Gloom and Doom in Snowdonia

After winning the Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature at the 2019 Edinburgh International Film Festival and various other accolades in Europe, William McGregor’s debut feature Gwen is opening in selected theaters across the U.S. this August. Some critics have compared it to Robert Eggers’ The Witch (2015), Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England (2013) and other historical dramas with supernatural elements but don’t be misled by those comparisons. The horrors that await Gwen are grounded in reality – sickness, animal deaths, misogyny and grinding poverty.   Continue reading

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Follow the Money

In an amoral world where everyone is a liar, cheat, assassin or ruthless opportunist, can there be any heroes? It all comes down to a matter of charisma and underdog appeal in West German director Klaus Lemke’s Negresco – Eine Todliche Affare (1968), which is also known by the far more suggestive title, My Bed is Not for Sleeping. The film is a flashy, colorful babble of swinging sixties cinema that flirts with several genres without committing to any. Is it an espionage thriller? A sexy jet-set romance? A cynical expose of the La Dolce Vita crowd and their pretentious lives?  Continue reading

A Childhood on the Run

Kaim Alizadeh plays a 14 year old orphan on the run from border guards in Afghanistan in Delbaran (2001) from Iranian director Abolfazl Jalili.

Although released in 2001 and greatly admired by many prominent film critics, Delbaran, directed by Iranian filmmaker Abolfazl Jalili, is not nearly as well known as other Iranian prize winners such as Abbas Kiarostami’s The Wind Will Carry Us (1999) or Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Kandahar (2001) but deserves to be. The story focuses on Kaim, a fourteen-year-old war orphan trying to survive in a desolate Iranian village near the Afghanistan border. And the film is in the grand tradition of other renowned classics that feature child protagonists caught up in the madness of war such as Rene Clement’s Forbidden Games (1952), Andrei Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood (1962) and Elem Klimov’s Come and See (1985). The difference is that Delbaran is much more austere and understated than those better known masterworks.

A Russian youth (Aleksey Kravchenko) is captured by German troops in the harrowing WWII drama Come and See (1985), directed by Elem Klimov.

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Irene Dunne in a Sinclair Lewis World

Among the many film adaptations of Sinclair Lewis novels over the years, Ann Vickers (1933) is probably the least known of them all, and, it wasn’t among the most popular or critically acclaimed of Lewis’s novels either. Those would be Main Street (1920), Babbitt (1922), Arrowsmith (1925), Elmer Gantry (1927) and Dodsworth (1929). Yet, Ann Vickers is probably Lewis’s most fully developed female protagonist and the 1933 film version starring Irene Dunne and Walter Huston is a flawed but fascinating movie that provides an apt example of how the work of a great American writer can be completely altered, distorted or softened by Hollywood and the Production Code officials.   Continue reading

The Japanese Sinbad

Most moviegoers know Toshiro Mifune from his long and fruitful association with director Akira Kurosawa, most prominently Rashomon and The Seven Samurai, and a handful of major works from other directors in the Japanese cinema such as Kenji Mizoguchi’s The Life of Oharu (1952) and Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai Trilogy. But beyond his many period samurai roles and his more contemporary dramas and noirs (Drunken Angel, Stray Dog, The Bad Sleep Well), Mifune was much more than an international art house darling and award winning actor. He was a popular star and a product of the Japanese studio system just as Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy were creations of the Hollywood studio system. Like those two screen icons, Mifune also had his share of genre programmers and lowbrow general audience entertainments but The Lost World of Sinbad aka Samurai Pirate aka (1963) is one of his more enjoyable and eccentric efforts.   Continue reading

Bowling, Pizza and Small Town Dreamers

Gary Lundgren is a writer/director who has been making feature films since 2009 but you might not have heard of him unless you came across one of his movies at a film festival. Despite a lack of exposure and spotty film distribution, he continues to go his own way and Phoenix, Oregon, his new film and fourth directorial effort, might possibly connect with audiences looking for something a little more personal and character-driven than the typical summer blockbuster releases. Continue reading

Labor Pains

When cinema buffs talk about their favorite movies from that brief period known as the “angry young man” phase of the British New Wave movement, one title is usually overlooked – The Angry Silence (1960) – and that might be due to the film’s more overt focus on labor unions, working conditions and corruption. Directed by Guy Green, The Angry Silence (1960) shares many similarities with others of its ilk with its harshly realistic depiction of a specific working class milieu, all of it captured in a gritty, documentary-like approach that was partially shot on location (Ipswich, Suffolk) using local nonprofessionals and real actors.  Continue reading