Thursday, May 21, 2009

What I’ve been watching:

I’ve apparently been on a roll these last couple of weeks because I have watched 5 DVDs! Not at all typical for me but I do enjoy it. Here’s what I’ve been watching:

In the Electric Mist
I’m a fan of James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux books from which this is made. It’s not a great film but I was drawn into the story & characters. The music was great as were the Louisiana landscapes.

They Made Me a Fugitive
Made in 1947 this British noir film is fantastic! It’s a post-war crime drama with an interesting ending. Plus, Trevor Howard is great!


I really liked this film. All of the characters and relationships are complex and deep. You may or may not like these people but they are immensely interesting.

This was a light-hearted, WWII, spy, adventure film. Leonard Maltin compares it to Hitchcock’s early films which is an accurate comparison. I thought it was a lot of fun!

Thérèse Raquin
From Emile Zola's novel of adultery, blackmail and murder this film is suspenseful and has great acting. Simone Signoret is fantastic as the unhappy Thérèse.

New this week:

Circle of Deceit
(German—1981) Grateful for a respite from his imploding marriage, Hamburg newspaperman Georg arrives in civil war torn Beirut to chronicle the bloody Lebanese war. Inside a shell-pitted hotel, Georg and colleague Hoffman, join a cynical international coterie of competitive fellow journalists. Outside, they take their lives in their own hands, dodging bullets and conducting interviews that are always just a trigger pull away from becoming executions. “Volker Schlöndorff's harrowing tale of civil war in Beirut is as perfect a film as has been made about an international hot-spot. Filmed in the city even as fighting raged on all sides, it's a fascinating piece of modern truth that should be seen by anyone with an open mind about how such wars - Beirut, Kosovo, perhaps soon Bagdad - operate.”—Glenn Erickson,

Life and Nothing But
(French—1989) Directed by Bertrand Tavernier in 1989 Life and Nothing But is a very assured French film about a Major in the French Army during World War I who is assigned to find and identify soldiers who are missing in action. In the process he encounters a woman searching for her husband. Over time they develop an interesting albeit stormy rapport with one another.

A former spy relies on his old skills to save his kidnapped daughter, who has been forced into the slave trade. “"Taken" is easily, the most satisfying movie, I've seen in the theater this year. For those wanting a well made action film that is a good throwback to the take no prisoners film of decades past, but at the same time features an extremely competent lead, who takes his role seriously, "Taken" will be sure to entertain.”—

Based on the incredible true story of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg and his ingenious assassination plot targeting Adolf Hitler, this engrossing thriller reenacts the daring operation to eliminate one of the most evil tyrants the world has ever known.

Homage to Chagall : The Colours of Love
This is a portrait of Russian painter Marc Chagall, with photographs of over 300 of his paintings, murals and stained glass windows. Also includes interviews with the artist and his wife.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Ashes of Time Redux

This film, directed by Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai, is one of those films that took many years to make. He began making the film in 1994 but it was a failure on its first release. He has been re-working it since then and re-released it in 2008. The reason for its initial failure is still true in the new version: the story is very confusing. Told in a non-linear style it would definitely take several viewings to figure out what is going on and who’s who. On the other hand, visually this is an incredible film. With glorious landscapes and an interesting use of light and shadow you can’t take your eyes off the screen. The music selection is also intriguing with music from Sergio Leone combined with cello solos by Yo Yo Ma.
The story is about a cynical man who lives alone in the desert connecting expert swordsmen with those seeking revenge and willing to pay for it. On the box it is described as a “martial arts masterpiece of larger-than-life characters, breathtaking landscapes and exquisite fight scenes.” I agree that the landscapes were breathtaking and the fight scenes exquisite (the fight choreographer was Sammo Hung who has worked with both Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan). But I also am one of those viewers who want a linear story that I can understand. As I was watching the beauty on the screen I was thinking that it was pretentiously art-y. My overall impression was one of disappointment. If I was willing to watch it a couple more times, maybe I would come to love it. But I just didn’t get involved enough with the characters or the story to make me consider more viewings.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

New this week:

This week is full of surprises. The only new, popular film DVD we added this week is Passengers starring Anne Hathaway as Claire Summers, a grief counselor working with a group of plane-crash survivors who finds herself at the root of a mystery when her clients begin to disappear. The critics didn’t love it, but maybe you will.

I have been searching for sale DVDs lately to see if I could find some interesting things and I hit the jackpot. Kino International—the best in world cinema ( is one of the great companies for the cinephile. They had a glorious selection of sale DVDs. I unhappily had to limit myself to only a few.

One find was I Have Found It. This is the Bollywood version of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. It is an “irresistibly musical, infectiously funny and sweetly romantic widescreen wonderworld that could only be found in a Bollywood film. [It is] an eye-popping riot of brilliant color, show-stopping musical numbers, spectacular global locations and exuberant performances.” ( I loved the Bollywood film Bride and Prejudice so I'm eager to see this one as well.

Next I found a set of Film Noir: Five Classics from the Studio Vaults. Film noir of the 1940s and 50s are some of the best films of the time to come out of Hollywood in my opinion. They “are B movies in the best sense of the term: tight, raw and cannily devoid of gloss.”
This collection includes:
Scarlet Street (1945) Dir. by Fritz Lang. When middle-aged milquetoast Chris Cross rescues street-walking bad girl Kitty from the rain slicked gutters of Greenwich Village, he plunges headlong into a whirlpool of lust, larceny, and revenge.
Strange Impersonation (1946) Dir. by Anthony Mann. A dark story of mistaken identity in which chemical researcher Nora Goodrich attempts to perform an experiment on herself with a new anesthesia she has invented, only to have it literally blow up in her face and scar her for life. Plastic surgery changes her into a different person that even her fiancé can't recognize.
They Made Me a Fugitive (1947) Dir. by Cavalcanti. Quintessential post-war British Noir. Ex-RAF pilot Trevor Howard is double-crossed by his black-marketeer boss. Once he breaks out of Dartmoor Prison, he seeks revenge. No holds barred in terms of brutality.
Contraband (1940) Dir. by Michael Powel. An excellent spy story from the sterling team of Powell and Pressburger. Danish freighter captain Conrad Veidt is detained in wartime Contraband Control, then must trail temptress Valerie Hobson through the demi-monde of a blacked out London.
Hitch-Hiker (1953) Dir. by Ida Lupino. The only true film noir ever directed by a woman, this tour-de-force thriller (considered by many, including Lupino herself, to be her best film) is a classic, tension-packed, three-way dance of death about two middle-class American homebodies who stumble upon a psychopathic hitchhiker.

My next find was Princes et Princesses which is an animated French film: “an art teacher and two students create six ravishing epic tales of love and adventure, each involving a prince or a princess. After coming up with an idea, they feed it to a special machine, and are hence magically transformed into the characters of the story they have devised.” It is described as “a sumptuous and elegant film of silhouette animation that is sure to delight audiences of all ages.” (

And lastly, three classic American films:
The Alamo (1960) Dir. by and starring John Wayne. The legendary true story of a small band of soldiers who sacrificed their lives in hopeless combat against a massive army in order to prevent a tyrant from smashing the new Republic of Texas.

Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) Dir. by John Frankenheimer and starring Burt Lancaster. A surly convicted murderer held in permanent isolation redeems himself when he becomes a renowned bird expert.

Manchurian Candidate (1962) Dir. by John Frankenheimer and starring Frank Sinatra. A former Korean War POW is brainwashed by Communists into becoming a political assassin. But another former prisoner may know how to save him. Pauline Kael wrote, "It may be the most sophisticated political satire ever made in Hollywood.”

Friday, May 8, 2009


I’ve just discovered a new website well worth spending some time with. It is They offer reviews of films on DVD, on Blu-ray/HD DVD, video games and movies currently in the theaters. The site began in 1999 as an online forum, and email newsletter and a page of DVD news and reviews. Now you can find a review database, features, including radio interviews with film people and columns including but not limited to, anime, horror and silent films. They now have an online radio/podcast called DVD Talk Radio. As the person who buys the DVDs for the library this is a particularly useful site. I am always on the lookout for variety and diversity and this site has wonderful articles on international films, TV on DVD, plus information about film festivals and what they are showing. I found a great article devoted to Douglas Fairbanks which is of interest to me as a student of film. I have just touched the tip of the iceberg on this site—there is so much more to explore! Take a look and have some fun!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

New this week:

These two films are from the award-winning PBS series:

Weekend Explorer: Santa Fe
Llama trek in the serene and beautiful Sierra de Cristo mountains, learn about chili at the Santa Fe School of Cooking, mountain bike through a ghost town along the Turquoise Trail, explore an ancient Pueblo Indian ruin, horseback ride during a stunning sunset, learn about Georgia O’Keefe, meet an up and coming artist, and relax in a unique outdoor Japanese spa.

Weekend Explorer: San Diego
Raise a sail on the tall ship Star of India, scuba dive with sea lions off the Coronado Islands, Horseback ride on a historic California Rancho, Mountain Bike through beautiful Cleveland National Forest, hike Mission Trails park and learn about the native Kumeyaay Indians, go barnstorming in a real 1920's bi-plane, and learn about the most famous barnstormer of them all Charles Lindbergh.

In BEN-HUR, William Wyler's much-lauded epic, the story of Judah's search for his mother and sister and his quest for revenge intersects with crucial biblical events such as the Sermon on the Mount and the crucifixion. Wyler gets fine performances from Heston, Boyd, Jack Hawkins (as a Roman admiral who befriends Judah), and Hugh Griffith (as an Arab sheik who dreams of racing his beautiful white horses against Messala). Among BEN-HUR's vivid dramatic sequences are a violent sea battle and the famous chariot race that pits Judah against Messala in one of cinema's great action sequences.

Curious Case of Benjamin Button
At once epic in scope and intimate in detail this film is loosely based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald story. It tells the tale of Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), born in 1918 in New Orleans as a baby with wrinkles, cataracts, and arthritis. Benjamin will age backwards, getting younger as he watches those around him growing older. Included in that group are his adoptive mother, Queenie, and Daisy (Cate Blanchett), the love of his life whom he meets when she is just a little girl and he is an old man. They age in reverse, but despite Benjamin's globe-trotting adventures, their lives repeatedly intersect.

King of Kings
Nicholas Ray's lavish and beautifully constructed widescreen epic about the life of Jesus of Nazareth. "King of Kings" is built upon a series of narrative parallels and contrasts between Jesus and Barrabas. The film portrays the thief as a rebel leader of the Jewish resistance; unlike Jesus, who preaches a message of peace, Barrabas advocates violence as a means to an end. By building his drama around this religious and philosophical conflict, Ray establishes a tension that de-familiarizes this well-known story. Highlights include the Sermon on the Mount and the scene in which Salome asks King Herod for the head of John the Baptist.

Last Chance Harvey
In London for his daughter's wedding, a rumpled man finds his romantic spirits lifted by a new woman in his life. Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson shine as the lonely couple.

Lost in Austen
Yearning for the romance in the books by her favorite author, Jane Austen, Amanda Price suddenly finds herself thrown into the nineteenth-century world of "Pride and prejudice," while Elizabeth Bennet is transported to Amanda's modern-day London.

Thérèse Raquin
Thérèse and Laurent think they have gotten away with murder after Thérèse 's husband "falls" from a speeding train. But a blackmailer's demands along with accusations from Thérèse 's mother-in-law could trip the couple up. This classic (1953) French film is from the novel by Émile Zola and is directed by Marcel Carné.