shadowofa3

Review by Trylon volunteer Dave Berglund

In the movies, first impressions are sacrosanct. Young lovers can throw their entire lives into turmoil to pursue with abandon someone they just met and we as viewers are so accustomed to this that we many times approvingly nod along without a second thought. This familiarity with the shorthand of character types, I think, is why Shadow of a Doubt is so powerful – in a cinematic age when mere appearances defined who was good and bad, loveable and loathsome, Hitchcock’s subversive masterpiece dared to present Joseph Cotten, an actor’s actor and utterly sympathetic figure, as Uncle Charlie, a manipulative, widow-killing sociopath.

The film centers on Charlie (Teresa Wright), a naïve and precocious teen with great affections for her namesake, the venerable Uncle Charlie. When she learns of an unexpected visit from her uncle, she anticipates his arrival with joy. Yet, when his suspicious behavior begins, she must decide before it is too late if her worries about him are warranted or if her imaginative inclinations are getting the best of her.

After all, this is a charming and generous fellow, and in the movies, this means he is one of us, one of the good guys. The film, thus, toys with our expectations and the doubts it casts early and often land with the dizzying force of heavyweight punches. These punches come in quick succession and by the time the film shifts to its horrifying second act, which serves as an early precursor to many slasher films to follow, we are fully off-kilter and unprepared for what is to come. This imbues the film with a timelessness that makes it exciting and disturbing to this day.

What is perhaps most striking about this film is that while it mirrors other Hitchcock classics in misdirection, it also reveals most of its secrets relatively early. In this way, the film allows its themes or faulty perception to gestate within its plot and pushes its audience to introspection. First impressions, it is clear, are not to be trusted, and life is far more complicated that we hope it to be.

Yet, the film’s most ingenious move is that while justice is in some sense found in the end, the power and significance of first impressions is allowed to survive unscathed. It is a convicting concession that the force of public consensus will silence truth. And in this is found the film’s most terrifying notion. — Dave Berglund

 

SHADOW OF A DOUBT screens Thursday, April 30 at 7:30 pm at the Heights.  Tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them in advance here.

 

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Our Wachowski series wraps up Monday and Tuesday with the filmmaking duo’s most controversial effort, 2008’s Speed Racer. Audiences and critics alike waved the black flag at it on its initial release, but over the years it’s gained a small but vocal group of defenders.

To understand Speed Racer it’s important to look first to the source material: the wiggy 60’s-era Japanese import cartoon that is best known today as America’s first exposure to anime.  If you close your eyes and remember the cartoon your mind is most likely to paint it in broad strokes, because that’s all it was: big eyes, bold colors, exciting races, characters with names like Racer X and Inspector Detector.

The cartoon featured a stark world of good guys and bad guys, and that’s replicated in the Wachowski version, as Speed and his family are first aggressively courted and then menaced by the slimy Royalton racing empire. While filmed with a live-action cast (including Racer family mascot Chim Chim!), the movie keeps one foot solidly in the realm of animation. From the first moments of the film we’re immersed in an an eye-popping palette of CGI backdrops: interiors and costumes sport bold primary colors, while exterior details — trees, grass, sky — are rendered in neon bubble-gum hues.

The result is a stylized, dream-like world in which there’s no love greater than the love of auto racing, and where simple values like family and friendship can trump even the most sinister agendas.  In the hands of any other director, the temptation to give in to high camp would have been too strong. Fortunately, the Wachowskis play it absolutely straight, making this a strange and delightful cinematic homage. — Michael Popham

 

SPEED RACER screens Monday and Tuesday, April 27 and 28, at 7:00 and 9:30 at the Trylon.  Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.

 

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Back in the 1990s a VHS copy of  Volker Schlondorff’s The Tin Drum kicked around the foreign film section of my local video store, but for the longest time I didn’t rent it.  The picture on the box showed the film’s protagonist Oskar (David Bennant) banging on a drum and looking demented.  I knew that you shouldn’t judge a videotape by its cover; all the same, I never seemed to be in the mood to see a movie in which a kid banged on a drum while looking demented, and so I avoided it.

The joke was on me, of course. Volker Schlondorff didn’t suffer from my rejection, I did. The truth is, no cover art could capture the mood of this brilliant and vaguely surreal film.

The Tin Drum takes place in Danzig in the years leading up to World War II. Young Oskar is born with an unnatural gift: from the moment of his birth he is keenly intelligent and self-aware.  On his third birthday he is given a tin drum as a gift, which he greatly treasures. On that same day, baffled by the chaotic world of adults, he decides to stop growing (a feat he accomplishes by throwing himself down a flight of stairs).  Oskar’s mother Agnes (Angela Winkler)  is married, but carries on an affair with her cousin Jan Bronski (Daniel Olbrychski); she later commits suicide by eating too many fish.  Meanwhile, the Nazi movement grows from a few ridiculous characters parading around town to a sinister, unstoppable force that drags all of Europe into a devastating war.

Like the VHS box in that long-gone video store, the above description doesn’t do the film justice. You’ll just have to see it for yourself. Harrowing and enigmatic, brutal and mordantly funny, The Tin Drum won the Palm D’Or at Cannes as well as the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1979.  This is a beautifully restored DCP version that puts any VHS copy in your possession to shame. — Michael Popham

THE TIN DRUM screens Friday and Saturday, April 24 and 25 at 7:00, and Sunday, April 26 at 5:00 and 8:15, at the Trylon. You can purchase advance tickets here.

 

 
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Review by Trylon volunteer Caty Rent.

Originally written as a graphic novel in 1988 by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, V for Vendetta was translated for the screen in 2006 by the Wachowskis. Although the material differs and some of the characters change greatly, the film version still has a similar overall feeling of dystopian disillusionment and oppressive sociopolitical agendas. Moore wanted nothing to do with the film, believing the story should have remained one of Fascism v. Anarchy. He claims the Wachowskis altered it to depict American liberal values standing up to a state run by neoconservatives. That may be true. Even so, Lloyd was all for the theatrical version, stating, “The Guy Fawkes mask has now become a common brand and a convenient placard to use in protest against tyranny – and I’m happy with people using it, it seems quite unique, an icon of popular culture being used this way.” It is the top selling mask on Amazon.com with hundreds of thousands sold each year.

Guy Fawkes gained his notoriety by being part of the botched Gunpowder Plot of 1605, an assassination attempt against King James I of England by a group of provincial English Catholics. The group hoped to blow up the House of the Lords during the State Opening of England’s Parliment. Fawkes was put in charge of the explosives because of his past military experience; he and seven others were convicted and sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Since then, November fifth has been celebrated with fireworks. It is known as: Guy Fawkes Night, Bonfire Night, or Fireworks Night. There’s a rhyme that is spoken repeatedly throughout the film that commemorates this historical moment — Remember, remember, the fifth of November: the gunpowder treason and plot. I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.

The film is set in the 2020’s in a post-apocalyptic and totalitarian England. There are strong ties to George Orwell’s novel 1984, such as the constant mass surveillance, large screens, the brutality of the police, strictly enforced curfews, and even the slogan of the party. In Orwell’s book, the party slogan is, “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength,” whereas in V for Vendetta the slogan is, “Strength through Unity. Unity through Faith.” Citizens are persecuted and “black bagged” for believing, preaching, or even owning anything against the Norsefire Party or the High Chancellor.
Standing against the regime is a masked vigilante known only as V, played by Hugo Weaving. His tactics are extreme, and we are left to decide for ourselves if he is a freedom fighter or a terrorist, a psycho or the only sane man left in the country. V blows up buildings, but he is eloquent and cultured, equal parts The Count of Monte Cristo and The Phantom of the Opera. Natalie Portman is Evey Hammond, the Christine Daae to V’s Phantom.

As with some of other Wachowskis’ films this one had a fair amount of action and special effects. They are great at the fighting scenes where the underdog hero has to take down a whole group of bad guys. V masterfully uses blades to subdue his enemies. I love the slow-motion of the daggers circling in the air until hitting the exact target. Of course there are several bombings with fireworks included to honor Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Treason. A heavy film with a moderate amount of violence that might take several viewings to really soak it all in, but definitely worth watching. – Caty Rent

Caty Rent is a confirmed ghost story and horror movie addict.

 

V FOR VENDETTA screens Monday and Tuesday, April 20 and 21 at 7:00 and 9:30 at the Trylon.  Tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.

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At first glance, Little Fugitive (1953) doesn’t look like much. It’s the story of a couple of latchkey kids in 1950s New York: Lenny and his 7-year-old kid brother Joey.  When their mother needs to visit a sick relative overnight, Lenny is left in charge.  But he’s really too young to take on this kind of responsibility, and instead of watching out for Joey he and his buddies play a cruel prank on him. Using an old rifle and a daub of ketchup they convince Joey that he’s shot and killed his own brother. Terrified, Joey runs away, wandering alone amidst the crowds on Coney Island.  Meanwhile, an increasingly frantic Lenny tries to find him.

Stories don’t get much simpler than that, and yet this small indie film — rarely seen today — was enormously influential. Behind the modest plot and the gee-whiz dialogue, a cinematic revolution was taking place. Shot with a small 35mm rig, the movie utilized a cinema-verite style that helped inspire the French New Wave movement; Truffaut in particular was enamored with the film. As an added bonus, its crisp, neo-realist look brings to life the lost world of New York in the 1950s.

Little Fugitive also shows a rough edge to American life seldom seen in films of this era; the unsupervised kids amuse themselves on the city streets while their worn-down single mom struggles to provide for them. When she is called away by a medical emergency, she has no choice but to leave the kids alone overnight. Cinema of the 1950s often presented a New York that was glamorous, or dangerous, or even seedy. But rarely has the city seemed as imposing and immediate as it does in this modest production. — Michael Popham

LITTLE FUGITIVE screens Friday and Saturday, April 17 and 18, at 7:00 and 9:00, and Sunday, April 19 at 5:00 and 7:00 at the Trylon. Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.