I got a pretty big writing assignment this past month, with a deadline of October 5. So I’ve been working hard, researching, as the below list will probably show. Not ready to talk about it yet, still working on the piece, but it’s been a really fun month. It’s the kind of research I love to do. September was all about film noir.
Band of Outsiders (1964; d. Jean-Luc Godard)
A favorite. Anna Karina is to die for. The scene of the three of them doing an impromptu dance in a cafe is the Stuff of Movie Magic. (Re-created, gorgeously, in the recent film Le Weekend.)
Innocents with Dirty Hands (1975; d. Claude Chabrol)
Chabrol is one of my favorite directors. I have a soft spot for any movie that features a French detective investigating a murder, and so Chabrol obviously fits the bill. Romy Schneider is one of the most beautiful women to ever appear onscreen. She’s breath-taking. The plot is nothing special (young sexually-alert wife plots with her young sexually-alert lover to kill her older impotent drunk husband) but it’s beautifully done. Melodramatic. Gorgeously shot. Rod Steiger is the drunk awful husband.
The Men Who Built America (2012; d. Patrick Reams, Ruan Magan)
Allison and I devoured this fascinating mini-series about the Tycoons of the American Industrial Revolution on our unbelievably relaxing weekend away. So relaxing that at times we just floated around in the pool on inflated orcas, and didn’t even speak. But we also watched the entire mini-series, stopping to discuss every 10 minutes.
Breathe (2015; d. Mélanie Laurent)
A really good film about two teenage girls. I reviewed for Roger Ebert. Mélanie Laurent is a French actress (she made an indelible impression as Shoshanna in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, and this is her second feature. She’s an excellent director.
The Beaches of Agnès (2008; d. Agnès Varda)
I saw this beautiful film on its initial release. Varda is a powerhouse, a true artist, and this film is an autobiographical exploration of her childhood. But with her brilliant style. The opening sequence, showing her, with her movie crew, setting up the “set” on the beach, with mirrors pointing different ways, is unbelievable. The IMAGES that she sets up, in a seemingly casual documentary-like way. You see her instructing her PAs, and then there are all these illusions created: she’s standing there, with the dunes behind her, but the mirrors are placed just so that it looks like the surf is about to overwhelm her. Profound personal film.
Big Jake (1971; d. George Sherman)
John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara reunited (in a small way, they only have a couple of scenes together) for Big Jake. She’s a fiery super-smart rich lady, who was once married to Big Jake, but he’s been gone a long long time. Eventually, their grandson is kidnapped by a murderous gang, and Big Jake sets out to find him, with his two estranged sons in tow. Lots of good family drama. Wayne had less than a decade left to live. He is strapping, stalwart, does many of his own stunts. He only had one lung. He AMAZES me.
The Visit (2015; d. M. Night Shyamalan)
So much fun. A blast. Haven’t said that about a Shyamalan film in a long long time. I reviewed for Roger Ebert.
Criminal Minds, Season 1, Episode 12 “What Fresh Hell” (2006; d. Adam Davidson)
A little girl is abducted in plain sight from a park. Was it her estranged father? Her parents divorced and it was BITTER. Why do I put myself through this show? Why do I like it so much? Mandy Patinkin is beyond great. It’s a deeply detailed and emotional performance. (He did so much research for the role, immersed himself in serial killer crime stuff, that it basically ruined his life, he couldn’t sleep – that’s why he left the show. I admire Patinkin a lot. I’m sure he can be a nightmare, with dedication like that, but it’s why he’s so good.)
Criminal Minds, Season 1, Episode 15 “Unfinished Business” (2006; J. Miller Tobin)
J. Miller Tobin from Supernatural! He directed “A Very Supernatural Christmas,” and for that alone he deserves an award. It’s funny to see Criminal Minds in its first season when it was finding its sea legs. The characters spout exposition at one another. People on the BAU team say stuff to each other like, “Arsonists are typically young white males, who are socially awkward and impotent.” If the show were realistic, the other team member would say, “Yeah. I know. I work here too.” Also, there are all these back-projected scenes where they theorize on who the killer is, and it’s very pretentious. I still like the show, God help me.
Girl on a Motorcycle (1968; d. Jack Cardiff)
Yeah, I think I covered this one here.
Tom Jones (1963; d. Tony Richardson)
Three of the actresses were nominated for Best Supporting. You can see why this film made Albert Finney a star. He’s very very funny. I like when he realizes his wrist is probably broken.
Fast Five (2011; d. Justin Lin)
Maybe my favorite in the franchise? Although who can choose. I love these movies so much and I think they’re more profound than perhaps they are given credit for. The films are about family, and doing the right thing (while being criminals, of course) – but it’s really about finding your own family.
Supernatural, Season 2, Episode 18, “Hollywood Babylon” (2007; d. Phil Sgriccia)
A re-watch for the re-cap which I finally finished.
Gilda (1946; d. Charles Vidor)
Glorious. Twisted. Sexy. Dark. The film that made Rita Hayworth not just a star, but a superstar. Her entrance alone announces her as a star (the empty screen, and then her rising, flipping her hair back).
People who haven’t even seen a Rita Hayworth movie know that image. But then there was also the little matter of taking off her glove.
Cover Girl (1944; d. Charles Vidor)
Another Charles Vidor film starring Rita Hayworth (I think they did five together). This was only 2 years before Gilda and stars Gene Kelly (his dance with himself in Cover Girl made HIM a superstar. Hayworth stars as a dancer in Gene Kelly’s theater who tries to break into modeling for the bigger bucks. Eve Arden plays a cynical wise-ass editorial assistant at a huge fashion magazine. The darkness and tough-ness that Hayworth brought out in Gilda is not evident here. She is sweet and funny and open. But it’s a perfect movie to watch to really understand just how radical a change Gilda was for her. She and Gene Kelly do a couple of great dances, but this one is my favorite.
Lilies of the Field (1963; d. Ralph Nelson)
Sidney Poitier was the first African-American to win a Best Actor Oscar, and it was for this role, Homer Smith, the drifter handy-man who ends up helping to build a chapel for an isolated group of nuns in the desert. It’s a beautiful performance, a real STAR performance. An easy and charismatic and funny leading man. No love interest or anything, although his slow-to-develop friendship with the Mother Superior (Lilia Skala – who was nominated for Best Supporting) is basically the “love story” of the film. He’s so good in it. It’s a beautiful movie.
Love Me or Leave Me (1955; d. Charles Vidor)
An excellent and tremendously upsetting film about a showgirl and her mobster boyfriend. It’s an abusive relationship. The film features two powerhouse performances from Doris Day and James Cagney. I wrote about it here.
Together Again (1944; d. Charles Vidor)
Hilarious film about a small-town mayor (Irene Dunne), carrying on her husband’s legacy in the most judgmental town in America. Into her life comes a European sculptor (of course), played by Charles Boyer. He is hired to create a new statue of her late husband. Mayhem ensues. She thought she had buried her heart forever.
Petulia (1968; d. Richard Lester)
A devastating and dark dark film. Brilliant. Starring Julie Christie and George C. Scott. It made me feel hopeless. 1968 again. The bloom of the 60s is already way WAY off the rose. Shirley Knight is excellent too. Richard Chamberlain is smooth and ruthless. Great film.
You’ll Never Get Rich (1941; d. Sidney Lansfield)
Fred Astaire admitted, practically under duress, near the end of his life, that Rita Hayworth was his favorite dance partner in all his career. He probably didn’t want to make Ginger mad. But you can see why in this film (they made two together). It wasn’t easy to hold your own with Fred Astaire. Rita meets him toe to toe.
Tonight and Every Night (1945; d. Victor Saville)
What a beautiful movie! Gorgeously shot. It’s based on the supposedly true story of a theatre in London that never missed a show during the entirety of the second World War. The show must go on. Perhaps silly, when you consider the gas chambers, I grant that, but the film shows the gutsiness and toughness of the British people who refuse to let their lives be dominated by the Blitz or anything else. They WOULD have their musical comedies. BEAUTIFULLY shot in Technicolor, with the blackouts, and the flames of the bombs in the distance. Rita Hayworth plays a show-girl who falls in love with an officer. Lots of wonderful dance numbers. Surprisingly moving.
The Master (2012; d. Paul Thomas Anderson)
What a film. It gets better with each viewing. I’ll never get to the bottom of it.
Theodora Goes Wild (1936; d. Richard Boleslawski)
A very entertaining film, awkwardly directed by Boleslawski), about a prim and proper small-town girl (Irene Dunne), overrun by her two maiden aunts, terrified of doing anything to rock the boat. She is old before her time. HOWEVER, she has secretly written a book under a pseudonym that has taken the world by storm. It’s a breathless bodice-ripping romance. She makes secret trips to New York to meet with her publisher. She doesn’t want anyone to know who she is. Into the action strolls a wonderfully sexy Melvyn Douglas, who tracks her down, and insinuates himself into her life, against her wishes. He will blow her cover! But suddenly, with this random guy, she starts having … oh my God … real FUN. The town is scandalized. And etc. I love Irene Dunne.
99 Homes (2015; d. Ramin Bahrani)
Excellent film starring Michael Shannon, Andrew Garfield and Laura Dern. I reviewed it for Roger Ebert.
Gilda (1946; d. Charles Vidor)
Second viewing, this time with the commentary track by Richard Schickel. Hmmm. What COULD I be working on.
The VIPs (1963; d. Anthony Asquith)
What a ponderous bore! A clear vehicle for Elizabeth Taylor (who is ravishing) and Richard Burton (ditto), it’s an “ensemble” drama about the various people trapped in the VIP lounge at an airport in England, their plane grounded due to fog. Everyone has something at stake. The plane MUST go off on schedule or ELSE! Taylor is running away playboy Louis Jourdan, escaping from her husband (Burton) who has the AUDACITY to buy her jewels. She is BORED with the jewels! Maggie Smith gives the best performance, in my opinion, as the devoted secretary to an Australian tractor magnate – only of course she is secretly in love with him. Margaret Rutherford was nominated for her performance as the dowdy ditzy old Duchess, who can’t afford to live on her gigantic Downton Abbey property anymore. Anyway, it’s all tremendously silly.
Taxi (2015; d. Jafar Panahi)
One of the best films of the year. I reviewed it here.
Chop Shop (2007; d. Ramin Bahrani)
This was the Ramin Bahrani film that got the focused attention of Roger Ebert, who reviewed it favorably, and THEN put it on his Great Movies list. Roger’s support meant so much to Bahrani that his latest film, 99 Homes, is dedicated to Roger. Chop Shop, about a little off-the-grid Latino boy working in a “chop shop” (i.e. auto-body shop) in Brooklyn, is a phenomenal film. Filmed with no fuss, but with utter specificity too, you are immersed into the world of the auto-body shop, and the “fortunes” of this little 11-year-old boy who does not go to school, there is no expectation that he WOULD go to school, and he has set himself up as his protector of his older sister. The two of them live in a tiny room at the back of the chop-shop. See this film.
Badlands (1973; d. Terrence Malick)
One of my favorite films of all time.
Out of the Past (1947; d. Jacques Tourneur)
As deep as the ocean. Stylish, sexy (the rain!), dark. Jane Greer as the perfect femme fatale, luring Robert Mitchum into her web. Mitchum, always sexy in a lazy confident way, is never sexier than in the moment when the two of them lie on the beach at night, clinging to one another, and she is protesting her innocence about something. She says to him, “You believe me, don’t you?” He growls, “Baby, I don’t care” and attacks her. It’s a famous line, of course, but watching him DO it is still radical. It’s Pure Sex.
The Big Heat (1953; d. Fritz Lang)
So so good. Peak noir. Crooked cops, threatened domesticity, paranoia, tough dames in distress. Glenn Ford and Jocelyn Brando (Marlon’s sister) only have a couple of scenes together to “suggest” a happy marriage/home-life. They do so beautifully. It’s essential. And sorry, with all the violence and explicit gore onscreen today, there is nothing – NOTHING – more violent than Gloria Grahame getting a pot of hot coffee thrown in her face – off-camera. Lee Marvin is terrifying. Shivers. Great great film.
Human Desire (1954; d. Fritz Lang)
Another Glenn Ford-Gloria Grahame pairing, with interesting twists on it – not a repeat of The Big Heat. Ford plays a returning war vet, who works the railroads. He gets sucked into the marital drama of a recently-fired guy who has married a much younger hot-to-trot dame (Grahame). She appears to be a damsel in distress. LOOK OUT.
The Asphalt Jungle (1950; d. John Huston)
Marilyn Monroe is usually on the cover of the DVD but she’s only in a couple of scenes (and she’s great). Huston gave her a pretty big break here, and she was always grateful for it (she spoke about it during the filming of another Huston-helmed film, The Misfits). It’s 1950, so the cops here are still portrayed as good, as the “thin blue line.” (Notice how that mood shifts, alarmingly, by The Big Heat when EVERYONE is dirty.) It’s a nasty little world. Sterling Hayden is great (so sexy) as the “heavy” who has only one goal: make enough money to be able to go home to the farm where he grew up, in Kentucky. There’s an excellent and tense bank-robbery sequence, stolen almost shot for shot by Jean-Pierre Melville in Le Cercle Rouge.)
Laura (1944; d. Otto Preminger)
A classic. Dana Andrews is one of my favorites. I’ve been meaning to write a post about the long one-shot of him wandering around Laura’s apartment, the shot that ends with him falling into the armchair, in a swoon of obsession and sexual desire. It’s filmed with the typical Otto Preminger style: floating complex camera moves. But it’s the ACTING of Stevens that makes that camera move WORK. It’s an example of collaboration. I’ll get to that post someday.
Murder, My Sweet (1944; d. Edward Dmytryk)
Dick Powell plays Philip Marlowe, getting sucked into a dark world he cannot understand. Everyone has secrets. There are even some surreal Vertigo-ish touches, from Marlowe’s point of view, when he is attacked, or when he is tied up and injected with something (awful) … we see Powell floating down a dark spiral into nothingness. A really dark film.
3:10 to Yuma (1957; d. Delmer Daves)
Everyone is phenomenal in this. Van Heflin, as the downtrodden farmer, worried about his family, unable to act, or make a bold move, even though his sons and his wife look to him for that. Glenn Ford plays the psychopath leader of the gang, who preys on Van Heflin’s emasculation. Their scenes together (and there are so many: this could practically be a stage play) are superb. They build … and build … and build. And the ending! Yes. Of course it would end that way.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006; d. Guillermo del Toro)
Bad For Each Other (1953; d. Irving Rapper)
Charlton Heston plays a veteran who comes home to his coal-mining village to set up shop as a doctor. But uh-oh, Lizabeth Scott (who just died) enters his life, and she is a spoiled rich woman who lulls him to sleep, basically, with her luxury. He takes a job as a pill-dispenser for silly ladies who visit him on a weekly basis (basically because they have crushes on him.) Lizabeth Scott would co-star opposite Elvis a mere 4 years later. The coal mining scenes are amazing. Arthur Franz only has a couple of scenes but he almost walks away with the picture, due to his charm, openness, and naturalism.
The Glass Wall (1953; d. Maxwell Shane)
What a fascinating and totally weird movie. HIGHLY recommended. Vittorio Gassman takes it to another operatic level. He is unbelievable, quivering with sensitivity, and passion. He has a scene in an empty conference room in the United Nations that is … both ridiculous and incredibly moving. Gloria Grahame, again, as the grubby little dame who befriends him. VERY interesting film, and really hard-hitting about America’s tough immigration laws. Robin Raymond is unbelievable as the stripper (with two kids at home), the child of immigrants, who also encounters Gassman on the streets and tries to help. She only has two scenes, really. She kills it.
Supernatural, Season 2, Episode 18, “Hollywood Babylon” (2007; d. Phil Sgriccia)
I had to watch it AGAIN in order to get that re-cap done. Oh, what I do for you people. (Kidding. It was a fun “break” in my research.)
Supernatural, Season 10, Episode 15, “The Things They Carried” (2015; d. John Badham)
1. JOHN BADHAM.
2. Today, coincidentally, is Tim O’Brien’s birthday, he who wrote the amazing book called The Things They Carried, excerpt here. In regards to the Supernatural episode, I appreciated the focus on the struggles of soldiers returning from Iraq. More should be done to help these people. Volunteer at a VA – or there are all kinds of organizations designed to help these veterans. (It’s my chosen “charity” to be involved in, so it hits close to home.) The whole sweat-lodge thing is both homoerotic and disgusting. That WORM. Going from mouth to mouth. My God. The style is more Criminal Minds (that horrifying opening) than Supernatural, but Badham is already a proven entity, so I got into it. I liked Cole’s focus on Dean as the most delicious thing he’d ever seen in his life. Yes.
Supernatural, Season 10, Episode 16, “Paint It Black” (2015; d. John F. Showalter)
I had high hopes for the episode based on the title alone. My favorite Rolling Stones song. But this has to be a contender for the worst Supernatural episode in its history. Those flashbacks to Florence. The romance-novel vibe, the bad painting supposed to be a masterpiece, the pirate-shirt. Embarrassing. Nuns exploding out of each other’s backsides as though they’ve eaten bad tacos from the Vatican. The only thing I really liked was the tiny red necklace on the gerbil. It made me laugh then, it makes me laugh now. This episode is so insane that it feels deliberate, but I don’t think it was. I think somehow they knew this one was a stinker, and they shouldered through it the best they could. But the image of the costume designer creating a teeny-tiny red necklace identical to the human-sized necklace is hilarious.
Supernatural, Season 10, Episode 17, “Inside Man” (2015; d. Rashaad Ernesto Green)
Bobby. Too much. Too much emotion seeing him again.
Supernatural, Season 10, Episode 18, “The Book of the Damned” (2015; d. P.J. Pesce)
Robbie Thompson always brings something interesting to his episodes. The Castiel-Metatron scenes are great. Metatron freaking out about the pancakes, resulting in explosive diarrhea, that Castiel then has to clean up. “Let’s never speak of that again.” The library shattering with Castiel’s power (that great moving shot of the aisle of books bursting off the shelves), and the spreading of his frayed wings. Now THAT’S more like it. Welcome back, Castiel. No more three-bean-surprise. We are introduced to the L.L. Bean models of the Stein family. The thing about the “mark” that I don’t really like is that … what. It just makes Dean into a rage-boy? When he kills vamps? Uhm, yeah, but he’s always like that. So … this is just a little bit worse then? It’s not like Sam being so ruined by the “trials” that he will die. I mean, it’s the same situation, but somehow the “mark” and its consequences don’t have the same reverb. JA is playing the hell out of it. But to me it represents a lack of imagination. The big show-down with Cain is a perfect example. They finally meet and the result is …. a fist fight. Kind of a let-down. But that final sequence: laughing over pizza, Sam watching Dean … is emotional. This is Supernatural doing “sentiment” (as opposed to sentimentality, fine line) really really well.
The Forbidden Room (2015; d. Guy Maddin)
My friend Kim Morgan was story editor on this film, wrote quite a bit of it, and appears in a couple of scenes. She’s also in one of the posters, like an image from out of a dream.
I saw it at a press screening yesterday and ran into an old friend (name-drop), Kurt Loder. He and Allison actually joined my family on vacation many summers ago. Great memory. A very funny experience from that whole time was when a group of us went to go see Gigli, which was getting the worst reviews we had ever seen in our lives. We HAD to go check it out. It was me, Allison, Kurt, and a couple of others. We were the only ones in the movie theatre. And yes, Gigli was as bad as as everyone said. It was great to see him yesterday and we sat together. I’ll have more to say about The Forbidden Room. It’s unlike anything else and it’s beautiful and funny and surreal. Any movie with Udo Kier is worth seeing. Unforgettable collage of images. Charlotte Rampling. And more. Proud of Kim.
This Gun for Hire (1942; d. Frank Tuttle)
One of my favorite movies. So paranoid. And political. With Alan Ladd in his phenomenal debut as the assassin. Jean-Paul Melville’s La Samourai is an unofficial remake, minus all the political stuff and minus the assassin’s backstory. Veronica Lake is so great, a mix of tough street-smart dame and sympathetic soft woman. But always tough. Her audition scene, a mix of song and magic, is effortlessly charming. Robert Preston has a thankless role as her cop boyfriend. Alan Ladd’s performance is a deadpan masterpiece. When he calls out to the cops, “That girl is my friend!” (speaking of Lake), I want to weep. When she is tender with him, he can’t bear it. “Take your hands off me.” He doesn’t say that because he’s not into her or because he doesn’t trust her. He says it because her tender touch actually hurts him. She is the only friend he’s ever had. The only human friend anyway: he loves the kitten who shows up at his window. But humans? He’s too damaged for that. Until her. Great great character.
Lady in the Lake (1947; d. Robert Montgomery)
Based on a Raymond Chandler book, the wonderful Robert Montgomery plays Philip Marlowe, private detective, but also directs. The radical thing about Lady in the Lake is that it is all filmed from Marlowe’s perspective. The camera IS Marlowe. Long long takes, as he walks into rooms (unseen), turns his head, etc. When he smokes a cigarette, smoke billows up in front of the camera. Audrey Totter plays the “Dame” in the film: can we trust her? Yes? No? The only time you see Robert Montgomery in the film is when he looks in the mirror. Really well done. Not my favorite film, but a lot of fun.
Supernatural, Season 10, Episode 19, “The Werther Project” (2015; d. Stefan Pleszczynski)
Good to see Benny again, but it’s chilling how Dean’s subconscious turns Benny into the inner voice seducing him to suicide. (Not to be too personal, but suicidal ideation often works like that. Or it feels like that: people pushing you to end it all. They love you. They want you to “rest.”) Brenda Bakke is fantastic as Suzie, holed up in her house. Her pain and her tough-ness and her terror are palpable. Also, good to see Purgatory again for no other reason than the colors go dark and monochromatic. FINALLY. The flashback of the Men of Letters is especially annoying. That scene takes place in the past: why is it so technicolor-bright? Not a sensitive choice at all. It should be dark, stark, noir-ish ominous. The “suits” in “Hollywood Babylon” have won.