Eco Warriors of the Tama Hills

The wondrous animated films of Hayao Miyazaki were unknown to most American moviegoers until the 1999 U.S. release of Princess Mononoke, which was released in Japan in 1997. Since then Miyazaki has become a household name thanks to the distribution of his Studio Ghibi films by Walt Disney in English-language versions and industry recognition from the Academy Awards which gave Miyazaki an honorary award in 2015. Miyazaki’s features Spirited Away (2001), Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) and The Wind Rises (2014) have all received Oscar nominations for Best Animated Film with Spirited Away capturing the award in 2003. But not all Studio Ghibli films are directed by Miyazaki and one of the least known and most fascinating is Pom Poko (1994). Although Miyazaki served as executive producer on the film, it is directed by Isao Takahata and is highly recommended for those hungering for family-friendly anime that is off the beaten path.  Continue reading


Frank Capra’s Big Top Adventure

One of the amazing circus stunts featured in Frank Capra’s Rain or Shine (1930), based on the Broadway play.

1934 was the year that Frank Capra became a household name in America with his box-office and Oscar-winning smash hit, It Happened One Night. In fact, he would direct his most famous and financially successful films in the thirties with such career highpoints as Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can’t Take It With You (1938) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). But his filmography before 1934 is more familiar to film buffs – not the average moviegoer. Some of these films are less predictable, more adventurous and entertainingly quirky than his more famous work such as Platinum Blonde (1931), American Madness (1932) and The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1932). Among these earlier efforts is Capra’s rarely-seen curiosity, Rain or Shine (1930), which offers a fascinating glimpse of the director coming to terms with “talkies” and his developing aesthetic after starting his career in silent films. Continue reading

Voyage of Doom

A former actor from Austria turned film director, Georg Tressler is not a name familiar to most American movie fans but for German filmgoers of the fifties he created a sensation with this 1956 feature film debut, Die Halbstarken (released in the U.S. as Teenage Wolfpack). As topical, incendiary and controversial in its day as The Wild One (1953), Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Blackboard Jungle (1955), Die Halbstarken was a hard-hitting portrait of juvenile delinquency in post-war Germany and featured Horst Buchholz as a manipulative gang leader in a performance possibly inspired by James Dean. It was a huge hit and led Tressler to follow it up with two more youth-oriented films – Noch Minderjahrig (Under 18, 1957) and Endstation Liebe (Two Worlds, 1958). His fourth feature, Das Totenschiff (Ship of the Dead, 1959), was a complete departure from his trilogy in terms of content and was mostly ignored by critics and the public. But timing is everything and today Das Totenschiff looks like a lost classic from the pre-Berlin Wall era. And it may very well be Tressler’s finest achievement.    Continue reading

James Bond’s Lesser Known Sibling

The James Bond film craze of the 1960s was responsible for launching a secret agent/spy movie sub-genre that thrived for more than a decade. Some of the imitators like Our Man Flint (1966) and The Silencers (1966) even spawned mini-franchises but the majority of them were strictly B-movies with international casts and exotic locations. One of the more obscure and unusual entries is Operation Kid Brother (1967), which is an entertainingly bad knockoff and sports a genuine Sean Connery-007 connection. It stars younger sibling Neil Connery in his screen debut.    Continue reading

Tracy, Bogart and Ford

One of the great pleasures of watching Hollywood films from the early thirties is seeing a future screen icon at the dawn of his career such as Spencer Tracy in the low-budget prison comedy Up the River (1930). An added bonus is seeing another film legend, Humphrey Bogart, as Tracy’s cohort (billed fourth in the credits). Both were trying to make the transition from stage to screen along with a director – in this case, John Ford – who had recently moved from silent to sound features.    Continue reading

The Sound That Kills

Movies about people who murder with weapons or their bare hands are nothing out of the ordinary but what about a film where a man can kill with his voice? It might seem preposterous but The Shout (1978), directed by Jerzy Skolimowski, takes this concept and turns it into something that is both plausible and unsettling.   Continue reading

Gabriel Axel’s The Red Mantle

The name Gabriel Axel might not be familiar to most American moviegoers but many are familiar with his 1987 film Babette’s Feast which became a surprise art house hit and won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, beating out Louis Malle’s Au Renoir les Enfants. Ironically, Axel was almost 70 and at the end of his filmmaking career when he experienced a career resurgence. But the film that is considered his first international art house breakthrough is Den Rode Kappe (1967), which was released in Europe as Hagbard and Signe and is best known under the title The Red Mantle in the U.S. The poster above with the awkwardly edited quote – and movie spoiler – from Time magazine also includes the reference “From the producers of Dear John” which means nothing to anyone today but that film was a slightly risque art film in its day (due to the nudity) and a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film of 1965 (It lost to Elmar Klosand and Jan Kadar’s The Shop on Main Street). Continue reading