Jan. & Feb. 2016 at TCM’s Movie Morlocks

Links to some of the writing I did for TCM’s Movie Morlocks blog in Jan. & Feb.

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Jan. 7: William Cameron Menzies: Chandu the Magician (1932)

Excerpt: “In recent weeks, you might have heard about the upcoming Doctor Strange film currently scheduled for release in November of 2016. The news caught my attention because I’ve always liked the comic book character and the cast, which includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton and Chiwetel Ejiofor, is impressive. I mention all this because tonight TCM is launching their month-long spotlight on legendary production designer and director, William Cameron Menzies. Some classic film fans might balk at the idea of mentioning the upcoming Doctor Strange movie and William Cameron Menzies in the same paragraph but there are slender threads that connect the two thanks to Menzies’s creative contributions to Chandu the Magician (1932)”

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Jan. 14: 15 Favorite Films of 2015

Excerpt: “Many of the best performances I saw last year were given by actors who were 65-years old or older suggesting younger generations of performers could still learn a lot from actors like Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Ian McKellen, Richard Jenkins and Kurt Russell (who will be turning 65 in March!). I hope it also encourages future filmmakers to create roles that allow these veteran actors to strut their stuff.”

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Jan. 21: ’60s Spy Stories: Gila Golan

Excerpt: “Femme fatales are as important to ‘60s spy films as they are to Film Noir but one of the most frequent criticisms of the genre is its questionable depiction of women. While it’s true that they’re often treated as mere sexual objects in these espionage romps and are regularly introduced into the paper-thin plots to give the male leads something to ogle, the particulars are a bit more complex than that. If you watch enough of these panache productions you begin to notice how subversive many of them are. Sure, the women might dress in sexually suggestive clothing and use their feminine wiles to lure men to their doom, but they are frequently put in positions of power. They’re also regularly portrayed as being smarter or at least as capable as the men they encounter and occasionally save the day. If and when they decide to fall into the hero’s arms they’re often the ones initiating the relationship and control much of the action.”

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Jan. 29: A Minor Picture Compendium of Classic Movie Nurses

Excerpt:”Movie nurses come in all stripes. They can be mean and cruel like Nurse Ratched or gentle as doves like Audrey Hepburn’s character in The Nun’s Story. They can also be sexy, smart, compassionate, laugh-out-loud funny and ruthless blood thirsty monsters. What follows is a picture gallery featuring some of my favorite movie nurses.”

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Feb. 4: Melvin Van Peebles: The Story of A Three-Day Pass (1967)

Excerpt: “Seemingly Influenced by both the French and British New Wave, including the early films of Godard and John Schlesinger, Melvin Van Peebles first full-length feature film subverts conventional narrative methods to delve deeper into its characters conflicted psyches. The Story of A Three-Day Pass bounces, pops and glides like a musical composition and the innovative freewheeling nature of the film mirrors its jazz inspired score. Van Peebles uses a number of experimental film techniques including dolly shots, freeze frames, jump cuts, jarring dissolves, split-screen and lengthy POV shots that impart the film with an intimacy and immediacy that immediately draws you in and demands your attention. We’re encouraged to see the world through Turner’s eyes and we experience the bigotry he faces in a very direct way. It was refreshingly straightforward and progressive stuff in 1967 that retains its power to shock and provoke audiences today.”

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Feb. 11: Jean-Claude Killy in Snow Job (1972)

Excerpt: “Snow Job was filmed on location in the Italian and Swiss Alps by American director George Englund (The Ugly American; 1963, Zachariah; 1971, etc.) and Hungarian cinematographer Gábor Pogány (Two Women; 1960, Bluebeard; 1972, Night Train Murders; 1975, etc.). According to interviews, they used helicopters extensively throughout the shoot, which allowed them to capture all the action on the slopes. The camerawork is occasionally breathtaking as we watch Jean-Claude Killy jump and drift across the alpine landscape like an agile bird while risking serious injury or even death. Killy insisted on doing all his own stunts and it’s remarkable that he got through filming unscathed. If you appreciate seventies heist films with dynamic action sequences or the kind of risky professional skiing typically reserved for Warren Miller documentaries, you should find Snow Job a particularly rewarding and enjoyable watch.”

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Feb. 18: Jack Palance: Horror Star

Excerpt: “I first saw the tall, broad featured and chiseled actor in Man in the Attic (1953) where he played Jack the Ripper in this fourth film adaptation of Marie Belloc Lowndes’s 1913 novel, The Lodger. I was only a kid at the time but Palance’s quietly seething performance impressed me due to the sympathy he was able to generate for his unlikable character. Jack the Ripper is typically portrayed as a cold-blooded maniac or sexually motivated monster but Palance, despite his menacing presence, was able to imbue his Ripper with a complex psychology that was thought provoking and surprisingly contemporary. As a seemingly harmless killer with an unmanageable Oedipus complex, Palance’s Ripper prefigures the often-cited character of Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s Psycho.”

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Feb. 25: Douglas Slocombe: A Tribute

Excerpt: “What follows is a gallery of some of my favorite screen shots from Douglas Slocombe’s distinguished oeuvre. They demonstrate that the accomplished cinematographer was much more than an artless journeyman or technician who simply took orders from a director. The images I’ve gathered are linked together by a unique creative vision that spans the length of his 50-year career in film.”

Regular visitors to Cinebeats over the years might recall my affection for many of the films Slocombe worked on, which I’ve written about here including The Third Secret, Boom! and The Servant. An image from The Servant even graces my “testimonials” page.

RIP Mr. Slocombe.

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