By Any Means Necessary 2014

This is a follow-up to a piece I posted in 2012 to list, and also remind myself to take advantage of as many ways to watch movies as I possibly could. Well, much as time does not stand still neither does technology and there are many more options now.

Recently, among many other changes in my home, I also got a Roku. Aside from streaming membership sites there are also myriad free channels that I have recently added to my homepage.

As opposed to just one post wherein I will list many options for myself and others to consider I will post this as a series after I have adequately tried a new channel or other means of watching films. More to come.

Poverty Row April: Tomorrow’s Children (1934)

This film definitely falls under the noteworthy category rather than a necessarily good one. It’s an exploitation film about forced castration implemented in many states when the Eugenics movement took hold. However, with the choices made by the story and the way its conveyed it makes it a bit murky as to whether this is pro- or anti-eugenics film. Either way it’s eye-opening short feature.

Watch it at the link below.

Tomorrow’s Children

Short Film Saturday: Mickey’s Race (1933)

This is a selection that is fitting not only in light of Mickey Rooney‘s recent passing, but it also plays into my Poverty Row April theme.

This is purportedly the last of the series of Mickey McGuire shorts (back when Rooney was credited as such) that he starred in while not signed with a major studio. The story is simple escapist fare and fairly humorous. It’s more noteworthy because I had not yet seen one of these shorts. Enjoy!

View the film here.

Poverty Row April: Officer Thirteen (1932)

In this year’s Poverty Row April post I said I’d dedicate Sundays to sharing features. However, I missed last week so I will get two up this weekend.

When I found out that this was available from Alpha Home Video I did not find it on the Internet Archive. It has surfaced since I saw it. This film features early performances by both Mickey Rooney and Jackie Searl.

The film deals with a cop who seeks vigilante justice when the system won’t find solutions. It’s a surprisingly effective title.

To view the film go here.

Blu-ray Review: Mysterious Skin (2004)

Film

The IMDb synopsis of the film describes this film as follows:

“A teenage hustler and a young man obsessed with alien abductions cross paths, together discovering a horrible, liberating truth.”

That’s about as dull a point as can be put on it without going too far into it.

This is a film that I had only truly written about once in the past. When compiling, to the best of my ability, and within the realm of what I had seen; the best films of the past decade. I wrote this about this film:

One of the most disturbing yet most captivating tales of the decade which creates a great plot around the subterfuge of memory. It also tells the disparate tales of two kids now grown with a shared traumatic childhood experience. This is the film that allowed Joseph Gordon-Levitt to break out of his sitcom persona and become a giant of the independent film scene.

That is certainly only beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to this film. Perhaps what is the most captivating thing about this film is not just the emotional resonance, or the parallel structures of seemingly disparate stories, but the fact that it stays with you, and also leaves the characters in a place that doesn’t finish their whole story, but rather concludes what needs telling.

When the dust settles, and this was certainly true this time, it becomes apparent that some of the seeming-meandering (although still effective) is all deftly building and exploring character throughout. Neil’s pains are more below the surface, he doesn’t show them, but his is a more difficult arc to write and perform because his character is the one who doesn’t misremember his past but has an interpretation of it that both helps him cope but to an extent poisons his present.

I think what was re-affirmed in this re-watching of the film is that its impact the first time around is one that will not be equaled upon review whether you see the finale coming or not. It’s also proof that whether the subterfuge of memory fools you or not it’s a harrowing and effective narrative regardless.

As will be demonstrated through some of the special features, Araki’s direction of this tale is sure-handed and allows a sensitivity and insight to exude this tale usurping its brutal and harrowing moments cutting to the heart and soul of the characters at the core of this tale. They are characters we don’t always fully understand but when we do the empathy overflows, and through some of their questionable choices and actions they are still watchable.

It’s a film that’s still very highly recommended to all (of suitable age to see it). If you are unfamiliar with the film I’d recommend you find a way to rent it before committing. For fans of the film already either the Blu-ray or the DVD are a steal for all the bonus content you get regarding the crafting of this magnificent film – the Blu-ray offering clearly superior imagery.

Bonus Features

Here I will specifically discuss the bonus features included on the new Deluxe Blu-ray.

Introduction by Director Gregg Araki

Mysterious Skin (2004, Strand Releasing)

Sometimes having an introduction to a movie can be a great thing and really set you up well for what you’re about to experience. You need not feel guilty if you skip the intro for later consumption. Araki does discuss all the fortuitous breaks that made the film what it is but does not offer any greater insight in this short snippet.

Interview with Brady Corbet and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Mysterious Skin (2004, Strand Releasing)

This is perhaps the gem of the bonus features. I won’t give it away by enumerating the surprises in store but will rather say it’s great to hear their thoughts on the film ten years later, the intelligent discussion that they have, and that they frequently talk to one another as if there is no interviewer there.

Script/Sketch Gallery

Mysterious Skin (2004, Strand Releasing)

One thing the actors talk about is Gregg Araki knowing what shots would end up in the cut – the clarity of his vision. This is illustrated here with his crude storyboards on script pages mapping the film’s conclusion.

Deleted Scenes

Mysterious Skin (2004, Strand Releasing)

Deleted scenes usually should be deleted. However, they never fail to fascinate and often can be illuminating and rarely educational. Here you get a rare example as you see dailies of how the toughest parts of the story were handled. Illustrating the fine direction and editing the film had, and that the very young actors really weren’t fully aware of what the scenes were about (yet Chase Ellison and George Webster are still fantastic), but rather the Kuleshov effect and other editing techniques that filled in the blanks.

Mysterious Skin Book Reading

Mysterious Skin (1996, Harper Collins)

A very cool touch is that you get to see Brady Corbet an Joseph Gordon-Levitt read the opening chapters of their characters’ story out of the novel upon which the film is based. A fitting feature.

Author Scott Heim Reflects on the Adaptaion

Scott Heim (2008, Harper Collins)

The author discusses how in tune he and Araki were, and also how he was allowed more involvement than most writers are on film adaptations of their novels.

Photo Gallery

Mysterious Skin (2004, Strand Releasing)

A good look a probably more stills of the shoot than you can find anywhere. Proof of the upbeat atmosphere Araki created in spite of the content of the film.

Actors’ Audition Tape

Mysterious Skin (2004, Strand Releasing)

I always love to see this included. No, they’re not always earth-shattering obvious examples of why so-and-so got a part. However, it’s interesting for the layman, filmmakers and actors. You see unfinished renditions of these characters, the raw material of the performances were already present, and how much was being done with the actors having nothing to play off of.

Isolated Score and Effects Track

Mysterious Skin (2004, Strand Releasing)

This is not a feature that’s done very often but it can be very cool and informative. You can see how the score works independently, as usually it’s about a seamless marriage; and also some effects work you may have missed with everything else going on.

Commentary Track

Mysterious Skin (2004, Strand Releasing)

If you listened to the commentary track on the original DVD release this is the very same one. It features writer/director Gregg Araki and stars Brady Corbet and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Since they all do help to contribute new material to this Blu-ray release this recycling is perfectly fine. In spite of the self-conscious and self-deprecating nature of the commentary track there are useful pieces of information conveyed and it is entertaining. Despite jokes to the contrary I did listen to the whole thing.

Trailer

Mysterious Skin (2004, Strand Releasing)

When a trailer is the only real bonus feature it’s a throwaway, when it’s added with all these other bonuses it’s the cherry on top.

Film Score: 10/10
Bonus Feature Score 10/10

Mysterious Skin is now available on Blu-Ray from Strand Releasing.

Poverty Row April: Phantom (1931)

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old Poverty Row April post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically depending on the theme. Enjoy!

Phantom (1931)

Of all the four films being added to this post today this one is the most debilitatingly dull. As will become a theme, there is a criminal here referred to as The Phantom. Here, however, it’s an escaped con. The set-up is a bit clunky and awkward, whether just establishing facts or in attempting misdirection. The angering thing here is that this film takes a nosedive in pace from the mid-point forward, and completely disengages.

2/10

In Memoriam: Mickey Rooney

Rather than a trite listing of credits, and a recitation of his significance to the film world like his Juvenile Award, having screen credits in 10 consecutive decades and only having four years since 1926 without a role, I’d rather provide a list of films Mickey Rooney was in that greatly have affected my life, as someone who has a great affection for him but believed that I’d not seen many of his works.

The Muppets (2011)

The Muppets (2011, Disney)

One of the many smiles this film provided is his cameo.

Night at the Museum (2006)

Night at the Museum (2006, 20th Century Fox)

I have incorporated the term “weirdy” into my vernacular based on one of his lines in this film.

Phantom of the Megaplex (2000)

No, this is not one of those good DCOMS. However, who better to play an aged theater employee who loves the movies than Mickey. He certainly wasn’t holding it back any.


The Care Bears Movie (1985)

The Care Bears Movie (1985, Samuel Goldwyn Company)

The Care Bears were a big thing for me growing up, and the fact that Mickey was a voice in the cast was not lost on me when I was revisiting this film as an adult. His kindly character affected me when I was young.

The Fox and the Hound (1981)

The Fox and the Hound (1981, Dinsey)

It’s not an oft talked about Disney title, but I think this one marked all the kids who grew up seeing it.

The Black Stallion (1979)

The Black Stallion (1979, United Artists)

Not one I knew as a kid, but a film that has been with me a while. And though the nature of the film does shift Rooney’s role is memorable if the horse racing aspect is not the ideal.

Pete’s Dragon (1977)

Pete's Dragon (1977, Disney)

I didn’t even see this film until I was older and Lampie is huge part of what makes it work.

The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)

The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974, Rankin/Bass)

It never even really sank in until now that this was also him. There you go, Mickey is part of virtually everyone’s childhood just based on that alone.

Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970)

Santa Claus is Comin' To Town (1970, Rankin/Bass)

And again…

Andy Hardy Films

Mickey Rooney and Deanna Durbin

Not sure how many I’ve seen at this point, but have a box of them I need to get to.

Boys Town (1938)/Men of Boys Town (1941)

Boys Town (1938, MGM)

—-

Rooney has influenced many through the generations and with his expansive filmography it’s unlikely his influence will see an end. May he rest in peace.

Something I’ve seen more recently. Goes from the tough guy who can grate on you but has a heart of gold to a role model for the other wayward boys coming into Father Flanagan’s fold.

Captains Courageous (1937)

Captains Courageous (1937, MGM)

One of his wonderful pairings with Freddie Batholomew.

The Devil is a Sissy (1936)

The Devil is a Sissy (1936, MGM)

Three of the biggest young stars of their era (Rooney, Cooper and Bartholomew) on screen together, and one of the first titles I had to have from Warner Archive.

Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936)

Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936, Selznick)_3

One of my favorite tear-jerking tales, and one of my favorites from the era.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935)

A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935, Warner Bros.)

The first version of this story I saw of any kind. He remains Puck in my mind.

Officer Thirteen (1932)

A Poverty Row production when he was still be credited as Mickey McGuire that’s one of the standout older titles I’ve come to discover this year.

—–

It’s clear that many of Rooney’s titles have influenced me, and many more have influenced others. With his expansive career it’s unlikely that his influence will see an end. May he rest in peace.

Review: Forgetting the Girl

When I heard that Film Movement was starting a “genre film” off-shoot called Ram Releasing, of course, I was excited to see what they’re offering. If you play close attention to my blog posts you’ll see that Film Movement has had quite an impact on my year-end lists and awards as of late. Of course, it being Film Movement I should have known that even “genre film” has a loose definition. And I meant that in the best way possible. The first announced releases sound interesting, and the first I got to see, Forgetting the Girl, toes a few genre lines.

Forgetting the Girl
concerns Kevin Wolfe (Christopher Denham) and his struggle to forget certain traumatic dating experiences and other painful memories. It does quite a few things such that not all are apparent right away. Firstly, and most recently coming to light, it slyly dabbles with found footage technique in the guise of confessional videos to be viewed if such and such occurs. However, conventional, and even unconventional cinematic technique are not abandoned and there are artful transitions in time and between scenes, parallel character structures and even implied off-screen occurrences.

Essentially, what you get are psychological self-examinations of two characters. Yes, two for Jamie, played brilliantly by Lindsay Beamish, comes into the fold and plays a significant role in the film and breaks the myopia of the film some.

Now, while the technique question is one thing, the genres are another. Clearly there is a dramatic tenor to the film as a whole with a serious and honest self-examination by two characters who acknowledge they have mental disturbances, but may not realize to what extent those issues pervade their being and activities. However, when the litany and history of Kevin’s relationships falls by the wayside and the narrative focuses more so on one relationship there will be slight mystery/thriller aspect added to the film.

The film impact ends up being not in surprising you, but in anticipating the culmination which you kind of see coming and how the characters deal with and discuss their fate. The film eschews simple explication scenes either quickly in montages or by excising them completely. This may create some holes, gaps and questions which are just merely niggling doubts and invite re-viewing. However, they do heighten the anticipated impact and serve the goal.

Forgetting the Girl is some ways experimental and its results will vary with viewers. I found myself somewhere in the middle range. However, I love the challenging and bravado that this flagship film offers. If it’s a harbinger for the kinds of films Ram Releasing will try and bring forth to winder North American viewership, I am all for it.

7/10

Review- Mission: Sputnik

One of the cornerstone moments in world history, at least during my upbringing, was the Fall of the Berlin Wall, and subsequently the Eastern Bloc. It was one of the first significant moments I was witness to on live television (and one of the early coups of the 24-hour-news network). As a child I understood its significance but its oncoming always seemed a bit of a mystery. What lead up to it all. Later, I would learn that it was nearly as sudden as it seemed.

It’s with such a youthful kind of eye that Mission: Sputnik tells its tale about children in the waining days of the Berlin Wall’s dividing Germany. The two keys to its success are the whimsy with which the tale is conveyed and the cloistered nature of the central characters; siphoning them from the adult/outside world allows them to believe more wondrous things are happening than actually are.

What this all alludes to is the mission that Frederike (Flora Thiemann) embarks on when her uncle Mike (Jacob Matschenz) is expelled from the GDR. She decides to amp up her experiments with teleportation to bring him back home with the help of her friends, with the backdrop of the Stasi cracking down on her hometown leading up to the town festival, which coincidentally falls on November 9th, 1989.

These experiments are inspired by an East German sci-fi show the kids watch, and allows a great balance in this film between childlike belief and innocence and perception. Another balancing act that occurs is between the comedic, fanciful aspect and the more dramatic moments with regards to fleeing East Berlin and the consequences of staying in town.

While there are clearly tropes at play here in this film it’s how they’re implemented here and what they play up against that make a majority of the difference between this film and standard family fare is made. Clearly, any film stretching the limits (at least a bit) of suspension of disbelief not only needs the proper touches in scoring, the editing room and direction, but also needs standouts in the cast. You get that here with the parents Yvonne Catterfeld and Maxim Mehmet and the kids Thiemann, Finn Fiebig, Luca Johanssen and Emil von Schönfels.

Another testament to this film is that despite the running time being brisk, coming in under 90 minutes, it does not feel too short or contradictorily languid. Its pacing is right on the money. This allows the film to be quick and enjoyable while the treatment and themes elevate it, giving it substance and fancy.

More often than not it is in our fictions that our histories live. Our fictions do not define our histories but they do pass them on and begin the discussions with future generations. The children playing the central characters in this film were likely not born in the 20th century, but are conveying a tale set against the fall of the Berlin Wall to their generation, and perhaps future ones. It’s a film worthy of starting the discussion because of how it treats the subject with a childish gaze of half-understanding through a maelstrom of oncoming sociopolitical upheaval.

9/10

Poverty Row April 2014

I’m a bit late in discussing it, however, a series I started last year is back. Poverty Row was a strip of independent studios on the outskirts of Los Angeles. These studios thrived, relatively speaking, during the dawn of the sound era. I partook in a marathon of these films last year in part to research a personal writing project.

Many of the titles I downloaded remained unwatched, and my interest has not wained. Thus, I decided to bring the theme back – in a different way than last year. I will try to find four new and worthy titles of being featured on Sundays. If nothing good is seen during the week the most noteworthy title will be profiled.

Some of last year’s viewings did affect the best older films list so I do find films I like in this theme and hope to find some more. I highly recommend you read Povery Row Studios for a fuller picture of these companies than reviews and comments can provide. Virtually all the films I feature will have been seen on The Internet Archive. Happy viewing to all!