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Friday, Jun 13, 2014
The color of going too far

RaroVideo’s DVD of Alberto Cavallone’s difficult-to-describe Blue Movie is an important release that I hope presages more from this obscure cult figure. I say this with due consideration. Many people, attracted by the title’s promise of sleaze (on which the film delivers both less and more than most would wish), will find the movie a confusing, unwatchable eyesore, which it is. This is partly for reasons beyond the late Cavallone’s control, and partly due to his deliberate vision.


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Friday, Jun 13, 2014
The play's the thing

The Reckoning begins with lovely, stylized, cold images of nature while Nicholas (Paul Bettany) shaves his head in a forest, drinks from a stream, and flashes back to his downfall from priesthood for sins of the flesh. After a terrifying encounter, he learns (again) that appearances are deceiving and takes up with a troupe of traveling players who perform “Mysteries” (Biblical plays) across the rural England of 1380.


They arrive at one village, dominated by the castle of the local lord (Vincent Cassel), just in time to witness a mute woman’s conviction for strangling a boy. She’s sentenced to hang. The troupe’s leader (Willem Dafoe) wants to put on a new kind of play, one that dramatizes the local event. After arguing the morality of this, their investigation and production stirs up new evidence and lots of trouble, as we realize we’re in yet another plot about a serial killer of children. This is apparently what we need to take our entertainment seriously nowadays.


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Thursday, Jun 12, 2014
Decadence sets in.

I have a weakness for heist or caper films, a chic and sleek subgenre of action (or comedy, or both) that flourished in the Sixties, yielding much silliness. Today’s example, The Biggest Bundle of Them All, manages to be entertaining while remaining utterly trivial and disposable. Even though it coincides with The Thomas Crown Affair and pre-dates The Italian Job, classics of the genre, it already feels like late-model decadence is setting in.


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Friday, Jun 6, 2014
Those fresh bellboys.

The Czech-born Francis Lederer was a talented and popular European star whose Hollywood career never quite got over his accent. It was necessary always to cast him as some vaguely European gentleman, which was never quite as useful as a vaguely British gentleman. You can always see that he’s good, however, even (or especially) in a trivial throwaway like The Gay Deception, now available on demand from Fox Cinema Archives.


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Friday, May 30, 2014
American trouble

After making a reputation in frantic comedies (highlight: Duck Soup ) and more sophisticated ones (Ruggles of Red Gap and The Awful Truth ), writer-director-producer Leo McCarey evolved an output that swings from comedy to sentiment and melodrama, even juggling tonal ambiguity within scenes. His early high point was the 1937 Love Affair, more famous as his own remake, An Affair to Remember. McCarey can be especially strong with ambiguous family dynamics in which people are embarrassed by those they love; his great example is Make Way for Tomorrow, about which Orson Welles told Peter Bogdanovich it would “make a stone cry”.


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