Movie Buzz: April 22 through 28

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.

 

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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26 thoughts on “Movie Buzz: April 22 through 28

  1. Dionysis

    So ‘movie buzz’ isn’t cutting it, huh? How about ‘Film Focus’ or ‘Cinema-jig’?

  2. Kevin F.

    “Cinema Scent” — “Sniffin’ out the best film bets of the week since 2009.”

  3. Worth noting is that NICKELODEON has been converted to B&W;.

    Also out on dvd this week is SQUIDBILLIES VOL 2, a new TINY TOONS set, a special edition of HELLRAISER 1 & 2 in a puzzle box, the blu-ray of WAGES OF FEAR and a pretty great Criterion release SCIENCE IS FICTION.

  4. Midnight Screening? Working Print? Cinema-Go-Round?

    Isn’t there some movie theater jargon for a test-run of a film to make sure the reels are in the right order and the splicing isn’t going to rip apart? Whatever that’s called could be a good title.

  5. lisi russell

    How About Get Out Your Hankes?

    Movie Buzz works. But Cinema-jig is totally cool.

    Lisztomania comes out May 4th on DVD but it’s probably one of those Region We-Are-An-Island-That-Used-to-Own-the-World-and-So-We-Have-To-Do-Everything-Different formats that are unplayable in the States.

  6. Sam

    How about “Reel Talk”? “The Reel Deal”? “Screen Shots”? Or my personal favorite, “Hanke Panky”?

  7. Ken Hanke

    Worth noting is that NICKELODEON has been converted to B&W;

    Is there a reason given? Is PB saying he wanted to make it in black and white? Even if that’s true, a black and white copy of a color film almost always looks bad. I have the Region 2, but haven’t gotten around to watching it yet. I wonder if it’s been altered?

    Also out on dvd this week is SQUIDBILLIES VOL 2, a new TINY TOONS set, a special edition of HELLRAISER 1 & 2 in a puzzle box, the blu-ray of WAGES OF FEAR and a pretty great Criterion release SCIENCE IS FICTION.

    I was hoping you’d weigh in with this sort of thing, because you’re more up on these things than I am.

  8. Ken Hanke

    Isn’t there some movie theater jargon for a test-run of a film to make sure the reels are in the right order and the splicing isn’t going to rip apart? Whatever that’s called could be a good title.

    Well, that’s quickly becoming less and less relevant as more digital starts surfacing (with a whole new set of problems). I’ve never heard of a name for this anyway — screening and pre-screening are commonly used. With digital it’s come to be called a “QC” (quality check).

  9. Ken Hanke

    How About Get Out Your Hankes?

    That’s the sort of suggestion best made from the safety of England.

    Lisztomania comes out May 4th on DVD but it’s probably one of those Region We-Are-An-Island-That-Used-to-Own-the-World-and-So-We-Have-To-Do-Everything-Different formats that are unplayable in the States.

    Well, it’s not so much a UK weirdness as it’s a studio control thing. But there are ways around it. How do you think that copy of Dance of the Seven Veils got made?

  10. Ken Hanke

    There are a lot of good suggestions coming in here. I like Kevin’s, but it somehow misses the mark in credibility — though I suppose we could be a little elastic on the year. “Cinema Jig” is pretty good, but it sounds awfully active for one with my level of inertia.

    The only one I can’t see is “Hanke Panky.” Sorry, Sam, but I’ve lived with that phrase too long. Also, I still bump into people who say, “Cranky Hank.” I can’t think why.

    One that I’ve thought of — based on Edgy Mama’s suggestion — is “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler.” The drawback to that is — does anyone know what a “Weekly Reader” is/was these days?

  11. Rufus

    Cinemalogically Speaking?

    (I actuallly hate made-up words)

    How about The Critic is In

  12. Is there a reason given? Is PB saying he wanted to make it in black and white?

    Yes. They also recently put out a colorized FORBIDDEN ZONE, because Elfman wanted it in color.

    I was hoping you’d weigh in with this sort of thing, because you’re more up on these things than I am.

    np. Next week is a doozy… Rykodisc week!

  13. Ken Hanke

    Yes. They also recently put out a colorized FORBIDDEN ZONE, because Elfman wanted it in color.

    I think in the case of Forbidden Zone it’s more a case of Elfman (Richard, not Danny) saying that to help sales, since he seems to have said that only after the colorization had been done. It’s actually very much at odds with the idea of making a film in the style of Betty Boop cartoons. I looked at some of the colorized version and wasn’t exactly impressed. I’ll hold off on how I feel about Nickelodeon sans color till I see it.

  14. Ken Hanke

    How about The Critic is In

    Depending on the week that might be “The Critic Is In a Bad Humor.”

  15. lisi russell

    Yes! Weekly Reader was an important ritual in elementary school.

    Weekly Reeler has resonance!

    (I may be the only one who also has heard of Weekly Readers, I admit.)

  16. Kevin F.

    Weekly Reeler also has the distinction of making it sound like the number/quality of films to discuss each week has caused you to reel, i.e. stagger through the good, the bad, and the ugly.

    I think that it has to be a title with some layers to dual-meaning, so my vote goes behind Weekly Reeler.

  17. Justin Souther

    My original idea of “My Taste is Better Than Yours, So Watch What I Tell You” is probably too long to be feasible.

  18. Ken Hanke

    The Fourth Wall

    For a moment, I thought you were suggesting “The Fifth Column.”

    I see we now have two votes for “The Weekly Reeler.” It appears to be in the lead.

    As for Justin’s idea, yes, it’s probably too long — among other things. (And I could swear he bailed on watching Fighting tonight because he wanted to go to bed…)

  19. Justin Souther

    (And I could swear he bailed on watching Fighting tonight because he wanted to go to bed…)

    I was in bed when I typed that.

  20. I remember the Weekly Reader, but I’d stick with the Weekly Reel as opposed to Reeler. Reeler makes you sound drunk. Which you might be, but I’m not sure if that’s what you want to advertise.

  21. Spellbound

    I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I really liked “Hanke Panky.” Oh, well… how about The Cutting Room?

  22. Ken Hanke

    I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I really liked “Hanke Panky.”

    No need to be embarassed. It’s merely a personal objection of mine.

  23. Helen

    I’m thinking “Reel World”, unless the identification with the MTV show is too painful.

  24. Ken Hanke

    I’m thinking “Reel World”, unless the identification with the MTV show is too painful.

    It does awaken kinda grim memories.

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