M -1951-

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Directed by Joseph Losey. 88 mins.

Worth my time? Yes. (Seen at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre)

Booyah!

I’ve been trying to see this re-make of Fritz Lang’s 1931 masterpiece ever since I first learned of its existence about seven years ago. Screenings of this version are extremely few and far in between – until last year, the only known remaining print was in possession of the British Film Archives and seldom circulated. The screening that I saw (for the closing night of the Egyptian Theatre’s Noir City Festival) was a new 35mm print, hopefully a sign that the film will become more widely available. Are you listening, Criterion?

Even if the movie sucked (it doesn’t), I would consider it worth my time for its rarity alone, just as it would be worthwhile to talk to a bitterly racist unicorn. The film can’t reach the heights of the original, mainly because of the change of setting. Weimar-era urban Germany is soaked with dread and lends itself to a tale as chilling as M. Conversely, post-WWII Los Angeles is a whole lot brighter and much less scary. Losey fortunately understood that emulating German expressionism would be futile, and so he reimagined the plot to be much closer to a gangster movie than its source material. This shift in tone isn’t a complete loss by any means. For example, a sense of humor is present in the film that would have fallen flat if it were in Lang’s version.

All sorts of great character actors make up the cast (including, but not limited to, a pre-Perry Mason Raymond Burr). David Wayne (not to be confused with the Stella guy) makes a great killer, crafting a mania that stands completely on its own and without imitating Peter Lorre’s performance. The film on the whole stands up though I wouldn’t put it on the list of all-time great noirs.

(Seen and written on 2014-04-06)

Prisoners -2013-

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Directed by Denis Villeneuve. 153 mins.

Worth my time? Mostly, but it tested my patience. (Watched on Blu-ray)

I passed on Prisoners during its time in theaters last year, mainly because its poster was boring and I had absolutely no clue what the film was about. Turns out that Villeneuve’s English language debut is a dark mystery/thriller along the lines of The Vanishing and the Red Riding trilogy. There are enough great moments to have sustained a 105-minute runtime, but this increasingly bizarre plot almost collapses under the weight of its length. The premise would have made for a good two-part episode of The X-Files, though.

Hugh Jackman delivers one of his better roles in awhile – not since Officer Jim Curring in Magnolia have I seen a born-again Christian character this multilayered. The rest of the cast is good with the exception of Paul Dano – he only plays nervous characters who squeal as they get smacked around (There Will Be Blood, Looper, 12 Years a Slave) and Prisoners is no exception.

The highlight of the film may very well be the swift, moody cinematography courtesy of the fabulous Roger Deakins. Maybe next year will be your Oscar year, Roger.

(Seen and written on 2014-03-06)

The Killing -1956-

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Directed by Stanley Kubrick. 85 mins.

Worth my time? Yes. (Watched on Criterion Blu-ray)

This was either my fourth or fifth viewing of The Killing, possibly my favorite Kubrick film and, in my opinion, the best heist film of all time. Sorry, Rififi.

The magic of The Killing lies in how the narrative lays out all its cards. There are no plot twists, nor does the film require them. Kubrick and Jim Thompson’s screenplay overlaps itself several times and lets the viewer know the exact time and location of all the major characters during key plot points. The device is so effective that Sidney Lumet, one of Kubrick’s contemporaries, used a variation of the mold in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead a half-century later. But Kubrick did it first and best.

Sterling Hayden leads an excellent ensemble of despicable, desperate characters. Marie Windsor’s duplicitous wife and Timothy Carey’s hitman-turned-horse hunter are particular standouts. But it is Elisha Cook, Jr’s henpecked husband who steals the show. No one is more dangerous than a stupid man who’s out to prove that he isn’t stupid.

(Seen on 2014-03-03, written on 2014-03-04)

A Hijacking -2013-

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Directed by Tobias Lindholm. 99 mins.

 Worth my time? Yes. (Seen Laemmle’s Royal Theater)

 Danish screenwriter Tobias Lindholm’s first time directing on his own is impressive – he clearly learned a thing or two in his years working with Thomas Vinterberg, possibly the most talented living filmmaker in Northern Europe. A Hijacking could have easily fallen into “Die Hard on a boat” á la Under Siege, but Lindholm portrays the events in a much more realistic, agonizing manner.

 The brilliance of the film is in the way it shows the drama unfolding within two completely different settings. The condition of the seized ship deteriorates as days turn to weeks and the crew fears that each moment will be their last. On the other side of the planet, the CEO of the shipping company and his advisors play a lethal chess game with the pirates’ negotiator, trying to come to a final agreement. Søren Malling stands out as Peter, the firm’s CEO – he has spent a life-long career negotiating with other corporations, but all of his experience is rendered useless once the high-stakes bargaining with the pirates commences. His character spends the movie walking a fine line between treating his ship and crew as expendable commodities, and falling prey to the pirates in his eagerness to help his employees.

 – Aside: This is a good film to bring your lame friends who don’t like foreign films, since more than half of the dialogue is in English.

 (Seen and originally written on 2013-06-24)

Repulsion -1965-

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Directed by Roman Polanski. 105 mins.

 Worth my time? Yes. (Seen at the Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theater)

 I was lucky enough to catch the new 35mm print of Repulsion playing at the Cinefamily for the next week, and I’m thrilled to report that it made my skin crawl just as much as it did when I first saw it years ago. My mind tends to occasionally wander during even excellent films, but Polanski’s English-language debut is so sharply made and packed with tension that it’s impossible to think of anything else.

 Catherine Deneuve is spellbinding as Carol, a girl whose mental condition decays until she becomes as monstrous as whoever hurt her in her past (someone in her family photo, I’d suspect, but that’s my interpretation). Polanski shows in Repulsion, just as he shows in Knife in the Water, Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant, Frantic, The Ghost Writer, etc., that he is a master of suspense. The man does Hitchcock better than Hitchcock as far as I’m concerned.

 I first noticed the excellent sound engineering in Polanski films when I heard the whey dripping from cheese cloths in Tess, and this ear for detail holds true in Repulsion. Whether Carol hears a ticking clock, a ringing bell, or flies circling a rabbit carcass, there is always a sound to feed her fear and raise her defenses. As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety in the past (although not to the degree as the character portrayed), I can relate. There are few things scarier than the collapse of one’s own reality, and Repulsion may quite possibly be the greatest film ever made on the subject.

 – I certainly won’t call Catherine Deneuve next time I need a house-sitter, that’s for damn sure.

 

Polanski’s “Repulsion” (trailer) from Cinefamily on Vimeo.

(Seen and originally written on 2013-01-25)

Pitfall -1962-

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Directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara. 97 mins.

Worth my time? Yes (Watched on DVD)

It’s interesting that I watch this film so soon after Ghost since it’s pretty much the same movie without the requisite Hollywood resolution and ending.

The conspirators’ plan, whatever it ultimately was, seems so have left an awful lot to chance. It’s not really important to the film as a whole, so I’ll let it slide. The film succeeds where it counts – I’m always up to see a new possibility of how hellish the afterlife (were it to exist) is.

–      Great score and theme tune.

–      The fight in the water definitely inspired the climax of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.

(Watched and originally written on 2013-01-09)