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That John Wayne..., 27 June 2016

His ship seized by the Chinese Communists, American Merchant Captain Tom Wilder (John Wayne) languishes in prison but Chinese villagers help him escape to sail them to Hong-Kong.

Wayne plays a role originally intended for Robert Mitchum prior to an altercation with the producers. Mitchum was fired from the production by Wellman. Wayne took over the lead after Gregory Peck turned the film down and Humphrey Bogart requested a large amount of money to assume the role.

Many people have focused on the way China and the Chinese are treated in the film. Many of the Chinese roles are filled by obviously non-Chinese actors. And because this is shortly after the Korean War, Chinese-American relations are not great. But I think Wayne getting the part is the more interesting story... this is clearly a role Mitchum would have dominated at, Peck would have brought acting chops to, and Bogart would have the Bacall rapport. But Wayne? Other than his fan base, he seems like an unlikely choice.

Quite Entertaining, 27 June 2016

A sportswriter (Gregory Peck) and a fashion-designer (Lauren Bacall) marry after a whirlwind romance, and discover they have little in common.

Lauren Bacall was dealing with husband Humphrey Bogart's eventually-fatal illness during the shooting. According to her autobiography, she took the role (which was originally intended for Grace Kelly) in order to avoid her home situation, but in interviews she said that this film was among her favorites, and that she desperately wanted the part, even accepting a lower salary.

Now, whatever the reason, I think Bacall is right for the part. I am not a big Bacall fan, as she reminds me of Katharine Hepburn, of whom I am also not a fan. But that attitude tends to work here, because she is not supposed to be lovable -- these are two opposing personalities coming to a head! What also helps is the boxing / mob undercurrent. Although not a major part of the plot, the film gets a little more interesting when a few rough guys show up and threaten Peck directly (while being nicely dressed). You are not quite sure what direction things will go from there...

Vintage Kung Fu, 25 June 2016

A couple unite - she is fluent in the crane style of kung fu, he in tiger style. They have a son, but the boy's father is killed by the evil eunuch Bai Mei. Disguised as a girl, his mom trains him in crane style while he secretly learns tiger style from his father's training manual.

This was directed by Lau Kar-leung before his "36th Chamber" films, which are arguably some of the best-known kung fu movies ever made. I say "arguably" because my knowledge comes not from being a lover of martial arts films and more from knowing about these movies because of the Wu-Tang Clan (who, incidentally, I am also not really a fan of).

Everything you want is here. The different styles of martial arts (tiger and crane this time), and plenty of choreographed fights that look like complex dances, and the over-the-top sound effects to make each hit hit explosive. Definitely worth a watch for fans of the Shaw Brothers.

Bergman Comes of Age, 24 June 2016

While waiting for the night rehearsal of the ballet Swan Lake, the lonely twenty-eight year-old ballerina Marie receives a diary through the mail. She travels by ferry to an island nearby Stockholm, where she recalls her first love Henrik.

Bergman later reflected, "For me Summer Interlude is one of my most important films. Even though to an outsider it may seem terribly passé, for me it isn't. This was my first film in which I felt I was functioning independently, with a style of my own, making a film all my own, with a particular appearance of its own, which no one could ape." Indeed, this is a landmark film for Bergman. We see his early use of "summer" as a recurring theme, his stark use of black and white that would define him for a generation... and even the use of "Swan Lake", which may prefigure his love of "Magic Flute" in some way. Bergman brought a visual style to film I have never seen elsewhere and never will. He is the master, and it all begins with "Summer Interlude".

Who is Glenn Gould?, 24 June 2016

A collection of vignettes highlighting different aspects of the life, work, and character of the acclaimed Canadian classical pianist Glenn Gould.

I had heard of Glenn Gould, but I don't really know who he is. I'm not the sort of person who spends a lot of time listening to concert pianists or classical music. Sometimes I wish that was me, but it just is not.

Now, for this movie, that does not matter. It is about style just as much as about substance. Maybe more style than substance even... I recently watched the "Charles Bukowski Tapes", and this has some parallels. The difference being that Bukowski is an abusive drunk, and Gould is a refined, eccentric artist. But the idea of a film full of short segments on the subject remains the same.

That Robert Mitchum!, 24 June 2016

Set in the wake of the 1916 Easter Rising, a married woman (Sarah Miles) in a small Irish village has an affair with a troubled British officer. (The film is a very loose adaptation of Gustave Flaubert's novel "Madame Bovary".) Alec Guinness turned down the role of Father Collins; it had been written with him in mind, but Guinness, as a devout Roman Catholic, objected to what he felt was an inaccurate portrayal of a Catholic priest. His conflicts with Lean while making "Doctor Zhivago" also contributed. A shame, as Guinness would have added a little more to the production.

Two things I feel are worth noting. One is Robert Mitchum's accent. I may be wrong, but I don't think Mitchum ever naturally had an Irish accent. He pulls it off alright, at least to my American ears. It is nice to see him here in a less gruff role than usual.

Also, this somehow got a PG rating. I know the story about this happened, but really? A nude sex scene was given a PG? Granted, this is not the sort of movie kids are going to run out and rent or buy... but wow. I can understand why jack Valenti thought this was a huge mistake on the part of the MPAA.

A Landmark?, 24 June 2016

It is 1950s Nevada, and Professor Vivian Bell arrives to get a divorce. She's unsatisfied with her marriage, and feels out of place at the ranch she stays on, she finds herself increasingly drawn to Cay Rivers, an open and self-assured lesbian, and the ranch owner's daughter.

"Desert Hearts" is notable for being the first film to depict a lesbian relationship where both characters enjoy a satisfactory ending, in contrast to previously released films such as "Personal Best" that focus less on the relationship of the main characters, and where one returns to a relationship with a man.

The history of gay and lesbian film themes is interesting in how it shifts over time, and I have to wonder if the representations are in any way accurate. Does this film show the 1950s or simply how the 1980s saw the 1950s? How interesting that until this point, any lesbian romance was doomed. Today (2016) we have lesbian themes on film that are not doomed or successful, but just exist as a matter of fact.

The Magic Flute (1975) (TV)
Opera Made Fun, 23 June 2016

The Queen of the Night offers her daughter Pamina to Tamino, but he has to bring her back from her father and priest Sarastro. She gives a magic flute to Tamino and magic bells to the bird hunter Papageno, who follows Tamino and wants to find a wife. The duo travels in a journey of love and knowledge.

We can tell this story was eating at Bergman's soul for a long time. During the 1960s Magnus Enhörning, head of the Swedish Radio, asked Bergman for possible projects and the director replied "I want to do The Magic Flute for television". Enhörning readily agreed and supported the project without hesitation. The characters of Frid and Petra in "Smiles of a Summer Night" (1955), and Johan and Alma in "Hour of the Wolf" (1968) pre-figure his conception of Papageno and Papagena, and Tamino and Pamina respectively in "The Magic Flute". The latter film includes a puppet-theater sequence of part of Act 1 of the opera.

I am not a huge opera fan by any means, and I appreciate the way Bergman did this. The whole showing the audience thing? The intermission with the actors being themselves? The use of sets? It is like inviting us out to a real opera without all the stuffy, socially awkward moments that may occur. Most people probably would have cut the music and adapted the story into a movie script. This actually seems better, more pure. We get all the best of a real show without having to go to one or pay the high ticket prices.

An Interesting Tale, 23 June 2016

In medieval France, some villagers challenge a man (Gerard Depardieu)'s claim of identity when he (as he says) returns home from some time in the army.

This is sort of like the story of Odysseus, if the story went horribly awry and another man came home and claimed to be him while the real man was lost at sea. It seems hard to believe anyone could so easily masquerade as another person amongst their family and friends, and yet this is allegedly a true story.

American audiences might be more familiar with the Hollywood version. "Sommersby" is a 1993 Hollywood remake of the film in English, transposed to the American Civil War and starring Richard Gere and Jodie Foster. A shame they had to remake it, but at least they cast it well.

Poet in the Raw, 23 June 2016

The Charles Bukowski Tapes are an altogether more than four hours long collection of 52 short-interviews with the American cult author Charles Bukowski, sorted by topic and each between one and ten minutes long. Director Barbet Schroeder interviews Bukowski about such themes as alcohol, violence, and women, and Bukowski answers willingly, losing himself in sometimes minute-long monologues.

Michael Wilmington calls this "an outrageously stimulating and unnerving all-night drinking session with a gutter eloquent barroom philosopher. One of the most intimate, revealing and unsparing glimpses any film or video has ever given us of a writer's life and personality." I must confess I knew the name Bukowski but ha no idea who he was. Honestly, I still don't really know, though I have now seen the man, his wisdom, his alcoholism and his abuse up close. He is a cross between Hunter Thompson and William Burroughs, perhaps? I can understand how this became a cult film, because it is simply mesmerizing... like listening to your drunk uncle, if you uncle was a genius. (Maybe he is.) Shockingly, despite the cult following, it does not seem to be easily found.

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