Friday, July 16, 2010

The Naked Spur

Yet another movie I'd seen before at Film Forum. This one was just as great the second time. I love how sparse the setup is - basically there are only 5 actors for the majority of the movie.

Stewart plays a man on a mission in the post Civil War landscape. He wants to capture the outlaw played by Robert Ryan so he can collect the $5,000 reward. But he enlists the help of an old man and a wandering soldier (played by Ralph Meeker: Kiss Me Deadly, The Wild Bunch) along the way despite his best intentions otherwise. Ryan is traveling with a female companion played by Janet Leigh. For the most part, the movie is about the five of them traveling on horseback in order to deliver Ryan to the authorities.

Ryan is a bad mofo though so watch out Jimmy!

The script and pacing are perfect. Every 10 minutes or so, there's a new development in the proceedings. What is Jimmy's secret? Will Janet Leigh realize how bad Ryan is? Will Ryan escape? Will the wandering soldier do something stupid? Will the Indians get them? What about the old man?

I love this movie.

Directed by Anthony Mann

Monday, July 12, 2010

One Two Three

This movie is hilarious. Truly nuts. SHR and I saw it a number of years ago at BAM and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It might be even funnier upon second viewing.

James Cagney plays a Coke executive in West Berlin with an eye on advancing in the company. So he agrees to babysit his boss's wild 16-year-old daughter for a few weeks. Unfortunately for Cagney, she falls in love with a young Communist in East Berlin. One madcap development after another piles up and Cagney has an amazing quip for each one.

Take the sensibility of a 1930's screwball comedy and marry it to 1960's satire and you can imagine this movie. This sentence from All Movie Guide sums it up well, "Seldom pausing for breath, Billy Wilder's film is a crackling, mile-a-minute farce, taking satiric scattershots at Coca-Cola, the Cold War (the film is set in the months just before the erection of the Berlin Wall), Russian red tape, Communist and capitalist hypocrisy, Southern bigotry, the German "war guilt," rock music, and even Cagney's own movie image." The joke about Cagney was completely unexpected and pretty damn great.

Some other good lines amongst the dozens:
Otto: I will not have my son grow up to be a capitalist.
Scarlet: When he's 18 he can make his mind up whether he wants to be a capitalist or a rich communist.

C.R. MacNamara - Cagney: Any world that can produce the Taj Mahal, William Shakespeare, and striped toothpaste can't be all bad.

C.R. MacNamara to a Russian official about the Cuban cigar he had: You know something? You guys got cheated. This is a pretty crummy cigar.
Peripetchikoff: Do not worry. We send them pretty crummy rockets.

Phyllis MacNamara: Why can't you get yourself a nice permanent job with the home office in Atlanta?
C.R. MacNamara: Atlanta? You can't be serious! That's Siberia with mint juleps!
Directed by Billy Wilder

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Blue Dahlia

I originally saw this as part of a Film Noir fest in 1998 at Film Forum after I had first moved to New York. I loved it then and I loved it again upon a second viewing.

Alan Ladd is a veteran who comes back from the war to find that his wife is cheating on him. There's a big fight at a party. Unfortunately for him (and her) she is found murdered the next day. Of course, Ladd is the main suspect. But he's innocent!

To prove his innocence, he has to delve into the seedy LA underground and meet up with some unsavory characters. And one very savory one as well - the smoldering Veronica Lake.

The screenplay was written by Raymond Chandler and has many great lines. Such as:
Johnny Morrison - Ladd: You gotta have more sense than to take chances with strangers like this.
Joyce Harwood - Lake: It's funny but practically all the people were strangers when I met them. I'm going to Malibu. Is that any use to you?
Morrison: What's in Malibu?
Harwood:Houses, people. I have some friends there.

Directed by George Marshall

Friday, July 09, 2010

Toy Story 3

This movie absolutely killed me. Killed me! Normally if a movie is going to make me cry, I try to hold it in until the moment passes. I almost lost it during the early montage in Up but at least there was relief after that scene. This movie kept pouring it on and on at the end and I couldn't stop the tears from streaming down my face. It was just too much.

The feelings of growing up and moving on destroyed me. The few last scenes made me remember my own going away to college feelings and how difficult it was for my dad. Then I thought about Double Trouble and understood my dad's emotional state a bit more. Then I thought about Double Trouble one day going to college. Tears. It was a never ending cycle of tears streaming down my 3-D glassed face.

The little girl was incredible. The reminiscing and the feeling that childhood was over floored me. I know a 9-year-old would love this movie of course but would he or she even remotely feel the same way an adult would while watching it?

It was exciting, funny, and downright creepy at times. The big baby and the monkey were super freaky. It still amazes me that some of the best action sequences these days are in animated films.

It was funny as hell as are all the Toy Story movies. I've only seen each one once but I'm sure that that will change once we introduce them to Double Trouble in a few years. I remember liking the second part even better than the first. Could this one be even better than that? I really don't remember that much from 11 years ago but I wonder. Has there ever been a third installment of a series (even so many years later!) that was the best of all? Pixar wows me. They clearly were in no rush to make the third installment until the inspiration hit them. How long before the inspiration hits to make the fourth installment?

Every detail is perfect. Every line is great. Every character is important. Adding Ken to the mix was a brilliant move. Hilarious.

Last year, some of my favorite movies were animated including my number one choice. Could that happen two straight years? It might.

Otis loves the claw. The Claw!

Directed by Lee Unkrich
Court St. 12

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Shock Corridor

I first saw this in the mid 90's and had no idea what to make of it. It is pretty damn bizarre at times and also the first Sam Fuller film I'd ever seen. I saw it for a 2nd time on Valentine's Day 1998 at Film Forum but hadn't seen it since.

On third viewing, I can't say that this is one of my favorite Sam Fuller films. It is fun and definitely of its avant-garde time but overall I just couldn't get into it the way I did when I was in my mid 20's.

The film is about a cynical reporter who fakes being insane so he can go undercover in an insane asylum so he can solve a recent murder and ... then win a Pulitzer. Things go nuts though when the reporter actually starts going nuts.

There are many great moments in the film - there are some moments that actually make me feel insane. And I love Fuller's use of his color films from travels in Asia in the otherwise black and white film. The twist at the end is great.

I think I had just built this movie up too much in my mind since it is one of those movies that kind of played a pivotal role for me in the mid 90's when I started discovering films and filmmakers I had never heard of before. And the scene with the nymphos is absolutely brilliantly perfectly insane.

Directed by Sam Fuller

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The Steel Helmet

I'd seen this a number of years ago on TV. It was time for another viewing. I liked it a lot the first time but I think I liked it even more the second time. I can't believe how ahead of its time this movie was. Rather than make the typical war movie full of cliches, Fuller had a lot more on his mind.

The movie begins with Sgt. Zack surrounded by the rest of his platoon all murdered with their hands bound. Within a couple of minutes, he meets up with a South Korean boy and they begin their travels together. Soon they meet up with an African-American medic, the sole survivor of his unit. Eventually, they meet up with other soldiers - led by a racist white dude who hates the Japanese-American soldier in his unit. There are many discussions within the context of the plot of racial equality in the States and what it means to be an American - especially when they capture an enemy solider who tries to convince the African-American and Japanese-American they they are foolish for fighting for their white superiors. Any notions that the 50's were one big Leave it to Beaver moment can be pretty easily dispelled by a viewing of this movie.

A few other thoughts:
- Visually, this film is striking. I saw a documentary years ago about Fuller where Scorsese commented that he stole some of the imagery from this film for Raging Bull.

- I loved Sgt Zack's description of how he survived a bullet to the head. Basically it entered at the bottom of his helmet, whizzed around the helmet around his head and came out the other side leaving a looping gash on his forehead and face.

- It reminded me a lot of the good Anthony Mann Korean war film Men in War. Both are pretty low budget and are centered on a small group of soldiers stranded in hell.

- I love that Sgt. Zack nicknamed the Korean boy Short Round.

- According to my pal Robert Osborne, Fuller was almost blacklisted because of the supposed anti-US sentiment of the film.

- I can't believe how soon this movie came out during the war. It was released in early 1951 and was such a success that Fuller quickly made another Korean war movie, Fixed Bayonets, that was released at the end of the year. I need to see that one again as well.

- I loved the obsession that Zack had with mentioning to soldiers that they should do things because "you're getting paid for it."

- Instead of a The End, we get a "There is no end to this story." I love it.

- One of my favorite exchanges:
Sgt. Tanaka: When I get out of this, I'm gonna join the Air Force. No more beetle-crushing for me!

Sgt. Zack: Aw, be smart. There's nothing like the infantry. If you're in a plane and get hit, what happens? You still gotta fall. There's two strikes against you. If you're on a ship and get hit, you can drown. In a tank, you can fry like an egg. But in the infantry, you get hit and that's it. One or the other, you're dead or alive. But you're on the ground. Get wise, there's nothing like the infantry.

Sgt. Tanaka: Is he kidding?

And of course, this one - Zack was mentioning what he was told on D-Day to keep pushing forward. Something like "There are two kinds of soliders here today. Those who are dead and those who are about to be dead. So get going."

This is a great war movie. Great dialogue, great social commentary, just great.

Directed by Sam Fuller

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Afghan Star

Yet another excellent documentary on HBO. Between this and Burma VJ, I've been pretty pleased with what has been on the channel recently on the documentary front.

This one is about the Afghan version of American Idol that began soon after the 2001 toppling of the Taliban government. Director Havana Marking chose a good cross section of contestants to follow.

The performances are fascinating. After years of repression, it isn't a surprise that the show is hugely popular. The societal effects are the most interesting part of the film though. The best part of the film is when one female contestant actually dares to do a slight dance move on stage and causes a huge uproar. The fallout of her daring act is crazy to watch.

This is a very good document of a quickly changing society.

Directed by Havana Marking