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Unfunny British drag comedy., 22 July 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Mainly embarrassing and certainly unfunny early sound BIP comedy made after the landfall of Haas, Siodmark and Vanel on British shores.

Gout stricken Duke Cyril Maude has forbidden women withing a mile of his country lodge and Majordomo Edward Chapman. who has to do all the work (in the film and on the estate) is packed off to Paris to collect the potential heir, a grandson working on the stage. At the theatre, he discovers the awful truth. Dolly's a girl doing a male impersonator act. Incensed by her grandfather's misogyny she uses her theatrical skills to make herself over into male form. She/ he is accepted as the grandson with Chapman hiding the Duke's glasses.

Various would be comic routines follow. Dolly is upset that virile overseer Esmond Knight (the lead in films by Michael Powell, Hitchcock and Renoir) won't take an interest but after he rescues her skinny dipping in the placid looking lake, that changes and they have to conspire to keep Maude from finding out.

Then Princess Irene Vanbrough announces her intention to visit and, as etiquette requires she be greeted by the lady of the house, Dolly puts the curls (which she has saved!) back and arrives in her fluffy long dress.

Ends with everyone expressing delight at the final arrangement and Maude saying he knew what was going on all the time.

The production gives the impression of some ambition - successive footmen doing a double take as Dolly sweeps down the stairs in her girl outfit, a variety of locations and studio settings - though the lighting manages to make the genuine stately home porch look like a set.

The piece's wink wink nudge nudge material is notably outclassed by Jessie Mathews' FIRST a GIRL. An attempt to show case Haas as an English language movie star is a misfire. She actually got a short back and sides and looks great in her curls and frills but the men folk have to register as dim. If her voice and funny walk didn't give her away then the plucked eye brows and lipstick should have provided enough clues.

The Network DVD is sharp and well graded.

Prestige WW2 set Ann Hui film., 9 July 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Ann Hui is still a major figure but her work is more of a lucky dip these days. For every lively Yi ma de hou xian dai sheng huo / The POSTMODERN LIFE of My AUNT you're going to get something more ponderous.

Her new film is a prestige event celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the mainland take over of Hong Kong. It kicks off in 1941 when the Chinese Donjiang 'East River' guerrilla unit is tasked with rescuing the island's intellectuals from the Japanese occupation.

The film focuses in on author Tao Guo, rooming with the family of Deannie Yip and her out of work school teacher daughter, seemingly delicate Xun Zhou. He's given a pass word to recognise his deliverers. A pair of nasties in black (the equivalent of long leather overcoats I guess) show up instead, introducing cheery, murderous Eddie Peng and meaning that Deannie finds a blanket wrapped body in her alley way.

The escape is only the opening of a 130 minute (too) long movie following Xun's progress from the young woman who can't bear to have the family bunny killed for food though they are scrapping the last grains of rice from the jar, to a resistance fighter contemplating bombing and storming the Japanese troop base - the quietly made decision is the high point and most characteristic scene in the film.

Hard to see the value of the black and white framing story with long surviving Tony Ka Fai Leung (Prison on Fire) recounting events from his period as a child with the resistance.

The film's way of adding to the grim irony is Xun telling Peng as he sets out for the ultimate battle "Don't let your boat topple in shallow water." As with ALLIED it tries to re-animate the antagonisms of the WW2 propaganda movie and is devalued by it's over familiar depiction of a sadistic enemy - stabbing the mat wrapped body roll which had contained illicit weapons, the commander who only respects his prisoner's ability to stand after samurai sword slashes to his leg, prisoners digging their own graves with tin cans.

Design is a strong element with the 1942-era Wan Chai brick and timber constructions and the reproduced Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter particularly striking. The river scenics are exceptional, suggesting filming by a different unit but the one which has Xun waiting for the delayed ferry at night on the pier lit by a single swinging bulb is pure Ann Hui with it's counterpart in her best films - Song of the Exile's isolated rail stop.

Documentation is thin on this one. The score which I was admiring during the film turned out to be Joe Hisashi when we got to the end credits.

OUR TIME WILL COME is a major film from a major director. If you can handle something that is more contemplative than exciting, you shouldn't miss it's likely to be short run in the multiplexes.

Handsome Turkish drama, 7 July 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

After Ferzan Ozpetek's Italian films (Saturno contro 2007, La finestra di fronte / Facing Window 2003, Le fate ignoranti / The Ignorant Fairies 2001 included) his new Turkish production ISTAMBUL KIRMIZISI / Crimson Istanbul fields elements from the director's earlier work - a gay theme, Serra Yilmaz in support.

This one is a strikingly handsome 'scope production that pushes the Istambul 's tourist attractions. It Kicks off with a great scenic airial of the city and we get balding middle aged author Halit Ergenç deposited at the red painted Boshorous-side home of fellow writer Nejat Isler who has brought him in to work on a project we never do get to know all that much about. This proves disorienting for Ergenç because he meets characters he thinks he recognises from Isler's published autobiography only to find them not as represented.

Then we get a development not too far away from L'AVENTURA and Ergenç, in the company of elegant Tuba Büyüküstün and the missing man's grubby gay lover Mehmet Günsür, is involved in a police inquiry where the lady cop tells him not to leave town.

Little by little Ergenç finds himself taking over Isler's life. We learn Ergenç's back story but can only guess why he was selected, what became of Isler or the significance of swimming the Bosphorous - Enigma, like the art movies.

The production does field effective scenes like the family meal where the relatives surprise the newcomer, Günsür's river front confrontation or the society party with the plunge neck singer who they manage to feature in all the publicity - another arresting airial shot pulls away from the high rise window there.

I like the Italian films better but this one does manage to hold the serious attention it's designed to attract. It's encouraging to find that Ozpetek is still at it.

Interesting early Italian sound film., 5 July 2017

Coming out of the void that is our knowledge of Thirties Italian cinema, this one is one of the best things an old movie can be, a glimpse into a world the (English speaking) audience knows zip about and it's delivered in an accomplished manner - particularly for a film so early in European sound film production.

The plot deals with a subject said to be close to Il Duce's heart, the superiority of the agrarian worker to the decadent city dweller. There are not a few of these from other sources at this stage - Hanns Schwarz 1928 German UNGARISCHE RHAPSODIE/ Hungarian Rhapsody or more peripherally Michael Curtiz' US 1932 CABIN IN THE COTTON as examples.

They work hard on the idea content, offering two contrasting female models, Leda Gloria's slinky blonde city woman and Isa Pola in her peasant blouse get up, or the tenants doing traditional worker songs and dances while the visiting city friends lounge about in evening dress and their pianist plays fox-trots.

The not over sophisticated plot has land-owning Duke, uncharismatic Sandro Salvini, coming back to the family castle with it's statues and suits of armor and putting up lady friend Gloria in the bed chamber where the roof leaks while he joins in wrestling bulls for the branding, to the applause of his tenant farmers. However his reduced circumstances mean he has to sell the property to a new, graceless owner whose man gropes the jolly middle aged maid and who plans on clearing the peasant accommodation. A fire breaks out and Salvini races back to the scene.

The choice of angles and pacing is quite good, giving an appearance anticipating Blasetti's best film, the 1939 swashbuckler UN'AVENTURA DI SALVATOR ROSA, and the piece is rather winning in it's warm,unfamiliar picture of the rural community.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Unexpected Australian documentary, 11 June 2017

You've got to like Warwick Thornton sitting there thinking "please not me" when they announced Australian of the year 2009, getting flack for comparing the Eureka flag to the Swastika, punching holes in a sheet of cardboard with a pencil to make a Southern Cross background for the titles of his new film rather than commissioning high end lab work and figuring that a black feller (his choice of words) and producer Brendan Fletcher with a string of superior commercials would be a shoe-in for NITV's referendum anniversary funding.

Though the pair represent We Don't Need a Map as a chaotic endeavour it is actually remarkably well organised, pivoting around the inescapable new significance the Southern Cross has taken on since John Howard, Pauline Hanson and the Cronulla Riots. The rock singer interviewee comments "Someone who got a Southern Cross tattoo the week before Cronulla, must be spewing now". It's become like saying a swastika indicates a connection to Hindu philosophy or (and no one observes this) the Confederate flag.

Thornton visits a playground version of the Eureka Stockade, watches a traditional celestial aligned cross laid out on the yellow soil and erased, recalls the Southern Cross Company windmills which drained the aquifers the indigenous people relied on for water (a sculptor now recovers the steel for art works) and listens to the significance of rock art explained.

The director and the articulate observers he has sat in front of his camera establish a remarkable context for all this - pre-European arrival Australia a model of multi- culturalism with six hundred different languages, the time when the oral tradition was not dismissed as Chinese Whispers, because then the ones who didn't know the song cycles would not be able to find the food and water described in them and die, or the First Fleet, the aborigines and the boat people all using The Southern Cross to find their way here.

This is not however your usual polemic. Scenes of beach spear fishing, night time fire lit activities and accelerated shots of the stars filmed by Thornton's son Dylan River punctuate more conventional footage. The action is commented by shots of hands manipulating the Bush Toy Mob's salvaged-wire figures - Captain Cook's boat greeted by locals, Thornton in dialogue with the Bush Toy Cook telling him if he wants to stay he'll have to behave or a shot-down black man's grave marked with a toy Southern Cross windmill.

You can see the sensibility of Thornton's remarkable SAMSON and DELILAH at play finding jokey material in appalling happenings.

The film goes to air in July and the plan is to have this one shown in schools. Sound like a really good idea to me.

OK art short, 26 May 2017

Back in the days of "educational" shorts which probably began life as the first halves of theatrical programs, we got this presentable B&W French two reeler covering the architect's work with some imagination. Ends with the screen split between an airial of Paris and le Courbusier's vision of how it should be.

Kast's major work was still to come.

OK early melodrama., 24 May 2017

The surviving fragment suggests a competently handled melodrama in which Hayakawa leaves no doubt in his performance without exceeding the limits of plausible screen acting. He's a lawyer who wins the Japanese heroine.

Not much else can be derived from this fifteen minute section with Dutch intertitles.

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Enjoyable Spanish knockabout., 7 May 2017

You don't often see these sub-titled.

After the failure of an elite squad sent into the container depot at night, Minister for the Interior Areces (the lead in BALLAD FOR A SAD TRUMPET) recruits a new team of diverse law enforcers - traffic cop Esparbé (THE ONE EYED KING), a Basque hard man, a Catalan, an Equadorian who passes himself off as a super Spanish patriot and the winning Signora Leon who only had the choice of being a whore or joining the Gardia Civil in Andalusia.

Can they prevent the destruction of Madrid? Think POLICE ACADEMY with better production values.

The cast are appealing and the film making spot on so we can forgive HEROES WANTED for all the jokes that misfire.

Impressive Spanish Civil War drama, 1 May 2017

Fresh from the Seminary and Allocated to one of a series of remote Nationalist stone watch huts to replace a dead soldier during the Spanish Civil War, young Suau doesn't have much in common with coarse fellow sentry Francés. However the discovery of a wounded girl foreign fighter challenges the values of all.

The bleak monochrome winter terrain changes to spring in step with their own personal thaw.

A respectable achievement, stern & thoughtful, this one is more Film Festival material than popular cinema.

Spanish accusatory piece with music., 29 April 2017

Barcelona set account of the Spanish financial crisis with unexpected musical interludes. The comparison with LALALAND doesn't get past a shared debt to the Jacques Demy Musicals.

Unemployment is wiping out Ivan Massagué, reduced to selling smoke alarms door to door from his van, after the cops break in and evict his family. The in law guarantors look like they will go too. The film even manages to spare a bit of sympathy for old friend banker Vila who foreclosed - though not much. His dad Homar goes into the office and slaps the guy when he finds out.

Strong performances, notably singer lead Sílvia Pérez Cruz and her mum Adrania Ozores. The disturbing account of the newly poor is backed with the films striking images - the van become a glittering love nest, the passengers synchronised diving in front of a metro train.

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