Virtual Bourgeois

Just An Analog Guy Trying to Upgrade For a Digital World

2017 Summer Movies #2

Posted by Gerald on July 4, 2017

2017 Summer Movie #11 – On Dangerous Ground (Nicholas Ray, 1951): Another of Ray’s noir films.  This time a cop who is turning increasingly sadistic due to isolation and the pressures of the job (Robert Ryan) is sent to a rural area to help in the manhunt for a murderer.  There he encounters the murderer’s blind sister (Ida Lupino – who also directed some scenes, but is not credited) and the vengeful father of the victim (Ward Bond).  Ryan is at his best while portraying the “cop on the edge” but becomes much less interesting as he is redeemed.  This being a 1950s film, the redemption is at the hands of Lupino, who gives as good a performance as a rather mawkish script would allow (she is blind and angelic and her character exists for no reason than to inspire the humanity of Ryan’s character.)  Bond is fine as the revenge driven father, but has little to do except be gruff and angry at these “city-slickers and their fancy trials”.  The contrast between the darkened city at the beginning of the film and the snowy countryside of the main action is interesting.  Worth checking out if you like noir or Ray (as often here, we get a rather sympathetic take from him on society’s losers and outcasts).

2017 Summer Movies #12 – Bigger Than Life (Nicholas Ray, 1956): Wow.  This is a slice of life film, when life goes off the rails.  James Mason plays an ordinary school teacher who suffers and inflammatory disease and is treated with cortisol.  He takes too many pills and the steroids drive him to psychosis.  What is brilliant here is Mason’s portrayal of the deterioration and Ray’s framing of the events.  It is also an almost subversive look at the “Father Knows Best” idea of American life in the 1950s.  His madness takes the form of an increasingly intense version of patriarchalism.  Side observation: there are several scenes here that show how unchanged America is in many ways: the first scene shows a school kid who doesn’t know his basic geography, Mason’s school teacher has to hold a second job just to maintain a middle-class lifestyle, the schools are burdened with bureaucratic nonsense, later in the film Mason – deep in the madness – gives a speech to a PTA meeting about how education “today” (in the mid-1950s) coddles children and America needs to return to traditional ways to save the morality of the youth… and gets much applause.  You’ve got to see this.

2017 Summer Movie #13 – Finders Keepers (Bryan Carberry & Clay Tweel, 2015): This is a surprisingly insightful, and even hopeful, documentary about an almost unbelievable story straight from Reality TV America.  Two men get into a dispute about ownership of the severed left leg of one of the men.  What follows is a story about family, addiction, and the obsession with celebrity.  It is funny, touching, and horrifying all at once.

2017 Summer Movie #14 – Party Girl (Nicholas Ray, 1958): While this deals with gangsters, etc… this is so different from the other Ray films I’ve recently written about.  In many ways, this is a pretty formulaic story – mob lawyer (Robert Taylor) falls for show girl (Cyd Charisse) and winds up betraying mob boss (Lee J. Cobb) so justice can triumph.  What makes this worth watching is the beautiful use of CinemaScope by cinematographer Robert J. Bonner (especially in Cyd Charrise’s two big dance numbers), Robert Taylor’s excellent performance (he does a lot with a fairly cliche character), and Lee J. Cobb’s wonderful over-the-top performance as the mob boss (I’d be surprised if someone wasn’t thinking of this with De Niro’s portrayal of Capone in De Palma’s “The Untouchable’s”).  Not fantastic, but still worth watching.

2017 Summer Movie #15 – La Jetée (Chris Marker, 1962): This is a short film told almost entirely with still photographs about a time traveler from a post-apocalyptic dystopia.  Terry Gilliam’s 1995 film 12 Monkeys is heavily based on this, and this film is credited as inspiring it.  It is an interesting movie in its use of still photography, its sound, and it’s themes of time and memory.  Worth checking out if you like the art house stuff like I do.

2017 Summer Movie #16 – Welcome to Sarajevo (Michael Winterbottom, 1997): This film is about a British journalist covering the siege of Sarajevo and how he came to adopt a young Bosnian girl.  What could have been sentimental claptrap is made into a compelling story through good performances and a fairly brutal visual style.  Winterbottom shot is Sarajevo and Croatia just months after the war and filmed some of the scenes of reporting with videotape and then also used actual news footage to heighten the sense of reality.  The violence in the film is not action-style, it is just random and brutal.  Very good.

2017 Summer Movie #17 – For the Love of Spock (Adam Nimoy, 2016): This is really for the fans and as one, I loved it.  Although I had backed Adam Nimoy’s Kickstarter campaign and received a digital copy as soon as it was released, I’ve been putting off watching this for some reason.  There isn’t much about Star Trek or even the impact of Spock on the culture that is very surprising here.  The film is at its best when it focuses on Nimoy and his life.  We get to see his family (of course) and insights into his art and career beyond Star Trek.  Much like his professional life, though, the film keeps coming back to that show – which makes sense.  I loved it.

2017 summer Movie #18 – Chaos on the Bridge (William Shatner, 2014): I was much more impressed with this than I expected to be.  I think Shatner did a decent job of navigating between respect for what Star Trek is to so many people and being honest about the making of a TV show.  This is a documentary about the creation and the first few seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and particularly about Gene Roddenberry’s role in all of this.  It is a funny and often brutal depiction.  If you weren’t clear on why the first two seasons of the show are (to quote Ronald Moore) “almost unwatchable,” this gives you a good set of answers.  I liked Shatner’s documentary “The Captains” but this is even better. Worth watching both for fans and for anyone who is interested in how TV shows get made.

2017 Summer Movie #19 – Star Trek Beyond (Justin Lin, 2016): I don’t get the positive reviews.  I thought Idris Elba was given next to nothing to do, the only real emotional moments were either associated with tributes to Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin or were echoes of the original series, and in place of a story we see empty jokes connecting overblown action sequences.  Also –  a note – not every villain is motivated by vengeance and not every Star Trek story needs to be about a battle.  I came to terms with the idea that many of my problems with the last film were that it wasn’t “my” Star Trek, but I think this was just weak movie making.  The performances were fine and the visuals were big, but I just didn’t care about it.

2017 Summer Movie #20 – Hail, Caesar!(Joel & Ethan Coen, 2016): I love the Coen brothers’ movies.  I particularly love how they manage to make comedies that are simultaneously cynical and sentimental.  This is one of my favorites.  It is a love song to post-WWII big studio Hollywood that is also a brutal parody of post WWII big studio Hollywood.  There is so much here I can’t even get started.  If there is one perfect shot, though, it is Eddie Mannix in a moment of profound crisis silhouetted against a Calvary scene on a sound stage.  This is just perfect.  BTW – make sure you know who Eddie Mannix and Nick Schenck really were and brush up on the story of the Hollywood 10.  You don’t have to do this to enjoy the film, but knowing this stuff add many layers.  Watch more movies!

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