Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Long Goodbye (1973)

Adaptation of Raymond Chandler directed by Robert Altman and starring Elliott Gould as Phillip Marlowe. Altman, for me, even in his prime (this is after McCabe and Mrs. Miller and before Nashville) seems slipshod. It's as if he and his actors would improvise as shooting progressed and hoped something would emerge during the editing process. His filmography is a succession of vibrant, penetrating movies and complete failures. This falls somewhere in-between. Sterling Hayden, as a lunatic novelist, is so annoying in this I wanted to club him to death (I suspect Altman admired Hayden's actorly flights of fancy, I think he should've reigned him in a little). Henry Gibson is mannered and unnecessary. While Elliott Gould is a likable actor, this is an instance when casting against type backfires. Gould seems like he's a little lost, and just politely going along for the ride. The tone is dated and druggy. Full of fashionable swipes at conservative politics and the police, all delivered with that mumbly, overlapping dialogue Altman liked. There are great moments: Director Mark Rydell, in one of the few times he was employed as an actor, is brilliant as villain Mickey Augustine; The scene where he smashes a coke bottle across his girlfriend's face (it's a famous scene) still shocked me even though I knew it was coming. And the final scene (I won't spoil it), is very cathartic to anyone who thought that they knew someone well, only to find that they're just an asshole like everybody else. Oh, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as a goon, and a special shout-out to bit actor Ken Sansom, who does the best Barbara Stanwyck impression I've ever seen.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

This Gun For Hire (1942)

It took me until the film was two minutes from being over to realize I had already seen this. There is a scene at the end where the 300 pound Laird Cregar (a great fucking actor) is shot. The image of this enormous man tumbling down a small flight of stairs, as graceful as one of Disney's dancing hippos, was seared in my memory, I just thought it had happened in another movie. This stars the glassy yet hypnotic Veronica Lake and the just plain glassy Robert Preston (Preston hadn't yet tapped into his inner "Harold Hill" that would carry him through the fruitful autumn of his career). And "introducing" Alan Ladd as a paid killer (he had already appeared in a few small roles, including one of the reporters in Citizen Kane). This film made him a major star, he effortlessly steals the picture. This is a very early film noir, full of dames, nightclub singers, cops, killers, etc. You know, the usual suspects. No masterpiece, but fun...and it looks great (photographed by John Seitz, here laying the visual groundwork for some later noir classics like Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard). Directed by Frank Tuttle (not nearly an auteur, not even "the system" films sometimes direct themselves, I suppose) and loosely based on a novel by Graham Greene.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Monsters (2010)

A well-meaning but rather drab science fiction film written, directed, and photographed by Gareth Edwards (he even did the special effects!). It stars Whitney Able as an heiress being escorted out of an "alien infection zone" near the Mexican/American border by a cynical photojournalist played by Scoot (yes, Scoot) McNairy. It Happened One Night meets Cloverfield. They talk, eat, talk some more, hitchhike, talk some more, sleep...for a movie called "Monsters" it has remarkably few monsters in it. A bit self-important, and a handful of 300 foot tall octopuses do nothing to dispel the dullness.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Heartless (2009)

A really pretentious British horror film starring the really annoying Jim Sturgess. He has a heart-shaped birthmark on his face, and after the death of his mother by a gang of...I don't know, we'll call them demons, he vows revenge and makes some sort of Faustian deal to have his birthmark removed...wouldn't laser surgery have less strings attached? This makes little sense and drags on for two hours. This is film school, indie-movie "cool" in the worst way. Phillip Ridley directed this, a man I want to punch in the face.

Monday, July 11, 2011

All Good Things (2010)

Based on the curious real-life case of Robert Durst, a man who appears to have gotten away with murder not once, but three times. Ryan Gosling plays Durst (here named David Marks, I suppose to avoid a lawsuit) the prodigal son of a billionaire New York real estate investor, who marries Katherine (Kirstin Dunst), a girl from a lower-middle class Long island family. David Marks' psychosis starts to emerge when his monstrous father (the great Frank Langella) forces him into the family business, and after a few years of an increasingly miserable marriage, Katherine mysteriously disappears and was never seen again (this was 1982). David disappears shortly thereafter and years later a family friend writes a novel loosely based on the case who's then found murdered in her home. Marks doesn't emerge again until 2000, when he's found living in Galveston as a woman, and is accused of murdering his elderly next door neighbor.

This is a bit tawdry, maybe because the real-life case is so bizarre. Director Andrew Jarecki seems to be aiming for a thundery, Douglas Sirk-type family melodrama, complete with murder and cross-dressing, but comes up empty-handed. The film seems shrill. Unfortunate, because Dunst hasn't been this good since Bogdanovich's Cat's Meow, and Ryan Gosling tries his hardest to fill in the gaps of a character that, at least in the script, is ghostly and incomplete. Perhaps if this didn't take itself too seriously (I suspect the filmmakers thought they were creating art) this might have been more enjoyable.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

127 Hours (2010)

James Franco gets his hand stuck in rock for five days. Danny Boyle directed it, not surprisingly employing lots of pop music for the soundtrack and half-assed surrealism for the visuals. The film is okay, but I gotta give Franco a hand. It's not that he's so great, it's just that there are very few young actors who would hold your interest while stuck in a crack for long stretches of time. This clown didn't tell anyone where he was going and neglected to take essential pieces of equipment along. Proves what I've always suspected, that "extreme" types (rock climbers and the like) are very very stupid.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Last of Sheila (1973)

Having just seen The Internecine Project a few days ago, I feel like I've had a mini James Coburn film festival. Just a coincidence, as I had forgotten he was in this. The credits to this film are what made me check it out: Directed by Herb Ross, written by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins! (I believe they were lovers at the time), starring Coburn, James Mason, Dyan Cannon, Ian McShane, Joan Hackett, Raquel Welch, and Richard Benjamin. A (mostly) comic whodunit set on the French Riviera. A puzzle obsessed movie mogul (Coburn) invites his friends to spend a week playing "games" aboard his yacht. The invitees are: a movie bombshell (Welch) and her gigolo boyfriend (McShane), a has-been director (Mason), a struggling screenwriter (Benjamin) and his rich wife (Hackett), and a press agent (Cannon). A year earlier, Coburn's wife, Sheila, had been killed in a hit and run, and he knows in his heart of hearts that one of his guests is the person responsible. At the start of the trip, he gives everyone a typewritten card: "I am an alcoholic", "I am a homosexual", "I am a child molester", "I am a shoplifter", "I am an ex-con", and "I am an informer." Now the guests must solve everyone's secrets through a series of detective games, each held in an exotic port of call. Mysteriously, a seventh card appears: "I am a hit and run killer", but to whom does it belong?

This is a hoot and a half. There are a lot of funny lines in the script, delivered with such nonchalance you might miss a few. Director Ross (for once) seems wide awake and keeps things bouncy, with a cruel and sinister undertone. The sight of the macho, swaggering Coburn in full drag is worth the price of admission alone (he looks eerily like Mary Woronov). The mystery itself, and how it's solved, is very clever and had me guessing until nearly the end. Bitchy, energetic, and of those films where the actors seem to be having a blast. As bubbly as a bottle of champagne.