Season 53 (2018-2019)

  • The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)
    September 9, 2018
    The Ox-Bow Incident  IMDB
    USA, 1943, 75 min, B&W, Not Rated
    Directed by William A. Wellman; Starring Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Mary Beth Hughes, Anthony Quinn
    The story of intolerance and mob mentality is more relevant today than it was in the old west. This is a grim picture, but works to provide a chilling example of subtle evil using powerful dramatics throughout. Gil (Fonda) is a drifter futilely trying to secure normality as he returns to claim a lost loved one. He's been caught up in a standoff over murder and angry accusations. Men's lives are on the line as a lynch mob forms. There are exciting tension-packed moments, but the film keeps to a meditative mood, delivering a strong message on the unpredictability of violence and the need to act with logic, not mindless aggression.

    Film Notes (Mark Van Hook): More than 75 years since its release, William A. Wellman's The Ox-Bow Incident persists as one of the finest "social problem" films of its era or any era.
    The setup couldn't be simpler. Two drifters played by Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan ride into town and enter a saloon where they quickly learn that a local rancher has been murdered by suspected cattle rustlers. A posse forms to hunt down the murderer or murderers and soon finds three men with what are presumed to be stolen cattle. A battle of wills ensues over what should be done with the suspects – should they be lynched on site or taken back to town to stand trial?
    The Ox-Bow Incident offers no heroes. Though Fonda is clearly the character we're most meant to identify with, he's ultimately powerless – or unwilling – to do what it takes to see true justice carried out. In truth, Fonda's casting in the role is a stroke of genius. Fresh off his performances as Abe Lincoln and Tom Joad, here he is portrayed as a principled but weak man. It would be his last role before enlisting in the Navy to fight in World War II, and though he would return to heroism as Wyatt Earp in My Darling Clementine (1946) upon his return, Fonda would come to regard The Ox-Bow Incident and his performance among his favorites. The rest of the film's casting is equally strong, most notably the supporting performances by Dana Andrews and Anthony Quinn as two of the suspected murderers.
    Wellman, one of the great workhorse directors of the silent and early sound era, was no stranger to films with a social conscience, having directed Wild Boys of the Road and Heroes for Sale for Warner Bros. during the Depression. He was the driving force behind the film's production and proposed the film to 20th Century Fox studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck after reading and loving the book on which it was based. Wellman's direct, no-nonsense approach to the story marries perfectly with the dark subject matter, and at a mere 75 minutes, the story moves relentlessly to its grim conclusion.
    Seen today, The Ox-Bow Incident remains a searing indictment of mob violence, one that continues to resonate as a cautionary tale and a warning of the dangers of a justice system where "guilty until proven innocent" is the prevailing sentiment.

  • Cops (1922)
    also showing September 9, 2018
    Cops  IMDB
    USA, 1922, 18 min, B&W, Not Rated, Silent w/intertitles
    Directed by Eddie Cline, Buster Keaton; Starring Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline, Virginia Fox

    Hailed as perhaps Buster Keaton's greatest two-reel comedy, Cops sees our intrepid Buster trying to woo the girl of his dreams (of course) by becoming a successful businessman. Chaos ensues when he instead finds himself on the run from an army of policemen after getting into scraps with several local officers. Shot during the Fatty Arbuckle rape-and-murder trial and filled with Keaton's trademark escalation of gags and stunts, Cops is a marvel of construction and one of his most cherished classics.

    Read Roger Ebert's review of Cops at Great Movies.
    Click HERE to view the YouTube episode of Every Frame a Painting called "Buster Keaton – The Art of the Gag". It's only ~8.5 minutes!
  • The Trouble with Harry (1955)
    October 14, 2018
    The Trouble with Harry  IMDB
    USA, 1955, 99 min, Color, PG
    Directed by Alfred Hitchcock; Starring Edmund Gwenn, John Forsythe, Mildred Natwick, Mildred Dunnock

    The trouble with Harry is that he is dead, and everyone seems to have a different idea of how he died, what their own culpability is, and what should be done with the body. Harry is buried and exhumed several times by various parties, and let's just say that it gets complicated. This character piece is a quirky take on "whodunits" and introduces both Shirley MacLaine and Jerry Mathers (aka Beaver Cleaver). Light comedy and dark humor easily coexist in the Technicolor glories of a New England autumn.

    Film Notes (Karen Bender): "Nothing amuses me as much as understatement." - Alfred Hitchcock to Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock/Truffaut.
    Harry Worp is about to cause a lot of trouble for the residents of a small Vermont town. The trouble with Harry is that he's dead, and there are way too many people who think that they may be responsible for Harry's demise.
    It's a gorgeous fall day in rural Vermont. Three shots ring out over the autumnal hills. A small boy with a toy gun discovers a dead body and runs home to tell his mother. Several townspeople discover the body in turn: an absent-minded physician steps over the body without noticing, a vagrant steals Harry's shoes, and an artist sketches him. The mood is of utter nonchalance in the unexpected presence of a dead body out in the middle of nowhere, and the plot turns not so much on whodunit as it does on what to do with this inconvenient corpse.
    The Trouble with Harry is one of Hitchcock's more surreal and subversive films. The Master of Suspense included very little actual suspense in this film, and when it occurs, it's presented as the suspense of avoiding social embarrassment rather than evading danger. These are nice, likable people who conspire in a cold-blood fashion to get themselves out of a spot of trouble.
    Hitchcock had two earlier films that revolved around disposal of a body. In Rope, the murderers have to remove a body secreted in an antique chest. In Rear Window, the murderer has dismembered the victim to remove the corpse from an apartment. These are dark and gruesome situations. Here, the Vermonters use good old-fashioned Yankee ingenuity to address the issue. They work communally, pool their efforts and resources, and try to figure out the best way to rid themselves of the unfortunately deceased Harry. And they do so on the sunny, autumnal slopes of New England in a landscape devoid of shadows.
    The Trouble with Harry is suffused with Americana – the brilliant colors of a New England autumn, the quirky small-town characters, visions of hearth and home – yet at its core, it celebrates Hitchcock's understated British sense of humor. The cast presents Shirley MacLaine in her first screen role, includes John Forsythe, and introduces Jerry Mathers, two years before they both found fame on television - Forsythe in Bachelor Father and Mathers in Leave It to Beaver.
    In Hitchcock/Truffaut, Hitchcock said that "With Harry I took melodrama out of the pitch-black night and brought it out into the sunshine. It's as if I had set up a murder alongside a rustling brook and spilled a drop of blood into the clear water. These contrasts establish a counterpart; they elevate the commonplace in life to a higher level." Although it was a financial flop in 1955, The Trouble with Harry was one of Hitchcock's personal favorites. This quirky, surreal black comedy has found new respect and gained an audience.

  • Nora's Will (2008)
    November 11, 2018
    Nora's Will  IMDB
    Mexico, 2008, 92 min, Color, Not Rated, Spanish w/subtitles
    Directed by Mariana Chenillo; Starring Fernando Luján, Enrique Arreola, Ari Brickman, Juan Carlos Colombo

    Nora is discovered dead on her bed by her ex-husband José. He also discovers a refrigerator full of beautifully prepared dishes - all for the impending Passover seder…the hallmarks of a labor of love. But José sees it as evidence of manipulation. The timing of Nora's death at the beginning of Passover necessitates a delay in burying her. She's put on ice and left in her bedroom until a burial can proceed five days hence. José is an atheist and impatient with the dictates of ceremonial rules. This is a gently-paced movie, sweet-natured with a dry sense of humor and a growing cast of characters including Nora's psychiatrist, her mournful cat, a rabbi, and José's wife and children.

    Film Notes (Dick Wayne): José divorced his wife Nora years ago, but lives in an apartment building right across from her. One day, he arrives at Nora's apartment with frozen meat packages that the delivery man sent him because she's not at home. José does not know that Nora lies dead in her bed until he checks the bedroom. Seems she committed suicide by swallowing lots of sleeping pills. The process to bury her is complicated. Nora is Jewish and her body can be buried only on Sunday, two days later, because the day before is the Sabbath and Friday evening is the first night of Passover. Jewish law requires to bury her within 24 hours of her death.
    Chaos ensues when José learns that Nora prepared a Passover dinner with everything properly labeled in the refrigerator. Soon relatives arrive but, without Nora, it's not going to be a typical Seder.
    Writer/director Mariana Chenillo blends tragedy, drama, and comedy with a light touch. Just when you think the plot will delve more into comedy, it turns around and moves back to tragic elements but without dwelling on them. Suspense is added when José discovers new information about Nora.
    You'll find many interesting characters and surprises in store so that the film manages to be a quietly engrossing, funny, and thought-provoking tragicomedy boasting many lively personalities.

  • The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
    January 13, 2019
    The Magnificent Ambersons  IMDB
    USA, 1942, 88 min, B&W, Not Rated
    Directed by Orson Welles, Fred Fleck, Robert Wise; Starring Joseph Cotten, Dolores Costello, Anne Baxter, Tim Holt

    This is an ancient story, yet forever a timely one. It captures the crumbling facade of the turn of the twentieth century as the old lifestyle surrendered to the new. Isabel Amberson (Costello) is courted by Eugene Morgan (Cotton), but he is rebuffed on account of his whimsical happenstance. She marries Wilbur Manifer instead, and their son, George, is terribly over-indulged. Twenty years later, the spoiled and entitled George returns home, his visit coinciding both with his father's death and Eugene's return to court his mother.

    Film Notes (Jenni Elion): The movie starts in a time over a century ago, yet the characters are people we could recognize today. We all know a George Minifer, someone who is so self-centered that we long to see karma deliver a come-uppance. Perhaps we recognize Eugene, spurned by his first love and, when both are single again decades later, trying to rekindle a romance. Or Lucy, a young woman who could probably have her pick of suitors but whose heart is drawn to someone who doesn't deserve her beauty and charm.
    Although we can watch the same film stock over and over again, we never see the same movie. New experiences, even the movie itself, make us see it with new eyes every time. As a kid, I was entranced by the clothes and balls. As an adult, I look at Agnes Moorehead's Aunt Fanny, approaching her twilight years with no job skills and no savings, and think of my own mother's concern – no, fear and anxiety are more accurate – that she would outlive her nest egg. How many of us set money aside in a 401k, 403b, or IRA, and pray that a market downturn doesn't wipe it away just when we need it? Or maybe that already happened, and we must work a few more years because we cannot afford not to.
    I've always had a special fondness for Ms. Moorehead. She was part of Orson Welles' Mercury Theater company, and had appeared in Citizen Kane, released the previous year. But, as a kid in the 70s, my first exposure to her was as the over-the-top Endora in television's Bewitched, which my siblings and I enjoyed after school in syndication. In high school, we watched The Twilight Zone reruns late at night, and we saw her tour-de-force in the "Invaders" episode, where she does not speak. And we heard her in the radio drama "Sorry, Wrong Number", where only her voice conveys character and emotion.
    This film also marked something of an introduction for me to the magic of movie-making. The television show may have been a special on Orson Welles (I don't quite recall) and one segment was about the scene in The Magnificent Ambersons where Joseph Cotten's Eugene picks up several characters whose sleigh has overturned and gives them a ride back to town in his car. Something wasn't right with the dailies – the early automobile is supposed to be bouncing on cobblestone streets, but the characters' voices sounded too even. The "making of" clip showed one actress sitting on a plank supported by two sawhorses, dubbing her lines while the film crew bounced the ends of the planks. It was years before I got to see the whole movie, on television thanks to a Netflix DVD. I can't wait to experience it as it was intended – on a big screen with a theater full of people.

  • The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed) (1926)
    January 27, 2019 (Postponed from December 9 due to inclement weather)
    The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed)  IMDB
    Germany, 1926, 81 min, Animated, Not Rated, Silent w/intertitles
    Directed by Lotte Reiniger, Carl Koch

    Prince Achmed accidentally trades his sister to a wicked magician for a flying horse, which takes him to the island of Wak-Wak, where he falls in love with a bird princess named Pari Bann. When demons steal Pari Bann away from Achmed, he turns to Aladdin's magic lantern for help. The film is considered the first animated feature film. This enormously enjoyable fantasy film maintains interest from beginning to end simply from the inventiveness of its ground-breaking animation.

    Film Notes (Pete Corson): Lotte (Charlotte) Reiniger (2 June 1899 - 19 June 1981) made animated films in her home by a technique called silhouette animation. She is credited with having made the first full-length animated film in 1926. Walt Disney's first feature-length film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, didn't appear until 1934. Walt Disney used cels overlaid on a stationary background and drew cel after cel to achieve motion. Lotte Reiniger also used a stationary background but moved complex cutout cardboard and metal figures frame after frame to create motion. Joints in her figures were sewn together with thread to allow the joints to move. Her husband, Carl Koch, did the photography. Her stationary background was a back-lighted glass plate with immovable scenery.
    Lotte Reiniger was quite daring in making this film because no one had considered making a full-length animated film with a story line. Until then, animated shorts were comedy intended to entertain in short attention spans. She is a true pioneer in the history of animation.
    The story line of Prince Achmed comes from One Thousand and One Nights (also known as The Arabian Nights). There is a wicked sorcerer who tricks Prince Achmed into riding a magical flying horse, with which he flies into various adventures. He falls in love with Princess Pari Banu and must prove his love with a series of battles to win her heart.

  • The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello (2005)
    (also showing January 27, 2019)
    The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello  IMDB
    Australia, 2005, 26 min, Animated, Not Rated
    Directed by Anthony Lucas; Starring Joel Edgerton, Helmut Bakaitis, Tommy Dysart, Jude Beaumont

    Set in a world of iron dirigibles and steam-powered computers, this Gothic horror-mystery tells the story of Jasper Morello, a disgraced aerial navigator who flees his Plague-ridden home on a desperate voyage to redeem himself. The chance discovery of an abandoned dirigible leads Jasper through uncharted waters to an island on which lives a terrifying creature that may be the cure for the Plague. The journey back to civilization is filled with horrors but in a shocking climax, Jasper discovers that the greatest greatest horror of all lies within man himself. (Mark Shirrefs,

    Film Notes (Pete Corson): The film is based on Lotte Reiniger's silhouette animation method but greatly enhanced with modern computer-generated software effects. The images are incredibly complex and the story line is a form of science fiction called steampunk. Victorian England period dirigibles drift through the air and computers are steam-driven. Influences from this genre include writers such as Edgar Allen Poe, Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, etc.
    The short was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 2006. It has won many awards in short film festivals worldwide.

  • The Bigamist (1953)
    February 10, 2019
    The Bigamist  IMDB   (Members' Choice!)
    USA, 1953, 80 min, B&W, Not Rated
    Directed by Ida Lupino; Starring Joan Fontaine, Ida Lupino, Edmund Gwenn

    The Bigamist has noir overtones. The noir element is of entrapment through moral weakness. O'Brien is a lonely traveling salesman in LA when he meets Lupino, a young waitress on a Hollywood bus tour. A relationship develops and one thing leads to another, but not before O'Brian tries to extricate himself. He has a wife in Frisco. O'Brien, who is morally weak, digs himself deeper into a bind that cannot be broken without tragic consequences. The script is soft on the bigamist, although he is punished. However, there is maturity and sensitivity in a scenario where decent people get themselves into a mess simply because of normal human frailties. The strength of the film is in the lead performances and the screenplay which sensitively deals with extra-marital sex and single motherhood.

    Film Notes (Dick Wayne): Back in the 1940s, Ida Lupino was the "poor man's Bette Davis". As such, she managed to work with such top directors such as Michael Curtiz, Raoul Walsh, and Nicolas Ray.
    At the end of the 1940s, she became fed up with the studio system and decided to put her talents behind the camera, one of the few women at the time to do so. Lupino focused on serious issues such as rape and adultery.
    The Bigamist focuses on traveling salesman Henry Graham (Edmund O'Brien). Henry and his wife of eight years are trying to adopt a child. The adoption agency informs them that during the process, their lives will be subject to deep scrutiny. Henry is unaccountably uncomfortable with this seemingly annoying intrusion and surveillance.
    He plans to be cool about it and continue his day-to-day living without further adjustments or thought. The head of the adoption agency has some second thoughts regarding Henry and decides to do some detective work. He trails Henry during one of Henry's business trips and finds him living in a small house that happens to have a baby crying in one of the bedrooms.
    Without the common decency or even the dignity to tell either woman about the other, Henry now faces a quagmire. Will he somehow fix the problem he's caused? Will he ruin the lives of everyone involved? Will he join the foreign legion? Keep watching!

  • Breaking Away (1979)
    March 10, 2019
    Breaking Away  IMDB
    USA, 1979, 101 min, Color, PG
    Directed by Peter Yates; Starring Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern, Jackie Earle Haley

    Dave (Dennis Christopher) is fresh out of high school and concentrating on his impressive bicycle racing skills. Dave is on an "Italy" kick, talking with an accent and embracing the Italian way of life. Friends Mike, Cyril, and Moocher are adrift in the same boat as Dave, but Dave is a compassionate guy who dreams of something different. The film builds to the big competition: the local kids against the university jocks. There's the prevailing sense that the friends will soon drift away. The film is a paean to the dying embers of youth and the promise of what lies ahead.

    Film Notes (Karen Bender): This is a movie about "townies," the local people who perform most of the necessary and thankless functions in college towns and universities that allow entitled college students to live in a clean, controlled environment and to feel superior to those who keep things that way. Some may in fact attend college as commuter students, and while they coexist in classes, they are far outside of the social structure of what we all recognize as "the college experience."
    Breaking Away describes the lives of four "townies." In this film, these young men are referred to as "cutters", a derogatory reference to the industry that built the town, a stone quarry which has since been closed. The stonecutters that worked there literally scribed the slabs of granite of which the University is constructed, yet their labors are unrecognized by the student body attending the school and the rich, entitled students continually condescend to the very existence of the cutters.
    Dave Stoller (Dennis Christopher) is a "cutter." In the summer after his high school graduation, he is struggling to break away from life in his hometown of Bloomington, Indiana, which is also the home of the University of Indiana. Dave and his friends spend one last listless summer as they prepare to engage in "real life." Dave is a local cycling champion, with many trophies and ribbons to prove it. Dave dreams of joining the Italian cycling team, to the extent that he has adopted a rich fantasy life which requires him to speak with an Italian accent, listen to (and attempt to sing) Italian arias, and to inspire his mother to provide Italian cuisine instead of the burgers and fries that Dave's dad prefers.
    Dave and his friends (Dennis Quaid and Daniel Stern) watch their friend Moocher (Jackie Earle Haley) make a move toward adulthood as he prepares to marry his high school sweetheart. Moocher is the first to "break away" from their little group, and as the summer passes, the others will have to decide what to do with the rest of their lives and one or more of them may make a break of their own.
    This is a sweet, funny, and heartwarming film about a time of life that everyone confronts – the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. Breaking Away quite deservedly won an Oscar for Best Screenplay and was nominated for four other Oscars (Best Actress, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Score); it was also awarded Golden Globes for Best Comedy, Best Director, Best New Male Star and Best Screenplay.

  • Ida (2013)
    April 14, 2019
    Ida  IMDB
    Poland, 2013, 82 min, B&W, PG-13, Polish w/subtitles
    Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski; Starring Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska, Dawid Ogrodnik, Jerzy Trela

    Ida is a novice nun preparing take her vows of chastity. She feels entirely ready but her prioress insists she spend some time in the "real world". Ida is instructed to visit her sister, Wanda Gruz. During this visit she learns her birth parents were Jewish, and were killed during World War II. Ida wants to dig deeper. In this Oscar-winning film, Ida is exposed to a variety of secular behaviors which she has been shielded from in the convent. Wanda smokes, drinks, and indulges in casual sex. She's a troubled woman who wears her feelings on her sleeve as consistently as Ida buries hers. The final act details the emotional fallout both characters experience in the wake of their discovery.

    Film Notes (Andrea Mensch): Ida, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, is a film that treats profoundly serious themes such as the search for identity, family relationships, religious vocation, and historical trauma with astonishing gentleness and sensitivity. Ida, the titular character, is a young novice who is about to take her vows. However, before becoming a full-fledged nun, the prioress of Ida's convent informs her that she has a surviving family member, an aunt whom she needs to see to gain some important information about her own background. It turns out that Ida's parents were Jews who perished in the Holocaust and that her aunt was a fighter in the communist resistance who later became a renowned judge called "red Wanda." The two women initially appear as complete opposites. Ida is the pure innocent who is governed by Christian principles of agape and Wanda is the disillusioned worldly woman longing to forget her troubled past through alcohol and sex. However, as the two embark on a quest to discover pieces of their past in this Polish road movie, they grow closer both emotionally and philosophically.
    The film is superbly photographed in black and white and the carefully-paced editing invites us to contemplate the gradual awakening that Ida experiences. We also experience multiple historical perspectives. Pawlowski, who is himself a child of the post-war generation, shot the film in 2013 after Poland had become a part of the European Union and Westernization had taken place. This sensibility is announced in the use of music in the film especially (perhaps foreboding his most recent academy-nominated film Cold War). The film takes place in 1961 and so we also have a sensitive and multi-layered portrayal of the post-war era in Poland when the country had once again lost its independence. Wanda drives an old Wartburg around the countryside reminiscent of films of the 1960s. Finally, we also have an acknowledgement of Poland's own murderous past during the war and the film's revelatory moment is possibly more thought-provoking than the much touted Sophie's Choice.
    Upon the film's initial release David Denby wrote in The New Yorker: "again and again, Ida asks the question, What do you do with the past once you've rediscovered it? Does it enable you, redeem you, kill you, leave you longing for life, longing for escape? The answers are startling."

  • Wadjda (2012)
    May 12, 2019
    Wadjda  IMDB
    Saudi Arabia, 2012, 98 min, Color, PG, Arabic w/subtitles
    Directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour; Starring Reem Abdullah, Waad Mohammed, Abdullrahman Al Gohani, Ahd

    Wadjda is the first feature film from Saudi Arabia and, equally important, directed by a woman. The film tells of Wadjda growing up in Riyadh and learning the dos and don'ts of being a young girl in a male-controlled Muslim culture. Wadjda admires the bicycle that her friend Abdulla rides. She wants one of her own and embarks on a quest to pay for the bike. She signs up for the school's competition on the teachings of the Koran so that she may win the cash prize. The film's multi-generational story plays like a dedication to the spirit of women of the Kingdom.

    Film Notes (Dick Wayne): Written and directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour, Wadjda is the first film to be shot in its entirety on location in Saudi Arabia. It is also the first feature from a female Saudi filmmaker. This beautifully crafted film provides fascinating insight into everyday life in the nation's capital, Riyadh.
    Wadjda (Mohammed) is not your typical 10-year-old girl. She's intuitive, full of energy and individualism and with the unusual desire of owning a bike. She's a very interesting character. She wears scuffed purple Converse shoes, listens to pop music on her headphones, and consistently avoids covering her face as required. Above all, she wants a bicycle. She continues to defy her mother and headmistress with cheeky abandon.
    On the streets, she befriends a local boy, marvels at his bike, and gets herself into many unladylike situations. However, she is so determined to get her own bike that she swindles her classmates for cash by selling bracelets and mix tapes. Eventually she decides to try and win the cash prize offered by the school Quran recitation competition. This devotion to her studies and the arduous task of memorizing the religious verses begins to change people's perspectives of her.
    Wadjda's mother, as often as she is concerned for her daughter, begins to understand that her culture is in need of some boundary flexing and becomes more accepting of what makes her daughter happy. It is these beautiful relationships that are more instrumental in making this a rewarding film.

  • Sophie's Choice (1982)
    June 9, 2019
    Sophie's Choice  IMDB
    USA, 1982, 150 min, Color, R
    Directed by Alan J. Pakula; Starring Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Peter MacNicol, Rita Karin

    On his first night at a Brooklyn boarding house, Stingo witnesses a drunken Nathan berating Sophie in a stairwell. He notices a number tattooed on her arm. Nathan hurls insults at Stingo before huffing off, leaving Stingo to comfort Sophie. The next morning Nathan invites Stingo to a picnic as an apology for his behavior. The trio become good friends. The second half of the film switches gears to depict Sophie's time at Auschwitz and her work as a Nazi officer's servant. This backstory brings us full circle as Sophie's past life explodes in the stories of Nathan and Stingo. Few films have handled gut-punching tragedy, romantic melodrama, and intermittent comedy so skillfully.

    Film Notes (Doug Scott): Academy Awards nominations: Screenplay, musical score by Marvin Hamlisch, cinematography, and costume design. Meryl Streep won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1983, her second.
    Sophie’s Choice refers to an extremely difficult decision that a woman, Sophie, has to make; neither outcome is preferable over the other because in her case, both decisions are equally undesirable.
    During World War II Sophie arrives at Auschwitz where a camp doctor makes her choose which of her two children would die by gassing and which would continue to live at the camp. Sophie chooses to sacrifice her daughter, Eva, who is seven years old. It is a heart-wrenching decision for Sophie and one that leaves her mourning and overcome with grief. Her son soon disappears and is never heard from again.
    After the war, Sophie arrives in Brooklyn, New York, where she meets Nathan (Kevin Kline) and because she has no money, moves in with him. They become lovers. Shortly thereafter, Stingo, played by Peter MacNicol, moves to the same boarding house after he is fired from McGraw Hill, a New York publishing house. He has come to Brooklyn to write the great American novel.
    Stingo becomes friends with Sophie and Nathan but is especially attracted to Sophie. They develop a close relationship which infuriates Nathan, who is a paranoid schizophrenic, and who, at times, could be delusional, jealous, violent, and abusive.
    Stingo proposes marriage to Sophie. Soon they share a night of sexual abandon. He loses his virginity and Sophie fulfills many of his sexual fantasies. Despite their clear affection for each other, Sophie also has deep feelings for Nathan. She has a choice to make: stay with the struggling author Stingo or return to the schizophrenic Nathan. What choice will Sophie make? Her choice will determine the course of the rest of her life. Who will it be: Nathan or Stingo?

  • Children of Paradise (Les Enfants du Paradis) (1945)
    July 14, 2019
    Children of Paradise (Les Enfants du Paradis)  IMDB
    France, 1945, 189 min, B&W, Not Rated, French w/subtitles
    Directed by Marcel Carné; Starring Arletty, Jean-Louis Barrault, Pierre Brasseur, Pierre Renoir

    Against a backdrop of 19th century Parisian theater life, a great beauty has a lasting effect on the lives of four disparate men: a brilliant mime, who falls debilitatingly in love with her, rendering him unable to accept the love of his own admirer; a womanizing Shakespearean actor, who briefly shacks up with her in a somewhat passionless affair; a rich and powerful count, who saves her from a spurious criminal charge, and subsequently takes her to see the world; and a flamboyant criminal whose mischievous meddling brings to a head all of their various entanglements. The epic sweep of Carné's film is often intoxicating and filled with plenty of enjoyable and engaging moments that are wonderfully entertaining.

    Film Notes (Britt Crews): "You wanna stop time, that's what you wanna do. You want to live forever… In order to live forever you have to stop time. In order to stop time, you have to exist in the moment, so strong as to stop time and prove your point. So that you have stopped time. And if you succeed in doing that, everyone who comes in contact with what you've done… will catch some of that… That's an heroic feat! …I've never seen a film except one other that has stopped time… Children of Paradise." ~Bob Dylan
    "I would give up all my films to have directed Children of Paradise." ~François Truffaut
    In these days of sound bites, texts, Twitter, Snapchat and Tumblr, why commit to this three-plus-hour movie created 74 years ago about an even earlier time? Similar to a sumptuous, multi-course meal in a Michelin 3-star restaurant that one savors appreciatively, even ecstatically, Children of Paradise masterfully spins its story of theatre, high and low art, artifice, love, longing, romance, betrayal, life. Created by artists and master storytellers at the height of their powers, the movie consistently remains on any list of greatest French films of all time and often claims the pinnacle.
    The Paradise of the title refers to the cheapest of cheap seats in the highest balcony of a theatre where the lowest of the low enjoyed the show. The actors onstage came from that audience; literally, they are the children of Paradise. The rest of the story awaits discovery or rediscovery by those intrepid cinephiles, Francophiles, theatre buffs, and romantics who join us for our screening of this extraordinary film classic.
    "Children of Paradise, which Jacques Prévert and Marcel Carné produced and directed in France during the war, is close to perfection of its kind and I very much like its kind – the highest kind of slum-glamour romanticism about theater people and criminals, done with strong poetic feeling, with rich theatricality, with a great delight and proficiency in style, and with a kind of sophistication which merely cleans and curbs, rather than killing or smirking behind the back of its more powerful and vulgar elements. All the characters are a little larger and a good deal more wonderful than life – a mime of genius, a fine florid actor, an egomaniacal criminal, a cold great-gentleman, and the hypnotic gutter-beauty whom they all pursue and, after their varying fashions, possess…
    I do suspect that unless you have a considerable weakness for romanticism, which I assume includes a weakness for the best of its ham, this will seem just a very fancy, skillful movie. But if you have that lucky weakness, I think the picture can be guaranteed to make you very happily drunk."
    ~James Agee

  • Mulholland Drive (2001)
    August 11, 2019
    Mulholland Drive  IMDB
    France/USA, 2001, 147 min, Color, R
    Directed by David Lynch; Starring Naomi Watts, Jeanne Bates, Dan Birnbaum, Laura Harring

    This film throws away any notion of traditional linear storytelling. It's Hollywood, and a wide-eyed blonde, Betty (Watts), has arrived at her aunt's place to find a mysterious brunette, Rita (Harring), who was in a car accident and lost her memory. Betty endeavors to aid Rita, putting them on a path where dreams and reality collide. Their story interacts with a film director who was strong-armed into hiring an actress for the lead role of his film. However, his connection to the two women may run deeper. This film is sexy, dark, and exotic, with an unpredictable plot twist that forces you to reinterpret what you've seen. What is reality? That's for you to decide.

    Film Notes (Bryan Imes): Following a car accident, a woman named Rita (Laura Harring) is left with amnesia. She befriends a woman named Betty (Naomi Watts) who is newly arrived in Hollywood in search of stardom. Together they explore Los Angeles to find out what happened to Rita.
    To describe the plot is an exercise in futility as the film weaves here, there, and back again while constantly making the viewer question what is real and what is a dream. Roger Ebert once wrote about the film, "The movie is a surrealist dreamscape in the form of a Hollywood film noir, and the less sense it makes, the more we can't stop watching it."
    At this point in his career, David Lynch had made such works as The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, and the surreal masterpiece of television Twin Peaks. Having already established himself as a director whose films envelop you in their bizarrely enchanting tones, Lynch continues the legacy with Mulholland Drive, a fascinating, entertaining, and ethereal journey through Los Angeles. While its vague nature may turn some viewers off, it will undoubtedly get everyone thinking on its many possible interpretations.