Films of November : THE OX-BOW INCIDENT (1942)

 

“Now this is the only time my father ever put money into a film project… the only time. Now my Dad starts around the studios, all the studios he had worked for, all the producers he had made money for… and no one wants to do this. I mean he went to Paramount, he went to Warners, he went to Selznick, he went every place… nobody wanted to do it. Well, Duhh. This is 1942 he’s pitching this, the world is at war, race riots are going on in this country, internment camps, I mean this is a dark time; and to try and sell a story about the hanging of innocent men, I mean no wonder no one wanted to do it.  But my father wouldn’t give it up, so he went to Darryl F. Zanuck at Fox, and this was really his last resort, everyone else had turned him down. Now the reason Zanuck was his last resort is they had made about 30 pictures together… a lot of good pictures, PUBLIC ENEMY and a lot of films. But they had had a fist fight on a hunting trip, and they weren’t talking to each other, they hadn’t talk to each other for a couple years. So Zanuck must have wondered what the hell is going on when his secretary told him Wellman is out in the waiting room and wants to see you. So Zanuck says ok, send him in. And he says [to Wellman], ‘Did you forget we’re not talking?’, and my Dad says , “No I Didn’t forget. But I came to you because I wanted to tell you about the best story I ever had. And Zanuck says, ‘Why Did you come to me?’ My Dad says “because you’re my last resort”.—From the informative and compelling commentary on the Arrow Bluray release of 20th Century Fox’s THE OX-BOW INCIDENT.

This is one of my favorite films of all time. And is one of William Wellman’s best films. Which is saying a lot, because this film was made on a shoestring budget, no money for location shooting, or sets, etc. Zanuck while he liked the story, new it wasn’t a commercial film, and agreed to do it providing it came in under budget and Wellman would agree to do two films for Zanuck, without question. It was a loss leader and Zanuck new it. Upon initial preview, reportedly other studio heads wanted the movie shelved, and his wife was outraged that he would have agreed to make such a film.

It is to Zanuck’s credit, that despite these pressures, and his certainty of the film as a financial loss, he thought enough of the film as a work of art (which was born out by critical if not commercial response to the film) and enough of Wellman as Director, that against all objections he made and released the film, in exchange for getting those two financially viable films from Wellman.

The rub is, what has survived into the 21st century conversation is mostly not those successful A tier films, but is this commercial failure B film… THE OX-BOW INCIDENT. Upon one of the early previews, the audience at the end were mostly silent. Wellman, known for rousing, action packed, crowd pleasing films; was not known for this. Arguably in 1942, no one had seen a film like this. The preview crowd, watched this film, and when the credits rolled, there was silence. Silence as people walked out. Orson Welles, who was at that preview is quoted as saying to one of the actors who was also at the film, as a consolation, and an appreciation “They don’t know yet, what they just saw.”

 

Welles was right. The film was ahead of its time then. And remains today timeless in its message, and timely. A great film.

November 2022 Movie Review : RRR (2022)

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RRR (2022) aka RISE ROAR AND REVOLT – Let me start this review by saying, generally Bollywood tinged films have not been for me. Not the biggest musical fan at the best of times and the musical numbers in the Bollywood films I have seen tend to be pacing wise at odds with the film around it. And at times the performances, and story extremes, can to those raised on Western cinema, particularly of the neo-realist bent, seem like farce.

The emotions and antagonists in Eastern films, tend toward extremes to the point of caricature. Particularly the bad guys tend to be unredeeming and of the mustache twirling variety. Not to say Hollywood movies do not have their share of one note villains, but these beats of farce and unsubtle villains tend to be a preference in eastern films, to include Bollywood films. Because of that the Bollywood films I have tried tend not to hold my attention. There has been a rare exception or two. RRR is the best exception I have found. While it veers into some of the issues of farce and one note villains, the spectacle and the story and the high level of filmmaking is enough to transcend those usual sticking points.

And the musical numbers when they do come, are so pivotal to the story and the storytelling, they are some of the highlights of what from pillar to post, is a surprisingly great film. It is a 21st century answer to John Woo’s seminal THE KILLER, arguably one of the 10 best action movies of the 20th century, RRR actionwise and in terms of its emotional beats, the great love between two friends who find themselves on opposite sides of a cause, and the share audacity and genre pushing extremes of its filmmaking; marks itself as THE KILLER for the 21st century.

The direction by Director/Writer S.S. Rajamouli is nothing short of jaw dropping on this his 12th, and by all descriptions, best film.

Any nation that can make a film like this, this epic and this joyous and this proud of its identity is destined to greatness. It reminds me of the best of Russian and German and even American film-making, when those countries dreamed in celluloid of unity rather than fragmentation.

Highly Recommended. I’m hoping to get a Bluray of this film soon.

If you liked this post please like, subscribe and email or comment. Till next time… be well.

On D.W. Griffith’s INTOLERANCE (1916) : Like the filmmaker’s abilities, the film is at once visually dazzling and ground breaking and utterly morally repugnant.— Under Construction

D.W. Griffith followed up his equally groundbreaking and morally repugnant BIRTH OF A NATION, with INTOLERANCE. A film that in its title would have you think “this is a D.W. Griffith that is looking to make some type of amends, some type of balance to his previous films glorification of lynch mob justice and the KKK”.

However you would be wrong.

This is D.W. Griffith that is, I think, taking a piss on the concept of Intolerance, more than any true acknowledgement of anything wrong in his previous filmic stance.

While framed as a film about intolerance, the film at its heart is a followup to the thematic gist of A BIRTH OF A NATION. Whereas BIRTH was about glorifying lynchmobs and the KKK, INTOLERANCE is really about attacking one of the groups that opposed lynchmobs and were critical of Griffith’s BIRTH OF A NATION, namely the Suffragette movement.

The Suffragette movement was paramount from the end of the civil war into the early 20th century, not just pursuing the right of the vote for women, but supporting causes of the abolitionist movement, anti-lynching campaigns, and labor laws and better pay to protect the men, women and children who were literally being worked to death, in factories in the early part of the 20th century.

And yes, they also were for laws limiting alcohol abuse. And they had reason to be, and reason to see alcohol abuse as one of the great evils of the early part of the 20th century, These newly overcrowded city slums of a newly industrial America, with its sweat shop factories, were a pressure cooker, and men seeking to escape the direness of their work life, would turn to the cheap and legal drug of alcohol after a hard day at the factory, and come home and (in a world before the concept of women’s shelters, or domestic violence) take it out on their wives and families. The cases of murder and abuse were staggering.

It is in to this darkness of an unregulated industrialized overcrowded American cities, that the Suffragette sought to bring some light. But here in INTOLERANCE Griffith is as accomplished making villains as he was making heroes out of cross burners, terrorists and lynchmobs in BIRTH OF A NATION.

Griffith in a dazzling bit of mendacity and manipulative storytelling makes the Suffragette movement the mustache twirling fiends behind robber barons being forced to call in the militia on striking workers and machine gunning them down, or breaking up happy homes.

Thankfully that part is only one story-line of four that makes up Intolerance, but it is one of the most engaging storylines, and that storyline does leave an acrid taste. However it is couched in the other three storylines, and some truly jaw dropping visuals and staging.

For all the moral issues, and the repugnant lies passing as truth in Griffith’s film, what can not be denied is here at the early days of film, it is staggering how amazingly good he was at telling a story, getting a performance and eliciting an emotional response out of you with his camera. He understood, perhaps earlier and more effectively than anyone else, the power of cinema, of media, not to make the truth… but to be the truth.

He understood the power of cinema to make heroes and villains. One of the earliest propaganda filmmakers.

— To be continued

SOLITARY RONIN Challenge : TEN (or more) essential Desert Island Criterion Releases!

I’m me, so I’m not sticking to ten for this list. Get over it. :).

The only criteria I did stick to is that in my opinion the Criterion release of the films I have selected on this essential list, in terms of packaging, features, etc, are the best version of those films currently available. Or… the way physical media is going, the best physical media versions that will ever be available for some of these films.

And that’s why in the age of unreliable streaming, I generally think it would behoove you to own in physical media… the following films that will not change on you after purchase. :).

 

Kiss Me Deadly (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

Menace II Society (The Criterion Collection) [4K UHD] [Blu-ray]A crime film told with an apocalyptic power. One of the best debut films done by anyone… ever. It is the kind of debut film that every one dreams of having: a masterpiece out of the gate. And also the kind of debut film every filmmaker fears, because following it up, as a filmmaker you can end up always being in the shadow of that first perfect film. When you think of jaw dropping debut films, CITIZEN KANE, BLOOD SIMPLE, RESERVOIR DOGS, MALTESE FALCON, 12 ANGRY MEN, THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, ELEMENT OF CRIME, TARGETS,  NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, EVIL DEAD, JOHN WICK, THE DUELLISTS, FORCE OF EVIL…. MENACE TO SOCIETY stands with the best of them, and is as essential to own in physical media.

Ride with the Devil (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] An Amazing and complicated Ang Lee film, that no one talks about but is one of the hidden gems that only Criterion is giving love to. I did a review on this civil war era film, that is perhaps Ang Lee’s best film. Yeah, for me it is Ang Lee’s best film.

The Element of Crime (The Criterion Collection)

Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

The Gunfighter (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

The Princess Bride (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

The Red Shoes (The Criterion Collection) [4K UHD] [Blu-ray]

Double Indemnity (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

Lone Wolf and Cub (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

Pina (3D Blu-ray + Blu-ray Combo Pack) (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

Farewell Amor (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] And talking about great debut films here is another one to add to the list.

Something Wild (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]As far as great sophomore or final films goes, this is one of the strangest and best.

Do the Right Thing (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] The Criterion Bluray version is superior to the competing UHD versions out there. So if you can get only one release, this is in terms of packaging, features, transfer… the version to get.

Sweet Smell of Success (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

Three Fantastic Journeys by Karel Zeman (Journey to the Beginning of Time/Invention for Destruction/The Fabulous Baron Munchausen)(The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

Black Narcissus (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

This was one of the first Criterion Blurays i bought when I got back into physical media in 2018/2019. For me it is Powell and Pressburger’s best film, which is saying it is one of the best films, made by anyone. I love this film. And the use of color and sets, and camera and framing and story and performances… second to none. And criterion offers it in a great transfer,

There is not yet a UHD of this film. But there is no need to upgrade to the UHD, unless you want to. The Bluray is stunning, and UHD in these still early days of the format, is hit and miss.

For every transfer and color grading that is done well, you are just as likely to have a transfer and color grading done poorly. UHD today is where Bluray was ten years ago, stuck with ugly branding.

it took Bluray years to grow up and realize the “no branding” clear cases were the way to go, now UHD is in the same boat. The Black cases are better than the blue cases, yes, but still sport obnoxious branding, and are inferior to the clear cases, which took us a decade to realize were the better looking and more usable way to go, allowing for double sided and interior artwork.

Say it with me all you UHD/Blu-ray/DVD companies, “ditch the black cases, ditch the moronic 4K branding”. Especially ditch that 4K label, which was a disgusting bit of purposely  confusing advertising to sell the rubes they were getting  something 4 times as good as Bluray…  clearly not the case.

But my hatred for the purposeful misuse of the term 4k, and piss poor packaging that generally comes with that… acknowledged… , Criterion to its blessing, generally doesn’t engage in any of that branding shite.

Especially when you get these 4k+Bluray combo packs. Which with the exception of CITIZEN KANE have all been very well received in terms of transfer and packing. So if you don’t already own the titles, and you can get it in a Criterion combo pack, on a 50% sale, well that kinda sells itself.

And if any film was worth double dipping for… it would be BLACK NARCISSUS.

 

Here endeth the list!

Honorable mentions: RED RIVER, MOONRISE KINGDOM, THE NEW WORLD,

 

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Movie of the Day: GLENGARRY GLENROSS

“Put down the coffee. Coffee… is… for closers. You think I’m ****ing with you. I’m not ****ing with you.”

—One of the best casts, performing one of the best scripts, by one of the most acclaimed writers, all equals up to one of the best films… David Mamet’s GLENGARRY GLENROSS.

The 1992 film, with Mamet adapting it from his own play, is a bit of an outlier in that it is the best thing by far James Foley has ever directed, and nothing in his filmography has come close to it. By comparison David Mamet’s directorial career was solid before GLENGARRY GLENROSS, and continues to be solid since.

I think that is one reason it really is viewed as David Mamet’s GLENGARRY GLENROSS, as opposed to feeling Foley as director put his signature on this film. Much like THE THIRD MAN is more an Orson Welles film than a Carol Reed film.

 

“David Mamet’s screenplay considerably expanded his script for the play, providing more context for the pressure placed on the salesmen. Notably, Alec Baldwin’s introductory speech was added as well as Jack Lemmon’s phone calls to clients and the hospital, plus his sales call to the man with the fishing rod. Many consider the screenplay to be superior to the text for his Pultizer-winning stage play. The film version is often transcribed to stage now.” –IMDB.COM

 

What works in THE THIRD MAN is signature Orson Welles, including the scenes, speeches that he created for that film.

The same is felt here, in this seminal film…GLENGARRY GLENROSS.

 

 

 

Best version of this film to own in physical media. Comes with three commentaries!

Blank Verse Poem of the Day – A Shakespearean idea

I had a very Shakespearean idea today.

That if all this tumult does not end well…

All this standing up, and all this falling down

All this loving and hating, war and peace, blessing and cursing, building and tearing down…

hoping and dreaming and dying and effing

If all this tumult does not end well

It will be a damned matter for the God that led us to it.

 

That was the thought that I woke up to.

 

That if all this tumult does not end well, it would be a damned matter for the God that led us to it.

And come the end of all worlds, I, the least speck, would have words with such a God.

 

Movie of the Day : WESTFRONT 1918 (1930) by G.W. (Georg Wilhelm) Pabst

UNDER CONSTRUCTION

There are problems I have with G.W. (Georg Wilhelm) Pabst’s 1930 film, WESTFRONT 1918, in terms of pacing, etc., but honestly those are problems due to this being the early days of sound. Pabst was very much on the cutting edge, moving from the success of the silents, to this new and quite frankly uncertain technology of recorded sound.

Actually compared to his contemporaries at this time, his use of sound and camera work, is quite frankly masterful and groundbreaking. Conversations that a modern audience initially writes off as clunky, and “been there, done that” , you have to realize, this film, is where those conversations were first heard in cinema… ever.

Also the war he was recounting, and the horrors he was recounting, was a war only 12 years old, a defeat only 12 years old, that the director, and all participants, and all viewers of the movie (the movie was an international success), would all still be suffering the horrific effects of in 1930. Everyone had lost someone or something in that war. Lives, limbs, liberties, land.

It was infact an incredibly courageous movie to make in 1930s Germany, especially considering the growing political climate, While the movie found favor abroad, in Germany it made enemies, its message of the senselessness of war, and a hope for peace, was seen as problematic to a new right-wing party, that was growing in popularity, and was galvanizing the upcoming German generation, based on the very concept of the rightness of war, and the end to a shameful peace.

In 3 years from the release of WESTFRONT 1918, that Party would be dominant in Germany, Pabst films would be banned, his message of the senselessness or war and a call for peace considered treasonous and anti-German, and in 6 years after that party had conquered and crushed all opposition and dissenting voices at home, they turned their eye abroad for “breathing room” and grabbed Poland. And by so doing got the war they wanted.

Be careful of getting the things you want.

A little over 20 years after the most horrific war the world had ever seen, in 1939 a new generation was ready for the bigger, better sequel.

They were called the Nationalist Socialist Party. But History would only remember them… as Nazis.

But that was to come… a horror undreamt of, out of a horror hoped to be a cautionary tale.

Pabst with his 1930 film was creating out of whole cloth, out of his imagination and creativity, the manual for sound in films. Also the film story-wise is very sophisticated and daring and as Jan-Christopher Horak points out in his essential 2016 Introduction to the Eureka Blu-ray release of the film, whereas ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, while as notable for its brutal war scenes, it does offer the reprieve of the cherished home-front, etc.

In contrast Pabst’s WESTFRONT 1918, from a jovial, even insipid beginning, it begins to become this slog, this ever more dire, and ever more unrelenting slog, as illusions fall away, it becomes this slog in the trenches, and unlike most films then or now, it shows that direness on the home-front as well. The breadlines, the devaluation of the currency, the things wives and mothers have to do for Soldiers to have a home to return to. In Pabst’s WESTFRONT no one is untouched by War, and there is no idealized home to return to.

In that way it is still more daring a film then most war films made in the 100 years since, that all to some extent continue the sentimental home-front portrayed in ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT.

Also once it gets into its battle scenes, in its fealty to the cinema of war and death, it remains a striking portrait of and indictment toward… a war that was at the time so horrible that it was called the war to end all wars.. A war fought with such futuristic and cutting edge new weapons for mass murder, that the sheer scope of it broke minds as well as bodies, of a generation that was barely removed from the horse drawn carriage and the repeating rifle, having to deal with fighter planes, machine guns, chemical weapons and tanks.

In hindsight we can see it was only the beginning, it was the war to begin all world wars. But Pabst, does his part to warn his age away from that path. And his film, almost a 100 years later, remains a cautionary tale, for our age as well.

The film is not without flaws, but its strengths, particularly in that latter half, are in its nightmarish depictions, expressionist horror tinged images, limbs of the unburied dead sticking up from mud and muck. And also its depiction of war as the illusion of motion, where a generation of young men, spent 3 years dying by inches for the same blood soaked plot of land…, remains revelatory and required viewing.

KAMERADSCHAFT (1931) is the sister film to WESTFRONT, and filmed immediately on its heels, and the film works very much as an answer and continuation of that earlier  film. And in this film you see a real exponential growth, as Pabst has learned from his work on WESTFRONT and KAMERADSCHAFT is just the superior film, being compelling throughout.

Movie of the Day: THE WOLF OF SNOW HOLLOW (2020)

I am always on the lookout for a good Werewolf movie. It is one of my favorite genre’s of monster movie, and great ones come around only rarely, and even good ones are hard to come across. 1981’s Triumvirate of THE HOWLING, AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and WOLFEN, 40 years later remain ( with all respect to the original 1940s Universal WOLFMAN) the standard that all other werewolf films aspire to.

Director/Writer Jim Cummings’ THE WOLF OF SNOW HOLLOW, earns its place as a worthy addition to the pantheon. THE WOLF OF SNOW HOLLOW is at once so many odd and surprising things, and at every turn offers a quirky, dangerous, and fresh feeling look, at a horror movie, werewolf movie done oddly right.

Wonderful performances, stylish direction, and a compelling story with teeth… makes for a film that I look forward to purchasing and adding to my collection. Highly Recommended. A-.

 

 

Movie of the Day : THE MAN FROM LARAMIE (1955) -The Last Mann and Stewart Film

“Hate’s unbecoming in a man like you… in some men it shows.” Charlie to Lockhart

THE MAN FROM LARAMIE- Marks the end of a five year partnership between Anthony Mann and star Jimmy Stewart, and it ends like it began, with a near biblical tale of frontier vengeance, only this time in rich technicolor as opposed to striking noirish black and white.

Stewart giving  a deeply felt performance, more nuanced and conflicted than the vengeance of the younger Stewart of their first collaboration, WINCHESTER 73.

In this film Stewart’s performance of vengeance is that of an older man, not the hot certain vengeance of youth,  but touched with fear and doubt, and makes it a different, and evocative and attractive performance. The film only slightly marred by a cartoony performance, by an actor seemingly miscast as the hothead son.

But that aside a fitting ending to their collaboration, and by any measure an essential western.

You can view it for free on streaming. And when suitably availed of its greatness, you can click the images to purchase your copy today. Masters of Cinema in 2016 released a Blu-ray 60 years in the making (almost sold out), improving on the 2014 Twilight Time release (which showed the film finally in its full widescreen glory) by adding a bevy of special features including an insightful audio commentary. I despair of a world where people are silly enough not to own these films in physical media 🙂 . If you are not one of these silly people, get yours by clicking the image below.

 

 

 

WEREWOLF BY NIGHT the best original Marvel Studios Disney Plus show/feature!

 

 

Just got done watching Marvel’s much touted WEREWOLF BY NIGHT special, and I have to say… I loved it.

I was originally underwhelmed by the trailer, and was not exactly racing to see it. Though to be fear that has largely been my take on much of Marvel/Disney’s product of late. whether the films… BLACK WIDOW, ETERNALS. MASTER OF KUNG FU, DOCTOR STRANGE MULTITUDE OF MADNESS, THOR LOVE AND THUNDER; or the TV shows LOKI, MOON KNIGHT, etc. I feel after the high of AVENGERS ENDGAME, and the closing of that chapter, this latest chapter has been for me… largely a misstep.

But I have to say I thought this one hour special, hit all the right notes, did not overstay its welcome, and was just pitch perfect. Producing for me the single most successful Marvel Disney Plus original content to date.

 

I hope this one makes it to a physical media release, as I would love to add this to the collection,  GRADE: A.