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"There's two endings for a guy like me... Dead, or in the can."
2 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
If 9/11 was good for one thing in television it was reminding us that our world and the world of the Sopranos were one and the same. A film of unreality which glossed over the first three seasons was burnt off with the acidic lyrics of 'World Destruction' as Tony picked up his paper without any apparent surveillance or idling cars as in the previous seasons. For a season opener, this is probably the most typical of them all. The absence of the side-view mirror shot of the twin towers in the opening titles aside, little appears to have changed in the intervening year or so since we last parted ways.

Money, as evidenced by the title, is the main theme of the episode. The dotcom bubble which characterised the pre-9/11 arc of the program has burst and Tony has to bust the heads of Carlo Gervasi, 'Ally boy' Barese, Ray Curto and Ralph Cifaretto to get things running right in a purportedly recession-proof industry like theirs. Carmela wants to know what will happen to her should anything befall her husband after noticing Angie Bonpensiero hocking samples in the supermarket, but he assures her she will be 'taken care of'. Junior needs cash to cover his legal costs but boss Tony refuses to change their arrangement which benefits him disproportionately, despite using Junior's case as an argument in the aforementioned sit-down.

As for indebtedness, Chrissy now feels like he owes Tony his loyalty more than ever, after his Uncle gave him the whereabouts of the cop who supposedly killed his father Dickie years ago. Legend has it that Papa Moltisanti was carrying a crib for his newborn son when he was gunned down on their front lawn. Really, it was TV dinner trays. Tonight Lt Barry Haydu is celebrating his retirement across the road, but Tony cannot quite be sure which one he is at first. Not that it matters. Christopher's faith in Tony and appetite for vengeance will allow him to kill the most likely innocent man at his home in cold blood. Any doubt he may have had of the man's guilt is dissuaded by his sociopathic sensibilities and desire to please Tony, who "wants {him} dead anyway". His demotion to driving duties will prove to be temporary, and Bobby Bacala's promotion to Acting Capo, a trend that will continue.

David Chase has stated that when he penned this episode, he knew how the show would end. This is very clear when viewing the series for a second time and listening to Tony's ponderings on his fate in Melfi's office. Getting whacked or a hundred to life are the only options he sees on the horizon. Unless he starts to channel his commands through blood like Chrissy. And we know how that turned out... But from here on out, the show would progress with greater urgency and a newfound sense of direction. And a don would not don shorts for another season or so.
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The Sopranos: Army of One (2001)
Season 3, Episode 13
"There's more where that came from! We're starting a new regime around here!"
1 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
After a short stay at the Boonton Inn, Jackie Aprile meets his grisly fate at the hands of rising star Vito Spatafore. The story agreed upon is that he was killed in an ecstacy deal gone South in the projects. Innkeeper Ray-Ray summarises Jackie Jr's life story succinctly after the OG wannabe forfeits another chess match with Ray's promising young daughter: "How you expect to win if you don't play it through?(it wouldn't be the last time actor Michael K Williams would espouse such sharp street parlay, playing the unforgettable Omar in HBO's 'The Wire' just less than a year later)" Tony no longer feels obliged to his predecessor and best friend Jackie Sr, exclaiming when Jackie plays that card over the phone: "The warranty on his death certificate expired two weeks ago. Your bullshit expired along with it!"

Blood runs thicker than bullshit however, and Tony now feels a greater need than ever to 'save' Anthony Jr from Mobster's Son syndrome. After stealing exam papers, not even his fledgling football career could save him from the Dean's wrath this time and Tony determines to send his son to military school against Carmela's wishes. But the panic attack AJ had earlier in the season recurs when he collapses in full military regalia upon observing the 'total dork' in the mirror. Yes, that "putrid, rotten f*cking Soprano gene" didn't skip a generation and now Tony feels responsible for his unfortunate son's shortcomings.

This is an episode very much about the burden of patriarchy, for Tony and American society at large. He regales Melfi with the story of his great-great grandfather who drove a cart of olive oil off the side of a mountain. "Maybe that was a panic attack," he muses. All we know for sure is that the only Sopranos afflicted by this condition are male. Being men, they must hide their feelings, suppress their true selves and never show weakness because... Well, they don't know why. It is this institutional insanity that men like Tony and Major Zwingli of the Hudson Military Institute must perpetuate to retain their power. AJ represents a generation of men not quite liberated from this, but at least in transition.

For the FBI, it's business as usual too. Sil, Paulie and Chris are arrested on Super Bowl Sunday at Jackie's funeral, on charges of intent to racketeer, only to have their bail paid by half-time. The explosion in counter-terrorism after 9/11 wouldn't affect the small circle of federali we would grow familiar with in later seasons too much, and actually bring the otherwise patriotic Tony closer to them. In the meantime, agent Deborah Ciccerone will become the vivacious Danielle Ciccolella, Adriana La Cerva's new best friend, as part of the Bureau's plan to get close to Chrissy and hopefully buy-bust their way up to the Don. It's a move that would pay off in dividends, as Tony would disseminate more and more of his orders through his wayward nephew in seasons to come. If the arc of the first three seasons represented the mob triumphing over the law then the arc of the latter three would correct that imbalance.

But for now, having lain Jackie Jr to rest, the two families of Tony Soprano will gather around at Vesuvio's to hear Junior sing a Neopolitan-American ballad of love. The old man's soaring performance of 'Core 'ngrato', or 'Ungrateful Heart', reduces most of the adults present, who remained dry-eyed throughout Jackie's funeral, to tears. But his grandniece Meadow sees through the conceit and wants none of it, throwing food at the aging soprano, much to the amusement of her contemporaries. Noticing this, her father chases her out onto the street where, confronted by him at the roadside, she mournfully denounces their lifestyle as 'bullsh*t'. Returning inside to the dinner, he tries to enjoy a Soprano family moment with one less duck than usual. The music then crosses the diegetic boundary, seguing into a French then Chinese rendition to demonstrate to us that what has resonated with these hypocrites is something generational, not cultural. It will not last.
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The Sopranos: Amour Fou (2001)
Season 3, Episode 12
Don't l'amour est fou?
28 June 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Opening with the same aria that closed the last episode, we find Carmela and Meadow at an art gallery where a menstrual Mrs Sop' is overcome with emotion and insight at Jusepe De Ribera's portrait The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine Of Alexandria, in which a babe is cradled by a doting new mother. This seems unusually brooding even for the Queen of North Caldwell. Later we are reassured this is purely hormonal when we find her weeping over a Pedigree dog food commercial. The realisation that the ducks are leaving her has hit home but she attributes her menopausal anxieties to ovarian cancer. The intense fear of her children leaving home is internalised by her as death. What is she besides a mother?

No such concerns cloud the mind of her husband's latest mistress, Gloria, a woman who thrives independently in a man's world without any maternal attributes. Although Tony comes to see something morbidly maternal in her here, when she taunts him with the same slights his mother did. Her voice almost sounds as though it was dubbed by Marchand when she purrs "Poor You..." Unlike his wife and previous comari, this one cannot be placated with gifts and days out on the yacht. She wants him, needs him... What Melfi describes as amour fou (French for mad love) and Tony will misquote later on and perhaps more accurately as 'a mo-fo' (or subliminally, a motherf*ck).

Exactly the opposite of which qualities attracted him to her in the first place. When she threatens to reveal their affair to Carmela, whom she incidentally drove home from the car dealership the other day, Tony reacts violently as she had hoped he would ('attempted suicide-by-Tony' to paraphrase Melfi). It would be the first and last time in the show that he would strike a woman but certainly not the first time he thought about it. The intense look of hatred in his eyes as he nearly strangles her to death is reminiscent of the memorable pillow-fluffing scene from Season One's 'I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano'.

But she's not the only one he'd like to throttle. Jackie Jr, in his constant pursuit of respect through instant gratification, has p*ssed off the wrong people for the last time. Taking his inspiration from a similar heist perpetrated by Tony and his father years earlier Ralph told them about, Dino and himself stick up Eugene Pontecorvo's card game unsuccessfully, killing the dealer and wounding Furio before Jackie flees the scene, leaving his buddies to die. Tony leaves the wayward youth's fate in Ralphie's hands, after imploring his caporegime 'do the right thing'. We come to know what he meant by this in the next episode.

Carmela meanwhile learns to "live on the good and forgo the bad" after a face-to-face confessional with a Priest who isn't Father Intintola, or even Italian for that matter. A medical exam reveals her feared ovarian cancer to have been a thyroid problem, something in and of herself overstimulating her hormones. The aphorism prescribed to cure her spiritual cancer by the Priest is a placebo she will keep on popping, as it allows her to feel morally upright while leading her parasitic and ultimately sinful life (taking off her more expensive jewelry once in a while and refusing a dress maybe). Gloria's doesn't seem so different in that respect, with her statue of Buddha and equally religious adherence to her career not quite filling the spiritual vacuum of her existence.

The closing montage of Tony returning home to a momentarily mollified Carmela who has foregone the blue sapphire ring; Ralph to an already-distraught Rosalie with the news of Jackie's disappearance; and Patsy Parisi assuring his wife he's picked up the groceries on his way to the car after threatening Gloria Trillo with death if she approaches TS again, is scored with Bob Dylan's (a fan of the show) rendition of Dean Martin's 'Return to Me'. The oath these men swore to uphold with their other families is just as tenuously upheld as Omerta. But of their duplicitous love lives, which is true? Whose love is mad?
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The Sopranos: Pine Barrens (2001)
Season 3, Episode 11
"Captain or no captain, right now we're just two assholes lost in the woods."
25 June 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Widely considered one of the better if not the best episode of the series, 'Pine Barrens' took the show's trademark dark humour to a new level and demonstrated the tragicomic talents of Imperioli and Sirico, under the helm of Steve Buscemi.

In this, his debut episode as director, Paulie and Chris have a body to dispose of in the eponymous woods of South Jersey after a collection from Valery, consigliere/sovetnik to Russian mob boss Slava (both of whom were introduced in the previous episode), went awry. Sil was down with the flu, so it fell to our not-so-dynamic duo. But things are about to take yet another turn for the worse when they open the boot a la GoodFellas to find their comrade very much alive. Catching them off guard while he digs his grave, he makes a run for it. A bullet to the head doesn't seem to finish the job, as Val inexplicably gets back on his feet and staggers off into the wilderness.

Tony needs them to track him down because he's just about to meet with Slava, and worries he might be "about to walk straight into a buzzsaw". But that's not his only concern. The seemingly perfect Gloria has her darker side revealed to Tony here, as it was to us in the previous episode. She's not as strong as she seemed to him, and he soon discovers the reason for her psychiatric needs. His new comare is, as Melfi once again must once again make abundantly clear to him, "impossible to please", "difficult" and "depressive". "Does this remind you of any other woman in your life?" she asks him. It'll take another episode, but yeah, he'll remember.

Meanwhile at Columbia, the veil is lifted from Meadow's eyes regarding Jackie when she realises her own expendability to him. Like her father, she needs to experience what is familiar regardless of how painful it may be. Only she wants Jackie to please her in the way her father couldn't, rather than please him as Tony hopes to please Gloria. Oedipus conceived Electra in the Sopranos mythology.

They're not the only ones walking in circles though, as we return to our pair in unfamiliarly rural territory looking for their car after quickly giving up on the hunt for Valery, who it turns out, may have become the hunter. A former 'Russian Green beret', he killed sixteen Chechen rebels singlehandedly for the Interior Ministry, Tony informs them over a faltering phone connection after returning from his meeting with Slava intact. Camera angles suggest the pajama-wearing commando watches them from atop the trees and snapping twigs only serve to heighten the tension at night when they hide in a van, awaiting a rescue effort by Tony and Bobby Bacala.

In the end, we know not whether Valery escaped in Paulie's car or died in the snow. With hindsight, Slava and Tony's business relationship appears to have continued unaffected, which would indicate Valery didn't hang around. The creator himself has 'revealed' since the episode's airing that Valery was saved by boy scouts who rang Slava's number, which he had on his person, and was sent back to Russia. It seems unlikely that such a close friend would not ask questions about a gaping head wound. And Chase is known for his acerbic sense of humour.

Like many online commentators, this reviewer has a theory of their own. Since we never hear from the mad Russian again and know Paulie's car to have been stolen, it's safe to assume he made a clean getaway. There is romance in being a rat too, as we witnessed in the first season, in the aspect of abandoning one's life and starting afresh. Valery may have left America and returned home, or be residing in a different city. We know he wasn't enjoying his new life in New Jersey. The shot of Paulie gazing wistfully out the window at the trees passing as they return to North Jersey is lent meaning later on when it is once again invoked in the season five episode 'Long Term Parking'. Adriana La Cerva imagines escaping the life briefly before waking to find herself watching the trees go by as she and Sil leave their urban setting for a less familiar woodland, where she is shot.

At first viewing, a unifying theme for the episode may seem elusive. The A story certainly affords the viewer more freedom than any other ambiguous episode in reaching their own conclusion, and with hindsight near-total freedom in that no arc is ever made of the potential 'Valery' storyline. The B/C stories of Tony's and Meadow's do not appear to share the usual thematic link with the relatively self-contained A-story. On an esoteric level, however, it is about the circuitous nature of these characters' lives. Meadow looks for her father Tony in Jackie and Tony for his mother Livia in Gloria, whilst Paulie and Chris literally tread familiar ground in their search for the car. By show's end, they no further than they were when they began: Sil's money remains uncollected and no one has any deeper insight of themself.

Robert Frost's poem 'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening', quoted earlier in the season without any apparent relevance beyond some broad allusion to death in the wake of Livia's passing, has it's cryptic payoff here: "The woods are lovely, dark and deep But I have promises to keep And miles to go before I sleep..." Paulie and Chris cannot afford to linger in the woods, as their pre-diagnosed-by-the-show alexithymia does not allow them. Their promise is kept without question and both intend to die in their off-the-truck loafers. Their horse whose bells shake is the phone with poor signal -the device that reminds them where they are from and where they should be. Woods are places where people get shot in their world, not where you get lost.
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Il Postino (1994)
The deliverance of one man of letters by another is a cinematic love letter to poetry
29 May 2013
Warning: Spoilers
The Chilean poet and communist agitator Pablo Neruda may never have set foot on the island of Salina in 1950, but writer-actor Mariamo Troisi's exploration of the idea is probably more interesting than any account of his actual exiles abroad.

The eponymous postman of the film, Mario, has never taken to the patrilineal profession of fishing in his family. His widower father understands he never will and releases his seemingly simple son from his duties, to choose an occupation more suited to his abilities. In town, the communist postmaster needs a hand with the flurry of fan mail in the wake of Neruda and his wife's arrival. He greatly admires the Bolivarian bard and has his new postman run reconnaissance and procure signatures from him. Though their early exchanges may be of little significance, the two very different men of letters soon form a bond through a series of exchanges on poetry, love and politics. When Mario first meets barmaid Beatrice Russo over a game of table football, he instantly falls in love. He is inspired by his mentor to write her love poems, many of which he plagiarizes, and soon wins her heart.

Michael Radford's surname may seem a little consonant-heavy for a production of this origin but the writer-director's English eye can only be clearly detected in the humour of the pacey, racy table football scene; which a native or continental director may have shot a little more seductively. It is really Troisi who leaves his indelible print on the film, which would be his last (dying tragically the day after production wrapped). The actor's physical frailty comes across as his character's mumbling humility. When beautiful Maria Grazia Cucinotta falls for his charms (or lack thereof), no one would seem more deserving a husband than he, and it is immensely gratifying to see his son Pablito stumble onto screen at the end. Phillipe Noiret also evokes much feeling in the last scene, imagining his friend's great yet fatal agitation for change, while walking their familiar beach. We get the feeling they may have liberated one another.

'Il Postino' is very much a film that flows like poetry. There is no solid structure as prescribed by the script doctors of the time. No stakes and little drama. When our lovable protagonist dies at the end, it is not played for tears of devastation. I felt quiet elation: he had finally found his voice and could speak up for his people at the rally. He asks Neruda earlier in the film a question regarding the writer's revolutionary ideals, "So what if we break off our chains? What do we do then?" He obviously has an answer to that question by the end, which is satisfaction enough. In another exchange, when Mario's plagiarism is discovered by Pablo, he counters "Poetry doesn't belong to those who write it; it belongs to those who need it." This strikes one as quite humorous in the context of the scene but when recalled or read alone it signifies the point at which Mario has cast the chains off his mind. Sadly the distributors do not live by this dictum, and intellectual copyright law prevails online and elsewhere.

While it may be a fictional account, the film is very much a celebration of the actual effect Neruda's poetry had on many of the working people of the world. Not so much a tribute to him, but to the millions of postini worldwide who have been delivered and a rallying call for all those who have yet to be.
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I like to dissect films. Did you know I'm utterly mundane?
22 May 2013
Warning: Spoilers
When Bret Easton Ellis's novel 'American Psycho' was released in 1991, many accused him and his work of misogyny. It isn't hard to see why: female characters are depicted as either vacuous or stupid and are usually mutilated or killed by Wall Street banker Patrick Bateman, an undoubtedly misogynistic protagonist. Which is why noted feminist Mary Harron fought tooth and nail to direct Guinevere Turner's film adaptation with Christian Bale as her leading man, after creative pairings such as Oliver Stone and Leonardo Dicaprio and David Cronenberg and Brad Pitt fell through. And how inspired her vision is! While a male director may have been impressed by the Nietzchean aspect of Bateman, Harron regards him as a hopelessly vain and emotionally underdeveloped young man, weak for being unable to control his violent impulses. One suspects a male director would not have let his camera linger on our antihero in the shower for quite so long as well.

Christian Bale veers from smarm to plain evil in every scene. A vapid grin will flash upon his face just as quickly as the light will glint off the side of the axe he ploughs into a colleague's face. As the late critic Roger Ebert said of his performance (couldn't have put it better myself), "there is no instinct for self-preservation here". A far cry from the pretentious 'Dark Knight' films of late, then. With an emotional range of, as the character expresses it, 'greed and disgust', he doesn't provide us with much to relate to as a human being but as the actor himself has said, "he's certainly a guy you'd like to eavesdrop on". More so than the countless other vapid shells of inhumanity surrounding him, who often have no lines to read but serve to remind us that Patrick Bateman is, in his own words "an abstraction... something illusory..."

In a movie about endemic consumerism, everyone has been made-up to look indistinct within their scene, with nearly identical glasses, haircuts and suits. Hair and make-up also deserve particular credit for creating the monster's face. A glimmering sheen of sweat on his otherwise perfectly composed visage tells us when he's 'on the verge of frenzy' and a single tremor in his herb-mint facial mask of sanity reminds us it is always about to slip. His fanatical devotion to a rigorous exercise routine, balanced diet and daily beautification regimen borders on the religious. Never has the lipstick and rouge been applied so subtly yet significantly as here.

To aurally demonstrate to us how much men have 'evolved', in the scene where our WASPs compare business cards, SFX designer Benjamin Cheah employs the sound of a sword being removed from it's sheath to draw parallels with the equivalent practice of their knight ancestors of Britain and the Netherlands in Medieval times. It reveals, terrifyingly, how little man has really evolved since. A soundtrack that wouldn't seem out of place in any piece of Hollywood fluff of it's era serves only to heighten our protagonist's psychopathy here.

Whether it's Phil Collins' epic meditation on intangibility 'Invisible Touch' or Whitney Houston's ode to monogamy and commitment 'The Greatest Love of All', Bateman clearly likes the product they're selling him: life, security and happiness (without the pursuit –an AmEx credit card will do). He would value a wife and son much in the same way as he would a new Louis Vuitton watch or Giorgio Armani suit. An item is an item to him: something he has to have. When he gives his dinner guests the sanctimonious lecture on world hunger, he's merely imitating something he's heard on TV. Content means nothing, form is everything ("...inside doesn't matter...").

After implausibly shooting it out in the street with the cops, Bateman crashes in his office where he tearfully confesses his many crimes, mostly ones unseen by us, to his lawyer over the answering machine (the detachment of the 80s now seems relatively intimate). The next day, however, a prescription-drug mood-controlled Bateman confronts him in a downtown bar only to find that his guilty voicemail has been mistaken for a joke. Meanwhile his secretary Jean, the only sympathetic character of the story, peruses his business diary of gory doodlings in the film's only scene removed from the perspective of our own 'psycho'. So, which is it short for? Have we all been witness to the inner-ravellings of a psychotic? –that particular strain of unreliable narrator being a popular theme at the time, e.g. 'Fight Club', 'Memento'. It would seem unlikely that Harron, or Ellis for that matter, would want to waste ninety minutes of our time studying a character who, by his own admission, is 'simply not there'. Not that it isn't a character study.

Rather, it is one of a nation. A singularly American psychopath. There is great significance in Ronald Reagan delivering his address to the nation regarding the Iran-Contra scandal on the TV moments before Bateman confesses to camera. In the speech, Reagan denied having knowledge of the unlawful dealings while refusing to apologise for his ignorance. When Nixon announced his resignation apropos the Watergate scandal, the American people were outraged. Fast-forward thirteen years and they were too sedated by psychotropic drugs and MTV to give a sh*t that a shadow government had been selling arms to Islamic militants in Iran with the proceeds funding anti-communist death squads in Nicaragua, all in their name. Much the same can be said of the yuppies depicted herein; who claim to have dined with Paul Allen after Bateman killed him, fail to hear his sinister homicidal remarks over drinks or misinterpret his deadly advances. They mistake each other for different people throughout, which would seem to uphold his psychopathy. The film is best viewed as an allegory for the all-consuming male vanity and self-absorption of the time period. The beginning of the end of patriarchy.

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Suddenly (1954)
Visceral thriller-noir plays on the paranoia of the era while transcending it's ideological battles
1 May 2013
Warning: Spoilers
A motorist passing through the former Gold Rush town of Suddenly inquires of the name's origin. The friendly local deputy Slim Adams tells him how "that's the way things used to happen here, suddenly" and jokes how "things happen so slowly now, the town council is figuring to change the name to Gradually." Ha! But all that is about to change, when a telegraph announces the scheduled train stop of the President of the United States in the bastion of blandness itself.

Young 'Pidge' Benson is raised by his war-widowed mother Ellen and her father 'Pop' Benson in their home overlooking the idyllic Western town, with straightlaced Sheriff Tod Shaw providing a little paternal support from time to time (perhaps in the hopes that he can score with Mrs Benson). The men instil the patriarchal American values of guns as a means of self-defense and war as a necessity to secure 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' in him, much to the chagrin of the pacifist Ellen. When purported FBI agent John Baron turns up with his men asking if they can enter in order to secure the house for POTUS' arrival in town, he is warmly invited by Pop (a former SS bodyguard for President Coolidge) and Ellen. Unbeknownst to Baron, the real Secret Service men are on their way and sure enough, Pop recognizes one of them as his old boss, Dan Carney. It is Carney who goes for his gun first but Baron's boys who shoot him down. Suddenly, the stakes are raised and we're held captive along with the Benson family and Sheriff Tod whether we like it or not.

For a film concerning the attempted assassination of the US President made during the height of the Red Scare, 'Suddenly' is, within the context of an advanced capitalist political spectrum, decidedly apolitical. Baron's motive is money, and the reasons of the vested interests that have paid him are never broached. He is also revealed to be a psychopath, someone who just plain enjoys killing without needing to rationalise it. If there is any ideological warfare taking place, it is that between post-WW2 nihilism and what we know today as neo-conservatism. A portrait of silent Cal hanging in Pop's bedroom, who then would have been the last untarnished conservative Republican President, a symbol of his unquestioning loyalty to the power system he was once paid to protect, would seem to suggest some then-remaining libertarian disinclination but the Sheriff's edict that "When a house is on fire everybody must come and help put it out... because the next time it just might be your house" expresses the neoconservative ethic succinctly: people should only assemble and share resources to protect private property.

The oppressive patriarchy of the times is prevalent in the picture; with the sole female character of Ellen in the end having to 'overcome' her feminine feelings and pacifist predilections in order to shoot Baron dead after he fails to kill the President and no longer poses a threat to her. For embracing patriarchal values, she is allowed to raise her son Pidge independently, without the support of Sheriff Tod and with minimal interference from Pop. Guns make Gods of us all to paraphrase our antagonist, and Pidge will now be given one in order to make him so.

1954 audiences may not have been entirely brainwashed into this worldview but they certainly would not have accepted a decorated 'war hero' as a psychopathic villain, so considerable lengths are taken to vindicate the militaristic indoctrination which likely triggered his psychopathy. We are told "experts took {his feelings} out." When Pidge accuses him of stealing his silver medal, he guiltily slaps the cherubic Charney across the face. Nearly ten years later and Sinatra would be racing against time to save the President from another unfeeling assassin in 'The Manchurian Candidate' (Condon was supposedly influenced by the movie). It is also often erroneously claimed to have been the film Lee Harvey Oswald watched days before Kennedy's assassination (actually 'We Were Strangers' with John Garfield).

Ol' Blue Eyes (although you wouldn't think it if you saw the 80s colorization) himself plays against type, exploring his range before inevitably contracting once again, leering and snarling while gunning down an innocent cable repair boy or straightening out a bone fracture in Sheriff Tod's arm. Speaking of whom, Sterling Hayden gives a memorably awkward performance in what could be taken as a lampooning of hammy B-movie authority figures (and in a sense precursory to his Jack the Ripper character in Dr Strangelove a decade on). In a movie with no discernible central character, these two actors vie for it more than anyone else. Hayden got the bookends of the picture; Sinatra, the posters.

With hindsight, 'Suddenly' is probably more sensational now than it was more than half a century ago and a more likely candidate for screening in George W Bush's White House than Dwight Eisenhower's.
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The Big Combo (1955)
A hackneyed detective fiction lifted from any movie execs pitches' book is elevated to near-greatness by crisp b&w photography, unconventional score and inspired direction
28 April 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Joseph H Lewis' seminal film noir probably didn't leap off the page when he first read Philip Yordan's screenplay: straight-arrow cop Lt. Len Diamond is ordered to close his investigation of suspected underworld kingpin Mr Brown due to lack of evidence procured but when Brown's suicidal moll Susan Lowell washes up in the city hospital after taking an overdose of pills, he finds a new angle.

From there, he trudges from apartment to jewellery store to sanatorium in search of incriminatory secrets about Brown's past, determined to put him behind bars. He eventually succeeds in this personal mission of his, his trigger finger unflinchingly still even when shot at by a desperate Brown in a claustrophobic small aircraft hangar, to witness Brown's undignified cuffing at the hands of the law before walking out with Susan into the foggy night. The 'big combo' (Latin American for gavel) of the title truly strikes down upon the criminal underworld in the end, without using it's methods.

This final image of the two figures sharply silhouetted against the misty background is considered to be one of the most iconic images in noir. Cinematographer John Alton demonstrates the chiaroscuro throughout, notably in the opening moments where Susan flees her homosexual captors Fante and Mingo in a boxing arena, before finally giving up beside a snack vendor where Diamond's partner Sam waits in the bright glow, a symbol of hope, and overall of the film's black-and-white morality; the gulf between the tireless crusader for the public good Diamond and the unscrupulous agent of destruction Brown.

However, the score couldn't be less conventional. David Raskin swaps strings for brass, jarring the sensibilities of aficionados and distracting us from the decidedly unspectacular narrative. It also offers another clue to the meaning of the ambiguous title in that combo is an Anglo American term for a jazz band.

Lewis also opts not to employ sound in several instances to great effect. The sequence wherein our man is subjected to torture by hearing aid borrowed from Brown's right-hand-man Joe McClure (which he acquired, it is suggested, from a prior power struggle with the big man). Cornel Wilde relays the unheard anguish piercingly before having a whole bottle of rubbing alcohol poured down his throat. Later, when an unfazed Mr B removes the hearing aid of his top henchman after a failed putsch of the combo (as in combination, the meaning the movie offers most explicitly), the sound is muted and the line of diegesis is abruptly crossed when the score ceases so we can only see the silent muzzle flashes of Fante & Mingo's guns before fading out with the dead man.

Perhaps this was to cut costs or appease the censors of the time. On the one hand, the former theory is congruent with the small cast, low-key setpieces, short runtime and multiple uses of stock footage in the film. Whereas the latter theory would be consistent with numerous examples of insinuation or innuendo (too numerous to mention) which, when applied to the picture, would seem intended to arouse or captivate it's contemporaneous adult audiences. Both make sense, and they are elements sorely missed from mature cinema of the pre-Hays code era, when a grimace or raised eyebrow could mean anything.
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Detour (1945)
From poverty row's back-alley backlots to the public domain's online archives, this shoddy yet sublime article endures
19 April 2013
Made on a shoestring budget of $100000 on 3 sets with some location shooting in under a month, Edgar G Ulmer's 'Detour' is poverty row filmmaking at it's finest. Often heralded for it's gloomy atmospherics, the film has come to be known as one of the best noirs of the postwar era. Unlike many others of the genre, it has no guns or goons and a straightforward narrative.

Baby-faced piano-player Al (Tom Neal with some five O'clock shadow to compensate) regales us of how he hitch-hiked across America in pursuit of his girlfriend Sue (a relatively angelic Claudia Drake) only to be detoured, over a cup of coffee in a dingy diner. It's a tale of double manslaughter, extortion, mistaken identity, and the uncontrollability of one's destiny (or as he'd prefer, fate). Ironically, Neal himself would be convicted of manslaughter sixteen years later under far less dubious circumstances.

Just as America was discovering it's superpower status at the end of World War Two, Ulmer offers a vision of the American Nightmare with the odd couple dynamic of Al & Vera (Ann Savage, whom our protagonist meets in the latter half of the picture) posing as husband and wife slumming it in a motel room. The American woman is also depicted as equally powerful if not more so than her male counterparts (not that that would last with the social reversion of the coming decade).

'Detour' is full of loose ends and unfulfilled plots, but that's what sets it apart from other film noir. It's criminals aren't professionals, they're as inept as any of us, and maybe that's why it resonates so much.
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An engrossing meditation on the 'circle of life'
11 April 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Mr Badii wants to kill himself. The problem is he doesn't have anyone to bury him. After a few unsuccessful encounters with men who misconstrue his unspoken proposition, he picks up a young Kurdish soldier in need of a lift. Having offered the young recruit a generous sum in return for the work, the boy leaps out of the car and flees across the hillside where Badii has already dug his grave. His second prospective candidate is an Afghan seminarian, who objects on religious grounds, quoting from scripture to dissuade him. The third is an Azeri taxidermist who accepts the offer as he needs the money for his sick child, but nonetheless tries to deter him from carrying out his plan. He confesses that he too once planned to hang himself from a mulberry tree, but upon tasting the mulberries, chose life. As darkness falls over the city, Badii climbs into his grave and closes his eyes, and darkness falls upon us as the clouds open up.

Abbas Kiarostami's minimalist meditation on the circle of life is notable for its use of long shots, such as in the closing sequences. The film is punctuated throughout by shots of Badii's car traversing the winding hilly roads, usually while he is conversing with a passenger. The visual distancing stands in contrast to the sound of the dialogue, which always remains in the foreground as though non-diegetic. This fusion of distance with proximity, like the frequent framing of landscapes through car windows, generates suspense in the most mundane of moments.

'Taste of Cherry' confounded Western audiences accustomed to dramatic performances and emotional manipulation, with its apparent absence of explanation or conclusion. It is never explained why Badii wants to commit suicide but he tells the seminarian that Allah wouldn't want any of his children to suffer so much. We never see him take his pills but when the rains fall on his open grave we are encouraged to believe that he has 'tasted the cherries' and re-evaluated life. In his circuitous search for meaning, it could be said that the soldier represents the state; the seminarian, religion; and Azeri, what can happen but also what has gone before. Badii is in turn ignored; told to continue living but not given any reason to; and finally, told to experience nature and appreciate the little things. The theocracy has little to offer him.

The Iran depicted herein is a melting pot, or cultural mosaic, of other Muslim world countries. We assume Badii is ethnically Persian, but his fellow travellers all hail from foreign lands. Perhaps this signifies the finity of the revolutionary state, in that no one has a vested stake in it's perpetuation. All three nations represented were embroiled in conflict at this time, and maybe it was three foreign perspectives who had known conflict which Badii needed. Much has been said of the very final scene which I neglected to mention above as I do not myself consider it part of the narrative. It consists of camcorder footage of the director and crew shooting scenes of the Army on patrol and would seem to me to be a disclaimer for the Iranian censors who I imagine would be concerned with the film's themes (it's only a movie). And it's inclusion in the Western release would seem to highlight this issue for foreign audiences.
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Five (1951)
The first nuclear holocaust depiction in film challenges the Cold War orthodoxy and provides a far less alien enemy
3 April 2013
Warning: Spoilers
An anonymous woman traipses from place to place, searching for any sign of civilization in the aftermath of nuclear devastation. Upon reaching a hillside house she finds another survivor, Michael Rogin. After some initial shock, she introduces herself as Roseanne Rogers and explains that the hillside house was her aunt's. He was trapped in an elevator on the Empire State Building, while she was being X-rayed in a lead-lined room. They soon become friends, though Roseanne resists Michael's attempts at intimacy, revealing that she is pregnant. Soon enough, the smoke from the fire Michael lights beckons fellow travellers Charles and Mr Oliver P Barnstaple, who were fortunate enough to be locked in a bank vault when the bomb detonated. The picture moves along languidly as our 'five' of sorts live off the land.

Skeletons slouching against the door jambs of cars; ghost-town church bulletins urging Sin_ers to R_pent and evocative shots of lonely landscapes: yes, they were all here first in inglorious monochrome way back in 1951. Although later entries in the genre would offer fighter jets, radioactive mutants and Red-baiting gun-toting American heroes, Arch Oboler's seminal black-and-white feature has an eerie atmosphere and a far more believable form of threat.

When the delusional Barnstaple (who believed he was on holiday) passes away peacefully on the beach, the balance is immediately restored by Eric, who washes ashore after his plane crashed at sea on the flight back from a climbing expedition on Mt Everest. He soon reveals his disdain for their communal lifestyle and discomfort in living with Charles, an African-American. After he drives their jeep through the crop they had cultivated, Michael orders Eric to leave but he pulls a pistol on him, telling him he'll leave when he's ready to. Meanwhile, Roseanne gives birth to her baby, a boy. One night, Eric kills Charles when he stops him for stealing supplies. He offers to drive Roseanne into the city where she can discover her husband's fate and, unable to resist, she accompanies him. After finding what remains of her husband, she returns to the jeep to find that Eric has used the day out to loot jewellery. She tries to return to the group but he refuses to let her go. A struggle ensues, whereupon his shirt is torn open, revealing radiation sores all over him. He runs away despondently.

Roseanne's baby dies in her arms on the long walk back but Michael finds her, and they return home to replant their crops and begin life anew. Collectivism as expressed in the Bible is celebrated here as the aboriginal and final stage of human development. As Charles soliloquizes, "And God stepped out on space, and He looked around and said "I'm lonely --I'll make me a world." James Weldon Johnson's The Creation assumes an altogether different subtext in a nuclear holocaust. Has the Judeo-Christian God punished them or abandoned them due to boredom? It is a tragic ending, for if Michael and Roseanne are the Adam and Eve of the end times, then any children they may conceive will be the last (with two eyes/ears etc).

It's surprising that Arch Oboler avoided the Hollywood blacklist given that his movie is so discernibly Red. Charles Lampkin portrays the first intelligent African-American character in Hollywood history, and not in an unconscious way. They all subsist happily in their commune until the gun-pointing racist with the German accent arrives, representing the fascist enemy he sought to destroy entirely in his wartime propaganda films. For him, 1951 wasn't too late to drop Henry Luce's vision of the 20th century for Henry Wallace's. It's no wonder he had to finance the film out of pocket considering the tone, and a shame it received such a limited distribution. Arch Oboler would go on to break new ground with the first 3D colour feature 'Bwana Devil' and 'The Bubble', the first to use the more economical Space-Vision 3D system. But never again would he reach the zenith of 'Five'.
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Point Blank (1967)
The definining neo-noir will hit you point-blank every time!
31 March 2013
Warning: Spoilers
In oneiric opening scenes shown in fragmented sequence, we become acquainted with Walker, a man wronged and left for dead on Alcatraz Island after a heist-gone-awry. His share was supposed to be $93,000 but old pal Mal Reese took it all to pay off the considerable debt he owes to shady crime syndicate the Organization, as well as Walker's wife Lynn. But now after somehow escaping the inescapable fortress, the big guy's out on the warpath. Only it's not for revenge, he "just really want{s} his money". And with a little help from a seemingly all-knowing man known only as Yost, he sets about rattling the cage of the criminal overworld for his meagre sum.

I say overworld because in Great Society era California, the criminals wear suits and ties, occupy penthouse suites and corporate boardrooms. There is no mob boss at the top of it all, just endless layers of bureaucracy. The women no longer suggest sexuality with arched eyebrows and make-up but rather flaunt it in miniskirts and revealing dresses. The smoke-filled bars of yesteryear are now desegregated jazz clubs, havens for downtown businessmen hungry for a taste of the counter-culture. Many consider the film to be the first in this neo-noir style, where the old rules were revised for the post-Hays code generation.

However, the rules were not only being rewritten for Hollywood but for all of America. Never had the country suffered so woefully from this crippling uncertainty regarding its continued existence since the Civil War one hundred years earlier. The convertibility of the dollar to gold under the Bretton Woods system was strained by the undeclared Vietnam War and LBJ's domestic programs. Martin Luther King's warning that "a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom" went unheeded, as evidenced by the spiritually dead character of Walker.

For actor Lee Marvin, the role was very much a reflection on his dehumanizing experience of the Pacific theater in World War Two, which director John Boorman and Marvin would return to again one year later in 'Hell in the Pacific'. However, 'Point Blank' is commonly considered to be a ghost story of sorts, with Walker haunting his enemies in a seemingly unreal afterlife. He never kills his victims or f*cks his women, contrary to the tagline's promise. Reese is spooked out onto the balcony of his penthouse suite where he falls to his death and Carter stumbles out onto the LA river culvert where a sniper mistakes him for our antihero. The only time he fires his gun is when pumping hot lead into the sheets of his ex-wife's Lynne's bed, spending his sexual energy in the masturbatory search for Reese.

Boorman admits to letting Marvin effectively un-write his only scene of dialogue with Sharon Acker's Lynn wherein he originally interrogated her, preferring instead to sit in stony silence while she guiltily spills forth the beans on her relationship with Reese before OD'ing on pills without any provocation on Walker's behalf. Later, when his ex-sister-in-law Chris (played by Angie Dickinson) beats his chest with futility he stands stoically, not taking it –just not responding, and then slides into his armchair where he watches TV.

After 'killing' his way up the seemingly never-ending Organization hierarchy, he is once again tipped off by that ubiquitous Yost (portrayed eerily by Keenan Wynn). This time it leads him to Brewster, the man below Fairfax who can get Walker his $93K. So he returns to Alcatraz for closure, watching over Brewster who brings a briefcase in which he claims is the money. Walker remains in the shadows when Brewster is shot by a sniper. Yost then emerges from the shadows for a dying Brewster to call him out as Fairfax but Walker still doesn't budge. Finally the sniper descends from his shadow-enshrouded position and Yost/Fairfax thanks Walker for eliminating his overly ambitious underlings and offers him an enforcer job. Walker heeds not the offer and recedes into the shadows...

By the end, we know not whether the Organization made good on its promise and paid. It seems it was the ultimate MacGuffin, carrying the story along to the very end. Viewing the film through the eidolonian prism, it could be said that the apparition of Walker is fading, losing its effect and ability to inspire fear and that is perhaps why he never descends to claim his meagre bounty. His fading away would appear to infer the expiration of his being. The revenant Walker's objective was merely to ascertain whether honour still existed among thieves. It didn't, and neither did their recognition that they were.
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Hip-hop antebellum blaxploitation 'Southern' does exactly what it says on the tin
15 February 2013
Warning: Spoilers
As someone who was introduced to the films of Quentin Tarantino in the 2000s with Kill Bill, I have always been more familiar with the indulgent fanboy side of him. For a time during his post-Jackie Brown hiatus, many believed his next work would be something even more low-key and maybe even profound. But all he has done since is lower expectations with increasingly violent homages to cult sub-sub-genres of movies he grew up with, even indirectly remaking two of his favourites, as part of a Spaghetti Western trilogy: 'Inglourious Basterds' and now this, a loose remake/homage to the 1966 Spaghetti Western 'Django' starring Franco Nero, who features in a cameo here.

It begins with the slave Django being unchained by German-born bounty hunter 'Dr' King Schultz. A giant tooth wiggles atop Schultz's carriage impertinently throughout the picture, though unusually for a Tarantino flic', he at no point performs any impromptu dentistry on the crackers and rednecks he's gunning for. Schultz promises to free Django from slavery upon collecting several bounties across the Deep South and then repay him by taking down Francophile plantation owner Calvin Candie (played with devilish menace by Leonardo DiCaprio) of Candyland and above all, rescuing Django's conveniently German-speaking wife Brunhilde.

Jamie Foxx relishes executing every evil white man, reminiscent of every Fred Williamson blaxploitation character while Christoph Waltz gets to take off the Nazi uniform from his last QT collaboration and play the guilty-ass white man. He is the most interesting and complex of all the characters herein (though that may not be saying much) as his arc of development reflects that of the European-American. He deals with his guilt at not having done enough in the latter half of the movie when he witnesses a slave's tearing apart by dogs and one Mandingo warrior gouge out another's eyes for the pleasure of 'Monsieur' Candie.

As with all Tarantini, revenge is served with bombastic effect. If there is anything unconventional in the violence of the movie it is the disproportionate meting out of cruelty to the slaveholders and Uncle Toms, who only receive gunshots to the heart or unceremonious kneecappings while innocent slaves are mauled, gouged of their eyes and beaten with hammers or robbed of dignity in the aforementioned Mandingo fights and of course, their heritage. Perhaps this is Quentin's way of reminding us his stories take place in unjust worlds not unlike the ones we live in.

Unlike most blaxploitation pictures set in the era, the slaves of the movie are only freed after being bought with money by a white man and this is why it could be argued it is a blaxploitation movie for white audiences, coming to terms with the history of racial oppression in the US and a new era where the 'minorities' of yesteryear collectively comprise the majority but the white plurality is rapidly becoming marginalized politically. Blood splatters white lilies, cotton, and snow to remind us why white America got where it is. A black-n-white President may symbolize the transitional phase the county is in but the transformation has not yet been realised. The debt owed by many Americans is not merely a monetary one.

Although after pondering these issues, the film proceeds for another half-hour wherein any remaining do-badders are riddled with bullets or blown apart by dynamite in a fairly unimaginative and convoluted way. Watching the weak climax one longs for the return of Sally Menke's guiding hand guiding a pair of scissors over the 2:15 mark and graciously snipping it loose. QT is definitely missing that woman's touch dearly: those scenes deleted could have made excellent DVD material.

As a genre film however, it is an excellent meshing of two deeply entrenched yet juxtaposed American icons: the cowboy and the slave. The former symbolizing America's unity and freedom after the Civil War somehow entwined with one representing America's division (then between North and South; a century later, between largely urban and rural) and tyranny. In a movie ending on the eve of the Civil War, the future and the past. Hip hop music is played to the desired startling effect over images of Django's horse seemingly strutting him into the Candyland plantation but everything else has been seen before in one form or another.

It must sully the memories of cineastes who were once so electrified by the jarring chords of the Miserloo nineteen years ago and the overnight globalisation of that treasured American epithet, Motherf*cker, to see what little Quentin Tarantino has done to show he's learnt anything since. Postmodernist masturbation may be enough for audiences these days who disregard 'elitist' critics and their analyses but if this is the case our filmmakers should unchain their own minds and emancipate viewers worldwide with a cinema of meaning.
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No subtext or symbolism, only text, with this abysmally packaged snoozefest
28 December 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Some times there comes along a movie that doesn't seem to have been made at all. As if some movie exec in Hollywoodland just pushed a few buttons on IMDb Keyword Search: arson; stepfather; defenestration - and pressed enter for a predictable un-thriller without subtext or symbolism, only the basic text. 'Domestic Disturbance' is such a turgid excuse for a movie.

Supposedly having made his riches in pharmaceuticals, Rick Barnes (Vince Vaughn) marries Susan, the ex-wife of Frank Morrison(John Travolta), in dull Southport, USA. Everyone seems satisfied to move on in their lives, except for their kid Danny Morrison, who the schools have been kicking around ever since his parents' divorce. Danny is the boy who cried wolf of the piece, "but he's never lied to {Frank}". That is what allows the movie to accelerate when Danny witnesses Vince Vaughn murder his old business colleague (or is it college chum?) Ray, played with the expected lizard-like menace by Steve Buscemi. He tells all immediately afterwards to the townsfolk, now tired of his tales. Frank decides to investigate further but Rick threatens Danny into changing his story at a custody hearing after Danny runs away and the Judge decides in Susan's favour.

This is all handled very unconvincingly by the actors and is where the movie falls apart. Danny and Frank's bond is never broken and since the movie is from the perspective of Frank, we are not so interested in Susan's lack of trust in her son. We know Vince Vaughn's going to get pushed into the propeller of one of John Travolta's boats or shoved into the back of a Crown Vic under the eyes of the betrayed people of Southport. So the real stake should be Danny retaining Frank's trust - a lapse of love made whole in a warm paternal embrace at the end would engage the audience instead of turning them out of the theatres when Danny tells Frank that he was forced to change his story by Rick at the end of act two.

Rick's reasons for marrying Susan aren't even fully explained or looked into. At the end he tells pregnant Susan that "{she was} the best thing that ever happened to {him}" and then inexplicably throws her into a wall, killing his own Spawn of Vaughn. His demands of Frank to craft him a few boats are never resolved or even explored. It's as if the writer just chose to set it in Boat-town USA because he liked boats n stuff, mmm so yeah...

Another thing that would have made the movie more watchable, or at least less jarring, would have been some exterior shots of Southport to bridge scenes together. Having Frank talk about the bad old days that ended his and Susan's marriage before cutting away directly to him eating in a diner seems like a flashback and is prevalent throughout the entire movie. It's not taut, but rather too tight in it's storytelling and pacing. We'll see Frank's car pulling up at the motel room where Steve Buscemi's mysterious old friend of Rick's stayed and nothing more. There is nothing to chew on or distract the viewer with and it makes for one uninvolving experience.

Some colourfully quirky small-town characters could have also made Southport a more interesting setting, but the filmmakers didn't even use Frank's boathouse or the coastal setting in the climax, in which Rick is unimaginatively and irrelevantly killed by an electricity box.

Deservedly, this movie bombed like Al Quaeda on a warm Tuesday morning in September, being released just less than two months after 9/11. Nobody wanted to see any gritty thrillers for another year. But the funny thing about this movie is that it is essentially timeless, dateless, placeless. The characters wear nondescript clothes, rarely swear, don't strip off and/or screw and speak with General American English accents. Actually, the only thing that dates this movie is John Travolta's 'dramatic' use of the internet in one scene.

So if you like your movies without layers of meaning or any kind of significance, f*ck off.
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The Wire: Mission Accomplished (2004)
Season 3, Episode 12
Iraq War parallels and train metaphor become clear
29 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Stringer Bell's been taken out by a vengeful Omar and Brother Mouzone, and Avon feels incomplete without his partner-in-crime Stringer as he prepares to embark on a seemingly endless gang war with Marlo Stanfield. String was truly the Mind to Avon's Heart, or perhaps more importantly within the context of this season's Iraq War parallel -Cheney to his Bush. Perhaps the most obvious comparison (aside from the title) is when Slim Charles tries to persuade King Avon to take the fight to rival Marlo: "If it's a lie then we fight on that lie." The War on Terror idea that a common enemy will unite them and looking inside their own ranks will only divide them. Just before Stringer got whacked by the Brother and Omar, on information given by the treacherous Mr Barksdale, String gave Major Colvin a little gift of his own -the address of the Barksdale organizations' soon-to-be-depleted armoury. Avon gets got by the BPD and serves out the rest of his original parole sentence. Checkmate.

One gigantic arc of storytelling ends here just as another one begins. Marlo is the heir to the throne of West Baltimore and he's just another gangster with no other aspirations like Avon, unlike Stringer. The city hall story arc will continue into the next season where another similar act of political regeneration will occur (in the form of mayoral election). Bubbles loses Johnny to the Hell of Hamsterdam but corner boy Sherrod will become his new right-hand man. So there is no satisfaction in seeing Poot, Bernard, Country and all the other pawns being herded through court to receive sentence while we know the King will be afforded the same status on the inside and replaced on the outside. Small pathetic victories for the police as usual.

But there's nothing like a depressant to chase the ol' blues away for McNulty and Bunk, who drink from Kavanaugh's to the railbed. It is at the end of this episode that the visual metaphor for the tracks that first appeared in the pilot is made apparent. Solomon Burke sings 'Fast Train', the song that will play over the ending montage and close the season. The only time we see the trains moving is in the first episode when McNulty hovers on the track as the light envelops his form in a very religious shot before stepping out of the way in his drunken state. We usually go to the decaying railbed at points in the series when the wire is down or when the brass is reassigning their casework. "Well you've been on a fast train and it's going off the rails And you can't come back can't come back together again... On a fast train going nowhere". McNulty rides the train of the mythic big case every good cop dreams of, only to find that he's just a passenger (or 'pawn' in Wire terminology) and can't affect change. "It was like i was pouring it all into my cup and the thing had no bottom", he tells port cop and former detailee from last season Beadie Russell. The season ends with him walking foot patrol in the Western, his old home.

Colvin stands before the Gods in a Comstat meeting where he is duly executed by Rawls acting under Burrell and the Mayor's orders. "Get on with it, motherf*cker." he very appropriately utters into the microphone just as Stringer yelled at Omar and the brother. The noble experiment that was Hamsterdam is now just rubble much like the Franklin Towers, fodder for up-and-coming parasitic politicians like Tommy Carcetti and paydirt for those at the Baltimore Sun (no offence, David Simon). And the laws of fecal gravity perpetuate.
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The Wire: Time After Time (2004)
Season 3, Episode 1
metaphors for 9/11 and the War on Terror abound in this sizzling season opener
28 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
So the Franklin towers fall while a mayor calls for reform from his pulpit in construction hat and pressed suit. Bodie and Poot argue about the latter's abysmal sexual hygiene record and inability to learn from it. It is clear the theme of season three is going to be reform. And not just from the political standpoint of the new institution of city hall, but can the gangsters change their tradition of violent standoffs in order to expand turf into more civil buyouts and sit-downs with a city-wide cartel?

From the outset, the season draws parallels with 9/11 and the Iraq War. The towers fall and the drugs pour out onto the corners. We are introduced to the Co-op, Baltimore's drug cartel headed up by Prop Joe, which informs Stringer's economic policy as Acting President for the Barksdale administration. "Turf don't mean sh*t if you ain't got product," he tells his baffled gangsta underlings. He wants to extend their good product to all of their rivals, believing peace and profit can co-exist. Over in the Western District, a weary Major Bunny Colvin has also had enough of the same old sh*t.

McNulty however, still believes that if he steps on the bosses' toes enough, he will bring in a case big and get his "ticker-tape parade" as Lester Freamon puts it. The emotional cost of policework and the toll it has on a relationship is another of the season's themes; with Det. McNulty, Lt. Daniels and Det. Greggs each growing further apart from their women at home. McNulty had the door slammed in his face last season so he's already on the prowl for a new mate; Daniels had a more literal door shut on him at the end of season two, only to have another door opened for him at the start of this season by Jimmy's old bit-on-the-side States' Attorney Rhonda Pearlman; and everyone's favourite lesbian cop Keema is feeling neglected by her girlfriend's new priorities as a baby mama.

New kid on the block Marlo provides currently incarcerated Avon Barksdale and his loyal soldiers on the outside a new enemy as well as the detail with a new photo on the board. His stupid punk face and ventriloquist mouth p*ss me off but many think he was a cool gangsta character, representing the new generation of Baltimore's budding business brains in the heroin trade. Bubbles and Johnny re-emerge as prominent characters once again after their relative hiatus in season two.

All in all, this was the most formulaic season within the context of the series, where viewers became comfortable with the codes and conventions of the show before it piled another gritty layer of bureaucracy on top of an already labyrinth narrative in season four, followed by yet another storyline in season five. It returns to the streets that occupied the dual A narrative (police-steets) of season one that took more of a backseat in season two (police-docks-streets), while the city hall characters are only introduced here, the last two seasons would develop them fully rather than wrapping everything up so dramatically as it did with the stevedores last time 'round.
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The Wire: The Target (2002)
Season 1, Episode 1
Once upon a time on a stoop in Baltimore, there was a cop named McNulty...
27 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
'The Wire' is not one of those shows that jumps up and bites you on the bum with all it's bitey brilliance in the first five minutes. You'd be forgiven for not thinking it's the greatest work of television of all time one episode in (although you're going to Hell if you don't think so by the end of Season Two). It's more like it was made for deeply analytical repeat viewings. I'm a massive fan (actually just over ten stone) of the show and I'll even admit to being slightly disappointed by what then seemed like the most boring supposedly-better-than-the-Sopranos show I'd ever seen. However, I have since walked with Jesus and he has saved my soul. 'The Wire' is God's wiretap on humanity.

Every episode opens with a five-minute prologue (or teaser), with the main theme of every season being demonstrated in each season opener. This being the pilot episode for the entire series, it encapsulates the wider theme of the show on a stoop outside one of Baltimore's historic rowhouses: that whether you're a project yo rolling some dice on a corner looking to do some pot-snatchin or a narcissistic young Homicide detective looking for your ticker-tape parade for putting some big bad gangsters away in jail, the odds are stacked against your dreams. But you gotta play cos this America, man.

As I said in my opener, this is a show that doesn't pull all of it's punches in it's pilot in order to hook the audience. It doesn't pander to audience expectation but rather teaches them how to watch it -and by that I mean patiently. The opening episode isn't called The Wire and isn't told in flashback and doesn't have an extra half-an-hour running time. But listen closely to the wire, as a throwaway line or gesture or passing train on an old railbed will become a storyline in season two or be echoed by someone else later in the series or will have symbolic closure later on. David Simon admits to having all of the major character's story arcs plotted out in advance and foresaw the roles all the other Baltimore institutions would play in the show over it's five-season length before he penned the first teleplay with co-writer Ed Burns. It's this kind of jigsaw structure that elevates this above all other television.

In the pilot, a parallel story structure unfolds between cops n robbers, or Jimmy McNulty and D'Angelo Barksdale to be more specific. Both are youngish men who've managed to survive the institutional insanity of their lives, through their wits and maybe a little nepotism in the latter's case. D's just been acquitted of a murder charge after a witness unexpectedly changed their testimony in court and McNulty's just been spanked by his Major, the Great White Rawls, for breaking the chain of command to try and get a detail on Avon Barksdale, D's Uncle and the alleged drug kingpin of West Baltimore. But only one has a kindly Uncle looking over him and Jimmy is often warned to stop "giving a f*ck when it's not his turn to give a f*ck" or he'll be "riding the boat come next Winter (a little bit of the aforementioned foreshadowing the writers are so fond of)", which is McNulty's idea of police hell as the diesel fumes make him nauseous. Meanwhile, D has already been demoted by his Uncle Avon to the pit (low-rise tenement housing) which is the equivalent to the boat for any real player, who "had a tower since summer". In a way, Simon is saying that the gangsters will always be one step ahead of their pursuers, be it in the effectiveness and haste in handing down punishments to their underlings or in terms of public opinion (no one talks to the 5-O in Bmore but everyone knows and fears their local dope dealer).

This was also very much a show of it's time, as McNulty remarks to his FBI friend and fellow Irish-American Terry Fitzhugh of the lack of federal assistance in fighting the War on Drugs : "Not since those towers fell." tells Fitz. "What? We don't have enough love in our hearts for two wars? Jokes on us." is McNulty's typically anti-establishmentarian reply. They exchange these lines while watching live surveillance footage of raw kilos being cut for some 'Dominicans in New York', and in that throwaway remark lies a plot-point at the beginning of Season Two -remember Stringer Bell dealing with the Dominican drug connect Roberta's lawyer up in New York? Now applaud the writers, for to paraphrase a more recent character, "in The Wire God still resides in the details".
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Taxi Driver (1976)
One for the Lonely... Scorsese's brilliantly subversive account of God's Lonely Man in NYC
6 May 2011
Warning: Spoilers
A few years back, as i perused the aisles of HMV for quality DVDs, I encountered the two-disc special edition of Taxi Driver which i didn't then own. On it's sheath was a sticker reading 'One for the Lads'. At first I was disgusted -how could the same people who signify a social realism drama in their Sky Movies Guide with the image of sketch character Vicky Pollard go so far as to spit their heathen phlegm upon the facade of one of the finest films ever made? Recently, I have looked more positively upon their congealed phlegm and realised that they had it right: Taxi Driver certainly ain't one for the lasses. After all, do women really unleash their hatred upon people who've never affected them? Are women ever the ones pulling the triggers behind the American high school massacres. No. I believe HMV really nailed male psychology on that one. Well done, guys!

Anyhow, on with the review... Travis Bickle is sick of "the days go(ing) on and on with regularity" in his cab and wants to "become a person like other people". This means picking up another not-quite-so-lonely heart in the form of angelic campaign worker Betsy and taking her out to see a porno for a first date. When she surprisingly walks out on him and hails a cab ride home (a real arrow in the heart for any cabbie), he is astonished. Bickle's emotional dysfunction is also evident in the banal conversations he has with his fellow cabbies at their Belmore Cafeteria hangout. He's someone who never quite belonged, probably feeling even more distant upon his return from military service in Nam , or "f*ckin' Mau Mau land" as father figure and fellow disenchanted cabbie Wizard calls it.

"You get a job. You become the job," Wizard tells him after Travis cryptically expresses his fear that his repressed urges to kill as he did in Vietnam will explode sometime soon. Travis Bickle is a Taxi Driver, more than a son, a brother, an ex-boyfriend or anything else. His life rotates around his twelve-hour shifts and inability to sleep. Director Scorsese plays the 'Man in Cab' or herald of things to come who maniacally describes what he will do to an ex-girlfriend's pudenda with a 44. Magnum. The scene that follows is a brilliantly subjective one in which Travis heads to the Belmore Cafeteria for the aforementioned useless advice he receives from Peter Boyle's Wizard character. It is shot in such a tense way, as with the rest of the movie from TB's perspective, as to evoke a feeling of imminent violence. In other words, the quick cuts and tight shots of ticket dispensers and slo-mo hacky looks of Travis suggest he is gonna unload his inner demons right there in the cafeteria.

Of course, he doesn't start killing people midway through the movie, but canny soon he's buying guns and ammo from seedy street dealers in grimy hotel rooms and getting the infamous Mohawk haircut as he plots his revenge on a world which never quite accepted him like it did the Senator Palantines or corner pimps like Matthew (aka 'Sport'). His is not simply a mission of vengeance though, as he aims to rescue 12-and -a-half prostitute Iris from the clutches of her loving-but-business-minded manager Sport. In the end, our homicidal protagonist is dubbed a hero by the media, or is it just his dying fantasy?

The debate over whether Travis actually succeeds in killing himself along with all of his victims rages on. Certainly the ending in which an expressionless Betsy is escorted home by an apparently unchanged Travis is very ethereal and would seem the perfectly unimaginative wordless fantasy of a dying loner like Bickle. The tracking shot from the blood-drenched stairwell into the street would even suggest the departure of Travis's soul, but the attention to detail on the newspapers and the filmmaker's own comments would suggest the opposite.

A sequel following a 21st century Bickle around a Giulianian post-9/11 New York is supposedly in the works. One can only imagine Travis being diagnosed as Autistic and being assigned a carer who he becomes obsessed with, but goes on a rampage against the PC hordes and capitalist demagogues in Manhattan when she rejects him. Perhaps the climactic shootout will occur on the steps of Wall Street where Bickle takes out his aggression upon the demon bankers who he blames for the loss of his job. Maybe he'll get a mullet this time. Or he could just get a facebook account and p*ss away his solitary existence there. Whatever they decide to do, it'll be interesting to see the patron Saint of Loneliness return...
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The Wire: Bad Dreams (2003)
Season 2, Episode 11
'Greek' tragedy
12 April 2011
'The Wire' isn't episodic television like most shows, but if I had to pick a favourite episode this would be it. It is the payoff of my favourite season, with more drama coming out it's ass than Lawrence Olivier. The first time I saw it I was almost dizzy with the rush of it as I had grown particularly close to the men on the docks and their troubles (though the second time 'round I had an even greater affinity with the newspaper staff).

Perhaps this is because I am also from an old shipbuilding town, which saw it's last ship sail long ago. Unlike Baltimore, Newcastle doesn't see any roll-on roll-off cargo and Northeast England's old port towns have all since been revitalised a la New Westport. The Millennium bridge physically and symbolically heralded a new era, so no ships could come up the Tyne river even if they wanted to nowadays. In fact, I would say local politician T Dan Smith was something of a Clay Davis/Stringer Bell in that his efforts to modernise the city by giving his own painting and decorating firm more than half the redevelopment contracts would provide a canny strong HBO UK series. But I can only dream of what 'Way Down in the Hole' sung by Cheryl Cole (not really) would sound like...

Anyway, Ziggy has been arrested and now his dreams of becoming a feared criminal face the reality of being a prison bitch; Frank's dreams of dredging the canal and rebuilding the grain pier are but a memory; Major Crimes' dream of catching the real crooks and putting a lot of dope, guns and prostitutes on the table also. Truly, they all had 'Bad Dreams'.
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More film blanc than film noir, thanks to Hughes' meddling ways
12 April 2011
Howard Hughes really should have stuck with his planes and Kleenex boxes and let the artists whose work he often produced be. The man was a businessman first and an artist second. In this movie he sells a light pointless product to '50s audiences, in what starts off as an intriguing though slightly contrived film noir.

Robert Mitchum plays Dan Milner, the usual sleepy-eyed down-on-his-luck gambler, who is offered to have his debts paid by a $50,000 job down in a coastal Mexican resort by a deported American gangster hiding out in Italy. Of course he has to accept the job without questions for the plot to keep rolling on, and soon finds a love interest in Jane Russell's musical Lenore Brent. At the resort he meets an obnoxious stockbroker and Lenore's lover, movie star Mark Cardigan, who has recently made a trashy men-in-tights blockbuster and is too busy enjoying the hunting of local wildlife to notice the budding chemistry between Milner and his girlfriend.

There are many great comedic moments in these scenes, but no real plot development. Milner confronts two suspicious noir characters in the supposed artist, but actual plastic surgeon, Krafft and thuggish Thompson. Both await the arrival of mobster Nick Ferraro, so they can graft relatively unconnected and unknown loner Milner's face onto him before sending him back into the states.

The plot is quite ridiculous and a lot of time watching the film is waiting for something dramatic to happen. Meanwhile, Vincent Price's colourful thespian and Jim Backus' turn at bumbling broker Myron Winton are fun to watch, but the picture simply doesn't know what it is. Apparently the screenplay was being written while they were shooting the movie, the director was fired by Hughes and Robert J Wilke, who originally portrayed Nick Ferraro was replaced by Raymond Burr as the movie was in production. The tongue-in-cheek happy ending doesn't fit in what is supposed to be a film noir, and it feels as though it could have been a pretty decent entry in the genre if it wasn't for the meddling money behind the movie. Men like Howard Hughes' didn't understand the rules of the great genre and would rather have sold candy floss like this. Shame.
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The Wire: Ebb Tide (2003)
Season 2, Episode 1
class metaphors for America
12 April 2011
Warning: Spoilers
The prologue of this brilliant opener to my favourite season of 'The Wire' sums up what America has become: a corporatist state for the rich, in which working class Jimmy McNulty and his new boat buddy Claude Diggins carry the weight of wealthy Baltimore Yacht Club members through the dark waters of the Patapsco River as they laugh uproariously. Then the Tom Waits' theme kicks in...

This is the most tragic, unremittingly bleak season of 'The Wire'. It takes a canny few more episodes than usual for them to get a wire up on the baddies. If season one had studied race relations in the modern American city, with an almost entirely black drug element and what was then a fairly white police department, season two considers class relations regardless of skin colour as Burrell becomes the new Commissioner and the entirely white enclave of North Baltimore is explored to find the same culture of drugs and violence exists.

A war between two Polaks from the old neighbourhood is incited when Prez's father-in-law Major Stanislaus Valchek tries to have his stained glass window installed at the front of the church: a tribute to Polish-American police officers. But he's too late. Local stevedore union boss Frank Sobotka has snatched it up, but there's still a spot in the rectory. Only ol' Stash ain't takin' it. Instead, he gets a detail to investigate the reasons for Frank's unusually fat pockets.
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The Wire: Hard Cases (2003)
Season 2, Episode 4
quiet before the storm
1 April 2011
This is the only episode to feature the entire starring cast of the show. It is one full of those happy Wire moments we've all come to know and cherish: Rawls getting a cheeky salute from McNulty after being dumped with fourteen Jane Does; Keema pulling an insolent fratboy off the roof of his car; D'Angelo politely telling Avon to get f*cked; Burrell getting pulled up on his meddling ways in last season's investigation (even if it is by Balichek) and the unit being reunited in their new digs.

These may just be small victories for the good guys, but small victories are the only kind of victories fro the good guys in The Wire. This is the quiet before the storm of Greek tragedy of season two's ending. In the context of the whole show, this is as light as it gets and the few rays of hope mean nothing when the show's over. But for one hour, we laugh and hold them close.
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Unconventional noir where the character's demons don't pack heat and wear trenchcoats, they're inside him...
19 March 2011
Warning: Spoilers
This is a story of Hollywood's forgotten people: forgotten writers "who haven't had a hit since before the war", unsuccessful actresses who "only starred in a few Bs", drunken actors who "haven't been able to remember their lines in ten years", the lazy directors who've "been remaking the same picture for the past twenty years" and clingy agents with ulcers "who tried to talk Selznick out of making Gone with the Wind". The 'lonely place(s)' of the title are quiet bars where these nobodies congregate; the seedy apartment complexes which they return to night after lonesome night; the police stations where they are hauled in for questioning regarding murders; or the places where such murders have no witnesses.

Screenwriter Dixon Steele (Bogie) is a suspect in such a case, where the script reader he brought home to synopsise what turned out to be a trashy romantic novel was killed on her way home. His old war buddy Brub Nicholai thinks he's innocent but police Captain Lochner has different ideas. However, he is saved when lovely Laurel Gray from across the way provides him with an alibi, seemingly because she "liked his face". We, at this point, have no idea whether he's guilty of such crimes or not. However, it would seem possible, as his evident short fuse is lit by a thuggish motorist in the opening scene at the traffic lights. Steele's steely indifference to the crime scene photographs presented to him wouldn't exactly suggest otherwise either. But we also know him to be a WW2 veteran, and he's not exactly unused to bumping people off, in the movies that is. So he gets off scott free with us and them, because you can't arrest a man "on lack of emotion".

Dixie's new love affair with Laurel reinvigorates his creativity, so much so that he even sets out to polish the turd that was the trashy romantic thriller the deceased gave him. This allows for a self-referential dialogue about writing a love scene between Humph and Swanson. It also reinvigorates his longtime friend and agent Mel Lippman who feels his ulcers clearing up when he hears the good news, along with the other hangers-on. Meanwhile, Lochner digs up Steele's records to find a violent past and Ms Gray discovers his dark side in a lonely place by the roadside when he beats a college football star to a bloody pulp for calling him something "REAL bad", but not really.

In the end, Dixie announces his plans to marry Ms Gray in Vegas and his screenplay is picked up by almighty producer Brodie, whom we never see, but by that point he's alienated all his friends at a dinner where he showed a little too much of his dark side in a public place. At the police station, the script reader's boyfriend has confessed to her murder after an exchange of bullets and a relieved Nicholai calls up his pal to tell him the heat's off, just as he's strangling Laurel after finding her hand ringless and her suitcase packed on the bed. Dixon Steele walks out into the night, his loneliness consuming him once again. As Mel warned her, "he was dynamite. He has to explode sometimes!"

'In a Lonely Place' doesn't follow the usual codes and conventions of film noir. The opening titles seen in the rearview mirror of Bogie's car may denote hardboiled pulp fiction, but after the initial murder of Mildred Atkinson, there is no blackmail or death threats or even gangsters to concern Dix. A more typical perspective for this noir to be told from would be that of Atkinson's lover Kesler, in a story about a guilty man trying to hide the truth from the police after killing his girlfriend in a 'Fit of Rage'. Like it? I've seen it too many times. Everybody in this movie is trying to help Dixie in some way, be it his agent Lipman or femme vivante Laurel or friend Brub in the police but it's his inner demons which hold him back from romantic relationships and a professional career. The working title for the picture was 'Behind the Mask', which happens to slip off Humph by the end of the film. And it says something about an actor who can make you like his character even when he's callously making jokes while flicking through photos of a dead young woman or smiling as he visualises the strangling of the young woman at his friend's dinner table. Some say this is the one role which came closest to the actor's actual persona. See for yourself.
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Shamelessly old-fashioned, manipulative entertainment with Biblical connotations
19 March 2011
Warning: Spoilers
The year is 1947 and "tall glass of water with a silver spoon up his ass" Andy Dufresne is sentenced to serve two back-to-back life sentences in Shawshank Penitentiary for the 'cold-blooded' murder of his wife and her lover. We are shown flashbacks to the events leading up to their slaying, but not enough for us to convict Andy along with the judge and this makes for an intriguing character watching the movie for the first time 'round. Inside the walls of Shawshank, Andy still claims his innocence, only to find he isn't alone. But it isn't long before he approaches go-to-guy Ellis 'Red' Redding for a rock hammer and Rita Hayworth poster, eventually becoming best buddies with him.

The theme of the piece is freedom and what it means to the men inside. The elderly 'Brooks' Hatlen is what Darabont calls "the spine of the story", who walks the straight and narrow path upon his release from prison but whose institutionalisation holds him back from enjoying free life and participating in the outside world. Red is also "an institutional man" whose constant rejections from the parole board have led him to believe that hope is a bad thing. Whereas seemingly infinite oasis of hope Andy, who after being raped constantly by 'the Sisters' and being sent way down in the hole a buncha times, still maintains his spirit. "Salvation lies within", as the Warden says.

However, there is also a physical journey Brooks, Red and Andy take. Prison represents Hell in this very symbolically Christian story, the halfway-house Brooks and Red go through, Purgatory, and Zihuatanejo, the "warm place with no memory" is of course, Heaven. Andy is even baptised after escaping the walls of the prison when he falls out of the sewage pipe into the water of the crick in the pouring rain. The most seemingly Christian man in the movie, Warden, is actually the Devil with sadistic Captain Hadley as his Beelzebub.

Writer and director Frank Darabont uses posters of sex symbols Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe and Raquel Welch to mark the passage of time Andy serves (just under twenty years) inside, while Andy uses them to cover up his escape route. 'The Shawshank Redemption' may appear to be in colour at first, but it is very much a black-and-white old-school Capra story, with modern blood, profanity and references to sodomy. Bad guys are bad guys and good guys are good guys. The Hollywood way is a timeless thing. People climb out of sewers without a trace of turd on them and show no visible signs of ageing in twenty years.

The movie has the same values of Capra, whom Darabont acknowledges as a major influence, and that isn't a bad thing when you stand it up against the largely nihilistic or simply stylistic movies of it's era, ergo all of QT's work, Scorsese's gangster pictures of that decade etc. The American film industry of the time's fondness for the downer ending, or lack of one was probably what drove the public out to the rental stores in the mid-nineties in search of this after the perhaps off-puttingly schmaltzy Gumpfest of this movie's year in the cinema failed to relate to many on a human level.

'Shawshank' has the necessary grit and real-life situations for a modern audience to get into it, but it also tells them what to think and feel with it's near constant narration and score like a movie from the forties might have. This is perhaps why it is such a firm favourite of the casual viewer, as it carries them along rather than allowing them to figure anything out or decide on their own ending. What the enormous popularity of the picture proves is that viewers would rather not be challenged but rather placated.
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Force of Evil (1948)
Subtle critique of capitalism and gritty post-war update of Cain & Abel
17 March 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Morally confused 'bank manager' Leo Morse brought up his younger brother Joe when their parents died only to see him wind up working for the Corporation, a criminal organization headed up by evil Ben Tucker, a man with no moral scruples but only a love of money. Now black-suited devil's advocate Joe is acting as older brother to Leo, offering him a step up the ladder from his skid-row office to manager of thirteen 'banks', or number rackets, in the New York area. But Leo wants out even though he can't deny that he got his little brother through law college on the scraps of dirty money from the same piles of dough he's offering him now. The nosiness of a city hall litigator called Hall may have something to do with his reluctance to climb the ladder with his brother. On the other hand, there is the angelic young teller Doris Lowry who only worked for the bank to feed her family. She wants out too. Joe has to fight for the approval of his 'older brother' Ben Tucker and his wife Edna (a femme fatale of sorts) as well as that of his older brother Leo and femme vivante Doris.

As a man who has never read the Bible, I can still relate to the tragic outcome of Joe and Leo's fraternal conflict. Polonsky's street knowledge and George Barnes' Edward Hopper-influenced photography really take advantage of an isolated Wall Street (how they swung that I do not know) in which John Garfield's unusually white-suited Joe walks out from under the hand of George Washington and into the morning light beyond a church tower. Redemption is what he's seeking, in the arms of Doris.

As a capitalist, I can also watch this movie and still enjoy it as it lays on Polonsky's left-wing rhetoric quite lightly, unlike more recent heavyhanded Hollywood propaganda. Innocent people aren't punished in this picture, only the ones who knowingly got involved in the 'numbers racket' are (ergo Leo and Freddie Bauer). The numbers racket will essentially break the bankers and force them to be bailed out by Tucker's Corporation. As one character says, "What do you mean gangsters? This is business!" Something quite relevant to our times, many would agree.

Unusually for a film noir of it's time, 'Force of Evil' doesn't end with a shot of the cuffs being snapped on Garfield's wrists or the bulb going on and off for the electric chair -he awaits his jailers peaceably, aware of his bad deeds, instead of shooting it out with the world as in most gangster pictures. Nor is the femme fatale a major presence.

Characters' worth in the picture is really merited on their expediency, not on their goodness as we find out in the end when the short-lived dispute between Tucker and his old Prohibition partner Ficco boils over to Leo who "dies even when he's breathing" and his weary bookkeeper Bauer in a memorably hardboiled sequence. World-weary numbers man Leo is found "on the rocks... by the river... like an old dirty rag nobody wants" but Joe wasn't expedient enough to be played by the Corporation and gets out. As the testing Edna Tucker might have said, "You're not strong or weak enough."
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