Things will be silent for awhile here at Journeys in Darkness and Light until after I get back from Noir City 15 in San Francisco. Rest assured, I’ll give a full report on the first half of the festival when I return. (Unfortunately I will only be there for half of the entire 10-day event.) I will, however, be Tweeting from Noir City, so be sure to follow me on Twitter @awolverton77. In the meantime, here are the movies I’ve seen the past few days:
Dillinger (1945) Max Nosseck
DVD – library (1:10)
Dillinger was produced by B-movie masters the King Brothers and starred a relative newcomer by the name of Lawrence Tierney. The film actually received an Oscar nomination for Philip Yordan for Best Original Screenplay, bestowing some legitimacy upon Monogram Pictures. Yordan didn’t win, but Dillinger made important inroads for Tierney, the King Brothers, and film noir, as it helped pave the way toward the classic film Gun Crazy. (You can read all about it in Eddie Muller’s excellent book Gun Crazy: The Origin of American Outlaw Cinema.)
Plus, Dillinger is a pretty good movie. The film was released in 1945, well after the days of the gangster film, but only 10 years after the death of John Dillinger. Tierney, whose off-screen shenanigans were even then legendary, was mean enough for the part and he delivered. The film is a lean, no-nonsense picture that wastes none of its 70 minutes.
Captain America: Civil War (2016) Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Netflix streaming (2:27)
Marvel Studios had a golden opportunity to give superhero movie skeptics something with some real substance, but they only went halfway. After all the carnage of the previous Avengers movies, the UN is now going to oversee and control the actions of superheroes, including a registration database. Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and his friends oppose this decision while Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and his pals embrace it (albeit somewhat reluctantly). Throw in a subplot with the Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) being deprogrammed from the super bad guy organization Hydra and you’ve got more tension.
Sure, no one expects philosophical arguments in a superhero picture, but the whole “Civil War” issue – while it lasts – is really quite refreshing. Unfortunately we’re not given much time to think about it Marvel movies absolutely require something to be blown up every 60 seconds or so. The supporting superheroes don’t seem to think much: they just seem to choose sides arbitrarily with little to no consideration. Still, you know what you’re getting with these movies. I think I’m just getting tired of them, but I seem to be in the minority.
Escape from East Berlin (1962) Robert Siodmak
Warner Archive DVD (1:29)
This Robert Siodmak film, based on a true story, concerns a family living near the Berlin Wall and their feeling that things will only worsen if they remain on the East German side. Kurt (Don Murray) believes that digging a tunnel to the West German side is the only way to save his family, but plans to stay behind while pointing them to freedom, thus becoming a national hero. (I think he just wants to escape their constant bickering.)
The film does contain some better-than-average suspense and tension and since this is a Siodmak picture, the look of the film (especially the tunnel scenes) are quite good, but the script suffers from an abundance of cliches and wooden dialogue. To make matters worse, the lead role of Kurt goes to Don Murray, one of the few (perhaps the only) non-German actors in the film. His accent (or lack of it) is a constant reminder that we’re watching an American actor. Still, the positives outweigh the negatives. This is Siodmak and even minor Siodmak is worth your time.
Charley Varrick (1973) Don Siegel
DVD – library (1:51)
Where has this film been all my life? Small-time operator Charley Varrick (Walter Matthau) and friends decide to rob a small-time New Mexico bank, but discover they’ve actually made off with mob money. Oops. Wonderful film with Joe Don Baker, Andrew Robinson, Felicia Farr, Normal Fell, John Vernon, William Schallert and more. Pure 70s, pure entertainment like they don’t make anymore.
Bubba Ho-tep (2002) Don Coscarelli (2x)
Shout! Factory Blu-ray (1:32)
I haven’t read the Joe Lansdale story this film is based on, but Don Coscarelli has put together something of pure genius: Elvis (Bruce Campbell) in a nursing home with JFK (Ossie Davis) fighting an ancient Egyptian mummy sucking the souls out of the home’s elderly residents. It’s funny sweet, and in many ways profound. Really! Love this movie… If you’re a fan, you must pick up the Shout! Factory Blu-ray which is loaded with extras.
The Neon Demon (2016) Nicolas Winding Refn
Amazon streaming (1:57)
Refn is trying to do far more than show us the shallowness of the modeling world, but the themes he’s touching on are far too many, take too long to develop, and are mostly unsatisfying. The Neon Demon contains some great ideas and creative visuals, but this horror film has scant cohesion and doesn’t really start to get interesting until its last half-hour. The problem is, that last half hour has little foundation upon which to give it much power. Jena Malone steals the show.
Again, the blog will be silent for several days until I’m back from Noir City, so In the meantime, watch some good stuff for me and tell me what I’ve missed.
Photos: Another Old Movie Blog, comicbook.com, Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, Film Comment, 1428 Elm, The Verge