DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog

Wednesday, 26 October 2016


A horror film of a completely different kind, Rebecca Hall is mesmerizing in Antonio Campos’ sobering cinematic rendering of the true story or Christine Chubbock, a Sarasota FL news reporter who committed suicide on air in 1974. Campos lets the audience’s own morbid curiosity and fascination with death and violence create the unique and extremely uncomfortable psychological journey.

Christine (2016) dir. Antonio Campos
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Tracey Letts

By Alan Bacchus

Christine admirably fit into the modus operandi of the Borderline Films collective of Antonio Campos (Simon Killer), Josh Mond (James White) and Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy Mae Marlene)- intensely focused character studies of psychologically damaged heroes of the American middle class. Campos focuses his lens on the once sensational, now vaguely remembered true story of Christine Chubbock.

While most of the other Borderline films, such as Campos’ previous Simon Killer, Campos admirably applies considerably less style to the Chubbock story. Anything less than quiet realism would have been seen as exploiting or romanticizing the tragic events. Even with a conventional visual approach, Campos has made Christine supremely cinematic.

Hall rarely leaves the screen, and thus we’re forced to go through the agonizing downward spiral from the promising and seemingly put-together local journalist to a depressed and lonely introvert highly susceptible to the pitfalls of being a career-woman in a ‘man’s world’. This is the 1970’s after all, and however absurd there is a thematic connection between the Sarasota TV news department and Anchorman’s San Diego scene. Watching Chubbock subtly play second fiddle to the uber-males in her office enlightens us to the bullseye Anchorman hit with its satirical spear.

Michael C. Hall fits the polyester suit well as the confident WXLT newsman, George Peter Ryan. As the object of Christine’s affection as well as the symbol of career goals, Hall’s performance subverts our expectations. A lesser depiction of the character could have seen Ryan solely as a bombastic masculine foil. Instead Hall, Campos and writer Craig Shilowich bury the sexism with an even more frustrating passive-aggressiveness.

I don’t know the exact details of the events, but Campos’ aesthetic precision creates a feeling of authenticity. The creative embellishment Campos’ does use is the near perfect selection of pop music tracks which populates the otherwise quiet soundtrack. Soft rock and candy-coded hits such as Laughing by the Guess Who, Everything I Own by Olivia Newton-John and other tracks from Sonny and Cher, Tommy James and John Denver, counterpoint the sobering drama unfolding.

Otherwise, the uncompromising attention to detail make it feels like everything happened just the way we see it. Campos assumes the audience knows the story and where it’s going, and he confidently uses this anticipation to build suspense and sustain tension. And when the tragic event does happen, it’s an electric hyper charged scene, punctuating an event and film never to forget.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum

Often regarded as revered Japanese master Kenji Mizoguchi’s first masterpiece, this pre-war picture personifies the poetic elegance of the ‘Mizoguchi-style’. An epic/tragic romance of a struggling actor and his supportive lover, Mizuguchi crafts a melodramatic love affair strained by the pressures of finance, class, family expectations and the demands of artistic life.

The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (1939) dir. Kenji Mizoguchi
Starring: Shôtarô Hanayagi, Kakuko Mori, Kôkichi Takada, Gonjurô Kawarazaki

By Alan Bacchus

Set in the late 1800’s, Kiku (Hanayagi) is the adopted son of a famous theatre actor Kikugoro – a man so revered he rules over his local company of actors like a despotic King Lear. Sadly, Kiku is a considerably lesser actor, who, because of his lineage, never receives the required criticism to improve, only jeers and giggles from behind his back. In a society so devoted to manners, the ridicule is excruciating for Kiku. Enter Otoku (Mori ) the wet nurse of his father’s new child, who courageously criticizes Kiku’s latest performance. Ironically he is smitten with Otoku’s candor as much as her beauty. They fall in love against the family wishes, eventually forcing Kiku to leave Tokyo and his family.

Kiku’s grand arc is the stuff great narrative drama. Think of the journeys of cinema’s greatest characters: Michael Corleone changing from an innocent kid reluctant to join the family business to a stone cold killer; T.E. Lawrence who starts out as an ambitious patriotic soldier on duty for his country to a near-mad zealot of the Arab peoples; or Charles Foster Kane, the idealistic newspaper baron, turned emotionally-inert egomaniac who longs for his lost childhood innocence. Mizoguchi’s compelling hero Kiku begins as a sad sack actor, belittled for his poor acting abilities, and dismissed in favour of his father’s new child by blood. In the second act, Kiku admirably turns the tables, estranging himself from his family embarking on a quest to achieve greatness in his art only to sell out his devoted wife and assimilate back into the arrogance of his father’s theatre, where he began.

The sublime Kakuko Mori doesn’t the let the prominence of Kiku’s character trump the importance and visibility of Otoku. The journey of Kiku is as much about Otoku’s honourable devotion to her husband. It’s a supremely tragic arc for her, capped off by the film’s moving climactic scene - on her deathbed with her family while Kiku parades his triumphant theatre troupe outside her window.

This is the stuff of great melodrama, but visualized with the highest level of cinematic/visual complexity. Mizoguchi was famous for his long takes, and in this picture there are number of hypnotic shots which elegantly and invisibly draw the viewer into the scenes. We can also point of Mizoguchi’s unique eye of composition, frequently placing his camera to frame in the corner of the room as the background instead of a flat wall. This enhanced depth of field predates the lauded Gregg Toland Hollywood pictures from ‘40/’41.

But it’s the emotional journey of poor Kiku and Otoku which makes this picture one of the greatest statements about the burden of artists and sacrifices required to succeed and be loved.

The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum is available on Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection

Friday, 7 October 2016

A Taste of Honey

One of the seminal British kitchen sink dramas of the 60’s, A Taste of Honey, resounds today on the strength of Rita Tushingham’s delightful screen debut and author Shelagh Delany’s taboo-confronting script which looks at interracial romance, homosexuality and teen pregnancy with delicate earthy realism.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Night Train to Munich

Carol Reed’s WWII espionage pot boiler confidently stands as tall as any of the celebrated Hitchcock war thrillers of the era. While this picture predates his more acclaimed post war pictures, The Third Man and Odd Man Out, it sizzles with the same kind of high stakes urgency.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Woman in the Dunes

'Woman in the Dunes', the third film from Japanese provocateur Hiroshi Teshigahara, is an indefinable film for genre and full of glorious Japanese strangeness, a captivating two-hander about a man imprisoned in a sand dune with a woman with no means of escape. Both a thriller, and meditative art film -  "Knife in the Water" meets "L'Avventura"- the film also has the distinction of receiving a Best Director Oscar nomination – then a rare feat for a foreign language film.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Night and Fog

Despite numerous other documentaries on the subject, as a masterwork of craft and technique, Alain Renais’ landmark Night and Fog still evokes the mind-boggling obscenity of the Holocaust with maximum impact. Renais forces us to witness the horror and digest those horrible images which, once seen, never leave one’s mind. While the breadth of Claude Lanzmann’s work is missing from Night and Fog, Renais’ vision in documenting the Holocaust is close to being the first and final word on the subject.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Alexander Hall’s thoroughly delightful ‘heavenly’ comedy, a Capra-esque tale of a deceased boxer who’s given a second chance at life by his angel/mentor Mr. Jordan by being able to inhabit the bodies of other recently deceased persons, is perhaps most famous for its notable remake as Warren Beatty’s ‘Heaven Can Wait’. But as produced under the studio system (Columbia), Mr. Jordan represents that unmistakable pre-war Hollywood magical combination of swift screwball comedy, dry black humour and high concept fantasy.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

The Naked Island

Two lowly Japanese farmers repetitively climbing an intense incline slope from the seaside shore to the top of a mountain to water their measly crops is the signature image of Kaneto Shindô’s social realist experimental film. Shindô observes his characters' backbreaking work with the same kind of salt of the earth honour as in the Soviet propaganda films if the 1920’s. Shindô’s cinematic eye triumphs over his self-imposed dialogue-free obstruction to achieve a woefully tragic slice of Japanese peasant life.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

In a Lonely Place

As a Hollywood screenwriter burdened with a hair trigger temper and seemingly psychopathic predilection to violence, Humphrey Bogart delivers one of his great late-career performances. 'In a Lonely Place' marries the mysterious tension of the unknown in Hitchcock’s 'Suspicion' and 'Shadow of Doubt' with director Nicholas Ray’s interest in brooding and damaged enigmatic characters.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Strike up the Band

Mickey Rooney is an electrifying dynamo in this foot-tapping, often astonishing musical which helps cement for me why the pre-war period was the absolute creative peak of Hollywood. This Rooney/Garland vehicle, the second of many musical pairings charts the journey of the young teenage pair to make something of their fledgling big band. The magic of the Busby Berkeley choreography matched with Rooney’s electrifying performance, as singer/dancer/actor /musician and Judy Garland’s youthful energy gives this film a pulse rarely seen in movies today.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Only Angels Have Wings

The exotic lands of South America provide the location for one of the big adventure films of Hollywood’s most famous year (1939). Cary Grant as an adventure-seeking enigmatic airline pilot running mail into dangerous regions of an unnamed town in the Andes established his Hollywood star status as a true leading man, game for comedy, romance and adventure. Howard Hawks’ recurring themes of male comraderie and his knack for wordy rhythmic dialogue elevate this straight-ahead actioner into something memorable and resonant.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Over the Edge

A sublime time capsule of the era, Over the Edge, exists as a rarely-seen cult classic, plugging nihilistic punk-like anger into the conventions of a teen rebel movie. Based on an actual incident in which the teenagers of a dreary Midwestern town unite and use anarchic violence to take over their school, director Jonathan Kaplan and his team create an angst-fueled ride of adolescent rebellion. The soundtrack featuring Cheap Trick, The Ramones, Van Halen and the Cars, exemplifies the pitch perfect American suburban flavor of this film.

Friday, 18 March 2016


What a strange and wonderful picture, a thrilling remake of Clouzot’s Wages of Fear, made with the documentary-like realism which embodied most of Friedkin’s films. At a cost of nearly $22m of 1977 dollars, Sorcerer exemplifies the hubris of those celebrated 70’s mavricks who at the beginning of the decade shook up the studio system with the New Hollywood movement then through a series of expensive flops saw the end of the progressive scene at the onset of the 1980’s. Sorcerer survives magnificently over time as one of Friedkin’s best films, now revered by cineastes around.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Southern Comfort

Walter Hill’s Cajun siege picture, for a long time barely registering on the cultural radar, for cinephiles now sits nicely in the highly influential late 70’s-early 80’s period of Hill’s filmography. At once a retelling of the wolfpack themed pictures Hill nearly perfected around this time ('Alien', 'The Warriors', 'The Long Riders'), but also sharp allegory to American foreign policy, 'Southern Comfort', like all of Hill’s films resonates on multiple levels – historical and social commentary, cinematic legacy and a good old fashioned movie thrills.