Formerly "Dave's Blog About Movies and Such"

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Goodfellas Narration: Morrie Gets It

dir. Martin Scorsese


"It was like a load off my mind. Poor bastard—never knew how close he'd come to getting killed. Even if I told him, he would have never believed me."
-Henry Hill

I'll spare you any of my high-falutin mumbo jumbo on Goodfellas' greatness. We've all seen this great movie. You know it's great; I know it's great. This movie is great. Period. Let's cut to the chase: I love the use of voice-over narration in Goodfellas. Rather than elucidating the plot, it seeks to give us a window into Henry Hill's psyche. It is stylistic rather than functional.

Consider the above quote. In the previous few scenes Henry had been obsessing over Jimmy's plan to whack ball-buster Morrie, thinking of every possible way to convince Jimmy that a hit would be pointless (counterpoint: Morrie's annoying). And then at a poker game with Morrie and the bunch, Jimmy leans over to Henry and tells him that the whacking is off. Henry is relieved; now he won't have to answer Morrie's widow's questions about her missing husband's wherabouts. But you know what happens next.

For some, this voice-over might be a cheap bit of misdirection, but—although it does momentarily lull us into a false sense of security—the intention here is something else entirely: it is the voice-over functioning as a tonal device. Obviously because Henry's voice-over is in the past tense, we know that he is narrating from a future point. Yet, it has the quality of a running interior monologue. We are privy to Henry's thoughts as he experiences everything. For Henry, at that moment, Morrie was saved, never to be whacked. Thus as he becomes relieved, so do we.

Interestingly, with this narration, we see that Henry is not omniscient. He is not privy to all elements of the plot—very rare for a movie that employs voice-over. The narrator is usually our know-all God, guiding us through every intricacy of the story. Here, even our narrator doesn't know what the fuck is going on. Whereas most voice-overs act as security devices ("Don't worry, folks; I won't let you get lost here. I'll explain everything."), here, nothing is safe.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Trailer Time: Eating Raoul (1982)

dir. Paul Bartel


Many is the time I've waxed rhapsodic on the work of John Waters. I am well aware that, at this point, I sound like a broken record. To read my blog, you'd think he was the be all and end all of trash; that no other directors even attempted what he was doing. But, of course, we all know that ain't true. Yes, Waters is the king of filth, but that don't mean there ain't been other contenders for the throne.

Case in point: Paul Bartel. It would seem that my heretofore hesitation to spill ink on Bartel is an indirect knock on the man's cred, but please know that's not the case. It was Bartel's unfortunate circumstances that led to my apparent snubbing. You see, the man had the chops to rival Waters; his wings were just clipped. He more than proved with his first feature, the creepy horror picture Private Parts, that he wasn't one to shy away from darker themes.

But when his second feature, the hilarious Corman-produced dark comedy Death Race 2000, became a hit, Bartel could only find work on car pictures. Thus, his next Corman produced outing: the car chase picture Cannonball!. Yes this movie was tinted with Bartel's dark wit, but it was clearly the work of a man who'd been neutered. He made the best with what he had. And so Bartel decided to not accept any more car picture work from Corman. He wouldn't direct again for over half a decade.

Bartel waited until he could make another picture on his own terms, unconstrained by Corman's commercial necessities. His next picture, Eating Raoul—a pitch-black comedy about swinging, murder, Nazi fetishism, and cannibalism, all that good shit—proved that Bartel's seventies work could have rivaled Waters' output had he only been afforded the opportunity.

And this trailer gives but a taste.

[The trailer:]

Movie Theme Song Wednesday: The Princess Bride (1987)

dir. Rob Reiner


"Storybook Love" - Willy DeVille

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

KL5-FILM Podcast Episode 46 - Howling III: The Marsupials

dir. Philippe Mora


After some pre-show banter, Roger and I discuss the were-marsupial picture Howling III: The Marsupials. You can listen to the episode here.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Night of the Lepus (1972)

dir. William F. Claxton


Predictability sucks. Every week I go through the same routine: watch Netflix discs; send back Netflix discs; rearrange Netflix queue; wait for new discs. When I started using Netflix oh so many years ago, I was beyond excited by the plethora of possibilities. So many movies at my fingertips, so many movies I could watch with a click of a button…after waiting for them to get mailed to me. And so many of my list movies were available here. I was gonna charge right through these. But then an unfortunate thing happened—I became addicted to rearranging my list.

OK, Human Condition trilogy, I know I promised to watch you a few years ago—hell, you were one of the first things I put on my queue—but I just gotta watch Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake this week. I swear I’ll get around to you next week, I just gotta knock this one out...and then Rappin’...and then Dollman...and then, who am I kidding, Human Condition trilogy, I’ll never watch you. I’m the deadbeat dad you never had.

What began as a quest to plug my movie holes, quickly became a game of delay. Many of the movies I intended to get under my belt would soon lay dormant in the nether regions of my queue, never to be seen. But I’ve finally realized that I need to put an end to this. There must have been a reason I put each of these movies on my queue; I would assume I wanted to watch these at one point. So why not make it now. Yes, no more of my fussy queue finagling. From now on, I will no longer check my queue. I will simply accept the movies as they come. Let come what may.

(Note: Yes, I’ve still got seven more Blind Spot movies to get in before the end of the year, but I can add these without checking my queue. I'll just click 'move to #1 position' when adding one to my queue each month. We’ll see how well this works.)

I guess it’s kind of a shame that the first movie I received as part of this experiment is one I would have likely nudged to the top of my queue anyway. It is, in fact, a movie I had already seen—Night of the Lepus. But seeing as it’s been years since I’ve seen this movie—and then only on daytime cable showings—I might as well be watching it for the first time.

The Plot: killer rabbits kill.

Yes, this animal:

["Watch out or we'll cute bomb you to death."]

Really. That animal does this:

[I’m sure Captain Fluffington had a very good reason for maiming and murdering Mr. Mustache.]

Well, OK, the animals do get embiggened before they go on a kill crazy rampage, but still, these are the animals we're talking about:

[Aw, look at these wittle wabbits playing grown-up in a make believe big people town. They think they’re people. Yes, they do. Yes, they do. Let me pet one; I just gotta pet one.]

And when the giant rabbits kill people, the human viscera drenching their rabbit mouths, this is the aftermath:

[Aww, Professor Snuggles got red syrup all over his wittle nose. Who’s an adorable killer wabbit? You’re an adorable killer wabbit.]

The problem with this movie should be glaringly obvious: rabbits, no matter the size or carnage they cause, are not remotely scary. Eerie music, slow-motion, low-angle shots, and dubbed roaring noises do not terrifying rabbits make. The only thing less scary would be a group of puppies that snuggled their victims to death.

As unintentional comedy, however, this movie is cinematic gold. For instance, where outside of a Jack Webb-produced drug scare movie will you hear this line, “Calm down. He’s gone; the rabbit’s gone”?

The thing is, Night of the Lepus uses as a springboard a genuinely terrifying real life scenario: the effect that a foreign species has on a theretofore stable ecosystem. Opening with newsreel footage of Australia, Night of the Lepus reminds us that the overpopulation of rabbits in this country caused untold devastation: crops and most plant life got wiped the fuck out. Again, a very terrifying scenario, and one that continues to this day in various regions.

But Night of the Lepus took this actual problem and made it cuddly—took the scare out of it. Giant rabbits aren't scary, just cuddly. Enormously cuddly. The further from reality you move, the less scary. For this to work as a horror movie, it would have to be a real-life depiction of a region coming to grips with an eco-system-destroying foreign rabbit population. And the rabbits could never be shown.

But again, it wouldn't be nearly as entertaining as this movie.

[Instead of posting the trailer, I'll just link to my previous write-up of it.]

Dave's Rating:

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Film Preservation Awesomeness!

Hey, remember when I wrote stuff for the For the Love of Film Blogathon? You know—the annual blogathon in support of film preservation (donation link on the side). Yes, of course you remember. Well guess what, this year's blogathan may be over with but film preservation soldiers on.

Speaking of which, two of my friends happen to restore and preserve films for the National Archives. And they just produced a short video detailing all the steps an old film must go through for proper restoration. A must watch for anyone who cares about film preservation.

Friday, May 25, 2012

KL5-FILM Podcast Episode 45 - 2 Andersons, 1 Travolta (also, Shark Night)


On today's freewheeling episode, Roger and I discuss—because they share a last name—the two Andersons: Paul Thomas and Wes. And then, John Travolta's recent troubles. Because.

Oh yeah, Shark Night also gets talked about. You can listen to the episode here.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Phil Hartman Awesomeness

Roger and I just recorded a podcast (sorry about the unavoidable delay; I should have it up by Friday) in which I mentioned my love for Phil Hartman. And then I started nostalgin' out on all my SNL/Simpsons/Newsradio-related Hartman memories. So here's the only hilarious clip from So I Married an Axe Murderer: Hartman's cameo.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Rampage (1987)

dir. William Friedkin


William Friedkin has never stopped growing on me. There was a time in my nascent movie geek years when I thought interesting Friedkin began with The French Connection and ended with The Exorcist. I wrongly assumed that the director was either a man of wasted potential or, worse, an untalented director who lucked out with a couple of great flukes. But then I did a little digging; I ventured outside the obvious, critically acclaimed masterpieces. I actually started watching other Friedkin pictures.

Wow, Sorcerer is not only a great thriller, it's also one of my favortie remakes. The bizarre Cruising is one of the craziest, most transgressive thrillers to be released by a major studio. To Live and Die in L.A. manages not only to cleverly play with genre conventions, it also contains one of my favorite car chases. So much more interesting about Friedkin's work than I had any idea. And all I had to do was watch his other movies to figure that shit out. Go figure.

What is it about being a young'un that lends itself so beautifully to proudly, defiantly uninformed douchery. I was so quick to make stupidly sweeping statements and hold steadfast to incredibly ill-informed opinions in my early movie-watching years that my present self is embarrassed as hell by my early self. Why did I believe such things about the work of Friedkin when I hadn't even seen any of his work outside of The French Connection and The Exorcist? Because I was young and young people are dumb.

But aging is rather humbling. The more you learn, the more you know you really don't know. I suppose it's why a phrase such as "[random artistic genre] fucking sucks, man. I don't need to listen to [artist synonymous with said genre] to know he sucks, because they all suck" can only come from the mouth of a young'un. With age comes a realization that most of these sweeping value judgement don't mean squat: they're are all just extensions of the specific personalities of the people passing the judgement.

I have really come to realize that there is no such thing as good or bad; there are only things that appeal to different personalities. And so, though certain types of movies don't appeal to me, I am loath anymore to make sweeping value judgements of these movies or the people who watch them. It's also why I review movies from only the genres or filmmakers I already have an affintiy for. Even if I don't care for the specific movie I'm reviewing, at least I didn't go into it with a negative attitude. I never watch blog movies to hate them; I go into all of these with an open mind. Indeed, only twice in the history of the blog did I choose movies specifically because I knew I would hate them: Old Dogs and Reality Bites. And I feel guilty about both of those. Sure, these famous movies brought me more hits—which is, whore that I am, why I reviewed them—but I still feel gross about it (and yet, I still linked to them).

So why did I earlier misjudge Friedkin; why did I dismiss the man? What was my specific teenage bias? Whatever the opinion of those that I assumed to be experts in the fields I was interested in said about the things I was interested in. In other words, I was a pretentious fucker. I had read some piece on seventies cinema in which the writer mentioned several directors who were done in by their own hubris. The failure of Sorcerer at the box office, for instance, was attributed to an over-confident Friedkin. Coming on the heels of the successful The Exorcist, the cocky Friedkin—so the story went—overstepped with his remake of Wages of Fear. And the movie-going public rejected him. Thereafter, as per the narrative concocted by the writer, Friedkin stopped caring; he started phoning it in. He made a string of forgettable pictures solely for the paychecks.

And I bought into this. Because I never saw the other pictures. Well, that writer makes an interesting point. Works for me. But when I started watching the later movies, I realized that not only did these movies defy the writer's Freidkin opinion, these films gave me great respect for the director's talent.

[Fine, I'll get to the review of the movie.]


And I'm still discovering interesting post-The Exorcist Friedkin pictures. Hell, afer watching his (on the surface) generic picture Rampage, I realized that even when he's not interesting, Friedkin's still interesting.

Rampage belongs to the "let's get tough on crime" genre that was so prevalent in the eighties. Specifically, it is a serial killer/court drama picture playing on fears that the most deranged killers always get off on insanity technicalities. Interestingly, whereas most films of this ilk take a hardline approach to the subject; Friedkin's is a little muddled. Our prosecutor hero Anthony Fraser (Michael Biehn) must prove that deranged killer Charles Reece (Alex McArthur) is not insane, because otherwise, Charles will escape the gas chamber and end up in an insane ward where he'll be eligible for parole. And yet, everything in the picture points so clearly to the insanity of Charles.

(By the way, I'm not going to get into a discussion of the death penalty. This isn't a political blog; I don't want to turn away readers by inserting that kind of stuff here. So, in bringing up this character's sanity, I am in no way intending to voice opinions on the rightness or wrongness of executing such individuals; I am merely stating my opinion on the depiction of a fictional character. (Yes, Rampage was based on a true story —this wikipedia page on the disturbing acts of the real killer is enough to cause a couple weeks of lost sleep—but Friedkin played so loose and fast with the facts of the case, that the movie bears little resemblance to actual events.))

No remotely sane individual would come anywhere close to approaching the kinds of heinous acts Charlie so casually commits. But proving Charlie's sanity is the only way Anthony can get a conviction. We want Anthony to prove something we know can't be true. But I think this disconnect is intentional. Friedkin is a fan of intentional ambiguity. With Cruising, for instance, Friedkin muddies the waters so much that by the end of the movie you know less than you did at the outset. The more you know, the more you really don't know.

[This was too long too?]


Dave's Rating:

Movie Theme Song Wednesday: Honeysuckle Rose (1980)

dir. Jerry Schatzberg


"On the Road Again" - Willie Nelson

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Awesome Teaser for Paul Thomas Anderson's __________ film The Master

As most of you know, Paul Thomas Anderson's upcoming The Master (shot in 65mm!) is a thinly veiled account of the origins of ___________, a notoriously litigious religion. ___________ is infamous for finding even the most minor reasons for suing anyone it deems unfriendly, so I refuse to mention ___________ by name. By the way, ___________, I've got no beef with you; ___________ is a stand-up organization as far as I'm concerened. We're cool, right, ___________?

Nevertheless, I've got me all kinds of wood over this new teaser. As any faithful reader knows, Paul Thomas Anderson is my favorite director working today. He never ceases to amaze me—pushing himself further artistically with each new outing. And he also has quite a knack for producing the most "oh shit, what's this? I can't wait to see this" teasers. Just watch it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Captive City (1952)

dir. Robert Wise




As was mentioned in the post from the Velvet CafĂ© that I linked to yesterday, some people have issues with grading older films. Specifically, they have trouble placing themselves in the context of the times in which older movies were made. An understandable issue, and one that I’m certain has lead more than one, otherwise open-minded individual to dismiss out-of -hand a movie he would otherwise enjoy.

It’s kind of hard for me to enter this conversation—that is to say, my position is a little skewed. You see, as I’ve mentioned numerous times, I grew up on older movies. At this point, the rhythm, the fashion, the sensibility, the style of older movies is not only ingrained in my brain, it’s part of my DNA. I just get these flicks. Just to stress, I don’t say this as a means to brag on my older film knowledge, nor as a way to proselytize to the unconverted; just to show you where I come from. Styles and filmmaking conventions have changed to such a degree over the years, that if you go into these older movies blind—lacking knowledge or experience with the older conventions—you’re liable to be put off.

‘Why would they do such and such a thing? Don’t they know there’s a much better way of conveying such and such a concept?’ Well, that’s the thing, as with any other art, film is a continually evolving medium: we build on and, sometimes, correct the conventions of the past, thus evolving the art-form. Many conventions fall by the wayside, some stick with us, and some are brought back ironically. In summation: shit changes.

Because I have a fondness for dated conventions, I’ll let certain shit slide in older movies that I'd have no patience for in newer pictures. I am able to put myself into the mindset of olden times. Yes, we’ve moved past certain conventions, but these older folks hadn’t learned any of this shit yet. And certainly, there are many present-day conventions that future generations will look back on with scorn (shaky cam and incoherent editing, anyone?).

Even when I find an older convention laughable, I usually enjoy the movie more because of it. Case in point: the voice-over narration in Robert Wise’s early fifties criminal world expose, The Captive City. When ace reporter Jim Austin (John Forsythe) and wife Marge (Joan Camden) fly into the police station of highway city USA, the frantic couple begs for a police escort. They’ve got no time to explain; their lives are in danger; get something here now. When the desk cop explains that it’ll be at least an hour before anyone can get there, the couple agrees to wait.

What’s this, Jim notices; the cops have a tape recorder. Would the desk cop mind if the reporter fiddled with the machine? You know—so as to record their ordeal, just in case their pursuers off them before the police escort can arrive? Knock yourself out, in so many words, the cop replies. At which point, Jim plops himself in front of the machine and begins narrating the story that the movie will now flashback to. Now, the main-character-voicing-over-the-flashback-that-is-the-movie-being-movied convention is quite old and one that will surely continue for many years. That isn’t the dated part.

What is odd is the way Jim narrates his story. The frantic man, on the run for his life, gives his story the sort of semi-enthused, half-interested tone that only a person deeply removed from the proceedings could convey: he talks like a nature documentary narrator. Hey, asshole, you and your wife fear for your lives; make us believe it. If this narration were accurate, it would be a semi-coherent series of gasps, catching of breaths, and shrieks—interrupted by the occasional string of words:

“Oh Jesus fuck, mayor—no, I mean, police chief—he’s the one who’s—fuck! They’re all gonna get us. Fuck the mob. Yeah, I said it. Don’t you—Fuck, why’d I have to cross the goddamn mob? Wait. Did you hear that? They’re here. They found me. I don’t know how, but they found me. Run for it, Marty!”

Instead, Jim gives his narration a thought-out three-act structure, fooling us with the bobs and weaves, twists and turns that his story takes. Realism was sacrificed for clarity. Given the plethora of movies in The Captive City’s wake that experimented brilliantly with voice-over narration (Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, The Informant!), it might be a little disconcerting to the modern viewer to watch such an unrealistic, yet cut and dry, take on the narrator.

Nevertheless, I got a kick out of it. For me, the disconnect from reality was really goddamn funny. Don’t get me wrong, if modern movies try to pull this shit, I immediately tune out. They should know better. But The Captive City? I can’t stay mad at it.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that this movie is redeemed by damn near everything else about it. A riveting story, this tale of city-wide corruption never lets up. And style-wise The Captive City ain’t too shabby. Robert Wise certainly makes no secret his indebtedness to Orson Welles. Filling every depth of field in every deep-focus frame with every kind of action, Wise could be accused of showboating. And I would fault him with ballsy hubris, if every image weren’t so damned captivating.

Dave's Rating:

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Friday, May 18, 2012

Trailer Time: Scum of the Earth (1963)

dir. Herschell Gordon Lewis


Exploitation ≠ budget. Exploitation ≠ stars. Exploitation ≠ fancy state of the art effects. Exploitation ≠ subtle human drama.

Exploitation = step right up folks and see what we got in the big tent. You won't believe your eyes. Why aren't you coming into my tent? This is some crazy fucking shit we got up in here. Goddamnit, what do I gotta do to get you in here? Get the fuck in here. Now.

This is quite possibly the most abrasive trailer I've seen.

Also, note to self: Go to dentist.

[The trailer:]

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Trailer Time: North by Northwest (1959)

dir. Alfred Hitchcock


[This post is part of the Greater Good Blogathon, hosted by: Self-Dtyled Siren, Ferdy on Films, and This Island Rod. Please donate to film preservation.]

North by Northwest broke my Hitchcock cherry. I can't remember how young I was on my first viewing; but, for a time, my wowed self certainly considered this the be-all and end-all of thriller pictures. Ain't nothing could get better than this movie. So, although North by Northwest is no longer my favorite Hitchcock picture, it will always hold a special place for me.

As I'm sure I've mentioned multiple times on the blog, I didn't grow up cultured. I didn't grow up knowing the things one must know to be in the know among those who know a lot. I never saw a foreign film until I went to college. But I did see a lot of older movies when I was a kid—not because my parents were trying to get us all cultured and shit but because older movies were safe: no swearing, nudity, or gore.

And, growing up as I did on older movies and TV shows, I became acquainted with Hitchcock rather early on. Of course, how was it possible not to know of this guy? Such a consummate filmmaker, such a personality. Indeed, even before I saw North by Northwest, I was actually quite aware of him from his TV show. But I was never much interested in watching the stories; I just really dug his intros. So, for me, Hitchcock was more of a personality, a showman; not a director (whatever my young self assumed directing to mean).

So I suppose it's fitting that Hitchcock entered full on ham mode for the trailer to North by Northwest (much in the same way he would with the Psycho trailer). Standing behind a travel agent desk, Hitchcock presents the movie as a carefree travelogue...of murder. Yes, a cheeky little trailer this; Hitchcock deliciously savors all of his cliched tourist film lines—the thrilling North by Northwest footage, meanwhile, intercut throughout. Enjoy your vacation...of murder.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Attack the Block (2011)

dir. Joe Cornish


[I generally don't put spoiler warnings on my reviews: not because I don't generally divulge spoilers, but because I don't generally review newer movies. But seeing as Attack the Block is a generally newish release, I thought I'd give you a little advance warning—if you are the kind of person for whom spoilers are generally an issue.]

A defenseless woman carefully navigates her dingy London neighborhood. Fireworks continually bombarding the pitch-black sky, this section of London resembles nothing if not a war zone. The woman is focused on getting off the street as quickly as possible; she just needs to get home. When hooded, masked youths surround her—slowly at first—they are so efficient that she is left with no opportunity for egress. At knife point, she is parted with her meager belongings. It is only when a firework (?) bombards an adjacent car that she can use the opportune diversion to escape.

As we soon learn, the firework was in fact a defenseless alien, which soon escapes (E.T.-like) into a shed...and then the kids murder it.

And these kids are the heroes.

When a storm of bloodthirsty aliens soon bombards the area, the woman is left with no other choice than to join the kids as they attempt to eradicate the menace.

If you've listened to enough of my podcast episodes and read enough of my reviews, you are no doubt aware by now that I love hard-to-love protagonists. 'You wanna root for me? Fuck you; I'm gonna make it as hard as possible for you to do that.' I don't know; maybe this says more about my personality than any of the specific movies I've reviewed, but I find these characters far more intriguing than any dime-a-dozen hero you can throw my way.

And I ain't talking about gruff protagonists who are actually just big softies underneath. I'm talking about real, complex, troubled heroes. Just like the kids in Attack the Block. This movie works so well because the protagonists are never made unnecessarily cute. They aren't victims begging us to love them. Their actions are never shrugged off as the inevitable byproducts of broken homes—though this element certainly is present. Nay, these kids are accountable for their actions: they are flawed people living under harsh circumstances who make terrible choices.

Of course, it should be noted that these kids are redeemed by the end of the picture. (This wouldn't be a proper Spielberg homage if it didn't give us at least some warm fuzzy feelings.) And, of course, the kids and the woman reach an eventual detente—though not through any schmaltzy cheap Hollywood mechanism, but because of grudging acceptance. Will everyone love these kids? Probably not. Many will, some won't. And the movie knows this—that is, if movies were sentient.

[The trailer:]


Dave's Rating:

Movie Theme Song Wednesday: Mannequin (1987)

dir. Michael Gottlieb


"Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" - Starship

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Monday, May 14, 2012

Number 17 (1932)

dir. Alfred Hitchcock


[This review is part of the Greater Good Blogathon, hosted by: Self-Dtyled Siren, Ferdy on Films, and This Island Rod. Please donate to film preservation.]

Autumn leaves skitter across an English sidewalk; a strong gust soon forces a gentleman's hat past them, piquing the interest of the camera, which now follows the hat until it comes to rest against a gate. When the hatless owner of the hat finally reaches the hat, the hatless man picks up the hat—and then notices the building in front of the hat. Lights and shadows cavort in the windows. Hell, the man thinks, what's all this then? He carefully approaches the door, which is soon blown open by the wind; and then he steps inside to prowl the joint.

Because.

In the house, he discovers: a seemingly dead body; a hobo; and a mysterious woman, prowling the joint in search of her father.

Because.

And then, other folks show up in search of a necklace.

Because.

And then, crossings and double-crossings.

Because.

And then, from there...fuck it; I can't make heads nor tails of this movie.

Hitchcock fan though I am, I am still quite unfamilier with much of the man's earlier work, which is why I wanted to review Number 17 for this blogathon. I know, admire and appreciate Hitchcock's technique; he has more than earned his reputation as the master of suspense, the preeminent thriller director. So how, I thought, would his earlier work stack up against his better-known later masterpieces. Was he firing on all cylinders right out of the gate? Did he falter initially, only to find his way later on? What I discovered with Number 17 was surprising, enlightening, and—I have to be honest—somewhat frustrating.

Yes, this is ostensibly a thriller; it's got all the right components: a heist gone wrong; innocent people, ensnared in the proceedings, who try to make sense of it all; a thrilling chase; crossings and double-crossings; people who aren't what they appear. But this is where the similarities to anything Hitchcock would later film end. All of the components, as I said, are here; but without any of the connective tissue, any of the elements that bind the pieces into a coherent whole. And this is what actually intrigued me about the picture. Initially.

You see, when no attempt was made to explain why the mysterious main character would choose to enter the unknown house, and then get involved in the shenanigans involving the other people who have seemingly no reason to be there, and, furthermore, continue his involvement when he finally has a chance to escape; I was quite giddy. Hitchcock seemingly said, you want reason; fuck reason. Given the dream-like opening: the fluid camera gracefully following the man's hat toward the building, and the camera's seemingly arbitrary decision to follow this particular story, gave the affair a surreal quality. It almost seemed a joke on the genre. Why would the main character get involved in this story? Why would he stay involved when all sense and logic pointed to him getting the hell out of dodge? To set the plot in motion, silly? What else reason do you need?

This movie needed no other catalyst to set the wheels in motion than its existence as a thriller—the necessities of genre conventions. This was a deconstruction of the genre to which, only later in his career, Hitchcock's name would become synonymous. Indeed, his work on Number 17 seems almost to presage the later masterful taking-the-piss-out-of-the-thriller thriller that was The Trouble with Harry. If Hitchcock had followed the dream illogic to to its logical conclusion, I would have heralded Number 17 as such. I would have thought this an undiscovered gem worthy of study, a Rosetta stone of sorts to understand the master's later work.

Where Hitchcock lost me was his attempt to force reason onto the story. You see, in the very final scene, after some plot twists, we discover that the main character is actually an undercover cop. He got involved as part of a sting operation. There you go, folks; that's why. The end.

Hitchcock should have cut his losses, realized the insanity he was stuck with, and went full-force ahead with the material. Instead, he opted to bring reason to insanity, never a winning strategy. What could have been an interesting stab at Bunuel-lite surrealism is instead marred by an attempt to play it straight. Nice try, Hitchcock, but I prefer my insanity served up with a heaping helping of crazy sauce.

Dave's Rating:

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Saturday, May 12, 2012

For Your Consideration: Lammys 2012

Vote for me.

Or else.

Trailer Time: Headhunters (2011)

dir. Morten Tyldum


Thanks to my writing/podcasting partner Roger for alerting me to this. I have no idea what Headhunters is but I need to see this movie pronto. I would describe the trailer, but I don't wanna give anything away. Fuck it; just watch it.

[The trailer:]

Friday, May 11, 2012

New Clip from Killing Them Softly


Yes, that's right; here's a (really short) clip from Andrew Dominik's new movie Killing Them Softly. As you know from a previous post, Dominik is responsible for one of my favorite movies of the past decade. To say that my expectations are high for Dominik's follow-up would be gross understatement. Thankfully, with this exquisitely filmed (and really short) clip, I have reason to hope Dominik may come somewhere close to meeting my unrealistic expectations.

A Study In Contrasts: John Ford and Howard Hawks

Anyone who's as much of a John Ford fan as I am has no doubt seen this clip of a young Bogdanovich interviewing the irascible Western director (I'm pretty sure I've posted it on the blog before, but fuck it, here it is again):


If I were being charitable, I'd say Ford was being a douchebag; if I were being honest, I'd say, "Jesus Christ, Ford, who the fuck shit in your cheerios?" But then I'd think twice about saying that, because I don't like to dig. Because I'd have to dig up John Ford's corpse to talk to him. Because John Ford has been dead a long time. Because the passage of time.

Anywho, when I first saw that clip, I thought, maybe, Ford had an off day. Maybe if I saw more interviews, I'd see more nuanced and well-meaning answers from one of America's greatest film artists. And then I saw this longer clip of Ford being interviewed for the BBC.


Well, I thought, maybe this is just a generational thing. These early movie directors just saw directing as a "job of work"—as Ford was so fond of saying. They didn't look at themselves as artists, just craftsmen. So, when younger generations, weened on the films of these old timers, nerded out on these movies, asking probing questions about artistic intentions, the old timers felt perturbed. 'That's pretentious talk, kids; we never intended any of that artsy fartsy crap. Honestly, we spent most of our time getting drunk on cheap whiskey and going mad from syphilis.'

But then I saw this clip from a Howard Hawks documentary in which John Ford's peer discusses his own work.


Now I love Howard Hawks; I respect Howard Hawks; I think Howard Hawks made some of the most entertaining pictures of Hollywood's golden age, but Howard Hawks is no John Ford. He's just not the artistic equal. He was a great craftsmen, but he just didn't have the eye for composition that Ford did. Nevertheless, it didn't stop Hawks from pontificating on the artistic merit of his own work—or, at the very least, not tell the interviewer, in so many words, to go fuck himself.

Although I think Ford was the superior filmmaker, I'd much rather grab a drink with Hawks. That is, if it didn't involve grave robbing.

Moral of the story: John Ford was a douche.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Trailer Time: Zardoz (1974)

dir. John Boorman


John Boorman OD'd on crazy pills before making this movie. And I can't thank him enough. This trailer, weird though it may be, can not even begin to convey the insanity of this movie.

[The trailer:]

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

My Favorite Movies of the 1940s

The generation of flicks the self-sacrificing greatest generation saw when they weren't, you know, making the world safe for subsequent generations of selfish, greedy, self-absorbed ingrates (that's us, folks).

Here's a list of my favorite movies from the forties. As with all my other decades lists, this list is in now way meant to represent the most important films of the decade—though, inevitably many of those films are represented here, because I'm pretentious and obvious, apparently—it is merely a list of the 1940s pictures I dig the most. So before you shit on my choices (not that I have any problem with you doing so), keep that in mind.

But, yeah, here's the list (by the way, despite what many of these snarkily/bizarrely written capsules may imply, I do genuinely love these movies):


1940

The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
dir. John Ford


California fruit-growers try not to get conned by shifty, cunning Okies.


His Girl Friday (1940)
dir. Howard Hawks


"Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, there's a spider on your shoulder. Oh my God, don't move."

"What do you think I'm doing?"


Rebecca (1940)
dir. Alfred Hitchcock


A house gets burned down.


1941

Ball of Fire (1941)
dir. Howard Hawks


Smart men do word stuff for to Encyclopedia make.


Citizen Kane (1941)
dir. Orson Welles


A heartwarming children's movie about an anthropomorphized sled's attempt to find its way home, to its original master—the boy who once loved it more than life itself.


Sullivan's Travels (1941)
dir. Preston Sturges


Sturges assuages his guilty conscience for making comedies during some of the most tumultuous years in American history. And then Sturges finds out that Sturges is awesome. He realizes that unemployed drifters want nothing more out of life than to laugh. Sturges is doing a good deed. Good for Sturges.


1942

Casablanca (1942)
dir. Michael Curtiz


A heroic WWII resistance fighter, on his way to America to further help the cause, makes a stop in Morocco. And then the low-life saloon-owner ex-boyfriend of his wife bangs his wife.


Larceny, Inc. (1942)
dir. Lloyd Bacon


Get ready to see a lot more Edward G. Robinson here. I had no idea I had such a fetish for the guy.


The Palm Beach Story (1942)
dir. Preston Sturges


Rudy Vallee is a tool.


1943

Air Force (1943)
dir. Howard Hawks


"Oh shit, I'm cuming, I'm cuming."

"Watch out; don't get any on the..."

"Ahhh. Oh fuck."

"...on the controls."

"Whoa. Hey, are we going down?"

"Yeah."

"Was that cause of my—"

"Yeah."


Guadalcanal Diary (1943)
dir. Lewis Seiler


Quite possibly the greatest filmic depiction of America's unheralded professional wrestling forces of WWII.


I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
dir. Jacques Tourneur


"Tim Conway's in this one? Sweet. We gonna get to see some Dorf zombies?"

"No, Tom."

"My name's not Tom."

"No, no, the movie. The guy in the movie—"

"What about the Dorf zombie movie?"

"Just stop talking."


Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
dir. Alfred Hitchcock


Joseph Cotten plays an eccentric, misunderstood uncle in Hitchcock's heartwarming family tale.


1944

The Curse of the Cat People (1944)
dir. Robert Wise and Gunther von Fritsch


"Oh, I loved the first Cat People. Sweet, I'm gonna get to see some badass cat people shadows stalking and attacking the—what? That's not what this movie is about? It's a coming of age tale about a young daydreaming girl? What the fuck?"


Double Indemnity (1944)
dir. Billy Wilder


All-American kid Nino Zachetti has the gosh darn swellest girlfriend ever in Lola Dietrichson. But when Phyllis, the MILFy mom of Nino's gal, shows young Nino a bit of gam, the kid goes cuckoo for her. Now he must balance these two relationships, making sure Lola is never the wiser. He's gone ride this crazy love train all the way to the end of the line, and it's a one-way trip and the last stop is boner-town.


Lifeboat (1944)
dir. Alfred Hitchcock


Never trust a Jerry.


1945

Brief Encounter (1945)
dir. David Lean


A truly chilling Orwellian tale of a dystopic future in which giant disembodied heads watch over everything. They see all, know all.


Detour (1945)
dir. Edgar G. Ulmer


Never trust a dame.


Scarlet Street (1945)
dir. Fritz Lang


In this magical tale, a meek middle-aged man gets a second chance at life. He pursues his art dreams and finds true love.


Spellbound (1945)
dir. Alfred Hitchock


Dali designed a dream sequence for this movie. So yeah, fucking watch it.


1946

The Big Sleep (1946)
dir. Howard Hawks


Um...this movie confusing. My brain hurt.


It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
dir. Frank Capra


One of the earliest evil-children movies, It's a Wonderful Life depicts George Bailey's struggles against the hellspawn that resulted when he forgot to pull out a bunch of times. The goal of the evil children: destroy any chance George has at happiness by ensuring that the poor man remains tethered to the soul-deadening job located in the constrictive Americana nightmare town of Bedford Falls. A truly chilling tale.


Notorious (1946)
dir. Alfred Hitchcock


Grant and Bergman make lots of kissy kiss in this one.


The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
dir. Tay Garnett


"Excuse me, I just gotta get behind you. There's a beer in the fridge with my name on it."


The Stranger (1946)
dir. Orson Welles


Always trust a man with a mustache.


1947

Brute Force (1947)
dir. Jules Dassin


A tale of one chest's struggles against...that is a powerful chest.


The Fugitive (1947)
dir. John Ford


John Ford gets all artsy and shit.


Odd Man Out (1947)
dir. Carol Reed


Spoiler alert: James Mason bleeds for, like, for-fucking-ever in this one.


Out of the Past (1947)
dir. Jacques Tourneur


I can't believe they let Mitchum spark a doobie for this poster.


1948

Bicycle Thieves (1948)
dir. Vittorio De Sica


A bicycle gets stolen.


Fort Apache (1948)
dir. John Ford


A fictionalized account of that time the noble hero Custer whipped Sitting Bull's ass.


Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)
dir. H.C. Potter


Look, it's a remake of The Money Pit.


Red River (1948)
dir. Howard Hawks


John Wayne has his eye on Monty Clift. The young man is getting too big for his britches. Why, if he don't learn some respect, the Duke is gonna have to help Monty out of those tight britches; he'll have to punish Monty—slow at first, and then faster, harder, stronger and deeper so that the man learns his lesson. And when Monty begs for more, the Duke'll pull back, because always leave them wanting more. Because, holy shit, how did we get here?


Unfaithfully Yours (1948)
dir. Preston Sturges


Rudy Vallee is a tool.


1949

The Set-Up (1949)
dir. Robert Wise


"Mr. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?"


She Shoulda Said 'No'! (1949)
dir. Sam Newfield


That is one classy junkie.


The Third Man (1949)
dir. Carol Reed


Entrepreneur Harry Lime must outsmart the no-good government operatives who try to put the kibosh on his business operation, in this indictment of regulation run amok.


White Heat (1949)
dir. Raoul Walsh


Big Cagney looks really pissed off at little Cagney and woman with little Cagney.