Monday, June 06, 2011

Movie Roundup: Crime Movie Lightning Round Edition

Lightning strikes again.

Phantom Lady - Wrong man noir from Robert Siodmak.  A man is imprisoned for murder and his only alibi is a woman with a crazy hat.  His faithful assistant (Ella Raines) must find her before he gets executed.  Franchot Tone, the best friend, tries to help, or does he??  Elisha Cook almost steals the show as a horny drummer.  Suitably weird.  The #14 film of 1944.

The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry - George Sanders playing against type brilliantly as a hen-pecked brother of a couple of crazy sisters in another Siodmak noir.  When he meets Ella Raines he plots his escape from his dreary family and small town, with noirish results.  The ending doesn't work at all, and is even more obviously tacked on than that of a certain Fritz Lang film, but before that we're treated to a pretty crazy quilt of murder, new England provincialism and insinuated incest.  The #19 film of 1945.

Shockproof - A film noir written by Samuel Fuller and directed by Douglas Sirk.  You wouldn't think those two sensibilities would go together, but they share an interest in superheated emotion and wild plotting (I would love to see a Fuller Magnificent Obsession, or a Sirk Naked Kiss).  Anyway, Cornel Wilde plays a parole officer (named Griff, naturally) who falls for his parolee, a gangster's girl.  He gets her a job taking care of his blind mom, she plots to escape and run off with her boyfriend, while stringing Griff along.  It's not really shocking, nor does it prove anything, but there's enough there to chew on, if not to the standard of either man's greatest films.  The #15 film of 1949.

Gone in 60 Seconds - The car chase movie was perfected in 1974, but for some inexplicable reason, people keep making them.  Entirely independent, written, produced, directed by and starring Toby Halicki and a Mustang Mach 1.  The first half of the film is a vague plot about a gang of car thieves stealing a ridiculous amount of cars in a short period of time.  There's little in the way of acting and most of the dialogue is in post-recorded voiceover.  The second half is a 45 minute car chase that's just about the greatest thing in the history of the automobile.  Pure cinema.  The #6 film of 1974.

City of Fear - Big disappointment after how much I loved Murder By Contract, also directed by Irving Lerner, especially given the swell title.  It's a procedural, Cold War panic kind of thing, with Vince Edwards as an escaped convict packing radioactive cobalt that's slowly killing him and may kill all of Los Angeles if he isn't found.  Sometimes people in movies are dumb and it makes me sad and bored.  I suspect Lerner is not a wizard.  The #16 film of 1959.

Movie Roundup: 2010 Lightning Round Edition

Still way behind, so I'm going to try to get through these even more quickly than usual.  I wrote some longer bits for Metro Classics a few weeks ago, about some BIlly Wilder films, a Powell & Pressburger and a scary samurai movie.

Easy A - A perfectly charming teen comedy.  Emma Stone is great, Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson plays idealized parents.  The social commentary isn't particularly incisive, though it does hint at the scary Puritanism of the current generation (The Scarlet Letter doesn't adapt as well to high school as Emma did, but better than Taming of the Shrew).  This movie makes me feel old: for once, I identified more with the parents than the kids.  The #25 film of 2010.

Restrepo - A fine film as a slice of a year in the life of soldiers defending a remote outpost in Afghanistan, but it lacks the narrative structure or context to make it interesting on anything more than the most mundane, day-to-day level.  These guys deserve a story.  The #43 film of 2010.

The Illusionist - Sylvain Chomet's animated realization of a Jacques Tati script.  A young girl tags along an aging vaudeville magician, brightening his life and that of his very depressed coworkers.  She grows up and moves on, he stays alone.  Not in the class of Tati's own films, it's more sweet and sad than anything else I've seen of his.  Brilliant and profound though they are, they never aspire to this kind of sentimentality.  That's not necessarily a bad thing.  Lovely score, I think Chomet's animation style is a bit too grotesque.  The #11 film of 2010.

Never Let Me Go - One of those sci-fi films that doesn't work for me because it's on the border between believable fiction and wild fantasy.  Like Children of Men, say, I can't see how the world it creates would ever actually happen, which lessens the drama tremendously.  If the scientific breakthrough that forms the core of the film's premise were to ever actually happen, I see no way that the world would deal with it in the way the film posits it would (and also forms the foundation for its assertions about society and human nature), certainly not in the timeframe the film allows it.  Absent that firm basis, the film plays more as moody sulkiness and pretty images than anything truly interesting or insightful.  Also not believable: that anyone would pick Keira Knightley over Carey Mulligan.  The #31 film of 2010.

Machete - Robert Rodriguez spinning his wheels.  It's fun, and kind of funny, but mostly it's exactly what you expect it to be.  Planet Terror and Once Upon a Time in Mexico did the same thing, but with more style and creativity.  The #39 film of 2010.

Kick Ass - Watchmen without the self-importance, and also without the ambition.  It's fine.  The #38 film of 2010.

Summer Wars - Nifty anime from the guy who did The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, though this isn't quite that good.  Weird vision of the internet as a Paprika-style dreamworld almost overwhelms the emotional moments: the family-bonding and coming of age romanticism.  Girl was more heartfelt and grounded, if even more fantastical.  The #25 film of 2009.

Unstoppable - I don't know if Tony Scott is a genius, but this as as good as the contemporary American action film gets.  Modest and focused where the Bays and Nolans are bloated and chaotic, the film does exactly what it tells you its going to do, with a minimum of fuss.  Not so the visual style, of course, but Scott's peripatetic camera and editing don't distract me too much.  I need to watch the rest of his recent films, there's a big gap between this and Crimson Tide.  The #29 film of 2010.