The Congress (2013)

The Congress ★★★☆☆ Director: Ari Folman Drafthouse Films (Official Site) 122 Minutes Now Available on iTunes and On Demand | In Theaters August 29, 2014 – “Lousy choices,” Al tells his client. “That’s your whole story.” Al (Harvey Keitel) is agent and frustrated father figure to Robin Wright (playing a riff on herself) who, as Al reminds her, has only one last chance at big screen success. Miramount Pictures is giving her that one chance, but as she discovers when she meets with the studio president (Danny Huston), they don’t want her to play a role: they want to scan her. Miramount tells her this is her last chance, that everyone will be storing their likenesses and talent in studio computers, and if she passes this up she’ll never appear on screen again. And the beauty of this system, she is told, is that they no longer have to worry about her aging, her needs, or that pesky thing called free will. The Congress, the new film by Ari Folman, treats this astounding offer as simply the next step in where we are already headed, and is probably right to do so. After all, nearly 20 years ago, computers resurrected Fred Astaire so he could dance with a vacuum cleaner; just two years ago, computers shaved a decade or more off the entire cast of The Hobbit (2012). It’s not just that we have the technology to do these things, but that audiences, wanting both the reassurance of well-known faces … Continue reading

Another Dawn (1937)

By the time Kay Francis began filming Another Dawn in the fall of 1936, she was exhausted. She was the most popular, profitable actress at Warner Bros., and the studio took full advantage, putting her in one film after another without break in between. Another Dawn had originally been intended as a Bette Davis vehicle in 1935, but Bette, angry with the sub-par projects she was being given after her successes in Of Human Bondage, Dangerous and The Petrified Forest, left for the U.K. in protest and sued to try to get out of her contract. While that played out, Another Dawn was briefly attached to Tallulah Bankhead, then given to Kay Francis. Francis was paid $5,250 per week in 1936, and the budgets for her films were tremendous. This is obvious in Another Dawn, where Kay was paired with another big Warner star, Errol Flynn, fresh off his triumph in The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936). Brigade had achieved some terrific California-for-Arabia scenery shots, and the film proved massively popular, becoming the biggest money-maker of the year for WB. Thus Another Dawn was created in Brigade’s image, the Somerset Maugham story that was originally meant for Davis repurposed into a Colonialist, Arabian adventure designed to cash in on Errol’s fame. The film featured similar set design as Brigade, too, though it also inherited the problems Brigade had suffered; reportedly, the imported palm trees were hazardous, falling near actors during scenes, and could only be shot for three minutes … Continue reading

A Measure of the Sin (2013)

A Measure of the Sin ★★★★☆ Dir: Jeff Wedding Brink Vision (Official Site) 76 minutes – A childhood spent in the safety of a mother’s care becomes a nightmare straight out of the Old Testament in Jeff Wedding’s A Measure of the Sin. This chilling underground horror film follows the life of 20-something Meredith (Katie Groshong), one in a trio of beautiful young women living with The Man (Stephen Jackson) in a dilapidated farm house, away from civilization. This nameless, almost-elderly patriarch of what must surely be a cult essentially owns the women who, just like a bad joke from the 1970s, are comprised of one brunette — Meredith — as well as the blonde Alicia (Starina Johnson) and the redhead Ruth (Dale Rainey). Alicia and Ruth are content to spend their days bathing together, brushing each others’ hair, giggling and standing around nude. The two court the audience’s gaze, their allure less provocation than a blatant accusation. But Meredith demurs, wanting no part of their frolic but only to leave The Man, the isolation, and the enormous black bear that torments her at night. It’s a bear only she can see, and she believes it to be the father of her child. Despite the pregnancy, Meredith makes her plans to escape. We see her childhood education must have been truncated when she and her mother embarked on a trek through a world rich with the bounty of the land, yet full of snakes. An even more distant flashback shows … Continue reading

The John Ford Blogathon: Fort Apache (1948)

Fort Apache was the first film of what would become known as director John Ford’s “Cavalry Trilogy.” Though Ford worked within the same historical period in other films, too, these three movies — Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950) — were loosely tied together thanks not only their shared historical setting, but because they were released consecutively and featured period-appropriate music used as strong thematic elements, the role of Irish immigrants in the United States’ brutal expansion through Native lands, and a subversive, critical approach to the policies of the United States government. Continue reading

The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014)

The Battered Bastards of Baseball ★★★½ / ★★★★★ Directors: Chapman Russell Way, Maclain Way A Netflix Production 79 Minutes Premieres on Netflix Friday, July 11, 2014 – The Portland Mavericks were the most popular minor league baseball team in the country through much of the 1970s. They were the WKRP of sports, a highly photogenic, ragtag band of misfits with a host of issues and hearts of gold. The brainchild of actor Bing Russell, who formed the team when the Portland Beavers, a AAA-league team, moved to Spokane in 1973, the Mavericks were the only independent team not affiliated with any major league club. Russell’s project was considered a joke at first, but became a stunning success: not only could the Mavericks play, but they put on a damn good show. Sports writers were stunned, fans were ecstatic, but the businessmen behind the major leagues were livid. That all-too-common conflict of our modern capitalist society was sparked and battle lines were drawn as moneymakers once again tried to keep the little guy down, because the little guy always eats into the profit margin. The Battered Bastards of Baseball, the newest documentary from Netflix, follows Bing Russell, best known to audiences as Deputy Clem Foster on “Bonanza” — the more discerning cinephile will recognize him as Red from Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966) — as he dreams up, then manages, the Portland Mavericks. Bing grew up working with New York Yankees legends such as Lefty Gomez and Joe DiMaggio, but … Continue reading