Name This Blog
Well, here we are at week two of this particular blog and you know what? The name Movie Buzz still pretty much sucks. And I haven’t come up with anything better. Worse, no suggestions that I’ve been given are even remotely practical. Well, they might be practical, but they won’t make it past the Xpress’ standards of taste and decorum. So until somebody can suggest a viable alternative, we’re stuck with Movie Buzz.
New in Theaters
Well, last week was certainly an improvement over the previous week with State of Play and Crank: High Voltage hitting town. Of course, it didn’t take all that much to be better than Hannah Montana, Observe and Report and Dragonball: Evolution (this last has all the earmarks of being gone by this Friday and I doubt anyone will shed copious tears over the fact).
This week we’ve quite a selection. The documentary Earth opens on Wednesday, while The Soloist, Obsessed and Fighting pop up on Friday. Of those, The Soloist looks like it has the greatest chance of being worthwhile, but then it was yanked from the end-of-the-year awards season releases. And a seriously-intended movie with Robert Downey, Jr. and Jamie Foxx that was directed by Joe Wright (of Pride and Prejuduce and Atonement fame) has “Oscar Bait” writ large all over it.
Outside of the mainstream releases, however, there are three other movies opening. The first release from Senator Films, The Informers opens on Friday at the Hollywood. The review for it is in this week’s Xpress, as is the review for the exquisite German film Cherry Blossoms, which hits the Fine Arts Theatre on Friday as well. Also showing up on Friday at the Fine Arts is Tokyo!, which may in fact be worthy of that exclamation point in the title. Why? Well, this triptych of a movie—three directors, three stories—boasts a segment from no less a filmmaker than Michel Gondry. I don’t know about the rest of you, but Gondry’s participation alone is enough to get me to a theater.
New DVDs of interest
The big releases this week seem to be Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler and Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon. The former did pretty well theatrically—at least in these parts—but the former tanked for all intents and purposes. I’m not sure why. Frost/Nixon isn’t a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination—just not a very exciting one. Perhaps it will seem more appealing in your living room. It’s certainly worth a look if only Frank Langella’s performance as Nixon.
More interesting perhaps is the double disc release of two movies from filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich. His The Last Picture Show has been available before, but the lesser-known Nickelodeon was previously only out in the UK on a Region 2 DVD. For those not familiar with the film, this was the film Bogdanovich made right after the box office and critical disaster of At Long Last Love. Unfortunately, the memory of the previous film—helped no doubt by Burt Reynolds presence in both movie—played havoc with Nickelodeon. Even bringing back Ryan O’Neal and his daughter Tatum—both of whom had been involved in previous Bogdanovich successes—didn’t help much at the box office. And while Nickelodeon may miss the mark of greatness, it deserved a lot better than it got. As a valentine to the early days of moviemaking—the film climaxes with the premiere of The Birth of a Nation in 1915 and a speech (cribbed in part from a much later remark by John Ford) from Brian Keith about the magic and power of the movies—it’s a movie very much worth having.
Also on tap (this actually came out earlier this month) is the first collection of Pre-Code movies from Universal. Ironically, none of the titles—The Cheat, Merrily We Go to Hell, Hot Saturday, Murder at the Vanities, Torch Singer, Search for Beauty—were actually made by Universal, but are from Paramount and are now part of Universal’s holdings. Here’s the catch—apart from The Cheat, I’ve never seen any of these movies, and I saw The Cheat so long ago and in such a lousy copy that it hardly matters that I’ve seen it. Even so this set of movies from the early 1930s are must-sees, if only because of their rarity and as an example of what was going on in Hollywood before the Production Code, the Breen Office and the Catholic Legion of Decency stepped in to “clean up” the movies. Personally, I’m most interested in Mitchell Leisen’s Murder at the Vanities, which was once available on a very overpriced VHS tape. Certain readers will be interested to note that it contains a musical number called “Marihuana.”
Notable TV screenings
Phantom of the Paradise 8 p.m., 10 p.m., 12 a.m., Fri April 24, FMC
Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise (1974) was a huge flop that became one of the first “midnight movie” cult films—and with good reason. This rethinking of The Phantom of the Opera—“He sold his soul for rock ‘n’ roll”—shows De Palma at the top of his creative form. William Finley (who De Palma continues to give small roles) stars as Winslow Leach, composer of a “rock cantata” based on the story of Faust, whose music is stolen by evil rock impressario Swann (Paul Williams). It’s all very clever and done in an amusingly cartoonish fashion with a lot of cinematic playfulness (including De Palma’s beloved split-screens). The songs—by Paul Williams—aren’t bad either, but beware of Jessica Harper’s dancing, which set the art of terpsichore back 70 years (fortunately, it’s brief). This, by the way, is one of those bizarre Fox Movie Channel things where the same film is shown three times in a row, so Friday evening on FMC is all-Phantom.
Little Murders 2 a.m., Fri April 24, FMC
I’m not sure this attempt to outrage the viewing public’s senses is exactly a good movie, but it’s certainly an odd one—though it may not have seemed so odd in 1971 when it came out. Little Murders is based on a play by Jules Feiffer (who also wrote the screenplay), and its stage origins show—something likely exacerbated by Alan Arkin’s (yes, the Alan Arkin) somewhat perfunctory direction. The intent of it all is to reflect the social unrest of the era—and that it does, which makes its humor very bitter indeed. Perhaps the best thing in it is Donald Sutherland as a drug-addled preacher who operates his ministry on the concept that “Jesus Christ died for our sins—who are we to make this act meaningless by not commiting them.” This probably tells you that the movie isn’t for everyone.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1:15 a.m, Sat. April 25, TCM
The Champ 3 a.m. Sat April 25, TCM
Rouben Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) and King Vidor’s The Champ (1931) are being shown back to back by TCM as an example of that very rare occurrence, a tied Oscar vote. The veracity of that is a little questionable, since it’s long been rumored that Fredric March (for Jekyll and Hyde and Wallace Beery (for The Champ) weren’t tied at all for Best Actor. The story goes that Beery’s contract was up for renewal at MGM and he let it be known that he wasn’t signing if he didn’t win. That may or may not be true, but Beery still found himself far from amused on Oscar night when co-winner March made his speech and commented on the fact that he found it ironic that the two of them should receive awards for “best male performance” in the same year they’d each adopted a child. (Beery seems to have felt this was a slight on his manhood.) All this to one side, what we have here are two fine films that are certainly worth your time. As for the performances—March’s Hyde is brilliant, his Jekyll veers toward ham on occasion; Beery’s performance is…well, about the same as all his performances.
Joanna 4 a.m., Sat April 25, FMC
Before Michael Sarne destroyed his career with Myra Breckinridge (1970), he was considered something of a whiz kid—movie critic, writer, pop star, actor, filmmaker—and it was that status that allowed him to make Joanna (1968). Well, it was that and the fact that the era was suited to such a quirky project with the director as superstar. Genevieve Waite (mother of Bijou Phillips) stars in the title role, which was seemingly designed to move her from fashion model to movie star. It didn’t really work out, but she does afford the movie a kind of naive charm that counteracts its hipness. (This thing is so hip it’ll make your teeth hurt.) To call the film odd is an injustice, because it’s closer to weird, but with an underlying appeal in part as a period piece. The ending with its breaking-the-fourth-wall intrusion of Sarne directing the ending is so loopy that it’s actually fun.
Broken Lullaby 8 p.m., Sun April 26, TCM
The Kiss Before the Mirror 9:30 p.m., Sun April 26, TCM
Another double-bill from TCM—and the highlight of the week for movies on TV. It’s part of a three film tribute—the third movie is the negligible There Goes My Heart—to Nancy Carroll. Who? My late friend Paul Nemcek would swoon if he heard that, since he wrote The Films of Nancy Carroll back during the nostalgia boom of the 1960s. In any case, Carroll was a pretty big star in the early sound era. (And why they couldn’t have run Honey and Laughter—both from 1930—is beyond me!) The real interest here for cinephiles is probably less Nancy Carroll herself than this rare chance to see Ernst Lubitsch’s bitter anti-war film Broken Lullaby (1932) and James Whale’s ultra-stylish courtroom drama The Kiss Before the Mirror (1933).
While Broken Lullaby has been shown on AMC (back when AMC showed anything worth showing), it’s drifted into a kind of weird limbo. It’s outside the realm of Lubitsch’s musicals and comedies and it boasts no salable stars, so it’s unlikely to surface on DVD any time soon or perhaps any time at all. As for The Kiss Before the Mirror, I’ve never seen it show up on TV at all. In fact, the only reason I’ve seen the film is because the aforementioned Paul Nemcek loaned me his 16mm copy about 30 years ago. Both films are not only terrific filmmaking, they’re key examples of their respective director’s work. Broken Lullaby is unlike anything else Lubitsch ever made and is his from his most cinematically creative period (1929-1933). The Kiss Before the Mirror is a lot like other James Whale films, which is exactly what makes it so interesting. The same approach one finds on his more famous horror movies is evident here, and it’s fascinating to see it applied to something very different. The opening sequence alone is a thing of sheer beauty. Do not miss the chance to see these.
One Night of Love 12:30 a.m., Tue April 28, TCM
Victor Schertzinger’s One Night of Love (1934) was the film that made opera star Grace Moore into a movie star. MGM had tried to do this earlier and failed. For that matter, her stardom on the big screen didn’t really survive beyond this one film—despite the efforts of no less a filmmaker than Josef von Sternberg with The King Steps Out (1936), the one film Sternberg insisted should never be included in any retrospective of his work.. But this one time something just clicked. Maybe it was Schetzinger’s clever opening sequence (OK, so it’s kind of ripped off from Rouben Mamoulian’s Love Me Tonight). Or maybe it was the screen chemistry of La Moore and Tullio Carminatti. Whatever it was, it worked. It still works.