So, I never take the time to write about “Breaking News” on this blog because I’m mostly interested in film analysis and discussion. Besides, I have no contacts in the industry and no real interest in that sort of thing to begin with. That being said, I just so happened to see a tweet declaring that David Lynch is gearing up for pre-production for a show that he will write and direct. According to several random internet sources, “Wisteria” is going to be an episodic limited series that will debut on Netflix. Production is likely to begin in the spring of 2021 based on everything that I’ve been able to dig up in a couple hours of light internet research. So, what could it possibly be?
Outside of Twin Peaks, Lynch hasn’t really done much else in Television. It’s one of those properties that bends all reality and logic, so… it’s a possibility. However some of the sources cite “Wisteria” as being a new IP for the auteur. Wisteria isn’t just the working title of this project though, it’s also a Purple Flower that is described as “a high climbing vine with large, drooping clusters of lilac or bluish-purple flowers”. Could this be related to “Twin Peaks” via the top secret “Blue Rose” program that the in-show F.B.I. used to investigate paranormal occurances? Perhaps. But it’s just as likely to be something completely original like Lynch’s previous work with Netflix in the short film “What did Jack do?” which is very good and you should watch it.
I know this isn’t much to go on, but I’m personally very excited to hear that David Lynch is working on a new project. If it’s a continuation of Twin Peaks, then that’s great and I highly look forward to it. If it’s something completely original and new, then hey, that’s great too! Beyond this news, I also highly recommend checking out his youtube channel listed below with a couple other links. His daily weather reports are exactly what you might expect from David Lynch, they’re charming, odd, and maybe just a bit unsettling at times. Enjoy the wild speculation, because with David Lynch, even if we had any concrete details, nobody would likely be able to interpret just what the hell he’s doing anyways. Can’t wait!
He’s made two Westerns, a World War Two film, a two-parter Samurai inspired Revenge epic, a love letter to grindhouse cinema, and two crime dramas in “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction”. Not to mention his most recent project in “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” and “Jackie Brown”. Clearly, Tarantino is in love with cinema and it’s past. His work, while uniquely his own style, reflects periods of film history that ran roughshod over the Box Office for decades upon decades.. but there’s a fairly large part of American film history that he’s not touched upon, yet. Personally, I think making his final film a Musical would not only be a fascinating creative challenge for the auteur Director, but it would fill in the gap of referential Hollywood inspiration. Now, that’s not to say that I think the director would choose to make something along the lines of “Singin in the Rain” or “West Side Story” necessarily, but I believe he has the potential to make a statement and a hell of an exit from Hollywood if he truly does stick to his mantra of only making an even Ten movies. I’m not quite sure what the subject matter would or should be, but I have an idea of at least four major themes or ideas that would be intregral for a Tarantino Musical.
Revenge has been a major player in the back half of Tarantino’s filmography. Depicted most acutely in the “Kill Bill” movies, “Django Unchained”, “Inglorious Basterds”, and “Jackie Brown”, Tarantino is perhaps the filmmaker who has contributed most to this sub-genre of film in the last couple of decades. I’m not the most literate in the motivations of characters in Musicals over the decades but I don’t think there were many that focused on revenge as a major factor for a character’s plot progression. If so, then Tarantino would be breaking ground in the genre, and even if it has been done before, I doubt anyone could do it quite like Tarantino would. Guns, swords, knives, and Samuel L. Jackson (in some capacity), sounds like a recipe for one hell of a musical to me!
Tarantino himself has said that he spends the majority of his free time watching and analyzing old movies ad nausem, so perhaps there are certain films, actors, or styles of musicals that he’d like to homage. Much like how “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” recontextualizes the transition period of the late 1960’s that forced the old Hollywood studio system to fall from grace as audiences wanted grittier and more complex stories- perhaps there is a time period that Tarantino could use to his storytelling advantage? Who says the film has to be set in the modern era? Orson Welles, for example, used several of Shakespeare’s plays to differentiate the passing of one time period to the next and his associations with the past and the future in “Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight)” (https://spacecortezwrites.com/2020/11/26/old-school-review-orson-welles-falstaff-chimes-at-midnight-1966/). Tarantino could similarly paint his own rose-colored glasses onto whatever time period he saw fit to best represent his well recorded disdain for modern filmmaking compared to the rest of film history.
To be honest with you, I wouldn’t have even considered anything Tarantino does to be associated with the idea of Melancholy before “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”. That film, however, is doused in waves of a melancholic nostalgia that is present throughout the film’s runtime. This idea does pair with the previous notion listed above, but I believe there is enough of a difference for it to be it’s own category. For while Nostalgia is a longing for a time that’s past, one could fondly remember those times, whereas Melancholy is a more pensive sadness that can infect a person’s entire perspective of life. What better medium to express an inherent sadness at the idea of time and society’s evolution, than music and singing? Tarantino’s movies have always been powerful, funny, shockingly violent and occasionally crass- but he’s hardly ever touched upon sadness with the same commitment. Though, there are shades of it in “Inglorious Basterds” and “Kill Bill”- it’s a different kind of grief and despair in those films. Those were more “present” reflections and reactions due to personal and intimate actions taken against the main characters rather than a macro scale despondency at the state of things and people on the whole. “La La Land” would be the best most recent film that I can point to that expertly executes those emotions, though in a bittersweet heartwarming fashion. Tarantino probably wouldn’t go that route exactly, but if he could effectively pull on people’s heart strings like that movie did, maybe he’d ride out into the sunset with another slew of Oscars.
There’s an inherent rebellious punk attitude in much of Tarantino’s work, and while he has changed, matured, and evolved since his days of “Reservoir Dogs”, even “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” has that fiery spirit at its core. I believe that however he chose to approach the genre of Musicals, it would have that insurgent undercurrent throughout it. For someone that utilizes music and the scores of each film very specifically, I think he’s got what it takes to forge a unique take on the form. So, instead of that “Star Trek” adaption, why not make a completely unexpected move for his last hurrah? He could make an ode to cinema and further wedge himself into the annals of film history than he already has. Though, to be honest, I’ll watch whatever his last film is, he’s fucking Quentin Tarantino, man!
For fun, here’s a link to a Youtube video essay on the History of Musicals:
Written, edited, produced, starring, and directed by Orson Welles, “Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight)” is an adaption of several plays by William Shakespeare regarding Henry the IV, Henry the V, and notably Sir John Falstaff, knight of mischief. My relationship with Shakespeare has been an evolving one since having to read through several of his most famous plays in High School. I’ve never much cared for “Romeo and Juliet” or even “Macbeth” for that matter, but I’ve come to greatly admire the plays concerning the ruling hand of England, academically called the “Henriad” plays, meaning four to eight (depending on who you ask) of his works dealing with Historical figures and events (though my favorite piece by Shakespeare is “King Lear”). Orson Welles took the comic side character of John Falstaff and decided to tell a story that focused more on the relationship between Hal (Keith Baxter), or Henry the V, and his two father figures in Falstaff and Henry the IV (John Gielgud).
More than that however, the film seems to be intently focused on the changing of the times, going from a more “Arthurian” romanticized and nostalgic past, versus the new, cold, modern age. The first act is full of playful scenes full of movement amongst Hal and Falstaff and company that is perfectly juxtaposed against the later scenes in the film concerning Henry the IV and the colder, harsher, future. The scenes in the Castle are rigid, somber, with architecture filling the frame rather than the first half of the film which focused more intimately on the faces and action of Hal and his companions. Welles’ blocking and cutting on movement greatly assist in the pace and kinetic energy of the story as it’s being told. Which, I must say, helped to keep me personally invested in the film. While, yes, the langauage is old and a bit difficult to understand at times, the actors all emote so effectively that you get the general idea of what’s happening and how the story is moving. I found this film to be far more approachable than Laurence Olivier’s adaption of “Henry V” for example. That film had few camera movements and felt as though it were itself a stageplay and didn’t quite use the medium of film to its advantage.
After the mesmerizingly well executed battle sequence halfway through the movie (more on that in just a bit), you may begin to have an inkling that this story, or at least this version of the story, isn’t one that may end in joyous good fortune, but rather, one of tragedy. It’s as much Orson Welles’ longing for a good pair of rose-colored glasses as it is for the simplicity of easier times gone by, and Falstaff embodies that wholeheartedly. The character is one of charming ego and pathetic lies, conjured from exaggeration and jovial, bawdy, good times. Which, in the light of modernity, cannot exist side by side such a serious and brutal world. That brutality is borne out in the expertly crafted war scenes in the middle of the film, which were particularly exciting. The whole sequence felt surprisingly modern in its depiction. Quick cuts with the editing amid the dirty, chaotic, action with many men dying in the mud felt revelatory for its time. The battle feels appropriately frantic with handheld shots and close ups of horrified faces, especially when you compare it to the earlier scene in which Falstaff and Hal commit a small scale robbery in the woods, filmed on gliding dolly shots set against a beautiful forest with a very playful mood. When you focus on how Falstaff is depicted during the battle, it’s as if the two time periods of England are merging. Falstaff running around cowardly in his huge armor and hiding from the fight- while intercut with rapid shots of men dying awful deaths, most of which is indescernable when trying to figure out who’s who on the battlefield. In this beginning of the new era, Falstaff is out of place. He does not fit in this violent and serious world of conflict. I must also take a moment to point out that though rotund and portly, Welles was shockingly nimble and quick on his feet in several scenes throughout the film. I did not expect that.
This film was far more complex and fascinating than I expected going in. It’s actually quite funny too. There’s a scene early on when Hal and Poins (Tony Beckley) turn Falstaff’s cheeky robbery on him by spooking him into running off, which turns into a great bit when they hear him greatly exaggerating his pursuers and his bravery in fending them off. I highly recommend this one, and if you can get past the archaic language barrier you’ll find a satisfying and endearing story. Orson Welles himself cites this as his favorite film to have worked on and completed, despite it being a financial failure. Check it out!
After the fallout of “Avengers: Endgame” Robert Downey Jr. has one of the most unique opportunities in the film game, he can choose to do whatever he wants with his time at this point. Any feature that has his name attached will likely garner more attention than most, even though his “Dolittle” didn’t quite mesh with audiences and critics, it still made over two-hundred million. Though I wouldn’t recommend big budget, overly CGI reliant tentpoles anymore. I would, however, recommend several options that could flavor the third act of his career in performance with bold, daring, choices. Or simply just weird and abstract roles. I’d recommend a future similar to the path that Daniel Radcliffe has taken, who went out of his way to choose downright insane, wildly fun, character pieces since leaving Hogwarts behind (My favorite being “Swiss Army Man”https://spacecortezwrites.com/2016/07/11/review-swiss-army-man-or-undead-harry-potter-farts-a-lot-paul-dano-talks-to-him-about-it/). Downey is no stranger to abstract or somewhat bizarre films, just look at “The Singing Detective” (https://spacecortezwrites.com/2017/12/16/review-the-singing-detective/) or “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” for a glance at some of his pre-Marvel Studios out-of-the-box roles. Below are just a couple of ideas I’ve been mulling lately.
Work with Mel Gibson
Okay, so we might as well get this one out of the way as some will outright reject any notion of Mel Gibson getting any work after his history of less than welcomed anti-semitic rants (obviously, not cool to say the least). However, it has been some time since then, and Gibson has apologized (http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1913028_1913030_1913025,00.html), and as far as I know he hasn’t had any further instances of hate speech, and I have to admit that I admire his skill as an actor and a filmmaker. Why then, you might be asking, should Robert Downey Jr. work with Mel Gibson specifically? Well, for starters, the two have been longtime friends who have helped each other out in times of strife. Gibson acutally helped to produce the earlier mentioned “Singing Detective” which was Downey’s first role after his bout with rehab (link below to article about said friendship). Personally, what I would want most from a film starring these two as leads, is either A) a modern Noir in the same vein as “Chinatown” with the two as detectives chasing down Macguffins in the rain with shootouts and gritty mystery afoot; or B) some sort of cop drama with the two as partners, but less in the stylized noir genre and more like Downey’s previous work in “Zodiac” for example. There’s a lot that could be done with either premise, but both sound like a roaring good time to me!
As previously stated here on this blog many times before, my love for the film studio A24 is boundless. Regardless of whether or not each film they distribute will be a box office juggernaut or a penniless dud- they simply refuse to make normal, broad-based appeal films. They always choose fascinating and artistically divergent films from filmmakers with a voice and vision. Which is why I would love to see Downey star in a film distributed by A24. The possibilities are unlimited. Just look at fellow MCU star Scarlett Johansson’s abstract film “Under The Skin” (The sixth film in this link:https://spacecortezwrites.com/2020/05/03/quarantine-2020-catch-up-rapid-fire-reviews-3-politics-and-or-absurdity/) for an idea at the potential. Could you imagine what Ari Aster or Robert Eggers would do with Robery Downey Jr in a starring role? I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it!
While I feel like this category is the least likely, it’s also possibly the most enthralling of all the possibilities for me personally. If Downey got involved with the genre hits that have been cropping up more and more in recent years, I think there could be some excellent material for him to work with, plus I legitimately think his presence in these suggestions would better the films overall. If Jordan Peele, for example, wanted to work with Downey in a starring or supporting role in whatever horror concept he’s been stewing on as of late, I feel safely assured in the quality of that possible outcome. I also think it would be a real treat if Downey popped up in the next “Conjuring” sequel (mainline, not the spinoffs) as a Catholic priest, or even as one of the ghosts, or spirits, with a more involved role. That just seems like a good time. There’s also the possibility of him getting involved with the last of the planned “Halloween” sequels, “Halloween Ends”. I don’t quite know how he could fit in there- but damn it, I’d be happy if he showed up. Horror aside, it just struck me- What if Robert Downey Jr was in one of the next “John Wick” movies? Can you imagine it? What if he was a power player at the High Table? He could be a ruthless suit, or a gritty ringleader of some other faction within New York City or even the head of another major international city’s Continental! Or maybe just an old acquaintance of Mr. Wick’s that can assist him in his time of need? Awe man… now I really want him to be involved in the “John Wick” series…
Indie! Indie! Indie!
Maybe, however, RDJ just wants something … quieter? Something smaller, that speaks to our times, or simply a powerful drama about the human condition? He’s been nominated twice for the Oscars, but he has yet to take home the gold, maybe pairing with a critically acclaimed director for a good old-fashioned drama would merit him a shiny golden statue for his mantlepiece. There are a TON of filmmakers out there that could work with Downey to craft something truly unique, but the ones that immediately come to mind are Chloé Zhao, Martin McDonagh, David Lowery, or even Taika Waititi if he reverted to smaller scale drama/comedies like “The Hunt for the Wilderpeople” after his next Thor film. If he chose to go this route, I think we’d all be rewarded by the change in pace.
Well, there you have it! Those are just a few of my thoughts on the exciting future that awaits both audiences and Robert Downey Jr himself! Granted, this article is about a year and a half behind the crowd, but hey, I write ’em as they come to me. Whatever he chooses to do from here on out will be something to look forward to, that’s for sure! I’m still waiting on that third “Sherlock Holmes” movie if I’m being honest with you, but anyways, hope you had fun with all this RDJ speculation! Stay safe out there!
Written by Eizaburo Shiba, Gin’ichi Kishimoto, Keiichi Abe, and Hideo Gosha, and directed by Hideo Gosha, “Three Outlaw Samurai” is a blistering Chanbara, or ‘sword-fighting‘, film that excels in its characterization of the three titular Samurai while keeping a tight and satisfying pace. The aspect of the film that struck me most while watching was how familiar the film felt. Not simply because the film relies on staples of the Samurai genre of cinema, it most certainly does, but rather the three Samurai themselves and their personalities. It reminded me most of the Western Epic, “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”. Now, both this film and Sergio Leone’s first entry in what would be come commonly known as ‘The Dollar Trilogy’ starring Clint Eastwood as The Man with No Name, were completed and released in 1964. “Fistful of Dollars” was a Western intrinsically tied to another Samurai film, “Yojimbo” which provided the foundation of what the dollar trilogy would become. So, is it unreasonable to suggest that Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood, or someone involved with the production of “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” saw this film and decided to return to the well of Samurai film homage?
Granted, these two films are incredibly different in many ways. The runtime for the dollar trilogy capper was a lofty four hours long, whereas “Three Outlaw Samurai” is a compact hour and a half. Sergio Leone’s third outing with The Man with No Name was also stylized more as an ‘epic’ with vast distances traveled while this film’s consequences and geography are smaller in scope- though no less violent! The worlds of both films are indeed brutal, death surrounds all the major players of each film, the major difference here is that the Western keeps the three titular characters at odds with each other throughout the film while the Samurai movie has it’s characters eventually working together against their adversaries. There are shifting allegiances in both films, but the back and forth morality was a trait more fervent in the Western. The characterization of all six share some similarities between each and their counterpart. Shiba (Tetsurô Tanba), for example, is ‘The Good’ of this tale. We start the film with this ronin as he wanders into a constantly evolving hostage scenario at a mill just outside the town. He enters and sees that three village peasants have captured the local Magistrate’s daughter in order to force the local government’s hand in lowering the collective tax of eight surrounding villages. After several attempts at diplomacy with the Magistrate, the villagers felt they had no choice but to take drastic measures to feed their families and stay alive. Shiba plays the aloof ronin part well in the first act, when the government’s goons show up, he helps the farmers defend the mill and makes sure the Magistrate’s daughter eats as well. Cue the introduction of ‘The Bad’ Kikyô (Mikijirô Hira), a hired Samurai working for the Magistrate who enjoys the finer things in life. He takes a lot of motivation to eventually join the cause, but betrayal can be very persuasive. The last one to be introduced to the story, Sakura (Isamu Nagato), is our freewheeling and slightly rotund Samurai who is this film’s ‘The Ugly’. He begins in the Magistrate’s prison, but ends up switching sides to help the farmers when ordered to assist in slaughtering them at the Mill with their ronin guardian. Though admittedly, Sakura is a far more moral character than Tuco aka ‘The Ugly’.
“Three Outlaw Samurai” does a lot with it’s runtime, the storytelling economy is inspiring and compelling. There’s a lot to love here, the film’s action sequences are expertly crafted, thrilling to watch, and while it may not reinvent the wheel, the execution of it’s familiar elements paired with stylistic flourishs throughout the runtime make it a stellar example of the Samurai film genre. I highly encourage anyone that’s interested in Japanese cinema to give this one a watch. Revenge, loyalty, love and loss- this film has it all!
There are always going to be remakes of beloved classics it seems. It’s an unfortunate truth of filmmaking over the last thirty years that, despite a few original stories and ideas being lucky enough to get funded and procured, most films that aren’t a sequel, prequel, or a remake often get left in the dust. Hollywood is more than content to recycle what’s worked in the past, but with a few inert changes to the core of what came before. Thus, while I have no interest in a remake of one of my favorite films of all time- there may well come a time when Universal Studios decides to forge ahead on a remake of “Jaws”, so it got me thinking; who would I cast in a remake of one of the most beloved movies of the last forty-five years? I believe there are four major players of the story that would need the most focus, obviously competent and well considered actors would fill out the sides of this ensemble cast, but I am mostly concerned with the Mayor of Amity Island, Chief Brody, Hooper the Oceanographer, and the old man of the sea himself, Quint.
Brody- Jason Bateman
Over the last decade Jason Bateman has turned his cheeky everyman persona into a more beaten down everyman who’s willing to break the rules, like the one he’s recently portrayed in Netflix’s crime drama series, “The Ozarks”. Bateman’s dramatic chops have evolved a bit since his more comedic turns in shows and movies like “Game Night”, “Arrested Development”, and the two “Horrible Bosses” flicks. I think he has the potential to portray newly appointed Police Chief Brody with the pathos and empathy required to establish Brody as a man trying to keep his community, and new home, safe and free from harm. Besides, I think Bateman would work well between the opposing forces of ocean nerd Hooper, and the old sea-dog Quint.
Hooper- LaKeith Stanfield
LaKeith Stanfield has just the right amount of fire to bring Hooper’s upper middle class antics and scientific sarcasm to the team. My choice stems mostly from his performance in “Sorry to Bother You” in which LaKeith portrays Cassius Green, a young phone bank caller who rides the corporate escalator after using his ‘white voice’ to soothe potential white customers on the other end of the line. That performance, particularly the latter half, has the ingredients that could fuel a fiery Hooper that argues with every character at some point about the science at hand. I believe LaKeith could bring a unique perspective to the character while staying true to the core of who Hooper is.
Quint- Willem Dafoe
Maybe it’s just because I love “The Lighthouse” by Robert Eggers, or purely out of adoration for the old Wickie in that wild ride of a movie, but I believe Willem Dafoe could steal every scene of a “Jaws” remake with him as Quint. Dafoe’s ability to chew scenery and deliver monologue like there’s no tomorrow would be absolutely perfect for this role. The man can contort his expressive face in a myriad of ways, and I’ve seen Dafoe portray admirable characters, heinous villains, charismatic hams, and inquisitive detectives. There’s no question (in my mind at least) that if a remake were to happen anytime in the near future, Willem Dafoe would be the perfect Quint for the job. I can practically hear him singing now… “Farewell and adieu to you, fair Spanish ladies. Farewell and adieu, you ladies of Spain…”
Mayor Vaughn- Alec Baldwin
I can’t think of anyone better to portray a local politician that denies reality for monetary gain more so than Alec Baldwin. Just a quick note, this is not due to his recent portrayals of Donald Trump who also chose to deny reality to keep money flowing over the health of his constituents- that improv character is simply too silly for a role like this. No, Alec Baldwin’s inclusion here is due to character work like his C.I.A. and I.M.F. chief Alan Hunley in the two most recent Mission Impossible movies, or his role as Captain Ellerby in “The Departed” as two examples. More over, Baldwin has the arrogant bravado and overly confident nature that a character like the Mayor of Amity Island needs. Besides, he would get to deliver the line “Martin, it’s all psychological. You yell barracuda, everybody says, ‘Huh? What?’ You yell shark, well, then we’ve got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.” Personally, I can think of no actor that could embody this role more snugly than Alec Baldwin.
There you have it! There’s a lot of consideration that would have to go into a proper remake of “Jaws” if there was ever going to be one, but those four characters are the most important part of the film if you ask me. Of course who’s directing the remake, who the cinematographer will be, who’s scoring it if John Williams isn’t available or uninterested in the project- all of these aspects and more would weigh heavily on the production and the quality of this theoretical film if it came to pass. I sincerely hope no one attempts to remake this film however, I highly encourage new creative endeavors instead. If “Jaws” has inspired you, take that inspiration and use it to fuel your new project. Who knows? Maybe you’ll end up writing the next big creature feature that someone else will be writing about twenty years from now. The future is out there.
Written and directed by Orson Welles, loosely based on the novel “The Badge of Evil” by Whit Masterson, “Touch of Evil” is the last studio backed film that Orson Welles made in Hollywood, and it’s quite the noir! For the record, I watched the ‘Reconstructed’ version of the film that was re-edited according to Orson Welles’ wishes per the fifty-eight page memo he sent to the studio following their edit of the film. This resulted in an additional half hour of footage merged back into the original studio edit. “Touch of Evil” begins with an incredibly well staged and executed shot that follows a bomb being planted in the trunk of a car as we meet two of our principal characters, Miguel ‘Mike’ (Charlton Heston) and Susan (Janet Leigh) Vargas, walking alongside the car as it weaves in and out of a busy small road as they cross the Mexican-U.S. border. It’s a gripping scene of about three and a half minutes until the car with the bomb gets just far enough out of frame and explodes as Mike (a Narcotics Official for the Mexican Government) investigates the scene of the burning car. It’s not long before Police Captain Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) arrives at the scene of the crime, looming ominously over the wreckage as he boasts about ‘intuitions’ and hunches that a local Mexican gang is to blame for the murders.
Once Vargas is involved in the case, it becomes more about the detective work that Vargas engages in as he uncovers Captain Quinlan’s years of planting evidence and a corrupt system of criminal activities. There’s also some fun world building on the side with “Uncle” Joe Grandi (Akim Tamiroff), the brother of a criminal that Vargas indicted back in Mexico. He’s out to make Vargas’ life a living hell as revenge for his brother’s predicament, though Uncle Joe is very careful to keep his underlings’ crimes just vague and muddled enough not to attract any real retribution from the U.S. cops. Uncle Joe Grandi’s boys are mostly utilized to keep Susan paranoid while Mike’s out there trying to pin Quinlan to the dirt he’s tried to keep buried for years. The film has all the trappings of a good Noir, and Welles fully embraced the genre while imbuing it with stylish cinematography choices, near perfect shading, and just damn good direction and blocking. It’s considerably noteworthy that Orson Welles could take a B-movie thriller on a border town, and transform it into something larger that feels equal parts Machiavellian and Shakespearean at times.
Now, we have to address the elephant in the room, Charlton Heston as Mike Vargas. On one hand, to have a Mexican character not only be the lead in a major motion picture in 1958, but that he was also the hero of the story as well as the most moral character- that’s something to consider given the time the film was made and released. It’s also worth mentioning that Vargas’ character actions seem doubly righteous when juxtaposed against Welles’ Quinlan, the walking emodiment of bigotry and corruption. However, it can be cringe inducing seeing Charlton Heston caked in make-up to be depicted as a Mexican narcotics officer, especially when Heston provided no vocal work for any authenticity when concerned with accents. It’s not particularly well hidden, thus the film asks you to suspend your disbelief as Heston, clearly, is not Mexican. Whether or not that works for you in the grander scheme of the film as a whole, well, that will be a personal choice for each viewer to decide for themselves. I think it’s a bit of a toss up for me personally, it’s a bit uncomfortable- but it seems there were good intentions from Welles. For example, in the book, the character of Vargas was a white cop named Mitch. So, Welles intentionally made the choice to make his lead character of Mexican descent, it’s just disappointing that the character couldn’t have been played by a Latino. Alas, it was what seems like a thousand years ago. Your enjoyment of the film will be up to you given the circumstances.
If you’re a student of film, I highly recommend giving this one a watch. There’s a lot of work here that feels revolutionary for the time. I’ve always thought that about Orson Welles, he was a man ahead of his time when it came to filmmaking. Whether on the set of “Citizen Kane”, “The Third Man”, or in the recently crafted/discovered documentary on Netflix called “The Other Side of The Wind” (Which I highly recommend), Welles was always willing to take huge risks, break new ground, and change cinema. Even with the brownface Heston situation, there is enough good stuff in the film to consider giving it a watch if this piques your interest. Definitely recommended.
Written by Andrew Solt, based on a story by Dorothy B. Hughes, and directed by Nicholas Ray, “In a Lonely Place” is a mystery noir film that cleverly plays with audience expectations and goes against the grain when regarding Hollywood star Humphrey Bogart and his character, Dixon Steele. Having only just recently seen “Casablanca” for the first time this past summer (I know, I know..) paired with “The African Queen” and “The Maltese Falcon”, I had an image conjured up from these films of Bogart’s usual assets in acting. Namely, playing a man beaten down by the world or it’s expectations resulting in sarcasm, a dry wit, and usually with a drink in hand or nearby. He might play a cynic- but at his core the characters usually have good intentions. This film toys with that image and what we the audience may have come to expect from Bogart’s other hit films, granted, the film starts out in a very familiar place for Bogart as Steele, a washed up screenwriter with a chip on his shoulder and a drinking problem. After Steele throws a spiteful fist early on in the film however, we get an inkling that this incarnation of Bogey has more of a temper this time around. Steele is a far punchier lead than his roles in the previously mentioned films, and this only assists in the delightful second act flip, which I found to be particularly innovative for the time.
The film begins with Steele’s agent, Mel Lippman (Art Smith), a longtime friend and confidant, whose just gotten Steele the opportunity to adapt a trashy pulp novel into a screenplay. Steele can’t bring himself to read the book even though he needs the work and instead hires a hat-check girl, Mildred Atkinson (Martha Stewart), who he heard loves the book and had just finished reading it. She comes to his place that evening and ecstatically goes over the plot while he glances at a new neighbor across the way who had also noticed him earlier as well. After Steele gets the general idea of the story, which he seems to detest a bit internally, he sends Ms. Atkinson home for the night by a nearby cab station- which he pays for in addition to helping him with the pulp fiction. Early the next morning Steele’s met by L.A. Detective, Brub Nicolai (Frank Lovejoy), who had served under him during the war. He brings Steele in for questioning, and while Steele believes it’s because he got into a fight with the son of the studio head the previous day, it’s actually because he’s the prime suspect in the murder of Mildren Atkinson found dead earlier in the dark hours of the morning.
Steele doesn’t do hiumself any favors when being questioned by the police. By his nature, he’s a macabre idealist with awful self-esteem, someone who’s intentionally vague and (as a writer does) likes to exaggerate from time to time. Luckily for him his new neighbor, Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame), did see Ms. Atkinson leave the previous night without Steele, providing him an alibi, as well as a flirtatious invitation. After awhile the two begin to fall in love, they begin to date and Steele gets back to writing after Laurel helps get him off the bottle for some time. Though Laurel and Dixon do seem to be mutually affectionate to each other, things begin to go awry when an evening at the beach turns sour and Dixon’s temper reemerges when he discovers that Laurel was brought in for further questioning by the police chief, which she didn’t tell him about as she didn’t want to interrupt his writing streak. That he’s still being followed amid uncertainty in the air of whether or not he actually did kill Ms. Atkinson sends him into a rage while on the road and he almost kills a man after a traffic altercation. This is when the film switches the perspective to that of Laurel, who’s paranoia about Dixon grows slowly at first before he starts displaying seriously questionable behavior. This is the film’s best trick, they took great effort in the first half to assuage any suspicions of Dixon as a murderer and slowly inserted moments and scenes that could be looked back on with the latter half of the film’s perspective that turn the audience against Dixon whose losing control in his life and begins to break down the closer we get to the finale. It’s a very clever notion, the film’s twisty perspective and illusory truth pair to make this one a memorable outing for both Bogart and Grahame.
While this film may not reach the heights of the other Bogart films mentioned above, it does a fine job with some fun creative twists thrown in for good measure. There are some particularly entertaining pieces of the film that I must mention before departing however. Firstly, I really enjoyed the sauced theatrics of Steele’s has-been actor buddy, Charlie Waterman (Robert Warwick), who pops up throughout the film to espouse lyrical poetry and to support his screenwriter friend. Bogart also has a few really unexpectedly funny lines throughout as well, like when he jokingly suggests another suspect was the actual killer, not him, the man replies as Dixon shakes his hand on the way out: “What an imagination. That’s from writing movies.” And Dixon turns it around on the man in a split-second with: “What a grip. That’s from counting money.” There’s a lot of sly jabs like that throughout the film. As for the downsides, the film definitely feels its age. Those turned off by depictions of toxic masculinity will probably not find much to like about Dixon Steele. That and good lord there’s a lot of smoking cigarettes- which, is expected given the time period, but it’s still jarring at times and kind of fascinating to see the wheel of time rolling ever farther from cinema’s golden age of studio controlled dramas, musicals, and epics. If you’re looking for a decent black and white mystery noir, this should do just fine.
Written by Albert Maltz and Malvin Wald, based on a story by Wald, and directed by Jules Dassin, “The Naked City” is a police procedural that follows the NYPD Homicide department as they investigate the murder of a beautiful young woman who was drowned in her own bathtub. This dogged detective story was a delightful surprise, the film seems to have been ahead of its time in several departments, perhaps most notably with it’s depiction of darker content alongside a sort of docu-fictional representation of New York City and the many characters who populate it’s streets and buildings. Though the film has a huge cast of smaller roles that layer the story quite well, we chiefly follow Lieutenant Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) the head of the Homicide department, and the latest recruit in Detective Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor) who does most of the legwork on the case.
Mark Hellinger, producer of the film and former journalist, had a lot to do with the production. Not only did he conceive the idea of shooting the film on location instead of on a Hollywood set (revolutionary at the time), he’s even our omniscient narrator that pipes in throughout the film to give our heroes and villains prodding suggestions and commentary. While the narrator can be a bit dated and cheesy at times, the film does use narration in inventive ways that keeps the pace trotting along at an amicable pace. I was also surprised to hear the narrator give the villain words of encouragment in the third act after he’s been outed, which was an interesting touch- I wouldn’t have expected the narrator to care about the health of our murderer at all. Indeed, the film doesn’t shy away from the ugly side of criminality and that only makes the investigative work of the NYPD that much more dire as they put their feet and their minds to work in sniffing out the culprit. Inbetween shots of children playing in the open fire hydrant, women chatting while window shopping, and mothers tending to their crying babies, the film also shows us criminal partners offing each other in the east river and cleverly hides our villain in plain view several times. Muldoon’s gallows humor also supports this notion while subtely showcasing his years of experience in handling tragic cases such as this.
This film may have been the originator of many staples of the police procedural genre, so it’s worth a watch in that regard, but really it’s the character work that makes it noteworthy. Muldoon and Halloran make an excellent team but the ensemble work is where the film truly shines. The tiny flourishes of individuality given to all of the major players are something special, like the suspicous Frank Niles (Howard Duff) who’s brought in for questioning early on in the film- but is quickly found out to be a spectacular liar. You can find this film on the Criterion Collection’s streaming service (the criterion channel) or in their shop if you’re looking to purchase a physical copy. At an hour and a half, this was a charming and enjoyable noir-lite Detective tale that I encourage you to check out!
This article will mark the end of my own quarantine as I’ll be returning to work in the near future. I’ll still watch and write about films here on this blog but the ‘series’ of Rapid Fire Reviews will be coming to an end with these six movies whose only commonality is that I probably should have seen them before now. I’ll likely return to the more in-depth single film review style of the past, but variations could occur! The past six months and 78 movies (84 total, counting this piece) have made the circumstances more meaningful and I’ve learned a lot in that time. I’ve filled a lot of gaps in my film knowledge and library, and in a time when travel was restricted and we were all a bit more solitary than usual, film allowed me a respite and passport to other worlds and times. I don’t want to get too caught up in flowery verbiage about the power of film- but there is truth to the immersive properties of a good movie. If you’ve been reading along with me these past months, then I hope you enjoyed your time here and that you found new films, actors, directors, and stories to engage with beyond this blog. If nothing else, this blog exists to encourage you to take a chance on cinema and watch something unexpected, learn something new, or to simply be entertained.
Top Gun (1986)
Written by Warren Skaaren, Jim Cash, and Jack Epps Jr. and directed by Tony Scott, “Top Gun” is the action drama that sealed Tom Cruise’s superstardom after several other performances in other hit films earlier in the 1980’s. By now, “Top Gun” is one of those movies that has so permeated the culture that you may already know the beats and hits of the story well before they happen. It’s one of those movies that, if you grew up in the wake of it’s release you’ve heard the famous lines “I feel the need, The need for speed!“, or know about the rivalry between Maverick and Iceman (Val Kilmer) etc. Regardless, it was time, especially given that the sequel was supposed to be released this year before the pandemic hit. What was most surprising about the film on my first watch was just how much Tom Cruise has evolved since this film. His acting has improved significantly since his time as Maverick, particularly in the romance department. Whereas Cruise’s most recent films’ romantic threads in have been at least believable, here it was pure cheeseball- I actually outright laughed at several scenes with Cruise and Kelly McGillis. Which was unexpected given the film’s reputation. However, there were some charming sequences between Maverick, Goose (Anthony Edwards), and Goose’s wife (Meg Ryan) and kids. While Maverick and Goose may have been overly confident and loose cannons early in the film, Maverick eventually embarks on a transition from total ego and machismo to one of loss and uncertainty, and the film gets credit for injecting some humanity into the action and bravado. The dogfighting in the third act was also quite thrilling, so there’s that. I recommend this one with the caveat that some aspects of the film haven’t aged quite as well as the film’s reputation would have you believe.
The 400 Blows (1959)
Written and directed by François Truffaut, “The 400 Blows” is Truffaut’s first feature film and one of the founding films of the French New Wave, which is widely regarded as the transition between classic and modern cinema. I was initially hesitant to dive into the French New Wave films as the stereotypes that had cropped up regarding old black and white French films didn’t make them seem that appealing. It also doesn’t help that my first French New Wave film was “Breathless” by Jean-luc Godard. No offense to anyone that loves that film, but it wasn’t for me and seemingly embraced all the stereotypical aspects of French cinema that I was hoping to avoid on my first outing in the New Wave. This is my second time watching a Truffaut film, and I have to say his style is growing on me. While I may have enjoyed “Shoot the Piano Player” more than this film, I respect the hell out of it. “The 400 Blows” is partially autobiographical in an adaption of some aspects of Truffaut’s childhood and the title reflects that as it’s roughly translated to the idiom “Raising hell”. The film follows Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) as a young teenager navigating the chaos of that oh so pivotal time in life. Between being lost in the magic of cinema at the movie theater, getting caught with a pinup calendar being passed from hand to hand in class, or accidentally setting fire to a personal shrine of famous French author Honoré de Balzac- the film keeps a fine balance of Antoine’s increasingly bad luck with authority and his actual earnest nature like when he returned the typewriter that he stole with a friend only to get caught in the act of returning it. This film helped cement François Truffaut as a new favorite filmmaker of mine, and I look forward to seeking out more of his films. Highly recommended. Below I have linked Roger Ebert’s review of the film for greater context regarding Truffaut.
Written by Chris Morgan and directed by Justin Lin, “The Fast and The Furious 3: Tokyo Drift” is the end of the initial era of the Fast and Furious movies. Before the second wave of ‘Fast‘ movies that retroactively changed some events and the overall timeline of the series, ‘Tokyo Drift‘ feels like a movie both perfectly suited for, and uniquely divergent from, the rest of the series. This was the only film out of the ‘Fast‘ series that I hadn’t yet seen, and I wanted to catch up before the ninth film came out- so here we are. All of the generic boxes that define a Fast and Furious movie are checked, but with some added flair. Beautiful women, fast cars, and criminal activity on the sidelines of illicit street racing. Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) is a wayward grease monkey in high school that eventually broke too many rules and drove too fast for society. So, they sent him to live with his father in Tokyo. Sean’s quickly indoctrinated into the drifting race community and befriends Twinkie (Shad Moss aka ‘lil Bow Wow‘) a military brat and fellow American. Obviously, Han (Sung Kang) from later F&F movies shows up and is his usual aloof self, he helps out Sean and teaches him to drift so that he can works his way up the ranks of the drifting circuit. Of course, there’s a villain called Takashi, but he’s known as D.K. ‘The Drift King’ (Brian Tee) and he’s got a girlfriend, Neela (Nathalie Kelley), that Sean gets involved with in a predictable love triangle situation. The racing is pretty fun, but the real reason to give this one a watch is to focus on director Justin Lin’s influence that would go on to shape the series for years to come. Lin would return to direct the next three sequels in the series, and has directed the next film ‘F9’ and, personally, I’m looking forward to it! Recommended for ‘Fast‘ completionists, but there are more well rounded entries in the franchise than this.
Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
Written by Nicholas Meyer and Jack B. Sowards, and directed by Nicholas Meyer, “Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan” is the first Star Trek sequel and widely considered to be the best film of the series. After recently watching several of the Star Trek films from the Next Generation era of the series, I had nearly lost all hope that there could be a good Star Trek movie, but luckily this one came through for me. Rather than transforming into a faux capital “A” Action movie like “First Contact” or drastically altering the core personality traits of key characters as in “Generations”, “Wrath of Khan” relies on the strengths of the series and focuses on a tactical tit-for-tat series of mind games between the crew of the Enterprise and Khan (Ricardo Montalban) himself. After being marooned on Ceti Alpha V due to the events of the episode “Space Seed” from the first season of the original series, Khan and his ‘supermen’ from the twentieth century make their move for vengeance once Chekov (Walter Koenig) and Captain Terrell (Paul Winfield) of The Reliant mistakenly beam down to Ceti Alpha V. The crew of The Reliant were planning on evaluating Ceti Alpha VI for the potential to implement a test of the Genesis device, a tool that could transform dead matter into habitable worlds. They did not know that some time after Khan and his men were marooned on Ceti Alpha V, the neighboring planet Ceti Alpha VI exploded and resulted in the deaths of some of his people, including his wife. Thus once Chekov and Terrell arrived, Khan struck quickly, put mind control space worms into their ears, and swiftly took control of The Reliant. Once the stage is set between the two ships, Khan and Kirk (William Shatner) trade barbs and maneuver to outwit each other to the great benefit of the audience. This was an excellent outing for the Star Trek franchise and I highly recommend it- but with the caveat that you should probably watch the episode “Space Seed” to be caught up with the story beforehand.
Léon: The Professional (1994)
Written and directed by Luc Besson, “Léon: The Professional” is a thriller starring a hitman with a craggy exterior and a heart of gold underneath. Léon (Jean Reno), is a hitman working for the Italian Mafia in New York City. He calls himself a ‘cleaner‘ and outside of his work he’s a methodical and simple man, sleeping in the corner with his clothes on at the ready, seemingly surviving on milk alone. One day on his way home after completing a job with harrowing precision, he meets a lonely young girl in his building, Mathilda (Natalie Portman). Mathilda, clearly, does not have a great home life as we meet her smoking on the stairs hiding bruises on her face. After a couple chance meetings like this the two establish a neighborly camaraderie. Mathilda’s family is wrapped up in the drug trade and early on the threat of the movie is established when a corrupt D.E.A. official (Gary Oldman) pays her father a visit and convincingly threatens their lives, promising swift retribution if they don’t find his missing cocaine within 24 hours. The next day Mathilda meets Léon in the hallway and she offers to pick up some milk for him and while she’s out the D.E.A. kicks down her family’s door and slaughters them all. It’s a brutal and horrifying scene, one that Léon witnesses from his peephole down the hall. When Mathilda returns, she has the awareness to walk past her door with armed men and go to Léon’s instead. He hesitates, but eventually lets her in. After some disagreement they agree to work together to seek revenge for her family. This film was a joy to discover, I’ve enjoyed the work of Luc Besson before, but this one had always been elusive to me, but I’m incredibly glad to have finally sat down and given it a watch. The opening scene of the film, in my opinion, is perfection. It clearly establishes Leon’s deadly accuracy and skill, which heavily informs the rest of the film. This excellently matches with later scenes of Leon being changed by Mathilda’s presence in his life, Léon teaches Mathilda how to be a “cleaner” and Mathilda shows Léon what he’s missing in life, family, a sense of normalcy. The scenes of Léon learning to play and Mathilda learning how to aim a gun pair to give the film a unique sense of charm. Highly recommended.
Rear Window (1954)
Written by John Michael Hayes and based upon the short story by Cornell Woolrich, and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, “Rear Window” is ultimately the perfect film to end my quarantine series of film reviews and analysis. L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart) is a globe trotting, and often adventurous, photographer who’s been restricted to a studio apartment in Chelsea, Manhattan for weeks, bound to his wheelchair while waiting on a broken leg to heal. During his time he’s visited by Stella (Thelma Ritter) the nurse sent from his insurance agency, and Lisa Carol Fremont (Grace Kelly) his well-to-do socialite girlfriend. Jefferies spends most of his time peering out his window which overlooks a courtyard, watching his neighbors go about their daily lives. He’s come to know the many players of the neighborhood, a young ballet dancer across the way, a middle aged sculptor that lives below her, a single lonely woman, a couple that sleep on the fire escape and lower a tiny dog into the courtyard periodically, a young frustrated composer, a newlywed couple, and a quieter middle aged couple nearly directly across from Jefferies. One night Jefferies is awoken during a thunderstorm by a woman screaming “Don’t!” and glass shattering. He doesn’t see much commotion and falls back asleep, but is awoken again by the storm later in the night when he sees Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), the husband of the quiet couple, leave his apartment in the middle of the night with a large suitcase. This prods Jefferies to keep an eye on Lars, and it isn’t long before he brings his friend and NYPD detective Tom Doyle (Wendell Corey) in to investigate the suspicious activities witnessed by Jefferies. This was another (surprise!) excellent film from Alfred Hitchcock. While maybe not as impressive or thrilling as say “Psycho” or “North by Northwest”, it was a slower paced, engaging, thriller that kept me immersed in the mystery of how the story would unfold. James Stewart always works for me as the old school everyman character actor, and while he may be a bit too ‘awe shucks corny‘ in the first half of “Mr. Smith goes to Washington” (for example) here he’s an affable, but stubborn, photo journalist that has a dogged tenacity to seek out the truth- and that works well for the actor’s skill set and range. This is a fun one-location thriller that will relate to anyone who’s been forced to stay in one place for more than a month- and this year’s had more than enough of that! Highly recommended.