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Dead of Night (1945)
The grandpa of psycho-horror flicks
Saw this years ago, dead of night, when it should be watched. Mousy architect has recurring nightmare (an early version of Groundhog Day), of which most of the movie's comprised.
To help alleviate him of his anguish, characters in his nightmare each tell a tale of a nightmarish experience. Tales culminate with one of the greatest horror effects ever, so popular that it's been used on the silent screen (The Great Gabbo) & on TV (Hitchcock & Twilight Zone each had a version): the old ventriloquist's-dummy-assumes-the-ventriloquist's-persona trick. An ideal metaphor for the schizoid personality.
Spirited dialogue, Michael Redgrave, & enough smoking & drinking to acquire whatever 2d-hand ailments there are to be acquired. & Don't forget Hugo: "Good niiiiiight!"
Five-part, very sensitive examination of mental illness.
Host Jonathan Miller's father was a psychiatrist, & Miller was headed for the same profession, until he decided that a more rewarding career would be to dress up in other people's clothes & pretend to be someone else: to be an actor.
Fortunately, Miller, a former comic anarchy mate of Peter Sellers & Spike Milligan, brings a healthy skepticism to his subject & so can be genuinely exasperated when NIH researchers are trying to explain schizophrenia by pointing to colorful CAT scans of the brain or the earnest doctor states that when a patient hallucinates in front of her, she's busy trying to figure out what's going on in his brain. Best parts are medical historian Andrew Scull describing psychiatry's distasteful history of carnival rides & enemas or E.C.T. pitchman Dr. Max Fink getting all dewy eyed over the "marked improvement" of his zapped patients. There's also some ancient footage of Ronald Laing talking about the "gulf in power" betw. doctor & patient.
"Madness" was shown over five weeks on PBS in 1991. Doesn't appear to be available on VHS or DVD: likely because it isn't hawking a pharmaceutical panacea. Ah, for the days of differences of opinion ...
Quiz Show (1994)
Entertainment 1, Corruption 0
About 20 minutes into the movie, I noticed the Rob Morrow character had a Boston accent. I hadn't caught his name, so I thought Bobby Kennedy? Dick Goodwin & wife Doris Kearns Goodwin are probably more familiar as professional PBS talking heads on those Ken Burns dynamos. But apparently around 1958 or so Goodwin was fresh out of Harvard Law, buried in a decidedly unfresh Capitol Hill library ("Must've been an oversight." "We're an oversight committee.") & working for a Senate committee.
Assigned to investigate wacky game show contestant Herbert Stempel's (John Tuturro, in bravura performance) complaints about network failures to deliver on promises (to put him on another show), Morrow's Goodwin is portrayed as a knight wanting to bring down networks & sponsors; he finds that his fellows merely want to bring down people: Stempel & his "Twenty One" successor Chas. van Doren. (The names are the same: only the degree of sincerity's been changed to protect the guilty.) Officials & their constituency thought TV was an entertainment medium & were determined to find it @all costs.
Turturro's desperate madness & Morrow's cool methodology make for some great exchanges: Quiz Show's best feature is its highly literate script (see memorable quotes @this site). With Martin Scorcese as the Geritol rep. & Barry Levinson as orig. Today Show host Dave "Peace" Garroway. Paul Scofield is riveting as literary brahman Mark van Doren.
American Beauty (1999)
Highly stylized & wicked flick
Highly stylized account of lives of quiet desperation. Kevin Spacey & Annette Bening are husband & wife passing each other on the escalators of middle class mobility.
Foremost: Annette Bening is like super incredible. I always though she was just some babe that had something to do with Warren Beatty. Wow!: that scene where she convulses into tears after the open house. Is that what they call visceral acting? I've seen American Beauty 4 or 5 times, & each time that scene sends chills up my spine. Her whole quirky, esteem less, desperate-for-attention persona places her on par with Streep et al.
American Beauty is a fascinating example of the notion of imagination forcing a disconnection with consciousness. Spacey's fantasies about the teenager & the Marine neighbor: more elements of horror than titillation. If you like something beyond being passively entertained, see American Beauty. Post-pop priestess, pre-American Idol Paula Abdul choreographed the cheerleader sequences.
Key Largo (1948)
Good flick for group therapists
Key Largo's approximately may favorite movie, give or take an Apocalypse Now here or a Casablanca there. Bogart is a WWII vet paying a visit to the widow (Bacall) & father (Barrymore) of a dead soldier, late under Bogie's command.
Crooks have taken over the hotel for a week during this tourist off-season, evidently awaiting a fellow mug who'll relieve the gang of its stash, counterfeit money. Edw. G. Robinson is Johnny Rocco, gang executive, who's now back in the USA illegally, years after he was deported.
Movie is a great study in the breakdown of group relations: gang members @each other's throats; aimless Bogie's ambiguous relations with Bacall & Barrymore characters. All while anticipating the hurricane.
Along the way, Bacall realizes that Bogie character was the real hero of the battle, not her late husband. & They realize that Rocco was deported years ago. Review the scene where hoods tease Pop Temple ("Stand your ground!"): Barrymore had been disabled with arthritis for years when the scene calls for him to get up, take a swing @Rocco, & fall down. Also note simmering disdain betw. Ziggy & Rocco ("No more blasting away at each other!"). It's pretty intense cinema.
Anybody notice that the shootout on the boat is more or less a recreation of the battle on that hill in Italy?: Bogie alone, against the forces of evil. The last scene, with Bacall throwing open the curtains, is still a tearjerker for me.
Stellar cast includes Thomas Gomez as Curly ("Hotel Central. We're all together."), Harry Lewis as Toots ("It's guaranteed for life."), the incredible Claire Trevor as gang moll Gay Dawn ("How 'bout a drink? It'll help chase the blues away."), Monte "Ming the Merciless" Blue as Sheriff Wade, & Dan Seymour as Angel: he was also the doorkeeper @Rick's in Casablanca. Jay Silverheels (Tonto in the TV series The Lone Ranger) is Tom Osceola.
Epic flick of the summertime soldier
Robert Conrad was one of the standard bearers (along with Tom Selleck) of Hollywood's supposed right wing (until he got nailed for drunk driving here a coupla years back): Ba Ba Black Sheep & this Liddy movie. Not sure why, but I guess the summertime soldiers needed an epic flick: Cal Thomas directs The Ten Commandments.
The title Will: what Liddy had to withstand thousand shocks that he was heir to. Miltown County prosecutor, the FBI, committee to re-elect the President. He sure did have it tough: just shout "God, flag, country" & boom! you're in law enforcement.
So then, were we supposed to feel sorry that Liddy made enemies every time he broke the law? Suddenly, he could empathize with the poor & downtrodden?
Saw this movie on Lifetime about 7 or 8 years ago. By then, he'd taken the Liddy persona into commercials: "Knock it off my should; I dare ya."
Some woosies make careers outta being tough guys: Liddy & Conrad were two. If the shoe fits, shove your whole head in.
Mystic River (2003)
Film version of Albinoni's Adagio
Dreary & finally pointless movie: if Clint Eastwood had made The Deer Hunter. Childhood pals, long estranged, are brought together when one of the pal's daughters is murdered.
Stars got the Boston accents down, although Tim Robbins's reticent character is a variation on his old Andy Dufresne persona, but in the end the murder has nothing to do with the three pals & none of the main characters changes (well, yeah, except for Robbins). The failure here: murder as plot device to delve into the past of the pals; pals, tho, peripheral to murder. I mean, it's not like Jimmy's daughter was killed to punish him!
Robbins et al. are enjoyable to watch, & I'm sure the effort here was sincere, but the movie went on way too long after the case was solved, & it looks as if creating a "work of art" took precedence over making a coherent movie, which along with a score by Eastwood was a 3d-rate film version of Albinoni's Adagio, sometimes called the most depressing piece of music ever.
True Believer (1989)
Taut action supersedes continuity troubles
Eminently watchable drama from 1989 with Woods as burned-out lawyer Eddie Dodd, formerly idealistic & successful civil liberties attorney who's now a callous defender of drug dealers ("No, pot possession cases are free. Coke dealers pay cash: that subsidizes the pot possession cases." Character reputably based on real-life S.F. lawyer J. Tony Serra; hence the long hair), & Rbt. Downey, Jr., as his idealistic law clerk, fresh out of school. (Downey, Jr.'s, @first incredulous: "You were my age when you defended that case," to which Dodd retorts, "I was never your age.")
There're a few continuity problems here, mainly which fingers the charcoal is on after Dodd's tussle with Chuckie, but they're pretty much overshadowed by some great sub-plots (Manhattan D.A.'s [Kurtwood "70s Show" Smith] curious interest in an 8-year-old murder case, Dodd's faded romance with P.I. Margaret Colin, the sadly schizoid Vietnam vet ["Cecil, are you what heroes are made of?"]) & the main story line, the case of a convicted murderer. Dodd @first dismisses Downey, Jr.'s, suggestion that they take the case but later becomes so emotionally immersed in it that when Roger (Downey, Jr.) spins the futility here with "We all think it's a good fight," Eddie pounces on him with some memorable oratory: "Don't give that liberal, yuppie b***s**t about a good fight; this isn't f*****g Yale! A good fight is one you win!"
Directed by Joseph Ruben, with a nice, incidental orig. score by Brad Fidel & some slick ambient tunes (Doors's Crystal Ship, Lou Reed's Busload of Faith).
the Cold War's bleak aesthetic
Back during the Cold War, people actually bought into the bleak misery that was brinkmanship & actors actually took chances, & their agents let them.
Richard Burton is Alec Laemmas, John Le Carre's reluctant spy, whose disillusionment is turned against him to save one last informant: hard to believe that Mr. Burton was then still in the throes of his public romance with Liz Taylor. Grim's the word here: from the opening Checkpoint Charlie Berlin scene to the Dutch shores to the East German countryside--the Cold War's done nobody any favors. Moreover, this harsh treatment of spies & their back-stabbing, double-dealing ways was made just after Ian Fleming's suave James Bond had become a pop movie icon (Bond's "M," Bernard Lee, as a grocer here ["T'get a proper credit, y'need a banker's reference."], gets the crap pummeled outta him by Burton).
Anyway, "Spy" is movie stripped of glamor: everyone gets usurped by people with power. Burton's Laemmas is sent to salvage the good guys' chief informant, a senior GDR official; Claire Bloom's Commie idealist Nancy is called to East Germany under the ruse of cultural exchange, to aid in the hoax. Oscar Werner is mesmerizing ("Were you present for ziss...Sanksgiving?") as the no. 2 man in the Abteilung, on the trail of no. 1, Peter van Eyck, until Laemmas shows up to thwart his plans.
If old cold warriors were only half as conniving as they appear here, whither did they go after the fall of the Soviet Union? Something to which nobody with nanogram of sense has paid much attention.
In Cold Blood (1967)
Even the ads were spooky.
I have the p'back ed. of the book (Capote's famous invention, the "nonfiction" novel, which basically meant it wasn't chronological), & those movie ad eyes can spook you: this was the orig. movie ad.
That score! Those characters: Bobby Blake limping & drinking down aspirin tablets with root beer; the chilling, skin-curling, totally asexual way in which Scott Wilson's Hickock calls Blake's Smith "honey." Blake's flashbacks watching his whore mother are genuinely erotic: has there been anything comparable since?
Then, panic in the Clutter house, while Smith, so outraged @crawling around under a bed for a silver dollar, takes it out on the family. & The "living witness."
Director Richard Brooks was supposedly the original choice to direct The Godfather. He turned it down: he wouldn't make heroes of gangsters.
But he made this, & later he made Looking for Mr. Goodbar, which had alot of the Cold Blood people-in-panic mode to it. (Although there's violence in The Godfather, is there any real suspense?)
This is great acting, folks. & Great dialog: name of the executioner? We the people!