For Your Consideration: Jan. 2, 2015

Happy New Year, dear readers! Elaine and I were discussing the topic for this week’s FYC and decided that the most appropriate thing would be to ring in 2015 with some cinematic resolutions: films that we, ashamedly, have never actually seen, and resolve to consume by the end of the year. In order to keep this a little more interesting than a simple list of titles, we decided we would each compose each other’s resolution for them: so this week, for your consideration and ours, I’ve got two films for Elaine, and Elaine’s got two films for me. So I guess that makes four films for you to get to in 2015!

– Ethan

For Elaine:

“Duck Soup” (1933)

Cast: Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx, Margaret Dumont, Louis Calhern, Raquel Torres, Edgar Kennedy

Available to purchase on Vudu, to rent or purchase from Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

Do you hate joy, Elaine? That’s the only explanation I can come up with for not seeing the Marx brothers’ best film, a string of classic comedic set-pieces that vaguely flails at political satire (Hail Freedonia!) but is really just an excuse for some of Groucho’s best one-liners. Rufus T. Firefly can’t see the stove, but you can see some of the brothers’ sterling choreographed physical comedy: the mirror scene is a rightful classic, but there’s a bit with Chico and Harpo exchanging hats with an exasperated street vendor (great straight man Edgar Kennedy) that’s almost on the same level. Watch whenever you’re in need of a pick-me-up.

– Ethan

“The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp” (1943)

Cast: Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr, Anton Walbrook, Ursula Jeans, James McKechnie, David Hutcheson, Frith Banbury, Muriel Aked, John Laurie

Available to rent or purchase on Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

Anthony Lane once wrote that Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s satirical epic was possibly the most English movie ever made, “not least because it looks so closely at the incurable condition of being English.” Remarkable not just for its outstanding performances, eye-popping Technicolor and cinematographic flourishes, but for daring to take a long-view historical perspective in the middle of a horrific World War, “Colonel Blimp” is very much about an empire in transition – or perhaps even decline. Blimp himself, originally a blustery, caricature cartoon character, is given surprising depth and sympathy thanks to Powell, Pressburger and Livesey; together they create a film wistful and nostalgic for times past, a more naive and “honorable” era that has been swallowed by the violence of the 20th century. England, however, forever soldiers on.

– Ethan

For Ethan:

“East of Eden” (1955)

Cast: James Dean, Julie Harris, Raymond Massey, Jo Van Fleet, Burl Ives, Albert Dekker, Richard Davalos

Available to rent or purchase from Amazon Instant, iTunes or Vudu, on disc from Netflix

I’ve always felt that James Dean wasn’t so much a great actor as one whose roles perfectly suited him. And to understand the character Dean specialized in during his tragically short career, you have to watch his first movie, “East of Eden.” It was the film that made his name—and the only one he ever saw in its entirety. He excels as Cal Trask, the unloved second son of a successful Californian farmer, somewhere between a man and a boy, lovable yet cruel. Director Elia Kazan, known for his moody, chiaroscuro pictures “On the Waterfront” and “A Streetcar Named Desire,” brings the verdant farmlands of central California to life with pizzazz, splashing Salinas with color. Like Steinbeck, Kazan understood the irony of the setting: that such a fertile landscape could give life to such troubled people.

– Elaine

“Ninotchka” (1939)

Cast: Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas, Bela Lugosi, Ina Claire, Felix Bressart, Sig Ruman, Alexander Granach

Available to rent or purchase on Vudu or Amazon Instant, on disc from Netflix

“Garbo Laughs!” was the famous marketing slogan for “Ninotchka.” The tagline was a little unfair to the Swedish screen icon, whose severe cheekbones and haughty expression radiated superiority. But Garbo’s first comedy is one of the funniest there is, lampooning Stalin’s Soviet Union with irresistible zest and wit. “The last mass trials were a great success,” says Ninotchka, a Soviet envoy to Paris. “There are going to be fewer, but better, Russians.” Garbo plays the straight man, a Communist whose dedication is seemingly unshakable, while the supporting cast swirls around her with impeccable comedic timing. The script, written by a team that included Billy Wilder, is fast-paced and light-hearted, but also politically savvy. “Garbo laughs. And the world will laugh with her,” boasted MGM. They were right.

– Elaine

For Your Consideration: May 30, 2014

This weekend, Disney looks to give one of its classic properties a “Wicked” revision. Merging the fairy tale origins of Sleeping Beauty with the current spat of gothic action/fantasies, “Maleficent” will have to try awfully hard to prove it’s much more than a cash-grab revival. It might not matter either way at the box office – Disney’s had this particular corner of the film market locked down for oh, getting on towards 80 years now. But it’s not like others haven’t tried to mine similar material. So for your consideration, this week we’re recommending three fairy tale films that don’t hail from the House of Mouse.

– Ethan

“The Adventures of Prince Achmed” (1926)

Available on disc from Netflix; purchasable on DVD or Blu-Ray from Amazon (it’s worth it)

No matter what Disney tells you, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was NOT the first animated feature film. That title should go to one of two silent films by Argentinian animator Quirino Cristiani, but unfortunately neither survives today; but we do have “The Adventures of Prince Achmed,” Lotte Reiniger’s 1926 adaptation of elements from the 1001 Arabian Nights. Reiniger’s silhouette animation style (made from cardboard cutouts, manipulated frame-by-frame) is fabulously striking, an eerie callback to the shadow puppet shows that prefigured early cinema. Jagged, exaggerated, and haunting, “Prince Achmed” is more Murnau than Disney; an expressionist take on the Arabian fairy tale that fits right into German folkloric traditions.

– Ethan

“The Red Shoes” (1948)

Cast: Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring, Léonide Massine, Ludmilla Tchérina, Robert Helpmann, Esmond Knight

Available to rent from iTunes and Amazon Instant, on disc from Netflix

As a child, I found “The Red Shoes” the most perplexing and disturbing of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories. For years I lived in fear of each pair of new shoes that came my way, and spent many a night wondering if I too could be carried off to an unfortunate fate by frenzied footwear.

That is, until I saw Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s “The Red Shoes.” This luminous film transform the classic fairytale into an allegory about art, sacrifice, and the relentless pursuit of perfection. For Victoria Page (Moira Shearer), the purpose of life is not to live, but to dance. Under the guidance of charismatic ballet impresario Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), she becomes a great dancer, dedicated solely to her art—a choice that becomes increasingly untenable as she falls in love with a young composer. A love triangle of sorts, “The Red Shoes” elevates and universalizes the fairytale, and is also a visual and cinematographic feast. Not only does it feature a 15-minute ballet sequence, but the film—recently restored by Martin Scorsese—is renowned for its bold, vibrant colors (due to a rare technicolor technique) that transform a story about art into a work of art.

– Elaine

“The Frog Prince” (1986)

Cast: Aileen Quinn, Helen Hunt, John Paragon, Clive Revill

Available for the moment via not-so-official-looking channels on YouTube.

“The Frog Prince” is an unlikely candidate for a feature film, since the story basically consists of a spoiled girl kissing an amphibian. Recognizing the problem, the filmmakers changed the story to a time-honored coming-of-age tale featuring a young princess, awkward and lonely, who befriends a frog. Secretly a prince, the frog teaches her how to become a true princess, from maintaining good posture to embracing her heart of gold. The music, mostly sung by Aileen Quinn (of “Annie” fame), is enough to make this movie worth your while. The costumes are absurdly ‘80s, a young Helen Hunt shows up now and again to strut angrily, and there are some fantastic one-liners. Embracing its own campiness, this “Frog Prince” is not about kissing your way to prince charming, but about the heartwarming power of friendship.

– Elaine