Groundhog Day – 1993 Ramis

Groundhog Day is narrative bliss - one of the truly superior screenplays of the entire 1990s. Harold Ramis is no visual master behind the camera but his and Danny Rubin’s screenplay combined with Bill Murray’s work makes for transcendent cinematic art. It is rewatchable for the famous repetition (from Sunny and Cher on) and variation- the formal skeleton narrative splintering. I am not the first person to mention this but it’s part of the cultural language now- Groundhog Day translates to déjà vu. Ambivalent about the big broad “Weather Man” song opening performed by Delbert McClinton. The entire original

Groundhog Day – 1993 Ramis2023-01-25T20:30:30+00:00

Wild Strawberries – 1957 Bergman

The Seventh Seal arrived at Cannes in the spring of 1957- and then just a few short months later Wild Strawberries was released in Ingmar Bergman’s native Sweden just before the close of the year. Wild Strawberries would be a big part of the festival circuit in 1958. In Wild Strawberries, Professor Isak Borg (played by the greatest Swedish director of all-time until Bergman came along, Victor Sjöström) travels via car instead of plane- a last minute change by Borg- to receive an honorary degree. The trip is not only physical of course- but spiritual and existential. During the

Wild Strawberries – 1957 Bergman2022-12-10T18:24:41+00:00

To Sir, with Love – 1967 Clavell

To Sir, with Love is an actor’s vehicle for Sidney Poitier. It exists in the drama subgenre of empathetic teachers working with troubled youth. Blackboard Jungle from Richard Brooks in 1955 is the obvious companion- in that film Poitier himself played one of the students. Glenn Ford played the teacher. Dead Poets Society (1989), Stand and Deliver (1988), Dangerous Minds (1995) are others. Here Poitier plays Mark Thackeray. Poitier was at the height of his powers in 1967. He had won his Oscar (1963) and had been a star already for nearly a decade (The Defiant Ones is really

To Sir, with Love – 1967 Clavell2022-04-06T19:29:42+00:00

Nightmare Alley – 2021 del Toro

Nightmare Alley is Mexican auteur Guillermo del Toro’s adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel of the same name (and what a brilliant name it is!). There is a 1947 film adaptation from Edmund Goulding starring Tyrone Power that certainly has much in common. Guillermo del Toro’s version opens on Bradley Cooper as Stanton Carlisle burning the body (and home) of his deceased father. There is sun pouring in the window and Carlisle escapes. The shot of the family house in the far distance on the hill certainly resembles Malick’s Days of Heaven. The film is set between 1939

Nightmare Alley – 2021 del Toro2022-03-28T18:46:00+00:00

The Paleface – 1948 McLeod

The Paleface is a great vehicle for comedian Bob Hope and former World War II pinup Jane Russell. As it would happen, it turns out she was a gifted comedienne as well. The film was co-written by Frank Tashlin (he would come out and say he disliked Norman McLeod’s direction of this film- and would go on to direct the sequel himself- Son of Paleface in 1952). McLeod had experience directing comedies though- including a few with the Marx Brothers in the 1930s (Monkey Business and Horse Feathers), W.C. Fields (It’s a Gift) and Cary Grant (Topper). Bob Hope is

The Paleface – 1948 McLeod2022-04-04T13:40:57+00:00

Nymphomaniac – 2013 von Trier

Talk about the power of the number three- this is the third film in Danish auteur and enfant terrible Lars von Trier’s Depression trilogy (Antichrist, Melancholia). The Depression trilogy itself is actually von Trier’s third trilogy. He made the Europa trilogy first in the 1980s and then The Golden Heart trilogy from 1996 to 2000 where he rose to international fame. Nymphomaniac is one film that had to be broken up, like Kill Bill, into Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 for running time and commercial purposes. All told it runs just about exactly four hours long. It is a

Nymphomaniac – 2013 von Trier2022-04-03T12:50:11+00:00

A Hero – 2021 Farhadi

Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi is not the first director to do such (Ozu, Rohmer) but his 2021 entry A Hero not only feels like a companion piece to a previous work (2011’s A Separation in particular)- but his two films are even named as though they two parts of whole. Farhadi has seemingly an unmatched gift for creating moral tales that are both domestic dramas and white-knuckle intense thrillers. Perhaps only fellow realists- The Dardenne Brothers- deserve comparison to Farhadi (a compliment to them both). This is Farhadi’s return to his native Iran after 2018’s Everybody Knows in Spain.

A Hero – 2021 Farhadi2022-03-20T13:57:37+00:00

Straight Time – 1978 Grosbard

Dustin Hoffman not only stars as parolee ex-con Max Dembo- but this was a passion project for Hoffman (a major player in 1978 of course) and he was actually planning to get behind the camera himself before Ulu Grosbard was ultimately chosen to direct. The source material is Edward Bunker’s novel and it not only a gripping character study and crime film- but a sort of expose on the treatment of ex-cons. Bunker's debut novel was "No Beast So Fierce" and if elements of the film feel authentic (and they do)- Bunker was an actual ex-con and wrote from

Straight Time – 1978 Grosbard2022-03-31T14:07:22+00:00

Smiles of a Summer Night – 1955 Bergman

“A Midsummer Night's Dream” from Shakespeare is the inspiration for Ingmar Bergman here- but so too is Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game (1939) as members of the upper class and their servants chase each other around (gathered in one house for much of the running time) in equal fits of lust, romance, and jealousy. Bergman is still vacillating between comedy and drama here during this period in his career and trying to show off his range. Though not often remembered amongst his best films overall, Smiles of a Summer Night is often cited (along with pieces of

Smiles of a Summer Night – 1955 Bergman2022-03-30T13:29:10+00:00

The Great Train Robbery – 1978 Crichton

Despite being remembered as a novelist- this is Crichton’s third film as director- and he occasionally would direct films he did not write as well. This one though, The Great Train Robbery, is from his novel. Sean Connery plays the affable Pierce- and his voiceover sets the scene. This is a heist film as the title would indicate- and it is a procedural- step by step as Pierce and Agar (an able Donald Sutherland) put together the details (including getting the four keys for the safe, one by wax impression, etc). With a timer they plot out the 75

The Great Train Robbery – 1978 Crichton2022-03-29T13:45:06+00:00

Track of the Cat – 1954 Wellman

Director William Wellman (Wings, The Public Enemy, The Ox-Box Incident) sets out to make a black and white film- but in color. Track of the Cat attempts this and succeeds. This is Wellman’s greatest work. Shot in the National Park in Washington State using CinemaScope The film’s titles start this dedication to a specific color design aesthetic. Wellman uses black colored titles against the white snow backdrop. This is Robert Mitchum’s snow western film- and one of his films sporting a beard. This is Mitchum in his prime- this is after Out of the Past and just one year

Track of the Cat – 1954 Wellman2023-02-18T14:31:26+00:00

What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? – 2021 Koberidze

What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? is a 150-minute Georgian fairy tale from director (and writer, and editor) Aleksandre Koberidze. There is a chance meeting on a street- Giorgi and Lisa fall in love but a spell is cast upon them- and they separate. Koberidze opens with a camera zoom in on a spot on the ground. The zoom in is the first shot after the credits and you see the legs (and then voice) of Lisa and Giorgi. This is a variation on Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. The omniscient narration is

What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? – 2021 Koberidze2022-03-19T13:39:37+00:00
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