Night Nurse (dir. William Wellman, 1931) -
Almost forgot I had watched this relatively inconsequential one filmed during Prohibition (though booze flows freely throughout and a bootlegger is here portrayed in a positive light - gangster with a heart of gold, kinda). But the main focus is on Barbara Stanwyck as a tough-minded nurse assigned to care for an upper crust couple's kids. She starts to suspect something's wrong with them, and not by accident. She and her bootlegger pal plus a kindly doctor crack the case and put the baddies away. That's about it. The writing is OK, though not particularly memorable, and it's interesting that when the gangster has his freinds make a couple *really* bad guys "disappear" it's more or less laughed off on-screen. It's fun to watch, well-acted (note especially Clark Gable as a complete scumbag, along with Stanwyck's tough broad), all good enough while it's going by, but not much is there to stick it in the mind.
A Girl Cut in Two (dir. Claude Chabrol, 2007) -
My first exposure to Chabrol, and I understand that I maybe should've started elsewhere. I liked this quite a bit, though going in I was told "He hates the bourgeois" and that more or less sums up what I got from the film. Both of the wealthy male characters in the film abuse and take advantage (emotionally) of the pretty and somewhat naive girl who is, as the title suggests, cut in two in her emotions that vascillate between the male leads who harbor some largely unexplained hatred for each other. As my first exposure, there will no doubt be more - I'm intrigued - but I somehow suspect that this is not his finest hour, even though I did enjoy it. Le Boucher is sitting as-yet-unwatched on a pile of DVDs at home, so it'll happen soon.
Baise Moi (dir. Virginie Despentes/Coralie, 2000) -
I'm not sure what to make of this unpleasant little cult item. If this graphic sex and violence were presented to audiences by a male director - even with its female anti-heroes - I'm sure it would be savaged critically. And though this mostly enjoys poor ratings around most places I've looked, there are those who see it as some sort of feminist work because the women own their sexuality in the film and go after what they want - both sexually and otherwise. I guess if I felt in watching it that there were any sort of critique of sexism going on rather than just "what's good for the goose is good for the gander" tit-for-tat exploitation, I might be able to buy into some of that. As it is, I feel like I'm watching two female sociopaths posturing for the camera (and the script to some degree acknowledges this, having them at one point discuss finding some more clever one-liners to shout as they dispatch victims - but this ain't Godard, for sure). There's sexual penetration (presented both as pleasant and unpleasant) there's graphic violence (presented as always unpleasant and also presented less convincingly, since you can't, you know, shoot people on film and get away with it usually), and there's very little else. The leads are unlikable, though I guess convincing enough. They're a couple dumb thugs, basically, and when they decide that they just don't give a fuck anymore and are going on a spree, there's very little reason to watch. Feminism here - if you can call it that - is presented as revenge, as getting even, not with as any kind of ideals that the characters follow. You get in their way and they'll fuck you up - whether you're male or female. They're predatory toward some of the men they sleep with (or don't sleep with)(and then kill), they'll go after anyone with enough money to get them to their next stop. I guess I just would've gotten something more out of it than just an unpleasant feeling if these characters weren't such moral zeroes. Luckily the film's only a little over an hour long.
Cabin in the Sky (dir. Vincente Minnelli, 1943) -
Unlike the previous film this was an utter delight, beginning to end. It's Minnelli's directorial debut if I recall correctly and I have to say that this is the finest thing I've ever seen his name on. Music - great; performances - great; story and script - great. I'm interested to hear how it is perceived by African-American critics, because it's unique in being a relatively early film to have an all-black cast but I could see how some would find some of the portrayals stereotypical - if they were convinced that every single person who appears on screen is meant to represent the totaily of the black experience. It's like this - the music is great, the film is witty, the performances are spectacular, with the two leads taking top honors, and both main angel and devil turning in memorable roles and Louis Armstrong in a fantastic small role. A great film, all around.
Urgh! A Music War (dir. Derek Burbidge, 1981) -
Fun. Nobody but the stupid Police are given more than one song, and the print I saw did not have the Pere Ubu performance in it for some reason (and that is one of the main reasons I went to see it). Also missing was Magazine and maybe one or two more performances. But still - lots of great stuff remained, with Gang of Four one of the best, Au Pairs quite fine, and Gary Numan perhaps my favorite of the bunch. Inpsired me to pick up Pleasure Principle, which has been on a back burner for years for me to actually acquire. Anyway, it's certainly a fun snapshot of what was going on in 1981 in the underground/new wave scene, but it didn't make me like Oingo Boingo or The Police or Klaus Nomi any more than before, nor did it make me think X or The Cramps or Devo or Joan Jett or any of the above-mentioned bands were more/less godlike that I already imagined them. They all hit it just right, and lots of bands that we now know weren't going anywhere made the best of their moment in the sun. It's a lot of fun to see and there's a lot of good music. And even the not-as-good music sounds fine in this context, at only one song per band.
Lumet's specialty seems to be characters in desperate straits. I'm thinking Dog Day Afternoon, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, even Twelve Angry Men - all of them have people on the edge. And in two of them, plus this film, they're trying to do whatever they can to save themselves, even though they're so fucked up you kind of know right off the bat that it's not gonna work out. Here, Sean Connery plays a cop investigating a series of rapes of children in his town. Once a suspect is brought in, he gets him alone in the interrogation room and ends up beating him to death. This happens before the credits are over and we back up to see how we got to this point. We are then given a detailed accounting of the interrogation and the aftermath, in which a superior interviews Connery to find out what happened. It's a pretty grim little film - not because of the child-rape subject matter, but because Connery's character is so out there that you suspect he's probably a good cop but a terrible person, and everything we're shown in the course of the film - which is only enough to suggest that his psychological problems run pretty fucking deep - corroborates this idea. Unlike Dog Day (and very much like Before the Devil) though, I had a tough time sympathizing with anybody here, a hard time wondering why I should worry if Connery's cathartic confrontation with his dark mirror image resulted in anything that helped him in the long run. It's well made, and Connery really brings this asshole to life, but the film is a tough pill to swallow.
Whaddami, a producer of remakes to you? I make remakes for you? Is that it?
So I'm sitting here watching the waning moments of Gus Van Sant's head-scratcher reshoot of Psycho (1998), and I happened onto this little tiddy-bit @ the Daily Beast.
Scorsese has pulled off some pretty amazing remakes before - The Departed happens to be one of my favorite films of the last few years - but he's not set to direct this one, Mike Nichols is. The last Nichols I saw was Closer (2004), mostly for the Portman-related content, and it was one of the most dreary and least cinematic movies I think I've ever seen. And a Mamet script? Hmmm, I say, hmmm.
It was an oily black night, as we furrowed down the highway somewhere in Tennessee, when I found my first Cronenberg film, and I was never the same sweet boy after that. I must have been about eleven or twelve, and I remember myself being transfixed by the horror and twisted nature of what was brought before my very eyes. It behooves me to preface the nature of this first encounter with Cronenberg's Scanners as a boy, and the sheer delight of it's happenstance into my lexicon of favorite horror films.
In the early eighties, growing up in Rockford, IL, our local Fox affiliate (Ch. 39) had a monster movie series called "Uncle Don's Terror Theater," which was my gateway to a plethora of films a child should never see before going to bed on a Saturday night, and provided me later as an adult with an obscure filmic vocabulary only suitable for the geekdom so many of us "film brats" halo ourselves with. A fine example of that being "The Mask",1961. A Canadian film made in 3-D, and one of the first films from our great neighbors to the North to be widely distributed in the U.S. Might I add that Mr. Cronenberg is a Canuck himself, and would surely approve of this digression. I remember making that special trip to the gas station in town to purchase my red and blue 3-D glasses for the film that evening with my friends. My dad even drove us, so we could revel in our first 3-D experience in B&W. Yes, long before our road trips as a family to Florida and our whorish indulgence of "Captain Eo" and Epcot there was Uncle Don enlightening me to great films in the horror genre.
It was on of one of those said journeys to the evil empire of Disney, when this story takes place, and so I'll continue without fear of further digression. Our family had invested in an novel black & white portable television in the eighties which was tunable and featured both UHF and VHF signals. So on those long stretches of Americana at night, I would dial in local stations from Illinois to the the gator infested shores of the Sunshine state in hopes of catching some film amidst the white noise of the airwaves. Thanks to the advent of technology and my parents middle class income; I found myself one night, amidst my feverish tuning efforts, watching Scanners, and still to this day cherish it as one of my favorite childhood memories.
At its core, Scanners is billed as a futuristic Sci-fi thriller, but to me still belongs in the horror section between Saturday the 14th and The Serpent and the Rainbow. This is one of the first films, save Carrie, to actually use telekinesis as a integral plot element, and I can't think of many other films that will blown your mind like this Cronenberg masterpiece.
Long before Akira, your favorite Scott Baio movie, or your precious Charles Xavier or Jean Grey in the X-Men, there was Cameron Vale and Darryl Revok in Scanners. I could pontificate heavily on plot points and theory, but I'd rather just tell you to find this rare gem at your local video store and rent it straight away. Halloween is almost here, so treat yourself to a film night with a cult classic in Scanners.
New releases, fresh n' hot!
Today's DVD releases:
Abbott & Costello: Complete Universal Pictures Collection
Assault! Jack the Ripper
Baraka (deluxe edition)
Beyond Elections: Redefining Democracy in the Americas
Body of War
Camp de Thiaroye
Commitment/Unborn (Tokyo Shock release)
Crime and Punishment (1923)
Cult of the Suicide Bomber 2
Kisarazu Cat’s Eye
Kit Kittredge: An American Girl
Annie Leibovitz: Life Through A Lens
Little Rascals: Complete Collection
H.P. Lovecraft Collection Vol. 5
National Lampoon’s Animal House (30th Anniversary edition)
No Mercy, No Future
One California Day
One of Our Aircraft Is Missing
Paradise Lost (collector’s edition contains both Paradise Lost films)
Polar Express (3-D edition) –
Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead (Troma Films release)
Slumber Party Slaughterhouse
Tinker Bell (Disney)
Ulysses (starring Kirk Douglas)
Watcher in the Attic
Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (2 DVD collector’s edition)
Woman on the Beach
Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon
Yeti: A Love Story (A Troma Films release)
A character from John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness peers deep into this Halloween-themed blogpost...
October can be among the best of times for film fans and cineastes, but how's the busy wage-earner/student/cat burglar supposed to stay ahead of the genre curve? Never fear, yo - the Booth is here. Though money may be short, thankfully art is long, and we can help you stay scared in these waning days of the Halloween season with some of our personal horror and thriller faves.
Creepshow (1982) - A George Romero-Stephen King collaboration from the early 1980s with a cast sent from fanboy-heaven (Ed Harris, Gaylen Ross, Leslie Nielsen, Adrienne Barbeau, Hal Holbrook, David Gale, E.G. Marshall, Tom Savini, and King himself, among others), Creepshow is a loving homage to E.C. Comics, ingeniously conceived, with a witty script from King at the height of his powers. I'm still at a loss as to why it still manages to be so woefully underrated, but I have to assume many horror fans were (and are) no doubt looking for something mind-blowing and intense, put off by the film's light touch - it's a shame, since vignettes three and four of Creepshow, "The Crate" and "They're Creeping Up on You" are among the best things Romero (or King) have ever done.
Safe (1995) - Todd Haynes brings his tale of suburban anomie and bodily dissociation filtered through ecological panic to a slow burn early...and lets it simmer..and...simmer. What will happen? Who knows! We've ruined the planet, we're all alone, we're all doomed, and nothing we do can save ourselves or our loved ones, no matter where we hide or how much money we spend. Happy Halloween!
Prince of Darkness (1987) - John Carpenter managed to make a perfect horror flick for Reagantime - Jesus is an alien, Satan's in a jar, and all around us, devil-possessed homeless and hot California winds - that managed to be stark, lean and far-out and trippy all at the same time, confounding critics and audiences. But next to The Thing (1982), this middle installment of John Carpenter's "Apocalypse Trilogy" remains one of his best pure horror films, something that's still unnerving to see 20 years on.
Peeping Tom - Michael Powell - UK - 1960
Psycho made a bunch of money while Peeping Tom destroyed a director’s career. Equal to Hitchcock’s visual genius yet far more sophisticated in its depiction of homicidal pathology, Powell’s serial killer movie is less interested in toying with spectator/character identification and more interested in revealing cinema’s inherent fascination with sadistic voyeurism and murder. This is by far one of the creepiest films I’ve ever seen.
2001: A Space Odyssey - Stanley Kubrick - USA - 1968
Although this is obviously one of, if not the greatest science fiction movie of all time, I consider it one of the greatest horror films of all time. There’s something about mankind’s unwavering toil to “advance” itself back to a stage of infancy that I find enthralling and truly terrifying. Living inside a talking computer suspended in outer space is my idea of horror.
Thirteen - Catherine Hardwicke - USA - 2003
We live in a sick, sad and twisted nation and it’s all aimed at our female youth. If and when you have a daughter of your own, you will understand why I consider this a horror movie; it scared the bejesus out of me. Be afraid. Be very afraid of your little girl’s teenage years.
Mother's Day - Total trash, and yet I can't stop renting it every few years after the initial seven or eight times I saw it back in the 80's. The short version: three college friends reunite for a camping trip in an ill-chosen stretch of woods populated by "Mother" and her two idiotic sons who she's trained since childhood to protect her from "Queenie," her beast-like sister who may or may not even exist. The women are kidnapped, brutalized, escape, and exact their revenge, following the classic exploitation formula. But performances, dialogue, and set design of Mother's house are so great (for me) that they rise above most of the competing objets d'trash from the era.
Nosferatu - 1979, the Herzog remake of the Murnau classic. Kinski is as classic as Schreck in the role and Bruno Ganz is way more intriguing. I also like that Herzog changes the end to keep the film in line with the absolute aura of dread that permeates the whole enterprise. See the original, sure, but this one's way more empty and filled with despair for my money.
Day of the Dead - Until the recent couple of Dead films, this was widely considered the worst of the series (maybe still is?). But I love it and have fond memories, partly because my friend and I snuck in to see it. Well, we didn't exactly sneak in, but we were 16 and the film was released without a rating, meaning that no one under 17 could go, period. So we went to Aurora Mall to see it, held our licenses about 6 feet away from the girl working the booth and she (kindly) let us in anyway, even though there's no possible way she could've made out our birthdates. For that I got to see a man torn in half, a group of unpleasant people screaming at each other for two hours, a muddled ending (a dream? not a dream?) and a totally hopeless and bleak vision of zombie apocalypse that in retrospect is quite apropos to the middle of the Reagan era. I love it. Love it love it love it.
All I have to say is this:
An American Werewolf in London is the greatest horror flick ever.
The Thin Man. Directed by W.S. Van Dyke. Screenplay by Albert Hackett & Frances Goodrich. Based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett. Starring William Powell & Myrna Loy.
FREE! Special 35mm Screening ONE NIGHT ONLY this Tuesday, October 28th @ 7PM at the Starz Filmcenter. Click here for more info about the One Book, Many Films Series.
The undead have arrived. They're everywhere. I advise you to gather your guns, machetes, plenty of water and wear dark, tight-fitting clothing. And your running shoes. Head for the plains. Stay in a group. And always remember to somehow puncture the brain.
For more helpful hints on how to survive a zombie infestation, I suggest picking up a copy of Max Brook's The Zombie Survival Guide from your local bookstore on your way outta town. Trust me, it will save your life.
Video courtesy of Ryan Kelley.
"Double-Oh-Seven, you must stop ACORN! They're destroying the very fabric of democracy itself!!!111!"
High-art-cinema-revolutionary-poet-guy Chris Marker commits his animal totem to Change, and: if Daniel Craig thinks the dashing Obama makes a better Bond, what does this make John McCain?
Please insert lame-o hot suicide bomber joke caption here.
Day Night Day Night (2006) - A short, spare film - so lean and stripped down that even the title makes reference only to the order of plot's events - that features a stupendous performance by novice actress Luisa Williams. From the very start, Day Night Day Night hones in on the troubled face of a nameless, feckless, possibly-Muslim-wanna-be Times Square suicide bomber, and keeps us there throughout to powerful effect. While director Julia Loktev may not have created a wholly believable film (how can you make a movie about a suicide bomber sans politics?) she and Williams have nevertheless created an irresistable lead in spite of the unsteady ground their effort teeters on: a delicate, bird-like little girl, nibbling on junk food and much too polite for the mall much less New York City, she follows every gesture on her behalf with a breathy and lilting "Thank you," even for the driver dropping her off to the spot where she'll be killing herself.
Redbelt (2008) - Pretend, for a moment, that yours truly is not some penniless grad student a-blog-blog-bloggin' away with his movie store buddies, but a Rocky Mountain superstar film programmer (I don't know if there is such a thing as a professional film programmer, but we're pretending). And pretend that I'm asked to program a series on Bush Time - the deal is no docs, all narrative. So first up's The Departed (2006). And then comes David Mamet's Redbelt.
Redbelt of course runs through all the regular Mamet tropes - tough guys, tough guytalk (or apparently, how Mamet thinks tough guys talk), the limits of belief and honor. And while the film is, in essence, an update on the B-boxing flick, complete with the borderline-ridiculous and dastardly plot "pivot" to put our hero Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor, perhaps one of the most engaging and able actors ever to utter one of those insy-outsy Mamet lines of dialogue) into the ring, on the whole it also manages to be Mamet's most cinematic, as well as one of the most subtle and politically elegant - if there is such a thing as political elegance, but maybe you can pretend a little more with me - politically elegant films of the last few years.
Forget, if you can, Mamet's oddly-reckoned turn away from...well, it's hard to tell what, exactly. Something about hack economist Thomas Sowell and JFK. Forget that shit, though. It might just be Ejiofor's excellent, controlled perfomance in the demand for clarity his bruised and cheated character makes at the end of Redbelt, but I think there's more - more like compassion for what the characters are going through, real compassion, not faux-tough-guy compassion - and it shows a piece of drama underneath the pulpy trappings that's bigger than the rest of the flick.
Iron Man (2008) / The Incredible Hulk (2008) - One a new entry in the Marvel movie canon, the other a reboot after the lovely and odd and arty Ang Lee entry failed to impress fanboys: what makes, for me, the spate of comic book flicks so rewarding is seeing a director (Tim Burton, once upon a time, or Sam Raimi, or Chris Nolan) fall in love with a book's protag, and it looks like Jon Farveau might be on his way to making magic with Tony Stark - a super-brilliant, adult-adolescent, playboy-inventor assembled from Robert Downey Jr.'s unused acting tics and too-cool-for-school attitude, who seems genuinely surprised his throwaway character has won so many fans. Farveau himself is hip enough to know what makes a movie like this work: an incredibly cool guy in an incredibly cool flight suit with bombs and lasers and shit, and a measure of believability. It doesn't gamble on throwing itself head-first into the real world or at more serious themes, like Raimi's emo Spidey or the Nolan's end-of-the-century musings, but Iron Man does at least turn and face the idea that if there was a guy who made wonderful weapons, those weapons would more than likely be used on poor people living near or over oil wells. Oh, and that corporate heads - well, the CFOs, anwyay - are totally fucking evil.
This new Hulk moves the spotlight away from Ang Lee's meanderings (the only character he really cared for was Mr. Green, and the detached and stiff tone of the Hulk-less scenes bogged an otherwise excellent movie down) and onto Norton's solid portrayal of Bruce Banner via Bill Bixby - apparently, Norton's a big TV-Hulk fan who collaborated on drafts of the script - and the rest of cast looks like they're enjoying themselves. This makes up for a lot: Edward Norton's Hulk does indeed use the catchphrase, and he and the Abomination (a properly bitter Blonsky, played by Tim Roth) exact lots of damage on Harlem and New York, and the film puts the tussle between the two gods of late-20th century America the best versions of the comic looked at - the military and science - into crisp perspective, but the last third of the film feels hemmed in and way-too-tight: there's rumoured to be a 120-minute plus version of the flick somewhere out there, but the DVD release carries about 10 or 15 minutes of exposition the movie could've sorely used.
There's a larger effort afoot to create some kind of Avengers movie event, and because of this, neither of the more recent Marvel entries, despite all their class, their declared devotion to the comic continuity, and their superficially sharp performances, they dpn't feel like whole movies, but merely pitstops on a way to $8-dollar-slurping sequels. I'm liking what I'm seeing, but I don't like being taken for a sucker - at least, right up front, with only a bit of pretense - even less.
Eva Green wants you to be very, very, very bad, and spend money you don't have on the collector's edition of Casino Royale.
Today's DVD releases:
Birds of America
Bride of the Monster
Casino Royale (40th Anniversary edition)
Casino Royale (2006) (collector’s edition)
Creature From the Haunted Sea
Die Another Day (2 DVD ultimate edition)
Dr. No (2 DVD ultimate edition)
Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
Flight of the Red Balloon
For Your Eyes Only (2 DVD ultimate edition)
From Russia With Love (2 DVD ultimate edition)
Incredible Hulk (2008)
In the Family
The Last Man on Earth
Live and Let Die (2 DVD ultimate edition)
The Living Daylights (2 DVD ultimate edition)
Missing (Criterion Collection directed by Costa-Gavras)
Kenji Mizoguchi’s Fallen Women (Eclipse box set contains: Osaka Elegy, Sisters of the Gion, Street of Shame, Women of the Night)
Mondays in the Sun
Moses and Aaron
Octopussy (2 DVD ultimate edition)
On the Rumba River
Phantom From Space
Return to Sleepaway Camp
Six in Paris (1965)
Taxi Tonight/Diecovery (double feature)
Thunderball (2 DVD ultimate edition)
Warner Bros. Gangsters Collection Vol. 4 (box set)
"This is a tough movie...about real people!"
John Stewart cracked a brilliant joke his first time 'round at the Oscars that once Hollywood deigned to make a movie about some social problem, of course, that problem was solved forever.
It may not make much sense to point this out on a movie blog, but really, it's a good idea to know when to say when. It's not like the first go 'round was really all that.
This doesn't feel like socially conscious filmmaking, it's cashing in. No problem-solving here. It's like a fucking outtake from The Player.
L.A. Confidential. Directed by Curtis Hanson. Screenplay by Curtis Hanson & Brian Helgeland. Based on the novel by James Ellroy. Starring Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, James Cromwell, Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger, David Strathairn & Danny DeVito.
FREE! Special 35mm Screening ONE NIGHT ONLY this Tuesday, October 14th @ 7PM at the Starz Filmcenter.
Click here for more info about the One Book, Many Films Series running every Tuesday through October 28th.
The four films by Stan Brakhage that are part of the By Brakhage Criterion set that precede Dog Star Man.
Desistfilm - Stan and buddies hanging out, and if at first it feels like a drunken Beat home movie, it starts - via some clever camerawork - to evolve into something slightly more than a first person view of their party. Maybe it doesn't go quite as far as Scorpio Rising and maybe it was never meant to, but it's an influence that makes me think of Kenneth Anger's later film regardless. But it still kinda feels like a home movie with cool shots.
Wedlock House - Stan and Jane moodily lit in kitchen and other rooms, in something I'd call sexually explicit in intent, if not execution. It's not meant merely to arouse though, so maybe not. I guess it more sends out a mood of love and marriage, complete with not too heavy meanings, a lot of light and shadow, some pensive glances, some naughty parts - in short, a quick take on the ups and downs of a young person's marriage.
Cat's Cradle - I can't remember this as much, probably because of the abstraction level. While the previous two are certainly more emotive than plot-driven, this one goes further out. Stan and Jane again, plus two friends. They discuss, they move around the room and the frame. They get intercut with shots of the cat. Sound may also have been an element, though again I'm not drawing it to mind. Not my favorite of the early works.
Window Water Baby Moving - The big famous one - or one of them, anyway. Stan is there to document Jane's experiences (and his own) during the late stages of pregnancy. It gives more measure to her experience and joy though it does not exclude his own happiness and willingness to work through the labor with her. It's a really beautiful thing. I'd say everyone should see this to get a sense of the joy and wonder that's possible with a couple having a child, but I'm sure some people would find that idea in itself polemic.
Mothlight - And abstraction goes to its ultimate point. But even so, there's an intelligence behind the design. If you think of it like a moth, flitting from green grasses to colorful flowers to light and shadow and back, you get a sense of what the film's doing. Drink it in and don't worry about the details like that. And if you choose to view it frame by frame, you'll be treated to some lovely stills. But it really was designed to flow beginning to end and it does. Loverly.
Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom (dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1975) -
Listen, I rent tripe sometimes, I admit it. This has a good reputation and co-stars the very handsome Vincent D'Onofrio - the only reason to watch the film. He's good (and handsome) and still isn't able to unburden this film from the concepts it applies to its secondary story of a small town writer (Robert E. Howard) longing for a more bohemian lifestyle than his tight relationship with his sick mother would permit. So his fantasy worlds are externalized on the soundtrack as he acts them out, talks in concepts that begin in capital letters and has an on-and-off relationship with Novelyne Price (played in typically so-so fashion by Renee Zellwegger) - and this constitutes the main story of the film. The basis of a good film is here, based on Price's own account of the pair's relationship, but the central focus on Price (and thus, Zellweger), the overall inability to follow its most interesting character or make its central character more interesting and its tendency to corny old-fashioned-isms makes it just annoying. All I could think was how much better a film this might have been if it were told from Howard's point of view, without the sound effects, the capital letter ideas, and without Zellweger. I'll say this - it's not your typical rom-com, though it's surely Romantic with a capital R, and I still wish they'd done more with it.
The Fall of the House of Usher (dir. Jean Epstein, 1928) -
Of course I wanted to see what Bunuel did on this, but it's really Jean Epstein's film all the way. Poe's story is shifted around a bit to meet his needs and an incestuous vibe radiates from the film that I don't recall from the story (though it's been forever since I read it). Anyway... the visuals are exceptionally striking here - the grand room with almost no furnishings, the painting that's sometimes portrait, sometimes model, and constantly changing regardless, the unrealistic (and I'd say deliberately so) image of the house in the foggy moor, the long hallway full of blowing curtains and leaves; they all go to engender the same kind of doomy atmosphere that Poe created, even if specifics of plot vary between the two versions. But as an adaptation it's quite good, at once honoring the story and making its own vision known. Poe fans ought to be able to overlook the minor story variances in favor of the major success at capturing the dread and horror that Poe sought so often.
Rio Bravo (dir. Howard Hawks, 1959) -
Spectacularly entertaining - so much so, and so well made that I didn't ever stop to think about politics, which fall into a typical "average folks of town vs. rich land/cattle/whatever baron," or to put it more bluntly, the common American theme of capital power and privilege vs. the underclass, represented here by the aged, the young, and sheriff John Wayne, representing the law. But also, interestingly, by Dean Martin (excellent here) who's a recovering alcoholic (from before that term even had any meaning in the public sphere of consciousness), a strong woman in Angie Dickinson, a woman whose past may be tainted but it's not held against her by any of the characters, and a Mexican who works with the Anglos and pays with his life for the transgression. But the siege on the jail where the thoroughly corrupt baron's utterly lawless brother is being held is terrific - a sustained set piece of rising and falling action that Hawks plays masterfully. And the baron himself is a terrific villain in a long line of bad Western characters who pay lip service to the law when it serves them but have no intention of actually following it if it impedes their progress. The more I see this the more I'm convinced it's a masterwork.
Early Spring (dir. Yasujiro Ozu, 1956) -
He Walked By Night (dir. Alfred L. Werker, 1948) -
A bit stiff for my tastes though two things really stand out as superb - Richard Basehart's performance as the sociopathic thief/killer and the big chase through the sewers at the end. Basehart is marvelous, predating the modern cold-blooded killers of any film I can think of by at least two decades. Maybe if I give it some thought... But still - his disinterest in how his actions affect others is chilling and his calculating methods point a line right to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, to a way less glamorized Hannibal Lecter (like Brian Cox's Lecter, not Anthony Hopkins's), etc. There's no big flashy neon arrow pointing at him to say "Evil!" he's just ruthless in his pursuit of what he wants. And the sewer chase - terrific, and predating the famous Third Man chase by a year. My friend Josh suggests that Jacques Tourneur (or was it Jules Dassin? Sam Fuller maybe?) actually shot those scenes, and I'd buy that for sure - the visual flair of the climactic ending goes against the flat, documentary-type style of much of the police procedural that leads up to it. Anyway, an interesting and grim bit of noir with a couple touches that set it apart. I guess in that it's like most noirs that have a couple great ideas and then a lot of shadowy shots of L.A. to fill in the requisite moodiness. No sleazy private dick here though, and no femme fatale. Just a chilling sociopath who uses the sewers.
The Earrings of Madame de... (dir. Max Ophuls, 1953) -
And still more infidelity on parade, this time offered up cheerfully and with a good ultimate purpose - wife and husband both fulfill a fantasy and strengthen their marriage by sleeping with other people. How's that for a charming family comedy? This film gets away with murder, metaphorically speaking. Not only do husband and wife sleep with others and have their marriage not just intact but improved by the experience, on the way from point A to point B we get: tons of very physical humor that borders on the outright sexually provocative (gasp!); even more verbal humor and double entendres that do the same; a known prostitute as our main heroine and a wife who's happy to trade places with her (temporarily of course, but still...); Dean Martin playing a downright unflattering caricature of himself as a sex maniac unable to go one night "without it." And there's surely more I'm forgetting. Oh, like the insanely jealous husband assaulting the 14-year old piano student he's supposed to be teaching and accusing the kid of sleeping with his wife. I mean, this really pushes some heavy buttons for its time. My friend suggested that this film may single-handedly have been responsible for our modern rating system and though I don't think this was tit-for-tat responsible for giving us the "R," it'd be hard to argue that between the image of Dean Martin drinking out of Kim Novak's shoe and then feeling her up and the bawdy dialogue throughout that it provided some heavy ammunition for those who'd push for a more child-restricted theater environment. It's funny, yes, but it a really sly and tense way. Ray Walston's performance is a little on the creepy side and I'm sure it's 100% intentional from Wilder. Script is fantastic - good plotting and great dialogue throughout. Billy Wilder is sure to be someone I obsess about soon (though not like Walston's character, I hope).
Charade. Directed by Stanley Donen. Written by Marc Behm & Peter Stone. Starring Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Walter Matthau & James Coburn.
FREE! Special 35mm Screening ONE NIGHT ONLY this Tuesday, October 7th @ 7PM at the Starz Filmcenter.
Click here for more info about the One Book, Many Films Series playing every Tuesday evening through October 28th.
Hey...is that from a Clash song?
There's a neat piece in this morning's NYT about the flagship flicks of the 46th annual NY Film Festival, and if what they're showcasing is any indication, this fall may coincidentally be all about what it means to have hope and what it's really like to have change.
First in the line-up is Steven Soderbergh's 257-minute - that's Two. Five. Seven. - bio of Che Guevara as portrayed by Bencio Del Toro, which the Times describes as "Ocean's Eleven with better cigars"; other reviewers, however, have not been so kind. It'll be interesting to see first hand how his Soderberghness does on such a big, broad canvas, since my favorite Soderberghs - Solaris (2002), Bubble (2005) - have been so minimal.
At least, if La Darghis has it, Che's interesting: Clint Eastwood's Changeling, which Wikipedia describes as "a period thriller" based on an infamous 1920s murder in California (and subsequent media circus), apparently "adds no luster to Mr. Eastwood's reputation or the festival's." Yikes.
That's just Manohla Dargis, though, for whom "cranky" would be a compliment; other looks at Che and Changeling can be found here and here, respectively.
I guess it begs the question, then, with the aforementioned W. opening in another week or so, is it going to be an overtly crass political season fall and winter at the movies, instead of a subtle and poetic one, like last year's?
W., the site, is up. A super-brilliant Friend o' Teh Booth says that the film'll work if Stone goes gonzo - more NBK than Nixon - instead of proverbially putting Dub on the proverbial couch (though Lance Mannion makes a case). Alas, the Big O isn't happy making movies, HE MAKES FILMS. What's out there and on the site (check out some of the still photos in the gallery links) looks like he didn't give short shrift to the jaw-dropping absurdity of the last eight-but-feels-like-32 years, so maybe this FILM will have the goofy to make a tonic for the stupidity of the next 30-odd days.