Orson Welles’ Lady From Shanghai bridges the cinematic landscape from drama to adventure and mystery. Led by its director (and protagonist) himself, alongside heroine Rosalie Bannister (Rita Hayworth), each character reveals layer after layer of insecurities, deception and greed throughout the story. However, the fascination lies within the depth that Welles is able to explore. Both tough guy and damsel reveal their true colors gradually, methodically, touching upon the most intimate conundrums of life, reflecting a harrowing character piece that shows the demons within oneself. The magic lies in Welles’ delivery, exposing the depths and revealing their own façade to be but a mere image they have create to shelter their true selves.
The first image we see is a massive statue of Christ being hauled via helicopter over Roman landmarks, to be set atop St. Peter’s Cathedral. On the way there Marcello (Mastroianni) is distracted by a trio of girls sunbathing on the rooftop of a modern apartment building. He makes miming motions to them of writing down their phone numbers, but the noise and confusion get in the way of communications. That night Marcello is on the Via Veneto, scoping out the scandals among the fringe celebrities of Rome, collecting fodder for his gossip column (this is the movie that introduced the world to the word Paparazzo.)
In the opening scenes of what becomes a sprawling visual feast, Fellini shows us the scope and brio of La Dolce Vita. From the highest, holiest towers to the lowest, seediest night clubs, over the course of seven nights and seven dawns, Marcello will scour the heights and depths of Rome for the emotional center he’s missing, and he’ll always come up empty at dawn as a result of communications breakdown.
A smart, breezy romp cut from the same cloth as The Thin Man series, Footsteps in the Dark marked a change in the actor Errol Flynn’s career. Until this movie was made, the very popular matinee idol was known primarily for his rousing, period piece swashbucklers and he jumped at the opportunity to trade in his Robin Hood tights and swords for a chance to prove himself as a deft comedian. He more than succeeds. Continue reading →
“You probably think this world is a dream come true… but you’re wrong.”
From the minds of Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) and Neil Gaiman (Sandman, American Gods), with musical accompaniment by They Might Be Giants comes Coraline, a dark, enchanting fable about the worlds we see and the worlds we want.
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.
A young Jack Nicholson stars in this complicated weave of drama, suspense and intrigue. Nicholson plays the role of J.J. ”Jake” Gittes, a private investigator who has retired from the police department with some very bitter memories of corruption during his days working for the district attorney in Chinatown. Nicholson is as savvy and self-assured as he is in all of his movies, and he can be captivating as he risks his life to solve this intricate “whodunnit” about the murder of a Water Department official in a close knit town in southern California.
From the fizz of the bouzouki music that begins it to the sad but happy ending which of course, I won’t give away, Topkapi takes us on a great caper carpet ride. For a 48 year old movie, it is as fresh and as taut as the day it was made.
Typical of Sixties’ films: the fluorescent Technicolor, the mod look in fashion, the continental locales, the now vintage cars, it sparkles like the emerald-encrusted dagger the thieves mean to steal. The cast is hand-picked by cinematic heaven: handsome Maximillian Schell, Melina Mercouri with her crazy, dangerous eyes, that mad, Magnani-like laugh. And don’t forget the nonesuch Robert Morley’s eyebrows. If all he had to act with were those eyebrows, he would still sail through his work on a breeze. Peter Ustinov here more than deserves the Oscar he won for Best Supporting Actor; watch for the rat-a-tat frenzied energy of his voice, his face, his walk; the wedgie he shakes from his ample bottom getting out of an automobile. The film is filled with such flourishes and touches: the pistol slipped into the door handle of a car, as if into a holster; the slow, upside-down descent of limber Gilles Segal towards the real Topkapidagger, the fake one glistening on his sweaty chest; Morley turning and turning around and saying, when asked what he is doing, “I’m being a lighthouse”; Ustinov being wrapped in a brassiere of rope. And this has to be one of the first pictures to show two, young, gay men strolling, post-coitus, across a Turkish square; groundbreaking, indeed, for 1964!
It’s a little ironic that The Dude, Jeff Bridges’ slacker character in the Coen brothers’ 1998 comedy The Big Lebowski, is introduced as “the man for his time and place” (in this case, that time and place is early nineties Los Angeles). I say this partly because critics and audiences routinely peg The Dude as a sixties throwback, a longhaired stoner comfortably out of his time; and partly because The Big Lebowski itself feels like a film out of its time, and even ahead of it. While it’s true that Lebowski harks back to the cinema and pop culture of other eras – from its drawling cowboy narrator out of an old western to its messy Big Sleep-inspired noir plot – and to the Coens’ prior body of work (traces of Raising Arizona abound), it feels like a weirdly prescient piece of filmmaking today.
In the Heat of the Night – dir Norman Jewison – 1967
In the Heat of the Night is not a film about an unsolved crime. It’s a film about race relations in the South in the 1960’s, and a film that reminds the viewers who have witnessed the civil rights movement of the ambivalence and intolerance surrounding the acceptance of black Americans. The two main characters, Virgil Tibbs and Chief Gillespie, embody the emotions of America during this controversial time. The chief, who is initially cast as a racist more out of ignorance than out of hatred, eventually accepts Virgil for the man that he is, giving hope to not just himself but to the rest of the country. A touching scene at the end shows Tibbs boarding a train, while the Chief, blustery and arrogant, pauses from his constant tough-guy gum chewing and breaks into an uncharacteristic smile as he bids Tibbs good-bye. This is the message of In the Heat of the Night.
Black Rose Mansion • Directed by Kinji Fukasaku • Shochiku Studios • 1969
Exactly 30 years ago, I found myself crouched down in a neighborhood theater to watch what was being openly marketed as a Star Wars ripoff with my ten year old son, frankly not expecting a whole lot beyond an amusing Saturday afternoon hangout with the kid. What I got was an intensely colorful, surprisingly heartfelt sci-fi saga that straddled the line between Space Opera and Fairy Tale a lot more fully than did Star Wars, and whose fanciful, if not exactly realistic special effects achieved a palpable sense of childhood wonder on about a zillionth of George Lucas’ budget. Starring Vic Morrow(!) and Sonny Chiba, Message from Space had believable, well drawn characters, and was alternately thrilling, funny, touching, scary and goofy, in about equal proportions. Welcome to the world of Kinji Fukasaku.