RETRO REVIEW: Pablo Larrain’s Noir-esque NERUDA Takes Us for a Wild Ride and Cuts to the Chase at the Landmark’s Midtown Art Cinema on January 27

Posted on: Jan 26th, 2017 By:

by Melanie Crewposter
Managing Editor

NERUDA (2016); Dir. Pablo Larrain; Starring Luis Gnecco, Gael Garcia Bernal, Mercedes Moran; Opens Friday, January 27 at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Trailer here.

Oscar Award-nominated Director and Producer Pablo Larrain’s NERUDA released to select theatres in December 2016, after screening in the Director’s Fortnight  section at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and cuts to the chase in Atlanta, January 27, at the Midtown Art Cinema. Larrain [JACKIE (2016)/dir. – His first film in English; THE CLUB (2015)/dir.; NO (2012)/dir.)] has created his niche as a filmmaker stepping outside the typical biopic box and granting his viewers a biting yet intimate and unfamiliar glimpse into the lives of prominent world-known personalities.   

NERUDA, written by Guillermo Calderon [THE CLUB (2015)] lures the viewer into a 1940s noir-ish absurd and fantastical chase into the Chilean political underground which centers on two seemingly opposite characters, Chile’s Communist “traitor,” “People’s Poet” and exiled Nobel Prize-winner Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco) and a romanticized straight-laced law enforcer Inspector Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael Garcia Bernal). Although Larrain’s film centers on a small slice of Neruda’s life, he uses Peluchonneau’s dreamy pursuit as a vigorous vehicle to carry the film from opening scene to el fin. Ever the poetic egoist and larger than life Neruda, played effortlessly by Luis Gnecco [Narcos”/TV series (2015); NO (2012)], who exclaims, “This has to become a wild hunt!” And so the viewer is swept away on a wild imaginative goose chase from town to town as the poet gives a collective voice to his suffering Chilean Communist comrades from afar. The thrill of the chase gives Larrain’s “Neruda” ample fodder to champion his cause as he barely escapes the clutches of his mustachioed arch nemesis, played ever so movingly by Gael Garcia Bernal [THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES (2004); THE LIMITS OF CONTROL (2009); NO (2012)].

Mercedes Moran as Delia del Carril and Luis Gnecco as Neruda

Mercedes Moran as Delia del Carril and Luis Gnecco as Neruda

If Larrain’s objective is for the viewer to feel like they’ve stepped out of a time-machine into 1940s Chile and beyond, his use of antiquated yet absurdly fun film techniques unquestionably serves its purpose. His use of rear-projection during the car chase scenes for example is reminiscent of gangster and noir films of that time. Further, his unique visual style, utilized in his other works [THE CLUB (2015)] is characterized by blue and purple hues setting this story apart from the plethora of over-digitalized films that lack a distinct atmosphere, a distinct tone. Nevertheless, the genuine focus, the pure genius of NERUDA, is the cat-and-mouse chase narrative reminiscent of the film’s era, and more precisely the story that unfolds within the story. Larrain’s utilization of a mere snippet of Neruda’s flight from Chile’s brutal anti-communist crackdown constructs a vivid painting of the internal battle within a very self-aware and assured protagonist, the “People’s Poet.” In complete contrast to Neruda is Peluchonneau as the insecure, naïve and self-doubting narrator and antagonist. Calderon’s ability to depict both characters as completely separate entities with opposing personalities who could easily meld into one distinct being should one desire, gives the film a depth of character unlike most in the genre.

Gnecco

Gnecco

Whether you are a fan of Pablo Neruda, noir, or one who delves deeply into the land of nostalgic filmmaking, NERUDA is a film well worth checking out. Larrain dishes out an unexpected tale filled to the brim with intrigue, ambiguity and a genuine love for his characters. It is highly recommended that you catch this beautifully crafted piece of cinema, featuring standout performances, in the cinema. As Larrain conveyed to DEADLINE’s Nancy Tartaglione, “It’s less a movie about Pablo Neruda than it is like to going to his house and playing with his toys.” (Dec. 2016)

Gael Garcia Bernal as Oscar Peluchonneau

Gael Garcia Bernal as Oscar Peluchonneau

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Retro Review: When the Old School Met the New Wave: HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT Makes a Big Splash at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema!

Posted on: Dec 9th, 2015 By:

hitchtrufmainHITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT (2015); Dir. Kent Jones; Starring Alfred Hitchcock, François Truffaut, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Wes Anderson and Peter Bogdanovich. Starts Friday, December 11; Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Tickets and showtimes here; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Landmark Midtown Art Cinema continues to spur discussion of great movies by presenting a great movie about a great book which discusses great movies. That’s a lot of “great,” but it’s hard not to go overboard in the superlatives when you’re talking about Kent JonesHITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT.

In 1962, one of the founders of the French New Wave of cinema turned to his favorite director, one of the old guard, for a week-long series of conversations undertaken to establish the older filmmaker’s legacy as an artist. The resulting book (published in 1966) was one of the most influential documents ever published about filmmaking: HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT. The book worked as intended, as François Truffaut’s examination of Alfred Hitchcock’s ouvre to that point was possibly the first attempt to present the director’s work as a cohesive body of personal expression instead of a simple series of mindless thrillers.

It’s hard to imagine a time in which Alfred Hitchcock wasn’t taken seriously as a filmmaker. But even such a celebrated figure as Hitch was hardly unassailable during his time. Contemporary critics cited unbelievable plots or seeming lapses in logic in Hitchcock’s movies as detriments. He had, during the 1950s, become something of a comic figure. His gag-filled appearances as the host of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, as well as the plethora of products (magazines, books, record albums and board games) bearing his name, led to him becoming a beloved pop culture icon, rather than known as a true artist worthy of serious examination.

François Truffaut was no stranger to the serious examination of classic movies, having been one of the leading critics at CAHIERS DU CINÉMA, the celebrated French film magazine. It was there that he coined the “auteur theory”—the idea that some directors utilize the industrial trappings of filmmaking and the collaborative nature of the process the way a writer uses a pen or a typewriter, or the way a painter uses a brush. And, like a writer or painter, that these directors used the medium to explore their own idiosyncratic visions and psyches, and that much of these filmmakers’ projects contain similar themes, images and other elements that form an interconnected body of work. These directors were the true authors (or, in French, auteurs) of their work, rather than the screenwriters or producers behind the films, overriding the raw materials given to them and transforming their movies into personal testaments. It was this theory that fueled many of the magazine’s own critics (Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and Éric Rohmer among them) to film their own movies, thus launching the French New Wave.

Hitch_Truffaut_book_aWhen the book was published, Hitchcock’s reputation was in need of rehabilitation, and Truffaut was riding a wave of acclaim. Truffaut was in a perfect position to draw attention to the solid artistic merit of Hitch’s films, and thankfully had both the writing talent to describe that merit and the intelligence to ask Hitch the right questions. HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT arrived at just the right time, and landed in the hands of a generation of aspiring directors who had grown up loving Hitchcock’s cinema and, like Truffaut, believed it to be worthy of serious consideration. This is where Kent Jones’ loving tribute comes in.

Jones not only offers a look inside the creation of this landmark work of film criticism, utilizing audio recordings of the interviews and never-before-seen photographs from the sessions, but also goes to the directors who have been inspired by this work. Wes Anderson probably best sums up its importance in the lives of the filmmakers involved, describing his copy as having been so frequently used that it has been reduced to a stack of loose papers held together with a rubber band. Also on hand are Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Olivier Assayas, Richard Linklater, Arnaud Desplechin and many others to express just how this book inspired them to look deeper into Hitchcock’s work and his technique. In discussing VERTIGO, for example, the documentary provides a capsule description of how Truffaut’s book led to Hitchcock’s work being reassessed. At the time of the book’s release, VERTIGO was almost impossible to see, having been a critical and commercial failure. Yet the discussion of the movie between the two directors made it one of the most in-demand titles among aspiring filmmakers, who searched out for rare film prints in order to learn from it. As a result, the film’s reputation grew steadily over the years as it began to be more seriously discussed and analyzed.

Jones weaves HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT together beautifully, using clips from Hitchcock’s movies to illustrate the comments from the documentary’s participants, and winds up being as much a celebration of the director as it is of the book about him. It will make you want to read (or re-read) the book. It will make you want to revisit Hitch’s filmography. And then it will make you want to revisit Hitch’s filmography with a copy of the book at your side. My only argument with the film is that at 80 minutes, it’s far too short for my liking. But, then, as an avowed cinema nerd, I’d gladly spend hours upon hours listening to the world’s top directors discussing this book and the two men responsible for it. For all you normal human beings out there, it’s the perfect length to get you hungry for more. In short, HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT is a delight for anyone even remotely interested in the behind-the-scenes world of movie making.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com.

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Fatih Akin’s Haunting Trek around the World, THE CUT, Reminiscent of Malick and Kubrick and Shot Entirely on 35mm Film Stock, Screens at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema

Posted on: Nov 4th, 2015 By:

By Aleck Bennettcut_ver3
Contributing Writer

THE CUT (2014); Dir. Fatih Akin; Starring Tahir Rahim; Opens Friday, November 6 (showtimes and tickets here); Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Trailer here.

The Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, in its mission to bring us thought-provoking works of moviemaking from around the world, delivers once again with Fatih Akin’s THE CUT. A polarizing film, it haunts us with images of violence and atrocity, while exploring a single person’s globe-spanning journey to find some sort of redemption and reconciliation.

Set largely in the aftermath of the Armenian genocide in Turkey, THE CUT follows Nazaret Manoogian (Tahir Rahim)—a lone mute blacksmith—as he returns from torture and imprisonment to search for his two long-lost daughters. This is a journey that not only takes him through the various tragedies associated with the genocide’s implications, but also from Turkey to Lebanon, from Cuba to Florida, and eventually to the barren plains of North Dakota.

Nazaret Manoogian (Tahar Rahim)

Nazaret Manoogian (Tahar Rahim)

Akin’s film is a breathtaking visual achievement. He captures each territory with its own personality, delivering masterful compositions accentuated with expert cinematography and production design (in the latter case, from veteran designer Allan Starski). It’s one of the best-photographed films you’ll see all year. Shot entirely on 35mm film stock in CinemaScope, the visuals are both striking and lush without being overly stylized. And to echo the narrative’s echoes of Hollywood epics and westerns, whenever possible Akin relies purely on “old school” filming techniques. The result is a film that is stylistically aware of its forebears without being derivative of them; working within the same framework of the classics while being wholly contemporary.

Narratively and directorially, however, the film has proven to be divisive, as the mixed reviews from professional critics attest. It’s not just due to the controversial nature of the Armenian genocide—a topic that continues to spark intense debate some 100 years after the fact. It’s also Fatih Akin’s presentation of the material. Akin, with co-screenwriter THE CUTMardik Martin (RAGING BULL, NEW YORK, NEW YORK), intentionally holds you at arm’s length from the action, making the viewer an objective witness to the events that unfold, rather than pulling the audience into the story emotionally. He takes a Terrence Malick or Stanley Kubrick approach to the material, which initially seems at odds with the intensely emotional aspects of the film’s narrative. His stated intention is—especially in scenes of violence—to allow the characters to maintain their own dignity and not rely on emotional exploitation to present them. But some viewers may find it overly cold and clinical when a more immersive experience might be preferable.

What cannot be denied, however is the excellence of the performances, in particular that of Tahir Rahim as the largely silent Nazaret Manoogian. His performance is overlaid with intelligence and richness of feeling that in lesser hands might come across as mere physical gesturing. As he appears in nearly every frame of the movie, the burden of THE CUTcarrying the film is on his shoulders and he manages to do so with grace and aplomb. It’s impossible to imagine THE CUT working as well as it does with anyone else in the lead.

Despite the polarizing storytelling stance that Akin takes, THE CUT is a film well worth checking out, particularly for those who appreciate a more cerebral approach to their movie going experiences. It’s a rare exploration of a controversial subject, it’s a beautifully crafted piece of cinema, and it features a standout performance as its central pillar. And even if it holds you at a distance, that distance gives you a unique perspective on images that will linger with you long after the film has unspooled from its reels.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com.

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RETRO REVIEW: LA BELLE ET LA BETE: Jean Cocteau’s Masterpiece of Gothic Fantasy Gets Rare Big Screen Treatment at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema

Posted on: Apr 7th, 2014 By:

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE) (1946); Dir. Jean Cocteau; Starring Jean Marais and Josette Day; Tuesday, April 7 @ 7:00 p.m.; Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

As part of their Midtown Cinema Classics series, the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema is bringing one of the greatest works of filmed fantasy to the big screen in a stunning new digital restoration: Jean Cocteau’s immortal BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

“Children believe what we tell them. They have complete faith in us. They believe that a rose plucked from a garden can plunge a family into conflict. They believe that the hands of a human beast will smoke when he slays a victim, and that this will cause him shame when a young maiden takes up residence in his home. They believe a thousand other simple things.

“I ask of you a little of this childlike sympathy and, to bring us luck, let me speak four truly magic words, childhood’s ‘Open Sesame’:

“Once upon a time…”

Jean Cocteau

Painter, poet, novelist, designer, filmmaker: all these and more were the simultaneous identities of Jean Cocteau, an artist so brilliant that one medium could not contain the full range of his talent. And much like the man himself, the handful of films he created transcend any categorization or pigeonholing. They are poems written in light and shadow; full of visionary imagery and drawing from painterly influences to create moving works of art that continue to resonate through the years. His films are bountiful feasts that fill your plate every time you return to the table. And while this is particularly true of his Orphic trilogy (THE BLOOD OF A POET, ORPHEUS and TESTAMENT OF ORPHEUS), those films—as great as they are—stand in the shadow of his singular masterpiece, LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE, or BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

I’ll spare you a detailed plot summary. It’s a tale that has been told and retold so often that it has become part of our collective genetic memory at this point. The lovely Belle is forced to live in the kingdom of the cursed Beast to repay the actions of her father (he steals a rose from Beast’s garden). Beast falls in love with Belle, and proposes to her on a nightly basis; each night, she refuses, though she becomes more and more drawn to him over time. Their growing feelings are tested when he allows her to return to her home for a week and informs her that if she doesn’t return after those seven days, he will die of grief. However, she is unaware of the plans her scheming siblings and her previously intended beau Avenant have drawn up to ensnare Beast’s fortune while Belle is away.

Cocteau implores us in the film’s opening to view his adaption of the classic fairy tale with the eyes of a child. To let ourselves be carried away by the irrational and the dreamlike, rather than impose the hard-and-fast logic of the adult workaday world onto our experience. And with those eyes open, we are treated to a darkly magical manifestation of the fantastic. An atmosphere of love and loss hangs over the film like an embrace both heartfelt and sorrowful. Living faces peer from mantelpieces, human arms bear the torches that light a hallway, food serves itself for dinner. Meanwhile, as in a dream, details are introduced and suddenly abandoned: Beast’s five items of power (a rose, a horse, the key to his pavilion, a glove and a mirror) are vital objects in the story, yet when they are lost or stolen after their purpose has been established, we do not revisit them.

And, much as in any fairy tale told to a child, the implications of sexual tension are sublimated and find abstract release in symbols. Belle indicates her growing acceptance of Beast by allowing him to sup water from her cupped hands. Beast’s source of power is tied inexorably to the feminine: his pavilion dedicated to the Greek goddess Diana. A strike from Diana’s arrow transforms the loutish Avenant into another Beast, revealing the savage nature that lies beneath the veneer of the handsome gentleman. And it’s another feminine power that redeems our Beast and turns him back into Prince Ardent: the transformative effects of Belle’s acceptance and love.

Speaking of that transformation, what is perhaps the most interesting move Cocteau took in adapting this story is in creating the disappointment many feel when Beast is ultimately metamorphosed into Prince Ardent (who happens to unfortunately look exactly like the rejected Avenant). We, along with Belle, spend the entire film falling more and more in love with Beast, so it’s natural that when he is revealed as the prince after the death of his feral countenance, we are left wanting. It’s said that screen legend Greta Garbo shouted “give me back my beautiful Beast!” at the screen when she first saw the film. Indeed, Belle herself is left with mixed feelings about the whole arrangement, as she informs him that “I shall have to get accustomed to you” after his transformation. Cocteau later revealed that this was his intent all along, writing:

“My story would concern itself mainly with the unconscious obstinacy with which women pursue the same type of man, and expose the naïveté of the old fairy tales that would have us believe that this type reaches its ideal in conventional good looks. My aim would be to make the Beast so human, so sympathetic, so superior to men, that his transformation into Prince Charming would come as a terrible blow to Beauty, condemning her to a humdrum marriage and a future that I summed up in that last sentence of all fairy tales: ‘And they had many children.’”

We can well imagine that Beauty may long miss—and may spend many days attempting to uncover remnants of—that beautiful Beast with whom she first fell in love.

Ultimately, what can I say about this movie? I could go on, lathering up further praise without ever coming close to expressing just how wonderful and magical LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE truly is. Suffice it to say that its wonders continue to reveal themselves nearly 70 years after it was released, and any chance to see this film should be leapt upon by any lover of cinema. What pushes its screening at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema into the realm of absolute necessity is the fact that they will be presenting the widely-hailed digital restoration which debuted last year to mark the 50th anniversary of Cocteau’s death. Years of print damage have been immaculately swept away to fully reveal the sumptuous detail of the film that Guillermo del Toro called “the most perfect cinematic fable ever told.”

Come. Accept the Beast’s invitation. Cast off the grind of the harsh realm of adult reality, look upon this film with the eyes of a child, and be swept away by the pure, dark, sublimely gothic bliss of the fantastique. There are few things in the world that compare.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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Who You Gonna Call? GHOSTBUSTERS! Landmark Midtown Art Cinema Gets Some Frightfully Funny Midnight Madness Fri. Aug 2 and Sat. Aug 3

Posted on: Jul 31st, 2013 By:

GHOSTBUSTERS (1984); Dir. Ivan Reitman; Starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis and Annie Potts; August 2 & 3 @ Midnight; Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Tickets here; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Midnight Madness has descended upon the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema! This time, they’re bringing you one of the greatest comedies of the 1980s, the spook-stravaganza, GHOSTBUSTERS!

Sometimes you need a film that challenges your belief system. Sometimes you need a film that will rouse you to action. Sometimes you need a film that makes you ask tough questions about the world we live in.

And sometimes you just need a film that’s only out to entertain you in the biggest possible way. Few films accomplish this like GHOSTBUSTERS.

Three New York City parapsychologists—Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Raymond Stanz (Dan Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis)—after being kicked out of their tony Columbia University gigs, decide to monetize their research by setting up a “ghost extermination” service out of an old firehouse. Business is slow, but a successful capture at the Sedgewick Hotel leads to huge demand for their services and rock-star status in the city. Meanwhile, they are hired by Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), whose apartment is being haunted by a entity known as Zuul. Her neighbor, Louis Tully (Rick Moranis), becomes possessed by Zuul’s companion demigod, Vinz Clortho. That would be bad enough, but the arrival of these two beings on this plane, along with the rise in supernatural phenomena, signals the coming destruction of this planet at the hands of Sumerian deity Gozer the Gozerian. Assisted by new hire Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson), the team must try to find a way to stop the apocalyptic plans of Gozer and round up the hordes of suddenly-freed spirits plaguing NYC.

Yeah, I know. It reads as incredibly complicated and far-fetched, and peppered with names that sound ripped from some late-night Dungeons & Dragons campaign. But frankly, none of this matters because all this mythological-sounding hoosafudge is just there to be in service to the kind of inspired, wacky comedy that was the stock-in-trade of Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Bill Murray at the time. Sure, it’s a movie about ghosts, but there’s no sentimentality in their treatment of them (unlike, say, Peter Jackson’s similarly-themed THE FRIGHTENERS) and not even any real fright involved in their treatment. The ghosts on parade are rarely even remotely spooky: they’re just neon-green-colored pranksters for the most part. And even the agent of the ultimate destruction of humankind gets played for laughs at the very end. It’s the direct spawn of Bob Hope’s 1942 comedy THE GHOST BREAKERS and the Bowery Boys’ 1946 farce SPOOK BUSTERS.

GHOSTBUSTERS sports one of the great comic screenplays. Tightly constructed, it never spins wildly out of control the way that Aykroyd’s THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980) does, but his flights of fancy elevate the reality-based comedy that his co-writer Harold Ramis frequently deals in. Ramis grounds Aykroyd, while Aykroyd provides Ramis with an excuse to play in a more fantastic milieu. And the entire process is aided by Murray’s keen sense of improvisational skills in performance. Tonally speaking, the movie is probably closest to director Ivan Reitman’s previous collaboration with Bill Murray and Harold Ramis, STRIPES (1981). Like that film, GHOSTBUSTERS is primarily centered on the semi-improvised performance of Murray and the comic chemistry of the team around him.

Bill Murray examines a possessed Sigourney Weaver in GHOSTBUSTERS (Columbia Pictures, 1984).

The downside to this approach is that brilliant comic actors like Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd get overshadowed by Murray’s dominating presence (Ramis, as the deadpan Egon, makes a more lasting impression than Aykroyd), but they work solidly as a team in support of—and providing the necessary “straight man” grounding for—Murray’s performance. And without their sense of camaraderie, the whole film would likely fall apart. Standing out and holding their own against Murray, though, are Rick Moranis and Sigourney Weaver. Moranis deftly works his nebbish character (honed in his days at SCTV and given a more sympathetic treatment in 1986’s LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS) against type as Louis becomes possessed by Vinz Clortho, and makes it seem just through the physicality of his acting as if his tiny frame is an ill-fitting suit for some huge and monstrous beast. Sigourney Weaver likewise plays dual roles strongly—both as the independent musician who is simultaneously repelled and attracted by Peter Venkman’s overtures, and as possessed by the…erm…extremely sexually agressive Zuul.

Visually, the movie is BIG. There are great practical, animation and optical effects on display throughout. The sets are amazing, ranging from the humble firehouse location to the climactic skyscraper rooftop extravaganza designed for Gozer’s arrival. Miniature work and puppetry are handled expertly. The cinematography by László Kovács (veteran of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND [1977] and THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES [1964]) is gorgeous.

A haunted supersized Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man terrorizes Manhattan in GHOSTBUSTERS (Columbia Pictures, 1984).

And then, we have to mention the soundtrack. Not only is the score by Elmer Bernstein (THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN [1960], TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD [1962]) among his best, Ray Parker, Jr.’s title song has proven to be as endlessly quotable as the movie itself. Even if you’ve never seen the movie (and I’m speaking to all 12 of you who haven’t), you likely recognize “Who you gonna call?” and “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts!” instantly.

What I’m trying to say, people, is that this is one of those nearly perfect comedies. The whole thing works like, well, gangbusters. It’s constantly fun, consistently hilarious and incredibly engaging. There’s not a down moment in the movie, not a minute where it lags. If it’s not a Grand Statement by one of cinema’s great auteurs, it’s a masterfully-crafted piece of pop entertainment.

And sometimes, that’s all that’s called for.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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Retro Review: WAKE IN FRIGHT: Witness the Birth of the Australian New Wave Digitally Restored at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema

Posted on: Dec 8th, 2012 By:

WAKE IN FRIGHT (1971); Dir: Ted Kotcheff; Starring Gary Bond, Donald Pleasence and Chips Rafferty; Through Dec. 13 at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Dec. 14-20 at The Plaza Theatre. Trailer here; Tickets here (visit website for prices and showtimes).

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

“Have a drink, mate? Have a fight, mate? Have some dust and sweat, mate? There’s nothing else out here.”
WAKE IN FRIGHT poster tagline

The 1970s and 1980s were ground zero for a renaissance in Australian filmmaking. Beginning December 7, Landmark Midtown Art Cinema offers a rare chance for you to witness one of the groundbreaking films that sparked that boom: Ted Kotcheff’s 1971 film WAKE IN FRIGHT.

In the late 1960s, the film industry in Australia was basically nonexistent. To remedy this, John Gorton (Australia’s Prime Minster from 1968-1971) set into motion several policies and governmental agencies to promote local filmmaking. Sensing a need for native Australian film, local production companies began collaborating with outside studios in the first few years of Gorton’s administration, the most notable results being Michael Powell’s AGE OF CONSENT (1969), Tony Richardson’s NED KELLY (1970), Nicolas Roeg’s WALKABOUT (1971) and Ted Kotcheff’s WAKE IN FRIGHT.

Both Powell’s and Richardson’s films were critical and commercial failures, and as a result, didn’t contribute much to the notion of Australia as a hotbed of cinematic activity. Roeg’s WALKABOUT, on the other hand, was a critical and commercial triumph, yet its authenticity as a truly representative Australian film was in dispute immediately upon release. It was based on a novel by British author James Vance Marshall, featured a screenplay written by British playwright Edward Bond, was directed by British director Nic Roeg, starred his son alongside British actress Jenny Agutter, was produced by American businessmen Max Raab and Si Litvinoff (whose production company was incorporated in Australia), financed with funds raised in America and distributed by US-based company 20th Century Fox.

WAKE IN FRIGHT, however, sported a much more authentic Aussie pedigree. Whereas WALKABOUT used the Australian outback as primarily a vehicle for Roeg’s surreal vision, WAKE IN FRIGHT engaged the oppressive landscape as almost a character in itself. Based on the 1961 novel by Australian journalist Kenneth Cook and based on his own experiences, the screenplay by British writer Evan Jones—who consulted with Cook on its creation—hewed as closely to the original text as possible. The story finds a young schoolteacher from the city, John Grant (Gary Bond), posted to a tiny school in the outback town of Tiboonda. As the Christmas holiday begins, he plans to take a flight to Sydney to visit his girlfriend, but finds himself waylaid at a train station in the nearby mining town of Bundanyabba (aka “the Yabba”) as he waits to make the flight. After getting sucked into the hard-drinking ways of the townspeople, he loses his money gambling, loses his chance to make his plane…and slowly begins to lose his mind.

Jack Thompson in WAKE IN FRIGHT (1971), Drafthouse Films.

The screenplay was initially to be filmed in 1963 by Joseph Losey, with whom Jones had collaborated on the ’63 Hammer film THE DAMNED. A lack of financial backing doomed the project, and the screenplay was kicked around for nearly a decade. In 1968, Jones collaborated with Canadian director Ted Kotcheff (FIRST BLOOD, UNCOMMON VALOR, NORTH DALLAS FORTY) and felt that the director would be a good match for the screenplay. Kotcheff fell in love with the script, and immediately set about the business of raising funds and casting the film.

Kotcheff arrived with his family in Australia in 1969, determined to soak up Aussie culture in order to more realistically depict the people and locations described in the novel and screenplay. With his assistant director Howard Rubie, Kotcheff explored the worlds of illegal casinos, kangaroo hunters, Returned Services League veterans’ clubs, and the blue-collar pubs of dock workers and the like. As Kotcheff related to Australia’s National Film & Sound Archive, the pair sought out the kind of places “whose clientele clock off work at 6 a.m. and are heavily into the drinking by 9 a.m.—we did a lot of drinking.”

In many cases, it takes an outsider’s eye to catch details or present a perspective that might be glossed over by one more familiar with a place or subject. In this instance, Ted Kotcheff perfectly captures the bleakness of life in the outback before the internet, decent roads and efficient train and plane travel increased connectivity. In this much larger world, everything and everyone bakes in the 100-degree weather, and dust coats every surface. Likewise, an attitude of aggressive friendliness also coats the culture of drinking, gambling and game hunting that pervades the community. And in the Yabba, the mateship and seemingly out-of-place Christmas decorations also mask the sinister and menacing eye cast upon the outsider in its midst.

Donald Pleasance in WAKE IN FRIGHT (1971) Drafthouse Films.

The film opened in Sydney to worldwide acclaim. Ted Kotcheff was nominated for the Palm D’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival, and the film was tremendously commercially successful in France and Great Britain. However, it failed to find an audience in Australia. Said co-star Jack Thompson in the 2008 documentary NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF OZPLOITATION!, “Australians at the time didn’t want to see it (the film) as Australia. People would walk away saying ‘That’s not us. We don’t behave like that.’” Kotcheff counters, “As a foreigner, you see things that Australians take for granted or accept as part of the dailiness of their life. They don’t see what’s eccentric or idiosyncratic about their life.”

However, the critical and (at least overseas) commercial success of WAKE IN FRIGHT and WALKABOUT lent credence to the notion that Australia was indeed a place to be taken seriously as a cinematic force. Jack Thompson confirms this, saying “What they provided was the knowledge for would-be Australian filmmakers that we had the ability to tell tales about ourselves in a way that was dynamic and interesting.”

In the wake of these early films came what would be known as the Australian New Wave of cinema, producing such soon-to-be-internationally-known talents as directors Peter Weir, Bruce Beresford, John Duigan and Fred Schepisi. The exploitative elements of WAKE IN FRIGHT (released stateside as OUTBACK) also proved to be influential in the development of what would later be known as “Ozsploitation.” Filmmakers such as George Miller, Russell Mulcahy and Richard Franklin seized upon the needs of the action and horror marketplace that was opened up by WAKE IN FRIGHT with films like MAD MAX, MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR, RAZORBACK and ROAD GAMES. Echoes of WAKE IN FRIGHT’s depiction of building dread can be found in films as recent as Aussie Greg Mclean’s 2005 film WOLF CREEK.

For years, the film WAKE IN FRIGHT was thought to be essentially lost. While it was released on VHS in the US, prints of the film were nearly impossible to find. 16mm prints of the movie were found, but were in poor condition for screening. The only full 35mm print of the movie, which was found in Dublin, was deemed to be of insufficient quality for commercial release. The film’s editor, Anthony Buckley, began searching for the film’s original elements in 1996. After years and years of false leads, prolonged negotiations with foreign rights holders and digging through cut and mangled prints of the movie, Buckley found the original film negatives in a shipping container marked “For Destruction.” Were it not for his efforts, the film would be nearly impossible to see today. Australia’s National Film & Sound Archive completed a full digital restoration in 2009, and premiered the new print at the Sydney Film Festival that year. It was later selected by Martin Scorsese as a Cannes Classic and was screened at that year’s Cannes Film Festival—with Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’AVVENTURA, it is one of only two films to ever be screened twice at Cannes.

Brutal in its honesty, bleak in its vision and startlingly original in its approach, WAKE IN FRIGHT is a long-hidden masterpiece of cinema, ranking with the best of the Australian New Wave and transcending even that pigeonholing. It’s where the Australian filmmaking renaissance started, and set a nearly impossible standard for all that followed.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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As Real As It Gets: Cinema and Reality Blur in Mike Malloy’s EUROCRIME!, A Fascinating Look Behind the Scenes of the ’70s Italian Cop/Gangster Movie Genre

Posted on: Mar 26th, 2012 By:

By Philip Nutman
Contributing Writer

A labor of love for Atlanta filmmaker, Mike Malloy, who researched, wrote, directed, produced, edited  and even contributed a small amount of instrumental funk to the score, EUROCRIME! THE ITALIAN COP AND GANGSTER FILMS THAT RULED THE ’70s screens at the Atlanta Film Festival on Friday, March 30 at 7 p.m. at the Landmark Midtown Art CinemaEUROCRIME! is a  feature-length cinema documentary concerning the violent Italian ‘poliziotteschi’ (a literal translation is “policesque”) cinematic movement of the 1970s which, at first glance, seem to be rip-offs of American cop/crime films like DIRTY HARRY or THE GODFATHER, but which really address Italian issues like the Sicilian Mafia and red terrorism.

What sets these movies apart from American cop movies of the era were the rushed methods of production (stars performing their own stunts, stealing shots, no live sound) and the dangerous bleed-over between real-life crime and movie crime. EUROCRIME! is an excellent, exhaustively researched, fascinating chronicle of this action-packed sub-genre of low budget Italian cinema.

ATLRetro scored an exclusive interview with the busy movie maker earlier this week.

ATLRetro:  What inspired you to make EUROCRIME?

Mike Malloy: I got my first book contract – to write a cinema biography [of Spaghetti Western star Lee Van Cleef] – when I was 19, and over the next decade, I was slowly but surely building a career for myself writing for movie magazines [(FLAUNT, FILMFAX, VIDEO WATCHDOG, etc] and for newspapers [AP, Knight-Ridder, SUNDAY PAPER]. Then, one morning in 2007, I woke up and learned that the whole world had apparently decided overnight that film journalism was no longer going to be a paying profession. So I decided to try to parlay my film commentary into cinema documentaries.

The Eurocrime genre was my cinematic fascination at the time, so I made a three-minute demo video, and a colleague got it in front of an acquisitions VP at a major cable broadcaster. They said they’d be interested in buying the broadcast premiere if I could get it made. That allowed me to jump headlong into the project.

Mike Malloy dons a police badge himself in an acting role. Photo courtesy of Mike Malloy.

Looking back, I see what caused me to fall so madly in love with Eurocrime movies. I love cinema that rings true to life. And it may seem strange to say this, considering the Eurocrime genre’s over-the-top violence and action, but these movies are about as real as it gets. And that’s because of the way they were made. Sometimes the organized crime down in Naples got involved in producing these films, so you got a pretty hairy blurring of real-life crime and movie crime. And because the leading men of these films – even big international stars – performed their own dangerous stunts, the action had a certain authenticity to it too.

How long did it take to make EUROCRIME!?

Getting the interest from the broadcaster launched me on a four-year odyssey. I know nothing about raising money, and I was in a bad place to do it anyway, as these movies weren’t experiencing the revival here in Atlanta that they were in places like Los Angeles and Austin. So I just did the doc on my own, basically, with a few small private investments and with some help from some colleagues who also loved these movies. And I ended up starting the project Standard Definition and starting over midway as HD, teaching myself all the necessary editing and VFX software along the way.

Having no real budget meant that most of the things that other pop-culture docs farm out – like stylish, graphics-oriented opening credits sequences – I just had to do myself. In fact, because I realized that many of our filmmaker interviews were shot on the fly and with less-than-ideal circumstances, I wanted to compensate by creating as many graphics, montages and other touches of style as possible.

I started the doc in my living room and finished it in the upstairs of my fiancée’s parents house, as this project even cost me my ability to pay my rent for a while!

How did you obtain all the amazing footage (in addition to all the great interviews)?

These films have gotten some pretty great-looking DVD releases in other parts of the world. So it’s a matter of finding those good-looking releases, than finding cruddy-looking gray-market copies of the same films with English dialogue, then matching up the good-looking print and the English audio. Of course, NTSC (North American) and PAL (European) video run at different speeds, so it takes plenty of trial-and-error adjustments to sync it.

We also were very grateful to receive some 8mm home movie footage from one of our interviewees – John Dulaney. And we got some other cool materials from people like Italian cinema documentarian Federico Caddeo.

Wasn’t Quentin Tarantino supposed to be involved at some point?

We were interested in interviewing him regarding the important part he played in the revival of these movies, setting up Eurocrime screenings at The New Beverly inLos Angeles, the Alamo Drafthouse in Austinand at events like The Venice Film Festival. He said yes a couple times to the project, but we never could make it happen.

What’s next for you?

I’m now in production on PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND: THE STORY OF THE ’80s HOME VIDEO BOOM. And I’d like to do DAVID CARRADINE: THE LOST AUTEUR.

Where would intrigued viewers of the doc go to find these movies?

Last time I checked, Videodrome on North Avenue had a Eurocrime section. And the longtime Italian DVD company, RaroVideo, just started releasing some of their titles in theU.S.last year -movies like THE ITALIAN CONNECTION and LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN. And for years now, the U.S. DVD label Blue Underground has been championing Eurocrime movies in the U.S., releasing films like STREET LAW and THE BIG RACKET. All these titles from Raro and Blue Underground are available through Netflix, too.

Contributing write Philip Nutman, is a long-time film journalist, author, screenwriter and occasional director. He recently produced the forthcoming, controversial zombie love story, ABED, in Michigan.

 

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