Monthly Archives: July 2014

Film Favorites: Sweet Smell of Success

Released in 1957, Sweet Smell of Success, mocking, bitter title and all, was one of the last American film noirs. You’d be forgiven for thinking the genre would be sucked-dry by that point (after all, dozens of these movies were released every year in an era that saw rapidly-produced films like no other). Maybe it is the knowledge of this fact that allowed director Alexander Mackendrick, writer Clifford Odets, and cinematographer James Wong Howe (in a rare great film where the cinematographer is more famous than the writer or director, but then that’s film noir for you) the freedom to produce something which feels so rapturously alive. This isn’t a static film – it kicks and prods and runs at you every which way and threatens to overcome you with itself. It’s angry and enraged, teeth drawn, filled with passion, and purrs like a noirish nightmare hopped up on a drug that hadn’t yet made its way stateside ten years earlier at the height of noir popularity. but was now infecting the waters. Infecting, and poisoning at that, but Sweet Smell of Success has venom to match. Continue reading

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Film Favorites: VVVVVVVVVVVVVVVV: A Play in Two Acts

So essentially here we have an experiment. My reviews, especially of classic films, can sometimes border on an impenetrable length (I often don’t know when to say when). So here I wanted an excuse to review a couple and to formally limit myself to 1300 words per film. Now then, since I’m not allowing myself to hold to my whims and just write on and on, I’m indulging myself in two other ways: this means I can mostly cut the plot descriptions of the films (don’t worry, these are films I really like after all, so they don’t really much in the way of plot to begin with, and I’ve chosen films that don’t really require much of a description plot-wise) and secondly, I get to do my absolute favorite thing: just review two things with an arbitrary linkage tying them together. That linkage: I just happened to watch these two films, and their titles both begin with the letter “V”. You give a little good sense, you take a little. And the balance of the World remains in order. Continue reading

Film Favorites: In a Lonely Place

It is the unfortunate burden of Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place that it is almost never treated separately from two other films released in the same year with similar subject matters: Sunset Blvd. and All About Eve. Both films, of course, are Hollywood royalty. This is perhaps ironic considering they both deal with Hollywood royalty, although one is nominally about Broadway to create, perhaps, thinly-guised distance from the hand that feeds. Like those films, In a Lonely Place deals almost entirely in brittle cynicisms and barely contained self-deprecating snark, aimed squarely at mommy dearest: Hollywood. It’s astounding that three of Hollywood’s most disturbing and grandly disparaging self-mutilations came out within 12 months of each other. Perhaps something was in the water (more on this later). Strangely, while those two films  now bump shoulders with the likes of Citizen Kane of Casablanca, In a Lonely Place has been somewhat demoted to “lesser classic” status. That’s a shame, as it’s a true dark horse masterpiece of self-hating, jaundiced malaise that expends its dying breath clinging to any tatters of hope it can find illuminated amidst the dense chiaroscuro of Ray’s irrepressible visuals  .
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Film Favorites: Hannah and Her Sisters

Woody Allen has made many great films, and, as has become too obvious of late, many less than great ones. Generally, he’s at his best when things are at their most unsentimental and nervy – he’s on less sure footing when it comes to exploring purely positive, uncomplicated depictions of his characters. But for all his cynicism, Allen loves people. Or more appropriately, he uses his hate for people to deal out tough love for them, and this was never more-so true than in Hannah and Her Sisters, his only true masterpiece of mostly unaffected romantic sentimentalism and unapologetic sweetness (to go with his not insignificant number of masterpieces of far more troubled, anxious cynicism). Continue reading

Film Favorites: The King of Comedy

The King of Comedy is famously Martin Scorsese’s misunderstood picture, the one that had the great misfortune of being a follow-up to a film that did nothing more significant than simply be the best work of the 1980s while capturing like no other film the spirit of the 1970s all in one fell swoop. In other words: a follow-up to Raging Bull. No big deal. And if that wasn’t enough, if for no other reason than to fulfill his masochistic desire to invite negative comparisons to his other films, Scorsese went and made The King of Comedy with that previous genre defining film’s star too. Audiences didn’t take to the film, although it has recently been re-evaluated by critics, if not the movie-going public. Perhaps audiences were right to shun it – it’s creepy, unnerving, and it directly mocks the entire entertainment-audience relationship. In its own way, it’s as nihilist as any film the director ever made. Only, unlike his crime films (although this, truly, is a crime film if ever there was one), The King of Comedy was marketed as, and masquerades as, a loopy, giddy comedy. It’s a profoundly uncomfortable, unfathomable film. At least superficially, it’s perhaps the director’s lightest production (excepting maybe the recent Hugo), the kind we’re supposed to get into and fall in love with for its quirky amusements and revelatory lunacy. Turns out Scorsese had something else in mind. Continue reading

Midnight Screaming: The Thing

This week on Midnight Screenings, I’m looking at the two finest films from one of my favorite modern horror directors, and one of the men who brought midnight cinema to the mainstream: John Carpenter. 

John Carpenter’s recently re-appraised The Thing works on many levels. But most fascinating is that it works in a way completely, and seemingly intentionally, divorced from Carpenter’s other horror-masterpiece, Halloween. His 1978 game-changer centers an almost eternally faceless horror that can infiltrate mundane suburbia at a moment’s notice, like an ever-present shadow we’d prefer not admit is there. In The Thing, the horror belongs all too well. It’s not faceless. It’s quite the opposite: it has “the” face, in that its face is humanity. And not in a metaphorical “we’re the monster after all” sense, although that atavistic stone can be overturned for those looking. It’s primarily interested in something more earthy and visceral that is nonetheless profoundly human and lonely. The monster’s face is quite literally the human face – it enters into the human body and takes it over while occupying the human form. In doing so, perhaps as a none-too-happy accident, it causes us to question our very identity.
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Midnight Screaming: Halloween

This week on Midnight Screenings, I’m looking at the two finest films from one of my favorite modern horror directors, and one of the men who brought midnight cinema to the mainstream: John Carpenter. 

Halloween was writer-director-composer-producer-fanboy John Carpenter’s introduction to the world of the cinematic masters (befitting his name, he probably is a carpenter too for god’s sake). It is, above all else, a master-class in pure style as well as a reminder that in horror, filmmaking skill and raw dread drive the narrative rather than the other way around. It’s economical, ruthlessly efficient, and spare. There’s a sense that every shot holds a purpose, and that Carpenter knows how to stage his camera for maximum impact. The film feels planned, rigorously so, and ruthlessly composed to a point bordering on obsession. It’s a masterpiece of slowly unnerving tension that builds at just the right amount throughout – every image adds to the film, and edits don’t so much transition as ransack the previous shot and take control. It’s fitting that its creator bears the last name of a craftsman – this film is all ruthless, clinically potent, monstrously well-constructed craft. If, in fact, he did hold the profession of his surname, this would be an oak chair assembled guerilla style and with little funding or time (the film was shot on an extremely meager budget), but which would bear the love and care of someone who truly loved woodwork and put every ounce of his skill and passion into making that one chair. That it would be most appropriate as the devil’s throne is just the other half of the fun.
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