Sunday, March 04, 2018

2018 Oscar Predictions (last minute and incomplete)

Best Actor: Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in "Darkest Hour". Lacking any limey disease porn from Eddie Redmayne, this immersive impersonation of Britain's Wartime PM will have to do. It'd be tantamount to treason for the Academy's Famously United British Block of Voters to go anywhere else. The only counter scenario in play is a split in that block between Oldman and Daniel Day Lewis in "Phantom Thread" but so far that "BritBlock" has never split and likely won't with A Winston Churchill In Play. Just remember, this is a great historic impersonation, but so was Woody Harrelson in "L.B.J" and Woody is likely watching the broadcast from home tonight. Best Actress: Margot Robbie, this is personal prejudice on my part, Robbie made a champion catastrophe like Tonya Harding completely sympathetic to me, that is the essence of acting IMHO. Sally Hawkins may pull off an upset, but she was working mute in the world's first Kalju-Human Interspecies Love Story...that strikes me as a reach for the Academy. Frances McDormand has an outside shot but it's more on grounds of her overall "body of work" to date than anything else. Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer in "All The Money in the World", this is "Academy Politics" at work, voting for Plummer rebukes neatly the gruesome sexual escapades allegedly perpetrated by the film's original star Kevin Spacey. Moreover, Plummer is past eighty years of age, and reshot all those scenes in under six weeks...for stamina alone he deserves the Oscar. Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney in "I, Tonya"...As good as Robbie's Tonya Harding is, the film reaches Grand Guignol like levels of nastiness whenever Allison Janney's "Skate Mom from Hell" heaves onto the Screen....Besides when is she ever gonna be in that room again? Best Picture: This one is tough, but I am thinking "Darkest Hour", that BritBlock is pretty hardcore, they could again split their vote with "Dunkirk", but the performances in that film were more akin to neorealism, no other acting nominations were derived from it. Thus I think the race may actually be between "Darkest Hour" & "“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”, the latter being more of a "message movie" suited to Academy Prejudices. "Get Out" is "The Stepford Wives" for African Americans, and as such will likely fall afoul of the Academy's default resistance of horror-sic-fi-fantasy driven material, something that will likely keep Sally Hawkins and Daniel Kaluuya off the podium entirely.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Apropos of this week's screening of "The Siege of the Alcazar" (1940)

but its almost a cliche' to note that the salient single factor that seems to unite all the 20th century's "A-List" tyrants is a manic obsession with...movies. You name em' Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Franco, Mao...all had a imbedded notion that movies could "form opinions" in the audience's collective mind thus encouraging certain desired behaviors and deterring undesirable activities. Propaganda as defined by Jacques Ellul is a species of cost effective police supervision based on a sound theory that if the flow of facts & news to the masses is thoroughly controlled, then attitude formation can be achieved thru an atmosphere of exclusivity. The one thing that unites, all the Marxists, Fascists & Nationalists cited above is a common sociological notion of the masses as uncritical "Receivers"of state sponsored propaganda. This is pretty much Jacques Ellul's formulation but it has a hidden flaw only regimes at the height of their powers can make successful propaganda, declining regimes wracked by economic issues & foreign policy disasters can never make useful propaganda, the tide of factuality has "come in" so to speak and is washing them away. And so in the mid 20th Century the newest shiniest art form was cinema, Lenin, Hitler Stalin (the latter two watched a film every day when they could) all of them were wild about movies and also absolutely convinced that thru movies, were the masses ruled. Hitler put Leni Riefenstahl on the map, Stalin was so taken with the movies that he laid down a patently insane decree after World War Two that "All" Soviet Films must be "Epic in scope". Mao Zedong wrote unsigned movie criticism for the "People's Daily"that succeeded in getting a classic film called "The Life of Wu Xun (1950)banned for thirty five years & Mussolini rebuilt Italy's film plant while his appalling son Vittorio acted as patron to a gaggle of future Italian Neorealist filmmakers. There is a funny thing about tyrants, they demand orthodoxy, and complete obedience but they are also willing to sponsor stylistic innovations in cinema, Eisenstein, Riefenstahl and Vittorio Mussolini's pet neorealist. As I said, "obsessed" in all these despots there is more than a little "thwarted movie producer" present. "The Siege of the Alcazar"(1940) is therefore political hype work, Mussolini wanted war, only by choosing the right side in a General European War could he hope to grab off millions of square miles in North African Colonies at the Conference Table. That was his real goal in 1940, control of the Mediterranean freedom from the guns of the Royal Navy, both huge gambles, sufficient even to make the most cowed populace quail. The solution was simple, crank up the grievance machine, hype Italy's status as an underdog in Europe and build up the Marxist menace. All this was vitally necessary as the Italian Masses were completely war weary from a campaign of "pacification" in Libya, to the conquest of Ethiopia down to their intervention in support of Franco in Spain. In 1940 Italy was already militarily spent even before the war declarations, situations like this cry out for the intervention of propaganda...hence our next film. So please tell your friends, as once again Channel Zero has gone to a very obscure film title for what we think are very sound reasons. “The Siege of the Alcazar” (1940) Directed by Augusto Genina The Somerville Theatre (micro cinema) Friday February 23rd
 8pm (sharp!)
 55 Davis Square Somerville Ma
 617 625 5700
 Admission: $7.50 (cash only, tickets on sale thirty minutes before showtime in front of the MicroCinema)

Monday, January 29, 2018

"The Siege of the Alcazar " (1940)

a seminal work of Italian Fascist Propaganda is Channel Zero's inaugural screening for 2018 Next Month, Friday February 23rd.... We hear a lot of talk about authoritarianism being on the march out there, so Channel Zero thought it instructive to screen an authentic example of film propaganda from the 20th Century's First True Totalitarian Regime, Mussolini's Fascist Italy. Here the regime seeks to hype a skeptical population on the need for "Fascist Solidarity" with Franco's Dictatorship in Spain, depicting the seventy day defense of the Alcazar Arsenal in Toledo by Nationalist Troops against the "Republican Hordes". Director Augusto Genina's style could be summed up as "documentary fiction", he seamlessly dresses up a real event in the early days of the Spanish Civil War with real & amateur actors, facts are interwoven with pure dramatic invention, plain people are very much in the historic spotlight, the earliest flicker of the neorealist school can be discerned. Roberto Rossellini made a close study of "L'Assedio dell'Alcazar" in the lead up to his own directorial efforts on behalf of the Fascist regime, Michelangelo Antonioni LOVED "The Siege of the Alcazar", praising it's innovative technique to the high heavens in "Cinema" magazine (a film journal that was a veritable neorealist "petri dish" under the overt patronage of Vittorio Mussolini, the Duce's semi barbarous oldest son). It can therefore be inferred that that there was a certain amount of cinematic experimentation going on in Italy in the 1937 thru 1943 period. This was ongoing, even as the Regime started investing in "positive propaganda films" designed to persuade an already war-weary Italy on the vast territorial gains to be wrung from an aggressive European conquest at Hitler's side. The film experimenters of the 1937 - 1943 period in Italy one and all shed their fascist regalia and became some of the biggest names in Italian Cinema after the war...almost none were proscribed or disbarred from filmmaking after the war. "The Siege of the Alcazar " remains an interesting testimonial to the contradictions of the time, a stylistic advancement in many ways, but also a film itself dedicated celebrating fascist violence, grievance politics & the Cult of the Leader. Jacques Ellul teaches us that propaganda has many functions, implantation and perpetuation of certain ideas, cost effective attitude policing, both persuasion & dissuasion, "L'Assedio dell'Alcazar" is an example of an "idea replicator"summarizing the regime's own restrictive view of the Spanish Civil War (where Mussolini would ultimately commit seventy five thousand troops to fight for Franco)and the vision for a future that could be won only thru aggression & violence. The Somerville Theatre (micro cinema) Friday February 23rd
8pm (sharp!) 
55 Davis Square Somerville Ma
 617 625 5700
 Admission: $7.50 (cash only) Tickets go in sale thirty minutes before showtime in front of the micro-cinema.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Top Twelve Movies for 2017

(Apologies for the delay to one and all....) Tower (2017) Keith Maitland's documentary on Charle Whitman reign of terror as the Texas Tower Sniper does something no other film has ever quite done, made animation the servant of journalism. It is a conceit that Wellesian in it's implications. Get Out (2017) A film that conclusively demonstrates that there are worse fates to be suffered than mere race based genocide. Director Jordan Peele did something pretty amazing here, he turned perky suburban nonentity Allison Williams into a mortal threat to the survival of the human race so....respect! Colossal (2017) because ALL alcohol driven dysfunction in this world can be effectively summarized & illustrated thru Giant Kaiju Monsters AND Anne Hathaway. Wonder Woman (2017) This makes the list simply because it took decades to upgrade the Amazing Amazon to Feature Films and DC Comics is notorious for screwing up two-car funerals, so I'm astonished that they got what they got right on this one, which is chiefly casting. If Gal Gadot keeps her health she can play Wonder Woman for another ten years easily....she played the part three times already and stolen every single scene she was in...she is a super heroic bargain at twice the price. Baby Driver (2017) Because Hollywood has "Institutional Aphasia" genres that used to be no-brainers become increasingly impossible to execute, so its just bracing to see someone pull off a good "car chase/heist" movie with such brio. Dunkirk (2017) This was likely the closest we'll ever get to a neorealist revival, a bunch of characters largely defined by their jobs and uniforms in on a ghastly historic battlefield at once expansive and claustrophobic. Logan Lucky (2017) Channing Tatum should just camp out in front of Steve Soderbergh's door and wait for his next script to be completed, those two are made for one another, a dry screen presence and a director that knows what whats those kinds of actors funny and interesting. Plus...this is the first time I've ever laughed at anything Daniel Craig has done on the big screen.... The Battle of the Sexes (2017) I always give props to two things, winning historic impersonations (Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs & Emma Stone as Billy Jean King) and movies that remind us how cringeworthy we were, we are and likely always will be... Mansfield 66/67 (2017) Jayne Mansfield!! The First Modern Celebrity who proved that complete non productivity and toxic fame were easily compatible...She is literally The Mother of All Kardashians! This was pulpy gruesome stuff and I loved every retrograde minute of it, one of the best documentaries I've seen all year... The Darkest Hour (2017) Remember what I said about historic impersonations?? Is there anything more satisfying than Gary Oldman of all people playing the hell out of Winston Churchill?? I, Tonya (2017) Margot Robbie for Best Actress, Allison Janney for Best Supporting Actress and all from a Tonya Harding biopic with virtually no miscasting whatsoever! The Shape of Water (2017)...or what would've happened in "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" had finally gotten the girl at the end of the movie...Guillermo Del Toro can do no wrong in my books, even his interspecies love stories are fascinating. I liked all these movies, for a industry in decline Hollywood managed to punch way above it's weight this year, lotsa history lotsa fantasy...but those are genres I like what can I say?

Monday, January 15, 2018

Apropos of the Justice League Movie....

Not sure what Warner Brothers' plans are for their chronically underperforming DCU Movies, if I were them, I'd double down on Gal Gadot and hand the rest of it over to Bruce Timm and the WB's animation division they at least know how to make these here newfangled comic-book movies. The Justice League had its strengths (generally a good cast from a technical viewpoint) but there is meta context here, they need the right actors, and the right mix of heroes, and this particular line up was three super strength users, a speedster and The Batman. So the team as given to us was a little too reliant on sheer brute force and that is abad mix when you consider the villain of the movie is a Darkseid henchmen nonentity I had to look up on Wikipedia after the show. But I grow lyrical... If they are gonna keep Henry Cavill on as Superman...and clearly they've got no choice at this point, then someone needs to sit down with The Big Lug and tell him to stop playing The Man of Steel as an homage to Douglas Rains' "Hal 9000" characterization. No Joke, the JLA was a remarkably low affect performance from Cavill, he smirked once or twice and thats it...Ben Affleck pushed in way more chips by comparison, to say nothing of Gadot who has played Wonder Woman three times in two years and never not stolen every single scene. Sadly I suspect Affleck is out the door he sounds like he's paid his dues and wants to go back to making heist movies on the South Shore, Gadot has got three more Wonder Woman movies in her easy assuming the scripts don't tank (and this is DC so they could very well) so that leaves Henry Cavill's Superman as the other main tentpole and right now, he needs to stop phoning it in!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

I don't know what the future holds...

maybe movie-going as a mass experience will end, sooner rather than later. Maybe the latest releases will simply drop into our smartphones like a gentle rain to beguile us when we are stuck on the Red Line. That having been said, before the hammer falls, if someone wanted to revive the campy humor-driven "Adam West Style" version of Batman, then I say turn the whole thing over to the "Kingsman" creatives, Director Matthew Vaughn & perhaps Channing Tatum as Bruce Wayne. Tatum would be nigh perfect, he has a dry delivery in his performance toolbox, one that is very "Westian" and wears well on the Big Screen. I can already hear him saying "I'll explain all that later Robin!". I have no casting ideas on Robin (suggestions anyone?) but I know I'd pay good money to see Emma Stone play "Batgirl", I see a light of cinema mischief in that actress' eye! James Franco as "Two Face" anyone? Its the part he was born to play!!! or Katherine Heigl as "Poison Ivy"? I could go on...notional casting is a game I like to play.... The main problem with the "Kingsman" franchise is the films go "pear shaped" in the final reel, but a revival of "Batman '66" solves all that, everything ends with a loopy lyrical brawl with multiple jobbers...simple! I wonder who has the remake rights to the original "Batman: The Movie"?? This will never happen, it plays to too small an audience, and we are lucky even to have gotten two final "West and Ward" animated features out of this, the first true Bat Franchise...but its fun to think about all the same.

Saturday, November 11, 2017


we read this week of the untimely death of David Pendleton, programmer for the Harvard Film Archive, and if repertory film had a Local Lion, it was ever himself. This is a blow to our Sacred Cause My Friends. Pendleton, had serious film chops, better than my own by any measure, he was a great believer in "The Comprehensive Retrospective" and it is only thanks to him and his willingness to get the content, that I, a mere dabbler Orsonologist could ever see Orson Welles thought-lost "Too Much Johnson Footage" or his infamous television pilot "The Gina Lollobrigida Story". It is thanks only to David Pendleton, thru the auspices of his "John Ford Retrospective" that I finally realized that John Wayne really could act and act well. And in these recent years as I grow older but ever in need of film education, the Harvard Film Archive and it's eclectic summer screenings have become a potent co-competitor with the Drive Ins for my attention & money. In life, Pendleton was a friendly low key man, he had impeccable taste, eminently approachable, not two months ago we briefly commiserated about the challenges of finding good quality subtitled Filipino cinema for revival. Here was a man with big budget and proven track record reviving obscure movies in a classy venue openly communing with the co-curator of an obscure repertory franchise that counts twenty tickets sold as "Success". Sometimes Channel Zero could out program Pendleton, on a one-off basis, but we could never beat him, he was too good at his job. His hard work and depth of knowledge was a solid asset to the HFA, I feel for anyone trying to step into Pendleton's shoes, it'll be a real job to honor the tradition. Film isn't dying, its office receipts are down for mainstream productions, VOD is pretty much the wave of the future, franchises like Channel Zero have iffy prospects over the intermediate term. Thats what makes David Pendleton's Programming so Important, as darkness falls, he proudly lit things up. Thank you David Pendleton, You Will Be Missed.