Thursday, February 9, 2017
Sunday, February 5, 2017
Before all of you get excited, I did not watch the Patrick Swayze movie of the same name. So settle the hell down.
Instead, I spent part of my Saturday watching the Ida Lupino starring noir, Road House (1948). And, coincidentally, I finished the movie, looked at facebook and the Film Noir Foundation informed me that it was Lupino's birthday. So, happy birthday, Ida.
I'd heard some good things about Road House, and I'm becoming a bit of a fan of Lupino. Add in that the cast included Richard Widmark in crazy-villain mode, and it was one of my two rentals from Vulcan Video on Friday night.
If you've seen the trailer for this movie, and you think that maybe you have a rough idea of what this movie will be like - bingo. You are correct.
Hell or High Water (2016) is currently nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, which is maybe the surest sign that the Academy is comprised of white people over the age of 65. A post No Country for Old Men meditation on justice in the sun-baked desert plains of West Texas, it's an enjoyable enough way to spend the run-time of a movie. But with no non-standard plot turns or character moments, a movie where the sub-text of the film is text, it's the sort of thing that's been done better elsewhere (see the movie named at the beginning of this sentence) and has characters walking a path of moral uncertainty enough that you can say it has some edge to it.
That said, I didn't actually dislike Hell or High Water. It's a fine movie with characters you'll enjoy (I've seen these same characters done a few dozen times, and if you're going to do those characters, this is pretty good), a decent plot, and if you like Chris Pine (I do!) and Jeff Bridges (what sort of psychopath doesn't like Jeff Bridges?), I've got a movie I'd say you can watch comfortably with your dad. Or, better yet, your sibling.
Monday, January 23, 2017
Sunday, December 11, 2016
We were asked to review Cry of the City (1948) by NathanC over at Texas Public Radio.
Click on over there and read my review and Nathan's review of Boomerang (which I've never seen, but now I want to). A thousand thank-you's to Nathan. I had a great time watching the film (which I really, really liked. But I also think Mature and Conte are Mitchum cool.), and it was a great pleasure getting to contribute to TPR.org.
I'll post a draft of the review here in the future, but for now, please do click over to TPR.org
Thursday, August 4, 2016
After two great movies in a row, the third installment of the Thin Man series, Another Thin Man (1939) feels like a project that just didn't gel as well as it could have.
I recently completed reading The Return of the Thin Man, which is less a book and more the lost story-treatments and scripts that Dashiell Hammett worked on during his tenure in Hollywood and some editorial/ historical notes about what was going on with Hammett in relation to the work. Frankly, you're probably better off just watching the two movies it covers - After the Thin Man and Another Thin Man, but completionists will find the book worth checking out.
The gist of the notes about this third movie indicate that not only was Hammett sort of done with Nick and Nora before he even started work on the movie, the credited screenwriters, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett - who had worked with Hammett on the two prior films - were also ready to call it a day.
All in all, the film does work. Let's not call it a troubled film. But the alchemy that caught everyone's attention in the original that semi-carried over to the sequel, is fizzling a smidge by this installment.
Tuesday, August 2, 2016
In the 1990's, for reasons that involve a lot of co-option of black culture by suburban white kids, and waffling between irony, genuine appreciation and I think a sincere love for the score - young white America somehow became invested in the 1971 film that was considered one of the best films to come out of the blaxploitation movement, Shaft.
Context free, a lot of us cracker kids watched I'm Gonna Git You, Sucka on VHS or HBO, maybe understanding that this was riffing on movies of a prior era, but I hadn't seen them, nor had my peers. I think the closest I got to taking in any blaxploitation film until the early 90's was tuning into Super Fly one night as a kid in middle school, believing from the title that it was a superhero movie I'd somehow missed. If anything, I got a clue as to what the spoof movie had been on about via reruns of TV shows that lifted from blaxploitation, but I confess to being mostly ignorant of the genre until maybe 1992 or when I got to college.
Kids hipper to a wider variety of music than what I listened to picked up pop-culture references as 80's and 90's hip-hop name-dropped and sampled from 70's actioners and that bled over to other genres of dance music. The curious kids picked up some of those movies to rent and saw a lot of stuff I didn't catch until others got me to take a look or I heard about it word of mouth (the internet was just Star Trek fan pages and lo-fi porn then, you see). Other kids who had gotten into soul and funk music tracked down Isaac Hayes and wanted to actually see Shaft. I do know that by the time I left high school, I was at least aware of who Hayes was, but that was about it. Had maybe heard of Shaft, but this was also an era in which your local Blockbuster likely didn't carry movies that were older than 7 or 8 years from the theater.
As a good, sorta-hip white kid of the 1990's, I caught Shaft at some point during film school. I don't remember if it was before or after a unit on blaxploitation as a genre and my first exposure to Pam Grier (something a young man never forgets).
The funny thing is - watching it this last weekend, I didn't really remember Shaft all that well. Once the one guy gets tossed out the window, I couldn't really piece together what the plot had been, just snippets here and there. So, I was pleasantly surprised to find out - Shaft is actually a strong private detective story in a classic pulp-crime style (deeply appealing to this viewer), with a fascinating protagonist who is literally not playing by anyone else's rules - if'n you should ever want to see what that actually looks like, you with your anti-heroes.
And, of course, Shaft is a Black superhero who cuts through white culture through the sheer power of not giving a good goddamn.
Monday, May 30, 2016
Sometime about twenty years ago I actually read the novel this movie was based on, but all I can remember about it is that there is no literal "Big Clock", and more than there is any literal "Long Good-Bye" or literal "Big Heat" in those respective movies or books. But, hey, not so in the movie adaptation of The Big Clock (1948). This movie practically goes full-Batman in literalization of a rich sociopath's obsession.
The movie definitely qualifies for noir - a mysterious and sultry woman is responsible for the life-altering, seemingly insurmountable situation a man finds himself in - one only partially of his own doing, but one had he been behaving better, he never would have found himself in. But, really, it reminded me in many ways of a Hitchcockian-thriller, and that's no complaint. I enjoy a good Hitchcock movie from time to time.
I just remembered that I'd failed to write up a movie I watched last week, 1949's Criss Cross, starring Burt Lancaster, Yvonne DeCarlo and the always hiss-able Dan Duryea.
The movie seemed to be trying to recapture a bit of the magic of 1946's The Killers, also starring Lancaster, with Ava Gardner as the twisty (and, let's be honest, dangerously sexy) femme fatale. That picture is surely one of the purest examples of what we think of when we think about noir. In Criss Cross, once again Lancaster plays a fellow who can be led astray by a good looking brunette - not stumbling across a mobsters' girl this time, but coming home to Los Angeles, trying to tell himself it's not so he'll see his ex, Anna (the terrific Yvonne DeCarlo), but to settle in and lead a domestic life with his parents and brother. Get his old job back. But before he's even made it in the front door of the family house, he's back at his old haunt, seeing how things have changed.
Sunday, May 29, 2016
The Little Sister (1949) is the fifth Raymond Chandler novel starring Phillip Marlowe, the detective character made most famous in The Big Sleep. Clearly written after Chandler's stint in Hollywood (he would team with Billy Wilder during the writing of Double Indemnity), Marlowe's time in LA finally gets him crosswise with Hollywood machinations and mob ties.
A fairly prissy but possibly pretty young woman with the unlikely name Orfamay Quest from Manhattan, Kansas appears at Marlowe's office. She's seeking her brother, Orrin, who has been in LA for a while, but seems to have disappeared. Taking Midwestern thriftiness to extremes, she hires Marlowe at half-price (also, because Marlowe is bored and has no other clients that day) and it soon becomes clear the touchy Orrin may have been in deep into something shady, and, because it's a Chandler mystery, deadly.
Sunday, May 22, 2016
Due to work-related needs, I only attended the first double-bill of the day the Noir City Austin 2016.
I want to thank the Film Noir Foundation, Alamo Drafthouse Ritz and Austin Film Society for making this year something I wish I had planned for much, much better. Because what I was able to attend was absolutely fantastic, well planned and curated.
And, of course, once again thank Eddie Muller for being such a terrific host and guide through the world of film noir, film history and fantastic historian in his own right. People will be relying on his work for decades to come.
The two films they showed at mid-day were pure film noir, and as had been programmed in the double-bills all series, an A and B picture. I was a big fan of both of these films, neither of which I'd seen before. And that's much of the fun of Noir City. Yesterday I was talking to the guy sitting next to me when he asked if I was a fan of film noir or classic film. And I said "well, yeah, but, honestly, I hate to claim any expertise. I feel like no matter how much I've seen, there's an endless amount of content I haven't seen."
The Dark Corner (1946) is a just-post-war private dick film, starring Mark Stevens as a clear nod to the Philip Marlowe type, a sort of rusted Galahad in a fedora who maybe gets too personally involved in his cases. His Gal Friday is played by a pre-comedienne Lucille Ball, and she's actually sharply witty in this movie, and steals a lot of spotlight from her co-star. But, as I may have mentioned before, I find "sultry Lucy" kind of an odd concept after spending a lifetime thinking of her as Mrs. Ricardo, but there it is.
Saturday, May 21, 2016
I was intending to pace myself during Noir City Austin, but I wound up getting paced by external forces. The gameplan for today was to skip the morning shows, sleep in, walk the dogs, go to movies for a few hours in a row, be home around 10:30 this evening.
So, I made it out for the 3:00 - 6:15 double-bill of Flesh and Fantasy (1943) and Destiny (1944), and Jamie had even come to meet me for the 6:45 show of Scarlet Street, but during Destiny, I started getting an upset stomach - which I think was from just a combo of things I ate - and I was all sweaty and clammy and wasn't sure how I was doing, so we went home and I made her watch Criss-Cross instead.
But, man, the double-bill I did catch was pretty terrific, even if Noir Czar Eddie Muller admitted, it wasn't really noir, but more of a rare opportunity to catch a couple of films that aren't really in release anywhere, and that we were watching new prints from Universal.
Flesh and Fantasy (1943) is a fascinating experiment that feels 85% complete, but learning that the film had studio fingerprints all over it explained a tremendous amount. Essentially three tales hovering between magical realism and pre-Twilight Zone ironic and uncanny, the stories are held together with a studio-created book-ending mechanism of Robert Benchley being read three tales that relate to his current predicament of not being sure whether to believe a dream he had or a gypsy's fortune.
Friday, May 20, 2016
This weekend I'm attending the third Austin Film Noir Fest, or, at least, a good chunk of it. It's going on down at The Alamo Drafthouse Ritz on Austin's famed 6th Street.*
It's gonna be interesting but a bit of a marathon as each showing is a double-bill, and there are three showings on each day Saturday and Sunday.
The whole deal is hosted by Film Noir Foundation founder and President, Eddie Muller, whom you may have seen on TCM last summer, in interviews about the film noir genre, or popping up wherever film noir is found. Muller is a terrific author (from what I've read) - writing scholarly works on the genre. He also works to promote the preservation of film noir, restoring films and uncovering lost movies. And, I really think he and the Film Noir Foundation have been responsible for a resurgence and growth in interest in noir beyond the 10 or so films folks name-drop when it comes to noir classics.
This evening's pictures included noir staple (and a personal favorite of mine), This Gun for Hire (1942) and a far lesser known film, Fly-By-Night (1942). The idea is that each bill is an A and B picture from the same time period in the history of noir, so you can see a growth in the genre's development.
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Noir City returns to Austin at The Alamo Drafthouse Ritz on Austin's famed 6th Street! Dates are May 20, 21 and 22.
I'm going to a bunch of the shows, but I fully expect to be worn out only attending a portion of the full program as each showing is a double-bill.
To see which shows are available, check out the calendar at The Alamo Ritz website.
Right now I have tickets to a whole bunch of the showings, which you can see in the calendar on this site.
I'd spend more time coordinating with you fine people to see who wants to go, but I'm flying out for Atlanta for a conference tomorrow.
I have tickets for Row 3, Seat 20 (and 19 for some screenings so I don't leave Jamie alone all weekend).
I don't know too many of these movies, which is something I'm pretty excited about. Always fun to see new things.
Come on down and join us/ me!
Sunday, April 17, 2016
Movies produced during the height of WWII are always interesting. You certainly get to see who signed up to serve and who stayed stateside. That's no judgment, everyone had reasons they did what they did. Just a couple of weeks back, for the first time I saw the government docs telling my own grandfather he was not going to be signing up as his civilian job was considered vital to the war effort.
So, we get Franchot Tone, not really the biggest star to come out of Hollywood, and hardly a household name in 2016 (he was married to Joan Crawford for several years, so may God have mercy upon his soul). I don't think I know Alan Curtis except for looking familiar enough he must have been in something I saw (ah. High Sierra.). And Ella Raines is both very good in the movie and terribly attractive, so its a bit odd this movie in particular didn't launch her further along.
Noir fans will, of course, delight to see Elisha Cook, Jr. show up in a movie doing anything, and hear he plays a lecherous jazz drummer.
Saturday, March 26, 2016
Short of Harrison Ford, there aren't too many actors I look at and think "that guy is so cool. I wish I were that guy." But, yes, Sterling Hayden is absolutely one of those guys. Maybe throw in Alan Ladd.
Today marks the 100th birthday of Sterling Hayden, the tall, tough-guy actor in two of my favorite noir movies of all time, The Killing and The Asphalt Jungle. Of course, he was also the whacked out General Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove and Capt. McCluskey in The Godfather. And, for extra credit, he was in Johnny Guitar (as Johnny Guitar), mooning over a pancake-make-upped Joan Crawford.
Here's an article in The Boston Globe celebrating Hayden. He sounds like maybe he was a difficult man, but I respect anyone who ran away to sea at 17 to sail the world and was in the 20th century up to his elbows as much as he was. He was a goddamn commando in the OSS! He flirted with being a Red! He hated acting and just wanted to be on boats!
No one quite did world-weary-but-seemingly-invulnerable like Hayden.
If you've not seen The Asphalt Jungle, do so now. It's got Monroe in an early role, it's directed by John Huston, and has Jean Hagen in a heartbreaking role as Doll. And, of course, Hayden as Dix, the heist man who just wants to get back what his family lost in Kentucky. Failing that, watch The Killing. Which is early Kubrick, features a platinum Marie Windsor, Elisha Cook, Jr. and a host of other perfectly noir faces.
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
I've lost track of how many times I've seen Gun Crazy (1950). And, in fact, over the past ten years its easily become one of my favorite movies. Tuesday night JAL and I met up at the Alamo to catch a screening which was, it turned out, part of a series the Alamo was doing about social issues in movies. And, of course, Gun Crazy is as good an example of how a good gun owner gets sucked into the issues of a bad gun owner as you're like to see.
The screening was either sold out or nearly so, which, even in a small theater at The Alamo on a Tuesday at 7:30 - for a movie that's now 66 years old - is a pretty good thing. What was truly surprising was that the screening was of a 35mm print struck in the 1960's, as near as I could tell.
Monday, February 29, 2016
This one has been on my hit list for a couple of years now. I recorded it off TCM way back in December and finally pulled the trigger and watched it.
Sweet Smell of Success (1957) is one of those movies like Sunset Boulevard, The Hustler or On the Waterfront that came out during a certain window of moviemaking that I think people associate with Eisenhower-era positivity, thanks to TV re-runs and a deluge of Disney movies in their youth. Of course, Noir sort of blows the doors off all that. But a lot of Noir gets caught up in incredible situations, with dames on the make, gangsters, long-game scams. But sometimes something like this - stylized though it may be - gets at something a bit beyond the grift or the crime.
Tony Curtis plays Sidney Falco, a press agent for live acts in the Big Apple. Things are falling apart for him as he can't seem to place a story with any of the major columnists, especially J.J. Hunsecker - played with menace usually reserved for dictators and ganglords by Burt Lancaster in a pair of horn-rimmed specs. J.J. wanted Falco to break up a brewing romance between his sister, Susan, and a jazz guitarist, Steve Dallas. With the two planning an engagement, Falco sees doom for his own business and begins wheeling and dealing, going to Hunsecker with his problem and the two pair, their styles different but need to manipulate people and situations spinning into darker and darker territory.
This was one hell of a movie.
Thursday, January 21, 2016
The great thing about novel adaptations back in the day was that they clearly either adapted the movies of books they'd read ten years prior and couldn't remember anymore, or they'd be damned if they were going to finish the book before pounding out a script.
I say this, because I've seen the odd-ball noir detective film, The Lady in the Lake directed by and starring Robert Montgomery at least twice, but more like three times. Why? Well, it's a super strange movie told from a first person POV with a windy plot that takes a surprisingly believable break in the action for Christmas Eve, and features Audrey Totter at her Totter-iest.
|Why, yes, I am going to look right into the camera the whole movie. Why?|
But I don't really want to write a compare-and-contrast of the film and book. First, only one of you has likely even seen this movie (for shaaaaaame...), and, you know, they're two different beasts.
Still, Audrey Totter.
|seriously, this movie is odd, and I totally recommend it|
Thursday, January 14, 2016
I've been thinking a bit about the difference between the Continental Op work, Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. Brighter minds than me have surely covered this - but you're here reading this, so... here we go.
To be sure, there are more similarities than there are differences. Working class detectives working in a shadowy world where wealth buys your way into indulging your perversions and clear of ignominy. Low class hoods are always on the make. Dames who can work an angle have it made, until they don't. And then they wind up cold and stiff. It's not whether everyone you meet has an angle, it's what their angle is - and if they don't have one, they're a chump.
The Continental Op doesn't have a heart of gold, but he's a square guy. He's a brawler, almost always has a gun and will throw some lead around. Sam Spade has a heart in there, too, one that's more likely to fall for a dame than the Continental Op, who knows he's no looker and has reason to distrust any dame that gets too close. But Hammett's detectives never really warm to much of anyone, even when they tell you otherwise. At best, they tolerate others and try not to admit it when any women get too close.