Moving Target

French director/screenwriter Edouard Molinaro may not be a household name in America but practically everyone knows his international breakout hit, La Cage aux Folles, from 1978.  It spawned an equally successful sequel, La Cage aux Folles II (1980), but also became the basis for the smash Broadway musical La Cage aux Folles in 1984 and eventually was remade by director Mike Nichols as The Birdcage in 1996 with Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman and Dianne Wiest. La Cage aux Folles was no fluke success and Molinaro was already renowned in France for his film comedies such as Male Hunt (1964) with Jean-Paul Belmondo, Oscar (1967) featuring Louis de Funes and the black farce A Pain in the…(1973), which was remade by Billy Wilder as Buddy Buddy (1981). None of this would lead you to believe that Molinaro launched his feature film career with several film noir-influenced thrillers and Un temoin dans la ville (English title: Witness in the City, 1959) is a near masterpiece, deserving to stand alongside Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows (1958), Claude Sautet’s Classe Tous Risques (1960) and Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Doulos (1962).   Continue reading

Marionettes in Outer Space

Who would have ever thought that a television show starring a cast of marionettes would be a huge hit? Thunderbirds, conceived by the writer/producer team of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson as a children’s show, unexpectedly proved to be popular with older audiences as well. But what was the attraction? Was it the meticulously detailed toy sets and sci-fi gadgetry? Or perhaps it was the novelty of watching puppet thespians who ran the gamut from boy toy pin-up Scott Tracy to high-society secret agent Lady Penelope and her Cockney manservant, “Nosey” Parker. Whatever the reasons, the surprise success of the 1964 TV series inspired the Andersons to produce a full-length feature – Thunderbirds Are GO (1966) – which continued the adventures of the Tracy family, an International Rescue team operated by millionaire ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy and his five sons.   Continue reading

My Name is Ivan

“My discovery of Tarkovsky’s first film was like a miracle. Suddenly, I found myself standing at the door of a room the keys of which had, until then, never been given to me. It was a room I had always wanted to enter and where he was moving freely and fully at ease. I felt encouraged and stimulated: someone was expressing what I had always wanted to say without knowing how. Tarkovsky is for me the greatest, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.” – Ingmar Bergman

Nikolai Burlyaev gives a stunning performance as a war refugee turned Russian spy in Ivan’s Childhood (1962), the feature film debut of director Andrei Tarkovsky.

A harrowing yet poetic account of war seen through the eyes of a twelve year old boy, Ivan’s Childhood aka My Name is Ivan (1962) was Andrei Tarkovsky’s first feature film and one that had a major impact on Russian cinema and the international film world (It won the Golden Lion at the 1962 Venice International Film Festival). Continue reading

High School Was Never Like This!

Among the many peculiar assemblages of cast and crew in Hollywood history, Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971) is in a class by itself. A black comedy set in a California high school where someone is murdering female students, the film marked the U.S. film debut of French director Roger Vadim (Barbarella, 1968) with Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry producing and writing the screenplay. Mix in a number of seasoned Hollywood professionals (Rock Hudson, Angie Dickinson, Roddy McDowall, Keenan Wynn, William Campbell) with a hip, younger cast of aspiring actors and starlets. Top it off with a music score by Lalo Schifrin (Mission: Impossible, 1996) and a theme song co-written by Christian music mogul Mike Curb and sung by The Osmonds. And the result is a delicious guilty pleasure for some and a cringe-inducing embarrassment for others. There is no middle ground here unless you choose to view the film as a sociology experiment.   Continue reading

Reggae Roots 101

When it comes to feature length documentaries on music that had a theatrical release and weren’t concert films, ska and reggae music are sadly missing in the mix. Sure, there have been some highly influential cult movies fueled by reggae music – The Harder They Come (1972), Rockers (1978) and Babylon (1980) – but no first-rate documentaries on the subject. Certainly Rudeboy: The Story of Trojan Records (2018) is an admirable attempt to correct this situation and, for those who know little about the famous record label or the rise of ska and reggae music in the mid-sixties, it is a great place to start.  Continue reading

John Ford’s Up the River

If someone used the expression “up the river” in the early part of the 20th century, they usually weren’t referring to a location or direction; they meant prison time for some fool. Although there is nothing funny about going to jail, director John Ford decided to take a lighthearted approach to the topic in Up the River (1930), one of his earliest sound features.    Continue reading

Monkey Repellers Wanted!

If someone told you that repelling monkeys was a profession in some countries, you’d probably think it was a joke but in New Delhi, India it is not only a legitimate occupation but a much-needed service. In recent years, the macaque monkey population has increased and grown increasingly aggressive in their search for food, invading government offices, private businesses and public spaces. Their constant presence has become a major nuisance and sometimes a physical threat to local residents and tourists (they carry the herpes B virus). As a result, New Delhi officials have employed a number of professional monkey repellers to try to control the situation and Anjani (Shardul Bhardwaj), a new recruit from the provinces, finds the situation overwhelming in Prateek Vats’s feature film, Eeb Allay Ooo!  Continue reading

Oedipus Rex in Drag

Next to William Shakespeare, Sophocles is probably the most enduring and internationally renowned dramatist in terms of his work still being adapted for the stage, television and cinema and I doubt you will find a more bizarre or outre version of his Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex than Funeral Parade of Roses. Directed by Japanese avant-garde filmmaker Toshio Matsumoto, this revelatory 1969 movie – it was his first feature film after several experimental shorts – is just as fresh and startling today as it was when it first appeared over fifty years ago.    Continue reading

Irish Ghostbusters

Can you name five great paranormal comedy movies released in the past decade? I’m drawing a blank. By my estimation, two of the best comedies about the spirit world were released back in the eighties – Ghostbusters (1984) and Beetlejuice (1988) – and there has been nothing to really rival them since then. Of course, if we were to broaden the search to include best horror comedies of the past decade then I would have to pick the 2014 vampire satire What We Do in the Shadows, written and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, and their subsequent FX TV series based on the film. If you are fans of those, you will probably get a kick out of Extra Ordinary (2019), a paranormal comedy from Ireland that is almost as witty, twisted and silly as anything the Clement-Waititi team can conjure up. Continue reading

Jack Webb: Drill Instructor

“I AM NOT YOUR MOTHER!” – Sergeant Jim Moore

One of the more popular releases in the Warner Archives Collection, The D.I. (1957) was not a box office smash upon its original release but the cult of Jack Webb has grown considerably since then and The D.I. is undiluted, industrial-strength Webb; the star/director/producer is on the screen almost the entire time during this 106 minute marine training drama.  Continue reading