Directed and produced by Peter Yates
Written by Steve Tesich
Cinematography by Matthew F. Leonetti
Netflix streaming (1:43)
Previously discussed here
A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (doc. 1995)
Written and directed by Martin Scorsese, Michael Henry Wilson
FilmStruck (3:45) (no longer on the site)
Let’s face it: Martin Scorsese is our reigning cinema ambassador and I’m glad he is. In this 1995 documentary, Scorsese reflects on his favorite American films grouped into four categories: directors as storytellers, directors as illusionists, directors as smugglers, and directors as iconoclasts. The film is close to four hours long, but I could’ve listened/watched Scorsese for several more hours. This is engrossing stuff for movie fans. You can find a complete list of films discussed in the documentary here.
I Was a Communist for the FBI (1951)
Directed by Gordon Douglas
Produced by Bryan Foy
Screenplay by Crane Wilbur, based on The Saturday Evening Post articles “I Posed as a Communist for the F.B.I.” by Matt Cvetic
Cinematography by Edwin B. DuPar
Warner Archive DVD (1:23)
Based on actual events as recounted by Matt Cvetic in his Saturday Evening Post articles, I Was a Communist for the FBI is frequently exciting, but also very much a product of its time, filled with patriotism and propaganda in equal measure. Frank Lovejoy (a woefully underrated actor) is quite good as Cvetic. Worth a look, especially for film noir fans (although I’m not 100% sure this really qualifies as film noir.)
Let the Right One In (2008) (2x)
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Produced by Carl Molinder, John Nordling
Screenplay by John Ajvide Lindqvist, based on his novel
Cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema
Momentum Pictures Blu-ray (UK, Region B) (1:54)
I first saw the Swedish film Let the Right One In shortly after it first appeared in the U.S. so this was my first rewatch. My friend Kristina over at Speakeasy thinks of this more as a coming-of-age story than a horror story and I agree with her. It’s the story of a troubled young boy named Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) who tries to befriend a new girl in his apartment complex in a Stockholm suburb. The girl, named Eli (Lina Leandersson) immediately informs Oskar that she can’t be his friend and that she’s not even a girl. It’s no spoiler to tell you that she’s a vampire and that while he’s not one, Oskar has his own demons.
A controversy arose over the subtitles on the American DVD and Blu-ray releases of the film, claiming that the translations were in some cases wildly inaccurate. I have that DVD release and the British Blu-ray and can’t recall noticing much difference, but consider that it’s been eight years between viewings for me. Just see the film. I don’t think the differences in translation would make that much difference.
Speaking of differences, Let the Right One In was Americanized as Let Me In (2010), which is a good film, certainly not a waste of time, but is (at least to me) inferior to the Swedish version.
The Next Voice You Hear… (1950)
Directed by William Wellman
Produced by Dore Schary
Screenplay by Charles Schnee, based on a story by George Sumner Albee
Cinematography by William C. Mellor
Warner Archive DVD (1:23)
I have a scant but powerful memory of seeing a brief portion of The Next Voice You Hear… as a kid. It really shook me up that God would speak to people through the radio, but I always wanted to see the entire film. Well, it only took me about 40 years, but I finally saw it.
Considering the concept and the times (1950), I feared the movie would be unintentionally hilarious, but I found it to be quite charming, and in many ways reverent. As mentioned earlier, the voice of God is heard (although we never hear it) throughout radios all over the world for a period of several days. James Whitmore plays Joe Smith (metaphorical much?) who has a pretty good American middle-class life going with his wife Mary (I’m not making this up!), played by Nancy Davis, and son Johnny (Gary Gray). Yet Joe’s workplace is becoming more and more insufferable due to his harsh old-school boss (Art Smith) and he doesn’t know how he’s going to adequately provide for his family when their baby is born.
The voice is all people are talking about, but most everyone still goes about their days with their normal problems, concerns and hangups. Although others tell him the content of the voice’s broadcasts, Joe keeps missing it when it appears on radio programs, yet becomes more and more obsessed with hearing it for himself.
The Next Voice You Hear… could’ve gone so wrong in many ways, but over 65 years later, its message – while not exactly sophisticated in its delivery – is still relevant (perhaps even crucial) for a people who are filled with fear and anxiety and don’t know where to turn. The Next Voice You Hear… certainly isn’t a perfect film, far from it, but it might just make you search for a voice that may be closer than you think.
Directed by Vincente Minnelli
Produced by Pandro S. Berman
Screenplay by Edward Chodorov, George Oppenheimer, Marguerite Roberts, based on “You Were There” by Thelma Strabe
Cinematography by Karl Freund
Undercurrent may win the prize for the film that takes the longest amount of time to actually get going, but once it does, it’s hard to stop watching. Katherine Hepburn plays Ann, a woman living with her father, Professor “Dink” Hamilton, who has little interest in romance until a handsome inventor named Alan Garroway (Robert Taylor) comes along and sweeps her off her feet. Even after they marry, Garroway becomes more and more secretive about himself, especially concerning his mysterious brother who may or may not be dead.
Undercurrent is heavy on the dramatics but contains an unmistakable noir feel, thanks largely to the Karl Freund cinematography, especially during the second half of the film. Robert Mitchum has a brief amount of screen time, but makes the most of it.
Rolling Thunder (1977)
Directed by John Flynn
Produced by Normal T. Herman
Screenplay by Paul Schrader and Heywood Gould, from a story by Schrader
Cinematography by Jordan Cronenweth
DVD – interlibrary loan (1:35)
Thanks to the guys at Pure Cinema Podcast for introducing me to this film, a very effective revenge movie with William Devane playing Major Charles Rane, an ex-POW returning home from war who’s publicly given a hero’s welcome, but privately gets the bomb dropped on him by his wife (Lisa Richards). Things get worse: a group of thugs invade Rane’s home looking for a set of 2,555 silver dollars (one for each day he was in captivity as a POW in Hanoi, plus one for luck) presented to Rane at a large “welcome home” ceremony.
Rolling Thunder could’ve been a film examining the problem of returning servicemen trying to adjust to civilian life and while Flynn effectively touches on those themes, it’s primarily a revenge film that kicks into overdrive and never looks back. The film includes a very young Tommy Lee Jones as Rane’s war buddy as well as Dabney Coleman and one of my favorite bad-guy actors Luke Askew. Good stuff, recently released as a Shout Factory Blu-ray.
The American Friend (1977)
Written and directed by Wim Wenders
Based on Ripley’s Game by Patricia Highsmith
Cinematography by Robby Müller
An effective and often fascinating adaptation of one of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels with Dennis Hopper as Tom Ripley, an American living in Hamburg, Germany making his money in art forgery schemes. At an auction, Ripley is slighted by a local picture framer named Jonathan Zimmermann (Bruno Ganz) and decides to rectify this disrespect by placing Zimmerman (who has a rare blood disease) in the midst of Ripley’s own criminal activities. Telling you anything further would rob you of a wonderful viewing experience, but I will say that the film contains a great train scene and the onscreen appearance of directors Nicholas Ray, Samuel Fuller and Gérard Blain. Plus I couldn’t help chuckling when Ripley enters a room and another character exclaims, “Ripley!” Ripley responds, “Believe it or not.”
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) Michael Curtiz, William Keighley
Warner DVD – library (1:42)
I’m going to explore this further as part of my Blind Spot 2017 series, but I’ll keep it simple for now. In short, don’t be a dope (like me) and put off seeing this film, one of the greatest, most spectacular adventure films of all time presented in glorious Technicolor with a stupendous cast including Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains and many more. See it today.
Directed by Bill Paxton
Produced by David Kirschner
Written by Brent Hanley
Movie lovers of the world were saddened last month with the news of Bill Paxton’s death. He gave us so many great performances playing memorable characters, but a lot of people didn’t know that he directed two movies, The Greatest Game Ever Played (2005) and Frailty, a very effective psychological thriller that avoids the mistakes most thrillers make in story and character while at the same time shooting for (and usually nailing) something of great significance.
Fenton Melks (Matthew McConaughey) walks into the East Texas office of FBI Agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe) claiming that Fenton’s brother Adam is the “God’s Hand” serial killer Doyle has been tracking. Melks relates how his brother came to be the killer, how he was influenced (if not brainwashed) by his father (Bill Paxton) and his questionable revelations from God to punish evildoers.
We’ve probably all seen at least a few “God told me to” movies (including one actually called God Told Me To), but what separates Frailty from the rest is its serious, street-level examination of the nature of good and evil. As the dad, Paxton never shows us a wild-eyed, frantic nut-job, but a man struggling to do what’s right in obeying the voice he swears he hears. Are his visions real?
Paxton is absolutely stellar as the father (and just as impressive as director). For anyone thinking he was nothing more than an action/adventure actor, I challenge you to find another actor who could’ve pulled off this role with the believability, subtlety and restraint Paxton shows here. Plus the child actors Matt O’Leary (young Fenton) and Jeremy Sumpter (young Adam) are nothing short of amazing. Please celebrate Paxton’s life and career by watching Frailty. Your only disappointment will come from realizing how many more great performances and directorial efforts we could’ve had from Paxton.
Okay, I’ve got at least 10 more movies to write up, so I hope I’ve left you with something to watch. More soon…
Photos: Cinema de Merde, Rebloggy, WeaponsMan, Life Between Frames, TCM, Sporcle, Handguns, AV Club, DVD Beaver