La Notte (1961)

The Night

La Notte (1961) (The Night) Directed by Michelangelo Antonio, starring Marcello Mastroianni, Jeanne Moreau, and Monica Vitti. I don’t know how I missed this masterpiece of the Italian cinema but I am happy that I did finally get to see it recently on the Criterion Channel. This film is second in the Trilogy of Alienation bookended by  L’Aventura (The Adventure) (1960) and L’Eclisse (The Eclipse) (1962). La Notte is about the dissolution of a marriage through indifference and boredom and the alienation of society in both the bourgeoisie and the upper classes. The film takes place in a 24-hour period culminating at a party at a rich industrialist’s house in Milan. Crisp black and white photography and excellent framing visually projects the loneliness and the alienation of the characters and the boredom of their respective lives.  

Jeanne Moreau’s inner feeling of sadness are well on display as she comes to realize she no longer loves her husband and that he no longer loves her. Marcello Mastroianni is perfectly cast as the husband who walks through life in a daze of bored indifference.

This movie is cold as ice, but it speaks the truth. Highly recommended!

DEATH IN VENICE (1971)

Movie Blurb

Death in Venice, directed by Luchino Visconti and starring Dirk Bogarde, is based on the Thomas Mann novella of the same name. A Gustave Mahler like character, named Gustave, goes to Venice for a rest. There he becomes infatuated with a teenaged boy who for him personifies his very idea of purity and beauty. The movie deals with the themes of death, beauty, decay, youth, old age, art, and oddly enough the plague.

Slow moving but exquisitely beautiful to watch. Some say Venice has never been so beautifully photographed. The score by Gustave Mahler is divine and is in perfect combination with the majestic beauty unfolding on the screen. There are long stretches with no dialogue, only visuals and music.  A true classic of the cinema.

Available on the Criterion Channel or Amazon Prime.

INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION (1970)

Movie Blurb

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970). Directed by Elio Petri, starring Gian Maria Volonte and Florinde Bolkan. This is a nice little piece of Italian surrealism. Kafkaesque and so direct. Beautifully photographed in Technicolor. The colors are muted but strong. Score by the inimitable Ennio Morricone, which I found bit quirky but, given the material works. Winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. .

A chief of detectives, homicide section, kills his mistress and deliberately leaves clues to prove his own responsibility for the crime.

A little heavy handed politically but all satire is hyperbolic, that is what makes it satire

Highly rated and recommended.

Available on the Criterion Channel on Amazon Prime.

Da 5 Bloods

Movie Blurb

Directed by Spike Lee, starring Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, and Clarke Peters.

I am a Spike Lee fan, but you got to admit the brother is a little hit or miss. Coming off the success of BlacKkKlansman, Da 5 Bloods is a miss. And it’s mess. Which is very disappointing considering the material he was working with and the timeliness of his subject. Other directors have taken on the Vietnam experience and other directors have done a better job. The one saving grace is Delroy Lindo who is a terrific character actor and lights up the screen in every scene he is in. Even when he is chewing the scenery.

The movie suffers from poor writing and mediocre directing. Spike throws everything he has into this movie including the kitchen sink. Part Treasure of the Sierra Madre and part Apocalypse Now, it never does find its own footing. Except for when one of the Bloods makes a fatal misstep. That was quite a heartstopper and a show stopper as well. The shootout at the end was well staged I thought and executed very well. The photography was well done but you got to ask yourself, why did he need four different aspect ratios? Oh, I get it. He wanted to demark different times and places. An artistic decision as it were. Well, it didn’t work for me, just made the whole thing more confusing. And in the flash backs it was impossible to distinguish the younger version of Da Bloods from the present-day version of themselves.

If you are going to steal, steal from the best, just use a little finesse when you do it and don’t make it so obvious. When the leader of a group of Vietnamese marauders are asked by a member of Da Bloods, “Where are your official badges?” The answer comes back from the leader, “Badges? We don’t’ need no stinking badges!” In another scene, Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries accompanies the action.

This might sound like a pan but not totally. I’m going to give the brother a 6 on a 10. Better luck next time Spike.

Un flic (1972)

Movie Blurb

un flic poster

Directed by Jean- Pierre Melville, starring Alain Delon, Richard Crenna, and Catherine Deneuve.

Un flic translates to “A cop,” but it is a heist movie that features the bad guys as well. Alain Delon is the icy cop who doesn’t mind issuing a slap across the face from time to time to gain cooperation. Richard Crenna is the mastermind criminal and nightclub owner. Catherine Deneuve, who is impossibly beautiful and completely vacuous in this role, is the femme fatale that each man is in love with.

Catherine

The movie starts with bank robbery in a small French town near the ocean on a foggy day. It is brilliantly conceived and executed with a minimum of dialogue.  Another set piece was a train robbery, which features lowering Richard Crenna onto a moving train and picking him up again from a flying helicopter overhead. Wow! Never saw anything like that. Models were used in the filming, but I didn’t care, it was still pretty exciting. When planning the train robbery, the gang calculated a time frame of 20 minutes. When the robbery actually takes place, the sequence is exactly 20 minutes long. Pretty impressive stuff. Not Melville’s best film, but it was his last, and definitely memorable!

un flic

The Big Knife (1955)

Movie Review

The Big Knife poster

Directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Jack Palance, Ida Lupino, and Rod Steiger. Screenplay by James Poe, based on the play by Clifford Odets.

The Big Knife is a movie that defies easy classification. It is billed as a crime picture, a drama, and a film-noir. I would call it more of a melodrama. It is a poison pen piece directed at the cruel and heartless Hollywood system of the time, which, when you think about it, hasn’t really changed by much. At one point the Shelly Winters character says, “I’d rather see a snake than a Hollywood producer.”

The writing is a bit turgid, approaching the Baroque. It is hard to tell where Clifford Odets leaves off and James Poe begins. But I suspect it is Poe, who is doing all the declaiming. Example: “How dare you come in here and throw this mess of naked pigeons in my face.”

Big Knife

Ida Lupino and Jack Palance

It seemed to me to have a strong Homo-erotic undertow. I don’t know, I didn’t see any mention of it in any of the reviews, but it was certainly apparent to me. In the opening scene the Jack Palance character, Charlie Castle, and his personal trainer, Nick, were boxing in the backyard of his plush home in Bel Air. Both were half naked and there was a lot of clinching going on. They were having a lot of fun. Later Nick gives Charlie a rubdown on a massage table in the backyard while Charlie took a meeting with the head of the studio and his henchmen. Lot of sensual rubbing going on. Then, Nick has Charlie turn over on his back and he pours alcohol on his chest and belly and continues to rub. All the while Charlie is talking to others in the scene. Towards the end of the scene, when it looks like Charlie is going to crack from the pressure, Nick sidled up to him from behind and gets very close and says into his ear, “Is there anything a Greek can do for you? Anything at all?”

Throughout the movie all the male characters refer to Charlie as kiddie, darling, and dear. All very strange. And then there is the matter of the Big Knife. What big knife? There’s no knife to be seen in the movie. Obviously, a symbol of something, but what? Usually considered phallic, but there was a lot of backstabbing going on and then there was that last scene. Plenty of heterosexual activity too. Charlie the movie star was something of a player. Every time somebody went up the spiral staircase it was to have sex with someone. Usually Charlie.

Big Knife 2

Rod Steiger and jack Palance

All the acting was over the top and the actors chewed the scenery plenty. Rod Steiger went nuclear in one scene which probably will go down in the history of cinema as the most explosive ever. The only actor who escaped this phenomenon was Ida Lupino, who was pitch perfect in every scene.

Now, you may have gotten the impression that I didn’t like this film. Not so. I thought it was very entertaining and fascinating to watch. I thoroughly enjoyed it! It is definitely an important part of film history. Highly Recommended.

 

The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

Lady from Shanghai

Movie Blurb

The Lady from Shanghai (1947), directed by Orson Welles, starring Orson Welles, screenplay by Orson Welles, also starring the beautiful Rita Hayworth. Wow! I can’t believe I have never seen this film noir classic until now. That is the beauty of the Criterion Channel. A very convoluted plot, solid acting, a few plot holes, and a phony Irish brogue on the part of the Orson Welles character mixed together with original and creative camera work and outstanding editing make for the ingredients of a flawed but visually stunning movie. Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth were married at the time the picture was being filmed but were divorced three weeks after completion. That might explain the lack of chemistry between the two. He had her cut her hair short and bleached blonde for the picture, which was controversial at the time but I thought she looked sensational. This is a must see for all serious film buffs. Glad I finally got around to it!

 

The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)

Movie Blurb

Mars poster

I sat through this tedious little thriller last night. I kept hoping it would get better and redeem itself. It didn’t. It was a great concept but failed to deliver. It suffers from weak writing, mediocre direction, and zero chemistry between the stars, Faye Dunaway and Tommy Lee Jones. The sex scenes were some of the most awkward ever laid on celluloid. The dialogue was unbelievable and there were plot points through which you could drive a truck.

Mars

There was a lot of talent here but it didn’t add up to much. John Carpenter was the writer, Irvin Kershner directed. The images used in the film were from the Helmut Newton Collection and the title song was sung by Barbara Streisand. Interesting turn by character actor Brad Dourif. Raul Julia played Laura’s ex in a not so interesting turn. There was an exciting chase scene at the end that was mostly on foot. What I like the most about the film were the various location shots in New York City. New York was pretty gritty in 1978.

Mars 2

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)

Movie Blurb

mishima

 

Directed by Paul Schrader, starring Ken Ogat and Masayyuki Shionoya

This film is a biographical treatment of the life of one of Japans’ most well-known writers, Yukio Mishima. It is structured in four chapters which interweave Mishima’s real life and his stories and novels. His early life as a boy is shown in black and white footage, his present-day life is shown in regular color and the scenes from his novels are shown in garish technicolor where the settings and action are highly stylized. The literary scenes are weirdly prophetic and presage things that are to come. The whole thing is brilliantly constructed and a marvel to watch. One of Schrader’s best works.

Mishima believed himself to be a Samurai warrior and created his own private army. He wanted to restore Japan to Imperial Rule. He also had peculiar ideas about beauty. He thought one should  live until he reached perfection then destroy oneself before he decayed.  Mishima committed seppuku (ritual suicide) on November 25, 1970.

“The instant that the blade tore open his flesh, the bright disk of the sun soared up and exploded behind his eyelids.”

 

Queen & Slim (2019)

Queen and Slim poster

Queen and Slim (2019) is one of the most emotionally satisfying movies I’ve seen this year. It’s the story of a first date gone wrong. Very wrong.  And a couple on the run. Part crime drama, part road movie, and all love story, this movie resonates. It seems a little underwritten and disjointed in places, and you wonder about some of the decisions the characters make, but for me that just adds to its charms. Sort of a cinema verité of the Black Lives Matter Movement. It has a gritty feel and is very watchable.

Outstanding cinematography by Tat Radcliffe. Clocking in at 132 minutes some critics thought was too long but I was totally caught up in the story and didn’t notice the time.

The movie was directed by Melina Matsoukas and was her first feature film. She has been known for her TV work and music videos, most notably Beyoncé’s Formation. Excellent work for a debut film.

Acting performances were very solid. Daniel Kaluuaya of Get Out fame played Slim and Jodie Turner-Smith played Queen in what may be a breakout performance for her. I just loved these two characters!

With a killer sound track, a compelling story, and characters you root for and care about this is a must-see film.