a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Playing Catch-Up

I realized I’d been neglecting this thing as of late; what’s more, I’m on the cusp of hiding away from the world for three to four weeks, taking in gobs upon gobs upon oodles of movies for the upcoming Philadelphia Film Festival. (Actually, I fib. I’ve already caught four of the movies I’m to review for it. I’ll get to writing up those in due time.) Alas and alack, I’ve been a movie-watching bohemoth, and much of what I’ve seen has made me want to put pen to paper, even if for a couple spastic notations. Wouldn’t it be kinda nifty if, after all this, I swore off movies for awhile and, like, got a second job. Insatiable, I apparently am.

So here we go. Done quickly (i.e., brevity is the soul of et al.):

The Ox-Bow Incident (1943, William A. Wellman) Consult Theo. Not much else to add: completely solid and addictive, as well as a better Thesis Movie than, say, Rashomon, though not as dark as Fury (though it is more nuanced). But oh dear that finale. Any theories on why Henry Fonda’s eyes are blocked by Harry Morgan’s hat when he reads the letter? Grade: A-

Pickup on South Street (1953, Samuel Fuller) Is this the tightest movie of ever? Runs 80 minutes, feels like 45, and it’s about as whittled down to plot as Spartan. The crucial difference? Fuller also squeezes in -- and I do mean squeezes in -- nuance, characterization, themes, and his own oddball obsessions, deepening the Thelma Ritter and Richard Widmark characters in fascinating ways and so quickly and subtly that we barely know what happened to them. Basically a Fuller Greatest Hits compilation, but one that doesn’t just feel comprehensive -- it works brilliantly on its own. Think of it as the cinemaworld’s equivalent of Buzzcock’s Singles Going Steady, though even Pete Shelley can’t match Widmark’s biting cadences. Grade: A

The Ladykillers (2004, Joel and Ethan Coen) Remember that Mr. Show sketch where the lazy slob with bleeding ears (and IDS) sits down for a doughnut with the World’s Biggest Snob and Luddite? This is that sketch stretched out to feature length, featuring more characters, and all built around the plot from the Ealing original. No two characters ever completely jibe with the other, making for some spirited repartee: best moment by far would be Tom Hanks’ characteristically over-eloquent paean to murdering Irma P. Hall followed by the smallest of beats and then J.K. Simmons’ “Yeah, sure, easiest thing in the world...” A better H-Wood trifle than Intolerable Cruelty if only because it’s the least ambitious Coen Bros. pic to date; auteurists are sure to moan (and have), but if it’s any consolation, there’s only two people on the planet who could come up with names like “Gawain MacSam” and “Fernand Gudge” (to say nothing of “Mountain Girl” - to say even less about it being an actual name). Point made that this is the first Coens to feature jokes that probably wouldn’t appeal to them (“Did Lothar blow the shofar?”, for e.g.) is valid; don’t care. Grade: B

The Ipcress File (1965, Sidney J. Furie) Not so much the “anti-Bond” as much as the working class one; hero, the first one to be bespeckled, is a Cockney, shops at supermarkets, and has been forced into it to pay for past crimes, answering to two snooty highers-up who could have popped up from an Evelyn Waugh novel. Otherwise, a pretty standard, mostly effective little spy movie, complete with ludicrous plot turns (and plot) and a good squirmish or two. Made me pumped for Funeral in Berlin...though I’m still more excited for Ken Russell’s work on Billion Dollar Brain. If only it had ever made it to video... Grade: B

Black Sunday (1977, John Frankenheimer) Understandable that it was such a bomb; Robert Evans puts too much faith in the blockbuster-attending audience to sit through an hour-and-three-quarters of low-wattage intrigue and chatter, even if the thing really is saving all its energy for the protracted grand finale. Still, pretty interesting: hero is an Israeli nationalist (Robert Shaw -- get used to his accent) trying to help yanks stop Palestinian terrorists (hey, Vanessa Redgrave), with the final shot of him dangling from the chopper, as if he were only being used as a lifeline and won’t be appreciated. (Feel guilty!) Plus, the grand finale really does deliver, and all because of the constant cross-cutting between the goodies and baddies: both are vicious (Shaw arguably the most) but Bruce Dern’s cracked Vet is the one with the Big Speech, so that when the action comes, we’re both rooting for Shaw to thwart them and wondering just how Dern and Marthe Keller will be able to pull off their kamikaze mission (to kill the entire population of the Super Bowl, if you didn’t know). Silly stuff, but, as an Event Movie, it kicks the arse of the Bruckheimers. Grade: B

Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971, Roger Vadim) Surely I’m overrating this a bit as it doesn’t exactly click, but that makes it all the more warped. Credits, clad in CUs of derrieres, the best: “A Roger Vadim film” followed by names like Rock Hudson, Angie Dickinson, Telly Savalas, Roddy MacDowell, Keenan Wynn, even James Doohan. What’s James Doohan doing here? After “Music by Lalo Schifrin,” we get our answer: “written by Gene Roddenberry”. (!!) Every last one of them, it turns out, is operating on their weirdest level, whether it’s Roddenberry’s tale of a horny high schooler seeking advice from the guidance counselor/football coach who sleeps with the entire female student body, or if it’s Rock Hudson’s unforgettable incarnation of the latter (who’s also a serial killer, natch). Just as Dickinson’s perf as a substitute teacher -- who knocks her breasts into our hero and winds up more than happy to sleep with him -- is her goofiest work, so is this Hudson’s; should’ve known that all those years of playing straight-laced, stiff hunks with a low barritone was only a couple inches from the New Age-y, bemused work he does here. In any case, for the first (and only?) time, he’s a genius. Sorta odd that Roddy MacDowell was playing a high schooler only 6 years before in the similar Lord Love a Duck and is now the principal. Grade: B+

Demonlover (2003, Olivier Assayas) Okay, I lied. Can’t really put my thoughts on this bugfuck down in any coherent fashion just yet. Let’s just say it had my head spinning more than my last rendez-vous with Videodrome and leave the elaboration for later. Probably. Grade: A-


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