Sunday, March 03, 2013

February's Movies

The Killers (1946) Robert Siodmak [1:43]

The Criterion Collection edition of Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers includes the 1946 version, directed by Robert Siodmak, and the 1964 Don Siegel remake. I watched only the Siodmak version, which is memorable both as Burt Lancaster’s debut and as one of the most effective examples of film noir. The film follows the Hemingway story only for the first several minutes, but from then on, Siodmak delivers pure noir, filled with the darkness of disenchantment, double-crosses, and beautiful cinematography. 


The Spy in Black (1939) Michael Powell [1:22] 

Although this film (originally released in the U.S. as U-Boat 29) contains noir elements (darkness, use of shadow, fear and foreboding, etc.), it stands out as an impressive pre-noir tale released just as WWII was beginning. The film is uneven in tone, but Conrad Veidt is excellent as a German submarine captain on a secret mission to gather British intelligence secrets. The Spy in Black also marks the first collaboration between Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.  


Sisters (1973) Brian De Palma [1:33]

I had intended to discuss this one at length, but never quite found the time for this early De Palma homage to Hitchcock. Overall an impressive film, although De Palma throws a few too many Hitchcock tropes into the mix. The final third of the film explores some really odd stuff; I’m not convinced it all works, but the attempt is impressive. 


The Game (1997) David Fincher [2:08]

Previously discussed here.


Led Zeppelin: Celebration Day (2012) Dick Carruthers [2:04]

Another film I had hoped to discuss at length, but that didn’t happen, either (perhaps on a second viewing in the near future). Like them or not, Led Zeppelin is one of the most influential and important rock acts of all time. Of course they know that, and understand that they don’t need a reunion concert every other year. The group has performed together a handful of times since disbanding in 1980, but this 2007 London concert marks the first extended (and probably final) concert we’re likely to see.

And it is amazing. In 2007, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones were already in their 60s and Robert Plant was pushing 60 (Jason Bonham, John Bonham’s son, was a mere 40 at the time.), but these guys haven’t lost a step. Page sounds as good as he’s ever sounded and while Plant doesn’t do all that much as far as vocal pyrotechnics go, he’s still impressive. Regardless of which Bonham is on the drums, Jones stays in close proximity to the drummer, keeping that tightness that was so essential to the band, proving that the bass player/drummer combination was the true backbone to Led Zep.

Since this was a "one-time only" show, the band spurned the super-extended live versions of some of their more famous songs, hoping to pack more tunes into the set. We get 16, which is quite generous:

Good Times Bad Times
Ramble On
Black Dog
In My Time of Dying
For Your Life
Trampled Under Foot
Nobody's Fault But Mine
No Quarter
Since I've Been Loving You
Dazed and Confused
Stairway to Heaven
The Song Remains the Same
Misty Mountain Hop
Whole Lotta Love
Rock and Roll     


Lake Mungo (2008) Joel Anderson [1:27]

Previously discussed here


Videotape (2013) Andrew Yorke, Kevin Michael [1:36]

I was fortunate to be invited to view this film by one of its directors, Andrew Yorke, who is also one of my former students. (Many thanks, Andrew!) Videotape begins with the discovery of a pregnant woman found dead in a warehouse. All signs point to suicide, but a freelance journalist gets a tip that an eyewitness with a different story is ready to talk. 

Yorke and Michael have immersed viewers into a world beyond normal youthful indiscretion, one that’s dark and safely self-contained until pressures from mainstream society shatter everything. Videotape is a raw, powerful exploration of the darker side of human nature, with crucial questions screaming to be answered. 

Currently the directors do not have a distributor, but plan to enter it in several film festivals. If it comes to your city, see it.        


House of Cards: Season One (TV 2013) Netflix Original 
(13 episodes of approx. 50 min. each)

If you’ve avoided a Netflix subscription up until now, you should correct that oversight ASAP, even if the only thing you watch is the first season (13 episodes) of their original show House of Cards. The show (for adults) is only available streaming and only through Netflix. I plan to go into more detail in another post later this week, but after the first episode, I was hooked. Even if you don’t care about Washington politics, watch the show for Kevin Spacey’s masterful portrayal of U.S. Representative Frank Underwood, a man with the power and cunning to literally bring the house down. 


To Be or Not To Be (1942) Ernst Lubitsch [1:39]

A Polish theater company is scheduled to put on a play making fun of Hitler and the Nazis just prior to the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. When forced to put on Hamlet instead, the actors realize they might just have more important roles to play during the coming weeks and months. 

Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be is a wonderful mixture of satire, romantic comedy, and even suspense, superbly acted by Jack Benny and Carole Lombard (in her final film before dying in a plane crash). The script by Melchior Lengyel and Edwin Justus Mayer (and Lubitsch, uncredited) is a thing of comic beauty. Although not well received when released, To Be or Not to Be has rightfully earned a place in the canon of classic American films. I feel like watching it again right now. Maybe I will. 

The film also features a very young Robert Stack, recognized by millions of comedy fans many years later as Rex Kramer  in Airplane!    


Feel free to tell me what you saw last month.

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