Saturday, August 28, 2010


Japanese writer/director Akira Kurosawa deserves, and receives, a great deal of acclaim for his many wonderful films. Critics around the globe celebrate 'Rashomon' or 'Ran' as his master work. But I find this simple, amusing tale of a samurai at the dawn of the age of guns to be his most enjoyable film.

Yojimbo, or The Bodyguard, is the tale of a samurai in Japan, circa 1860. The era of the samurai is over and he now has no path in life. The dynasty has been overthrown and guns and trains are replacing swords and foot traffic. Kurosawa's leading man Toshiro Mifune stars as a man with no name. If that sounds reminiscent of Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood in 'A Fistful of Dollars' it should. Leone's film is an homage to this fabulous film. Much of the style, pace and feel of the Leone westerns comes from Kurosawa. And Kurosawa was greatly influenced by American Westerns and pulp detective novels.

Mifune's man with no name throws a stick in the air and walks in the direction that it points upon hitting the ground. He comes across a town within which two rival factions are fighting for control. Control of all the illegal and illicit, but highly profitable, activities within the village. Mifune decides to play each side against the other for his own gain.

While Yojimbo is a samurai film, this film has more humor in it than most Kurosawa films. Mifune has a running gag in which he finds it necessary to scratch. By the end of the film I felt like rural Japan must by the most "itchy" place on Earth. Kurosawa also uses unique actors with different physical looks and characteristics to add to the film. Some of the most interesting, different and challenging people can be found in this little town.

This movie is straight-forward in its storytelling. No superfluous action nor dialogue to clog the message. It is a crisp film that can be enjoyed by all.

Filmed in 1961, directed by Akira Kurosawa, written by Kurosawa and Ryuzo Kikushima, starring Toshiro Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, Takashi Shimura and Atsushi Watanabe. For more info on some other great Kurosawa films, here are links to my posts about 'The Bad Sleep Well' and 'Dersu Usala'. Not only was this film redone as 'A Fistful of Dollars', but Bruce Willis stars in a version entitled 'The Last Man Standing'.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Anderson Tapes

Since today is Sean Connery's 80th birthday, a look at one of his "forgotten" films.

I love caper films. If you have read my earlier blogs this comes as no surprise. I have previously reviewed 'The Taking of Pelham One Two Three', 'Thunderbolt and Lightfoot', 'Charlie Varrick' and others. Director Sidney Lumet turns master crime writer Lawrence Sander's novel into a fast-paced caper film extraordinaire. Sean Connery stars as 'Duke Anderson'. Just released after 10 years in prison, Anderson decides to rob an entire upscale apartment building. He brings in a crew of specialists that is headed by Martin Balsam and Christopher Walken. Balsam is an antiques expert that scouts the apartments for paintings, jewels and other valuables. Walken, in his film debut, is a pal of Connery's from prison who works with phone lines and other electronics. Anderson uses various contacts to plan and orchestrate this robbery deluxe.

Little does he know that almost every action he takes is being taped. Either the IRS, FBI, CIA or other government agency is following many of the people with whom he meets. These are the tapes referenced in the title. Even his long-lost girlfriend, played by the very attractive Dyan Cannon, is being watched. Since there are many parties to such a robbery it is complex and time-consuming. Can the crew pull off such a mighty feat of crime? Will one or more of the agencies taping Anderson realize what is going on and prevent the robbery?

Sander's novel and the screenplay by Frank Pierson provide many unique twists and turns. I can not think of another caper film that has the feel of The Anderson Tapes. Lumet's direction, as always, is first-rate. He moves the setting of the film back and forth from pre-to-post robbery throughout. This makes it both easier and more difficult to predict the outcome. I found it to be a master stroke of direction. But it is the always attention-grabbing Sean Connery that carries the film. He is likable enough to root for the criminals, but dark enough to be believable. Balsam is also good. His slightly over-the-top portrayal of the antiques dealer is quite endearing. And Walken shows some of the brilliance that we will see later in his long career.

Whether it is for the intelligent caper, the fine script and direction or the terrific cast, The Anderson Tapes should keep you entertained. There is also the Quincy Jones soundtrack. It is an intriguing combination of early disco with electronic music. Everyone either loves it or hates it. Personally, I think it's great.

Filmed in 1971, directed by Sidney Lumet, written by Frank Pierson, starring Sean Connery, Martin Balsam, Christopher Walken, Dyan Cannon and Alan King. For all the Saturday Night Live fans, look for original cast member Garrett Morris as one of the police officers.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Big Wednesday

This film is a cult classic. Like all cult films you either "get it", and therefore love it, or you don't. In the case of Big Wednesday I get it. This is director John Milius's homage to the zen of surfing and the beach lifestyle. He grew up on the beach and in the water. It shows. He understands the 'us vs. them' mentality of surfers and the mystical experience of sitting on your board. If you love surfing or the beach the scenery in this movie will make it worth while. If you think that spending 3 hours sitting on a surfboard, just waiting for the perfect wave, is a waste of time then you should skip this movie.

This film starts in the early 60's and covers more than a decade. Jan Michael-Vincent, William Katt and Gary Busey star as 3 close friends who spend their days surfing. They are as close as any friends can be. They watch out for each other, spot surf for each other and provide support, comfort and solace as only great friends can. The film covers more than a decade of their lives as they move in and out of the surf. Eventually all 3 must face the fact that they can't stay surfers and must grow up. As the character 'Bear' (Sam Melville) says "nobody surfs forever". We share their love for the ocean and observe the guys as they move from the beach to adulthood.

Milius actually made 5 half-movies and combined them. There is a fantastic surf move, a poignant coming of age story, a very weak high school farce film, a funny draft-dodging sequence and a decent buddy flick all combined in Big Wednesday. The surf sequences are worth the price of admission. Gloriously filmed by surf auteur Greg MacGillivray, the scenes in and around the surf are spectacular. It truly helps that all 3 stars could surf. You could see it was them, and not some ridiculous double, on the boards. Also, look for surfing great Gerry Lopez. He shreads. The rest of the movie is hit or miss. Outside of the water the film covers social issues facing America during this time period. Vietnam, race riots, the draft and a changing society are all featured. Some are handled much better than others.

But above all this is a surf movie. If you love the surf you will love Big Wednesday.

Filmed in 1978, directed by John Milius, written by John Milius and Dennis Aaberg, starring Jan Michael-Vincent, William Katt, Gary Busey, Lee Purcell, Gerry Lopez and Patti D'Arbanville.

Monday, August 16, 2010


I grew up watching 'B' movies on tv. The sci-fi and monster films of the 50s were regular guests on the 13" black and white television in my room. 'War of the Worlds', 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers', 'The Thing' and 'The Day the Earth Stood Still'(see my review) are still preferred viewing at my house. Tremors is a 1990 version of a 50s monster movie.

Excellently cast Kevin Bacon (Valentine) and Fred Ward (Earl) play two independent "businessmen". They are basically day laborers looking to make a dollar any way they can. Preferably the easy way. They live in the middle of the desert in a very small town. Very small. One day, while on the prowl for a quick buck, they discover a rancher who has died a grizzly death. This leads them on the run from giant worms that devour everything in their path. Just like every 'B' movie ever made, the plot is simple and just a device to introduce the monster. The argument over what to call the monster is fantastic.

In an inspired casting move, Michael Gross, who played the Dad on 'Family Ties', and singer Reba McEntire are cast as gun-toting, right-wing survivalists. They provide a great deal of ammunition. For the story they provide the ammunition used to hunt the monsters. For the viewer the casting of Gross is a joke in-itself. His work on 'Family Ties' as a very liberal PBS employee is wonderfully contrasted by his survivalist in Tremors. Watching them discuss which huge gun and explosives to use is priceless.

Tremors features a limited amount of actual violence. Just great characters and a monster that is out to get them. Great fun can be had by all!

Filmed in 1990, directed by Ron Underwood, written by S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock, starring Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Michael Gross, Reba McEntire and Finn Carter.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Thin Man

Never before nor since have two people consumed so much alcohol so successfully. William Powell and Myrna Loy team-up as the mystery solving sleuths Nick and Nora Charles. This film is based upon a novel by Dashiell Hammett. He is also the creator of the hardboiled detective Sam Spade (best portrayed by Humphrey Bogart). But in The Thin Man his crime fighters are a wealthy socialite and her former detective husband. The only things that Nick and Nora like more than solving murders are drinking and witty banter. And there is plenty of both here.

Powell and Loy are so fabulous together that most other screen couples pale in comparison. Critics loved their on-screen chemistry. Audiences so enjoyed them together, along with their dog 'Asta', that the studio made 5 more movies in this series. The thin man in the title is the victim of a murder. Nick, who has "retired" after marrying Nora, is roped into helping solve the murder. He eventually does. But the murder plot, while interesting and clever, is just the vehicle for us to enjoy this pair. Both Powell and Loy give the performances of their careers. They are fine actors with a full and rich body of work, but I don't think they could ever escape the pressure of such successful teamwork. Their timing is exquisite, their chemistry divine and their delivery perfection. Sometimes I watch The Thin Man just to enjoy their work.

Veteran Director W.S. Van Dyke wisely lets Powell and Loy go for it. He seemingly allows two master actors who work magnificently together to run free. But unlike much of today's "improv" comedy, The Thin Man is crisp and quick. No pauses to stare into the camera nor slow deliveries here. Script writers Albert Hackett and Francis Goodrich gave them so many great lines for us to enjoy that you may miss some of them the first time through. When you enjoy this movie be sure to wait a few weeks and then try it again. I guarantee that you will then realize how much fun you missed the first time. So pull up a chair and pour yourself a stiff martini. You may not need it, but you sure are going to want one!

Filmed in 1934, directed by W.S. Van Dyke, written by Albert Hackett and Francis Goodrich, starring William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen O'Sullivan, Nat Pendelton and Cesar Romero.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Parallax View

Since this is on TCM, I thought I would share my look at the conspiracy thriller.

Wow! I just watched this film for the first time. I found myself amazed and let the credits roll-by without a glance. It took me a few minutes to get my brain around the ideas and cinematography of The Parallax View. It is not what I expected in any way, shape or form. Surprising, a little disturbing and quite unique. I usually enjoy movies when they can surprise me and this one sure did.

Warren Beatty plays a minor reporter in 1970s Seattle. He is one of a group of 18 people who witness the assassination of a U.S. Senator. 3 years later another of the witnesses searches him out. She is petrified because the witnesses are being killed-off. She fears for her life. Beatty thinks she is paranoid and ignores her information. Until she turns up dead. He then takes off on a search for the truth behind the assassination. This leads him to the Parallax Corporation. He believes they orchestrated the killing and subsequent cover-up. He decides to infiltrate Parallax and expose their ways.

The script, written by David Giler and Lorenzo Semple, Jr., is complex. But it is the directing of Alan J. Pakula and the cinematography/photography of Gordon Willis that define this film. For the first 45 minutes or so I was frustrated with the directing and editing. They did not allow me to comprehend a situation before jumping to another part of the story. I then realized that is the plan. Pakula and Willis use the lighting, editing and photography to keep the viewer slightly off-balance. Just like the reporter Joe Frady (Beatty). This works to great effect as the story develops. I was unsure what was happening and, more importantly, what would happen. These techniques make the movie so much more than the usual conspiracy film. Don't miss it!

Filmed in 1974, directed by Alan J. Pakula, written by Lorenzo Semple, Jr. and David Giler, starring Warren Beatty, Hume Cronyn, Paula Prentis and William Daniels.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Duck Soup

Anarchy. It is the only word to describe the Marx Brothers. You either love them or hate them. Just like with all things uncontrolled, there is no middle ground. Personally, I appreciate anarchy. Ever since I was a kid I enjoyed the unstructured life. And I deeply appreciate the Marx Brothers. The constant sarcasm and in-your-face one-liners are fantastic. If you are looking for a coherent plot or linear storytelling, skip this movie. It is 68 minutes of sarcasm, jokes and anarchy.

Duck Soup has the thinnest of plots. Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) is appointed Head of State of Freedonia. He decides that war with the neighboring country of Sylvania is needed. Chico and Harpo play spies that constantly switch sides. Zeppo, the "fourth" Marx Brother, portrays Firefly's aide. This is the last of the films in which Zeppo appears on screen. The point of the film is to provide each brother their opportunity to wreak havoc upon the audience. No moment is too precious to escape the jokes, insults and/or sarcasm. Politics, romance, movie musicals, government and war itself are all insulted and ridiculed at one point or another. Looking back, many critics reference Duck Soup for its anti-establishment humor. The Marx Brothers used this film to satirize European Dictatorships, Western governmental policies and all forms of authoritarian regimes. They were so effective that Mussolini banned this film in Italy. Groucho is later quoted as saying he just wanted to make a funny movie and that they had no plan to make some grand statement. I think both attitudes are true. The Marx Brothers did seem to want to make "just a funny movie", but they did so by poking fun at so many of the troubles of the 1930s.

One other bit of information that I find intriguing. Duck Soup was released in 1933 to critical disdain and was a bomb at the box office. Now, almost 80 years later, it is listed in most of the greatest film lists. It is hailed as "satiric masterpiece" and "quintessential Marx Brothers". The brothers just wanted to make a funny movie and, initially, were most disappointed with the public reaction. This film was, at first, a total flop. But by now I am sure that they would be proud of the movie and how the audience has connected with the message and humor of Duck Soup.

There are a few scenes in this film that have been copied many times. The most famous of which is the "mirror" scene. In this scene, Harpo has broken a mirror and attempts to mirror the image of Groucho move-for-move. Harpo later recreated this scene on 'I Love Lucy', but with the roles reversed. On the tv show, Lucy attempts to mirror Harpo. Also, classic jokes that have been repeated millions of times find their fame in this film. Lines like "any four year-old could understand this report. Go out and find me a four year-old because I can't make heads or tails of it." That joke has been used, in one form or another, in movies, tv and on stage ever since.

Filmed in 1933, directed by Leo McCarey, written by about a dozen people, starring the Marx Brothers.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Producers

This article refers to the wonderful 1968 comedy and not the horrific 2005 movie based on the musical.

Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks teamed-up to make the greatest comedy team of a generation. This was their first collaboration. They followed this comic masterpiece with 'Blazing Saddles' and 'Young Frankenstein'. All 3 came out within a few short years. I challenge anyone to find a comic pairing with 3 better films in a row.

The Producers follows a down-on-his-luck Broadway producer, portrayed with absolute comic genius by Zero Mostel, who makes his living by bilking elderly woman out of their fortunes. Max Bialystock (Mostel) produces plays that are awful and which quickly close. He keeps most of the production money and no one wonders what happens to their investment. After all, the play bombed. Of course we all lost our money. Into his world comes accountant Leo Bloom. Bloom, admirably played by Gene Wilder, is to audit the accounts of Bialystock. Bialystock knows he is doomed. He has cheated his investors and is about to be caught. It is time for one last, desperate gamble.

What if the accountant and producer work together? With Bloom auditing the books the investors will never know of the cheating. And if Bialystock can find the worst play ever written, a sure bomb, they can sell thousands of investors ownership in the production. So what if they each get 50%, 75% or even 100% ownership. The play is going to fail, miserably. Great fortunes are for the taking! Bloom can't resist the idea, especially with Bialystock's cajoling, and the two are off. Off in search of the worst play ever.

From there the film follows the story of finding, casting, producing and the opening night of this worst play. This is madcap, zany antics. The cast is horrible, the director terrible, and the script is even worse. We meet many characters along the way. Kenneth Mars, as the script's author Franz Leibkind, and Christopher Hewett, as the show's director Roger de Bris, excel. This kind of setting allows actors to go way over-the-top. And both of these veteran character actors take full advantage of the opportunity. Also, look for supporting appearances by Lee Meredith and Dick Shawn.

But it is the comic genius of actors Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, along with writer Mel Brooks that propel The Producers from zany comedy to cinema masterpiece. I find the film fun and funny every time I watch it. And that has been about 20 times. I still enjoy the jokes after all these viewings. I am sure you will too!

Filmed in 1968, directed and written by Mel Brooks, starring Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Dick Shawn, Lee Meredith, Kenneth Mars and Christoper Hewett.

The story is that, after finishing the film, the studio would not release The Producers. At the time it was called 'Springtime for Hitler' and the title and film were found to be offensive not funny. Peter Sellers saw the film at a private screening and twisted the arms of the studio executives. He felt the film needed to be seen. But it was only after the title change that the studio would eventually, reluctantly allow the film to be seen by the public. They were lucky to have been convinced to change their minds. The film was a financial success and the studio made millions.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Charlie Varrick

This is a great guy movie. Charley Varrick (Walter Matthau) and his friends decide to rob a small town bank. After the robbery they discover that instead of splitting small proceeds the bank was full of cash. His partners are thrilled with the big score, but Varrick knows that it must be Mob money. And he doesn't want the mob after him. Soon both the Mob and the Cops are busy trying to locate Varrick and his partners. The Cops want them in prison and the Mob wants them dead. Varrick has to try to find a way out of the mess.

I love the build-up to the big-climax ending. Extremely satisfying as pressure builds. You don't know how, or if, Varrick and friends can extracate themselves from this mess. Matthau is fantastic as a classic anti-hero. I never thought of Walter Matthau as a guy's leading man, but his everyman quality really brings the tension home. Joe Don Baker, as the mob hitman sent to find him, does the acting of his career. Creepy and relentless he provides the pathos for Charley Varrick.

Director Don Siegel moves this film along crisply. That is a trait that I appreciate in directors. He provides an excellent pace and quite the finish. Howard Rodman's script from the John Reese novel is tight. Again, just the way I like it. I root for the "bad guys" all the while wondering how on earth they can make it. That is the essence of an anti-hero movie. Charley Varrick fits the bill.

Important Warning: The DVD of this film is a "cropped version". You only get about 70% of the picture. The company that released it cut off the sides to make it fit a tv screen. They should have letterboxed it, but did not.

Filmed in 1973, directed by Don Siegel, written by Howard Rodman, starring Walter Matthau, Joe Don Baker, John Vernon and Felicia Farr. One note:Character Maynard Boyle's line, "They're gonna strip you naked and go to work on you with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch," is paraphrased in Pulp Fiction (1994) by character Marsalus Wallace.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Ox-Bow Incident

This film is powerful. If you have not seen it, rent it or netflix it or buy it. But don't read this blog entry until after you have seen the movie.

The Ox-Bow Incident is one of the greatest commentaries on social justice I have seen. The story is strong, the acting top-notch and the film making perfect. It is crisp with no secondary stories, no Hollywood endings nor any romance "for the ladies". Just a moving script that should make every viewer question their own actions and morals. There is a saying "all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing". Edmund Burke was never shown to be so accurate as here. Viewing this movie always leaves me with questions. Questions of my own actions, questions of society's morals and questions about our collective future. Do "good men" do enough to assuage evil? Usually, eventually, yes. But, sometimes, I doubt it.

Director William Wellman had to shop The Ox-Bow Incident to every studio in Hollywood. He had been turned down by everyone except Fox. A few years earlier he had a fist fight with Mr. Zanuck, the then head of Fox. Wellman had sworn to never speak with Zanuck again. But his interest in telling this poignant story forced him to overcome that reluctance, swallow his pride and go pitch the film to Fox. Zanuck, like all the other studio execs, felt that this would be a big money loser. It was made in 1943 in the midst of World War Two. No one wanted to make a movie in which innocent people were hanged. So Zanuck required Wellman, a very profitable director, to make two other films for Fox to get the money necessary for this film. Wellman instantly agreed. And my personal thanks, as well as those of countless movie lovers, go out to both of them.

Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan play two roving cattleman who wander into town. After they arrive news is received that a very popular local rancher has been murdered. The townspeople quickly form a vigilante posse to "go after the murderers and string them up!". A local businessman attempts to talk them out of the lynching, but the group can not be stopped. They chase after the people they believe are responsible for the rustling and murder. The mob soon catches up with 3 men. Dana Andrews gives one of the performances of his career as the leader of these men. The mob is certain that these are the criminals and that they should be hanged. Immediately. A few men, lead by Harry Davenport as the shopkeeper, attempt to stop them. But to no avail. The three are eventually hanged.

Again, if you haven't seen the film, don't read further. With their blood lust satisfied, the lynch mob rides for home. They are met by the sheriff who want to know what has happened. The posse explains their "bringing to justice" the three hanged men. The sheriff explains that the local rancher was not murdered and that the men who attacked him are in jail. The people who the mob just killed weren't criminals, but innocents. As they had said all along. The posse is left to question their own actions with the threat of imminent arrest, prison or death sentences awaiting. The leader of the 3 innocent men had written a letter to his wife before his death. The reading of this letter, by Henry Fonda, is one of the more touching moments in cinema. It takes an everyman actor, like Fonda, to represent all of us on screen. Fonda's character did not want to hang the men, but he felt there was nothing he could do. He stood by. Could he have done more to save innocent lives? That question is left to the viewer. Rightfully so.

Filmed in 1943, directed by William A. Wellman, written by Lamar Trotti based upon the novel by William Van Tilburg Clark, starring Henry Fonda, Harry Morgan, Jane Darwell, Harry Davenport, Dana Andrews, Anthony Quinn and Mary Beth Hughes.

One final note. The studios were right. This film was an immense failure at the box office. No one wanted to see it. But it was a critical success and lives on now almost 70 years later. At a screening Orson Welles told Harry Morgan that the audience had no idea what they had just witnessed. It was too powerful to be taken-in quickly.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Joan Rivers A Piece of Work

This film is currently in theatres. Go see this terrific documentary before it disappears.

Wonderful documentary about a year in the life of Joan Rivers. Ms. Rivers is best known today for her jewelry lines on QVC and her red-carpet work. But for over 40 years she has been a ground-breaking comedienne. She is very talented, hard-working and freakin' funny. I am old enough to remember her from 'The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson'. As a youngster I was much more interested in her hosting the show than Carson.

This film follows Rivers for a year. We see some of her triumphs and setbacks with what seems like unlimited access. The documentary makes two points that resonate with me. One, she works hard! She is always looking for gigs. Her assistant points out that Rivers is depressed if she has a day with only one event. She likes to have 3 or 4 jobs every day. Two, Rivers is under appreciated for all the work she has done. She was one of the first women who made their mark in the world of stand-up comedy. Kathy Griffin explains this very point in the film.

The movie shows her doing her comic work and her personal/business life. Both are interesting. Go see this terrific documentary. On a personal note:I was, by far, the youngest person in the theatre. Hopefully some younger viewers will take in this film.

Filmed in 2009, directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg, staring Joan Rivers and featuring Melissa Rivers, Don Rickles, Kathy Griffin and Emily Kosloski.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


The most important thing that I can say about this movie: I was thinking about the events, how and why they happened, as if I was the lead character. Chinatown pulls you in and makes you feel like a part of the story. Writer Robert Towne, who won an Academy Award for his script, does a superb job of involving the viewer. Throughout the movie I was wondering what each clue might mean, what would be the next step and how could everything be linked. To me, that is the sign of a fantastic script. Towne has done terrific scripts like 'The Parallax View' (see my blog), 'Bonnie and Clyde' and 'Tequila Sunrise', but this is his best work. The script would make Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett proud.

Chinatown tells the story of Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson). He is a private detective in 1930's Los Angeles. He is hired by a wife to investigate the activities of her husband. She is suspicious of infidelity. He finds what he believes to be proof of the cheating. But he has been used and lied to and everything blows up in his face. This is insulting to our lead detective and he is off on a chase for "the truth". The search for evidence leads him to the halls of power within LA. He becomes involved with what he believes to be a vast conspiracy. But, as we all know, when you mess with those in power they mess back. Things don't always work out for Jake. But, in true film noir tradition, nothing will stop our lead from pursuing the facts. No matter where they lead and no matter the consequences.

The most famous scene is when Jake gets his nose sliced. The man with the knife is played by director Roman Polanski. This is the first film Polanski made in the U.S. after the terrible tragedy of Sharon Tate. Producer Robert Evans wanted a European to direct this film. He wanted the look and feel to be that of someone who did not grow up in America. Polanski did a fantastic job and received an Oscar nomination. The film is gritty and very intriguing. I especially liked the few moments of introspection that Polanski allows detective Jake Gittes. Those small pauses give us, the viewers, the chance to contemplate events while the lead does as well. It is an excellent touch. Sometimes directors are in such a hurry for the next "exciting effect" that they don't give us time to enjoy what is going on. Thankfully Polanski does not fall into that trap.

This film is a slight twist on classic film noir. It is set in the 30's, but has some modern twists to traditional noir. It is more in the modern style and provided the springboard for the resurgence of noir. This movie provided much of the basis for films like 'L.A. Confidential', 'Memento' and 'The Grifters'. Faye Dunaway, portraying Evelyn Mulwray, is a fantastic Femme Fatale. She entices Nicholson into moving over to the "dark side". The viewers can never be sure when she is honest and manipulative or dishonest and manipulative. But like all noir femmes she is manipulative. Both Dunaway and Nicholson received well-deserved Oscar nominations for their work. I believe that this is the film that established Jack Nicholson as a leading man. He had been a character actor, but his fine work here propelled him to super stardom.

Chinatown has an unexpected ending and shockers of details along the way. It is intelligent, well-acted, directed and written and is most entertaining. Be sure to netflix, download, rent or buy this great movie!

Filmed in 1974, directed by Roman Polanski, written by Robert Towne, starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston and John Hillerman. For further ruminations upon film noir see my blog about 'Double Indemnity'. This is the last film that Polanski shot in the United States. He chose to flee to avoid jail time.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The September Issue

Fascinating documentary about the creation and publishing of the most important fashion magazine in the world, the September issue of Vogue. Director R.J. Cutler was allowed amazing access into the world of fashion publicity. He provides us with insight into the production of the industry's leader and the people who produce the magazine. Depth of character, interesting details and, perhaps, a new found respect for the fashion industry are all contained in The September Issue.

The documentary focuses most upon two individuals. Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief, and Grace Coddington, the creative director, of American Vogue. Ms. Wintour comes across as a cold, business-first executive and Ms. Coddington shows her creative side and much more concern for the people involved. Each are very different, but they have put together the industry's dominant force. Those differences are highlighted within this documentary. If Wintour sounds like the Meryl Streep character in 'The Devil Wears Prada' it is because Streep's character was modeled on Ms. Wintour. Streep's Miranda Priestly shows much of the same character traits as Wintour. But in this documentary Wintour shows some of her personal/vulnerable side. Not much, but enough to make her real.

This is a terrific documentary about fashion, the publishing business and drive. Both of the film's focus have dedicated their lives to an industry that they love. And I loved this film.

Filmed in 2009, directed by R.J. Cutler, featuring the staff of Vogue.