Weekend at the movies

This weekend there were three films screening at the Starz Film Center we wanted to catch, and one wide release we’d been meaning to see. Sadly, only the film I had seen before was really worth the trouble.

Hot Tub Time Machine

About as mediocre as you’d expect, Hot Tub Time Machine relies too much on low brow humor and shouting, leaving the genuinely funny moments few and far between. I think a dose of Better Off Dead is required to get the bad taste out of my mouth.

The Secret of Kells

I was really torn here. On the one hand you have a gorgeously animated and scored film, but on the other you have a completely uninteresting story. Makes it hard to care about anything.

Night of the Comet

I think this is a fun ’80s zombie romp. My husband thought otherwise. Boo.

Walt & El Grupo

Yet another potentially awesome film that ended up being totally boring. I’m fascinated by both golden age Disney and World War II, but the film has too many family members I don’t care about reading letters. Meh.¬†Of course, now I’m all the more excited for Waking Sleeping Beauty this coming weekend.

New Discovery: William A. Wellman


Really I’ve known the name William Wellman for a while, I own but sadly haven’t seen The Ox-Bow Incident, but after seeing him featured on TCM I’ve decided that I absolutely must explore him more. He is an all-around interesting individual who started out as a fighter pilot in WWI and then worked his way up the studio ladder until he started directing in 1923. Apparently he was an absolute son-of-a-bitch to work with and actors hated him; much like Kubrick he would push and manipulate his actors as much as he could to get what he needed. It’s hard not to respect that.

After the hour long documentary they showed The Purchase Price, a film from 1932 starring Barbara Stanwyck as a New York torch singer who runs from her married racketeer boyfriend to North Dakota to marry a wheat farmer. At 68 minutes, Wellman definitely doesn’t mess around – there is a lot of story packed into just over an hour. It doesn’t necessarily feel like the film moves too fast either, that is until the almost laughably abrupt ending complete with not-so-subtle innuendo. Despite its flaws, I was impressed with what Wellman was able to accomplish with so little and, as always, Stanwyck is stunning.

The two things that interest me most in his work are how prolific he was with westerns (my favorite genre) and his ability to make very masculine films and then turn around and tackle feminist topics in a pre-feminism Hollywood. Westward the Women, a story about 138 women travelling the harsh road from Chicago to California to become companions for the male workers, really caught my eye, but unfortunately it’s not available on DVD.

Just a fascinating man with some brilliant ideas about filmmaking – anyone who sets out to make every type of film possible and deliberately makes a B&W film while shooting in color certainly has my attention. Film Comment has a great interview with William “Wild Bill” Wellman that shows some of his genius and flare.

Burden of Dreams (1982)

This week I caught the third evening in a series that the Starz Film Center and Denver Film Society did with the great documentarian Les Blank. They started with a collection of his musical and culinary pieces and capped off the event with what is arguably Blank’s best film, Burden of Dreams. Had I known that his other films were not available on DVD I probably would have made more of an effort to attend the other evenings, but Burden of Dreams was definitely something I had to see. Aside from a minor glitch with the sound at the start of the film, the presentation went smoothly and I had the added treat of sitting behind Mr. Blank himself during the screening.

The film is a fascinating portrait of the genius, passion, and madness that drives Werner Herzog during the making of his dream turned nightmare Fitzcarraldo. Widely considered better than the actual film, Blank’s documentary is one of the best glimpses into the filmmaking process. Unlike the “making of” documentaries we are familiar with today, the film is concerned not only with the film, but also with the emotional, cultural, and anthropological implications of what Herzog is trying to accomplish. One of the main concerns and struggle for these people was ownership of their land and after the film Blank informed us that after the film they were all granted titles to their land and continue to live and prosper on it to this day. Despite the ridiculous nature of it all, you have to admire Herzog for his dedication to both the authenticity and drama that is necessary to realize his dream. A member of the audience pointed out the arrogance it takes to do something like this and to a certain extent I have to agree, but aren’t all filmmakers at least a little arrogant? Herzog just also happens to be persistent and intensely dedicated to his craft.

Given the topic of the film, it was no surprise that most of the questions following it were about Werner Herzog in one way or another. There were some great stories like Herzog threatening Kinski’s life if he didn’t return to the set and reshoot a scene. Or Les Blank asking Herzog if it was really necessary to pull the full ship up a 40 degree slope and Herzog telling him to “mind his own business”. All in all it was a great evening with a captivating documentary and some interesting insight from the man behind the camera.

Grade: A