Saturday, February 22, 2014

NoirFest 2014

Noirfest 2014

So I think this 5 movies over a couple of weeks mini festival thing I am doing works pretty good. I can’t guarantee weekly updates, but at least twice a month. I am also posting these reviews individually, usually right after viewing the films. I want to keep doing some reviewing, and eventually maybe also some book reviews.... 

I usually do quick reviews on my Goodreads page, so I will figure out how to crosspost those reviews. I am toying with also doing some comic reviews/panels of the week, again. I’m trying to slowly increase my writing output, until it is something I am doing most of the time, eventually finding a way to make it pay whatever meagre pay it can. 

But on to my latest mini festival “Noir Fest 2014”

I chose 5 noirs that I either hadn’t seen, or hadn’t watched in quite some time. A fairly random group actually. I am trying to decide on my next mini fest genre... I may do an actor (Yul Brynner has been suggested to me) or a director, I definitely will always have some vague theme. 

I will also be posting some new release  reviews as I watch the odd few of of those, here and there,  as well. 

The first film I watched was one that I thought I hadn’t seen before:
"I Wake Up Screaming," Directed by Bruce Humberstone. Victor Mature, Betty Grable and Carole Landis flop between melodrama and witty banter like it's old hat. Laird Cregar makes a standout performance as the creepy cop 'heavy' in the picture. Masterful performances all around, especially from Cregar. 

Interestingly, I thought I had never seen this film, but in fact, watching it I realized I had seen it when I was a kid, and all I remembered was the creepy Peeping Tom cop. It has all the stark film noir shadows, and a lightness that you see in little noir, outside John Huston's Ouevre. A romp of a noir; almost of "Laura" quality. 

Great start to my noir fest, and I've put a name to a performance/movie that's haunted me since I was a kid.

9.3442 gals slingin hash waitin to get discovered by Victor Mature and his 1940's speedo outta 10

Film number two in the Film Noirs I haven’t seen, or at least seen in a while is Robert Siodmak’s 1949 heist noir Criss Cross”

Burt Lancaster is young, holy cats, so young, but maybe not as young as Yvonne DeCarlo, who plays the ex-wife/femme fatale that still has him wrapped around her little finger. He’s a stand up guy, until he falls in with her gangster husband, a great Dan Duryea relishing the darker role. Lancaster is always great, but Duryea steals every frame he’s in, except the ones DeCarlo steals. Super cameo from Alan napier as a random heist expert. Double crosses galore, and moody cinematography add up to a swell B-Picture with a “A” cast. I had seen this a few times over the decades, but as I was watching, I realized it’s been maybe 14 or 15 years since I last saw it, on vhs. It holds up nicely.

8.2325 jazz flute rhumba bands outta 10

Third entry:

Haven't seen it since film school daze(sic). One of those movies I've ever only seen in 16mm! (there's a list I need to make)

Solid Fritz Lang effort, shadows, mirrors. Another great performance as a baddie from Lee Marvin and his black hair. That dude could wear a suit! 

Lots of great tough talk from everyone in this picture. Sassy gals, wise guys, Glenn Ford kickin' ass and being a stand up guy. Great protracted death scene for Grahame. some good character acting from a familiar cast, especially Alexander Scourby as the local crime boss, and a sour but tough Jeanette Nolan as a cop's widow. 

8.2222 socks to the jaw outta 10

The second to last entry is one that is not really that well known, but so worth knowing. A bare bones masterclass in low budget low light film making from an actual maverick Director, Ida Lupino, one of the very few actresses in the “Studio” era to direct anything. 

Heck, there aren’t so many today, though that’s something that is hanging. Anyway, the movie holds up to my few years ago, more beers ago viewing. Liked it better this time. I’d forgotten how good the actors playing the hostages: Edmond O’Brien, and Frank Lovejoy. were. they built this slow boil of rage as their hitchhiker/kidnapper taunts them with his gun.

There is a great film school essay to be written about the very homoerotic vibe that this slow boil creates, and in the end they walk off into the dark arm and arm. The two in the front seat are very much a couple. Maybe an innocent Bro-couple, but a couple nonetheless.

The plot, and story telling are barebones, and a lot is said with no dialogue, it’s a brisk 70 minutes of Noirgasm.

8.3453 villains who look like they were drawn by Steve Ditko outta 10

My last entry in the Noirfest 2014 is:

John Boorman's Point Blank, a colour noir that is one of those end of era beginning of a new era pictures. it's equal parts gritty shadowy noir full of nothing but dubious characters, and equal parts grimy on location 70’s crime flick. 

Lee Marvin is his usual bundle of restrained living chaos as Walker, a guy who was double crossed by his friend Mal (John Vernon in his debut role)...and just wants the money he stole from the mob, back from the mob. Angie Dickinson slap fights her way through this picture even more perfectly than I remembered. Great supporting suited thug cast with Lloyd Bochner, Carrol O'Connor, Keenan Wynne and a snarky James Sikking. 

I saw this film way back in film school first year. One of those movies that helped me decide to be a film major. 

9.111 punches in the nuts from Lee Marvin outta 10

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Buddha’s Rhubarb Redux

Buddha’s Rhubarb Redux

It’s a post on my almost Moribund movie/media review/opinion blog. I’m trying to stretch my writing muscles. If I’m going to eventually eke out some kind of meagre living (which is all I’ve ever done in life so why not do so, in a way I enjoy) out of my writing, I need to get my chops back, not just as a fiction writer, or as a memoirist (my Transition Blog) but I need to relearn how to write about Film, TV, Books, and Comics. 

These are things I spend my free time enjoying, and well, I love to share my opinion. Which, is all any of my reviews are: my opinion, an opinion that may even change and evolve as the art sits with me for some time, or I re-engage with it and maybe see it from a different angle. Opinions should evolve, especially opinions of art. Spoilers likely, below, but I try not to give too much away.

Forgotten Westerns

Five westerns I watched recently, some of which I’ve never seen before, and some I’ve seen more than once, but not in 20 years or so. I decided to start my blog with a bit of a thematic set of reviews. I plan on doing more and more themed viewing, and thus reviewing as well. Maybe I will toss off the odd essay, when I get to the point I want to do so. 

What got me started was this Delmer Dawes western called “Jubal”. 

Glenn Ford takes a Hamlet-ish Turn and crashes into Othello, (A very “Earnest” Borgnine) & Iago (Rod Steiger)...  there's all the usual western stuff: great vistas, Cowboys riding horses across the screen, etc, et al. Ford won't give the ladies the time of day, except that one gal that he tells horrific stories from his childhood to (Ophelia) ...mix that up with a do-gooding Horatio (Charles Bronson) and some gorgeous cinemascope vistas/matte paintings. Grandiose Hokum! 

After I initially wrote the above review, I looked the movie up on, and found out that it was indeed meant to be a westernized version of Othello, if loosely so. I stand by my Hamlet mixing in though, Glenn Ford is no Cassio, he brings the torment of Hamlet, especially in the noir-ish interiors with so much deep black, shadows casting symbolic film language directly into your brain. He smoulders in ways you rarely see western heroes smoulder.

Rod Steiger’s Pinky Pinkum/Iago deserves to be in the hall of great western villains with “Who Shot Liberty Valence’s” Lee Marvin, and “Shane’s” Jack Palance.

9.345 bad guys named Pinky Pinkum outta 10

My second venture into westerns was Sam Peckinpah's "Ballad Of Cable Hogue" which I watched for the first time in almost 20 years. Holds up well, does Sam's least violent movie. Funnier than I remembered, and hokier, but in a good way. I forgot about all the wipes, fast motion keystone kops stuff, and the singing, totally forgot about the singing. 

I was talking about this and the next picture “Day Of The Outlaw” on facebook, and someone aptly said that this movie is about ‘the western’ getting killed by an automobile (aka technology, progress) and that Peckinpah’s earlier western (the last flick in my mini fest) “The Wild Bunch” is the western getting killed by guns, bullets (spectacle replacing story here, is what I recall being taught way back in my film school days.) and that is certainly true.

7.587 grubby old dudes in their longjohns serving you breakfast outta 10

Watched another under seen Western in my mini festival: 

"Day Of The Outlaw," directed by Andre De Toth, starring Robert Ryan as his usual tougher than nails cattleman, about to go to war with local farmers, and their wife... Tina Louise has a surprisingly nice turn as the femme fatale who gets nowhere with the 'upstanding' men around her. 

Burl Ives and a band of nigh insane former Union Cav invade the town and push everyone around. Lots of big talk, and winter, a winter western one of those rare beasts... the third act is where all that winter horror happens. A chase that is a not a chase. ...

Outstandingly quirky lesser known western, that bookends that first one I watched in my recent western binge, "Jubal". 

8.543 Bloody Bill-esque Raiders slam dancing with Ginger from Gilligan's 
Island outta 10

The Westerns I either haven't seen, or haven't seen in 20 odd years continued last night with the under appreciated Richard Brooks directing Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Woody Strode, Robert Ryan, Jack Palance, Claudia Cardinale, Ralph Bellamy, in the most straight up of the westerns that I've watched in the last week or so: “The Professionals”

Marvin, Ryan, Strode and Lancaster are hired to rescue Ralph Bellamy's young Mexican Wife from Warlord Jack Palance. Great cinematography from Connie Hall, helps keep a predictable story entertaining. The blu ray transfer was great, but the thin plot and lack of super awesome dialogue had me dozing a bit by the end. If you like the gang of gun hawks (Strode with a bow) riding around shooting people kind of movies this is up your alley. Warning Testosterone overload. Cardinale is barely in the movie, and she's the only woman in mexico in those days it seemed.

7.4756 Dynamite carrying arrows blowing up banditos outta 10

I finished my little mini Western Festival last night by viewing “The Wild Bunch”, directed (obviously) by Sam Peckinpah. Much like “The Professionals (which also has a tired looking Robert Ryan) The Wild Bunch is one of those, gang of guys doing “one last job” ... Wild Bunch, though the characters are slightly more self aware, that this likely means they will die at the end of the job, most likely for pride, or doing “what’s right.” Wild Bunch does the right thing, having actual Mexican/Mexican American actors playing all those parts, with more actual Spanish being spoken. 

Wild Bunch holds up pretty darn well for me, after not having seen it since maybe the early 90’s on VHS. The gun battles are astonishing in their complexity, and it really is the penultimate western, in the sense that it plays it both as a straight up, sort of bad, but good guys pulling train, bank, etc heists, getting back at “The Man” all within a very “Spaghetti Western” aesthetic. What sets the Wild Bunch apart is Peckinpah’s deep understanding of the genre. All the iconic portrayals follow the rules, and because they are murderers and thieves themselves, they die in glorious battle. People often say that the gunfights are cartoonish in this film, and they are, in the best Bugs Bunny Tradition. The difference being that the cartoon characters in the wild Bunch stay dead.

I was a bit lulled once again into almost dozing off, the tempo of the picture being almost musical, gunfight, character development, humour, gunfight, ad infinitum. I may start listening to gunfire recordings to help me fight occasional insomnia, to a movie buff, it’s like a lullaby?

I don’t think I have anything to say about “The Wild Bunch” that hasn’t already been said. If you haven’t seen it, and you like westerns even a little bit, watch this one and see where most of the so-called “anti-Western” tropes were solidified by merging the spaghetti and American westerns in one fusion of cinematic cuisine.

The Wild Bunch helped bring the post studio system westerns into the the modern era, loading up the heroes with pathos only glimpsed in older westerns, like the aforementioned Jubal, which combines Shakespeare, Film Noir, and the 50’s western in a stew that really tastes great. 

9.367 Desperate men doing the right thing and dying in a blaze of glory outta 10

The most satisfying of the westerns I watched, is that first one, the unheralded “Jubal.” I put it on the shelf next to The Wild Bunch, Rio Bravo, Duel in The Sun as precursors to the Spaghetti westerns, and the modern American Anti- Westerns which includes more recent things like Eastwood’s Unforgiven, or The Coen Brothers’ True Grit.

Thus endeth my little western festival: my next group of older flicks I am going to watch are some old Film Noir that I haven’t seen. I will be starting that soon. But first I’m going to watch a few documentaries, and some TV to cleanse my pallet. I am endeavouring to write at least a few glib lines of review on everything I watch these days, so I have things to update on my blog, that aren’t all about my Transition.

My grand plan for this blog is to make a point of reviewing all the movies, TV that I watch, as I am trying to bring more of a balance to my reading/movie viewing life, and doing something active around each viewing, reading... aka write glib opinions based on one viewing (or a history of reading viewing) of whatever piece of art.

the second part of the plan, with Movies at least is that to get myself going writing wise, I will be doing thematic viewing maybe a week of watching new releases, or a week of sci-fi from the 60's, rom coms, etc. More than likely, also I will do a director week, various actor weeks. I want, I guess to do a post a week, watching up to 5 films... get me kickstarted on thinking and writing on film, as much as I am, fiction, and memoir. 

You know that time when you were young and realized all you wanted to do was write (draw, paint, make movies, snowboard, play/design video games etc)? I am having that again, reborn not just in my expression of gender, but as a writer of words, teller of stories, and most importantly, haver of opinions about art. 

next week: Film Noir (w/pre-noir tossed in there, maybe)