Monday, September 1, 2014

Famous Flower, Different Color

Film: The Blue Dahlia
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Like most people who appreciate films from the 1940s and 1950s, I’m a fan of the film noir style. The Blue Dahlia has the pedigree as the only original screenplay written by the great Raymond Chandler. What makes it interesting, at least from my perspective, is that it’s missing several of the elements of the classic noir, particularly in the femme fatale department. The real femme fatale here dies in the first reel, which makes what follows pretty unusual.

Johnny Morrison (Alan Ladd) is a Navy pilot put on leave along with two of his friends, George Copeland (Hugh Beaumont) and Buzz Wanchek (William Bendix). Buzz suffered a serious injury in the line of duty and has a metal plate in his head. Because of this, he gets frequent headaches, particularly from jazz music, and loses his temper quickly. Johnny goes home to his wife Helen (Doris Dowling) only to discover some ugly truths. Helen hasn’t been pining away waiting for Johnny’s return. Instead, she’s been living it up in a hotel with a group of rowdy friends and her new man, Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva).

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Cold War Capers

Film: The Atomic City
Format: streaming video from Amazon Prime on laptop.

The Cold War was an easy go-to for movie plots in the 1950s especially. With the onset of the Atomic Age, there was constant concern about those darn commies getting ahead of us in the space race. From the minute the Soviets launched Sputnik, Hollywood decided that the Russians getting ahead of us in space or stealing the secrets of the bomb was exactly what was needed to get butts in theater seats. Fear, after all, is a great motivator. And more important, when you can regularly show the Americans coming out on top, you reinforce the idea of American superiority. This is exactly what The Atomic City plays on.

The plot here is dead simple. Tommy (Lee Aaker), the seven-year-old son of Dr. Frank Addison (Gene Barry) is kidnapped. Why do we care? Because Frank Addison is one of the top scientists at Los Alamos and is the man in charge of the hydrogen bomb project. The kidnapping is extremely slick—Tommy is taken during a school outing, simply disappearing. Dr. Addison and his wife Martha (Lydia Clarke) are sent a telegram basically giving them instructions not to go to the police. The kidnappers, naturally, want the latest and best equations for the h-bomb, promising that Tommy won’t survive if they don’t get them.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

I Can Handle the Truth

Film: A Few Good Men
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

Once upon a time, Rob Reiner was one of the best directors working. A Few Good Men comes right at the end of that period in his career—right before he directed the colossal stinkbomb North, as a matter of fact. A Few Good Men has a lot going for it. In addition to a top-of-the-line cast, including Jack Nicholson in one of his best and most iconic roles, it also has a screenplay from Aaron Sorkin at his best. This is a smart film. It’s one I’ve seen multiple times before, and settling into it today was like putting on a pair of comfortable slippers. I always remember that I like this film. I don’t always remember how beautifully written it is.

At the military base in Guantanamo Bay, two soldiers unexpectedly attack another soldier. Cut to Washington D.C. where Lieutenant JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore) brings the incident to the attention of her superiors. The soldier who was attacked died in the attack. While it seems like a cut and dried case, it is her opinion that it sounds like a “code red,” an unofficial disciplinary action. She advocates for the case to come to trial and a lawyer be assigned to the two soldiers, Harold Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison) and Louden Downey (James Marshall).

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Dementia

Film: The Whisperers
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Lately, when I’ve watched a film that was nominated only for Best Actor or Best Actress, I’ve found a film that is relatively forgettable save for that one nominated performance. This is more or less what I expected with The Whisperers, a forgotten film from the year of my birth. There is, certainly, some element of truth in my expectations, but The Whisperers is far more than a forgettable film with a great performance. No, this is a film that really should be better known than it is. In addition to the justifiably nominated performance, there is a true darkness in this film and a story that is noteworthy in its brutality. This isn’t a film I’d want to watch if I was already depressed, but it’s a hell of a nice piece of dark theater.

Mrs. Ross (Edith Evans) is an elderly woman with her own series of issues and problems. In the main, she is extremely paranoid, under the belief that people are listening to her through the walls or the sink faucet. She reports things that she believes to the local police. It is her belief, for instance, that the white woman who lives above her with an Indian man is being held against her will. She’s also evidently suffering from dementia. She believes that she is descended from royalty, and that the welfare that she gets to keep her alive is something only temporary, since she is constantly expecting a windfall of money from her father. None of her delusions come close to even approximating reality.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Love and War

Film: The End of the Affair
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

When the Oscars roll around lately, the cry goes up that poor Leonardo DiCaprio has never won a statue for himself. Where are the people complaining for Julianne Moore? She’s gone 0-for-4, but no one seems to be pissing and moaning about that. And really, is there a better un-Oscared actress currently in film? I don’t think so. One of her four nominations happened to have the bad luck of coming out the same year as Boys Don’t Cry, which meant that her performance in The End of the Affair really didn’t have a lot of hope for a win. That’s really too bad.

What I was excited about going in here is that this is based on a novel by Graham Greene, who happens to be a favorite of mine. It’s actually kind of odd that I like Greene, because he was a particularly Catholic writer and I’m a particular heretic and apostate. Nevertheless, I like Greene’s work quite a bit. I like the stories and I like the man’s skill with a phrase. More to the point, Greene often had a particularly interesting moral slant on many of his stories. Morality sites at the heart of his work, and that’s absolutely no different here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

1984 Blogathon: Splash

Film: Splash
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to suggest that 1984 was a formative year for me. It was the year I started my senior year of high school. I am very much a child of the ‘80s, as the decade encompasses my high school and college years in the main. So when this 1984 Blogathon was proposed, I jumped in. I decided to go for a film that I knew I could locate easily (as in one I own) and that I hadn’t seen before. And so I picked Splash.

I’ll say right off that one of the things that Splash has going for it is that Daryl Hannah is in it playing something other than a human being. Hannah is at her best in this situation in my opinion. I’m rarely impressed with her when she plays a regular woman, but make her a mermaid or a replicant, and she can pull it off pretty well.