***/**** Image A Sound A Extras B starring Judy Garland, James Mason, Jack Carson, Tom Noonan screenplay by Moss Hart, based on the screenplay by Dorothy Parker & Alan Campbell & Robert Carson directed by George Cukor
by Walter Chaw A big, giant mess of a movie, big, giant mess of a director George Cukor's A Star is Born--a remake of the 1937 Janet Gaynor vehicle as well as Cukor's own 1932 What Price Hollywood?--finds big, giant mess of a gay icon Judy Garland quivering gallantly on the razor's edge of total mental collapse for 176 famously-restored minutes. A miracle of single-mindedness and dedication to the film-preservation cause? No doubt. A movie that could easily withstand 90 minutes of liberal pruning? Indeed. And unlike that question posed rhetorically of Joseph II in Amadeus, it's all too obvious which bits need trimming. Start with the 20-minute (might as well be 20-hour) "Born in a Trunk" number, inserted by Jack Warner unbeknownst to Cukor and intended to showcase Garland's then-healthy stage act. A "showstopper" in every sense of the word, it's unbelievably bad and, more than bad, it betrays everything that's worked about A Star is Born up to that point. A film-within-a-film-within-a-film, it has Judy vamping her way through a series of surreal set-pieces, telling her origin story while doing a medley of standards from the Warner catalogue. It's painful for all the wrong reasons.
**½/**** Image A- Sound B+ Extras B+ starring Klaus Kinski, Talia Balsam, Barbara Whinnery, Kenneth Robert Shippy written and directed by David Schmoeller
by Bryant Frazer I'm pretty much on board with a horror movie about a creepy landlord who stalks his college-aged tenants, waging a low-level terror campaign against them by deliberately releasing pests into their living spaces. If he's a sadist and a serial killer who keeps souvenirs of his victims (by which I mean body parts in jars), that just seems to go with the territory. If he's also a hardcore Nazi sympathizer with a daddy fixation and a concentration-camp victim locked up in the attic, well, that sounds like it might be a little over the top. But if that creepy landlord-sadist-sociopath-Nazi is played by Klaus Kinski? Now you're talking.
by Walter Chaw I read Thomas Harris's Red Dragon some time in the summer of 1985, when puberty and a crippling stutter conflated new, confusing biological drives with defensive rage. It's a wonder, really, that anyone gets out of junior-high alive. I had developed a taste for outré entertainments long around this time--thirteen, gawky, outcast in my mind, if not necessarily in reality. It was easier for me to identify with the Michael Myerses and Jason Vorheeses of the underverse: hiding, voyeuristic, jealous, yearning. I think we learn affinity with monsters as our own bodies betray us, metastasize around us, dosing our brains with liquid spikes of ecstasy and their attendant pitch-black abysses. I took refuge in movies rented from the local video stores in and around my suburban oubliette, and eventually in books like Harris's masterpiece, which, once discovered, was something I came back to like a scab, like a totem to be worried over. Watching Manhunter on VHS a year or so after its release, I was astounded to discover it was Red Dragon. I hadn't considered that anyone else knew about, much less was interested in, the contents of my secret stash. In the years before Internet and the vast, instant dissemination of information, there were still such things as the private, the personal. Manhunter was validation, exposure, and sanctification of my perversion. I was outed.
THE WIND RISES ****/**** written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki
FROZEN **½/**** screenplay by Jennifer Lee, inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen" directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
Editor's Note: This review pertains to the original Japanese-language version of The Wind Rises.
by Walter Chaw Hayao Miyazaki's alleged swan song The Wind Rises is mature, romantic, grand storytelling that just happens to be something like a romanticized biography of Jiro Horikoshi, the aeronautical engineer behind the design of the Mitsubishi A5M, which led, ultimately, to the Zero. Indeed, for a Western audience, watching Jiro's dreams of squadrons of Zeros buzzing over fields of green is chilling, and advance critics seemed unable to distinguish the Japanese war machine from the film's focus on a life lived in pursuit of dreams. In truth, separating these two aspects of the picture--the proximate and the historical--is self-defeating. (Dismissing the movie out of hand is equally blinkered.) One without the other, The Wind Rises loses anything like substance, resonance, importance. It would fall on the one side into gauzy bullshit, on the other into Triumph of the Will. As is, it's something more akin to Studio Ghibli's own Grave of the Fireflies in its humanizing of a man whose dreams were corrupted into something terrible. Einstein would be one of the West's potential Horikoshi corollaries--and if Miyazaki had done Albert's biography, I'd expect to see mushroom clouds illustrating his fantasies of relativity. For Horikoshi, Miyazaki provides upheavals and disasters as highlight to each of his life events: He first meets his wife in a train crash; in a lilting epilogue, when Jiro bids farewell to his dead wife, Miyazaki offers fields of devastation and a village in flames. Throughout, Miyazaki presents earthquakes, rainstorms, sudden bursts of wind as reminders of...what? The inevitability of change? The portents of war? The cycles of life and death? All of that; but what compels is the idea of helplessness in the face of larger forces--that although we chase our dreams, we're never really in control of our destinies.
***/**** Image C+ Sound A- Extras A story by Larry Clemmons, Ralph Wright, Ken Anderson, Vance Gerry, inspired by the Rudyard Kipling "Mowgli" stories directed by Wolfgang Reitherman
by Bill Chambers SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. The Jungle Book receives only two passing mentions in Neal Gabler's mammoth biography of Walt Disney, even though it has the distinction of being the last animated film Disney lived to produce and ended his career in a commercial triumph to bookend the early success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Gabler's brevity on the subject suggests that The Jungle Book was of little consequence to Disney, but there are clues to the contrary between the lines, such as when Gabler writes tantalizingly about Walt's opinion that early drafts of the script were too "sober." Indeed, he was personally invested in the project to the point of choosing it over his relationship with long-time story man Bill Peet, who'd brought Rudyard Kipling's Mowgli stories to Disney's attention in the first place. Peet's adaptation was, as Walt saw it, beset by its fidelity to Kipling, and he solidified his vision for lighter-hearted fare by hiring radio icon Phil Harris, whose husky, hearty voice would become synonymous with Disney animation in those posthumous years. The energy and levity Harris brought to the minor character of Baloo the Bear led to a reconceiving of the narrative so that it pivoted, in Gabler's words, on the Falstaff/Prince Hal dynamic between Baloo and child hero Mowgli.