Saturday, February 25, 2012

Its That Damned Old Rodeo

When it comes to actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood, not enough people mention Robert Mitchum. He had true screen presence, making his craft look easy. His strong, willful personality was often reflected onscreen, and with The Lusty Men he gives a performance that he executes with such relative ease you then realize that his acting and himself are one and the same. It could also speak to why he was often overlooked, aside from the fact that Mitchum made one too many B-movie style film noirs. Famous director Nicholas Ray recognized Mitchum's talent, and casted him in The Lusty Men, a movie about the modern day rodeo cowboys, men of the west in a time when the west had been tamed.

Interjected into this movie is a sly love triangle, as a lowly ranch hand named Wes gets a taste for the rodeo thanks to one Jeff McCloud, an old rodeo star who wanders back to his old town after years of being in rodeos. Completely broke, Jeff takes job at the ranch Wes is employed at, and quickly notices Wes' lovely wife Louise Merritt (Susan Hayward). Once Wes starts being in rodeos, things completely changes between him and Louise, resulting in a rather subtle love triangle that develops between her, Wes, and Jeff. This only makes the film more interesting, as Wes starts to not only stray from Louise, but experience personality changes that Jeff notices as Wes becomes more and more successful.

Ultimately this is Ray not only mediating upon the dangers and perils of developing an addiction to something as dangerous as being in a rodeo and how easily someone can suddenly change as a result of success. In this case, its for the worse, as Wes starts to drive away the people he cares about-first Louise, then later on Jeff. Thus leading to a final act that is rather dramatic and even tragic, which is a bit unexpected, perhaps. Mitchum turns in another fine performance here, taking his real persona and showcasing it onscreen in the character of Jeff, who in one magnificent scene tells Louise about how he feels he has wasted his earnings, and his life, with very little to show for it. If anything, Jeff in that particular moment is warning Louise to try and get Wes out while she still can.

Another remarkable aspect of this movie is how Ray mixes in both real and fake rodeo footage, thus giving the viewer an actual authentic look at modern day cowboy culture. In doing so, Ray give this film an added dose of realism, giving a window into the world of the cowboy's gritty determination to win. Such honestly is to be admired, for this film is quite true and really its brashness was perhaps Ray's own way of showing his opinions on life and love. 90

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The House Always Wins

Having already viewed his masterful film Blow-Out and enjoyed his really well made movies The Untouchables, Scarface, and Mission: Impossible, I have a slight grasp on Brian De Palma's style, which is unmistakable. He is quite good at crafting thrillers, and his detractors miss the point of his movies: yes he is often paying homage to Hitchcock and other masters of suspense, but he clearly puts his own take on many of the genre's cliches. Even though its a bit messy at times, Snake Eyes churns, slow burns, and draws the viewer into a world of conspiracy and justified paranoia, where anyone can be bought and the truth comes at a high price. Nicholas Cage's corrupt, energetic police detective finds this out all too soon, and the film rests on what he is willing to do even though he is not your typical average hero.

Yet that is more of a reflection of real life: most people operate in shades of gray, not black and white. Even the villains of this movie have ways of legitimizing their actions, and Cage's anti-hero cop gets in way over his head when he should be smart enough to simply take the money and walk away. From a fixed boxing match to a massive coverup, the movie traffics in misdeeds, while De Palma uses quick cuts and expansive framing to properly articulate a film noir-ish world of lies and deceit. Although I will admit that some of the movie doesn't quite work, and the last act is rather over the top, Cage and Gary Sinise's top notch performances anchor the material.

Some could say this movie is really about doing the right thing no matter the consequences, others can point out that the conspiracy angle is one of De Palma's trademarks, as it has also been featured in Blow-Out (to better effect) and Mission: Impossible. One can also note that DePalma is too focused on style, rather than subsistence, and perhaps they are correct. Yet when its style this good, being a bit flashy in this case yields some fine results. 88

That Little Girl Sure Packs Quite a Punch

Even by action movie standards the film Hanna moves rather quickly, although the beginning moves a bit slow after the early moments. One such moment being the killing of a deer that is swift and brutal, a proper foreshadowing for the death and chaos that is soon to follow. Despite the film's story and plot that are both a bit sketchy at times, wavering from simplistic to way too complex, the high level of entertainment in addition to the movie's fast paced level of action and suspense more than makes up for most of the film's deficiencies.

Well that and a excellent techno score from the legendary Chemical Brothers, plus a truly great cast. Saoirse Ronan does a tricky balance, playing Hanna as both inexperienced in terms of being a young girl while also recognizing that she is a very gifted assassin capable of taking out adults twice her size. Portraying her extremely dangerous father, Erik is Eric Bana, an actor who is no stranger to action movies or playing people who can take out multiple people without really breaking a sweet. This occurs in a scene that is well paced, letting the audience see what is clearly going on while also being suspenseful as well. Cate Blanchett as Marissa is especially notable for being the film's antagonist, steely eyed and pursing both Hanna and Erik for reasons that only become clear later on.

In an era where even the worst movies get sequels, I wouldn't mind Hanna becoming an actual franchise, at least in terms of what could be further accomplished with the character and any new adventures that could possibly be created for her. This film not only features really strong female performances, but is also a grand thrill ride with at least half a brain in its head, which is more than I can say for many action movies these days. 92

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

2012 Album List

Or quite simply, the albums I listen to all year long, be they older releases or modern choices. I still have not finished going through all of the offerings my public library has, and if I manage to get a job I'll probably go back to my old habit of buying way too much music. I'm thinking of switching over to only using iTunes though and finally getting with the 22nd century :P

The list so far, and out of ****:


1. El Camino, The Black Keys-****
2. Moving Pictures, Rush-****
3. Room On Fire, The Strokes-*** 1/2
4. Darkness On The Edge of Town, Bruce Springsteen-****
5. Suck On It and See, The Arctic Monkeys-*** 1/2
6. Sky Full of Holes, Fountains of Wayne-*** 1/2
7. Thank You Happy Birthday, Cage The Elephant-*** 1/2
8. American VI: Ain't No Grave, Johnny Cash-***
9. Blind Faith, Blind Faith-*** 1/2
10. Duran Duran's Greatest Hits, Duran Duran-*** 1/2
11. Neighbors, blink 182-***
12. Rushmore OST, Various Artists-****


13. Codes and Keys, Death Cab For Cutie-*** 1/2
14. Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes-*** 1/2
15. Idlewild South, The Allman Brothers Band-*** 1/2


16. Drive Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Cliff Martinez and Assorted Artists-****

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Where Ring of Fire Takes On A Whole New Meaning

When it comes to old school Hammer Studios movies, The Devil Rides Out (1968) is often forgotten about for some reason or another, even though it was directed by Terrence Fisher, who was their most famous filmmaker. Since this movie does not deal with vampires, werewolves, mummies or Frankenstein's monster, this film is a singular entry into the Hammer Studios' library. Rather, this is a movie about a cult devoted to the Devil and demons, as they face off against a learned man capable of taking them head on. He does it with atypical grace, style, and cunning-this is not one of those movies where the good guy shoots it out with dozens of henchmen in an abandoned warehouse.

Rarely did Christopher Lee ever play good guys, or at least not be the villain or a villain in a movie, and this is one of them. He embodies the role of a count well equipped to struggle and battle against the forces of darkness, unflappably British to the very end. No matter what get thrown in his way, or the fact that the he's fighting sinister opponents in big flowing robes, he never once waivers from his belief that he can beat back the powers of evil. Charles Gray embodies the key bringer of a new ancient nightmare without being truly campy or coming off as Satanic Bond villain, which only gives the movie added gravitas.

Despite the fact that The Devil Rides Out gets a bit silly at times, overall its a very realistic feeling, well made movie despite the subject matter. Even though Fisher directed better films for Hammer Studios, I rather admire that he also tried to branch out and make different styles of movies for the studio at the peak of British horror and horror movies in general. 84

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Ancients Will Swallow Your Soul

The 1970s actually had some rather bizarre movies made during that era, especially horror movies. One of the most outrageous of those low budget films is Equinox, which is remarkable in that it was clearly made by people on acid. Or at the very least people who set out to make a rather unique and crazy movie, one that is not so much a horror movie as it is a journey into madness. For man was not meant to venture into the unknown, peaking into another world.

Something like that, anyways, especially considering what happens throughout the movie. The only really standard aspect of Equinox is that its part of the famous sub genre of horror films known as "People go into the woods, and bad things happen." More of the strange things occur at first slowly, and then rather frequently very rapidly. Clearly this was an incredibly low budget film, especially considering the special effects, which are as weird as the movie is. The use of clay animation is a nice touch, particularly as this only increases the film's level of oddness.

Despite what Sam Rami says, Equinox seems to have been something of a lose inspiration for The Evil Dead series. The frantic camera use, and the movie's plot of young adults stumbling across ancient evil is certainly at this point rather standard for the genre, yet at the time of this movie's release it was still rather fresh, overall. And of course I rather dug the ending, which only adds to the movie's mythology-I can see why this film was selected for a Criterion release. 85?

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Man In the Red, White, and Blue

2011 was the year of the superhero movies, although 2012 has plenty more in store. Even though Captain America isn't one of the year's best movies, it is one of the best superhero movies of the year. Chris Evans proves to be a fantastic choice to play Captain America, going from a nobody to someone who ends up saving the day, although he naturally gets in over his head. Joe Johnston acknowledges that this is a origin story, and clearly had fun directing it, making it not only an entertaining action/adventure film but also one that pays great homage to the 1940s.

Really the look and feel of the movie reminds one of old school 1940s adventure serials, or at least movies such as the Raiders of the Lost Ark that embodied the clever spirit of those shows that played in the old days, when things seemed a bit more simple and good guys and bad guys were very obvious. Red Skull, the villain of this movie, is a great counterbalance to the Captain, and he's played with cold hearted cruelty by famed character actor Hugo Weaving, who gives him just the right amount of sneer. Having Hayley Atwell play the gorgeous Peggy Carter was also an inspired and right choice, as was featuring Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Phillips and other famous actors such as Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones. Basically giving this movie a fantastic cast enables one to overlook some of its clear flaws, as well.

Since he also directed The Rocketeer, another enjoyable action/adventure movie set in the 1940s, Johnston was a good choice. Its kind of a shame that the next Captain America adventure will be The Avengers in terms of sticking him merely in the 21st century when watching him, say, fight commies or battle the forces of neo-fascism in America would be really cool to see. Still its interestingly enough this movie that makes me excited for The Avengers, if only to see how the Captain handles a new age, and in addition to actually having more help than he's normally used to for once. 80

The Life of a Man In Three Acts

Even though this is a rather standard biopic film, Clint Eastwood tackles his subject material in terms of presenting an unbiased, objective and largely strictly observant means of detailing the life and times of one J. Edgar Hoover, a man who ran the FBI with an iron fist for decades. This film's strongest asset lies in its great cast, especially with the two leads: Leonard DiCaprio
and Armie Hammer, both which play off of each other pretty well, which is good considering that Hammer plays J. Edgar's lifelong lover and confident.

Compared to other Clint Eastwood movies, this one does have his usual color schemes and cinematography. Its merely solid at best overall, since most of the movie goes through J. Edgar's life in flashback mode. DiCaperio gives a really honest, stark performance which elevates the at times flat material, and one of the scenes with him and Hammer fighting is powerful since its clear that two lovers are going at it. Really the problem here is that Eastwood has made much better movies, plus the film really does not go more deeper into Hoover, a problem which happens in too many biopics anyways. Still, Eastwood's good as usual directing, too, makes this film more engaging than it really had any business being.

Well that and the fact that really we did not need an entire movie to tell most of us what we already know: that Hoover, the keeper of so many secrets, was an overbearing manipulative control freak. Possibly even a racist, to boot, and that its ironic how near the end of his life that he was unable to really maintain control over most of his life, and so many things that lay outside the gross amount of governmental power he obtained during his lengthy FBI career. 80

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Mutants in Training

Most superhero movies follow pretty obvious cliches, however in the case of X-Men: First Class (2011) director Matthew Vaughn follows a slightly different path in regards to making an origins story film. Even though First Class has some fairly obvious moments, and can be considered rather standard at times, the film's top notch cast and Vaughn's rather daft handling of the material makes this the best superhero film of the year. Considering that the last two X-Men films are considered among the worst of the series, this film represents a return to form for the franchise, and marks a new start. After all, these days the trend is to just go with a reboot, since its much easier to begin anew rather than try to fix any current existing problems that have been caused by the previous other movies.

Just like the first X-Men (2000), this film opens with a look at Magneto's beginning as a young boy. In this case, however, we get a glimpse of his true powers, and becomes a sort of Frankenstein's monster. The Dr. Frankenstein in this case being Sebastian Shaw, who starts out as a Nazi and then moves on from there, and who is responsible for Magento, who starts out as Erik Lehnsherr, becoming who he truly is, and embracing his mutant powers. Eventually he runs into Charles Xavier, who believes that mutants should be protecting humanity from not only itself, but also from those mutants who seek to harm people and even fellow mutants. What follows is rather standard "Mutant Training" moments, although Vaughn in some respects uses these scenes though to build up the characters, which makes the big final "World is in Serious Dangerous Peril" finale have much higher stakes overall.

Even though the ending is all too painfully easy to figure out (even non comic book fans such as myself are aware of the series' mythology), this movie is really entertaining. Despite the film not being a huge box office success, there are reports of a sequel forthcoming, which sounds great, so long as it continues to follow the established successful formula and has a competent director such as Vaughn in control. Plus of course bringing back the movie's core cast, as well. 90