Ivan Passer’s Intimate Lighting

Krzysztof Kieslowski placed it on his Top Ten list for a Sight & Sound magazine poll. Dave Kehr, formerly of The Chicago Reader, called it “one of the finest works of the short-lived Czech New Wave. The New York Times noted that Intimate Lighting (1965) was one of those movies that “loses none of its charm, to age or to repeated viewing,” and countless other critics who have seen it have championed this small-scale but beautifully observed character study about the brief reunion of two musician friends and their realization of how their lives have substantially changed since their school days.  Continue reading

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Divine Intervention

A political allegory that was one of the first films to openly address the problems resulting from the Great Depression, Gabriel Over the White House (1933), directed by Gregory La Cava, takes on such pressing issues as unemployment, homeless people and the rising crime rate in a storyline that comes across like a populist turned fascist fantasy. You also won’t see another Hollywood film from the 20th century in which our fearless leader is viewed by his constituents as either a madman or a messiah.  Continue reading

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night….

This one sentence synopsis should sound familiar. A group of travelers are stranded during a severe storm at a creepy mansion where the hosts are the most unsettling part of the experience. It’s an audience-pleasing premise has served countless mystery thrillers and horror-comedies from James Whale’s The Old Dark House (1932) to The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) to Stuart Gordon’s Dolls (1987). But The Unnaturals (1969), directed by Antonio Margheriti, is one of the few dark and stormy night movies that stands out from the pack by virtue of its genre resistant narrative which begins as a decadent character study, slowly morphs into a supernatural thriller and signs off as an apocalyptic morality tale. Continue reading

Street Corner Confessions

Man-on-the-street interviews can often be unexpectedly hilarious, insightful or surprising if the interviewer is a prankster like Triumph The Insult Comic Dog or a non-traditional reporter such as an anthropologist, professional prostitute or ….a pair of nuns. The latter, in fact, are showcased in the 1968 documentary, Inquiring Nuns, which is not an oddball stunt but a sincere attempt to capture some honest responses about the human condition via two unlikely interviewers. It was produced by Kartemquin Films, the non-profit documentary collective that was founded in 1966 in Chicago by Gordon Quinn, Jerry Temaner and Stan Karter and has produced such acclaimed work as Hoop Dreams (1995), Vietnam, Long Time Coming (1998), the PBS miniseries The New Americans (2004) and The Interrupters (2011). Continue reading

Cinerama Disaster

In the disaster film genre, Krakatoa, East of Java (1969) holds the distinction of being the only one presented in the Cinerama widescreen format but is also the most erroneously titled movie of all time. As many historians and movie critics have pointed out, Krakatoa is west of Java but veracity is not one of Hollywood’s strengths in producing historical epics. And Krakatoa, East of Java is not a factual recreation of the famous 1883 volcanic eruption in the Indian Ocean but a lavish B-movie adventure that uses the cataclysmic event only as the background and climactic resolution to its cavalcade of international stars and multiple subplots that play out as pure soap opera.  Continue reading

Two of a Kind

A slice of early Americana. A showcase for some of W.C. Fields’ best gags and funny bits of business. The second screen pairing of two comedic actors that audiences loved seeing together. Tillie and Gus (1933) is all of those plus it marks the first major role of that pesky little Baby LeRoy, soon to be a regular tormentor of Fields. It also includes a scene-stealing trained duck and several eccentric character actors who make perfect foils for the title characters such as Clarence Wilson, George Barbier and Edgar Kennedy. Tillie and Gus might not be my favorite Fields’ movie (that’s a toss-up between The Bank Dick and It’s a Gift) but it is a constant delight and well worth seeing or revisiting for any Fields beginner or hard core fan.  Continue reading

Comic Strip Addiction

If you went by title alone, Alain Jessua’s Jeu de Massacre (released as The Killing Game in the U.S. and as Comic Book Hero in other territories) suggests it might be a murder mystery or a James Bond-like spy thriller which was still in vogue at the time of the film’s release in 1967. Instead, the film is a witty black comedy about the addictive power of pulp fiction – in this case, a superhero comic book – to ignite dangerous fantasies in readers whose grasp on reality is fragile.   Continue reading