Slow Sadness

Touch of EvilM Touch 1958

Theaters:  February 1958

Streaming:  October 2000

Rated:  NR

Runtime:  95 minutes

Genre:  Classics – Crime – Drama –  Film Noir – Mystery – Suspense – Thriller

els:  8.5/10

IMDB:  8.1/10

Amazon:  4.4/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  8.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  4.2/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards:

Directed by:  Orson Welles

Written by:  Orson Welles (screenplay), Whit Masterson: aka Robert Wade and Bill Miller (book)

Music by:  Henry Mancini

Cast:  Orson Welles, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Marlene Dietrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor

Film Locations:  US

Budget:  $829,000

Worldwide Box Office:  $2,247,465

A man runs through a parking lot in a small Mexican town along the US border carrying a small package, placing it in the trunk of convertible moments before the owner and driver, Rudy Linnekar (Jeffery Green) and his young girlfriend Zita (Joi Lansing) arrive.  With the bomb ticking in the trunk of the car, Linnekar slowly drives through the town, filled with tourists and locals enjoying the cool night, heading for the nearby US border and home.  As they are driving, they pass the strolling newly married couple of Mike Vargas (Heston), a Mexican drug cop, and his American wife Susie (Leigh). The car crosses the border into the US and explodes.

Captain Quinlan (Welles), an obese cop with a bum leg, walking with the aid of a cane, arrives to take over the investigation of bombing. He quickly surmises that Sanchez (Victor Millan), who is secretly married to Rudy Linnekar’s daughter Marcia (Joanna Cook Moore), is the prime suspect.  Quinlan’s partner Pete Menzies (Joseph Calleia) plants incriminating evidence in Sanchez’s apartment and he is arrested. Vargas knows that the evidence against Sanchez was planted and begins to investigate the bombing and Quinlan, while letting his wife spend her honeymoon alone in some cheap deserted hotel in the dry scrublands of the American southwest.

Welles loosely based the movie’s screenplay on a 1956 Red Badge Mystery serial novel, Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson. The crime novel slowly solves the mystery of who killed Rudy Linnekar by blowing up his house with dynamite. The murder is investigated by police officers Hank Quinlan and Leron McCoy along with an assistant district attorney.  The 2 cops quickly make an arrest of Ernest Farnum, who soon commits suicide, even though incriminating dynamite was found in the apartment of Linnekar’s future son-in-law Delmont Shayon.

Whit Masterson is a pseudonym for 2 authors: Robert Allison “Bob” Wade and H. Bill Miller.  The pair, good friends since the age of 12, wrote more than 30 novels in their lifetimes with at least 6 adapted for movies.  Two other well received movies adapted from their books, in addition to this movie, were the 1942 All Through the Night with Humphrey Bogart, and The Yellow Canary starring Pat Boone.

Orson Welles, director, writer, actor, producer, and occasional illusionist was born an entertainer.  Shakespeare and presenting visual interpretations of the classic books were his passions. His colossal talent spanned the stage, radio, and movies, bequeathing an artistic ensemble to the world that increases in stature every year. In 1938, Welles produced, directed, and acted in Caesar, an updated version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The play was a monumental success. In the same year he narrated Mercury Theater’s adaptation of  H. G. Wells’, The War of Worlds, bringing him instant fame or at least infamy. In 1941 Welles, wrote, produced, directed, and acted in his greatest gift to movie goers everywhere: Citizen Kane.  A critical success on opening but financially not too great, held back by the Hearst’s family distaste and advertising boycott of the movie. Its impact on the public, though, has increased over time and by 2017 it was considered the greatest film ever made. He is also considered the 2nd greatest director of all time, with only Hitchcock ranking above him.

A Touch of Evil was Welles’ last Hollywood movie and one of the last in the film-noir genre, at least in the era of Hitchcock, Wilder, and Huston.  It ranks as one of his finest. Filmed in black and white, his use of upward shots, long sequences, and garish, crowded scenes gives the movie a dark and sinister look, foretelling from the beginning an ending of bleakness and sorrow.

Welles and Dietrich steal the show.  They are the 800 pound gorillas among the lesser greats of Heston, Leigh, and Cotton.  Heston’s acting is worthy of his name and this movie but casting him as a Mexican is a head scratcher.  Every time he appears in a scene you have to think about why he is portraying someone he clearly isn’t.

A Touch of Evil expresses the shadows of our lives that we all try to suppress, not by standing in the light but hiding them in our dark lonely places. Quinlan always getting his man regardless the cost, Vargas forsaking his wife to play the good cop, crime bosses sinking lower, night watchmen to afraid to do the right thing.  A tale of crossroads, with the right and left forks leading to the same forlorn scene of heartache and grief.

This is a movie you need to add to your “Must Watch in My Lifetime” list.  It is a great film-noir movie consistently ranking as one of the top 100 movies of all time.

Innocence Lost

The Third Man M Third 1950

Theaters:  September 1949

Streaming:  November 1999

Rated:  NR

Runtime:  93-108 minutes

Genre:  Classic – Crime – Drama – Film Noir – Mystery – Suspense – Thriller

els:  8.5/10

IMDB:  8.2/10

Amazon:  4.2/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  9.3/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  4.3/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards: 1 Oscar

Directed by:  Carol Reed

Written by:  Graham Greene (screenplay and book)

Music by:  Anton Karas

Cast:  Joseph Cotton, Trevor Howard, Orson Wells, Alida Valli

Film Locations:  Austria, UK

Budget:  $

Worldwide Box Office:  $618,173

Holly Martins (Cotton), an American writer of 3rd rate westerns, broke and drunk more often than not, is invited to post-WWII Vienna by his old friend Harry Limes (Welles). Martins arrives in Vienna in time to witness Limes’ funeral.  Martins begins to ask around about the death of his friend and slowly becomes suspicious that the official account of his death, a traffic accident, is cover for a murder. Martins, an innocent fool, sets out to discover the truth about his friend’s death, stumbling through a city filled with experienced cynics, thugs, and kriminelle.

Nazi Germany annexed Austria, known as Anschluss Oesterreichs, in March 1938 with significant support of the Austrian public.  In 1943 the Allied powers; Britain, France, US, and the USSR, agreed to nullify the German annexation and have it revert back to an independent country at the end of the war.  The Allies, in 1945, divided Austria and Vienna into 4 sectors with each sector controlled by one of the 4 powers.  This arrangement was to last until 1955 when the country agreed to maintain eternal neutrality. The allied powers initially stationed 260,000 troops in the country after 1945, which was entirely paid for by the Austrian people. The cost of the occupation coupled with the war-destroyed industries and poor harvests lead to wide-spread hunger, lack of heating for homes and businesses, and unemployment.  The post-war years of 1945-46, with little in the way of an Austrian police force, saw crime spiral out of control with Soviet troops responsible for 90% of all reported crimes. The underground economy flourished with little or no regulation or oversight.

Graham Greene, considered as the greatest English writer of the 20th century and with the publication of his 1940 novel, The Power and the Glory, cemented his reputation as one of the best writers of his generation. Early in life he joined the communist party and a few years later converted to Catholicism. He initially wrote a short novel for The Third Man, not intending to publish it, but to provide background for the screenplay. The novella was eventually published under the same name as the movie, The Third Man in 1950. The book is not very good, basically because it is in an unfinished state. Ignore the book and watch the movie.  Greene, in 1948, personally researched the book and screenplay by exploring the streets, nightclubs, and sewers of Vienna along with immersing himself into the clandestine black-markets within the city.

MU Zither 2018A pedestrian movie filmed in Vienna would require a musical score relying heavily on orchestral waltzes with dance scenes showing gay Venetians circling the glossy dance floors of resplendent Viennese palaces. Well this movie isn’t pedestrian by any means; no waltzes, no orchestras, and no palaces make an appearance.  The entire score is delivered by a single instrument; the Zither, a multi-stringed, wooden instrument played either in an upright position or laid flat on one’s lap. The movie opens with the Anton Karas playing  an instrumental on a Zither. It is initially foreign and harsh to the ear but as the movie progresses you warm to its sound and melody, eventually succumbing to its hypnotic effects, realizing in the end that no other musical approach or sound would have worked.

Carol Reed took Greene’s ok screenplay and transformed it into the greatest British film ever made.  The black and white scenes of mountainous mounds of Viennese bombed rubble, the back-lit monstrous shadows, tilted horizons that change the normal perspective to an austere strangeness fitting of the black undertones of the movie; effects that add to the downbeat story of innocence lost in the harsh glare of a crooked reality.   The movie begins and ends with a funeral, letting you know that the only happiness you will find in post-war Vienna comes with death: death of desire, death of devotion, death of decency.

The acting in this movie is superb. Joseph Cotton’s innocence, Trevor Howard’s natural stoic acceptance of a world gone bad, Alida Valli’s stubborn attachment to love, but its Orson Welles that stands out as the films larger than life anti-hero.  An auteur with only acting credits in this movie, but he still insists on bringing along his own style, ad-libbing his lines when it suited him, inserting one of the most memorable lines in the movie:

You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

It doesn’t really matter that it was the German’s who invented cuckoo clocks and the Swiss were content with being bankers, sans the Hapsburgs, and providing mercenaries to the other European powers’ wars.

This is a movie you need to add to your “Must Watch in My Lifetime” list.

Black Water

ChinatownM Chinatown 1974

Theaters:  June 1974

Streaming:  November 1999

Rated:  R

Runtime:  130 minutes

Genre:  Crime – Drama – Film Noir – Mystery – Suspense – Thriller

els:  8.5/10

IMDB:  8.2/10

Amazon:  4.6/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  9.3/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  4.2/5

Metacritic Metascore:  86/100

Metacritic User Score:  8.9/10

Awards: 1 Academy Award and 4 Golden Globes

Directed by:  Roman Polanski

Written by:  Robert Towne

Music by:  Jerry Goldsmith

Cast:  Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston

Film Locations:  California, US

Budget:  $6,000,000

Worldwide Box Office:  $29,200,000

J.J. “Jake” Gittes (Nicholson), a former L.A. cop, spends his days and occasional nights as a private investigator, hired mainly to catch cheating spouses in the act of, well, cheating. An elderly woman hires Jake to find the women her adulterous husband, Hollis Mulwray the chief engineer for L.A. Water and Power, is fooling around with.  Jake photographs Mulwray in the embrace of a young woman and the next day the pictures are on the front page of the newspaper. Mulwray is found dead by drowning in a city reservoir the same day. The wife of Mulwray (Dunaway), who it turns out, is not the women who hired Jake the day before, sues him for publishing the pictures. Jake realizes soon enough that he was set up and Mulwray was murdered. He is determined to find out why.

The movie’s story, set in 1937, is a mixed-up, mashed-up telling of the L.A. water wars in the early 1900s. By the end of the 19th century L.A.’s growth was outstripping its water supply and the city fathers, politicians, started looking for alternate sources that would quench the city’s ever-growing thirst.  They found it 250 miles northeast of L.A. in Owens Valley, a high valley nestled between the Sierras to the west and the beginnings of the Basin and Range region to the east, containing a very nice, thirst quenching river.  The voters in L.A. approved 2 bond measures in 1905 and 1907, totaling $26 million dollars, to build a 233 mile long aqueduct from the Owen River to the L.A.’s Lower San Fernando Reservoir,  which was later renamed the Lower Van Normans Reservoir.  The city along with numerous investors negotiated the water rights from the farmers in the valley, some say swindled, and the aqueduct was built by L.A. Power and Water between 1908 and 1913. The project was supervised by William Mulholland (Hollis Mulwray in the movie), who along with the mayor, Fred Eaton, acquired the water rights to the valley by purchasing the land for a fraction they paid to other land owners outside of Owens Valley.  They told the owners that they only wanted a small part of the rights but by 1928 the city owed 90% of the water. The water diversion to L.A. effectively destroyed farming in Owens Valley and by 1924 Owens Lake, which was fed by the river, dried up to a throat-choking plain of dust. That same year farmers in the valley dynamited some of the diversion gates, allowing the water to return to its natural course, at least for a short while. It was an ineffective revolt and by 1927 the farmers were mostly bankrupt and defeated.

Robert Towne wrote the script for Chinatown, winning an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay, using the L.A. water wars and Raymond Chandler as inspiration.  He originally envisioned the story to be a trilogy, all starring Jack Nicholson.  The second part, The Two Jakes, involving shady oil deals within the city, was directed by and starred Nicholson. The movie did poorly causing everyone to lose interest in the third movie. Roman Polanski had an uncredited part in the Chinatown screenplay, shortening it and changing the ending.

Roman Polanski, celebrated director and rapist, directed Chinatown, winning a Golden Globe for Best Director by creating a beautiful film noir that elevates the genre to heights not seen since the 1941 The Maltese Falcon or the 1958 Touch of Evil.  His homage to the genre even includes 1940 style rolling credits; a charming touch. While his Rosemary’s Baby was horror within your mind, Chinatown was in your face with political cynicism and sexual debauchery.

Jack Nicholson, winner of two Academy awards for Best Actor and nominated for 10 others including Chinatown, provides the glue that takes this picture from good to great. His role of an aggressively suave, former gum-shoe, propelled him to the heights of a true legend in Hollywood. A couple of pointless points: Nicholson was in a serious, sometimes, relationship with John Huston’s daughter, Angelica, during the filming of this movie and he also lived on Mulholland Drive, see above, in Beverly Hills.

This is another movie that should be on your “Must See in My Lifetime” list.  A true masterpiece of writing, directing, music, and acting.

Bad Luck Explained

Accident Man  M Accident 2018

Theaters:  NA

Streaming:  February 2018

Rated:  R

Runtime:  105 minutes

Genre:  Action – Crime – Mystery – Suspense – Thriller

els:  6.0/10

IMDB:  6.1/10

Amazon:  3.8/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  NA/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.6/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards:

Directed by:  Jesse V. Johnson

Written by:  Scott Adkins and Stu Small (screenplay), Pat Mills and Tony Skinner (comic)

Music by:  Sean Murray

Cast:  Scott Adkins, Ray Stevenson, David Paymer, Ashley Greene

Film Locations:  London, England

Budget:  $ NA Low-Budget Indie

Worldwide Box Office:  $ NA

Mike Fallon (Adkins) has a nice life concocting natural death for others.  Fallon is a successful contract killer that goes to great lengths to make sure his murders are not judged murders, just someone having a bad hair day or another wrong place, wrong time accident. Death is a good business so life is good until his ex-girlfriend is murdered. Piecing together the story of her death he begins to realize that his mates in the causality business may have had a hand in her demise. Fallon sets out to even the score with judo chops and bullets flying non-stop.

The movie is based on a series of comics by Pat Mills and Tony Skinner, published in 1991 in the magazine, Toxic!  The series was collected into a graphic novel, The Complete Accident Man in 2014 by Titan.

Jesse V. Johnson, stuntman in the 2012 The Amazing Spider-Man and director and writer of the incredibly bad The Last Sentinel, puts together a story and cast to produce a decent action film with few plot holes but at the same time producing nothing spectacular. Everything is a bit off.  Great martial arts scenes but it doesn’t flow together or congeal into an exciting whole.

In the end this movie is all Scott Adkins.  He produces, he writes, he acts, he fights.  It all works to a certain degree but fails to grab you, or emotionally tie you to the film.  I wouldn’t mind a sequel but hopefully with a larger budget to ratchet everything up a notch. An ok movie with some original scenes but nothing terribly memorable.

Boiler Maker Redemption

Small Town Crime (Theaters-NA; Streaming-January 2018) Rated: R  —  Runtime: 91-92 M Small Town 2018minutes

Genre: Crime-Drama-Mystery-Suspense-Thriller

els – 7.0/10

IMDB – 6.6/10

Amazon – 4.0/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 7.0/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 3.9/5

Metacritic Metascore – 68/100

Metacritic User Score – NA/10

Awards: None

Directed by: Eshom Nelms, Ian Nelms

Written by: Eshom Nelms, Ian Nelms

Music by: Chris Westlake

Cast: John Hawkes, Octavia Spencer, Robert Forster, Anthony Anderson

Film Locations:  Utah

Budget: $NA

Worldwide Box Office: $NA

Mike Kendall (John Hawkes) is a big-time drunk and a small-town ex-cop.  A small-town ex-cop because he is a big-time drunk. Riding shotgun, too drunk to drive, with his uniformed partner; occurring immediately before he becomes an ex-cop, in the wee hours of night, they pull over a car and the driver shoots and kills Mike’s partner.  Mike, because he was drunk, is thrown off the force and he sinks further into the bottle but truly believing the police will forgive, forget and hire him back.

Coming around from his nightly bender, Mike finds a badly bloodied girl by the side of the road. He rushes her to the hospital but she soon dies and the death is ruled a homicide.  Seeking redemption, Mike sets out to solve the murder, dragging his family, bartenders, hookers, pimps, grandfathers, and assorted none-too friendly cops along for his burlesque, but borderline professional investigation, into multiple gruesome murders.

The Nelms brothers have woven a fateful crime story worthy of the Cohen brothers’ The Big Lebowski or Fargo. Less comedic than Lebowski and less dramatic than Fargo but all three display the same irreverent contempt for criminals and their slapdash, albeit, serious and consequential, escapades.  The Nelms’ writing and directing are reminiscent of Dragnet’s Friday, just the facts — ma’am.  Watching the movie you wish they would develop some of the more interesting sub-plot lines but in the end the movie does just fine without the added knowledge or clutter.

The acting is superb.  John Hawks is masterful in delivery but he really pulls you in and along with his bumbling style and looks.  His appearance and his face are one with a character that has been on a multi-year drunk.  Gaunt and not too pretty he somehow succeeds in getting you to cheer for him no matter how much his bum nature comes into full gnarly view.

A fun movie, not too serious but captivating just the same.  A worthy addition to pulp fiction and film noir. Escapism with a style all its own.

Dishonorably Spent

Avenge the Crows: The Legend of Loca (Theaters-NA; Streaming-December 2017) Rated: TV-MA —  Runtime: M Crows 201796 minutes

Genre: Action-Crime-Drama-Thriller

els – 3.0/10

IMDb – 5.4/10

Amazon – 4.4/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – NA/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 5.0/5

Metacritic Metascore – NA/100

Metacritic User Score – NA/10

Directed by: Nathan Gabaeff

Written by:  Nathan Gabaeff

Music by:  Spencer Brock, Nathan Gabaeff

Cast:  Danay Garcia, Michael Flores, Cesar Garcia, Lou Diamond Phillips, Danny Trejo

Film Locations:  Los Angeles, US

Budget: $NA — Low-Budget Indie

Worldwide Box Office: $NA

Loca (Danay Garcia), is a down on her luck gangbanging, murdering, thieving, slutty, drug dealing, junkie with a bad temper.  She’s the movie’s protagonist, the champion, the heroine who screws everyone and everything just to become a little more amoral and mercurial than yesterday. She’s the object of a prison gang’s mysterious hit sanction, which she must defend herself and her innocent cousin against and, just to thicken the plot, she must outsmart and outflank a Mexican drug cartel and the opposing LA street gangs.  All by tomorrow.

This is  Nathan Gabaeff’s second effort as a writer and director, the first being the poorly received 2016 Boost, also featuring Danay Garcia and Danny Trejo.  Avenge the Crows is a low-budget film that comes across as being written and directed as an allegorical, non-judgmental documentary of gang life on the streets of LA, complete with flickering static and choppy breaks in the film.  The story is brutal and stupid, the violence and sex are cheap, bordering on pointless. Then there’s the dialogue capable of contradicting itself  in the same scene.  Garcia tells her cousin that it must be the RR prison gang that is responsible for stalking them and then in the next sentence tells her cousin that the gang has no Earthly reason to stalk them.  Well, which is it? How do you arrive at the conclusion that it’s the RR gang when you have no reason to suspect them.

There is some good acting in this movie, Phillips and Trejo, despite the screenplay and direction, but that doesn’t include Danay Garcia.  The women can’t act, but as long as she keeps taking her clothes off the money folks will keep casting her.

Gabaeff was able to pull in some of the most recognizable names in Hispanic acting; Garcia, Phillips, Trejo, for this low-budget movie.  I can’t fathom how he was able to convince these actors sign up for this stinking dog of a movie and, sadly, he has more of these losers in the pipe-line.

This is a movie about the worst of the human condition and its degrading impulses. It passes on declaring any judgement; moral, ethical, or legal; neither for nor against: pathetic.  The movie is artistically dead and morally bankrupt.

All Chan, All Good

The Foreigner (Theaters-September 2017; Streaming-January 2018) Rated: R  Runtime: M Foreigner 2017113-114 minutes

Genre: Action-Crime-Drama-Mystery-Suspense-Thriller

els – 7.0/10

IMDb – 7.1/10

Amazon – 4.6/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 5.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 3.8/5

Metacritic Metascore – 55/100

Metacritic User Score – 7.1/10

Directed by: Martin Campbell

Written by: David Marconi (screenplay), Stephan Leather (novel)

Music by: Cliff Martinez

Cast: Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan

Film Locations:  London, England; Larne, Northern Ireland

Budget: $35,000,000

Worldwide Box Office: $140,793,485

Quan (Chan), a widower, lives a quiet London life, looking after his only daughter and his restaurant, his only major concerns are the boys chasing after his beloved teenaged girl.  Then a new IRA faction blows up a bank, killing his little girl, who was shopping at a dress shop adjacent to the bank, and Quan’s life and priorities change. He wants to know who killed his daughter, who was responsible.  He wants justice.  When the officials are unable to give him any names or promise any arrests, soon, he organizes his vigilante squad of one and slowly narrows down the possibilities; Jackie Chan style, but without malice for dogs or the innocent.

Jackie Chan steps past his normal fun side, giving the audience a taste of his drama and emotional acting abilities, and proves that his serious character portrayals are real, believable and effective.  Not since his role as a morose handyman in the 2010 Karate Kid have I seen him in such a convincing dramatic role, but this time the screenplay (Marconi) and supporting actors are not relegating him to a least common denominator of mediocrity and cheesiness.  The screenplay flows well, it’s coherent, and has enough twists to keep you guessing, but it does have a flaw, and unfortunately its a big one. Brosnan’s Liam Hennessy role is muddled, his level of involvement and guilt in the IRA bombing is never completely resolved. Maybe it’s intentional but it adds clutter to the plot and its conclusion. That aside, this is a typical Martin Campbell film, full of action, intrigue and entertainment, always spot on and fun; ok, maybe the Green Hornet was a dud, but usually his films are a must see, as is this one.

This was a fun action-drama to watch.  Jackie Chan displays what made him famous, his martial arts moves, but in the film he also displays his serious side and lets us know that, yes, he can play that part.

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