Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Woman on the Run

Woman on the Run - [Norman Foster - 1950]

This is a very good 1950 San Francisco noir - some would say crime drama - with Ann Sheridan in a loveless marriage who has to try to find her missing husband before the killer does. The opening and closing scenes are definitely noir; The opening scene a man [Ross Elliott] witnesses a murder while walking his dog late at night and just avoids being shot himself; the killer shoots at his shadow. The final scene takes place in an amusement part and involves a really terrific edited sequence with Sheridan on a rollercoaster when she realizes the killer is on the way to kill her husband whom she can see right below the coaster. In between is essentially a really cool travelogue of San Francisco and a lot of wise cracks by Sheridan toward the dogged inspector played by Robert Keith and Dennis O'Keefe - who plays an eager newspaperman accompanying her as she tries to find her husband.

Considering this is a prominent San Francisco noir it is ironic that the two best scenes were not shot in San Francisco - the first scene was shot on Bunker Hill in Los Angeles, and the final scene was shot in Santa Monica at the Ocean Park Pier.

Ann Sheridan was a big star at Warner Bros. but was overshadowed by such stars as Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland; plus she had a reputation for turning down roles. Once she left Warner's she went to independent film companies to make films. Woman on the Run was made by Fidelity Pictures, a small production company, which released the film through Universal as a B-crime drama. Sheridan - showing she had plenty of talent - does a terrific job in this film as a woman who goes from incredulous to caring in the course of searching for her husband.

What is particularly notable about the film is the scarcity, for many years, of a good quality print. Eddie Muller, the head of the Film Noir Foundation, who was a big fan of the movie went in search of a print many years ago. With some work he stumbled across one in the Universal archives. He was startled by how good the print was and after showing it at a festival he implored Universal to send the print to the UCLA Film and Television Archive not only to house it in a world class archive but because, technically, they didn't own the rights. Then in 2008 there was a studio lot fire, which destroyed a number of videos and prints including Woman on the Run.

Muller managed to find a 35mm print at the British Film Institute in London. He immediately had them ship their 35mm nitrate composite print to UCLA where it was used restore a new copy by Scott MacQueen along with a 35mm nitrate dupe picture negative and a 35mm acetate composite print.

The image quality of most all DVD's and online copies of the film are atrocious. The only good print is available at UCLA, which just showed the film at their Festival of Preservation; it will show again at the Noir City festival April 3rd at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.

A [presumably] good quality DVD IS available from France and includes a 70 page book on the film written by Eddie Muller. But if you don't have $40.00 to spare and an all region DVD player then you should try to get to the Egyptian.

Some links.

Film Noir of the Week

San Francisco Movie Locations

Interview with Eddie Muller about his dealings with Universal.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Le Campaign Margo

How do you advertise the1994 French film Queen Margot?


This is a romance!
 


This is a picture about royalty!
 


This is a blood-soaked historical drama!

The last one is the most accurate but I guess it isn't as appealing to the audience that Miramax wanted for the picture. So they went with the top one because French period drama means romance!

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Really Short reviews

A few recent older movies I've seen.

Heaven Knows, Mr Allison
1957
Nun But the Marines. Good solid Hollywood film by John Huston with Deborah Kehr and Robert Mitchum stuck on an island in the South Pacific together as they hide from the Japanese and await the war to end. It darn near almost gets hokey and heavy handed but ends on the right tone.

Bitter Victory
1957
Bitter Misery. Nicholas Ray takes on war by pitting two men against each other who love the same woman. The perfect one, [Richard Burton], is too cowardly to love a woman and the far from perfect one, Curt Jürgens, is too cowardly to kill a man - except his rival when it suits him. Set in the forbidding desert the film is action packed but more memorable as a psychological study of the two men.

Will Penny
1968
Penny for Your Naughts. Tom Gries directed Charlton Heston in one of his best performances. Here he is a cowboy who can fight anyone, herd cattle anywhere but when it comes to the love of a woman he bows out; also a coward. Joan Hackett, who has similar features to Jean Arthur, is terrific as the tough woman who almost gets her man.

The Sun Shines Bright
1953
The Judge Aligns Right. Rarely seen John Ford film set in the Confederate south after the civil war involving a judge running for re-election. He encounters a lynch mob and - in his laid back southern way - finds a way to keep the peace and maintain his popularity. The film would be called politically incorrect today but it's pretty evident that Ford is not making a value or judgement call toward the African American characters. But the personalities they exude would not be portrayed in the same way by actors today.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Fifty Shades of...

Fifty Shades of Bay - A love story about two swimmers in San Francisco.

Fifty Shades of Clay - A love story between two sculptors.

Fifty Shades of Fey - A doomed love story about two clairvoyants.

Fifty Shades of Gay - A bisexual, transgender love story.

Fifty Shades of Hay - A love story between two horses.

Fifty Shades of Lay - A love story between a sex addict and a neurotic.

Fifty Shades of May - A love story set in France during the revolts of May '68.

Fifty Shades of Nay - An anti-love story.

Fifty Shades of Pay - A love story between rich men and a hooker.

Fifty Shades of Stay -  A story about a couple dealing with their impending divorce.

Fifty Shades of Way - A love story between a Buddhist and a Taoist.

Fifty Shades of Yah - A positive love story.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Man of Flowers

Man of Flowers [Paul Cox - 1983)

This terrific film made in 1983 by Australian filmmaker Paul Cox is about an eccentric, lonely middle aged man [Norman Kay] who derives pleasure from flowers, bronze statues, music and a female stripper named Lisa [Alyson Best] whom he has hired to perform in his house once a week.

The film opens on a close-up of a painting and then segues into the striptease. Charles, too uptight [possibly due to premature ejaculation issues] to do anything [including talk] with the stripper when she finishes he runs out of the house across the street to the church to play the organ. Something he does with such frequency that the pastor has given him a key to come and go as he pleases.

But more than just another film about a lonely man the film has style. For instance flashbacks shot in 8mm [or possibly 16mm], accompanied with opera music in which we see young Charles who had a serious Oedipus complex, which led to him ogling his aunt and other women who come to the house. This in turn leads to beatings by his strict father [played by Werner Herzog!].

In the present day Charles tries to live a normal life but his search for perfect aesthetics and sexual frustrations as well as religious convictions [or confusions] lead him to a solitary confinement within his memories. Lisa, the young stripper, has problems of her own; her artist, drug abusing boyfriend is continually in debt and all they do is fight. Lisa thinks she has found a friend with Charles but really she needs someone her own age. Although she has decided to attempt a sexual relationship with her girlfriend for a while.

As in many of Cox's films the pace is leisurely but engaging and there is an undercurrent of melancholy with a touch of witty humor as well. Characters try to exert their individuality in unique and funny ways; in one scene in which Charles attends an art class is drawing a naked model [who happens to be Lisa] and what he draws are a bouquet of flowers. The busybody class teacher tells him he can't paint flowers in place of a naked body and he yells back that if she tries to stop him he will go to the arts board and claim artistic freedom.

The one weak character in the film is the artist boyfriend who tries to force Charles to buy one of his paintings so he can feed his drug addiction. However, his presence in the film drives the narrative - especially after he leaves Lisa with a black eye thus forcing Charles to take matters into his own hands. In short; don't mess with a mamma's boy.

The final shot of the movie is a beauty; as four men stand in a seaside park in the dark as the sun is going down overlooking the brightly lit sea and sky as seagulls fly around. It lasts about two minutes. My reading of this scene when I saw the films 20 years ago was that it says from the dark we see the light and therefore in the dark we see our dreams flying around but not away. Perhaps that's too fancy a reading but nonetheless it's a visual wonder to behold; like a painting by Caspar David Friedric.

The DVD is tough to find although it is available in Australia at a reasonable cost.



Monday, January 26, 2015

Best Movies 2014

These lists get harder to do each year because I find I have a difficult time make a definitive list; and all too often I'll enjoy a film but then find flaws that keep it from being truly great and making a 'top ten' of the year.

I found 2014 to be a good year but not an exceptional year; even though there certainly were exceptional moments in many films.

Here, then, is a list of films I enjoyed last year.

Tier 1 [meaning I enjoyed these films without many reservations]
Blue Ruin
The Dance of Reality
The Edge of Tomorrow
Guardians of the Galaxy
Ida
The Lunchbox
Whiplash

Tier 2 [meaning I enjoyed these films with some reservations]
Begin Again
Bethlehem
Boyhood
Cycling with Moliere
The One I Love
Under the Skin
Le Weekend
Wild Tales

Tier 3 [meaning I enjoyed these films despite reservations].
Goodbye to Language
Locke
A Most Violent Year
Selma
The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears
The Congress
Two Days, One Night

Friday, January 16, 2015

Older Film Discoveries 2014

Every year I stumble upon movies I'd previously not heard of or was only vaguely familiar with. Here are some of the better discoveries I made in 2014

The Agony and the Ecstasy [Carol Reed, 1965] - Charlton Heston as Michelangelo! Even if it is just another one of his many epics it is also a Carol Reed film and worth a look. And, yes, Michelangelo does see 'The Creation of Adam' in the clouds one evening! Perfect schmaltz.

Chair de Poule [Julian Duvivier, 1963]  - A nice slice of French noir by Duvivier that no one has seen.

Club de Femme [Jacques Deval, 1936] - A mixed group of lonely women in a women-only Parisian boarding house try to come to grips with their [mainly sexual] frustrations.

Corridor of Mirrors [Terence Young, 1948] - The influence that Cocteau had on British filmmakers is evident in this rarely seen [not on DVD] film about a woman who falls for a mannequin wax figure from the past.

Il Cristo Proibito [Curzio Malaparte, 1951] - An Italian neo-realist film about a disillusioned man who comes back from WWII to his small Italian village to avenge the death of his brother who was ratted out to the Germans by one of the locals. Excellent film - rarely seen.

The Most Wonderful Evening of My Life [Ettore Scola, 1972]
Wonderfully dark Italian comedy about a man whose car breaks down following a beautiful woman biker who then ends up the dinner guest of a bunch of old judges who, for fun, put him on trial for his life.

London Belongs to Me [Sidney Gilliat, 1948] - My appreciation for Gilliat films continued with this tale of a young man (Richard Attenborough) who commits a crime to get money to impress his girlfriend.

Madeleine [David Lean, 1950] - Based on a famous 1857 trial of a woman who was accused of killing her husband. Is she guilty, not guilty or is it not proven!? Beautiful black and white cinematography.

Murder He Says [George Marshall, 1945] - A crazy, fun comedy about hicks in the sticks and a government census worker (Fred McMurray) who stumbles into their world and can't get out.



Films I finally caught up with:

Big Trouble in Little China  [John Carpenter, 1986] - Classic 80's!

Le Deuxieme Souffle [Jean Pierre Melville, 1966] - The only bad thing about this is that I only have one more Melville film to see before I've seen them all. Darn! I love his films.

Eden and After [Alain Robbe Grillet, 1971] - A sexy, psychedelic, French, acid trip movie by Robbe Grille. This really fits the bill as a"they don't make like this anymore" film.

From Here to Eternity [Fred Zinneman, 1953] - You know that scene on the beach with the lovers kissing as the wave overtake them? Yeah, they fight after they kiss. No one tells you that. Great film.

Phantom of the Paradise [Brian DePalma, 1974] - DePalma knows well how to make a movie that is both a mess and terrifically entertaining. When the phantom takes revenge the film soars into blissful madness.

White Dog [Sam Fuller 1982] - Is racism treatable or incurable? Would this film be made today?

Wild River [Elia Kazan, 1960] - Great script, story, acting... how come it's one of Kazan's least seen?

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Films re-watched 2014

Each year is a year of film discoveries; some new, some old. But too each year there are films I re-watch because I enjoy them or because I want to see them again.
Here are some of the films I saw again in 2014.

Downhill Racer - I grew up in Colorado and I love skiing so it fits the bill every time. This is really one of the best sports movies ever made because it cuts through the rah-rah-rah.

The Ruling Class - As wicked and clever as ever. Peter O'Toole is terrific.

Casablanca - I'd forgotten how good this film was. Curtiz is often underrated.

Flirt - A forgotten Hal Hartley, which is saying something. Still, a good film.

Nostalgia -  I hadn't seen this Andrei Tarkovsky film in years; and always on the big screen. The images on the small screen are still powerful and the ending just as harrowing and mysterious.

Badlands - Leaning towards Malick's best because each scene doesn't stay vacant for long.

The Train - Burt Lancaster commandeering a Nazi train full of art. What's not to love?

Hiroshima mon amour - One remembers the beauty of the images rather than the tragedy, which makes it all the more powerful when you see it again.

Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud - Claude Sautet's last film and still a solid, effective love story.

Peking Opera Blues - I watch this Hong Kong classic every few years. It's ridiculous but fun. Or is that ridiculous AND fun?

Pursued - When they made psychological westerns.

Miller's Crossing - Man, I forgot how good this was. I liked it better this time around.

Pascali's Island - No one remembers this film but it's got fine performances by Ben Kingsley and Helen Mirren

The Long Day Closes - Terence Davies' beautiful, personal and nostalgic film is one for the ages.

Life and Nothing But - Bertrand Tavernier's film about World War I and the effect on two people; one an officer and one the wife of a lost soldier - is a film I watch every few years.

Red River - Is this the best Western ever made? Maybe. Still entertaining.

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul - Has any director ever continually cut as deep and as sharp as Fassbinder did film after film? This film is still so darn good.

Excalibur - I put this in to test my Blu-ray player and decided there was nothing better to watch at that moment. Fun film.

The Yakuza - Robert Mitchum doing his thing; only as an older man in the 1970's. Better than I remembered it. 

3 Women - Robert Altman's Persona made at the height of his artistic powers - when zooming was all the rage and people still ate patty melts.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Whiplash


Some would say Whiplash is about a music conservatory student drummer who - with the help of a sadistic teacher - achieves success. But really the film is about a student who has to endure the abuse and manipulative tactics from the teacher on the way to achieving success.

The teacher - played brilliantly by J.K. Simmons - tells a story to the kid about how Jo Jones threw a cymbal at Charlie Parker's head and it made Parker practice harder until he achieved his legendary success. The story is apocryphal but it sets the stage for the lesson the teacher wants the student [Miles Teller] to understand, which is that abuse and intimidation will bring out the best in someone with talent.

I don't think the filmmaker - Damien Chazelle, believes this method works. But he teases it out enough to make us at least believe the student thinks it has some merit. However, by the end, he finds that the only real way to achieve success with this teacher is to fight back - and hard.

It's a terrific film; entertaining, intense and rather unpredictable. Especially the final scene when the student gets humiliated and then turns the tables - all on stage for the world to see. He finally finds a way to achieve the success he would have achieved earlier with a better teacher. But sometimes you have to overcome hurdles to win.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Horses and Men in Iceland

Of Horses and Men is an entertaining, fresh and unique tale about men and horses in modern day Iceland.


It's all the more remarkable because the director Benedikt Erlingsson is a first time filmmaker who manages to capture the story visually better than many seasoned directors. Through editing juxtapositions, close-ups as well as the majestic use of horses in many different scenarios, he keeps the tale going strong for its 86 minute running time.

The film takes place in and around a quirky small Icelandic community where everyone knows one another and no one holds a secret from anyone. The film unfolds much like a series of short stories; each one loosely connected to the others and all in one way another involving horses and the various characters of the region.

Both the horses and the men [and women] live off the loamy, windy, fjords that surround them. And the only thing that separates man from beast is that the men attempt to be a bit more formal in their proceedings - although barely. The film's first scene is indicative of this. A man rides his horse to call on a lady friend. He is dressed in formal attire. She greets him with - who we assume - is her mother and her young son. They have tea and commence with small talk and laughter. Meanwhile his horse has drawn the attention of a stallion who begins to go wild. As the gentleman leaves the wild stallion managers to break through the fence holding him and he rushes to the mare to mate with her. What ensues is a major embarrassment for the gentleman and a good hearty laugh for everyone else.

One thing Erlingsson does really well is present each story in such a unique way that you don't exactly know what's happening. Many times I found myself surprised by unpredictable [but subtle] narrative twists.  Each story has its own delight or shock or revelation and all of them have moments of exhilaration, which are helped along by the amazing cinematography of Bergsteinn Bjoergulfsson and a terrific score by David Thor Jonsson.

Movies like 'Of Horses and Men' is one of the reasons I go to movies. I hope it finds a distributor.

UPDATE: It has been picked up by Music Box Films.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Jodorowsky's Reality

The Dance of Reality is everything cinema should be; Daring, bold, controversial, theatrical, raw, surreal, cathartic. In short, a balancing act that threatens to tip over yet maintain its equilibrium all along carrying the audience through the ups and downs and conflicts and vicissitudes of its main characters.

Make no mistake, this is a Alejandro Jodorowsky film through and through. It is not a compromised, mainstream film put together by studio producers or marketing hacks. It's not safe and easy yet it's not too outrageous to scare away the timid. For every bit of harsh or clunky mise-en-scene it segues into confident narrative structure and the assurance of faith or a mother's love.

As in most of Jodorowsky the narrative is a bit messy - yet one is never confused. It is both a coming-of-age tale about a young boy [the young Jodorowsky] and a coming-to-Jesus tale about the boy's father who is a bully and a tyrant. He's also Jewish in the 1930's, which puts him one wrung down in the mind of everyone in the small Chilean village he lives in.

This is entertainment that astonishes and pushes us; from scenes like the mother urinating [for real] on her ailing husband, to dancing naked with her son both blackened with shoe polish, to the craziness of not one but a dozen crippled one [or no] armed men drinking themselves into despairing drunkenness. It's a world that not only embraces atheism and faith, but cornball sincerity [the mother sings every line as if in an opera] with outrageous sadistic madness [the father hurts the child early on to gain his respect].

It's a film about the cruelty of dictatorships and economic difficulties but a one of hope too. Ultimately, it's a film about the rebirth of both a man and his country.

It's tough to recount the plot. And since I saw it with no knowledge of the plot I'll leave it there.

See it. It's a great, unforgettable film.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Chair de poule

Chair de poule - 1963

Julien Duvivier is best known in the United States for 'Pépé le moko'. But he had quite a distinguished career that lasted from 1919 to 1967 and included over 70 films. Jean Renoir is noted to have said: "If I were an architect and I had to build a monument to the cinema, I would place a statue of [Julien] Duvivier above the entrance….This great technician, this rigorist, was a poet."

I've seen few Duvivier films but each film I have seen is impressive in one way or another. Even if he was just knocking off a genre picture. One such film is Chair de poule [translates as Goosebumps but was also known as 'Highway Pickup']

It's a French film noir and the plot is rather typical. A criminal named Daniel [Robert Hossein] after being caught robbing a safe escapes from a train on the way to prison, finds himself in a remote location where he is befriended by a man, Thomas [Georges Wilson], and his wife, Maria [Catherine Rouvel] who run a roadside restaurant and gas station. It's evident rather quickly that the young wife is not interested in her older husband. The only reason she hangs around is because he has a fortune of money stashed away in a safe. Daniel, it turns out, is a safe cracker. Once Maria finds out this convenient fact she decides to double-cross her husband with this handsome criminal. However, Daniel wants nothing to do with her.

Enter Paul [Jean Sorel] Daniel's partner in crime who in the we saw in the movies first scene manage to escape and avoid Daniel's prison fate.

The plot thickens.

I don't want to recount the plot or give anything away but suffice it to say the film fits into that niche we might call cynical noir.  It builds to a very satisfying conclusion. The story is not Duvivier's. It is based on a novel by James Hadley Chase titled Come Easy Go Easy. But it is well directed and it's terrifically entertaining.

The reason the film is not well know is most likely because it has no big movie stars we can associate with. The biggest being Jean Sorel who was in 'Belle de Jour' and 'The Day of the Jackal'. But it's got big talent behind the lens. The cinematography is by Léonce-Henri Burel who shot Abel Gance's Napolean as many Robert Bresson films. The score is done by Georges Delerue. It would be nice to see this film get the Criterion treatment at some point. Or just any old release will do. Look for it.