DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog

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.

Strike Up the Band (1940) dir. Busby Berkeley
Starring: Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland

By Alan Bacchus

The story here is uncomplicated, in fact, now a cinematic cliché to some. “Let’s put on a show!” is the inspiration of Jimmy Connors (Rooney) a high school dreamer who desires to form a big band of his own and become a success. His muse is Mary Holden (Garland), his best pal with a golden voice. While Jimmy and Mary beg the teachers, the principal and local businessmen around town to give him a shot, Jimmy is oblivious to Mary’s devoted attraction to him. It’s a superficial treatment of a love story, but when chewed up by Rooney’s supremely engaging presence as a comedic actor it’s comic gold.

Strike Up the Band was one of four Rooney/Garland musicals directed by Busby Berkeley – the legendary choreographer/director known for his dizzyingly geometric staging. Band showcases Berkeley at his best - essentially a film comprised of a series of immaculately staged musical sequences filled in by the ‘put on a show’ and romantic chase plotting. The first sequence, La Conga, is a marvel, a whirling dervish of a sequence which begins quietly with a single accordion then gradually gains momentum through the rhythmic intensity of a full percussive orchestra. There’s almost no dancing in the sequence until Garland stops singing and joins a gymnasium of teenagers in a series of chorus lines shimmying to the conga shuffle.

The second major set piece is Mickey Rooney’s crowning achievement, ‘The Drummer Boy sequence’ a big band musical piece led by Rooney himself on the skins pounding away at the drums with energetic flare. Again, there’s almost no dancing or geometric choreography, but Berkeley’s camerawork and sharp editing (from Ben Lewis) matches the energy of Rooney’s performance. As a fan of Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash I can’t help but an influence in the crafting of this sequence.

The third major sequence is the raucous finale, Rooney’s grand swan song performance after winning the Chicago Big Bang competition. This time Rooney, like his drumming, takes an energetic, if not lovably sloppy, turn as conductor of the band. Rooney foppish hair flying, arms waving with glee and his energetic smile is infectious and inspiring. Berkeley combines all the talents of all the performers and segments the sequence with elements of the Conga sequence, the Drummer Boy sequence and Berkeley’s trademark flare with group choreography. It sends the picture out with a bang like only old Hollywood could.

Strike Up the Band exemplifies the pre-war peak of Hollywood, a dream making machine firing on all cylinders, achieving a rare kind of cinematic perfection.

****


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

Sorcerer

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.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Sweetie


Sweetie, the title character of Jane Campion’s idiosyncratic and typically Aussie -quirky first feature, is the house guest from hell, the firebrand bi-polar sister of Kay who shows up unwanted at Kay and her boyfriend's door thus disrupting her attempt at a regular life of independence from her thoroughly messed up family.  Strange but inspired, Sweetie admirably showed the signs of a director with a unique voice and laid the thematic sign posts for Campion's future works.

Sweetie (1989) dir. Jane Campion
Starring: Genevieve Lemon, Karen Colston, Tom Lycos, Dorothy Barry

By Alan Bacchus

Director Jane Campion replaces a precise, forward-moving narrative, a plot which can't be summarized sufficiently in a neat paragraph, with a meandering series of set pieces that sketch out the portrait of Kay and Sweetie’s kooky family. In between the odd comic framing and wackiness, there’s a danger brewing in Sweetie, a violent streak that we sense will erupt in an impending tragedy.

While not the lead, Sweetie earns the status of title character for Lemon’s commanding performance as a bottle full of energy. Her chubby body type and rock and roll attitude and attire threatened to overwhelm everything else. But Campion is smart to bring Sweetie in at the beginning of the second act, concentrating on establishing Kay’s own set of peculiar idiosyncrasies and inhibitions.
It’s a decent start to her career, though the reliance on the show-offy wide angle lenses would later be discarded as a visual tool. Her subsequent films are certainly more rich, textured and emotionally engaging than the off-centre framing and perspective-shifting compositions.

The film’s closest cousin is clearly Holy Smoke, the 1999 Kate Winslet/Harvey Keitel film, which told the story of a cult de-programmer who combats the sexual persuasions of Kate Winslet. We can see striking similarities in the characterizations of the affable family members in both films, as well as the skewed sense of Aussie wit, a funny bone that is conspicuously missing from most of Campion’s other films. Like Holy Smoke, when the action switches from the city to the outback, things get even weirder. We don’t see anything comparable to a crying Harvey Keitel wandering the desert in lipstick and a dress, but Kay’s boyfriend Louis, her off-the-wall father and her mentally-challenged brother are weird enough, not excluding that David Lynch-worthy cowboy dance sequence.

Other connections to Campion’s other work are clearly her female hero Kay and the emotionally damaged Sweetie. Of course, there’s some sex, not the salacious graphic variety of The Piano, but it’s a strong theme that drives much of the conflict.

***

Friday, 19 February 2016

Blackhat


It’s impossible not to watch a Michael Mann film these days without the context of his previous work in mind. Because virtually each and every one of Mann’s films connect so intimately with one another in theme, character and tone. Blackhat is no exception, a crackerjack procedure crime picture about a different kind of thief, tracking a different kind of criminal essentially retelling the cat and mouse chase antics of obsessive cops and robbers on ultra-grey sides of good and evil as in Mann’s previous films.

Friday, 12 February 2016

The Gold Rush



The second of Chaplin’s feature films (after 1921’s 'The Kid') loses nothing over time, easily gliding past all technical innovations (sound, colour, widescreen, 3D). And with Chaplin’s natural gifts as a filmmaker and performer, he crafts a hilarious adventure epic with heartbreaking emotional sentimentality.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

The Hunger

Overwhelmingly beautiful but cold, Tony Scott’s The Hunger, once dismissed back in the day, now resounds as a seminal film of the vampire genre. Consciously aloof, Scott seemed to be striving for what Ridley Scott strove for in his early days, expressive, moody and supremely visual tone pieces. For better or worse Scott would never make a film this again, quickly moving into the Bruckheimer brand of cinema.

Friday, 29 January 2016

52 Pick Up


This underseen Elmore Leonard-penned project about a prominent LA industrialist blackmailed for his infidelity cruises through the seedy LA crime underworld in the same way Chinatown and other LA-based noir films before it. But as a time capsule of the decade, for better or worse, it’s also burdened with the vulgarities of 1980’s cinema.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

The Revenant

Perhaps more admirable and commendable than moving or masterful, the large scale frontier adventure tale visualized with eye-popping wide angle realism doesn't quite to add up to something greater than the sum of its parts. This is the power of that indescribable piece of storytelling/cinematic magic which when missing can make even the boldest, visionary works of art feel strangely inert.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Elvis on Tour


You don't have to be an Elvis fan to be thrilled by this treasure of a documentary depicting the elder Elvis, in the twilight of his career - the jumpsuit, the rhinestone belts, the rings, the cape, the sideburns, and the choral grandiosity of his performances - revving it up on the quintessential road trip rock doc.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Best of 2015

IT FOLLOWS (dir. David Robert Mitchell)

David Robert Mitchell’s exercise in horror minimalism masterfully pulls off the best retro movie experience of the year. Much like the resurrection of Mad Max, and 70’s era Star Wars Mitchell deviously recreates the terror of the 70’s/80’s silent stalker character. Mitchell takes inspiration from the hypnotic Yul Bynner/Richard Benjamin walking foot chase in Westworld, Michael Myers' terrifying stalking of Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween I and II and relentless onslaught of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1984 Terminator. Mitchell’s premise is deceptively simple and with nil backstory, his ghostly baddie simply exists without question. If Mitchell painted film with just this brush he’d still have a terrifying picture, but what elevates the film is his pitch perfect depiction of the millennial malaise. Mitchell manages to make the relationships of the four central youngsters as compelling as the genre components. Mitchell’s application of the melancholy tone from the his previous picture Myth of the American Sleepover to his ironclad horror premise is a sublime cinematic marriage.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Mon Oncle Antoine

Regarded by many as the greatest Canadian film ever made. The story of a rural and wintery Quebec mining town as seen through eyes of a young teenage boy, Antoine is deservedly revered for it's poetic depiction of an aging and soon to be outmoded way of life, a timeless classic, John Ford-worthy elegance transplanted to a French-Canadian winter.