Monday, September 15, 2014

They Drive By Night

They Drive by Night (1940)

Runtime: 95 minutes

Directed by: Raoul Walsh

Starring: George Raft, Ann Sheridan, Ida Lupino, Humphrey Bogart, Gale Page

From: Warner Brothers

Today I started on the quest to add some more film noir to my life. I am sure most know what it is but basically, they are downbeat crime/detective films, to be as general as I can. Other sites out there do much more elaborate and detailed explanations and I won't try to match it. I picked out this film as it was an early example, I was able to track it down, it featured Bogie (it is a supporting role but that's OK) and I was interested in its plot. I'll explain it in the Letterboxd review, which will begin... now.

I decided recently that I should start watching more film noir. The few I've seen in my life I've enjoyed so I figured diving into the genre would be apt for me as it should be right up my alley. I picked this one out as it's an early example, I was able to find it, the plot revolving around independent truck drivers was interesting to me and hey, it features Bogart and I need to see more Bogie also.

As I said the story revolves around a pair of brothers, Joe and Paul (George Raft and Bogie) who are independent truck drivers. It's a rough trade and they end up behind on their bills. Joe is gung-ho on the idea of running his own company while Paul is thinking of listening to his wife and settling down and getting a regular job. They are pals with jolly gregarious good old boy Ed Carlsen (Alan Hale) who runs his own trucking company & is married to a polar opposite in a classy moll named Lana (Ida Lupino) and both Ann Sheridan as a regular gal and Roscoe Karns as Irish, a pinball-obsessed trucker, factor into the plot.

This film actually mixes in a few elements besides noir, such as good old fashioned melodrama and a serious and still relevant look at the issues truck drivers face, from driving too long hours and falling asleep at the wheel to concerns that spouses face at their loved ones being on the road for so long. Also, you get to see the great camaraderie truckers have with each other. You do get the sense they are one happy fraternity.

I rate this movie highly as it's an entertaining tale with various twists & turns, and as I expected, along with the quality acting from the talented cast there's always great snappy dialogue to hear. I won't spoil anything but there's quite a performance from one of the members of the cast as they figure into the noir part of the plot. This was a nice way to start the journey to see more "black film".

I'll return tomorrow night.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

My Schedule For The Next Month And A Half

That's right, no time to watch any films between watching football in the afternoon, the Chicago Bears game tonight (even though I am pretty sure they'll lose) and I just started listening to an epic long podcast. However, I can at least tell you what ideas I have from now until the end of October.

What I'll be starting real soon is watching film noir motion pictures (the ones from the 40's and 50's) and put them on a list for Letterboxd. As I haven't seen enough of those I should enjoy that from now until the (theoretical) end of time as I should enjoy many of the films that I watch.

Also, for October I'll watch (not exclusively) some horror films and again that'll be in a Letterboxd list. I have some ideas as to what to see, but nothing is set in stone yet. I should enjoy that too.

I will return tomorrow and I will talk about a movie.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Naughty Flirt

The Naughty Flirt (1931)

Runtime: 56 minutes

Directed by: Edward F. Cline

Starring: Alice White, Paul Page, Myrna Loy, Robert Agnew, Douglas Gilmore

From: First National

I wasn't thinking of doing just one movie for tonight and it being a real short one; that's just how it turned out. And, it turned out I saw a bad film that thankfully was short. The IMDb plot description, then the Letterboxd review:

'Coquettish socialite Kay Elliott has set her cap for Alan Ward, an associate in her father's law firm. But while pursuing Alan, she must fend off the advances of a greedy fortune-hunter, who is aided and abetted by his equally voracious sister." Basically, she's an incredibly annoying flapper girl.

To be honest the only reason why I reviewed this is... the title does make me giggle, it co-stars Myrna Loy, it's only 56 minutes long and it was on TCM at the crack of dawn yesterday.

I did not think this was good. This was a tale of a girl that I'd call a manic pixie dream girl; I may be wrong there but that's what I'll stick with. She parties all the time, is totally irresponsible, isn't that smart either and is just amazingly annoying... yes, as much so as Zooey Deschanel! Then again I knew I was going to be in trouble when the film started with most of the major players and others being hauled to court due to being inebriated idiots... and not even the funny kind either.

Anyhow, this is a tale where the manic pixie dream girl (Kay, played by mostly forgotten Alice White) falls in love with a dude, but as she's rich (or rather, her dad is) there's a gold-digging brother and sister duo who wish she would marry the brother instead for the money, and the sister was played by Loy. Things happen, and I was fine with the actors present; it's just the characters they played that were a drag; the majority of them do really stupid things that make no sense and it's just frustrating. At least I didn't waste too much time watching this.

Oh, and Kay literally gets spanked in one scene. Unfortunately it wasn't an Adrian Peterson-style spanking...

I'll return tomorrow night with something or another.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Walking The Edge/Vigilante

Walking the Edge (1983, not 1985 like IMDb claims)

Runtime: 93 minutes

Directed by: Norbert Meisel

Starring: Robert Forster, Nancy Kwan, Joe Spinell, A Martinez

From: Cinema Overseas & Marketing Film

Vigilante (1983)

Runtime: 90 minutes

Directed by: William Lustig

Starring: Robert Forster, Fred Williamson, Richard Bright, Rutanya Alda, Willie Colon

From: Magnum Motion Pictures

Here's two similar movies I watched in the past 24 hours, in the order I saw them in. First, I'll talk about Walking the Edge then the more widely known film with several similarities, Vigilante. Onto the Letterboxd review...

What if I were to tell you that I saw a 1983 film starring Robert Forster and featuring Joe Spinell and a Jay Chattaway soundtrack, and tells a tale involving vigilantism? You'd of course think that I'd be talking about William Lustig's Vigilante, and that would be a correct answer... but not the only one.

There's also this film, which I did not even know of until Tuesday night when I was randomly looking at Spinell's filmography and noticed this film. What I heard about it here on Letterboxd, it sounded like something I needed to see, and nevermind how but I found a copy to watch. Lord, what a film!

The film is set in Los Angeles and deals with a taxi cab driver/collector for the mob (Forster) who unwittingly gets involved with a lady (Nancy Kwan) who is looking for revenge on the man (Spinell... not that I likely needed to clarify that with his involvement he'd be the villain) who murdered her husband and son. A Martinez is also there.

There are some incredibly wacky moments while I'll recap in a moment but I heard this movie described as “gritty” and it is a gritty exploitation film, with a lot of scummy lowlife characters and Forster is a flawed protagonist. He's an ex-baseball player who allegedly didn't make it because “he had no balls”, and he even has the sort of trouble in the bedroom that Viagra would fix. He helps Kwan but they don't always get along.

Along with the wacky moments there's also some gruesome ones. It's not light-hearted cheese. The plot, the performances and yes the odd moments all worked together in making me decide to give this 3 and a half stars.

The rest of the review will be along the line of spoilers so if you want to see this and don't want anything ruined, feel free to skip below to the other review. Now, let me list some highlights:

* The opening, where Nancy Kwan's family gets gunned down by Joe Spinell and his goons... well, the goons are buffoons who can't get along. They argue with each other and for some reason, they recite the old children's ditty of “Beans beans, the magical fruit; the more you eat the more you toot”! After Nancy escapes, they try looking for her but are unsuccessful; they also think it's a good time to start smoking joints. Two of them also have a homoerotic relationship with each other. Oh, and why is there an old refrigerator in someone's backyard by their fence?

* The movie has some rather colorful dialogue. The examples I can list include “piss-brain”, “wheelbarrow-sized tits”, and a woman saying “burly black ass”.

* Several scenes are set in a punk club.

* A scene of driving where you see giant billboards advertising Paul Mazursky's Tempest, Creepshow, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, An Officer and a Gentleman, and Rocky III. Awesome.

* Boy are there some cartoony characters and situations. The crazy old lady who lives in Forster's apartment complex is the most obvious example of this.

* Two characters have a dinner of McDonald's, wine and a blue can of Dr. Pepper.

* There's also a side story of Forster looking for money for his mob job. It does factor into the main plot.

* Joe Spinell ends up at a batting cage. He actually tries to bat. He beats someone up then utters the phrase, “Tree frogs are green!”, which sounds hilarious out of context and and is like Storm's infamous line from X-Men; do I even need to clarify which line I'm talking about?

As I've said before Letterboxd is great in that since I've joined early last year I've found out about some previously unknown films I have enjoyed.

Now, onto Vigilante, a film from William Lustig that has a cult audience. As one of the many Death Wish clones out there, I understand why. Now, onto my Letterboxd review:

As last night I reviewed a movie which I noted had several similarities to Vigilante, I figured it'd make most sense to tonight watch Vigilante, one of several cult favorites from director William Lustig. I knew that this tale would be audience-manipulating, and well, I was right... but that's OK.

With a story about a blue collar dad (Robert Forster) who teams up with his vigilante pals (led by Fred Williamson) to enact some personal justice after corruption and other factors fail to properly punish the people responsible for murdering his son and incapacitating his wife, I knew what to expect and while I understand those that aren't comfortable with a vigilantism message, me I am fine with it and in fact I can understand those feelings; even in recent times in the United States many people feel they can't trust the courts or police officers so of course they are sympathetic to the idea of “people like them” enforcing the laws on their own.

The reason why I rate it this way is the story and how it's directed by Lustig; it's always entertaining and never boring. There's plenty of bloody violence to see and an awesome score from Jay Chattaway. Forster, Williamson and Woody Strode in his small role all do great jobs. But, I do appreciate how the movie also looks at the impact vigilantism has on a person and how some have regrets doing so, even if it's against scummy people in the sleazy New York City of old.

I had a feeling I'd dig it right from the start and I saw the impassioned speech that The Hammer delivered about why people should become vigilantes, and then later I saw Williamson kick a lot of ass and generally be pretty awesome... stuff like this makes me happy.

I'll return tomorrow night.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

RIP Richard Kiel

No review tonight; I am thinking about doing a two in one review for when I return tomorrow night but that isn't set in concrete. Instead I'd just like to say that I was saddened to hear yesterday that Richard Kiel passed away at the age of 74. Of course I'll remember him best as Jaws but as a child of the 80's and 90's I saw him pop up in some random films so I was disappointed to hear he died.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The November Man

The November Man (2014)

36% on Rotten Tomatoes (out of 98 reviews)

Runtime: 108 minutes

Directed by: Roger Donaldson

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Bill Smitrovich, Amila Terzimehic

From: Relativity Media

Yep, I decided to return to the cinema and I had the choice of a few movies but I decided upon this one, despite the mixed reaction it's gotten. The IMDb plot description then what I said about it on Letterboxd:

“An ex-CIA operative is brought back in on a very personal mission and finds himself pitted against his former pupil in a deadly game involving high level CIA officials and the Russian president-elect.” That's pretty much what was said in the trailers.

As I've mentioned before, this year in movies hasn't really lit my world on fire. That's just my opinion. There's been some great ones but those seem few and far between. I'll just hope that business picks up the last few months of the year. Then again I am one who typically would rather see the movies that come out not during the summer blockbuster season, as most of those blockbusters just do nothing for me at best. I'd rather see films like this; I knew this had a real mixed reception so I figured it wouldn't be on my Top 10 list by the end of the year but I still wanted to be entertained and the trailer made it look interesting.

After seeing it, I'll have to side with those that liked it. I'll admit that the story is kind of ridiculous overall, there's nothing that'll knock your socks off and if I saw more of these modern spy films I'd recognize the cliches that others have noted. Even with all that, I was simply entertained by this story of an old grizzled spy who had to go against a “young buck” he used to work with, and Olga Kurylenko is involved too in a tale involving the current hot button topic of Russia and government corruption. I'll admit the story isn't complex but I was OK with that as it's preferable to a overly convoluted mess of a story that gives you a headache trying to figure it all out.

What helped was that the performances were nice all around, especially from the leads in Brosnan, Bracey and Kurylenko, Belgrade, Serbia was a city I wasn't used to seeing on the big screen so I thought that was nice, there were quality R-rated action (thankfully filmed in a manner where you could comprehend all the action scenes, something that unfortunately isn't always seen these days) and I was just entertained throughout.

Pierce as Peter Deveraux reminded me of another older spy, Bryan Mills of Taken fame (Taken 2 never happened in my alternate universe) in several ways, including doing things you wouldn't suspect a “hero” to do but as he's a hard-edged spy that's supposed to be emotionless, he does some harsh things to try and stop the conflict or get information out of someone.

Speaking of being reminded of other things, with the Eastern European setting and the government corruption theme, my mind went to the infamous Steven Seagal and all those direct to DVD movies he's done in the past 10 or so years from that part of the world. I've never seen any of them but from what I've heard those plots are overwrought and are just about inscrutable even if you've seen it more than once. I was thankful this did not go that route.

Overall, while the story is not revolutionary in any way, if you want to see an entertaining spy tale from a veteran director and featuring an aging but still capable star as the lead, then this will fit the bill.

I'll return tomorrow night.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Show of Shows

The Show of Shows (1929)

Runtime: The only version that exists today is around 123 minutes; it was originally 128 minutes

Directed by: John G. Adolfi

Starring and from: Most of the people that were on contract to Warner Brothers at the time; really

I basically watched this as it was on late last night on TCM and it's an oddity as... well, I'll explain it in the Letterboxd review:

Before I get to talking about this film, explaining what it is will be something I need to do. It shows that even back in this time period, Hollywood will be happy to notice something that was a hit then cash in as soon as they're able to. This is one of a few all-star musical revues that the studios put out when “the talkies” were still in their infancy, where it'd be like a variety show and much of the talent from each studio would be on display. MGM's The Hollywood Revue of 1929 happened and several competitors happened, from Paramount on Parade to Fox's Happy Days (presumably without The Fonz), Universal's King of Jazz and this movie, from Warner Brothers. It was on TCM late last night and as no one had given it a review before I figured I should be the first.

There's real no plot to speak of; like I said it's like a variety show, with a host (Frank Fay, a popular vaudeville star at the time) and a cornucopia of sketches, from musical bits to comedy, dramatic reenactments to dancing and marching around. I realize that at the time movies like this must have been hot s*** to audiences that were just getting used to movies that weren't silent but in 2014, I say that this is a real mixed bag, needless to say. Some stuff works and the rest doesn't. The humor isn't always funny and some songs were better than others. It certainly isn't imaginatively shot. I understand that some of the bits were references or spoofs of topical to things from the time, but that's lost on me as it's stuff that was forgotten long ago.

Still, I was worried I'd find this bad and at least I can rate it average. There's some oddness (such as ditties about singin' in the bathtub and having bad breath), the song and dance numbers were at least interesting to look at (if not quite Busby Berkeley) and the finale is quite extravagant with all the performers and people acrobatically flipping about and doing wacky dances. Oh, and personally I thought the movie seemed shorter than its 2 hour runtime. Only once in awhile did it drag; otherwise I thought it flew by.

Many of the people in the cast (i.e. much of the Warner Brothers talent at the time besides Al Jolson, who asked for too much money; the more things change...) will probably be obscure even on a site such as this but the more familiar names include John Barrymore, Ann Sothern, Mary Astor, Noah Beery, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Loretta Young, Rin Tin Tin, Broadway star Beatrice Lillie and Myrna Loy, who stars in the only part of the mostly two strip Technicolor film that remains in color (the only surviving print is from an old TV showing, or so I hear), “Chinese Fantasy”, where yeah, she plays an “exotic” lady. That wasn't the only part of the film that features questionable racial material, but I wasn't surprised by that. That bit is one of a few that can be seen on YouTube; you didn't hear that from me, though.

This is definitely a curio and it's definitely a “your mileage may vary” sort of thing, but I am glad it still exists as it shows how things were back then and how as the silents went away the studios weren't quite sure what to do. At least they eventually figured it out... generally speaking.

I'll return tomorrow afternoon.