Star Trek Into Fandom: The Movies

For my final post commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of “Star Trek” this month, here are twenty-one of my favorite scenes from the six films featuring the original show’s cast (often identified as “TOS,” 1979-1991) and the three films featuring the “alternate” original-series cast (aka “AOS,” 2009-present).

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979): Disco Bones. I don’t believe there has ever been a satisfactory explanation (other than the time when the film was made, of course) as to why Bones (Dr. McCoy) has a beard and is wearing disco-friendly attire when he first appears in TMP. Whatever the reason, DeForest Kelley somehow managed not to look nearly as ridiculous as he might have.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979): Spock’s Arrival. I’m not sure if I have ever loved a Vulcan outfit more than the one Spock wore when he returned to the Enterprise after many years of being away from active duty. (The iciness in Spock’s demeanor is due to a long time spent on his home planet, purging himself of emotions.)

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979): This Simple Feeling. Anyone who has watched this scene and not felt even a slight bit emotional clearly does not love Kirk or Spock nearly enough. Kudos to Nimoy and Shatner for carrying the scene so beautifully.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982): KHAAAAAN. Ah, yes, Captain Kirk’s infamous scream.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982): Best Friends Forever. Tears, tears and more tears.

Star Trek III: The Search of Spock (1984): Stealing Their Own Ship. The crew works together to steal the Enterprise away from their own space station and embark on a mission back to the Genesis planet (from Star Trek II, where Spock’s “dead” body was left) and then onward to Vulcan, where Spock’s soul can be rejuvenated. The best part of this scene: Uhura finally contributes more than just being a glorified receptionist.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984): McCoy’s Greatest Moment. If I had to pick a single scene from either the original TV show or any of the original cast’s movies that had DeForest Kelley’s finest acting as Dr. McCoy, it would be the first scene from this clip. As the Enterprise brings Spock to Vulcan to rejoin the body with the mind (currently encased for safekeeping inside McCoy’s head – it all has to do with the events from the end of Wrath of Khan), McCoy displays true tenderness. Below the veneer of frustration, the good doctor really does care for his comrade. I hope that Leonard Nimoy was proud of his work as a director here.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986): Taking Care of Business. Leonard Nimoy continued his top-notch track record as a director with Star Trek IV. Clad in an 80s headband and stuck on a bus with Captain Kirk (they time-traveled back to 1986… don’t ask), Spock knows exactly how to take care of a punk fool. This scene also takes pains to note that Kirk is well-acquainted with classic literature. Good times.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986): Not the Hell Your Whales. There are too many terrific things happening in this video to properly explain them all. This, my friends, is my favorite “Star Trek” movie by a mile.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986): Hello, Computer. Scotty, the dear old sweetheart of the Enterprise, displays his A+ knowledge of archaic technology.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986): Star Trek via the Keystone Kops. The gang must work together to break Chekov out of a 20th century hospital. Fun times abound.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989): Camping Fun. Never forget the “Star Trek” movie that William Shatner co-wrote and directed. Mountain climbing (gloriously explained and remixed here)… jet-powered boots… “marsh melons”… McCoy’s last line in the second video. All so superb.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989): Adorable Things. Apparently it was Shatner’s prerogative to make sure that Kirk/Spock really was a part of the canon.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991): The Final Farewell. I can’t imagine a better ending for our beloved Enterprise crew, right down to Captain Kirk’s ongoing sense of wonder and joy at exploring the universe (the Peter Pan quote “…and straight on ’til morning”) and the extra special touch during the last minute.

Star Trek (2009): First Meeting. I like how the first of the reboots sets up Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock’s (Zachary Quinto) first – and rather negative – encounter at Starfleet. Bonus: Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy, doing the role justice.

Star Trek (2009): Chekov at His Best. I know everyone loved Anton Yelchin’s interpretation of Ensign Pavel Chekov, and this is one of the character’s nicest showcases.

Star Trek (2009): Spock Meets Spock. In the first film of the rebooted series, the undeniable high point was getting to see Leonard Nimoy reprise his role as our beloved Spock. Obviously that’s kind of strange, but somehow – because I still don’t totally understand the time-space mechanics of this – Zachary Quinto’s Spock is able to coexist in the same universe as the elder “Spock Prime.”

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013): Respecting the Chair. The newest entries in the “Star Trek” franchise continue the tradition of employing excellent character actors; Bruce Greenwood, as Captain Christopher Pike, is no exception. (If you’ve been watching TV this year, you may have seen Greenwood play Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti on FX’s “American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson.”)

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013): Wrath of Khan Redux. I have a lot of problems with this film from the rebooted series – not the least of which is the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch, of all people, as the character Khan Noonien Singh – but I did love the homage to the famous ending from Star Trek II. In this case, there is a twist: it is Kirk who absorbs a potentially fatal amount of radiation and Spock who reacts so emotionally to the impending loss of his friend.

Star Trek Beyond (2016): Survival. I love the way the AOS “Star Trek” movies depict Spock’s and McCoy’s contentious bond. This scene is yet another enjoyable example.

Star Trek Beyond (2016): Meeting Jaylah. One of the benefits of Simon Pegg co-writing Beyond’s screenplay is that he was able to incorporate a new, strong woman (or, more accurately, female alien) character, Jaylah (played by Sofia Boutella). She is a warrior who also has a sensitive side and she delivers some of the film’s best (and occasionally funniest) lines. Moving forward in this series, I hope that Jaylah returns and that she and Uhura continue to be multifaceted characters.

Star Trek Into Fandom: Some Favorite Scenes

Photo courtesy of They Boldly Went: “DeForest Kelley, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy pretend that hand phasers are electric shavers while filming ‘Operation: Annihilate!’ on the TRW Campus in Redondo Beach, CA.”

As I continue to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of “Star Trek,” here are some golden moments from many of my favorite episodes from the TV series. As soon as I have finished watching the six movies starring the show’s original cast, I shall have a new post ready with more superb clips.

We begin with the beloved catchphrase of Dr. Leonard McCoy, better known as Bones: “I’m a doctor, not a [insert other profession/object].”

“Charlie X” [S1 E2] – There are some rooms on the Starship Enterprise which we only saw once or twice; one such place is the exercise area, in which Captain Kirk attempts to show a confused teenage passenger, Charlie (played by Robert Walker, Jr.), how to work off his teen angst with some martial arts-lite moves. Kirk’s training tips are not particularly helpful, but it’s an awful lot of fun watching William Shatner roll around wearing what appear to be several layers of Spanx.

“The Naked Time” [S1 E4] – The crew is overwhelmed by an unknown germ which strips them of their inhibitions, like a kind of extraterrestrial alcohol. Sulu believes he is a dashing swordsman – while pursuing Uhura, he makes the mistake of calling her a “fair maiden,” to which she replies, “sorry, neither!” – and Spock’s surge of emotion causes a plethora of problems when he interacts with Captain Kirk.

“The Corbomite Maneuver” [S1 E8]But first, the tranya. The Enterprise is held in the orbital grip of a frighteningly powerful planet, which appears to be ruled by a grotesque entity (described in one fan’s review as “Nosferatu lying on the bottom of a swimming pool”). The mysterious alien scares the living bejesus out of everyone – or maybe just me – for the entire episode but when Kirk finally beams over to the planet, it turns out that the supreme being he saw was merely a puppet (albeit a very creepy one) and the actual leader is an adult who looks like a small child… played by seven-year-old Clint Howard (Ron’s younger brother).

“Shore Leave” [S1 E15] – Oh, McCoy, you old rascal. Flirtation is usually Captain Kirk’s department, but in this episode our favorite country doctor gets to stroll through a meadow with a lovely young shipmate, Yeoman Tonia Barrows (Emily Banks).

“This Side of Paradise” [S1 E24] – A trip to a utopian colony, which is covered in flowers that spurt magical pollen, allows Spock to feel emotion and fall in love with Leila Kalomi (Jill Ireland). Truly, the joys of seeing Spock grinning as he hangs from a tree like a sloth are boundless. In the end, however, he realizes that he must revert to his stoic Vulcan ways and return to the Enterprise. Spock’s recovery from emotion is heartbreaking to watch, culminating in a tearful goodbye between him and Leila. The dialogue by scriptwriter Dorothy (“D.C.”) Fontana’s gives us one of Spock’s best lines: “If there are self-made purgatories – and we all have to live in them – mine can be no worse than someone else’s.”

“The Devil in the Dark” [S1 E25] – An underground mining colony is terrorized by a monster which resembles an old pizza on top of a pile of meatballs. Our favorite Vulcan does a mind-meld with the creature, which we learn is called a Horta. Leonard Nimoy praised the episode, saying that “it was about the way we tend to demonize the things that we don’t know or understand or the people that we don’t know or understand.” And, as we learn at the episode’s end, the Horta also has impeccable taste.

“The City on the Edge of Forever” [S1 E28] – Often cited as the all-time greatest “Star Trek” episode, “City” has a plot that would take me far too long to explain, but there are two things which are clear: 1) Spock wears a terrific hat to hide his ears, and 2) the ending – in which Kirk must sacrifice the woman he loves, Sister Edith Keeler (Joan Collins), because whether she lives or dies in 1930 will alter the rest of human history – is one of the saddest of the show’s run.

“Operation — Annihilate!” [S1 E29] – Attack of the flying latkes!

“I, Mudd” [S2 E8] – For sheer comic craziness, no episode can ever top “I, Mudd.” Captain Kirk and his crew outwit a bunch of androids by acting bizarrely; the illogical actions promptly fry the robots’ brains. I guess that the Academy offered improv classes in addition to all the other Starfleet requirements.

“Wolf in the Fold” [S2 E14] – Captain Kirk should probably know better than to invite Spock to a weird outer space nightclub.

“The Trouble with Tribbles” [S2 E15] – Here we witness one of William Shatner’s most memorable moments on the “Star Trek”: Captain Kirk mired in a swamp of little Tribbles, a number of the fuzzy beasties being thrown directly at Shatner’s head by the show’s crew.

“A Piece of the Action” [S2 E17] – On the fly, Captain Kirk (stuck with Spock and Dr. McCoy in a world modeled on 1920s Chicago) improvises a card game to distract his captors: “Fizzbin.” My personal favorite touch in this gem of a scene: when Kirk explains the astronomical odds of getting a “Royal Fizzbin” hand, Spock nods and mouths “astronomical” in agreement.

“Return to Tomorrow” [S2 E20] – Ancient alien consciousnesses want to inhabit the “receptacle” bodies of Kirk, Spock and Dr. Ann Mulhall (Diana Muldaur) so that the long-dormant beings may live again? Sure, what harm could there be in that? William Shatner does some wonderfully strange/hammy gesticulating when one of the entities, Sargon, occupies his mind for the first time; later, Shatner delivers one of Captain Kirk’s greatest monologues when he reminds his shipmates of the crucial scientific and philosophical imperatives which give meaning to the Enterprise’s intergalactic explorations.

P.S. Fun fact: Sargon is voiced by James “Scotty” Doohan (minus the Aberdeen burr, obviously).

“Patterns of Force” [S2 E21] – Surely the “Nazis in Space” episode, one of the weirdest concepts of the series, deserves an extra commendation for being the only episode of the series in which Spock appears shirtless. (Not to be outdone, Captain Kirk’s always-waxed upper half appears sans clothing in the same scenes.)

“By Any Other Name” [S2 E22] – Scotty is one of my favorite characters; I just adore James Doohan. One of Scotty’s finest showcases is in this episode from the tail end of season two, in which he does his best to weaken an alien intruder by getting him super drunk. Bonus – some delightful decor: the kilt and bagpipes on display in Scotty’s quarters.

“Requiem for Methuselah” [S3 E19] – Where did Spock learn to play the piano? Surely such an endeavor would not be a normal activity on Vulcan since the performance of music requires the engagement of emotion. In any case, apparently Spock is well-versed in Brahms.

“The Way to Eden” [S3 E20] – This is a much-maligned episode (who in their right mind would want to see Captain Kirk deal with space hippies?), but I have a real weakness for its goofy musical scenes. Charles Napier, as an enthusiastic peace-seeker named Adam, leads an embarrassing anthem for his group, but the true joy comes later when Spock joins in with some tuneage from his Vulcan lyre. Far out, man.

Star Trek Into Fandom: The Costumes

I recently started and finished watching the entire original series of “Star Trek” (three seasons, 1966-1969). One of the most striking elements of the show’s design was its use of costumes, all of which were designed by William Ware Theiss, who later designed costumes for such films as Harold and Maude (1971), Bound for Glory (1976), Who’ll Stop the Rain (1978), Goin’ South (1978) and Butch and Sundance: The Early Days (1979). This post honors seventeen of Theiss’ most inspired (and in many cases, most revealing) creations.

“What Are Little Girls Made Of?” [S1 E7] – Sherry Jackson, playing an android named Andrea, wears a rather flimsy set of overalls, while Ted Cassidy, as a menacing android named Ruk, wears what looks like a glued-together pile of random weird fabrics. I also like the boilersuit (if that’s the right terminology) worn by Dr. Korby (Michael Strong).

“Shore Leave” [S1 E15] – When the crew of the Enterprise makes the mistake of taking shore leave on a planet which is basically just a gigantic amusement park, Dr. McCoy’s “death” is resolved at the episode’s end by having merely been an illusion, like all the other bizarre events that happened; when he returns to his astonished crew, McCoy is accompanied by two Vegas-looking showgirls he fondly remembered from a past rendezvous.

“The Return of the Archons” [S1 E21] – Members of the Enterprise’s crew beam down to a world that appears to be modeled on the US circa the late 1800s, and before doing so, the crew members all don excellent, period-appropriate attire. My personal favorite look is Spock’s cloak, which would look unusual in most any era.

“A Taste of Armageddon” [S1 E23] – Dig some of these crazy outfits! I love whenever Theiss had to design hats for the guest actors.

“Amok Time” [S2 E1] – One of the all-time classic episodes of the original series, “Amok Time” features Spock in the throes of pon farr, the Vulcan mating cycle that occurs once every seven years. He and the Enterprise crew travel back to his home planet, also called Vulcan, where Spock expects to wed the bride chosen for him during childhood, T’Pring (Arlene Martel, who in 1961 had guest-starred as the morgue nurse with the catchphrase “Room for one more, honey!” in one of my favorite “Twilight Zone” episodes, “Twenty Two”). This scene shows T’Pring and also the leader of the Vulcans, T’Pau (veteran character actress Celia Lovsky). Naturally, complications ensue when T’Pring decides that a simple wedding is not enough and instead she would rather see Spock and Kirk engage in a fight to the death. Needless to say, all of the costumes are terrific.

“Who Mourns for Adonais?” [S2 E2] – Apollo (Michael Forest) uses his powers to dress Lt. Carolyn Palamas (Leslie Parrish) in a gown befitting Aphrodite, an outfit which is held up only by the weight of the train draped over the lieutenant’s shoulder. I only wish that this clip displayed the rich color and sparkle of the costume, which you can see in its perfection on the remastered DVD of the show, as well as the amount of leg visible on both sides of the skirt.

“Mirror, Mirror” [S2 E4] – How you know that Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy, Scotty and Lt. Uhura have been transported to an parallel-universe version of the Enterprise: a) there are even skimpier costumes (nice abs, Nichelle Nichols!), b) everyone on the ship does Naziesque salutes and c) Mirror Universe Spock has a Beard of Evil.

“Journey to Babel” [S2 E10] – During a diplomatic mission in which the Enterprise carries ambassadors from many different worlds – including Spock’s Vulcan father, Sarek (Mark Lenard), and Spock’s human mother, Amanda (Jane Wyatt) – to a peace conference, you get to see the ship’s top-ranking officers in the jackets required for special occasions such as this one, as well as the diverse set of costumes worn by the plethora of life forms inhabiting the Enterprise during the voyage.

“Friday’s Child” [S2 E11] – These are truly both the funniest and the ugliest costumes that any guest villains had to wear on “Star Trek.” Get a look at those ponytails! Bonus: Julie Newmar as that week’s damsel in distress.

“A Piece of the Action” [S2 E17] – Kirk and Spock in 1920s-era suits and fedoras! I’ll bet these costumes were half the reason why this episode, set on a planet that believes in Prohibition-era Chicago as the ideal model for their society, was put into production in the first place.

“Assignment: Earth” [S2 E26] – The final episode of season two was also essentially a pilot for a show (of the same name) that Gene Roddenberry was hoping to launch; it didn’t happen, so instead we’re stuck with these weird “Star Trek” episode that focuses more on a Doctor Who-type character (played by Robert Lansing) and his companion (Teri Garr) than on Kirk, Spock or anything else happening on the Enterprise. Kirk and Spock (the latter of whom has a hat to hide his Vulcan ears) wear some great 1968-era outfits, though, and Teri Garr’s kind of psychedelic outfit is cute.

Warning: this clip contains strobe effects and many bright, flashing lights.

“Is There in Truth No Beauty?” [S3 E5] – Diana Muldaur is one of my favorite actresses who appeared on “Star Trek”; not only am I partial to her since she was born in Brooklyn, but she also holds the distinction of being one of the few guest stars to play multiple characters in multiple episodes. Each of Diana Muldaur’s characters was an intelligent, high-ranking woman working either in Starfleet or elsewhere in the Federation; in season two episode “Return to Tomorrow” she played Dr. Ann Mulhall, a science officer (described as an “astrobiologist”) newly assigned to the Enterprise during that episode, and in “Is There No Beauty?” she plays Dr. Miranda Jones, assistant to the Medusan ambassador Kollos. I used a clip from the latter episode because Muldaur’s Dr. Jones has a fantastic upswept hairdo and she wears many beautiful gowns – besides this one (seen here in full length), there is a blue gown and also a black gown that looks incredible in motion – and all of the outfits are covered in “sensor webs” to aid her since she is blind (though the other characters don’t realize it until near the end of the episode).

P.S. Diana Muldaur’s “Star Trek” career continued twenty years later when she had a recurring role as Dr. Pulaski on the TV series “Star Trek: The Next Generation” in 1988.

“For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” [S3 E8] – Natira (Katherine Woodville) and her fellow countrymen on the world of Yonada wear many colorful designs, clearly utilizing a lot of whatever CBS had available (“Star Trek” was always a low-budget show, especially in its final season).

“Plato’s Stepchildren” [S3 310] – Primarily famous as the episode in which Captain Kirk and Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) share a kiss (a first for interracial kisses on American television), “Plato’s Stepchildren” also makes great use of glittery togas and laurels. (Our heroes are prisoners on a planet based on ancient Greek history and mythology, where all the beings there have telekinetic powers which hold Kirk, Spock, Uhura and Nurse Christine Chapel captive.) The forced kiss between Spock and Christine is particularly cruel not just because Spock is incapable of emotion, but because it is established early in season one that Christine has a crush – obviously unrequited – on her Vulcan comrade.

“The Way to Eden” [S3 E20] – Most fans describe this episode as one of “Star Trek’s” worst. I mean, yeah, it’s all about hippies in space, but look at Charles Napier’s outfit! A horrible hairpiece, a costume that looks like a typical challenge-losing design from “Project Runway,” and extremely high boots. All that, and he sings too!

(Oh, and by the way, the bald fellow you see at 0:13 is Skip Homeier.)

“The Savage Curtain” [S3 E22] – Probably best remembered as the episode that involves a projection of Abraham Lincoln (played by Lee Bergere), we see the Enterprise’s top officers wearing their special-event finery (like we also saw in the “Journey to Babel” clip), but I particularly love Scotty’s kilt, the tartan fabric of which connects to the top of his uniform jacket.

“All Our Yesterdays” [S3 E23] – The series’ penultimate episode might have the most entertaining costume reveal of all. Stuck in a musty cave during an ice age, Zarabeth (Mariette Hartley) sees her opportunity for romance when Spock and McCoy fall through a time portal and end up in her neck of the woods, so to speak; the lonely woman instantly falls in love with Spock, and despite the freezing cold temperatures, Zarabeth has clearly made the right choice for what to wear under her winter coat.

Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: September 2016

Director Mira Nair and actress Lupita Nyong’o on the set of Queen of Katwe, 2015.

Here are twenty-two new movies due to be released in September which have been directed and/or photographed by women. These titles are sure to intrigue cinephiles and also provoke meaningful discussions on the film world, as well as the world in general.

SEPTEMBER 2: Equal Means Equal (dir. Kamala Lopez) (DP: Jendra Jarnagin)From the film’s official website:Equal Means Equal offers an unflinching look at how women are treated in the United States today. Examining both real-life stories and precedent-setting legal cases, director Kamala Lopez uncovers how outdated and discriminatory attitudes inform and influence seemingly disparate issues, from workplace harassment to domestic violence, rape and sexual assault to the foster care system, and the healthcare conglomerate to the judicial system. Along the way, she reveals the inadequacy of present laws that claim to protect women, ultimately presenting a compelling and persuasive argument for the urgency of ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment.”

SEPTEMBER 9: As I Open My Eyes (dir. Leyla Bouzid)Tribeca Film Festival synopsis: “Tradition butts up against progress in Leyla Bouzid’s debut feature As I Open My Eyes, a musically-charged French-Tunisian film that follows a young woman in a band as she navigates familial, cultural, and social ideals in contemporary Tunis. Her band—assembled of several friends and one more-than-a-friend—plays a blend of original music and covers at local bars, including men’s-only joints. For Farah (Baya Medhaffar), the young woman at the heart of the film, music transcends cultures and languages, and the lengthy musical interludes demonstrate a kind of escapism. But music too is wrapped up in the politics. As I Open My Eyes situates itself at the dawn of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, and Farah’s music addresses politics and issues in her home country.”

SEPTEMBER 9: Cameraperson (dir./DP: Kirsten Johnson)IFC Center synopsis: “What does it mean to film someone? How does it affect the subject—and what does it do to the filmer? Johnson, the cinematographer behind such essential documentaries as Citizenfour, Fahrenheit 9/11, The Invisible War and dozens more, draws on the remarkable footage she’s shot throughout her career to craft an extraordinary, impressionistic, deeply poetic self-portrait. Revisiting and recontextualizing her life’s work, her film becomes a meditation on film’s uncanny ability to connect us to each other.”

SEPTEMBER 9: Ithaca (dir. Meg Ryan)From an Entertainment Weekly interview: “There’s a scene toward the beginning of Ithaca, Meg Ryan’s 1940s-set directorial debut, which sees a teenage boy returning home from his new job as a mail carrier. Having delivered a military telegram notifying a local woman of her son’s death, the boy, Homer (newcomer Alex Neustaedter), reassures his own mother (Ryan) of the goodness that still exists within him.

“‘Everything’s all right, mom… ‘ he begins, pacing as she knits in the corner. She echoes the sentiment from the sidelines, allowing her son to come of age in the space before her. ‘Everything’s all right, Homer,’ she repeats. ‘It’s only that you’re becoming aware of a world in which you’ve been a child.’

Ithaca is a labor of love that came from Ryan’s protective instincts as a mother of two, one that symbolizes the trajectory of her career, in a way; just as Homer grows under the watchful eye of his maker, the film is the product of maturation, nurtured by Ryan’s days acting in major Hollywood romances like Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail and her feelings as a parent in the lead up to the Iraq War.

“An adaptation of William Saroyan’s 1943 novel The Human Comedy, Ithaca, which premiered at the Middleburg Film Festival in 2015, also stars Ryan’s son, Jack Quaid, and features an epic cameo by her long-time costar, Tom Hanks. The film, the actress tells EW, is about Homer’s emotional journey as he awaits his older brother’s return from the frontlines of WWII, and has an important relevance to today’s world – especially given the contentious climate surrounding international conflicts in the Middle East.

“‘There was a day I thought, “Oh, man. I can’t protect my kid from everything.” It’s a difficult moment,’ the 54-year old says, recalling the run-up to the Iraq War as inspiration for directing the project. ‘I think it speaks to the complicated things happening [in the world], in the sense of community and cultivation of an individual’s integrity – what Saroyan believes are important antidotes. Hopefully Ithaca is about how fierce and frail life really is.'”

SEPTEMBER 16: Bridget Jones’s Baby (dir. Sharon Maguire)From the film’s official website: “Oscar® winners Renée Zellweger and Colin Firth are joined by Patrick Dempsey for the next chapter of the world’s favorite singleton in Bridget Jones’s Baby. Directed by Sharon Maguire (Bridget Jones’s Diary), the new film in the beloved comedy series based on creator Helen Fielding’s heroine finds Bridget unexpectedly expecting.

“After breaking up with Mark Darcy (Firth), Bridget Jones’s (Zellweger) “happily ever after” hasn’t quite gone according to plan. Fortysomething and single again, she decides to focus on her job as top news producer and surround herself with old friends and new. For once, Bridget has everything completely under control. What could possibly go wrong?

“Then her love life takes a turn and Bridget meets a dashing American named Jack (Dempsey), the suitor who is everything Mr. Darcy is not. In an unlikely twist she finds herself pregnant, but with one hitch…she can only be fifty percent sure of the identity of her baby’s father.”

SEPTEMBER 16: Miss Stevens (dir. Julia Hart)From a Consequence of Sound review:Miss Stevens, the debut feature from writer/director Julia Hart, is perhaps most notable for what it’s not, and that’s another ennui-soaked tale of a high school teacher’s taboo affair with a student. Sure, ennui is everywhere in this handsome, well-acted feature, but what’s weirdly revolutionary about Miss Stevens is how it doesn’t assume a teacher’s depression stems from a longing for the freedoms of youth. As played by Lily Rabe, the film’s namesake character is struggling with something much more complicated, namely the psychological toll that comes with caring for your students as people rather than, well, students. That she’s still figuring out how to be an adult isn’t helping her any, either.

“So when she volunteers to take three students on a weekend trip to a high school drama competition, Rachel Stevens is forced to navigate the nebulous shift in dynamic that occurs when a teacher and her students meet in the real world. Margot (Lili Reinhart), for example, relies on Rachel for emotional support when she screws up her big audition. The boy-crazy Sam (Anthony Quintal) wants relationship advice. And then there’s Billy (Timothée Chalamet), a moody delinquent with a passion for drama and an interest in Rachel that’s, at best, spectacularly unhealthy.

“Rachel is also only 29, just a little more than a decade removed from the students she’s paid to educate. As such, she sees no problem drinking in front of the kids, dancing at their social, or hooking up with a married teacher (Rob Huebel) she meets on the dance floor. Fear not: this isn’t Bad Teacher territory; Rachel’s behavior is absolutely normal for her age, but is it appropriate here? And how does it change her students’ perception of her, not to mention her impact as an educator?

“Rabe’s performance here is nothing short of stunning. The sharp, lived-in tics and details of her character work are instantly endearing, an open window into her vulnerabilities and passions. What’s especially wonderful is watching her navigate the subtle shifts, the moments when she realizes a conversation with a student is veering into uncomfortable territory. Out-of-classroom conversations between teacher and student, after all, can be something of a minefield. Hart also culls strong supporting performances from the ever-charming Huebel–effectively dialed down from the absurd characters he often plays in comedies–as well as Chalamet, a talented young actor who can oscillate nimbly between charming and unhinged.”

SEPTEMBER 16: Silicon Cowboys (dir. Jason Cohen) (DP: Svetlana Cvetko)From the film’s official website: “Launched in 1981 by three friends in a Houston diner, Compaq Computer set out to build a portable PC to take on IBM, the world’s most powerful tech company. Many companies had tried cloning the industry leader’s code, only to be trounced by IBM and its high-priced lawyers. Silicon Cowboys explores the remarkable David vs. Goliath story, and eventual demise, of Compaq, an unlikely upstart who altered the future of computing and helped shape the world as we know it today.

“Directed by Academy Award®-nominated director Jason Cohen and produced by Ross M. Dinerstein (Jiro Dreams of Sushi) and Glen Zipper (Academy Award®-winning Undefeated), the film offers an insider’s look into the explosive rise of the 1980’s PC industry and is a refreshing alternative to the familiar narratives of Jobs, Gates, and Zuckerberg. Silicon Cowboys features interviews with Compaq founders Rod Canion, Jim Harris, and Bill Murto as well as Alec Berg, Executive Producer of HBO’s ‘Silicon Valley,’ and Chris Cantwell, co-creator of AMC’s ‘Halt and Catch Fire.'”

SEPTEMBER 16: Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four (dir./DP: Deborah S. Esquenazi)From the film’s official website:Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four excavates the nightmarish persecution of Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Kristie Mayhugh, and Anna Vasquez — four Latina lesbians wrongfully convicted of gang-raping two little girls in San Antonio, Texas. The film begins its journey inside a Texas prison, after these women have spent nearly a decade behind bars. They were 19 and 20 years at the time that allegations surfaced.

“Using the women’s home video footage from 21 years ago combined with recent vérité footage and interviews, the film explores their personal narratives and their search for exculpatory evidence to help their losing criminal trials. 15 years into their journey, director Deborah S. Esquenazi captures an on-camera recantation by one of the initial outcry victims, now 25 years old although 7 at the time of the investigation. This brings the filmmaker into the role of investigator along with attorneys at the Innocence Project, who are just beginning their quest for truth in this case.

“Together with attorneys, the film culminates with the women being released from prison to await their searing new exoneration hearings in San Antonio. Helming new legislation, this is the first case in U.S. history that allows wrongfully convicted innocents to challenge convictions based on ‘Junk Science’, or debunked forensics. As lesbian low income women of color, these women hold intersecting identities that make them the most vulnerable to incarceration and juror bias. This under-reported injustice is actually widespread: Latina women represent one of the growing populations heading into prison. In addition, most reported exonerations and wrongful convictions focus solely on men and cases involving women, let alone lesbian women of color are largely under reported. The film unravels the interplay of mythology, homophobia, and prosecutorial fervor that led to their indictment.”

SEPTEMBER 23: Audrie & Daisy (dirs. Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk)From the film’s official website:Audrie & Daisy is an urgent real-life drama that examines the ripple effects on families, friends, schools and communities when two underage young women find that sexual assault crimes against them have been caught on camera. From acclaimed filmmakers Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk (The Island President, The Rape of Europa), Audrie & Daisy – which made its world premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival – takes a hard look at American’s teenagers who are coming of age in this new world of social media bullying, spun wildly out of control.”

SEPTEMBER 23: Chicken People (dir. Nicole Lucas Haimes) (DP: Martina Radwan)City Cinemas synopsis: “A funny and uplifting look at the world of show chickens and the people who love them. Starting at the largest national poultry competition, likened to the Westminster Dog Show for chickens, Chicken People follows  three top competitors over the course of a year as they grapple with life’s challenges while vying to win the next year’s crown. Both humorous and heartfelt, Chicken People is an unforgettable celebration of the human spirit.”

SEPTEMBER 23: The Dressmaker (dir. Jocelyn Moorhouse)From the film’s official website: “Based on the best-selling novel by Rosalie Ham, The Dressmaker is a bittersweet comedy-drama set in early 1950s Australia. Tilly Dunnage (Kate Winslet), a beautiful and talented misfit, after many years working as a dressmaker in exclusive Parisian fashion houses, returns home to the tiny middle-of-nowhere town of Dungatar to right the wrongs of the past. Not only does she reconcile with her ailing, eccentric mother Molly (Judy Davis) and unexpectedly falls in love with the pure-hearted Teddy (Liam Hemsworth), but armed with her sewing machine and incredible sense of style, she transforms the women of the town and in doing so gets sweet revenge on those who did her wrong.”

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SEPTEMBER 23: The Free World (dir. Jason Lew) (DP: Bérénice Eveno)IFC Center synopsis: “How hard would you fight to be free? After spending two decades in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Mo (Boyd Holbrook) struggles to put his past behind him as he readjusts to a new life working in an animal shelter. Doris (Elisabeth Moss) is trapped in another sort of prison: an abusive marriage. A dramatic encounter brings these two troubled souls together, and a possible murder connects them. Soon, Mo finds himself risking everything – including being locked up once again for someone else’s crime – to protect the fragile Doris. Driven by explosive performances from Elisabeth Moss and rising star Boyd Holbrook, the feature debut from director Jason Lew is a gripping, mood-drenched exploration of guilt, redemption, and what it means to be free. Academy Award(R) winner Octavia Spencer and Sung Kang costar.”

SEPTEMBER 23: Generation Startup (dirs. Cheryl Miller Houser and Cynthia Wade)IFC Center synopsis: “This visit to the front lines of entrepreneurship in America captures the struggles and triumphs of six recent college graduates who put everything on the line to build startups in Detroit. Shot over 17 months, the film celebrates risk-taking, urban revitalization, and diversity while delivering a vital call-to-action—with entrepreneurship at a record low, America’s economic future is at stake.”

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SEPTEMBER 23: The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith (dir. Sara Fishko)WNYC synopsis: “Between 1957 and 1965 in New York, dozens of jazz musicians jam night after night in a dilapidated Sixth Avenue loft, not realizing that much of what they play and say to each other is being captured on audio tape and in still pictures by the gentle and unstable genius, former LIFE Magazine photographer W. Eugene Smith, who lives in the loft space next door.

“Meanwhile, Thelonious Monk stops by for three weeks of rehearsals; drummer Ronnie Free gets hooked on hard drugs, having been turned on by a drummer who was his boyhood idol years before; loft-resident Hall Overton, Juilliard instructor and classical composer, becomes a jazz guru; the 50s give way to the 60s; Smith begins to record his own phone calls and visits from the local police; the world changes—and Smith gets evicted.”

SEPTEMBER 23: My Blind Brother (dir. Sophie Goodhart)Tribeca Film Festival synopsis: “Robbie (Adam Scott) is a champion blind athlete and local sports hero doted on by the community and seemingly incapable of wrongdoing. His unassuming brother Bill (Nick Kroll) knows the real Robbie to be petulant and arrogant, but still runs every marathon by his side and never makes a peep when he doesn’t receives the same accolades. When Bill gets lucky with a charming lady (Jenny Slate), he thinks his karma might finally be coming due, until his brother introduces him to his own new paramour (the very same Jenny Slate). Now Bill must decide if he will put himself second again or finally stand up to his blind brother.

“With its original take on the love triangle and sibling rivalry stories, brimming with farcical humor and chemistry between its trio of leads, Sophie Goodhart has crafted a sharp and utterly delightful romantic comedy.”

SEPTEMBER 23: Queen of Katwe (dir. Mira Nair)Walt Disney Pictures synopsis:Queen of Katwe is the colorful true story of a young girl selling corn on the streets of rural Uganda whose world rapidly changes when she is introduced to the game of chess, and, as a result of the support she receives from her family and community, is instilled with the confidence and determination she needs to pursue her dream of becoming an international chess champion. Directed by Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) from a screenplay by William Wheeler (The Hoax) based on the book by Tim Crothers, Queen of Katwe is produced by Lydia Dean Pilcher (The Darjeeling Limited) and John Carls (Where the Wild Things Are) with Will Weiske and Troy Buder serving as executive producers. The film stars Golden Globe® nominee David Oyelowo (Selma), Oscar® winner and Tony Award® nominee Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) and newcomer Madina Nalwanga.

“For 10-year-old Phiona Mutesi (Nalwanga) and her family, life in the impoverished slum of Katwe in Kampala, Uganda, is a constant struggle. Her mother, Harriet (Nyong’o), is fiercely determined to take care of her family and works tirelessly selling vegetables in the market to make sure her children are fed and have a roof over their heads. When Phiona meets Robert Katende (Oyelowo), a soccer player turned missionary who teaches local children chess, she is captivated. Chess requires a good deal of concentration, strategic thinking and risk taking, all skills which are applicable in everyday life, and Katende hopes to empower youth with the game. Phiona is impressed by the intelligence and wit the game requires and immediately shows potential. Recognizing Phiona’s natural aptitude for chess and the fighting spirit she’s inherited from her mother, Katende begins to mentor her, but Harriet is reluctant to provide any encouragement, not wanting to see her daughter disappointed. As Phiona begins to succeed in local chess competitions, Katende teaches her to read and write in order to pursue schooling. She quickly advances through the ranks in tournaments, but breaks away from her family to focus on her own life. Her mother eventually realizes that Phiona has a chance to excel and teams up with Katende to help her fulfill her extraordinary potential, escape a life of poverty and save her family.”

SEPTEMBER 28: Sand Storm (dir. Elite Zexer) – Seattle International Film Festival synopsis: “Two Bedouin women, a teenager and her mother, dare to defy polygamist marital traditions in southern Israel. Winner of the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

“Deep in the Negev desert, Bedouin villager Suliman has given his eldest child, Layla, many of the trappings of modern life—a cell phone, driving lessons, an education—instilling in her a sense of independence. But in other ways he is firmly rooted in the patriarchal past, with all the power and privilege it confers. When he takes a second wife, Layla is enlisted to help fix up the fancy new home he’s built next door to his existing family’s humbler accommodations. Meanwhile, his first wife, Jalila, grits her teeth and joins in the preparations, but is eventually escorted away by the local religious leader to make way for her replacement. But when Suliman decides, for his own murky reasons, to marry Layla off to a middle-aged man she barely knows, mother and daughter both decide to take a stand—with unexpected outcomes. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema Dramatic competition at the Sundance Film Festival, Elite Zexer’s first feature is a psychologically astute exploration of the complex relationships among women in male-dominated societies, and their revolutionary potential for change.”

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SEPTEMBER 29 ONLY: The Hurt Business (dir. Vlad Yudin) (DPs: Eliana Álvarez Martínez, Kevin Israel Castro and Kristin Mendez)From the film’s official website: “From the producers of Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11 and Generation Iron, The Hurt Business details the lives of various martial arts superstars, including Ronda Rousey and Jon Jones, competing in one of the fastest growing sports in the world and the struggles and triumphs that accompany all careers in cage fighting. Besides featuring legends, such as Georges St-Pierre, and up-and-comers in the sport the film covers the history of mixed martial arts fighting, from the coliseums of ancient Greece to modern day venues such as the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, all expertly narrated by Kevin Costner. Themes of injury both mental and physical are explored and the question is raised; is it worth it to sacrifice one’s mind and body for sport?

SEPTEMBER 30: American Honey (dir. Andrea Arnold)From a Paste review: “Utterly absorbing and intensely moving, writer-director Andrea Arnold’s American Honey is one of those big, bold, swing-for-the-fences societal portraits that few filmmakers dare attempt. There’s good reason: Try for a definitive snapshot of a country or a generation, and you risk overreaching or succumbing to pretension. Running nearly three hours, American Honey doesn’t let those concerns get in its way, and the result is the sort of electric audacity that paves over the movie’s occasional wobbles. With Red Road and Fish Tank, Arnold has looked closely at poverty, youth and desperation in her native England. With American Honey, she turns her attention to the United States, and what she finds is a vibrant, troubled, mesmerizing land.

“The film stars newcomer Sasha Lane as Star, who is caring for two young children (her boyfriend’s, not hers), somewhere in the South. Dumpster diving, Star radiates the sort of scrappy, raw energy that marks her as someone who’s never had much money and always had to fight for everything she’s gotten. So, it’s fairly obvious why she takes a liking to Jake (Shia LaBeouf), who drives by in a van with a group of young kids. Catching her eye, Jake is a fellow charming survivor, explaining that he’s part of a group that travels cross-country selling magazines door-to-door. Star can’t believe such an operation exists in the 21st century, but Jake swears there’s decent money to be made. Impulsively, she abandons her makeshift family—her boyfriend seems like a redneck cretin, anyway—and runs off to join another.

“…Arnold has often focused on outcasts and those living on the margins, but with American Honey she seems positively entranced by the United States’ kinetic strangeness. Despite the occasional presence of a Confederate flag or other fraught American symbols, the movie actually isn’t that judgmental about the people Star comes across. There is a clear attempt on the filmmaker’s part to provide some sort of exhaustive overview, a time-capsule snapshot, of the nation. What she discovers may be a bit overstated, but it’s unquestionably accurate in its overflowing energy.”

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SEPTEMBER 30: Among the Believers (dirs. Mohammed Naqvi and Hemal Trivedi)Cinema Village synopsis: “Firebrand cleric Abdul Aziz Ghazi, an ISIS supporter and Taliban ally, is waging jihad against the Pakistani government with the aim of imposing Shariah law. His primary weapon is his expanding network of Islamic seminaries for children as young as four. Among the Believers follows Aziz’s personal quest, and charts the lives of two of his teenage students who are pawns in his ideological war.”

SEPTEMBER 30: The Blackcoat’s Daughter (dir. Osgood “Oz” Perkins) (DP: Julie Kirkwood) [release date moved back from July 2016]From a Pop Matters review: “A female-only boarding school is the setting of The Blackcoat’s Daughter. Covered, positively blanketed in snow, it’s isolated, the nights an unrelenting pitch black. Inside are two girls, Kat (Kiernan Shipka) and Rose (Lucy Boynton), both left behind during a February break, waiting for their parents. They wander through empty hallways, but the subtle noises—screeching creaks and low groans—betray the assumption that they’re alone here.

“At the same time, Joan (Emma Roberts), a girl with a cloudy past, wanders through a cold, snowy landscape, eventually hitching a ride with an unnamed couple whose strained dynamic hints at trouble unspoken. They share uncomfortable car rides to a town a few miles away, the husband assuming a strangely paternal role for Joan.

“Formerly titled February, The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a slow, moody, and thoroughly unnerving walk through an almost overwhelmingly oppressive atmosphere. Osgood Perkins, son of Psycho actor Anthony Perkins, demonstrates great skill in developing the film’s occult atmosphere. His jagged camera angles and the dark, discordant music combine with subdued performances—naturalistic with a small degree of slowly simmering insanity underneath them—to create a creeping mood that seems perfectly tailored to the film’s narrative.”

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SEPTEMBER 30: Girl Asleep (dir. Rosemary Myers)From the film’s official website: “The world is closing in on Greta Driscoll. On the cusp of turning fifteen she can’t bear to leave her childhood, it contains all the things that give her comfort in this incomprehensible new world. She floats in a bubble of loserdom with her only friend Elliott, until her parents throw her a surprise 15th birthday party and she’s flung into a parallel place; a world that’s weirdly erotic, a little bit violent and thoroughly ludicrous – only there can she find herself.

“Based on the critically acclaimed production by [Australia’s] Windmill Theatre, Girl Asleep is a journey into the absurd, scary and beautiful heart of the teenage mind.”

Friday Music Focus: 8/19/16

After some time away from Friday Music Focus, I return with a new post concentrating on seven pairs of songs by a variety of musicians from yesterday and today. As always, I hope that you will discover or rediscover an artist or a song that you will want to revisit.

PJ Harvey, “The Orange Monkey” (appears on the album The Hope Six Demolition Project, 2016) and “Guilty” (non-album single, 2016). In lieu of being able to attend either of PJ Harvey’s concerts at New York’s Terminal 5 venue this week, here are two songs by her that I have been listening to a lot in recent days. “Guilty” is driven by the same political themes as the tracks on The Hope Six Demolition Project since the song was recorded during the album sessions; meanwhile, is “The Orange Monkey” about Donald Trump? You decide. Or take Consequence of Sound’s word for it from this headline that ran on the website yesterday: “To Make America Great Again We Need Less Donald Trump, More PJ Harvey.”

case/lang/veirs, “Atomic Number” and “Best Kept Secret” (both appear on case/lang/veirs, 2016). Singer-songwriters Neko Case, k.d. lang and Laura Veirs have combined to create a new power-trio – purposely spelled in lowercase letters, in case you were wondering – and they put out their self-titled debut album in June. It has immediately become one of my favorite releases of the year, a spirited mixture of folk and pop that works wonders in nearly all of the tracks. If you like the two songs above, I recommend trying “Delirium,” the bittersweet and beautiful “Behind the Armory” and “Supermoon.”

Lee Morgan, “You’re Mine, You” (appears on the album City Lights, 1957) and “All the Way” (appears on the album Candy, 1958). After reading about the new documentary I Called Him Morgan, about the jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan (1938-1972) and his murder at the hands of his wife Helen, I knew I had to listen to Morgan’s music. “You’re Mine, You” features Curtis Fuller on trombone, George Coleman on alto saxophone, Ray Bryant on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Art Taylor on drums, while “All the Way” has Sonny Clark on piano, Doug Watkins on bass and Art Taylor once more on drums.

The Adverts, “New Church” and “No Time to Be 21” (both appear on the album Crossing the Red Sea with the Adverts, 1978). Almost lost among the tremendous number of punk bands that emerged in the UK in the mid-to-late 70s, the Adverts might never have appeared on my radar if I didn’t listen to the Radcliffe & Maconie show on BBC Radio 6 Music. Like so many groups from that era, they had a short-lived but exciting burst of energy to fuel their two albums’ worth of anthems for pissed-off youth.

Joy Division, “Transmission” (non-album single, 1979) and “Love Will Tear Us Apart” (music video; non-album single, 1980). Disclaimer about myself: Joy Division was incredibly important to me when I was seventeen. Every time I listen to them, I go back to what it felt like to experience them for the very first time, a time-travel device that transports me as soon as I hear the opening notes of “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” Each time I listen to that song (the first I ever heard by Joy Division) or to Ian Curtis’s sarcastic exhortations in “Transmission” for us to dance, dance, dance, dance, dance to the soulless radio, it’s as though I’m a teenager again, dazed and speechless as I try to make sense of uptempo songs about relentless inner torment. Joy Division’s music is the best representation I can imagine for this observation once made by Tom Waits: “I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.”

McCarthy, “Red Sleeping Beauty” (non-album single, 1986) and “We Are All Bourgeois Now” (B-side of non-album single “Should the Bible Be Banned,” 1988). Probably forgotten by all but their most faithful fans, the indie pop band McCarthy created some of the loveliest, hookiest politically-minded songs of the mid-to-late 80s. Sandwiched between the rise of U2 and the “baggy” days of the Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses, McCarthy’s socialist serenades (including those on their 1987 album I Am a Wallet) breathed fresh air into the British music scene, if only for a little while.

Chromatics, “Running Up That Hill” (appears on the album Night Drive, 2007) and “Into the Black” (appears on the album Kill for Love, 2012). The Portland, Oregon band Chromatics, fronted by the Nico-esque singer Ruth Radelet, has an extraordinary collective ability to create seductive covers of songs from the 70s and 80s, making them sound sleekly modern. The particular combination of Radelet’s voice, the guitar and synthesizers on Chromatics’ versions of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” (1985) and Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” and “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” (1979) highlight the timelessness of the lyrics while adding a uniquely hypnotic edge to each song.

2016: Part 1

(Before we start: I am trying out a new aspect to my reviews by jotting down notes on movies right after I see them, then officially marking down the dates from when I collected those thoughts. When I post reviews here for movies that I saw in theaters long enough ago that memory alone might not suffice, keeping track this way should help me as a critic and you as a reader.)

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Directed by Zack Snyder. Notes from April 13: After deciding on a quiet Wednesday evening’s whim to see the newest DC extravaganza on the last day that it was available at my favorite IMAX theater (thanks a lot, new Jungle Book), I have too many questions buzzing around my head. If I went down just a slice of the list – What was the point of Lois throwing the Kryptonite spear into the water in the first place? Is Ben Affleck’s version of Bruce Wayne/Batman intended to be read as a Republican, given that the character’s argument for why Superman should be destroyed is rooted in a conservative-sounding desire to rid America of an illegal alien interloper who has taken the job of Big Important Superhero away from Wayne? Isn’t it sort of wrong that Jeremy Irons’ velvety voice should make the Alfred character so sexy? Why is our Superman, Henry Cavill, a star despite being such a terrible actor? Conversely, when will supporting player extraordinaire Scoot McNairy be upgraded to better roles in mainstream movies? And why do Bat and Supes seem to be fighting in the bathroom from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets? – we might be here all day and night. Instead, the main puzzle I want to try to unpack is what’s going on with how the Lex Luthor character is written and how the role is performed by Jesse Eisenberg.

When I first saw the trailer for BvS last year, I noted that Eisenberg’s Luthor appeared eccentric (partly because of the awkward length of his hair), but I didn’t have any takeaways other than that. While watching the completed film, however, I began to catalog all of Luthor’s/Eisenberg’s tics and quirks in a mental cabinet. Eisenberg is known for his ability to deliver dialogue in a hyper-fast style that plays up his characters’ neuroses, but in BvS that tendency is amplified to the point that I wonder if Luthor’s verbosity is indicative of his being somewhere on the autism spectrum. (One might also observe his discomfort at public speaking, or perhaps the psychopathy that manifests in his kidnapping people or pushing them off of buildings, as other indicators – though of what, I’m not quite sure.) Then there are the sartorial choices: the patterned shirts (example 1, example 2), wearing white sneakers with a pale blue suit (can’t find an image, but I assure you it was interesting), and again the soft waves of hair.

All of this could probably be chalked up as weird choices on the part of screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, but there are too more factors in this equation of DC Villainy: 1) a scene in which Luthor asks a corporate henchman to get him access to various kinds of dangerous weapons, and in doing so, seems to be flirting with and/or teasing the man by asking (well, essentially forcing) this high-grade lackey to eat a cherry-flavored Jolly Rancher candy, this action followed by Luthor licking his (own) fingers (you may watch the homoerotic exchange here); 2) Luthor’s constant paraphrasing of literature by assuming the voices of different characters: affecting a Southern accent to reference Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire (”We don’t have to depend on the kindness of monsters…”), comparing himself to the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, and most tellingly, rewording Humbert Humbert’s famous opening paragraph in Lolita when meeting Lois Lane (”Lane Lo in the morning. Lola in slacks…”). If the above combined idiosyncrasies had not already clued you into cinematic perversity, then the Nabokov citation was probably meant to be the final nail in Luthor’s coffin. (I would also like to mention that Luthor’s brief affectation of a Southern accent links him to one of his main antagonists in the film: a woman, the do-gooder senator played by Holly Hunter. Hunter’s Georgia twang is a major aspect of what defines her screen persona. Curiouser and curiouser…) Like Javier Bardem as Bond villain Silva in Skyfall (2012), Eisenberg’s Luthor is coded as gay, or at least gay-adjacent. Maybe the Lex Luthor character isn’t really supposed to be gay, but I think that the screenwriters did everything they could to heighten his effeminacy and undeniably softened masculinity as the subtexts for any and all aberrations perceived by the audience. (Eisenberg’s Luthor also briefly makes reference to his father, Lex Sr., as physically abusive, so that adds another layer of complexity to the young man’s development.) Whether sexuality is an active, conscious element of the Lex Luthor characterization in BvS or not, I would not be surprised if the audience’s identification of Luthor as “abnormal” has been interpreted on some level as “not recognizably heterosexual.”

P.S. After all that ranting: Larry Fong’s cinematography was a definite improvement on the lackluster visuals from BvS’s predecessor, Man of Steel.

P.P.S. Michael Shannon’s performance as General Zod’s corpse was better than Henry Cavill’s acting as a live Clark Kent/Superman. Ouch.

Captain America: Civil War. Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo. Notes from May 18: The latest Marvel extravaganza is definitely entertaining when seen in IMAX 3D (as I did last night), but don’t get your hopes up that it’s anything you haven’t seen before. Just like we saw in DC Comics’ Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, two sides are pitted against each other by a guy with major problems (in this case played by the delightful Daniel Brühl, whom I adore more with each movie I see; in one crucial scene his “Baron Zemo” character looks like an overdressed professor – I approve) and by the end it doesn’t feel as though anyone has won.

Thinking about the details of this loud, proud epic of CGI-designed proportions causes me too much of a headache, but here are the important takeaways from my experience at the movies: Chadwick Boseman is handsome and compelling as one of the newest members of the Avengers team, T’Challa (aka Black Panther); Chris Evans, who plays Steve Rogers/Captain America, continues his reign as our nation’s most boring leading man, coasting by on his good looks and easy smile without displaying any noticeable acting ability; Paul Bettany (as a synthetic robot-alien called “Vision”) and Elizabeth Olsen (as telepathic Wanda Maximoff, aka Scarlet Witch) have way more chemistry as a potential romantic pairing than most humans do in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; last but never least, it seems like a missed opportunity that there are scenes set in Bucharest and yet we don’t get to hear Romanian-born Sebastian Stan speak more than a couple of mumbled words in his native language (by the way, as someone on the IMDb asked about Stan’s character: “How does Bucky make a living in Romania? He has been in hiding for 2 years? How does he get money to pay rent and to buy plums?”). Maybe the next Marvel outing will step up to the plate and recapture some of the higher power from the first two Captain America vehicles.

Florence Foster Jenkins. Directed by Stephen Frears. Notes from August 11: The weird but true tale of 20th century socialite-turned-opera singer Florence Foster Jenkins, infamous for her almost complete inability to sing in tune, is told in an entertaining, funny and often quite touching manner. In the Wednesday night screening that I attended at the Museum of the Moving Image, the film elicited both gales of laughter and many streams of tears as Florence (played beautifully – as if you would expect anything less – by Meryl Streep) pursues her lifelong dream of performing her beloved arias, first at the Verdi Club (an organization she founded and supported financially) and then, as her crowning achievement (of sorts), in concert at Carnegie Hall. FFJ is aided in her endeavors – no matter how ridiculous they were – by her husband, St. Clair Bayfield, which is a career-best role for Hugh Grant. Grant imbues his performance with both his customarily droll charm and a good deal of tenderness towards his dear Florence. Simon Helberg also has an excellent role, playing Florence’s piano accompanist, Cosme McMoon, with an immediately lovable sweetness and deft comic timing. Some good work is also done by Rebecca Ferguson (as Bayfield’s mistress, Kathleen), Allan Corduner (as Carnegie Hall house manager John Totten), Christian McKay (as newspaper columnist Earl Wilson) and David Haig (as Carlo Edwards, a Metropolitan Opera conductor and Florence’s personal singing coach), although their screen time is far less than that of the film’s three main stars. The principal weakness of the film is in the casting of Nina Arianda as Agnes Stark (an original creation of the screenplay, I believe); she is a stereotypical brassy, not-classy Brooklyn blonde who cracks gum, wears tight dresses, shimmies all over the place like a precursor to Jayne Mansfield and generally embarrasses the viewer with her non-stop parade of clichés in her characterization. If not for Arianda, I would rate Florence Foster Jenkins higher; it certainly has three leads that carry the film extraordinarily and no shortage of top-of-the-line costumes, art direction/production design and cinematography.

P.S. Hugh Grant attended the screening I went to and he was absolutely as funny and self-effacing as you would hope. He talked about having done research on St. Clair Bayfield and Florence Foster Jenkins in preparation for his role, so it’s to credit that when many of the audience’s questions revolved around the “true history” of these figures, he had the answers. (When asked what his favorite Meryl Streep movie was, HG said he liked “the one with the dingo” and when asked “So what’s your favorite Hugh Grant movie?” he said that he was proud of About a Boy and Florence Foster Jenkins.) One of my other favorite comments that Hugh made (though I will probably paraphrase it) was about the “brilliant” Simon Helberg, who really was playing music live on set: “He can do it all – comedy, drama and piano too!”

Star Trek Beyond. Directed by  Justin Lin. Notes from August 3: Ah, so the catching with the first two films in the rebooted Star Trek series finally led me to the moment when I was able to see a Star Trek movie in IMAX 3D, which I did last night (a rather mild Tuesday night compared to what NYC’s weather has been like lately). Beyond isn’t perfect, but I really enjoyed it and for the most part I liked the energy that Justin Lin (he’s new to this particular cinematic universe, but he honed his skills with the Fast and Furious franchise) brought to the action scenes. I love the rush of seeing those exciting moments on the IMAX screen. I am also one of the people who absolutely loved the “Sabotage” scene (the song is broadcasted across radio airwaves, destroying other spacecrafts’ communication), which is both a great callback to Kirk’s music of choice at the beginning of ST (2009) and an excellent track anyway. Plus you get a quick but wonderful shot of Anton Yelchin’s Chekov tapping his foot to the beat and John Cho’s Sulu practically headbanging. It’s totally worth it.

Does Star Trek Beyond have flaws? Yes, naturally. Isn’t Krall’s motivation lacking and rather by-the-numbers? (Also: by casting Idris Elba, I am reminded of Oscar Isaac in X-Men: Apocalypse – these are villains played by male actors of color by having the them conceal their real skin under alien makeup and by having them hide their real voices under accents or other voice modulations. What’s the good of that?) Why is there is no explanation as to what became of Carol Marcus (Alice Eve), who was introduced to Abrams’ Star Trek universe in Into Darkness? (Note: I didn’t mind her absence in Beyond because she was not particularly interesting in the aforementioned previous sequel.) How did Scotty get himself up from hanging off the edge of the cliff? Isn’t it disappointing that Uhura’s only involvements with the Beyond plot are her relationships to men – her complicated relationship with Spock and her being a captive of Krall’s who needs to be rescued (by Spock, of course)? Is it weird that we didn’t get the follow-through on seeing that Sulu’s family made it through the attack on Yorktown (or am I simply forgetting that the film confirmed their survival)? And is it silly that the use of the Beastie Boys song “Sabotage” (which, I have to say again, is awesome) to destroy alien warships is too similar to the use of “Indian Love Call” in Tim Burton’s sci-fi satire/parody Mars Attacks!?

I’ll bring up one point of confusion for fans that I actually don’t consider problematic. I know that a lot of people are confused by the inclusion of the photo of the original show’s crew among Spock Prime’s belongings, but in this universe those characters don’t literally have to be Kirk, Bones, Uhura, etc., right? They can just symbolize the crew members who lived and worked with Spock, without actually being the same characters.

Luckily the actors are up to the task of following through on the emotional, non-CGI components of the film. Chris Pine has finally grown up as Captain Kirk, no longer the wild rebel and now an adult with gravitas. As always Karl Urban is fabulous as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, adding more delightful “dammits” to his repertoire of constant irritation with Kirk and Spock. Zachary Quinto adds even more emotion to his characterization of Spock, both in melodramatic moments and in humorous ones. Sofia Boutella brings some oomph, both as an athletic presence and as an actress, as a new character, the space warrior Jaylah. Zoe Saldana has less to do here as Uhura, but Simon Pegg (who co-wrote the screenplay this time) has many great scenes, John Cho has some marvelous moments and the late, lovely Anton Yelchin has even more to do in this film than in the previous two Star Treks, his eager puppy-dog version of Chekov always being a joy to watch; he’ll make you smile even as you continue to mourn the real-life loss of the actor. In spite of some narrative weaknesses, you’ll feel more than ever that this Star Trek family has the most important ingredient for a successful franchise: unity. They stand together.. As the end credits roll and the Sia-penned Rihanna song “Sledgehammer” pounds through the speakers (which, by the way, has those now sadly ironic lyrics about “I hit a wall…”), you’ll feel the love for Star Trek more than ever.

X-Men: Apocalypse. Directed by Bryan Singer. Notes from June 12: On the one hand I’m glad I saw this on the big screen (although I wonder if I should have experienced it in 3D rather than 2D), but on the other hand I don’t feel bad about using my free movie tickets for Regal theaters – the X-Men franchise doesn’t need my money. Here are the good points: James McAvoy does his usual fine work as Charles Xavier; Michael Fassbender has some great scenes during the part of the movie set in Poland (Magneto made me cry, who’d have thunk it?); Nicholas Hoult, once again doing solid work as Hank/Beast; Evan Peters, again charming us all as Quicksilver, especially in the “Sweet Dreams” sequence (which, in my most humble opinion, is more enjoyable than the similar “Time in a Bottle” scene from Days of Future Past since the Eurythmics are more fun); Tye Sheridan continues to grow as an actor (he’s wonderful in Mud), doing a nice job of introducing us to a rebooted Scott Summers/Cyclops; and in an interesting bit of casting, Australian actor Kodi Smit-McPhee (whom I have not seen in any other films) was terrific as Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler, an unusual but very entertaining character (although Smit-McPhee’s German accent sounded a bit weird at times).

The bad news? There’s so much strange stuff going on in Apocalypse. Why cast Oscar Isaac (a great actor) as the title bad guy (aka En Sabah Nur) if he must be hidden under blue makeup and prosthetics? How much does Michael Fassbender’s Magneto character have to suffer in every film, and when will he grow tired of the good/evil/good again (or evil/good/evil again) formula before he finally picks a side? Why is Beethoven’s 7th symphony such an overused theme in movies and TV shows? What was the point of Rose Byrne’s character (CIA agent Moira MacTaggert) returning to the franchise, especially since the character doesn’t have much to contribute? Does anyone really care about Olivia Munn’s character (Psylocke) since we don’t know anything about her backstory and her “superpower” is her ability to wear a barely-there leather costume? Oh, and how many millions of people die over the course of the events in Apocalypse? Or are we not supposed to care that probably most of Cairo’s population is decimated by En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse?

Vital American Material: The Film Criticism of Andre Sennwald

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Cinema Journal (Vol. 10, No. 2 (Spring 1971)) review by Howard Suber of the collection The New York Times Film Reviews, 1913-1968 (published in six volumes, 1970).

I am writing today about Andre David Sennwald, Jr. (born August 4, 1907; died January 12, 1936). He was the second person to hold the position of chief film critic (1935-1936) at the New York Times, the first being Mordaunt Hall (1924-1934) and the third being Frank S. Nugent (1936-1940). Although Sennwald wrote during one of the most important periods in film history – Pre-Code talkies (1931-1934), then the transition to the implementation of the Motion Picture Production Code (1934-1936), including Becky Sharp as the first-ever three-strip-Technicolor feature – his name is a footnote in the New York Times’ history of film criticism. Sennwald is so well forgotten that he does not have an English-language Wikipedia page (he does have a German-language page (translated here), which makes me wonder if he came from a German family and a relative wrote it) and I have not been able to find any photographs of him online. He is a man of many mysteries.

There isn’t really any way for me to know Andre Sennwald outside of what he wrote for the New York Times, although I would like to particularly since he and I share the same birthday. He adored W.C. Fields and Greta Garbo; he had a definite disdain for John Boles; he often rolled his eyes at the popularity of Shirley Temple; he wasn’t always sure what to make of James Cagney’s cinematic choices, depending on which film he had to review (in the earliest Sennwald piece that I have found, dating to April 1931, the first sentence of his negative critique of The Public Enemy describes it as “just another gangster film at the Strand, weaker than most in its story, stronger than most in its acting, and, like most, maintaining a certain level of interest through the last burst of machine-gun fire”); after watching Captain Blood (1935), he saw the obvious potential for superstardom in “spirited and criminally good-looking” Errol Flynn; in perhaps my favorite bit of flattery, Sennwald wrote in a review of The Gilded Lily (1935) that “there is a young man named Fred MacMurray who can munch a peanut or take off his shoes like one of the boys” and that “Mr. MacMurray’s ability to seem completely natural without abandoning his charm ought to make him one of the most popular of the cinema’s glamour men within the next few months.”

Andre Sennwald’s career was all too brief. Here is some of the news coverage of his death in 1936; most articles are from Monday, January 12, the day after it happened.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1/13/36

The Pittsburgh Press, 1/13/36

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Lewiston Daily Sun, 1/13/36

Motion Picture Daily, 1/13/1936

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Columbia Daily Spectator, 1/16/36

Sennwald’s death is a perplexing one. Did he mean to commit suicide because of supposedly impending blindness, or was the gas leak/explosion a terrible accident? An article published in the Times Herald of Olean, New York on January 13 mentions that the explosion “was caused by escaping gas in the kitchen” and that “it was believed to have been set off by a spark from an electric refrigerator,” while the January 14 copy of Jefferson City, Missouri’s Daily Capital News states: “A medical examiner’s report indicated today that Andre David Sennwald, Jr., movie critic of the New York Times, died by his own hand. An explosion wracked Sennwald’s penthouse early yesterday. The top three floors of the apartment house were damaged and a broken water main sent water down elevator shafts, disputing service. The explosion was caused by escaping gas. The medical examiner found that Sennwald died from gas poisoning, showing he was dead before the explosion. He had suffered from an eye disease and was said to have feared for his sight.” Despite the M.E.’s conclusion, unless there was a suicide note that the family withheld or other information which the investigating police did not make available to the public – or which is simply not searchable through free Google fieldwork – it seems to me that it is impossible to know with 100% certainty the intention (or lack thereof) that led to the death of Sennwald, who had been considered “the brightest film critic” in New York City (according to The Montreal Gazette), at age twenty-eight.

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Columbia Daily Spectator, 1/13/36

Andre David Sennwald is buried at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, NY (according to Find a Grave). Occasionally his name resurfaces, although such acknowledgments are rare. In 2014, J. Hoberman wrote New York Times essay about classic Universal Studios horror films and he quoted Andre Sennwald’s musings on the role of violence in American film: “In the mad, confused days which preceded our entrance into the World War, the cinema was satiating the blood lust of noncombatant Americans with just such vicarious stimulants. Hollywood, always quick to reflect or stimulate a mass appetite, seems to be doing the same thing all over again.” More recently, New York Post film critic Lou Lumenick wrote a Tweet this past January to commemorate the eightieth anniversary of Sennwald’s death. In memory of this sadly overlooked critic, here are a dozen of my favorite examples of Andre Sennwald’s New York Times film reviews:

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Sons of the Desert (1933, dir. William A. Seiter) – reviewed January 12, 1934

“Let it be said at once that the new Laurel and Hardy enterprise has achieved feature length without benefit of the usual distressing formulae of padding and stretching. It is funny all the way through. The mournful and witless Mr. Laurel and the frustrated Mr. Hardy are just as unfitted for the grim realities as they have ever been. A Quixote and Panza in a nightmare world, where even the act of opening a door is filled with hideous perils, they fumble and stumble in their heartiest manner. At the Rialto spectators are checking their dignity with the doorman; an audience yesterday spluttered, howled and sighed in sweet surrender.”

The Old Fashioned Way (1934, dir. William Beaudine) – reviewed July 14, 1934

“To the lyric popping of vest buttons and the tortured noises of the laugh that begins deep down, the magnificent Mr. Fields has graciously placed himself on view at the Paramount, and honest guffaws are once more heard on Forty-third Street. The great man, the omnipotent oom of one of the screen’s most devoted cults, brings with him some new treasures, as well as a somewhat alarming collection of wheezes which, ten years ago in the vaudeville tank towns, must have seemed not long for this world. But somehow when Mr. Fields, in his necessary search for comic business, is forced to strike up a nodding acquaintance with vintage gags, they seem to become almost young again.”

Our Daily Bread (1934, dir. King Vidor) – reviewed October 3, 1934

“King Vidor, who gave us ‘The Crowd’ and ‘Hallelujah,’ has plunged his camera boldly into vital American materials in ‘Our Daily Bread,’ which opened at the Rialto last night. His new work, which he wrote, produced and financed himself, is a brilliant declaration of faith in the importance of the cinema as a social instrument. In richness of conception alone, Mr. Vidor’s attempt to dramatize the history of a subsistence farm for hungry and desperate men from the cities of America would deserve the attention and encouragement of intelligent film-goers. But ‘Our Daily Bread’ is much more than an idea. Standing in the first rank of American film directors, Mr. Vidor has brought the full power of a fine technique and imagination to his theme. ‘Our Daily Bread’ dips into profound and basic problems of our everyday life for its drama, and it emerges as a social document of amazing vitality and emotional impact.

“The effect of the photoplay is to bring the cinema squarely into the modern stream of socially-minded art and to lay bare for the inquisitive cameras the same fundamental dramatie [sic] themes which the young proletarian novelists like Albert Halper, Robert Cantwell and William Rollins are exploiting in the new American literature. For that reason alone it is impossible to over-estimate the significance of the new work.

“You may quarrel with the sentimental idealism of the ex-convict who voluntarily surrenders himself to the authorities so that his fellows may obtain the reward and save the crops from the drought. This theme, incidentally, was suggested to Mr. Vidor by Charlie Chaplin. You may quarrel with the theme of the blond-headed siren who almost wrecks the collectivist farm in her gratuitous efforts to lure the leader to destruction. This department applauds the Chaplinesque note and deplores the Theda Barish element. But ‘Our Daily Bread’ is too important as a canvas to be chastised for its debatable taste in minor details of Mr. Vidor’s brushwork.”

The Painted Veil (1934, dir. Richard Boleslawski) – reviewed December 7, 1934

“Pettish folk, out of an evident spirit of wish-fulfillment, are forever discovering that Greta Garbo has outlived her fame. They are knaves and blackguards and they should be pilloried in the middle of Times Square. She continues handsomely to be the world’s greatest cinema actress in the Oriental triangle drama, ‘The Painted Veil,’ which begins an engagement at the Capitol this morning. Tracing its ancestry to Somerset Maugham’s novel, which it resembles only in the casual surface qualities of the narrative, Miss Garbo’s new film is a conventional, hard-working passion-film which manages to be both expert in its manufacture and insincere in its emotions. Since it allows Miss Garbo to triumph once more over the emotional rubber-stamps that the studios arrange for her, we must not be ungenerous about ‘The Painted Veil,’ Richard Boleslawski has made a visual treat of it, and Herbert Marshall and George Brent head an excellent group of subsidiary players.

“It is the height of dishwater diplomacy to affect a temperate attitude toward this cool and lovely lady with the sad, white face and the throaty voice. She is the most miraculous blend of personality and sheer dramatic talent that the screen has ever known and her presence in ‘The Painted Veil’ immediately makes it one of the season’s cinema events. Watch her stalking about with long and nervous steps, her shoulders bent and her body awkward with grief, while she waits to be told if her husband will die from the coolie’s dagger thrust. It is as if all this had never been done before. Watch the veiled terror in her face as she sits at dinner with her husband, not knowing if he is aware of her infidelity; or her superb gallantry when she informs him of what it was that drove her into the arms of his friend; or her restlessness on the bamboo porch in Mei-Tan-Fu with the tinny phonograph, the heat and her conscience. She shrouds all this with dignity, making it precious and memorable.”

Becky Sharp (1935, dir. Rouben Mamoulian) – reviewed June 14, 1935 (reproduced here in its entirety since this particular movie is so important in film history)

“Science and art, the handmaidens of the cinema, have joined hands to endow the screen with a miraculous new element in ‘Becky Sharp,’ the first full-length photoplay produced in the three-component color process of Technicolor. Presented at the Radio City Music Hall yesterday for its first public showing, it was both incredibly disappointing and incredibly thrilling. Although its faults are too numerous to earn it distinction as a screen drama, it produces in the spectator all the excitement of standing upon a peak in Darien and glimpsing a strange, beautiful and unexpected new world. As an experiment, it is a momentous event, and it may be that in a few years it will be regarded as the equal in historical importance of the first crude and wretched talking pictures. Although it is dramatically tedious, it is a gallant and distinguished outpost in an almost uncharted domain, and it probably is the most significant event of the 1935 cinema.

“Certainly the photoplay, coloristically speaking, is the most successful that has ever reached the screen. Vastly improved over the gaudy two-color process of four and five years ago, it possesses an extraordinary variety of tints, ranging from placid and lovely grays to hues which are vibrant with warmth and richness. This is not the coloration of natural life, but a vividly pigmented dream world of the artistic imagination.

“Rouben Mamoulian and Robert Edmond Jones have employed the new process in a deliberately stylized form, so that ‘Becky Sharp’ becomes an animate procession of cunningly designed canvases. Some of the color combinations make excessive demands upon the eye. Many of them are as soothing as black and white. The most glaring technical fault, and it is a comparatively minor one, is the poor definition in the long shots, which convert faces into blurred masses. In close-ups where scarlet is the dominant motif, there is also a tendency to provoke an after-image when the scene shifts abruptly to a quieter color combination.

“The major problem, from the spectator’s point of view, is the necessity for accustoming the eye to this new screen element in much the same way that we were obliged to accustom the ear to the first talkies. The psychological problem is to reduce this new and spectacular element to a position, in relation to the film as a whole, where color will impinge no more violently upon the basic photographic image than sound does today. This is chiefly a question of time and usage. At the moment it is impossible to view ‘Becky Sharp’ without crowding the imagination so completely with color that the photoplay as a whole is almost meaningless. That is partly the fault of the production and partly the inevitable consequence of a phenomenon. We shall know more about the future of color when its sponsors employ it in a better screen play than ‘Becky Sharp.’

“The real secret of the film resides not in the general feeling of dissatisfaction which the spectator suffers when he leaves the Music Hall, but in the active excitement which he experiences during its scenes. It is important and even necessary to judge the work in terms of its best—not its worst or even its average. ‘Becky Sharp’ becomes prophetically significant, for example, in the magnificent color-dramatization of the British ball in Brussels on the eve of Waterloo.

“Here the Messrs, Mamoulian and Jones have accomplished the miracle of using color as a constructive dramatic device, of using it for such peculiarly original emotional effects that it would be almost impossible to visualize the same scene in conventional black and white. From the pastel serenity of the opening scenes at the ball, the color deepens into somber hues as the rumble of Napoleon’s cannon is heard in the ballroom. Thenceforward it mounts in excitement as pandemonium seizes the dancers, until at last the blues, greens and scarlets of the running officers have become an active contributing factor in the overwhelming climax of sound and photography.

“If this review seems completely out of focus, it is because the film is so much more significant as an experiment in the advanced use of color than as a straightforward dramatic entertainment. Based upon Langdon Mitchell’s old dramatization of ‘Vanity Fair,’ it is gravely defective. Ordinarily Mr. Mamoulian is a master of filmic mobility, but here his experimental preoccupation with color becomes an obstacle to his usual fluid style of screen narration. Thus a great deal of ‘Becky Sharp’ seems static and land-locked, an unvarying procession of long shots, medium shots and close-ups. It is endlessly talkative, as well, which is equally a departure from Mr. Mamoulian’s ordinary style.

“Perhaps it was inevitable that Thackeray’s classic tale of the ambitious Becky and her spangled career in English society would be reduced on the screen to a halting and episodic narrative. But the film is unconscionably jerky in its development and achieves only a minor success in capturing the spirit of the original. In many of the screened episodes, Thackeray’s satirical portraits come perilously close to burlesque, and they barge over the line in several places. Miriam Hopkins is an indifferently successful Becky, who shares some excellent scenes with many others in which she is strident and even nerve-racking. Frances Dee makes an effective Amelia, and photographs beautifully in addition. There are fine performances in the celebrated rôles by Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Alison Skipworth, Nigel Bruce and Alan Mowbray.

“But one thing is certain about ‘Becky Sharp.’ Its best is so good that it becomes a prophecy of the future of color on the screen. It forced this column to the conclusion that color will become an integral motion picture element in the next few years. If Mr. Mamoulian and Pioneer Pictures can be persuaded to film a modern story for their next venture, striving to repress their use of color to the more sombre hues of our twentieth century civilization, ‘Becky Sharp’ will have fulfilled its great promise.”

No More Ladies (1935, dir. Edward H. Griffith) – reviewed June 22, 1935

“The kind of class which Eadie (who was a lady) used to spell with a capital K has been expensively buttered on the motion picture version of ‘No More Ladies,’ which opened at the Capitol Theatre yesterday. Joan Crawford has it, Robert Montgomery has it, the dialogue has it, Adrian’s gowns have it, and the opulent Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer sets have it. The photoplay, despite its stage ancestry, is out of the same glamour factory as Miss Crawford’s ‘Forsaking All Others.’ If it is less furiously arch than that modern classic of sledgehammer whimsey [sic], it is also somewhat less successful as entertainment. Out of the labors of the brigade of writers who tinkered with the screen play, there remain a sprinkling of nifties which make for moments of hilarity in an expanse of tedium and fake sophistication.

“…Although Donald Ogden Stewart has contributed several really funny lines, the screen play is chiefly notable for its surface shimmer, the hollowness of its wit and the insincerity of its emotions. The sophistication of ‘No More Ladies’ is the desperate pretense of the small girl who smears her mouth with lipstick and puts on sister’s evening gown when the family is away. It ought to make a very respectable profit.”

Curly Top (1935, dir. Irving Cummings) – reviewed August 2, 1935

“Shirley Temple’s new picture is dedicated to the simple things of life, with special reference to the power of the hello-neighbor smile in conquering the ills of humanity. So shameless is it in its optimism, so grimly determined to be cheerful, that it ought to cause an epidemic of axe murders and grandmother beatings in this sober vicinity. Shirley herself, far from showing signs of deterioration or overwork in ‘Curly Top,’ actually hints in her work at an increased maturity of technique. Her remarkable sense of timing has never been revealed more plainly than in the song and dance scenes in her new film, and she plays her straightforward dramatic scenes with the assurance and precision of a veteran actress. With all this, she has lost none of her native freshness and charm.”

Mad Love (1935, dir. Karl Freund) – reviewed August 5, 1935

“Peter Lorre, the brilliant Hungarian actor of ‘M,’ arranges another of his terrifying studies in morbid psychology in his first American photoplay at the Roxy. At heart ‘Mad Love’ is not much more than a super-Karloff melodrama, an interesting but pretty trivial adventure in Grand Guignol horror. With any of our conventional maniacs in the role of the deranged surgeon, the photoplay would frequently be dancing on the edge of burlesque. But Mr. Lorre, with his gift for supplementing a remarkable physical appearance with his acute perception of the mechanics of insanity, cuts deeply into the darkness of the morbid brain. It is an affirmation of his talent that he always holds his audience to a strict and terrible belief in his madness. He is one of the few actors in the world, for example, who can scream: ‘I have conquered science; why can’t I conquer love?’—and not seem just a trifle silly.

“Perhaps you have not yet made the acquaintance of Mr. Lorre: squat, moon-faced, with gross lips, serrated teeth and enormous round eyes which seem to hang out on his cheeks like eggs when he is gripped in his characteristic mood of wistful frustration. As if these striking natural endowments were not enough, his head has been shaved as clean as Mr. Micawber’s for the occasion, and his skull becomes an additional omen of evil in the morose shadows which Karl Freund has evoked for the photo-play.

“…‘Mad Love’ is frequently excellent when Mr. Lorre is being permitted to illuminate the dark and twisted recesses of Dr. Gogol’s brain. In the theatre des horreurs, which he attends night after night, you see him in his box watching his lady tortured upon the rack, veiling his eyes in an emotion which is both pain and sadistic joy as he listens to her screams. There is an extremely effective scene in which the doctor, going quite definitely mad, hears the voice of his subconscious lashing him for his failure to conquer the woman. In the climactic scene, when the doctor loses all contact with reality and immerses himself in his Pygmalion-Galatea identity, his maniacal laughter raises the hair on your scalp and freezes the imagination.

“Even if it is not quite what we might have looked for in Mr. Lorre’s first American picture, ‘Mad Love’ is an entertaining essay in the macabre, and it may be a useful vehicle for introducing him to his new American film public. As those fortunate filmgoers who saw him in ‘M’ do not need to be told, he is among the great screen actors. He is capably assisted here by Colin Clive as the injured pianist, May Beatty as the doctor’s drunken housekeeper, Keye Luke as his operating room assistant and Edward Brophy as the condemned murderer. Ted Healy, a highly amusing comedian, has gotten into the wrong picture.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935, dirs. William Dieterle and Max Reinhardt) – reviewed October 10, 1935

“Hollywood pursues the shapes and shadows of the unfettered imagination with courage, skill and heavy artillery in Max Reinhardt’s film version of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ which the Warner Brothers presented at the Hollywood Theatre last evening. Many of the elusive, dancing conceits of Shakespeare’s lyric fantasy remain at large, though, and seem to hover about the screen hooting derisively at the cinema’s determined bloodhounds. But Mr. Reinhardt has isolated some of the winged fancies and the photoplay caparisons them in rich and lovely stuffs. If this is no masterpiece, it is a brave, beautiful and interesting effort to subdue the most difficult of Shakespeare’s works, and it has magical moments when it comes all alive with what you feel when you read the play.

“For the work is rich in aspiration and the sum of its faults is dwarfed against the sheer bulk of the enterprise. It has its fun and its haunting beauty. The play has been adapted with intelligence and affection. Except for a laggard quality in the ballet movements, it moves with a mettlesome step. William Dieterle, one of the most skillful directors in Hollywood, has transferred Mr. Reinhardt’s visions to the screen all complete. Erich Wolfgang Korngold has arranged the Mendelssohn music in a magnificent score, which weaves a rhapsodic spell about the spectator and transports him to the sightless realm of Avon’s elves and fairies.

“But the plain and distressing truth is that the screen, in the proud act of releasing the play from the shackles imposed on it by the proscenium arch, has the embarrassing miracle to perform of creating visual images which will catch the phantoms that lurk behind the words. The Nijinska ballet, for example, evokes not the fairy attendants of Oberon and Titania, but pretty girls in white gauze and sturdy gentlemen with wings strapped to their shoulders.

“The goblins are dwarfs in make-believe masks and the moonbeams on which the fairies dance are clever mechanical tricks in which the man-made magic is never quite submerged in the illusion it is striving to create. If you look too eagerly at Puck as he soars into space on a stick, you will discover the wire on which he is being hoisted.

“It is an illuminating fact that the photoplay achieves perfection in the clowns, those pragmatic louts who have no belief in the revels of the fairy people in the enchanted wood between dusk and dawn. Joe E. Brown as Flute the Bellows-mender gives the best performance in the show. It is a privilege to roar with laughter when he is rehearsing for the rude masque or playing the timid Thisbe to James Cagney’s Pyramus. Hugh Herbert and Frank McHugh are uproarious as his fellow tradesmen.

“…Mickey Rooney’s remarkable performance as Puck is one of the major delights of the work. As the merry wanderer of the night, he is a mischievous and joyous sprite, a snub-nosed elf who laughs with shrill delight as the foolish mortals blunder through Oberon’s fairy domain. In the other important rôles the film is uneven in performance and suggests flaws in Mr. Reinhardt’s reading of the play. As Bottom, the lack-wit weaver whom Puck maliciously endows with an ass’s head, James Cagney is too dynamic an actor to play the torpid and obstinate dullard. While he is excellent in the scenes in the wood, in the ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ masque he belabors the slapstick of his part beyond endurance.

“…It is difficult to measure ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ critically because the infant cinema has had no time to build a Shakespearean tradition. Whatever its flaws, it is a work of high ambitions and unflagging interest, and it provides a stimulating evening in the cinema. It is a credit to Warner Brothers and to the motion picture industry.”

Peter Ibbetson (1935, dir. Henry Hathaway) – reviewed November 8, 1935

“The striking thing about the new screen version of ‘Peter Ibbetson’ at the Radio City Music Hall lies in the identity of its director, Henry Hathaway. Known almost exclusively for his ‘Lives of a Bengal Lancer,’ Mr. Hathaway bridges the spiritual gulfs between that rousing super-Western and the fragile dream world of duMaurier’s sentimental classic with astonishing success. With his directness and his hearty masculine qualities, he skillfully escapes all the lush pitfalls of the plot and gives it a tenderness that is always gallant instead of merely soft. The photoplay, though it scarcely is a dramatic thunderbolt, possesses a luminous beauty and a sensitive charm that make it attractive and moving. Under Mr. Hathaway’s management Miss Ann Harding, who has been losing prestige lately, gives her finest performance, while Gary Cooper fits into the picture with unexpected success.

“Hathaway’s special triumph is in the dream sequences, which could have degenerated so easily into the double-exposure ghostliness of the recent ‘Return of Peter Grimm.’ Carefully avoiding the temptation to bathe the screen in misty photography and heavily remind his audiences that this is a spirit world, he abandons conventional screen devices and boldly insists on the reality of the dreams. This is a shrewd modern touch and it goes for to make duMaurier’s celebrated love story dramatically effective. The astral sphere on which the lovers moved through a lifetime of happiness, while their bodies remained shackled to the earth, thus becomes to us what it was to them, more vividly actual than the daytime world that kept them apart.”

Your Uncle Dudley (1935, dirs. Eugene Forde and James Tinling) – reviewed December 12, 1935

“The Center Theatre offers a meager and unassuming little comedy of small-town life as its pre-Christmas contribution to the film sector. We cinema reviewers, when films as unobtrusively dull as ‘Your Uncle Dudley’ happen along, make a minor virtue of anemia by applying such kindly adjectives as amiable to them. Although ‘Your Uncle Dudley’ is unpretentious, it is also aggressively commonplace. It seems to have been manufactured for the tail end of double bills and it barely possesses the laughs for a competent two-reeler. Consequently it scarcely impresses this column as an amiable motion picture. In the title rôle Edward Everett Horton fidgets familiarly as a rural Caspar Milquetoast who finally rebels against the tyranny of his sister. The chances are that, like Cole Porter’s first sniff of cocaine, it will bore you terrifically, too.”

The Ghost Goes West (1935, dir. René Clair) – reviewed January 11, 1936 (the day before Andre Sennwald’s death)

“This review seems to require a preamble. Faced with an event of such imposing interest as René Clair’s first English-speaking film, it is a grave temptation to go in for comparisons. That is distinctly the wrong approach to ‘The Ghost Goes West,’ which M. Clair made in England for Alexander Korda. The film is not pure Clair, or even characteristic Clair, because for the first time he is working in a strange language and from a script that is not his own. Robert Sherwood, who wrote the screen play, is as much a part of the film as the director himself. Consequently, the new film at the Rivoli Theatre reveals little stylistic relation to the precious handful of French films which bear his name. Nor does it possess, except in isolated scenes and details, any such distinct form as might identify it immediately with the cinema’s finest master of comedy.

“This is an unhappily pompous way to introduce such a gay, urbane and brilliantly funny film as ‘The Ghost Goes West.’ The Messrs. Sherwood and Clair are toying a gracefully long, loud laugh at the expense of American millionaire art lovers and European tradition. Their ghost, very solidly played by Robert Donat, is of the Scotch persuasion, he is a handsome devil, and even after 200 years he has an eye for the ladies. His adventures with the castle that is dismantled and transported to America are always merry and sometimes sharply satirical.

“…Mr. Donat, who revealed his brilliant talent for romantic comedy in ‘The Thirty-nine Steps,’ plays his two rôles with fine zest and even manages a Scottish burr with fair success. Eugene Pallette is uproariously solemn as the millionaire and Jean Parker plays the daughter engagingly. It would be criminal not to single out Morten [sic] Selten for special mention. As the proud old head of the Glourie clan he makes such an indelible impression during his brief appearance on this earth that his ghostly dialogues with his son acquire an added hilarity. ‘The Ghost Goes West’ is the first important film of the new year, and a joyous one. It is the cream of an ebullient jest.”