Archive for June, 2013

Caught Stagecoach on the big screen. Loved every minute of it.

June 14, 2013

NOTE: This review may contain spoilers.

One of the fun parts of living in Austin is an annual summer classic film fest:

http://www.austintheatre.org/site/PageServer?pagename=summer_film_series

Tonight I wandered downtown to catch Stagecoach on the big screen. While this 1939 classic is mainly known for being John Wayne’s vehicle to super-stardom, the heart of the movie for me is always Clair Trevor as Dallas.

This is a movie with a recognized theme of redemption and Dallas starts it being driven out of town by the right and proper. She is saloon girl, a slightly nicer version of a prostitute really, with a country mile-wide streak of shame and hurt inside. Trevor shows it with her eyes, voice, posture, and delivers a masterpiece of a performance.

Dallas is the emotional heart of the movie. Because we come to care about Dallas, we also care about John Wayne as the Ringo Kid. He is an escaped con out to avenge a wrong done to him. Even the lawman who arrests him thinks him a good man. Yet, this had to be communicated. Wayne couldn’t be a generic tough cowboy with a gun. He had to be shy at times and earnest and even portray a bit of innocence.

Wayne delivers a star-making performance in the film, but the key to it is Trevor. Being paired with Trevor brought out a tenderness in Wayne, a visible sense of longing and being unsure how to proceed at times. It is clear that Dallas is the most lovely creature the Ringo Kid has ever seen and he becomes her protector. He even attempts to leave his quest for revenge behind at one point because she pleads with him to do so. He is thwarted from escape when the Apache war parties are observed getting closer.

He is to be her protector and escape is not an option. This is a movie where foreshadowing and the role of fate is explored (look for the two dead man’s hand scenes). Fate has put him in this stagecoach with Dallas. He must see it through.

Does Ringo know of Dallas’ past? He might or might not. The point is that he doesn’t care. Maybe it is the knowledge that his quest for revenge may end tragically. Or, that prison awaits him even if he survives. They might not even make it to the end of the stagecoach ride if the Apaches have their way. He sees great inner beauty of Dallas still there under a hardened protective shell. He may die before it is over, but the Ringo Kid will try to express his desire. The option of a long courtship isn’t there, so it is now or never for both of them.

The question is whether Dallas will let go of her fears and pain to accept the love that is offered to her. Again, because we care about Dallas, we come to care about Ringo.

This is a movie where there are no bad scenes or performances. Everything just plain works. It is also visually stunning with its Monument Valley location shots that make this stagecoach seem even more vulnerable and tiny. The stunt work is still some of the best in the business (and homages are paid to it in other films) and the action sequences are amazing.

However, this isn’t a movie about shootouts or Apache attacks. The theme of a final opportunity for personal redemption is clear and some characters rise to the challenge (and others do not). Acts of heroism are performed by characters who are not heroes and deeds of great kindness come from unexpected sources.

Yet, at its heart, this is a love story even guys can cheer on.

Go buy it, rent it, stream it or whatever. Or, if you are in a town with the good sense to have a classic movie fest, go see it on the big screen.

Advertisements

Saw the Maltese Falcon again tonight on the big screen. Yes, it is a masterpiece.

June 12, 2013

NOTE: This review does contain a spoiler or two.

Sometimes one needs to see a great old film to appreciate why so many of today’s films don’t measure up.

The Maltese Falcon is a masterpiece. Humphrey Bogart IS Sam Spade and if you read the original novel you realize he was born to play this part. There are little things he does that nail Spade. He manipulates the action, pushes things to confrontation with genuinely dangerous foes, grins wickedly when he pulls it off — and his whole body shows shame when his cockiness almost got him killed. Look for times when Bogart used a clenched fist, a slightly trembling hand, or a weary look in his eyes convey Spade’s thoughts in scenes.

One of the brilliant decisions made by director John Huston was to shoot the film in sequence with almost no lines of dialog left on the editing floor. It seems like Spade is genuinely trying to work through a web of lies and murder because the filming schedule allowed him to do it that way.

Spade relentlessly pushes the action along, appearing in each scene. The viewer learns what is going on in the film as Spade figures it out. He plays other characters against each other, fractures their loyalties, and exploits their greed and distrust.

You believed him.

While the posters showed Bogart holding guns and implying that he would use them, Sam Spade never shot anyone in the film. His character jokes that he has little use for guns. He takes them away from others, humiliating them in the process. Spade’s weapons of choice are his mind, his carefully chosen words, sometimes his thick fists, untiring tenacity, and a street-smart toughness. He seemingly walks a tightrope between criminality and the law. He isn’t a cop and often butts heads with them. Yet, he has a sense of what constitutes justice and isn’t quite as shady as he lets others believe.

Spade isn’t noble or even moral at times. He is cheating with his partner’s wife — and then is cold to the widow when the partner is gunned down minutes into the film. It is clear he isn’t going to marry her, despite what she believes. Spade holds himself out as emotionally aloof to Brigid, but he is not above it all as much as he tries to appear. He just accepts pain as a given in his role as a seeker of truth. He is too smart to be fooled for long by anyone, but with his wisdom comes sadness. It means he may remain alone.

While flawed, Spade isn’t without a code that guides him. He is loyal to the truth and to his profession as a seeker of it. He is a bloodhound that will follow the scent to the end, no matter where it leads. It may lead to truth that is unpleasant to discover, but Spade will run it down. He will solve the killing of his partner, whom he actually despises, because that is what a detective does. He is not dishonest to his code, though he will lie and manipulate and even resort to the occasional act of violence if it gets him closer to the truth.

There isn’t a single bad performance in the film, a miracle considering that almost the entire cast was not the first actors picked for their roles. Sidney Greenstreet had never been in a film before being cast as Kasper Gutman. Mary Aster brings sympathy to a role where she is shown to be as villainous as the rest of the conspirators, but who says a bad girl can’t have feelings.

Just see the film and note the ingenious use of darkness and shadows and camera angles and closeups and the absolute economy of the story-telling. No word is wasted, no scene lingers a second too long. Even silence is used to great effect, such as the slow burns by Wilmer the Gunsel as Spade repeatedly enrages him in the film. He wants to kill Spade so bad he is emanating pure hatred, but Spade knows Wilmer can’t pull those guns because his boss won’t let him.

It was highly disciplined film making done on a shoestring budget by a director on his first film — and it was actually a remake of a novel filmed twice before! This was a small film, with few crowd scenes and almost all of the action takes place in a handful of rooms. There is one shot fired in the whole film (and we don’t know who pulled the trigger until much later), no car chases, violence is a single punch or kick that gets the job done, and any sex is implied and not shoved in our faces.

Few of the films made today will still draw an audience to the big screen more than 70 years later.

Just go see it. It is Film Noir at its best and sometimes bringing justice doesn’t mean a happy ending. Sam Spade does what has to be done, but it comes at a personal price. Does he love Brigid? Maybe, maybe not. The film lets it be a subject of internal conflict. In the end, it doesn’t matter. She killed his partner and is a generally lethal danger to any man who trusts her. Spade can’t play the sap. She is going over for it.

Dropped Facebook again. Goodbye to Joe Blow the Midget!

June 9, 2013

Looks like anything I post there gets scanned by who knows which Intel agencies. Screw it.

Of course, the whole page was faked info anyway.

One nation, under survelliance…

June 9, 2013

We might as well simply take the Bill of Rights out of the U.S. Constitution, as it appears to be null and void. Oh, and I wonder if I will get put on some sort of watch list for posting this to the Internet. Oh, let’s add a few keywords to make it easier: Patriot, Tea Party, rebellion, etc.

Class Action Lawsuit lawyers are my latest spammers

June 6, 2013

It seems I am seeing a number of fake comments in the spam filters from class action lawsuit lawyers targeting various drug companies. I hope these lawyers are happy to be advertising with the preferred techniques of fraud artists, porn purveyors, penis pills, and all of the other garbage hawked by these lowlifes.

Briefly considered LinkedIn. Tried it and then dropped it like a fresh dog doo-doo.

June 2, 2013

Bad sign 1: It asked for my email address AND my email log-in password. I simply DO NOT give that info out to anyone.

Bad sign 2: It wanted to get access to all my addresses to do a spam run on my contacts. I don’t allow that either.

So, I opened and closed my latest try at a LinkedIn account in maybe 10 minutes.