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Ozu, Warner Archive, "Alamar," Anti-Biopics

"By 1936, the year of Yasujiro Ozu's first feature-length talkie, The Only Son, the mature filmmaker of late masterpieces like Tokyo Story and Early Summer had become clearly recognizable, both from an aesthetic and thematic standpoint," writes Andrew Schenker in Slant. "As David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson explain on one of this set's bonus features, Ozu's earlier, silent work tended toward the comic and experimented with a range of styles — an impression confirmed by Criterion's Eclipse series Silent Ozu: Three Family Comedies. His 1936 offering, by contrast, finds the director in free command of his signature aesthetic (fixed-take camera setups often shot through windows and doorways; measured pacing, punctuated by silences and striking 'empty' imagery) and already fully engaged with his signature themes (familial sacrifice and disappointment, resignation to one's circumstances)."

The Only Son (more from Ozu-san.com) is now out on DVD from Criterion, coupled with Ozu's There Was a Father (1942; Ozu-san.com), "a resolutely masculine film that treats the unbreakable bond between a father and his son as symbolic of national unity and resolve," writes Tony Rayns for Current. "By 1942, as war casualties mounted, there were plenty of young Japanese men who needed to be reassured that 'Father' knew best." The film "bites the bullet of national policy by foregrounding the nation's expectations of its dutiful 'sons.'"

Rayns also has a piece on The Only Son; more on both films from Sean Axmaker. And a reminder: The Ozu retrospective is on at the IFC Center in New York through November 7.

 

WARNER ARCHIVE


Sam Fuller's Verboten! "was the last film produced by RKO, and the studio was out of the distribution business by the time it was ready for release," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "It has been bouncing around ever since, only fitfully visible. But now it has been released by Warner Home Video as one of three newly remastered titles in the burn-on-demand Warner Archive Collection.... It's mostly from Fuller, I suspect, that Godard acquired the central premise of his work: that a film is not a closed, perfect, self-contained object, but something necessarily open, messy and incomplete, successful to the extent that its unfinished, imperfect quality engages and challenges a viewer."

"Rarities From the Warner Archive Collection, a 19-film program starting Friday at the Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum in Westwood, is of great interest on a number of levels," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "It runs the gamut from a 1927 silent that stars John Barrymore (When a Man Loves) to 1958's Too Much Too Soon, which explores the actor's real-life relationship with his daughter Diana and stars a poignant Errol Flynn as the 'Great Profile' himself. The series came about as an offshoot of Warner's welcome decision to begin releasing — as on-demand DVDs — the literally thousands of titles in the studio vaults that have never been available in this format. The studio donated copies of these DVDs to UCLA's research collection, and this series features 35mm prints of the best and most interesting of the more than 600 titles donated so far."

R Emmet Sweeney, writing for TCM, is finding it "impossible to keep up" with these "premium-priced burned-on-demand DVDs" from the Warner Archive. But he has picked up "Robert Aldrich's final film, ...All the Marbles (1981). Released in a strong transfer, which faithfully reproduces Joseph Biroc's elegiac grey-blue photography of industrial decline, it is, without hyperbole, the greatest women's wrestling movie of all time. Please correct me if I'm wrong."

 

MORE DVDS


Back to Dave Kehr: "For an example of formally closed, classical filmmaking, you can't do much better than Chicago, the original 1927 film of the Broadway hit (by Maurine Watkins) that eventually yielded the eternal musical.... Long thought lost, Chicago was discovered in a near-perfect print in the DeMille archive and positively glows in this gorgeous disc from Flicker Alley."





More from Michael Atkinson at IFC.com, where he also writes: "A laconic, creepy, Danish-Coen-brothers cascade of pure trouble, Henrik Ruben Genz's Terribly Happy is a terrific example of a film traveling well-worn style and content paths and yet somehow never striking us as clichéd or even tired." Out from Oscilloscope Laboratories. And for Movieline: Breck Eisner's "new reboot of George A Romero's The Crazies is the right kind of remake — the kind that endeavors to squeeze every drop of acid out of its potent scenario, execution-wise, in ways Romero rarely could."

 

OPENING TODAY


"In Alamar, a luminous semi-documentary film that plays on the border of reality and fiction, Natan Machado Palombini, a young boy, goes on an enchanted expedition with his father to the Banco Chinchorro, the largest coral reef in Mexico." Stephen Holden in the NYT: "The bonding of the son and his father, Jorge Machado, a lean, mustachioed Mexican fisherman who will return Natan to his Italian mother at the end of the trip, portrays a tender, ritualistic passing of knowledge, experience and love from one generation to the next."

More from Steve Erickson (Gay City News), Michael Koresky (Reverse Shot), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York, where Keith Uhlich interviews director Pedro González-Rubio; so, too, do Eric Hynes for Reverse Shot and Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail), Andrew Schenker (Slant), James van Maanen and Alison Willmore (IFC).

"We've come to a point where we ask very, very, very little — and usually receive even less — from blockbusters," writes TONY's David Fear, reviewing Jon Turteltaub's The Sorcerer's Apprentice. "Wow us with a few cool-looking creatures and keep the bodily-function gags at tolerable levels. By those pitiful standards, this Disney-sponsored mediocrity — about a wizard ([Nicolas] Cage) and his reluctant ward ([Jay] Baruchel) who must, naturally, save the world from evil — succeeds.... Other than the Pottersploitation and presence of current It nerd Baruchel, this fantasy-action-comedy might have been spat out into multiplexes any summer over the previous two decades, yet it would seem like forgettable abracadabra filler regardless of the date."

More from Simon Abrams (Slant), Josef Braun, Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Peter Martin (Cinematical), Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Matt Prigge (Philadelphia Weekly), Tasha Robinson (AV Club), AO Scott (NYT) and Scott Tobias (NPR).

 

ANTI-BIOPICS


"There is no shortage of botched biopics, but there is an equally long (if less noticed) history of innovations, alternative approaches and avoidance strategies when it comes to screen biographies," writes Dennis Lim in the NYT. "Anti-Biopics, a 20-film series at Anthology Film Archives in the East Village that begins Wednesday and continues through Aug 1, brings together a range of movies — several rarely screened and currently unavailable on DVD — that resist the traps of the conventional biopic."





To pluck an example from Nick Pinkerton's overview in the Voice: "Peter Watkins's Edvard Munch (1974) concentrates on its subjects' social context as much as his life in the years from 1884 through 1895. Heading a cast of recruited amateurs, Geir Westby's Munch is a spectral presence in his own story, a wallflower in Christiania bohemia who speaks through his diaries. Stretches of this three-hour project seem like dry timeline — but as memories return, fugue-like, one feels Munch's anxious, mounting sense of life as an unbearable accumulation of sensations."

And the New Yorker's Richard Brody on The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach: "The directors Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub, relying on a fictional account by Johann Sebastian Bach's second wife of the contours of the composer's life, get to the heart of his art by way of their own artistry."

 

MORE FESTS AND EVENTS


"Today the Cinémathèque Française will celebrate Bastille Day by showing one of the strangest movies the programmers could have picked — sort of the Monty Python's Flying Circus of the 1910s." David Bordwell: "Le Pied qui étreint (1916), directed by Jacques Feyder, is a four-part parody of the crime serial. The title translates as 'The Clutching Foot,' and as if that weren't a clear enough signal, Gaumont's announcement in the trade press set the tone: 'A sensational film in 1979 episodes–assembled in four installments without any dull spots.'"

"Film Forum's Hollywood on the Hudson series — tied in to a new paperback edition of Richard Koszarski's history of the same name — isn't really much more than a grab-bag of early-30s fare, united solely by provenance." Vadim Rizov for the L Magazine: "Koszarki's book makes clear that making early sound films in New York was not a task for the foolhardy; the city had to prove its technical facility and capabilities time and time again.... That difficulty doesn't come through in all the programmed films, which cover the full early-sound gamut from the surprisingly slick to the patchy. Nonetheless, it's a far-from-unwelcome grab-bag of films, mostly anomalous but fascinating novelties." Through August 10.

"'There was always sex in Hollywood,' Sam Wasson writes in the introduction to his new book, Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. 'But before Breakfast at Tiffany's, only the bad girls were having it.'" The LA Weekly's Karina Longworth: "Equal parts production history and biography, creative nonfiction and cultural critique, 5 A.M. is most fascinating as an examination of how Hollywood's institutionally mandated, self-censoring Production Code was slowly eroded from within, in part by Audrey Hepburn's heavily-coded call girl." Wasson will be on hand for a Q&A following tonight's screening of Breakfast at Tiffany's at the Aero.

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Mac
Claiming that Aldrich’s …All the Marbles is anything but a piece of middlebrow garbage is beyond revisionist; it’s perverse. That’s like visiting Bakerfield and claiming that it’s an undiscovered gem of the West. No, it’s not. It’s exactly what it appears to be at first sight: nowhere containing nothing.
I guess “middlebrow” is the latest slogan of lazy critical shorthand. Ironically, this kind of comment usually comes from people whose tastes in film are what may be described as the very definition of “middlebrow”. Fans of Haneke and Reygadas and their middlebrow ilk.

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