Friday, October 29, 2010

Call Northside 777

Call Northside 777 is a noir based on the true tale of Frank Wiecek, who was wrongly convicted for the murder of a police officer in Chicago. After nearly a decade in jail, his mother placed a classified ad in the local papers promising a reward for anyone who could provide evidence that would overturn her sons conviction. When reporter Jim McNeal is given the assignment of checking on the human interest side of the story, he ignites all of Chicago and begins quest to clear Wiecek while being opposed by the entire Chicago police force.

The only downside to Call Northside 777 is the confusing title. The phone number seems to have little to do with the movie, and been slapped on as a remnant of an era where titles didn’t always relate to the films they belonged to (I Wake Up Screaming is another film that comes to mind in terms of titles). This film is a gem – fantastic performance by Stewart, a inspiring true story I’d never heard of, and a marvel of writing and line delivery that was an identifier of the era in Hollywood. Needless to say, from start to finish, I was impressed.

I could immediately tell that I am a child of technology, as when I was watching this film, taking place in the 1940’s the thought of doing investigative reporting where your most high tech tools were a lie detector test and photo enlargement was confounding. All that popped into my head was the wonders of DNA testing and how the invention of photoshop could have killed McNeil’s new evidence. It was much harder to be an investigative reporter before the internet and cell phones.

Based purely on the fact that I didn’t know this film existed before I purchased it as part of the Fox 75th Anniversary lineup, I’m guessing it’s quite under viewed by today’s audiences. I think that should be changed. And so, I encourage you, give Call Northside 777 a watch.

Director: Henry Hathaway

Laura: What's the matter, won't the pieces fit together?
McNeal: Some of them, but they make the wrong picture.
Laura: Pieces never make the wrong picture. Maybe you're looking at them from the wrong angle.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Loveless

As I’ve stated before, every biker film made since 1969 suffers from the curse of being compared to Easy Rider no matter how different the films may be. The Loveless suffers from this comparison. I’m not normally one to watch a mortorcycle film, but seeing as Kathryn Bigelow just became the first female to ever win the best director Oscar, I thought I’d like to see where she started and I am glad I did.

The Loveless is co-directed by Bigelow and Monty Montgomery and I have to say that it proves that from the get-go Bigelow didn’t concern herself about being a female director who should be concerned with woman’s issues – a rhetoric I hear quite a bit once the gender of a director is discovered by a critic. Instead, Bigelow concerns herself with the stuff of human emotion, namely conflict, rebellion, adversity and the hard to love hero. These are things normally placed within male protagonists and male-centric films, but the theme is universal to all.

In The Loveless, like The Wild One, the conflict comes from a group of bikers that head into town and stir up the prejudices and fears of the residents. The bikers are all ex-cons, unafraid of the locals disdain and willing to use the few residents who find them appealing, creating an end for their journey that ruins the town in a way The Wild One could not and the nomadic journey of Easy Rider didn’t allow.

This film is an exercise in the study of a rebellious character, but for those who want to see how Bigelow became who she is, or want to watch Willem Dafoe shine in his first major role this is a definite film to see.

Directors: Kathryn Bigelow & Monty Montgomery

Vance: You never can tell on a day like this- things could be goin' jake one minute, then, presto- before you know it, you're


Originally uploaded by Pikturz
There are great film noirs and there are imitations of great noirs - Laura is not an imitation. This is a mystery that works hard at what it gives the audience, and if the viewer is willing to uncover the layers of plot the payoff is worth it. I love a complicated film that keeps me guessing. I see so many movies, that seeing a film that keeps me guessing (and makes sense in the end) is a rare thing. Laura is nothing, if not complicated.

What keeps Laura fresh, and easy to follow despite it’s complicated tale of murder and betrayal are the characters. Each character from minor to major all have a distinct voice and purpose in the tale that unfolds, right down to Laura’s housekeeper.

If I had any complaint about Laura, it would be that it ends too abruptly. The killer is revealed, and then the end credits immediately roll. I can attribute that to a style that fit the films of the era though and remember that after seeing the original The Italian Job - any ending is less abrupt.

Waldo Lydecker: Love is eternal. It has been the strongest motivation for human actions throughout history. Love is stronger than life. It reaches beyond the dark shadow of death.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Wild One

The Wild One was made a bit more than a decade before Easy Rider and yet I can’t help but compare the former to the latter. That’s the curse of making the definitive counter-culture movie – you even overshadow Brando.

The Wild One is about a bike gang in the 50’s that roll into a small town out of boredom and discover the divisive nature of the town. Within 24 hours they manage to overrun the town, getting neighbor to turn on neighbor until they inspire a modern day mob ala Frankenstein out to get Johnny and his gang to either kill them or get them out of town. The films really as simple as that, it feels as though it was trying to do for leather jackets and motorcycles what Reefer Maddness did for MJ.

As always, the one saving grace of this film was Brando. That man could light up a silver screen when he turned it on, and even in a very Rebel Without A Cause kind of phase, he ignites here. Brando was a man that could do and would do anything he wanted in the industry and it’s evident here that he was a cinematic force to be recokened with.

Director: Laslo Benedek

Mildred: What're you rebelling against, Johnny?
Johnny: Whaddya got?

Monday, October 18, 2010

On the Waterfront

Originally uploaded by Pikturz
On the Waterfront is one of the films that’s bandied about on critic’s top 100 lists, when artists and historians talk about the career of Marlin Brando, and even in the dialogue about unions or the mob. Why? Because the story of Terry Malloy is just as relevant to the American spirit of rebellion and perseverance today as he was when the film was first released.

Let me start by saying that Brando is amazing in this film. What should have been a really simple character is given depth and a soul by the life Brando breathed into him and I can’t imagine how gleeful that must have made the director during filming.

However, the single favorite element in this film for me had to be Father Barry; the priest moved out of the abbey and into the streets because of some harsh words from a parishioner is a picture of the church that I rarely see in the movies. Father Barry gets shaken out of apathy, thinking he can only work God’s work inside his four walls only to remember that God and His people exist outside those walls too, and perhaps he can help them. Barry becomes a champion for the dock workers, taking on their challenges and their dangers in the hopes that he can make a difference.

There is a reason this film is lauded by historians and critics alike as one of the best. It simply is. On the Waterfront is a film that has a soul that’s lived on long after it’s initial audiences sat in a darkened theatre and watched 24fps go before their eyes.

Director: Elia Kazan


I'm seriously behind in reviews by about 10-ish movies. Work has been a bit draning and I've been here way too long. I will be updating ASAP but a lot of micro-film reviews could be in the future just to catch up!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pickup on South Street

Things go awry for a pickpocket when he picks the purse of a woman on the subway. Soon the cops are tracking him down, the woman has fallen for him and it’s possible that they have been unknowingly involved in a plot to get information to the communists. The kicker is that if he’s brought in, this would be his third strike, and that means they’d throw away the key…

Pickup on South Street is a classic noir crime tale, but mixed with the paranoia of the Cold War – a brilliant idea. Instead of the local crime lord or good guy gone bad, we get cops and communists and the American fear of the unknown enemy. What makes the fear, the item stolen, so daunting in this movie to all of our players is that none of them know who the enemy is or who to believe.

While Pickup on South Street is a great noir, it is not a traditional one. However, for any noir lover it should be on their list of movies to see.

Director: Samuel Fuller

Skip McCoy: You boys are talking to the wrong corner. I'm just a guy keeping my hands in my own pockets.
FBI Agent Zara: If you refuse to cooperate you'll be as guilty as the traitors who gave Stalin the A-bomb.
Skip McCoy: Are you waving the flag at me?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Mean Streets

Originally uploaded by janvaneyck
Let me emphatically say the I love Mean Streets. The very first time I saw this film was in a 70’s film genre class and I remember being riveted to my seat, but when the lights came up it was apparent that I was one of the only people of the 30+ film students that were.

This still mystifies me.

Mean Streets is a different Scorsese than we would get if we walk into a theatre today. It’s more raw, chaotic and carefree – yet it is in essence the very thing that led up to Travis Bickle and even the men of Scorsese’s modern work. This is a film about a New York that’s crumbling but loved, affluent but poor, artistic yet visceral, masculine and familial. All of these things are the very essence of what makes a Scorsese film Scorsese.

As you would imagine, the real standout element to Mean Street is the element that most people remember Scorsese for in his films even now – his leading man. Scorsese’s muse may now be Leonardo DiCaprio, but DiCaprio’s way was paved by none other than Scorsese’s original muse Robert DeNiro. Mean Streets was the first collaboration between Scorsese & DeNiro and it’s immediately evident why they worked together for so long. In a film where Scorsese knows exactly what he’s doing, DeNiro is the one element that absolutely shines as though he were made for that world.

I really can’t say a lot about Mean Streets because I truly believe it’s a film that should be discovered by the viewer. It’s a film that helped define one of the most prominent directors of the Hollywood pantheon and a film that entices you to see more.

Director: Martin Scorsese

Sunday, October 3, 2010

You Again

Marni now has a successful career in PR, but like so many people high school was her own hell – presided over by the head cheerleader Joanna. When Marni returns home for her brother’s wedding she quickly discovers that her soon-to-be sister-in-law is Joanna. While Marni tries to cope with this her mother discovers that Joanna’s aunt is her old high school rival Ramona. What ensues is a cat fight through the generations.

I wish I could praise You Again because the cast is one I adore – Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigorney Weaver, Kristen Bell and Victor Garber – but I can’t. There was very little in this film that worked…in fact, as I’m trying to come up with things to say about it, I’m blanking badly.

Perhaps where this film suffers the most is somewhere between the writing and editing. I do believe that this film was cut down for a rating. For some reason, because the trailer wouldn’t leave you to believe this, the film is PG and I don’t think the film was shot PG. Yet it was edited that way. The jokes end up feeling truncated, watered down and more than anything there’s no flow to the entire film.

The saving grace of You Again, the only good thing I can say about the movie, is the cast. Sigourney Weaver, Jamie Lee Curtis & Kristen Bell are wonderful leading ladies and they try very hard to knock this film out of the park.

This is a film that needed to be let loose, and it suffers because it wasn’t. But that’s okay, at the end of the day this is a pretty generic film – someone else will make it again in the next decade.

Director: Andy Fickman

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Social Network

Social 6
Originally uploaded by heit007
Now, I will be the first to say that when I heard there was going to be a Facebook movie helmed by the writing of Aaron Sorkin and the directing talents of David Fincher I didn’t know wether to laugh or wait with anticipation. I chose the later – and it paid off. It’s been far too long since I’ve seen a really good movie in the theatre. I think the last time I left the theatre artistically charged, and aesthetically blissful was Inception - it’s been a pretty dry summer otherwise. Then came The Social Network.

The hardest challenge with The Social Network is the fact that these events all transpired starting only seven years ago. Most of us in our twenties remember accepting myspace, then slowly hearing about this other site that was catching on like fire called Facebook and slowly adopting to that as we were granted access and hearing all these rumblings of the young creative genius and his lawsuits – but most of us were too busy enjoying the site to care. Thanks to Aaron Sorkin, we care now.

Rather than turn The Social Network into a run of the mill rags to riches story, Sorkin, Fincher and the cast create a story of young people struggling to matter for a variety of reasons – Zuckerberg wants to fit into a world he feels outside of, Saverin wants to be a successful business man with his best friend, and Parker wants revenge on the older generation that brought him down. The Social Network is a tragedy of being careful what you wish for, and a beautiful commentary about the ongoing society we are all apart of that seeks instant gratification and has replaced physical contact for electronic voyeurism.

Jesse Eisenberg gives a performance worthy of recognition as Mark Zuckerberg. He’s keeps Zuckerberg on the precipice of intellectual headcase, ass, and confused, innocent savant. Never once can you blame Zuckerberg for the issues that surround him, but instead you see him as a victim to the tragedy he may have helped create.

However, the real revelation in the film is Justin Timberlake. I’m beginning to never care if Timberlake records another album as long as he continues to act. Timberlake plays Sean Parker, the genius madman behind Napster who latches on to Zuckerberg and if anything is the one who can be blamed not only for the radical success that Facebook enjoys, but the troubles that will eventually enfold Zuckerberg. Placing Timberlake in the role of the man who helped begin the death knoll on the pre-digital music industry is a brilliant and gutsy choice on the part of Fincher and I would be interested to know who approached who in the casting process.

The only problem The Social Network may suffer from is the mere fact that it is too current. Like Up In The Air last year, the issues being dealt with in this film are a part of the current American psyche and while for a few months they may be very relevant, the film will likely not fully be praised for the true beauty and message it holds until a decade or two has passed.

Director: David Fincher

Lawyer: Okay - no. You don't think I deserve your attention.
Mark: I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try - but there's no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention - you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing. Did I adequately answer your condescending question?