This was simply one of the best weeks I've experienced this year. Matt & I spent a good chunk of it staring up at The Big Screen, and I would rather be nowhere else than in a darkened theater. Sure, we missed a good bit of the Fantastic Fest Tour last week, but Matt & I managed to spend an entire day with The Alamo Drafthouse on Sunday. I am happy to report that two of the films we watched there will land on my Top 10 List by year's end - Journey to the West & Why Don't You Play In Hell? are a couple of mindbendingly entertaining films from the East. Hopefully the Fest will return next year, and I'll make damn sure to get the whole weekend off. Midweek we took a peak at Matthew McConaughey's Oscar grabber Dallas Buyers Club, and we finished it all off with an AFI Silver screening of Kiss Me Deadly. Ralph Meeker...monster...just an unbelievably good movie.
The Prowler: "You're a real cop now, aren't you? You want everything free." During the special features, author James Ellroy nails it on the head when he labels this whackjob flick as a "Perv Noir." Van Heflyn's beat cop responds to Evelyn Keyes' distress call, and immediately slithers his way into her life. This woman just can't say no; ten minutes inside her home, Heflyn's smoking the husband's cigarettes, drinking his booze, and plotting his murder. Keyes is nearly unbearable in her ignorance, but Van Heflyn's badged monster owns this unlawful entry. When you compare the bulging glares of his sleazoid cop with the dopey sadsack hero of 3:10 To Yuma, you'll finish the credits a Van Heflyn fan for life. The Prowler's third act goes off the rails a bit with a ghost town pregnancy, but the surreal law & order showdown certainly delivers on the weirdo vibe. It's certainly a must for fans of the genre.
Confession of Murder: Unlike Van Heflyn's deputized pervert, Jae-yeong Jeong's Detective Choi is the type of badass Dirty Harry you love to root for as he bashes, gouges, and spits against the absolute worst of humanity. Unfortunately, Confession of Murder's structure wanders on too long as it manufactures its inevitable twists. There are certainly moments in this movie that I enjoyed. When fists or bullets start to fly, I really appreciated the sloppiness of the action. Whatever happens to be lying around the set is tossed into the violence; no bucket or frozen fish is safe. Again, Jae-yeong Jeong is great. He simmers rage and hate, but the film never really delivers on those emotions, opting for obvious narrative trickery instead. May I recommend I Saw The Devil, if you are looking for some real-deal Korean serial killer cinema to fuel your nightmares.
Journey to the West - Conquering the Demons: This one surprised me. I don't know why since I'm a tremendous fan of Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle, and I should frickin' know better, but the early trailers for this yet-another-adaptation of the classic Chinese fable never captured my interest. Dumb ass. Journey to the West is the best fantasy adventure of 2013 - F YOU UPCOMING HOBBIT! The story of a young demon hunter struggling to obtain enlightenment as he struggles equally to sack catfish and pig monsters. And if fumbling about with cg folklore wasn't tough enough, the fool is constantly being shown up by Shu Qi's warrior princess. The film is incredibly silly and weird, but as one demon hunter fends off the affections of another, and the epic quest marches towards the mischievous Monkey King, I found myself being incredibly moved by the climactic spiritual awakening. As he had already proven with Shaolin Soccer & Kung Fu Hustle, Stephen Chow drags genuine warmth out of cartoon hijinks. Journey to the West does all the cliche things you want from the movies - you'll laugh, you'll cry, etc. High praise.
Red 2: I dug the first flick. I kinda hated this one. John Malkovich & Helen Mirren are fun enough, but Bruce Willis is painfully checked out from this old foggie spy adventure. I've seen Moonrise Kingdom. I've seen Looper. I know the guy can still deliver a solid performance when he bothers to give a damn. But if he keeps cranking out the Red 2s, the Good Day To Die Hards, and the GI Joe Retaliations then I am going to leave him smirking across an empty theater. Of course, I could just be bitter that Red 2 left Karl Urban standing at the alter. If he had been there instead of Byung-hun Lee, then maybe I could have focused on the shockingly entertaining character work being done by Anthony Hopkins, and not the slackjawed yawn belching from its lead performer.
Dallas Buyers Club: I am so glad that the rest of the world has finally caught up to my Matthew McConaughey love...or has the Surfer, Dude simply given up the aspirations of Tom Cruisehood and plunged into the splendid world of character actor? Dallas Buyers Club is just what you think it is, a message movie circling themes of intolerance on both the personal and societal level (resulting in countless unnecessary deaths) and an opportunity for its star to horrifyingly transform himself. The cynical might dismiss it as Oscar bait, but I appreciated the narrow focus of the Buyers Club money grab. This is not just the story of a man inflicted with HIV only to magically discover that Life Is Beautiful. Sure, he gets there. But McConaughey's sex fiend dope head recognizes an opportunity to make a buck, and through his own greed witnesses the even more catastrophic avarice of Big Pharma. If you really want to get your dander up then I recommend How To Survive A Plague for further viewing.
The Set-Up: "Everybody makes book on something." Here it is. The granddaddy of all boxing stories. Pulp Fiction, Snake Eyes, Raging Bull - they all wanna piece of The Set-Up. Robert Ryan is Stoker, a mid 30s wannabe champion without a chance in hell of scoring the belt. When his manager & coach make arrangements with his opponent they forget to tell Stoker to throw in the towel. They've seriously under estimated the dying dog's determination. The Set-Up is one of the most painful of noirs thanks to the impenetrable cloud of doom circling the hero. Ryan is the very definition of "poor bastard," from nearly the first frame you know he's screwed.
The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman: Who doesn't want to see Mads Mikkelsen and Til Schweiger beat the stuffing out of Shia Labeouf? That's what I call a good time out at the movies. And the kid really does get the snot kicked out of him, but these poundings stem from a series of predictable setups. Labeouf travels to Romania after his mother's ghost instructs him to strike out on an adventure, a man dies next to him on the plane, and he feels it necessary to deliver a spectral message to his daughter. It's all very cute. It's Eastern Europe so of course there are strippers and the mobsters. Meh. Not the worst thing I've seen this year, but I certainly won't remember a thing about it come Top Ten time.
The Black Power Mixtape: From 1967 to 1975, a Swedish television crew shot hours upon hours of footage surrounding the Black Power movement in the United States. Decades later it's assembled by director Goran Olsson into this masterful documentary. The film touches upon the battling philosophies of Martin Luthor King, Stokely Carmichael, Malcom X, and Louis Farrakhan. You've probably encountered much of this content in the past, but the Swedish perspective offers a fascinating angle that's not as condemning of us dumb Americans as you might think...although, it's appropriately harsh on the assholes of history.
Raw Deal: "What do I care if you're dead?" Edmund O'Keefe escapes from prison and plunges himself and two love struck dames into a vengeance quest against gangster Raymond Burr. Like the best noirs, Raw Deal concerns itself with white hot hate, and revels in the resulting emotional torture. I love how helpless O'Keefe is under the affections of both Claire Trevor & Marsha Hunt. He just wants his dough, but these girls keep getting in the way! Raymond Burr also gets an exceptional moment to showcase his villainy as he dumps scalding hot flambe upon a hapless dancing couple. I can see where Lee Marvin gets his temper from in The Big Heat.
Leave Her To Heaven: "Sometimes the truth is wicked." Cornel Wilde stumbles into a diabolical Elektra complex when he locks eyes with Gene Tierney's gorgeous socialite. The film chronicles a deeply disturbing love affair in which Wilde appears helpless against Tierney's fatherly obsession. Once again...dames. No one is safe from Tierney's perverted lust. Not Wilde, his crippled kid brother, the family ranch hand, or any beast that dare grow in her belly can escape this monster. Is Leave Her To Heaven the first color Film Noir as some have claimed? Not sure that such a thing exists, but you can't doubt Gene Tierney's talent as a Femme Fatale. She's stunningly gorgeous and filled with hate; to look upon her is to look upon the medusa. Yer done son.
Fascination: If you've been reading Matt's Week In Dorks then you've seen him slip into Jean Rollin madness. He's been pestering me to jump on board this train for some time, and I finally broke down with this whackjob flick. What's it all about? I really don't know. Some thief flees into a castle where two mysterious women keep dropping their clothes and ravaging his body. Lots & lots of surreal imagery - a bloody butcher barn exchange opens the film, and it only gets more nonsensical from there. Of course I enjoyed it. Am I ready to go all in like Matt? Hmmmmm...not yet. I'll give another Rollin flick a try, but apparently, I need more in my films than dreamscape boobs.
Someone Behind The Door: Two weeks ago I had never heard of this film, but then I encountered a random Best Of List online (which I currently can't track down) that put Someone Behind The Door at the very top of Charles Bronson's canon. Better than Death Wish? Mr. Majestyk? Once Upon A Time In The West? Certainly not better than Death Wish 3!?!?!?!? This random troll thought so, and I had to find out. Well, I wouldn't rank it at the top of my list, but Someone Behind The Door is pretty damn good. Bronson plays a drifter who stumbles into Anthony Perkins's hospital with some scratches on his arm and absolutely no recollection of who he is. Amnesia...yeah, it's one of those. Bronson is solid as this broken man hunting for identity, but it's really Anthony Perkins's show. The kindly doctor is not so kind; he uses Bronson's blank slate as a means of punishing his adulterous wife, but how far will this revenge go - murder? The man is Psycho after all. Someone Behind The Door is certainly worth a look, and you might as well snag the DVD for a couple bucks online.
Just Like Being There: A simple talking heads documentary detailing the resurgence of illustration in regards to concert and movie posters. The stuff of internet dreams & nightmares. I was definitely bit by the Mondo bug a few years back, and I had a streak there in which I desperately haunted ebay and other back channels for the must-have screenprints (Tyler Stout's Wrath of Khan & Assault on Precinct 13 being my favorite gets). Now it's nearly impossible to score a Mondo on the release date, and I've lost the thrill of the hunt. Of course, there are other companies out there doing work of equal value, even if it doesn't make Entertainment Weekly's radar. Anyway, there isn't much to this doc. It's cool to get some interviews from folks like Daniel Danger, Justin Ishmael, and Drew Struzan, but there is nothing new to be gained here unless you have only the slimmest of surface knowledge.
Kiss Me Deadly: "You don't taste like anyone I know." I've seen this flick a half dozen times now (twice this year now), and it has quickly risen to the top of my all time favorites. Ralph Meeker's private dick picks up a crazy dame on the side of the road, and his life is propelled down a Kafkan spiral to Armageddon. Full on Film Noir Horror, and Meeker is the blunt instrument of our ultimate doom. Men don't get much tougher or downright stupid evil than Meeker's Mike Hammer. Not sure if this is what Mickey Spillane had in mind, but it's the final statement on a genre of deadly stubborn, thick-headed misogynists. And it's totally badass. I have no idea why every random lady falls into Meeker's arms, or why he can't seem to give a damn about them in his quest for the Great Whatsit, but it is painfully funny to watch him bounce off these ladies until that final Fatale strikes. What's in the box? Something much worse than Gwyneth Paltrow's pretty little head. Kiss Me Deadly is the strangest chunk of noir, and it climaxes in what is probably cinema's greatest grim climax.
Detour: "For that kind of dough, I'd cut my leg off." Film Noir is a genre of sadsacks, but the saddest sack of all is Tom Neal's lovelorn hitch-hiker. While on the road to reclaim his starstruck lover, Neal thumbs his way into the wrong car. As they often do, a corpse materializes. Neal thinks the easiest option is to snatch it's identity and glide into the Golden State. Naturally a woman appears to ruin his life. Claudia Drake might not be the finest of actresses, but she nails the shrill vocal venom and that accompanying hateful stare. Two pieces of scum made for each other, and the entertainment is watching them bring about their own ruin. Not my favorite Noir, but whenever someone mentions the genre Detour is the first film that pops into mind.
City Lights: The Wife & I watched this Saturday afternoon, and we had a blast laughing at The Tramp's romantic plight. Chaplin falls hard for a blind flower girl, and when he becomes chummy with a drunk millionaire, he finds the monetary means to win her heart. Unfortunately, the millionaire has no recollection of our man when he's sober. Miscommunication and slapstick hijinks ensue. As usual, Criterion does a bang-up job with this Chaplin release, and City Lights stands out even amongst other silent classics like Modern Times & The Gold Rush. Those thinking that the silent era is best left to the historians are missing out on some serious comic gold. I'd pit Chaplin against any number of generic Vince Vaughn duds. Do yourself a favor and give The Tramp a try.