Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Breaking Bad Art

I love this new collection of fan art inspired by BREAKING BAD. Check it out at Vulture.

Only one more episode this year until BB goes on hiatus while they shoot the last eight episodes. I'll be doing a piece on this last season in a couple of weeks, but for now I'll post a link to my previous essay on the noir connections between BREAKING BAD and its AMC brother MAD MEN.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Poets of Tabloid Murder

Check out the radio interview I recorded with Steven Nester over at Poets of Tabloid Murder. We talk about my noir disposition, the Ozarks as a setting for crime fiction, and the way noir works as the interior monologue of bad people.

Monday, August 20, 2012

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1969)

With ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, Sergio Leone created his masterpiece--the film that takes his unique vision of the Western to its highest artistic expression. It also stars one of the most beautiful women in the history of cinema and features what might well be the crown jewel of gunfighter showdowns.

You can read my complete review of the film over at Criminal Element.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

NOIR CITY CHICAGO 4

This weekend kicks off the fourth annual NOIR CITY CHICAGO, hosted by my friends at the Film Noir Foundation and the good folks at the Music Box Theatre. If you're anywhere nearby from August 17th through August 23rd don't miss your chance to see rare and wonderful classic film noir on the silver screen.

This year has another great line up. Some of my can't-miss-recommendations:

PHANTOM LADY- Certainly, one of my favorite film noirs. Gorgeous Ella Raines tries to track down the mystery woman who can clear her boss of a murder charge. Directed by Robert Siodmak (who gets my vote for the greatest of all noir directors) and co-stars everyone's favorite little creep, Elisha Cook Jr.

99 RIVER STREET- Another of my absolute favorites. Ex-boxer turned cabbie John Payne endures a long dark night of the soul in which he's framed for the murder of his no good wife. Features great supporting work by Evelyn Keyes, Peggie Castle, and Brad Dexter. Noir doesn't get much better than this. You can read my full review of the film.

CAUGHT- One of the oddest noirs on record. Barbara Bel Geddes marries a Howard Hughes-like millionaire played by Robert Ryan in full tilt psycho mode. The ending, which I cannot give away, is one of a kind. Beautifully made and acted--one of the great unheralded films by director Max Ophuls. You can read my full review of the film.

That's just a taste of the offerings available over the next week. Go to the Music Box Theatre website to learn more about films and showtimes.

    

Friday, August 10, 2012

Robert Mitchum Box Set

Could there be any sweeter four words than Robert Mitchum Box Set?

20th Century Fox is putting out a ten film collection on October 9th. The films included are:

THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER
RIVER OF NO RETURN
HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON
THE ENEMY BELOW
THUNDER ROAD
THE HUNTERS
THE LONGEST DAY
MAN IN THE MIDDLE
WHAT A WAY TO GO!
THE WAY WEST

Not a bad group of flicks. THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER is the only full-on masterpiece, but RIVER OF NO RETURN and HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON are worthy parts of any Mitchum collection (RIVER features Marilyn Monroe and was directed by Otto Preminger, while HEAVEN co-stars Deborah Kerr and was directed by John Huston). THUNDER ROAD is a cult film about bootleggers and was produced and co-written by Mitch himself. I wish I could say it was great, but although it was a deep south drive-in smash hit, I have to admit I think it's something of a slapdash affair. A weak supporting cast and lots of cheap back-projection chase scenes.

THE ENEMY BELOW and THE HUNTERS are a couple of okay military thrillers directed by Mitchum's fellow noir icon Dick Powell.

THE LONGEST DAY finds Mitchum among an all-star cast (John Wayne, Henry Fonda) in Darryl F. Zanuck's epic recreation of D-Day. Well done, if you like that kind of thing.

WHAT A WAY TO GO! finds Mitch among an all-star cast (Paul Newman, Dean Martin, Shirley MacLaine) in a black comedy about a woman whose husbands have a way of dying on her. Not bad, if you like that kind of thing. MacLaine and Mitch have good onscreen chemistry together, the result of their good offscreen biology...

THE WAY WEST and MAN IN THE MIDDLE were a couple of flops. The former is better than its reputation, while the latter is lumpy mess with a apathetic turn by Mitchum.

All in all, not a bad set. The films are all from the middle period of Mitchum's career, so with the exception of NIGHT none of his noir work is here. Still, ten flicks with Sleepy-Eyed Bob is always great news.

Just for fun, here's the Mitchum set I'd put together if I could:
OUT OF THE PAST
WHERE DANGER LIVES
ANGEL FACE
THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER
BLOOD ON THE MOON
PURSUED
WHEN STRANGERS MARRY
CAPE FEAR
EL DORADO
THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE


Thursday, August 2, 2012

VERTIGO, CITIZEN KANE, and The Greatest Movie Ever Made

The big news of the week for cinephiles is that Sight & Sound has named Hitchcock's VERTIGO the greatest movie of all time, knocking Welles's CITIZEN KANE down to number two.

Let me say, first, that I called this. I predicted a few years ago that VERTIGO's march up the lists of all-time greats would eventually lead it to number one.

Interestingly, the two movies have a lot in common. VERTIGO, a flop upon its original release, was rediscovered by auteurist critics and has grown in reputation over the decades. It's seen as a personal film by a major director in full command of his craft. It's not a crowd-pleasing hit. Arty and inaccessible, featuring a brooding Bernard Herrmann score, it ends in a profoundly dark, even hopeless, climax. Everything in this paragraph could also be said of CITIZEN KANE.

Of course, all of this is ultimately pointless. As I never grow weary of pointing out, the very notion of "the greatest movie of all time" is an absurdity. Art is not a competition, no matter how many awards we concoct to make it look like one. Welles wasn't trying to make VERTIGO and Hitchcock wasn't trying to make CITIZEN KANE. Comparing them to see which one is "better" makes no sense. What would "better" even mean in this context? Is DUMB OR DUMBER better or worse than THE SEARCHERS? Is THE MALTESE FALCON better or worse than ABOUT SCHMIDT? The only rational response to these questions, it seems to me, is to ask why the comparison needs to be made at all. I suppose inside of genres you could build some comparisons (THE AVENGERS versus THE DARK KNIGHT RISES), yet I confess I'm still left wondering what the value of interposing a competition would be. Unless the two films in question are attempting to do exactly the same thing (which THE AVENGERS and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES are not) then the comparison says more about the viewer than it does about the viewed.

People like to debate--which is the only reason this debate exists in the first place. Proclaiming VERTIGO the greatest movie of all time is a way to assert your own dominance in the question of greatness itself.  Not surprisingly, then, a backlash began the moment this new vote was announced. My own unscientific survey of Twitter and Facebook leads me to think that people who are invested in not being pretentious are taking this opportunity to shoot arrows into VERTIGO.

And this is precisely why, as a devoted Wellesian, I am thrilled that CITIZEN KANE has finally been booted off the pinnacle of cinematic Mount Olympus. Virtually every person I know who has seen CITIZEN KANE for the first time has come away from it disappointed. No movie can be all movies, so no movie can be the greatest of all movies. Different movies do different things, after all. Some are beautiful, some are sad, some are funny, and some are exciting. Some want to be scary, and some want to be sexy. Some get loud and some get quietly thoughtful. No one movie could be the "best" at all of these things at the same time. So for years people have brought different ideas of greatness, or just plain enjoyment, to CITIZEN KANE and have been let down--or worse, they have been confirmed in their suspicion that the highbrows who prattle on about greatness and art don't really know what they're talking about.

So let VERTIGO take its turn as the whipping boy in the battle between the snobs and the reverse-snobs. Hitchcock, like Welles before him, is enough of a giant to absorb the arrows. At least for a generation or two, when it will likely be Scorsese's turn.     

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Read my essay of CITIZEN KANE here.