Man, what a month March was with 52 movies total, which may not be a lot for some, but is record-breaking for me. I’m going to zip through this list pretty quickly. I hope to revisit some of these films with longer reviews, but for now it will be brief. Hope you’ll find something to enjoy!
Nothing But the Truth (2008)
Written, produced and directed by Rob Lurie
Produced also by Bob Yari, Marc Frydman
Cinematography by Alik Sakharov
Library DVD (1:48)
Very effective drama of a newspaper reporter (Kate Beckinsale) who refuses to give up her source after a story she wrote uncovers the identity of a covert CIA operative (Vera Farmiga) and throws the entire intelligence community into a frenzy. Excellent performances all around, including Matt Dillon and Alan Alda. This is one of the movies I discovered through Leonard Maltin’s book 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen.
The Black Room (1982)
Directed by Elly Kenner, Norman Thaddeus Vane
Produced by Aaron C. Butler
Written by Norman Thaddeus Vane
Cinematography by Robert Harmon
Another movie recommended by the guys at Pure Cinema Podcast, one which is probably only available on YouTube (or maybe VHS). A brother (Stephen Knight) and sister (Cassandra Gava) rent out a room in their Hollywood Hills mansion, but their tenants don’t know they’re watching the “black room” for their own twisted purposes. There are a lot of good things about the film, including the old horror standby “Sex is dangerous” theme, but in particular the set piece of the black room (and especially the illuminated white table/cube) is impressive.
That’s Entertainment! (1974)
Written, produced and directed by Jack Haley, Jr.
Cinematography by Russell Metty
Warner Blu-ray (2:14)
Previously discussed here
Night of the Comet (1984)
Written and directed by Thom Eberhardt
Produced by Andrew Lane, Wayne Crawford
Cinematography by Arthur Albert
Library DVD – interlibrary loan (1:35)
Previously discussed here
The Proposition (2005)
Directed by John Hillcoat
Produced by Chris Brown, Chiara Menage, Jackie O’Sullivan, Cat Villiers
Written by Nick Cave
Cinematography by Benoît Delhomme
Previously discussed here
Pretty in Pink (1986) (2x)
Directed by Howard Deutch
Produced by Lauren Shuler
Written by John Hughes
Cinematography by Tak Fujimoto
I was disappointed to discover how much I didn’t care for this film 30 years later, especially since I remember liking it a lot at the time of its release. The social class cliques theme probably hasn’t changed all that much, but I came away with the feeling that no one really learns anything in this film or really changes all that significantly. Blane (Andrew McCarthy) is still pretty much a tool, although maybe a more understanding tool, going after wrong-side-of-the-tracks girl Andie (Molly Ringwald) whom the weird Duckie (Jon Cryer) loves and rich punk Steff (James Spader) hates. But the clothes are fun to see again and I still like a lot of the music. Plus it’s worth watching to see Jon Cryer lip sync to Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness.” Some nice scenes also with Harry Dean Stanton as Andie’s dad.
A Brighter Summer Day (1991)
Directed by Edward Yang
Produced by Wei-yen Yu
Written by Edward Yang, Hong-ya Yan, Ming-tang Lai, Shun-ching Yang
Cinematography by Hui-kung Chang, Long-yu Zhang
Criterion Blu-ray (3:57)
This Taiwanese film certainly deserves much more consideration that what I’m giving it here, so I plan to watch it again before the year is out and go into more detail. If you’re daunted by the thought of a four-hour film in Chinese with English subtitles, put your fears to rest and enjoy this spectacular film. Although there’s so much going on here – Taiwanese/Chinese cultural identities, coming-of-age, the influence of the West, love, sex, parenthood, totalitarianism, friendship and so much more – the film seems to fly by. I watched the film in two 2-hour segments and recommend others do so as well. (The film contains a natural “break” at about the two-hour mark anyway.) Highly, highly recommended. I don’t give it the full 5-star treatment simply because I’m sure there are many items of cultural significance I don’t yet understand.
The Fog (1980)
Directed by John Carpenter
Produced by Debra Hill
Written by John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Cinematography by Dean Cundey
Shout Factory/Scream Factory Blu-ray (1:31)
I recently heard the guys at Pure Cinema Podcast (there they are again…) talking about this one and since I missed it back in the day, I decided to pick up the Scream Factory Blu-ray edition. I’m glad I did. The Fog is a wonderfully atmospheric ghost story with a nice cast (Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, Hal Holbrook, and John freaking Houseman, for cryin’ out loud!).
Captain Fantastic (2016)
Written and directed by Matt Ross
Produced by Monica Levinson, Jamie Patricof, Shivani Rawat, Lynette Howell Taylor
Cinematography by Stéphane Fontaine
DVD – library (1:59)
Viggo Mortensen (nominated for an Oscar for this role) plays Ben Cash, a father who’s raising his six children in the Washington state wilderness. He’s not only raising them, he’s teaching them survivalist skills, music, literature, art, philosophy, left wing politics, and all things Noam Chomsky. (Mild spoiler ahead) Cash learns that his wife has committed suicide in a Washington hospital where she was being treated for bipolar disorder. Ideologies clash when Ben and the kids go to the funeral, a ceremony which Ben knows goes against his wife’s wishes.
I can see why Captain Fantastic struck a chord with many (and a nerve with others) about child-raising choices and alternative life and education styles. There’s much to think about, but so much of the film is too manipulative in trying to evoke an emotional response when it doesn’t need to be in order to be powerful. Mortensen is excellent, however.
Get Carter (1971)
Directed by Mike Hodges
Produced by Michael Klinger
Screenplay by Mike Hodges based on Jack’s Return Home by Ted Lewis
Cinematography by Wolfgang Suschitzky
Warner Blu-ray (1:52)
I’m betting most casual Michael Caine fans have never seen this film and if they have, they probably hate it. Caine plays London gangster Jack Carter who revisits his hometown to investigate his brother Frank’s “accidental” death. Get Carter is a gritty British crime film, one that’s lost absolutely nothing of its potency in 40+ years.
Black Rain (1989)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Produced by Stanley R. Jaffe, Sherry Lansing
Written by Craig Bolotin, Warren Lewis
Cinematography by Jan de Bont
DVD – library (2:05)
Yet another movie I missed in the 80s, Black Rain is one of director Ridley Scott’s overlooked films that deserves to be seen. Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia play NYC cops who arrest a Yakuza gangster, extradite him to Osaka, and then lose him. The Osaka officer in charge (Ken Takakura) and the Douglas character have a huge conflict of police procedure philosophy going on, but that’s just one of the themes explored in this film. Most of it is done well, but expect some cop movie/clash of culture cliches.
Flamingo Road (1949)
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Produced by Jerry Wald
Screenplay by Robert Wilder based on the play Flamingo Road by Robert Wilder and Sally Wilder and Robert Wilder’s novel of the same name
Cinematography by Ted D. McCord
Warner Archive DVD (1:34)
How can you go wrong with actors Joan Crawford, Zachary Scott, Sydney Greenstreet, and Michael Curtiz directing? You can’t. Think of Flamingo Road as something of a companion piece with Mildred Pierce (1945), this time with Crawford starring as Lane Bellamy, a carnival dancer who has to find her own way once the sheriff (Sydney Greenstreet) of the Southern town Boldon City sends his deputy sheriff (Zachary Scott, without a mustache) to run the carnival out of town. We’re treated to love, graft, corruption, political power… the stuff of film noir.
Emperor of the North (1973)
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Produced by Kenneth Hyman, Stan Hough
Screenplay by Christopher Knopf, based on stories by Jack London (uncredited)
Cinematography by Joseph F. Biroc
DVD – interlibrary loan (1:58)
Emperor of the North should instantly go into anyone’s Top 10 Tough Guy movie list. Ernest Borgnine plays Shack, a sadistic train conductor constantly on the lookout for hoboes who might try to hop his train for a free ride in this Depression-era tale. (Think of Shack as Captain Ahab from Moby Dick and you’ve got the character.) A veteran hobo called A-No. 1 (Lee Marvin) manages to sneak a ride on Shack’s train, instantly becoming a hobo legend, but a young inexperienced hobo named Cigaret (Keith Carradine) has also accomplished the feat, thinking that he deserves just as much credit and respect among the local hobo community. The film is an action/adventure picture, social commentary, train picture, and character study all rolled into one with one of the best train fight scenes ever. You’ve gotta see it.
Canon City (1948)
Written and directed by Crane Wilbur
Produced by Bryan Foy, Robert Kane
Cinematography by John Alton
Canon (in spite of having no tilde over the first “n,” is pronounced “canyon”) City begins with a newsreel type of opening, making us think we’re watching a documentary about a prison break. The film is based on an actual prison break and was shot at the location where it happened, the Colorado State Penitentiary at Canon City, using actors, real convicts, and a real warden, Roy Best. While the film is quite dated (Hey, it is nearly 70 years old!), the use of tense close-ups and John Alton’s noir-soaked cinematography makes the film more than enjoyable. Plus we get to see some great character actors including Scott Brady, Jeff Corey, and my all-time favorite character actor, Whit Bissell. Look closely and you’ll see a young DeForrest Kelley, and although Scott Brady’s character is named Jim, you won’t hear Kelley saying, “He’s dead, Jim.”
That’s it for March. If you missed any of the other movies I saw last month, here they are:
Photos: The Huffington Post, Horrorpedia, DVD Beaver, Clothes on Film, Mubi, RareFilm, Roger Ebert