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.

Il Bidone (1955)

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Il Bidone (The Swindle) Directed by Fredrico Fellini, starring Broderick Crawford, Richard Basehart, Giuletta Masina. This is a movie about a group of con men swindling poor people out of their money which they in turn spend on flashy cars, booze, and prostitutes. You know, the usual. Shot in the neo-realism style in post war Italy it is indicative of Fellini’s early work. It is book-ended by two other films of a similar vein: La Strada (1954) and Nights of Cabria (1957). These films comprise what has become known as the “Trilogy of Loneliness.” I always get a kick out of seeing American actors in some of these early European films. Broderick Crawford gives the performance of his career in Il Bidone. Not as good as the other two, but worth a look!

Broderick Crawford in Il Bidone
Richard Basehart and Broderick Crawford in Il Bidone
Giulietta Masina in Il Bidone

On the Criterion Channel and available on Amazon.

House of Games (1987)

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House of Games (1987)

Written and directed by David Mamet, starring Lindsay Crouse and Joe Mantegna. This movie was pretty much universally praised when it came out in 1987. It is currently rated 7.3 on IMBD. Roger Ebert, no less, rated it four stars out of four and gave it a glowing review. I’m going to give it a six out of ten.

While I liked the film, and had a favorable impression of it when I first saw it in 1987, I don’t feel like it stands the test of time. It is well crafted, but so is a finely made piece of furniture. I can see the seams and joints and that seems to take away from my overall impression. I want to get lost in the action of the picture and not see the woof and worf.

House of Games is about a den of con artists. And while it is fascinating to see the cons work their magic, I couldn’t help but notice seeing them coming. And it is hard to imagine the central character being so gullible, after having participating in a con herself, not seeing the con being played on her. But I guess that is the beauty of the con, it’s human nature to want to believe it.

Lindsay Crouse and Joe Mantegna in House of Games

I loved how the film looked. Very noirish. Seattle at night with neon lights reflected in puddles of water and steam rising from man hole covers. Nice atmosphere!

Lots of Mamet’s patented rapid-fire dialogue, which can sound a little stilted and stagy at times.  If only Mamet had succeeded in conning me into believing what he was selling. He already conned me out of my money for the price of a ticket.

House of Games is part of the Criterion Collection and is available on Amazon.

The Juniper Tree (1990)

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Juniper Tree

The Juniper Tree (1990),  directed by Nietzchka Keene, starring Bjork, Bryndis Petra Bragadottir, and Valdimar Orn Flygenring.

This extraordinary film, based on a Grimm’s Fairy tale, is shot in Iceland, and takes place in medieval Iceland. The stark landscapes stand out brilliantly as photographed in delicious black and white. I see echoes of Bergman here but this is a truly unique film of women with supernatural powers.  Bjork is radiant in this her film debut as one of the sisters who has visions. Highly recommend!

Bjork

Un flic (1972)

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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

Night of the Hunter (1955)

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Directed by Charles Laughton, starring Robert Mitchum, Shelly Winters, and Lillian Gish

Robert Mitchum Night of the hunter

Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter

Billed as one of the scariest movies ever made, Night of the Hunter (1955) is certainly chilling. Nobody does menace quite like Robert Mitchum. He plays a psychopathic man of the cloth who wields a switchblade knife like an erect penis. The man has definitely got his wires crossed. Beautifully photographed in black and white, each frame composed magnificently to produce the maximum effect. Highly stylized presentation, more of an arthouse thriller than a run of the mill horror flick. Definitely one of a kind. If you love films, this is one to add to your list.

Night hunter

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)

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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)

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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.”