Sunday, January 29, 2012

Jason goes to Noir City--Finale

So I skipped last Saturday due to other commitments, but I was there all Sunday for the closing Dashiell Hammett marathon. So let's just jump right in.

ROADHOUSE NIGHTS (1930): According to Eddie Muller's introduction, there's never been a "real" adaptation of Hammett's Red Harvest. It's just too brutal and violent, even for pre-code Hollywood. So this adaptation is mostly comedy, especially courtesy of the great Jimmy Durante. He plays Daffy, an entertainer at a nightclub that is really a front for a bootlegging business run by Sam Horner (Fred Kohler.) The local paper has caught wind of this, but Sam puts some serious pressure on them to kill the story. Enter crack report Willie Bindbugel (Charles Ruggles) to break the story, save the girl (Helen Morgan), and try to save his own neck. And speaking of necks, Daffy is always busting in fearing that they'll all get "the gallows!" I had forgotten how awesome Jimmy Durante was. It's sort of a weird thing to go to noir festival and end up obsessing about a famous comedian/singer. But that's just how I roll.

THE MALTESE FALCON (1931): This is the first version--Ricardo Cortez and Bebe Daniels instead of Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor. The story of the black bird is very much the same, but in this pre-code version they can be quite a bit sexier. The best example of this (other than the bathtub scene and one other nude-but-not-revealing scene) is when Sam Spade berates Ruth Wonderly about how she never tried to win his loyalty with anything other than money. Well, when Bogart says that to Astor she needs it explained to him. When Cortez delivers the same line to Bebe Daniels, she knows exactly what to do. Oh yeah, and speaking of Bebe Daniels, I knew her exclusively as a silent actress, and almost always Harold Lloyd's love interest. It's really cool to see (and hear!) her in a very different role. Bogart will always be the canonical Sam Spade, but for my money I prefer Bebe Daniels as Ruth (oh yeah, in this version they drop the part where she admits her real name is Brigid O'Shaughnessy).

CITY STREETS (1932): This one Hammett wrote specifically for the screen, and it's all about how Gary Cooper is cool as all hell. He plays "The Kid," a sharpshooter working for the local carnival. His girl is Nan (Sylvia Sidney), and they plan to get married just as soon as she saves up enough money. Nan has a plan, The Kid could work for her dad. Only problem is that her dad (Guy Kibbee) is a bootlegger and racketeer--not exactly The Kid's cup of tea. She doesn't see what's so bad about it, but she learns her lesson when she ends up going to jail. Too bad by the time she's out The Kid is working for her dad. It's a nice bit of reversal, and by this time their only hope to get out of the business and on with their life together is for Gary Cooper to be cooler than the entire mob put together.

MR. DYNAMITE (1935): Another odd bit of Hammett being used for a comedy. In fact, very little of this is left from Hammett's original draft of the script. The original idea was something of a sequel to THE MALTESE FALCON, a second "Sam Spade" story. Although, this time explicitly make the private eye a disreputable cheat who is run out of town by the local cops. It was originally conceived to be very serious and dark, but by the time it was made it became a comical Edmund Lowe playing private dick T. N. Thompson (get it? T.N.T. = Mr. Dynamite) He is hired by a casino owner to solve a murder and ends up getting involved in two more. Of course, the cops won't help him out at all, but that's okay because he's smarter than all of them put together. It can be pretty funny--even when it's totally implausible--as long as you go in expecting a detective comedy story, not your typical realistic and hard-bitten Hammett.

THE GLASS KEY (1942): In a perfect piece of showmanship, Eddie Muller accepted a commendation from the city and county of San Francisco just before introducing this movie about corruption in politics. Paul Madvig (Brian Donleavy) is the kingmaker, the power behind the throne. And he has decided to clean up his image and stop backing the mob-backed incumbent Nick Varna (Joseph Calleia) and instead back the reformer Taylor Henry (Richard Denning.) Of course, that has a lot to do with Henry's daughter Janet (Veronica Lake.) But Janet has eyes more for Madvig's loyal right-hand-man Ed Beaumont (Alan Ladd.) Things get really bad really quickly when Henry's ne'er-do-well son turns up dead and Paul is the prime suspect. A cool mystery where no one is good because everyone is in politics. And damn it's fun to watch William Bendix (as Varna's enforcer Jeff) beat the crap out of Alan Ladd.

THE MALTESE FALCON (1941): And finally, we ended the night and Noir City 2012 with the iconic classic. I don't really need to say much. Bogart, Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, first time director John Huston hitting it out of the park...the stuff that dreams are made of. And it was so much fun seeing this version after seeing the 1931 version.

Total Running Time: 483 minutes
My Total Minutes: 263,363

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 8

Friday night in Noir City is blue collar noir. And, according to the czar himself, the best double-bill they've ever played in the history of Noir City. I can't really argue with that.

THIEVES' HIGHWAY (1949): Nick Garcos (Richard Conte) arrives home from WWII. He shows up at home with gifts for everyone and a nice little bundle of money he made. Enough to marry his best girl and go into business with his pop (hauling produce to market). But when he finds his pop has been crippled, his thoughts instead turn into getting revenge on the guy who did it--Mike Figlia (Lee J. Cobb). So he hauls a truckload of apples into San Francisco (in the old produce district, which has since been replaced by the Embarcadero) and sets about to make things right. The whole story is steeped in the struggles of the working class and the machinations of the scofflaws who cheat them. Everything from broken down trucks, unscrupulous dealers, dangerous dames (Valentina Cortese),...even the "good girls" only want you if you have money. I think it's fair to say it's a pretty bitter movie. And it's realistically bitter.

THE BREAKING POINT (1950): Eddie Muller claimed this adaptation of Hemingway's "To Have and Have Not" is director Michael Curtiz's best work. Personally, I'm kind of a fan of a little movie he made called CASABLANCA, but this is pretty darn good, too. Harry Morgan (John Garfield) is a fishing boat captain and upstanding if struggling member of society. Just to make ends meet he takes a job he probably (okay, definitely) shouldn't. And that just makes things worse, until he gets way in over his head. Garfield is perfect as the struggling man who has been corrupted but thinks he can make things right on his own (after all, he's a WWII hero). Patricia Neal is great as the temptress. Wallace Ford is appropriately oily as a shady lawyer setting up illegal deals. And Phyllis Thaxter is great as the suffering wife reminding him that he has her and two adorable daughters to think about. And without giving away, the ending scene is just crushing. You know, maybe this is Curtiz's masterpiece.

Total Running Time: 191 minutes
My Total Minutes: 262,907

Friday, January 27, 2012

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 7

Thursday night is Bad Girls night at Noir City. A few sips of Tough Dame Cabernet at the free wine tasting, and I was ready to go.

NAKED ALIBI (1954): The girl is Gloria Grahame, but we're getting ahead of ourselves. The story is about Al Willis (Gene Barry) and police chief Joe Conroy (Sterling Hayden). We open with upstanding local citizen (and popular baker) Al getting roughed up a bit by some cops at the station. Eventually he's let go, but not before threatening to kill them. And unluckily enough for Al, the cops do end up dead. That's a shame, because Conroy is sure Al did it, even though he has no evidence. Even when Conroy is caught on camera roughing Al up a bit (and subsequently fired), he still tails Al. It's driving Al nuts. So much so that he leaves his wife and kids just to get a little rest in Border City. And then things change. Turns out there's a girl there, Marianna (Gloria Grahame) who Al knows. In fact, he knows her well enough that he slaps her to make her kiss him. Maybe Al isn't such the innocent family man after all? But just because he has a girl on the side in a different city doesn't mean he's a killer, does it? I do love the amoral, morphing definitions of hero and villain, which genuinely surprised me (possibly because I brought too much of a modern "don't trust the police" ethos to it).

But I have one niggling comment--Marianna isn't really a "bad girl." She's more of a victim. Sure, she sings in a club and has an affair with a married man, but she didn't know he was married. And her loyalties changed but only after she realized what kind of a man Al was.

PICKUP (1951): Okay, in this one the bad girl (Beverly Michaels as Betty) is really a bad girl. Writer/direct Hugo Haas stars as Jan 'Hunky' Horak. He's an old widower, managing an isolated railroad station. His wife passed away a couple years ago, and his only friend is a literature-spouting tramp he calls, The Professor (Howard Chamberlain). As an aside, may I just say that the world needs more bibliophilistic hobos. He used to have two-friend, The Professor and Rover, his dog. But Rover just passed away, so Hunky goes to town to buy a puppy and ends up bringing home a total bitch. She proceeds to seduce him, marry him, and then take him for all he's got (um... $7,300). This is actually a pretty enjoyable piece of noir candy. Hunky is endearing for all his sad-sack foibles. Betty is perfect as the sassy gold-digger (and worse), and The Professor...well, he's my favorite.

Total Running Time: 164 minutes
My Total Minutes: 262,717

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 6

Okay, after Tuesday's enjoyable but debatable night of noir comedy, we needed a return to classic, hard-boiled noir. And who better to lead us there than Samuel Fuller? Wednesday was a double-bill of his flicks.

HOUSE OF BAMBOO (1955): Who says noir needs to be in Black and White? Who says it needs to be set in America? Not Sam Fuller, that's who! He sets this in post-war Japan, in glorious color and wide screen Cinemascope. It opens with a robbery of a U.S. Army munitions train, where several machine guns and smoke pots are stolen. Perhaps the only thing that bugged me is that while the smoke pots are used, the machine guns never are. It makes a promise of machine gun violence in the beginning, and then doesn't deliver. But it does deliver a cool story, as later the same gang makes another raid and a wounded gang member is shot by his own men--leave no one behind to become a prisoner who can talk. Then enter Eddie Spanier (Robert Stack), the fallen gang member's former army buddy, who arrives in Tokyo just two weeks later. Finding his friend dead and nowhere to go in Japan, he starts a small-time protection racket, only to quickly be roughed up by the real gangsters. In fact, it's a gang of ex-GI's, all with dishonorable discharges and more than a few spots on their records. It's run by Sandy Dawson (Robert Ryan), who takes quite a liking to Spanier, and soon Spanier is Sandy's "ichiban" (number one guy). But Spanier has his own secrets, and quite a game of cat and mouse ensues with quite an impressive finale at an amusement park. It's half hard-boiled crime noir, and half fish-out-of-water comedy, as Spanier adjusts to the strange world. His interactions with Mariko (Shirley Yamaguchi) are particularly amusing.

UNDERWORLD U.S.A. (1961): Okay, so this one is black and white, and set in the classic noir setting of...well, UNDERWORLD, U.S.A. 14 year old Tolly Devlin (David Kent) witnesses his father being beaten to death by some thugs. His dad was a criminal, and Tolly was already well on his way to being one, too. In fact, he already knows the criminal code well enough that when the investigator from the D.A.'s office asks him if he recognized the guys, he insists he ain't no snitch. Fact is, he has a long term plan. 20 years later (an now played by Cliff Robertson), he gets the names of all the guys, finds out they're three of the biggest crime lords, controlling drugs, prostitution, and labor unions in the city. And he sets out to become part of their gang and take them all down. Along the way, he of course picks up a dame, Cuddles (Dolores Dorn) who at first is just a dame (or a broad, I forget the technical distinction), but eventually...well, not to give anything away but this might have to least romantic marriage proposal ever--I loved it. And I loved this slice of American crime, revenge, and commentary on the hypocrisy of the powerful.

Total Running Time: 203
My Total Minutes: 262,561

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 5

Okay, this was a pretty odd night. The first ever Noir City night of noir comedy. What the hell, Eddie Muller? I mean, I love comedy, but this just isn't what I go to a noir festival for. Still, I'll give you props for challenging the audience's expectations.

UNFAITHFULLY YOURS (1948) Okay, I'll give you this one. You don't really need any excuse to play a Preston Sturges film. And there was plenty of noir nastiness in this one, including one of the best murder and frame-up jobs I've seen on film. Rex Harrison stars as Sir Alfred De Carter, English nobleman, accomplished symphony conductor, and devoted and loving husband to his equally devoted and loving wife Daphne (Linda Darnell). They so publicly display their affection that it makes Daphne's sister Barbara (Barbara Lawrence) a little jealous, since while Daphne has a man that makes you think of Brut champagne, she only has a man--August--who makes her think of prune juice (Rudy Vallee). When Sir Alfred left, he casually asked August to "keep an eye on my wife." Well, August took that a little too seriously and had her followed by a private eye, a prospect that sends Sir Alfred into a rage. He refuses to even look at the report, and it gives Rex Harrison to show his skills at witty apoplexy. But his suspicions overtake him, and during the concert of his life he fantasizes about various ways to avenge his wife's supposed infidelity. The results are pretty hilarious, and I'm happy to have seen this movie under any circumstances. As to whether it's appropriate in a noir festival...well, not really. But there was one sequence that taken out and viewed on its own could be one of the best noir shorts ever.

THE GOOD HUMOR MAN (1950): And then there was this real oddity. The really strange thing is that it was originally based on an entirely serious noir story "Appointment With Fear" by Roy Huggins. Then it was reworked by famous cartoon gag-man Frank Tashlin so that the hero drove a Good Humor ice cream truck and there was a non-stop barrage of corny (but sometimes pretty clever) slapstick gags. Tashlin was a cartoon guy, and this is very much a cartoon come to life. The titular Good Humor man is Biff Jones (Jack Carson), a sweet-hearted guy who is friends to all the kids. He's even a member of their Captain Marvel fan club. He's especially close with Johnny (Peter Miles), but that has more to do with Johnny's big sister Margie (Lola Albright). And then he gets stuck in the middle of some gangsters and a girl they're chasing. And a series of wacky hijinx leads him to being framed for murder, running around in a woman's nightgown, and pretty much destroying an entire school. In fact, he and Margie are in quite a lot of trouble until the Captain Marvel kids save them. Kind of appropriate, since the main villain is George "Superman" Reeves.

But again, not really right for a noir festival. But I'm sure we'll make up for it tonight, with a Samuel Fuller double feature.

Total Running Time: 185 minutes
My Total Minutes: 262,356

Monday, January 23, 2012

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 4

Yeah, I skipped Day 3 to instead volunteer at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum and then host Bad Movie Night at the Dark Room. But I'm back for Monday night, and it's a Rita Hayworth/Glenn Ford double feature. So let's just jump right in.

GILDA (1946): Wow, what a classic, the movie that made Rita Hayworth a sex goddess. Charles Vidor worked excellently around the Hays code, and made it clear that Gilda dancing with other men meant she slept with them, too (or at least intended to, if she wasn't stopped). Not to mention the copious use of cigarettes (including a tiny bent one in a hilariously classic) or a cane sword that's clearly more symbol than prop. Oh there's a plot in there somewhere--a casino in Buenos Aires run by Ballin Mundson (George Macready), his assistant Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford), and his new wife Gilda (Rita Hayworth). There's an unspecified backstory in which Gilda clearly broke Johnny's heart. And there's a complicated plot with a fake suicide, an illegal tungsten cartel, and a police inspector who lets the casino stay open just so he can bust the cartel. But really, it's about Gilda driving Johnny a little bit mad, Johnny getting a bit of revenge, hate being just a half-step away from love, and Hayworth and Ford steaming up the screen.

THE MONEY TRAP (1965): This puts Hayworth and Ford together nearly 20 years later, and throws in Elke Sommer as the new sex-bomb. Now Ford plays Joe Baron, a cop married to a wealthy heiress (Sommer) who loves their rich life. Trouble is, they live the rich life off the dividends from her stocks, but her father's will specifically stated dividends only, she can't touch the principal. So when the company announces they won't pay off dividends this year, they have to live off a meager policeman's salary. Joe was always an honest cop, and so is his partner Pete Delanos (Ricardo Montalban). But a hot woman can turn a good cop into a lousy crook. Hayworth shows up as a murder victim's widow who happens to be Joe's old flame...a flame that is briefly rekindled. I hate myself for even thinking it, but watching these two films back to back it's sad how much she aged (she was 47, and still a fine actress but not a young looking 47.)

Total Running Time: 201 minutes
My Total Minutes: 262,174


Here's some interesting trivia for you kids out there. Did you know that The Pirates of the Caribbean was originally a ride at Disneyland? It's true, in fact the ride existed for 36 years before being turned into one actually-pretty-good movie followed by 3 god-awful sequels.

I mention this because one of the attractions in the ride was a scene where several pirates chased women around in circles, with one obese woman chasing a pirate instead. In fact, as a little boy this might have been my first indication that while little boys find little girls to be icky, grown men find grown women to something worth chasing (at least if they're not too fat). Sometime later they changed it so the one woman chasing the pirate was threatening him with a rolling pin--apparently a sexually aggressive woman was not acceptable, although men raping women is still just good family entertainment. But nowadays (since the late 90's), the women are now carrying plates of food (perhaps all along the pirates were chasing the women to force them to cook?) And we wonder why we have an obesity epidemic? Is this really the right message to send our kid? Our disgusting, pudgy, little lardball kids?

Now I want to make sure I'm on the right side of this. So let me just say that there are many, many bad things about rape. If one were to list the pros and cons of rape, it would be no contest. I'm not afraid to take a controversial position now and then, and I will state for the record that I am firmly, solidly, proudly anti-rape, and I don't care who that offends. But in the interest of fairness and showing both sides of the issue, I will concede that rape does burn calories. Really, you don't even have to be successful, even attempted rape burns plenty of calories--and that way everyone wins!

Anyway, I think I've pretty much digressed from whatever point I might have had in the beginning, and taken us all to someplace we never cared to go. Much like PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES.

Running Time: 136 minutes
My Total Minutes: 261,971

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 2

Four more movies on Saturday

First an afternoon of proto-noir rarities from the pre-code era.

First up, a scathing portrayal of government corruption (not at all like today) in AFRAID TO TALK (aka THE MERRY-GO-ROUND) (1932). A bellhop witnesses a gangland murder in his hotel. He's even shot, but survives and can identify the shooter. Problem is, the guy who was murdered--Jake Stranskey (Robert Warwick)--was connected to everyone in city government, and the shooter--rival gang boss Jig Skelli (Edward Arnold)--has the proof. If he's prosecuted, he'll take everyone up to the mayor (Berton Churchill, playing an empty blowhard to the utmost) down with him. So first the prosecution is dropped for lack of evidence, and then when they need a fall guy they look at the one guy they can definitely put in the room--the bellhop. The real brains behind the corruption is Assistant District Attorney John Wade (Louis Calhern, oozing cool, calculating, stylish evil). You really hope he gets his comeuppance, even if no one else does. But don't look for me to spoil it.

Then there was a stylish, funny, and awfully weird film about radio, celebrity gossip, and organized crime--OKAY, AMERICA (1932). The hero is Walter Winchell Larry Wayne (Lew Ayres), a fast-talking newspaper gossip columnist who also has a weekly radio gig. He knows everyone, gets tips from everyone, and can't be talked out of a story--he's got a sign in his office reminding him that stories are brain children, and he can't kill kids. He certainly sells papers, but the "real" newsmen think he's just an egotist and a gossip monger (which, he kind of is). But he gets a break when he gets a tip about a kidnapping that has been dominating the front page (a tip that brings in both Louis Calhern and evenutally Edward Arnold from the previous movie). Rather than take it to the police, he decides to use his investigative skills, and especially his quick-talking skills to secure her release himself. It's a cool story, set in a pretty bizarre world. First you have to decipher the strange language in his gossip pieces. Then you've got the banter between Wayne and his secretary Sheila Barton (Maureen O'Sullivan), who is always complaining that he's not sexually harassing her enough. And as the crowning gem, when the kidnappers send some of the heiress' clothes to prove they have her, you've got a panty-sniffing newspaper editor. Priceless!

By the way, on a side note movies of this time tended to be shorter than films today. These two both came in at under 70 minutes, yet still told complete and gripping stories. It really shows how much filler there is in a lot of movies today. Think about that the next time you check your watch in the multiplex.

Then, although there was a significant time gap between this and the next show, I didn't even go outside (I did go up to the mezzanine for a few drinks), because I didn't want to give up my front row center seat for the Angie Dickinson evening. Actually, it was also a Lee Marvin evening, but he wasn't there on account of being dead and all. Angie was there, but more on that later.

While the afternoon was pre-noir, the evening was neo-noir--after the heyday of film noir--and started with THE KILLERS (1964). I had actually seen this last year at the Roxie, let's see what I said then:
This is the 1964 Don Siegel-directed remake, not the 1946 version, which I've never seen but I hear is a classic. In this version, two hitmen (Lee Marvin and Clu Gallagher) knock off an auto mechanic teaching in a blind school (John Cassavetes). He offers no resistance, and that bothers Lee Marvin's character. He just has to find out why. So he digs, and finds that mechanic was a race car driver brought down by a dame (Angie Dickinson). He was lured into a world of crime, led by ruthless crime boss Jack Browning (Ronald Reagan, in his final movie role). There's something enormously satisfying about watching Ronald Reagan slap Angie Dickinson and then John Cassavetes responding by punching Reagan in the face. Oh yeah, and Reagan's assistant/partner in crime is Mickey Farmer, played by Norman Fell. It took me an embarrassingly long time to recognize him as Mr. Roper from "Three's Company."
Ah, yeah, that's still all true (except for having forgotten that Norman Fell was Mr. Roper). And also, on a second viewing I'll say that Clu Gallagher's performance--always messing with whatever's in the room--might just be my favorite. And, of course, Angie Dickinson was awesome--lovely and deadly. I'm still guessing if she really was in love (at least somewhat) with John Cassavetes' character or if it was all an act.

And then, the woman we were all there to see, Angie Dickinson took the stage to a standing ovation and was interviewed by Eddie Muller. I say interview, but it was really like a 30 minute flirting session on stage. They clearly loved it (although I'm not so sure Angie liked being asked about the rumors of her and John F. Kennedy), and Angie could make Eddie blush a lot more easily than vice-versa. And as a bonus, she's a film fan who keeps up with what's going on today. When asked about what movies she would recommend today, she mentioned MY WEEK WITH MARILYN, THE ARTIST (which she has seen several times), HUGO (which she emphasized wasn't a "kid's movie" as much as it was "a movie about kids") and MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. Can't argue with that. And to cap it all off, Eddie made her reenact her famous line on The Tonight Show when Johnny Carson asked her if she dresses for men or for women. Her response, of course, was, "I dress for women. I undress for men."

And as if that wasn't enough, there was still another movie to watch before I rushed off to BART. That would be POINT BLANK (1967), an odd, somewhat experimental, surreal-ish revenge story directed by John Boorman and again starring Lee Marvin. Lee is Walker, and as the movie opens he wakes up in a jail cell. Turns out he's in Alcatraz, not in an operating jail, and he's there because he was double-crossed. He, his wife, and his best friend were there to steal $93,000 from a criminal organization. His friend took the money and his wife, but didn't kill him all the way. He swims off the rock, and sets out for revenge...and his $93,000. The story jumps around in time a lot, but he teams up with his sister-in-law Chris (Angie Dickinson) to take down the heads of the organization. He always seems one step ahead, in no small part because a mysterious man is leading him around. The whole thing is very strange, and maybe only works because of the taciturn cool of Lee Marvin and the sexiness of Angie Dickinson. And then, the ending is...very strange...with possibly a message about what's really important. Or not, maybe this whole movie is just Walker's fantasy as he's dying.

Total Running Time: 322
My Total Minutes: 261,825

Jason goes to Noir City--Opening Night

Eddie Muller's fabulous film noir festival is back, still going strong after one decade. And of course, we start with a pair of San Francisco noir films.

First off, DARK PASSAGE (1947), starring perhaps the greatest trio of stars in all of film noir--Bogart, Bacall, and San Francisco. Bogart plays Vincent Parry, a convict escaped from San Quentin. For the first half of the movie, it plays out almost entirely from his P.O.V., an interesting and engaging technique that literally puts us in the eyes of a criminal. The effect is only diminished slightly when you realize it was used so that we wouldn't see Vincent's face until he gets plastic surgery and finally looks like Bogart. But I'm getting ahead of myself. He escapes San Quentin and is picked up by Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall). This was not planned, she was just in the area painting, but as luck would have it she was actually his biggest fan. See, her father was wrongly convicted and died in jail, and she was convinced the same happened to Vincent. She even attended the trial every day. So her place becomes his safe house as he attempts to change his appearance and escape. But as the city closes in on him, and odd, unfortunate incidents make his appear guiltier and guiltier, eventually he turns from escaping to catching the person who has been framing him all along. A wonderfully made, gripping, pitch perfect noir. This was actually Noir City's inaugural film 10 years ago. It's easy to see why it opened the festival back then, and it's still easy to see why it Eddie would bring it back.

Then the second feature, THE HOUSE ON TELEGRAPH HILL (1951). Eddie opened up the festivities by talking about his crush on the star, Valentina Cortese. In fact, he was supposed to interview her on camera but things didn't work out. So instead the entire audience recorded a video greeting on Eddie Muller's cellphone for Valentina (some 89 years young.) Anyway, the theme of the night wasn't just San Francisco noir, it was also fake identity noir. In DARK PASSAGE Vincent Parry got plastic surgery and became Alan Linell. In THE HOUSE ON TELEGRAPH HILL, Nazi concentration camp survivor Victoria Kowelska doesn't need to change her look, she just has to take the papers of her dead friend and fellow inmate Karin Dernakova. Turns out, Karin has a son, Christopher, who was smuggled out of Poland as a baby. He has grown up in San Francisco in the care of Karin's wise old aunt. And so after the war, and after some time in and Allied refugee camp Victoria goes to America as Karin to reunite with her "son." But the life of luxury in San Francisco offers its own tortures, not as explicit but possibly just as deadly as the concentration camps. Karin's aunt is dead, the estate is looked over by the handsome Alan Spender (Richard Basehart, who went on to marry Valentina after they made this movie), a distant relative by marriage. In fact, if it weren't for Karin's aunt leaving the estate to Christopher, it would've undoubtedly gone to Alan (since at the time of her aunt's death, Karin was thought to have been dead, too.) So...there's that money angle, although that's rendered a little moot by Alan marrying Karin. There's also Christopher's caregiver Margaret (Fay Baker), who clearly has a thing for Alan, and who is awfully protective of Christopher. She's clearly none to happy about having Karin around stepping on her turf. So when odd, dangerous coincidences happen (e.g., brakes fail sending Karin careening down San Francisco's infamously steep streets), there's plenty to be suspicious about. Or it's all a coincidence and she's just so shaken up about her traumatic life in the concentration camps (and guilt over stealing her friend's identity) that she has become delusionally paranoid.

And that's how Noir City opens. Time to head back for a quadruple bill today.

Total Running Time: 199 minutes
My Total Minutes: 261,521

Monday, January 16, 2012

Jason goes to Bad Movie Night and watches HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2

Yeah, yeah, I know it's the final movie (8th in 7-part series, somehow) in the most wildly popular franchise ever. And it ties everything up in a dramatic and thrilling battle. And hell, even the rude, noisy reprobates cheered when Neville Longbottom swung the sword of Gryffindor and beheaded Voldemort's snake (oops...SPOILER ALERT!) This is--arguably--not really a bad movie. But lest we forget, the whole thing was so damned dark I have reasonably suspicion that David Yates shot the entire movie up his own ass.

Oh yeah, and am I the only one who thinks Harry married Ron's sister because that was as close as he could get to marrying Ron?

Running Time: 130 minutes
My Total Minutes: 261,321

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum and sees THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1940)

This was a special event put on by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) as part of their One Book, One Community reading of Steinbeck's fierce, political, and depressing classic The Grapes of Wrath. I'd read this a few years ago, and was very impressed (although East of Eden is still my favorite Steinbeck). But I had never seen the movie.

Well, in short the movie is fairly faithful to the book (and was made just six months after the book was released), which means it's awfully sad and depressing. The Joad family, led by recent parolee Tom Joad (Henry Fonda, nominated for an Oscar) and Ma Joad (Jane Darwell, who won the best supporting actress Oscar) leave the dust bowl of Oklahoma for the promise of work in California. Of course, this doesn't pan out, and they find similar economic forces that forced them out of Oklahoma are spoiling their chances in California. Plus, there's the added pressure of prejudice and hatred against the Okies that are taking jobs from locals.

You know, when I read it, the economy was still in good shape, so it seemed like just a sad, horrible patch in our history. Now, the themes in it (especially the unseen, greedy bankers controlling it all) resonate once more. I'm going to have to go back and re-read it.

Oh, and the ending is different than the book. Despite all the horrible stuff that happens, they just had to end the movie on a proud, hopeful note.

Running Time: 129 minutes
My Total Minutes: 261,182

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


I'll start by confessing to knowing next to nothing about the original Tintin comics. I have seen the character before, but never read a single story. But this was an engaging caper with good guys, bad guys, humor, and adventure.

Tintin (Jamie Bell) is a journalist, and judging by the clippings on his wall, he's had quite a few adventures. He buys a model boat at a flea market, and that immediately enters into an adventure surrounding a hidden message and sunken treasure. Along the way he meets Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), who is drunk enough to power an airplane engine with his breath (BTW, I have to give kudos to an ostensible kids movie that isn't afraid to show drinking or have the young hero use a gun). The action rarely lets up and the caper is smart as well as fun (a "sword fight" with giant cranes is particularly amusing). Beyond that, I can't really comment further. As I said at the start, I'm not a Tintin expert.

Oh, and as one final point, the 3-D was very well done, but not really necessary. If you're a fan of 3-D, it's worth it. If not, you lose nothing by seeing it in 2-D.

Running Time: 107 minutes
My Total Minutes: 261045


I think David Cronenberg is on of those rare filmmakers--or really artist of any kind--who keeps getting more and more interesting the older he gets. He and Werner Herzog are really the only two who spring to mind (I'm sure you have your own favorites).

Here he takes on a biopic about the complicate, sometimes-friendly, sometimes-contentious relationship between the giants of psychoanalysis--Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen, who has become a Cronenberg regular after remarkable turns in A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE and EASTERN PROMISES) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender, who seems to be in every movie right now, and to my tastes has yet to disappoint).

I will start by confessing to little more than a poorly remembered high school education on Freud and Jung, so I'm sure there are finer points to their lives and works that are exploited in the movie but I didn't appreciate. But rest assured, it's very easy to appreciate the movie without them. As the movie opens, a hysteric woman named Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley, surprising in a role that requires more than just being pretty) is delivered to Jung's clinic. There he tries Freud's new "talking cure" on her. While Freud has written of the ability to "psych-analyze" patients by talking to them, it's unknown whether he has actually used it clinically, so this might in fact be the first psych-analysis (Freud later coins "psychoanalysis") patient in history. Well, Spielrein turns out to be rather brilliant herself, enough that she actually becomes a doctor. She's also a sexually repressed masochist.

Things progress along, at first Jung and Freud are friends. On their first meeting, they talk for 13 hours straight before noticing the time. And then comes a random chance meeting that arrives and disappears like a storm, leaving devastation in his wake. That would be the patient Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel), who Freud leaves in Jung's care. He is oversexed, and argues with Jung that sexual repression is wrong and there should be no boundaries. In his philosophy, it is the artificial boundaries put upon us by civilized society that deny us our natural desires and cause mental illness. And Jung is intrigued by that philosophy, in no small part because it allows him to cheat on his wife and have lots of kinky masochistic sex with Spielrein.

Cronenberg made quite a career showing quite literal transformation of the flesh. More recently, and especially in this film, he has made parallel explorations of the transformative power of ideas. But Jung's conflict over the question of sexual liberty reminds me of his early film SHIVERS (aka THEY CAME FROM WITHIN) in which the horror is a parasite that infects the victims' brains and turns them into sex addicts. I heard him once say in an interview that he made it specifically to reflect his ambivalence about the Sexual Revolution. That was one of his earliest films, and yet he's coming back to the same ideas, from a mental rather than physical point of view. Because after all, in Cronenberg's world ideas are flesh and flesh is just an idea.

Running Time: 99 minutes
My Total Minutes: 260,935

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Jason goes to bad movie night and watches TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON

Fun trivia fact--the darkest part of the the asshole. I believe the title refers to where Michael Bay pulled the so-called "story" out of. I...just...don'

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, there are no STD's powerful enough to make Michael Bay pissing on my childhood hurt for him as much as it does for me.

Running Time: 154 minutes
My Total Minutes: 260,836


Wow, that was actually pretty impressive. A spy movie that's 99% talking with just a few bits of violent action. Gary Oldman is riveting as George Smiley, a high ranking official in the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6.) He and his mentor Control (John Hurt) are forced out after a botched operation in Hungary that led to the death of an agent. What Control didn't even tell Smiley is that the operation was to bring in a contact who knew the identity of an alleged mole at the very top of MI6. And about a year later, he is contacted to ferret out the identity of the spy. And as I said, it's almost all talking, very carefully paced, but somehow never loses the audience's interest. Pretty much proves you don't need lotsa 'splosions to tell a good spy story. And while I'm pretty sure I followed most everything, I can tell it's the sort of movie that rewards repeat viewings, revealing new details each time.

Running Time: 127 minutes
My Total Minutes: 260,667


It's the behind-the-scenes account of the making of the Sir Laurence Olivier/Marilyn Monroe collaboration THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL, as told by neophyte 3rd assistant director Colin Clark. What was supposed to be the lightest of light comedies was a nightmare behind the scenes, as Marilyn was often on pills, showed up late to set, often flubbed her lines, and basically drove Olivier insane. But, as is said in the movie, when she gets it right she's magic (who cares that it takes a few dozen tries to get it right). Colin had a privileged look (and not just at Marilyn in her dressing room), became Marilyn's ally briefly, fell in love with her, and got his heart broken (as everyone warns him will happen). Marilyn comes across as a force of nature who sometimes dreams of being an ordinary girl.

As far as this movie goes, it's well done and an interesting story. The fact is Michelle Williams is not quite Marilyn and Kenneth Branagh is not quite Olivier, so I could never really lose myself in the characters. But that's a common problem with movies about well known real people, and it's no great slight to say you can't replace Marilyn and Olivier with anyone.

Running Time: 99 minutes
My Total Minutes: 260,532

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum and sees HELL'S HINGES

But first, a couple of shorts, starting with the first in our two-month tribute to Georges Méliès (interest has certainly peaked after HUGO).

THE DOCTOR'S SECRET (1910): Georges Méliès and his team of doctors cure an infirm fat man through a series of torturous treatments, including a grand finale that...I won't spoil, but it's pretty wild.

GOLF (1922): Larry Semon brings his own brand of absurdist comedy to a story of a young woman (his sister), her beau (Vernon Dent), the infatuated and infuriated neighbor (Oliver Hardy), and a bizarre series of golfing misadventures.

Then after an intermission, the feature:

HELL'S HINGES (1916): William S. Hart stars as Blaze Tracy in this story of "bad men vs. worse men." He's a murderous cowboy in the town locally known as Hell's Hinges. Only a few residents, the "petticoat brigade" believe in any sort of morality, and they've sent for a preacher. Well, he arrives in town with his beautiful sister Faith (Clara Williams) and is immediately a target for the ruffians of town, led by Blaze and the saloon keeper Silk (Alfred Hollingsworth). But Faith's beauty turns Blaze's heart, and he declares them off limits. Which, of course, is no good for Silk, and of course there will have to be a big showdown. More than most silent films, this has a hard-bitten dramatic sensibility that I think would be ripe for a modern remake.

Oh yeah, and since the museum is doing a Méliès tribute for two months inspired by HUGO, I should point out that the brief snippet of William S. Hart seen in HUGO is from HELL'S HINGES.

And that was my first show at Niles in the new year. Next week is comedy shorts night, with some Chaplin, Charley Chase, Keaton, and Laurel and Hardy.

Total Running Time: 101 minutes
My Total Minutes: 260,432

Saturday, January 7, 2012


The American remake, of course.

I've seen the Swedish version, and I've read the books, and this is a well done, fairly faithful adaptation--meaning it keeps all the nastiness of the original, even when the rape scenes are of marginal relevance in this story (spoiler alert: they become very, very relevant in the sequels). But ultimately the story is pretty engaging, even though I already knew what would happen. As for the title role, Rooney Mara does a fine job as Lisbeth Salander, although it's pretty damn hard to erase Noomi Rapace's performance from my mind. She'll always be who I think of when I think of Lisbeth.

A couple of side points I'd like to discuss rather than getting into the details of the movie. First, I have a bit of a bugaboo when a film uses English to replace the native language (in this case Swedish). I have no problem with that technique, but it does bug me when they speak English with a foreign accent to represent the foreign language. Just speak unaccented English, please! And worse yet--as they did in this movie--is when some actors speak with an accent and some don't. Now maybe this is because some of the actors are local Swedes, and that's their normal English speaking voice, but not knowing that I'm left in a quandary. Am I supposed to think the other Swedish characters would find their voice to be accented, or what? And the final annoying bit in this is when Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) tries to make a call on his cell phone and a recording gives him a 'cannot connect' message in both Swedish and English? Now the world of the movie does have the Swedish language in it, and I'm supposed to believe that all these Swedish characters just happen to prefer speaking English together? This probably doesn't bother other people as much as it bothers me, but it is what it is.

And for my final point, I will have to get slightly spoiler-y. See, I loved the Swedish movies and I don't really see the need for an American remake. But there is one element in the books that isn't in the movies and could make the American remakes worthwhile. At the end of the first book, when Lisbeth gets her, shall we say, 'windfall,' one of the things she gets with the money is a boob job. It's actually a point of emphasis in the book that Lisbeth has tiny boobs, and then in the sequels characters are frequently noticing that her boobs are bigger. I completely understand how this isn't really important to the story, and strict adherence to the books is not always the best idea. But boobs are two of my favorite things. So Rooney, if you want me to think of you rather than Noomi, get a boob job. David Fincher, if you want me to praise your film (or at least the sequels) as "better than the original," get Rooney a boob job. Or just fake it with prosthetic boobies, I don't really care.

Running Time: 158 minutes
My Total Minutes: 260,304

Thursday, January 5, 2012



So the caper is actually pretty amusing. Plot elements you should know from the trailer--the Kremlin blows up, it's blamed on Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team. The President calls for "ghost protocol"--disavowing IMF and labeling them rogue terrorist agents.

The rest of the caper--they were in the Kremlin in the first place to break into the archives and see if they could find out the identity of "Cobalt," a black-market figure who allegedly intends to start a global nuclear war. Yup, the stakes are really that high. And so with no backing and very few resources, Ethan Hunt and his team (which now includes Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, and the great Simon Pegg as comic relief) have to stop Cobalt and save the world. There's lots of good action, and the scenes on the Burj Khalifa in Dubai really tickle my sense of acrophobia. Director Brad Bird, who has made some of my favorite animated films (THE IRON GIANT and THE INCREDIBLES), has graduated well to live action.

But now I'll talk about what I really want to say. I saw this at a theater with digital projection (everything is switching over to that now, at least for new films). I don't have an objection to digital projection per se, I just want to see it projected well. But on the screen where I saw it there was a dead pixel--a little blue dot near the bottom of the screen, slightly to the right of center. And it occurred to me, when everyone starts projecting digitally, this will be a relatively common occurrence. And it made me wonder, what--if anything--is an equivalently annoying problem inherent to film projection? Is it scratched film? A bad slice? Hair in the gate? Certainly it was annoying in this case, in no small part because it persisted through the entire movie. But I'm wondering if there's something equivalently annoying in film that I've learned to ignore automatically.

Running Time: 133 minutes
My Total Minutes: 260,156


And let's just start with this--it's a fun adventure, but with a few problems.

First the fun part. It is an entertaining adventure. I like that the game is as much physical as it is mental, an often overlooked element in the books. Robert Downey Jr. is still great as Holmes, and Jude Law is maybe even better as Watson. Stephen Fry joins the party as Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's smarter but less ambitious brother (for what it's worth, I always imagined Mycroft as skinnier, but Fry makes it work). And most importantly, the villain is excellent--Jared Harris as Professor Moriarty plays it with the right amount of ruthless menace and playfulness. Although the stakes are, in Holmes' words, "the collapse of Western civilization" both he and Moriarty know it's a game between the only two parties who understand what's really going on. I liked all that.

Oh yeah, and Noomi Rapace, though not given much to do, is fine as a gypsy woman caught up in all of this. Mostly I like her presence because I loved her as Lisbeth Salander in the original Swedish version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and its sequels, and I hope she gets to enjoy a long and fruitful career in film.

Now for the problems. First and foremost, it's too silly. The first movie had a bit of silliness, but nothing as egregious as Holmes' experiments in "urban camouflage" (the joke of wearing a suit that perfectly matches a section of wall and/or furniture, so as long as you stand still and the observer doesn't change his perspective, you blend in perfectly).

Almost as bad as that bit of silliness is the entire premise of the case. Now here there be some spoilers (I'll try to avoid details, but I will have to spoil the main premise). Moriarty is attempting to plunge Europe into a "World War" so that he can profit, selling weapons, bandages, etc. to both sides. Holmes, of course, figures this out and sets out to stop him. Of course, there has to be a standoff where Moriarty explains that a world war will inevitably happen naturally, he's just trying to speed things along. And, of course, we in the audience know he's right. Not just one, but two world wars happened in the real world, and the aftermath puts a total lie to Holmes' assertion that it would be Western civilization's downfall. I suppose this is gives us an opportunity to feel smarter than Sherlock Holmes, but that's just not something I'm all that interested in feeling; at least not when it's made so easy. It's a lot like the end of the first movie, when Holmes discovers principle of the remote control, and speculates on what a dangerous power that could be. We get a smug chuckle, and the world's most brilliant detective is diminished a bit by it.

And come to think of it, the first movie ended with the remote control device falling into Moriarty's hand, and then it isn't used in the sequel. What's up with that?

Running Time: 129 minutes
My Total Minutes: 260,014