Essential Movie Critic: Pauline Kael

DATELINE: Role Over Model

A documentary on the life of movie critic Pauline Kael would seem to be counter-productive. The late genius of insight into movies was hardly the stuff of action melodrama, but this film takes on her life—unwed motherhood, marriages of convenience, a history of working in low-level jobs trying to find herself.

What She Said is about the art of Kael. It is more about words than images. For that reason it is a topic doomed to be wordy and not visual, yet there are plenty of home movies and photos of Kael. That notion might not please her. Her ideas were the key.

When she first sells a movie review in the early 1950s to the New Yorker, it was a scathing attack on Charlie Chaplin’s bloated egotistic movie, Limelight. It won her an audience and a career.

Her insights into movies, which she loved as a medium, contain brilliant insights that some movie makers in this film tell us were influential to their productions. We don’t believe it. They may have read Kael, but it was to see how she shot down their rivals.

We would have preferred a film in which someone simply read some of her most scathing comments about well-known films over her life. She collected about 14 books of her critiques. And, they are delightful to read.

Sometimes she is utterly wrong about a film and its importance, but she always gives an interesting perspective on what the cultural or artistic value really may be. Her views are meant for the wider, lasting meaning of life in the film world.

We admire Kael and used to read her work when it came out. It frequently put good movies into a framework, and bad movies into a trash can.

She might have been the first to tell you this documentary is unnecessary and superfluous. Just read her books.

New Book of Movie & TV Reviews

 “A compendium of enormous balderdash and overwrought and underthought insights!”

Mal Tempo, Long Time Ago book consultant


If you enjoy Ossurworld’s movie and television reviews, with their unique and odd insights into what’s really happening in your favorite movies, then you are in luck! 

Red Carpet Tickets: Movie & TV Reviews collects the best of the blog reports in one place for easy access and reading.

The books is available for smarter readers, both in e-book and print formats, from Amazon.

If you want the perfect time-killer, Red Carpet Tickets is your ticket to ride. 

Ossurworld’s blogs on movies (& TV streams) select only films that you can and should devote time to watching. Bad films are rarely considered for examination. Bloated budgets, ridiculous acting, and skimpy budgets, will not hurt a film’s chances if something intelligent is presented. Ossurworld will let you know.

You can find Ossurworld’s new book online by simply clicking on this blue highlight!

Red Carpet Tickets: Movie & TV Reviews.  (This blog is a self-serving, commercial, and otherwise blatant attempt to win your appreciation of our mini-labors of Hercules.)

Therapeutic Blood Transfusion

DATELINE: Interview with a Vampire

Therapy for a Vampire takes the topic done to death on TV’s True Blood and injects it with some Geritol.on-the-couch

A German film with subtitles, sorry, bloodsuckers, this little gem takes place in 1932 around the time of Dracula was first coming out of Transylvania. This time the Count of a thousand years consults Sigmund Freud to find some understanding of his plight.

Needing nightly sessions with Freud, the Count just requires some friendly counseling.  The entire film is done deadpan, which is nothing short of keeping up the genre.

Psychoanalysis is the secondary target in the blood-letting. The Count’s wife wants to see herself after 1000 years without a mirror image, and therein comes complications.

The story uses wit, traditional lore, and plays off the tired clichés of vampires with panache. Life has lost its bite for Tobias Moretti as the count and his shrew of a wife, played by Jeanette Hain. They are utterly wonderful to behold. She frequently puts the Count down for the count.

The vampire couple has a parallel in Viktor and Lucy who become more than pointed foils. Each of the mortals find themselves paired off with the estranged strange couple.

Writer and director David Ruhm has picked the right film subject to introduce himself to a wider audience. If you want a Halloween film to put yourself into the holiday mood, you might just find a respite out of the crypt in this delightful piece of fluff.

Oscar Ignores Bessie Smith’s Story Too

DATELINE: Movies about People

With the Oscars embroiled in charges of racial bias, HBO continues to produce interesting and diverse films that are ineligible for the Academy Award. One of this year’s best movies is relegated to a second tier and second class status.

Talk about injustice.

This year’s Bessie is a classic example. Before Hattie McDaniel and Ethel Waters, there was Bessie Smith. She just didn’t sing the blues. She lived the blues.

Queen Latifah never fails to surprise. And, with this film, she plays the great blues singer of the 1920s, Bessie Smith, with an elan seldom seen in performances. She clearly identifies with the benighted black singer who rose from obscurity, fell back, and rose again to a comeback with the likes of Benny Goodman.

As producer and star, Queen Latifah is the real story. Her talents range from comedy to tragedy—and she can sing too.

As Bessie, Latifah has met a subject she can sink her teeth into. And the film depicts the black audiences of segregated days with their own star system. Mo’Nique matches Queen scene for scene as her mentor and friend Ma Rainey.

Like Latifah, Bessie Smith was tough and brash. She had to be to succeed in the barnstorming days of musical acts from the American South that played to the affluent black audiences of its day.

Once again, the surprise may be how much American culture is derived from these entertainment pioneers in music. The black culture seems cutting edge, precursors to the attitudes and style to develop in white America decades later.

Audiences that miss Latifah’s Bessie may also miss a chance to learn what great talent truly is.

Interstellar: Squirming Through the Wormhole


Featured imageNope, they’re not in it.

You know you are facing a daunting “important” movie when it clocks in at nearly three hours in a snail’s pace.

Director Christopher Nolan is doing a big movie—big ideas, big screen, big stars—and don’t you forget it, Stanley Kubrick fans. This movie is one-upsmanship over the top.

Yes, the yardstick for Interstellar seems to be a movie made in 1968. It tries to do everything in duplicate, if not triplicate, including confusing movie climax with special effects. Who knows what they are talking about in the exposition?

After two hours of mumbo jumbo, you just wish someone with speed up the Warp Drive and cue Spock.

This movie ought to be called star-studded, or interstellar. It’s what you’d call a bunch of familiar faces—some now so old you think you know them but can’t be sure—but yes, that looks like Ellen Burstyn, or William Devane. And, the cameos come to beat the band. Our favorite is Matt Damon. But there are a half dozen others.

Forget dealing with one HAL computer because you have two mobile versions, including one that cracks jokes.

But, oh, so slowly.

It almost seems as if each major segment (and there are plenty segments) could be done in half the time in another dimension. The stars need to emote for their money: they must show off all their personalities, lest their fans feel cheated. We kept looking for Keir Dullea, but didn’t see him.

The actors deserve credit for faking it with all these special effects. We felt overwhelmed with noise and explosions. And, you know how much we treasure that stuff.

Oh, there are space aliens hanging around this movie, but like 2001:A Space Odyssey, they are always off camera.

If you like your epics filled with sophistry and crypto-science, you may have found a winner in the wormhole.


Black Bird Still Provides Dreams


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We can’t recall the last time we watched The Maltese Falcon, and time has made us grow fonder.

What a brilliant work: cynical, sophisticated, timely, with great performances up and down. We noticed this time that Walter Huston, director John Huston’s father, had an unbilled cameo as a sea captain.

We relished the other scenes that came back to us: Peter Lorre and his phallic cane and gardenia scented calling card. There was no homophobia back then. Kaspar Gutman clearly had more than a father-son relationship with his “gunsel” Elisha Cook, Jr.

Had we forgotten what a romantic cad Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade truly was? He had been sleeping with his partner’s wife and disdained her.

He may have fudged feelings, or used them ruthlessly as part of his job as a detective. His repartee with the Fatman, Sydney Greenstreet, was a delight. And, Huston filled the screen with a wide shot of the Gutman’s gut. You might wonder why Greenstreet’s billing was so low—but it really was his debut as a nemesis for Warner Brothers crime dramas.

Mary Astor’s deadly female was far more nuanced than we had thought, though she could not be believed as Spade realized.

The cops are Barton McLaine and Ward Bond, bad and good, but playing the stereotype with freshness.

As for that Black Bird, his entrance always is hilarious and staggering, unwrapped amid the drooling pursuers.

For decades, detective movies have used this template, but this one is the original—and it seems almost effortless from directing, writing, and performing. What a treat.





Slow West Goes with Young Man




Kodi Smit-McPhee Featured image


With original Westerns nearly a lost art, we always look to see what a fresh eye sees. In Slow West, we have a Fellini-style picaresque adventure. It almost seems like Satyricon goes on horseback.

Michael Fassbender is extremely well-suited as a mysterious bounty hunter who befriends an ethereal young man on a quest. It seems the stranger in a strange land is everyone you meet.

Kodi Smit-McPhee makes an indelible presence. He seems to be the epitome of a nouveau Anthony Perkins—fey and pasty, not exactly Western hero material. That he rides around hatless and stays in the proper pale rider mode may be an interesting commentary.

Death seems to follow the gunslinger, but the root cause may be the more unexpected young gentleman whose idea of a goal is to find that sunset.

Director and writer John Maclean makes an auspicious film, though we suspect Westerns are not the ultimate goal for any of the principals. That they manage to fit into an old genre like old cowhands may be testimony to the actors’ range as much as being home on the range in New Zealand where the picture was filmed.

It’s always a delight to find a movie that comes out of nowhere with panache, and it is a double delight to find a young star that makes us curious as to where he can go and what he can do.

Smit-McPhee demands you keep an eye out for his break-out film role, though it may not be as a superhero as much as the hero’s nemesis. Not yet twenty, the actor transcends anyone else in his generation. He may end up competing with Nicholas Hoult for roles of a stripe.

Hoult has already gone the blockbuster route with cartoon characters in superhero stories. Let’s hope Kodi holds out for better.

Tuning into Turner


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We feel a great privilege to have seen Mr. Turner with grumpy Timothy Spall as JMW Turner, one of the 19th centuries most intriguing and under-appreciated seascape artists.

Like most artists or creative people with more than a streak of genius, Turner was boorish, unsocial, and a curmudgeon. He had an eye for color that made up for his personal imperfections. Beneath the surface, he was a man true to himself.

Timothy Spall is perfection, giving one of those tour de force performances that too few people saw, and which denied him the accolades and Oscar he deserved for this work.

A man who did not mince words (when he used them), Turner did all for his art. And, the film is luscious with sunrises and sea scenes that Turner took pains to depict as accurately as his brushes could.

Mr. Turner was odd, to say the least, being a hopeless daddy’s boy—and Daddy pleasantly made sacrifices unto old age to make sure conditions were appropriate for his son’s work.

The film portrays the 19th century in all its class-conscious detail, and the film reeks of atmosphere when required. But, the exquisite goes hand in glove with the ugly.

Small encounters highlight the film. When Turner visits a new fangled photography parlor, he is fascinated and appalled. He mutters he is grateful the camera does not take pictures in color.

If one critic claimed Turner was sublime and ridiculous, so was the world in which the painter worked.

Moving as slowly as the pace of life back then, you must fall into the cadence and morals of the era. The film is a treat in how it transports the viewer into another world.

Seeing a dozen cookie-cutter action films can be tolerated if we have the occasional masterpiece to savor. This continues a streak of brilliant biographical films we have so enjoyed—Theory of Everything, Imitation Game, and Foxcatcher, have restored our faith in superior filmmakers. Add Mr. Turner to the list—and it is a banner year.


Beginning with an Ending



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We begin with a timely end.

The End of Time by Canadian filmmaker Peter Mettler is one of those documentary movies that we prefer not to talk about. We want to keep this extradordinary cult film to ourselves. We don’t want others criticizing it, misunderstanding it, or worse fawning over it with false praise.

The film meanders around the time/space continuum. Whether we are at a funeral pyre in India, or watching the slow progress of lava in Hawaii marking both a beginning and end, we are acutely aware that time is a thief, a crook, a misbegotten monster, and our captor.

Mettler throws together everything from time lapse surprises to an ice cream truck ringing its chimes through the empty streets of decaying Detroit. We try to put our mind around the concept that time is the same word as weather in other languages and cultures.

Spectacular images from the film’s start include footage of a free fall off a balloon by a man in 1957 from 20 miles above Earth.

We can find ourselves spinning with the Cern collider or watching the stars from a planetarium’s mountaintop.

The narration is minimal by director Mettler, almost matter of fact. After all, what can you say about something evasive and cruel?

Does time exist at all? Is it merely the vanity of the semi-intelligent creatures who populate this corner of the universe?

No, we want to keep this film our personal secret. To watch it now and then a hundred times will not waste time.

Iranian Vampires


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If you ever needed an antidote to the blood curdling TV series called True Blood, you may have found it with Ana Lilly Amirpour’s no frills vampire film, A Girl Walks Home Alone at NIght.

Set in Bad City, somewhere in the Arab world, maybe Iran, the cast speaks Farsi, though one of the stars of the Blacklist is featured in the movie (Mozhan Marno). She’s a far distance from one of Red’s FBI agents here.

Arash Marandi is a James Dean type who drives a little old T-bird and has all the pouting mixed sexuality required. He decides to go to a costume party as Dracula, but he meets a real life vampire on the way home. As the Girl, Sheila Vand is suitably creepy in her black cape on a skateboard she steal from a little boy

The film echoes the 1950s, Fellini, bad horror movies, and manages to make it rather hypnotic. If you are looking for the sort of action-packed silliness of American vampire movies, forget it. This is a slow moving tale with few special vampire effects, but the images shown are rather startling.

Can a sweet boy find happiness with a real vampire? It sort of follows True Blood in some ways, but this black and white dark vision will only appeal to the adult viewers who liked Jim Jarmusch’s little foray into the vampire world earlier this year.

All the best scenes are not in the movie—and when you check on the deleted scenes in the DVD, you realize that the director wants to give us less. We applaud any attempt to stay away from needless excess when it comes to vampire lore.

This was a Sundance film despite its Iranian trappings. And, it is clearly out of the American pop music and film school. The characters love that stuff.

We wonder where the director will go next.

Low Rent Hitchcock Always Nicer than No Hitchcock


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Scrumptious Couple

We took in—again—Julien Duvivier’s marvelous little thriller from the late ‘60s that has a freshness about it that seems contemporary.

Diabolically Yours features beauty hiding evil everywhere.

Start with Alain Delon and Senta Berger never more stunning. They are a beautiful husband and wife, or at least they seem to be. They are rich and live on a gorgeous estate in a house decorated with Ming Dynasty treasures. Everything is lovingly filmed. They made two versions, one in French and one in English. Either is fine.

The problem is that gorgeous George Campo has amnesia after a car accident and nothing quite is familiar to him. His wife is a bit standoffish—and his best friend happens to be his doctor. Throw in a Chinese manservant who is inscrutable, but keeps all Madame’s clothes in his room with a lifesize mannequin of her to dress.

Poor George! Even his dog doesn’t like him. But his wife keeps feeding him those sleeping pills and refusing conjugal visits. It’s enough to make you start looking for dead bodies in the garden.

Short and slow until its sudden denouement, this is one of those classic French mysteries that used a Hitchcock template after Hitch stopped making his kind of movies.

This had a style reminiscent of Reflections in a Golden Eye, made around the same time, and also a contemporary flopperoo. But, audiences then are less astute than today when we have to shop in the past since the only fare nowadays is superhero light.

If you want a tantalizing mystery for 90 minutes with a hilarious sudden ending of poetic justice, then you could do worse than spending some time puzzling over this dittie.


Delon and Berger were never more beautiful and delicious.