trailer tuesday

as this is the last trailer tuesday before opening day, this week's entry is for sam wood's the stratton story (1949). play ball!

and while you're at it, check out my friend summer's blog, in which she has taken it upon herself to draw every hall of famer. it's one of my favorite things.


minnesota nice

raimi fest is in full swing over at things that don't suck! in honor of this, i would like to talk a little bit about my favorite sam raimi film, a simple plan (1998).

bill paxton plays hank mitchell, passing his days working at a feed mill, waiting anxiously on the arrival of his first child. it's an existence that he will come to realize, through bitter hindsight, is pretty much exactly what his old man described to him as happiness. bridget fonda is his wife, sarah, a librarian who spends her evenings figuring out ways to make ends meet and preparing for the baby. billy bob thornton is hank's somewhat obtuse brother, jacob. hank and jacob, along with jacob's friend lou, who is an oaf, a drunken lout, are making their way home from a visit to deliver flowers to the family plot when they crash jacob's truck after swerving to miss a fox in the road. they chase jacob's dog, who is chasing the fox, into the snowy woods. the fox escapes but they discover a downed plane covered in snow, the contents of which are one decaying pilot that is being eaten by scavenging birds and one gym bag that contains 4.4 million dollars. hank immediately wants to turn it in. the other two are keen to keep it, arguing that it isn't stealing, as it is most likely drug money. it doesn't take much cajoling when your cut is just shy of 1.5 million and hank devises the titular plan - they sit on the money and wait until the spring thaw when the plane will be found. if the money is not mentioned in the report, which it won't be if the money is as dirty as they assume, they each take their split and leave town. if there is the slightest hint of trouble, hank will burn the money. it's the only way he'll go along with it. he insists on control, immediately establishing a dangerous dynamic, with him as the axis amidst moronic allies. it also reinforces the fact that the arrogance - the "you think you're better than us" vibe - that he is being accused of at exactly the moment they discover the plane is not necessarily just a figment of lou's imagination. their pact in place, they head to their respective homes where it takes scant minutes before they are already breaking their vows of secrecy and the events are set in motion that will end up with six bodies floating in a wake of greed and guilt. if only people could keep their mouths shut.

this is a particular strain of cinema that i love - the midwestern noir/crime film. as the flipside to their urban antecedents in the forties and fifties, the open spaces these films occupy provide an isolation that is every bit as unnerving to the guilty soul as the claustrophobic, neon-littered cityscape. from in cold blood (1967) to fargo (1996) to the exemplary winter's bone (2010), back roads muddy from melting snow and the eerie quiet of the plains have provided the backdrop for some of the most chilling and effective crime thrillers in the modern era of cinema, certainly some of my favorites. even lesser efforts like the ice harvest (2005) - not a bad film, just not on par with the others i have mentioned here - i tend to give a headstart just based upon their wintery, rural geography. it's put to immediate use here, as some of the first images we are greeted by are those of a literal fox in the henhouse, a bit of symbolism that would be impossibly incongruous in los angeles. the snow deadens all sound to the point that when gunshots ring out it's the only thing you can hear for miles. the most devastating part of the setting, though, is the implication that cruel fate came all this way to find you. it ferreted you out, to stick with raimi's animal symbolism.

"you work for the american dream, you don't steal it", hank tells jacob and lou in the few moments that he is still hanging onto his ideals. had he known he was in a noir film he might not have said something so naive. noir exists to undermine the american dream. it exists to put statements like this to the test. in this case, his statement turns out to be true. it's hank that fails the test. he's eventually proven right, in spite of his actions. he had the answer the whole time. he just didn't have the wherewithal to put it into practice. in fact, the transformation that hank undergoes almost rockets past noir into tragedy. the ancients would probably find a fair amount that was familiar in scott smith's excellent screenplay. hank is obviously a serious and dignified protagonist. he's the only college graduate we meet, a fact that is referred to on more than one occasion. he has a child on the way and is therefore saddled with adult obligations that neither jacob nor lou have. to say he suffers a reversal of fortune is putting it mildly. his hubris is undoubtedly his undoing. he knows he is the most intelligent of the three men. he judges himself to be the only one capable of holding this thing together, merely the first in an ever-widening spiral of horrible decisions and reckless actions. it takes about twelve hours before he commits his first murder to protect the secret and at every turn he is too clever by half, constantly outsmarting himself. the gods didn't do him any favors from the very beginning, either. the die seemed cast from the moment that sarah noticed lou in the truck when jacob first pulled into the drive that fateful morning. from there, it seems we are hurtling toward the inevitable. plus, as you might imagine, no one doesn't look for 4.4 million dollars.

guess how many sets of tracks there are on the return trip.

the performances from the principals here are solid from top to bottom, including impressive work from paxton and fonda - two actors i typically have little use for. paxton as the brains of the outfit is a nice bit of casting against type and he never lapses into caricature or the histrionics that i find unappealing in some of his other work. fonda's evolution from librarian to lady macbeth is fun to watch from the moment you see the lust sneak into her eyes as she surveys her dining room table covered in bundles of hundred dollar bills. she never slides all the way into villainy, though, and she nails us right in our sympathy with an extended speech about the monotonous grind of coupon clipping and hand-me-downs for their daughter that the days will become without this money. she lays bare the truth that resides underneath the things that we all tell ourselves occasionally to get through our everyday. 4.4 million dollars on your kitchen table blows your illusions of satisfaction all to hell. billy bob thornton tops them all, though. his characterization of jacob is informed by a self-awareness that ultimately makes him the most intelligent of all three. he knows when he has reached his limit. he has worked within these limits all his life and it is what sets him apart. he is wise enough to never let his reach exceed his grasp, an ability that every other character lacks. he never speaks less than the truth. he's not capable of it. it's just a great performance, stirring and sympathetic, providing the pity and fear that cements its status as tragedy. on top of all that, raimi gives them the perfect world to inhabit. in edgar g. ulmer's detour (1945) there is a brilliant shot that pans across the floor of the scene of the final crime in which you pick up the small detail of paint chips coming off the baseboards. it perfectly illustrates the grubby, small-time universe the characters inhabit. i love that shot. there is a similar shot in this film where, just once, in the margin of the frame, you see a tray of perfumes on bridget fonda's dressing table that tells you everything you need to know about the mundane middle class existence she lives and the measures she takes to feel glamorous. it's a great detail and is but one example of how well constructed a universe raimi provides for his characters. if you've never seen it, you ought to, especially if you're only familiar with raimi's hyperkinetic horror offerings or his big budget superhero adventures. it's a remarkable, assured picture that is unlike anything else on his resume.

make sure to stop in at things that don't suck all week long for all things raimi. in addition to bryce's excellent work there are tons of fine contributors chipping in. check it out!


starlite cinema's kung fu is strong

we just wrapped up the first spring 2011 installment of the starlite cinema series and it was top notch!

our first kung fu night was wall to wall action with the one-two punch of master of the flying guillotine (1977) and the hong kong edition of iron monkey (1993). the smiths' cuisine reigned supreme once again as well with edamame and the best miso soup i have had in a while.

plus, lauren made sushi!

to say it was a great evening would be an understatement. our next installment falls on friday, 4.15.11, tax day. to celebrate, we are offering a program with some of the finest tax evading ever put on screen. we begin the evening with jūzō itami's a taxing woman (1987).

itami is an interesting case. he didn't start making films until he was fifty and the success of his debut bumped him into a higher tax bracket, inspiring the tale we will see on the fifteenth. it follows the cat and mouse battle between a doggedly determined auditor and her counterpart, a hotel owner who is a virtuoso when it comes to keeping revenue streams off the books. as they develop a respect, even an affection, for one another, it becomes more and more complicated for each one to do what they deem necessary. oddly funny and sharply observed, it cleaned up at the japanese academy awards that year.

next up, michael curtiz's the adventures of robin hood (1938).

this one is always fun. if you would like more detail about just why i like it so much, go here. this one is always best when viewed with an audience, so come out and see it with us. the facebook event page is here if you'd like to go there and rsvp or invite other folks. we have a lot of great things planned for 2011 and this is just the beginning. the may installment is the first anniversary of starlite, so we are coming with something epic and i have all sorts of other great selections in store for you guys for summertime and beyond. thanks to everyone who comes out to these. it's always good to see you.


trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for john schlesinger's fascinating and brutal parade of tinseltown grotesques, the day of the locust (1975).


sxsw film 2011 - the award winner

i have only been able to make it to a handful of films this time around, but i was lucky enough to get into robbie pickering's natural selection (2011) on friday night and was pleased to find that it lived up to expectations.

pickering's film won both the audience and jury grand prize in the narrative feature competition, in addition to best editing, score, screenplay and breakthrough performance awards for its two leads, rachael harris and matt o'leary. i can't say how deserving it was, as i didn't see any of the other films in the narrative feature competition, but i can say i enjoyed it a great deal. it tells the story of linda white, barren, devout christian, suburban texas housewife. after over two decades of marriage, she discovers that her husband abe has been surreptitiously donating to a sperm bank for almost the entire time. this comes to her attention because abe has a stroke one day, mid-donation. in the hospital, she takes his slurred, fevered, potentially final ramblings to be a request for reunion/reconciliation with the seed he parted company with so many years ago. she manages to dig up information for one long lost son, raymond, from a list of what looks like dozens, maybe hundreds, of wildly scattered offspring, and heads to tampa to bring him back. from there, it becomes a road movie that (mostly) manages to avoid the conventions of the genre. the oddball chemistry of the two leads combined with a script that's mindful of the comedy that comes from navigating our own personal minefields makes for a satisfying end result.

rachael harris was the real revelation here. i knew her from some of her television/internet comedy work, so i was familiar with how sharp and funny she is. i was not aware, however, of what a fine dramatic actress she is. she was playing a woman whose life had essentially been suspended in amber since she was sixteen. the march of time was never going to bring the thing she wanted most, a child. she was already moving forward on willpower, filling that void with duty, and now betrayal by her husband had cut her completely adrift. she is facing a monumental loneliness and harris conveys every little nuance of it. with only her puffy jacket to protect her, she ventures out into the dangerous and unfamiliar world. this is a film about rebirth, in no uncertain terms. both raymond's emergence from a lawnmower bag womb in the opening credits and her escape from her suburban texas shell are the beginnings of new lives, in more ways than one. she faces this challenge with a mixture of good cheer, naiveté and dogged determination that makes it nearly impossible for the viewer to do anything but hope she gets everything she wants. what makes it interesting is that we get to go alongside her as she is truly discovering exactly what that is, for herself, for the first time. if you know me, you know my general opinion about most coming of age stories, but i don't think i have ever seen such an effective one that's actually about a middle-aged woman. she is so plainly beautiful and wide-eyed that sometimes it almost hurts. there is a moment or two that stretches the suspension of your disbelief to its limit and the questions that go unanswered leave a few gaps in the narrative, but her pluck, growth and new-found self-reliance are worth your investment. it's not a perfect film and it resides squarely in "indie with heart" territory, but this character (based on pickering's mother) and her story are unique enough to avoid most of the clichés and harris' performance is fantastic. it's a wonderful effort from pickering, especially for a debut feature.

aside from the films i have already written about, the only other things i managed to catch during the festival were a couple of midnight movies, both full of recycled genre elements, neither of which was particularly notable. the first was adrián garcía bogliano's cold sweat (2010). of the two midnight offerings i caught, this was the far better film. a pair of kids stumble into the hands of a pair of killers who are the remnants of a group of revolutionary political activists whose ideological battles have dwindled in scope to the point that they are now focused on eradicating foolish kids, lured via the internet, with a twenty-five year old case of explosives. the best thing this film had going for it was the argentinian spin bogliano put on this particular set of horror tropes. from the political nature of the back story to the fact that the scantily clad damsel in distress actually has some hips on her, it makes for an interesting experience when you filter a lifetime of watching horror films through another cultural perspective. the nitroglycerin as weapon of choice was also a nice touch. none of that was enough, however, to raise it above average. the second midnight offering was james wan's aptly titled insidious (2010).

ok, to be fair, it's not just a rip-off of poltergeist (1982). it blatantly steals from dozens of other superior movies as well. the twins from the shining (1980) are in it, all grown up and apparently suicide girls, to name just one. almost everything about this movie was laughable. the "demon" in the climactic confrontation looks more like he's getting ready to go to burning man than take your soul. it's about as scary as an aerosmith video. the titles were interesting. that's about the best thing i can say about this derivative, anemic piece of tripe. don't waste your time. go see ti west's film instead.

and, as a parting shot, here is one of joe nicolosi's bumpers from the festival. kind of clever.

p.s. sxsw, in general, was a bad scene this year. the dfa 1979 and screeching weasel nonsense was just the tip of an ugly iceberg. stay home.


nothing new under the sun

paul newman has had this business locked down since charlie sheen was four years old.


trailer tuesday

vitagraph favorite elliott gould makes a triumphant return to trailer tuesday with this week's entry, alan arkin's adaptation of jules feiffer's blackly comic play, little murders (1971).


sxsw film 2011 - check out time

sxsw can be a harsh mistress, a fact i was reminded of more than once today. it looks like this one film a day thing might be par for the course this year, after being shut out of alison bagnall's the dish & the spoon (2010). fortunately, the films i am managing to make it into have been quite good. day two found me at the paramount theater for ti west's ghost story, the innkeepers (2011)

the story is basic haunted hotel fare. restless, ultimately homicidal, spirits are knocking about a connecticut hotel that, itself, is in its death throes. the lack of business has necessitated closing the old girl down and we have checked in for its final weekend. seeing to our needs and procuring our towels are claire and luke, the skeleton crew desk staff who also happen to be amateur ghost hunters. not much new ground covered, as far as premise goes. the real draw is the way ti west tells a story.

the way that contemporary horror films function are anathema to ti west, and bless him for that. instead of filling his films with characters that spend their time snarkily bickering in between over the top kills, he provides us with real people, people you care about and actually would prefer to not see die. crazy idea, i know, having a protagonist you can invest in. in this case, sara paxton is our lead and does a great job. the current crop of mouse trap films can keep their never ending cycle of miss dr. pepper boat show candidates. give me a kind of lanky, kind of goofy, asthmatic girl next door every time. we spend the majority of the first half of the film just watching the interaction between her and her fellow desk clerk, eavesdropping on the types of conversations you generally have with co-workers and becoming familiar with just where they are in their lives at this point. dead-end pretty much sums it up. the hotel, the yankee pedlar, is one of those places you ending up spending years, before you know it, waiting for what you're supposed to be doing to come along, but, as luke says, everything happens for a reason. no one just ends up at the yankee pedlar.

what west excels at is letting the story take all the time it needs. there was a brilliant scene in his previous genre throwback house of the devil (2009) in which jocelin donahue roams from room to room in the house where she is babysitting, nosily picking through things, getting the lay of the land. the mood grows ominous as she snoops through one room after another, ratcheting up the tension. the payoff? nothing happens. it's a masterstroke, thumbing its nose at lazy horror conventions. you just spent the last few minutes with her, indulging her/your curiosity, moving ever closer to the edge of your seat, waiting to be scared when it turns out you were just getting to know the character better. this sort of thing turns up frequently in innkeepers, particularly in a comic scene with claire simply taking the garbage out, a scene that west said during the q & a was his favorite thing he's ever filmed. these mundane shared experiences contrasted with the occasional moments of shock make for a significantly more satisfying payoff than the standard body count horror.

the sound design and score are also particularly effective, expanding the claustrophobic world of this small hotel beyond the margins of the screen. true to form, the ending is wholly satisfying while simultaneously being the ending you least hoped for. things are not set right, order is not restored and everyone left standing will be forever shaken by the experience even while life and its mundane routine carries on. if that is not the definition of real-life horror then i don't know what is. by employing a classic style of storytelling and completely ignoring anything having to do with the climate of horror films today, west has assembled something clever, fun and spooky, traditional and modern all at once. if your idea of horror involves the most gruesome mechanisms imaginable and obligatory nude scenes, look elsewhere. if you enjoy actual dialogue and atmosphere and the potential for fright in the world we actually inhabit, you will likely enjoy what west does.

so if you see this poster at your local cineplex anytime soon, go show some support for genre film that is both fun and not an insult to your intelligence. a packed house at the paramount certainly enjoyed it. it was good to see a smaller genre film get such a prime slot/venue at the festival and it was even better to see such a large and enthusiastic crowd in attendance. sxsw folks, you have two more chances to catch it this week. it will be at westgate on monday, 3.14.11, at 9 p.m. and it will be the midnight movie at the alamo ritz on wednesday, 3.16.11. go get spooked.


sxsw film 2011 - opening night

well, it's here. sxsw is officially upon us with the opening of the film festival last night. circumstances and schedules limited my opening night festivities to precisely one film, but it certainly was the right one. i eschewed the main event at the paramount, duncan jones' source code (2011), and didn't join the other cult members at the (newly re-opened!) state theater for zal batmanglij's sound of my voice (2011), instead opting for the meditative pleasures to be found in r. alverson's new jerusalem (2011).

on its surface, it's a simple story. sean (colm o'leary) is an irish immigrant, freshly returned from serving his adopted home country on a non-combat tour in afghanistan. head and heart without mooring, he drifts through his workdays, occasionally suffering severe anxiety attacks, alternately looking/not looking for the thing that is going to ground him, that will make him feel settled. ike (will oldham), his co-worker at a nondescript richmond tire shop, wants to help alleviate his rootlessness and, being a devout evangelical christian, sets about trying to help sean find the peace that faith has afforded him. plot is minimal. it's more a series of vignettes where we watch the relationship between these two men develop, ebbing and flowing as sean mulls over the promise of the eternal. the strength of the film is in the nature of the conversation that passes back and forth between the two men. it's when they are sharing themselves this way that the film truly shines, partly because those moments are filled with just as many banal observations and stale jokes as they are subtle revelations. in short, it conveys the actual process of becoming friends. it leaves nothing out and you get the sense that no topic is off limits, as evidenced by sean's willingness to take every one of ike's sometimes awkward questions at face value. it's a lovely irony that we see more than once, the fact that the character with the most conservative values is actually the most brazen. he risks more than anyone by the simple fact that he is willing to be so emotionally honest. love is hardly safe - even platonic, as it is in this case - especially to express to another man in a blue collar environment in a southern town, but buoyed by his faith, he does just that. his compassion for his friend's existential plight even sustains him, to a degree.

and that is really the crux of the matter in this film, the symbiotic nature of friendship, the need the believer has for the non-believer and vice versa. for ike, sean provides an avenue to serve, to employ christlike humility and love. for sean, ike represents the unattainable joy of simple surety. sean was once a self-described pious child, but close observation of a pair of prayer cards given to him in his youth led to the first in a series of epiphanies that undid his faith, chief among them being that you can't trust the man delivering the message. ike does all he can to earn that trust back, even going as far as to humbly wash sean's feet in his kitchen. it's a surprisingly powerful little scene and i am grateful that it isn't overplayed. the scene, much like the rest of the film, is warm and direct and, in parts, oddly funny. ultimately, though, none of it is enough to convince sean to abandon all the other paths of exploration that life offers. it simply is not the answer for him. sean's refusal exposes a crack or two in the veneer of ike's faith, as ike's response is to momentarily use love as a blunt instrument. it's an understandable, all-too human response. it is not easy when someone turns their back on whatever it is that makes the most sense to you. compounding this crisis of faith, ike's father has a stroke, leaving him almost as without mooring as sean was when the film started. sean's role has not changed. he is still the observer, listening patiently and still acting as a repository for ike's ideas about faith and grace but now that ike needs those ideas reflected back to him, it has become more complicated for both men. to do that would be disingenuous, for sean and for the film, so, again, i am grateful that alverson doesn't opt for the easy reconciliation.

one last note. hands are an important motif throughout the film. early on, especially, it seems that there is not a frame that doesn't prominently feature the human hand - approximations of penitence, actual penitence, engaging in transactions, taking medicine, busy with work, caring gestures - and it underscores just how much we rely on them as instruments of communication and industry. it also underscores how much we simply hold each other up, how much work there is to do, both for saints and we secular types, and how vital the work that each does is for the other.

you have two more chances to get a ticket for this in your hands during the festival. it is showing monday, 3.14.11, at 10:45 a.m. at the state theater and again on friday, 3.18.11, at 5 p.m. at the rollins theater. i highly recommend it.


trailer tuesday

inspired by eric's excellent post, his first queue de grâce installment, this week's entry is for carol reed's the third man (1949).


my favorite frames

it's hard to pick a favorite frame from steve mcqueen's brilliant hunger (2008) because it is 96 minutes of one beautiful composition after another, but i think this is the one.

this moment of michael fassbender as bobby sands, examining his body as he gets deeper into his hunger strike, is so simple, beautiful and powerful. for the first time in the film, mortality supersedes ideology as the central consideration. he is his own corporeal map, jutting ribs and bedsores as signposts, all indicating point of no return.


a classical education

alright, someone else was foolhardy enough to pick up the queue de grâce gauntlet! one of my oldest friends, eric reiss, has asked for a program specifically designed to rid him of his aversion to old movies, so i have tailored a list of classics for his entertainment and edification.

ok, so they're not that old. i set out an itinerary of twelve films, ranging from 1926 to 1966, with a few genre milestones and a handful of more offbeat, but no less intriguing, choices. on the list there is screwball comedy, political and historical drama, one silent masterpiece, noir, documentary and horror, including a smattering of international entries. i am looking forward to his responses a great deal. you can read what he has to say about them, including the preemptive opening salvo he posted yesterday, at his blog, thoughts and tasty beverages. with any luck, he will also be able to shanghai his wife karen, an avowed old movie lover, into participating in a sort of he-said, she-said analysis. this promises to be fun. take a look.


sxsw film 2011

we are just about a week away from austin's biggest annual event, the south by southwest music, film and interactive conference.

the film portion of the conference runs from 3.11.11 through 3.19.11 and will play host to 130 features from around the globe, 60 of them world premieres, in addition to a full slate of shorts, music videos and the like. add to this about 80 panels and workshops and you have the makings of a seriously busy week or so. there are a handful of things that i am looking forward to in particular.

the documentary feature competition: these eight films, all world premieres, look solid from top to bottom. they chronicle a diverse range of fighters, chefs, would-be rock stars, con men and kids lost to war, lost to their parents, lost to the indiscretions of youth. each of these looks like a good bet.

takashi miike's 13 assassins (2010).

the prolific and provocative miike makes what may be the most surprising move by playing it straight this time with an old-fashioned feudal epic. in the twilight of the samurai era, a group of assassins is assembled to put an end to the tyranny of a sadistic lord. the climactic battle sequence is an astounding 45 minutes long. i hope i can get a ticket to this one.

alison bagnall's the dish & the spoon (2010).

bagnall wrote buffalo '66 (1998), so she's no stranger to melancholy, unconventional romance. the chemistry between greta gerwig and olly alexander is supposed to be worth the price of admission. we shall see.

werner herzog's cave of forgotten dreams (2010)!

herzog was allowed unprecedented access to the chauvet-pont-d'arc cave in southern france that contains the earliest known cave paintings in the world, literally the beginning of art. finally, a legitimate argument for 3D technology.

the entire sxfantastic lineup of midnight shows. fantastic fest is far and away my favorite festival and they handpicked some special genre madness for night owls.

and that's just a small sampling of what's going on. if you would like to see the full slate of films, with synopses, trailers, venues and times, go here. i am going to try to see as much as money, work and band schedules will allow. if you're coming to town, let me know. we'll catch a show.


starlite kung fu night!

our starlite cinema series returns with a special kung fu edition in march!

in case you are unfamiliar with the starlite cinema series, here's the deal: i love the drive-in movie theater. i think it's a real shame that generations of kids aren't going to know the joys of spending a summer evening that way. in a nod to these slowly, sadly disappearing outposts of all the fun you can have for five dollars a carload, once a month we turn someone's backyard into a movie theater and revel in the pleasures of watching something great with your friends, outside under the stars. this month, our kung fu is stronger than yours!

the evening will begin with yu wang's master of the flying guillotine (1977). in this sequel to one armed boxer (1971), the blind assassin fung sheng wu chi is the last remaining member of a group of killers whose aim was to eradicate any ming-allied rebels. his main tool for the job? a weapon that is part saw blade, part beekeeper's helmet and all decapitation. the aforementioned one armed boxer is responsible for dispatching the rest of fung's crew of assassins, so fung, disguised as a monk, sets out to track him down and exact his revenge. he's not exactly discriminating, so woe unto you if happen to be missing an arm. the boxer he seeks is actually in charge of a martial arts academy and accepts an invitation to a tournament. perfect! we'll get to see a variety of styles in combat. i wonder if a certain blind, angry "monk" with a head-chopper-offer is going to show up? holy cats! right on time! this movie is a blast and is chock full of the things that made the shaw brothers' seventies era the gold standard of kung fu cinema.

next up, yuen woo ping's superlative iron monkey (1993).

this is one of a handful of truly great contemporary kung fu films. it does everything kung fu is supposed to do. yuen woo ping is probably the most legendary fight choreographer alive and his collaborator on the film, tsui hark, was instrumental in pushing the boundaries of hong kong cinema during its salad days in the eighties and nineties. on top of that, you have donnie yen. if you know me, you know i am a big fan of the man. often, with such stellar parts, the sum fails to live up to expectations but that is definitely not the case here. the story is engaging and the action set pieces build and build until the jaw-dropping finale. it is clever, inventive and the execution is top notch.

i am also pleased to tell you that we will be viewing the hong kong edition of the film, with its original, intact fight sequences, undercranked spots and original score. when the weinsteins and miramax decided to finally distribute the film in the u.s., eight years after its initial release, they made a bunch of significant changes. in trying to capitalize on the success of crouching tiger, hidden dragon (2000), they set about to "americanize" the film. they removed some of the more overt political references and dumbed down the subtitles to downplay that content in other places. what they did is akin to trying to make the adventures of robin hood (1938) without any references to the throne of england. preposterous. they also removed the original score featuring the wong fei-hung theme in favor of a classical score similar to crouching tiger. wong fei-hung is a chinese folk hero and is central to the story. his theme is as recognizable to hong kong audiences as "yankee doodle dandy" is to you or me. over 100 films have been made about him, but harvey scissorhands didn't think he was that important. a lot of the comic relief in the film - again, a staple of the genre - was cut because they thought it wouldn't have played well for american audiences. well, bollocks to all that. we're watching it the way master yuen intended it to be seen.

in addition to our two features, i am also putting together assorted kung fu related treats for before, after and between the films. it promises to be an action packed evening. the facebook event page is here if you would like to rsvp or contribute to the conversation. if you are not facebook enabled and would like to come, just send me a message. i will make sure you get the pertinent details. hope to see you guys there.


trailer tuesday

appropriately enough, after his academy award no-show (which i heartily endorse), this week's entry is for jean-luc godard's contempt (1963).

it's a beautiful film and one of those that improves with multiple viewings. this version of the trailer has no subtitles because i think it's better that way. trust me, you'll get the idea. if you absolutely must have subtitles, go here.