Monday, October 17, 2011

The Week In Movies 10/10/11 - 16/10/11

It's getting worse. This week we saw the movie for the Noir-a-Thon, Murder My Sweet AKA Farewell My Lovely and nothing else. It's a tough time trying to fit things in around here. But I'm not going to moan about it, my priority was to go to the beach with our new deckchairs on my day off this week.

Pasty thighs, I know. But beer, book (currently reading Shoot The Piano Player by David Goodis - the influence for Francois Truffaut's movie Tirez Sur Le Pianiste, the latest addition to our Noir-a-Thon alongside Drive,) music and good company in between pages of my book and it's pretty much a perfect way to spend an afternoon. In the spirit of Leah's What Indie Nights? page I am modelling a straw hat from Kenji (department store own brand, I don't care if they try to pretend otherwise) white tee from Topman (only 5 years old) and shorts from Acadamee via Pigeonhole (in the sale, obviously.) Deckchairs only $50 each at Bunnings and home made nautical deckchair cushions thanks to my beautiful fiance.

I'm gonna spend a bit of time on the blahblahblahgay turnoffs today as there's not much else going on. Saturday night was a disaster, we tried watching the excruciatingly dull Captain America. Once more I have been so uninterested in one of this years big budget blockbuster flicks. This one felt so run of the mill, comic book movie by numbers with a plot that existed solely to get us to The Avengers next May whilst having an interest in somebody other than Robert Downey Jr. The trailer pretty much told me everything I needed to know about this movie and by turning off with an hour to go I don't feel like I was missing out on much. There might've been some OK action scenes still to come but from the uninspiring sequences experienced to that point I wasn't going to hold my breath. One fun thing we noticed, Hugo Weaving was playing John Smith or the German equivalent and delivering his dialogue as he always does; it wasn't great acting as Agent Smith in The Matrix, it was just great casting from The Wachowskis finding the guy who can only act one way.

Cars 2 didn't last very long at all, the opening sequence upset us by not feeling anything remotely like a Pixar movie and then the thing with the machinery being sentient yet subservient to the cars doubled it and then the rest of the movie having no charm at all right up until Larry The Cable Guy called the TV show to harass the Formula 1 car in typical American fashion. Blah, if I could pretend it didn't exist and go back to a world where Pixar could do no wrong I'd be a very happy man.

Hands up who thinks I should have at least got a tan before uploading beach photos. I'm pretty sure I am in the minority on Captain America but the majority on Cars 2. Has anyone ever seen Hugo Weaving not playing Agent Smith? Discuss in the blahs by all means.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Noir-a-Thon: Phantom Lady (1944)

This weeks entry for our Noir-a-Thon is Phantom Lady. The first movie adapted from a novel by Cornell Woolrich (using the pseudonym William Irish) and the first major American movie directed by another European emigre, Robert Siodmak, this is the kind of adaptation you would have expected from a more experienced pairing.

Director: Robert Siodmak
Starring: Franchot Tone, Ella Raines, Elisha Cook Jr., Alan Curtis
Country of origin: USA
Language: English

Synopsis: An innocent man is accused of murder but his anonymous alibi cannot be found, sending him to death row. His trusty secretary must discover the truth and save his bacon.

What Indie Nights? review

Hello BBBG readers. This is your captain speaking. Your random fact for this week is that Sarawak, a Malaysian state in Borneo, was ruled for over 100 years by a British family, who were given the Rajah-ship as a thankyou gift by a Sultan and known as the White Rajahs. Honestly, I couldn't make this stuff up.

This week we were treated to the finest noir we've seen in a long time. Even my mum liked it. She was shouting at the screen, telling characters Don't go in there! and Look out! It takes a lot for my mum to stay awake throughout a whole movie, friends, so I wouldn't take this praise lightly.

Phantom Lady (1944)

This film was excellent. I don't even think it was the contrast with the limp and confusing Ministry of Fear from last week, or the subtle and somewhat romantic Laura from the week before. It was genuinely tense, suspenseful and absolutely gorgeous - the cinematography was spellbinding!

Our hero this week is an architect known as Scott Henderson, whose hair is so full of pomade you could see your reflection in it, should you feel so inclined. Seriously, even being in prison has no effect on the shininess of his hair. Dude was dedicated. His wife is strangled while he's out one night, and his only alibi is a woman whom he met in a bar, who insisted on 'no names' and who can't be found for love nor money by the police, Mr Henderson, or his spunky secretary Kansas (not her real name, but it's what he calls her and I can't remember the actual character's name. What do you think I am, superman?)

Phantom Lady (1944)

It is this mystery woman who drives the plot - it is her absence that causes Mr Henderson's alibi to be doubted, her presence as we saw it that convinces us of his innocence. When witnesses whom we know saw them together start telling the police he was alone that night, we start to suspect her - why is she having them paid off to stay silent, we wonder? What kind of a monstrous lady-criminal would sit by and watch an innocent man go down for the murder of his wife when a word from her would save him? This is certainly the most ingenious use of the femme fatale motif we've seen so far: the femme in question is absent the entire way through, allowing us all the time in the world to attribute shady and terrible motives to her actions.

The truth is rather different, of course, and I won't lie, even I saw it coming a mile off, and I'm not known, shall we say, for astuteness when it comes to signposts in filmmaking. The murderer and the motive are as clear as day - in fact we know who it is for the final third of the film - and yet this does nothing at all to detract from the suspense and tightly-wound nature of the plot. Knowing who it is just gives us more chances to say 'Don't go in there!!' to the innocent characters (thanks Mum).

Phantom Lady (1944)

While the film was visually stunning, I'd like to dedicate my final paragraph to Kansas the secretary. She's resourceful, dedicated and chipper, never giving up on her quest to exonerate her boss. I've noticed lately that there seem to be as many of these positive female characters in our noirs as there are the femmes fatale. I'd go so far as to say they were, thus far, as big a part of the noir canon as the fatales, quite often playing opposite them in the 'dowdy' or 'clever' girl roles, never getting to sparkle, but quite often getting to stay alive. I don't know about you, but I'd rather be dowdy and alive than glamorous and dead. Unless I got to be Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express, in which case I'd happily die any awful femme fatale death you dreamt up for me. They tend to get shot in the stomach from extremely close range, I find.
I almost think this anti-fatale character deserves its own name - femme vitale? If there are any French-speakers out there who could give me a legitimate opposite to fatale, I'm open to ideas. Cherchez la femme, so to speak...

Phantom Lady (1944)

Blahblahblahtoby review

If last weeks movie was as convoluted in its plot as the noir mode of film making gets then Phantom Lady is, so far at least, the height of the noir style.

Siodmak and his director of photography, Elwood Bredell, led the way in expressionist lighting and powerful use of shadows, laying down a template for future directors who dreamed of making it big in the film noir cycle. To date in the noir-a-thon we have seen some incredibly powerful visuals, even in last weeks Ministry of Fear we saw Fritz Lang and his darkened room/brightly lit hallway, but they were sporadic at best. Phantom Lady is almost a non-stop barrage of breath taking images. I was constantly making mental notes of which shots should be screen captured and in the end gave up trying to remember because there were so many.

Phantom Lady (1944)

The story of a wrongly accused man could be called Kafkaesque, the nightmare scenario of entrapment, wrongful imprisonment and knowing that nobody believes your story is one that we've all seen rehashed many times over the years but that does not detract from the power of rooting for the entrapped, even if he is a rich architect living in a similar milieu to Laura and not the grimy, poverty stricken streets that are usually associated with noir.

This is middle class crime once more and our male protagonist is just another man, passively accepting his fate like one of those once proud jungle cats seen in third rate zoos. In comparison the performance of Ella Raines as the secretary of the accused architect is superb. She is everything a man might expect to be in a Hollywood movie; strong, determined, resourceful etc and puts her cowering paramour to shame as he awaits execution.

Phantom Lady (1944)

Franchot Tone as the bad guy is merely OK, I know they had a different way of telling and showing in movies back in the 40's but I really don't think the way they accentuated the "my hands are itching to kill" aspect of his character stands the test of time. In a polished, highly professional piece of modern cinema this throwback to the silent expressionism of something like Fritz Lang's M just feels out of place.

The stand out scene is the slightly surreal jazz club sequence in which Ella Raines, dressed to look as trashy as possible is on a date with Elisha Cook Jr. in an attempt to find out some information from him. They go to a jazz club where Cook plays drums. The entire sequence stands out for its tight framing, dutch angles, expressionist lighting and Elisha Cook Jr.'s frenetic banging on his drums; his face echoing the main character from the Dali/Bunuel piece Un Chien Andalou as he approaches climax, all alluding to sexual behaviour that was unable to be shown in a more straight forward way. It certainly beats a train going through a tunnel.

Phantom Lady (1944)

Of all the lesser known films so far on this journey through noir this is the one I would insist on you watching, it's superb. The more time that passes since I screened it the better it gets in my mind. The visuals alone are worth drooling over time and time again, even the shots without Ms Raines.

Feel free to discuss these incredible images or our fabulous words in the blahs below

And now for some coming attractions

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Week In Movies 3/10/11 - 9/10/11

Wow, so this week is a first, I have reviewed every single movie I watched. All two of them. I guess it's lucky, life has been hectic which means this post doesn't take too long to write. It's the worst week in the history of this blog. So if you are worrying about me as my good friend Scott (of Kind Of A Big Deal Front Room Cinema fame) has been, please rest assured it's nothing personal I'm just frying my brain.

I saw Drive earlier in the week and wasn't thoroughly impressed yet did enjoy it, if you didn't see my moaning review feel free to go read it.

This weeks film for our Noir-a-Thon was Phantom Lady, a film which was good and most entertaining indeed. Review should be ready tomorrow.

That's it. No turnoffs, no links either because I don't think I've read anything other than looked at some lovely Criterion covers from And So It Goes and Southern Vision.

Feel free to scream at me in the blahs, wake me up, give me some energy, find me some free time to watch movies and read blogs please?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Movie Review: Drive (2011)

I was going to sit down and explain why I am seemingly in the minority of people who didn't love Drive but then I started reading other reviews and felt a little ashamed of having such a controversial opinion.
I went over to see Jon at Films Worth Watching who has already come across people with the same arguments as me and in his excellent review seemingly bats them away with the ease of a great writer and a great lover of cinema. He made me want to see the film again.

Nicholas Winding Refn, director of the Pusher trilogy and Bronson, good movies with flaws that left me feeling a little flat by the time the movie ended but with strong performances. Ryan Gosling, not exactly a good looking guy brought to peoples attention by appearing in a Nicholas Sparks movie and has only worked sparingly since including an apparently (because I'm yet to see it) stellar performance in last years Blue Valentine. The combination of the two has produced what is undoubtedly Refn's finest work and quite probably Gosling's too.

It's a movie about a guy who drives, his name is Driver, he hardly says more than three words throughout the film but he sure can drive and bite on a toothpick. There's a heist. It goes wrong. There's some danger, some chases, some women and children in peril, some violence but not too much and nothing really shocking if you view it as part of the film rather than an "oh my golly gosh darn my children are going to see this one scene and want to stamp each other's heads off, kill Hollywood!" way or if you've seen movies that weren't made in Hollywood before.

And this is where I have a problem with the movie. It wears its cinematic influences on its sleeve, whether Refn was joking about 16 Candles and Pretty Woman or not it was obvious to me that the protagonist was basically Alain Delon in Le Samourai, Leah pulled up the Michael Mann comparison straight away and the scene in the elevator was like a watered down version of the opening of Irreversible.

Refn is a Scandinavian film maker, that's an area of Europe for those not so familiar with geography, and he brings a very European style to the film. His cinematography is beautiful, the atmosphere he builds with the soundtrack is very powerful and the protagonist who hardly speaks just adds to that. As far as I can tell the uniqueness of these aspects in an American action movie are the main reasons people are loving Drive but I've seen it all before and I think that might be why I don't love it. Yet. As I said, I will re-watch it and I sort of expect to change my mind when I do.

People have been bringing up the film maker with the giant face and pop culture dialogue to compare Refn to and I can see that; his filmic references to movies long past and use of soundtrack are similar in style but I hadn't seen the films referenced by Tarantino before seeing his movies so it was a lot more impressive than seeing Melville and Freidkin and Kim Ki-Duk regurgitated on screen.

If you've read this far you may be thinking that I didn't actually like the movie. I did. It's the best Hollywood movie I've seen in a long time. I can't even remember the last one that was as good as this that I could compare it to. Inception perhaps. Best American genre movie since Inception. But I can only give it 7 or 7.5 our of 10. This would be one of those times that being a film geek has dampened by enthusiasm for a film as I think on another day at another time I could quite easily have gushed and called it the greatest movie who ever lived or something equally nonsensical.

Let the blah begin. Or the name calling if you prefer! But whatever you think of my words please go read Jon's review, it's really very good.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Noir-a-Thon: Ministry of Fear (1944)

Moving our Noir-a-Thon on to the second of the Graham Greene adaptations, Ministry of Fear is directed by the man behind classics such as Metropolis and M, Fritz Lang. You can find the Noir-a-Thon vault here.

: Fritz Lang
Starring: Ray Milland, Marjorie Reynolds, Dan Duryea
Year: 1944
Country of origin: USA
Language: English

Synopsis: Ray Milland inadvertantly gets drawn in to a Nazi spy ring at an English County Fair and doesn't know who to trust as he tries to clear his name for murder and reveal the spy ring to the police.

What Indie Nights? review

Greetings BBBG readers, it's Leah 'I'm-running-out-of-ways-to-introduce-myself' from What Indie Nights?. I suppose 'from What Indie Nights' is a good enough way. Maybe I should just start introducing myself with a random fact - did you know that in England that if someone doesn't die within a year and a day of another person intentionally harming them, it can't be called murder?

Of course you didn't.

Ministry of Fear (1944)

And as I sit here, drinking cold chocolate (it's like hot chocolate, only when the person making it was too lazy to heat up the milk) and thinking about Ministry of Fear, I wish it weren't true, because Fritz Lang intentionally harmed me with his adaptation of Graham Greene's wartime novel and I think I died a little inside.

Ok, ok, I may be being a little hyperbolic, but truly, that movie was no noir, and it was a pretty poor example of any genre. As Toby will tell you, there are some lovely scenes, but they're lost in the drab, uninspiring story and confusing characters - including one bumbling private detective (there's your first clue, folks, that one's a big noir no-no) who lets his client come with him on a stakeout and then doesn't appear again for the whole film. I like to call him Mr. Plot B. Device, P.I.

Ministry of Fear (1944)

Firstly, and I know we (or especially, I) harp on about this a lot, but there's no femme fatale. At all. There's one American actress pretending to be an Austrian refugee with a 'brother' who looks a lot like Joel Cairo from The Maltese Falcon (another clue!) and behaves like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth.

Our hero is an ex-mental patient who's about as tough as a kitten rolling in sparkly pink sugar and with much less charisma - the poor soul won't look at another cake for the rest of his life after the dreadful events following his release from hospital! Just imagine - you're mistaken for another man and given a secret code that wins you a cake at a country fair - terrifying so far - and are then pursued in a gentlemanly manner by a faux-blind old codger who crumbles your cake before your eyes to find - what? The real eggs with which said cake was made? The audience's engagement with the story? Nope, it's the MacGuffin, of course. To top off this really traumatising experience, a man is apparently shot during a relatively unrelated seance and you're framed for the crime! Now you have to go on the run, trying to avoid capture as well as discover just what made that cake so delicious- er, I mean, dangerous. Wouldn't you be afraid of cake forever, too?

Ministry of Fear (1944)

Sure there were a lot of characters with shady motives, but none of them were really characters, more like occasional pieces of dialogue spoken by pieces of furniture. Someone got double crossed, I think, but I'd struggle to tell you who. There was no real sense of threat to our hero, the crimes committed take second place to watching Marjorie Reynolds flutter her eyelashes, and we're left with a sense of general confusion and malaise. I guess what I'm trying to say here is that the movie was out-and-out silly, pretty boring and totally devoid of suspense or atmosphere.

Ministry of Fear (1944)

Now the most disappointing thing for me: I've gone on record as a Graham Greene devotee, so I suppose you can take or leave my opinion on this one depending on your view of things, but the man could write atmosphere and subtle nuances even if he had to write a microwave manual (the microwave would have a shameful past and end up reconsidering its faith in Microwave-God whilst making astute and poignant observations about its own mechanisms) and it's a crying shame to have his work butchered like this.

Ministry of Fear (1944)

Until next time, fellow travellers on the path of noir, and let us hope it's a better next time...

Blahblahblahtoby review

I've been struggling to find thoughts for this review. It's a film that is possibly as convoluted as the genre gets with very few redeeming features. Fritz Lang, the master film maker himself directed this and it was seemingly, loosely, based on Graham Greene's novel of the same name. Aside from those names I'm pretty much stumped. If you thought I didn't like Laura last week (which I did by the way) then you will probably think I hated this one.

The adaptation is quite a drawn out proposition, with apparent crosses and double crosses, misunderstandings and lies littering the course as obstacles for our hero to overcome within the 88 minute run time. Which is fine in a film noir if you care about the characters or the storyline but in this instance you don't learn enough about any of the characters beyond what's required for the plot to continue and the story is told in nothing more than plot points, moving gracelessly from one scene to another.

Ministry of Fear (1944)

I haven't read the original novel so I cannot compare the two but this has all the hallmarks of a bad adaptation, not least because there are none of the usual qualities of a Graham Greene story such as the study of humanity or human behaviour.

This is probably the worst of the Fritz Lang movies I've seen, his direction isn't bad, in fact there are some great visual moments such as shooting somebody through a door from a dark room but they're lost on a movie as unentertaining as this and watered down by the fact that at no point do you believe that this is happening in Central London, during The Blitz. It is not grey or oppressive, people are not concerned with the bombings or even the war at all, it's a terrible Hollywood recreation all the more offensive as the film was made during WWII.

Ministry of Fear (1944)

If you've seen the end of the theatrical version of Blade Runner then you've seen the end of Ministry of Fear, it's hard to say which one is worse. In Blade Runner it's an awful addition to a good movie but in Ministry of Fear it's an awful addition tacked on to an already poor movie.

On to categorising it within the noir motifs so I can concentrate on, hopefully, a better noir next week. This was a simple On The Run story with not so much gangsters in place of Nazis/Commies but actual Nazis. And worst of all, there's a happy ending. A very happy ending. Complete with the kind of dialogue and gurning more at home in a slapstick comedy.

Ministry of Fear (1944)

This film doesn't actually appear in the Film Noir Encyclopedia, which leads me to believe that it may not even be a film noir. I admit my judgement may have been clouded during my research by the fact that this was an adaptation of Graham Greene by Fritz Lang, a combination I couldn't resist. I think I deserved better!

Seen it? Disagree? Were you also disappointed by the adaptation? Graham Greene fans this is a call to arms! Leave me your blah below.

And now for some coming attractions

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Week In Movies 26/9/11 - 2/10/11

Another week over, another month in fact, everyone's been writing their monthly roundups, there's been a lot of movies seen around the blogosphere and I feel like I'm a bit light on number of movies seen, comparatively. I will say this though, I've been very lucky, most of the films I've seen have been very good. I've been recommending TOKYO DRIFTER and WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION but that ignores the fact that I also saw RED STATE and ATTACK THE BLOCK. Tough call. I recommend seeing all 4 of them if you haven't already.

This weeks film from the Noir-a-Thon is the Graham Greene/Fritz Lang movie Ministry of Fear, as always that review will be posted on Tuesday.

We're big fans of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia in this house so seeing Charlie in the very funny Horrible Bosses was a nice treat. The three TV actors make for a believable group of friends and the three big name movie stars play terribly cliched characters and are possibly guilty of overacting. The humour of the movie is often telegraphed so you see it coming from a mile away but that doesn't actually stop it from being funny. If you read Scott's review over at FRC you may have seen him compare it to The Hangover, it may not be as funny but it's possibly more believable than The Hangover which counts for something when it comes to humour.

After writing my recent 7 Movies To Help You Cope With Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Withdrawal Symptoms article I discovered that there were two sequels to my favourite of them, The Ipcress File. The first of which is Funeral In Berlin. It's nowhere near as good as the first one, suffering from a bad choice of director who decided to try to pitch the film as a James Bond clone and a slightly more ludicrous plot than the original. Michael Caine was not as obtuse as in Ipcress File, so a lot of the humour was missing, but as Harry Palmer he is excellent. Ken Russell directed the third part, Billion Dollar Brain, and I hope to watch it next week.

The week ended with two fine examples of non English language cinema. Seijun Suzuki who directed last weeks favourite, Tokyo Drifter, was responsible for the better of the two, A Tattooed Life. He took an ordinary yakuza story set in the early twentieth century and turned it in to something wonderful with the kind of cinematography that can leave you breathless and add meaning to the simplest of scenes. There is a rather spectacular final act which will have you wanting to rewatch it on a regular basis and the influence on Quentin Tarantino is once again apparent. If last week I was a fan of Suzuki this week I am enamoured.

As I mentioned last week I've been wanting to see How I Ended This Summer since last summer's outdoor cinema season and this weekend I managed to grab it from the DVD store at last. It wasn't the movie I expected it to be but it was quite wonderful to look at. The premise of a psychological thriller based around a veteran weather observer and a young protege at a Russian monitoring station near the Arctic Circle is strong, the visuals are the movie equivalent of a Land Rover Discovery 4WD and the acting is very strong. I found the characters and their interactions intriguing but the final act failed to take full advantage of the preceding 90 minutes and in my opinion was the difference between it being a great film and simply a good one. Check out the review from Bonjour Tristesse for more information.

The blahblahblahgay turnoff of the week is the quite awful 50 Cent film Set Up. Co-starring Ryan Phillipe and Bruce Willis, I thought I'd give this heist/revenge thriller a chance to entertain me but it was quite simply appalling after 30 seconds. I gave it more time than I should've because I was hoping the appearance of Bruce Willis might pick things up but alas it wasn't to be. As with a lot of bad movies the major problem with this was the script but you can add some terrible acting to that.

Leave some blah below. Did anyone get a chance to see Tokyo Drifter yet? Anyone got an opinion on the Harry Palmer trilogy? Anyone see anything worth talking about? Or for that matter did anybody finish Set Up?