Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Ya gotta give him credit for trying.
Eastwood, ever the shrewd and expedient filmmaker, set out to make a movie which might inform its audience on the hereafter and has succeeded nicely, creating a viewing experience which approximates death. Over the years, Clint has aimed high and as often as not, managed to pull it off, albeit a bit too glossy for my taste, but here it just doesn't work. I never felt 'connected' to the characters, was never able to develop any empathy for them.Compartmentalizing the story into three distinct parts means we're watching three short stories not one long, organic narrative. I think it was a huge error to do subtitles in the early going, it effectively put up an emotional wall. I'm sure the actors, an attractive pair of continental types, were emoting all over the place while I was reading. The wow special effects remained just that, special effects, the underlying human tragedy befell strangers. Even the two French leads had, at this point, not been developed, just a couple of privileged vacationers. Matt Damon, a swell actor in most settings is poorly cast here. His range and physicality seem to deny him torment. He's prohibitively good-looking, athletic, with a quick and winning smile and we're asking him to play 'torment'? When he tries 'torment' it comes across as 'befuddlement'. Adrian Brody would have been the wiser choice. The film is littered with brief, one-dimensional encounters, the cooking school instructor, cooking class partner, the publisher, all there to simply move the narrative along with not enough business of their own to imply they actually have lives beyond their meager business here. At one point, Matt-the-medium does a reading for his cooking class partner, a tall, slender, dark-haired girl. He starts off by saying, 'I see a tall, slender, dark-haired woman,' he looks up asking, 'your mother?' The girl seems surprised. Puhleeze. It's obvious the early reviews were posted by people with a vested interest in the movie, industry apparatchiks ginning up some positive buzz. I gave it four stars for the two English kids and the wave.
The FBI Story (1959)
Overly earnest retelling of Hoover's fairy tale.
This film is to the F.B.I.'s history as Knott's Berry Farm is to the old west. Shamelessly sanitized version of the Federal Bureau of Investigation fight against crime. Hoover's heavy hand (did he have any other kind?) shows throughout with teevee quality script-reading actors, cheesy sets, cheap sound effects and lighting 101. With Jimmy Stewart at 20% of dramatic capacity, Vera Miles chewing the scenery, the film features every c-lister known in the mid-fifties with nary a hint of irony or humor, from the 'Amazon jungle' to the 'back yard barbecue', everything reeks of sound stages and back lots. Even the gunshots are canned and familiar. I imagine Mervyn Leroy got drunk every night. Except for a few (very few) interesting exterior establishing shots, nothing here of note beyond a curio.
Never So Few (1959)
Never So Few. Boy, you can say that again!
In and of itself, the idea of 97 lb. weakling Frank Sinatra playing an action hero is preposterous. I'm sorry but Mr. Sinatra might have struck a certain manly chord in a six hundred dollar suit, holding a highball glass and a smoldering Chesterfield but with his Hepburn neck and delicate shoulders he's miscast here. The plot, apparently based on some real life derry-do, is nonetheless implausible with Sinatra's ratpack jocularity trumping rank structure and cultural norms, as though he's holding forth at an after-hours Vegas smoker. The film further labors under sundry staging goofs and the otherworldly appearance of GinafrickingLollobrigida in a little black cocktail dress and stilettos. In the Burmese Theater of operations?? Oi! Suspiciously convenient for the Chairman of the Board, I must say. When Sinatra walks through a doorway and finds Gina in soft focus, heaving a throaty sigh and prancing around in those patent-leather pumps, I'm reminded of Billy Pilgrim rooting around on a chaise with Valerie Perrine in outer space. In one action shot, two trucks are running next to each other and the men in one truck are machine-gunning enemy troops by firing directly 'through' the other truck! No, I'm sorry Frank Sinatra is a little thin in the hips to be an action hero. Peter Lawford always looks like he's trying to keep up with Frank and Frank is delivering lines which would never fly except that he's Frank Sinatra. Basically a cartoon. What the heck were Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson doing in this movie?
Absent an original script written for the screen, one of the essential talents of the filmmaker is knowing what (from the book, the play, the serial) to leave in and what to leave out. You get no style points for including it all and likely you get a poor film to boot. With Zodiac you get a film that dazzles and dazzles and dazzles and...Pretty soon you just want it to be over. Much of the dazzle is stylish and interesting but fails to advance the storyline. Hard to know where to place the blame for this but likely the director and editor were in cahoots. Too long by at least 40 minutes, there is a good, maybe great, movie in here, buried under excess celluloid. Director Fincher has established his reputation with a small repertoire consisting mainly of Se7en (a knockout), Fight Club (a TKO) and The Game (a slick psychological thriller in spite of the presence of 'names' Michael Douglas and Sean Penn). With the Jodie Foster vehicle, Panic Room, a little suspicion crept in as the film was too slick, too commercial, almost bland, the camera lingering on Ms. Foster's face when a more crisp look would have added to the tension. But such are the compromises forced into a production with a 'star'. And now we have Zodiac, a project with several preproduction puzzles it never seems to solve. First and most obviously, it is based on a well-known series of murders, so how to tell the story and create and sustain some dramatic tension when the resolution (or lack thereof) is widely known? Secondly, it is based on a popular book written by a peripheral player in the developing news story who is consequently a character in the movie, so how to tell what is essentially a first person narrative and still introduce expository material? And thirdly, it is a story of many parts, ranging over several decades with numerous important characters, so how to tell the story and still provide the audience with a singular POV, a third person narrative(?), first person(?), where is the satisfying continuity with which the audience can identify? In the case of Zodiac, the sum of its parts is impressive film-making that fail to add up to an impressive film. Unfortunately there are simply too many parts. What starts out reasonably enough with a pre-opening credit murder and proceeds in what appears to be the tried-and-true, story-told-through-the-eyes-of-an-innocent, becomes a seemingly endless series of storyboarded vignettes artlessly separated with elided time notations, "two weeks later" fade, "three months later" fade, "two years later" fade, my gawd, there must be thirty of em! The casting is wonderful, not a false note in the lot, especially Robert Downey, Jr. who mesmerizes as the burnt-out crime beat reporter Paul Avery, who is so consistently good it has become almost trite to sing his praises. They should just give this guy an Academy Award every year and be done with it. Jake Gyllenhaal does a nice job with a thankless stock role and Mark Ruffalo rings true as the frustrated homicide detective. There is little dropoff in quality as you get into the supporting roles and bit players, Chloe Sevigny as the long suffering wife, Anthony Edwards as the bland partner and an amusing turn from Brian Cox as the pretentious, self-absorbed Melvin Belli. The cinematography is crisp and inventive, the score a period-correct mix of rock and R&B, the dialogue feels natural and unforced with a satisfying mix of cynicism, humor and angst, the production and art design, costumes, locations, hairstyles and sundry props perfectly capture the period and the communications, written and voice, with which the Zodiac taunts the authorities, provides a nice over-the-shoulder feel to the proceedings. So where did they go wrong? In the early going it looks as though we'll see the story through the eyes of the Gyllenhaal/Graysmith character but he is supplanted by a blinding series of set-piece murders and near murders larded with the obligatory gnashing of investigative teeth which then give way to a police procedural coupled with the deteriorating Downey/Avery character before we return to the Gyllenhaal/Graysmith character for a really bang-up, creepy, skin-crawly closing thirty minutes, all the while the director advancing the narrative line with the aforementioned typeset screen cards. My best guess is that Fincher should have stayed with the Gyllenhaal character as first person narrator. He is a nice wide eyed innocent in the newsroom, whose discovery of the various players and his subsequent discovery of critical evidence would nicely serve as our discovery. Using the newcomer in this way is an old plot device but nonetheless satisfying and effective. It could have worked. Perhaps that's what Fincher thinks he did. Alternatively, how about largely eliminating the Gyllenhaal character and going with a straightforward police procedural. Let the Ruffalo character run with it, let his frustration be our frustration. Let us suffer as he descends into late-career with this failure of a case around his neck. It could work. Perhaps that's what Fincher thinks he did. Alas, the film tries to be all things to all men. And fails to be any one thing. By the way, I wouldn't make any changes that would jeopardize the last thirty or forty whizbang minutes of the film. Damn, there's a really fine ninety-five to a hundred-twenty minute film in here, somewhere.
Woody gets it just right
"Chapter One. He was as tough and romantic as the city he loved. Beneath his black-rimmed glasses was the coiled sexual power of a jungle cat. I love this. New York was his town, and it always would be..."
The first time I saw Woody Allen's Manhattan I knew it was a special film. I mulled it over for a week or two, didn't rush it, let it's sensibilities soak in slowly, and then went back for a second viewing. It knocked me out. I thought it might be a perfect movie, which is not to say the greatest movie ever made (if there can be such a thing) but a perfect movie given the relationships between the elements that make up a film, in this case, the Gershwin score, the slightly overexposed b&w photography, the multi-layered script, the actors organised in a true ensemble, the direction and editing with Allen at his most confident. This is no mean feat. I cannot think of a single casting change I'd make, there is nary a false note in the entire piece. Allen, Keaton, Streep, Murphy, all brought their 'A' game but Hemingway is transcendent. She is an absolute revelation and the relationship with the Allen character rings true in every scene. New York never looked better, Gershwin never sounded better, Gordon Willis never exposed film better. This is what can happen when a singular talent holds all the cards and knows how to play them. Over the years, I've only lowered my opinion of this film very slightly. For me this ranks with City Lights.
Woody/Issac musing about life, "Why is life worth living? It's a very good question. Um... Well, There are certain things I guess that make it worthwhile. uh... Like what... okay... um... For me, uh... ooh... I would say... what, Groucho Marx, to name one thing... uh... um... and Wilie Mays... and um... the 2nd movement of the Jupiter Symphony... and um... Louis Armstrong, recording of Potato Head Blues... um... Swedish movies, naturally... Sentimental Education by Flaubert... uh... Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra... um... those incredible Apples and Pears by Cezanne... uh... the crabs at Sam Wo's... uh... Tracy's face..."
I've never ordered crab at Sam Wo's and if I've ever heard Louis Armstrong playing Potato Head Blues, I didn't realise it, but I've seen a nearly perfect movie and, somehow, that also makes life worth living.
A Walk in the Sun (1945)
Lewis Milestone, himself a combat veteran, tells the story of war from the infantryman's point of view. Isolated, claustrophobic, wise-cracking, fatalistic. Very little discussion of strategy, very little 'big picture', very little 'why we fight'. From a grunt's point-of-view, the story is always the same: how do we get from point 'A' to point 'B', do our job and what will be the cost? For the individual soldier or Marine, this is what it always boils down to: one foot in front of the other, protect yourself, protect the guy next to you, do your job. Milestone knew this. It suffuses All Quiet on the Western Front, it permeates Pork Chop Hill. Life in a combat zone can be intense and terrifying but it is mostly tedious and boring. Usually you don't know anything, nobody tells you anything, maybe because they don't know either. You can only see as far as the next hill, the next treeline. The sound of distant gunfire, the rumble of bombs or artillery, what does it mean, who is it, everybody looks and wonders but no one knows. Seemingly endless physical labor, dirt and heat, noise and near silence, sometimes only the sound of your own boots, the sound of your own digging, sudden gunfire, a plane, a tank, a sniper, dirt in your food, dirt in your mouth, walk some more, sweat. The hours roll by, someone is killed, maybe a friend, surely someone you know, no time for grief, move on, be happy it wasn't you. The individual only needs to know a little slice of the whole, the small unit only needs to know their little corner of the whole, a task, sometimes a near impossible task, time grinds down on the planning, other units are on the move, other men will depend on you completing this task, how to do it? How to survive but still, how to do it. Here Milestone has populated a simple story with a predictable mix of archetypes, almost daring himself to tell a familiar story in a new and fresh way with shopworn components. He has avoided caricature by allowing the characters to develop slowly, to reveal themselves as unique individuals, with histories, with grievances, with hopes, always avoiding the danger of slipping into the maudlin, the sentimental. The dialogue is earthy and believable even though he had to avoid actual profanity but the delivery is rapid and wise. It feels right. The cast is well-suited to the story, a collection of young rising talent, destined for long careers with only Dana Andrews an established 'name'. Some have said it is slow and boring, well, this ain't Stallone or Schwarzenegger. This ain't an 'action' movie. This is the infantry and in the infantry you walk, it is a slow and tedious way to get anywhere but your feet and a dry pair of socks are all you have and there is always a little black cloud sitting on your shoulder.
Sexy Beast (2000)
Gem of a black comedy masquerading as a caper film.
Snazzy little, fast-paced noir. If the excess in this Brit caper film doesn't make you giggle out loud, have someone check your pulse. Quality production top to bottom with most players unfamiliar to American audiences. The plot is deceptively simple: retired safecracker is approached by hood to come out of retirement for one last 'go' at the behest of a distant crime boss. Turns out to be an offer he can't refuse. Ian McShane plays crime boss Teddy Bass with reptilian cool, Ray Winstone's safecracker Gal Dove is sleek, tanned and thoroughly retired and James Fox gives the connected bank executive just the right balance of smarmy decadence. The troop of supporting actors is fresh and without caricature, the women beyond adolescent coquettishness, cool, secure and supremely sexy, the men displaying accumulated bling and adipose fat, rutting through middle age. But this film belongs to Ben Kingsley and his psychotic Don Logan. Sometimes seething, sometimes frenetic, always thoroughly frightening, he is absolutely mesmerising. Easily the most consistently threatening performance in recent memory. Beautifully photographed, the direction is deft and crisp, the dialogue dense and believable and, thankfully, not lost in the usual muddle of British accents. A high grade entertainment on many levels but see it for Kingsley. You won't be disappointed.
Gung Ho Ho Ho! The Story of...well Nothing.
Should have been titled 'Balderdash!' Little in the film is true except the name of the island and the fact submarines were involved. Little more than training film quality with poor camera work, muddy stock footage and perhaps the low point of stereotyping 'Japs' with laughing Japanese infantry, laughing Japanese fighter pilots and one-dimensional square-jawed Americans dying left and right. Sixty years later it is unintentionally funny as an odd artifact and as an opportunity to see what is possible when the war fever is upon you. The plot and the dialogue remind me of playing guns on a summer's afternoon in my childhood, peering through the neighbor's hedge to gain a fatal advantage on my best friend Steve and my little brother. In actual fact, the Makin Island raid was a near total failure with Carlson and his men wandering around in the dark exchanging gunfire with shadows until finally, thirsty and completely disoriented, looking for someone to surrender to, before they happened upon some equally confused Japanese soldiers who promptly surrendered to them! In the withdrawal several of Carlson's Marines ended up on another island and were abandoned! The film, of course, couldn't tell that story, not in 1943, so this bit of whimsy was fabricated and rushed into release to the beating of drums. With Randolph Scott, and his jaw, as Colonel Thorwald (Carlson) leading a unit comprised almost entirely of stock caricatures, the green recruit (Harry Landon, Robert Mitchum), the grizzled veteran (J. Carroll Naish, Milburn Stone, Sam Levene), the country-bumpkin (Rod Cameron), the all-American boy (Alan Curtis), and scores of sneering (when they weren't laughing) 'Japs'. And yet the cast nearly overcomes the material. Almost. Randolph Scott's narrow range is well suited to his role of earnest commander and he is supported by a solid group of professionals who do their best with thin gruel. But in the end, the one-note object of the exercise wins. Any pretense is totally abandoned at the close when Randy Scott simply looks directly into the camera and delivers a stirring (well sorta stirring) call to arms. The cast was better than this material. So was the audience. Should be viewed with Reefer Madness and a bottle of moderately priced Merlot.
Command Decision (1948)
Ten O'Clock High
Political expedience clashes with strategic necessity in the skies over Europe and the results ain't pretty. Although talky and with poorly integrated actual wartime footage, MGM attempts some distasteful truths about war and largely succeeds. Clark Gable, perfectly cast and photographed to great advantage here, plays Brigadier General 'Casey' Dennis who recognises the crucial importance of initiating and completing an air operation to destroy the three factories involved in producing German jet fighters which will be vastly superior to allied aircraft. He also recognises the weather will dictate he move swiftly if the opportunity is not to be lost. He also recognises the breathtaking losses his aircrews are likely to suffer. He will be resolute. Heavy hangs the head that wears the crown. Yet the steep price will be a hard sell to a politically sensitive general staff and especially to his immediate superior Major General Kane (Walter Pidgeon) as it will open the entire allied air effort to increased scrutiny, criticism and second-guessing by the wartime press in the person of war correspondent Elmer Brockhurst (Charles Bickford). Gable sets his magnificent jaw and goes forward with the operation on his own authority knowing there will likely be an unpleasant reckoning later but for now, let's bomb those stinkin' jet factories! The script is competently written, presenting a complex of issues plausibly and yet...and yet...somehow the entire thing seems premeditated, too many set pieces, too many speeches, the dialogue sometimes crackles but is sometimes too pat, the humor too broad, the sentiment bordering on the maudlin. Being from a play (by William Wister Haines), the predictable effect is of a well-oiled precision machine, humming along noiselessly. With some subjects this is not a problem, a murder mystery perhaps, or a drawing room comedy but here, in the crucible of war, the consequence is a loss of dramatic tension, a loss of spontaneity. People under extraordinary pressure just don't talk like this, certainly not people surrounded by circumstances over which they have little or no control. MGM being genetically predisposed to great lighting, a rousing score and happy endings, one can feel Louis B. Mayer's hand on this production picking his way through a veritable minefield of depressing images and tragic outcomes. But the underlying source material does present an intelligent rumination on the claustrophobic alternatives faced by military commanders throughout history. Frequently compared to the superior Twelve O'Clock High. Still worth your time.
The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
Boffo Show Biz Meller has Legs.
Still enjoyable after all these years. This is what Hollywood liked to think would pass for gritty expose' but was little more than a glossy, retelling of hoary industry myth. (For an update on the story see Altman's The Player) Kirk Douglas (at the absolute top of his game here) plays the S.O.B. producer, Lana Turner (in that brief moment between the baby fat and middle age that seemed to overtake her so swiftly) as the cynical, hard-drinking, vulnerable, showbiz outcast, near ex-actress, Barry Sullivan as the neophyte director looking for a break, Walter Pidgeon as the bottomline fixated studio head, and Dick Powell as the Pulitzer prize winning author and font of high quality original material. The supporting cast is chock full of quality types, Gloria Grahame has some nice moments as Powell's wife, Gilbert Roland as a Latin Horndog and the magnificent Elaine Stewart as the current object of his rutting interest. Douglas' Jonathan Shields is brilliant and ruthless, in fact, so brilliant that it's difficult to see how he came to be in such poor circumstances at the opening of the film. But he quickly surrounds himself with the components necessary to move smartly up the ladder and therein, of course, lies the rub. He sees those around him as little more than 'components' and they recognise the opportunity for great wealth and fame he offers them while they luxuriate in the comfortable fiction that their relationships to him are more than 'just business'. Hurt feelings and gnashing of teeth to follow but not before the Turner character has a career again, the Sullivan character has a resume, the Pidgeon character is awash in black ink and the Powell character has banked thousands of relative easy dollars and accumulated enough first-hand material for a blockbuster on Hollywood Babylon. Director Vincente Minnelli delivered a solid entertainment and it should be measured as just that. It is a well-made melodrama that exposes little about the 'real' Hollywood. It does not match the sophistication of All About Eve nor the mesmerising drama of Sunset Boulevard but it will hold your attention for the full running time and amuse you in the bargain.