The Town that Dreaded Sundown Remake?

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According to the Hollywood Reporter, it seems as if The Town that Dreaded Sundown is receiving a remake with Alfonso Gomez-Rejon slated to direct. The MGM project begins shooting in May in Louisiana with Ryan Murphy and Jason Blum producing and is scheduled for a 2014 release.

If the title sounds familiar, I recently posted the trailer from the original 1976 film here .

Sundown is a film based on actual events in Texarkana in 1946 where a string of murders by a single killer still remain unsolved. The original film was put out in 1976 and while remains dated in many respects, deserves a new look due to some truly disturbing images and because of its long-awaited release on Blu Ray in a couple of weeks!

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Saturday Tidbit: Beautiful Photos of Decaying Theaters

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In Julia Solis‘ new book Stages of Decay, she takes us on a tour of abandoned theaters in various stages of decay.  As these photos will attest, the book (published by Prestel) appears to be a work of stunning imagery emblematic of eras passed and spans an international theatrical culture from vaudeville to the grand movie palaces of old. 

The book is available now and appears to be worth a look.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/26/abandoned-theaters-photos-julia-solis-stages-of-decay_n_3159620.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003#slide=2384325

The Entertainer (1960): Laurence Olivier and the Kitchen Sink Drama

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The Entertainer was based upon John Osborne‘s play of the same name and was directed by Tony Richardson who (along with Osborne) was known for a vein of films depicting a gritty, dismal state in Britain referred to as the Kitchen Sink Dramas or the Angry Young Man films. These films included Look Back in Anger starring Richard Burton (which Osborne wrote with Richardson directing), Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner starring Tom Courtenay (directed by Richardson), and This Sporting Life starring Richard Harris. They are all similar in tone and to be honest, at times thoroughly depressing in showcasing a raw realism that depicted the ass-end of a fragmented British class system. These were the days of starving families, over-worked wives, and men who felt tied to social/political institutions that had long been failing them and were ready to break free, sometimes violently.

loneliness-02 (Photo of Tom Courtenay in Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner-1962)

Enter Laurence Olivier, the figurehead of traditional British theater and film?

Olivier has been stated as approaching John Osborne directly, a figurehead of the Angry Young Man movement in stage and screen, to create a vehicle for him that would help to reinvigorate his image and resonate with younger audiences. Osborne came up with the character of Archie Rice, an aging, increasingly irrelevant British vaudeville performer who would do anything to extend a dying stage career. Ouch. In his attempt to hold off the inevitable, we watch Rice dig himself deeper and deeper into a monetary hole all the while leveling a heavy emotional toll on those around him, which include his alcoholic wife, dying father and vibrant daughter played by Joan Plowright (who Olivier married and remained with until his death in 1989.)

While this film is emblematic of the Kitchen Sink Drama and its dismal focus, it contains within it one of the most devastating and transcendent performances of Olivier’s career. There are moments within Olivier’s portrayal of Rice that are so genuine we feel emotionally tied to Rice unwilling, but prepared to be cast off into the abyss of his approaching demise.

We have seen this guy before. We all know who his is and what the desperation looks like as he clings to a dream that is fading fast. Compromise after compromise we beg for him to stop, but we know he can’t until the applause completely fades, even as the life drains from those around him. We watch with pity and awe at his final act as his search for the final joke, the final limp round of applause as it fades away with Archie Rice smiling and singing just one last song.

Despite the depressing, almost emotionally claustrophobic feeling of the film, I highly recommend it for Olivier’s performance alone. When people speak of the title of the world’s greatest actor, I do not think of Richard III (even though it is probably my 2nd favorite performance of Olivier’s) or any other of his Shakespeare projects, I think of this film because of its realism and range. His performance is befitting his legend and well worth a look as the clip below will attest to.

Gladly, this film is readily available on DVD through your favorite online retailer or brick and mortar store and is a beautiful, black and white print which surprisingly highlights England’s seaside resort quite well.

Highly recommend.

Twin Lens’ Rare Find of the Week: Sleuth (1972)!

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Sleuth was released in 1972 and stars the great Laurence Olivier as Andrew Wyke, an aging, wealthy, mystery writer who invites a young Milo Tindle, played by Michael Caine, to his home. It is quickly revealed that Tindle is the current lover of Wyke’s wife, Marguerite, and is presented with a proposition of which Tindle would be the ultimate benefactor. He is to steal Marguerite’s jewels in a seemingly perfect crime concocted by Wyke himself, sell them on the black market, take the cash and use it to give Marguerite the perfect life, one away from Wyke and from messy emotional/financial entanglements that would arise through a normal separation.

The film was based upon the Tony award winning play written by Anthony Shaffer and was the last of a long line of successful films for prolific director Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve, Cleopatra, Guys and Dolls). The film was critically successful seeing both actors nominated for Oscars with a total of 4 Academy Award nominations and spawned a remake in 2007 starring Jude Law as the young Tindle and a much older Caine playing the role of Wyke.

Having seen more than my share of Olivier films due to my twin sister’s fascination with the actor, this film ranks among the top in performance due to his ability to jump from stern cynic to playful camp with convincing ease. Wyke is obsessed with games, strategy, and has an obsession for vintage automatons which feed into that playful nature. This frees up Olivier to play Wyke with bounding laughter and a childish glee rarely seen in his performances. While in the hands of a lesser actor, this would stray too far into a campy neverland, however within Oliver’s grasp, it is a pleasure to watch.

Caine is confident and mostly convincing as Tindle, except for one instance, which becomes an issue with a very important plot point the audience could see coming literally twenty minutes before its supposed reveal. This is not to place the blame solely upon Caine for the fail, but upon the costume/make-up effects used for the complicated and time-consuming ruse that does not in any way translate to an audience that called the game the second it appeared on screen.

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But, the issues at the core of Sleuth resonate far beyond the thriller genre and engage the viewer within a social dialogue concerning deep-rooted beliefs of class and age in Great Britain. With Olivier, you have the well-established writer, a man of prestige and wealth who is losing his wife to a younger, more stylish man who may not be as well-established, but represents a youth long dull in Olivier’s aged frame. That said, Caine is not fully immune to the pressures of the class system and is at his core insecure about his ability to provide a life for his lover’s cultured tastes. Olivier represents the old-school and Caine, swinging London with its vibrancy and flippant attitudes. This is the heart of Sleuth and where these worlds and wits collide is where the plot thickens.

Sleuth is a taut thriller, with twists a plenty. While some of the twists became tedious because of their transparency, the film itself is a solid work carried upon the shoulders of two titans of British cinema and shares the peculiar title of being one of three where the entire cast was nominated for Academy Awards. There is a fun little fact that since there were only two actors in the entirety of the film and this fact was central to certain plot twists, a cast of fictional actors were billed and used in all of the marketing materials and is even listed on IMDB as we speak.

Sleuth is long out of print and is available as an expensive DVD release that can be purchased through third-party sellers on Ebay and Amazon. The VHS can be cheaper and is available in a sketchy print released by Video Treasures and a better version part of the Independent Classics Collection. If you can find it, it is definitely worth a viewing and might be worth shelling out the extra cash for the DVD version since there is no word of a release at this time.

Room 237 (2012): An Examination of Kubrick’s Genius and Our Unchecked Obsessions

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Room 237 is a documentary film highlighting the alleged hidden meanings behind Stanley Kubrick‘s horror masterwork, The Shining. Director Rodney Ascher assembled a wide range of cinephiles whose conspiracy theories of the coded meanings within Kubrick’s film, range from strange to simply absurd.

All of Kubrick’s previous films provide the backdrop for the varying theories as the creators of these theories (who are never shown to the audience) remain as obscured as the conclusions they excitedly detail. This film walks a fine line of exploitation of its subjects. This is not to say it is not entertaining. But, while the film details painstakingly the theories of seemingly intelligent people who can carry on engaging, thoughtful dialogue, it also quickly dismisses them as their theories’ validity evaporates when a unbiased viewer sees through the subject’s paper-thin rationale.

While this film does highlight Kubrick’s masterful use of metaphor, I was disappointed it did not provide any real evidence of Kubrick’s hidden intentions on a grand scale. Examples given of Kubrick’s genius by overzealous viewers can be easily dismissed as continuity errors (chairs disappearing between shots, patterns of the carpet changing between takes) as any filmmaker can verify. No matter how large of a genius Kubrick seems to be, there are decisions made on a set, especially on a film of that size, that will affect continuity and no director is immune.

I did not come from the film thinking The Shining was some epic allegorical tale skillfully mirroring the horrors of The Holocaust or Native American massacre and marginalization either. What it does detail is the modern audience’s desperate need for synergy or depth in storytelling, but also, perhaps even disturbingly, what happens when obsession goes unchecked. This is a condition of the time of the internet where we can gorge upon our obsessions 24 hours a day. We turn to those who validate our strayed thoughts and lend them legitimacy, sometimes to our own disservice.

While the theories may be out of control, this film is crafted well and thoroughly entertaining. The visual construction is engaging and seen in the 4k presentation I was fortunate enough to have been party to, simply stunning. As with the images, the film score echoes the original film in presenting a simple, raw, synth soundscape by William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes. The score is highly effective at capturing the descent into madness as it assists in visualizing a world just off-kilter as we begin to view with paranoia what lies before our very eyes.

Room 237 is at times ridiculous in its ironic promotion of ludicrous theories, however, with its own well constructed frame and highlighting of the one of the last great auteurs of film, it still inspires. We see the genius of Kubrick and sympathize with those who want to feel that he wove a web whose mysteries we have only begun to unravel.

Rare Trailer Bits – Masked Men: The Town that Dreaded Sundown and Dr. Syn Alias the Scarecrow

The Town that Dreaded Sundown was a late 70’s release from AIP (American International Pictures) based on actual events in Texarkana, Arkansas that terrorized the small town leaving multiple unsolved murders.   If you happen to run across the film (it is available as a very long out-of-print VHS and is being released as a Blu Ray/DVD combo on May 21, 2013!), it is definitely worth a look despite some campy elements. There are glimpses of true horror that are hinted to in this most excellent trailer and in the creepy scarecrow-like mask.

Dr. Syn Alias the Scarecrow remains one of the rarest Disney Films (except for Song of the South which never received a stateside release) even after a special edition tin release and can be very expensive to get a hold of, but because of the strength of the film, remains one of the most sought after.  Based on the English legend of a Robin Hood-style masked bandit who rode the English countryside in a scarecrow mask stealing from the rich, the story was given a worthy turn by Disney and broadcast in parts as part of the Wonderful World of Disney program.  It was released in the UK theatrically.