Favorite Older Films First Viewed in 2013 (Part 5 of 5)

This is a list I first saw on Rupert Pupkin Speaks. The idea is to list your favorite films from the past year that you saw for the first time, but exclude new releases. This allows much more variety and creates a lot of great suggestions if you read many of them.

Since I tracked these films much more closely this year my list grew long. I will occasionally combine selections by theme, but there is enough for five posts. These choices are in no particular order.

Enjoy!

Veronika Voss (1982)

Veronika-Voss

Yes, this is more Fassbinder and more of the BRD trilogy (two-thirds of it on this massive list). The BRD Trilogy through female protagonists tells tales of Post-War Germany and the repercussions it had for many years.

This particular tale takes place in Munich 1955 where a sports journalist meets Veronika Voss, a woman now hooked on painkillers who purportedly had an affair with Goebbles.

This film delves into quite a few aspects of the war, as well as the post war era and offers interesting commentaries on the Nazi link with the German film industry.

Mirage (2004)

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Later this year, with regard to In Bloom and the other films from former Soviet states that I was watching, I came to realize that there is a wave of new postcolonial cinema that has been blossoming worldwide since the fall of the Soviet Union, and the Eastern Bloc in general. While it was those films that pointed it out to me it has been illuminated for some time, and this an early example.

This is a Macedonian film, and was an Oscar submission in its own right the year it came out. It successfully connects coming-of-age tropes with a burgeoning nationhood. A nationhood that’s not conducive to hope; one that glorifies the outside world and presents only violence and pain within its borders. The fact that this tale marries fantasy and reality is also a comment on the perception of both the local environment and the world at large, and a powerful statement.

Duma (2005)

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If there’s one thing that always kind of bugged me about Carol Ballard’s The Black Stallion is that the portion Alec and The Black meet and bond, which is mostly silent, is far superior to the portion of the film wherein he comes home and starts to race the horse. Having bonded with a horse in the wild it just never quite jibed with me that he’d then willingly race it. Such artifice rang false. I still like the film, just not as much as I thought I would. Duma, another Ballard-directed film, based on the nature of its tale doesn’t have that issue. It’s still a tale of a boy and a wild animal bonding, helping each other becoming friends, but the nature of the animal doesn’t get altered, and furthermore, Duma helps Xan come to terms with things he couldn’t deal with in his life prior. It’s a great film that’s not as widely acknowledged as it should be.

The Merchant of Four Seasons (1971)

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Being the last installment of the list and the one I designated for any overflow, and in part due to luck of the draw, I had to have two Fassbinder titles here.

My reaction to this one was delayed, and the most powerful I felt after any of his films. Again I was gutted as the film comes closer to dropping than ending. It’s a simple tale, with a rather straightforward, and to an extent foreseeable, trajectory but powerful nonetheless.

Miss Annie Rooney (1942)

MissAnnieRooney

This has very basic set-up, however, when you look closer there are a few interesting things going on in this film. The basic premise is that a girl from a working-class family (Shirley Temple) meets and upper-crust boy (Dickie Moore) and needs a dress to fit in at a party she’s invited to. The class commentary, the love conquers all portions are fairly common. There’s a few interesting twists thrown into the happily-ever-after endings. More interestingly is the way a transitional vehicle for young actors is handled, they’re cast close to their actual age, and in fact, seem to be playing a bit older than they are at times and are not really dumbed down too much. More often than not now it seems that successful transitions from child star to adult employment on camera is facilitated by hiatus but this seems quite the successful transitional vehicle for both young stars.

Dead of Night (1977)

Dead of Night (1977, Dan Curtis Productions)

Here’s the second made-for-TV movie to be featured on this list and marks a return to the list for writer/director/producer Dan Curtis whom last appeared thanks to Burnt Offerings.

This is a TV movie that tells three tales, and the opening monologue does not lie, each tale works in a bit of a different milieu: the first, regarding a very odd time traveling incident is a fantasy, a work of imagination, that is not bereft of eeriness. The second is a mystery tale though also with a decidedly horror slant, as in this one Matheson is working off his own short story about vampires. The grand finale, and it is grand, is the truest horror tale of them all, titled simply “Bobby” deals with the horrific results of a grieving mother getting what she wished for: the return of her deceased son.

It is a taut tale, it runs 72 minutes for the three tales, so each is roughly the equivalent of an episode of a half-hour TV show; which is a perfect vessel for drama. There is a tenor of seriousness and an undertone of tension throughout the film, which culminates in rather narrative film fashion in the last tale, which is absolutely pitch perfect. Joan Hackett and Lee Montgomery are the only actors in the tale, barring a voice-over husband away on business, and they are frequently in singles and could not be more flawless in their commitment and delivery.

Dead of Night is a great anthology and one that really gives me an impetus to move Curtis further up my queue, as this is masterfully done.

R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour – Don’t Think About It(2007)

R.L. Stine's The Haunting Hour - Don't Think About It (2007, Universal Home Entertainment)

At times, I will confess that choices do have to be representative. You can categorize, sub-categorize and pigeonhole films (or any art) in any number of ways. However, it’d be hard to represent 2013 for me without some reference to R.L. Stine. Yes, there was the huge write-up on the new series he produces, but also quite a bit of reading of his works, and then there’s also this film.

It took me a while to get around to screening this one because the last film I’d seen based on one of his works was quite a bad miss. This one, however, thankfully, mostly works.

A lot of that has to do with the practical effects work by Gregory Nicotero, one of the best in the game right now, who created an awesome creature for this film.

The film works itself into its story slowly. It does follow its protagonist (Emily Osment) and builds her character, and motivations for all the characters involved, but it does so a bit languidly. When things do get going though they’re rather freaky and things resolve themselves nicely, with the characters growing and a well-earned horror-film end.

As this film felt a bit stretched, it will be interesting to see if the planned Goosebumps film, comes to fruition if the anthology-styling suits it better, which it should.

In Love with Life (1934)

In Love with Life (1934, Invincible)

As many painfully poor titles as I had to suffer through in my Poverty Row theme it sure has made a dent on this list. Here’s my rather lengthy initial reaction to this film:

A few things come to mind when discussing this film, most are specific to Poverty Row others aren’t as much. I’ve discussed the running time and the utilization thereof on a few occasions in these posts. This is not something that stems from worries about my attention span or time management issues but is inherent to structuring. Some of these films are trying to cram a lot of film into not much time, others are at points stretching. This one, at a brisk 51 minutes seems to handle things just right.

Now one note I will include, I believe this is the TV edit. I base this conclusion on both the book by Mr. Pitts and the IMDb, which list the running time at 66 minutes, as does a supposedly remastered version available on the IMDb. Sadly, with many of these Poverty Row titles those are the only cuts that remain. If this is truly a TV edit kudos to the editors of this version, while it is brisk it never feels overly truncated. There just seem to be a few instances of dropped frames.

Things that separate this film are: that there is scoring throughout rather than just on the opening and closing title, there are moving shots which required sophisticated sound editing, elevated production values for the budget namely set design and good montage/titling work.

Not exclusive to, but more common in works of this type, are stories that pre-date and lead up to the stock market crash. It being a melodrama the moral is clear: we lost our money but have what matters. However, it doesn’t go as far over the top as it could, particularly with a mother-child separation at the beginning. It plays its tropes fairly well and quickly.

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953, Columbia)

This is kind of surprise that this list was built to highlight. There is much in this film that I usually would not connect with. However, this particular film connects in a number of ways.

The first, and most surprising thing for me, is not only is this an original screen idea by Dr. Seuss, but one I really connect with. Even as a kid I was never really into Dr. Seuss at all, quite the contrary, but on occasion I will find a tale that sneaks by and I enjoy and this is one. Next this film features Tommy Rettig pre-Lassie and he’s perfectly cast and has quite a bit to carry aside from singing he also breaks the fourth wall and narrates the tale. The villain, played by Hans Conried, struck me as familiar. As the film started, I knew I had heard that voice. Sure enough I was right, and guessed it. I heard that voice a lot as Disney’s Captain Hook. Almost immediately I pegged this film as a one nomination film and having fallen in love with the production design thought it’d be that, it was the score which is also good. It merited multiple honors in my estimation.

The Color Out of Space (aka Die Farbe) (2010)

This was a film that I initially qualified for the 2013 year, but upon further research I discovered it was on Amazon Instant Video for a while without my knowing about it. When I had a slip-up in the planning of these lists and found this list one film short it was the perfect title to slip in.

The malleability of the tale again shines through as in this rendition while the tale begins in Arkham, Massachusetts; the protagonist is in search of his father who vanished in Germany after World War II, and that is where he will spend most of his time. As he arrives in his last known whereabouts he meets a man who starts to tell him of the strange events that had occurred in that town. These events make up a bulk of the short story.

Now the film being transplanted to Germany is already a bold decision that works out quite well. The next emboldened choice is that the film is predominantly in black and white. It’s a great choice for Lovecraft’s antiquarian style, but also aids in selling a majority of the effects work that is needed to render this tale. Yet, in a tale about color it is further brave – and without putting to fine a point on it, does serve a purpose.

There is some English dialogue in the film, but a vast majority of it is in German, and due to that performances are usually spot on. Both the cinematography and the edit do tremendous things to build the atmosphere of outre and foreboding that is one of Lovecraft’s hallmarks. Things in this tale are slightly askew and on a precipitous decline leading to one earth-shattering moment and it moves there almost unerringly.

The workmanship in this tale rivals what the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society has been able to do with its films. It really is quite a work and proves that The Colour Out of Space is what I would refer to as one of the great stories, meaning that I can view many renditions of it and revel in the tweaks an modifications each brings to the table.

Shorts

Not much text is needed to discuss the shorts, but they do deserve inclusion. Especially when you consider my list of films seen I should highlight a few older shorts, some not featured on Short Film Saturday. So here are some notable ones.

Captain Eo

Captain Eo (1985, Disney)

Thankfully I went to see this wondrous relic of the ’80s before the attraction disappeared from the Walt Disney World landscape for all of eternity. In my opinion, it’s Michael Jackson’s best and most cinematic video/short film.

The Show (1922)

The Show (1922, Vitagraph)

I sought out quite a few films based on having read The Keystone Kid. This was the first and quite a humorous one at that.

The New York Hat

This is one of the shorts I saw for the Funny Ladies Blogathon wherein I wrote about Fazenda. This is most definitely a Gloria Swanson vehicle, and most definitely a D.W. Griffith title and very good.

There were also this year a few categories, be they directors or performers, that I saw many notable films from. Namely:

Georges Méliès

545px-George_Melies

For these titles I was able to find YouTube links. However, for the long Documentary about him, I recommend the box set Méliès the first Wizard of Cinema, for the Alice Guy and Louis Feuillade titles I refer you to the Gaumont Treasures vol. 1 set, For The Little Rascals I refer you to The Little Rascals The Complete Collection.

The Human Fly

The Impossible Voyage

Untamble Whiskers

A Moonlight Serenade

There was also a noteworthy film about him I saw called: Le Grand Méliès by Georges Franju

Alice Guy

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The Magician’s Alms
The Game Keeper’s Son
At the Photographers

Louis Feuillade

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Spring
The Trust
The Heart and Money

Little Rascals

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Shivering Shakespeare

61 Days of Halloween: Trilogy of Terror (1975)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, as well as a list of previously featured films, go here.

Trilogy of Terror (1975)

At times it’s interesting, in fact, preferable to watch things out of chronological order when it comes to the work of a given director that are not in a series. I viewed and wrote about Dan Curtis’ anthology follow-up to this film, Dead of Night, before I got to this one the more famous of the bunch.

Whether or not I was inspired to go on a mini-Curtis binge I was likely to take this in as an homage to the late, great Karen Black, an actress I’ve not seen as much of as I would’ve liked by now, so this was welcome for that reason alone (Although she did help another Dan Curtis film greatly that being Burnt Offerings). For this anthology is fascinating inasmuch as it allows its lead to reinvent herself in three separate stories with quite different characters in each. It’s a great showcase and not a bad idea for how to assemble an anthology.

Yet, even with anthologies this one and the one that follow it have a similar structure. “Julie” the first tale in the trilogy has a bit more of an air of mystery to it. In something I’ve not seen much from anthology installments it plays more to subtext and isn’t overt about the nature of the power struggle. Similarly, the first tale in Dead of Night, while eerie has a definite air of mystery to it.

In “Millicent and Therese” much like “There’s No Such Thing As Vampires” there’s a conflict between characters being discussed with an outside party, and apropos to this particular tale the game is changed.

Lastly, this anthology ends with its doozie “Amelia” it’s the iconic moment from the film and the final shot in this film is seared on my mind not only for its execution, but because of Black’s commitment to her business. It’s haunting. A similar wallop is delivered by “Bobby” to close out Dead of Night.

Again involved in the writing of this film is Richard Matheson so the quality of the scripts, as well as the narrative design of the films, owe much to his work as well. However, Trilogy of Terror works not only because it had the interesting idea of having the same star in each tale, but of putting her in different kinds of roles and casting the right one, as Black knocks it out of the park here.

Spielberg Sunday: Duel (1971)

Dennis Weaver in Duel (Universal TV)

Owing to the fact that I have decided to honor Steven Spielberg this year with my version of a Lifetime Achievement Award I figured it was an appropriate time to dust off some old reviews I wrote when I took a course on his work. The remarks still hold true, he is an amazing filmmaker.

Duel is a film that is deceptively simple in its narrative. It is simple enough that if you are simply told what it entails you’d wonder “Well, how can that ever make a good movie?” This is the same thought I had when my Uncle told me about it and talked about how great it was. He wasn’t wrong and there are many reasons why this film works so well.

While Spielberg worked many wonders in wielding this tale into an unforgettable motion picture, for which, we cannot forget that Richard Matheson wrote a tremendous screenplay based on his own short story. When we watch this film we get a sense of quiet and inner-monologue along with paranoid, frightened contemplation by our protagonist which is so well laid out that this comes very close to being a novel on film which is why people thought it couldn’t be done.

At the beginning we have a long sequence from the point of view of the protagonist and the only thing we hear besides the car-whipped wind and the hum of the engine is a radio call-in show where a man is talking to a woman and saying that he feels emasculated by his wife. Little do we know it but we are getting information about our protagonist without even knowing about it. I had suspected this for if we weren’t hearing a reflection of our protagonist this background conversation would be most extraneous indeed. The first time we see our protagonist is a shot in the rear view mirror of his car.

Duel takes what is a very real situation and takes it to its most insane and cataclysmic possible conclusions, the quintessence of horror. All we get in most of the beginning is a truck and a little car on a road. One cuts the other off and then they exchange volleys and try and block each other off. It’s a situation people find themselves in quite often, the exchange of ‘being cut-off’ and it is likely that, more than once, someone has wondered ‘Maybe I should stop messing around with this guy I don’t know what’s going on in his head.’ Not only do we see a man pushed to his limits but we only see this man. The trucker appears but once in the whole film. Occasionally, we see an arm sticking out a window but most of the time it’s a mystery. The fear of the unknown is also played upon in this film to a great extent and in what took a lot of courage and was difficult to pull off we never really do get to meet the trucker or understand him.

I don’t often hear people talk about Spielberg’s visual sensitivity this is usually because people often confused good art direction and set design with cinematography this is not the case and ‘Duel’ proves it. We see the wheels bounce and the camera accompanies it. We have two instances in which Spielberg uses a close up on the speedometer to increase the tension just a quick little glimpse and we watch the climb 70, 80, 90, this in tandem with the Hitchcockian and an occasional sampling of vivacious Bluegrass music. We watch our lead talking to his wife through a washing machine lid to show how trapped he feels when talking to his wife. We see shots of the back of the dusty, grimy trucks that read ‘Flammable’ and foreshadow the trucker’s demise and many more. The important thing about all of his camera work in the film is that it all has a purpose it doesn’t just look pretty. There’s a beautiful sequence where Spielberg tracks around the grill of the car and around the back and does the same with the truck moving up and down as he goes. Not only does this get us closer to the battle but it leaves us uneasy as do much of the shots and it works tremendously.

The paranoia of the picture really shows itself when the man is in the diner. At this point and really at any point in the film his name is irrelevant (When speaking to the operator we discover his surname is Mann, that isn’t an accident). He is just any old guy. In the diner we hear his thought process as he jumps through possibilities and then just as any person might. We see him look at the bar and scan all the patrons up from their boots to their faces. In this scene he loses it and confronts the wrong man about the on highway altercation he had. It’s in fact probably a film that has become more relevant as the years have gone on with incidents of “Road Rage” and even the coining of that phrase. We’ve seen this sleeper go from an odd chunk of macabre and mutate into something not so far-fetched.

The tension just doesn’t let down. We see tight shots of the back of the bus with the kids antagonizing an already aggravated man. We later see a great shot of the truck going back into the tunnel. He comes and knocks the bus out so that he and the car can engage in battle. It’s all battle now the trucker has decided to take it to the finish. Our protagonist once tried to avoid it by sitting at the side of the road for an hour but the truck was waiting for him just around the bend. Spielberg returns to the speedometer towards the end as we see the speed decrease because the radiator hose is leaking. This was foreshadowed when he stopped at a gas station and the guy popped his hood and that was noted it was dismissed as mechanic jive.

This is a film that should be noted not just as the first film of a great filmmaker but a great film on its own.

9/10