Rancho Notorious (1952)

Movie Blurb

Rancho Notorious (1952) Directed by Fritz Lang. Starring Marlene Dietrich, Arthur Kennedy, and Mel Ferrer. A western that is part western, part revenge thriller and part mystery and all Marlene Dietrich and Fritz Lang. In this cult favorite Vern Haskell (Arthur Kennedy), a Wyoming ranch hand, seeks to avenge his fiancé’s rape and murder which occurs during the course of a robbery early on in the film.  The only clues he has is a mysterious place called Chuck-a-Luck where the killer is supposed to be headed and a name which might be a person, place, or a thing: Altar Keane. The plot only becomes more convoluted from there. Vern helps the outlaw Frenchy Fairmont (Mel Ferrer) escape from jail and Frenchy leads him to Chuck-a-Luck, a sort of robber’s roost run by the infamous Altar Keane (Marlene Dietrich).

Altar Keane is kind of a dominatrix who holds sway over all the outlaws that hole up at her place and demands 10% of their take in any illegal activities for providing them protection. She dominates all the men harshly except for Frenchy with whom she shares her bed. However, she takes a shine to new comer Vern and that is where the trouble comes in. Vern, for his part has to determine who at Chuck-a-Luck is the killer he seeks. He also falls for Altar Keane. Messy? You bet, but that is what makes it so fun!

Rancho Notorious is full of familiar faces like William Frawley (I Love Lucy), George Reeves (Superman) and stock player Jack Elam. It was originally titled “Chuck-a-Luck,” but studio head Howard Hughes made Lang change it to “Rancho Notorious”, fearing American audience wouldn’t know what Chuck-a-Luck meant. However, it had absolutely nothing to do with the film.

Shot in Technicolor, run time 89 minutes, aspect ratio 1.37:1.

I viewed it on the Criterion Channel. It’s also available on Amazon.

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!

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)

Movie Blurb

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.

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 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

The Comfort of Strangers (1990)

Movie Review

Poster Strangers

Never has Venice been more beautiful, photographed more sumptuously, or depicted with more foreboding since Nicholas Roeg’s, Don’t Look Now (1973). The Comfort of Strangers (1990), directed by Paul Schrader, is a horror movie but you don’t know that until the startling climax. That’s when you look back and see all the clues.

Venice

A young couple, Mary (Natasha Richardson) and Colin (Rupert Everett) travel to Venice to try to rekindle what is left of their lukewarm relationship. They walk around the streets of Venice in what seems like a bored stupor. They get lost one night and are rescued by an older man dressed in white (Robert, played with understated menace by Christopher Walken) who takes them to a bar and regales them with stories of his family and plies them with wine.

Lost in Venice

“My father was a very big man. And he wore a black mustache. When he grew older and it grew gray, he colored it with a pencil. The kind women use. Mascara.” This we learn from Robert not once but three times. This is our first clue that something is not quite right with Robert.

MV5BNWIzMGNhYTgtComfort

When Mary and Colin leave the bar, they get lost again and spend the night outside leaning against a wall. They make their way to a café on the piazza the next morning to order breakfast. Robert spies them and comes over and apologizes for abandoning them last night and invites them to his luxurious palazzo to get some rest. They accept. Later, they wake up naked in bed. It seems Robert’s wife,  Caroline (Helen Mirren), has hidden their clothes with instructions from Robert not to give them back until they accept an invitation to dinner. Caroline admits to Mary that she has sneaked into their room and watched them while they were sleeping. Another clue. Things get weird from there.

Christopher Walken

When Mary and Colin depart and go back to their hotel, they somehow find the spark that they were looking for and have wild passionate sex. They are lured back again to the mysterious couple’s abode and things do not end well.

CAROLINE AND MARY

A lot of things don’t quite add up in this stylish thriller but it is so interesting to watch you don’t seem to care. Excellent acting all around with Christopher Walken standing out as the creepy Robert. The film might best be summed up by the police detective investigating the crime at the end, “I don’t get it,” he says. I didn’t either, but I sure did enjoy it. Quite a literary pedigree, I may add, based on the novel by Ian McEwan and screenplay by Harold Pointer. Paul Schrader is known as a literary type of director and this is his kind of material.

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020)

Movie Review

Birds od Prey poster

Birds of Prey (2020)

Directed by: Cathy Yan

Starring: Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the Huntress, Jurnee Smollett-Bell as The Black Canary, Ella Jay Basco as Cass,  and rounding out the cast, Ewan McGregor as the Black Mask.

Some of you might be surprised that I went to see this movie. To be honest I am a little surprised myself.  First of all, I am not a big fan of Marvel movies. I agree with Martin Scorsese that Marvel movies aren’t really cinema. I know, this is a DC Comics picture. DC Comics, Marvel Comics, the same thing. So, what possessed me on a bright, sunny, Sunday afternoon to enter a dark cavern in a multiplex and witness mayhem at its finest? Margot Robbie, that’s what. Plus, there isn’t a whole lot to choose from right now and I have actually heard good things about this movie. So, I hustled there inside, and friends, I am here to tell you I am glad I did!

Harley Quinn

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn

I don’t know much about the source material because I stopped reading comics when I was 12, but this movie has legs and stands on its own.

This is 109 minutes of pure entertainment! A tip of the hat to Quentin Tarantino for some of the action scenes sure looked familiar. If you are going to steal, steal from the best, I always say! Also, there were some memorable dialog, lines, cultural references, and T-Shirts, such as:

“You make me want to be less of a terrible person,” spoken by One Harley Quinn.

She has the word “Rotten” tattooed on her right cheek, and she sports at times a T-shirt that says, “Daddy’s Little Monster.”

At one point she refers to a character as “You Frida Kahlo looking mother fucker!”

Rose Perez sports a T-shirt that says, “I shaved my balls for this.”

And at the end Harley Quinn reveals her new calling cards: “Harley Quinn and Associates – Bad Ass Motherfuckers!”

Black Canary

Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Margot Robbie in Birds of Prey

Written and directed by women, with strong female leads, this movie is a towering monument to female empowerment.  Lot’s a diversity on display here too. Visually stunning, Gotham City never looked better as photographed by lensman Mathew Libatique. Add a killer sound track that perfectly matches the action and you have  movie that is solid entertainment and a lot of fun. Two thumbs way up!

The Breaking Point (1950)

Movie Blurb

Breakimng point poster

The Breaking Point (1950) starring John Garfield and directed by Michael Curtis is based on the novel To Have and Have Not written by Ernest Hemingway. This vehicle is more true to the Hemingway tale then the highly popular and entertaining movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. In my view, in many ways, The Breaking Point is a superior product. John Garfield turns in a magnificent portrayal of a down and out a boat captain Harry Morgan. Phyllis Thatcher plays his world weary but loving wife who is still hot for Harry. Patricia Neal is the sexy temptress who Harry is attracted to but doesn’t go overboard for.

Breaking point 2

Michael Curtiz has created and directed a taught thriller with no extra padding. Excellent black-and-white photography throughout.

Because Garfield was associated with the communist party during the Red Scare Warner Bros. buried this film and it lost out at the bus box office

This is a must see film for all serious movie buffs. It has definitely stood the test of time. Highly recommend.