Movies, TSPDT

Columbia Noir & #513 The Big Heat (1953)

This is actually my first official post about the Criterion Channel streaming service. It started 2 weeks ago with a pack of film-noir movies from Columbia pictures. It’s like they read my Detour post and heard that I wanted to like this genre. In honor of the launch and as a thank you for picking this as the first special, I binged every single one of these movies. I thought long and hard about what this post would be about, but I was so impressed with this collection that I’m going to go through each one to a varying degree.

First up is My Name is Julia Ross which is about this woman who gets kidnapped and told that she’s someone else. The plot is pretty ridiculous as is the ending so it wasn’t the best start. Next up is So Dark The Night, a movie about a homicide detective whose love interest is murdered. I won’t ruin the big twist ending, but this one is also ridiculous. So far these movies aren’t too realistic and a little campy.

Then we get into the third movie, and our TSPDT movie of the collection, The Big Heat. Two things happened during this movie that changed everything for the better. Thing one is that the movies took a darker more serious turn which I really love, and the second thing being the introduction of Glenn Ford as Bannion. This is about a cop, Bannion, who gets into it with a gangster, and there are car bombs, hot coffees thrown in faces and slow, sad deaths. I never expected any of these things to happen in a movie from the 50s so it blew me away. This movie isn’t afraid to kill characters off or maim them permanently. The special effects are not great, especially the burn makeup, but the idea behind it is amazing. I loved the story so much that it made the ending especially impactful. It had me tearing up for maybe the first time ever at a black and white movie. While all this is true, one of the best things of this movie was being introduced to Glenn Ford who is quickly becoming one of my favorite old timey actors. He’s a great actor who plays great characters. I will forever refer to him as Bannion for his role in this movie.

The bar raised substantially going into the fourth movie, Drive a Crooked Road, and this one easily cleared it, if not set it even higher. A woman seduces a race car driver to force him into being the getaway driver in her bank heist. What makes this movie so special is the main character, Eddie Shannon. He’s a shy, quiet guy who lives his life in the shadows. He doesn’t go after what he wants in life, but when what he wants comes to him he isn’t afraid to go after it… well maybe he’s a little afraid, but he does it anyways. I think I see a lot of myself in his character so I was really rooting for him to make it. The next movie, Human Desire, also stars Glenn Ford, this time as a returning war vet who just wants to come home, find a girl and drive his trains. What he gets instead is wrapped up in murder. This one was good, but not as memorable as the others. Glenn Ford is still great in this as Jeff, but something about it reminded me a little too much of other 40s and 50s movies. It was still dark, but it had a little of the melodrama romance that I’m not too big a fan of. I was, however, impressed by Jeff’s strong character and ethics which not every character in this collection can boast about.

Speaking of weak ethics, we have Pushover where the titular main character is a total pushover of a cop who gives up his squeaky clean record to get money and the girl. He’s on a stake out watching the girlfriend of a bank robber to try and track him down, except he gets himself involved with her and they hatch a scheme of their own. There’s a lot of killings and double crossings, but I didn’t like the main character too much so this one fell a little flat. This next movie I actually don’t really remember watching. It’s Nightfall and to summarize it for you I’d have to copy paste the summary from IMDB. I don’t think I was entirely paying attention during it. I actually feel like I cheated a little… maybe I’ll have to go watch it again… Back to something I do remember, we have The Burglar which is my least favorite in a while. I had to rewatch parts of this several times because I kept zoning out and falling asleep. With the exception of a creepy, well shot scene at the carnival at the end, everything else wasn’t too special.

And here we are, the final three movies which I binged in one day after a short break. To start us off, we have The Lineup, a movie about drug dealers smuggling drugs through unsuspecting passengers. It starts off slow, but once you meet the main characters, Dancer and Julian, you’re hooked. These guys need to retrieve the drugs from the passengers to hand off to their anonymous boss. As they go through each of the passengers, you’re dreading the final confrontation because these drugs are hidden in the doll of a little girl with her single mother. It ends in a sweet car chase and shoot out, ending up being one of the most exciting movies of the bunch so far. After getting all amped up, I moved into the second movie, Murder for Contract, about a man who wants to become a contract killer. This one is a nice slow burn of a movie. This guy methodically plans out his jobs and works his way up the ranks. He’s brought in to take out a witness before she can testify at a trial. She’s terrified of being killed and locked herself away in her home under heavy guard. He has to find a way to kill her before time runs out. This is another movie with great characters, and an interesting turn of events at the end. And finally, the last of the eleven movies, it’s Experiment in Terror and boy does it deliver on that in the opening scene. A woman comes home, only to be greeted by a shadowy man with a deep raspy voice, whispering in her ear how he wants her to steal money from the bank she works at or he’ll hurt her sister. The premise is a little far fetched, especially since it’s drawn out for so long, but wow is he a scary bad guy. This was more of a horror movie than a film-noir. There is even a scene that was reminiscent of I Know What You Did Last Summer, when Buffy’s sister is all alone in the shop. There are creepy mannequins casting shadows all over the room and you just know the bad guy is in there somewhere. It’s definitely freaky and allows for one superb reveal. It earns an A+ for building atmosphere and a creepy villain, but it really does lose some of its edge in the last 10 minutes.

Well there you have it, all eleven movies in one really long post. I don’t know what my expectations were going into this collection, but I know that it was way better than I would’ve guessed. I’ve always wanted to love film-noir, and to be honest, black and white movies in general, and this collection did that for me. Some of these movies are absolutely timeless and hold up remarkably well today. They have memorable characters, deaths, plots, shots… you name it, they have it. Nothing could’ve been a better introduction to the Criterion Channel than this (and no, this post isn’t sponsored by them or am I in any way affiliated with this streaming service, I just seriously loved these movies). Make sure you check them out while they’re still available. As far as my verdict goes, they range between 6.8 and 8.5, with The Big Heat, our TSPDT pick, picking up the top spot.

By the way, I did end up watching Nightfall again, and it just isn’t that good. It’s really short and not too much happens. The most memorable scene is a guy getting killed by a snow plow.

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Movies, TSPDT

Last Hurrah for Chivalry (1979) & #172 The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

This is part of my TSPDT series where I review all movies from the 2018 list.

This is both last week’s Criterion Channel movie of the week, as well as today’s special feature on the newly launched service. I wanted more than anything to post this before Monday but I couldn’t do it in time so this is as good as I can do. For the final week, they decided to put up another double feature. Last time it was a tribute to a fallen actor, this time it’s a tribute to ro/bro-mances? The pairing is Last Hurrah For Chivalry, a Wuxia movie out of Hong Kong (Wuxia, which as I just learned this very moment, is basically Chinese martial arts), and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, a French romance opera.

Starting off with Last Hurrah For Chivalry, I immediately realize that I’m in trouble because I can’t pay attention for more than 2 minutes at a time. I have a lot of trouble focusing during big fight scenes and this movie is loaded with them. Just minutes and minutes of the cling clang cling of swords and wam bow sounds of punches. It’s so rhythmic that it almost puts me to sleep, then something crazy happens like a guy jumping up like he has a rocket on his back or someone sticking two fingers in another guy’s eyes, Three Stooges style, and it momentarily brings me back. Even with all the craziness, I’ll admit I was totally lost through a large portion of this movie and had a hard time remembering who the characters were and what they were fighting for. I have the attention span of a goldfish during these kinds of movies. I don’t really want to fault the movie for this because I know it’s me. I don’t think it was necessarily bad, it just wasn’t for me so I don’t know what else to say.

Moving on to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which I mentioned earlier is an actual opera and surprisingly is #172 on TSPDT. This is my first opera and it took awhile for me to get used to every line being sung. I love musicals, and you might think that an opera is like the ultimate musical because it’s entirely music, but you’d be wrong. At least in this case, the downside to every line being sung is that it wasn’t very memorable. It’s hard to score an entire movie to have memorable music during every second of run time, but this movie didn’t really have any to me. If you held a gun to my head and asked me to hum one of the songs, I’d pull the trigger for you. I can remember only 2 scenes where the music built up some suspense, otherwise it was just like the last movie, very rhythmic. All the lines seemed to flow the same and it kind of lulled me to sleep because it just wasn’t auditorily interesting. The one saving grace was that the story itself was interesting. It’s a three part movie, where in the first part you’re introduced to the two lovebirds, Guy and Geneviève, right before Guy is enlisted in mandatory military service, in the second part, Geneviève has to try and live apart from him but ends up settling down with another man at the behest of her mother, and in the final part, Guy returns from war and has to deal with the fact that his love has moved on. I don’t care too much for Geneviève, but Guy was a really compelling character in the third part. You can tell how deeply he was hurt by her and it makes for a great final scene.

This definitely wasn’t my most favorite double feature in the world and sadly, I don’t think it was the best introduction to opera that I could’ve gotten. Like I said, it’s up on the Criterion Channel as of today so if you missed it as the movie of the week last week you can still check it out and judge for yourself. Good luck.

Last Hurrah for Chivalry Verdict: 6/10

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg Verdict: 7/10

Movies, TSPDT

#581 Detour (1945)

This is part of my TSPDT series where I review all movies from the 2018 list.

Oh boy… I’ve let a combination of a dying, stinking power supply for my computer and a serious case of procrastination delay this post an awful amount of time. This is 2 weeks ago’s Criterion Channel movie of the week and was another one off the TSPDT list, Detour. This is a film noir about a pianist who accidentally ends up with a dead body on his hands while hitchhiking to meet his girlfriend. Along the way, he picks up a woman who knows his secret, and scheming and hyjinx ensue. I’ve always wanted to like film noirs because I enjoy darker, more serious movies and I find most of the 1940s movies to be too sappy and sweet which doesn’t really do it for me. This movie is definitely not sappy, nor is it sweet. There are some funny moments, but it’s mostly a serious movie with serious consequences.

Before I get into the movie, I want to talk about the history of how this wound up on the channel because it really pulled at my heart strings. The short version is that the director, Edgar E. Ulmer, expressed to his daughter that he was upset that his movies weren’t being taken care of and that he feared one day they would be lost forever. He wanted his movies to live on for others to see, and his daughter took that to heart. She led the charge on getting his movies preserved. She went to the Academy Film Archive and The Film Foundation to get their help in restoring the movie to its original form. They spent over 10 years tracking down different versions of the film, trying to find missing frames and figuring out how to strip out hard coded subtitles. It warms my cold heart to know that his daughter cared enough to do this for him, and that so many people were willing to help make this happen. They go much more in depth on the process in the special features which are very interesting to watch. The final result is crisp and just gorgeous.

So was all this work like putting lipstick on a pig? Thankfully not because I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. I liked the darker story, narration, and characters. Literally every piece worked for me. This felt much more modern than other movies from the 40s that I’ve seen. The 40s for me were way too heavily censored that it’s hard to relate to them anymore. This movie however has murder where they show the dead body and it isn’t afraid to pull some punches. Anytime a dead body found its way into a scene I really didn’t expect it and I love surprises. I also loved the narration by the main character because it added some depth to him. You were able to get inside his head and listen to the rationale behind his decisions. He was already a great character, but when he partnered up with the hitchhiker, Vera, that’s where things went to another level. She is nowhere near the typical 40s woman. She isn’t there just to fall in love with the main character and she isn’t afraid to say exactly what’s on her mind. She is the alpha in their relationship and she knows it and he knows it. While I was glad they didn’t just blindly fall in love, I almost wish they did, because they had great chemistry together.

I haven’t seen many film noir movies, but I think this has to be my favorite one so far. I’m really happy that his daughter fought to preserve his movies because I never would’ve paid much attention to it otherwise. It’s a great piece of film noir and a deserving entry on the TSPDT list. I know it’s no longer up as the movie of the week, but definitely watch this when the streaming service launches because it’s worth your time.

Verdict: 8.5/10

Movies

For All Mankind (1989)

I know this is so late that the movie of the week is already over and this time I don’t even have an excuse. I just procrastinated for too long. In any case, I’m here now and last week’s Criterion Channel movie of the week was a documentary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, For All Mankind. This turned out to be my favorite of all the movie of the weeks so far. The Apollo 11 mission is the one where humans finally walk on the moon. I think most people know that Neil Armstrong took the first steps and know his iconic line, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” I knew all that and maybe seen a few pictures here and there but I had no idea how meticulously it was documented. They show footage from the pre-launch prep all the way up to them driving a rover around on the moon. It’s mind blowing that we actually managed to shoot a hunk of metal all the way to another planet. The amount of preparation and number of people required to make the trip successful is astounding. These guys were amazing. I’m impressed with the organization that it took to pull this off, but I’m even more impressed by the team that wrote the software that the mission depended on. I read this article a few days ago about how hardcore the developers at NASA were. As a developer, this quote just gives me goosebumps:

What makes it remarkable is how well the software works. This software never crashes. It never needs to be re-booted. This software is bug-free. It is perfect, as perfect as human beings have achieved. Consider these stats : the last three versions of the program — each 420,000 lines long-had just one error each. The last 11 versions of this software had a total of 17 errors. Commercial programs of equivalent complexity would have 5,000 errors.

Perfect, beautiful software and perfect, beautiful logistics aside, this is the kind of movie that will put you into an existential crisis tailspin. What’s the meaning of life? Why am I here? Why are we all here? Does anything matter when we’re so small in relation to the entire universe? How many aliens are actually out there? It was very thought provoking for me. This movie should be shown in every science or history class because it is just an amazing testament to the intelligence and ingenuity of the human race.

I was clearly in love with the story and history behind this movie, but I really did enjoy the way it was put together. It’s all video footage of the mission narrated by interviews of astronauts from all of the Apollo missions. The movie knows when to show you the interesting space things and when to linger on a meaningful shot. At one point one of the men says he loved to just stare out at the Earth and they linger on several shots of our beautiful planet from different distances. Each time allowing you to see different details that you couldn’t notice before. I could also really appreciate that they didn’t try to embellish or dramatize what happened. There was this part where something went wrong on the ship and they had to slap together some random parts to fix the ship but it was glossed over so quickly that I barely knew what happened. This movie wasn’t interested in giving you cheap thrills because it knows that the mission itself is all the thrills it needs.

Do yourself a favor and make sure you see it, and if you’re interested in whether or not there are really aliens out there, this is a fun read too.

Verdict: 9/10

Movies, TSPDT

#963 True Heart Susie (1919)

This is part of my TSPDT series where I review all movies from the 2018 list.

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile you might notice that I’m not much of a fan of silent movies. So go ahead and guess what I thought about True Heart Susie, officially the oldest movie I’ve ever seen. Not only was this a silent movie, it was so silent there wasn’t even music. I actually had to put on my own music because hearing nothing was freaking me out so I put on a Chopin playlist from Spotify. Not only was this completely silent, it was directed by a director that I only know as the director of one of the most racist movies ever made, D.W. Griffith. Honestly, this movie never stood a chance… and the mere fact that it was next on my list almost made me abandon my list goal entirely. I had to read about it before hand to know what I was getting into and I thought some of the posts I read were from people that were drinking the kool-aid. They can’t actually like a movie from 1919, they’re probably just saying they like it because it’s a popular opinion to have. It makes you seem cool and wise about films to like an old movie like this. I’m not very proud of having this thought, but it was my knee jerk reaction.

So with all that knowledge crammed into my head, I started the movie expecting to want to slam my face into my desk to make it stop. Imagine my total shock when I kind of thought this was really really good. I would even go so far as to say that it’s the best silent movie I’ve ever seen. Admittedly, it’s a small pool of competition, but a positive nonetheless. This is a cute love story about this young man and woman. The woman is hopelessly in love with him, but he’s oblivious to it. She loves him so much that she sells her best friend, a cow, to get him money to go to school so he can get a fancy job. She doesn’t even tell him the money came from her, she just wanted him to be happy. Well this guy comes back from school and, wouldn’t you know it, he starts talking to other girls and ends up marrying someone else while she just has to pretend like she isn’t dying inside. There are some scenes where she realizes that he doesn’t see her that way that break your heart. The lead, Lillian Gish, is so expressive that she actually made me sad which isn’t something I’ve felt from a silent movie before. I won’t spoil the ending for you, cause everyone loves a will they or won’t they romance. This is definitely one of the better ones for sure. I can’t help but wonder if this is the template for any romance movies that came later.

Me liking this movie so much is more shocking to me than that time I liked Stalker. The people who rave about this movie aren’t just saying it to fit in, this is a great movie that really does deserve to be remembered, even if the director isn’t remembered anymore for the great movies he made. You can find this movie on YouTube, and as I said earlier, listening to Chopin is a pretty good musical companion so give that a shot.

Verdict: 8.2/10

Movies, TSPDT

#364 Wanda (1970)

This is part of my TSPDT series where I review all movies from the 2018 list.

Well, I failed to deliver this post by Sunday as promised and it’s for a very good reason. See what happened was that I watched this week’s movie of the week, Wanda, without realizing it was on the TSPDT list. Like last week this movie didn’t draw me in too much and I was struggling to come up with something to write. So, determined for redemption from my last TSPDT post, I knew I had to find something and decided I would watch the movie again. This time, I was less distracted and I had laser beam focus. I coupled that focus with a little research into what other’s think of this movie and why it’s on the list. One of the things I heard repeated is that this is a feminist movie and I was wondering how, so I looked up the official definition and re-watched it to find proof.

First off, Webster’s dictionary defines feminism as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” What I take away from that is that feminism is about equality, so does this movie promote equality among the sexes? From what I saw, no it doesn’t. Let me explain. The bulk of the movie is about the titular character, Wanda, and Mr. Dennis. Wanda is this depressed ex-housewife who drifts from guy to guy with no real prospects in her life, while Dennis is an asshole robber. I found that Wanda’s actions around Dennis wanted to be feminist, but in the end she just gives in to whatever he wants. They sleep together and afterwards Dennis asks her to get him food in the middle of the night: she does it, but gets him what she likes even though he said he didn’t like onions on his burger. She rebels a little bit and stands up for herself, but she still went out to buy it and winds up wiping off the onions for him. Next, he makes her buy new clothes because she has to look a certain way while she’s with him: she comes out wearing pants instead of the dress he wanted. Again, a little rebellion in buying what she wants with his money, but she also bought the dress and she ends up wearing it in the end. Finally, she stands up for herself and tells him she won’t help with the big bank robbery: he convinces her to do it anyway and she does. You almost think she’s finally had enough, but she just gives into the guy like always. It was hard to watch her take that kind of abuse from him, and you wanted her to demand him to stop so she could fight to be equal, but it didn’t ever happen. Even at the end, she didn’t free herself from him under her own power, it was because of his own stupidity so I’m not sure the tension between the two of them was ever really resolved. To me, the only way this is feminist is as a counter example to it. You know, if you want to be treated as equals, don’t let him order you around and slap you in the face. Don’t be like Wanda.

I think this movie works better if you watch it as a movie about depression. Depression has this way of gripping you in its dark, icy claws and dragging you under while whispering in your ear that you’re worthless. Wanda is a woman who is clearly depressed and not only has depression whispering into her ear, now she has a real human whispering the same thing. He hits her and verbally abuses her and she takes it. There are times where she breaks free of that icy grip for a brief moment and stands up for herself, but in the end it always wins. After Dennis is out of the picture, she goes back to her usual ways and winds up alone in a car with a man who is clearly expecting sex. As per her usual self, she lets him get on top of her then for a brief moment she finally completely stands up for herself and screams and kicks him off. I was so happy to see her fully break free of depression’s grasp and demand better for herself. Just when it seems like it will be a happy ending, depression does what is does best… it comes back. We end on a shot of Wanda drinking and smoking with a group of people staring off into the distance. You know that nothing has really changed. She’s still numbing herself with drugs and has no clear direction for her life. Depression has won, like it always wins… and that’s depressing.

It took me two viewings to come to this conclusion, but I think it makes a lot more sense to me than it being a feminist movie. I think it’s great that it was written, directed and starred in by the same woman, so the reality of the production of this movie is better for women’s equality than the story was. It’s still a decent movie that’s deserving of being on the the list, and a good one for the movie of the international women’s day week.

Verdict: 7.8/10

Movies, TSPDT

#964 The Saragossa Manuscript (1965)

This is part of my TSPDT series where I review all movies from the 2018 list.

Going back to my regularly scheduled programming, we have #964, The Saragossa Manuscript. I’ll just be honest here… I watched this movie a month ago and just didn’t feel like writing about it. It’s a Polish period piece where a man finds a manuscript and then some things happen. If you were really into the characters I could see you liking this movie, but I didn’t get into it so it felt more like a couple of loosely connected stories. It has nice production values for the time, and the acting was good it’s just that I didn’t get into the story. This is another case of the movie pushing all of my wrong buttons. Being foreign, a period piece and 3 hours long put it at a big disadvantage that it wasn’t able to overcome in the end.

I can’t say it’s a bad movie, it’s just not for me so I’m going to cop out of this review and give it the score I give when I can’t give it a real score.

Verdict: 7/10