Sunday, October 23, 2011

#419: The Lady from Shanghai

Directed by: ORSON WELLES
1948, TSPDT Rank #403

This post contains material written for the Internet Film Club.

If The Stranger was Welles' "conventional" take on film noir, then The Lady from Shanghai is his decidedly "unconventional" take on it. And the results are stunning. The plot doesn't make much sense, and those attempting to get a "good story" here will be confused and disappointed. What it is is a fractured near-masterpiece, a raving fever dream. It's strikingly filmed, with a sweaty, imposing, and somehow strangely beautiful feel to it. Rita Hayworth is ravishing here - she lights up the screen like a cigarette and lets it smolder slowly. The ending climactic hall of mirrors sequence completely outranks even the great final scene of The Stranger as a sheer explosion of furiously edited violence. It is a fitting conclusion to all that comes before. I think I heard that Lady from Shanghai was originally quite a bit longer, and was ordered to be cut down by the studio. This would make quite a bit of sense, because the film never really comes together as a whole, just as a series of somewhat related sequences, filled with crackling dialogue. It could have worked as a longer film, but it works well this way too. And I haven't seen Mr. Arkadin yet, but I think The Lady from Shanghai may be our purest glance at a "Wellesian film noir".

(Rating: 9/10)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

#418: Gun Crazy

Directed by: JOSEPH H. LEWIS
1950, TSPDT Rank #443

Some noir films are great, but don't deter from the stereotypical film noir outline (such as Double Indemnity). Their predictability and familiarity is ironically what often makes them so enjoyable and satisfying; because they meet our expectations right where we expect them to. Then there are noir films like Gun Crazy, which are also great in their own right - but break all the plot "rules" of a film noir, and leave the viewer continually not expecting where they are going. It's a story reminiscent of Bonnie and Clyde, wherein it concerns a criminal couple, in love and on the lam. Only here it's a little more complicated than that. Both the man and the woman have been gun-obsessed from childhood - only the man is pacifist who gets sick at the thought of killing even a small animal, and the woman seems all too ready to kill anyone who is remotely a threat at will, and has in the past. They only become serious criminals because the woman threatens to leave the man if he gets a regular job instead of performing hold-ups. Yet, the woman still does not fit the role of femme fatale; for we have every reason to believe she really loves this man. This is an exciting and interesting movie, and although it's not a masterpiece, it does contain great scenes and twists at every turn. Definitely influential in some ways, although I've never seen anything quite like it.

(Rating: 8/10)

#417: The Misfits

Directed by: JOHN HUSTON
1961, TSPDT Rank #712

I watched The Misfits a few nights ago, in commemoration of Montgomery Clift's birthday. It's a great film, and it's going sorely unnoticed because people find it "uneventful." How this film is considered less "eventful" than The Two Towers, I will never fully grasp. The performances of all the actors are searing and spectacular. Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe (both giving their last performances) are basically the two central actors of the film, but the performances of Eli Wallach and Monty Clift are no less impressive. For anyone who has experienced the feelings of not looking at the world like everyone else does, or had a hard time coping with the world in general will especially like this film. If you don't have any vulnerable spots, and have no interest in reading into the feelings the actors transmit, a film like The Two Towers might be considered great viewing instead. But I personally would highly recommend the exotic blend of quiet, moody desperation and burning exhilaration that The Misfits presents. Also, happy belated birthday, Monty.

(Rating: 9/10)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

#416: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Directed by: PETER JACKSON
2002, TSPDT Rank #951

The Two Towers is, in essence, another in a very long line of overblown, bloated epics that Hollywood has been cranking out quite consistently in the past 100 years. These films piss me off, because the production values are so grand, and the premise so ambitious that these films never cease to win loads of awards and top every best of list the modern film geek can come up with, even though they aren't that interesting. The Lord of the Rings films are so beloved and sacred in pop culture because .... I actually have no idea why. I thought Fellowship of the Ring was quite good when I reviewed it probably about a year ago, but I found The Two Towers to be dull, empty, and frankly, quite a waste of three hours of film (or more if you watch the extended version, which I happily did not). There were some very beautiful shots scattered throughout the film, and those I really liked. And giving credit where credit is due, the battle scenes are quite visceral and well-done. But the film consists basically of either battle scenes, discussion of impending battles, or scenes involving some fantastic creatures (during which the talents of the CGI department are well displayed, as usual). I know this is meant to be entertainment, but whoever this entertainment is geared toward, I am not that person. As far I'm concerned, despite a climactic battle in which the stakes are supposedly the fate of mankind, the film ends up not in that different of a place than it was at the beginning. Maybe it's tough being the middle film in a trilogy about an epic journey, but either way, I did not enjoy this film. Which reminds me - coming soon is The Return of the King. I have that to look forward to.

(Rating: 4/10)

Friday, October 7, 2011

#415: The Magnificent Ambersons

Directed by: ORSON WELLES
1942, TSPDT Rank #51

While watching this film, prepare to be immersed in another time - another world. Even in the tragic, butchered state this movie is in, it is still the period piece to end all others. If this film had been released the way Welles intended it (a full hour longer, and without the terrible ending that was made in a rush and tacked on completely by the studio), it might well have taken Citizen Kane's place at the top of a list such as this one. The state the remaining film elements are in is terrible for a film of this quality, and the completely misguided cutting of the film is definitely one of the biggest cinematic injustices of all time. But with all that aside, The Magnificent Ambersons is a great film nevertheless. The cinematography is graceful and sumptuous - some of the best visual work done on black and white celluloid. The long takes glide across the screen majestically and the sets create a vivid and uniquely nostalgic atmosphere that permeates throughout the whole film. The acting is fantastic - done mostly by Mercury Theatre players, including Joseph Cotten and Agnes Moorehead. This is one of the few films that Welles directed that he did not also act in - and I don't feel that his presence would have added to this particular movie at all. Unfortunately, the flow of the movie is disrupted by the copious amounts of cut material (all completely destroyed right after being cut) - especially during the last third of the film. It's still moving as it is, but we cover too much dramatic territory in much too little time, and by the time the film arrives at its sudden and vapid "happy ending", I had a feeling of somewhat sullen detachment. I'm still glad this film gets attention and is as high as it is on this list, because it deserves it - being as it was probably the most ambitious film Orson ever worked on. And any way you look at it, partial Ambersons is definitely better than no Ambersons at all. So even if the butchering keeps this great film from being a true masterpiece (which is why I won't rate it as such), it retains the ability to place the viewer into a specific era and way of thinking like no other film, and the fragments still often show the genius of Welles in full display, ambition, and enthusiasm.

(Rating: 9/10)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

#414: In a Lonely Place

Directed by: NICHOLAS RAY
1950, TSPDT Rank #292

This is one of the most perfect movies I have ever seen. Nicholas Ray created a film noir tour-de-force with this film. The pairing of Bogart and Gloria Grahame is sublime and perfect, on a completely different level than the famous Bogart and Bacall pairing. Nicholas Ray was clearly a much better director for Bogart than Howard Hawks, and yes, I am saying that this is much better than both To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep, great films though they are. The visual sense here is incredible, and this is hands down Bogart's best performance of all time, and certainly even one of the best by any actor. He is violent, bitter, sensitive, romantic, cynical, clever, creative, and horribly insecure all at once. There is not a single area where I could fault the movie. I might even fault it for the pit of despair it eventually throws you in - but for any lover of film noir, such as myself, that aspect is oddly as delicious as it is totally shattering. And with In a Lonely Place being a film noir, a dark, grim ending should not normally be a fault. The vivid rendering of these characters, the intensity of the script, and the visual closeness felt watching the film does not prepare you for the gut-wrenching emotional effect of the film. There are no stock characters here, and Ray does not manipulate you into siding with any one of them in particular. In a Lonely Place is a masterpiece. To me, it seems immune to criticism. It was Jean-Luc Godard who said, "The cinema is Nicholas Ray," and this film has fully proved the truth of that statement to me.

(Rating: 10/10)

#413: The Navigator

1924, TSPDT Rank #375

Today is Buster Keaton's birthday, and everybody who knows anything about film knows that Buster was one of the greatest comedic men in the history of cinema. The Navigator is a great film made while Buster was in the prime of his career. It's not quite the masterpiece that films like The General or Our Hospitality are - but it is still more hilarious than anything most comedic actors could ever hope to pull off. Buster's co-star Kathryn McGuire should also be mentioned - as she more than pulls her weight in the proceedings. The plot involves rich, pampered Buster and McGuire getting stuck accidentally on a boat together in the middle of Atlantic Ocean and having to learn how to live on the ship. The genius of Buster Keaton speaks for itself, but I would also mention that as in most Keaton silent features, the finale is made to be a definite highlight. The ending fight against the "cannibals" is a whirlwind of laughter and tense suspense. Happy birthday to the Great Stone Face. You will live on as long as there is still laughter and a small bit of (in)sanity left in this quickly unraveling world.

(Rating: 9/10)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

#412: F for Fake

This post contains content written for the Internet Film Club.

Directed by: ORSON WELLES
1973, TSPDT Rank #332

F for Fake is Orson Welles' final masterpiece, and considered by some to also be basically his final film. This film is overwhelming in its brilliance - it is a feat of incredible editing and unmatched originality. Welles had trouble getting much of a release for this film - as was the case with much of his work. And, like so many of his other projects, it unfortunately was way ahead of the people it was released to, and the film that Welles thought would be a success, because of the recent scandals discussed in much of the film, failed to make any kind of significant impact. It is a very personal film, as well as a humorous and adventurous one. Welles is paving a singular road here that was unlike any road ever traveled before, in a way that is very similar to what he did over 30 years prior with a little film called Citizen Kane. I think the two films are actually very similar in the paths that they pursue, the paths of core identity and truth, and both relevant to the periods of Orson Welles' life that they were attached to. When watching this movie, you can tell that Orson was filled with revived enthusiasm for his work with this film. Almost like he is just getting started again. That this would be the last proper film he would make and complete in his life is unfortunately telling of what his whole life and career was like. Small bursts of genius often turned out under oppressive, unagreeable conditions. Thankfully though, F for Fake is one of the clearest views of Welles' genius that we have - along with Citizen Kane, his one "carte blanche" film. The dense, multilayered editing and the complex trickery within the film call for multiple viewings more than most movies. There will be so much to discover on subsequent viewings, because it is just impossible to take it all in in one viewing. Relish this Welles triumph with pleasure, all those who appreciate film and one of its greatest visionaries.

(Rating: 10/10)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

#411: The Night Porter

1973, TSPDT Rank #905

Now, this film I feel is very much underrated. I'm glad to see it on this list, even though it's not a masterpiece, and it will most likely be off the list within the next year or two, given its ranking and the inevitability of other films replacing it. To me, The Night Porter seemed like an intriguing blend of Bertolucci's The Conformist and Last Tango in Paris - with some moody Fassbinder style thrown into the mix. It conveys a wide and highly complex spectrum of emotion, while seeming much more shocking and explicit than it actually is. It is however, a flawed film in many respects - inexperienced director, pretty drab visually, and with a tendency to move along rather languidly at times. But the film plays with the whole Stockholm Syndrome idea quite ambiguously - suggesting a number of things but never really stating anything outright about the submission-based relationship between the Holocaust victim and Nazi officer. It is definitely worth watching for those who can read between the lines and enjoy looking upon twisted, disturbing relationships presented in a candid manner. The opera scene is probably the highlight of the movie - it's the scene where the film's consistently used but haphazard flashback device works the best, to highly chilling and profound effect.

(Rating: 7/10)

#410: Spirited Away

I'm back... again. And I'm now up to 410. So 90 left to halfway.

2001, TSPDT Rank #439

I wonder why, out of the good modern films that there are, this one gets such a spectacular amount of attention. The animated visuals are very impressive, to be sure, but beyond that, I don't think Spirited Away is very substantial or enjoyable. It's definitely too long, for one thing. What it reminds me of, truthfully, is a Japanese version of Alice in Wonderland, without the humor. It is pretty surreal, but even with all the unusual imagery, I never thought it was engaging - and felt quite bored a fair amount of the time. I think that as an example of creative, vivid modern animation - and aspiring animation artists - might look at this with a lot of interest, but I don't really have much to say about it. It's overlong, overrated, but generally okay.

(Rating: 6/10)