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Friday, Jul 11, 2014
When coming of age movies are measured years from now, Boyhood will be the benchmark for artistic achievement and cinematic scope.

Our lives are made up of individual moments, parsed out over individual minutes over individual seconds which, in the end, always seem too short and sadly succinct. There’s no great story arc, just lots of little ones, each playing out among the various personality pros and cons we develop and scatter like so many dandelion seeds into the wind.


By the time we are old enough to realize it, we only remember the epics, the instances where things changed radically for better and worse. Births, deaths, degrees, achievements, jobs, kids, diseases, divorces—these are the buzzwords we use as we spin our time into something more meaningful. In the end, though, those individual moments fade, failing to resonate as powerfully as a performance or a passing, a problem or an epiphany.


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Thursday, Jul 10, 2014
Ruthless reveals a message about capitalism that, if ubiquitous, rings true.

Ruthless is an Eagle-Lion production that must be the most lavish project ever directed by Edgar Ulmer, who spent most of his career working with budgets that seemed barely to include the camera. Thematically, it’s his Citizen Kane or Magnificent Amberson, here seen in a fine print showing off sinuous and ceiling-heavy photography from Bert Glennon and lavish design from Frank Sylos. Unlike the aforementioned films, Ruthless is not great; however, it’s hard to take one’s eyes off of.


Tagged as: edgar ulmer, ruthless
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Wednesday, Jul 9, 2014
Andre De Toth's noir-ish western, Ramrod, is notable for its examination of doubles; almost every character has someone else who matches their identity.

Andre De Toth’s Ramrod is a classic film licensed by Olive Films from Paramount, although this indie production was distributed by United Artists and this print for some reason opens with the MGM lion. What matters is that it’s here now, in a print a bit dusty but easily watchable. It stars De Toth’s then-wife Veronica Lake, reunited with the same Joel McCrea who supposedly never wanted to work with her again after Sullivan’s Travels.


From the beginning, it quietly shows off nice lengthy shots (from cinematographer Russell Harlan) that glide sideways for complexly staged actions, usually left to right. This gives an aesthetic unity to a first reel whose script is a confusing snarl of relations and implications based on a story by Luke Short. It’s a complicated, seething, noir-ish western in which everyone deceives everyone else about something or other, and indeed deception is sometimes necessary for survival. Shot in Utah, the story takes place in a part of the country where everybody lives in picturesque canyons that dwarf them; at the risk of making too much of it, the climax finds McCrea’s hero “reborn” from a womblike cave.


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Wednesday, Jul 9, 2014
Operation Petticoat, one of post-war America's more popular war flicks, is an example of the era's basically conservative teases.

Ten years after the end of World War II, the subject of the war became safe for comedy, at least in America. From Broadway and TV and Hollywood came such projects as Mister Roberts, Operation Madball and No Time for Sergeants. One of the biggest hits of 1959, and a breakthrough for director Blake Edwards, Operation Petticoat joined the march of military hijinks and is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.


Operation Petticoat opens in 1959, as a submarine called the USS Sea Tiger is about to be junked. Admiral Sherman (Cary Grant), the original captain, reviews his logbook, leading to the rest of film’s flashback of how the submarine was salvaged after nearly being scuttled by Japanese bombs in December 1941. Key to the restoration process was the larcenous, unscrupulous shenanigans of his new supply officer, Lt. Holden (Tony Curtis). The final humiliation is that the submarine is painted pink, presumably an emasculating color (and a dangerously conspicuous one), and this leads to a final round of tension with America’s own navy. This could be seen as a gentle though none-too-subtle satire on the masculine ego of warfare.


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Tuesday, Jul 8, 2014
Excellence is where you find it, not where it's forced into some Hollywood genre pigeonhole.

The first six months of 2014 have already passed (time flies when you’re having… to sit through dozens of movies each week???) and there are already pundits pronouncing this the worst year ever, film wise. They point to the lackluster box office, the continuing success of bloated Summer tentpoles, and the inability for those seeking sanctuary from such spectacle to find realistic alternative outlets.


On the other hand, there have been a bevy of interesting efforts released this year that have either flown under the radar or received their standard Cineplex due, confirming that excellence is where you find it, not where it’s forced into some genre pigeonhole that Hollywood has micromanaged to influence international receipts. Indeed, the foreign film market is becoming so important, and profitable, for the Tinseltown suits that they frequently forget that US audiences count, too.


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