Lost Girls

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Lost Girls resembles a made-for-TV-movie more than a feature film. Working class single mom, Mari Gilbert, played by Amy Ryan of The Office, tries to reach out to her estranged daughter. The girl goes missing and  when numerous bodies are discovered in Long Island, Mari presses the police to find her daughter. The first officer in charge sees Gilbert as an annoyance. He’s got a smarmy demeanor and seems fishy. Gilbert’s only help is the Police Captain played by Gabriel Byrne, yet Gilbert doesn’t trust anyone.

Based on a true story, Lost Girls is a moving story, but there’s nothing that distinguishes it from say a Law and Order: SVU. 

Seen at Sundance

All Through the Night

If you’re looking for a fun gangster movie with a message, pick up All Through the Night (1942) starring Humphrey Bogart, Conrad Veldt, who played Major Strasser in Casablanca, and Peter Lorre, who was also in Casablanca, William Demerast (of My Three Sons), Phil Silvers and Jackie Gleason. Bogart plays Gloves Donnahue, head of a minor gang of gamblers in New York. Devoted to his dear old mother, when she calls Gloves because she’s got a weird feeling about the disappearance of the baker who lives below her, Gloves comes running. Soon the baker’s body’s found and Gloves gets wrongly implicated in the man’s murder.

To get the police off his case, Gloves must get to the bottom of this mystery and he soon encounters a group of Nazi spies operating under the U.S. government’s nose, planning all sorts of evil. Some romance is added to the story through a pretty German singer Gloves meets. Whether she should be trusted remains to be seen.

The film moves briskly and there are plenty of quips in every scene, as you’d expect in a Bogart film. By the end, the jaded gamblers are protecting their country and offering examples to the audience on how we should all band together. All through the night entertains, despite its occasional hokey joke.

With William Powell of The Thin Man movies, I was looking for a suave, witty detective story. If The Thin Man is an A movie, The Kennel Murder is a C+.

The film opens with detective Philo Vance, played by Powell, at a dog show where his dog loses. At the show there’s a rich man, Archer Coe, with plenty of enemies. His niece resents his control over her, his cook, who’s Chinese, resents his Coe for selling his collection of ancient Chinese porcelain, his secretary resents Coe for forbidding him to marry his niece, his lover’s been cut off after a jealous Coe finds her with an Italian lover, who was supposed to buy the Chinese porcelain collection . . . . No one seems to like Coe.

When Coe is found dead in his bedroom with the door locked, the inept, comical police sergeant assumes it’s a suicide. But Vance doesn’t buy it. When Coe’s hapless brother’s found murdered, murder is suspected, but who did it?

Powell is clever and stands head and shoulders above the police force who all provide comic relief. It’s an entertaining movie but not as witty as The Thin Man films and better 1930s films. With Myrna Loy, Powell had an equal to engage with; here he was the lonely brain. The other characters were stereotypes; and there are some flaws in the murder.

So I’ve seen better films and wouldn’t recommend this strongly, but The Kennel Murder did entertain.

The Kennel Murder

3:10 to Yuma

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I’m normally not a fan of Westerns, but if the Criterion Collection saw fit to offer Delmar Daves’ 3:10 to Yuma (1957), maybe this Western was worth a look. It sure was. Starring Glen Ford, whom I associate with TV sitcoms if anything, 3:10 to Yuma is a psychologically compelling game of cat and mouse. Ford plays Ben Wade, a slick, charming head of a gang of stagecoach robbers. After his gang kills a stagecoach driver while robbing the coach, his gang disperses to hide out. Ford miscalculates and allows a little romance to detain him and so he gets nabbed.

He’s in hick country and doubts the locals can keep his gang from him from breaking loose or getting rescued. Surely, he can outsmart these poor yokels. The central yokel, is a small rancher Dan Evans, who agrees to escort Wade to a town where a train to Yuma will take Wade to the nearest judge. Evans needs the $200 reward to save his cattle. Just as desperately Evans heeds his wife and sons’ esteem. That they seem to see him as a man who always plays it safe is getting to him.

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Some of the tensest moments are in a hotel room where these two character kill time till the train’s about to leave. The film’s strength is the psychology of the characters, that and the remarkable cinematography of the desolate Western landscape.

Good quote:

Bisbee Marshal: Do I have two volunteers?
First Posse Member: We gotta know what we’re gettin’ ourselves into.
Second Posse Member: Sure… might not be safe.
Bisbee Marshal: Safe! Who knows what’s safe? I knew a man dropped dead from lookin’ at his wife. My own grandmother fought the Indians for sixty years… then choked to death on lemon pie. Do I have two volunteers?

As with all the Criterion films I’ve seen, the extras were well worth my time. One was an interview with Glen Ford’s son, who’s written his father’s biography. The other was an interview with Elmore Leonard, who wrote the short story the film’s based on. I’ve heard Leonard’s name and associated him with short stories, but the interview was inspiring and insightful for writers. The power of this spare film, stuck with me for days. I’d definitely check out more of Daves’ films. [categorie film, review, New Years’ Resolution Film Challenge]

A Touch of Sin

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A Touch of Sin , directed by Jian Zhangke, blew me away.

I think I was expecting a movie about love affairs or something with a touch, i.e. a little corruption.

The film could be called A Massive Dose of Sin as it dramatizes four true events in modern China. True events, my mind still swirls.

The film features four stories that overlap a tad. First we see a villager who’s fed up with the corrupt village chief who promised that proceeds from the sale of a mine would be shared with the villagers. While the chief travels by private jet and owns a luxury sedan, the villagers have netted zero. When trying to speak to the chief gets him no where, the villager turns to violence — in a big way.

A Touch of Sin - Stills - Lian Rong (Li Meng) 02 Copyright Xstream Pictures (Beijing)

Later we meet a professional thief who returns to his village for his mother’s 70th birthday, a mistress who gives her lover an ultimatum and a factory worker who heads to a bigger city, with brighter lights and more action. None of these characters fare well. They get caught in the wheels of the greed of modern China. There’s plenty of violence and blood in each story, which I still am stunned that they’re all true. The cinematography is outstanding and the dialog spare. Jia shows us these tales and leaves us with little commentary or preaching on what to think about the brutality. The scenes all feel so real, so real that it’s scary.

A Touch of Sin won for best screenplay at Cannes in 2013.

I’m glad I saw it, but watching a second time would be too much for me.

Downton Abbey, 5.3

Three weeks into Downton Abbey and the story is moving slowly along. We still get Edith pining for her daughter, some more conflict over the WWI memorial and just a bit of Thomas making a suspicious phone call. (He’s probably looking for a new job.)

The biggest event for me was that Violet’s butler saw Mary and Lord Gillingham coming out of the Grand Hotel in Liverpool. She called Mary in for a chastising tete-a-tete. As always, Violet was hard to out-reason. Cora wouldn’t have been as frank or strong. In fact, as a mother Cora just goes along with her daughters. They are adults now, but no one turns to her though she’s far from domineering. You’d think she’d be perceived as the approachable mother.

As for Cora, she went up to London to look at paintings with Simon Bricker, the art historian with the not so hidden agenda. They strolled through the galleries and Cora poured out her heart as Simon complimented and almost swooned over her. Cora seemed to enjoy the freshness of an admirer. When she got back to Rosamond’s apartment, Robert was waiting for her all dressed up in his tuxedo. He’d planned a surprise for her and was (rightly) suspicious of Bricker’s time with Cora. Cora was annoyed. They had a little spat since no one in Britain has ugly “Who’s Afraid of Virgina Wolf?”-type fights. Thank God.

Cora’s feeling restless wishing she had more purpose in her life. She’s just bored. Find a hobby and make some friends, Cora. You do need a life, but you don’t need an affair.

Mary seems tired of Lord Gillingham already. I wonder if he’ll gossip about her if she ends the relationship. She certainly isn’t excited about marrying him.

The police came by to question Bates, who made up a story about his day in York. If the screenwriter, Julian Fellows is gutsy, he’ll make Bates guilty, but I think we’ll go through a trial and then find out Bates is innocent. Sometimes I feel like a pawn in Fellows’ hands. He comes up with about half as many ideas as needed for a series and spreads them thin.

Will next week be more eventful? No spoilers, but a yes or no would be welcome.

The 39 Steps

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This week’s old movie was Hitchcock’s 39 Steps (1935), which reminded me a lot of Ministry of Fear and North by Northwest, another Hitchcock film. Still 39 Steps is compelling and moves quickly as it shows a man who mistakenly gets caught up in spy intrigue and is innocent of a murder for which the police suspect him. I’d never seen the leading man, Robert Donat, but liked him in the role of Mr. Hanney. Dona’s charming and attractive, but not an Adonis so he can come off as an everyman.

After a strange, beautiful woman asks to go back with him to his apartment. Once inside she hides in the shadows, fearful of being seen. Men are following her. She claims to be a spy who must protect military secrets. She’s a mercenary and her tale is hard to believe. Hanney really doesn’t put much faith into her story, but he doesn’t kick her out either. When she comes to him in the middle of the night with a map and a knife stuck in her back, Hanney’s convinced. Knowing he’ll be suspected of murder he flees all the while having to elude the men who killed the beautiful spy.

Like many Hitchcock films it’s the tale of an innocent man, wrongly accused. Roger Ebert told a film class I took with him that as a boy, Hitchcock’s father wrongly suspected the young genius of some childish misdemeanor and punished him by sending him to the local police where an officer locked him up saying, “This is what we do with naughty boys.” Hitchcock believed he was 4 or 5 at the time.

The 39 Steps moves briskly in part to keep the audience from pondering unexplained questions like how did the killers get into Hanney’s apartment so quietly and why didn’t they do something to Hanney since they saw the pair enter the building.  The film delights with wit and light comedy sprinkled in with the suspense and danger.

As usual, the Criterion Collection offers a trenchant essay on the film. Well worth reading.

broadchurch

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I finally saw the last episodes of Broadchurch, the detective mystery about the murder of a young teenaged boy Danny in a small coastal town in England. Alec (David Tennant Doctor Who #10) is a brooding detective, with a secret past, who arrives in Broadchurch when Danny’s body is discovered. Ellie (Olivia Colman of Rev) is the local detective who expected to get the job Alec got. For the most part they get along well, it’s not oil and water. Colman’s a patient positive woman so she handles her disappointment with grace and tries to draw out and educate Alec to the ways of this closed, small town.

It takes 8 episodes to discover the murderer. At times the story drags. A lot of time is devoted to the emotions of Danny’s family and the intrigues and secrets of the town. Most are dead ends, but pursuing them destroys some lives and relationships. While I did feel the characters seemed like real small town folk, the dialog at times seemed written, rather than real.

I saw the first episodes on a flight a year ago. It’s not on Netflix and I wasn’t so wrapped up in the story that I wanted to buy it. I liked the actors especially Tennant and Colman, but the program doesn’t have the writing of Luther or Spiral. While it was better than a CBS detective program, it wasn’t worth buying. Finally, the library got the DVDs. The ending was a surprise but the last episode was padded big time. I’d have to rematch the series to determine whether I feel it was well plotted. As it is, I just don’t care enough to invest the time.

Broadchurch is getting translated to “American” on Fox and will be called Gracepoint. The story seems the same, too similar and will be 10 episodes. I guess viewers are in for more padding unless the extra episodes will just make up for the commercials. Tennant will play the American version of Alec, by donning a bad haircut and speaking with an American accent. Colman’s been replaced by a tall blond woman. What would you expect from an American network? If they’re bold and smart, they’d make the murderer someone different. I wouldn’t invest 10 hours to see the same result.

Anatomy of a Murder

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I can’t think of a bad Jimmy Stewart movie. Director Otto Preminger’s <em>Anatomy of a Murder </em>continues Stewart’s winning streak as far as I’m concerned. With familiar old faces like Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara Orson Bean, George C. Scott, and Eve Arden, <em>Anatomy of a Murder </em> tells the story of a young soldier who’s on trial for murdering a man who allegedly raped his wife. The wife played by Remick is a saucy, flirtatious woman, who’s strangely upbeat for someone in her predicament. She calls Paul Biegler, the former D.A., who’s aimlessly spending his days fishing and doing routine legal work. She convinces him, rather easily to take the case. What follows is a game. Wherein neither Beigler nor the audience know whom to believe. While the movie’s long, and sometimes meanders like when Beigler plays piano with Duke Ellington at a roadhouse, it’s an entertaining, absorbing ride, that surprises at the very end.

I was left intrigued, as was Beigler, at the very end. The cast is strong and the story compelling.