Mu Fei – Xiao cheng zhi chun AKA Spring in a Small Town (1948)

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Taking place in a ruined family compound after the war, the film tells the story of the once prosperous Dai family. The husband and patriarch, Dai Liyan is an invalid, and spends his days in the courtyard nostalgic for the past. His marriage to Zhou Yuwen has long been rendered loveless, though both still feel concern for the other. Liyan’s young teenage sister Dai Xiu, meanwhile, is too young to remember the past, and stays cheerful and playful in the ruins of her home. Into this dreary but unchanging existence comes Liyan’s childhood friend Zhang Zhichen, a doctor from Shanghai and a former flame of Zhou Yuwen before she ever met her husband. The rest of the film details Zhou Yuwen’s conflicting emotions between her love for Zhang, and her loyalty to her husband and his family. Continue reading

Max Ophüls – Divine (1935)

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Synopsis:
Ludivine Jarisse is a young woman who lives a contented but unexciting life in the country. One day, she is visited by Roberte, an old friend who has made a career for herself as an actress at a Paris music hall, L’Empyrée. Roberte intends to take a break and invites her friend to take her place. Ludivine readily accepts, and soon becomes a musical hall diva under the name Divine, although she is at first reluctant to expose herself in the revealing costumes she is given. One of her colleagues attempts to take advantage of her naivety, but when she resists, he implicates her in a drugs trafficking affair. Divine remains untainted by all this vice and falls in love with an honest milkman, Antonin. He offers to marry her and she is finally able to leave the music hall to start a new life, back in the country. Continue reading

Lino Brocka – Insiang (1976)

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“Insiang” is Lino Brocka’s tale of one girl’s coming of age in the slums of Manila. The title character, played by Hilda Koronel, is a young girl who lives in a small crowded shanty with her mother, Tonia (Mona Lisa). Her boyfriend Danny (Rez Cortez) treats her little better than a sex object and her mother’s lover Dado (Ruel Vernal), overcome by desire for young Insiang, rapes her in her own home. She runs to her mother for sympathy but gets rejected instead. Disillusioned and worn out, Insiang decides on revenge.

“Insiang” has the distinction of being the first Filipino film to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 1978, where both Lino Brocka and Hilda Koronel garnered much attention and acclaim from the international film community. The film also earned a number of important awards and nominations including the Manila Film Festival Best Actress Award for Koronel. Continue reading

? – 1925 Studio Tour (1925)

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Untitled and without any crew credits, this 32-minute silent documentary takes you on a tour of MGM in 1925, meeting the people who create the movies, and watching some of them do it. I found it fascinating, especially when some of the moviemakers were identified by the inter-titles. It was nice to be able finally to attach a face to some familiar names such as writers Agnes Christine Johnston, Jane Murfin, Waldemar Young and others who are identified and shown in closeups. I noted that Howard Hawks was included as a writer – he didn’t start directing until later. Less interesting were the showing of groups of unidentified crew members: about 50 cameramen lined up in a row, each hand cranking their cameras, seemed to serve no useful purpose. Unlike the writers, who were identified individually, the directors were all identified first in an inter-title, and the camera then panned across them standing in a row, but you could not tell which name belonged to which director. I did recognize Erich von Stroheim, but only because he was also a famous actor. When the actors and actresses were introduced as a group by inter-titles, it was much more fun, because identifying them became a game. I also saw three unlisted actors: Ford Sterling, William Haines and Sojin, and there are probably others. Continue reading

Frank Perry – Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970)

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Review by Michael Costello

Frank Perry’s bleak study of the lot of a beleaguered Manhattan housewife features three excellent performances. Carrie Snodgress stars as the wife of a lawyer (Richard Benjamin) whose unbearable status-anxiety drives her into the arms of an equally neurotic emotional sadist (Frank Langella). Made during the nascent days of the women’s movement, the film is a strident and simplistic take on the woman-as-victim, yet in some scenes captures the miserable details of this woman’s life with such precision and vividness, that it still has residual power. Benjamin’s overbearing lawyer is memorable as one of the most irritating characters ever to appear onscreen, and in his insane hunger for social status, he’s something of a precursor to American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman. Snodgress is so brilliantly effective in her Academy Award-nominated performance, that it becomes painful to watch what amounts to the torture of her passive, emotionally abused housewife. As a narcissistic womanizer with an amazingly well-modulated voice, Langella is also exceptional, and his subsequent 15 minutes as a sex symbol speaks volumes about how differently women saw themselves at the time. While the film’s failure to examine these characters in greater depth, and the director’s lack of vision ultimately leaves one unsatisfied, it remains a provocative work which undoubtedly still speaks to the plight of many women. Continue reading

Thorold Dickinson – The Arsenal Stadium Mystery (1939)

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IMDb user:
There are several reasons to relish this curio. It was an apprentice work by Thorold Dickinson, the Hitchcock assistant and cutter who would shoot “Gaslight” and “The Queen of Spades” before becoming Britain’s first professor of film. It is one of the earliest sports movies to feature real sportsmen – acting very woodenly, as befits stiff-upper-lip soccer stars. It is anchored by a mischievously eccentric performance by Leslie Banks, who a few years later was to be the magnificent Chorus of Olivier’s “Henry V”. Continue reading

Gene Saks – The Odd Couple [+Extras] (1968)

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by Bill Gibron:
There was a time, a little less than four decades ago, when Neil Simon was the literary benchmark of both Broadway and the Silver Screen. After a successful stint as a TV scribe on Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, the soon to be phenomenon went on to create such Great White Way staples as Barefoot in the Park, Sweet Charity, Plaza Suite, and The Prisoner of Second Avenue. In 1966, he had four shows running at once and it wasn’t long before Hollywood came calling.

After adapting his Come Blow Your Horn and Park for the big screen, Simon was given the complicated task of translating his mega-hit The Odd Couple as a movie. While the studios would accept Oscar- and Tony-winner Walter Matthau as Oscar, Art Carney’s cinematic clout as Felix was questioned. Luckily, director Gene Saks hired friend and Fortune Cookie co-star Jack Lemmon as the notorious neat freak. The rest, as they say, is motion picture history. Continue reading