Saturday, July 22, 2023

Noir Watch: Impact (1949)

Watched:  07/17/2023
Format:  TCM
Viewing:  First
Director:  Arthur Lubin

Over at Noir Alley on TCM, Eddie Muller does not guarantee that the movies are actually great.  He's providing a wide swath of the material that was offered up as what would retroactively be dubbed "noir", providing a survey of the movement's variety of offerings, the people behind those films and the forces that created the movies.  Crime stories and melodramas, mobsters, detectives, femme fatales, virtuous ladies, and well, well beyond.

Impact (1949) is a femme fatale story of *attempted* murder that has some interesting stuff bookending the film and a lot of tedious stuff in the middle, the portion of which is saved mostly by the existence of Ella Raines as human and co-star.  

I confess - I am not a Brian Donlevy guy.  He doesn't do anything *wrong*, he's in plenty of stuff I've watched and enjoyed, but he's just not someone I'd personally place as a lead in this film.  But this is an indie picture and Donlevy was a get as a former leading man of a decade prior, so I understand why they jumped at the chance to put a 49-year-old dude in the role, even if it feels like the women in the film would more likely see him as a fun uncle.

Donlevy is married to Helen Walker, who seems sweet and great and is completely two-timing him with another fella.  Posing as a long-lost-cousin of Walker, the fella hitches a ride with Donlevy where he attempts to bump him off with a crowbar to the noggin and rolling him down a hill.  In his haste to get away from the scene, he drives directly into a gas truck in the finest use of miniatures you'll see in many-a-noir.  

Donlevy recovers, winds up in Larkspur, BFE, and sulks before finding a job and life with Ella Raines.  As one does.  

Because his car done blowed up, folks think he's dead, and he's pondering let it seem that way, even as cops begin to put the pieces together and figure out what his wife was up to.  She's about to go to trial and maybe get the chair when Ella Raines convinces Donlevy to go back and get real justice.

The cops decide they were wrong and Donlevy's absence means he was trying to get his wife killed and he must have murdered the boyfriend despite any real evidence, and.... it's mildly exhausting.  And makes Ella Raines look like a jerk for putting her dude in this spot.

I dunno.  The movie is... fine?  It's not the best thing you'll see, and you can see what an indie picture could pull off in 1949.  It's not nothing.  I just suspect this thing needed some polish in the script room or in editing.  I won't think about it much after this post.  

It is definitely noir, I'll give it that.  It's got femme fatales and virtuous, wholesome women offering something else.  It's got twitchy guys and murder and bad luck.  The most novel aspect was the twist to Donlevy being held for murder, but that never feels like it'll stick.  But we do get Anna May Wong!

I just didn't love it, and that's ok.  You be you, movie. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

PodCast 249: "Repo Man" (1984) - a punk rock podcast w/ Matty & Ryan

Watched:  07/15/2023
Format:  BluRay - Criterion
Viewing: Unknown
Decade:  1980's
Director:  Alex Cox

Old pal but new co-contributor Matty brings us one of the staples of 1980's punk rock culture and cinema. It's one of the most quotable, most memorable films of an era! We get some drinks and go do some crimes.



Repo Man - Iggy Pop 
Institutionalized - Suicidal Tendencies 

Matt's copy of the soundtrack on original vinyl


Monday, July 17, 2023

WA Watch: Rushmore (1998)

I figure this is me and my nephew in about 8 years

Watched:  07/16/2023
Format:  Streaming Amazon
Viewing:  Unknown
Director:  Wes Anderson

Recently, I was watching some old Bugs Bunny cartoons, circa 1940, and I was surprised to see the name "Charles M. Jones" in the credits.  While "Chuck Jones" is synonymous with WB animation, he's really associated with a certain artistic style and flair that is characterized in certain styles of background, character design and with his comedic timing in everything from "What's Opera, Doc?" to The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.  But there was his name in plain text.

He had not yet timed how long it took an anvil to fall or for Wile E. Coyote to hang in mid-air before plummeting for maximum comedic effect.  He hadn't quite gotten the rise of an eyebrow or a sly look to the viewer.  But.  It's there.  

Jamie was the one who requested a watch of Rushmore (1998) a film we saw together way back at the Arbor IV upon its release.  And we've watched a number of times over the years.  And, for her, it was an academic exercise in "what was he doing in 1998?  and how does it true up to what's there in 2023 with Asteroid City?"

It's interesting how Anderson springs into a form we all would have been fine with here in 1998 and with his second feature (after the excellent Bottle Rocket).  He's locking in on some of the themes he'd return to (certainly distant, bad dads), certain camera shots/ edits, formal dialog fit more for a 20th century short story than a film in the naturalist mode, aesthetics of symmetry and retro-ism.  

It's also curious to ponder how much of the Wes Anderson story that Owen Wilson occupies.  The two were roommates at the University of Texas, and Anderson - maybe UT's brightest star in film - did not actually participate in the film program, but got a Philosophy degree.*  Bottle Rocket was a deep partnership between Anderson and the Wilson brothers and he'd co-star in the film as well as co-writing and appearing in Royal Tenenbaums.  And, of course, he appears in numerous other Anderson pictures, including French Dispatch, which I haven't seen yet.  

I assume the pacing of events means Anderson and Wilson wrote Rushmore while in their mid-20's to late-20's, and while there's certainly a level of goofiness to the proceedings and it is, in part, about a middle-aged man in a juvenile spat with a 15-year-old, there's some great character stuff that rings even more true here as I roll towards 50.  

I don't know that Anderson could do Rushmore again.  Maybe.  He's never quite given up on teen geniuses, including underperforming teen and adult geniuses.  He's still working through dead parents, bad parents, indifferent parents.  He's still invested in messy romance treated as a matter-of-fact.  I'm not sure a studio would be as ready to fund a movie about a teen and teacher with a complex relationship in the last 20 years.  

But, in general, there's nothing  - to me - about Rushmore that doesn't work.   

I'm glad it's shot in Houston.  Bleak, wintery Houston in all its no-zoning-laws glory and mix of industrial mess and bucolic park-like environs.  I love that dumb town.  

And, of course, it really gave the world Jason Schwartzman and a new view of Bill Murray.  Co-star Olivia Williams has remained feverishly busy, appearing in American works, from The Sixth Sense to Hyde Park on the Hudson (reteamed with Murray).  

But the film also has Brian Cox, briefly Connie Nielsen, Luke and Andrew Wilson, and the late Seymour Cassel.  Sara Tanaka and Mason Gamble seem to have retired from acting - but I think Tanaka is a cardiologist now?

Anyway, 25 years later, the movie still works as well as it ever did, and at this point, it's much more than a curious artifact of Anderson's early work - it's clearly pointing the way he's headed.


*Little tip for you brainiacs like me who burned through 5 years of college and panicked in their 4th year and also got a history degree