Okay, so it’s not a major TV series finale…

…And there’s absolutely no doubt that the most important documentary to debut at this year’s just wrapped Cannes Film Festival was Charles Ferguson’s Wall Street/Washington expose, “Inside Job.” Nevertheless, this film geek can’t resist running the trailer for what sounds like a perfectly great documentary about one of the greatest men to ever hold the title “Cameraman.”

What can you say about the man who shot several of the most dazzling, visually groundbreaking films every made, including the ultimate ballet film, “The Red Shoes” and whose resume also includes “Rambo: First Blood 2”?

David Hudson had the scoop and gets a mega h/t for the trailer on this. Just a little bit more of the work of Jack Cardiff after the flip.

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Monday night at the movies

* We’ve been pretty enthusiastic here about both trailers for “The Wolfman.” Still, there’s been some disconcerting news about the promising looking remake of the 1941 Universal monster classic. Composer Danny Elfman, who has a terrific way with slightly over-the-top genre material going back to his earliest work with Tim Burton on “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure,” has left the project due to “scheduling conflicts.” Word that a score has actually been composed makes it seem even a bit odder. It’s true that there’s a lot more to scoring a film than composing the music, but there is more than one way to deal with that short of dumping a largely finished score if all there really is is a time problem, I’d guess.

More worrisome is Elfman’s replacement, Paul Haslinger, whose resume includes the rock scores for two of the “Underworld” films Paul W.S. Anderson’s “Death Race.” To be fair, Haslinger was a member of synth group Tangerine Dream from 1986 to 1992 and participated in the scores to films like “Near Dark.” However, I’m usually of the opinion that a period picture requires a period sound and the vague Euro-synth of the “Underworld” music does not inspire me. Hopefully, he’ll go for more of an orchestral sound.

Even more worrisome still, Renn Brown over at CHUD makes a strong case that this is a generally troubled production. At the same time, movie history is filled with troubled productions that turned out great and fun-to-make films that turned out to be horrible-to-watch. We’ll see when we see.

* New York film critic David Ansen will be artistic director of the Los Angeles Film Festival (LAFF), writes Anne Thompson.

* Alex Ben Block declares Peter Jackson producer of the year. His methods and approach sound almost Pixar-like in his openness to collaboration. It’s a complicated method: hire good people and listen to them.

* Apparently, Jackson lost all a bunch of weight a few years back simply by swearing off junk food while maintaining a punishing work scheduled during the making of “King Kong,” and he’s kept it off since. Good for him. Judging from the picture in today’s Variety, however, Winona Ryder might consider a regime that includes the occasional milkshake and order of chili cheese fries. Okay, none of our business and, in any case,  the role she is “circling” in Darren Aronofsky’s all-star oddball thriller, “Black Swan,” calls for her to play a veteran dancer, but, my god, those protuberant cheek bones. Part of me just wants her to mainline my mom’s brisket or something.

As for the movie itself, what I’m hearing reminds of just a little bit of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s “The Red Shoes,” and not just because of the ballet setting. There’s also the underlying psychoses.

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1960, the year graphic horror broke – part 1

As graphic mayhem (“Saw VI”) and the power of suggestion (“Paranormal Activity“) battle at the box office this weekend, I’ll be presenting trailers from three movie milestones all made in 1960 that all broke the longstanding cinematic taboo against what was then deemed extreme horror and violence.

Now, this trailer isn’t classy and it’s a lot more lurid than the movie, but it is fun, though it didn’t do much good for the success of “Peeping Tom.” The film was mired in obscurity for decades on both sides of the Atlantic, known only to hardcore film nerds, and even mocked with zero affection by TV horror hostess Elvira. Today’s it still not well known enough for my taste. Not even close.

“Peeping Tom” actually contains no onscreen blood at all as far as I can remember, but its content so horrified English film critics that they effectively scared away audiences and it actually became a virtual career-ender for its director, Michael Powell, who only made one more notable film before passing away thirty years later. Ejecting Powell from the British film industry was like ejecting John Ford or Alfred Hitchcock from American films, though the fact that he was best known in tandem with screenwriter Emeric Pressberger perhaps made it seem like it was okay to disregard him after the collaboration was over. Despite such earlier worldwide hits with Pressberger as “The Red Shoes,” Powell wound up something of a movie refugee before eventually settling down in New York, befriending Martin Scorsese, and marrying his editor, Thelma Schoonmaker.

Going back at least to the premiere of 1931’s “Frankenstein,” the British have always been much harder on horror and violence than Americans and, despite the natural restraint and subtlety of Powell’s portrayal of a serial killer who shoots film of his victims as he murders them, it was, in fact, a film about a serial killer who films his victims. That was that. The most horrified reviews you might now read for a “torture porn” flick were absolutely nothing compared to the throttling Powell received from the British press.

It wasn’t fair, of course. I’d argue that, at least until “Silence of the Lambs” was released, “Peeping Tom” was easily the class of the entire psycho-killer genre — and I know what movie you’re thinking must be better, but I disagree. Powell’s is a film that explores the roots of violence and our fascination with it. It’s actually a work of great taste and beauty though if I’d written that for an English newspaper back then, I’d likely be fired.

  

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Essential Art House Vol. II

The second collection of past Criterion releases – stripped of their DVD extras (and more than half their cost) – presents an even better, more accessible collection of films from the cinephile-sanctified vaults of legendary distributor Janus Films than the prior volume. This boxed set (the titles are also sold separately) is highlighted by three of the most entertaining and emotionally open films by three of the mid-20th century’s most revered filmmaking powerhouses: François Truffaut’s innovative 1959 coming-of-age drama, “The 400 Blows”, starring a 14-year-old Jean-Pierre Léaud, set the pattern for the genre worldwide, while also launching France’s iconoclastic New Wave of the 1960s; Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 “Ikiru” is a deeply moving and gently humorous film about a milquetoast bureaucrat (Takashi Shimura, the fish-faced badass leader of “The Seven Samurai”) facing certain death from stomach cancer without benefit of a billionaire buddy or bucket list; and 1954’s “La Strada” is a wondrous surefire tearjerker by the great Federico Fellini and starring his wife, the even greater Giulietta Masina, as a Chaplinesque waif, and America’s own Anthony Quinn as a very mean muscleman. England’s 1944 “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp,” starring Roger Livesay and Anton Walbrook – two great actors, too little remembered – and featuring an astonishing film debut by gorgeous 24-year-old A-lister-to-be, Deborah Kerr, is from the still-not-legendary-enough team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. It’s one of the most enjoyable comedy-dramas ever made, as well as an eye-opening, Technicolor, quasi-wartime propaganda epic, and my current unofficial “all-time favorite movie,” if you really want me to name one.

Definitely worthwhile, but not anyway near the same category, is another British entry, George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion.” Co-directed by star Leslie Howard (“Gone with the Wind”) and stage-to-screen specialist Anthony Asquith, and with Wendy Hiller as the definitive Eliza Doolittle, it’s a solid but sometimes slow adaptation of the Shaw play, which you may know as “My Fair Lady,” but without the music or sentiment, or “Pretty Woman,” but without hookers and with actual wit. Finally, we have 1959’s “Black Orpheus”, Marcel Camus’ retelling of the myth of Orpheus, samba style. It’s a beautiful but slow ride that has millions of fans – just not me. All in all, there’s no faulting this collection. However, the absence of DVD extras makes a strong case for curious viewers to simply join Netflix and rent the original Criterion releases, great bonus features and all.

Click to buy “Essential Art House Vol. II”

  

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The Films of Michael Powell

England’s Michael Powell was a rare twofer as a director – both a great visual stylist and one of filmmaking’s most adept and original storytellers. While movie history played some very nasty tricks on Powell, depriving him of his rightful status alongside such contemporaries as Alfred Hitchcock and David Lean, his cult continues to grow. Indeed, after a day or two watching this package of two rare films making their long-overdue DVD debuts, you might be joining me for some genius-spiked Kool-Aid.

The first of half of this stunning double bill is 1946’s “A Matter of Life and Death,” one of a number of classics Powell made with Emeric Pressburger, his long-time filmmaking partner with whom he shared writing, producing, and directing credits. Originally released in the U.S. as “Stairway to Heaven,” this post-war romantic fantasy features a young David Niven as a downed RAF pilot whose apparently impossible survival and subsequent love affair with a sweet-natured American (Kim Hunter) arouses celestial interference from the heavenly powers that be – or, perhaps, that what he’s imagining, as a brilliant neurologist (Powell/Pressburger favorite Roger Livesey) grows increasingly concerned about his apparent hallucinations. This might sound like familiar romantic comedy-drama material, but there is a reason this was Powell’s personal favorite of all his films. It is a cinematic brew so rich and strange that on some levels it feels like a rom-com “Pan’s Labyrinth”; this one sneaks up on you.

“Age of Consent” isn’t on the same exalted level, but despite a shaky start and some unfortunate choices, it’s still aces. This rapturous, and often very funny, 1969 tale of initially semi-platonic May-December love stars then-newcomer Helen Mirren (“The Queen,” “Prime Suspect”), as a 17-year-old Aussie island waif, and aging star James Mason as a painter in need of inspiration. Far less giggle or squirm inducing than you could possibly imagine, “Age of Consent” appears to have been the first major-studio film to feature significant nudity (provided, of course, by Ms. Mirren). Despite hitting it big in Australia, it was butchered for its worldwide release and has been almost impossible to see ever since. Fortunately, this DVD does Powell’s last feature proud, including charming reminiscences from the now Queen-aged Ms. Mirren and Powell’s close late-life friend and number one fan, Martin Scorsese.

Click to buy “The Films of Michael Powell”

  

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