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Tag Archives: Film Noir

Gumshoes and Shady Dames Away

Mark of classic film blog Out of the Past is counting down his choices for the 100 Greatest Posters of Film Noir; #100-91 is already posted. Having enjoyed his Netflix reviews for some time now, I’m really looking forward to this series. Movie posters from that era tend to be either hideous or beautiful… can’t wait to see what comes up!

Weekly Mishmash: December 13-19

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Avatar (2009). We began our Avatar experience by walking through a long and twisty corridor, accepting pairs of funny looking glasses, finding a seat near the back of a cavernous theater, full of anticipation. I wasn’t expecting to be blown away, but I was. Though the film is not without its flaws (predictable story, dumb-dumb action climax), Avatar pretty much lives up to the hype. The rainforest-on-steroids world of Pandora is so fully realized and enveloping that I often lost sight of the fact that it was computer generated. By comparison the human world was a bit more pedestrian, but it’s a fun confection populated with an attractive cast (with Sigourney Weaver’s feisty and very Ripley-esque researcher being the highlight). James Cameron may come off like a massive blowhard in interviews, but when it comes to entertainment on a mass scale he really delivers the goods. Strangely enough, the only thing that truly distracted me was how they used the Papyrus font for the alien language subtitles. Papyrus, really? A font that comes equipped on every single Mac computer on earth? You’d think they’d use some of that $240 million budget to spring for a custom typeface.
D.O.A. (1950). I barely remember watching this noir chestnut eons ago on American Movie Classics, but I wanted to catch it again after learning parts of this movie were filmed in L.A.’s historic Bradbury Building. It’s here, all right — one of the stops that harried Edmond O’Brien makes when trying to track down the evildoer who slipped him a slow-acting, fatal dose of poison. This was a fun film, very cheesy at times (especially the scene where wolf whistles are incongruously placed on the soundtrack) but effectively tense and briskly made. I found O’Brien’s character appealing, even if he was a bit of a henpecked wuss with a shrew of a girlfriend. The Bradbury office and several other scenes make wonderful use of location shooting. I especially dug the part where O’Brien was running down a busy San Francisco street, frantically bumping into passers-by with bracing realism (apparently it was filmed with actual, unaware pedestrians and not actors). Scenes like that are a fascinating little window into the real world of 1950 that one rarely sees in classic Hollywood films.
Public Enemies (2009). Disappointing. Bryan Burrough’s book of the same name was an encyclopedic chronicle of America’s early ’30s crime wave and how the government reacted with J. Edgar Hoover and his squad of G-Men. It might have made for a terrific miniseries had it been filmed exactly as written, but Michael Mann boils it down here to an uninspiring cat-and-mouse tale with Johnny Depp as John Dillinger and Christian Bale as Hoover’s top G-Man, Melvin Purvis. Mostly the film just seemed too poky and unnecessarily artsy. Burrough portrays Dillinger as a happy-go-lucky sort who reveled in his own celebrity, but Depp’s interpretation is so dark and morose it puts a pall on the whole thing. Despite all that, the film does have a few interesting parts. I enjoyed the scene set during Dillinger’s final night in a Chicago theater, Manhattan Melodrama projected onscreen while the camera focuses on Depp’s face mulling over how the movie he’s watching mirrors his own past. If only the rest of the film was that concise and eloquent.

Weekly Mishmash: November 8-14

Animotion — Obsession: The Best of Animotion. Having known Animotion for little more than being that ’80s “Obsession” group like everybody else, I ended up downloading this best-of this week for reasons that are too complicated to get into. It’s a decent enough collection, padded out with 12″ mixes and indistinct LP cuts. What’s most interesting about Animotion is that they had a late ’80s reforming with a new lead singer (Dirty Dancing actress Cynthia Rhodes), which resulted in the group having a second top 10 hit in “Room To Move.” The tune is one of those completely generic ’80s soundtrack tunes that you’d hear at the mall and forget 10 minutes later, but I find crap like that totally fascinating. Here’s “I Engineer,” from the better, earlier Animotion:

poster_dangcrossingDangerous Crossing (1950). Entertaining malarkey starring Jeanne Crain as a newlywed whose husband goes missing shortly after the two embark on an ocean voyage. The woman finds herself slowly going insane as no one on the cruise ship can recall seeing the husband in the first place, much less try to find him. Quite the old familiar tale, but the film is efficiently done (the production recycled sets from simultaneous 20th Century Fox productions Titanic and Gentemen Prefer Blondes) and fun in its own modest way. This movie reminded me of an expanded Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode. Crain’s performance is so campy and overwrought, the lady might as well have the word “Hormel” stamped on her forehead.
Celine Dion — Celine Dion. Is this Embarassing Music Week? I checked out Celine Dion’s English language debut album, Unison, after coming across it at our local library. Strangely enough, I absolutely love it. The album is perfectly produced Adult Contemporary Pop, diverse and beautifully sung with enough quirkiness and “only in 1990” touches to keep things captivating. I ended up getting Miss Dion’s 1992 second self-titled album on the strength of Unison. This album is a ballad-heavy collection, leaning towards the plush Housewife Pop that we know and loathe her for, but it does have its moments. Disney theme “Beauty and the Beast” with Peabo Bryson is still timeless and memorable, and the dancey “Little Bit Of Love” is a gem buried in the CD’s second half. I also like her rendition of Diane Warren’s “If You Asked Me To,” although if you compare it with Patti LaBelle’s declicate 1989 original you’ll find that Celine takes the song into bombastic, borderline schmaltz territory (that’s probably more the producer’s fault, actually). I think my Dion exploration stops here, unless somebody can give me a good reason to go further.

Dahmer (2002). IFC channel recording. An artistic, indie-centric interpretation of notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer that ends up being too in over its own head to be effective. Jeremy Renner is effectively creepy as Dahmer, portrayed here as a shy closet case living in a shithole town with unspoken issues affecting everyone around him. The film could have worked, but mostly it ends up being bogged down with too much navel-gazing dialogue. According to this film, Dahmer did in his victims by talking them to death. Exciting, no?
Out of the Past (1947). Dense film noir that really shouldn’t work, but it does. The story is too hard to follow, Robert Mitchum’s laconic presence doesn’t add much, and Jane Greer is no Lauren Bacall in the femme fatale department — but the film is wonderfully photographed and director Jacques Tournier ushers the characters through a variety of intriguing settings. The film proceeds along so hypnotically that one can’t help but ride along. The only other movie I can think of that tops this in sheer atmosphere is coincidentally another Mitchum flick, The Night of the Hunter. p.s. On a superficial note, supporting actor Paul Valentine was one gorgeous hunk of a man in this movie. I wonder why he didn’t do more acting?
Ready, Willing and Able (1937). Fun and zippy Warner Bros. musical, the last film of its kind for star Ruby Keeler and her leading man, Ross Alexander (a closeted gay man, he killed himself before the film was released). This mistaken identity comedy was much more entertaining than I thought it would be, highlighted by Keeler’s charm (markedly improved since her equine hoofing in 42nd Street) and the Johnny Mercer standard “Too Marvelous For Words.” This clever tune is performed several times in the film, but the best moment comes when Keeler and co-star Lee Dixon tap out the song on a giant typewriter. Campy ‘n cute, I was so happy to finally see this during TCM’s monthlong Mercer tribute.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Awe inspiring, as always. I first saw this in the early ’80s, when my uncle invited our family to watch this on his newfangled VCR. This must have puzzled my folks, but it blew me away. Sure, it does have long, self-indulgent spots, but the film remains ahead of its time to a remarkable degree. Kubrick’s vision of the future never fails to be both retro-funky and stylish. For one, Christopher and I are delighted to have a decent screencap of this baby:

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Liquified vegetables, anyone?