blowupposter

[Apologies for the lateness of the post. I’ve been fairly preoccupied this month…]

To try and shore up an area where I’ve been almost criminally negligent, I dedicated February to foreign films, ones that were largely chosen at random. Almost all of them were terrific, and admittedly, a little safe. But you have to crawl before you can walk. Most importantly, all of them were tremendous entertainment and most of them carried a considerable impact. Consider my appetite seriously whetted for more.

Here we go:

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Continuing my review of what I screened over last three months…

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Here’s how I spent the last three months of the year, checking out some celebrated new releases and revisiting some old favorites.

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My original intention last month was to chronicle the films I screened as I went—and as usual, that fell victim to other things. But there was another consideration. The further I went into the month, the more I realized that film noir is less about any single film and more about a series of themes and tropes. That it might be preferable to consider the power behind the form, why it matters now, even if the medium is rooted in a series of outmoded archetypes.

The last film I saw last month, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001), frankly, gave me very little choice, such as it is not only a distillation of noir elements but also a comment and ultimately, a deconstruction of them. The film at once reminds us that such elements are eternal while at the same time rendering them as archaic and formulaic as the Betty-and-Veronica duality that sits at the heart of the story. In that regard, it might be regarded as the eulogy for the form, as Lynch seems to be telling us that its basic tenets—the detective story, the femme fatale, the underbelly of Los Angeles, the shadowy menace—are best viewed as totems now rather than actual storytelling devices, that they have been internalized by the audience to such an extent that any idea of playing it straight is futile.

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15

Ellen Moseby: [of a football game] Who’s winning?

Harry Moseby: Nobody. One side is just losing slower than the other.

 

Harry Moseby cracks wise all through Night Moves. That Gene Hackman grin is always at the ready, defusing tight situations. But Harry is an angry man. You see flashes of it, when he’s pushed too far—or when he feels cuckolded. He used to channel that anger into football. But that’s gone. Now he seems like a man who doesn’t know where to put it or what to do with it. His life isn’t working out and he knows it. People, including those he trusts most, let him down. Beneath his sardonic patter, he’s an optimist. He wants to believe in the better aspects of human nature. He might even be a romantic. Why else would he cling to the quixotic fantasy of being a private eye on his own? “Take a swing at me, Harry,” his wife’s lover tells him. “Like Sam Spade would.”

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September is the month when summer fades—and the night begins again to take hold. So what better time to screen some classic—and less than classic—examples of film noir?

Until then I had done things my way, but from then on something stepped in and shunted me off to a different destination than the one I’d picked for myself.—Al Roberts, Detour

If anything defines a noir sensibility, it’s the notion that at some point, you lose control over your fate—if indeed you ever had it. And typically, it’s an outside force—a woman, a bad deal, an unlucky break, a stranger, that sends the protagonist spinning down to his doom.

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Do we get the dystopia that we deserve?

While “Her” was largely billed as an offbeat romance (God, help us), at its heart it’s the story of a near future nearly as terrifying as the one that features Skynet and The Terminator, one that seems more than plausible. Indeed, in its version of a future Los Angeles, it’s almost as chilling as Blade Runner’s.

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wolf

(Minor spoilers ahead for The Wolf of Wall  Street and American Hustle.)

“Everyone wants to be rich,” says Jordan Belfort, as played by Leonardo DiCaprio, in The Wolf of Wall Street. But Belfort isn’t speaking aspirationally; his remark is infused with contempt. He’s a predator stalking sheep, the fatter and lazier the better.

And we’re them, the suckers, the dreamers. We’re prey for the hustlers and the schemers. The twin hallmarks of the American capitalistic model is that for every person who believes he can strike it rich quickly, there’s an operator out there hungry to take full advantage of that, whether be it through can’t-miss investments, be-like-me infomercials, or even a state lottery.

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Note: Don’t read this if you haven’t watched the entire sixth season of Mad Men.

Great television spoils us. And even worse, even as it raises our expectations for what serialized drama can be, we quickly employ our newly evolved standards against the very thing that inspired us. This is, naturally, what has happened with Mad Men. After five knockout seasons, it seemed more viewers were on patrol for a decline in quality than were actually enjoying the vicissitudes of the sixth season.

I’ll confess to occasionally being one of them. There were times when it seemed the series lacked the same tug on me that earlier seasons had—I put off watching it at times; I wasn’t sure I was missing anything. Most of the criticism stayed locked on Jon Hamm’s Don Draper. Hadn’t we indeed seen this movie before? The drunkenness, the philandering, the flashbacks and the fantasy sequences. He seemed trapped on a treadmill to nowhere. Other characters seemed to be suffering the same fate, quippy Roger, unlikeable Pete, vexed Peggy. Had the show overstayed its welcome like an articulate but ultimately exhausting party guest, someone who hours ago sounded insightful but now simply tries the patience?

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Note: This review was written over a decade ago for Legal Times. But the Blu Ray of this great film was released last month, and so….

Ordinary noises, human sounds dominate The Verdict, the greatest courtroom drama ever filmed. Whether they are the bells of a pinball machine, the hiss and hum of a hospital respirator, or the clink of ice cubes in a whiskey glass, they serve a far more important function here than mere aural landscaping.

Director Sidney Lumet drapes his film in a shroud of stillness of grief, of regret. It’s dark. It’s Boston. It’s winter. There is no soundtrack in the movie to speak of — and extended sequences where no one talks. So that when we hear something as benign as the bumper of a pinball machine as the movie opens, we welcome the comfort it provides.

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