Wichita for the "boomer town" of Osage, Oklahoma.

      There they work against overwhelming odds to create a prosperous life for themselves and their son. In 1893, the government announces another "land rush" in the Cherokee Strip. Not one to stay for very long in one place, Yancey leaves his family, which now includes a daughter, to participate in the adventure. When he doesn't return, Sabra displays a brilliant business sense and makes a success of their local newspaper, the Oklahoma Wigwam.

      Yancey eventually returns, but it's not long before his need for adventure overtakes him again, leaving Sabra alone to keep the family together and the family newspaper in business.

      Against this backdrop, Ferber tells the epic story of the settling of the Oklahoma frontier and the building of an empire. Outlaws, border and land disputes, and the discovery of oil are all part of the unforgettable story of the Cravat family.

      Originally published in 1929, and twice made into a major motion picture, Cimarron brings history alive, capturing the settling of the American West in vivid detail.

      This edition includes a new foreword by writer Julie Gilbert, author of Ferber: The Biography of Edna Ferber and Her Circle.

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    • Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3

    • By Robert Matzen

      Carole Lombard has always intrigued film fans. Her independent nature, her bawdy sense of humor and the screwball comedies she made are just some of the reasons often cited for why she remains so popular 72 years after her tragic death.

      From her early days in silent films to her "overnight" success in Twentieth Century audiences have always been drawn to Lombard. Around Hollywood she was known for her straight talk, her mentoring of others and her romance with the "King" of Hollywood, Clark Gable. She is also remembered for the tragic way she died trying to get home to Gable following a successful war bonds tour.

      In Fireball, Robert Matzen draws upon the Academy's Margaret Herrick Library files, interviews and unpublished reminiscences of those who knew Lombard to give a vivid picture of her life. Utilizing his background in aeronautics, he scoured through 2,000 pages of government testimony and hundreds of pages of confidential TWA documents to help explain why Flight 3 slammed into Mt. Potosi, shortly after taking off from the airport in North Las Vegas that fateful night in January, 1942.

      Matzen also explores Lombard's reasons for breaking government orders in an effort to get home, paints a portrait of the 21 other passengers and crew aboard Flight 3 and details the heroic efforts of the search and rescue crews that tried to reach the crash site in time.

      The crash altered not only Gable's life, but the lives of the friends and loved ones of the passengers and crew. For many, including Gable, it was a weight they bore the rest of their lives.

      This well-researched book is a story of accomplishment, bravery, sacrifice, and loss.

      Robert Matzen is a former federal contractor for NASA who now specializes in Hollywood history. He has appeared on BBC 2 and BBC Radio 4. He is the author of Carol Lombard: A Bio-Bibliography and Errol & Olivia, and he is the coauthor of Errol Flynn Slept Here. He lives in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania.

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    • Three Bad Men: John Ford, John Wayne, Ward Bond

    • By Scott Nollen

      John Ford. John Wayne. Ward Bond. Three men from very different backgrounds formed a friendship early on that stood the test of politics, war, career ups and downs, and even death.

      The book traces the intertwining lives of these men while giving detailed biographies of each. Author Scott Nollen utilizes Ward Bond's biography (which has never been published before) as the backbone of the story. We discover that Wayne and Bond were not unlike the men they portrayed on screen, and Ford was the director who may have been most responsible for creating their screen personas.

      Though linked by profession, the heart of their story was their inextricable personal ties to each other.ord often treated Wayne and Bond as surrogate sonsm but didn't cut them any slack either on or off the set. He could be just as cantankerous and mean to them as he was to others.

      They also disagreed often politically, but managed to put aside those differences for the sake of friendship. Nollen pulls no punches with his examination of the notorious HUAC hearings and Wayne and Bond's involvement in conservative political groups of the day.

      Drawing upon never-before-published letters and telegrams, as well as rare photographs, Nollen allows us to look beyond the cinematic and mythical personalities and see the real men at the heart of this enduring friendship.

      Scott Nollen was educated in film and history at the University of Iowa. He has written and edited more than 40 books on the history of film, literature and music.

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  1. DVD Reviews

    • Lon Chaney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) on Blu-ray

    • Lon Chaney was the most unlikely of Hollywood superstar actors. Talented and ambitious, he fearlessly took on roles of tortured victims, twisted villains, and misshapen outcasts, parts that he brought to life with a mix of elaborate make-up, physically demanding incarnations, and emotionally intense performances. In some ways, you could see him as the De Niro of the silent era, sinking himself into each role so deeply he loses himself in it, at least as far as the viewer in concerned. In an industry that celebrates physical beauty and charisma, Chaney won over audiences by playing characters that looked or acted like monster while communicating their inner drives and torments with his eyes and his face and his body language. The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1923 was his first major production, a lavish period drama based on a classic novel and created at a cost of over $1 million by Universal, at the time a second-tier studio with ambitions to compete with the majors in the blockbuster realm. It made him one of Hollywood's biggest screen stars.

      This adaptation largely hews to the narrative of Victor Hugo's novel. Chaney plays Quasimodo, the horribly misshapen, deaf and half blind bell-ringer at Notre Dame, nominally raised by Don Claudio (Nigel De Brulier), the Archdeacon of Notre Dame. He lives in the bell tower of the cathedral and watches the revelry in the public space below the parapets of the church, where he becomes fascinated by Esmeralda (Patsy Ruth Miller), the gypsy dancer and daughter of Clopin (Ernest Torrence), the King of the Beggars. When she shows him kindness, he becomes a devoted protector even while the scheming Jehan (Brandon Hurst), brother to Don Claudio, plots to take Esmeralda as his own.

      Wallace Worsley, who previously directed Chaney in four features (among them the twisted 1920 crime thriller The Penalty), dutifully (if flatly) directs this massive production (he wasn't Chaney's first choice... or second... or third). The major characters get their introductions in turn before Quasimodo's story even begins and the mechanics of the relationships are spelled out in headlines that suggest where the story is heading, even if it turns out a bit misleading. When the dashing womanizer and king's guard Phoebus (Norman Kerry) sweeps the innocent Esmeralda off her feet with pretty words and gallant displays, the scene dissolves into an image of a moth in spider's web, a visual metaphor that is a charming as it is obvious. It's a momentary truth, however, as Phoebus is somehow transformed by her innocence and trust and escorts her home untouched. Esmeralda has that effect on everyone, it seems, except Jehan, who sets Quasimodo to kidnap her and then abandons the wretch when he's caught by the royal guards and sentenced to the lash in front of a cheering crowd.

      The most glaring change from the novel is splitting the character of Claude Frollo, the Archdeacon of Notre Dame, into two roles, each incarnating on one of the conflicting halves of his character. Don Claudio is the Archdeacon here, a true, moral man of the church and kindly protector of Quasimodo, while his lustful, corrupt side is spun off into the character of Jehan, his secular brother who keeps up the façade of upper class morality while working with the underworld. One wonders if the change was made to placate the church. In this version, the religious authority is nothing but pure and holy. And, quite frankly, impotent. Where Frollo was keenly aware of everything happening outside the doors of his cathedral, Don Claudio is oblivious to even the wildest revelry, wandering out of his cloistered church only when it fits the dramatic needs of the script. And where Quasimodo's devotion to Frollo arises from his debt to his caretaker and creates a powerful conflict when he takes on the role of protector of Esmeralda, there is no such relationship to bond him to Jehan or explain why he agrees to do the dirty work for this ne'er do well.

      The storytelling is mix of the grandiose and the clumsy, with Chaney largely anchoring the film and the size and scope of the spectacle elevating production. The sets are magnificent, the biggest that Universal had built to date (the giant exterior of the cathedral and surrounding building remained standing for decades and were reused for Universal's defining horror classics of the thirties), and the Cathedral exterior is extended by a hanging miniature so it towers over the public square in in front of the church, where the cast of thousands is gathered for the opening festival sequence and again for the climactic uprising as Clopin leads an assault on the cathedral. It was convincing enough to make some believe that Universal actually shot on location rather than on their backlot.

      Chaney's make-up is spectacularly grotesque, with a gargoylish face of distorted cheekbones, a distended eyeball, and teeth broken to nubs, mats of coarse hair across his chest and shoulders like a werewolf, and of course his hump and bent stance (the strap he designed to hold his plaster hump in place also kept him from standing upright). But the make-up is only the surface. Chaney gave Quasimodo a dynamic physical life, scrambling down climbing ropes (he was at times doubled by a stunt man) or hanging from the bell rope like a big kid, and a childlike innocence that gave every emotion a purity and intensity that drove his loyalties. He's less beast than arrested child in a deformed adult body, treated like an animal for so long he's become accustomed to it, yet still longing for contact. His affection for Esmeralda may begin with sexual attraction but her kindness to him in the face of abuse from everyone else makes him loyal and dedicated, like an animal bonded to its human.

      Patsy Ruth Miller manages to keep her innocence even while dancing for the crowds, becoming the conscience of the underworld, and Ernest Torrence is superb as the King of the Beggars, reluctantly giving in to her pleas of charity. Torrence moved freely between villains and heroes and between serious and comic roles in the silent cinema. He was a physically towering man with a big personality that he wielded well in his character turns and he plays Clopin as a man so powerful he doesn't need to make a show of physical intimidation. The immediate response of the criminal hordes to his orders, his gestures, even a quick glance, confirms his authority.

      Lon Chaney created a lot of twisted wretches, vengeful villains, and criminal masterminds, but Quasimodo remains his most sympathetic screen character. He gives a big, broad performance befitting the film and the character, a simple creature with the look and strength of a beast and the innocence and loyalty of a child.

      According to the liner notes, there are no existing original 35mm prints of the film and no camera negative (not that uncommon for a 1923 feature), so this edition was mastered for Blu-ray from a 16mm reduction print struck in 1926 from the original camera negative, a restoration produced by David Shepard and Serge Bromberg. It's the same source used for the 2007 DVD release from Image (titled The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Ultimate Edition) and apparently the closest to the original release that is known to archivists. The wear on the print is evident in a steady rain of minor surface scuffs and light vertical scratches down the image, but the trade-off is an improvement in sharpness and image from the earlier Image release (which was already far and away better than the other public domain editions on the market). It also features the orchestral score compiled by Donald Hunsberger and adapted and arranged by Robert Israel, conducting a small orchestra in the Czech Republic, from that earlier DVD release. The recording is bright and full, a lively and varied piece that draws in the viewer but ultimately lacks the dramatic scope and darkness that the story calls for.

      New to this edition is a slideshow gallery with over 100 original production and publicity stills set to selections from the score (it runs about 14 minutes) and a digital reproduction of the original souvenir program (both mastered in HD). Carried over from the Ultimate Edition DVD is the commentary track by Lon Chaney biographer and professional make-up artist Michael F. Blake, the (incomplete) 1915 short Alas and Alack featuring Chaney in two roles (one of them a hunchback) but missing the final act of the story, and newsreel footage of Chaney (out of costume) on the Cathedral set of Hunchback. The accompanying booklet features an informative (and well-illustrated) essay on the production of the film written by Michael F. Blake written for the earlier DVD release.

      by Sean Axmaker

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    • Return to Nuke 'Em High Volume 1 on Blu-ray

    • If you're arriving late to class, here's the recap: director / producer / modern B-movie legend Lloyd Kaufman directed the original Class of Nuke 'Em High, a flamboyantly grotesque parody of high school movies and radioactive mutant horror, in 1986. The premise: a high school in Tromaville, the most toxic city in America, is located right next to a nuclear power plant and the students gets contaminated when a dealer sells drugs irradiated from the plant. It spawned two sequels (produced and co-written but not directed by Kaufman), the last one released in 1994. Twenty years later, Kaufman revives the franchise with a new micro-budget epic so sprawling that it was split into two parts (ostensibly upon the recommendation of Quentin Tarantino, a la Kill Bill). Return to Nuke 'Em High Volume 1 was shown at film festivals and played limited runs and special midnight screenings across the country before landing on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital platforms, which is still the primary mode of distribution for Troma's cult movies.

      In Return to Nuke 'Em High Volume 1, the old nuclear plant and its giant cooling towers (which loomed over the old high school thanks to cheap optical effects) have been bulldozed under (that's what passes for environmental clean-up in the Tromaverse) but a new business has sprung up in its place. As guest narrator Stan Lee explains over the opening montage of clips from the earlier trilogy, "Tromorganic Foodstuffs, Inc, was built right over the old Tromaville Nuclear Power Plant. What could go wrong?"

      Kaufman himself has a supporting role as the clownish and crooked Tromorganic CEO Lee Harvey Herzkauf, whose so-called organic food is filled with human body parts and glowing radioactive sludge, which is not exactly what we mean by the term "going green." He sells his slop to Troma High and the students don't think twice about scarfing down tacos that glow green and ooze slime, even the school genius, who shoots goop from his ears, spontaneously combusts, and finally explodes in a gooey mess. The Troma Poofs Glee Club, a tone-deaf collection of misfits, finds its harmony when the sludge mutates them into Cretins, a violent gang of post-punk bullies who sing a cappella numbers during their hyperactive reign of terror. Even our two heroes, social activist blogger Chrissy (Asta Paredes) and rich girl Lauren (Catherine Corcoran), are eventually mutated, but only after their instant antagonism transforms into passionate love and lots of gratuitous topless scenes. Yup, Kaufman makes his heroic romantic couple two girls in love. Call it "Green is the Grossest Color." While any resemblance to Blue is the Warmest Color is surely coincidental (both films debuted at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival), Kaufman would appreciate the connection. His films are farces, not satires, but he plucks targets and references from culture around him, high and low alike. Here he tosses mortgage foreclosures, Obamacare, and insistently tasteless Jerry Sandusky gags in a film where Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead is the American President and the members of the mutant glee club are named after the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

      Return to Nuke 'Em High Volume 1 delivers the Troma brand of production value: a madcap collection of slapstick comedy, outrageously over-the-top gore gags, gratuitous nudity, dimwitted characters, aggressively corrupt and / or incompetent institutions and authority figures, an unending stream of fart jokes, and a general level of obliviousness to the most obvious signs of bad news. Kaufman has a fondness for old-style slapstick, the sloppier and stupider the better, and will throw in anything that he thinks might get a laugh or a reaction--Kaufman himself resorts to physical schtick that was old before he was even born--but it's his gleeful embrace of bad taste and political incorrectness that really defines his sensibility.

      Even the best Troma films are a little schizophrenic but this one is notably unfocused, rambling from scene to scene without any sense of direction and letting the film get cluttered with repetitive jokes and slack scenes. Maybe that's because Kaufman decided to split the film into two feature-length parts rather than trim the fat away and hone in on a rapid-fire film. It's hard to accuse the film of being self-indulgent--that's the Troma style--but this is one film where a little more discipline would have been appreciated. And yes, as the title suggests, this isn't the end of the story. The conclusion isn't so much a cliffhanger as a promise of even more outrageous complications and affronts to good taste to come in Return to Nuke 'Em High Volume 2, coming sometime in 2014 to a midnight screening or a home video format near you.

      Troma never fails to fill the disc releases of its signature releases with worthy extras. This one is a little light compared to special editions of the oft-rereleased Toxic Avenger films or the recent Poultrygeist but impressive by any other measure. There are two commentary tracks--one fielded by actors Catherine Corcoran, Asta Parades, Zac Amico, Clay von Carlowitz, and Stuart Kiczek, the other by writer / producer / director Lloyd Kaufman with his production team: producer Justin A. Martell, executive producer Matt Manjourides, associate producer Regina Katz, and co-writer Travis Campbell--and three featurettes (each under ten minutes).

      While there is a self-deprecating sense of humor to many Troma supplements, their featurettes and documentaries are always worth watching for their honest acknowledgement of the effort it takes to get a Troma film made on its model, the practical solutions to production problems, and the mistakes that get made because of the large number of inexperienced crew members and / or performers involved. They demand a lot of commitment from their cast members and "Casting Conundrum" shows how the casting process finds not just the most talented and charismatic actors but those willing to commit to the demands of role. "Pre-Production Hell with Mein-Kauf(Man)" shows Kaufman the director, who is a very different person than Kaufman the showman and onscreen goofball. "Special (Ed) Effects" offers behind-the-scenes footage of the effects crew preparing for their big scenes. Also features the brief clip reel "Cell-U-Lloyd Kaufman: 40 Years of TROMAtising The World," a music video and, of course, the trailer for the upcoming Return to Nuke 'Em High Volume 2.

      by Sean Axmaker

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    • The Eddy Duchin Story on Blu-ray

    • The vogue for musical biographies in the classic Hollywood mold was beginning to wane when Anthony Mann and James Stewart scored a major hit The Glenn Miller Story, a romanticized telling of the life of the famous, ill-fated band leader. Two years later Columbia came up with this look at another big name, a pianist-bandleader who specialized in a lush Manhattan sound as opposed to the jazz of his time. Director George Sidney's The Eddy Duchin Story (1956) is a sincere and leisurely tale that doesn't try to be much more than two hours of melody and emotion. It also features fine performances from Tyrone Power, Kim Novak, and the City of New York.

      New York, 1931: Running away from a career as a pharmacist, young pianist Eddy Duchin (Tyrone Power) gets a job at the Central Park Casino playing intermissions for big bandleader Leo Reisman (Larry Keating). His introduction to the tuxedo set comes thanks to the intervention of beautiful socialite Marjorie Oelrichs (Kim Novak). As Eddy's popularity soars he overcomes his ambitions to join high society, only to fall in love with Marjorie. Duchin and his piano-led orchestra eventually become a top attraction of the Depression years. After his happy wedding to Marjorie, Eddy is certain that an angel must be looking after him. And then tragedy steps in to change everything.

      Hollywood musical biographies date quickly. Many are little more than mawkish bits of plotting and overeager actors, sandwiched between overblown production numbers. Real biographical facts are not a requirement, as the subject's personality is usually enlarged to become as big and romantic as his music. There's nothing very cinematic about watching a composer writing a song, which is why Words and Music (Rodgers & Hart) becomes a vaudeville show and Yankee Doodle Dandy (George M.Cohan) an ode to patriotic idealism. In these pictures the heroes are all touched by a magical 'genius' that opens doors and creates riches out of pure harmony. In movies like The Al Jolson Story, the message is that the 'great talent' has attained a new level of existence, like a demigod -- and the great music is there to convince us of it.

      Eddy Duchin is the perfect material for a musical biography, a wildly popular New York pianist of the 1930s. He dazzled the hi-toned nightclub crowd with his keyboard style, which included stunts like reversing hands in the middle of a piece. Duchin's early passing in 1951 provides the movie with a bittersweet ending, but central to his story is a personal tragedy that torpedoed what had previously been a charmed life. Much of the second half of The Eddy Duchin Story shows a bitter man only slowly finding his way back to his earlier values. For positive uplift, there's Eddy's son Peter, who in real live idolized his father and became a popular pianist in his own right.

      Duchin's story needs no exaggeration to generate the requisite pride and pathos of the genre, and director George Sidney lends it a sense of balance and elegance. Tyrone Power is far too old to play the young Duchin but his makeup here fares much better than that in John Ford's The Long Gray Line just a year earlier. To untrained eyes Power's keyboard work is quite convincing, as if he had studied Duchin's style before faking the fancy moves of the first pianist superstar.

      But the biggest appeal of The Eddy Duchin Story is probably Kim Novak, who at the time was in first bloom as one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. She's perfectly cast here as a classy heiress who swims in only the most exclusive Park Avenue circles. The manners and gilt of these surroundings are far more natural to her than the rowdy campus life in Five Against the House, and Novak never seemed enough of a schemer to be the femme fatale of Pushover. In The Eddy Duchin Story she's sensual and forbiddingly ladylike at the same time, qualities that surely excited Alfred Hitchcock when he needed a replacement for Vera Miles in Vertigo. No star wears clothing as well as did Novak; she hasn't a single un-photogenic angle.

      After forty minutes of upward career arc culminating in artistic and personal success, the Duchins have finally reached a state of bliss, installed in a glorious penthouse apartment overlooking Central Park. That's when the film takes a sudden plunge into melodrama. On her wedding night Marjorie admits her terror of the wind, an unwelcome dark thought that enters as if a stagehand walked onscreen carrying a sign reading: Harbinger of Doom. Personal loss is a staple of musical biographies. As 'Red' Nichols, Danny Kaye lost a beloved child in The Five Pennies, and Eddy Duchin has his own date with tragedy. Kim Novak's sudden exit from the movie puts a definite damper on the proceedings.

      The rest of the film covers Eddy's initial estrangement from his growing son, his war service, and his second chance at happiness before leukemia cut him short. All of it retains a sense of restraint. The thankless role of wife Number Two is played by a young Victoria Shaw, an interesting actress seen mostly in cheaper Columbia fare such as Sam Fuller's Verboten! Power's anxiety and Shaw's strength prevent the show from veering into soap opera.

      George Sidney bathes The Eddy Duchin Story in glossy production values. The tasteful nightclub sets are packed with patrons in period costumes. Sidney's utilizes his MGM experience to prevent the frequent musical interludes from becoming repetitive. Some border on the obvious, as when sailor-Eddy plays a duet with an Okinawan tot on a piano found in a bombed-out bar. But the hot numbers in the NYC nightclubs set a standard for classy presentation, especially I'll Take Manhattan and Brazil, complete with fancy angles through Duchin's shiny grand piano.

      Even more classy and nostalgic are the film's many scenes filmed on location in and around Central Park and Park Avenue. The Technicolor photography captures many moods, especially in rainy weather. Coupled with the lush music score, these romantic sections are pleasant in and of themselves, like the scenery in a widescreen Western.

      James Whitmore, even more subdued than usual, fills out the stock role of Duchin's agent and manager. Young Rex Thompson played Deborah Kerr's son in the same year's The King and I and lends some interesting shadings to young Peter Duchin. Somewhere among the party girls is a young Betsy Jones-Moreland, who later became a Roger Corman perennial.

      The Twilight Time Blu-ray of The Eddy Duchin Story is a handsome rendering of this beautifully filmed show. Set against George Duning's romantic music, many of those scenes wandering through Central Park have the elegance of a fashion shoot. Tyrone Power & Kim Novak in color and CinemaScope, strolling in Manhattan... it's a piece of Hollywood glamour.

      The carefully produced audio track is in two-channel stereo, and an Isolated Music and Effects track is present. The original trailer plays up the film's classier aspects. Julie Kirgo's insert notes compare the real Mr. and Mrs. Duchin with their fictional counterparts and note the similar fate of star Tyrone Power, who died just two years later at the age of 44.

      By Glenn Erickson

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    • Dead Kids (aka Strange Behavior) on Blu-ray

    • Originally released in the U.S. under the name Strange Behavior, Dead Kids is the debut screenplay by future director and Oscar-winning screenwriter Bill Condon (he Oscared for Gods and Monsters) and the directorial debut of producer Michael Laughlin (Two-Lane Blacktop), two Americans who got their offbeat horror movie made by filming it as an Australian / New Zealand / American co-production in New Zealand. The title Dead Kids makes it sound like a slasher picture or a zombie film, and while there are some elements of both of those genres echoing through the film, it's really a mix of mad scientist thriller and revenge movie dropped into a somewhat surreal recreation of small-town Midwest America.

      Michael Murphy stars as John Brady, an easy-going chief of police (or maybe county sheriff?) in Galesburg, a small Illinois town close enough to Chicago to request help from the city's homicide detectives. He's a widower and a single father to Pete (Dan Shor), a smart, good-looking high school kid who wants to go to city college, despite Dad's insistence he go to a major university and see a little of the world beyond this town. Dad has good reason to send Pete away: he blames a professor at the local college for the death of his wife. The professor is long deceased yet his legacy still hovers over the school through pre-recorded lectures and professors who continue his psychiatric research and experiments in behavior modification. Pete, eager to make a little extra money, signs up as their latest test subject in a vaguely-described study being run by the doctor's protégé (Fiona Lewis, with an air of icy dominatrix about her). The project, of course, turns out to have a sinister side, as an outbreak of violent, inexplicable murders attest. The first is perpetrated by a knife-wielding assailant in a Tor Johnson mask who pulls off the mask to reveal.... Okay, no spoilers, but be assured that the trail leads back to the college study and the creepy scientist spreading his unconventional ideas from beyond the grave.

      Dead Kids came out in 1981, when the slasher film was all the rage, and the influence of Halloween is evident. Laughlin uses the same Panavision format and has a swooping crane shot that creeps up to a house, looks through the living room window to show us the parents, and then rises up to the bedroom window of the daughter above, a move right out of John Carpenter's playbook. And where Carpenter used a Los Angeles suburb to play the fictional Illinois small town of Haddonville, Laughlin has New Zealand towns and locations playing Galesburg. In this case, however, the location make everything about it a little off. The write-up on the disc jacket reads "New Zealand doubling for suburban Illinois," but when the film leaves the tree-filled college campus and heads into town or out to the highway, it looks less like suburbia and more like a southwest outpost, a dusty town under vast blue skies that suggest the desert more than the Midwest.

      That's only part of the odd atmosphere of the film, which plays out in a Twilight Zone where the fifties, sixties, and seventies all converge in a swirl of cultural cues. The high school lettermen jackets look like they came out of a vintage family sitcom, the local radio deejay could be broadcasting out of American Graffiti, and the kids talk like they stepped out of an Archie comic. When the Chicago homicide detectives show up, it's aging Hollywood tough guy Scott Brady coming on like an old school private eye, right down to a shot of bourbon before he gets to work. A high school costume party channels sixties pop culture and the soundtrack straddles everything from sixties pop to late seventies rock and new wave. It takes the décor of a teenage bedroom, where Springsteen and Talking Heads albums are prominently displayed, to confirm the time period. Everything about this film feels a little off, from the locations to the costumes to the rambling pace, which drifts along with odd editing beats more seventies arthouse drama than eighties horror film. It takes half the film to confirm that John is indeed a lawman since he never wears a uniform, works out of a station that looks more like a down-at-heels lawyer's office from an old Hollywood movie, and is never referred to by rank. He's not "Chief" or "Officer Brady," he's just John.

      You could chalk up some of that atmosphere to Laughlin's awkward direction--his staging of some of the murder scenes are clumsy and he fails to execute a couple of rudimentary exercises in building suspense--but he clearly is trying for a different aesthetic here. It's no mistake that he repeatedly shoots the murder scenes with the victims visible but the killers unidentifiable, their heads framed out of the picture so all we see are bodies in motion. It's not to obscure the identity of the killers, mind you, but to reduce them to mere weapons wielded by a mastermind controlling their action. The script, which Laughlin co-wrote with Bill Condon, is less concerned with the spectacle of onscreen murder than the fear of losing control and the horror is more wrapped up in the familiar turning alien and threatening. The killings are less unsettling than the driven, sometimes self-destructive behavior of the killers, who are just as much victims here. And the film's money shot is not a murder but a classic needle-to-the-eyeball (no spoiler here: it's on the cover of the disc case and on the disc art itself). That's one scene that Laughlin nails for maximum effect.

      While Lauglin's technique is sometimes clumsy, his work with the lead actors is terrific. He draws excellent performances from Murphy and Louise Fletcher (cast, refreshingly, as a comforting friend of the family in love with widowed Murphy), brings out the playful personalities of the teenagers played by Shor and Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen in the first two Superman movies), and makes the transformation of Shor's Pete from easy-going nice guy to cocky ladies' man quite unsettling. Dey Young (of Rock 'n' Roll High School), playing a college intern in a classic eighties ponytail who lets the suddenly emboldened Pete take her out on a date, fills out her character with a refreshing confidence and self-awareness. And for pure nostalgia, look for Charles Lane (Mr. Potter's rent collector in It's A Wonderful Life) working as the police department gopher (mostly he answers phones and gets coffee). Many of the bit parts are wooden or flat but his main characters have plenty of personality and life to them. It gives you people to invest in and makes the final act effectively unsettling.

      Severin masters the Blu-ray debut of the film from the original 35mm negative, which may be why it went with the Dead Kids title, as it was called for the Australian release, rather than the American Strange Behavior. Anamorphic photography is prone to distortion and focus issues around the edges of the lens. Where Panavision veteran John Carpenter overcame those issues in his films, Laughlin and DP Louis Horvath did not, apparently, and the image goes soft around the edges of the frame in many scenes on this disc. While not glaring, it becomes more obvious because of the clarity of the transfer. The color is muted, likely an issue with the original palette, and the sound is fine. Tangerine Dream scored the film but it's one of their less interesting scores, more a collection of atmospheric tones and dramatic stings than a sustained series of compositions like Thief, which came out the same year. You can, however, listen to the score on an isolated audio track.

      The release features both Blu-ray and DVD editions of the film and the supplements. The commentary track by writer Bill Condon and actors Dan Shor and Dey Young was recorded a decade ago for the original Elite DVD release and it's a lively session that's both fun and informative. New to this disc is a solo commentary track by director / co-writer Michael Laughlin and a 20-minute interview with make-up effects artist Craig Reardon, who was hired just days he had to deliver the film's defining effect. He tells you the whole story of his seat-of-the-pants solution.

      by Sean Axmaker

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    • The Broken Circle Breakdown on DVD

    • The title of the The Broken Circle Breakdown, a major hit in its native Belgium and an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film in the U.S., is a riff on the American country spiritual "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." This is the story of a great love and a devastating loss, and it indeed confronts a breakdown, both figurative and literal, in the family circle. The song opens the film, performed by a bluegrass band in Belgium fronted by Didier (Johan Heldenbergh), a one-time punk rocker who fell in love with American roots music. He learned to play the banjo because it's the closest instrument to the wail of the rock guitar. At least that's how he explains it to Elise (Veerle Baetens), a tattoo artist who has turned her own body into a canvas for her work, on their first date.

      That first date comes later in the film. Our introduction to Didier and Elise is in 2006 as they await results from a test that their young daughter Maybelle (Nell Cattrysse), named for Maybelle Carter of course, is undergoing. They are trying to hold it together to give their little girl all the strength and optimism they can muster. As this present-day drama unfolds, we slip back seven years to the early, heady days of their romance. It's practically love at first sight and they form an instant connection; the way the flashbacks jump through their life together, it looks like she moves in the next day. Their personal harmony is picked up in the band, where she joins the ensemble in duets with Didier, then as a lead singer and guitar player. His stunned, defensive reaction to the news that she's pregnant is the only sour note of their love song and he quickly recovers by starting a verse. They've been living out of a trailer while he slowly rebuilds the old homestead of his farm. Now he has a deadline: have a home ready for their child.

      The Broken Circle Breakdown is based on a play conceived and co-written by its star, Johan Heldenbergh, though judging by descriptions of the original stage production, the term "play" may be misleading. It reads more like a mix of theater and concert, with scenes from a relationship interspersed with a song cycle of American bluegrass music. Director Felix Van Groeningen reconceptualizes the project for the screen, reworking the story and the songs into a narrative and then fracturing the timeline. While the film jumps back and forth from the "present" day story of the couple facing their daughter's illness to the early days of their romance and the birth of their family, it's easy to follow the threads; they run pretty much in parallel. But after tragedy strikes, the structure becomes more fragmented and less linear, connected less by narrative threads and more by the intensity of emotion. It reflects the heightened drama and amps up the anxiety and the urgency of their ordeal. Elise slips into depression, lashes out at Didier and herself looking for something or someone to blame, and then finds a foundation in a kind of spiritualism. She can't bring Maybelle back, but saving the lives of a few birds is enough to connect with the memory of their little girl.

      Didier, in contrast, casts his blame outward and directs his rage against American President George W. Bush and the religious right. This is the early 2000s, as TV broadcasts of the Twin Towers attack and the Bush veto of stem cell research remind us. The furious rants are more about the anger of a helpless father than any political statement but those polarizing statements tend to get tangled up in the emotional drama. They are also a reminder that his adoration of America, based on his love of the music and stories of his beloved bluegrass classics, is really more of an affection for the idealized Americana of folk art. The real world is much messier and there is no romance to real tragedy.

      While the film doesn't flinch from the heavy toll it takes on Didier and Elise, or the intensity of emotion as their different ways of dealing with loss clash, this isn't all about ordeal. Heldenbergh and Baetens are compelling performers who invite you to invest in their lives and the band provides a community of support and love for them and their daughter. The music they make, all covers of classic bluegrass songs, overflows with joy, as does the romance that plays out in flashback. They do their own singing and are so expressive (and with such uncanny southern-country twang) that you might assume they are music stars in their own right. They weren't before, but the success of the film and the soundtrack has given them a second career performing with the film's band, kind of like the concert tours of American country folk music in the wake of O Brother, Where Art Thou?.

      The Broken Circle Breakdown is the kind of film that, to repeat a tired cliché, will make you laugh and make you cry. That's how it affected me. It's a powerful film that builds to intense, overwhelming emotions with a very human core. Van Groeningen's triumph is wrapping the heartbreak and anger up in the love and the support. He leaves us celebrating the beauty of what was rather than mourning what has lost.

      It's in Flemish with English subtitles but the songs are all sung in English, and the sole supplement is a short (under four minutes) English-language interview with director Felix Van Groeningen. The film is only available on disc in the US on DVD--no Blu-ray release has been announced--but it is also available as a Digital purchase or VOD rental. The disc is, unfortunately, not well mastered. The image is adequate for the most part but loses the gray between color and shadow in video noise. It's a distraction in only a few scenes but it is disappointing on the disc of an Oscar-nominated film. Also note that the disc case inaccurately lists the running time at 70 minutes, which is 41 minutes short of its actual length: 111 minutes.

      by Sean Axmaker

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  1. Press Release

    • Dick Dinman Explores the Mystery of Carole Lombard's Tragic Last Flight

    • DICK DINMAN EXPLORES THE MYSTERY OF CAROLE LOMBARD'S TRAGIC LAST FLIGHT: Producer/host Dick Dinman's guest is Robert Matzen whose new book FIREBALL: CAROLE LOMBARD AND THE MYSTERY OF FLIGHT 3 explores the mystery of superstar Carole Lombard's tragic last flight and is one of the most exhaustively researched, compelling, and beautifully written edge-of-your-seat Golden Age Hollywood-related books we've read in a long time.

      The award-winning DICK DINMAN'S DVD CLASSICS CORNER ON THE AIR is the only weekly half hour show (broadcast every Friday 1:00-1:30 P.M. EST on WMPGFM) 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 or

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    • Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me - Now in Limited Release

    • The first thing one thinks after just a few minutes of Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me is, why is this fantastic woman not more famous? Fans that follow Stephen Sondheim reunions soon learn about the high regard given the performer who sang "The Ladies Who Lunch" from 1970's Company. The woman is a ball of brash energy and winning charm. Some stars and divas are always 'on' and require an entourage to make themselves seem more important. Elaine plows through the world mostly on her own and her version of being "on" is being herself. In one clip John Turturro explains what makes Stritch unique. She has no defensive shell to cover her feelings. The real Elaine is all up front, on top, in your face. She can be brassy and profane, but nothing she says sounds phony. Riding home from a TV taping, Elaine expresses her doubts about the constant hugs and kisses among show people: "Everybody is just loving everybody too much for my money."

      The cameras of producer/director Chieme Karasawa follow Elaine Stritch through busy days of activity, beginning with her walks from her apartment at the Hotel Carlyle. She's courteous to well wishers, hugs their dogs and yells like Ratzo Rizzo when a car tries to cut her off in a crosswalk. At lunch with friends, she explains that she was alcohol-free for 22 years, but now that she's in her '80s she's back to taking one drink a day. She also has a diabetes problem, which in stressful situations makes her lose her temper and forget lyrics. Her sometimes-sharp outbursts in rehearsals and on TV stages are not pleas for pity or attention. On the "30 Rock" show, Tina Fey remarks that Elaine's energy keeps everyone on their toes.

      The documentary makes use of a handful of effective clips from old TV shows and movies, but most of the work of showing the scope of Ms. Stritchs's career is handled directly through the performer herself. Loyal assistant Maeve Butler spreads an enormous number of framed stills around a bedroom, and Elaine finds a great story in each. One of them is about her dates with John Kennedy. She asked him to take her to dinner, and she met his family. When it came time to say goodnight, Elaine chose not to sleep with him. That is the story of a lady in control.

      The way Elaine tells it, she came into show business with the morals of a convent school graduate. Now at least sixty years later, we hear her say a prayer before a demanding concert. She finishes it off with a burst of profanity. Nothing fake about this woman.

      The photos place Elaine Stritch in the center of Broadway culture from the late '40s forward. She's seen caricatured in scores of Al Hirschfeld cartoons. Other photos place her with dozens of Broadway greats. She's candid about the details of her career, and offers that she was fired from her first stage role for inexperience, not because star Kirk Douglas was after her. Later on Nöel Coward became so enamored of Elaine's performing that he wrote a musical for her. Elaine appeared in several movie roles, but few major parts.

      One very effective clip is from the 1970 documentary Company: Original Cast Album. Producer Hal Prince praises Elaine, saying that she's not often difficult but even when she is she's well worth it. We see her recording the song "Ladies Who Lunch" with Stephen Sondheim. Prince notes that she's more vulnerable than people think. A little later she is greeted at the famed Stella Adler Acting Studio, which wants to solicit Elaine's choice of a rehearsal room to be named after her. We're impressed when she asks for a small room -- she reasons that she was a student there, not a superstar. She certainly qualifies now -- Ms. Stritch is one of few remaining performers with a continuity link to old-time Broadway.

      The motivation to perform is the only possible explanation for Elaine's seemingly limitless personal energy. Yet she has a couple of bad spells and health scares in the show, when she suddenly seems more like a frightened, needy 86-year old. She remains well aware of the camera and doesn't mind letting it film her sudden difficulty in speaking. On the road, Elaine's music director and accompanist Rob Bowman is there to help raise her spirits, if needed.

      She also keeps the cameramen on their toes. At one point Elaine is discussing a contract when she notices the camera: "Don't you think you're awfully close, Shane?" The camera promptly retreats. Later on, while being filmed making a snack of English muffins, Elaine suddenly stops what she's doing to ask the cameraman why he's not following her around more closely. She openly admits that she tends to intimidate directors, and even in the old Company footage we don't see Stephen Sondheim contradicting her on camera. Her younger fan-associates sing her praises but without the usual gushing silliness; Elaine wouldn't put up with fawning for a minute. Yet she collects good friends like a soul magnet. One met Elaine at an AA meeting, and has a ready description for her: "She is a Molotov Cocktail of madness, sanity and genius."

      Getting set for a singing gig in East Hampton, Elaine wakes up feeling terrible. She asks to be left alone, and buries her head in a pillow. But she pops awake when Rob Bowman reports that the show's been cancelled: "Do we get paid?" Rob nods and Elaine clasps her hands in joy. "Aaooohhh, Brava! Sometimes you get the breaks."

      Elaine commits to a multiple city tour requiring her to sing a long playlist of Stephen Sondheim tunes, and throws herself into rehearsals not knowing if she'll be strong enough to finish. Mild diabetes attacks can impair her memory of all those difficult lyrics. On opening night Rob Bowman has a terrific set of arrangements prepared, but her memory comes unglued during rehearsal. Trying not to worry, she says she and Rob have no choice but to trust all those hours of rehearsal. It seems hopeless until Elaine reaches the stage, at which point she seems to cast off 25 years, pick up new energy and show her audience what real show business moxie is all about. If she does go up on a lyric or two, she pushes through in good humor. But most of the time she nails the complicated Stephen Sondheim songs. We feel her joy and triumph more than ever.

      Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me can be described as a backstage documentary about a star nearing the end of her performing career. Producer/director Chiemi Karasawa found the perfect documentary subject in Stritch, whose personality repels all hints of show biz baloney. Soon after filming started Elaine embraced the project whole-heartedly. If she suddenly felt chatty during the night, Karasawa would have to wake a cameraman and rush over to film Elaine in her bed. She doesn't tell stories out of school yet smiles as she remembers the men in her life. When talking about her alcoholism she can be evasive or fiercely self-critical. Just the thought of finding the next loving audience often lights up her face, bringing out her beauty. When she's tired out from traveling, the idea of retiring can sound equally attractive. Shoot Me brings us so close to Elaine Stritch that it's difficult not to fall in love with her.

      Attractively filmed and decorated with well-chosen music, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me is a fast paced show composed almost completely of privileged moments. Notables with substantial on-screen input include James Gandolfini, Tina Fey, Nathan Lane, Tracy Morgan, John Turturro and Alec Baldwin. The late James Gandolfini appears on camera looking like a schoolboy, to admit that he formed a crush on Elaine Stritch the moment he met her. "If we had both met when we were 35, I have no doubt that we would have had a torrid love affair which would have ended very badly."

      By Glenn Erickson

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    • BROADWAY TO HOLLYWOOD, a new CD by Richard Glazier, Available Now

    • Recording this CD brought back many wonderful memories from my childhood. I have loved movies, movie music and Broadway musicals my entire life. I discovered a lot of this music for the first time when my parents bought me a 16mm Bell and Howell sound projector in the early 70s. It was one of the machines made out of metal from the 1950s and had to be manually threaded. In those days one could go to the public library and check out pristine prints of all the classic films for 2 days at no charge. Since my mom was an actress and a page at CBS in New York during the golden age of radio, she encouraged my passion for music, movies and Broadway. We spent countless hours in our basement where I shared a love, a wonderment, a passion for the American Popular Song with my mom as she told me all sorts of behind the scene stories. Her older sister (my Aunt Esther) was like my grandmother and we spent every Saturday together. She also fueled my passion and ultimately helped me write a fan letter to Ira Gershwin. Little did I know that would be a life defining moment for me. Although my Aunt Esther and my beloved mom have passed on I think about them every day and am reminded of many happy memories when I perform and hear this music. It is my wish that when you listen to this recording many happy memories will be brought to you as well.

      Richard Glazier

      For more information, please visit: or

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    • Dick Dinman Salutes the "Giant" Talents of Earl Holliman

    • DINMAN SALUTES "BIG COMBO" CO-STAR EARL HOLLIMAN (Part One): Olive Films has just distributed a stunningly restored Blu-ray incarnation of the brutal and steamily sensual film noir classic THE BIG COMBO which is famous for its explicit visualization of a seamy underworld that oozes with seediness and lowlife characters and one of it's co-stars Earl Holliman joins producer/host Dick Dinman to share his intriguing early career experiences that led to his participation in this unrelentingly dark, violent and erotic masterwork.

      DICK DINMAN SALUTES THE "GIANT" TALENT OF EARL HOLLIMAN (Part Two): Classic film Blu-ray fans are raving about the massive JAMES DEAN ULTIMATE COLLECTOR'S EDITION (which includes EAST OF EDEN, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and GIANT) whose co-star Earl Holliman shares with producer/host Dick Dinman his experiences with director George Stevens and stars Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean as well as his personal dissatisfaction with his own performance in the sci-fi classic FORBIDDEN PLANET and also reveals how he beat out a legendary "king" of rock and roll for a coveted (and Golden Globe winning) role in THE RAINMAKER.

      DINMAN SALUTES THE VERY FIRST "TWILIGHT ZONE" STAR EARL HOLLIMAN (Part Three): Star Earl Holliman's last of three visits with producer/host Dick Dinman includes revelatory details about his starring role in the very first episode of Rod Serling's TWILIGHT ZONE series, his affectionate observations about POLICEWOMAN co-star Angie Dickinson and his 34 year association with Actors and Others For Animals.

      The award-winning DICK DINMAN'S DVD CLASSICS CORNER ON THE AIR is the only weekly half hour show (broadcast every Friday 1:00-1:30 P.M. EST on WMPGFM) 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 the online archive.

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    • Ennio Morricone Postpones Concerts in US to June 2014

    • UPDATE:
      Ennio Morricone has suffered a back injury that has forced the postponement of his US concerts, originally dated March 20 and 23, to June 13 at Barclays Center in New York and June 15 at Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles. Maestro Morricone has undergone an operation to repair a slipped disc, and his doctor has advised him not to travel long distances in the immediate future to ensure a full recovery.

      Morricone remarked, "Dear Friends, it saddens me deeply to have to postpone these concerts. I am very much looking forward to my first Los Angeles performance and only my second New York City performance, both of which are almost sold out. Hollywood has been instrumental in bringing my work to American audiences, and my 2007 performance in New York was one of the high points of my career to date. I'm grateful and sorry to my fans for having to delay these shows. I'll miss you, and I look forward to seeing you in June."

      Tickets to the original performance will be honored at the rescheduled performance. A full refund is available to those who cannot attend the rescheduled performance via the original point of purchase through May 1st.

      Ennio Morricone, who celbrated his 85th birthday on November 10, will be conducting an ensemble of 200 musicians and singers, for a single performance at Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE on Thursday, March 20, 2014 at 8 pm. This concert marks the legendary Morricone's first Los Angeles performance. Morricone has composed the scores for more than 450 films including five of Sergio Leone's westerns -­ A Fistful of Dollars; For a Few Dollars More; The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly; Once Upon a Time in the West and A Fistful of Dynamite - and The Battle of Algiers; Sacco and Vanzetti; Cinema Paradiso; 1900, Malena; The Untouchables; Once Upon A Time in America; The Mission; U-­Turn; The Unknown Woman; and The Best Offer, among hundreds of others.

      Tickets priced from $45 go on sale Friday, October 25 at 10am through, and by phone at (888) 929-­7849. Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE is located at 777 Chick Hearn Ct., Los Angeles, CA 90015. For more information please visit enniomorricone-­usa-­ The concert is presented by Massimo Gallotta Productions and AEG and also will be scheduled in New York at Barclays Center Cushman and Wakefield Theatre on March 23, 2014.

      Born in Rome on November 10, 1928, Ennio Morricone started his film-­composing career in 1961 with Il Federale directed by Luciano Salce. Morricone then became famous worldwide with his scores for Sergio Leone's westerns. Since that time, Morricone has composed music for films by directors including Pedro Almodovar, Warren Beatty, Bernardo Bertolucci, Brian De Palma, Roland Joffè, Adrian Lyne, Giuliano Montaldo, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Roman Polanski, Gillo Pontecorvo, Oliver Stone, Giuseppe Tornatore, Margarethe Von Trotta, Henry Verneuil, and Lina Wertmuller.

      Morricone is the recipient of the honorary award from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences for his "magnificent and multifaceted contributions to the art of film music" (2007), nominated for five Academy Awards, induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame for the soundtrack album of The Good The Bad and the Ugly, two Grammy Awards for Once Upon a Time in the West and The Untouchables, two Golden Globe awards for his scores for The Mission and 1900; the ASCAP lifetime achievement award, the career achievement award by the Film Music Society, and 27 Gold and 6 Platinum records.

      Morricone has composed over 100 pieces of concert music since 1946 including Concerto per Orchestra n.1 (1957); Frammenti di Eros (1985); Cantata per L'Europa (1988); UT, per tromba, archi e percussioni (1991); Ombra di Lontana Presenza (1997); Voci dal Silenzio (2002); Sicilo ed altri Frammenti (2006); Vuoto D'Anima Piena (2008); and Una Messa (2013).

      Since 2001, Morricone has engaged in intense concert activity, and has conducted more than 100 concerts in Europe, Asia, the United States, and in Central and South America of his film music and concert works. On February 2, 2007, Morricone conducted Roma Sinfonietta Orchestra in a major concert at the United Nations General Assembly to celebrate the appointment of UN General Secretary Ban Ki-­Moon, followed the next day by his historic United States debut at Radio City Music Hall, in a concert produced by Massimo Gallotta, who is producing the current Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE and Barclays Center concerts.

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Frank Capra: Early Collection
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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