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secondtake

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1614 reviews in total 
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The Locket (1946)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Very solid melodrama, well filmed, great pace, 8 August 2017
7/10

The Locket (1946)

Well, when you have a post-war movie with Robert Mitchum at his young prime, you can't go wrong.

The star (or starlet, as they used to say) is actress Laraine Day playing Nancy, and she pulls off a charming, attentive, smart…perfect woman. A bride to be, in fact. The movie starts with people arrive to a high class wedding. Mitchum shows up via flashback (classic film noir stuff). In fact, there is a flashback within a flashback within a flashback (4 levels) and it's sort of fun.

There are some great lines like, "If you'e lucky you can afford to be nice." But some of the dialog, and maybe the plot overall, is a hair stiff at times.

Director John Brahm is not well known, but his "Hangover Square" the year before is really great. And this one shows a consistent sense of storytelling and drama with highs and lows if not always fully developed characters. The key character is Nancy, who uses her charm to win over the audience as well as the men around her in the plot. Day plays her role perfectly—swiveling sweetness against a just perceptible insincerity. She's a terrific liar.

Which brings me back to Mitchum, who is good but seems to be reading rehearsed lines too often. I think there was supposed to be chemistry between Day and Mitchum, but it wasn't there, even though they both look terribly good.

Though it has a noir-like flavor, this strikes me as a straight up melodrama overall, and with soaring music and lots of dramatic lighting there is no way to not get absorbed in it. There are some short but well done scenes of London during the war (bombs and blackouts).

A well done and lesser known good one. And a fun curiosity—the crazed music box music that denotes an uneven state of mind is the same as that used in the "Bad Seed."

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Tries to be realistic in a one-on-one American Family way...some good stuff, 5 August 2017
7/10

Panic in Year Zero! (1962)

The Baldwins are on their way camping in the California mountains when they see that L.A. has been hit by atomic bombs. That's the first exciting five minutes of the movie and the whole premise. What does an "ordinary" family do when the Soviets bomb us?

Ray Milland is the dad, and he's good and forceful, taking on a father role with a combination of extreme resolve and civilized goodness. When I say extreme I mean that he's not always to civilized, and that's maybe the crux of the best of this movie—good people going bad. There is very little of what truly good people might do in this situation (I imagine there is a lot of generosity as well as panic and selfish survivalism).

This was a fairly low budget affair, and B-movie king Roger Corman says that director Milland wasn't really up to the job, and it shows. It's often clumsy, and there is some awkward editing that must have come from lacking material in the three week shoot. It is, however, the most direct and sensational of the series of great films made in the early 60s about the coming of nuclear war ("On the Beach" is my favorite, but "Bedord Incident" and "Fail-Safe" are great, too, not to mention the singular "Dr. Strangelove.")

The first third of this film is mostly about the actual panic, and it's not a bad rendition of the small towns and deluge of desperate people (and cars—lots of classics). The rest of the movie is the actual survival camping and the running into dangers in the wilderness (human ones) is a slow building of despair.

Frankie Avalon, the singer, is a young star, and he's fine here. Mostly this is Milland's show, though, showing wisdom and authority in a male-dominant way that a bit tiring, even if the 60s were still a time where men were supposedly making the decisions (the truth was different, we know).

The ending, which I won't give away, is an interesting take on the early 60s, and how our view of the government and the army have changed. At least for some people.

A truly flawed movie with some truly interesting aspects that ill be interesting for decades to come.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Never mind the clock--it's the sundial, stupid!, 4 August 2017
7/10

The Big Clock

I'm not a big fan of Ray Milland, the leading man here, but he has energy and pulls off a kind of Jimmy Stewart fellow pretty well. I am, for sure, a big fan of two other actors here, Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester, who are great, and of the cinematographer, John Seitz. It is Seitz who makes this movie launch and go far, right from the get go, with a really nice establishing shot merging into a moving camera interior scene.

Milland is not bad, of course—he's better in normal dramatic roles like his most famous as an alcoholic in "The Lost Weekend"—but he lacks both the everyman ease of Stewart and the troubled dramatic noir intensity of Bogart or Mitchum. His predicament opens the movie, ominously, in classic noir fashion with voice-over, and within a heartbeat we are in a flashback getting to the backstory.

The little trick of the plot (having the main characters involved in a crime solving magazine) is great fun, actually, and never seems contrived. The title however points to a weird quirk in the whole works, a highly elaborate clock that is sort of forced onto the situation, and really isn't very integral to the plot after all (even if it's used dramatically a couple of times). Mostly this is a noir about a fairly normal guy and a crime he ends up having to solve, a la Hitchcock.

The femme fatale here, Maureen O'Sullivan, is great, and Laughton is his quirky self, with mustache. Look for Harry Morgan ("Dragnet" and "Mash") in a weird fun role.

Mostly just enjoy a well constructed, offbeat noir-ish crime film and the great visuals throughout.

Split (2016/IX)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Covers some familiar "captive female" territory with professionalism, nothing more, 4 August 2017
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Split (2016)

An interesting movie with some "dumb" aspects, like many horror films. The good part is how we see the villain (with multiple personalities) is slowly revealed through videos and a therapist. It's unlikely, of course, but actor James McAvoy makes it vivid and fun. And believable in the movie.

The three teenage girls are made to be mostly clichés (one of them much less so) and in case you are wondering, yes, they end up miserable and in their underwear by the end of the movie. This is a horrible shame because it cheapens the whole thing, and the complexity of the McAvoy's character makes it unnecessary. I'm also tired of movies where innocent females are imprisoned by crazy men, with all the ugly power trips and sexual fear involved.

There are some slightly superhuman aspects that get revealed (I think writer/director Shyamalan probably thought this was "really cool" and if you wonder about him, go see some interviews on youtube). It's fun, of course, but to me not the brilliant inventive movie some others have said.

If you know any of Shyamalan's other films, you might quickly characterize this one as a lesser one (like "The Village") and by that you'll know that there are some really fluid, beautiful aspects to the movie, and some conceptual flaws that get in the way. But still enjoyable entertainment, so weight it accordingly.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
The fable of Faust in post-War pseudo-noir America, 3 August 2017
7/10

Alias Nick Beal (1949)

A nice discovery! I'd never heard of this film, though I pride myself on following the noirs that are out there (mostly on TCM these days, having used up all the DVD released films). If you start with some doubt in the overly dramatic beginning credits (lightning, rain, and a Waxman score that is over the top), don't quit. We get a classic noir voice over by leading man Ray Milland, and then we're in the classic noir milieus.

Thomas Mitchell is at first the main man, and he's great in his inimitable way (though always better in supporting roles). And other character actors fill in the scenes as we see a man ready to run for governor and a whirlwind of corruption and wheeling around him. This doesn't sound like a noir, actually, but call it a crime and suspense film. It's good, moves fast, keeps an edge.

Milland shares the lead, entering on a foggy dock as the music turns dour. Cinematographer Lionel Linden has a field day with dramatic light and atmosphere (he's most famous for "Manchurian Candidate," though see "Blue Dahlia" for starters.) And he helps a lot because the movie is otherwise a kind of clever drama. There is one trick behind it all, which I can't mention, and you might not buy into it (and it certainly makes this a weird noir, and maybe even a weird crime film). But it makes it original in all the dark interiors and night scenes.

So what makes the film not quite click? One is Milland, who is stiff and dry (as usual). The other is Mitchell, who has a wonderful ease on camera but who doesn't have the bearing of a powerful man—a savvy top notch prosecutor who is being swept into high end politics. And the "trick" to it all makes it less worldly and gritty than this kind of scenario needs. It is overall a kind of Faust story—the devil tempting a good man who is willing to "sell his soul" to do the right thing.

And what of Audrey Totter, you ask? Yes, she's the usual wonderful "dame," the femme fatale with airs, in this case. Her role is too small and too restrained, however. In fact, maybe everyone is restrained, a bit, not rising to the level of the visuals, which are not a bit restrained.

That Hollywood ending? Read your Faust.

Life (2017/I)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Realistic in the effect and unrealistic in the plot and what the characters have to do, 18 July 2017
5/10

Life (2017)

A meld of "Aliens" and "Gravity," with strengths of neither. The underlying point here was to make this idea—a Mars life form discovered and in quarantine on the Space Station—seem possible. And the big question: then what?

But they make it impossible. There are moments of reasonable acting and believable responses, but mostly it's exaggerated and sometimes just plain stupid. That is, the characters do really stupid things, given the situation. "Gravity, for all its visual excess, was also weirdly down to earth and believable. "Aliens" made no pretense of truth, of course, but it had actors that had intensity and depth. "Life" it a parade of obvious clichés in the booming space movie business.

It's not impossible to watch. There are well orchestrated effects, and a feeling of weightlessness that's good. The acting is a mixed bag (and the leading name on the list, Hiroyuki Sanada, is just one of the crew, nothing notable). I think it gets passable ratings because it's kind of fun, and if you don't really care about the feasibility of this life form in this manner, and you don't care if the plot is absurdly unrealistic, then go for the ride.

And for the great, improbable twist at the end.

The Ticket (2016)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Sincerity and a good idea are starting points, but not enough here, 15 July 2017
6/10

The Ticket (2016)

A serious movie, and sincere. The obvious thrust is the poster lines, and this is no spoiler—a man who has been blind for a decade gains his sight back. The metaphor here (and repeated throughout) is that it's like winning the lottery (hence the title of the film).

Now what?

Slowly (too slowly for most of us) the man goes through several broad phases as he reassesses his world, both personally and physically (viusally) around him. The euphoria, the wanting more, the doubts, the challenges, each section is simple (to the point of simplistic, I think) but heartfelt. The leading character (played by Dan Stevens) is compelling enough as a regular guy swept up with things bigger than most of us encounter.

It's maybe unfair to say this isn't enough—but it isn't. It's a lot, but there needs to be other layers, complications of plot, but also nuances of feeling that someone in this situation would experience. It would not and could not be an easy arc from one zone to another. Disruption should be really ruinous and ecstatic, not a dull slow ride.

Also, and an odd comment but needed to be made—the audio is weird. A lot of the film is murmured, as if people are conversing their inner best. But much of the time a gentle music also plays and it's just plain hard to hear! Mood triumphs over content, but it's not enough.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Sweet and raw at the same time--not an easy combination. Mann and Ruttenberg rise up., 14 July 2017
8/10

Side Street (1950)

An urban fable about innocence and temptation. There is even a kind of storyteller (a narrator) who leads along at a couple points. And there is the fresh-faced couple all hope and love in a simple, complicated world—New York City just after World War II.

And that couple is played by Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell with the same earnestness as more famously filmed by Nicholas Ray in "They Live by Night." That was one of Hollywood's great joint performances, and this followup is almost a requirement, and a lucky one.

Granger is the main character by far, but again life has led him into a morass that he didn't intend. This is a strangely specific typecasting, but two of his other films bear it out—"Rope" and "Strangers on a Train" by Hitchcock, before and after this one. In this one as in "Strangers" he acts on the problem he's in and makes it worse. Which leads to the great climaxes in both films.

The director here is Anthony Mann, who had a career of really wonderful films that have an edge and real finesse. Not one of them is quite the standout classic that would help make him a legend (though the set of Jimmy Stewart Westerns is widely loved, and his film noirs are all great in my view). You can see his flavor for drama that doesn't resort to distraction. It always keeps the characters first, and he gets believable, potent performances from his cast.

It doesn't hurt that Joseph Ruttenberg is cinematographer (winner of 4 Oscars in a long career). Or that it's just the cusp of Hollywood moving out to more location shooting, which gives more realism and naturalism to the whole mood. This is a really good film, no matter what the cracks are in the story or whether in fact you like the fable approach.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A superficial look at the fixed boxing world, with some realistic aspects along the way, 13 July 2017
7/10

The Harder They Fall (1956)

Sure, it's Bogart's last film. And he's great Bogart, once more. But it's also a tough, gritty film on other levels. It is meant to be an indictment of the fixed racket known as professional boxing, and as such it has a lot of clichés and simplifications. Bad guys are really crooked, fighters are really willing pawns in the fixing machine, and boxing is a sham that people seem to ignore.

Does it work? Not quite. The writing is the culprit most of all. It's a bit predictable and canned, even considering it came before some other great boxing movies like "Raging Bull" and "Requiem for a Heavyweight." It's also a painfully white movie in an era when boxing had seen a string of boxing great who were black.

What elevates it all is the relentless pace as a fighter rises up thanks to Bogart, the press agent Eddie Willis. And the filming of boxing and of night time New York and L.A. is vivid. And the crooked fighting promoter played by Rod Steiger gives is all an edge that he's so good at.

The boxers are of some interest—not the leading guy named Toro, a huge lunk from the Andes who can't act worth beans, but a couple of short appearances by actual fighters from the time, and a bunch of bit actors who have honest resilience. Mostly, though, it's Bogart trying to make the movie hold together and give it more than superficial narrative movement. He partly succeeds.

What drew me the most was just the series of scenes from the time, the crowds, the hotels and boxing rings, the city streets. It seems to be mostly or entirely location work, and the legitimate filming in these places is great. There are little incidents, too, almost written for Bogart, like a line that resonates with his last role: "A man passes forty, he shouldn't have to run anymore." I wish.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Elegant amidst all the glorified violence...very 1972 and strong stuff, 13 July 2017
7/10

The Getaway (1972)

A striking, very characteristic period piece that owes something (a lot) to "Bonnie and Clyde" from five years earlier. Steve McQueen is strong, in his silently brooding, intense way. And he rules the movie. His counterpart (his wife, actually), is played by Ali MacGraw (of "Love Story" fame) who is predictably a bit drab, though she fits the mold of the times.

So who makes the movie even slightly great? The photographer and editor, and therefore the director, Sam Pickinpaw, who had risen up with "The Wild Bunch" and "Straw Dogs," both better films than this one. The combination of natural, smart visuals (thanks to Lucian Ballard) and amazingly back and forth editing that would make Christopher Nolan proud (thanks to Robert Wolfe, who would go on to do a number of interesting films), the movie has punch and fresh energy.

The plot is fairly straight up—Doc McCoy gets out of jail thanks to a "favor" by his wife with a crime king. The debt is paid with more crime, and so the movie follows the new heist. Parallel to this is the reunification of McCoy with his wife. And she is involved in the new job, so the interweaving continues.

So in a way, the plot does its job keeping the other elements in place. The movie is fast, and has a lot of changes and interesting aspects. The settings are great—Texas in the early 1970s— and the feeling of small crime in the big world makes a great backdrop. McQueen is smart and wily, and a lot of the small parts are strong, especially Slim Pickens at the end.

It also sums up the attempts in New Hollywood to be shocking and new. Worth seeing.


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