Hong-jin Na, The Yellow Sea, 2010
Sort of like a mucky John Woo with hatchets instead of guns. Plenty of action in this bleak tale of a Chinese taxi driver who's more or less forced to go illegally into South Korea as a contract killer by way of paying off his outstanding debts. Of course, everything fucks up and he ends up being chased and hacked to pieces (he survives both) by all sides. If you like bloody action, you might like it. A bit on the long side, methought
Superb synopsis, I'd thought I driveled about this years earlier but apparently not, we miss you HDS. Dembo is McCauley in Heat and the latter does not get made without Straight Time, among my top ten ever.Dan Warburton wrote:
Ulu Grosbard, Straight Time, 1978
Following my own advice by way of homage to the late great Harry Dean, couldn't resist a return visit to this one. Really superb. But I said that last time (2012): "Roger Ebert once wrote that any film with either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in it had to be good - so this, with both of them, is double good. Actually, it's even better than that - have been on the lookout for it since reading Jesse's comments on it here a while back, and was delighted to see it's just come out as a Talents du Cinema mid-price Zone 2 DVD. Stanton, Walsh and Theresa Russell (another fine undersung actress) are all wonderful, but the film belongs to Hoffman (whom you could say Grosbard "discovered" when he cast him in A View From The Bridge at the Sheridan Theater in NY in 1965). Read on IMDb that there was some legal hassle about final cut, with Hoffman suing WB, but I'm wondering how much better it could be. The script is as raw and honest as a Raymond Carver short story - haven't read Eddie Bunker's book on which it's based (and on which Michael Mann also had a hand, I see) but I assume many of the lines came straight from there - and Grosbard's direction is precise and economical, never getting in the way of the disturbing moral dilemma we find ourselves as viewers: how far are we prepared to go in our sympathy for Max Dembo? At what point does hero turn into antihero and even villain?"
Alain Cavalier, Irène, 2008
Cavalier's recent films are so deeply personal you almost feel embarrassed watching them. It's like thumbing through someone else's diary - you're curious, but feel bad. And this is indeed a journal intime of sorts, as the director unearths his 1971 diaries documenting the events leading up to his wife's death. If you're already a Cavalier fan, you'll appreciate it. If not, this is not the place to start.
Robert Culp, Hickey and Boggs, 1972
I'll refrain from making any comments related to Mr Cosby's extra-curricular activities about the time this movie was made - it's an excellent directorial debut (I think) from Culp, who's as good behind the camera as he is in front of it. That trick with the paper bag over the parking meter is something I should remember to try out one of these days. Splendid Walter Hill script, well worth your time.
Michael Curtiz, Angels with Dirty Faces, 1938
Deserves its glowing reputation as one of Cagney's finest performances (though I prefer White Heat myself, ma) - background info and trivia here, but you probably know all this stuff anyway https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angels_with_Dirty_Faces
Pascal Bonitzer, Cherchez Hortense, 2012
Damn, Bacri looks old! Great chemistry between him and the late great Claude Rich as the hated father figure. If you're not a fan of this kind of slowmoving, character-driven French comédie dramatique (Bonitzer's previous credits as a screenwriter include long stints with Rivette and Ruiz, to name but two), you might yawn, like several IMDb punters, but I thought it was a fine piece of work myself.
Andrey Zyvagintsev, Leviathan, 2014
Absolutely magnificent - assuming you're ready for a thoroughly depressing tale of a poor bugger who's evicted from his house by the local gangster Mayor (in cahoots with the Church, of course), not helped by the arrival of a friend from Moscow who manages to fuck up his already fragile relationship with the wife.... add shotguns and LOTS of vodka, and you've got a recipe for trouble. Great photography, excellent performances, a real class act, Zyvagintsev. And if you store your BluRays in alphabetical order, he's not hard to find
François Girard, 32 Short Films about Glenn Gould, 1993
Excellent idea, juxtaposing authentic interviews with folks who knew the legendary (I think the word is appropriate, somehow) Canadian pianist well and brief but always entertaining episodes from Gould's life. Accompanied throughout, of course, by his own recordings. Especially touching was the ending, the shot of the Voyager probe taking off for the outer reaches of the universe with Glenn's Goldberg Variations aboard. (Even more so when you recall WG Sebald's tale, in The Rings of Saturn, of the dark Nazi past of then-UN Sec Gen Waldheim, who recorded the friendly greeting to any alien beings who might happen upon the spaceship as it hurtled through the outer darkness..) A fine introduction to Gould's life and work, recommended.
Bryan Forbes, The Stepford Wives, 1975
I see that this was remade by Frank Oz in 2004 with cast including Kidman, Midler and Walken (tempting.. but it seems to have had a troubled past). The original, set at a time when women burning bras actually meant something, was also the result of friction between the British director and the American scriptwriter who adapted Ira "Rosemary's Baby" Cohen's novel, but it's aged very well, and its gradual transition from something close to sitcom into genuine horror is still strikingly effective. I won't spoil the plot by telling you more, even though you might be as curious as Nanette Newman: "I'll just die if I don't get the recipe!"...
Michael Gordon, I Can Get It Wholesale, 1951
Blacklisted Abraham Polonsky's screenplay is almost as pungent as Mankiewicz's for All About Eve, and it's a shame this sharp tale of ruthless ambition in the NY garment industry isn't as well known - it certainly deserves a decent DVD reissue, hope one's coming. Especially since it also features the inimitable George Sanders. But Susan Hayward's feisty performance is just as good. Makes for a nice comparison with Jacques Becker's Falbalas (see reviews passim) too.
Dan Warburton wrote:
John Farrow / Richard Fleischer, His Kind of Woman, 1951
As Michael's magnificent reviews are as rare and wondrous as meteor showers, unlike mine which are just, well, normal showers, I can do no better than cut'n'paste what he said about this last year. It's a tad long - the movie, not MRS's write-up , but is ever so entertaining. Nobody hams up Shakespeare as well as Vincent Price (remember Theatre of Blood!), and the contrast between his silly swashbuckling humour and nasty Nick (even Mitchum, knocked out cold, gets upstaged) is priceless. Over to you, Michael:
MRS wrote: “The studio's biggest assets, the screen's two biggest chests, together for the first time." A good friend with consistent, superior taste considers Mitchum the alpha and omega of male leads, and this is his favorite. Milner (Mitchum) plays unknown rake mixed up in no good who accepts a lucrative offer to simply fly to a Mexican resort and receive further instruction. As soon as he lands Jane Russell's in the crosshairs, Lenore is a famous actress vacationing with her famous actor beau Mark Cardigan (Vincent Price). Renowned more for her endowment, Jane Russell’s face is beautiful and assertive, and she sings a couple songs in Spanish. Tim Holt shows up (ugh), Charles McGraw's a hood, Raymond Burr in spare time gives us a wonderfully nervous Tony Soprano (named Nick Ferraro), and Jim Backus plays an unconscionable hump. I don't want to ruin anything else.
St. Louisan Vincent Price prima facie can come off too 30s theater, yet with sneaky unimpeachable range. Dragonwyck counts among my favorite movies full stop. Here he's an aloof, effeminate, confused goof. He's a scorchingly homosexual drip wearing a mohair hunting coat with suede right shoulder pad and this twist on Hamlet as he chambers his rifle: "Now might I drink our blood and do such bitter business the earth would quake to look upon." If there’s a fault, Price’s transatlantic articulation amalgamated with what sounds like an old southern Virginia accent ("ha-oose" for "house") turns on and off like Costner's Robin Hood. After gunning down a goon at distance, Cardigan: "Deceased! Or as you say in plain terms, gone to heaven!"
Pleats, quadruple pleats, reverse pleats, baggy trousers with a long rise, polka-dot drapes and big gauge blinds, like the interiors of the Tahoe Corleone compound. Robust use of exposed stone interiors and exteriors, I wonder if that Mayan Revival home of many Los Angeles movies wasn't filmed here. Shadows are near gaudy even for hardboiled noir. There's some handy omniscient narrator connective tissue throughout the first half, over maps too! At one point Milner irons his shirt and loads his pistol with just a muscle shirt (what my grandfather used to call it, now unfortunately best glossed as a wifebeater) tucked into dress pants, I couldn't help but think of John McClane.
My favorite part of this picture is the unabashed humor, doubtless informed by RKO's ethos of the era. Howard Hughes hired, fired and tinkered with this ad infinitum, having mob boss Robert J. Wilke replaced with Burr post-production and each scene involving Nick Ferraro reshot. Burr is sweaty, swarthy, speaks passable Italian and ironically plays the least homoerotic character in the film. I’d just gone through the complete American Library Hammett Continental Op stories before watching this so, grain of salt. It's a long movie for the vintage. Instantly into my top five noirs.
Milner (Mitchum): "I never bet on a race in my life that wasn’t fixed."
Cardigan (Price): "Stay with me bucko, this is my private hunting ground, I know it like an owl knows his tree."
Lenore (Russell): "That was real nice, you shoulda been a masseur instead."
Milner: "Instead of what?"
Lion (Davis, 2016)
Maybe because I'm an adoptive parent of an 18-year-old, this was a waterworks film for me. I can't really discuss it; I'm just glad I watched it at home by myself.
Juan Antonio Bardem, Calle Mayor, 1956
Oh what a great film - and for you Karagargans it's a free Featured Torrent - it starts well and just keeps getting better and better: the scene in the deserted hall near the end with the guy tuning the piano is worthy of a 15-page Michel Chion essay on its use of sound alone, to say nothing of the sublime camerawork and Betsy Blair's stellar performance as the "old maid" (she's hardly old by modern standards, and ravishingly pretty when she smiles.. which explains why she had to have that awful frumpy hairdo) who's tricked into thinking she's going to get married at last. Thank goodness the Europeans didn't have to contend with the Production Code: a happy ending would have killed this masterpiece stone dead.
Sergio Sollima, Città Violenta, 1970
I suppose if you're the star and have to do sex scenes you'd probably feel more comfortable doing it with your real life partner, which explains why the nice-to-look-at but fair-to-middling actress Jill Ireland teams up with hubby Charles Bronson in so many of his films. But unless you're a Bronson freak, you can probably give this one a miss. Apart from a great opening car chase (beware films that begin with great opening car chases - Le casse, Fear is the Key etc - as the rest of the film rarely reaches the same level of excitement) and a good Morricone soundtrack (but they're almost always good, anyway), there's not much to keep the adrenalin pumping.
John Flynn, Scam, 1993
Lorraine Bracco, either as a blonde or a brunette - take your pick - isn't really all that convincing as a femme fatale in this rather underwhelming telefilm, and Walken's is-he-or-is-he-not-really-an FBI agent is one of his less inspired performances imo, but a strong supporting cast with Martin Donovan and Miguel Ferrer (who both meet sticky ends) and some rather cool Maxi Priest songs just about make up for it. Still, too many stings in the tail and a quarter of an hour too long.
Abel Ferrara, The Gladiator, 1986
Another made-for-TV movie, which may or may not have been lurking somewhere in the back of QT's mind when he wrote Death Proof (though Tarantino did it better, not that it makes much sense to compare the two films plotwise). Hard on the heels of his excellent Ms 45, able Abel's out in L.A. tracking vigilantes again, here driving customised cars / trucks and out to rid the roads of drunk drivers. And other poor buggers who get in the way. Ken Wahl's OK as the lead, mumbles aside, but we never get to see the baddie in the black car who rammed his van ino the path of an oncoming truck and killed Ken's kid brother (aspiring soccer star, good-looking young jock.. the kind of gagbarf heart-on-sleevery that Ferrara was probably forced to swallow as part of the deal). Robert Culp doesn't have much to do as the cop, and Nancy Allen as the local DJ / love interest is also underdeveloped as a character. Not bad, not Ferrara enough for me..
Ragnar Bragason, Börn ("Children"), 2006
Ragnar Bragason, Folreldrar ("Parents"), 2007
The nice thing about Icelandic cinema is that you almost always recognise the actors from other films of theirs you've seen - and a versatile bunch they are. From what I can glean, however, director Bragason has devoted his energies to TV comedy series since this pair of films came out, which is a shame (though I haven't seen his television work). Reviews cite Cassavetes, Godard and Mike Leigh as influences - to which I'd add Altman's recontextualising / interleaving of Carver stories in Short Cuts. I can't see much Godard in there myself, apart from a rather spectacular tracking shot in the hotel in Parents which is clearly inspired by a similar one in Alphaville - but the emotional intensity and complexity of the characters and how their various stories intertwine is definitely something you check out if you like the other abovementioned directors. Recommended as a double bill - with a side order of fermented shark and a bottle of Brennevin
D.A. Pennebaker / Chris Hegedus, Kings of Pastry, 2009
You might think a documentary about some guys baking wedding cakes and sculpting teddy bears out of sugar would be a bit of a yawn - but Pennebaker and Hegedus are pastmasters of the art, and the grand finale of the "Meilleur Ouvrier de France en Patisserie" competition in Lyon is really nailbiting. Though instead of chewing your nails while you watch, line up a plateful of choux pastries and enjoy. Yet another good reason for me asking for French nationality, not that I need one.