Showing posts with label movies 2024. Show all posts
Showing posts with label movies 2024. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Franken Watch: Lisa Frankenstein (2024)




Watched:  04/23/2024
Format:  Peacock
Viewing:  First
Director:  Zelda Williams
Selection:  Joint household

First, it was someone on social media who pointed out the title to Lisa Frankenstein (2024) is less random than it appears and is maybe a reference to Lisa Frank products, and I think it's great, and maybe part of the winky "we're not going to explain everything to you dummies" vibe this movie has.

One thing social media has accomplished is that you've shoved generations of people together who normally would not have opportunity to speak to one another about pop culture minutia.  And through this, I've become acutely aware of how media and a few other artifacts can give a very peculiar idea to subsequent generations about what things were really like.

As someone born squarely in the mid-70's, the 1980's loom large in my head.  And of the things made in the years since the 1980's that tried to recall that era - this one may have actually stuck the landing in ways that I have to assume were incredibly off-putting to The Kids(tm).  This is not their dad making them watch their greatest hits of the 1980's.  

The movie is hovering in the mid-40's on Metacritic and over at RT a 51% critical score, with a 42% with top critics.  I'm not exactly sure how or why, but the people giving this movie bad reviews kind of uniformly seem to have missed the gag of 1980's trash/ underground cinema.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Adventure Watch: Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)





Watched:  04/22/2024
Format:  Fox Movies
Viewing:  First
Director:  Henry Levin

I've not read the original novel of Journey to the Center of the Earth, and until viewing this movie, I'd never felt particularly guilty about that or questioned it, but it's kind of kooky that I had not read it.  I'm a fan of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and have been since I was a small kid - whether you mean the Disney film, the book, or what my mother reports was likely a kid's adaptation she read me when I was 5 or 6 that she even recently was relating to me how enthused I was about the book.

When it came to the novel of Journey, I had the basic gist down from a lifetime of absorbing pop culture.  Science folk find a hole, wander about, figure out there's all sorts of crazy stuff under the surface, like an ocean and dinosaurs.  Which should sound real familiar-like to fans of Legendary's Monsterverse franchise/ the latest Kong and Godzilla team-up film.  So, yeah, hope you're enjoying a fresh, new 160 year old concept.  

Anyway, that guilt about my poor reading habits seeped in about five minutes after starting the film of Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), and I got a taste of the ol' adventure-spirit that could fill a splashy all-ages sci-fi movie in 1959.  But I also remembered how much I enjoyed the book of Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and, anyway.  I'll give it time and then read the book.

First:  This thing looks insanely expensive for 1959.  Massive sets, period setting, maybe 1/3rd of the movie on the surface before we see any caves, and lots of matte and other visual FX.  Plus, James Mason as the lead, Pat Boone(!) as the young scientist/ admirer of Mason's daughter, and Ms. Arlene Dahl playing about ten years older than she was at the time of shooting.  Some scenes have boat-loads of extras. 

Monday, April 22, 2024

Toho Watch: The War of the Gargantuas (1966)




Watched:  04/21/2024
Format:  Max
Viewing:  First
Director:  Ishiro Honda

Not as well remembered as the Godzilla movies from Toho, the same studio also made a few "Frankenstein" movies.  If, by Frankenstein, you mean "here's a giant, sort of stupid looking guy in a furry outfit and hideous mask".  I, of course, didn't look up what order to watch these in, so this is the second one, and I have not yet seen the first.  

However, I'm a clever fellow, and I am pretty sure I followed along.

The War of the Gargantuas (1966) follows the tale of a "Frankenstein" appearing in Japan after they believed the Frankenstein they'd previously dealt with in Frankenstein vs. Baragon was killed.  Well, apparently Frank was dropping cells that grew into new monsters, also called Frankensteins, because sure.

The first on to appear is green, and alternately referred to as "Gaira" or "The Green One", because he is green.  And comes from the sea.  And he hates lounge singers.  And the Japanese Self Defense Force.  A second Frankenstein comes down out of the mountains, and is dubbed "Sanda" (and is usually actually just called "The Brown One").  

The two fight while, per usual, the guys in military uniforms and stern men in gray suits ponder what they should do, while our hero seems to know what to do.  Now, weirdly, our hero is Russ Fucking Tamblyn.  And he is having an absolute blast.  

The best part of the movie is that is also has Kumi Mizuno, who has a large role, partnering with Tamblyn as his feisty sidekick.




You can also count on seeing several other players from the Toho company.  Man, getting in with them must have been an okay gig for a bunch of years there.

Somehow more so than other Toho kaiju films, this one really is just two monsters shrieking and fighting for about 50 of the 90 minutes of the movie.  Tamblyn and Mizuno run around behind them for a while, but eventually they get sidelined.  And you will get very, very tired of what seems like a loop of shrieking monsters and buildings crumbling.  THAT SAID, the sets are pretty great on this one, and they came up with interesting set pieces - maybe because the actors are confined within the same amount of kooky latex needed to make Godzilla happen.  

All I can say is, I saw it, I was glad for Russ Tamblyn, and Kumi Mizuno should be in everything.





Sunday, April 21, 2024

70's Sci-FI Watch: Rollerball (1975)

the image that looked back at you from every video rental shop in America in the 1980's



Watched:  04/20/2024
Format:  Amazon
Viewing:  First
Director:  Norman Jewison
Selection:  Me

I very much recall the 1980's and wandering the sci-fi aisles of video rental stores where we never, ever rented Rollerball (1975).  When you'd bring up the movie with someone of age to have seen it in theaters, mostly they hadn't.  So all we had to go on was a box which was Jimmy Caan with a spiked glove.  And if we wanted movies about sci-fi athletes, which we really didn't, we'd watch Solarbabies.  It was a different and stupid time.

But, yeah, we just never picked it up, even when the film was remade in 2002 by John McTiernan (from my reading, the remake is more or less a completely different movie that happens to include the same sport).  

Parts of the movie are exactly what I'd expect.  It's sort of The Kansas City Bomber, but they added a whole bunch of kooky stuff to Roller Derby to make it violent.  Motorcycles, a big metal ball, spiked gloves... stuff like that.  The game is played in a future world where the corporations have taken over, completely.  Cities now exist to serve specific corporate interests.  

Example:  the team we're following is Houston, which is an Energy town, and, man, is that uncomfortably close to the truth.

It's not dissimilar to plenty of other sci-fi set-ups, where a wealthy elite sit at the top pulling the strings, and everyone else is happy with the world they're in, but our hero stumbles onto the plan/ evil machinations of the elite.  The problem with Rollerderby is that, actually, aside from our lead character's life, everyone else seems fine?  I mean, I don't love the world they present, and people are dying playing this goofy game, but...  literally everyone else in this movie is playing along.  There's no Fahrenheit 451 group of folks quietly or loudly resisting.  There's no masses starving and miserable like Soylent Green.  I don't like the idea of a corporation providing me with a new girlfriend every six months, but no one seems pretty bent out of shape with it, no matter how weird or dehumanizing.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

J Lo Opus Watch: This Is Me... Now - A Love Story (2024)



Watched:  04/19/2024
Format:  Amazon Prime
Viewing:  First
Director:  Dave Meyers
Selection:  K


One of the things they'll tell you in some creative writing classes is "write what you know", but they'll also tell you "don't write a story based on your life and just swap the names out, because now people reacting to a story are reacting to you".  JLo did not receive this advice.

So, what happens when a person who has been wildly successful for decades for things she got good at in her mid-20's, and who lives mostly surrounded by sycophants, decides they want to pen a not-at-all disguised analog of their autobiography as a sort of Moonwalker-esque extravaganza?  

There is *a lot* going on in This is Me... Now (2024), the sort-of-film/ musical video montage/ visual media spectacle which is 100% the creative product of Jennifer Lopez and everything that suggests.

Spoilers:  It will not make you walk away thinking "wow, she's a humble, grounded person" in any way.  And not even really in the fun way that you watch Mariah Carey passing through this plane.  But the thing is absolutely, mind-bogglingly engaging.  You simply cannot believe this thing exists, and with all the resources (her own money!) spent on it, that this is what JLo decided to do.

And I cannot recommend it enough.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Noir Watch: Panic in the Streets (1950)




Watched:  04/18/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  Second
Director:  Eliza Kazan
Selection:  me

Well, this was more fun before we actually had a pandemic.  

There are two movies I can immediately think of that are about plague carriers and which fit into the noir genre.  There's likely more, but the first is the Evelyn Keyes-starring thriller The Killer That Stalked New York (released this same year) and then Panic In the Streets (1950).  

This film is about a guy smuggled into the country who finds he's feeling horrible and tries to leave a card game, only to be bumped off by the guys running the game (including Zero Mostel and Jack Palance!).  What they don't know is that he's carrying the pneumonic plague.  

Richard Widmark plays a doctor in the employ of US Health and Human Services, who teams with the New Orleans PD to try to find out who the body was they find washed up, and who that guy might have been in touch with, spreading the disease through out the city.  

I wouldn't say the movie is uneven, but it pulls three separate directions:  the hunt for who may be contaminated, the domestic life of Widmark's character and him realizing that under pressure he takes it out on the ones he loves, and then the story of Palance as a would-be criminal mastermind who is reading all the signs wrong.

In the wake of the spread of COVID, it can be a little unnerving to watch a movie that's essentially about how no one will help, and no one trusts a doctor coming with bad news - and that even the bad news has to be contained - or people will do the worst possible thing.  

This is directed by Elia Kazan looking for realism, and so the casting isn't even from central.  It feels like real people straight up telling Widmark where to get off.  This isn't a stage set of New Orleans, they're running along the waterfront and walking the streets of the Crescent City.  However, it's also a New Orleans largely devoid of Black people, which...  is insane.  

But Kazan does manage to get some stark photography out of his locations, making for some great scenes and capturing of a time capsule - but really setting the noirish mood - curiously setting the final actionish sequences as Palance is taken down in broad daylight.  Sunlight a cleansing agent and all that.

On this go-round (this is my second time with the film), I was really struck by the domestic scenes with Barbara Bel Geddes and Widmark, and how delicately those scenes play out.  And how real it feels to get called on your @#$% in the middle of something else that's important as you do the wrong things with the people who actually do care about you.*

I do want to go dig up The Killer That Stalked New York.  It's been a good long while, and I no longer get an eye twitch just thinking about the reality of a very bad situation from screen winding up as a reality.


*not that I would ever

Monday, April 15, 2024

Noir Watch: The Sleeping City (1950)

This poster is a liar, and sells a movie that this movie is not



Watched:  04/15/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  George Sherman
Selection:  It is I

This has the feeling of an article or short story ripped from the headlines and turned into a movie, but I guess was an original screenplay.  Curiously, Richard Conte starts the film by  directly addressing the camera as himself, explaining that they had actual access to Bellevue Hospital where the filming occurred.

Admittedly, the location shooting provides a certain believability and grit to the movie, as does the look inside how hospitals were functioning in 1950 - with direct throughlines to how they work today.  

The film opens on a young doctor murdered by an unseen assassin as he paces near the hospital, clearly distressed.  Unable to find a motive for the murder, a suspect, etc...  the cops decide to plant their own inside the hospital.  And, here, you need to suspend disbelief.  Conte, 40 here and looking at least that old, plays a cop posing as an intern.    The hospital lets him come in as a doctor with a couple of years of "Pre-Med" under his belt and having had served in medical units during the war. 

Placed in the Trauma Unit, he partners with Coleen Grey, the head nurse, and the two hit it off romantic-stylez.

Apparently doctors would room *inside* the hospital, which seems problematic for any number of reasons, but must have been a real thing.  Conte's roommate first says he's leaving medicine and marrying Peggy Dow, which sounds like a plan, but he soon winds up dead.

SPOILERS

With the new angle, Conte digs into what's happening, and figures out that the wacky elevator operator is actually front man for a bookie.  And being a clever fellow, he knows how to set things up so that the doctors get in over their head, and have to start stealing drugs in order to pay off debts.  Once that starts, he squeezes them.  

Oh, and Coleen Grey is in on it, using her cut to pay for a sick kid's treatment and then getting in over her head.

The movie itself is... fine.  It's helped immensely by the location shooting, borrowing from The Naked City's concept of you are there! to lend credibility to the proceedings.   And the actual architecture of Bellevue is put on display.  

Buying that a hospital would allow a cop to pose as a doctor is a monumental leap of faith - the liability seems insane, not to mention the ethical lapse.  And that no one sorts out the fact he doesn't quite know what he's doing...  Like, seems folks would notice that.  Or you'd hope they would.  But Conte is a favorite around here, and I liked him in the part.

Peggy Dow is only in the film for a scene and change, but she does make an impression, and I was impressed with Grey's entire portrayal, especially her final scenes. 

I can't really say why the movie wasn't my favorite - maybe it takes too long to sort out what's happening and the mystery wasn't all that gripping.  But the location and the back 1/3rd of the movie make it worth checking out as more than a curiosity.





Sunday, April 14, 2024

Indefatigable Watch: Showgirls 2 - Penny's From Heaven (2011)




Watched:  04/14/2024
Format:  Amazon 
Viewing:  First
Director:  Rena Riffel
Selection:  me.  And Jamie did not watch.


Okay.  So, a couple of years ago I became aware of the existence of Showgirls 2:  Penny's From Heaven (2011).  But finding information about the movie was pretty difficult.  

The film was made a good fifteen years after the release of the actual Showgirls, and is - legally - not associated with that film.  It was, however, written, produced, edited and directed by Rena Riffel, who played a supporting part as "Penny" in the original film.  You will remember her as the girl with the blonde bob at Cheetah's.  

In olden days, I would have live tweeted the film, but I chose not to subject anyone else to my curiosity about this mysterious artifact as I didn't know what I was walking into, so (a) no watch party, and (b) no live tweeting the film.  

Aside from Riffel's involvement, I knew nothing before hitting "play".  Here are my notes.

  • Oh no.  This is shot on regular HD video circa 2010.  There was no sound mixing.  They're using a room mic of some kind.
    • Yup, that's Penny and Jimmy from the original film.  Actors Rena Riffel and Glen Plummer.
  • She's... still stripping 15 years after the original movie.  To her credit, she looks exactly the same.
  • This strip club is clearly not a strip club.  She's dancing in a bar and grill against a pole attached to a carousel horse shaped like a duck.
  • Ah, the plot:  apparently a movie producer is offering "Penny" a job in a movie called "Showgirls 2".  Meta.
  • The camera work is on a par with A Talking Cat!?!
  • I can't explain the weird Wizard of Oz thing this movie is about to try to do, but it is going to try
  • We're doing an homage to the OG Showgirls out of order
  • It just occurred to me, she abandoned her kid and husband
  • The sound is so good, you can hear the insects in this night scene and cars passing nearby
  • Oh no.  This is 2 hours and 25 minutes.
    • Oh no.
    • no no no no
    • why?

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Finally Watched It: Road House (1989)

fighter, lover, terrible driver...  DALTON ROADHOUSE


Watched:  04/12/2024
Format:  Amazon
Viewing:  First
Director:  Rowdy?
Selection:  Me


So.  Yeah.  I'd never seen Road House (1989)

In 1989, there were a lot of great movies to see, and I saw a lot of them.  But seeing Patrick Swayze try on the part of action star in a movie about bouncers was not going to draw my interest.  My guess is that we didn't have HBO during whatever window most other people saw it, and so I didn't pay it much attention.

I do remember in college some folks effusing about the film, never quite an outright appreciation for the film, but the germ of what would become the meme-ification of the movie.  Also, in summer of 1996, I worked at Camelot Records, and we stocked magazines.  Kelly Lynch was the cover model on one of these, and the entirety of the summer, we did not move a single copy of the magazine, so all summer I pondered this woman on the cover I'd never heard of, and had to be told "oh, she's from Road House". 

And then, I dunno, the past 15-20 years, it seems like the movie took on a life of it's own.  "Road House is awesome" became the refrain.   But I still never got around to it.  Partially because people always assume you've seen it, so I'd had many parts of it discussed in front of me, around me, etc... and then folks would say "well, you must love this movie!" and I'd say "no, I never saw it."  And people would demand answers.  Which I think is kind of weird.  But is also a thing people do.  

Anyway, I have now seen Road House, and it's

Friday, April 12, 2024

Noir Watch: Born to be Bad (1950)

oh, come on.  Clearly the artist forgot about the assignment til the night before.




Watched:  04/11/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Nicholas Ray
Selection:  moi

Uh.  So, this movie is not bad, no matter how it was born.  But Born to Be Bad (1950) is just not my cup of tea.  I can see how if you squint it's film noir, but it tilts much further toward just straight melodrama in my book.  

And I think it's odd I wasn't into it, even as a melodrama.  Directed by Nicholas Ray, starring Joan Fontaine, Robert Ryan, Mel Ferrer, Joan Leslie and Signal Watch fave Zachary Scott, I thought it would be a slam dunk.  But it's like Diet Coke All About Eve or something (curiously, All About Eve is also a 1950 release).  

Joan Fontaine plays a seemingly sweet young woman who comes to San Francisco (seen in exactly one shot) who is going to rent a room from Joan Leslie, engaged to millionaire Zachary Scott.  Novelist Robert Ryan is floating around, and she goes for him, but also while undermining Joan Leslie and Scott's relationship.  

In short, there's no real crime or danger in the movie.  It's just... Joan Fontaine being a naughty person and people take a while to figure it out.  

Now, I think this movie would be a *blast* to do as a watch party or to riff.  It's very well made, but Fontaine is such a heel in this, and everyone else such a dupe, it seems like you could have some fun playing along.  It's sort of the spirit Mel Ferrer's character is engaged with the movie, anyway.


Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Noir Watch: Violence (1947)




Watched:  04/10/2024
Format:  TCM Noir Alley
Viewing:  First
Director:  Jack Bernhard
Selection:  me

This was definitely a low-budget, poverty row B-movie, but:

  • It felt weirdly timely in regards to the nonsense politics and politicians backed by big business, appealing to people's worst instincts to get them to work against themselves
  • It has a full amnesia plot that involved getting bonked on the head to restore memories
  • Star Nancy Coleman is cute as a button
  • That Guy! actor Sheldon Leonard is pretty solid as the heavy behind the politician
  • Perry White (John Hamilton) himself is in this for a minute as a doctor
  • I think Michael O'Shea is a good actor who was terribly miscast here
  • I confess to being disappointed no one texted or called to ask what I was doing while watching to the film so I could say "watching Violence".
Maybe the most interesting thing about the film is the conflict external to that of our leads, and that's the state of living soldiers were asked to return to after 4 years in the Pacific and Europe, and the expectation that they'd just slot back in like good boys (and girls).  A movie doesn't need to be a message movie to convey the spirit of the moment, but movies can reflect what is going on at the time to illuminate what was taken for granted or being discussed in every day life.  And certainly the desire of veterans to have a better life than what they left upon their return is something we can still understand.

I didn't hate it, but it's definitely not a slick 1940's or 50's big studio picture.  But it's also not so far down in poverty row that you're worried the walls of the sets might fall over.









Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Noir Watch: The Damned Don't Cry (1950)




Watched:  04/08/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Vincent Sherman
Selection:  Me

First:  The Damned Don't Cry (1950) is an amazing, pulpy-perfect name for a movie.  I am not sure more movies need to do this in this age, but The Dead Don't Hurt coming soon as a Western is a pretty dang solid name, too.  Marketers, challenge yourself when selling movies!  

Criterion Channel currently has a series going on featuring noir films made in 1950 entitled "Peak Noir", and I'm going to catch all of them I haven't seen.  Honestly, shoving Joan Crawford into a movie from this series was going to get me to prioritize it, so here we are. 

Crawford plays a mother to a young child, married to a roughneck and living with her parents in near poverty.  After the tragic death of her child on a bike they couldn't afford, she splits and heads for New York.  She moves swiftly into modelling for a dress-maker, and finds it has a side-hustle that's not quite prostitution, but adjacent.  Meeting a harmless CPA, she sees a way out, and gets him better gigs working for shady operations (and I think it's assumed, they're friendly).  However, this means she meets a 50's-style syndicate boss, and she trades up to become his kept woman.  

Monday, April 8, 2024

G Watch: Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)





Watched:  04/07/2024
Format:  Max
Viewing:  Second
Director:  Jun Fukuda

I wasn't feeling great thanks to springtime allergies, and decided a rewatch of Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972) was in order.  

My memory of the movie was mostly bi-furcated between the Children's Land storyline and maybe 1/3rd of the movie being some really pretty good kaiju fighting (as these things go).  And that turned out to be correct.  

For folks who are somehow shocked that the current Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire film is not a gritty, "realistic", edgy take on Godzilla - y'all need to sit down.  There were multiple eras of Godzilla, and within each of those eras - quite a few of the movies were for kids.  And I think you can see the spirit of the more kid-friendly movies at their best with this one.  

It's another alien invasion-via space-kaiju film, but also the promise of how cool it would be to build a Godzilla tower as the focal point of an amusement park.  I mean - we kinda really should have this, and I'm mad I can't stay in a hotel in Godzilla's belly and eat dinner in his head.  

The heroes are young hipsters, one of which is for no reason a karate-wielding bad-ass, and then a manga artist, a hippie and... girl?  Anyway, in the same era Hanna-Barbera was making shows about Youths having kooky adventures, so too was Toho.  

The villains are eventually revealed to be intelligent cockroaches, which is hilarious and gross.  

Anyway, the battles in this are really complex and really long, and that's not a complaint.  You paid to see Godzilla and Anguirus get in a scrape, and they sure do.  We're in the period, as well, where Godzilla was now a "protector" of the Earth, rather than an unknowable force that just rampaged from time to time.  This "protector" idea was picked up immediately by Monsterverse and was more or less their whole deal, which I didn't particularly love as an intro to Godzilla.  

The odd thing about the movie is that there *is* monster blood, which tells you that Toho was still seeing what they could and couldn't do, and what looked weird and changed the tone of the fights.  Overall, there's some fun stuff in the fights, because Gigan is a pretty creative kaiju with a great look.  

Anyway, not going to oversell it, but I think if you want a Showa-era movie, you could do worse.  

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Neo-Noir Watch: Femme Fatale (2002)




Watched:  04/07/2024
Format:  DVD
Viewing:  First
Director:  DePalma

A while back I was watching some DePalma movies, and enjoying them, and made a mental note to watch Femme Fatale (2002) sometime.  And, then, whilst watching Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, which stars one Rebecca Romijn as Lt. Commander Una Chin-Riley, I was once again reminded to watch the film, and bought it on DVD via eBay for, like, $4.  

And then promptly forgot to watch it.  

Well, no more!  I have now finally seen Femme Fatale, and...  this is a tough one to discuss.  

DePalma is a curious film maker.  I genuinely like some of his work, and, at minimum, find stuff like Body Double at least worth a watch.  He's like a film studies book come to life, but he also isn't afraid of every day adult things like "people get naked" and "have sex" and gets those are pretty major motivations for people, and so can be for characters.* But he's also usually telling a thriller/ neo-noir crime story (see: Dressed to Kill or Blow Out) and so there's something to hang that on.  

Femme Fatale plays all of DePalma's greatest hits.  It has the most breathtakingly bizarre use of the concept of "doubles", it absolutely makes our kinda hero (Antonio Banderas) a voyeur, it goofs on identity, fate and concept of a femme fatale.  Heck, it opens on Romijn watching Double Indemnity.

Romijn was still a bit green when she took on the role, and I note that she was nominated for an off-brand Raspberry type award for this, but if the past few years have taught me anything, it's that those awards tend to age badly and generally show more about the awards' intolerance for anything not fitting into neat categories of that year or talent stretching beyond what the committee *thinks* they should be doing for a living (Romijn had been a model - which will shock no one watching this movie).  

I think Romijn is actually *pretty good* in this.  The character is a bit of a cypher, by necessity, and when the woman behind the face pokes her head out, it's interesting and buyable.  She's not as good as she's been on Star Trek, but - again - early days, and dealing with some material that works as an academic exercise as much or more than a coherent film.

SPOILERS

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Noir Watch: No Way Out (1950)




Watched:  04/06/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Joseph L. Mankiewicz

If you want to see a young actor show up with a ton of star power - and this was Sidney Poitier's real screen debut - seeing him in this film is extraordinary.  Heck, in most ways, this film is extraordinary.  

I thought No Way Out (1950) was a simpler film, but confess I didn't know anything about the plot or set-up.  Just that it starred young Poitier, the always great Richard Widmark and Linda Darnell, who is always a good reason to watch a film.  

Poitier plays a doctor just done with school on his first day as an official doctor.  He's sent to treat two criminals caught during a robbery, shot and in need of care.  One of them is displaying bizarre symptoms and while Poitier is looking into what ails him via a spinal tap, one of the crooks dies.  His horrendously racist brother (Widmark) is convinced Poitier killed him on purpose.  

While the hospital backs Poitier, Poitier still wants an autopsy, and so they go to the dead man's wife (Darnell) to get her to convince the brother that an autopsy should be performed.  Widmark convinces her that the hospital is looking to cover up the evidence of foul play, which she conveys to the residents of Beaver Canal, which is where the poorest (and apparently most racist) folks in their city live.  

Soon, a race riot breaks out, but rather than have it happen in their neighborhood, the Black men head to Beaver Canal.  Things get violent.

There's a wide array of characters in the film, from the progressive chief doctor supporting Poitier to the pragmatic hospital director to the elevator operator who sees Poitier as stepping outside of his place to the domestic who knows more than she says.  And, of course, Poitier's family, with a negative nelly of a matriarch.  It's a great way of showing some of the complexity everyone is dealing with, and even the purest of intentions gets mangled by agendas and scars (some literal).  

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Noir Watch: Pushover (1954)




Watched:  04/03/2024
Format:  TCM Noir Alley
Viewing:  Second
Director:  Richard Quine
Selection:  Myself via Noir Alley

I vaguely recalled watching this movie several years ago, and liking it well enough.  And, sure enough, in 2011, I'd seen it during one of my noir sprints.   

The post linked above is good enough at providing a synopsis.  I would argue my appreciation for the film is probably greater at this point than in 2011.  On that first viewing I was a bit dismissive about the stakes and the scope being too small of a plot for a movie in modern terms, comparing it to a single episode of a cop show, but i feel like And that may be somewhat true:  I don't think this would be greenlit - or at least the execution would now be greatly reimagined.  But I'd walk that back to:  this is a full arc for a prestige TV show. 

What I don't think, now, is that I quite grasped exactly how noir this movie is, how much one could use it on an exam to say "now, in what ways is Novak's character a femme fatale?" and "what mistakes did Fred MacMurray's character make and why did he make them?"  The movie is like a punchlist of what makes noir, noir - right down to the contrasting story with Dorothy Malone as the bubbly nurse living nextdoor to Novak and the "good" cop slowly falling for her.

There's the obvious 50's film favorite issue of voyeurism, which I mostly previously discussed in the framework of "oh, hey, Vertigo also came out around the same time."  While it's impossible not to think of Hitch's film, this movie seems less aware of the perverse thrill of people-watching, and treats it in a "boys will be boys" way as our cops enjoy their stakeout ogling women, which only really serves as subtext and draws commentary as discussion external to the film.  

The movie is also not just beautifully shot, but I think you need to be impressed by the editing.  A good chunk of the film takes place in and around a single apartment building, in and out of doors - almost to the point of absurdity - and it's never a question for the audience who is where and what they're doing. There's some modern version of this with cameras and a split screen tracking everyone.  

I also didn't say much about Novak in the original post, but it is her first film, and she's an astounding natural talent.  She's very young here - something like 20, and she already has polish of a seasoned actor (which may be Quine's direction).  Her character is going through a lot, and I think only once did I think "is that the right reading of that line?" but it was the one that wound up in the film on purpose.  But, yeah, amazing work from Novak who is both the center and kind of heart of the film.

Anyway, I don't know that this movie will change your life, but it's better than I gave it credit for on the first viewing.  





Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Fritz Lang Watch: M (1931)




Watched:  04/01/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Fritz Lang
Selection:  Me


I've been meaning to get to this one for at least fifteen years.  Maybe much longer.  And if I can keep my act together, I'll watch another Fritz Lang movie soon, Ministry of Fear.  

But M (1931) was priority as it's on a lot of "best movies ever" lists, and cited by academics as wildly important and influential - and I'd argue - as this is 1931 - so influential it's imprinted itself onto mass media to such a degree that tracing it back would be quite the cladogram.  

Also, it turns out: the universally praised movie is, in fact, shockingly good.

Essentially what delayed my viewing of the film was what I assumed the movie would be about, and any enjoyment would be largely academic.  And the movie is about the things I suspected, in part.  But stunned was I when the movie took a hard pivot and became about something far more nuanced and difficult to wrangle.

Here's what I knew:  M stars Peter Lorre in his breakout role.  In 1931 Berlin, someone is murdering children.  A frantic manhunt begins.

Those things are correct.  

SPOILERS

Monday, April 1, 2024

Doc Watch: Steve! (Martin) A Documentary in 2 Pieces (2024)




Watched:  03/30/2024
Format:  Apple+
Viewing:  First
Director:  Morgan Neville
Selection:  Jamie


I remember back in high school going to see L.A. Story, written by and starring Steve Martin, and getting that Steve Martin was going through some sort of sea-change in what he wanted to be in as an actor.  I'd always known him as a movie star, but certainly associated him with silly/ smart movies like The Jerk, but I'd also seen Roxanne and got that maybe he was doing something with his career now that was less goofy (but, arguably, pretty smart) than Three Amigos.  

And then I think it was around the release of Novocaine that I heard him on the radio (NPR) and got the idea that, oh...  Steve Martin is a weirdly smart guy.  And he's smart in that way that I think he probably just doesn't really connect well to a lot of people - which is the thesis of the doc, one supposes.

If you generally like Steve Martin, I think this is a good way to spend some time.  I'm not overly interested in the personal lives of most modern entertainers, and this is definitely a curated peek into Martin's life, including interviews with friends and his current wife.  It's a collection of showbiz personalities - and you get the feeling Tina Fey really was holding herself back - and then artists, poets and others in Martins orbit who do seem to be his actual friends.  Which is, frankly, unusual for one of these types of docs.  

Friday, March 29, 2024

Kaiju Watch: Gamera the Giant Monster (1965)

Gamera just stepped on a Lego



Watched:  03/29/2024
Format:  Amazon
Viewing:  First
Director:  Noriaki Yuasa
Selection:  Jamie, kind of

We've both seen a lot of Godzilla movies, but I confess to a Gamera gap.  I have not ever really watched Gamera movies outside of MST3K.  

Gamera is from Daiei Film, a competitor to Toho, one supposes.  And it's not like Japan has the lock on movies riffing on popular ideas from other studios.  It's a way of life for popular media here in these United States.  

Anyhoo...  Gamera: The Giant Monster (1965) is the first Gamera movie of what Wikipedia tells me is a dozen films.  It's... a rip-off of Godzilla in some ways, and it's own weird, wacky thing, so you can see how it took off and found it's own voice and following.

The basic gist is that the Russians are flying over the arctic where some scientists are hanging out with what I believe are supposed to be Inuit people trying to determine... something about turtles or something.  I don't know.  Anyway, they're engaged by the USAF who shoot one of the Russkies out of the air, crashing a nuclear payload into the ice.  Which frees Gamera, just in time for the title sequence.  

G Watch: Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (2024)




Watched:  03/28/2024
Format:  AMC Dolby (apparently the seats vibrate?)
Viewing:  First
Director:  Alex Wingard
Selection:  This is a Godzilla house


As soon as the credits rolled, Jamie turned to me and said:  "this movie understood what the series needed was more frogs and dogs and bears and chickens and whatever".  And I agree.  100%.

So.  I'm not going to guarantee everyone will like this movie.  It is loud, and it is crazy and it is probably more than a little dumb.  But that doesn't mean I didn't have a great time at the movie, and get exactly what I wanted out of it.  

I've entered into that "I can't actually see a Godzilla movie and just watch it as a normal movie, I only can see it in the context of 70 years of Godzilla films" thing that I also do with some other media, like Superman.  So, based on that, I think Legendary/ The Monsterverse has finally really sorted out their strengths.*  

They absolutely get how the first two Godzilla movies wanted to do this in a way that suggested a serious film but then kept tripping over themselves en route, whether it was giving us the most boring possible hero or the least sympathetic family possible to follow for the runtime.