Archive | May, 2013

THE SEA CHASE (1955): Change of pace for John Wayne

28 May

I happened to watch THE SEA CHASE (1955) when it was cablecast on TCM on Sunday, May 26 (John Wayne’s 106th birthday) as part of the station’s Memorial Day weekend war film marathon. This was a John Wayne film I’d never seen before and one that was a little off of his usual routine, which is probably why I’d never given it high priority before. But it turned out to be quite a pleasant surprise.

In the film, Wayne plays a German ship captain, Karl Ehrlich, at the helm of a freighter that’s docked in Sydney, Australia when war is declared between Germany and Great Britain in 1939. He manages to get his ship out on the open sea and endeavors to sail it halfway across the world back to Germany, after a stop in Chile, despite pursuit by a British ship piloted by an officer who’s a friend of his. It’s a seagoing adventure shot largely on location in color and widescreen and offers a full measure of the hardships a ship would experience on such a journey. Furthermore, it focuses on the conflict between duty and justice and raises questions about loyalty to one’s command versus loyalty to one’s principles.

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WOLF CHILDREN: New anime feature from Mamoru Hosoda

23 May

On March 9, 2013, I went to the New York International Children’s Film Festival (NYICFF) to see a new animated film, WOLF CHILDREN (2012), by Japanese director Mamoru Hosoda, who appeared after the screening for a Q&A with the audience. I had seen Mr. Hosoda’s previous animated film, SUMMER WARS (2009), when it had premiered at the NYICFF on the night of a blizzard in February 2010 and Mr. Hosoda had appeared and done a Q&A there also. Before these two films, Hosoda had directed THE GIRL WHO LEAPT THROUGH TIME (2006) and the first two movies spun off from the Digimon animated series, DIGIMON ADVENTURE: BORN OF KOROMON (1999) and DIGIMON ADVENTURE: OUR WAR GAME (2000).

Wolf Children 1

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VHS Discoveries: Anime without Subtitles

19 May

For every single Japanese animated series or film released in the U.S. in an English-language edition, there are dozens that have never been released here and are not likely to be. I’m curious about anime I haven’t seen and have looked for intriguing examples, either on tape or DVD, in Japanese video stores in Manhattan. When the price has been right, I’ve picked them up. There are many classic series I’ve heard of but never seen, so those get high priority, but there are many I learn of for the first time when I encounter them on the shelves at Book Off or HQ Video in Manhattan.

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Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013): Movie Magician par excellence

11 May

Ray Harryhausen died on Tuesday, May 7 at the age of 92. He had a good run, starting out by animating stop-motion models of dinosaurs, inspired by KING KONG (1933), for short color 16mm movies made in his parents’ garage while he was a teenager in the 1930s and ending with the Greek mythological epic CLASH OF THE TITANS in 1981. In between, he did the “technical effects” as billed on his first feature, or “special visual effects” as they were usually billed, for some of my all-time favorite movies. I was lucky to have seen many of his movies on the big screen when they were first released, starting with THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958), which my father took us to see on Lincoln’s Birthday in 1959, when I was five. Even though I’d seen Disney features in theaters before then, as well as a memorable double bill of THE ROBE and DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS, I believe it was SINBAD that first triggered a love of the motion picture art form, particularly the more fantastic genres. The Cyclops was a truly formidable monster and done in such a vivid and exciting manner that there was something consistently compelling about him and the way he reacts to having his domain invaded by these pesky humans. I don’t know that I’ve seen another movie monster quite like him, not even in Harryhausen’s other films.

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Deanna Durbin: In Memoriam

2 May

First Annette and now Deanna Durbin, who was, in a way, the Annette Funicello of the 1930s (but way more popular). According to the New York Times obituary of May 1, 2013, Ms. Durbin died “a few days ago.” (As of this writing, IMDB still doesn’t list a death date, presumably because it still doesn’t have one!) Legend has it that Deanna’s film musicals, filled with youthful exuberance and musical cheer, starting with THREE SMART GIRLS (1936) and 100 MEN AND A GIRL (1937), were so popular they saved Universal Pictures from bankruptcy and kept the studio solvent until Abbott and Costello came along in the 1940s. (Deanna and Annette connection: both co-starred in movies with Robert Cummings.)

Deanna Durbin (born Dec. 4, 1921) was one of the few major Hollywood stars to turn her back on the industry and walk away from it and live happily ever after. She moved to France in 1950 with her third husband, French director Charles David, after having made her last film in 1948 at the age of 26, and never looked back. Before that, she made a total of 21 features, mostly at Universal, from 1936-1948. As far as I know, she sang in every one of them.

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