Saturday, July 28, 2012

"Aurora" By Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer has composed an elegy for the victims of the Aurora tragedy, incorporating pieces of his Batman theme from the Dark Knight films, and now has it for sale on iTunes and at the WaterTower Music website.

Either scripts and active content are not permitted to run or Adobe Flash Player version0.0.0 or greater is not installed.

Get Adobe Flash Player

All proceeds go to Aurora Victim Relief. Please check out this gorgeous piece of music and purchase it for a worthy cause.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Review | "Where Do We Go Now?"

As an admirer of Nadine Labaki's seductive Lebanese romance, Caramel, it is hard not to get caught up in the singular warmth of the world she creates.

Her latest film, Where Do We Go Now, is something of a different animal. Made with the same sort of warm, intoxicating atmosphere, the film nevertheless deals with a much more serious and socially relevant topic - Christian/Muslim relations in Lebanon. Yes, Labaki has made a comedy about one of the most volatile situations in the region, tackling the violence head on with a sort of twinkle in her eye that is at once irresistible and off-putting. It's a strange mix to be sure, but it works occasionally when the film is focused on its goal. But it is often unfocused and even tonally unbalanced in its quest to find humor in a grim situation. Not as overtly ludicrous as some like, say, West Bank Story, which turned the Palestian/Israeli conflict into a West Side Story parody, the film is nevertheless caught between its own noble intentions and its inability to jell them into a cohesive whole.

Nadine Labaki as Amale. Photo by Rudy Bou Chebel ©, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics .

Set up like some sort of modern day twist on "Lysistrata," Where Do We Go Now tells the story of a small Lebanese village where Christians and Muslims live in harmony,and  the church and the synagogue face each other across the town square. But when the sectarian violence from the outside begins to reach their small town, suspicions are raised, old rivalries rekindled, and hostilities boil over, and soon the townsfolk are in all out war with each other. So the wives band together to find a way to stop their fighting husbands from tearing apart the truce that has held them all together for centuries.

It's a noble ideal, but its hampered by the oddly inconsistent tone of the film, which switches from romance, to comedy, to musical, to drama to tragedy seemingly at random. The ingredients are all undeniably tasty, but they never quite add up to anything particularly memorable. It's a nice film, but that's not necessarily a compliment, especially when dealing with such potentially rich subject matter. For all its style and beauty, Where Do We Go Now lacks the singular drive to reach any great heights. Its heart is certainly in the right place, but ultimately the question isn't "where do we go now?" But, "what has the film accomplished?"

The answer is unfortunately very little.

GRADE - ★★½ (out of four)

WHERE DO WE GO NOW? | Directed by Nadine Labaki | Stars Nadine Labaki, Layla Hakim, Yvonne Maalouf | In Lebanese w/English subtitles | Rated PG-13 for thematic drug material, some sensuality and violent images | Now playing in select theaters. Opens today in Charlotte, NC at the Park Terrace.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Blu-ray Review | "The Turin Horse"

Note: This review was originally published on February 10. An addendum has been added about the blu-ray release.


"In Turin on 3rd January, 1889, Friedrich Nietzsche steps out of the doorway of number six, Via Carlo Albert. Not far from him, the driver of a hansom cab is having trouble with a stubborn horse. Despite all his urging, the horse refuses to move, whereupon the driver loses his patience and takes his whip to it. Nietzsche comes up to the throng and puts an end to the brutal scene, throwing his arms around the horse’s neck, sobbing. 

His landlord takes him home, he lies motionless and silent for two days on a divan until he mutters the obligatory last words, and lives for another ten years, silent and demented, cared for by his mother and sisters. We do not know what happened to the horse."

So begins Béla Tarr's The Turin Horse, a grim, utterly mesmerizing film purported to be the director's last. These words, read over a black screen by an unseen narrator, set the stage for the film to come. This fateful encounter with Nietzsche is the catalyst for the sparse and austere narrative to follow, which reveals itself slowly and carefully in a way that only Tarr can do.

Erika Bók (Ohlsdorfer's daughter) in "The Turin Horse." 
Courtesy of Cinema Guild.
The film picks up immediately after the meeting with Nietzsche, and centers around the owners of the horse on which the famed philosopher met his end. These two peasants live out a meager existence, trudging through their daily routine - cooking potatoes, gathering water from the well, going to bed. It is a monotonous, never ending cycle, only broken up by the occasion visit by marauding gypsies or the ever increasing refusal of the horse to do anything. Much like Nietzsche, the horse seems to have slipped into a deep depression from which there is no escape. On the outside, a seemingly neverending gale rages on, whipping up dust and leaves around the house as if its occupants are caught in some kind of vortex out of time. The end is approaching, and their lives have been fundamentally altered in ways they could not possibly imagine.

Tarr shoots with long, languid takes that often linger minutes longer than you feel like they should. But the effect is intoxicating. Never has the simple act of cooking potatoes been so wholly entrancing. Tarr takes these seemingly commonplace acts and turns them into a kind of poetry of the mundane. There is little dialogue in the film. Tarr simply allows the camera to observe, unblinking, sometimes for minutes on end, often accompanied by composer Mihaly Vig's haunting, Phillip Glass-like score. He immerses us in these people's lives, and their impending doom, creating both an atmosphere of apprehension and mystery. What does the future hold? What lies beyond the windswept plains? Are they all alone in this blustery world? Or are they hurtling toward an inevitable, inescapable fate?

Those who are familiar with Tarr's previous work probably know what to expect from The Turin Horse. It will be an admittedly tough slog for a vast majority of audiences, but for those with the patience, the rewards are boundless. The Turin Horse feels like a profound literary work, which is ironic since there is hardly a word spoken for its entire running time. Tarr's work has always begged comparisons to Andrei Tarkovsky, but never has the comparison felt as apt as it does here. It recalls Tarkovsky's apocalyptic The Sacrifice in its evocation of impending doom as an avenue for deeper, existential questions. But don't expect the answers to reveal themselves easily. With little dialogue to help the audience along, Tarr demands more of his audience than most directors. It is a film that must be mulled over, meditated upon, and combed through. It requires mental participation to truly appreciate, which is perhaps one of its greatest achievements. This is a film for the heart and the mind, a film of feelings and ideas.

Mihály Kormos (Bernhard) in "The Turin Horse." 
Courtesy of Cinema Guild.
The Turin Horse is certainly no walk it the park, but it isn't meant to be. And as Tarr's final film, it's a staggering statement by an auteur working at the height of his powers. It's at once elegiac and fiercely relevant. Tarr is not content to go quietly into that good night. He has made a triumphant film that, if it truly does turn out to be his swansong, will be long remembered by cinephiles as one of the great final works by a director who refused to fade away quietly. While it is regrettable that we will see no more films from the Hungarian master, he has left us with a cinematic feast that should keep fans and newcomers alike talking and debating for years to come.

BLU-RAY ADDENDUM - Like the film it showcases, the Cinema Guild's blu-ray release of The Turin Horse is breathtaking. For those who have already experienced Tarr's masterwork, revisiting it in high definition will be a real treat, and it's nearly impossible not to become lost in its peculiar reality all over again, especially with the crisp black and white cinematography on full display. Those coming to the film for the first time are likewise in for something special. While I love the special features on The Strange Case of Angelica, The Turin Horse may be the most beautiful blu-ray the company has released.

Tarr himself gets a lot of face time on the supplements, which include a press conference with the movers and shakers behind the film as well as an exclusive 80 minute chat with Tarr available only on the blu-ray. The centerpiece supplement, however, is Tarr's 1978 short film, Hotel Magnezit. Telling the story of an old man being evicted from a hostel, and the subsequent blame game played by his fellow boarders, Hotel Magnezit is an interesting early indicator of Tarr's keen sense of shifting emotional undercurrents. The film itself looks like it was transferred from a VHS, which is a shame considering how gorgeous The Turin Horse is, but it's unlikely that a better quality copy was available for transfer. It's a minor squabble in an otherwise stellar package, because the year's best film has been given the blu-ray treatment it so richly deserves. It is a narrative that must be wholly surrendered to, and this stunning transfer makes the journey all the more fulfilling.

GRADE - ★★★★ (out of four)

THE TURIN HORSE | Directed by Béla Tarr | Stars  Janos Derzsi, Erika Bok, Mihaly Kormos | Not rated | In Hungarian with English subtitles | Now available on blu-ray and DVD from the Cinema Guild.

On "The Dark Knight Rises"


From The Dispatch:
It's a sprawling, messy, thrillingly imperfect film that delivers on its promise to shock and awe the audience. All the dots may not necessarily connect, but this is a film that simply cannot be ignored. It's a bold, audacious piece of filmmaking that brings the series to a close in a stunning and emotionally satisfying way.
Click here to read my full review.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Blu-ray Review | "Gray's Anatomy"/"And Everything is Going Fine"

The idea of watching a filmed monologue doesn't exactly sounds like an exciting prospect. But under the direction of Steven Soderbergh, one of Hollywood's most unusual and unpredictable filmmakers, the 1997 film, Gray's Anatomy rivets and enthralls through just the words of one man sitting at a table.

Spalding Gray, actor, author, and raconteur, was perhaps best known for his monologues (or monologs, as he preferred to call them) in which he turned anecdotes from his life into sardonic, often scathing, meditations on existence. These humorous, neurotic observations on the world around him garnered him a devoted following, and in 1996 Soderbergh filmed one of Gray's monologs about an eye condition he contracted that required him to have corrective surgery. The monolog goes from diagnosis, to treatment, to the variety of remedies and strange miracle cures that Gray pursues rather than conventional surgery, trying anything he can to avoid the slim chance that surgery will result in blindness.

Spalding Gray in Steven Soderbergh's GRAY'S ANATOMY.
Courtesy of The Criterion Collection.
Through Gray's own unique insights, Gray's Anatomy becomes a kind of strange examination of human existence; frail, idiosyncratic, and ultimately a kind of cosmic joke. Gray keeps us hanging on his every word, as Soderbergh somehow turns a one man show into absolutely riveting cinema. Gray's style is almost akin to folklorists and traditional storytellers but his subjects are decidedly more modern. It is not necessarily cinematic in the conventional sense, but it works. Then again, things are rarely very conventional when it comes to Soderbergh. Soundly rejecting the auteur label with his refusal to repeat himself, there is no clearly defined Soderbergh style. He starts fresh with each film, and it is their lack of an auteurist stamp that distinguishes them.


Soderbergh returned to Gray 13 years later for his 2010 follow up, And Everything is Going Fine. Made after Gray's apparent suicide in 2004, the film uses excerpts of monologs and interviews with the writer to create a kind of tribute to his life using his own words. By its very nature, it is a less cohesive film than its predecessor, but it is also a more passionate one. Soderbergh clearly felt very strongly about Gray, and And Everything is Going Fine comes across as Gray's final monolog about his life made from beyond the grave.


As a portrait of an artist it is decidedly one sided, but then again such is the nature of Gray's monologs. Gray remains an incisive presence even after a car accident left him crippled in 2001. It is clear, however, that the fire just isn't in him anymore, and it's tragic watching his steady decline. And Everything is Going Fine is not a typical tribute by an artist to another artist, it's almost like a tribute by an artist to himself.
>

Spalding Gray in Steven Soderbergh's AND EVERYTHING IS GOING FINE.
Courtesy of The Criterion Collection
That's what sets it apart, I think. Not a documentary, not a fictional film, And Everything is Going Fine exists in its own special realm. Less singularly fascinating, perhaps, than Gray's Anatomy, it is still a pretty powerful experience. It is able to peel back the layers of Gray's often guarded personality (even though he spent his life sharing his with others) to find the real man beneath, and it's an achievement of which I believe Gray would have been proud. 


Criterion's new blu-ray release feels a bit superflous, despite typically excellent supplements. Featuring the complete recordings of some of Gray's other monologs, the special features are home runs. But since much of these films were taken from VHS recordings, there isn't much even a blu-ray can do in terms of image quality. Taken together, however, these films are a vibrant portrait of an even more vibrant man, and worthy entries into the collection. They may not be Soderbergh's most famous films, but they remain hidden gems in two very unique careers.


GRAY'S ANATOMY - ★★★½
AND EVERYTHING IS GOING FINE - ★★★

Now available on blu-ray and DVD from The Criterion Collection.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Blu-ray Review | "The Saphead"

By 1920, Buster Keaton had completed his apprenticeship under Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and embarked on a series of solo short films (which were all released by Kino Lorber last year in an excellent 3-disc set) that lead up to his first solo feature, Three Ages, in 1923.

But prior to that, Keaton starred in his first feature length film, The Saphead in 1920, in the midst of working on his two-reel comedy shorts. Based on the play, "The Henrietta," by Bronson Howard and Winchell Smith, The Saphead is often overlooked by Keaton fans and historians because of its unusual place in Keaton's career. Not based on his own work, the film is indeed something of an anomaly in the Keaton canon, and Three Ages is perhaps more rightfully looked upon as the beginning of Keaton's feature career. Yet The Saphead remains an important piece of the Keaton puzzle, even if it isn't his best work or one of his original comedic creations.

Courtesy of Kino Lorber.
Keaton was recommended for the role by none other than Douglas Fairbanks, who had originated the role onstage. And indeed it does seem tailor made for the stone-faced Keaton, who uses it as a spring board for the character that he would hone in later films such as Battling Butler. As Bertie Van Alstyne, the shiftless air of a wealthy businessman, Keaton must set out on his own and make a man of himself if he has any hope of winning the woman he loves. The Saphead doesn't feature the sort of physical comedy that Keaton would come to be known for, but his deadpan personality imbues it with that familiar, almost innocent, charm.

Yet it feels different, somehow. Keaton isn't in his element here. It's clearly a handsome production, but Keaton is clearly at the mercy of someone else's whims. Still, it's important as a piece of cinematic history, and even as the film seems to meander, it's still impossible to take your eyes off its star.  Keaton had an uncanny knack of making nearly anything funny with just a perfect timed glance, and that instinct is on display here. While the two-reel shorts Keaton was making concurrently with this are far greater showcases of his talents, watching The Saphead with the full knowledge of what Keaton would become offers a unique insight  into one of the cinema's greatest comedic talents. Kino's blu-ray edition treats the film with a reverence perhaps beyond what it deserves on its own, but it's a comprehensive set, including a complete alternate version of the film composed of different takes and angles, along with a history of the two versions. Kino continues its devotion to Keaton's oeuvre with yet another excellent presentation, even if the film in question is ultimately a minor work.

GRADE - ★★½ (out of four)

Now available on DVD and blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

On "The Amazing Spider-Man"


From The Dispatch:
"The Amazing Spider-Man" is a film that works best on an intimate scale, although Webb proves quite adept at directing compelling action sequences. It may have a hokey moment here and there, but Webb unabashedly embraces the old-fashioned grandeur of his subject, highlighted by James Horner's magnificent score. "The Amazing Spider-Man" is unafraid of wearing its heart on its sleeve, and while that may seem a bit naive, there's something refreshing about its unassuming, non-cynical approach.
Click here to read my full review.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Blu-ray Review | "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia"

NOTE: This review was originally published on January 3, 2012. It has been updated to include the new blu-ray release.

The title of Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Once Upon a Time in Anatolia suggests something like a fairy tale. And perhaps somewhere at some time to some one it will be, a tale told to a wide-eyed child on a father's knee, asking for stories of the good old days. At least that's what the characters muse about when faced with its bleak events. But the events they are faced with are anything but childrens' stories.

The film centers around a group of lawmen driving aimlessly through the dark, escorting a murder suspect to the scene of the crime in order to exhume his victim's body. The problem is the suspect doesn't remember where he buried it,  and in the dark all the locations look pretty much the same. So this solemn caravan travels from place to place seemingly searching for a needle in a haystack. Along the way the men share stories from their lives, getting to know each other on this long, grueling night. What they don't know, is that this night will resonate for the rest of their lives. Perhaps not in the fairy tale way they joke about, but internally, in ways they may not realize at first.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan's "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia." 
Courtesy of Cinema Guild.
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is a modest, carefully crafted meditation on truth. Each of its characters are on a journey of discovery, but what makes it so compelling is that no one actually knows it. For everyone involved, this is just another day at the office. You won't find any Hollywood "self discovery" cliches here. No one sets out to find themselves or anything so cliché as that. But what at first seems to be part of the routine in retrospect is anything but. By the end of their trip these men will be forever changed, their perception on truth and the necessity of lies will be completely altered. Once upon a time in Anatolia, a group of men ventured out into the countryside, and they were never the same again.

Ceylan directs with such understated grace that its shifts in tone are almost imperceptible. It is at once a dark comedy and a cerebral examination of essential human truths. It's a slow burner and casual viewers my find it tough going, but the rewards it offers are great indeed. It does drag a bit in the second half, but as Ceylan reveals subtle meanings of his work it becomes more and more engrossing. There are no "twists" per se, but each new gradual revelation feels momentous, as if the audience is joining the characters on their spiritual and intellectual journeys.

It's a deep and complex narrative that reveals itself slowly, taking its time to observe rather than push itself into any kind of unnecessary drama. Ceylan allows the narrative to unfold organically, as the audience slowly reaps its rewards. Each new discovery is as pleasurable and as thought provoking as the last, adding up to a deeply resonant cinematic experience that continues to grow in estimation upon further reflection. Ceylan, the auteur behind such films as Climates and Three Monkeys, makes films that don't seem like much at the time, but the more they are reflected on the stronger they become. The essential truths his characters discover may seem small, even simple, when viewed on a personal level, but their ramifications are tremendous.

Firat Tanis (Murder Suspect Kenan) in "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia." 
Courtesy of Cinema Guild.
They're the kind of universal revelations one can easily apply to their own lives, and that's what makes Once Upon a Time in Anatolia such a treasure. Anatolia could be anywhere, it's protagonists could be anyone. It's characters find comfort in lies when the truth brings impossible pain, and that is the conundrum at the film's quietly naturalistic heart. At what point does a lie become a mercy? Is ignorance really bliss? In a never-ending search for truth, when is a falsehood more of an inherent good than the truth? Even at two and a half hours long, Ceylan weaves a gripping drama that exists in the mythical gray areas between truth and lies, exploring probing questions in endlessly fascinating and enthralling ways. Like a modern day fairy tale it comes with a moral, but unlike the fairy tales we know today this moral doesn't come tied with a bow. It is meant to be contemplated and reflected upon. It's a question, not an answer. But on the lonely back roads of Anatolia, the answer we're looking for may not be the truth at all.

BLU-RAY ADDENDUM: Much like the film it features, Cinema Guild's blu-ray release of Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is thoughtful and complex, a comprehensive collection of features that enhance the film rather than simply take up space on a disc. It's a gorgeous transfer, the company's best yet, but what impresses the most is their refusal to stuff their discs with filler. The centerpiece is a 95 minute behind the scenes documentary that takes an intimate look at the making of the film. Using home video footage as well as interviews with the cast, the doc eschews the typical platitudes and hyperboles of making-of featurettes and offers a fly on the wall glimpse at how the movie was really made.

For those looking for a more scholarly analyzation of the film, look no further than "Lost in Thought," a visual essay by Haden Guest, director of Harvard's Film Archive. Guest dissects the film piece by piece, not only examining its themes and construction, but how it fits in the grand arc of Ceylan's oeuvre as well. An extended interview with the director and 48 minutes of footage from the Cannes Film Festival round out the disc, which stands as a glowing testament to one of this year's best films. With Bela Tarr's The Turin Horse also debuting on blu-ray in the coming weeks, the Cinema Guild is on fire, more than earning their place as one of the world's most exciting indie disturbutors.

GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)

ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA | Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan | Stars  Muhammet Uzuner, Yilmaz Erdogan, Taner Birsel , Ahmet Mumtaz Taylan, Firat Tanis, Ercan Kesal | Not rated | In Turkish w/English subtitles | Opens Wednesday, January 4, at the Film Forum in NYC.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Blu-ray Review | "The Devil's Needle & Other Tales of Vice and Redemption"

The exploitation film is almost as old as cinema itself. As P.T. Barnum once said, "there's a sucker born every minute," and it wasn't long before cinematic hucksters found a way to exploit the new medium of film with the promise of salacious rewards.

One of the fads of the early 1910s that lasted well into the sound era and the time of the Production Code was the social issue film, which played off societal fears under the guise of educating and shining a light on social ills, when their true goal was little more than getting bums on seats.

Kino Lorber, under their Kino Classics label, has released an excellent blu-ray set of three such early exploitation films which, while not necessarily the kind of thing that will be widely popular with casual movie goers, is certainly something to celebrate amongst cinephiles and silent film aficionados.

L-R: Howard Gaye, Tully Marshall, Marguerite Marsh and Norma Talmadge in THE DEVIL'S NEEDLE.
Courtesy of Kino Lorber.

While not exactly what you could call "good" films, these three silent pictures are nonetheless fascinating from a historical perspective. The headliner, The Devil's Needle (1916) tells the story of a young, morphine addicted model (played by the legendary Norma Talmadge), who insists to the struggling artist who is painting her (Tully Marshall) that morphine is "ready made inspiration." The artist, of course, becomes addicted to the drug, and descends into madness, with predictable results. The film was recut and rereleased in 1923 (and is the version presented on this disc), most likely to capitalize on the death of actor Wallace Reid from morphine addiction in true exploitation fashion. It's easily the best of the three films, as its production was overseen by none other than D.W. Griffith and directed by one of his proteges, Chet Withey. It's also very naive and a bit rambling, as was a hallmark of these early grindhouse films, which rarely delivered on their own scintillating promise.

One of the most popular topics for exploitation films in the 1910s was white slave trafficking, and while it was never really a big problem, if it existed much at all, it certainly caused a big scare that movie producers were only too happy to jump on. While the most notorious of these films was perhaps Universal's Traffic in Souls, Frank Beal's The Inside of the White Slave Traffic (1913) was released the same year and caused quite a stir on its own. Purported to be completely factual (with the endorsement of several prominent government figures), the film explored the issue of prostitution with an almost goofy self-seriousness. What's so interesting is that it ultimately amounts to so little. While exploitation films advertised themselves with the most salacious and titillating sounding hyperbole, the films themselves were often dour, aimless affairs, and The Inside of the White Slave Traffic is no different.

The Edison Company production, Children of Eve (1915) is a strange mixture of melodrama and exploitation, drawing on the most outrageous conventions of Victorian theatre and early silent pantomime, Children of Eve tackled the horrendous child labor conditions of the time through a mostly ridiculous family drama. Of all the films featured here, this one is the most steeped in the manipulative naivete of the era, featuring evil capitalists sitting around a table trying to decide how best to murder their child workers. Edison was never known as an artist, and it is clear why here (although the film was directed by one of his employees, John H. Collins). The climactic factory burning sequence, however, is surprisingly harrowing, and was inspired by the tragic destruction of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory four years prior.

Ham fisted and preachy, these early issue driven films are more interesting as a window into another era than anything else. But Kino has treated them with great respect with this blu-ray release, which features raw footage and outtakes from Children of Eve and Inside the White Slave Traffic, as well as terrific liner notes by film historian Richard Koszarski. While time hasn't exactly been kind to these films (the last reel of The Devil's Needle is in especially bad shape), the Library of Congress has preserved these films as a somewhat quaint reminder of not only how far cinema has come, but how exploitation cinema was born, and anyone with a love of film history would do well to seek them out.

GRADE - ★★★ (out of four)

Now available on blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

On "Ted"


From The Dispatch:
It's a bold, raucous comedy that takes no prisoners and shows no mercy, emerging as something both hilarious and yet strangely touching, sustaining its rollicking energy for its entire running time. Not only is it a stroke of comedic genius, "Ted" is one of the funniest movies to come along in years.
Click here to read my full review.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Blu-ray Review | "Little Lord Fauntleroy"

The name Little Lord Fauntleroy has come to be synonymous with overdressed children to the point that most have probably heard the term thrown around at some point or another, but don't necessarily know the origin.

Based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Little Lord Fauntleroy was first adapted for the screen in 1914, followed by a popular silent feature starring Mary Pickford in a dual role in 1921. The definitive version, however, is perhaps John Cromwell's 1936 adaptation produced by mega producer David O. Selznick (who would go on to rack up 10 Oscars three years later for Gone With the Wind), and starring a precocious Freddie Bartholomew and Mickey Rooney.

Bartholomew stars as Ceddie, a young English boy living in America with his mother (Dolores Costello), who he calls "Dearest," after what his late father once called her.

Freddie Bartholomew and Mickey Rooney in LITTLE LORD FAUNTLEROY (1936).
Courtesy of Kino Lorber.
He likes to dress in nice clothes, a leftover habit from his English father, and cruises around the neighborhood on a fancy new bicycle, which earns him the contempt of the local kids, save for one - Dick (Rooney). The qualities that alienate most of the children his own age endear him to the local shopkeepers, who are charmed by his kind, mannerly demeanor. When he receives a message that he is to return to England to inherit has grandfather's estate as Lord Fauntleroy, Ceddie rises to the challenge. His grandfather, however, is a cold man with a deep dislike of Ceddie's mother. Ceddie's charm will not only melt the old man's heart, but reunite his family. But that charm may not be enough to save his title when a new heir to the estate is produced, and it falls to his American friends to ride to the rescue.

There is something almost naive about the upbeat story of Little Lord Fauntleroy. It's a simple children's story, idealistic and dangerously close to cloying, but in the best tradition of Old Hollywood, it's a real treat.  Cromwell infuses the film with that sort of indefatigably positive outlook that so characterized Hollywood films of the era, and it's hard to resist. The new blu-ray by Kino Classics may not be perfect (it's completely devoid of special features and has quite a bit of imperfections in the negative), but overall it's a fine clean up of a lesser known entry into Selznick's canon. Studios don't make movies for kids like this one anymore. You'll be hard pressed to find anything today with this level of emotional punch in the product being shilled on kids today. Little Lord Fauntleroy has personality and heart to spare. It's a product of another time, to be sure, and may seem somewhat corny to the more jaded audiences of today. But sometimes films like this just hit the spot, and this one is simply irresistible.

GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)

LITTLE LORD FAUNTLEROY | Directed by John Cromwell | Stars Freddie Bartholomew, Dolores Costello, Mickey Rooney, C. Aubrey Smith, Guy Kibbee | Not rated | Now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.