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billyweeds
Posted: Mon Mar 25, 2019 6:56 am Reply with quote
Joined: 20 May 2004 Posts: 20393 Location: New York City
Film noir is one of my favorite genres, but it can result in a wide range of quality. Saw two noirs this week (both for the second or third time), and both had virtues and flaws.

"The Blue Gardenia," a 1953 movie which was part of Fritz Lang's "newspaper trilogy" (also including the execrable duo "While the City Sleeps" and "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt"), is pretty mediocre in almost all respects, but the sequence in which Nat "King" Cole sings the beautiful title song makes it worthwhile. Cole's impeccably silky voice seems the perfect vehicle for the strangely noir quality of the Lester Lee-Bob Carroll tune, which serves as the main theme for most of the soundtrack. The song is played twice more during the movie, and each time it weaves a spell. The movie is far from Lang's best, though Anne Baxter, Ann Sothern, Richard Conte, Jeff Donnell, and Raymond Burr are all thoroughly okay in cliched roles.

Much more interesting was 1947's "Lady in the Lake," starring and directed by Robert Montgomery. He plays private eye Philip Marlowe in this adaptation of the Raymond Chandler novel. The gimmick here is that it's all filmed with subjective camera. Marlowe is the camera and you see it all from his POV. The only time you get to see Montgomery is when Marlowe looks in a mirror. So mainly the "star" of the movie is the undersung Audrey Totter. The fascinatingly named Adrienne Fromsett was Totter's best movie role ever and she rose to the occasion with a performance that serves as sort of a master class in film acting. She's slightly over the top sometimes, but only when the script calls for it, and when she brings it down she's moving in a way that transcends the film noir genre. Otherwise, Lloyd Nolan, Tom Tully, and Jayne Meadows are excellent. Montgomery himself is far from the best Marlowe on film, but his direction is quite good.

Parenthetically, Totter's turn reminded me in a weird way of Jack Palance's in "Bagdad Cafe," another magnificent acting class of its own. Palance wound up winning an Oscar for "City Slickers," in which he was terrific, but his acting in "Bagdad Cafe" remains one of my all-time favorite film performances. Audrey Totter's is up there too. She never won an Oscar but she was always good, and never so much so as in "Lady in the Lake."
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gromit
Posted: Mon Mar 25, 2019 11:42 am Reply with quote
Joined: 31 Aug 2004 Posts: 8572 Location: Shanghai
For another Bob Montgomery directed noir, check out Ride the Pink Horse. Kind of a shaggy seedy tale. The digressions are as good or better than the main plot, imo.

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Syd
Posted: Mon Mar 25, 2019 11:16 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 21 May 2004 Posts: 12517 Location: Norman, Oklahoma
I'm pausing "Out of Sight" for the night, which is a Soderbergh adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel which actually has a pretty good performance by Jennifer Lopez. Oddly, Soderbergh originally visualized Sandra Bullock for the part, but he dropped her for reasons that escape me because I think she would have been perfect. Maybe not in 1998, I guess. What's odd is coming across a scene which I swear belongs in a Carl Hiaassen novel such as "Striptease."

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billyweeds
Posted: Tue Mar 26, 2019 5:21 am Reply with quote
Joined: 20 May 2004 Posts: 20393 Location: New York City
Syd wrote:
I'm pausing "Out of Sight" for the night, which is a Soderbergh adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel which actually has a pretty good performance by Jennifer Lopez.


I seem to remember that "Out of Sight" was instrumental in nailing Lopez's position as a semi-superstar. I think Hiaassen was influenced by Leonard a lot.
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gromit
Posted: Sun Apr 14, 2019 6:03 am Reply with quote
Joined: 31 Aug 2004 Posts: 8572 Location: Shanghai
Three Kings. Really holds up well.
Besides the strong cast, the writing is good.
I liked the repetition.
First we see Wahlberg's character get shot as just an enactment of what a bullet does (we see internal damage and such). Then later he gets really shot in the torso, but his kevlar vest protects him. And finally he gets shot for real, with internal damage, but relatively minor.
So we get a hypothetical gunshot, hit but protected, and finally bullet piercing flesh. And up until their adventure, he was the only one among the US troops we see who actually shot somebody. So some symmetry.

The script constantly does a nice job of introducing things that have a payoff later. The footballs wrapped with C4 explosive is just a dumb thing the idiot soldier engages in. But later allows Ice Cube to down an Iraqi helicopter. While also putting an exclamation point on the argument about black quarterbacks.

Similarly, the apparently pointless argument about Lexus/Infiniti convertibles has a solid payoff when they purchase a fleet of luxury cars in the middle of the desert. There's also nice humor scattered throughout. I like how an Iraqi soldier in the middle of nowhere knows that only Infiniti makes a convertible not Lexus -- which the Americans inanely debate.

Ice Cube has a boring home job loading airplanes. Which comes in handy when they need to transport gold bars. Humor: Wahlberg in an Iraqi bunker: "Hey you guys have any more luggage?"
Or when they show the soldiers at their boring, less macho day jobs, and the last is Spike Jonze' idiot blasting away with a high-powered rifle at an abandoned car. Huh?? Then he admits, "I don't really have a day job ..."

It's a smart film, with a good pace, well-developed characters, nice humor. I liked the tough resourceful female reporter, who has a small role, but gets some good scenes. It shows the pointlessness and frustration of war
And that some of the US soldiers aren't that bright or well-trained.

One flaw is that a special forces major with two weeks to retirement quickly decides to steal some gold and do it with a bunch of sketchy soldiers he just met. I can forgive that since it's necessary to get the plot off the ground and the main characters together. And the film sells it via Clooney's character's competence and the opening scene in which we learn he's a rebel, when he's caught balling the young reporter.

The whole concept of 4 soldiers going in and taking a huge stash of gold put me in mind of Cortez who infamously overthrew an empire with around 16 men. Context and courage matter a lot. Luck too, no doubt.

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gromit
Posted: Sat Apr 20, 2019 11:49 am Reply with quote
Joined: 31 Aug 2004 Posts: 8572 Location: Shanghai
Jersey Boys is pretty solid entertainment, if a little overlong.
Surprised to find myself liking a latter-day Clint Eastwood film, but this is 1) based on the true story of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons; 2) isn't political nor veers into polemics and 3) doesn't originate with Eastwood, but is based on the play partly constructed by the main songwriter.

I quite liked Christopher Walken as the local mob boss. I found it distracting that the actor playing Frankie Valli looked like Paul Simon. Otherwise the cast is good and the film pretty solid. If a bit familiar form Scorcese and others mining the Jersey Italian ethnics of the era.

One oddity is trying to decipher how the Frankie Valli sound/tunes are any different than the music dubbed square by the bandmembers. This is the early Sixties when girl groups are big, pre-Beatles. It's also interesting how white the music is, seemingly without a trace of black musical influence. The white and Italian-American musical traditions were about to die off (or become confined to country music in the case of purely white music -- rock which was predominately a white genre was often based on black blues music).

Also, I wouldn't hear Frankie Valli's voice and think it could take them to stardom. But the songs are generally quite catchy. I hadn't heard Sherry Baby in a long time and it's very much a fun doo-wop tune.

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bartist
Posted: Tue Apr 23, 2019 12:07 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 27 Apr 2010 Posts: 6410
All the President's Men - we rewatched this last night (neither had seen it for decades) and were struck by how good it is at really showing the energy of a newsroom, and how fresh it remains (certainly refreshed now, by current events). Also fun to spot then-unknown actors in their first or near-first bit parts, like Lindsey Crouse and F. Murray Abe.

What's especially interesting is the contrast in moral thresholds between those times and now. Actions that the public barely blinks at now, and levels of corrupt dealing which an alarming number of Americans have cynically accepted as necessary for a party to hold power, were then more shocking and eventually brought down an administration.

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billyweeds
Posted: Tue Apr 23, 2019 1:32 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 20 May 2004 Posts: 20393 Location: New York City
bartist wrote:
All the President's Men - we rewatched this last night (neither had seen it for decades) and were struck by how good it is at really showing the energy of a newsroom, and how fresh it remains (certainly refreshed now, by current events). Also fun to spot then-unknown actors in their first or near-first bit parts, like Lindsey Crouse and F. Murray Abe.

What's especially interesting is the contrast in moral thresholds between those times and now. Actions that the public barely blinks at now, and levels of corrupt dealing which an alarming number of Americans have cynically accepted as necessary for a party to hold power, were then more shocking and eventually brought down an administration.


All else aside, it's a truly great movie--IMO light years better than Rocky, which won the Oscar that year, and also quite a bit better than Network, which a lot of people regard more highly than I do. And Jane Alexander's Oscar-nominated supporting performance should have won. She's incredible.
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Syd
Posted: Fri Apr 26, 2019 7:20 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 21 May 2004 Posts: 12517 Location: Norman, Oklahoma
Watching Bohemian Rhapsody, which would have been a considerably better movie if they had stuck to the facts. Freddie Mercury had a much more interesting life than portrayed in the movie (though a lot of that was before he joined the band, and the movie is about the band as much as him) and the band never broke up so it didn't have to be reunited. In fact, they were on tour not long before Live Aid. (Mercury was actually the third member to release a solo album.)

I was skeptical going in, but Rami Malek was a reasonable choice for Best Actor at the Oscars and Golden Globes. I look forward to seeing him as a James Bond villain.

Edit: I also realized that I have misunderstood the song "We Are the Champions" for more than thirty years. I always thought it was a great song, but it's even greater than I realized.

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Syd
Posted: Thu May 02, 2019 9:50 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 21 May 2004 Posts: 12517 Location: Norman, Oklahoma
I'm watching Ozu's last film, An Autumn Afternoon, and it's not really doing that much for me, although it does carry the themes of the Noriko trilogy a decade into the future. It didn't help that the TCM blurb made it sound like a remake of "Late Spring," which it isn't. Although there's a daughter to be married off, it's about how the attitude that daughters exist to be married has or hasn't worked out in other families.

Or maybe I just prefer Ozu in back and white. Or the film needs Setsuko Hara. None of the actresses here are in the same league.

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knox
Posted: Fri May 03, 2019 8:15 am Reply with quote
Joined: 18 Mar 2010 Posts: 1188 Location: St. Louis
"Still" is a 2018 indie film shot in Georgia and set on a remote farm near the Appalachian Trail. Very atmospheric but you can see the "mystery" of the farmer couple coming a mile away. Diverting bit of allegory, but sort of clunky and annoying in the way characters decline to ask obvious questions that real people ask in those situations.
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bartist
Posted: Fri May 03, 2019 12:43 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 27 Apr 2010 Posts: 6410
"Still" was awful. I didn't find it diverting or suspenseful or anything but a tedious homework assignment for film school. And yes, part of it was the way the characters seemed to lack normal curiosity or have discernible motivations. I really give the actors props, especially Lydia Wilson, for doing their best with thin scripting. The supernatural element stopped just short of silly, and was handled ineptly.

Haven't seen any Ozu, except maybe saw Tokyo Story when I was in college - if that's the one with the ingrate children who treat their parents like shit. There might be more than one Japanese film with that theme. Smile

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gromit
Posted: Fri May 03, 2019 1:46 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 31 Aug 2004 Posts: 8572 Location: Shanghai
Well, the children are mostly busy and modern society comes in conflict with traditional family obligations. I find Tokyo Story kind of obvious and dull.

I like There Was a Father a lot. Which is from 1942 but seems to anticipate much of the Italian post-war neo-realism.

The silent Dragnet Girl (1933) is a fun gangsterish film, which shows a lot of Ozu's early American influences.

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Syd
Posted: Fri May 03, 2019 8:50 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 21 May 2004 Posts: 12517 Location: Norman, Oklahoma
gromit wrote:
Well, the children are mostly busy and modern society comes in conflict with traditional family obligations. I find Tokyo Story kind of obvious and dull.

I like There Was a Father a lot. Which is from 1942 but seems to anticipate much of the Italian post-war neo-realism.

The silent Dragnet Girl (1933) is a fun gangsterish film, which shows a lot of Ozu's early American influences.


I prefer Late Spring and Early Summer to Tokyo Story. There Was A Father too, about equal to Summer, which I like better than Spring. An Inn in Tokyo is really good, too.

I'm liking the second half of An Autumn Afternoon better than the first, and they're actually trying to marry off the daughter, though I think everyone should get together and conspire to marry off the FATHER and let the daughter follow her heart.

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carrobin
Posted: Sun May 05, 2019 12:02 am Reply with quote
Joined: 21 May 2004 Posts: 7677 Location: NYC
Last night, when I was flipping channels during a commercial break on MSNBC, I happened to hit the start of "Lady of Burlesque" on TCM. I like Stanwyck but had never seen it, and when Michael O'Shea showed up, I settled down for the duration. I hadn't realized it was a murder mystery, with enough humor to give it a comedy spin. Highly recommended.
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