Friday, August 29, 2014

Classic Movie Review: To Have and Have Not

Warer Bros. struck gold with Casablanca in 1942 and their blatant attempt to recapitalize on that success came in the form of To Have and Have Not in 1944. It was very loosely based on the Hemingway novel of the same name and bears far more resemblance to the tale of a defiantly neutral anti-hero eking out a loving in Vichy Morocco during WWII than it does to Hemingway’s tale of a tough fisherman in Cuba running contraband to Key West. The Howard Hawks film transplants the story to Vichy Martinique and has Bogart’s Harry Morgan frequent a nightclub with a friendly piano player (played by Hoagy Carmichael) and then brings in a dame, Maria Browning, played by Lauren Bacall in her first screen appearance and first of four alongside her future husband.

Like Bogart’s Rick in Casablanca, Harry tries not to take sides for or against the Vichy government. He’s a man trying to make a living until he is pulled into a deal that has him actively aiding rebels fighting against Vichy. The parallels to Casablanca are so remarkable I can’t believe it’s considered an adaptation of Hemingway’s work rather than Curtiz’s film. There’s a Captain Renard, a police inspector played by Dan Seymour, whom you can almost hear announcing, “Round up the usual suspects.”

One significant, though unnecessary, addition is Harry’s fishing boat partner, a comically bumbling alcoholic played wonderfully by Walter Brennan. Were it not for the history-making pairing of two legendary movie stars who generate some fiery on screen chemistry with the aid of fantastic and sizzling line penned by William Faulkner and Jules Furthman, there wouldn’t be much left here to call classic. To Have and Have Not should have been relegated to Hollywood’s dustbin except that Bacall made such a huge impact on the film’s director and star. Together they impacted the world and became forever solidified in the public consciousness as one of the great Hollywood couples.

Dark Passage Movie Review

Did women’s voices mature earlier in the 40s? Why, when we watch actresses in their early twenties from that period, do they sound like grown women, but today’s young actresses sound like little girls? is there something in our culture today that values infantilizing girls so that they intuitively maintain their immature squeaky whiny tones? Perhaps the question answers itself. Or maybe it’s nothing so deep and dramatic. Maybe actresses then received formal theatrical training like singers to develop their voices. Whatever it is, Lauren Bacall had one of the great all-time sexy mature female voices, even at twenty-two, when she starred in only her fourth feature, and third with Humphrey Bogart, Dark Passage.

Classic Movie Review: The Big Sleep

There’s a legend about the making of The Big Sleep that the filmmakers contacted author Raymond Chandler to ask who had killed the chauffeur in his Philip Marlowe detective tale. He replied that he had no idea. The story, true or not, illustrates the mind-bendingly complex plotting of this classic film noir that has enough plot twists, double crosses, and murders to fill three or four movies.

Humphrey Bogart is Marlowe, the private detective hired by the wealthy patriarch of the Sternwood family to deal with a blackmail scheme involving Carmen (Martha Vickers), the younger of his two daughters. Vivian Rutledge, the elder daughter played by Lauren Bacall, involves herself, setting off a tension-filled relationship between her and Marlow for the remainder of the film. To try to recount the plot or even the basic story would result in a senseless explanation. As directed by Howard Hawks, The Big Sleep is an exercise in style. This is one of the great classic noirs, though it does lack a number of the genres hallmarks.

The Expendables 3 Movie Review

Sylvester Stallone has spent the last eight years not so much trying for career renaissance, but to relive the glory days of his (relative) youth. Honestly, he wasn’t even that young when he was a major 80s box office draw. he has made new sequels to the Rocky and Rambo franchises, a boxing movie with De Niro that plays on their respective most iconic roles, and the Expendables franchise which is both tongue-in-cheek about the way it tries to relive the glory days of 80s action movie heroism and sort of serious in its attempt to be a modern action franchise. I’ll just put it out there that I really enjoyed the first film. It had some great playfulness, some killer action sequences and hand-to-hand fight scenes (especially those involving Jason Statham), and a great period appropriate villain and theme with Eric Roberts operating in Latin America as a kingpin. Our neighbors to the south served as the great action locations and source of villainy during the decade of cocaine. The Expendables was a welcome respite from the settings of Arab countries and former Soviet republics.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Fisher King Movie Review

Although The Fisher King is definitely much more of a Terry Gilliam film than a Robin Williams show, I’d never seen it before and so took the unfortunate occasion of Williams’ death to watch and review it. I say it’s a Gilliam film, but thtat’s based almost entirely on the visual style. The story elements contain themes that continually come up in Gilliam’s films such as the age-old conflict between good and evil. But in the character of Parry, a homeless ex-college professor suffering traumatic delusions owing to the witnessing of the brutal murder of his wife, it also becomes, in retrospect, a great Robin Williams vehicle.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Good Morning, Vietnam Movie Review

To watch Good Morning, Vietnam is to see Robin Williams at his best, at the top of his game. There’s a reason he earned his first Oscar nomination playing Adrian Cronauer, an Armed Forces Radio DJ who takes a transfer from his cushy post in Greece to Saigon during the war – or Conflict as it is referred to in the movie as in the military and political arenas of the 1960s.

Magic in the Moonlight Movie Review

Jack English
There may not be a filmmaker more grounded in realism who also frequently touches on elements of magical realism than Woody Allen. Here is a man who has a strong philosophical view of life, death, and existence, who seems resigned to the idea that what you see is what you get and that there is no deity or afterlife. Here is a man who dabbled in magic tricks as a boy and who grew up to become one of the late 20th century’s most important and prolific generators of the greatest magic tricks of all – motion pictures. For what are the movies but an illusion? Not only are the stories told fictional tales through which we, the audience, have a chance to live out fantasy wish fulfillment, but the physical process of film projection is a series of still photographs presented in such rapid succession that it gives the illusion of movement.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Robin Williams: 1951 - 2014

Most of us will never have any idea what kind of pain Robin Williams was in. We look at a suicide like that and many of us have the instinct to ask, "What did he have to be so unhappy about?" He had an incredibly successful TV, movie, and stand-up comedy career and could have had many more year to add to it. But to think that way is to miss entirely what depression is. Depression is not about what's going on in your life, although there can certainly be triggers. It's an inner turmoil and a lack of a coping mechanism. Williams also suffered from addiction, at various times to cocaine and alcohol, which is either a symptom of or a contributing factor to his depression.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Most Wanted Man Movie Review

Roadside Attractions
Master spy novelist John le Carré’s novels have been adapted into films several times. One, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was made twice, the more recent of which may go down as one of the great spy thrillers. Now comes A Most Wanted Man, based on his 2008 novel, which is on the same plane, if not as deeply intricate and taut as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The film, directed by Anton Corbijn and adapted by Andrew Bovell, is a brilliant exercise in restraint. Unlike Corbijn’s last film, The American, it has a great deal of forward momentum, generates real suspense, and is not nearly as opaque. And make no mistake about it – A Most Wanted Man is profoundly and subtly critical of American foreign policy with regard to the war on terror.

Le Week-End Movie Review

I wonder if there re more long-time married couples who grate on each other’s nerves almost constantly than ones who, in that clichéd way, still love each other like they did when they first got married. I think I’ve lways been cynical about this, but it seems nearly impossible to spend thirty-plus years with someone, with all the compromise, dreams deferred, and just plain putting up with minor irritations that eventually balloon into major offenses, without building up a foundation weakened by resentments (however big or small) and displeasure. These couples do tend to make for more interesting drama anyway. In Le Week-End, a British couple whose children are grown and recently departed take an anniversary trip to Paris where they last visited for their honeymoon. Though it’s not explicitly expressed, this seems to be a trip designed for relationship revitalization. But ny two people who have been at each other’s throats for as many years as they have are likely to continue the practice on a weekend getaway.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Boyhood Movie Review

Matt Lankes/IFC Films
As far as process in art goes, it’s not often something we consider in movies. When it comes to painting and sculpture, the methods and materials used are often integral to the finished product. More than that, it is often essential whether an artist has produced from a subject or the extents of his own imagination. Narrative filmmaking and the criticism thereof usually focuses on the finished product without much consideration for how the director arrived there. This is, I suppose, because actual production times on movies – not including the script writing process – is usually fairly standard without a great deal of variation, taking no more than a few weeks to a couple of months. But now there is Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, a movie that demands attention to the method behind the process. Because Linklater made the film over a period of twelve years, gathering the same actors together for several days once a year to chronicle the growing up process of Mason Evans (played through a dozen years by Ellar Coltrane), we have little choice but to examine how that method makes Boyhood different from any other movie that takes place over a long period of time.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Life Itself Movie Review

I remember when I first aspired to a be a film critic back in college, my feelings about Siskel and Ebert centered on annoyance that critical opinions on cinema could be reduced to a few minutes of a TV segment and a binary “Thumbs Up” or “Thumbs Down” decision. They were hacks, I thought, and had no place in real discussion of criticism. At some point, however, I began to watch clips from their show for the entertainment value of their arguments. Eventually I started actually reading Ebert’s reviews.