If you believe major studio spokespeople, the DVD business is dying, to be replaced by downloading and cloud storage of films and TV shows. But the business-related news stories that repeatedly state these facts don’t take account of smaller companies like Criterion, Flicker Alley, and Kino that cater to film buffs and still provide a valuable product that can’t be replicated online.
The recent Criterion release of People on Sunday (1929) is a perfect example. This legendary German silent film was made on a shoestring by a collective that included such future directors of note as Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer, Billy Wilder, and Fred Zinnemann, as well as cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan. It is a beguiling (and utterly disarming) film about four acquaintances who escape from the city to enjoy a—
A movie that opens as well as this one does—and draws you in so effectively—ought to have a finale that doesn’t remind you of cheesy monster movies from years past. On the other hand, the visual effects in Rise of the Planet of the Apes are so astonishing that I have to cut the movie some slack.
Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver’s screenplay starts out on a strong note, as we meet genetic researcher James Franco, who is experimenting with a drug that may help victims of Alzheimer’s Disease—like his own father, nicely played by John Lithgow. Ultimately, Franco rescues a baby chimpanzee from the lab and raises it as a member of his family, but veterinarian Freida Pinto warns him that Caesar won’t be a playful young chimp very long. This is an eventuality Franco isn’t willing to face, but moviegoers will immediately recognize as—
I’ve always loved ingenious title sequences. Saul Bass, who created some of the greatest movie openings of all time (Vertigo, Psycho, North by Northwest, Walk on the Wild Side, That’s Entertainment, Part II and a handful of Martin Scorsese films, to name just a few), remains one of my heroes, along with Maurice Binder (who did those unforgettable James Bond titles) and Pablo Ferro (who once sent me a hand-inked note in the exact typeface he used for Dr. Strangelove!). In recent years such talented conceptualists as Kyle Cooper and the team at yU & Co. have generated graphic ideas as innovative as any of their predecessors.
One of the unfortunate side-effects of so many filmmakers choosing to forego a formal opening and throw—
In an era of hyperactive, overly verbal 3-D animated entertainment, I hope there is still room for a film as sweet and gentle as Winnie the Pooh. At the screening I attended it seemed like the young adults in the audience were enjoying it even more than the kids, reliving their childhood memories of the “stubby little cubby” and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood.
Cartoon fans will also rejoice in a film that celebrates the art of classical Disney-style animation as this one does. It represents what may be a “last hurrah” for this generation’s leading artists, including Dale Baer, Andreas Deja, Eric Goldberg, Randy Haycock, Mark Henn, and Bruce W. Smith, who comprise the team of supervising animators on this film. Story supervisor Burny Mattinson’s credits go back farther than anyone’s on this team. He even directed Mickey Mouse’s comeback vehicle—
by Darwyn Carson
Happily, the third season of one of my favorite Canadian television shows is available through Acorn Media on Blu-ray and DVD. Based on Maureen Jennings’ best selling detective novels, Murdoch Mysteries is a whole lot of fun; a turn-of-the-century forensics show with Montreal native Yannick Bisson (Sue Thomas F.B. Eye) starring as the attractive and curiously inventive detective William Murdoch.
The mystery storylines, mixing equal parts historical fact and plausible fantasy, are structured around cases which inevitably employ some newfangled invention in the solving of the crimes. Timelines and specifics are toyed with. For instance, celebrated figures of the period show up, like a brash, young, not-yet-widely known Harry Houdini who,—
If movies about talking cars or warlike robots don’t interest you, Project Nim is the latest documentary (following Buck) to offer a satisfying, adult alternative. It tells a story that is both stranger and more thought-provoking than most Hollywood fare.
The Nim of the title is Nim Chimpsky, a chimpanzee who was given the pun-ny name (a play on Noam Chomsky) when he was separated from his mother and placed in the care of Columbia University professor Herbert Terrace in 1973. The mere thought of a mother and child being torn apart is wrenching enough, but that’s just the first in a series of—
When I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s, the last thing I wanted to see was a “serious” movie. I eagerly awaited each new Jerry Lewis comedy and Walt Disney release, and when the newly-reconstituted Three Stooges started making feature films I was first in line to see them. I sure wasn’t interested in Peyton Place or Suddenly, Last Summer! As a result, I’ve spent much of my adult life as a film buff catching up with movies of that period. I put off seeing some titles because I refused to watch widescreen films if they were panned and scanned on television, and waited for a big-screen revival.
Now, both Warner Bros. and MGM are digging into their vaults to release obscure and forgotten films of that period through dvd-on-demand; Warner at warnerarchive.com and MGM drawing mostly on the United Artists library for its Limited Edition Collection, available through a number—
Until its recent showing at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, and the unveiling of this DVD, Night Flight hadn’t been shown publicly since the 1930s. It’s been on many film buffs’ wish list for years and years, given its all-star cast and pedigree (based on Antoine de St. Exupéry’s acclaimed novel, directed by Clarence Brown, produced by David O. Selznick, with a screenplay by the solid and prolific Oliver H.P. Garrett). That it isn’t a masterpiece is only a slight disappointment. It’s quite good, and what is more important, it represents a genuine attempt by Selznick and MGM to bring intelligence and some of the source material’s literary quality to a mainstream movie.
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