Elevator to the Gallows
Combining the splendid black and white photography of Henri Decaë, the magnetic force of Jeanne Moreau, and a superb jazz score by Miles Davis, Louis Malle’s directorial debut is incomparable in terms of mood and style.
The film was poorly received by critics but has since been deemed a masterpiece, both in terms of direction and pre-new wave modernity. The score by Miles Davis, accompanied with then unknown players and bop drummer Kenny Clarke, would fuel Davis to take on certain conventions within jazz—most notably, the kind heard through his album Kind of Blue that followed two years after the film’s release. Decaë’s work would also become prominent in the works of several new wave directors, specifically Truffaut and Chabrol. Perhaps the most interesting quality to the film is the fact that it is a rarity from Malle. It marks the first and only time that the director tried his hand at noir, or worked so tightly in the confines of a genre. As it goes with films like Riffifi and Le Cercle Rouge, the criminal aspects of it are somewhat downplayed by a wonderful cast and outstanding photography.
Who Wants to Kill Jessie?
Who Wants to Kill Jessie? is an underrated gem from a Czech New Wave director that hardly anybody has heard of. It plays on the conventions of comic strips, the mystery of dreams, and communist efforts in Czechoslovakia—with mad scientists who represent brainwashing.
Ruzenka (Dana Medricka) and Jindrich (Jiri Sovak) are a married couple who are both scientists. Each is trying to come up with an invention that will lead them to a Nobel Prize, and both are fairly eccentric. Ruzenka is in the medical field and has found a formula that she's named “KR VI” that can take undesirable qualities about dreams and replace them with pleasant ones. Jindrich is an engineer trying to find a way to increase production in his otherwise incompetent firm.
Songs from the Second Floor
This film is one in which everyone is a spectator, being human is extremely difficult, and the viewer is given a looking-glass into the sordid lives of characters who function in a gray existence.
Many compare the film to Swedish Opera, but for me it is like a blend of performance art and visual poetry that takes everyday life and heightens your awareness of its many disappointments to the point that it is both painful and funny.
Set in the rapidly changing times of 1960s England, Billy Liar tells the story of a young man who's impervious to change and weak from imagination. Most teenagers go through a phase of deception—one in which they exaggerate their circumstances and experiences in order to get respect and acceptance from their peers. Young boys and girls brag about certain sexual encounters or invisible spouses, or some claim that generic items bought on sale were expensive. These claims at excellence are sometimes made out of boredom, but oftentimes are done just for the chance to exercise their imaginative muscles. When they reach adulthood, these traits are usually written off as juvenile and grown-up mentalities eventually set in. Our protagonist, Billy Fisher (Tom Courtenay), is one of those young adults who can't seem to make that transition.
His town accentuates his conflicting views towards change and offers a great metaphor. The majority of the people there don't change, nor do they stray from their safety zones as far as relationships and employment. Housewives wait on edge to see if someone has dedicated a song to them on the popular radio station, “Housewives’ Choice.” Young men scuffle for employment and young ladies work towards becoming their future housewives. But as these people carry on their daily routines, change invades them via demolitions of prized structures and the increase of blacks in many positions. Billy is constantly trying to play by the rules and bend them at the same time, but what he really wants to do is tear down the entire foundation and start anew.
Loves of a Blonde
New Wave filmmakers are given credit for the way that contemporary cinema has developed. French and Italian directors in the '60s were, and still are, given the most attention abroad for their work, but there are many films from Iran, East Asia and Czechoslovakia that are lesser-known gems. Milos Forman's filmography consists of many acclaimed films, including One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus, but Loves of a Blonde marks the beginning of his worldwide popularity and his first Academy Award nomination. When the film premiered at the New York Film Festival, it was considered to be as endearing and classic as Truffaut's The 400 Blows, which had its premier a few years earlier. The prevailing formalistic approach to filmmaking is absent here; the film is simple, realistic, and shot in real-time.
The story takes place in Zruc, a desolate Czech town adjusting to Communist rule. The war has rendered the female to male ratio 16 to one, and women of all ages are more or less forced into factory labor making shoes and textiles. The factory manager is sympathetic to the changing times and their needs, and he's concerned about the town's fate. Like a doting father, he worries about the hundreds of girls under his employ and approaches an army officer for help. He asks him to bring a regiment of soldiers into town in order to cure the longings of the young ladies.
On April, 8, 2000, Mark Hogancamp was brutally attacked in a bar in Kingston, New York. His attackers were five teenagers, and the damage done was horrific. Plastic surgery was needed in order to repair his face and he was in a coma for nine days. When he came to, his memory and motor skills had been erased. He was hospitalized for 40 days until his medical insurance could no longer pay for his treatment and he was released. At 38 and without a means of income, he had to build his life from scratch.
This documentary is separated into ten chapters which chronicle Mark's outstanding efforts to reclaim his life and latch on to the only thing that wasn't taken away by his attackers: his imagination. Chapter 1 is titled “The Attack” and it introduces us to many people in Mark's life. The first is his attorney, but it’s an introduction that is far from ordinary. Standing still is Emmanuel Nneji, his attorney, and to the right of the screen is a 1/6 scale toy figure in his likeness. Nneji presents us with the facts of the case and, occasionally, video clips of the bar and photos of Mark's disfigured appearance after the accident.
There's something comforting in movies about a small-time guy who ends up making it big despite the odds. But, as the Horatio Alger Myth goes, that small-time guy usually squanders his chance at sustaining wealth and power. The Boost is about Larry Brown (James Woods), a rigid freelance salesman based out of New York. He's too busy doubting himself and making his situation appear more glorious than it actually is—so busy that he doesn't realize that he's found what most people look for their entire lives: unconditional true love.
Based on the book Ludes: A Ballad of the Drug & the Dream by Ben Stein, the story is one of those “boys and girls get off the bus to come to L.A.” tales that leaves your mind fuzzy and with a bitter taste in your mouth. Lenny was lucky enough to find a gorgeous, hard-working woman to marry him and believe in him—even when he makes a fool of himself. With his risky profession as a salesman and hers as a paralegal, the two did alright for themselves. While figuratively drowning during a particular sale and groping for a lifeline, he ends up catching the eye of Max Sherman: a man gifted at taking little fish and turning them into soaring birds. Sherman works in Southern California real estate and wants the over-achieving Lenny on his team. So Lenny starts seeing dollar bills and asks his wife Linda (Sean Young) to take a risk with him and move to Los Angeles.
This Filthy World
In jest, John Waters has been given many pets names from the industry, the most amusing of which are “The Duke of Dirt” “The Baron of Bad Taste,” “The Sultan of Sleaze,” and my personal favorite, “The Anal Ambassador.” However, after viewing his interviews and TV appearances over the years and this stand-up tour, you understand how wonderfully silly and semi-appropriate these titles are. But, in all seriousness, John Waters might just be one of the most open-minded, witty, and modest social commentators of our time. This is in no way exclusive to his films, which are near-subversive in their moral assault towards the mainstream. With his appearances, lectures, and stand-up, audiences are given a touching, crude and hilarious back-story to Waters and his inspirations. One which can be revolting and, despite his pet names, quite literate.
Vincent Peranio, a production designer with whom Waters works regularly, designed the stage for the event, which was held at the Harry DeJour Playhouse in New York with an audience of college students. The set consisted of a giant catholic confessional, a tree, and overflowing metal garbage cans. The backdrop provided an appropriate reflection of the director's anarchic motivations as a boy to defy the Catholic church and do everything the nuns in his school forbade him. The trash cans speak for themselves and the tree...well, the students present should have had something hopeful and refreshing to look at.
The Up Series
Imagine what it would be like to have a visual journal of your life from childhood to middle-age. Would you find the footage painful or nostalgic? Now imagine that this footage is aired on a yearly program in your nation and later available for purchase across the world. Many of us cannot begin to fathom what that would be like, even with the rise in reality television, but for a small group of Brits, it's been a reality for decades.
In 1964, directors Paul Almond and Michael Apted started a program for BBC called Seven Up!. The project was part of the World in Action series. Apted, along with Gordan McDougall, chose 14 children from different socioeconomic backgrounds, many offering extremes within the range. The motto of the project is “give me the child until he is seven, and I will give you the man,” based on a quotation from Ignatius Loyola. Given the harshness of the U.K. class system, those involved predicted that the children featured would more or less follow paths that could be expected of them, based on their background. The children range from illegitimate orphans to the extremely pampered, and in order to expose them to children from different class groups, they threw them together in a field trip and studied their behavior through contrast. Following this trip were in-depth interviews with each child and their close peers. This longitudinal study is then repeated every 7 years. The programs are as follows: Seven Up!, 7 Plus Seven, 21 Up, 28 Up, 35 Up, 42 Up, 49 Up, and a rumored 56 Up is to be aired in 2012.
Trick 'r Treat
WARNING: Review contains spoilers.
Trick 'r Treat might just be the greatest Halloween horror film to date. Not only do most of the horror films that people choose to scare themselves with around the holiday not even circulate around the event, but those that do, such as the films that make up the Halloween franchise, fail to approach the mysticism of Halloween itself. Don't get me wrong, many of them are awesome movies, but they use Halloween as a crutch instead of integrating it into the plot.