Friday, January 28, 2011

Fritz Lang Retrospective


above: Coop kicks Nazi ass.

The New York Times ran a good piece last Sunday on director Fritiz Lang in advance of a new series, FRITZ LANG IN HOLLYWOOD, running at the Film Forum from January 28 to February 10. I'm happy the article singled out the often overlooked Lang spy film CLOAK AND DAGGER, which provides our only chance to see Gary Cooper as a physics professor who dukes it out with Nazis. You read that last part right. Coop's a two-fisted physics professor. The movie is no one's idea of a masterpiece, but it's more fun than your average Lang film (which tended to come in shades of dark and darker).

The series is showing THE BIG HEAT and HUMAN DESIRE, Lang's two films with stars Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame. The first one is more famous and highly regarded, but I've always rather preferred the second film's bitter take on, well, human desire. The series also features both of Lang's films with Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennett, THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW and SCARLETT STREET. Both are well worth seeing, but for my money SCARLET STREET is the best film Lang ever made and one of the indispensable noirs.

For more on the series, including a complete list of films they're showing, read here.

Read the Times article here.

Then Again...

above: want to see John Huston in Welles's unseen THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND? Me, too. Sorry.


Wellesnet has knocked down the Observer report. So we go back to waiting.

Sigh...


Monday, January 24, 2011

The Other Side of The Wind Update




Is it too early in the year to begin passing along reports that Orson Welles's final uncompleted film, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND may be about to see release? It seems like one hears these rumors every year. Made in the early seventies with a group of friends and associates, WIND is only one of a shelf of projects that Welles was unable to complete and release in his lifetime (others include DON QUIXOTE and THE DEEP). Ever since footage from his long lost anthology film IT'S ALL TRUE was recovered and released in a documentary in 1993, however, it seems like the rumblings about WIND have grown steadily stronger.

They may be about to get even louder.

On January 23, Dalya Alberge reported in The Observer that a deal is in the works to finally clear the way for the film's release. Click here to read the report.

To learn more about the film and the controversy surrounding it, click here.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Andrews on Preminger


Check out the archival interview of star Dana Andrews--the quiet man of film noir--over at Fathom.com. In it, he discusses working with his frequent director, Otto Preminger. Their films together, one of the great actor/director collaborations in noir history produced LAURA, FALLEN ANGEL, WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS, and DAISY KENYON. Easily available on DVD, these movies are not to be missed.

The interview offers a rare look at this often undervalued star. Fans of Andrews' hardboiled screen persona will be surprised how talky and urban he was. Listen to the interview here.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Mug Shots #16: Barbara Stanwyck aka The Angel of Death


Over on the nice side of town she's the heroine of slapstick comedies and Capra parables, but over here in the land of perpetual night Stanwyck is death in high heels. From THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS to CRIME OF PASSION, she killed more men than smoking. Her most famous role, of course, was as the archetypal femme fatale, Mrs. Phyllis Dietrichson in Billy Wilder's DOUBLE INDEMNITY.

Full disclosure: unlike many noir geeks, I'm not really a Stanwyck devotee. I like her, I'm never unhappy to see her in a movie, but I don't love her. There's something about her clench-jawed intensity that doesn't attract me. Her spunk plays well in comedies (my favorite Stanwyck performance is as the wisecracking Sugarpuss O'Shea in BALL OF FIRE) because her inner tomboy is allowed to come out and play with the guys. Something in her noir persona, however, leaves me a little cold. Maybe it comes down to this: I'm pretty sure Ava Gardner could have talked me into murder. I'm not sure Stanwyck could.

Even if Stanwyck has never been my favorite actress, I would never deny her impact on noir. Among A-list female stars, no one spent more time in Noirville. For a lot of people, Barbara Stanwyck is the embodiment of the femme fatale.

Essential Stanwyck Noir:
Double Indemnity
Clash By Night
The File on Thelma Jordan
Sorry, Wrong Number
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
No Man Of Her Own

Non-noir Stanwyck:
Ball of Fire
The Lady Eve
Meet John Doe
Golden Boy

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Eddie Muller Talks


Check out the Indianapolis Star's recent interview with "cultural archeologist" and film noir expert Eddie Muller. It's a good introduction to Muller and his work. There's also a bit of encouraging news for fans of the Lizabeth Scott masterpiece Too Late For Tears...

Read the interview here.


Friday, January 7, 2011

MILDRED PIERCE Trailer


It's too early to say for sure, but the most exciting noir-related event of the year might well be the premiere of director Todd Haynes's HBO mini-series adaptation of James M. Cain's novel MILDRED PIERCE. It's a five part series, a strong indication that Haynes and his collaborators will be sticking closer to the novel than to Michael Curtiz's 1945 noir starring Joan Crawford. A look at the trailer for the film seems to bear this out. I for one am relieved by this. Curtiz's film is excellent, so there's no reason to remake a film that got pretty much everything right the first time. The book, however, is quite different from the '45 film, and Haynes clearly sees untapped possibilities in the original material. The mini-series format seems ideally suited for Cain's melodrama, and with a cast including Kate Winslet, Evan Rachel Wood, and Guy Pearce, this looks like it could be something special.

Look for it in March.

View the trailer here.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

2010 Addendum

above: Sean Harris scaring the shit out of Paddy Considine in RED RIDING 1980


Some parting thoughts:

1. 2010 was the year of the Dude. After nearly forty years or so of being everyone's favorite underappreciated actor, Jeff Bridges had the biggest year of his career. He won Best Actor at the Oscars for CRAZY HEART, starred in TRON: LEGACY (a film I had no interest in seeing, but hey it hit number one at the box office so what do I know?) and he topped off the year with a critical and commercial hit with TRUE GRIT. On top of that, have you noticed that his cult status as "the Dude" has reached a the level where it's nearly always mentioned when people write about him? This would be a box for most actors--chaining them forever to that one role--but Bridges is so good it's simply a plus. Add Bad Blake and Rooster Cogburn to his roster of great roles. Not many actors go from star to superstar at 60, but then again some people age into their best selves. Bogart and Clooney, for example, were pretty much nonentities until they hit a certain age, and Meryl Streep has gone from critic's darling to box office power house in the last few years. Gotta love it when that happens.

2. I forgot to mention in the last post that one of the best experiences I had at the movies this year was spending at day at the E Street Cinema in Washington DC watching the RED RIDING Trilogy. Watching these black-as-midnight films back to back was exhausting (in retrospect, it was too much to absorb in one day), but the exhaustion was well-earned. The trilogy--a neo-noir epic set in England and centering around serial child killings and police corruption--is a deep dive into a very dark pool. The filmmaking (by writer Tony Grisoni and directors Julian Jarrold, James Marsh, Anand Tucker ) is superb from start to finish, but my favorite of the films was probably the second film RED RIDING: IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 1980 with its terrifying performance by Sean Harris as a dirty cop. See a trailer for the trilogy here.

3. Still haven't seen a movie in 3D. I suppose I should take the plunge so I can know what I'm talking about, but god I don't want to see a movie in 3D.

4. In the few days, I'm going to see THE KING'S SPEECH and I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS. Here's a list of what I missed at the movies this year and hope to catch on Netflix in the months to come:

SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD
THE SOCIAL NETWORK
LET ME IN
ANIMAL KINGDOM
RED
CONVICTION
COMPANY MEN
WELCOME TO THE RILEYS
127 HOURS

Of the top thirty highest grossing films of the year, I saw two, INCEPTION and SHUTTER ISLAND. (I just realized this. Odd that they both star Leo.) INCEPTION was okay for an hour and then got boring. SHUTTER ISLAND was a potboiler mystery with a trick ending and a whole lot of dead children--which is to say it leave a cheap aftertaste. I did not have a desire to see any of the other twenty-eight movies on the list. My finger, as always, is not on the pulse of the American public.




Saturday, January 1, 2011

My 2010 At The Movies





I went to the movies 53 times this year. That's more than once a week, I'm happy to say. Some highlights, low lights, and reflections:

1. The best experience I had at the movies this year was attending the Orson Welles retrospective at the AFI in Silver Spring, MD. I saw, on the big screen, every film Welles made (with the exception of THE IMMORTAL STORY) from HEARTS OF AGE to F FOR FAKE. I saw CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT twice. It was, without a doubt, the best movie I saw at the theater this year.

2. My favorite new movie of the year was Darren Aronofsky's BLACK SWAN. I'll write more about it in the coming weeks, I'm sure, but for now I want to report my experience. I saw it once and liked it. I saw it a second time and fell in love. That second time, knowing the plot, all the pieces fell into place. It's a dark, passionate, goofy, overblown, ridiculous masterpiece about a ballerina played by Natalie Portman who loses her mind as she prepares for the lead role in a production of Swan Lake. I love movies that love movies, and this movie is alive with style. It's also, my friends, noir to the bone. See it and then watch George Cukor's A DOUBLE LIFE.

3. I'm now in love with Natalie Portman. It's an odd thing. I've been watching her for years now without this happening. It's like being friends with someone for a long time and then suddenly making out at a party.

4. The other wildly stylistic movie I loved this year was Guadagnino's I AM LOVE. No other movie I saw this year was as energized by a sheer passion for filmmaking. Pushed along by the music of John Adams and painted in vibrant color by the cinematographer Yorick Le Saux, this is a cinematic Madam Bovary starring Tilda Swinton as a middle-aged woman falling in love with her son's business partner. See the trailer here.

5. The biggest disappointment of the year was Winterbottom's THE KILLER INSIDE ME. I waited breathlessly for this movie for two years, and I was treated to a confused misogynistic mess.

6. WINTER'S BONE-Southern Gothic by way of Ozark noir. It gets 4 1/2 stars from this Ozark native. It would have gotten 5 stars if they'd set it in Arkansas instead of Missouri.

7. From the "It was okay" files: CYRUS, THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT, INCEPTION.

8. THE TOWN was a lot of fun until a weak final act. I'm officially in favor of Ben Affleck continuing his career. Especially as a director of crime films.

9. From the "It sucked" files: GET LOW, YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER.

10. Great movies about tough guys that also feature great performances by women: TRUE GRIT and THE FIGHTER. I've written about the former, as for the latter--Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale do a beautiful duet as two brothers, one a promising boxer, the other an ex-promising boxer turned crack addict. Bale's a typhoon of need and self-pity while Wahlberg continues to demonstrate that he's one of our most underrated and misunderstood actors. As good as these boys are, though, the movie is nearly stolen by the fierce tug-of-war between Melissa Leo and Amy Adams as, respectively, Wahlberg's controlling mother and strong-willed girlfriend. Leo keeps adding to her impressive credits, but Adams is the shocker here. I loved her lovely and fragile characterizations in DOUBT and JUNEBUG, but in this film she completely superseded what I thought she was capable of. She's got steel in her spine, and she can throw a punch, too.

11. Finally, one last shout out for THE AMERICAN, the quiet little drama about a hit man (played by George Clooney) trying to retire in Italy. Not everyone's cup of espresso, but I loved it.

Postscript: Went to the movies one last time, on New Year's Eve. Saw Black Swan for a third time. I like seeing movies multiple times in the theater because it allows the viewer to observe the film more as an object. Last night, I was able to look at Black Swan less as a movie that I really love (and I do really love it) and more as a subject of study. I noticed, for instance, the way the color pink is threaded throughout the first half of the film (the grapefruit, the wallpaper, Portman's coat, a painting on the wall of the hospital corridor), but it almost disappears after the nightclub dancing scene (which is bathed in red). I was also able to more fully appreciate the way the film follows the basic structure of the Swan Lake ballet and marries it to a style is equal parts neo-noir and werewolf movie.

The List: What I Saw at the Theater in 2010

1. The Book of Eli
2. Edge of Darkness
3. Crazy Heart
4. The Hurt Locker
5. Shutter Island
6. The White Ribbon
7. What's Up Doc?
8. Only Angels Have Wings
9. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
10. Unforgiven
11. A Foreign Affair
12. The Ghost Writer
13. Red Riding: 1974
14. Red Riding: 1980
15. Red Riding:1983
16. Archival Gotham Short Films: The Hearts of Age/The City/The Tender Game
17. The Third Man
18. Orson Welles: One Man Band
19. The Magnificent Ambersons
20. Citizen Kane
21. The Stranger
22. The Lady From Shanghai
23. Macbeth
24. Othello
25. Mr. Arkardin
26. Touch of Evil
27. The Trial
28. F for Fake
29. Chimes at Midnight
30. Chimes at Midnight (a second time)
31. The Ipcress File
32. Get Carter
33. The Idiot
34. I Am Love
35. Winter's Bone
36. Date Night
37. The Killer Inside Me
38. The Godfather
39. The Kids Are All Right
40. Inception
41. Cyrus
42. The American
43. Get Low
44. The Town
45. You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger
46. Criss Cross
47. Act of Violence
48. Highway 301
49. The Room
50. Black Swan
51. True Grit
52. The Fighter
53. Black Swan (second time)
54. Black Swan (third time)