Thursday, April 15, 2010

"The Moonlighter" (1953)

"The third pairing of Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray finds the duo in the midst of a messy, 3-D oater written by Niven Busch, whose novel The Furies had been adapted into the 1950 film also starring Stanwyck, a far superior film than this dusty reunion proves to be. Problems arise as soon as the credits finish rolling, with MacMurray reprising his hardboiled sneer for a voice-over narration that reminds of Double Indemnity but with none of the pulpy bite. He is in jail for “moonlighting,” that is, roping and stealing cattle by moonlight. While the crime wins the respect of many for the necessary lassoing skills, it angers even more. As he calmly chain-smokes on his bed, a lynch mob gathers outside his cell intent on putting a noose around his neck..."

Read my full review of The Moonlighter here at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Janet Gaynor at MoMA and Film Forum

"For a decade she was one of Hollywood’s highest-paid actors, but in the seventy years since she retired from the limelight, Janet Gaynor’s legacy has been overshadowed by the work of her collaborators, her contemporaries, and especially her two best directors: F.W. Murnau and Frank Borzage, both of them visual stylists of the highest caliber. The very characteristics that endeared her to audiences—her delicate charm, and an innocence seemingly out of place with the Jazz Age that created her—may also provide clues as to why she has gone overlooked and underappreciated in the annals of film history. Her wholesome image doesn’t fit the loose girdles and looser morals of Pre-Code Hollywood that modern audiences are eating up these days. However, two current screenings—a three-day matinee run of Borzage’s Street Angel (1928) at the Museum of Modern Art (3/31-4/2) as part of their Auteurist History of Film series, and a weeklong residency of Murnau’s Sunrise (1927) in a new 35mm print at Film Forum (4/2-4/8)—remind us of Gaynor’s reticent grace, in twoand how integral her performance was to both of these masterpieces of the silent screen..."

Read my full essay on Janet Gaynor here at The L Magazine.

Monday, February 08, 2010

No Blade of Grass (1970)

Directed by Hollywood actor-turned-filmmaker Cornel Wilde, and scripted by Wilde and Sean Forestal from John Christopher’s novel, No Blade of Grass is a distopic narrative of an ecological crisis that leads to the fall of civilization. A mysterious virus is destroying grass all around the world, causing a global panic over food shortage. Crops are in short supply. Cattle are drowned in rivers when there is nothing left for them to eat. Man-made pollution has contaminated rivers and poisoned fish. Bombs are being dropped on cities in order to deplete the population to sustainable levels. In London, citizens get word of the impending extermination and overthrow the government. In the midst of chaos, one-eyed veteran John Custance and scientist Roger Burnham flee with their families to the country in search of John’s brother’s farm, a haven that promises food, shelter, and hope.

Read my full review of No Blade of Grass here at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Taken (2008)

While the xenophobic anxiety of Americans abroad isn’t a new subject (even Alfred Hitchcock approached the topic in his 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much), it’s difficult to watch certain scenes in Taken without thinking of contemporary parallels. It is moments like these in which the politics of action heroism reveal their hidden complexity. With the line between “good guy” and “bad guy” blurred, we allow the action hero to cross certain moral boundaries that would otherwise be prohibited.

Read my full review of Taken here at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.