Category Archives: Movies

Important books about film and film stars, published by the University Press of Kentucky.

Books about film and film stars—important books about film and film stars—are published by the University Press of Kentucky. Here is a handful of new and forthcoming film titles.

Legendary actress and two-time Academy Award winner Olivia de Havilland ($34.95) is renowned for her role as Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind (1939). She often inhabited characters who were delicate, ladylike, elegant and refined. At the same time, she was a survivor with a fierce desire to direct her own destiny on and off the screen. She fought and won a lawsuit against Warner Bros. over a contract dispute that changed the studio contract system forever. She is also renowned for her long feud with her fellow actress and sister Joan Fontaine—a feud that lasted from 1975 until Fontaine’s death in 2013.

Author Victoria Amador utilizes extensive interviews and forty years of personal correspondence with de Havilland to present an in-depth look at the life and career of this celebrated actress .Amador begins with Havilland’s early life ( born in Japan in 1916 to a single mother and controlling stepfather) and her theatrical ambitions at a young age. The book then follows her career as she skyrocketed to star status, becoming one of the most well-known starlets in Tinseltown.

Readers are given an inside look at her love affairs with iconic cinema figures such as James Stewart, and John Huston, and her onscreen partnership with Errol Flynn, with whom she starred in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and Dodge City (1939 ). After she moved to Europe in the mid-’50s, de Havilland became the first woman to serve as the president of the Cannes Film Festival in 1965, and remained active but selective in film and television until 1988.

Olivia de HavillandLady Triumphant is a tribute to one of Hollywood’s greatest legends, who has evolved from a gentle heroine to a strong-willed, respected and admired artist


With celebrated works such as Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, and Gladiator, Ridley Scott has secured his place in Hollywood. This legendary director and filmmaker has had an undeniable influence on art and the culture of filmmaking, but is also a respected media businessman.

In Ridley Scott: A Biography ($40), Vincent LoBrutto delves into Ridley Scott’s oeuvre in a way that allows readers to understand the yin and yang of his exceptional career. Presented is a unique crosscut between the biographical facts of Scott’s personal life—his birth and early days in northeast England, his life in New York City— and his career in Hollywood as a director and producer of television commercials, TV series, miniseries and feature films.

Every film is presented, analyzed, and probed for a greater understanding of the visionary, his personality, and his thought process, for a deeper perception of his astounding work and accomplishments. The voices of cast and crew who have worked with Scott, as well as the words of the man himself, are woven throughout this book for a fully realized, critical biography, revealing the depth of the artist and his achievements.


The many con men, gangsters and drug lords portrayed in popular culture are examples of the dark side of the American dream. Viewers are fascinated by these twisted versions of heroic American archetypes, like the self-made man and the entrepreneur. Applying the critical skills he developed as a Shakespeare scholar, Paul A. Cantor finds new depth in familiar landmarks of popular culture in Pop Culture and the Dark Side of the American Dream:
Con Men, Gangsters, Drug Lords and Zombies ($40). He invokes Shakespearean models to show that the concept of the tragic hero can help us understand why we are both repelled by and drawn to figures such as Vito and Michael Corleone or Walter White.

Beginning with Huckleberry Finn and ending with The Walking Dead, Cantor also uncovers the link between the American dream and frontier life. In imaginative variants of a Wild West setting, popular culture has served up disturbing—and yet strangely compelling—images of what happens when people move beyond the borders of law and order. Cantor demonstrates that, at its best, popular culture raises thoughtful questions about the validity and viability of the American dream, thus deepening our understanding of America itself.


Throughout his career, Alfred Hitchcock had to deal with a wide variety of censors attuned to the slightest suggestion of sexual innuendo, undue violence, toilet humor, religious disrespect and all forms of indecency, real or imagined. From 1934 to 1968, the Motion Picture Production Code Office controlled the content and final cut on all films made and distributed in the United States. Code officials protected sensitive ears from standard four-letter words, as well as a few five-letter words like tramp and six-letter words like cripes. They also scrubbed “excessively lustful” kissing from the screen and ensured that no criminal went unpunished.

During their review of Hitchcock’s films, the censors demanded an average of 22.5 changes, ranging from the mundane to the mind-boggling, on each of his American films. Code reviewers dictated the ending of Rebecca (1940), absolved Cary Grant of guilt in Suspicion (1941), edited Cole Porter’s lyrics in Stage Fright (1950), decided which shades should be drawn in Rear Window (1954), and shortened the shower scene in Psycho (1960).

In Hitchcock and the Censors ($50), author John Billheimer traces the forces that led to the Production Code and describes Hitchcock’s interactions with code officials on a film-by-film basis as he fought to protect his creations, bargaining with code reviewers and sidestepping censorship to produce a lifetime of memorable films. Despite the often-arbitrary decisions of the code board, Hitchcock still managed to push the boundaries of sex and violence permitted in films by charming—and occasionally tricking—the censors and by swapping off bits of dialogue, plot points, and individual shots (some of which had been deliberately inserted as trading chips) to protect cherished scenes and images.

By examining Hitchcock’s priorities in dealing with the censors, this work highlights the director’s theories of suspense as well as his magician-like touch when negotiating with code officials.


 

“Clarence Brown: Hollywood’s Forgotten Master” is a masterpiece of the man and his movies

There are good directors.

There are great directors.

Then there’s Clarence Brown.

Before the outbreak of World War I, Brown owned his own automobile dealership, the Brown Motor Car Company, in Birmingham, Alabama, earning a very comfortable salary of $6,500 a year. Armed with a double degree in engineering and a practical knowledge of machines, he worked for both the Moline Auto Company in Illinois and the Stevens-Duryea Company in Massachusetts before starting his own business.

By 1915, however, he was working with director Maurice Tourneur on Trilby, giving up a promising career in one burgeoning industry for another. For cinephiles, it was a fortuitous decision. Over the course of a five decade–long career, Brown directed numerous films that have stood the test of time—including The Last of the Mohicans (1920), Anna Christie (1930), Anna Karenina (1935), The Human Comedy (1943), National Velvet(1944), The Yearling (1946), and Intruder in the Dust (1949).

Though he crafted films that garnered 38 Academy Award nominations, Brown is not as well remembered as many of his contemporaries. Historian Gwenda Young hopes to change that with the publication of Clarence Brown: Hollywood’s Forgotten Master, the first full-length biography of the seminal director. She recounts his upbringing as the son of hardworking Irish immigrants, as well as his work with stars such as Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, and Mary Pickford, which created his reputation for introducing new discoveries as well as revitalizing fading careers. Throughout his long tenure behind the camera, Brown defied expectations to create a lasting body of work that spanned Hollywood’s silent and golden eras.

Brown repeatedly proved his worth by coaching and inspiring great performances. He directed Greta Garbo’s first “talkie,” Anna Christie, which earned her a Best Actress nomination. Garbo later described him as her favorite director. He introduced audiences to a more refined, mature side of Mickey Rooney in The Human Comedy (1943), which Rooney regarded as “one of the best I ever did.” Brown also excelled at redefining and reviving careers, like Norma Shearer in A Free Soul (1931), which helped her to shed her sweet girl persona and define herself as a modern woman for audiences. Perhaps most significantly, he was known for discovering stars, notably Elizabeth Taylor and Claude Jarman Jr.

Brown continually defied expectations, including W.C. Fields’ famous warning about working with children and animals. The Yearling earned a 12-year-old Jarman a special Academy Award for Outstanding Child Actor, and National Velvet introduced the world to Taylor, also 12 at the time. Both films endure for their representation of the relationships between children and their horses.
Though Brown was known for heartwarming slices of Americana, he created films that were hard-hitting and dealt with sensitive cultural issues as well. He explored sensuality in Flesh and the Devil (1926), where viewers were able to see Garbo and John Gilbert’s charged chemistry on screen for the first time, and he directed one of the most revealing depictions of racial prejudice in Intruder in the Dust.

In this first comprehensive account of the life and work of an innovative and unique filmmaker, Young presents the spectrum of Brown’s work in Hollywood as well as his life before and after his creative successes. Spanning from the silent era to technicolor, Brown’s career shows how the industry evolved, and Young reveals the depths of Brown’s hardworking spirit that led him from operating a car dealership in Birmingham, Alabama to creating films that helped define Hollywood across different eras.

“Master of Dark Shadows” takes viewers deep(er) into Collinwood

Baby Boomers have sunk their teeth into many small-screen shows, but was anything more darkly delicious than Dark Shadows?

Master of Dark Shadows (MPI Home Media), a comprehensive celebration of the legendary Gothic daytime series and its visionary creator, Dan Curtis, is a feature documentary about the undyingly popular story of vampire Barnabas Collins and all the eerie goings-on at the gloomy Maine mansion Collinwood. The documentary was directed by David Gregory.

Narrated by Ian McShane, Master of Dark Shadows offers insights from Curtis, in addition to Oscar-winning writer-producer Alan Ball, screenwriter William F. Nolan, author Herman Wouk, Whoopi Goldberg, Barbara Steele and Ben Cross. Of course many members of the cast chime in, including Jonathan Frid, David Selby, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Lara Parker, John Karlen, Nancy Barrett, Jerry Lacy, Roger Davis, Marie Wallace, Chris Pennock and James Storm.

In 1966, a phenomenon was launched when Dark Shadows debuted on ABC as a daily Gothic suspense series. Airing in the late afternoon, the show attracted a massive youth audience as it shifted to the supernatural with the introduction of vulnerable vampire Barnabas Collins. Witches, ghosts and scary story lines turned Dark Shadows into a TV classic that led to motion pictures, remakes, reunions and legions of devoted fans who have kept the legend alive for five decades.
The documentary reveals the fascinating history, far-reaching impact and lasting appeal of Dark Shadows with a compelling blend of rare footage and behind-the-scenes stories while also exploring the dramatic talents of creator-producer-director Dan Curtis.

“Frontline: Documenting Hate”, an in-depth investigation into today’s white supremacy groups in the U.S. is mandatory viewing.

Love survives hate. It overcomes it.

PBS Distribution’s Frontline: Documenting Hate, an in-depth, two-part investigation into today’s white supremacy groups in the U.S. and the violent attacks that have taken place as a result, is mandatory viewing. Divided into two parts, Charlottesville and New American Nazis, the documentary focuses on how each has played a major role in reinforcing hate in America.

In Charlottesville, correspondent A.C. Thompson methodically tracks down some of those at the center of the infamous and deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia—revealing that one participant in the violence was an active-duty Marine, and the other worked for a major defense contractor and held a U.S. government security clearance. This part also shows just how ill-prepared law enforcement was to handle an influx of white supremacists from across the country, some of whom had been part of a series of earlier violent confrontations in California and descended on Charlottesville specifically to fight.

The second part of the program, New American Nazis, presents a new investigation into white supremacist groups in America—in particular, a neo-Nazi group, Atomwaffen Division, that has actively recruited inside the U.S. Military. This joint investigation documents the group’s terrorist objectives, examines how civilian and military authorities have responded, and shows how the group gained strength after the 2017 Charlottesville rally. In the wake of the 2018 deadly anti-Semitic attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, this program documents the rise and force behind these white supremacy groups.

MHz Choice releases three new international DVD box sets. Don’t know foreign languages? There are subtitles.

Bet you didn’t know we speak a few languages, other than English?
Really.
We’ve learned snatches of Spanish (¿Dónde está la biblioteca?).
Some bits of Swedish (Hur är det?).
And our fave, French. (Oui!)
Yet you won’t need to dust off the passport, international driver’s license and some old francs since, on May 28, MHz Choice releases three new international DVD box sets . . . even if you don’t know foreign languages, there are subtitles.
You do know how to read, don’t you?
FYI: Each season is also available as a separate DVD set. Order @ shopmhz.com.

From Spain
Velvet: The Complete Series Box Set (Seasons 1-4) 
Spain’s sexy, blockbuster television series takes you to the golden age of haute couture–late ’50s Madrid–where silk, sensuality and seduction flourish in a clothing emporium where everyone would like to go shopping at least once. Velvet Galleries is an Art Deco palace, a magical place of dazzling luxury and glamour. What shoppers don’t see, however, is the tender love story unfolding in the Galleries between humble dressmaker, Ana, and Alberto, the owner’s son and heir apparent.

Among elegant fabrics and haute-couture dresses, Ana and Alberto yield to their love, knowing full well that Alberto’s family opposes his relationship with a poor young employee. While Alberto rebels against family expectations, Ana, who longs to become a designer, struggles to assert herself as a creative personality. As family conflicts simmer, the star-crossed lovers Alberto and Ana fight for their destiny and pursue their forbidden love.


From France
Captain Marleau, Volumes 1 and 2
Captain Marleau (played by Corinne Masiero) has a hunter’s instinct, disguised under a deliberately offbeat veneer.  As she says herself, she doesn’t skim over cases, she plunges into them. Always on the prowl, she lies in wait for clues and her prey and takes them by surprise. In each episode, her hunt centers around a character
played by a famous actor…men and women who are a match for the outstanding cop.

Captain Marleau is the brainchild of French writer Elsa Marpeau, who describes her as a cross between Frances McDormand’s Marge Gunderson, Raymond Chandler’s literary creation, Philip Marlowe and Peter Falk’s, Columbo. The series is directed by another female French treasure, Josée Dayan. This team of women have created a policewoman who wears a parka and a Holden Caulfield hunting cap, dances and sings spontaneously, doesn’t care what others think of her and sees through lies with laser clarity. Her breezy manner and little red braids suggest Pippi Longstocking and believe the fact that she’s the smartest person in the room.  French audiences swooned over Captain Marleau, just like coroner Léopold Salaun (Jean-Claude Drouot) – because she’s a refreshing blast of crime-solving brilliance.


From Sweden
Miss Friman’s War
Meet the courageous group of women brave enough to take on both the male ruling classes of the day and a corrupt food industry. Savvy is their strategy and cans of healthy food are their weapons! It’s 1905 in Stockholm and Swedish lives are changing rapidly because of the introduction of new food safety technologies. Despite the advances, food poisoning epidemics are common among low income families and the line between different social groups remains clearly defined. The role of women also remains clearly defined, limited to hearth and home.

That is the situation Miss Dagmar Friman finds herself in when she returns to Stockholm after several years living in London. Miss Friman is more than a little headstrong and believes firmly in equal rights for women. She and her friends set out to open Swedish Homes, a grocery cooperative that sells unspoiled food at prices even workers can afford.  It’s a store for women, run by women and a revolutionary idea for its time. When the all-male board of the Stockholm Wholesale Association learn about the women’s business plan they start fighting back in any way they can, including illegal blockades. Unfazed, the women are determined to overcome all obstacles and open their Swedish Homes store on time.

“Sammy Davis , Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me” chronicles the career of the one-eyed wonder

Finally. PBS Distribution has released the new American Masters program, Sammy Davis , Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me,  the first major film documentary to examine the performer’s vast career and his journey for identity through the shifting tides of civil rights and racial progress during 20th-century America. Sammy Davis, Jr. had the kind of career that was indisputably legendary, vast in scope and scale.

And yet, his life was complex, complicated and contradictory. Davis strove to achieve the American Dream in a time of racial prejudice and shifting political territory. He was a veteran of increasingly outdated show business traditions and worked tirelessly to stay relevant, even as he frequently found himself bracketed by the bigotry of white America and the distaste of black America. Davis was the most public black figure to embrace Judaism, thereby yoking his identity to that of another persecuted minority. In Duke Ellington’s words, he was “beyond category.”

Featuring interviews with such luminaries as Billy Crystal, Norman Lear, Jerry Lewis, Whoopi Goldberg and Kim Novak, with never-before-seen photographs from Davis’ vast personal collection and footage of his electric performances, this film explores the life and art of a uniquely gifted entertainer whose trajectory highlighted the major flashpoints of American society from the Depression through the ’80s.

A quartet of important PBS programs, now on DVD

We are always writing about PBS’ specials and programs because they are, well, special programs.

A few choices:

NOVA: Pluto and Beyond
When the New Horizons spacecraft whizzed by Pluto in 2015, we Earthlings were dazzled by the breathtaking images it beamed home. They revealed a never-before-seen alien landscape – a world of mountains made of ice mixed with plains of frozen-solid methane and nitrogen. After more than two years of poring over the data, NASA has made remarkable new discoveries about everyone’s favorite dwarf planet.

But New Horizons didn’t stop there. On New Year’s Day 2019, the probe flew by an object known now as Ultima Thule, believed to be a primordial building block of the solar system. This is the most distant flyby in NASA’s history – 4 billion miles from Earth. If successful, it will shed light on one of the least understood regions of our solar system: the Kuiper Belt. NOVA was embedded with the New Horizons mission team as the team uncovered in real time the secrets of what lies beyond Pluto.


NATURE: Equus: The Story of the Horse
Ever since the beginning of time, humans and horses have had an extraordinary and unusual partnership. As a result, horses have helped shape the human world. In this program, viewers join anthropologist Dr. Niobe Thompson and equine experts on a two-part adventure around the world and throughout time to discover the origins of the horse and what makes us so perfect for each other. In part one, Origins, viewers experience a stunning 3D reconstruction as a realistic animation of the 45 million-year-old ancestor of the horse, the Dawn horse, rises from a fossil bed and begins a transformation into the magnificent animal we know today. Viewers discover why horses have almost 360-degree vision and gallop on a single toe.

In part two of the program, Chasing the Wind, viewers encounter extraordinary horse breeds old of the Siberian Arctic to the scorching heat of the Arabian Desert. Filmed over 18 months across three continents, the program not only explores the horse and its biology but how humans have partnered with the horse throughout the centuries, creating more than 400 breeds found all around the world.


USS INDIANAPOLIS: The Final Chapter
In the waning days of World War II, less than three weeks before the Japanese surrendered, the U.S. Navy experienced a catastrophic disaster. The USS Indianapolis, the pride and joy of the U.S. Navy, had just delivered the components of the atomic bomb destined for Hiroshima when she is sunk by a Japanese sub. 300 sailors go down with her, and the 900 survivors drift for four and a half days, battling the sun, thirst, sharks, and their own fear. Ultimately, only 316 of them are pulled from the sea alive.

The sinking of Indianapolis remains the U.S. Navy’s worst single loss of life at sea. The program flashes back and forth in time between the Indianapolis’ history and her ultimate fate, and 2017, when explorers finally found the ship’s remains 18,000 feet below the surface of the Philippine Sea. Viewers will hear first-hand accounts from survivors about those horrific days trying to survive and how they feel today, now that the USS Indianapolishas been found.


Victoria & Albert: The Wedding
This two-part British drama produced by BBC Studios for PBS and BBC gives an insider’s look into the elaborate planning that went into one of the most famous weddings of all time: the romantic 1840 union of Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert. Host and Royal historian Lucy Worsley, along with a team of experts, oversees the meticulous recreation of the most important and fascinating elements of the wedding celebration, from the food and the music to the tiered cake, exquisite white wedding dress, and more.

Scouring all available materials, including Victoria’s own diaries for details, the program reveals how the pomp and pageantry secured the nation’s unwavering attention as Victoria gained favor with her subjects and invented the modern ideal of marriage.

“The Art of the Missing Link” is the wonder that links the book and the film

There’s nothing a great book being the companion to a great flick. Witness Missing Link, a stunning, epic, raucous stop-motion comedy. Now, Insight Editions and LAIKA, the animation studio behind the film), have brought us The Art of Missing Link ($45.00), a must-have companion to the film featuring featuring concept art from the film’s creation—including sketches, storyboards, character designs, and much more.

Hugh Jackman is Sir Lionel Frost: a brave and dashing adventurer who considers himself to be the world’s foremost investigator of myths and monsters. The trouble is, no one else seems to agree.  He sees a chance to prove himself by traveling to America’s Pacific Northwest to discover the world’s most legendary creature. A living remnant of Man’s primitive ancestry . . . The Missing Link.

Zach Galifianakis is Mr. Link:  the slightly silly, surprisingly smart and soulful beast who Sir Lionel discovers. As species go, he’s as endangered as they get; he’s possibly the last of his kind, he’s lonely, and he believes that Sir Lionel is the one man alive who can help him.  Together they set out on a daring quest around the world to seek out Link’s distant relatives in the fabled valley of Shangri-La.

Along with the independent and resourceful Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana), who possesses the only known map to the group’s secret destination, the unlikely trio embarks on a riotous roller-coaster ride of a journey.  Along the way, our fearless explorers encounter more than their fair share of peril, stalked at every turn by dastardly villains seeking to thwart their mission. Through it all, Mr. Link’s disarming charm and good-humored conviction provide the emotional and comedic foundation of this fun-filled family movie.

The Art of Missing Link is a lushly illustrated volume that goes behind the scenes of LAIKA’s new stop-motion adventure. LAIKA utilizes cutting-edge technology to advance stop-motion animation in a hybrid of old and new techniques. This book probes deep into the filmmakers’ meticulous process and showcases the one-of-a-kind artwork from the making of the film.

Need more than high-octane coffee? Try Steven Seagal’s newest flick, “General Commander”

Whenever we hear about a new Steven Seagal flick, we prepare for the high-octane adventure. The latest example: General Commander, arriving on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital and On Demand May 28 from Lionsgate. Sonia Couling and Byron Gibson round out the cast.

Seagal takes on a global crime syndicate in this powerful action saga. After CIA agent Jake Alexander (Seagal) sees a member of his team killed during a sting operation, he demands revenge against guilty mob boss Orsini. But the CIA won’t sanction the hit, so Jake and his crew quit the agency and form a task force with just one mission: vengeance. Full of explosive action, thrilling stunts, and bone-crunching fights, General Commander never lets up.
Tale about being on deadly ground!

The United Kingdom in the near future? It’s pretty scary in the “White Chamber”.

A woman wakes up in a blindingly white cuboid cell, where a general uses increasingly sophisticated and cruel methods to torture her for information . . . information she claims not to have. As questions of trust are placed both on captor and captive, they find themselves embroiled in an increasingly spiraling journey into the nature of authority.
This is the United Kingdom in the near future. Civil war rages, and martial law has been declared by a military government hellbent on squashing the opposition.
Fake news? Tense, shocking, and all-too relevant, White Chamber asks the question: can there even be such a thing as certainty in these most uncertain of times?

A solid and riveting film, coming to Blu-ray and DVD from Dark Sky Films on May 21. Shauna MacDonald plays the woman; Oded Fehr is the general.