Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Hell In The Pacific (1968)

Dir: John Boorman

Even though this is my third entry on the films of John Boorman, I've watched 6 so far and the main thing I can say about his early films is that they are about genre deconstruction. Every film is technically a genre film; Zardoz is sci-fi, Point Blank crime, Deliverance a thriller, and Hell in the Pacific is a World War II movie, but with those broad genre tags you would have no idea what kind of film you were actually about to see. With Hell in the Pacific we're not even explicitly told that it is set during WWII. This is one of the many strengths of the film as we are never given any real information on anything. The story begins with two men, Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune (what a cast!), stranded on an island with shredded uniforms and nothing else. Their relationship starts contentious enough with the two trying to kill each other over some fresh water. The attempts are half-hearted enough and after some back and forth power plays, the two start to form a bond for mutual survival. I am always interested in films that can express drama and tell their story without relying on dialog. This is a prime example as the only two characters in the film don't speak each others language and there is never a foolish attempt to magically make them understand one another. My only complaint is the very abrupt and silly ending that I would have to imagine was not Boorman's idea. The only special feature on the disc is an "alternate ending" that I now imagine in my mind to be the real ending. The disc is not anamorphic, which is quite a shame, it's also one of the only early Boorman films that he doesn't provide audio commentary on.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Zardoz (1974)

Dir: John Boorman
20TH Century Fox DVD

It seems that Zardoz doesn't have the best reputation. That's fair enough, it's not a film for everyone. I do believe it provides insight into Boorman's personal predilections more than any of the other films I have watched up to this point. The story takes place in the distant future where civilization has been divided into two factions. One group are the intellectuals who have discovered how to become immortal and the other are simple folk that are being exploited for labor and population control by the actions of one immortal who poses as the god named Zardoz. What we learn is that the workers aren't as simple as they seem and the immortals aren't very happy living forever. Sean Connery leads the rebellion against the desensitized, deathless, philosophers that are manipulating him and, rising from a pile of wheat, kills the man he believes to be his God. This sets Connery on a path to discovery that his religion is all make-believe and only he can set the world right. I think it would be easy to dismiss the film just from the outfit that Connery wears, but it's ultimately a rewarding watch due to it's lofty ideas and deconstruction of organized religion. The effects are a product of the seventies but frankly I prefer them to a lot of modern tricks. The visuals are outlandish and add to it's cult movie appeal. Thematically, it fits in nicely with other films in Boorman's early work as we follow a man on a singular mission, even if the mission here is pretty grand.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Deliverance (1972)

Dir: John Boorman
Warner Bros. Blu-ray

Firstly, I am about a week behind in writing this entry. This stems from a combination of laziness and design. I had decided to go with a unifier and chose to re-explore the films of John Boorman. I just watched the movies he made from 1967 - 77 (minus Leo The Last) and thought it was a good time to start putting my thoughts down. I started with Deliverance because I wanted to see the Blu-ray transfer and it had been too long since I had watched it, it looks fantastic. As for the movie, I believe that sometimes a moment in a film can overshadow the entire piece. I am, of course, referring to the "squeal like a pig" moment. The scene is often referenced and joked about and sometimes by people, whom I believe, haven't even seen the movie. This really is a testament to it that it can become part of the popular consciousness. The scene itself though, if we may get right to the elephant in the room, is utterly terrifying. Boorman's direction is patient and non-exploitative. As a viewer we feel just as helpless as Jon Voight and Ned Beatty do as these demented hillbillies terrorize and abuse them. So now that I've jumped right to the obvious moment, I will start from the beginning. In case you haven't seen Deliverance, it is about four friends that go on a rafting trip in the backwoods in the deep south before the woods are destroyed by developers. Voight plays the everyman, Beatty is the smart-ass, Burt Reynolds is the man's man and the reason for the trip, and Ronny Cox is the amiable, moral center. We find out through natural dialog and the subtle shifts in the actors' performances all we need to know about their characters so Boorman is never force feeding us information and nothing ever feels like exposition. Everything about Deliverance is about giving the viewer just enough, we're trusted to ascertain what's happening. There is almost no score during tense moments so we are never manipulated by an outside presence. Once the journey has gotten us to the harrowing scene I already mentioned, the film shifts to a feeling of paranoia. Our heroes fight back, but are never sure if they are in the right. Like many of the other films that Boorman made at this time, these men have to accomplish one very simple task laid before them, survival. It's a pitch perfect movie that is brilliantly composed and paced. It's an essential film that everyone should see.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (2009)

Dir: Betty Thomas

I have kids! We start this one off with the Chipmunks on a world tour showing off that they are international super stars. The tour ends with Alvin accidentally injuring their guardian/manager Dave (Jason Lee). He is stuck in a hospital bed for the rest of the film making it an easy payday for Mr. Lee. His wish though is for the Chipmunks to go to high school like normal kids (?) so they travel back to the states where Dave's cousin (Zachary Levi) ends up having to care for them because of some wacky events. So once in school, they are asked to join in a music competition that, if they win, will give $25,000 to their school's music program. Now my question is, why don't the Chipmunks just give the school the money or play a benefit show? If they win (and why wouldn't they?), isn't that just stealing money from another deserving school? Am I over-thinking this? Probably. The Chippettes (female counterparts) are introduced, there's some conflicts to over come, David Cross is back, it all ends up like you'd expect. My kids liked it.


Bank Shot (1974)

Dir: Gower Champion
MGM HD Channel

I would be pretty excited to see a heist movie from the seventies, starring George C. Scott, and based on a novel by Donald Westlake, that is until you told me it was a comedy. This is a fairly miserable experience with Scott hiding behind giant eyebrows and a lisp bumbling his way through a low rent bank job, or Bank Shot! It has wacky music and silly characters just full of personality quirks, yeah! The story would probably work quite well if taken seriously, this one's prime for a remake if you're looking for such things.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Quantum of Solace (2008)

Dir: Marc Forster
MGM Blu-ray

I was skeptical of this latest installment in the Bond franchise, mainly due to the involvement of director Forster. I am not a big fan of the director's films and couldn't understand the choice to follow up something as exemplary as Casino Royale with such a lackluster helmsman. The film starts almost immediately where it's predecessor ends with Bond driving away from some baddies while having Mr. White tied up in his trunk. It's at this point I wanted to give up on the film, the editing is so rapid that I had no idea what was going on. I thought I was headed for seizure-ville, but I struggled through and was pleasantly rewarded. I didn't feel like this chapter lived up to what was set in motion with Casino Royale, but it was an enjoyable yarn with Bond delving deeper into the secret organization that has not only infiltrated the governments of the world, but also does business with them. At the same time, he is seeking revenge for the death of Vesper from the first film. I had lots of little problems along the way, particularly in the use of almost every character that is on Bond's side, and I didn't like the idea of equating the villain to an Eco-friendly energy company (an energy company sure, but aren't there enough opponents to the environment that we need to scare people with attacking an Eco-conscious one?). Overall worth seeing but hopefully the next outing will be a step up.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Moon (2009)

Dir: Duncan Jones
Sony Classics Blu-ray

I knew just enough going into this one to be surprised by the intricate plotting. The need to knows are that Sam Rockwell plays a man, named Sam, that works alone on the dark side of the moon mining Helium3 for energy consumption on Earth. He has a three year contract that is about to come to an end. His mind starts to play tricks on him, and that's all I will say. Jones' feature film debut is a confident, restrained work of intelligent sci-fi that is worth multiple viewings. It would be hard to buy anyone else in the main role besides Rockwell who pulls off the the nuances of his character with ease. The film looks outstanding, from the production design to the cinematography. It is also worth mentioning the score as one of the better ones I have heard in recent memory. So really I have nothing to do but gush over this one.
The Blu-ray looks impeccable, as you'd expect, and it includes two commentaries and Jones' short film, Whistle.


PS - Matt Berry has a small role!!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971)

Dir: Aldo Lado
Anchor Bay DVD OOP

Lado shows some impressive use of composition with his directorial debut. The story starts promising but ends up being a little sleepy. It starts with a corpse being wheeled in to the morgue, but we can hear the internal voice of the dead man narrating the action. He doesn't appear to be dead in his mind and throughout the movie , non one can understand why the body hasn't began to get cold. We see the man's story told in flashback sequences, he is an American Journalist in Europe who is investigating some secret society. His female companion disappears and this leads him deeper into the mystery. Since he starts the film as a stiff we kind if know where the film is headed, but it's a mostly interesting ride there. This is part of the now out of print "Giallo Collection" on Anchor Bay, but it doesn't feel like the average giallo in plot or style.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Satan's School For Girls (1973)

Dir: David Lowell Rich
Cheezy Flicks DVD

This is about what you'd expect for a made for TV movie produced by Aaron Spelling and with a salacious title it couldn't live up to. It's about Pamela Franklin's Elizabeth whose sister seemingly kills herself. Elizabeth doesn't believe it so she goes undercover at the art school where her sis was attending. There she meets Kate Jackson and the other girls that the title is probably referring to as well as a jerk teacher and a smooth talking "cool" teacher, guess who the bad guy is? Exactly. Not only is he the bad guy, turns out it's Satan. Yep, Satan has hit on some hard times and now teaches art. The movie is light on terror, and Satan for that matter, and while I wouldn't call it bad it is 100% forgettable.
The print isn't very good, there is some damage, but you won't really care.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Vigilante Force (1976)

Dir: George Armitage
MGM HD Channel broadcast

Armitage has always been an intriguing figure to me. He seemed to be on the path to filmmaker stardom during the seventies being one of Roger Corman's guys from that period. He wrote and/or directed a handful of interesting exploitation quickies, including Gas-s-s-s, which I've always found to be bizarrely appealing. But after 1979, he seems to have disappeared until 1990's Miami Blues and then retreating again until 97's Grosse Point Blank. I can find no biographical information on the man, so we have only his work to ascertain any info on him. Vigilante Force is the story of a small town that has recently opened it's oil reserves due to the pending energy crisis. There is a huge influx of new people into town, all oil field workers that have overrun the town with illegal goings on and violence that has scared not only the townsfolk, but the police as well. The town leaders get together and decide to hire a (you guessed it) Vigilante Force to deal with these rowdy roustabouts. They decide to turn to the devil they know, and ask respectable citizen Ben (Jan-Michael Vincent) to hire his troubled brother Aaron (Kris Kristofferson) to lead the force that will make the town safe again. Aaron, it seems, grew up causing an awful lot of trouble around town and then went off to do "three tours in 'Nam", now Armitage has brought in the country's treatment of vets and our dependence on oil into what could have been a routine actioner. Aaron brings four of his buddies along and gets results immediately. Unfortunately for the town people, Aaron has other plans in mind. He soon replaces the illegal gambling with his own people and also uses them to shake down local business owners for protection money. He goes too far by killing the people that get in his way and this prompts Ben and the other townies to create their own (say it with me) Vigilante Force. At this point the films almost becomes a heist movie, but the plot is foiled as Ben's force launches an assault on Aaron's. It's a well paced film with just enough political undercurrent to not hit you over the head. The action is mostly well staged for the limited budget and Armitage's script is often clever and witty. Besides the two leads, both of which work perfectly, there's a good supporting cast that includes Victoria Principal, Bernadette Peters, Paul Gleason, a bazooka, and a cameo by Dick Miller.
Hopefully MGM has plans for a DVD release, the print looked excellent. I would love to hear an Armitage commentary on this as well.


Fearless Frank (1967)

Dir: Philip Kaufman
MGM HD Channel

Jon Voight stars as the title character, in his feature film debut, in this oddity about a hillbilly that is killed by gangster and then brought back to life by a mad doctor. The doctor also imbues him with Superman-esque abilities so he may fight crime. The film is told in a comic strip style with a narrator and over-the-top villains with names like "The Rat" and "Screwnose". It starts off interestingly enough even though it's playing to a rather broad sense of humor, but too soon do the trappings of it's non-exsistent budget prove to be detrimental. It's hard to buy super-heroics with the same two camera tricks over and over again. The story is thin and the characters become grating pretty quickly. This would have worked as a student film, but too have to sit through 90 minutes is tedious. I am glad to have caught this on the MGM channel as I don't believe it is available on any other resources currently. This probably isn't one Voight would like to remember but I would like to hear Kaufman's thoughts on the film.


Alice In Wonderland (2010)

Dir: Tim Burton
Theater in 3-D

My first reaction to seeing Burton's idea of Wonderland was to presume that he was embarrassed to make a movie about it. It takes far too long to get there and when we do, it's a drab depressing place where no one is fun, colorful, absurd, or amusing. They're not mad cuckoo, they're mad pissed off. My presumption was validated when we learn sometime after the half-way point that we are in "Underland" and Alice had the name wrong all this time. Pass. This version of Alice has her at the age of twenty and betrothed to some bore of a lord. For no good reason she follows a rabbit down a hole and we see the cast of familiar characters mentioned in Lewis Carroll's books. But as I mentioned, these guys hate being alive and all shop at Hot Topic and listen to Fall Out Boy. It seems some war is going on between the two queens of "Underland" (puke again) and Alice is prophesied to kill the Jabberwocky and end the Red Queen's reign, this is more Narnia than Alice. Depp, as the Mad Hatter, tries to occasionally channel Ed Wynn's lisp from the animated film by Disney but at other times sounds like a character from Trainspotting, Anne Hathaway does her best to annoy the crap out of you with grand hand gestures, and Crispin Glover is in it but his head looks strange attached to a computer generated body, or at least I think that's what was happening. By the time the end comes I was already rooting for the Jabberwocky to eat everyone, but when I heard Christopher Lee's voice come out of him, I thought my dream would come to fruition. Alas, nope. While the film can be seen as pro-woman, Alice leads the battle in armor and vorpal sword in hand, it's still boring and depressing. Disney just recently had success with a pro-female take on the fairy tale (see: Enchanted) that was both fun and exciting. As a big Wonderland fan, I was hugely disappointed.


Extract (2009)

Dir: Mike Judge
Miramax Blu-ray

I have to assume the intent of this film was to be a comedy. Unfortunately this story of a guy (Jason Bateman) that runs his own flavor extract company, is utterly depressing. While Judge created something in Office Space that most working people could identify with, he does the exact opposite here. He's made his protagonist wealthy and successful whose biggest problems are a wife (Kristen Wiig) that's not "in the mood" enough and an annoying neighbor. These things are enough to get Bateman to take drugs from his burnout buddy (Ben Affleck) which sets off a chain of preposterous events (including Clifton Collins Jr losing a testicle, see it is a comedy!) that threaten to ruin his already unhappy existence, but don't worry, I think the ending was supposed to be considered a happy one. Mila Kunis shows up as a con woman, J. K. Simmons plays Bateman's grumpy partner, and Judge himself makes an obligatory cameo towards the end of the film in a role that looks like most probably ended up on the cutting room floor.


P.S. - Worst, one-sheet, ever!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Gentlemen Broncos (2009)

Dir: Jared Hess
Fox Searchlight Blu-ray

I'll start with the positive, I love the story of this film. It is about a young science fiction writer, played by Michael Angarano, who has been home-schooled by his widowed mother. He goes to a writer's camp for kids so he can meet friends and get feedback on his stories. While there he meets two other writers his age that ask to buy the rights to his story "Yeast Lords" so they may turn it into a no-budget video feature. He also meets his literary hero, played by Jemaine Clement, who is secretly struggling to write his next novel so he steals "Yeast Lords", changes some names, and sells it as his own. All the stories collide as the novel and the film gain popularity and Angarano's character starts to lose it while the others gain notoriety by bastardizing his creation. I also love the idea that we see the stories inter-cut with the three different visions of the same story, and Sam Rockwell plays the lead in both. But it's only conceptually where the film actually works. What should have been at least a good movie borders on the unwatchable with tons of fecal jokes, vomiting jokes, and "quirky" stereotypes that are more disgusting than watching a snake relieve himself on Mike White (a scene in the movie). This sort of precious filmmaking walks a very fine line between being alright or failing miserably.
I wasn't all too impressed with the Blu-ray image on this Netflix rental and there are no special features at all.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Chase (1946)

Dir: Arthur Ripley

This starts off as a routine enough crime thriller with Chuck Scott (Bob Cummings) finding a wallet on a busy street. He checks the wallet and sees a lot of cash inside. He's broke and unemployed and decides to treat himself to a big breakfast. At this point he feels a little guilty and decides to return the wallet and the rest of the dough to it's rightful owner. This path leads him to a shady character named Eddie Roman (Steve Cochran) and his nefarious henchman Gino (played by the great Peter Lorre!). Roman is so taken back by Scott's honesty that he hires him as his new driver. Now Scott meets Roman's depressed wife Lorna (Michele Morgan) and the noir part of the story really kicks in. Lorna convinces Scott to help her flee to Cuba and the two fall in love but Gino and Roman are onto them. At this point I would like to let you know that I would consider the rest of this a *spoiler alert* even though I'll try not to give too much away. At this point in the story, the second act, we see the two love birds in Cuba trying to escape to South America. Of course things go wrong and Scott is framed for murder. He tries to clear his name but ends up going on the run from the law. Then at the beginning of the third act, the story takes us back in time to fill us in on what was happening during the second act, but from different perspectives, all very clever and forward thinking with it's attempt at non-linear narrative. But what really makes the film jarring is the fact that the movie has a completely different ending for the third act then it did for the second! At the time of watching it I admit to being utterly confused, but after meditating on the piece, I have to applaud it for being a completely original Film Noir. The easiest interpretation would be to dismiss part of it as a dream sequence, but there's no way to tell which part would be the dream. The film's made better by the fact that it is left open to the viewer's own interpretation. It's based on the Cornell Woolrich story "The Black Path of Fear" which I have yet to rad but am certainly curious as to how the two relate to each other.
This is part of a Noir double feature, along with Kiss Me Dead, released from VCI a few years ago. The original production company for the movie is "Nero Films" and the surviving print isn't in the greatest shape but certainly watchable. The man in charge of the restoration also provides audio commentary and I tried listening to it to hear if there was any production history given, but I had a hard time sludging through it as the man came across as painfully nervous. I'll get through it eventually but that night wasn't the night.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Dead Snow (2009)

Dir: Tommy Wirkola
Netflix streaming

There are plenty of zombie movies coming out these days, but only one with NAZI ZOMBIES! (maybe there are more, who knows, but how many from Norway?). Wirkola doesn't try to reinvent the wheel here but does succeed in making a fun splatter pic where some college age friends head to a cabin in the snow and awake a horde of undead Nazis that want back their dirty Nazi treasure. Once the action kicks in, you can expect some pretty clever death sequences and it's always nice to see people work with practical effects (although some of the gore looked like it was computer generated). It just would have been nice to see any effort at all put into the characters, one is (of course) a movie geek, but we don't get much more info than that. This will certainly appeal to gore fiends and I had more fun watching this than Zombieland.


Dangerous Seductress (1992)

Dir: H. Tjut Djalil
Mondo Macabro DVD

Well I had a little bit of hope for this one seeing as it was directed by the man who brought us such exploitation classics as Mystics in Bali and Lady Terminator (particularly Lady Terminator, a highpoint in eighties import cinema!) and the opening sequence(s) lived up to my expectations. Unfortunately, things turn south from there. After a car chase/shoot-out and the resurrection of an ancient evil female spirit in stop-motion gore, we shift gears to a woman with big-time problems at home, a REALLY abusive fiancee. She runs off to Jakarta to live with her model sister and becomes possessed by the evil spirit. It forces her to start killing men. Her fiancee tracks her down, you can figure it out. There are some fun practical splatter effects but the story drags, and drags, way too much in parts. Some highlights include animated lightning covering naughty bits and some d-bags that try to get lucky in a meat packing plant (symbolism?). I guess that at the age of 60, Djalil just lost his passion. The Mondo Macabro disc is excellent as always with tons of features and a great transfer.


Ponyo (2008)

Dir: Hayao Miyazaki
Disney Blu-ray

I loved this one in the theater and it lost none of it's impact on a second viewing at home. This is a retelling of the The Little Mermaid but only as the Japanese master of animation Miyazaki could do. In this modern day version, the mermaid is replaced by a goldfish (to be known as Ponyo) with magic abilities. Her father is an underwater wizard that once upon a time was a human, and her mother is an ocean spirit. Ponyo runs away to the surface world where she meets Sosuke, a little boy whose mother works at a senior center and a father that is a boat captain. Sosuke finds Ponyo on the shore and promptly puts her in a bucket of water. Sosuke cuts his finger and Ponyo licks the blood. This triggers the narrative as it gives Ponyo the ability to become human and solidifies the bond between the two. Her father pursues her in one of the most imaginative scenes, he has a giant contraption strapped to his back that he has to use to pump ocean water wherever he walks. He does get Ponyo back only for her to escape again and become a little girl that goes to stay with Sosuke and his mother which leads to their grand adventure. One of the great things about the film is the adults' willingness to accept magic just as easily as children do. Miyazaki can create bizarre worlds that have little explanation of their own rules but the audience can still buy into them completely. It's a world of child logic that strikes a chord inside anyone willing to watch. I also found the viewing experience interesting in the sense that it was the first time I noticed my three year old daughter get invested in a story with genuine concerns for what was happening to the characters.
The Blu-ray looks incredible with this hand-drawn, candy-colored world leaping off my screen. A must-see!


True Grit (1969)

Dir: Henry Hathaway
Turner Classic Movies broadcast

Admittedly, I am not the biggest fan of John Wayne. However, it's pretty easy to see why he won an Oscar for his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn in this film as he is leaps and bounds better than the rest of the cast, most of which recite their lines like they're reading them from cue cards for the first time. The film seemed more dialog heavy than it probably was just for the simple fact that every line reading was painful on the ears. The direction is uninspired with poor staging and a made-for-tv look. I was completely uninvolved with the story line which is no more than an excuse to force a pro-death penalty agenda down the viewer's throats. It follows a girl whose father is murdered in cold blood and she goes out to find the most violent Marshall and a hangin' judge. It's a sad situation that has no effect because the girl is so grating on the nerves. Frankly I'm surprised that this one has a favorable reputation at all.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Black Dynamite (2009)

Dir: Scott Sanders
Sony DVD

The spoof/parody film is a tricky one. More often than not, I am less than enthused by the final product. It takes a real love for what you're spoofing mixed with genuine comedy skills to pull it off and I feel that comedy in itself is one of the most difficult things to pull of anyway. Therefore, I go in to situations like Black Dynamite, which pokes fun at the "Blaxploitation" films of the seventies, with low expectations. So I was happily surprised that those expectations were not only met, but far exceeded. It stars Michael Jai White (who also serves as co-writer) as Black Dynamite, a Vietnam vet, ex-CIA agent bad-ass, that decides to clean up the streets after his brother is killed and uncovers a national conspiracy, led by the ultimate seventies villain. He puts together a team of stereotypes, that includes Arsenio Hall and Tommy Davidson, and takes on the man. What makes the film work is the the approach. The cast takes on the material with a straight face which always plays better than shtick. In fact the comedy leans more towards something like "Garth Marenghi's Darkplace" than I'm Gonna Get You Sucka. It's also evident that there is a real love for the films that are being parodied as there are direct lines of dialog said verbatim from some seventies classics. The second act might be a tad too long but the final act makes up for it. The DVD has commentary and a look at the Comic Con panel moderated by Elvis Mitchell.


"I threw that shit before I came in the room."

Crank: High Voltage (2009)

Dir: Neveldine/Taylor
Lionsgate Blu-ray

Urgh, what to say? Frankly I knew going in that this probably wasn't going to be a film for me, but I'll give most anything a shot. I was mainly interested in this because I had read that it was influenced by some of the more insane Japanese cinema of recent memory, and while I can see that the men behind this had probably seen the films of Shinya Tsukamoto and Sogo Ishii, I can't see that they got anything out of those viewing experiences. The works of those men are certainly non-conventional and oft times disturbing, but they still have something personally going on within them, even if it's not clear to the audience, Tsukamoto in particular, they're trying to work something out. The makers of Crank 2 just see disturbing and offensive imagery mixed with break-neck editing, therefore we get a film here that has absolutely nothing to say or do. There's not even much of a story to relay here. It's about Jason Statham chasing and killing a bunch of people to get his heart back. While I do appreciate the absurd, absurdity enough does not make the meal. The finished product here just feels like endless video game sequences that are constantly jumping around and contain such constant racism, homophobia, and misogyny, that those things lose all meaning. It leaves you numb and bored, counting the seconds until you're free to stare at a blank wall.


In A Lonely Place (1950)

Dir: Nicholas Ray
Sony DVD

This may not be one of Bogart's most well known films, but it is one of his best. Bogey plays a temperamental Hollywood screenwriter named Dix Steele who's violent nature and disdain for the studio system makes him a difficult guy to like and consequently hurts his career. He's given a chance to adapt a novel that he's not too enthusiastic about, so he invites a hat check girl that has read it to come to his apartment and tell him the gist of the story. He's none too impressed and sends the girl home with some cab fair. The only witness is a new neighbor looking on from her balcony, Laurel Gray (played by Gloria Grahame). It turns out that having a witness is important as the hat check girl turns up murdered a few hours later. The police begin to hound Dix and call upon Ms. Gray for info which brings the two closer together. They begin dating and she also gets him to start writing again. Dix is a man possessed working on the adaptation of the novel he was not that interested in but we gather he is changing it drastically. Things would be just fine except for the police that keep questioning Dix, trying to pin the murder on him. Ray occasionally to make us question Bogey's innocence and throws in a few other suspects, but the mystery is more of a background story to the main narrative which is really about the very specific details of this relationship between Dix and Laurel. It's a brutally honest portrayal of a couple dealing with their own insecurities with Dix's manifesting themselves in outbursts of shocking violence. It's really summed up beautifully when Dix's agent says to Laurel, "You knew he was dynamite, he had to explode sometime". Ray shows great restraint in not going into too much detail about his character's pasts, we know all we need to know and he never fabricates some simple excuse for Dix Steele's behavior. Gloria Grahame is absolutely perfect as the street-wise lady that can be vulnerable with her man one moment and tough-as-nails with the cops the next. The photography by Burnett Guffey is textbook stuff, a veteran of almost 100 films by the end of his career, this guy is someone to study. I'm particularly fond of his use of key lights around Bogey's eyes when he gets into a crazed state. The ending of the film could go one of three ways, and Ray is smart enough to know that there was really only one good choice, and he makes it.


Monday, March 8, 2010

Blue Collar (1978)

Dir: Paul Schrader
ActionMax HD Broadcast

After writing four films (including Taxi Driver), Schrader made his directorial debut with this film that's part heist movie and part indictment on the unions and big businesses that were exploiting the workers at the time. It stars Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, and Yaphet Kotto as assembly line workers at an auto plant. Times are tough and it's hard to make ends meet. The employees get no satisfaction from the union and no help from the company as it seems that they are bitter that the union exists, it's a vicious cycle to keep the working man down. Pryor needs money for back taxes, Keitel needs it for his daughter's braces, and Kotto needs it for partying so one day when Pryor is in the union office one day, he sees their safe and comes up with a plan to break in and take the cash. Things don't go according to plan and the trio finds themselves in a conspiracy that is well out of their depth. It's a well made film, until the last shot in which Schrader proceeds to beat us in the skull with his point, that tells it's story in a natural and captivating way. It's also pretty depressing and Schrader does a good job in creating protagonists that are not always sympathetic if even downright unlikable at times but the three leads give top-notch performances.
The DVD that was released on Anchor Bay a few years back in now out of print. There has since been a DVDr version officially released that can be purchased through Amazon but it doesn't contain the commentary track or any special features from the previous edition. This broadcast in HD looked pretty good and would be a fine Blu-Ray release.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Two-Minute Warning (1976)

Dir: Larry Peerce
5 Star Max HD broadcast

First off, let's talk about the cast! We have a collection to frazzle the brain with this ensemble starring; John Cassavetes, Charlton Heston, Beau Bridges, Gena Rowlands, Martin Balsam, Jack Klugman, David Jannsen, and Walter Pidgeon! So what brings this group of TV actors, indie auteurs, and NRA members together? A sniper at a football game. At an event that I surmise was supposed to be the Super Bowl, a man with a rifle is spotted by a blimp cam on top of the scoreboard. We never see his face but he does have his own music cue that sounds similar to that of a movie slasher and we get plenty of close-ups of his disgusting finger nails. The narrative cuts between this unseen baddie and the lives of the people his actions will effect, a gambler, a young family, a couple trying to figure things out, and the policia, Heston of course. After the sniper attacks a maintenance man, Heston must call in the Swat team, led by John Cassavetes. Some macho posturing occurs, ninety minutes pass, then the shit goes down. It's a fine thriller that tries to break into Altman territory (scarily enough) with camera movements that leave one conversation for another in midstream to give us a natural feel and a sense of urgency. There's actually one incredible sequence where everyone in the video booth watches helplessly as the sniper attacks in such a way that the crowd can't see. The main problem with the film is how much time we spend seeing the lives of the various spectators, but it's both shocking and unintentionally hilarious to see Beau Bridges back hand one of his kids in public, ah the good ol' days. It's also interesting to see Heston ask the killer where he got his gun with such anger, you know that's acting!
Universal released this on DVD over a decade ago and it's now out of print. The HD broadcast from Cinemax looked pretty good and I couldn't tell that framing was too tight even though it was presented 1.85:1 and the movie was reportedly shot 2.35:1.


The Silence (1963)

Dir: Ingmar Bergman
Criterion DVD

This may be one of the best looking films I've ever seen. Bergman and cinematographer, Sven Nykvist, really knew how to utilize black & white film. It's certainly an asset that helps to draw the viewer i to a very vague situation about a woman, her ill sister, and her co-dependent son, Now it's true that all children are dependent on their parents, but here Bergman suggests a woman that has manipulated her child into only being comfortable with his mother for her own selfishness and insecurities. Their is also a lot of animosity with the sisters and how the boy fits in with their lives. Bergman keeps dialog to a minimum and never lets you in on the exact circumstances of the story. A sequence where a series of tanks roll by in silhouette let's you know something about the time and region the story may take place in. There's plenty of symbolism for the loss of innocence and the familial strife that you'd expect from Bergman, but ultimately I felt a little too detached from the film at it's conclusion making it a lesser effort for me. But it's still Bergman so there's plenty to be had from the film, I just wouldn't start with this one if you haven't had much exposure to him yet.


The Last Frontier (1955)

Dir: Anthony Mann
Sony DVD

Anthony Mann has made some great films over his career and I am particularly fond of his westerns. This one however had escaped my attention and after watching it I can see why. It's about three trappers (Victor Mature, James Whitmore, & Pat Hogan) that get caught in a skirmish between the military and the local "Indians". The Natives want to run any white men out (and who can blame them?) since the military's arrival. They take the three trappers furs, horses, and guns and send them on their way, but this raises the ire of Victor Mature who decides that they should sign on with the military as scouts so they can earn some of the money back that they lost. His two pals, particularly James Whitmore's Gus, aren't keen on the idea but go along anyway. As soon as the join, Mature becomes a childish wild card that lashes out at everyone, what did this moron expect? He gets caught up in a love triangle, there's a few battle sequences, the end. The main problem with the film is Victor Mature. He seems out of place every step of the way, from his look, his ever-present smile, and his cadence. It doesn't help that his character is never likable, ever. Whitmore is great and has some of the best moments in the film but hardly a reason to sit through the whole movie. A real disappointment but mainly because of Mann's previous track record.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Whiteout (2009)

Dir: Domenic Sena
Warner DVD

I read the comic when it was released and was certainly impressed with it and particularly it's writer, Greg Rucka. I've since become a fan of Rucka's comic book writing and, if nothing else, am glad he collected a paycheck with this film adaptation that works hard to ignore all the things that made the source mataerial interesting. Let me say, I don't normally complain about movie adaptations being unfaithful to the source material. I prefer to like or dislike the movie based on it's own merits. So looking at Whiteout by itself, it's a mundane, predictable thriller with one dimensional characters, loads of red herrings, and a flat ending that doesn't end soon enough. A lot of the major plot points are kept intact, but the details that made the story fresh are typically missing. The story is about a U.S. Marshall (Kate Beckinsale) stationed at the South Pole. A murdered body is found and that starts a series of murders that she must investigate. Along the way she meets a UN Agent played by the bland Gabriel Macht (in the book this character was a female British Agent, but this way we get a suspect and a love interest rolled into one!) and uncovers a ludicrous plot to smuggle a canister out of the area that was found on a downed Russian plane that's been in the ice for fifty years (why a Russian plane was doing flying over the South Pole is a mystery for the ages). Beckinsale isn't bad but it's hard to buy her as a U.S. Marshall. There's absolutely nothing new or interesting about this one making it one to skip, but whether you see it or not, you'll never think about it again.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

He Ran All The Way (1951)

Dir: John Berry
SIFF Theater

Unfortunately the festival ended early for me and with more of a whisper than a bang. I had seen this on Turner Classic Movies before and had completely forgotten about it until around the five minute mark. The movie stars John Garfield (his last film ever) as a crook that gets talked into robbing a guy carrying payroll money. Things go south and his buddy is killed and Garfield kills a cop. He's paranoid and sweet talks his way into Shelley Winter's life where he takes her and her parents and little brother hostage. But not hostages in a way that you would think or that even makes since, they're hostages that are allowed to leave! As long as one stays with him, the rest can go to work, school, etc.. It's pretty frustrating to watch these characters with so much freedom not be able to come up with a way to overpower or out-think this one hood. It makes the film feel like a twenty minute television episode that's been stretched out to feature length, but that length is only 70 minutes. Every character is utterly unlikeable making it hard to judge the performances because you want them all to get shot. To it's credit there are a few really great scenes where we get a glimpse of Garfield's loneliness or a particularly nice moment where the little brother attacks Garfield but, all in all a lackluster affair that doesn't end soon enough.
The film is note worthy for having almost everyone involved in it getting blacklisted, the reason it is Garfield's final film.


a P.S. - special thanks to Colin & Holly for hosting me over the weekend, thanks for the hospitality! or the horse brutality

The Mob (1951)

Dir: Robert Parrish
SIFF Theater

Generic title? You bet, but the film was a lot of fun to watch. A bit more light-hearted than a typical noir and more action packed. It stars Broderick Crawford as a cop that goes undercover to infiltrate water front racketeers and find an elusive killer boss named Blackie Clegg. He meets a fellow named Tom Clancy (Richard Kiley) along the way that gives some good advice but also appears to know more than he's letting on. There's some fist fights, gun play, broads, gags, you name it. The movie tackles the same subject as On The Waterfront would a few years later, but I have to say that I probably prefer watching The Mob.


Monday, March 1, 2010

Cry Danger (1951)

Dir: Robert Parrish
SIFF Theater

Well I meant to finish writing about my festival experience some time ago, but stuff happens. So, I will pick up with the second night's opening film, Cry Danger. The screenings are brought to us via the Film Noir Foundation in an attempt to raise money so that they may restore prints of classic films that may otherwise be lost forever. Last year's festivals and donations went to bringing us this outstanding, well-paced indie produced by star Dick Powell and marked the directorial debut of Parrish, and it is well worth the money they spent. The only remaining film source was from Powell's personal 16mm print which they used to strike the 35mm one used at the exhibitions. Powell plays Rocky Mulloy, a man who is just let out of prison after serving five years for a crime he didn't commit. During his trial he kept stating that he was out drinking with a bunch of marines that were about to ship out, while the supposed crime he was involved with was taking place. Five years later a marine steps forward to corroborate his story and Mulloy is released back into the world. He is met by the arresting officer and his alibi, Delong (Richard Erdman at his sarcastic best). Once the copper tells Mulloy he'll be keeping an eye on him and takes his leave, Rocky turns to Delong and asks him who he is and what he wants. Delong is hoping that Rocky will split some of the stolen dough from the robbery with him since it was never found by the police. The two become fast friends and rent a trailer together to stay in while Rocky looks up the guy who frames him and a buddy's wife, his pal also went to prison on the robbery charge. He gets tangled up in some more trouble as he tries to get paid and clear his friend's name. Parrish was working with another script that was punched up by Bill Bowers that is smart, quick, and full of memorable dialog. It would be hard to choose, but I would say this was my favorite film from the ones I saw.
The Film Noir Foundation is doing great work to keep classic films alive, so I will mention their website in case anyone feels like supporting the cause.