Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Noir-a-Thon: Laura (1944)

After the double feature of This Gun For Hire and Double Indemnity last week got us back in to the swing of things we moved on to the first of three Otto Preminger movies that made the 125 film cut, Laura.

Director: Otto Preminger
Starring: Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price
Year: 1944
Country of origin: USA
Language: English

Synopsis: Laura (Gene Tierney) is found murdered in an apartment, Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) investigates a trio of middle/high class suspects who all have reasons to want her dead.

What Indie Nights? review

Happy Tuesday Bbbg-ers. Hope your respective weeks were fabulous. Welcome to another noir extravaganza, a somewhat subtle example of the genre, to say the least.

Laura (1944)

I have to say that Laura is definitely the least obvious noir we've watched so far (discounting The Glass Key, which was so far off the mark that we took it off the list). It has none of the genre's indicators that we've come to look out for: the lighting is notably lacking in starkness and there are only a minimum number of venetian blinds, and even those aren't used to the full effect. There are some great shadows cast by hats on faces, some trenchcoats are worn in the rain like there's no tomorrow, and cigarettes are smoked like they're going out of style, but truthfully, these elements are probably present in every film made in the era and taken separately they do not constitute a film noir.

Another point of contention is that there is really no femme fatale, no actual criminals in the conventional sense at all; there is, in fact, no seedy underbelly of society on which the viewer can place all the blame and feel justified.

Laura (1944)

Indeed, Laura is unflinching in the method in which the criminal is brought to light - we suspect all the usual players (the slimy gold-digging boyfriend, the jealous older woman, the maid, the cop himself) but in the end we are forced to face the fact that the murderer had no underlying criminal tendencies, and that his motives were extremely personal, a fact that is much more unsettling than the ease of blaming it all on the criminal underworld.

It is here, of course, that the film deviates from traditional noir - another novel adaptation, it displays many more of the characteristics of a classic Agatha Christie-like detective story than of a hardboiled crime novel. And there is more than a little of the Queen of Crime's touch to Laura - it is above all a story of relationships, of the intricacies of human beings' complex and twisted feelings towards one another.

Laura (1944)

This is made far knottier by the sexual confusion running rife beneath the film's outer layer - the Lydecker character, written in the novel as a homosexual, has to be played straight to satisfy the morality code, and the cop's clear sexual ambiguity makes for relationships completely lacking in tension and chemistry, including one of the most wimpy first (and only) kisses ever to be set down on celluloid. Unfortunately, the adherence to traditional class values combined with the casting of obviously gay actors means the characters are not really played properly, and serves only to give the entire story a gleam of unreality and untruth.

Ultimately, because of all this, the film doesn't linger with the viewer, and we are left with the vague feeling that there was something we didn't quite get, or that something terribly important was left out, and if we could only scratch that itch, everything would fall into place. It is an itch, however, that will not get scratched.

Laura (1944)

Blahblahblahtoby review

It would be very easy to give away spoilers for this film, the major one revolves around a key plot element after all, but I will try my best to avoid them for those of you who haven't seen this and are yet to hear what actually happens.

There is a lot less of the traditional noir use of high contrast light and shadow, being replaced by a lot more of the warmth and soft lighting of society apartments and whilst the ghost of Laura has a strong hold over these men she is far from a femme fatale; her role is largely passive despite times when (as is standard for women in noir) she is painted as untrustworthy.

Laura (1944)

On face value this isn't really a noir, it's closer to a Hitchcockian melodrama, but I think this is our first encounter with Dugnant's Middle Class Murder theme. We have a not-quite-hard-boiled detective investigating a society murder who finds himself followed around by three overly helpful yet not too concerned suspects whilst becoming ensnared by an obsession with the victim, Laura.

There's no doubting the fact that Gene Tierney is a beautiful woman, but also smart and determined, her character, in flashback, blazing the trail later followed by Peggy in Mad Men as she climbs the ladder in a male dominated advertising agency. However at no point do you get the impression that she would lie, cheat or persuade men to kill for her. This leaves her as nothing more than a bauble for men to crave.

Laura (1944)

The extroverted, idiosyncratic performance of Clifton Webb as Waldo Lydecker is almost a show stealer; witty, erudite, pompous and a self-applauding manner is a whole lot of fun to watch; "in my case, self-absorption is completely justified. I have never discovered any other subject quite so worthy of my attention." He baits the other characters and always has a reproach waiting for them in response. His complete contrast with Dana Andrews adds an extra layer to proceedings; calling him, with obvious contempt, "muscular and handsome in a cheap sort of way" whilst constantly trying to undermine his actions.

Laura (1944)

Andrews for his part seems to be channeling the Alan Ladd school of film noir hero and gives a subtly great performance as the pragmatic, unromantic, typically masculine cop adding meaning to scenes with a simple facial gesture that could easily get missed by the unobservant viewer.

I noticed nothing special in Preminger's direction, it is solid if not spectacular and includes some long takes in which the camera follows the characters around the sets, lingering on some of the homoerotic moments between the two male leads - Andrews initial interview with Webb starts with Webb in the bath and continues as he dries himself in front of Andrews! - and at times giving you a sense that you are another of the suspects tagging along with the detective.

Laura (1944)

In terms of theme, aside from being populated by morally corrupt people who treat murder lightly (Middle Class Murder) there's more than a hint of Sexual Pathology and Portraits & Doubles throughout. I believe the three motifs will turn out to be intrinsically linked as the Noir-a-Thon rolls onwards.

Laura is a highly enjoyable film but also quite forgettable. I had seen this one a few years ago and had completely forgotten that I'd already seen it by the time I pressed play this time round. It is however definitely worth watching.

Laura (1944)

I know Brian saw this recently but has anyone else seen it? What did you think? Anyone adding it to their watchlist? Leave me some blah below.

And now for some coming attractions

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Week In Movies 19/9/11 - 25/9/11

The weeks really rack up when you keep track of them this way. The year is flying past. I saw all the Christmas stock at the company warehouse today. That was sort of depressing. But at least a Southern Hemisphere Christmas means generally a nice warm sunny time filled with beer, mojitos, picnics and the beach.

I managed to completely miss the Russian Resurrection Film Festival too. I can't believe it. If this was my job I'd expect to get fired for flagrant disregard of my responsibilities. I know I'm gonna be cursing myself for missing some of those films at the cinema too. I managed to miss How I Ended This Summer at the International Arts Festival in January and it's only just come out on DVD now, that kind of delay is no fun at all.

This week marked my grand reveal as an official contributor to Front Room Cinema which I marked with a look at some of the films that shaped my viewing tastes from my the last 20 years of watching movies.

On the home front I saw some films and I saw some movies, I squeezed them in to every spare second and took several attempts to get some finished in between sleeping whilst forcing myself to stay awake for others.

Starting with the two Japanese films screened this week, Seijun Suzuki's Tokyo Drifter was part of my Top 5 Yakuza movies post a while back and it sat in my mind demanding to be seen ever since. A brilliant piece of cinema whose influence over Quentin Tarantino is so totally and completely obvious. It's a wonderful mixture of violence, ridiculous yakuza movie plotting and French New Wave sensibilities. For a look at some of the incredible imagery on offer go see Leah at What Indie Nights? and her post on this movie. I'm gonna try to see some more of Suzuki's work this week, here's hoping I find some time.

Saturday night saw me sitting alone on the sofa whilst Leah worked and I took the chance to see Pulse after the glowing recommendation received from Jason at Genkinahito. Leah doesn't watch horror movies. I wish she had because this one was excellent. The director, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, seems to have a real talent for creating incredibly disturbing scenes through some quite wonderful cinematography and creepy sound design. I hardly paid attention to the dialogue at times and just soaked up the atmosphere. I certainly agree with the 'existential horror' tag placed on it and if you have any interest in Asian horror films this one should be an essential watch alongside Ringu.

This week's Noir-a-Thon is bringing us to Otto Preminger's 1944 melodrama Laura. So tune in on Tuesday for that review. We saw another classic crime melodrama this week too. Billy Wilder's adaptation of the Agatha Christie play Witness For The Prosecution. Starring Tyrone Power, Charles Laughton and film noir icon Marlene Dietrich this movie is pure entertainment. It is both witty and clever with a fantastic ending, so shocking for it;s time that the film ends with a disclaimer that the audience refrain from telling their friends the outcome so that they can enjoy it for themselves. Do you remember when that idiot told you that Bruce Willis was already dead in The Sixth Sense? I imagine spoiling Witness For The Prosecution for people in 1957 would have been a million times worse. This movie is on the imdb Top 250 and deservedly so in my opinion.

Watching Paul Schrader's American Gigolo I was amazed at the concept of Richard Gere actually being a decent actor and quite an attractive man, because let's be honest he now looks quite a lot like a rat and is reliably awful in everything he does. Paul Schrader is known for looking at the underside of American society and in this movie he paints a believable and disturbing portrait of a man, a satyromaniac in fact, whose carefully constructed life falls apart around him only to find true love. I enjoyed it by the time the denouement rolled round but I had some difficulty with the murder storyline seeming superfluous until then.

Following up one movie about a sex industry with another we saw Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights next. I'd seen it before, but when I was much younger, and I never really appreciated it for what it actually was, finding it a little long among other negative things. Watching it again from a much more mature point of view I realised just why everyone who loves it does so. An often fun and occasionally poignant but always honest look at a group of disparate people linked by their choice of occupation. Julianne Moore is incredible, as always, but this is another fine example of PTA's work with a great ensemble cast.

And then there was Green Lantern. Ordinarily a movie this dull, this un-entertaining and unimaginative would be found under the blahblahblahgay turnoffs heading but as I was alone with some rum and it starred my guilty pleasure Ryan Reynolds I sat in vain hope that at some point I might start to enjoy it. Sadly I couldn't even bring myself to laugh at it's lack of redeeming features I was just so bored.

Another week of a single blablahblahgay turnoff on the list, and for the second week in a row it was a really poor adaptation of a Michael Crichton novel that got turned off. The Dustin Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharon Stone starring Sphere is over 2 hours long and incredibly boring throughout. A really bad performance from Stone dragged the acting quality of everyone else down but where this movie failed was in it's direction and its script. A really poor adaptation of a book I've read several times.

There were some great films here, of the less obvious/recent films I highly recommend Tokyo Drifter, Witness For The Prosecution and Pulse. If you've seen them already what were your thoughts? Am I too gushing with praise? I'm always open to recommendations so feel free to suggest something you think I might like in the blahs. On the subject of recommendations if you haven't been over to see Tyler at Southern Vision recently he has a great post to recommend movies based on your own personal taste, check it out here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Noir-a-Thon Double Feature Part 2: Double Indemnity (1944)

Sadly the DVD of Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt we bought from eBay would not play so we had to scratch it off of the list, this means we jump straight through to 1944 and Billy Wilders classic, Double Indemnity. If you missed the first part of this weeks double feature you'll find it here and all the Noir-a-thon reviews here.

Director: Billy Wilder
Starring: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson
Year: 1944
Country of origin: USA
Language: English

Synopsis: Star insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) narrates his fall from grace as he encounters a dame he can't resist (Barbara Stanwyck) with an offer he can't refuse.

What Indie Nights? review

Greetings once more, BBBG readers, long time no see.
Following on from yesterday's This Gun For Hire post we're bowing at the pedestal of the noir classic Double Indemnity.

As a total film neophyte before I met Toby, I had to admit that I had never heard of the film, or of Billy Wilder (Sacrilege! Disgust! Fainting and general astonishment ensue!), but in much the same way that one watches Casablanca or Gone With The Wind for the first time having had them built up within popular culture all one's life, the inevitable starting point will be 'It can't be as good as all that - it's so old!'. The amount of sour grapes I've had to eat with that sentiment in mind, faithful readers, I don't even want to talk about...

This is an intensely dark film, perhaps the first that truly earns the title of noir in every sense. Many of the scenes are so visually dark that screenshots are infeasible - night-for-night outside shots, night-time inside shots where the curtains get closed and the lights turned off; sometimes the only reference points are the glitter of an actor's eye or the streetlights outside the windows. And the story is certainly the darkest we have seen thus far on our noir travels - where cold-blooded murder can be committed for nothing more than money and the hallmarks of love can be manufactured and thrown aside as easily as a ten-cent tin of beans.

Barbara Stanwyck is a femme fatale formidable, the coldest and most focused yet. Her plans as exposed by Neff in the penultimate scene (in a room with all lights off and all curtains drawn) are the image of Brigid O'Shaugnessy's litany of murders and crimes done in the name of the Maltese Falcon as exposed by Sam Spade. But Phyllis Dietrichson's cold, calculating actions are infinitely more chilling than O'Shaugnessy's wildly opposing, emotional reactions to obstacle and accusation - Spade laughs at Brigid and never lets himself get taken in by her act, whereas Neff has been caught from the first in Phyllis's subtle web of desire and temptation. Where Brigid weeps and throws herself on the mercy of the men around her, Phyllis coolly manipulates them into positions that will be of most benefit to her. As femmes fatale go, Phyllis Dietrichson leaves all the others eating her dust.

Much has been said about the supermarket setting, and I dare say much of it might be true - the brightly-lit can-stacked aisles provide about as much contrast to the pitch-black Old-Hollywood mansions and insurance offices as is possible on celluloid. Placing his noir characters in a public, family space, in broad daylight, Wilder highlights their absurdity compared to the everyday world - do things like this really happen? he seems to be asking the viewer, almost reassuring them.

Not in our comfortable world of baby food and tinned beans, no sir. This American dream is enough for all of us… or is it?

Blahblahblahtoby review

The first time I saw Double Indemnity I was stunned by the sheer weight of its ending, a thoroughly downbeat way to finish a film despite knowing right from the start that what we are watching is one man's dying confession.

Directed by Billy Wilder, this is one of the master's early efforts, six years before Sunset Boulevard opened an incredible decade of films from him and with a screenplay written by pulp fiction great Raymond Chandler based on fellow legendary pulp writer James M. Cain's novel this film has so much going for it on paper that it's no surprise that it has become known as one of THE great films of Hollywoods golden era. Currenty ranked #54 on imdb's Top 250 its reputation precedes it and as such some are disappointed when viewing for the first time.

But in so many ways this is a perfect example of the films noir cycle. The perfect murder for money and a woman that inevitably goes wrong, the cunning and conniving Barbara Stanwyck who leads MacMurray astray, location shooting at night, a knowing narration from the hard boiled protagonist, subtle homoeroticism, the inevitable betrayal and death of the protagonist, a fatalistic tone throughout and snappy dialogue all contributing to this film being rightly lauded as such.

Aside from the atmospheric lighting and camera positioning that Wilder and his Director of Photography John F. Seitz worked hard to produce, providing the fatalistic tone of the piece; my favourite part of the film is the performance of Edward G. Robinson. His character of chief claims investigator Barton Keyes is a wonderful creation, filled with personality that only someone as talented as Robinson could do justice to. His “little man” inside him could quite easily have become something silly and campy in the wrong hands but this great actor steals the film from third billing as Neff describes the actions of his boss to us in flashback. The fact that the flashback scenes are from the point of view of Neff highlights the homoerotic nature of his relationship with the romanticised figure of Keyes and makes the explicit “I Love You” ending acceptable to the viewer in the Hays Code era of Hollywood production, they’re very close friends after all.

As far as motifs go there is a clear use of the Middle Class Murder and Sexual Pathology signifiers with Stanwyck as arch black widow chasing the money and not caring how many men she ruins along the way and MacMurray opening the film with “Yeah I killed him, I killed him for money and for a woman. I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman. Pretty isn’t it?”

There’s some interesting sub-plots including a relationship with the young daughter of his victim, Lola Dietrichson (obviously an homage to The Blue Angel’s Lola Lola played by Marlene Dietrich) and some extremely tense moments that if this were any other film I might feel the need to way lyrical about but Double Indemnity should need no further praise; it’s a classic, enjoy it for what it is and take great pleasure in the Chandler dialogue and double entendres in the first part of the film.

How do you feel about this movie? Are you in agreement with the classic tag? Has it been wrongly praised and sat on too high a pedestal? Leave some blah below, let us know how you feel and don't forget to come back next week for more from the Noir-a-Thon.

And now for some coming attractions

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Noir-a-Thon Double Feature Part 1: This Gun For Hire (1942)

After last weeks washout with The Glass Key we move on to another great adaptation of the eras crime literature, this time English master of literature Graham Greene sees his 1936 novel A Gun For Sale adapted for an American audience as the 1941 film This Gun For Hire. Don't forget you can find all the Noir-a-Thon entries in our vault.

Director: Frank Tuttle
Starring: Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Laird Cregar, Robert Preston
Year: 1942
Country of origin: USA
Language: English

Synopsis: Hitman, The Raven (Alan Ladd) is hired to kill a blackmailer and then set up to take the fall. Pursued by the police he sets out to escape capture and get even with the pair of bad guys who intended for him to get busted. Along the way he encounters a cabaret singer, Ellen (Veronica Lake,) employed as an undercover agent by federal authorities.

What Indie Nights? review

Hi there BBBG faithfuls! It's nice to see you again!
Thanks for sticking with us over the unplanned hiatus of the last week or so, sometimes all one's self-imposed pressures and deadlines can just pile up too high to see over.

We're back in action again this week, looking at This Gun For Hire, another adaptation from a novel of the same period - this time it's Graham Greene. I will now go on record as being a complete Graham Greene fangirl: there's something about the world-weary poignancy of his characters, the sigh-and-get-on-with-itness of their outlook, that really appeals to my narrative sensibilities. I always like to say that his novels are just long, bittersweet endings to stories that began long before we as readers (or viewers) pick up the thread.

Having a strong background in Graham Greene 101, many of his trademarks are easily spotted in This Gun For Hire - a young girl out to meet the world, an old man reflecting on his part in it, young hopefuls pitted against its cruelty, young cynics battling on through it; the general bent of characters is towards introspection, creating deeper characterisations and relationships than many other films of the era. Greene's overall tone is unmistakeable, no matter how much the setting and characters have been shifted - it's not surprising that this is only the first of his stories appearing on our noir list.

Interestingly, this is the first noir to feature any mention of the War that had been going on for nearly three years, although The Maltese Falcon was filmed only a year previously, and Pepe le Moko was filmed in Europe only two years before war broke out. It's here we see the beginning of the true American noir cycle, where the war can no longer be brushed off as a distant European problem - it begins to feel 'close to home' in a way that must have been extremely unsettling to Americans still feeling the effects of the Depression. The excellent denouement in the wide marble hallways of a Los Angeles chemical firm features mistaken identities due to the company-wide gas-mask drill, a scene that probably had a lot more meaning for the English readers of Greene than the American viewers of the film.

However the moralistic ending feels rushed, Alan Ladd's sudden change of heart after being persuaded by Veronica Lake to do the right thing for his country seems almost incongruous, or perhaps even beside the point - not for a noir anti-hero the nationalistic sentiments, the with-us-or-against-us attitude. He's been wronged his whole life, and he craves revenge.
That he gets it whilst still doing a good deed may have satisfied the morality censors of the time, but it doesn't quite fit with the self-serving attitude we expect from our anti-heroes. We might be able to see Raven's final deed as a mixture of Pepe le Moko's desperate caged-animal finalé and Sam Spade's sense of right and fair.
But one can't help thinking that Spade would never have played the sap, not even for his country…

Blahblahblahtoby review

As with most of the great classic period films noir This Gun For Hire is based on the thrilling fiction of the era; this time famed English literary master Graham Greene saw his 1936 novel adapted for American audiences in 1941.

Alan Ladd as The Raven is one of the great early noir protagonists, a man who would beat a woman because she kicked his cat and then apologise by buying her a designer dress, a man who shows so little emotion and compassion for others but is hiding a dark and disturbing past which when relayed allows us an insight in to his character and makes his behaviour almost understandable.

Foreshadowing later noirs such as Melville’s excellent Le Samourai, as a man he exists in solitude, his trenchcoat and fedora a uniform worn with pride, not hesitating to remove any obstacle between himself and freedom.

Laird Cregar as the effeminate Willard Gates, responsible for the set up of our antihero, is a much more palatable version of the Sydney Greenstreet character from The Maltese Falcon, relying less on caricature and a bit more on the subtlety of character and performance to establish his role in proceedings.

Whilst Veronica Lake is the femme fatale without intending to be, she isn’t evil, she is working for the good of her country but still leads The Raven to his inevitable demise with a flutter of her eyelashes and an appeal to his hidden better nature as only a beautiful woman with her own agenda in a noir film could achieve.

Blending location shooting with studio back lots you are treated to a some of the noir staples; late nights and expressionistic lighting in dirty looking locations such as a gasworks and sewer during a particularly enjoyable late night chase scene, together with some simple Hollywood musical numbers including one rather racy fetishistic fisherman/mermaid scene.

From the point of view of the noir motifs this is a film that is obvious with its wartime propaganda (Mr Big is in bed with the Japanese, selling chemical secrets.) But it also makes use of the Cops vs Robbers angle and the On The Run motif as The Raven looks to escape the police by fleeing the state but inevitably submits to his fate.

In much the same way I saw Shanghai Express as entertaining but Pepe Le Moko as a more rewarding viewing experience the comparison can be made of the two early noirs chosen for the Noir-a-Thon. This Gun For Hire is an entertaining early noir, it doesn’t have the shine or gloss or fast talking exposition of The Maltese Falcon. In the pairing of Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake (in roles that made them Hollywood stars) you get a highly charged affair which leaves you expecting one thing but delivered another, this coupled with the powerful sense of doom that surrounds The Raven, despite his best efforts to continue living, make for a highly rewarding viewing experience.

Seen this one? Got any other favourite Alan Ladd performances? Disagree with us skipping The Glass Key? Leave some blah below and tune in later for the second part of this weeks double feature, Double Indemnity.

And now for some coming attractions

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Week In Movies 12/9/11 - 18/9/11

My busy lifestyle continued this week, with me managing to miss out on a couple of screenings at The Russian Resurrection Film Festival but finally getting some time to relax and watching some movies from the comfort of our sofa. Ideally there will be some actual posts in the next week to break up the run of these weekly catch up posts.

Back at the start of the week we had some noir based trouble, we had to remove Shadow of a Doubt from the noir rundown because of a shoddy DVD provided by some cowboy eBay seller but we did fit in a double feature once more, complete with comfort food and beer to raise our spirits after a tough few weeks. Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake starred in the first of this weeks films noir This Gun For Hire followed by Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, reviews to come on Tuesday as usual.

We tried out the new Irish film that's been getting rave reviews, The Guard, but were only mildly impressed. It had moments of great humour in an enjoyable performance from Brendan Gleeson but when it wasn't making me laugh, 80% of the time, I was quite bored, which I blame on the pacing of the script which was filled with many moments that felt completely irrelevant to the story and perhaps were supposed to be funny. Check out the Blondoner review for more.

We took quite a few days of trying to watch Star Wars again but falling asleep every half an hour, we can't help but love the film despite its melodrama and massive amounts of exposition. It's a movie that we've seen so many times that it feels so much more than mere entertainment when we watch it.

Jerome Bixby's Man From Earth has been on my MUST SEE list for a while, it's considered a great piece of Science Fiction writing and after reading the review from Chip at Tips From Chip I went out of my way to find it. I'm very glad I did, it's a simple film, almost a stage play, with a one room setting and a group of people discussing one characters life story. Some of the dialogue and acting is a little bit OTT but overall it's a thoroughly enjoyable film.

Classic pre Star Wars Science Fiction came directly after Man From Earth on a day of laziness and was a perfect lazy day movie. I'd never actually seen all of Forbidden Planet but I can tell you now without any hesitation that this was an impressive and enjoyable film. The special effects were better than a lot of CGI films you get now, but for 1957 it was astounding. The influence on the science fiction of later TV shows is obvious as well, Star Trek would not have looked the way it did if it wasn't for this movie. The fact that Anne Francis didn't go on to be a superstar after making the most of her minuscule amount of dialogue and equally minuscule level of clothing is a travesty. If you haven't seen it and want to know more or just enjoy reading good movie reviews check out Kevyn's excellent review over at The Most Beautiful Fraud.

The blahblahblahgay turnoffs this week happily consists of a single movie, Timeline. Recommended by Ruth at FlixChatter repeatedly recently, including as part of the Groovers and Mobsters time travel blogathon, the film had enough ideas on its side to get me interested, including being written by my favourite author of the popular novel, Michael Crichton, but I just could not get on board with any of it, I just kept picking holes until I got enraged and switched off. Blah at Paul Walker, blah at Ethan Embrey, blah at Gerard Butler with his own accent.

And that is the week that was. Feel free to share your weeks viewing or your opinions on my opinions in the blah below. Did anyone other than Ruth enjoy Timeline?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Week In Movies 5/9/11 - 11/9/11

I'm late! By a few days too. First off I'll apologise. Sorry. Second I'll explain the situation. I'm very busy. Work is tough and long right now. I'm sitting here 14 hours after I left my house this morning. For the fifth day in a row. It's not even a film job, for which I might expect to be working those kinds of hours. Our bookshops are under staffed, coupled with a recent pseudo promotion this means lots of responsibility for me and a huge (partially self imposed) pressure to improve, fix, tinker and generally leave my own mark on the place. I shall add to that the fact that I found myself visiting over 50 blogs daily through sheer enthusiasm for reading everyone's great reviews and articles on a subject which I have such a huge passion for, which left my real life empty, devoid of any trace of me, just the detritus (and Leah) awaiting my return from self imposed exile.

I'm a pretty competitive guy, whatever I do I want to do it well, I want to do it very well, to the very best of my abilities in fact and this blog was/is no exception. I started taking it very seriously; planning weeks in advance, counting traffic, plotting advertising and marketing strategies with the vague idea that if I was going to be writing then I wanted to be huge. I wanted the entire world to be hitting my page twice daily with so much traffic that I could crash Google. It's not possible is it? Google is pretty powerful right? And anyway all of that is taking away from the fact that I quite like my real life, I really only got writing this thing to break my writers block and it's possible that I don't care enough to be constantly creating new (recycled) content for you all. I'm not going to be the greatest film blogger who ever lived so I'm going back to having some fun. It's ideally a change of mind frame for myself that shouldn't see too many changes in what I post. I've accepted one offer to write elsewhere online, which is a lovely bonus that was not something I ever thought about doing before and I'm looking at some other options with regards to writing occasional pieces online and IN PRINT! To quote a friend of mine, "I'm kind of a big deal around these parts don't you know?!" but only in my mind.

Now on to last weeks viewing history.

Attack The Block is superb, so very funny, much fun, very clever and is totally worth watching at least twice. Not for any particular twist of subtleties missed first time around but simply because it is pure enjoyment on a stick. Granted I am English and familiar with the slang that is quite prevalent throughout but I don't think it's essential to understand the actual words as the meaning is quite clear. I've heard stories of Americans having to subtitle English movies before now due to accents and dialects and slang, can anyone confirm or deny reports that this has happened with Attack The Block? I haven't read the post yet but Scotty L from The FRC has apparently just written a mumble about this slang, if you haven't read it yet my reader tells me it is kept here.

The noir-a-thon was a total letdown this week. Having seen The Glass Key this week we were reminded of our previous experience of it; we didn't actually like it too much. This was a year in the planning and purchasing of DVD's so clearly it had slipped our mind during that period. We left it off the list originally but it was added during the purchase stage of the planning as it was thrown in to a large selection of early noirs purchased in one batch on eBay for an extra $1. It's hard to pass up a bargain like that but I sort of wish I had now. As part of this weeks general abandonment of my online presence we have skipped a week in our noir-a-thon which has happily coincided with a movie that we didn't like. It's not getting a review, it's getting removed from the list. Next week This Gun For Hire and maybe Double Indemnity.

I had this overwhelming urge to watch Everything Must Go again during the week. I don't know what it was but it left me with a strange feeling that I get with these smaller movies that aren't amazing but I can't help but champion. Off the top of my head I'll add Roger Dodger and Tadpole to that list. I enjoyed it again, if you missed the review and want to know what the fuss is about please go here.

I was lucky enough to see Kevin Smith's newest film Red State last week and it got me very excited. I admit to being sceptical of him as a legitimate film maker recently after hearing anecdotes about being too fat for plane seats, being too stoned to direct actors and not working with The Weinstein Company anymore plus I don't really enjoy horror movies so my expectations were low. So low that I was ready to end my viewing after 15 minutes of quite awful chatter from three teenage boys trying to get laid. If that had been the whole movie I would have been appalled. However what actually occurs during the next 80 minutes or so was a pretty powerful piece of cinema that questions the nature of humanity. I'm not going to go in to detail as I may just write a full review now or after the advanced cinema preview next month that I've been invited to here in Perth. There are some strong performances from a great ensemble cast but I dare you not to be blown away by Michael Parks.

Now for the blahblahblahgay turnoffs in a busy week of non-viewing; Leah finally finished reading the excellent Patricia Highsmith novel The Talented Mr Ripley so we could watch the Matt Damon starring adaptation of it. To say we were horrified by the movie would be an understatement, too many changes to the story and most importantly the excellent character of Tom Ripley combined with weak direction to say the least. Do not bother with this one. Serious Moonlight was the last script to be written by our latest fascination, Adrienne Shelley, before her murder. Directed by Cheryl Hines (a mediocre debut that should remain her only directorial effort) and starring the once beautiful now horribly disfigured Meg Ryan in a role clearly made for Shelley (nobody can play these roles better than her) opposite Timothy Hutton (a poor poor poor substitute for Martin Donovan.) I wish it were better, Shelley deserved more. Bridesmaids could be a controversial choice for a turnoff award but I got to 40 or 50 minutes of this 2 hour long 'comedy' and laughed once yet groaned many many times. That's just bad stats for a supposed laugh out loud comedy. Something I don;t understand is the cliche of the two friends from different social groups competing with each other for their mutual friends affection. The speeches I could see coming from a mile away but the tennis montage was one of the most painfully obvious attempts at physical situational comedy I've ever witnessed in something that had previously been labelled 'clever' or 'intelligent' by reviewers. I say poo to you.

Be well readers, thanks for your patience over my absence. Anyone miss me? You know where the blahs are.

Friday, September 9, 2011

World In Film Blog-a-Thon

Alan the crazy guy behind The Great Movie Project (a movie review a day for 365 days?! That means no time off for good behaviour) came up with the World in Film Blog-A-Thon without realising that we're all surely going to have to choose the same movie for Antarctica.

The Challenge: Pretend you’re taking a geography class and your instructor wants you to pick a movie that is set (or filmed) in one of each of the seven continents: Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, South America. The movies do not have to be “authentic” but they should be reasonable facsimiles of the continents. They can be in any language, any country, any genre, and feel free to sub-theme these movies in any way that grabs your fancy.

Choosing a theme that works with Whiteout was difficult. I'm not sure I've succeeded but I'm definitely intrigued by what everyone else comes up with. My theme? People living on the outskirts of society.

Antarctica - Whiteout (2009)

It was an interesting idea for a movie but the end product really wasn't very interesting at all. I'm told the graphic novel it was based on was quite good though. A jewel heist in the most remote place on the planet?

Australia - Animal Kingdom (2010)

Australia. My home. Not really a continent. More of a bloody big rock with some desert wrapped around it. I didn't love this film as much as most other viewers but it certainly is one of the best Australian films I've seen. A slow moving look at an underworld family, worth watching if it's only for Jacki Weaver.

Europe - Down Terrace (2009)

Initially my pick was going to be non-English, specifically A Prophet, but I couldn't resist another opportunity to share how much I love Down Terrace. It took me completely by surprise and introduced me to a very talented director. Another slow moving look at the inner workings of an underworld family. Full review here.

North America - Sin Nombre (2009)

The violent documentary like film from the director of the new Jane Eyre. Take a journey through the North American underworld with a young girl as she dreams of moving from Honduras to USA. Powerful and compelling viewing.

South America - City of God (2002)

Often called the Brazilian Goodfellas this is one of the greats of modern world cinema. A look at the everyday reality of Brazilian poverty, crime, drugs and violence through the connected stories of two young friends who take different paths in life. If you haven't seen this yet then stop reading and go watch it.

Africa - Tsotsi (2005)

A week in the life of a young thug in the Johannesburg slums. It's not quite City of God but it's another eye opener and well worth seeing. Turns out that it won the Oscar in 2006, probably because this film is more about hope than despair.

Asia - Bad Guy (2001)

Kim Ki-Duk takes another look at the underside of love and obsession in this wonderfully dark film set in the underworld of Seoul. This isn't machine guns or organised crime, it's not chocolate boxes and roses, it's dirtier than that, it's grimy and bleak and mesmerising.

Comparatively they make Whiteout look tame. A fun exploration of great world cinema though. I can't recommend the other six films highly enough.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Top Fives: Tilda Swinton Movies (You Probably Haven't Seen)

She's great isn't she? Whether ginger, blonde, crazy, sane, boy, girl, naked, clothed you can always count on Tilda Swinton to be superb at what she's doing.

Inspired by a recent discussion of I Am Love here are five movies you should see in which her performance alone is worth the price of admission.

1. I Am Love (2009)
So yes this is the movie that inspired the post, I'll get it out of the way first. I was a bit blah on the movie but others have loved it and Tilda is especially good in it. In fact without here this would just be a really long art film.

2. Young Adam

Neatly combining last weeks list subject with this weeks, Young Adam is a bleak low budget period piece from Britain notable for allowing Ewan McGregor to use his own accent. It's a story of sexual desire and murder on a barge.

3. The War Zone
See this, be amazed, be appalled. Mr Orange directed this incredibly powerful film that has gone largely unnoticed, I would hazard a guess, because of it's content. Solid direction and really superb performances from Tilda and Ray "you fuckin slag" Winstone make this family drama well worth seeing. Warning: Contains strong content that isn't suitable for all.

4. Orlando

Tilda covers everything from medieval boy to modern day working mother in this fantastic piece of cinema based on Virginia Woolf's novel. Check out one of my new favourite blogs Feminising Film for a comprehensive review.

5. The Limits of Control

The most recent film from the great and weird Jim Jarmusch. This movie added Seville to our European trip next year, it made it look so appealing. In typical Jarmusch fashion it's a slow burn film filled with odd characters. It's a crime film, of sorts, about a hitman, maybe. It looks amazing and Tilda has this crazy little role as an intermediary. I can't say you'll love it as much as me but it's well worth experiencing.

What Tilda movies would you recommend? I'd love to hear from anyone who's seen The War Zone, what did you think? Any of these you think I shouldn't be suggesting? Leave your blah below.