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The Film Experience™ was created by Nathaniel R. Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. All material herein is written and copyrighted by Nathaniel or a member of our team as noted.

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Review: Murder on the Orient Express 

 

"My mom is the die-hard Christie fan in our house, and she said she enjoyed it and that it exceeded her expectations. The guy next to her, however, fell asleep. " - Olivia

"The 1974 film is a one-of-a-kind experience. Just about every star glittered and sparked. This one was like watching tv. An acceptable time killer if you can't find the remote. " - Ken

"Well made silly fun, that could have done with a bit more ‘fun’." - JB

 

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Wednesday
Jun292016

Judy by the Numbers: "I Love A Piano"

Anne Marie is tracking Judy Garland's career through musical numbers... 

Easter Parade has becomea perrenial holiday favorite. Inevitably, the lighthearted musical appears on TCM Easter Sunday marathons, sandwiched between Ben Hur (1959) and King of Kings (1961). However, despite the annual dominance of this Judy Garland/Irving Berlin musical, the movie nearly stopped before it began. A combination of bad luck, souring relationships, and weak ankles nearly prevented the production from getting off the ground. Fans of the film have one person to thank for its resurrection: Fred Astaire.

The Movie: Easter Parade (1948)
The Songwriter: Irving Berlin (music & lyrics)
The Players: Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Ann Miller, Peter Lawford, directed by Charles Walters

The Story: The production of Easter Parade was plagued from the start. Though Irving Berlin enthusiastically agreed to expand upon his hit Holiday Inn for a new Judy Garland vehicle, the rest of the cast and crew was harder to secure. Originally, MGM sought to replicate the Freed unit partnerships that had already been proven box office success: Judy Garland and Gene Kelly, directed by Vincente Minnelli. But Judy and Minnelli were fighting, so she demanded that he be replaced with Charles Walters, a choreographer-turned-director on his second feature film. Then, Kelly broke his ankle playing football. Then Cyd Charisse broke her ankle. With two of three stars out of commission and a neophyte director at the helm, Easter Parade needed a big win. Then out of retirement waltzed Fred Astaire.

While the replacement of Gene Kelly with Fred Astaire saved the film, it also provides a window into how well-tailored numbers were tailored to their musical stars. Though "I Love A Piano" starts with the now old familiar standby of Judy Garland standing by a piano and singing to her beaux, it also moves into the high-energy, bright dancing style of Gene Kelly. Adapted to Fred Astaire, this dancing style loses none of its energy, but shows hints of ballroom influence in the lifts and mirrored taps of two partners arm in arm. Astaire doesn't simply stand in for Kelly; he makes the film his own. As a result, Astaire's retirement would turn out to be temporary; he kept on dancing for another 20 years.

Tuesday
Jun282016

Halfway Mark: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (So Far)

Mainstream cinema is having a rough summer, qualitatively... but let's honor what mainstream cinema often does best, for this episode of the Halfway Mark Review. Which is to say the broad strokes of Good vs Evil.

Not that mainstream movies always ace this low bar, mind you: Marvel remains mostly terrible at crafting villains, Batman v Superman was so inept that it didn't even understand that you need heroes in superhero movies. X-Men Apocalypse was a crowded repetitive mess on either side of the good/bad divide. But enough about stinkers - happy thoughts:  BESTS! 

Heroes of the Year

• The Avengers (Chris Evans, Cast & FX Team) in Captain America: Civil War
Can't they all just get along? While it'd be silly to say that Civil War doesn't tell you which team to be on (Hint: it's in the title) it does offer up enough sympathetic furrowed brow angst when looking at Team Iron Man that it's easy to understand both sides of this argument. That's half the battle in the selling the film. The other half is staging the battles so that everyone survives but looks deeply affected by the blows, which it also does well. Black Panther and Spider-Man are wonderful new additions, and Black Widow again demonstrates that she's the swiftest, most asskicking, and consistently double sided tape that arguably holds these movies together. If only Captain America, Marvel's most successful comic-to-film translation, weren't having to fight for so much attention in his own damn franchise; Iron Man never had to that. 

Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) in Gods of Egypt
What's that you say? 'Gods of Egypt is a terrible movie!' Why yes, Yes it is. But that doesn't mean I can't honor Nikolaj's well shaped silly/serious turn as a blinded God. He's one of only two actors who knows what kind of movie he's in (the other is Geoffrey Rush, even better with the heightened camp) and he's fun to watch, helping to make this a sort of enjoyable terrible movie insteaad of just a terrible movie.  

Zootopia, Warcraft, The Conjuring 2 and more after the jump...

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Tuesday
Jun282016

Best Shot: Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief (1955) 

To Catch a Thief (1955) is minor Hitchcock. Let's get that out of the way. But even minor works by an indisputed master can look awfully major when you stack them next to regular ol' films which is why we keep hitting Hitchcock in this series. There's a clickbait article going around (no I'm not linking) that argues that The Shallows (Blake Lively vs shark) is a better film than The Birds (Tippi Hedren vs, well, birds). Which is crazy talk but film twitter always always takes the bait.

True story: the last two films I screened were The Shallows (2016) and To Catch a Thief (1953) and I would have never thought to pair them until this silly shark vs birds kerfuffle which erupted immediately after I had just seen both of the movies. Truth bomb: The Shallows is a really good "B" movie (I don't mean grade, but yes: B) but it's awfully slight. It's just girl, shark, a few good scares, smart direction, and not much meat to chew on beyond "wow, that was kinda good." To Catch a Thief is a pretty good "A" movie (I don't mean grade) and it's somewhat slight. But here's the thing. People aren't going to be talking about The Shallows in 2070. Please note: People are still talking about Hitchcock's entire oeuvre a half-century plus later.

Even in a trifle like To Catch a Thief, which is maybe too long considering it's shy on plot and stakes, is a joy to watch for a number of reasons, the first of which is its surprisingly robust sense of humor. [More...]

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Tuesday
Jun282016

Review: The Neon Demon

This review was originally published in Nathaniel's column at Towleroad

What are we looking at? 

The Neon Demon‘s first tableau features Elle Fanning, throat slit and reclining on a chaise lounge floating over a pool of photogenic crimson blood. It’s so perfectly lit and shaped it begs to be honored as a metaphoric pedestal exalting her death. Is the obviously smitten man photographing all of this her serial killer who missed his calling as an art director?

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Tuesday
Jun282016

Olivia @ 100: Light in the Piazza

For Olivia de Havilland's Centennial (July 1st) we're hitting classics and curios in her career. Here's Chris Feil on a forgotten film that became a new classic musical...

I came to Olivia de Havilland's work in Light in the Piazza thanks to a (still enduring) obsession with the Adam Guettel musical, both adapted from Elizabeth Spencer's novella. While it's not surprising that the film hasn't endured (it lacks the stage version's soaring emotional heights), de Havilland's performance deserves a better place in her legacy. Even with a youthful love story as its center and gorgeous Florence as backdrop, you can't take your eyes off of the concerned mother - and not just because she spends the entire film drenched in custom Christian Dior!

As Meg Johnson, de Havilland is spending a holiday with her young daughter Clara, who falls in love with a charming Italian boy. The reason for her overbearing concern is the secret of Clara's developmental disability that freezes her to a childlike disposition - something the musical uses as an Act Two reveal that the film never hides. By addressing this conflict early on we understand Meg from the outset, especially thanks to the actress's relatability. De Havilland's real prowess in the role is her deep emotional access and intelligence; she keeps the film from stooping to the cheap sentimentality that's all too common in films about disability.

Her Meg is not simply a foil to Clara's love story. De Havilland is telling her own fading romance with her husband, projecting the aches and heartbreaks of their lifetime together in a very specific struggle of weathered marriage. Her dissent against her husband in regards to Clara's care could cause the end of her marriage or may be its only hope, but she plays it solely as selfless motherly affection. Meg's final "I did the right thing" would be hokey final note in the hands of a less soulful actress, de Havilland makes it a hard-won personal triumph with her pure connection to character.

Victoria Clark may have taken the character to glorious Tony winning vocal heights on stage, but this performance is emotionally transformative in its own way. The film may have been forgotten in the broader de Havilland filmography, but the star is in top form and as accessible as ever.

Previously: The Heiress (1949), The Dark Mirror (1946), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and It's Love I'm After (1937).

Tuesday
Jun282016

Doc Corner: 'O.J.: Made in America' a Compelling Success

Glenn here with our weekly look at documentaries from theatres, festivals, and on demand. This week we're looking at ESPN's much-buzzed five-part documentary about O.J. Simpson.

Even more coincidental than the release of ESPN’s O.J.: Made in America so soon after Ryan Murphy’s star-studded FX mini-series, The People v. O.J. Simpson, is that the rise to fame of their subject coincided so precisely with the rise to prominence of the African American civil rights movement. The irony was not lost on Simpson with the handsome man who everyone thought “had it all” never being able to out-run the shadow that his own meteoric ascent cast over seemingly the United States’ entire black population. Nor is it lost on director Ezra Edelman who makes the parallels the structural spine of this exceptionally thorough, exquisitely compiled, and exhaustively compelling five-part documentary. It’s not called “Made in America” for nothing – another coincidence it’s worth noting, Made in America is also the name of a pretty good 2008 documentary about the Crips and Bloods war in L.A. by Stacy Peralta – and across 463 minutes, Edelman and his collaborators have crafted a powerful demonstration of the dichotomy of race, fame, and justice in America.

Starting in the 1960s with Simpson’s rise in college football, Edelman’s film wisely doesn’t focus exclusively on the murder of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman and the trial that followed. In fact, it takes until the third episode to even bring it up, instead preferring to spend time examining these early passages of his life for clarity and for clues. Unlike the FX series, O.J.: Made in America is more concerned with attempting to find out how a man like Simpson and the country came to be. [more...]

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