Category Archives: The Cineastes

Magic: A Terrifying Love Story

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Abracadabra, I sit on his knee.                                                                                                                                                                          Presto, change-o, and now he’s me!                                                                                                                                                                       Hocus Pocus, we take her to bed.                                                                                                                                                                        Magic is fun…we’re dead.

So said the malevolent ventriloquist dummy Fats in the now infamous TV spot that scared children across America and was eventually moved to primetime televison. Magic is a film about an up and coming performer, ventriloquist Corky Withers, (Anthony Hopkins) who runs away from fame in order to hide the fact that he has multiple personality disorder, and escapes to the Catskill Mts. and reunites with his high school sweetheart, ( the lovely Ann Margret as Peggy Ann Snow) but is destroyed by the wrath of his wicked, foul-mouthed dummy, that is “talking” to him. Director Richard Attenborough used the film to finance production on his acclaimed magnum-opus Gandhi (1982).

Just in time for the holiday season I’ve chosen a film that I believe is generally underappreciated, though adored by fans and regularly shown on AMC. It is also genuinely frightening, there is more than one scene where you aren’t quite sure what you’re seeing, the dummy talk, or Corky losing his mind. It is very interesting to sample the work of the great Anthony Hopkins, who does a great job, before his most famous role as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. But please, make that not the sole reason as to see this movie. At 107 minutes in length, its quite surprising to note the film feels very fast-paced, and for a good quarter of the film, its central actions occur at the lodging on Lake Melody. Fats is a fascinatingly funny dummy with a big mouth who quickly becomes very scary, and it is not often obvious to the viewer what is scarier, Fats the Dummy or Corky the unstable madman.

Peggy Ann Snow                                                                                                                                                                                                         Peggy Ann Snow,                                                                                                                                                                                                  please let me follow                                                                                                                                                                                                                         wherever you go…

Ann Margret and Burgess Meredith co-star with the same amount of intense realism, and involvement in what is going on. The last 10 minutes, especially the ending are very memorable and leave you thinking if not disturbed. Great performances, a great underrated picture in my opinion, I end this brief review on a note– watch it. After all…

“You’re not gonna get this opper-fuckin’-tunity tomorrow!”

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Au Revoir les Enfants (1987)

chosen by Edouard Hill at Allan Gray’s Imagination

chosen by Edouard Hill at Allan Gray’s Imagination

Au Revoir Les Enfants really moved me. Thank  you,Ted,for selecting this film, because it is certainly the greatest movie yet seen on The Cineastes. It is also the most powerful film I’ve seen in a while. Watching Au Revoir Les Enfants is difficult to do. It is much the equivalent of watching Schindler’s List. The fact that it is somewhat based on the director’s own experiences at a Catholic boarding school, is what makes it all the more powerful. The phrase: Au Revoir Les Enfants or “Goodbye, Children” is the farewell between Pere Jean and the children, as he is taken away by Nazi officers. “Goodbye Children” in my mind, can possibly stand as a metaphor for the loss of innocence. As we follow young Julien Quentin we watch him on his journey through life, facing conflicts from the inside and out, and come the end, loses what he had left of his innocence, prior to meeting the ill-fated “Jean Bonnet”. Not only Julien Quentin, and our director Louis Malle, but all the schoolboys are stripped of their youth on that cold January morning. The hardest thing about it for me, is to know that those innocent boys were gassed upon arrival at Auschwitz. It is a gloomy picture, but one not to be forgotten (great performance by Gaspard Manesse). It is never fun to watch movies about the Holocaust. However, that may all change this week with the release of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. And I’m not saying that is a good thing, either.

“Stop being so pious. There’s a war on, kid.”

The Cineastes No. 3

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Here comes trouble…..
       
   John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China is a comedy. Undoubtedly. It is also an escapist film, a monster movie, a chop-saki flick, a love story, and a tribute to the movie serials of the 1930s. Its a shame that this film gets slammed for it too. Within the context of a Carpenter film, there is always a social message. I feel that all of his movies are character studies, and that applies for Big Trouble as well. It is a very enjoyable and fun film to watch, and at the same time, it satisfies my craving for an intelligent movie. A good movie should speak to its audience. If a film is intelligent and can hold your attention for more than five minutes, than there is clearly something genuine to it. Big Trouble in Little China keeps you hooked for its entire 100 minutes. Kurt Russell is Jack Burton; a dumb, wisecracking trucker who finds himself wrapped up in a quest to rescue his friend’s fiancee from the ancient, evil magician Lo Pan, an in adventure 2,000 years in the making, set in modern day Chinatown, San Francisco. Jack soon finds himself dodging demons, warriors, and other terrors from the great beyond. It sounds like a nice pitch for a movie. That’s probably why it was made into a movie. Believe it or not, Big Trouble was originally conceived as a western. Either way, the film is notable for its outrageous script. It is intentionally ridiculous, attempting to spoof the old movie serials of the day. And it succeeds, in lampooning not only one specific genre, but a wide variety. The clever script relies on its set of characters. Dialogue is a key factor in the design of each character, and personalizes them. Take Jack Burton for example. He is the protagonist, and is represented as the hero, the star of the show. Yet his actual heroism is questionable. You’ll notice he never does anything very heroic in the picture, he’s always hiding in the background. John Carpenter is playing with the theme of masculinity, here. Kurt Russell has been used frequently in Carpenter’s films. Fours years before Big Trouble, Russell played Snake Plissken in Escape From New York. Plissken is the quintessential, macho hero. Coincidentally, Russell stars as Jack Burton several years later. Jack Burton and Snake Plissken are two opposite personalities; Plissken the hero, and Burton the fool. Kurt Russell is poking fun at the character he played prior to that. Jack Burton, as an individual character, is a shout out to all the masculine heroes of the cinema. Notice too how the roles of hero and sidekick (essentially the “dynamic duo) shift between Burton and Wang Chi. Jack is the hero, but Wang Chi is prepared and knows what’s going on.
” Are you ready Jack?”
The title ” Big Trouble in Little Chinais so for a reason. With “big trouble”, Carpenter is emphasizing the stupendous plot, and “little china”: the relatively small setting in which it takes place (Chinatown). Does that make sense? Just a little thought that occurred to me, that this film was made for a reason, not just to make millions. and it didn’t even make much money to begin with.
Big Trouble really is a character study, the strong cast bring a warmth to their characters and have the audience feeling there in the moment. Only a good number of movies can achieve that. It is in my opinion the most creative of Carpenter’s works. It is an innovation in escapist films, one of the best of the period. Period. Big Trouble in Little China is The Cineastes’ first blockbuster, and hopefully not the last. I feel we need to realize that great movies can be fun and enjoyable too. An outrageous comedy can at the same time be a masterpiece. Fans of the art film will most likely not enjoy this, and that is because they are traveling outside their comfort zone. But the cinema is a journey, where all doors must be open to fully understand it.
“No shit, Jack. No shit.”
“BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA”  (1986)
dir. John Carpenter   USA   99mins.    20th Century Fox
Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong,
Victor Wong, Kate Burton, and Donald Li
GRADE: B+
Chosen by Eugene Lee a.k.a. “Crap Monster” at YGG’Noise
              
    

The Cineastes #2

James Caan in "The Gambler" dir. Karel Reisz

James Caan in "The Gambler" dir. Karel Reisz

Previously published as  CINEASTES- The Gambler (1974) dir: Karel Reisz

For 10,000 they break your arms. For 20,000 they break your legs. Axel Freed owes 44,000.

Where to begin? I came to this film with low expectations; its this feeling, the two phrases: JAMES CAAN and 1974 do not register well with one’s idea of a good movie. However, this Dostoyevskian based thriller is highly intelligent and perhaps too much so for its own good. The Gambler is written by James Toback, produced by Winkler-Chartoff, and directed by Karel Reisz. In The Gambler we follow James Caan as Axel Freed, professor and playboy, whose quest to “extend the juice” is met with ill consequences, as he finds himself scrounging the streets of New York City and beyond to pay his debt: 44,000. Freed is a man of two personalities. He’s an English professor teaching the principles set down by Dostoyevsky, that in many ways mirror his gambling addiction. Freed’s compulsive attitudes leave him estranged from his loved ones, particularly Lauren Hutton; and family, threaten his career, yet he can’t take the easy way out and insists that’ll he will be fine. Freed describes his fascination for and tendency to provoke risk, how it satisfies him to live dangerously, as with most playboys attaining Freed’s outlook on life, they’ll play dangerously until they loose. Axel Freed is an addict, to gambling, as many of us are; we all have our addictions and desires. It is a clear morality tale where our hero wins but at a cost. I can see why my fellow “cineaste” chose this picture for the month of June, and I support their opinion that this a lost gem of the 1970s. Is it fair to say this film was ahead of its time? No, that’s not what I’m trying to say. Simply, 1971-1975 was a time where gutsy action-packed blockbusters drew in the most crowds. It was released to an audience that wasn’t interested. The public sought fun, exciting, inexpensive thrills, which clearly is not what The Gambler has to offer. It is fantastic and intelligent in its own right, and very under-appreciated, as is its riveting score; based on Symphony No.1 by Gustav Mahler and composed by Jerry Fielding. This film was a failure in the commercial market, perhaps in more reasons than just it’s contents alone. For one thing, the only advertisement I can find for it, is the original poster:   http://www.moviegoods.com/movie_poster/the_gambler_1974.htm

I do however believe that, had it been made now, despite the inevitable public cravings for action-packed trash, it would be received well by critics and audiences alike, and would maintain a much better reputation than this old relic does now.

The Doctor’s Diagnosis: *** out of 5 stars.