Sunday, May 30, 2010

Roman Polanski - Special Report

By Monica Sullivan

Every time I think that the bashing of Roman Polanski has peaked, someone else emerges to punish him in print again. The man receives more hostile attention these days than the thugs who murdered his wife, son and friends in 1969.

Much of the hostile attention comes from guys who were not angels when they were younger. How do I know this? Because when they were not pontificating for the record, I would see and hear very different stuff off the record. They were clever, they were never caught, the years passed and then guess what? It never happened? They never had sex with underage kids? (They may have fooled around, but not that!) They never beat up anyone smaller than they were (slapping doesn’t count.) They never created a hostile work environment for young women with 1 % of their power. (It was okay for them to ask “You’re not going to get pregnant are you?” because business is business.) Blah. Blah. Blah. If you take guys seriously when they get sanctimonious, even Novocain won’t dull the pain of their needle artistry.

I get the pain of women who’ve been discarded like toilet paper after their status as sexual prey is over, over, over. What I don’t get is the amnesia of so many guys who used to whine about their much younger lovers. Now they whine about Roman Polanski as if he were an alien breed, fit only for incarceration and eternal condemnation. Condemnation from everyone it would seem, except the young girl who later forgave him for hurting her.

Roman Polanski’s own childhood was torn to shreds by Adolph Hitler and the world is a better place with this imperfect man in it.


© 2010 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 05/19/10
Movie Magazine International

Karl Dane - Book Report

By Monica Sullivan

Built into the concept of stardom is the reality that, inevitably, the star will flame out, fade and die. Young actors don’t want to think about this certainty: how could they, when they’re being lionised all over the planet? Smart stars prepare for not being stars by expanding their interests, looking great in public and saying hip things about the present.

When “The Big Parade” was released in 1925, John Gilbert, Renee Adoree and Karl Dane
were the stars of the year in the picture of the year. By 1933, Renee Adoree was dead and Karl Dane had made his swan song in “The Whispering Shadow”, a Bela Lugosi serial. The following year, he died by his own hand. John Gilbert had a brief reprieve in 1934 in “Queen Christina” opposite Greta Garbo, but by 1936 he was dead.

“Karl Dane” by Laura Petersen Balogh shows the rise and fall of this unforgettable character star. In silent movies, his thick Danish accent was no handicap, but in the early sound era, film offers when they came were often bits or non-speaking roles. Karl Dane tried to do other things, like running a Westwood hot dog stand. His co-star, George K. Arthur, explains its failure: “People could not bear to watch his despair. So they didn’t come to buy his hamburgers.” Even though “Karl Dane” is a sad book, the author makes many fascinating points about Hollywood then which still apply to Hollywood now. For more information, go to mcfarlandpub.com

© 2010 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 05/05/10
Movie Magazine International

Savage Detours - Book Report

By Monica Sullivan

Ask film buffs who was the best actress of 1945 and you’ll hear names like Joan Crawford, Ingrid Bergman, Greer Garson, Jennifer Jones, Gene Tierney or newcomer Angela Lansbury. All were or are good actors who enjoyed great stardom. But many feel that the best performance by an actress that year was delivered by Ann Savage in “Detour” at lowly Producers Releasing Corporation. Recognition for her achievement was very slow in coming: forty, fifty, sixty years later, young audiences would see this unforgettable woman acting her guts out as a hard, desperate character who’d do anything for a buck, even though she knew she was doomed. When Bette Davis shocked the world with her interpretation of a “vulgar slut” like Mildred Rogers in “Of Human Bondage” she made a splash that rippled through the rest of her career. Ann Savage played Vera in “Detour”, a “B” movie (that should have been an “A”!) and went back to making more “B” movies, thirty in all.

“Savage Detours: The Life and Work of Ann Savage” by Lisa Morton and Kent Adamson is the book that belongs in the library of every film noir fan. It reveals the challenging life of a tough cookie who took her work very seriously, even though, for many years, she was the only one who did. The book contains a 78 page biography, a 105 page filmography, a 45 page “Detour” script, complete with Ann Savage’s notes, a bibliography and an index. 85 photographs, most of which I’ve never seen before, illustrate the text. They reveal how Ann Savage changed her look to suit each part, as well as her timeless classic good looks, which she retained throughout her life. When you look at the short, ugly and violent fate of Vera in “Detour,” it’s reassuring to read that Ann Savage’s real life was filled with love, fun and adventure.

When she was 70, she was seen on a “Saved By The Bell” segment, doing a tango with none other than Mario Lopez. 17 years later, she made “My Winnipeg” for director Guy Madden, one of her most rewarding creative experiences. And yet she retained the unique quality that made her Ann Savage instead of one of many Hollywood supernovas. When someone urged her to consider a star on the Hollywood walk of fame, she simply said “Honey, I don’t want people walking on me!” For more information check out mcfarlandpub.com.

© 2010 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 04/28/10
Movie Magazine International

The Killing - Movie Review

By Monica Sullivan

After 1955's “Killer's Kiss”, Stanley Kubrick received $200,000 to make “The Killing” for United Artists. There were only two strings attached: He had to cast a star as Johnny Clay and U.A. had to like his script. Sterling Hayden turned out to be perfect as a grizzled small-time convict in hot pursuit of the big time & who WOULDN'T like the masterful screenplay by Kubrick and Jim Thompson?

“The Killing” examines crime and sexuality with a laser-like beam that looked and sounded like nothing else in the Fidgety Fifties. Listen to the dialogue between Elisha Cook and Marie Windsor as George and Sherry Peatty. Was any guy ever whipped as graphically as George was by Sherry? Watch the classic racetrack sequence with Timothy Carey as vicious hood Nikki & James Edwards as the parking attendant. Ever see racism delivered with such a startling flick of rattlesnake venom? The presence of fresh-faced Coleen Gray & the voice-of-God narration are reassuring throwbacks to film noir of the forties, and then the evil implodes, in bright sunshine as well as in dark shadows, in a way that is raw, real, ugly and cruel. All the hoods are human & stupid: their doomed schemes may be intricately planned, but their intrinsic flaws are blurred by the sheer speed of the narrative drive.

Stanley Kubrick blasted his way into the movies with an unsparing frankness about the undercurrents of reality no one else was willing to acknowledge and an originality that audiences continue to experience with all five senses.

© 201 0 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 04/21/10
Movie Magazine International

Peter Graves and Fess Parker - Tribute

By Monica Sullivan

When the “Mission Impossible” movie franchise was launched in 1996, I sat next to a guy who recognized what’s-his-name every single time he showed up in a disguise. But there were many more problems with the big screen series than that. Numero uno: “The real Mr. Phelps would never sell out” bumper stickers made their debut on the nation’s highway almost immediately. Damn right the real Mr. Phelps would never sell out. And that’s the reason Peter Graves was a trusted American treasure for sixty years, even when the screenwriters made it clear that some of the characters he played simply couldn’t be trusted.

Not too many people remember Mr. Briggs from Season 1 of “Mission Impossible”. With good reason! Steven Hill dissolved into the role so completely, he was practically invisible. In the first 27 episodes, viewers remembered Barney, Willie, Cinnamon and Rollin, but not Dan Briggs. And then in episode 28, “The Survivors”, the self-destructing tape said, “Good Morning Mr. Phelps” to Peter Graves on September 24, 1967 in San Francisco. Finally, the IMF had a leader worthy of his team. He was reassuringly familiar AND edgy so that he could convince Bad Guys he was just as bad as they were. There was a reason Billy Wilder cast him as a questionable character in “Stalag 17”.

Peter Graves was a big handsome guy who could play good guys and bad guys with ease. He could be serious or funny. He was my favorite “Biography” host, making everyone’s life seem riveting. And how many kids watching “Fury” week after week wished that he would adopt them? Because he did so many things, Peter Graves was often better than his material and kept us watching whether the movie was “Scream Of The Wolf” or “Airplane.”

We lost another beloved star this week when Fess Parker died at 85. Fess Parker’s resume was neither as long nor as varied as Peter Graves’ career. Even so, he was a hero for millions of five-year-old kids when Walt Disney cast him as Davy Crockett after watching his vivid performance in “Them!” The kids could have watched him play Davy forever, but the Alamo made that impossible. Disney cast Parker in a half dozen westerns and Parker later played another authentic hero, Daniel Boone on television. With his rich, chocolate malted voice and his likable easy going personality, Fess Parker was the perfect reluctant hero. Maybe the real guys were nothing like Fess Parker, but kids wanted to be just like him, not the stern-faced men in history books. Expect Disney to reinvent Davy Crockett for 5-year-olds of the 21st century.

© 2010 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 03/24/10
Movie Magazine International

Ramon Navarro - Book Report

By Monica Sullivan

Ramon Novarro may be a name better known by true crime buffs than by vintage movie fans. The reprinting of Allan R. Ellenberger’s fine 1999 biography gives 21st century readers a fresh chance to see Novarro in the context of his own time in a very different Hollywood. One of Ramon’s early ambitions was to be a priest: The book includes a baby picture taken with his older sisters Guadalupe and Rosa, both of whom outlived him. Each became a nun.
Instead of becoming a priest, Ramon became an actor. Like many actors, then and now, Ramon was gay. He tried to keep it a secret. His coping mechanism was alcoholism. He couldn’t keep that a secret: He was busted many times for drunk driving, the alcohol clouded his judgment. When Ramon Novarro was a rich young movie star, there was no such thing as A.A. to help him: It didn’t exist until 1935, the year he left MGM. In the last half of his life, he would not have sought help for his drinking anyway, since he didn’t believe he had a problem.

The biggest film of his silent career is “Ben Hur:” The 1925 Biblical epic made millions, but it also cost millions, resulting in a hefty loss of nearly $700,000. Even so, “Ben Hur” ensured Ramon Novarro’s status as an indelible star. Rumbling was heard in the executive offices at MGM regarding Novarro’s bachelor status. But it was three money losers in a row that did him in: “The Cat And The Fiddle” (it lost $142,000), “Laughing Boy” (A $383,000 loss) and “The Night Is Young” (a $234,000 loser). True, musicals were way over exposed in the early sound era, but there would be no roads back, at least not as a star, for Ramon Novarro. Long past his heyday, he would return as a much better actor in four character roles in 1949 and 1950. In John Huston’s “We Were Strangers”, he was a rebel chief, looking nothing at all like the matinee idol of the 20’s and 30’s. In Don Siegel’s “The Big Steal”, he was Colonel Ortega a role so vivid that RKO briefly considered making a series of films with Novarro as Ortega. He said no, but did return to MGM for Roy Rowland’s “Outriders” and Richard Brooks’ “Crisis”, and, in 1960, he made “Heller In Pink Tights” with George Cukor. A string of 15 television appearances followed for Disney, “Thriller”, “Combat” (twice), “Rawhide”, “Dr, Kildare” (3 episodes), “Bonanza”, “Wild Wild West”, and 7 months before his death “High Chaparrel”.

The saddest aspect of Ramon Novarro’s life as he approached age 70 was that none of his self-protection measures worked anymore, if, indeed, they ever had. He always thought his drinking was under control, it never was. He always thought that discretion would ensure his gay life style would remain strictly private. In fact, it was a well-known Hollywood realtor who ratted out Novarro to the Ferguson brothers. They killed Novarro the day before Halloween, 1968. The realtor had obligingly cashed the many checks of Novarro’s tricks for a fee. In his summation, the Fergusons’ defense attorney said “Novarro, the man who set female hearts aflutter, was nothing but a queer.” By the time of the Novarro trial, Hollywood was still reeling from the shock of the Tate La Bianca murders. Even at the outset, national magazines suggested that the victims’ extravagant lifestyles made them easier targets for murder.

Although “Ramon Novarro” has a sad ending, it is not an entirely depressing story. He accomplished a great deal in his life and is fondly remembered as an actor even today. If you want an unsentimental look at the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood, Ellenberger’s book will supply it. “Ramon Novarro” is available through mcfarlandpub.com.

© 2010 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 02/17/10
Movie Magazine International

Sunday, May 23, 2010

12th Far East Film Festival , Udine Italy, Report 1

By Moira Sullivan
The Far East Film Festival in Udine now in its 12th year ran from April 23—May 3. It is still one of the largest panoramas outside Asia of new films from South Korea, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Philippines, Singapore Indonesia and Thailand. All in all 72 films were screened this year, many of them international festival debuts. The majority of the selection is popular film that appeals to a wide audience. Judging by the well attended festival of primarily young people from the medium sized town of Udine, its fair to say that the directors who chose Udine for their international premiere have a good chance of seeing how the film might do in Europe at the box office. Many of these directors come first hand to see for themselves and sit with the audience. Directors such as John To are regular visitors. To's latest film Vengeance presented at Cannes last year starring Johnny Halladay was released first in Udine for the Italian premiere April 22.
This year the Iceland volcano kicked up some dust for long haul and European travelers but fortunately the air space cleared in time for the festival. The Veneto region is home to not only Udine but the Venice Film Festival and both events specialize in showcasing quality Asian films in a collaborative effort.
Probably the most distinguishing change this year is reflected in the number of films from China where the box office grew by 44 % last year. This year several historical epics are featured at the festival. A film about the political origins of modern China, The Founding Of A Republic has won this film the distinction of being the highest grossing Chinese film yet, directed by Sanping HAN and Jianxin HUANG.
LU Chuan's City Of Life And Death explores the Rape of Nanjing where over 300,000 Chinese lost their lives at the hands of the Japanese between 1937 and 1938, though some Japanese still dispute the figure. Jackie Chan acted, produced and did the actions sequences of Little Big Soldier on ancient warlords in the kingdom of Qin. Jackie Chan is still his ordinary mischievous self, but it is interesting to see him in this historical epic directed by Sheng DING.
Another ambitious epic is Chen KUOFU and Qunshu GAO's The Message about the underground resistance in China in 1941 during WW 2 with some inventive calligraphy that tells the language of code crackers. Five members of Chinese intelligence are sequestered in a remote castle. Among them is "The Phantom", a secret messenger for the resistance.
From Japan comes the story of "Pan Pan" women during the war who serviced American GIs in the late 1950s. Zero Focus directed by Isshin INUDO is a film based on a story by the mystery writer Matsumoto Seicho. The ambitious film shows that the evolution of women’s rights was slow to emerge in South Korea with entrance into the government and the remaining tradition of arranged marriages. The festival poster features the South Korean actors sporting read coats that were the signature of "Pan Pan" girls.
Special retrospectives this year focus on Hong Kong director Patrick Lung Kong, who made films more than forty years ago, including Story Of A Discharged Prisoner. Kong wanted to end the myth of dowdy Hong Kong films, and he understood his audience. In the mid 60s that meant women who worked in factories, and to that market he made several socially relevant films.
Also featured this years are horrors and thrillers from the Japanese film studio Shintoho, and the rein of studio boss Okura Mitsugu has been compared to the Roger Corman studios. On the popular Udine "Horror Day" Vampire bride from 1960 was screened directed by Kyotaro NAMIKI. The lead actress Ikeuchi Junko was punished for marrying against the wishes of Okura Mitsugu and cast in this role as a woman pushed off a cliff by her jealous friends. She becomes disfugured and seeks out a witch to retsture her beauty but is doomed to live part of the time as a fanged hairy monster.
One of the highlights of this year's festival is the international festival premiere of Wilson Yips’s Ip Man 2, the story of Yip Man, the martial artist that later became Bruce Lee’s teacher, starring Donnie Yen. The story picks up as Yip has fled China in 1950 and opens up a win yun school in Hong Kong.
The Far East Film Festival Audience Award and the Black Dragon award pooled by film critics will be announced after the screening of Ip Man2 on Saturday, followed by some fantastic parties in Udine.
For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan Udine Italy

© 2009 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 04/28/10
Movie Magazine International

Friday, May 7, 2010

Capsule Movie Reviews - San Francisco International Film Festival

By Jonathan W. Wind

Two broadcast combined report:

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The 2 week long 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival is the oldest film festival in the Americas. This year featuring 177 films from 46 countries in 31 languages it will attract a crowd of 80,000 to the venues in San Francisco. Though a primary objective is wider circulation, that happens somewhat rarely, so the only chance to see some offbeat foreign films is at a good festival, and San Francisco's is considered one of the best.

I have been fortunate enough to view many of the films available, here are some capsule review of the movies I have liked the best so far.

First, of course, there is Joan Rivers in A Piece of Work



When you think of Joan Rivers you don't think maybe she needs money, but there she is, here and just about everywhere; "I'll wear a diaper" she says, but it's more than money. Her agent says "Joan knows if you stand out in the rain long enough, you'll get hit by lightning - when everyone else has gone home Joan stands out in the rain and she's been hit again and again." I was surprised by her energy and honesty. The movie follows her escapades on her 75th year, examining her drive and status, and revealing a complex talent with a heart. Listen in May for a full report on A Piece of Work along with my exclusive interview with Joan Rivers herself and the films directors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg (l to r below).






Then I saw The Invention of Dr. Nakamats





In this Danish movie the Japanese inventor of the floppy disk and over 3 thousand other patents, including bouncing shoes, and the irresistible love spray shows his true nature as shallow and vain in this intimate portrait of a modern day 80 year old genius, already a legend in Japan, and gives us all a lesson in self-absorption. Brought to the screen with humor by director Kaspar Schroder, Nakamats speaks of humility but does not practice it.

Lourdes, was a favorite of mine




Balancing faith with fantasy a paralyzed woman makes a wheelchair pilgrimage to Lourdes and against all odds is healed. Celebrating its sesquicentennial and visited by an estimated two hundred million people since the Marion apparitions began in 1858, Lourdes and its healing waters have been debated and scrutinized from the beginning. The now somewhat able woman, though mostly healed physically still carries her mental scars and moving on with her life may be just as difficult as before she was healed. Deftly walking a fine line that could collapse into mockery and directed by Jessica Hausener, this French film is a powerful observation of faith as a hit or miss perception.


To Die Like a Man
This melodrama of a man who for years has lived and thrived as a woman, but with failing health and leaking implants fears dying alone as a man.



This was only one of two films labeled LGBT and I found it disappointing in that there was not a moment of joy, not one, not in his apologetic youth, his desperate relationships or even his surrender to his plight, it seemed just all darkness, filmed at night - and while desperation is painful, it's not continually painful, there are moments of relief. Filmed in tormented detail and I'd say nearly an hour too long, I did not enjoy this movie.

I was enthralled with White Meadows from Iran




Filmed in color though everything is mostly black and white, White Meadows was filmed at Lake Urmia in Iran, one of the largest and saltiest lakes in the world, containing scores of otherworldly salt islands. This is the setting for this eerie ironic tale disguised as a story of sorrow and redemption. An old boatman, and his recently acquired young apprentice and admirer, row from salt island to salt island collecting the tears; feeling the grief and keeping shed tears in glass vials; but in the end the boatman pours the entire vial over the feet of his master, driving home the real intent, political satire disguised as weepy drama. Written, produced and directed by Mohammad Rasoulaf this fable is beautifully filmed and is a real treat.

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The Wind Journeys is a film from Colombia that features a lonesome widower and his recently acquired apprentice and admirer, this time with a donkey, as they plod from town to town engaging in accordion duels to win enough money to return the apparently possessed accordion to its rightful owner miles away, who, it turns out, has been dead for years - but left a message for him alone. The music and scenery were beautiful. Filmed in what seemed like ultra super slo mo, this movie wore me out, because although beautiful it just seemed to lurch from scene to scene.



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Now I understand that a major difference between American and International films is the pace. But when I start to wonder if the projector is jammed, or if the movie has ended I get this little voice that says "Let's go already." So there's the split second sensibility of American films, gone even before it registers in the brain of what a festival director termed "the lowest common denominator," and the excruciating detail of some international fare, I ask you, where is the middle ground?
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Included in the latter category is the movie Constantin and Elena, from Romania.
Constantin and Elena are more than in love. They wear each others souls as they labor through their days stuffing sausages and meandering around mountainous Romania. The camera would be set up and the action just begins and continues to exhaustion. Also filmed in numbing detail it is still a remarkable testament to a 55 year marriage.




Then I watched The High Line
What fun! A collection of stop motion and other animation techniques by a new generation of animators including The Incident at Tower 37, from the USA, a pixar type short with an ecological twist, Tussilago, from Sweden, a beautifully hand drawn drama of crime, escape and the consequences and Logorama, a big youtube favorite, where everything is plastered with company logos, the Michelin Man chases criminal Ronald McDonald, Mr. Clean makes fashion choices and the Jolly Green Giant wears a parental discretion advised sign on his pea pod speedos.



The High Line looks at how we communicate. All in good fun, these shorts examine the latest accomplishments of the animation medium.





One of my favorites of the entire festival was the Belgian film My Queen Karo. Karo is a 10 year old girl living with her squatter parents in bohemian bliss in mid 70's Amsterdam. Directed by Dorothee Van Den Bergehe and reflecting some of the filmakers own origins Karo is left to her own resources and is essentially growing up without supervision. She has to make adult choices and comes to understand concepts beyond her years in an atmosphere of belligerent communal adults intent on hiding nothing from each other. Their surroundings even lack walls so that everyone can feel free of barriers. Regularly faced with sex and drug use in her view, she manages to acquire goals and morals while trying to keep her parents together as they drift apart, her father intent on upholding his convictions and her mother just wanting to create and sell dresses. I actually knew some people who lived this way back where I was raised in Greenwich Village - except they were called beatniks. Free of the societal barriers that constitute everything from fair play to good manners, they were peaceful until asked to pay for the ride, then all hell broke loose. Intelligent but disabled by their concepts they were a different class than the homeless; ennobled by their humanity they felt free to despise even those protecting them when they grouped all forms of authority under they same banner.
This is a thoughtful film that deserves to be seen.


Jonathan W. Wind for Movie Magazine International - San Francisco



© 2010 - Jonathan W. Wind - Air Dates: 04/28/10 & 05/05/10
Movie Magazine International