Thursday, May 9, 2019

Pod Peephole




I made another appearance on One Heat Minute with Blake Howard. This time episode 144 where Al Pacino tries to thwart Natalie Portman's suicide attempt in his bathtub. My own kids are her character's age and it's a rough scene to watch. In the episode we talk about the implications about Vincent's relationship with her mother Justine (Diane Venora - who makes an appearance in the minute's last seconds) as well as clues as to exactly how desperate Lauren (last name; Gustafson - another tidbit learned in this minute) really is/has been for Vincent's attention/validation.

Among those implications - Lauren's artery cuts are precise and done 'right' to get the job done. No hesitation scratches, no perpendicular to the wrist cuts. In the world of 1995, before the internet was what it is now, how would a kid that age learn how to do this to herself? Implied: from hanging around Vincent who deals with that kind of ugly every day and who insists on not dragging it home and into his marriage. Fail.

Also, I don't really suggest that it was Lauren's intent, but it is the result of her suicide attempt that Vincent and Justine have their most honest connected moment in the hospital (next minute) that ends with Vincent promising he's here for her and not going anywhere - a promise he immediately breaks when his beeper goes off and he "dances" out of there (a moment I suggest could/should be scored with the tuba/mandolin piece best known as the theme from Curb Your Enthusiasm). Fail.

To further drive home the point of Vincent's failure, I point out the artwork that adorns the walls of Justine's ex-husband's, dead-tech, post-modernistic bullshit house including an empty men's suit (a magnet or some probably cheap, kitchy thing) in the kitchen and a wall-sized painting of a man with blank features filling out clothing and leaning on a desk that is behind Xander Berkeley's Ralph after Vincent discovers Justine's been demeaning herself with him just to get closure. Between Lauren's never-there father and Vincent's constant disappearing act, that house is haunted by the ghosts of absent men.

If Waingro (Kevin Gage) is Neil's biggest enemy - the guy he prides himself on not being and secretly fears that he really is underneath, then Lauren's father/Justine's ex-husband is Vincent's Waingro. Vincent talks so much shit about him - "Does this guy have any idea what he's doing to her?" "Is this guy ever gonna show up, or will he leave her hanging like last time?" - but his actions, in the end, are no different than that asshole's. He's never there for them. He makes promises just to break them.
Exactly how pathetic is Vincent as a husband? One point I don't think I got to bring up: the big date-night scene that ends with Vincent getting called away to the murder scene of the young prostitute Waingro killed, the one where Vincent's whole crew are dressed up nice and taking their wives out for a much-needed good time? It's not only juxtaposed with a similar scene with Robert De Niro's heist crew's family night where Vincent's crew is doing surveillance on them from the roof top of the building across the street, it's very clearly the very same night. In other words Vincent's crew's wives are only getting a night out at this nice restaurant because it's across the street from the one where Neil's crew is taking their loved ones. Really. Not only do the scenes immediately follow each other, but Vincent's crew are wearing the exact same suits in both -  they all just went to the bathroom at the same time or some juvenile shit like that to go up on the roof and spy on the bad guys. Fail.

Here's a link to the episode - we talk about a lot more, of course, including me putting Blake on the spot about what his least favorite Michael Mann movies are and whether L.A. Takedown is superior in any way to Heat. Plus, Blake does a pretty great Ted Levine impression and that's worth tuning in for.

Hey, two appearances on One Heat Minute is an honor, but holy crap, I've now been a guest on Mike White's excellent The Projection Booth podcast seven times? Dang, that's cool. And not slowing down. Several more appearances booked this year.

Anyway, in my latest appearance I discuss Peter Hyams' space western Outland starring Sean Connery, Peter Boyle, James B. Sikking, Frances Sternhagen and Clarke Peters with Mike and Josh Hadley. It's shittin good too (the movie, that is). One of those movies I grew up seeing advertised on TV and the images I caught gave me great ideas. Few movies like that that ever live up to the imagination of a child, but when I finally saw the movie as an adult I was very pleased.

Pleased too for the excuse to go back through a bunch of Hyams films. A quick list of movies I watched in preparation for the episode: Rolling Man, Goodnight My Love, Busting, Capricorn One, Hanover Street, Running Scared, The Presidio, Timecop, Sudden Death, The Relic, End of Days and of course I had to watch Fred Zinneman's High Noon and Ridley Scott's Alien back to back with Outland.

Here's a link to the episode (also featuring an interview with co-star James B. Sikking!) where you can hear me make dubious claims like "Outland is better than High Noon". And if you'd like to hear more episodes with me talking to Mike and his always great lineup of co-hosts, guests and interviews I keep a list on Letterboxd with links to the episodes I'm on.

Next up I'll be on to talk about Paul Verhoeven's Philip K. Dick adaptation, Total Recall which should fit nicely into the lineup of pictures I've thus far discussed on the show. I've noticed a theme of the malleability of memory and reality in my guest spots (Session 9, 12 Monkeys, Mulholland Drive...).

Season two of the Do Some Damage podcast chugs along and on recent episodes I suggested checking out a few flicks including S. Craig Zahler's Dragged Across Concrete. I think it's his best movie yet and I really liked Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99. It's a chewy piece of crime fare that rewards thoughtful viewers. Back in the mix are Zahler cast vets Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Fred Melamed, Udo Kier and Don Johnson, along with Zahler newbies Michael Jai White, Laurie Holden and the scene stealing Tory Kittles. Right up front though is Mel Gibson, an actor of outsized gifting and no little controversy.

If Mel's presence is gonna keep you from checking this one out I'm not here to talk you out of your stance. Instead I highlight another new flick starring another performer of outsized gifts. Writer/director Maria Pulera's Between Worlds is a hell of a thing. It's an erotic, supernatural thriller that goes in a half dozen directions at once and features a lead performance to match from the absolutely off the chain Nicolas Cage.

The romantic pairing of Cage and Franka Potente was enough to grab my attention, but the movie (and Saint Nic) don't stop anywhere near there. In fact, they're probably still going somewhere in the space between worlds. I was so taken by the audacious confidence in Pulera's film that I checked out her previous effort, 2016's Falsely Accused, and while the two films share undeniable dna, Rosanna Arquette, despite all her rage, is just no Nicolas Cage.

Kudos to Pulera for casting Cage and for gifting all the worlds with this performance. It is marvelous. Please don't deny yourself this experience.

In the second Do Some Damage episode that's dropped since I last blogged I recommend two more recent favorites it's hard to imagine won't be on my year's favorites list.

First up Karyn Kusama's Destroyer starring Nicole Kidman. If you, like me, have to wait for the third season of True Detective to be released on DVD, but need something to scratch a similar itch, I highly recommend this one. Kidman plays a police detective whose latest case appears to have ties to her past. The film splits the narrative between the current investigation and her character's past undercover with a group of high desert outlaws and it features some terrific violent content and a satisfying story of criminality and corruption.

Second is writer/director Henry Dunham's feature debut, The Standoff at Sparrow Creek. The story concerns a small militia group who discover that one of them may have started a war with the cops. The group whose politics are never discussed are torn between sniffing out and offering up their member who shot up a cop's funeral and bracing for inevitable Armageddon. The dramatic tension is expertly drawn out and the cast are uniformly good. I can't wait to see where Dunham's career goes from here.

Side note: James Badge Dale had a good year. IMDb lists his 2018 credits as The Standoff at Sparrow Creek and Jeremy Saulnier's Hold the Dark, plus a spot in Tim Sutton's (disappointing) Donnybrook, and I'm really looking forward to catching Nia DiCosta's Little Woods.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Recent Watches From the 40s

Across the Pacific - John Huston - Bit of a snooze. Maybe more than a bit. And man, that anti-Japanese racism gets hard to take as you watch more and more stuff from the period.

Act of Violence - Fred Zinnemann - Hey, Christa Faust pointed out I gave the wrong review for this one.. which I've now deleted. I did enjoy this one, but I was really floored by Robert Ryan in On Dangerous Ground... dammit.

All Through the Night - Vincent Sherman - Lower tier Bogart takes a hostage movie.

The Bribe - Robert Z. Leonard - Not great, but enjoyable as a huge fan of Carl Reiner's Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid appreciating the way all the footage was re-contextualized (and improved in my opinion). If you too share a love of the Steve Martin noir parody you'll be screaming "Senor, your pa-ya-mas!" and slurring "Ethel Merman" in the back half like I did.

Dancing With Crime - John Paddy Carstairs - Mid-level success. Cabbies make wonderful noir protagonists but this is no 99 River Street and Richard Attenborough is pretty good, but this is no Brighton Rock.

The Devil Thumbs a Ride - Felix E. Feist - Lawrence Tierney is a fucking convincing fucking psychopath. Fuck. Between this one and Born to Kill, he's an all-timer.

Eyes in the Night - Fred Zinnemann - I think the blind detective sub-genre is probably never going to please me.

Fallen Angel - Otto Preminger - Probably my favorite Preminger. Linda Darnell - whoo boy. This time around I paired it with Nightmare Alley for a terrific seance-scam double bill. Recommend.

Framed - Richard Wallace - Ford is good. Why is that so hard for me to remember?

Gilda - Charles Vidor - Supposedly sex existed before Rita Hayworth, but I'm not entirely convinced. Also, fuckin Glenn Ford is really good. I must have a natural resistance to his name, because I always forget until I see him do his thing again and I think, 'the fuck don't I immediately think of this guy when I name my favorite actors?' Glennnnn. Glllllllllenn. Gggglenn. I dunno, I get hung up on weird things.

High Sierra - Raoul Walsh - Probably the pinnacle of the Humphrey Bogart takes hostages genre.

Impact - Arthur Lubin - Generally a fan of of lovers trying to kill each other fare, but this one gets bogged down by mystery and court of law type shit.

It Always Rains on Sunday - Robert Hamer - Man, was this some terrific moody London noir. A lot of the British stuff I watched from the period was super cheap Hammer-stuff (crime factory before horror apparently) made on sets, looking like TV. But this one is soggy and beautiful and I loved it. From the novel by Arthur La Bern.

Kid Glove Killer - Fred Zinneman - Apparently forensic mysteries were always boring. Not sure how this became such a popular genre for film.

The Killers - Robert Siodmak - Baby Burt Lancaster man. He was one of the best from the drop. Pretty much watch this one once a year at this point and I go back an forth between thinking this one and Don Siegel's version is superior. This one though it's got the Ernest Hemmingway story shot nicely as the opening of the film if you're looking for that.

Lady Gangster - Florian Roberts - Should have been better considering the source material by Dorothy Mackaye. I'd be up for another remake (this one's remade from Ladies They Talk About), but I'd be even more up for a straight-up Mackaye bio-noir. Yeaaaaaaah.

Lady in the Lake - Robert Montgomery - This Raymond Chandler adaptation does that weird second-person point of view trick that Dark Passage also does, only this time we're distracted catching Montgomery's mug in the mirror every five minutes. More of a curiosity than a successful suspense picture and rightfully best remembered for Audrey Totter's extreme facial expressions.

Nazi Agent - Jules Dassin - For Dassin completists. Not one of his best.

No Orchids For Miss Blandish - St. John L. Clowes - First of several (at least three) screen adaptations of James Hadley Chase's novel (I had to turn off The Grissom Gang which I started watching about a week later having no idea it was from the same source material - will try again soon - but it was too distracting watching it so close to this one). It's another one of the better London noirs I've seen.

Road HouseJean Negulesco - Crime element is a slow burn, but the you'll have to towel the steam off your screen for weeks. Ida Lupino once again proves that sex-appeal is much less dependent on physical dimensions than we tend to think. I could watch her bowl for hours. And Cornel Wilde is more interesting here than I've ever seen him. Richard Widmark is of course Richard Widmark. Great shit.

Strange Cargo - Frank Borzage - I don't think this one's got a very good reputation, but I was pretty taken with its mixture of elements - prison escape, jungle survival adventure, romance and, what no-doubt will feel pretty heavy-handed spiritual allegory to a lot of folks. But the spiritual stuff, for as blatantly as it just sits there on screen, is kind of hard to nail down. A lot of, wait, wha? that I found more compelling than you might.

The Stranger - Orson Welles - Man, nazis were everywhere in the 40s. It's interesting to watch a lot of stuff from a by-gone era and from a distance pick apart the national (and sometimes intensely personal) anxieties being worked out on screen. This tale of nazi agents hiding out and continuing work in post-war, small-town America is not Welles' best, but hot damn does he give himself a great send-off in it. Great death sequence. Our time could probably use a few more 'hey, nazis are still a threat' movies.

They Made Me a Fugitive (aka I Became a Criminal) - Alberto Cavalcanti - Hot damn, this one is great. Trevor Howard, man, that guy was always super and it was really driven home watching this one, The Third Man and Brief Encounter in close succession. Such a versatile performer and so nice to see this kind or rough turn in a leading role for him. Shit, get on it and don't let the cheap, cheesy looking artwork on the DVD keep you away (I like this poster better, but I'm pretty sure the DVD features the better title and worse artwork).

The Third Man - Carol Reed - I always stiffen and resist the score and Welles' voice over at the beginning of the film, and then it knocks me on my ass again. So stylish and thematically rich. There's a reason its endured.

This Gun For Hire - Frank Tuttle - This time made a double feature of this one and L.A. Confidential because Kim Basinger's Lynn Bracken is supposed to be channeling Veronica Lake, and that was a hell of a good idea, but it works awfully well as the front-half of a double-bill with Le Samourai too because Alain Delon is so clearly channeling Alan Ladd. Hell, it makes a good double feature with The Third Man because the Graham Greene themes make sweet harmony. It's just one of my favorite films noir and I watch it frequently.

Wanted For Murder - Lawrence Huntington - A psycho who can't stop strangling women has to choose between his hobby and true love. Not really good enough to be funny, shocking or just over the top awful and entertaining. Pretty forgettable.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Double Triple

The Do Some Damage podcast is back for a second season this week. Once again host Steve Weddle spends a theoretical seven minutes chatting with Holly West about TV options, Chris F. Holm about music and I flap my lips about movies.

I took the opportunity to double down on triple titles beginning with J.C. Chandor's super soldiers turned thieving bastards Netflix original (and still in limited theatrical release) Triple Frontier. Ben Affleck and Oscar Isaac lead a stud-studded cast who scowl and grunt and speechify in order to make it clear how seriously they're taking their decision to put their military training to personal use and commit crimes. By their logic nobody in a position to punish them should care too much as long as they only steal from and kill a Mexican cartel boss in Mexico.

Their logic holds, but their plan does not. Soon they're having to run while lugging many many duffel bags of cash with them through the jungle over mountains and into the ocean while the manhunt/treasure hunt focused on them becomes overwhelming.

Sounds like a great setup for a fun adventure flick, a hardcore heist movie or a simple plan gone to shit noir and it's not really any of those things. Hell it could've become a revolution movie, but the whole 'our system is so broken we have to turn to crime to get by' premise gets shame-swallowed in the end with a big sigh and a 'we're still bros, right?' hug-a-thon and at times almost audibly pleads "The troops, who will support the troops?" Ultimately it gets a the go-ahead from me mostly for the cool location shooting and a handful of good action moments, but I really was hoping for a lot more from it.

On the podcast I recommend checking out another (and better) Chandor crime flick A Most Violent Year also starring Isaac, Jessica Chastain and David Oyelowo and available on Netflix now, but if you want to take another crack at the Triple Frontier formula and come up with different results look for David O. Russell's Three Kings or shit, how about Stewart Raffill's High Risk (on Amazon Prime). Another story of blue-collar Americans unable to make ends meet who turn to armed robbery in South America to secure the life they feel they deserve. This one also boasts an impressive cast including James Brolin, Cleavon Little, Anthony Quinn, James Coburn, Ernest Borgnine, Lindsay Wagner and Bruce Davison.

It's ridiculous and dumb as hell, but sometimes sublimely so. It doesn't work, but at least it's fun.

The other flick catching my eye this episode is Jessie V. Johnson's Triple Threat featuring a kick-ass cast from all your favorite martial arts straight to video action movies. Johnson himself makes a lot of this kind of fare, but this time he's gone so big he's hit the big screen. I've not yet seen Triple Threat, but I fuckin want to. Iko Uwais, Tony Jaa, Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White, Celina Jade, JeeJa Yanin and Tiger Hu Chen is some Expendables-level casting and everything I've seen about it sounds solid.

You could/should watch other shit featuring the folks involved if you're curious about this one. Personally I'm a big fan of Johnson's previous Scott Adkins-starring movie The Debt Collector (now available on Netflix). I've watched a bunch of Adkins movies and they're pretty hit or miss - highlights include his decades-later sequels to Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicles like Universal Soldier and Hard Target - but The Debt Collector is easily his most appealing role to date for me. Mostly because somebody had the bright idea to let him be funny and inject a little personality into his performance. He's helped by Louis Mandylor as the other half of the hard-boiled odd couple and fuckin Tony Todd is the bad guy, so it's gotta be worth checking out, right? Pretty perfect, unpretentious, low-brow, low-stakes fun.