Sunday, June 10, 2018

For Heaven's Sake (1926)

One of Harold Lloyd's more lightweight features (running just under an hour), but also one of his funniest. Lloyd plays a wealthy idler who inadvertently helps a minister save his struggling mission, and quickly becomes invested in his newfound philanthropic venture after falling in love with the minister's daughter.

Though there are plenty of good gags throughout, this plot serves largely as a setup to the impressive chase sequence that occupies nearly the final third of the film. Filled with breakneck stunts, expertly-staged car chases, and enough gags for two or three movies, it's easily one of Lloyd's best set pieces.

In addition to the brilliance of the comedy, one also has to appreciate the brilliance of the filmmaking, especially Walter Lundin's shimmering cinematography. Directed by Sam Taylor. Written by John Grey, Ted Wilde, Clyde Bruckman, and Ralph Spence (titles). With Jobyna Ralston, Noah Young, Paul Weigel, James Mason.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Hail Caesar (2016): A Hollywood Fable


I watched HAIL CAESAR, the most recent theatrical film by the Coen Brothers, again last night, this time on my 100" screen in my basement theater. It's a movie that I fell in love with instantly the first time I saw it, even though it took me a second viewing to really get adjusted to just why I loved it so much.

Released to mixed critical reviews and frequently negative audience response, HAIL CAESAR is, to me, one of the very best of all of the Coen brothers' films, a loving tribute to the magic of movies. The episodic plot follows a day in the life of a harried studio executive, brilliantly played by Josh Brolin, as he struggles to bring to completion the studio's big Biblical epic "Hail Caesar", after its star (George Clooney) has been kidnapped and held for ransom by a group calling itself "The Future", all the while dealing with his stable of eccentric stars and their various personal problems in order to maintain equilibrium behind the scenes of his Dream Factory.

More than most films dealing with the movie industry, HAIL CAESAR explores the religious aspect that movies can play in our lives, and the power that they have to shape our dreams and our vision of ourselves. The film is set in the early 1950s at that moment just when the seams were really beginning to show at the edges of the Movie Capital of the World, and directors like Billy Wilder were beginning to explore the seamy side of Tinseltown in films like SUNSET BLVD. This image of a Hollywood gone to seed has been mined before in films like LA CONFIDENTIAL, HOLLYWOODLAND and even Tim Burton's ED WOOD, but the Coens approach it with a deft combination of lightness and grandeur that beautifully contrasts the tangled web of behind-the-scenes goings-on at the studio, and the projected illusion of fantasy that we continue to believe in.

The brilliance here lies in the fact that the Coens convey this magic through the use of movie archetypes in the characters in situations, and by structuring the film around the production of a biblical epic about an arrogant Roman officer who is blinded by faith after encountering the face of Jesus. By extending the religious metaphor to the power of film itself, the Coens create one of the medium's most insightful commentaries on itself.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Borderline (1950)


A pair of narcotics agents, unaware of each other's identities, go undercover in Mexico to bring down a big-time drug smuggler. A light little crime drama from Universal-International, with lively performances by MacMurray and Trevor as the agents, and a suitably menacing turn by Burr as the smuggler they're after.

Starring Fred MacMurray, Claire Trevor, Raymond Burr. Directed by William A. Seiter. Seen on PizzaFlix 6/1/18.

Friday, May 11, 2018

"The Eyes of the Movie" by Harry Alan Potamkin

This is a public domain recording, courtesy of Librivox, of The Eyes of the Movie, an excellent Socialist critique of the Hollywood film industry in the early '30s, written by the brilliant Marxist film critic Harry Alan Potamkin (1900-1933). Although his writing on film only spanned six years (1927-33) he left behind a body of highly insightful and provocative work that demands to be re-examined.

You can listen to the Librivox recording of The Eyes of the Movie at the Internet Archive:

Saturday, May 05, 2018

The Lion's Den: New Independent Comedy from Ben Hozie

My friend and fellow independent filmmaker Ben Hozie has just released his latest film, the "video comedy of errors" THE LION'S DEN, available for free streaming on vimeo. This is a very funny and on-point satire about a group of Staten Island revolutionaries who plan to kidnap a high-power corporate CEO, but instead pick up a low-level accountant by mistake. And that's just the beginning, as the group of radicals begins to devolve into in-fighting and romantic jealousies.

You can learn more about Ben's other film projects at his website, Pretorius Pictures.

Check out THE LION'S DEN here, and support truly independent filmmaking!

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Phantom Lady (1944)

PHANTOM LADY is an atmospheric little thriller from Universal in 1944, directed with great visual flourish by Robert Siodmak. The premise is intriguing: a man's wife has been murdered, and the only person who can provide a concrete alibi for his whereabouts at the time -- an unknown female companion wearing a distinctive hat -- has completely vanished into thin air; even the witnesses who remember the man's presence in the bar, in the cab, etc. the night before swear that he was alone. When he is sentenced for his wife's murder, time starts running out to identify the woman and clear the husband's name.

This is the kind of sleek, economical picture the studios could do so well in the '40s, with the pistons firing on all cylinders -- unpretentious yet stylish, with a good cast and a smart script. Franchot Tone delivers a good performance with tongue just enough in cheek to suggest he doesn't take the proceedings too seriously, while Ella Raines and Alan Curtis make an appealing and earnest leading pair. There's a fun nightclub number, too, performed by Aurora Miranda (Carmen's sister). And Elisha Cook Jr. is in top form as a sleazy jive band drummer -- in one scene, he pounds away feverishly at his drumkit, obscenely stroking away so furiously that he appears on the verge of either a heart attack or an orgasm.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Guillermo del Toro on Alfred Hitchcock

This is an interview with Guillermo del Toro on Studio Q discussing the films of Alfred Hitchcock. This is one of the best discussions on Hitchcock's films I've heard in a long time. I would love to read a translation of his Hitchcock book someday.