Category: Main Slate

June 22, 2009 / / Main Slate

The Long Goodbye – 1973 – Dir. Robert Altman

The late, great Robert Altman once again lends his distinctive, experimental style to what has come to be regarded as this definitive interpretation of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. It’s a winner!  Thirty-six this year, the film still plays as fresh and as contemporary as it did the year it was made.  The tale of a double murder and the unfortunate detective who gets dragged, kicking and screaming, into the thick of it is filled with a permeating cynicism, underhanded absurdities and shattering acts of violence.  Crime author Raymond Chandler, like his contemporaries Dashiell Hammett and Ross McDonald, created glamorous worlds of danger and intrigue where a usually hapless, albeit decent guy, finds himself way over his head in the soup. Here, Chandler’s anti-hero, Phillip Marlowe, is helmed by the underrated Elliott Gould. A huge star in the 60s and 70s (Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, M.A.S.H.), Gould brings a bizarrely effortless spin to a  role played in more traditional ways by everyone from Bogart to James Garner.  His dopey, befuddled schmuck look assists him ably in Altman’s clever conceit of placing a 1950s-style detective into a 1970s-style world.  It is as if this “Rip van Marlowe”, waking from a long slumber, has been transported via some private eye time tunnel twenty years into the future — a future he does not understand and is more than a little bit lost in.

June 22, 2009 / / Main Slate

The Public Enemy – 1931 – dir. William A. Wellman

It’s one of my favorite Old Hollywood vignettes, and I don’t know if it’s apocryphal or not. I stumbled across it in the Turner Classic Movies glossy Leading Men: The 50 Most Unforgettable Actors of the Studio Era, and it revolves around the famous scene in director William Wellman’s 1931 gangster classic The Public Enemy where James Cagney spontaneously shoves a grapefruit into co-star Mae Clarke’s face. According to the book: “The scene made Clarke’s ex-husband, Lew Brice, very happy. He saw the film repeatedly just to see that scene and often was shushed by angry patrons when his delighted laughter got too loud.” I love the story because it’s silly and ridiculous and not-outside-the-realm-of-possibility: spiteful exes have been known to do worse. But the story also gets at some of the key elements of an uncommonly enduring movie scene, one so memorable that, as critic Carlos Clarens notes in his book Crime Movies: “Not one reviewer failed to mention it, and it undoubtedly contributed to the film’s success.”  (Even Pauline Kael’s pithy two-sentence capsule review of The Public Enemy namechecks Clarke as “the girl who gets the grapefruit shoved in her kisser.”) The grapefruit bit remains a shocker, and was even more jarring in its day, but, as Brice certainly understood, it’s also kind of humorous in its utter nastiness. It catches many a viewer – if not Brice on his hundredth viewing – off-guard, leaving them helpless to do anything but gasp or laugh.

June 8, 2009 / / Main Slate

mayjun-reunion-nightmareBy KJ Hamilton

Dreams do become reality. But, whatever you do, don’t fall asleep. A Nightmare on Elm Street, in my opinion, is one of the scariest horror films of all time. I tried to figure out why as I screened the film for about the fiftieth time.

I think I have figured it out. It is one thing to be chased by a machete-wielding psychopath when you’re awake. You might have half a chance to escape, depending upon your role in the plot. But, when we sleep, our subconscious reigns; anything is possible. It is in this state that we are at our most open, most vulnerable. There are only two options: be asleep and dream or wake up. It is during sleep that the body replenishes itself; with the goal of awaking refreshed and renewed.

May 19, 2009 / / Main Slate

By Melvin Cartagena 

The Wild Bunch – 1969 – dir. Sam Peckinpah

It doesn’t matter that the credits state that it’s a screenplay written by Sam Peckinpah and Walon Green, a fiction developed from a story by Walon Green and Roy N. Sickner. It doesn’t matter that Pike Bishop’s (William Holden’s) command to his men in the robbery that opens the film is “If they move, kill ‘em.” And that this is followed by DIRECTED BY SAM PECKINPAH, simultaneously a bold statement and a way to defuse Pike’s order. It doesn’t matter that the fight sequences are entirely subjective in their staging and editing, we want to believe that there were once guys like these running around loose. We want to believe that these weary, battle-scarred men are the cowboys that made the west wild, as their name implies.  They are not above shooting civilians (as they do, when we see the parade marchers mowed down in the crossfire between the Bunch and Harrigan’s bounty hunters), but they’d rather not. They stand by each other against the world, and in their circumscribed universe (which is shrinking with the paving over of the west) that is the loftiest ideal they can hope for. It’s this commitment to each other that drives Pike and company to forsake their retirement score and engage in a suicidal shootout with Mapache’s men after Mapache slits Angel’s throat.

May 4, 2009 / / Main Slate

mayjun-fightBy Peggy Nelson

Fight Club – 1999 – dir. David Fincher

So will you be at the meeting on Tuesday?  The first rule of Fight Club is, you don’t talk about Fight Club.  The second rule of Fight Club is, you don’t talk about Fight Club.  The third rule of Fight Club is . . .
I’m going to talk about Fight Club.  Based on the Chuck Palahniuk book by the same name, the film concerns a disaffected white-collar worker who can sum up his life with the three C’s: Catalogs, Condo, Condiments.  Not surprisingly, for his efforts he’s got insomnia, ennui, and anhedonia.  He starts going to support groups for diseases he does not have, to jump-start his atrophied connection to life.  But then he meets a woman doing the same thing; recognizing her as a fellow “tourist,” all his ennui and insomnia come racing back.  Then his house explodes.  Then the movie starts.

April 29, 2009 / / Main Slate

By Jessica O’Byrne

Pan’s Labyrinth – 2006 – dir. Guillermo del Toro

Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is a rich pastiche of mythological references that is both familiar and completely, breathtakingly unexpected. By combining ages old storytelling techniques with a fearless use of cinematic magic, del Toro manages to once again breathe a completely new spirit into the ancient battle between good and evil. The film is, essentially, two stories in one: first, the story of a post-Civil War Spain in which Franco’s regime is doing its best to root out the last of the opposition forces. Second, the story of Ofelia, a young girl with an incredibly vivid imagination who discovers that she is actually the spirit of the long-lost princess of the underworld. The two stories converge with Ofelia’s mother, who has married Captain Vidal and is very pregnant with his unborn child.

April 13, 2009 / / Main Slate

The Red Shoes -1948 – dir. Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger

“Why do you want to dance?” asks Anton Walbrook as the ballet impresario Boris Lermontov in an early scene of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1948 classic The Red Shoes. “Why do you want to live?” is the immortal reply from flame-haired Moira Shearer’s Victoria Page, her words pinpointing the themes that The Red Shoes holds closest to its heart. That moment, and the film as whole, has carried incredible resonance for those who make or love art of any kind, those who see little to no difference between the will to create and the will to live.

April 10, 2009 / / Main Slate

Monty Python’s Life of Brian – 1979 –  dir. Terry Jones

In a motion picture “destined to offend nearly two thirds of the civilized world and severely annoy the other third,” you know to expect the Pythons on top of their game.  Life of Brian, being the British comedy team’s farcical view of first-century Judea, parallels the life of Brian Cohen, born in the manger next door to Jesus.  Mistaken for the messiah his entire life, Brian’s trials turn a camera squarely onto the audience, examining our hero worship and dogmatic obsessions, challenging us to laugh at crucifixion.  And do we ever.

March 31, 2009 / / Main Slate

Ballets Russes – 2005 – dir. Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine

You need not be an aficionado of classical dance or even know much about ballet to appreciate the joyous celebration that is Ballets Russes. Documentaries of this sort have a way of making the past “quaint”, almost falsely charming. Not so this one!  A welcome breath of fresh air, it fairly floats along on a cloud of exuberance and real nostalgia for a kind of glamour now gone from our stages and from our world.

March 10, 2009 / / Main Slate

The Mummy – 1999 – dir. Stephen Sommers

Whether it’s action, romance, or angry, angry beetles, Stephen Sommers’s 1999 hit The Mummy has what you’re looking for.  Marketed as a next-generation’s Indiana Jones, The Mummy succeeds as a film by delivering exactly what it promises – and a little bit more.

With an ensemble cast including Brendan Fraser, pre-Oscar Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, and Arnold Vosloo, there are enough contrasting, zany characters for any “Which character are you” Internet quiz.  But what keeps The Mummy from being just another visual-effects-laden Hollywood song and dance?