Sunday, March 3, 2013

Movie Diary #8: February 2012

Shit. February seems to have passed by in one great big blur. I can only apologise for the lack of content on the blog over that time, if you care for that kind of thing, time just seems to have gotten away from me. Granted none of the films seen over the course of the month instilled in me any great enthusiasm for writing a review but still I could have put together some lists or some anti-Oscar post or something.

Speaking of the Oscars, in the end I actually didn't care who won what apart from Spielberg winning nothing. That was what I pinned my hopes on and then I didn't even pay enough attention to the results to see if I was blessed with happy news. Of course the great beardy bore was made president of the 66th Cannes Jury thing which probably means something horrifically dull will win everything.

Also in February Letterboxd finally came out of beta, caused a fuss amongst the faithful testers before proving that they actually do give a shit about their users and not just lining their pockets. So if you're yet to get a Letterboxd account you no longer need an invite, just head on over and start making infinite lists for free.

Some stats to amaze you, in a month of no blogging I still managed to screen 69 movies, bringing my total for the year to 141. Most impressive is the rewatch count totalling only 8, with a year to date total of 29. This mean there were 61 first time viewings in February and 112 in 2013. Upside Down became my third 2013 release of the year but The Hunt has since been given a wide release date in 2013 and means my total is now 4 new releases for the year to date.

To break down February's 69 for mini review I will tell you about 16 films I flat out didn't like for one reason or another, 29 films well worth your time and 3 masterpieces of the art form, of which two were rewatches (7 out of 9 films given full marks year to date.) Which if my maths is correct means 21 films were just average and not worth getting enthused over in either direction and not worth the time to copy and paste a mini review from Letterboxd.

Steer Clear

Mulholland Falls (1996) Dir. Lee Tamahori
Holy moly this is a truly dull piece of 90s noir. Tamahori's uninspired direction is a waste of such a great cast and sets the stage for a post Once Were Warriors career filled with dross. It's almost as if he only watched Chinatown as research and then made a real hash at copying it, stylistically. The lame, flat, heavy-handed script didn't help matters either. Whole boring scenes were written to provide a clue that could have been given in a matter of seconds and the cops are either intentionally dumb or the script was written in such a way as to make the whole, entire plot as obvious as a synonym designed to tell you how obvious something is from the second the body is found in the desert. The one saving grace was the attention to detail in the costume and set design.
No Orchids For Miss Blandish (1948) Dir. St. John Legh Clowes
To deliberately misquote the tagline for this movie: Sensational as a book! Shocking as a motion picture! Truly awful adaptation. The American's could have done this so much better. James Hadley Chase had never been to America when he wrote the novel but he seemed to have more than a basic understanding of people and especially these characters, St. John Legh Clowes had clearly never been to America when he wrote and directed this movie but he seemed to have no appreciation of the source material, human behaviour, women, the characters or the plot, let alone the psychological undertones of a sexually repressed psychotic kidnapping a beautiful young woman and forcing her addiction to heroin before repeatedly beating and raping her.
Robot & Frank (2012) Dir. Jake Schreier
It starts out charming and cute and rapidly devolves in to a horrible mess. Frank Langella and the robot are great to watch, it's everything else that sucks the fun from the movie; like the writing and the direction and the terrible supporting cast (for once James Marsden and Liv Tyler were not the worst actor in a movie, this spot was reserved for the truly dreadful Jeremy Strong who is pitched at exactly the right point to irritate and offend in every way) and the absolute waste of Susan Sarandon, but then what do you expect when you have a director that casts Susan Sarandon as a grandmother character as opposed to a mother? The entire library storyline was weak, badly thought out romanticised nonsense that contradicts itself completely and the "reveal" towards the end was so bloody obvious and badly done that the little good work done prior to it was completely wiped out by frustration. I suggest watching the much more impressive, much more charming, much more touching Lovely, Still from 2008 starring a remarkable Martin Landau opposite Ellen Burstyn and the one and only Adam Scott.
Impulse (1990) Dir. Sondra Locke
There are people who enjoy the work of Theresa Russell who'll disagree with me I'm sure but this was a truly poor movie. It's a great idea ruined in true late 80s/early 90s style thanks to a dire script filled with nonsense dialogue and behaviour and a director who resorts to visual cliche at all times. A movie best left forgotten by all.
The Death and Life of Bobby Z (2007) Dir. John Herzfeld
This a is a truly terrible movie. There is nothing right with it. The director hasn't been given a project since. That should tell you everything. Don Winslow deserves a good adaptation of one of his great modern noir novels. This is not it. Wait I forgot, how the hell does Jason Flemyng get paid to act? Always at a standard below amateur dramatics, in this he is particularly excruciating. I blame Guy Ritchie, but then Guy Ritchie is the devil.
Fear City (1984) Dir. Abel Ferrara
It's like a terrible 30s B-movie in terms of awful plotting and hammy dialogue/performances but the mean streets of early 80s New York provide a seedy update on the classic noir mileau as the one saving grace.
Death In Brunswick (1991) Dir. John Ruane
I know it was supposed to be a comic thriller, at least that's how it was marketed but this was a truly bizarre comedy that really wasn't funny and definitely wasn't a thriller. Sam Neill put in a worthwhile performance but even that started to really grate after an hour. The entire story seemed pointless and must have worked much better in the novel form.
Heatwave (1983) Dir. Phillip Noyce
Keep moving, nothing to see here, keep moving. Particularly disappointing after seeing his early film Backroads recently.
Invaders From Mars (1953) Dir. William Cameron Menzies
The first half was good for classic sci-fi, especially the influence of expressionism on the set design but it sure barrels downhill fast for the last 30 minutes for one of the most disappointing endings I remember from films of this period.
The Artist (2011) Dir. Michel Hazanavicius
If ever there was a movie I was born to hate it was this one. I knew it when I saw the trailer, I knew it when everyone lost their minds over its brilliance, I knew it when the absurd and decrepit members of AMPAS gave it those awards and having finally seen the tedium that is The Artist I now know it for a fact. It looks nice enough, it's heart is in the right place but really it's a giant dull mess that deserves to be forgotten almost immediately.
White Sands (1992) Dir. Roger Donaldson
Starts off with a brilliant noir concept and a superb soleil setting and slooooooooowly becomes more and more convoluted and dull. I couldn't tell you what this movie ended up being about or what happened but it had a great cast who put in decent performances. I wouldn't recommend this one to anyone, ever. But if you want something similar in setting and style Red Rock West and The Hot Spot are the movies for you.
Blink (1994) Dir. Michael Apted
Possibly the stupidest opening sequence I've ever seen, the dullest opening to a thriller ever and dialogue a child would be ashamed of, lets not even start on the exposition. I may not have seen any of Apted's famous Up series but everything else I've seen has been distinctly unimpressive.
Upside Down (2013) Dir. Juan Diego Solanas
Seven minutes. That is how much expositional narration this movie starts with. I was ready to switch off at that point but in some misguided hope that it would get better/live up to the visual concept I kept on watching. It didn't.
The Company of Wolves (1984) Dir. Neil Jordan
Tedious. Stilted. Bizarre. Not for me.
Oranges and Sunshine (2011) Dir. Jim Loach
Emily Watson good. Storytelling bad, lazy, stupid.
The Adventures of Tintin (2011) Dir. Steven Spielberg
Gets 1 star for the animation otherwise this is a perfect example of everything I completely dislike about Spielberg's movies. It's oh so dull and treats the audience like morons, not least thanks to the truly appalling attempts at "humour". I'm grateful that I haven't spent a single dollar on watching this shower of shit, I didn't even have to waste bandwidth downloading it for free. Small mercies.

The Best You Should Expect

The Sweet Hereafter (1997) Dir. Atom Egoyan
An enjoyable and touching piece of cinema that deserved its Oscar nominations filled with conflicted characters who are slowly (and perhaps shockingly) revealed to the audience. After the experience of the novel, the film suddenly lacks something of the subtlety and nuance found in the original material, also some of the heart and a lot of emotional impact seems to be lost.
Get Carter (1971) Dir. Mike Hodges
Jack Carter is a total bastard, the British answer to Richard Stark's Parker perhaps. Mike Hodges was obviously heavily influenced by the Angry Young Men aesthetic of the previous decade and adds a touch of grim and gritty realism to traditional revenge proceedings. Caine spends as much time bedding women as fighting with men and is superbly cold in the lead role. I can't help but wonder what this might have been like with John Boorman directing or maybe (sacrilege I know) Caine instead of Marvin in Point Blank?
Thief (1981) Dir. Michael Mann
Superb visuals combine with a great Tangerine Dream soundtrack to make this one of the more surprising forgotten films of the 80s, despite the often disjointed narrative. In true neo-noir style it focuses on surviving in a modern world of urban decay and dog-eat-dog morals where you can't trust anybody, especially not fellow criminals, nothing means nothing and dreams are a waste of time. James Caan leads a cast of top quality performances but it is the cinematography that really steals the show here.
Villain (1971) Dir. Michael Tuchner
Richard Burton and a young Ian McShane amongst others star in a gritty British crime drama that seems to exist as a mid point between the "grim up north" or "angry young men" drama of the 60s and the Guy Ritchie inspired 90s. Villain is as fascinating for it's authentic look at England/London in 1970 as it is for it's portrayal of a Ronnie Kray-esque homosexual mother obsessed gangster and the every day life of the criminals of the era.
American Mary (2012) Dir. The Soska Sisters
I sort of expected to dislike this film but the hype surrounding the Soska Sisters seems to be justified.
Katherine Isabelle is excellent and infinitely watchable as the eponymous Mary whilst the directors manage to create a horrible sense of dread from start to finish without resorting to horror cliche and generic imagery. There are moments when I was left asking what the fuck was that about? but mostly this was just plain enjoyable low budget genre film making.
Revolutionary Road (2008) Dir. Sam Mendes
Great performances all round in what is an excellent piece of American film making. Sam Mendes brings exactly the same visual style as he brought to American Beauty and is helped on his road to recreate it with the music of Thomas Newman.
No (2012) Dir. Pablo Larraín
First reaction is a bit of a lazy one, it makes the similar ARGO look like Hollywood junk thanks to strong direction with a clear vision and a superbly restrained central performance from Gael Garcia Bernal.
Sunday Too Far Away (1975) Dir. Ken Hannam
A very nearly perfect piece of Australian cinema that beat the more famous Picnic at Hanging Rock to the best film prize at that years AFI awards. A blend of traditional Aussie film making and British New Wave social realist cinema it remains essential viewing for fans of non-Hollywood cinema.
The Narrow Margin (1952) Dir. Richard Fleischer
A fine minor noir directed with imagination by Richard Fleischer with two good roles for strong performances from Charles McGraw and Marie Windsor and interesting cinematography from George Diskant. Remade in 1990 by Peter Hyams starring Gene Hackman.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) Dir. Peter Yates
George Higgins is known for his great dialogue and seeing it delivered here by such great performers as Peter Boyle and Robert Mitchum is a real pleasure but it is Steven Keats and Richard Jordan that really do it justice. They give the impression of truly inhabiting the characters in this time and place, of having lived the life themselves. Seeing this adaptation of The Friends of Eddie Coyle brings to mind that other famous writer of great dialogue who was influenced by Elmore Leonard's Rum Punch and I wouldn't be surprised if somewhere along the line he saw this movie a couple dozen times and ripped it off like he did everything else.
The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) Dir. Robert Wise
Brilliant noir from Robert Wise. After making a name for himself shooting some of the finest B-noirs, including Lawrence Tierney in Born to Kill, he managed to blend those tropes with a pulpy science fiction story and created one of the great genre films of American cinema.
The Crimson Kimono (1959) Dir. Samuel Fuller
This is a very nearly brilliant film from Sam Fuller. Coming too late for me to really classify this as a noir it demonstrates a lot of the hallmarks of noir but uses it as a framing story for a bi-racial love triangle that challenges perception of race in America in the 50s. Fuller crafted some wonderful noir sequences, notably the two that start and finish the piece, but also handles the melodrama of the love triangle very well. The subject matter is in keeping with the tradition of noir highlighting the fears of post-war America and the changing social face of the country. It doesn't quite reach the heights you might expect and certainly doesn't have the emotional resonance you'd prefer but is still a very enjoyable film.
Fast Five (2011) Dir. Justin Lin
Hells yeah! The franchise gets good at last.
Dwayne Johnson takes one for the team and lets Vin Diesel beat his ass despite Vin Diesel barely being able to move or speak throughout this film. There's a brilliant moment where he tries to smile and drink beer at the same time that sums up the later career of Vin Diesel. You have a movie filled with bad actors with no charisma? Not a problem, The Rock has more personality and talent in his little finger than everyone else in the world put together and will save your tired old car chase movie. Reinventing this series as a heist movie pays off with what is undoubtedly pure (if stupid) entertainment from start to finish. Bring on Fast Six!
Green For Danger (1947) Dir.  Sidney Gilliat
Discovered as part of the Criterion Collection, this is an adaptation of a popular wartime whodunnit from Christianna Brand. With the cinematography of film noir but a much lighter tone, Inspector Cockrill seems to have a jolly good time solving a mysterious double murder in a British wartime hospital. In true whodunnit style you're left guessing until the denouement when all the suspects are gathered in one place by the crafty detective, this time a surgery theatre, all of the characters and none of the characters are suspects and the matter is resolved in a manner that whilst not exactly realistic is at least in keeping with the clues presented throughout. After viewing Alastair Sim's Cockrill is immediately placed in the pantheon of great if whimsical classic whodunnit detectives alongside Poirot and Inspector Slade from The Arsenal Stadium Mystery.
Suddenly (1954) Dir. Lewis Allen
Frank Sinatra is great as Baron, the savage psycho intent on killing the President of the USA for $500,000 in this hard as nails noir. Sterling Hayden plays it a little too nice as the warm hearted town Sheriff and comes across false in the first half an hour but when things get rough Hayden is more than a match for Sinatra in a heated hostage situation. Sinatra has no qualms about beating and threatening the trifecta of innocents in the Benson family household, a widow, her child and her elderly father. What a total bastard.
California Split (1974) Dir. Robert Altman
How did I go until this year without even knowing this film existed? One of my all time favourite directors with one of my all time favourite actors. Elliot Gould at his peak right here, he's so good that when he isn't on the screen this film feels like I turned the volume down or pressed SLOW or something, poor George Segal just pales in comparison. I'd love to see Elliot Gould do something like this now as opposed to bit parts in TV and Steven Soderbergh movies. Soderbergh is known for getting the goods from his actors, why not make the most of Gould instead of Channing Tatum? Anyway, it's a strange little movie that involves Gould never shutting up and I love it but it's no Long Goodbye.
The Devil Thumbs A Ride (1947) Dir. Felix E. Feist
Feist adopts a cynical outlook and a provides us with a memorably brutal bad guy in Lawrence Tierney, as far as B-noir's go this one is right up there with Detour for me.
Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995) Dir. John McTiernan
A fun action movie about John McLane killing bad guys. I think I may have seen this too many times now.
Shame (2011) Dir. Steve McQueen
Steve McQueen has crafted a very good film, beautifully shot, strong direction and fine acting performances. The subject matter, the story content, did not shock in any way, it is a pretty standard story, quite obvious in its development but still manages to restrain itself from becoming that disgusting, superficial, gratuitous beast you might expect to be excreted on to your screen from lesser talents than McQueen.
Union Station (1950) Dir. Rudolph Maté
In 2013 this kidnapping noir police procedural will seem completely predictable, if you can get past that you will find yourself immersed in an enjoyable noir thriller that is shot quite wonderfully, especially the on location shots of Union Station itself.
The Missing Person (2009) Dir. Noah Buschel
The Missing Person is something very personal and very moving, a low-key noir, beautifully shot, almost painfully slow paced (but in a good way) starring Michael Shannon as a drunken mess of a protagonist. Probably the best post 9/11 movie I could be bothered to watch.
Dirty Harry (1971) Dir. Don Siegel
It's a bit of a mess plot-wise, overly reliant on Eastwood being a tough as nails son of a bitch, essentially one long on foot chase scene with not much in the way of police work or secondary characters. But still it's an impressive and important departure from what came previously. I haven't seen the 4 sequels and I don't plan to either, they don't seem necessary, but when did sequels ever seem necessary?
Party Girl (1995) Dir. Daisy von Scherler Mayer
Oh my gosh it's like a Hal Hartley movie had illegitimate babies with a Gregg Arraki movie and one of them grew up as a crack whore. Parker Posey is the shit in this movie, without her the crack whore would be all OD'd and scuzzy in some alleyway decomposing and getting pissed on by stray cats instead of being Beyonce at the Superbowl.
Blast of Silence (1961) Dir. Allen Baron
You're a movie, one of the best they said. You've got a first time director with a vision, a good vision. You're loved by Scorsese they said. You wonder just how much influence you had on Le Samourai by Melville but you don't say nothing, what do you know about French cinema, you're just some little film from New York doing the best you can with a low budget. You're film noir they said, but you were made after A Touch of Evil so you're different to your peers; you've got a jazz score to hide your lack of production sound, you've got a second person narrative written by the blacklisted Waldo Salt and its so hardboiled even you are afraid of it at times, despite willingly making caricatures of classic noir conventions. Your protagonist is a lonely hitman struggling with the hatred and anger inside of him and you're composed of long stretches of beautifully composed shots that border on docu-noir, with no dialogue. You're avant garde, you know it but you don't want to admit it to yourself so you wrap yourself around a traditional narrative structure and hope that nobody notices. You're one classy picture and you've been restored by the Criterion Collection, you deserved to be seen a lot more than you are, you're Blast of Silence.
Hardcore (1979) Dir. Paul Schrader
George Scott is wonderful as a God-fearing father hunting for his missing daughter in the seedy world of prostitution and pornography. Another film from the fucked up mind of Paul Schrader.
The Last Picture Show (1971) Dir. Peter Bogdanovich
Beautifully shot, powerfully performed coming of age movie that is as bleak and as sad a portrait of America as you're likely to see.
Flesh and Bone (1993) Dir. Steve Kloves
At its heart this film soleil from Steve Kloves(!) is a tight story of lost innocence that is true to pulpy noir fiction but in its transfer to early 90s Hollywood excess it loses its way a little, making the central conceit more than a little convoluted and unbelievable. Not as good as Dennis Hopper's The Hot Spot but if you like 90s noir stories you won't be going wrong with this largely forgotten one.
Ride The Pink Horse (1947) Dir. Robert Montgomery
A quality film from the golden period of noir film making featuring a riff on the disaffected WWII veteran, a taciturn loner out for revenge, a morally suspect man who is not quite the bad guy but whose white hat is faded and dirty. It is disappointing that Montgomery only directed one more film after this as he clearly had some strong ideas and would have been an interesting film maker to watch develop over time.
Payback: Straight Up - The Director's Cut (2006) Dir. Brian Helgeland
Forget everything you know about the original version of this Mel Gibson movie, it is nothing like how it was originally intended to be. I don't know what's not to like about this boiled down pure noir vision, Porter/Parker is a tough son of a bitch even when played by Mel Gibson and Helgeland's direction is a perfect blend of 90s Hollywood and hardboiled homage. The cinematic release suffers from the same failings as the original Blade Runner and I'm glad to finally see this true version of Helgeland's vision.
Masterpiece Cinema

Metropolitan (1990) Dir. Whit Stillman
A delightful piece of cinema that's awfully talky but charming all the same. I hold this film in the highest possible regard thanks to Stillman's script and his work with these inexperienced actors, it's witty and warm and filled with perfectly honest moments in the lives of people not usually portrayed in a positive light - the urban haute bourgeoisie.
The Big Lebowski (1998) Dir. The Coen Brothers
This wasn't the first time I've seen this movie, it might not even be the hundredth time I've seen it but it is the first time I've seen it at the cinema and also the first time it has been paused for a firework display. I think it might have been the way the Coen Brothers wanted it. Every time I see this movie it gets better, funnier sure but smarter too. I often think that maybe Serious Man or No Country of Fargo is their best movie but all it takes is watching Lebowski again to know that the dude abides and none of those other movies comes close to being as entertaining or as smart or centred in film history as it.
Pulp Fiction (1994) Dir. Quentin Tarantino
Everything that QT does with this movie is perfect, his love of the pulpy source material is clear from start to finish, these are perfect pulp crime stories and each of them are told in an authentic yet visionary way. His dialogue, as has been said many times before, is superb and hasn't been matched since, I'd probably go so far as to say in Pulp Fiction he writes better dialogue than Elmore Leonard ever did.

So that was exhausting. I hope you all learned some lessons from me and avoid watching Robot & Frank in the future. Another lesson is if you plan to write a diary post every month try to do it as you go so that you're not spending hours at a time putting it together. Please comment, I do read them, even if I don't find the time to reply immediately.


  1. Just saw American Mary last night. Like you, I expected to hate it, but it managed to surprise me. Not exactly awesome, but crafty and enjoyable, and Katherine Isabelle was great.

    1. She really was, without her the movie falls quickly to schlocky exploitation levels of quality I reckon. I'm going to watch Dead Hooker in a Trunk and fully expect it to be lacking in the quality acting stakes.

  2. Love your Blast of Silence mini review. That's been on my watchlist for a while. Also, I'm really looking forward to No, and I guess I need to finally watch my copy of Suddenly.

    1. Thanks. I had a lot of fun with it. The narrative voice over is actually written like that and I just felt inspired. It's a strange thing how Baron basically vanished afterwards despite making such a raw and striking and respected film. I hope you love it.

      I know you will enjoy No, political history drama aside it's a cinephiles dream I think.

      Somebody messed up with Suddenly, it's in the public domain, I feel a bit put out having paid for a copy. I was legitimately surprised by how good Sinatra was. He's no Britney Spears. Thankfully. Actually this month I plan to see Johnny Cash star in a noir - Door to Door Maniac AKA Five Minutes To Live, which I imagine might be a very different story.

  3. I can't agree with you on The Artist (it was my number one film of 2011), and I liked Robot & Frank well enough. I do agree on most of the others in your skip list that I've seen, though.

    1. Hey Chip, I expected to be in the minority on The Artist so that is no surprise. I do feel that both of the movies you mentioned deliberately aim for sentimentality which if you like that kind of thing (or are susceptible to it) would make for an enjoyable cinema experience. I tend to edge more towards hardboiled though I guess.