alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Ghost Light (2013) is undeservedly obscure. There are several near-contemporary movies sharing its title, it seems to have been poorly marketed, it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page, and no DVD seems to have ever been marketed. Luckily, it is available on Amazon Video (link above), where Kestrell stumbled upon it, and where I recommend you go watch it. If you have Amazon Prime, it’s even free!

If you were to look at the poster without any additional context, you would probably think that this was a horror movie. While it does have some horror elements, they are too few and far between to put it into that genre. The film slips effortlessly between several different genres from moment to moment; if I had to assign a simple one to it, I’d say “comedy”.

I think, however, that a designation more likely to communicate to its true target audience is to say that this is in the same obscure mix of sub genres as Slings & Arrows.

A small theater company is putting on a production of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”. With one show left in the run, the actors and crew decided to stay overnight in the allegedly haunted theater in hopes of seeing some ghosts. They spend much more time seeing each other’s human foibles. And when the ghosts finally do make their presence known, they largely bring emotions other than terror with them…

In addition to Slings & Arrows and “Earnest”, the film’s DNA also seems to us to include bits of “Noises Off”, and Shakespearean comedy in general. Very Highly Recommended.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Kestrell and I recently watched a 1973 British horror film starring Christopher Lee. Most of it is set on an island off the coast of Scotland. A policeman comes to the island, gravely concerned about the fate of a young girl, and with fears of ritual murder. In his investigation, he badly misunderstands almost everything that happens, until the apocalyptic revelatory sequence during a holiday celebration filled with fire, song, and the laughter of children.

No, I am *not* actually talking about The Wicker Man, but its strange mirror universe twin, Nothing but the Night. In this film, Christopher Lee plays the *policeman* (ably assisted by Peter Cushing), not the evil authority figure. Rather than a daytime Mayday Festival, the climax happens after dark on Guy Fawkes. And where The Wicker Man is a clearly told story full of moral ambiguity, Nothing but the Night is, unfortunately, a rather clumsily told story whose morals are never in doubt.

I would class it as a “fascinating failure”. Although it has a lot of problems, it also has a lot of good points, and a riveting finale. I wish people would make remakes of films like this, that have a lot of untapped potential, rather than retelling stories whose originals were so good that the remake seems pointless.


Jan. 31st, 2016 01:50 am
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
I finally got around to listening to Hamilton. Yeah, it really is all that. If you want an overview of what the show is, and why everyone is talking about it, Siderea did an excellent write up.

Having listened to the music, I began a cursory read of some of the associated meta-text; news articles, interviews, and such. In so doing, I’ve come up with one insight that I haven’t seen anywhere else.

The composer and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, reminds me of no one so much as the young Orson Welles, with one crucial difference. Like Welles, Miranda is brilliant, driven, and egotistical. However, unlike Welles, he understands that theater is not a zero-sum game.

Welles always had to be the lone genius. Though he surrounded himself with talented people, he always denigrated them, or played power games to assert his dominance. Karmically, this resulted in relatively untalented people exerting power and dominance games over Welles, greatly reducing the amount of art he was able to complete.

Miranda, by contrast, doesn’t seem to play power games at all, as far as I can tell. He understands that when everyone is working to make the best possible show, that results in the most personal gain for everyone involved.

What it was is an environment where everybody felt they could do their best. That sounds simple. But all of us have been in environments where we didn't feel like that. We felt like our best was going to threaten somebody else, or we were stifled in some way. But Hamilton was a carefully crafted environment where everyone felt like we could come in and dump all of our toys out in the center of the floor.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Snatching a few hours sleep at an odd hour, my subconscious served up a surprise: a previously unseen collaboration between Fritz Lang and Peter Lorre, The Deep Underground.

It’s one of those films where the setting (and set designer) is of equal importance to the actors and director. It is set in an old, never-named city, located on the side of a steep mountain. Streets are all switchback and the sidewalks are stairs as often as not. Shadows fall swiftly down the slopes. Night comes early here.

Like all old cities, it has another city beneath itself. Basements, sewers, ancient tunnels of secret and unknown purpose, all interconnecting in a labyrinth. But this labyrinth has a famous difference from many others. Usually, if one is lost in an underground maze, one can escape by always trying to go up; “up” is reliably towards the surface. Not so, here. In the deep underground, you could climb upwards for a mile, always within 100 yards of the outer world, but never actually reaching it. It’s a threat used to keep little children out of the underground, but it’s true for all that.

In this nameless, steep city, Peter Lorre is a denizen of the underworld in two senses: a petty criminal, and someone who has spent much of his life exploring the deep underground. Another criminal recruits him for a job. He has found the existence of a treasure vault, guarded well – on the surface… If Lorre can get them close enough to drill in from beneath, they can share a fortune.

As they travel through the deep underground, sometimes Lang uses shots from street level. You’ll hear just a snatch of clear dialogue echoing up through a sewer grating, accompanied by the merest flicker of torchlight, indirectly reflected below

The exact details of the plot evade me (as is typical in dreams). The treasure is found, there is betrayal in the dark, Lorre survives and emerges with a double handful of jewels. Jewels that are SO valuable, that he cannot immediately convert them to currency…

Later, there is an investigator. He probably would have found nothing on his own, but Lorre is seized by that classic hubris, and offers to guide the investigator through the underground. After all, the underground is HIS domain, and he is proven himself invincible within it. He’s already effectively hidden one body down here, another should prove no difficulty. Down in the dark with a soon-to-be-dead man, Lorre can show off his mastery, and boast of the cleverness of his crimes.

In the inevitable climactic fight, Lorre is blinded by an errant torch. The investigator escapes to the surface, with a solution, if without a prisoner.

Lorre, master of the underground, discovers that though he knows these spaces better than any other man, he does NOT know them blind. Lost, he begins to struggle upwards in montage. Daylight filters in, but he can no longer see it. On the surface, little children sing a nursery rhyme about how when you’re lost in the deep underground, going up will not save you. The rhyme echoes through the underground halls; Lorre hears it, but cannot identify its direction. He struggles frantically upwards… and inwards, away from the light. Fade to black. The End. Credits.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Kestrell and I just watched Beat the Devil (1953). It starts as a caper film, but quickly takes a left turn into comedy. It is sometimes described as a parody of The Maltese Falcon, but isn’t really. It does feature Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre, with Robert Morley doing his best Sidney Greenstreet imitation, but the plots aren’t what I would call related.

Bogart is working with a team of four international criminals who, as Kes observed, take the usual “pair of incompetent Shakespearean hitmen” and square the problem. The already significant paranoia of the criminals is raised to a high pitch when they encounter a delightful English woman (Jennifer Jones) with a habit for confabulation. Kes thinks that she is the grown-up version of the niece from Saki’s short story “The Open Window” :-)

Kestrell also pointed out that much of the confusion in the film comes from the various characters assuming that Humphrey Bogart’s character is, well, a typical Humphrey Bogart character. In this film, he’s much more of a “go along to get along” kind of guy, but people keep expecting him to be doublecrossing and seducing.

Hmmm, this seems to be more Kestrell’s review than mine. Oh well, I can the state on my own behalf that I greatly enjoyed it. Recommended.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
A few days ago, [ profile] kestrell decided that she was finally up for watching The Night of the Hunter (1955), so we did so. I am happy to report that she liked it about as much as I do. In fact, I like it better on a second viewing than I did on the first. So, though I wrote about it then, I find I have more to say now.

It’s probably Robert Mitchum’s greatest performance, and it was certainly Charles Laughton’s greatest directorial job – okay, okay, it was his ONLY directorial job, but it would’ve been an extreme high point for even a lifelong directorial career. For all that, when released it was a commercial and critical failure. Why? One answer is that the studio failed to give it much marketing push. But that’s just one symptom of what I think is the underlying problem: the film has no interest in sticking to a genre formula. You could call it a Crime Drama – but there is very little of either crime or punishment actually shown. You could call it Horror – but there is no blood and no cat-scares. You could call it Americana – if you could overlook all the tributes to German Expressionism. So much of the emotional tone is carried by characters singing that you could call it a Musical, except that it clearly isn’t THAT. Many reviewers use the phrase Fairy Tale, which isn’t 100% wrong, though certainly not how it was marketed. If you put a gun to my head and forced me to name one single genre that this movie is, I’d say Children’s Movie…

Yes, Children’s Movie. Easily 90% of the movie is through the viewpoint of one child or another. The film’s thematic concerns are largely about how marginalized people cope with the existence of powerful oppressors – with the ultimate examples being children and adults. Its message, both shown and told, is that though they are oppressed, children yet have power that adults lack. Of course, that’s not a message that most parents are really gonna be happy with…

I suppose you could make a good argument that the genre here is Suspense; the film certainly contains a great deal of that quality. But there is very little Mystery in it. You know almost before he appears on-screen that Robert Mitchum is a serial killer. There is a hidden MacGuffin, but it’s only hidden for about half an hour, and revealed almost offhandedly. On first viewing, I thought that an odd and clumsy directorial choice, but since then I’ve changed my mind. I think Laughton hides MacGuffin, not to create mystery, but to properly PACE his suspense. If we knew the location of the MacGuffin too early, we would worry about it being accidentally uncovered during scenes in which Laughton wants us concentrating on other matters.

This is far from the only such example. Laughton’s storytelling is extremely straightforward on the surface, but deceptively complex beneath. The basic point of every scene and character would be immediately clear to a typical eight-year-old*. But re-watching, with an eye towards the storytelling mechanics, you can see how almost every scene in the first half is doing at least double duty and often more; helping reinforce or foreshadow plot traits and characteristics that will be important later in the film.
(* The one exception is, tellingly, a scene where the young boy viewpoint character has just been woken from a sound sleep in unknown and threatening circumstances.)

The movie also has a fascinating relationship with religion. On the one hand, Robert Mitchum is a preacher who is also a serial killer. Late in the film, the “good Christian people” whom he has preached to become a vicious mob, howling for his blood – arguably, embracing religion the same way that he always has. So you might think this movie was opposed to religion. But then, you have Lillian Gish’s character, an ACTUAL good Christian: an old woman who takes in and cares for unfortunate orphans, and reads Bible stories to them. She would be treacly – if she wasn’t also a terrifying crone! And yet, beneath her hardened exterior, she has a true understanding of Charity. At one point, she sees a pair of young lovers canoodling in the marketplace. (Pause while I look up the quote…) “She'll be losing her mind to a tricky mouth and a full moon, and like as not, I'll be saddled with the consequences.” On the one hand, she clearly disapproves, but on the other, she IS willing to be “saddled with the consequences”. Indeed, she has already proven so: at least one of her “wards” has a loving mother who works near that marketplace – by implication, a single mother who is unable to care for her own child by herself. A little later in the film, Gish surprises us again with her reaction(s) to one of her girls having gotten in trouble (another of those scenes where the eight-year-olds are probably going to miss some of the complexities).

Despite the top level of the film being (or at least seeming) completely straightforward, it’s full of surprises. Not surprises of plot, but of image, or moments of character. Things I had never seen before, nor even realized that I might see. I’m very glad I did, though. Very Highly Recommended.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Recently, Kestrell and I watched a related pair of movies: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988) and the film it is a remake of, Bedtime Story (1964). The comparison was FASCINATING.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels has been a favorite of mine since I first saw it in its original theatrical run. Michael Caine and Steve Martin play a pair of con men who cross paths, compete, cooperate, and then compete harder. Glenne Headley enters the film about halfway through as the ingénue that they compete over. Barbara Harris has a small but delightful part as a mark early in the film.

When I first saw Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, I wondered if it was a remake of an earlier film (in those pre-Internet days, it was nontrivial to find out). Though my film knowledge was not encyclopedic, I had seen enough movies starring David Niven to recognize that Michael Caine was obviously imitating him in his performance. And, indeed, the original movie, Bedtime Story, did turn out to star David Niven. What I was NOT expecting, was that Steve Martin’s performance turned out to be significantly informed by that of – Marlon Brando! As near as I can tell, Frank Oz (director of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) made a deliberate choice to “keep everything that worked” from Bedtime Story when remaking it. It’s pretty clear that both leads studied the performances of the original actors.

This attitude of “keep what worked” applied on a script level as well. Something like 50% of the dialogue is VERBATIM the same, and even where it isn’t, the majority of the action is the same. Sometimes this goes so far as to use the same staging and camera angles.

I don’t want to give the impression that Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a carbon copy. Indeed, I would say that it is a MUCH better movie. Not that Bedtime Story is bad, but the remake improves it in almost every way. What’s fascinating is that the degree of similarity is close enough that you can see lots of places where Bedtime Story COULD have gotten a laugh (or a bigger laugh) and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels DID. You could use these two films as a master class in film comedy – and the art of the remake.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Major[ profile] kestrell and I recently re-watched Bell Book and Candle (1958). It’s a mostly fun, if problematic, romantic comedy with Jimmy Stewart essentially playing Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak playing a sophisticated modern day witch who casts a spell on him. Also a great supporting cast, including Jack Lemmon (on the bongos!), Elsa Lanchester, Ernie Kovacs, and Hermione Gingold.

The major problematic aspect is that, by the rules of this movie, witches are literally “not human” and are incapable of love. If a witch does fall in love, then she loses all her witch powers and “becomes human”. Naturally, lots of Wiccans and Wiccan-friendly people take offense at this. The offensiveness actually gets worse, in my mind anyways, once you realize that “witch” is a wafer thin metaphor for “homosexual”. Though I admit it does lead to some very funny moments, such as when Ernie Kovacs (playing an alleged expert on magic) confidently tells a room full of closeted witches that he can “just tell” if someone is actually a witch.

As we watched, I often felt myself strongly reminded of another movie which on the surface looks very different, but actually isn’t: Chasing Amy (1997). Both of them are about a straight white guy who has troubles with his romantic relationship, because she’s queer. They even both feature scenes where the woman loses support from her queer community due to her new relationship.

Of course, the endings are quite different. In 1958 Hollywood, the only possible “happy ending” to such a story is for the queer woman to become a normal straight woman. Chasing Amy has a more honest ending: the relationship ends up failing because the straight white guy, despite having a somewhat-raised consciousness, is fundamentally unable to cope with someone so outside his experience.

I do like both movies. But they do make me long for more stories that show the possibility of happy relationships between two people who celebrate their differences. Season two of Sense8 can’t come soon enough!
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
[ profile] kestrell and I recently watched a pair of interesting movies, both of which fall roughly under the category of film noir, though each with its own interesting unique properties.

The Big Clock (1948) is a classic noir story of a man who, through a series of what seem like innocuous bad decisions, ends up in danger of losing his marriage, his job, and his life – not necessarily in that order. The tension builds beautifully, as the protagonist is forced to draw the net tighter and tighter on himself.

That tension is beautifully counter pointed by moments of screwball humor. Elsa Lanchester appears in a supporting role which initially appears to be one scene and one note, but her character keeps showing up, adding new layers and stealing scenes shamelessly and hilariously. She even gets the last line of the movie, indicating how, though things veered close to Shakespearean tragedy, we arrived finally at a happy ending.

Also of note in in the supporting cast is Harry Morgan, who normally plays such nice characters. Here, he scared the crap out of us, despite – or perhaps because of – not having any dialogue. He mostly just stands around being menacing, very effectively. It was quite some time, actually, before I figured out what his approximate role was; the other characters see him, but don’t talk about him. (The film overall does a fine job of avoiding “as you know, Bob”; there is – and needs to be – a goodly amount of exposition, but it is delivered very deftly.

The Big Clock also has strong elements of satire, specifically of the publishing industry. Kes thought that the heavy (Charles Laughton) was a thinly veiled William Randolph Hearst, but some post movie research showed that it was specifically targeting Henry Luce, publisher of Time Magazine.

Mystery Street (1950) was an interesting companion piece. It stars Ricardo Montalban as a Latino Police Lieutenant (!) working on a murder case. This may well be the first example of what we would now call a forensics police procedural – though apparently they haven’t yet invented the word “forensics”. Montalban and his partner spend an amusing scene wandering around Harvard University, looking for the department of “Legal Medicine”. Oh yes, this one is also set in Boston, so has some local interest.

The movie does an excellent job of indicating just how vast an amount of work goes into solving a murder, in both the traditional ways, and using the new “Harvard” methods – but does so in a way that doesn’t actually take much screen time, so the pacing zips along.

Coincidentally, Mystery Street *also* has Elsa Lanchester in a supporting role. Not quite as delightful a role as in The Big Clock, but still very good. She’s a great actress and always fun to watch.

Mystery Street has a lot of subtext (and sometimes outright text) about social divisions, and the effects of class, race, and gender on how people survive.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Kestrell and I recently watched "Alex and Emma", a romantic comedy directed by Rob Reiner. We enjoyed it, and I wanted to recommend it to a wider audience based on three factors:
1) Much of the location filming was done in Boston, with recognizable landmarks.
2) It's a meta-story, with a bunch of interesting material about the process of creativity.
3) It's loosely based on Dostoyevsky. No, not a *novel* by Dostoevsky, but actually based on his life, which turns out to have had some sigmonificant romantic comedy elements.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Kestrell and I recently watched "All Through The Night", a comedy-drama with gangsters versus Nazi spies, released mere weeks before Pearl Harbor. It's not the *first* movie I've seen that had the trope "We may be crooks, but we're *American* crooks!" … But I wonder whether or not it's the *earliest* appearance of that trope.

Anyone have other examples? I know I've seen this before, but it's apparently not common enough to get a TVtropes entry.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
I think Peter Lorre <i>would</i> make a great Abe Sapien :-)

More such images to be found at
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Bowfinger (1999), Steve Martin, Eddie Murray. Another in the micro-genre of “Movies about making movies, and the beautiful lies that are Hollywood”. On a cynicism scale where The Wizard of Speed and Time is a 1, and The Player is a 10, I’d put this at about a 3. Lots of fun, with a happy ending that is ludicrous in the very best way.

A Field in England (2013). Rival alchemists search for treasure during the English Civil War. Only that’s not really a useful description. As Kestrell put it, “It’s like Waiting for Godot, as if Ken Russell had directed it.” I can’t really *recommend* it, but it makes me happy that such strange concoctions can exist.

The Eclipse (2009). Set at an Irish literary convention, this movie is mostly a slow, melancholy story about various ways of coping with loss. Except for the occasional extreme jump scare with zombie-like ghosts. An odd admixture, but it worked.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Yesterday, [ profile] kestrell, [ profile] teenybuffalo and I watched The Addiction (1995). It's a vampire movie, but quite a different one. It focuses on a young woman studying for her Doctorate in Philosophy at NYU. Her studies are interrupted when, walking home one night, she gets bitten and (she slowly realizes) Turned. She then applies her philosophical learning to the problem of coping with her new state of being, with... mixed results.

It's a black & white film, so there isn't much visual gore. There *is* some quite disturbing violence, but the impact comes from context and emotions more than raw imagery.

Vampires are, for once, *not* a metaphor for sex, but for the human drive ("addiction") to do evil. This is expressed on many different levels, ranging from the Holocaust to domestic abuse. (The others watching thought there were too many of these levels to cohere, but I thought it worked.) While the film is not 100% successful (the ending, in particular, confused all of us), it was very thought-provoking and prompted a long after-film discussion. I want to read a [ profile] siderea review of it :-) (I'm not sure she'd *like* it, but I'm sure it would prompt interesting responses.)

Christopher Walken gets second billing, but he actually is in only one scene, though it is a doozy. It says something about how offbeat this movie is that, during the aforementioned discussion, I found myself describing Christopher Walken as "the voice of normalcy". It made sense in context, but is not something I would have expected to say about Walken.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
I have a vague memory of some friends linking to a site that mocked Hollywood's idea of "historical costuming" in significant detail. Can anyone give me a pointer? Because I just saw something I really have to share with them. The first segment of "Spirits of the Dead" (1968), based on a Poe short story, featured a lot of amazing costume work, much of which I can only describe as "Renaissance stripper". This site has some images, but they're missing several of my favorite outfits...
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
[ profile] teenybuffalo came over to watch cheesy horror movies with [ profile] kestrell and I. We started with Warlock (1989). Notable for starring Richard E. Grant With A Whip. Also starring Julian Sands as the eponymous Big Bad. Actually not a bad flick, as cheesy horror goes. Takes the unusual tack of having a magic system largely based on traditional witchcraft lore, rather than random made-up stuff. The special effects were rather weak, but the cast did a lot to make up for that with Intention and Emotional Commitment.

[Digression: Warlock features a sequence where our 17th century witch-finder encounters an airplane for the first time. It's a good time travel moment -- now in two directions. Not only do they have a ludicrously easy time getting through airport security, but there are people *smoking* on the airplane!]

Followed that up with the surprisingly similar Devil's Rain (1975). This was substantially more cheesy, though, what with William Shatner and Ernest Borgnine both over-acting for all they were worth. Also notable for involvement of famous Satanist Anton LaVey as a consultant. Some worthwhile moments, but not really recommended.

Both films could be described as "17th century witch and his nemesis end up in the 20th century, where they clash over a significant magical book." Moral Lesson: Don't mess with magical books.

The hordes started trickling by a bit before 5. They hit full force by 6, and we ran out entirely just before 7. The vast majority of the handing-out was done by Teeny, in her most excellent witch outfit.

Notable costumes included a Zombie Ninja (complete with throwing star embedded in his forehead), and a Zombie Princess Leia. Many assorted Princesses, Power Rangers, Superheroes, and Serial Killers. Somewhat fewer, but still notable quantities of vampires, italian plumbers, cute insects, and clowns.

There followed a brief clean-up period, after which Meredith fed everyone into submission. A most excellent day!
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
[ profile] kestrell and I saw a very strange film today. Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary. Quoting selectively from Wikipedia:
a 2002 horror film directed by Guy Maddin... documenting a performance by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet adapting Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. Maddin elected to shoot the dance film in a fashion uncommon for such films, through close-ups and using jump cuts. Maddin also stayed close to the source material of Stoker's novel, emphasizing the xenophobia in the reactions of the main characters to Dracula (played by Zhang Wei-Qiang in Maddin's film).
Like most of Maddin's films, Dracula, Pages from a Virgin's Diary is shot in the silent film tradition, complete with title cards and mimicking special effects of the era, such as tinted screen color, shadow play, and vaseline smeared on the camera lens to create a blurry effect. The film is not entirely monochromatic, since computer-generated special effects add bright, acidic colours to tint golden coins, green bank notes, and red blood.

In terms of bare plot, it's a pretty close adaptation of the Stoker, though it changes up specific details quite a lot (Harker at Dracula's Castle is mostly omitted, shown only in brief flashback). But as a silent film adaptation of a ballet, it gets into some seriously weird tonal territory. Even beyond the basic form of the film, there are some odd creative choices, such as making Van Helsing quite explicitly a pervy voyeur.

The visual density was such that Teeny and I couldn't literally describe the visuals for Kes fast enough to keep up, so we gave more-or-less impressionistic descriptions of the action, which often took a bit of an MST3K turn. Plus the occasional "I swear I'm not making that up!"

I can't exactly call it *good*, but I will say that I've never seen anything else quite like it, so it gets at least some points for originality. I'd be interested to hear what [ profile] rickthefightguy thought of it, since he has some experience with Dracula adaptations, and the film does contain some interesting dance-violence.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
[ profile] teenybuffalo, [ profile] kestrell, and I are going to watch my favorite version of Treasure Island. It's relatively obscure, having originally been a 1990 TV movie, but is a truly excellent film, and more faithful to the book than any other adaptation I've seen.

Charlton Heston does a brilliant job as Long John Silver, the original archetypal pirate that everyone else talks like on this day. He's got the sincerity and conviction to deliver those oft-heard lines without sounding like he's reciting cliches, and he also pulls off the difficult character mix of charisma and villainy.

Also notable in the cast are Oliver Reed as Billy Bones, Christopher Lee in a brief-but-memorable turn as Blind Pew, and an extremely young Christian Bale as Jim Hawkins. The rest of the cast may not be quite as awesome as these, but nobody does a bad job. The soundtrack is by The Chieftains, and adds well to the atmosphere.

Very Highly Recommended.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
After years of seeing it quoted and referenced (including by two of my favorite comics, Alan Moore's _Swamp Thing_ and Carla Speed McNeil's _Finder_*), I finally got around to seeing "The Night of the Hunter". It's utterly fascinating. Lots of later media quote the bit about having "LOVE" and "HATE" tattooed on fingers, because it's easy to do -- but it's just one small element of the film. The things that really make the movie stand out are almost never referenced, possibly because it would be too difficult to figure out what they were.

My first impression, which on some levels stayed with me through the entire film, was that this was the least subtle film I had ever seen. There is a BAD MAN and a NOBLE BOY -- if the dialogue and costuming had left any doubt about their natures, the soundtrack makes sure to bludgeon you over the head with them, repeatedly. The acting is very broad, almost to the level of a silent film, and the camera lingers over Significant Gestures. The film is bookended by Bible stories with Moral Lessons. There's even a scene near the end with an actual torch-bearing mob! Every aspect is completely "on the nose", with no ambiguity about what it is. It totally *shouldn't* work -- yet, somehow, it does. (Of course, at initial release, both the critics and the public thought it *didn't* work, but it has lived to find its audience.)

I wonder if the director was a follower of the theories of Brecht. So many aspects of the direction seem designed to distance the viewer, to say "this is artificial, a film, a story I am telling you". Realism consistently yields to storytelling. If a dramatic shadow is called for, it will appear, regardless of light sources and optics. Discoveries happen on a strictly narrative schedule, coincidence be damned.

The sets are often very obviously sets, yet framed and filmed with a haunting beauty. One particular underwater shot is perhaps the most beautiful and poetic that I can recall. Over and over again, we see natural beauty in an artificial framing.

Though the acting and direction are done with extremely broad strokes, don't think that that necessitates boring characterization. The characters all have complex layers. Interestingly, the movie presents a wide variety of viewpoints on the nature of female sexuality, not something that you'd have guessed from a plot synopsis.

I begin to think that Laughton actually did some extremely subtle things, hiding all that subtlety beneath the apparent layers of blatancy. Highly Recommended.

* Early in _Sin-Eater_, McNeil spends almost a full page recapping TNotH. At the time, it seemed like an odd pacing blip, but in the context of the full work, it's important as both plot foreshadowing/echoing and as characterization of Jaeger.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
One of my all-time favorite (and unfairly obscure) films is the extremely silly Get Crazy, which is set in and around a New Year's Eve rock concert ushering in 1983. This year marks the 30th anniversary, and there are still people I know who haven't seen it, possibly including you. In order to help educate people about this overlooked gem, I'll be hosting a small party to watch it at Melville Keep, on New Year's EveEve (Sunday, 12/30). Doors open at 2, movie starts at 3.

Hope to see you there!


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Alexx Kay

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