Sunday, December 17, 2017

First Time Out

I can't believe we hadn't seen Drunken Angel (1948) until now. It was Kurosawa's first film with Toshiro Mifune - and one of Mifune's best performances. And he isn't even the star.

The star, the titular angel, is Takashi Shimura (Seven Samurai), an outspoken, hard-drinking doctor. His office is in a poor neighborhood, centered around a stinking open sewer that the kids like to play in.

He meets Mifune when he comes in with a wound from a fight with some other gangsters. He is rough with Mifune, disgusted with his bravado, telling him he doesn't need a painkiller, because gangsters are supposed to be able to take it. But he notices that Mifune has a bad cough, and tells him he should get an X-ray, to check for tuberculosis.

There is a bit of cat-and-mouse between doctor and gangster, with gangster refusing to get checked, and the doctor accusing him of being a coward. He finally caves when a young girl the doctor has been treating shows up to report on her good progress - Mifune has to be at least as brave and strong as a schoolgirl. But the gangster lifestyle will make it hard for him to heal.

Through this all, Mifune is amazing - feral, cat-like, dressed in gaudy Western clothes. His expressions, from smile to sneer to grimace, reminded me a lot of Humphrey Bogart, to the point where I wonder if it was deliberate. We also get to see him cutting a rug with a taxi dancer, and he looks good. Shimura is also great, and I at least loved seeing his classic headrub.

Kurosawa also adds more than a touch of stylization to the direction. There is a guitar player who strums a little tune by the side of the sewer, and some of the characters move in rhythm with it, a subliminal dance.

Now, one of my favorite Kurosawa's.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Cool Breeze

Keanu (2016) is a silly Key and Peele movie - not deep or scary like Peele's Get Out.

It starts with a couple of scuzzy characters taking out a drug operation (scuzzy characters played by Key and Peele in heavy makeup and wigs). The entire operation is taken out, except their kittie, who escapes - and is taken in by Jordan Peele.

Peele is a bit of a loser, who is watching bad TV and smoking dope because his girlfriend left him. But this kitten that he names Keanu, changes his life and lifts his spirits. After a wild night out with his strait-laced friend (a Liam Neeson movie), he comes home and finds his apartment trashed and his kitten stolen.

A visit to his wigger pot dealer next door (Will Forte) gives them the idea that a local bad actor, played by Method Man, may have been responsible. Peele is determined to do whatever it takes, brave any danger, to get Keanu back. So they go to Meth's club and act as gangster as possible.

The trope of milquetoasts acting tough is not an original one (it wasn't when Bob Hope did, either - who knows how old it is?). But their take is fun. They have to make deliveries of the new drug Holy Shit to get back Keanu - remember Holy Fucking Shit from 21 Jump Street? Any way, this winds up in a hilarious segment involving a drug party where they kill Anna Faris, as herself. And as Peele is falling for cute gang-banger Tiffany Haddish, Key is using his team-building training to help the rest of the gang communicate (and love George Michael).

In conclusion, I couldn't help but think of Keegan-Michael Key as an un-buff Dwayne Johnson, with his bullet head and mild mannered speaking style, while Jordan Peele seemed to be played by Craig Charles (Lister from Red Dwarf). Shows that I need to watch more Key and Peele.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Friendly Neighborhood

Well, Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) was a surprise - a Spider-Man movie that we liked! The Sam Raimi trilogy was probably good (I didn't even mind the last one more than usual), but I just never liked Spidey as a character, so they weren't really my thing. The Andrew Garfield duology was a bit of a fizzle, although I liked him in the first, not so much in the second. I'm glad we kept trying.

It starts with some "found footage": some cellphone movies Spider-Man (Tom Holland) took when Tony Stark and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) took him for the big melee at the end of Capt. America: Civil War. Then, it's over, and he's back in high school. He tells some people that he was interning for Tony Stark, which is cool, but they never call again. He's bugging Happy every day, leaving pathetic voice mails, but they think he's just a kid (and they are kind of busy). So he hangs out with his chubby friend (Jacob Batalon) and sighs over cute fellow debater, Zendaya.

Meanwhile, Michael Keaton and his team have the contract to clean up the alien trash left over from the Event, when the government comes in and puts him out of a job. So he keeps a little here and there, and gets ahold of a little more, and starts building alien tech weapons.

Spidey notices something is up when some punks in Avengers masks use one the weapons to push over an ATM across the street from his favorite bodega. He doesn't have Stark's high-tech suit, so he makes due with PJs and a ski mask, more or less. Then his buddy Batalon finds his secret identity.

So there's a cute mix of superhero action and John-Hughes-style high school drama (seriously - the cast watched a bunch of Hughes to get in the mood). But mostly, it's just fun. This seems to be one of the things that Marvel has been getting right - not just the quips and the webslinging, but an overall sense of joy and exhilaration.

Lots of fun little things in the movie, like the recorded messages from Captain America the kids have to watch in school. When the (black) gym teacher turns it on he mutters, "Whatever. He's probably a war criminal now or something." This all pays off after the credits in a way that is totally worth waiting for. And waiting...

Semi-SPOILER: the capper in the last act is when Peter Parker picks up Zendaya to take her to the Prom, and her dad is Michael Keaton. So it's that uncomfortable kid-meets-date's-father thing, and the father is a super-villian who immediately figures out your secret identity. I won't say Keaton is the only actor who could pull this off, but he sure pulls it off.

In conclusion - no origin story for this Spidey!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Just the Blues, Ma'am

Pete Kelly's Blues (1955) isn't quite what I expected. I am a lover of old-time radio, so I've heard Jack Webb's radio show of the same name. I was expecting something black and white and gritty. It was actually pretty colorful, and kind of romantic. But, because Webb is an old jazz-head, there are some pretty happening numbers.

It takes place in Prohibition era Kansas City. Webb plays cornet and is band leader with a hot little combo. When gangster Edmond O'Brien wants 20%, Webb tries to hold out. It works for a while, but the drummer gets shot and clarinetist Lee Marvin quits the band - he saw enough killing in Europe.

So now Webb is working for O'Brien. He is also being aggressively courted by Janet Leigh, a rich party girl who he snubs in his deadpan, monotone Jack Webb way. But now O'Brien wants to put his girlfriend in the show, Peggy Lee playing a drunk chantoosy. So we've got Leigh and Lee, dueling platinum blondes in this movie.

Meanwhile, Police Officer Andy Devine wants Webb to help get evidence to put away O'Brien. Maybe Ella Fitzgerald, who runs the gin joint on the colored side of town can help out, or at least sing a few numbers (Hard-Hearted Hannah and the title song).

The movie is full of Webb's colorful patter - like saying that an amputee "ran out of legs". It's got a lot of hot jazz, although it could have more. There's not as much tough stuff as you might think, though, as Webb just wants to get along and play. Also, the color palette and sets (no locations, of course) make this seem like a more prestigious movie than the crime B-movie we were expecting.

All in all, I think I like his early radio show, Pat Novak for Hire, better.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Strange Movie

The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears (2014) is an odd, abstract giallo. If you don't know what that is, it is an Italian genre from the 70s-80s of stylized crime films. They feature sexualized violence, lurid colors, and usually knife murderers or stranglers wearing black gloves. They have odd titles, like "Five Flies in a Dead Doll's Eye" (I might have made that up).  Strangely, we watched this after seeing exactly zero gialli.

Business man Klaus Tange comes home from a trip to his Belgian apartment, and finds his wife, Edwige, is gone. He does the obvious thing, and gets drunk, then calls the police, then keeps drinkin. He starts pounding on the neighbors' doors in the middle of the night, pissing everyone off. Then the old lady on the top floor invites him in and shows him a flashback about how her husband disappeared.

One night when they were making love, he heard a noise in the ceiling. When he climbed up to investigate, he found there was a lot of space in the walls, left over from when they cut the house into apartments. He reported back to his wife that he could see the neighbors doing ... things. And he was never seen again.

I guess. It was all kind of vague and elliptical. Another neighbor is a sexpot; she tells him confusing stories and they have sex while covered in broken glass. I had to look away for that. There's a lot of blood in this movie, and our hero wears a bloody shirt when interviewed by the police about his missing wife. "I cut myself."

There are little pieces of plot and narrative in the first half or so, but they get pretty tenuous, and by the end, they are abandoned entirely (SPOILER). What this is really about is mood and style. The apartment is old Belgian art nouveau or de Stijl building, looking very chic and a little ominous. The music is borrowed from old gialli, with a Morricone feel. Some sections are in black and white or silent. And it gets weird.

So if you are interested in seeing wild, weird imagery and/or are interested in an abstract giallo, give this a watch. If you want a plot, not so much.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Don't Make Me Do It Without My Fez On

After the classic mummy fest recently, I felt like we should watch The Mummy (2017), the one with Tom Cruise. Let's just say that I did not break out my fez for this one.

It starts with Cruise and buddy Jake Johnson as soldiers banging around Iraq, looking for antiquities to loot - in an Tomb Raider/Indiana Jones way. When an airstrike uncovers an ancient tomb, archaeologist Annabelle Wallis comes in to take over, and they extract the mummy (from Iraq - not Egypt. Because reasons). On the flight home, over England, the plane starts to go down (due to swarm of bats?). Cruise gives Wallis the last parachute and augers in.

And he somehow survives. It seems that he is the beloved of the mummy, played by Sofia Boutella (Kingsmen, Star Trek Beyond), and she is going to possess and/or sacrifice him.

But Cruise and friends have an ally, in the secret monster-fighting organization run by Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe). Let me just say, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen did it better. Heck, Van Helsing did it better.

There's some nonsense with the Knights Templar. Also, Jake Johnson is now a ghost, used mainly for comic relief. And there is essentially no Egypt in this movie, no tanna leaves, hardly any mummy for that matter.

My recommendation, skip this and listen to Frank Conniff, Trace Beaulieu, and Carolina Hidalgo  cap on it in their Movie Sign with the Mads podcast.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Love that Witch

I learned about The Love Witch (2016) listening to a Projection Booth podcast where director Anna Biller was interviewed. Since I hadn't watched yet (and was driving through some unknown highways), I didn't get much out of it, but it sounded cool. For one thing, Biller didn't just direct - she also wrote, art directed, and sewed most of the wardrobe herself.

It stars Samantha Robinson in the title role. She is leaving LA to go hang in Arcata CA. Since her husband died ("and everyone thinks she killed him" is left to your imagination), she needs to get away. She has a friend in Arcata who rents her a room in a charming Victorian, decorated with mystical paintings. Her friend's friend takes her to a ladies' tea room, all frills and lace. You see, Robinson is a witch.

She performs a spell and meets an English professor, full of Kerouacian cool. They go to his place in the hills, she slips him some drugs, they fool around, he freaks and dies. So sad. She sets her sights on the realtors husband, a decent, righteous man. He kills himself when she gets tired of him. A macho police detective starts investigating her. She takes him to a Ren-Faire-like coven gathering in the woods, where her Wiccan friends hand-fast them. The scene reminds me of the nude grape-stomping scene in Seconds, and the detective is hooked, just like Hudson was. It doesn't work out much better for him.

This movie was made in the style of a 60s-70s technicolor thriller, full of bright colors. The costumes Biller designed are full of polyesters and day-glo paisleys, and Robinson wears the heavy eye makeup and piled up hair of the period - but it isn't a period piece. People drive modern cars and have cell phones. So it's a retro feel. It was even shot on 35-mm negative film.

But it is the story that is so unnerving. Robinson is a femme fatale, a black widow, but she only wants a man to pamper and fulfill. So she's in some ways anti-feminist. But her female-centric earth religion empowers her - she wants to pamper and fulfill a man so she can control him and bend him to her will.

Now, I have Wiccan friends. I have been to a hand-fasting. In some ways, this movie seemed like, not blasphemy, but religious bigotry. The Wiccans in Arcata have friends in high places, are feared by the townspeople. And they look pretty goofy, especially the male side of the leading couple, a chubby bearded fellow with a slimy leer. You can tell why he practices sex magic. Suppose these were Jews, not witches.

But, hey, they aren't Jews, and witches I've known have a pretty good sense of humor (although still a little sore about the Burning Times). The rituals can be pretty goofy. And no one can deny Biller sense of style.