Movies: The Official "Movie of the Week" Club Thread III

Discussion in 'Entertainment' started by TP, Oct 17, 2018.

  1. kihei Registered User

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    Murmur of the Heart
    (1971) Directed by Louis Malle

    Murmur of the Heart is a sexual coming of age movie about Laurent, the youngest of three bothers in an upperclass family living in Paris, circa 1954. Though 14-years-old, Laurent is already beginning to explore his budding feelings of sexuality, sometimes with the sporadic encouragement of his two slightly older brothers. The three boys are highly privileged but without any sense of self-awareness; for the most part, they are obnoxious and uncontrollable. When his brothers take Laurent to a house of prostitution, they spoil Laurent’s initial introduction into sex by being jerks. But while Laurent takes after his two brothers, too, he is also a reader and a thinker, a fair bit brighter than his thoughtless siblings. That doesn’t mean things go smoothly for him. A priest at the private Catholic school that he attends warns him about the evils of masturbation and the temptations it causes, but spoils the effect by fondling Laurent’s thighs. Eventually Laurent becomes ill with a not too threatening heart murmur, and he and his mother, who is playful with all her boys but dotes especially on her youngest, takes him off to a provincial hotel where he can have a break from the bustle of Paris. After meeting some slightly older girls, Laurent slowly begins to learn the rules of the game. But then something unexpected happens. After his mother spends a drunken night dancing and carousing with hotel guests, Laurent helps her undress as she is in no state to do so herself. What follows is a brief but passionate embrace between the two that leads to sexual intercourse. Laurent not only takes this in stride, he immediately gets hornier and attempts to find some of his young girlfriends to spend the rest of the night with. On his second try, he succeeds. When he goes back to his hotel room for breakfast, his reunited family laugh at his precociousness.

    What to make of this rather charming story of mother/son incest? Probably not a whole hell of a lot. As the story may be a semi-autobiographical one, director Louis Malle’s approach is thoroughly non-judgmental about the sexuality—the incest just becomes a brief, ultimately harmless moment and part of Laurent’s growing up process. Sort of, "no harm, no foul." While Malle certainly underscores just how privileged this family is and how its members fail to acknowledge that fact, it isn’t a big point of the movie, just the way things are. That both father and sons pal around with neo-Fascists without a second thought is normalized as par for the course in this milieu. The boys’ mother Clara is younger than her husband, who is a cold fish as both partner and father, and she has seemingly frequent affairs with other men though she takes care to keep the family intact. Laurent is completely on her side on this score, so it’s not as if the complex parental dynamics are a shock to him. All in all, he seems like a kid who might grow out of his obnoxiousness, but there is no absolute guarantee about that. That's just the way things are, too.

    Malle could be critiquing a morally bankrupt bourgeoise family here, but I doubt it. The tone of the movie is too light and there are too many moments of genuine humour and affection. Malle seems aware that what it looks like from outside of the cocoon of this privileged family is one thing, but viewed from within the family, he suggests, it is a different story. Given this very specific context, while there may have been potential emotional damage to the people involved, no one, even Laurent, seriously considered allowing that damage to occur. Everybody picks themselves up and moves on. To the extent that there is a message, and I’m not at all sure Malle really intends one, his movie seems to be saying that we can’t always control what happens, but that when something potentially damaging does take place, the end result does not invariably have to be traumatic for all concerned. While one might argue that incest is always well beyond the limits of acceptance, in this particular case Malle begs to differ.

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  2. kihei Registered User

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    Next up is Kung Fu Hustle directed by Stephen Chow (2004)
     
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  3. KallioWeHardlyKnewYe Hey! We won!

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    Murmur of the Heart
    Malle (1971)
    “There’s no childhood anymore.”

    Dijon, France 1954. Laurent is coming of age in a liberal and lively household. He’s got a love of jazz. He’s got a pair of charmingly obnoxious prank-happy brothers. War is raging elsewhere in the world, but the immediate concern for the boys is, of course, girls. And drink. And living life the way boys of a certain age are bound to do. Like, for instance, quite literally measuring dicks. Dad is distant. Mom most assuredly is not.

    Misadventures ensue. The fun doesn’t even slow down when Laurent is diagnosed with a heart murmur — honest admission here I was NOT expecting the title to actually manifest itself. Anyway, this secludes he and his beloved mama from the rest of the family. More shenanigans ensue including a consummation of the son-mom flirtation that’s been occurring throughout the movie. Uncomfortable? Not really. Everyone has a good laugh in the end. The only thing missing was a freeze frame with everyone’s head thrown back in delight. Roll credits.

    I appreciate the detail. The clearly (semi?) autobiographical tale feels like a life really lived. There’s a fair amont of familiar, universal things here. But I’m not going to prolong this. I don’t think of myself as a prude though I suppose we all have our limits. I’ve certainly been exposed to all manner of bad/awful/objectionable things but I don’t find the incest plot line here to be nearly as sweet or charming as the film does. My understandings of and sympathy for teenage horniness has its limits. Mom and son may remember it without remorse. I do not. Bravo for provocation, I suppose.

    Murmur of the Heart is part classy Porky’s, part red state stereotype about European sexual liberty.

    The painting prank is pretty good though.
     
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  4. Jevo Registered User

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    Murmur of the Heart (1971) dir. Louis Malle

    Laurent is a young teenager in Dijon in the 50s, he loves jazz, goes to catholic school, and is the youngest child in a bourgeoisie family where his disinterested father is a gynecologist, and his affectionate mother spends her days with her lover. Laurent's older brothers are notorious pranksters who makes life hell for the family's servants. They take up on themselves to introduce their younger brother to the female body, so one day they take him to a brothel and buys a whore for him. On a scouting trip Laurent catches Scarlet Fever and is left with a heart murmur. He is cared for a home by his mother and their maid, and the relationship between Laurent and the mother grows stronger during this time. As Laurent's illness doesn't fade, he must go to a sanatorium with his mother, where they are accidentally booked into the same hotel room. Laurent tests his charm on a few girls also being treated at the sanatorium, but he is also increasingly curious about his mother.

    I have had a hard time figuring out how I really feel about this film. The matter of the mother-son relationship doesn't really bother me, although it is weird. I think what bothers me about the film is it's tone. It's both a comedy and a drama, but for me, it never seems to mesh these two concepts very well, it seems to often be one or the other, instead of both at the same time. What that means is that for me, the tone seems to change too much. The scenes involving Laurent's older brothers are almost like a college comedy, while other scenes are very emotional and character driven without any inherent comedy, and I feel the movie doesn't bridge that gap very well. A good example is the end of the film. We've just had the emotional climaxc of the film with Laurent and his mother having sex. Then Laurent goes out and spends the night with one of the girls at the hotel. Next morning he comes back, shoes in his hand, and meets his father and his brothers in his room. They look at Laurent, realise what he's been doing all night, and starts laughing. It's an appropriate response to the situation. But it feels weird in context of the movie, where Laurent has completed his evolution from boy to man-ish, and then we get this weird comedy moment.

    Normally it's not a big problem for me to see a coming-of-age film, where the coming-of-age experience is significantly different from my own. I am quite able to get into the film and their experience. But I felt I had that problem here. Things might have been different in the 50s in France, but for me coming-of-age in the 00s didn't involve giving a priest regular updates on my masturbation habit, nor did it involve visiting brothels as a 14 year old. But then again, it didn't involve figuring out I am a lesbian, and exploring and coming to terms with my sexuality, and figuring out how this self exploration affects my whole life. But I really loved Blue Is The Warmest Colour. And I think it comes down to me not feeling the movie had a consistent tone, and that made it hard for me to get into it.
     
  5. Jevo Registered User

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    Pandora's Box (1929) dir. Georg Wilhelm Pabst

    Lulu (Louise Brooks) is the young mistress of a succesful newspaper editor, Dr. Ludwig Schön. Misstressing is her 'profession' so to speak. She makes rich people fall for her, and they pamper her. However Schön doesn't see her as someone you marry, if you marry her you are in for trouble. Instead he has his sights set on the daughter of the minister of the interior. Lulu is unhappy when he tells her his intentions for marriage. She seeks comfort at her best friend Alwa, who happens to be the son of Schön. Alwa is putting on a revue, and Schön gets the idea to have Lulu star in it, to get her attention elsewhere than him. The plan works great until the premiere, where Schön brings his fiancee, which makes Lulu refuse to perform. When Schön tries to persuade her otherwise, they end up embracing pationately, and get caught doing so. Wedding is off, and Schön has to settle for a marriage with Lulu. At the wedding, Schigolch, Lulu first 'patron', decides he wants to spread roses in the bridal chamber. Lulu retires first, and finds Schigolch there, the two have fun together while Lulu waits for Schön. When Schön arrives he sees them together and misjudges the situation. He takes out his gun, and chases Schigolch, however Lulu manages to slow him down enough for nothing to happen. Once alone together, Schön tries to persuade Lulu to commit suicide, she refuses, and in the struggle the gun goes off and kills Schön. Lulu is arrested, and gets condemned in court for murder. But Schigolch pulls the fire alarm just as the verdict is being given, and Lulu manages to escape in the confusion. She meets up with Alwa, who agrees to run away with her.

    Initially forgotten, Pandora's Box mostly premiered in different stages of dismemberment to original audiences in 1929, and was only rediscovered later once Louise Brooks became a subject of admiration from cinema fans, and the original cut became available outside of Germany in the 1950s. Louise Brooks is definitely the star of this film. Her looks in this film is iconic, and Liza Minelli copied it for her role in Cabaret, and she isn't the only to do so. Brooks status as a sex symbol is very much something she helped create herself. She knows what she's got, and she knows how to present herself. Her wardrobe features several very low cut dresses as well, to show of her figure. While Brooks is quite aware of herself and her affect on others, Lulu is perhaps less so. She is quite aware that men, and women, are drawn to her, but perhaps not aware of the destructive nature of that attraction. She tells Alwa that he's her best friend, because he's the only one that doesn't love her, seemingly unaware of his deep infatuation with her, but then she goes and teases him by saying that maybe he also loves her. Her sexuality is the Pandora's Box, the root of all evil. Those who fall for her, and who she indulges, eventually comes to a downfall because of her. And while for her, there's always someone new in the wings willing to help her, those short term gains is just a bump on the road towards her eventual demise.

    While Pandora's Box is fun to watch for it's style, and seeing the visual influence it and Louise Brooks have had, Louise Brooks performance, and it's subject matter, which is quite risque for it's time, especially with the lesbian subplot, the story is not that great. The film is told in a great number of acts, and I can't remember exactly how many. Each act feels like a mini story in itself, building to their own climaxes. Each act doesn't feed that smoothly into the next. Which to me makes it feel like the movie is basically starting from scratch about 8 times throughout, and has to start building up again. Which makes a weird viewing in my opinion. It almost feels like the movie was made 15 years too late, and it was actually meant to be released as a serial with each act being its own episode. The movie ends feeling overly long to me. The court case feels like a natural climax for the movie, although it would be a slightly unresolved ending. But it happens halfway through the film, and then there's a bunch more acts, which I never really got into as much as I had the ones prior to the court case.
     
  6. Jevo Registered User

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    My next pick is the 1962 version of The Manchurian Candidate.
     
  7. kihei Registered User

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    Pandora's Box
    (1929) Directed by G. W. Pabst

    For some reason, while I was watching Pandora's Box I couldn't get Cyndi Lauper's Girls Just Want To Have Fun out of my head. Lulu is a girl who just wants to have fun, and, yet, look at all the fuss she gets into. A host of various men from sundry backgrounds can't resist her. Though she is high on sex appeal--man, is she ever high on sex appeal--she is also something of an airhead of the first order, meaning she seldom looks before she leaps and the stakes get increasingly more dire every time she makes yet another misjudgement, which she does a lot. She goes from your dream flapper to fallen woman multiple time overs to potential hooker to murder victim with all the men who loved her and wanted her abandoned by the roadside like road kill or attempting to make a buck out of her still potent but no longer quite as magical charms. Interesting, Lulu is not completely a victim of the men in her life--she is as shallow, self-serving and manipulative as any of them. If there is a moral to this story, it is clouded by the fact that the film is made in Germany between wars, meaning that there is a certain degree of hysteria and moral decay flickering around the edges of this film that Pabst barely seems to have under control. For a German film in this period, moral disorder is not an uncommon theme, and a few years later Germany would open a real Pandora's Box that allowed all its demons to flourish in the most destructive ways imaginable.

    All of the above becomes rather a moot point, though. The film is absolutely dominated by Louise Brooks' incandescent presence. Lulu is a mix of innocence, decadence, playfulness, seductiveness, and danger that is intoxicating, and Brooks portrays her with an immediacy and passion that few actresses have ever equaled in a movie. Maybe Rita Hayworth in Gilda is the closest that I have seen to matching such a uninhibited and sexy performance. Credit to Pabst for realizing how much high voltage she was generating and giving her every opportunity to do so, from hair-do to wardrobe to lighting and framing. Pandora's Box should have made her a huge star, but in reality few people have heard of her. Though the name rang a faint bell with me, I had to look her up on Wiki. I assumed she was German and was shocked to find out that she was born and raised in Wichita, of all places. She went to Germany to find work, made three movies with Pabst, became briefly a European sensation, but returned home to a failed career made up of a few bad movies and bit roles. Oddly, her life ended up very Lulu-like. Frustrated by her shortcomings, she gave up acting, endured her second failed marriage, tried dancing in a nightclub and when nothing else came along became, at 36, a high class call girl for awhile. She seems to have lived a sad life of isolation and near social ostracism though she lived to a ripe old age eking out an existence as best she could. A few hours lighting up the screen on celluloid isn't much of a legacy, but her glow is still visible.

    intertitles
     
  8. KallioWeHardlyKnewYe Hey! We won!

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    Ha. I've been on an unintentional/unplanned Frankenheimer run in the last month or two with The Train, Ronin and (soon) Grand Prix.
     
  9. kihei Registered User

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    Add Seconds to your list. Trust me.
     
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  10. KallioWeHardlyKnewYe Hey! We won!

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    Pandora’s Box
    Pabst (1929)
    “You’ll have to kill me to get rid of me.”

    Lulu has big dreams of stage stardom and a comfortable life. And she’ll do what she needs to do to preserve her own self interest. Lucky for her everyone (regardless of gender) seems smitten enough to abide by her plans. There’s Schon (a doughy James Cagney look alike), her one time lover and whoopsie! not quite husband. There’s Quast the entertainer. Alwa, Schon’s son and a nurturer of crushes. There’s the Countess and the Marquis, both willing to help. In a bit of tragic karma there’s even Jack The Ripper (or a Ripper-like figure) himself. He, unfortunately for her, isn’t fully swayed.

    Lulu is a bit of a proto-femme fatale. I’m not sure she’s cognizant of ALL the damage she causes on others, but I think she knows most of it. She’s certainly judged for it by both man and the universe.

    It’s a rare and treasured thing when the belief being expressed on screen jibes with what you’re actually feeling. All respect to Diane Kruger in Troy, for example, but she don’t seem worth going to war over. Or more recently and random in the show Devs (great show!) where we’re constantly told how brilliant the lead character is though her actual actions and performance leave plenty of that in doubt. Oh ok. One more. It’s like in Studio 60 when Aaron Sorkin tried to write psuedo-SNL skits that were dreadfully unfunny though no character on the show seemed to realize this.

    ANYWHO, I don’t want to come across crass in commenting on a woman’s looks, but Brooks is a stone cold stunner. I get it. Toward the end, when she really needed money, I just wanted her Venmo info. I was ready to hit send. I was in no mood to judge, such was her allure. To quote Jessica Rabbit, “She’s not bad, she’s just drawn that way,” right?

    There was an interesting duality to the movie itself. First part is almost a showbiz drama, the second half a cons on the run flick. I enjoyed it quite a bit, probably a little more in the second half with its shifting locales. Is it all tragedy or justice? I vote the former, but certain viewers — particularly those a’way back then — may favor the cautionary conclusion of the latter.
     
  11. KallioWeHardlyKnewYe Hey! We won!

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    Oh I've seen it. May as well queue it up to rewatch now given recent developments though.
     
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  12. KallioWeHardlyKnewYe Hey! We won!

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    In Cold Blood
    Brooks (1967)
    “Don’t people around here lock doors?
    They will tonight.”

    Kansas, 1959. A pair of ex-cons — Perry Smith and Dick Hickcok — cross the state in the tragically mistaken belief a family in rural Kansas is sitting on $10,000 in cash in a secret safe. Rob the house, hit the road. The tip was wrong. They only get $43. Then they cruelly murder all four members of the Clutter family. While on the run, arrogantly believing they’ve gotten away with it, the investigative net gradually closes in on them. Once caught they’re quickly undone by their mistakes. It’s a quick trial. Both men eventually hang for the crime.

    Based on the 1966 “nonfiction novel” by Truman Capote. It’s a famous true crime that’s been depicted multiple times on film including at least two versions of this book directly and two separate bio-flicks about Capote. This is perhaps the most by the book (in a matter-of-fact sense), the least editorialized, so to speak. While it makes a clear case that these killers weren’t dealt the best hand it isn’t quite the anti-capital punishment plea latter and alternate versions would be. There’s a sympathy for Smith in particular who is both the more sensitive, wounded soul, but also the more murderous of the two.

    There’s enough tragedy to go around. There’s the obvious slaughter of the Clutter’s, but it’s made all the worse by the fact that despite their statements to the contrary these men aren’t cool professionals, they’re banal sociopaths. Dumb, sloppy and pointless.

    Richard Brooks is one of that interesting class of directors to me who aren’t going to crack any lists of “great” but still have done some outstanding work. Fred Zinneman and Curtis Hanson are a pair like this that come to mind. No real signature other than exceptional competence. This man did also direct The Professionals, so there’s an apt metaphor (fun flick too, a slightly less-The Wild Bunch, if you will).

    Here’s he’s practically journalistic. It’s a very matter-of-fact execution. Here’s the killers getting from A-to-B. Here’s the family. Back and forth, milking tension (since it was well known what happens). Then at the moment of the crime ... he cuts away and straight into the second half, which is the chase, made all the more gripping by the fact that Smith and Hickcock don’t realize how close to capture they really are. Once caught, they cross-cut interrogations are masterful. Then there’s the big reveal, the night of. And it’s horrifying though not a single bit of violence is shown. It’s all off screen. Finally it settles into a bit of a prolonged epilogue. From the trial on, I’d say it loses a little steam. Not a lot, but a little. A narrator comes in to talk you through the timeline and logistics. It’s not quite jarring, but it’s a shift.

    Robert Blake (Perry) and Scott Wilson (Dick) were unknowns here who’d go on to lives of character work. I thought Wilson was the standout as the cocksure Dick who predictably completely crumbles in two moments of truth — the murder and the interrogation. Blake is certainly memorable, but I have limited personal patience for Brando/Dean riffing leather coat sensitive types.

    The real star of this show though is Conrad Hall’s cinematography. From the opening match lit off Smith’s tell-tale boot the shadowy finale in the death house for Smith’s hanging.
     
  13. KallioWeHardlyKnewYe Hey! We won!

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    I apologize for going back to the true crime well again with this, but I've watched a couple of TV shows of late that put this movie in mind (plus it has some relevance to the yet another Scarface remake news).

    Matteo Garrone's Gomorrah
     
  14. Jevo Registered User

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    In Cold Blood (1967) dir. Richard Brooks

    Perry breaks parole by going into Kansas with fellow ex-con Dick. They have plans for a huge score of a robbery against a farmer, who Dick has heard has lots of cash in his house, from a former cell mate who worked for him. They are gonna get rich and disappear to Mexico. Something goes wrong however. The farmer has no cash on hand, he pays everything by check. The robbery ends with farmer, his wife and their two children being murdered. Dick and Perry run away, and drives around with no real goal. Meanwhile the police is investigating the murder, trying to find out why and who.

    In Cold Blood is essentially both modern and old fashioned at the same time. Visually it's inspired by noir-films from the 40s and 50s, a style that had been out of fashion for about a decade at that point. While the characters and the violence is straight out of the New Hollywood playbook, which was still being written at the time, with Bonnie and Clyde premiering just 4 months prior to In Cold Blood. Perry and Dick are unquestionably despicable. But we don't see the extent of their evil until at the very end of the film, although we know about the murders from the beginning. This allows the viewers to see the other sides of the two. Dick's street smarts, although he isn't as smart as he thinks he is. And his generally cold blooded demeanor. We see the innocence of Perry, who doesn't appear very smart, and is obviously traumatised by things in his past, but also his quick change of mood, from timid to aggressive. There's a great scene where they pick up an old man and his young grandchild, who can only pay with bottle deposits. At first dismissive of the endeavour, soon both are running childlike at the side of the highway collecting discarded bottles together with the kid. They are obviously bad people, but there's more to them than that, and I think the choice not to show the robbery the end helps bring this out more, by not clouding the viewers perception of them with such an extreme event at the beginning of the movie. I'm not sure In Cold Blood makes Perry and Dick sympathetic, but it makes them human, and that makes it interesting, with a sense of morbid curiosity, to spend time with them. Lots of that is probably down to Truman Capote's novel and his charactarisations, but Richard Brooks direction also deserves praise for this.
     
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  15. kihei Registered User

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    In Cold Blood
    (1967) Directed by Richard Brooks

    This true-crime story of an average midwestern farming family brutally murdered for $43 occurred in 1959. With the wisdom of hindsight, this mindless act seems to signal the first inkling that the American Dream was in trouble, that there were snakes in the garden, that everything wasn't Father Knows Best perfect in the land of the free. The act both horrified and fascinated the American public at the time, and was the cause of much soul-searching and questioning. The sheer randomness of the act shocked people, made them feel suddenly vulnerable in a way they hadn't imagined before. Truman Capote, as New York as Andy Warhol or Woody Allen, decided that no existent form of journalism could do justice to this story. So he created his own approach, something rather awkwardly referred to as "the non-fiction novel." He would research the murders and the killers as though he were doing a documentary, but he would add his writer's imagination and his gift for words when telling the story. The end result is a book that seems more revealing and more convincing than the newspaper reports. That it was Capote who accepted this task was a story in itself to say the least. Capote, short of stature, nasal-voiced and effete, the author of Breakfast at Tiffany's, seemed utterly miscast for the role. But he created one of the seminal literary works of the post-war years of the 20th century.

    The movie does the book justice. Director Richard Brooks opts for a cool realism that seems to combine film noir with something close to Italian neo-realism. American style, The result is a movie that has an impact almost as hard hitting as the book, a movie that punches above its weight. The style and narrative construction account for a lot of the movie's artistic success. But Brooks and his cinematographer Conrad Hall make some inspired choices along the way. Brooks lets us know what happened but puts off actually showing the crimes being horrifyingly committed to near the end of the movie after we have gotten to know the killers and been exposed to a part of their human side. Somehow this makes the actual murders even more repellent because the deaths are so cruel and unnecessary. How could even such lost souls be capable of that? The dialogue is realistic, too, except for the odd clanger. When Perry confesses that he liked the old man "right up to the moment I slit his throat," the hand of a writer suddenly becomes too visible. Hall always keeps his camera at just the right distance, focusing out attention and letting the action and characters speak for themselves minus any hyping from the camera. The great cinematographer has an especially inspired moment near the end of the film when Perry (Robert Blake) talks about his sad life with the rain outside casting tear-like shadows on his somber face. This idea has been stolen a zillion times since then, so that it has become an all-time cliche; however, the original execution is brilliant here. It should be noted that Black achieves this effect while shooting from within the room where Perry is standing, not from outside through the window pane which makes the shot much easier to execute, the standard approach taken these days. Blake and Scott Wilson seems like they were made by God for the sole purpose of playing the role of the two killers in this movie..Wilson's usual shallowness is perfect for his portrayal of Dick, and Blake's brooding, methody take on Perry could hardly be more convincing. The end result is a long look at utterly mindless violence, something that was seen not just as an aberration of the norm, but an affront to it. America has developed a thicker skin since then.
     
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  16. kihei Registered User

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    Kung Fu Hustle
    (2004) Directed by Stephen Chow

    Sing (Stephen Chow), an utterly incompetent thief, wants to make the big time by joining the dreaded Axe Gang, but he can't pass the initiation, killing somebody. When Sing decides to rob the wrong apartment in a tenement called Pig Sty Alley, he inadvertently triggers a war between the mild-looking but fearsome inhabitants of Pig Sty Alley and the Axe Gang, who are forced to import numerous bad guys, including the Zither brothers (zithers are their weapon of choice), to try to defeat the Landlady and her motley crew. What follows is a human cartoon, owing a little bit to surrealist Luis Bunuel and a whole lot to the sensibility of Daffy Duck and Looney Tunes cartoons in general. The gags come fast and furiously with the pacing of silent film comedies directed by Harold Lloyd. Mixed into this madness is a huge and uneasy combination of violence, both the silly kind and the more serious kind, and cruelty.

    Actually I was a little disappointed this time around. The hijinks is a lot of fun, Chow, the actor, is marvelous, but the movie seemed to me to have pacing problems. Most of the really funny bits, and they are really funny, come in the first half hour or so, which is a loosey-goosey, blink-and-you-miss-something thirty minutes. Once the gang war starts, things bog down a little, relatively speaking. Some of the fight sequences just go on too long; some of the initial comic bits--those Zither brothers, for instance--run out of steam. And we are left with much creative mayhem, but no soul to speak of.

    Some people object to the mindlessness of the whole enterprise, but to me Kung Fu Hustle is like watching a gifted physical comic run riot for an hour and a half. Like most comedians, Chow's batting average is far from perfect. But he does have a fertile mind and he does have a great grasp of how to realize the quirks of his imagination on screen. His subsequent movies have for the most part been visually splendid but shallow, almost like his true audience should be kids. Kung Fu Hustle remains a movie with a lot of charm--it's just that its pleasures seem a bit less pronounced than I remember them.

    This could be another example for me of the "where did you see it?" effect, how place can influence enjoyment and judgement. I saw this with my sister-in-law and elder daughter in Hong Kong on its opening weekend with a jam-packed audience that interacted with what was happening on the screen and were obviously enjoying themselves immensely. The atmosphere was infectious, and I think that some of that certainly rubbed off on me. It's funny the number of things that can influence one's perception of a movie. That being said, I'm not altering my opinion drastically of this film--it is still the funniest pure comedy that I have probably seen this century. But it is not quite the same film that I remembered.

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  17. kihei Registered User

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    My next pick will start a three-film homage to one of my favourite actors, Irrfan Khan, who died recently: The Lunchbox (2013).
     
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  18. Jevo Registered User

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    Kung Fu Hustle (2004) dir. Stephen Chow

    In the 1940s, Shanghai is ruled by the fearsome Axe Gang. A poor housing complex, which is normally outside of the scope of the Axe Gang, suddenly becomes bitter enemies of the gang. When Sing (Stephen Chow), a wannabe gangster, together with his friend impersonates Axe Gang members while attempting to scam the residents. Things don't go as planned, and Sing ends up antagonising the real Axe Gang while blaming the housing residents for the mishap. Lots of Kung Fu fighting ensues.

    There's no doubt Kung Fu Hustle is a very well made film. The fighting choreography and performances are great. The direction is good. The jokes are good. It's hard to point to anything that it doesn't do well. It's easy to see why it became a hit. My biggest criticism of the film, is that the two times I've watched it, I've never really engaged with the story. Which would ordinarily be somewhat of a problem for a film. But the story isn't that important here. What's important is the laughs and the fights, and those parts deliver for the most part. But if you are not into the story, there's the risk that you start losing interest in the film if a few jokes don't land. I perhaps wasn't in the perfect mood for a comedy when I watched this, but I hoped it would pick me up. That didn't really happen as much as I had hoped. And there was moments along the way where I kinda lost interest and focus on the film. It's kinda similar to how I feel about much of Jackie Chan's work. I love the fights, the stunts, the comedy. But the things inbetween, not so much. I often find that I like the idea of a Jackie Chan movie more than I actually like watching his films. Because I tend to block the bad parts from my memory. I think I feel similarly about Kung Fu Hustle. I want to really like it, and there's a lot of great stuff in it. But there's also stretches where I'm bored. But I can feel I want to block those parts out of my mind, so I can remember the experience more fondly than it was. If I watched it with the right crowd, who was really into it. I think it would probably be such a fun experience I might not even notice the boring parts. But sitting alone on the couch they can be hard to forget.
     
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  19. KallioWeHardlyKnewYe Hey! We won!

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    Lordy it has been a week ... sorry for the delay ...

    Kung-Fu Hustle
    Chow (2004)
    “Ordinary’s a blessing.”

    Shanghai. 1940s. Vicious gangs run society, though that’s not the case in Pig-Sty Alley where a small community of poor live in a general piece. Sure the Landlady is a piece of work. Sing is a wannabe. He aspires to be part of the villainous Axe Gang, but he’s a bit of a bumbler. HIs antics endear him neither to the people of Pig-Sty nor the Axe Gang itself. The gang wants to take control of the alley. But they learn they’re biting off more than they chew as several members of the community are not quite what they seem ....And Sing, recalling his teachings from a cheap booklet he had as a kid, eventually comes around to help the defense.

    Well if there were ever a live-action attempt to make a cartoon this is it. Inspired more by Looney Tunes than anything else, this a pleasing, light-hearted ride. I wouldn’t quite classify it as for kids — it has a couple of sequences that might challenge younger viewers although it’s mostly pretty bloodless, but I’d imagine I would’ve gotten quite the kick out of it in my younger days. That I have any slight reservations today it’s only due to my age and the slight loss of s sense of wonder. Maybe the MOST cartoon moment, a prolonged leg whirling chase between the Landlady and Sing was tad too far for me. But maybe I just really wanted a “meep meep.” But cartoonishly swollen lips and flower pots falling from windowsills (and staying on people’s heads), well I dare say I laughed. I am a believer in going for it and if you’re going to go, then dammit go big and that’s pretty much what Chow does here. Hell, he throws in a The Shining homage for no real reason other than why they hell not. And you know what? Why the hell not.

    It gracefully tiptoes on a line between parody and genuine. Maybe it’s a very genuine parody? It might be taking a little piss out of kung-fu but it’s certainly doing so lovingly
    There’s a bit of a video game dynamic. Challenge upon challenge. Boss upon boss. Leveling up.

    There’s a lot of memorable character creations here, the cigarette smoking Landlady and her high-powered vocal cords, the shopkeeper with shower rings for gauntlets, the murderious musical duo and, of course, The Beast who executes one of the better “bullet catches” I’ve seen in a movie.

    The opening dance sequence is a joy — fighting is, in many respects, dance and I appreciated the making of that connection explicit. It made me want more of that physiciallity though that never quite transpired. But this is all still a whirling, flailing, gravity-defying time.
     
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  20. Jevo Registered User

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    The Manchurian Candidate (1962) dir. John Frankenheimer

    During the Korean war a group of American soldiers are saved by the bravery of Raymond Shaw, who earns a medal of honor for his deed. When he lands in Washington DC he is received as a hero, all organised by his controlling mother and his step-father, US Senator John Iselin. Other members of Shaw's group in Korea, including group leader Major Bennett Marco, start having recurring nightmares about them all sitting in a room with Chinese and Russian military members, while brainwashing of the group, and in particular Shaw, is being demonstrated. It starts to become obvious, that this is not just a dream. But that Shaw has been turned into an assassin, who will have no recollection of his murders, and thus can have no conscience.

    Quite early in the film it becomes quite obvious what has happened to Shaw. It is not a mystery that he and his group was brainwashed. The big mystery is rather who is controlling him in the US. And what are their goals with him? At first the answer might seem obvious, although you can't put a name to it. But luckily the movie is smarter than that. And the slow reveal of the conspiracy is very satisfying. The Manchurian Candidate is a great political thriller, although it's take on politics was perhaps slightly dated in 1962, with its big focus on McCarthyism. Which was more relevant in the time period where the movie takes place in the mid-50s. But perhaps being a few years removed from the height of McCarthyism is what allows the movie to make such a satirical take on the subject. John Iselin is a great character. A drunk, who hardly knows what he's saying. Anything he says in public is carefully choreographed by his wife. He mostly just shouts something communists, government and random numbers, while contradicting himself every other sentence. The journalists however are too busy thinking about how to word their headline to either notice, or call him out on his inconsistencies. The movie is a thriller first, and a satire second, and it remembers this. The satire never undermines the thriller aspects, or makes it less of a thriller. It mixes those aspects extremely well, and can go between them seemlessly midway through a scene if needed be. This speaks to how great the editing is, and how well composed the script it.

    John Frankenheimer has put together a very good movie here. His direction never calls much attention to itself, but he puts his mark by having the whole movie come together very nicely, ahnd with every part being done very well. He also gets good performances from his actors. Laurence Harvey's Shaw often doesn't do much apart from being silent and looking moody, but Harvey does that very well. Frank Sinatra is a great leading man, and he does well as the driving force of the film. My main experience with Angela Lansbury is as an older woman solving murders in small towns. But here she's a surprisingly good villain, and she seems to be having a lot of fun with that.
     
  21. Jevo Registered User

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    My next pick is The Exorcist.
     
  22. KallioWeHardlyKnewYe Hey! We won!

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    The Manchurian Candidate
    Frankenheimer (1962)
    “It’s just our lovable Sgt. Shaw.”

    Korea 1952. A troop of soldiers is ambushed and captured. Straight-arrow Raymond Shaw saves his comrades, earning a Medal of Honor. Or so the story goes. Shaw and his returning soldiers actually had been brainwashed. He’s a sleeper agent/assassin unknowingly in the employ of Communisits. His colleagues, namely his commander Marko, know something is off though. In the background is Shaw’s ambitious mother and her husband, a dolt of a Red-hunting senator. Shaw tries to distance himself from his past, but mother’s always lurking. Marko is trying to figure out what’s up. Shaw keeps being activated for kills he doesn’t remember, leading to a final show down at a political speech where he’s been positioned to be the gun man.

    This is a top notch thriller, all the more notable because so much is revealed early. There’s no mystery about who Shaw is and what actually occurred. That’s laid out brilliantly in the film’s jewel piece — an imaginary New Jersey garden club meeting/indoctrination presentation where a steady voice doctor shows off what his brainwashed soldiers can do. Frankenheimer’s slow 360 around the room as it shifts from the imaginary to the reality is masterful. The zonked-out indifference of the soldiers is borderline comedic.
    There are questions of what and who and, for course, whether or not our hero will be able to save the day and that drives it. But, if you’ll pardon the pun, the movie puts the cards on the table pretty early but loses nothing from it.

    Another testament to the direction and story is that it keeps you engaged despite how unlikable Shaw really is. It doesn’t help (at least for me) that Laurence Harvey is doing some weird posh accent. I don’t know if he just couldn’t hide his Britishness or if this was an intentional choice but he doesn’t speak with any sort of voice that sounds normal to me. So that was a bit of a distraction. The performance is good, but man the voice drives me nuts. Sinatra’s never been a favorite of mine. He’s passable here, but I couldn’t help but want some one better. And why does he have and need a love interest?

    So wait, why do I like this movie despite issues with the two leads?

    Already touched on Frankenheimer. That presentations sequence. The cool-handed reveal of Shaw’s mother as his handler. Even that Heinze 57 joke is stellar. It’s damning views on politicians still hold plenty of water. There is a dark sense of humor just below the tense surface here. The story itself is still cracking. Its worries and menace still carry some weight. Organizations and missions may change, but we’re no less afraid today of a subversive other that might be in our midst, undermining all we hold dear. Lansbury’s speech late in the movie doesn’t feel a bit out of place. Then there’s Lansbury’s performance. An iconic villain and probably on the Mount Rushmore of bad movie moms.

    By sheer coincidence I had just previously watched Winter Kills, a 70s curio also based on a Richard Condon novel. It’s also heavy with manipulation and political conspiracy thought it’s not quite as well balanced as The Manchurian Candidate. It’s borderline parody.
     
  23. kihei Registered User

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    [​IMG]

    The Manchurian Candidate (1962) Directed by John Frankenheimer

    The Manchurian Candidate, a movie with a very original approach to assassination and brain washing, holds up remarkably well after all this time. It is one of those movies that when it was re-made, I had to wonder why, on earth, did anybody feel the need to do that. The Denzell Washington version is okay, but it can only mimic what was original in the first one. The starkness of its opening sequence remains nearly as powerful and surprising today as it did then. From the beginning the movie keeps up off balance with a story that seems fanciful in the extreme but is presented with immense plausibility by Frankenheimer, who was really on a roll in this period of his career....I mean, just a crazy roll. (Between 1962 and 1966, he directed All Fall Down, The Birdman of Alcatraz, The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, The Train, Grand Prix, and Seconds). The Manchurian Candidate is a movie in which so many little things work to the benefit of the movie. First there is the acting, Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey, two largely underrated actors from the '60s, are chillingly, intensively believable. Harvey had an extraordinary gift for playing weak men, men who could be manipulated by circumstance, making him perfect here as the unwitting victim of a Chinese plot. Sinatra was an actor who through sheer force of will punched way above his weight, and he makes a believably dedicated and tough army officer trying to piece together his own nightmares into some sort of understanding of the larger puzzle here. But hands down the best performance is by Angela Lansbury as the grey eminence behind the terrible plan. I saw this movie when I was a teenager and I never ever forgave her for it. As an actress she was just doing her job, but I have avoided her ever since as she was just too good in this role and it really creeped me out for life. Another big credit goes to cinematographer Lionel Lindon , a journeymen cinematographer who in this movie seems to channel the great James Wong Howe in terms of style and clarity of image. The style remains incredibly fresh and visceral--still fascinating to watch unfold as the moment of truth nears. There are so many memorable scenes in this movie. For instance, when Raymond Shaw shoots the liberal Senator in his own home, he symbolically bleeds not blood but the milk of human kindness. How darkly witty can you get? The original The Manchurian Candidate if anything is probably now underrated. It is certainly among Hollywood's finest films of the '60s era..
     
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2020
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  24. KallioWeHardlyKnewYe Hey! We won!

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    Gomorrah
    Garrone (2008)
    “That’s how it works.”

    I was driven back to this by the recent one-two television punch of My Brilliant Friend and Zero Zero Zero. The former is a 50s/60s set series about two girls growing up near Naples, Italy (shadows of crime are at the edges of the tale) while the latter is the tale of a drug shipment moving from Mexico to Italy and various parties who come in contact with it, based on a book by the same journalist/author who wrote Gomorrah, the deep dive investigative book that this movie is based on. I saw it back in 2008 and it was my favorite movie of the year.

    Coming back to it now, I don’t have much in the way of regrets. I don’t know if it quite holds the stature it originally did but I still found it fairly compelling. We get five separate tales of individuals and their interactions with Naples Camorra crime syndicate. There’s young Toto who wants to join the gangs. There’s Don Ciro, an aging money middleman doing runs in the community who wants out. There’s Pasquale a respected tailor who’s recruited to make a little extra money with a Chinese group. There’s Franco, a corporate fixer training a young protegee in about a waste dumping scheme. Then there’s Sweet Pea and Marco, a pair of wannabes who steal a cache of guns and fancy themselves junior Scarfaces. These stories veer off in different directions. One ends up ok, one is status quo, one has a bit of noble acceptance, one is ominous and poor Sweet Pea and Marco, well they were dead meat from the start.

    One of the triumphs of the movie is the casting. Even to this day I think Toni Servillo is the only actor I recognize. It never feels like a documentary — though it is based on real people and real stories — but there’s certainly an air of authenticity. Given the varied story lines, there isn’t much time for each character to make an impression, but for the most part they all do. A lot of good, memorable facts and loaded looks. Toto looks innocent. Ciro looks tired. Sweet Pea looks like an idiot. It is not exactly an emotional journey but it resonates.

    Another of the lingering positives is its ground-level POV. Gangsters and crime are one of the most enduring of genres. The stories are universal. Without borders. There’s an interesting loop in that some of the characters quote and “play” Scarface. The fiction and reality couldn’t be further apart though. Pop culture informing reality. How many of these people are genuine and how many are partial products of what they watch? The Sopranos played around with this as well. Though that’s a fictional story it’s word where it’s members are well aware of The Godfather and Goodfellas. There’s always something a little embarrassing and juvenile to me in these characters when we watch them with our God view from our couch/theaters.

    These aren’t fun gangsters or even the dispicable but appealing anti-hero types. These are nasty, brutish men (and boys) in a broken and amoral world. It’s a feat of pseudo-journalism as much as it is a compelling story. Another easy reference is the TV show The Wire with its grafting of some fictionalized but representative personal stories onto a structure of reported truth. From things as serious as murder, to more banal actions.

    Gomorrah is far from a good time. But it remains a compelling one.
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2020
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  25. KallioWeHardlyKnewYe Hey! We won!

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    My next pick is Oscar Micheaux’ Body and Soul. (1925)
    (On Criterion and You Tube)
     

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