Archives for November 2015

Noir In Color

So here we are … it is the end of November. This post was originally meant to be part of a series in association with the celebration known as “Noirvember” but alas life gets away from you sometimes and plans go awry.

But have no fear – I hereby present you with a condensed version of the series.

The idea being that while we often associate the film noir movement with stylized, moody expressionistic angles in black and white cinematography, there were more than a handful of gritty, evocative pieces during the peak period of this movement (I am looking at you, 1940s and 1950s) that were shot in color. The main thing is that these films evoke a mood

Here are just a few films that I feel are worth your consideration if noir is your thing:

 

Leave Her To Heaven (1945). I have mentioned this film on several occasions but it goes without saying that this is a must-see Technicolor piece noted by the wonderful performance of Gene Tierney that not only shows the full force of her acting powers but is really disturbing on so many levels.

LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN - American Poster 3

 

Niagara (1953). Two couples meet at the honeymooner’s paradise (especially at that time), but dreams are dashed when the merry holidaymaking becomes a murderous nightmare. Starring Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten, and Jean Peters. Directed by Henry Hathaway.

niagara

 

A Kiss Before Dying (1956). While not an absolute favorite of mine, this film is notable for being one of Joanne Woodward’s first films. In it, she plays an ill-fated heiress caught in the grasp of cunning, socially ambitious go-getter Robert Wagner. Also starring Jeffrey Hunter. An ill-advised and poorly received remake was made in 1991.

Poster - A Kiss Before Dying_01

 

In my “research” (yeah, I actually do a little digging around before my self-described ‘brain dumps’) there were other films (mostly Hitchcock thrillers) that while some may categorize them as “noir,” I chose not to include on the list for purely subjective reasons. But that is the thing — one of the many great issues of debate among cineastes and film scholars alike is how exactly does one define what is considered noir. As I mentioned in my 2014 piece on Leave Her to Heaven, I like the definition offered on AMC’s Filmsite Website. But note: various other opinions on the subject are available.

Seen any of these films? Think I am missing something? Hit the comments section and let me know what you think.

 

“Alien: Covenant” Title Treatment, Synopsis and Release Date Revealed

I thought this might be of interest to some of my readers – the title treatment for the forthcoming second chapter in the Alien prequel trilogy, Alien: Covenant:

alien_logo2
… and here is the official plot synopsis:
Ridley Scott returns to the universe he created in ALIEN with ALIEN: COVENANT, the second chapter in a prequel trilogy that began with PROMETHEUS — and connects directly to Scott’s 1979 seminal work of science fiction. Bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, the crew of the colony ship Covenant discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world — whose sole inhabitant is the “synthetic” David (Michael Fassbender), survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition.
Now you might recall my disappointment in 2012’s Prometheus, and will pardon me if I wait to find out more the details of what is in store for us. I expended a lot of goodwill and “blockbuster anticipation capital” for the franchise on the first go around, so my hesitation is really a matter of self-preservation.
At least it does seem as if the films’ creators learned one lesson from Prometheus – they extracted the best thing about that film in my opinion (Fassbender). Now as it stands, and based on my reading of the above synopsis, it might be an interesting cinematic exercise – having a synthetic (of all entities) performing in what is essentially in a “one man show.”
I could take a stab at potential themes, etc. that could be derived from this type of story, but (like I said earlier) it is probably best to wait until I actually have something to view before making any sort of analysis.
We do have a release date – Alien: Covenant is scheduled for release on October 6th, 2017. In other words, we have a little time to mull over our feelings.

 

Spectre (2015)

I have actually been lamenting putting this one together because I don’t know where to start or finish. I finally decided, what the hell – I might as well put it out there and say I did not enjoy Spectre as much as I wanted to.

In fact, my level of ambivalence was so great, that during the screening and in its immediate aftermath, I was left going through the list of exactly what is it that I really like about the Bond franchise as a whole (still pondering this one). But I guess this particular discussion is best left for another day and time, that way I can focus on what worked and (mostly) didn’t work for me in this latest installment.

I had very high hopes coming off my enjoyment of 2012’s Skyfall. We had a returning director (Sam Mendes), scribe (John Logan) and of course Bond (Daniel Craig). Add two time Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz to the mix, along with the other returning supporting actors (Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Wishaw) and you could not go to wrong, could you?

Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions’ action adventure SPECTRE.

Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions’ action adventure SPECTRE.

Well, I got some good news and some bad news in that regard …

 

Good News

It’s a pretty picture – All the stuff you see on the screen sure is nice to look at (imagine it looks better in IMAX – I saw it on a standard screen). I was particularly taken with the “Bond visits Hoth” set piece.

It ticked all the boxes – In addition to the aforementioned, you have all the ingredients to make this a Bond film:

  • Pretty people wearing pretty clothes, sometimes under the most unbelievable of circumstances. And yes, I do realize this is a Bond film so suspension of disbelief comes free with purchase, but still….
  • Product placement. At once a distraction for me has now become a fun game really. Figuring out which sponsors were able to insert their brands into the story passes the time well.
  • Nice cars n stuff. The cars and gadgetry were pretty cool. Not too over the top but still kinda neat.
  • Some self-effacing humor. Maybe a little too on the nose at points, but at least the film recognized the ridiculousness of some of the situations that were taking place.
  • The opening sequence. While I am still undecided on the theme song  (maybe I need to listen to it a few more times to make a final determination) I liked the opening credits sequence. Cool.

I like Craig as Bond – Craig plays Bond with a level of aloofness/world-weariness that I can really appreciate.

 

Bad News

The plot – I feel like I knew what they were going for but in the execution, it just fell flat for me.  The objective I supposed was to take the very personal story of Bond (introduced in and told to better effect in Skyfall) and expand upon it. Great idea since I kind of like the idea of understanding James Bond’s backstory. And I got a taste of that, but on the whole I felt like it (the script) was a bit aimless.

Blink and you might have missed it – In what I can only describe as a cameo and not a featured performance, we have the lovely Monica Bellucci in the role of quickie paramour/plot propellant. Can she even be categorized as a “Bond Girl” is my question. Side note: “Bond Girl” is a problematic term in its own right, but I digress.

Speaking of love … – I get it, Bond always gets the girl, but in this case, the romantic element seemed kind of forced. The “damsel in distress” (played by Léa Seydoux) could hold her own; upon her introduction she did not come off as someone who would necessarily fall under the spell of Mr. Bond. But alas …

A bit of a waste, really – On paper when you think “perfect Bond villain” Christoph Waltz would seem to fit the bill. While I commend his ability to ham it up in this role, his motivation seemed a little incongruous for the acts he is responsible for perpetrating.

I guess if I had to point out one thing above all others identified above, I would have to say that the story (script) really let the side down on this one.

Think what I might, at the end of the day, and despite what I or any other naysayers have to say, and, as the Sunday B.O. reports suggest,  Spectre will do gangbusters and give MGM/Columbia Pictures the desired results ($$$$). Which is fine, but all I can say is that is not anger I am feeling, just disappointment.

Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions’ action adventure SPECTRE.

Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions’ action adventure SPECTRE.

 

Latest Obsession: “You Must Remember This” Podcast

Thanks to a recommendation of a friend, I have been able to pass my working day with ease. Journalist Karina Longworth‘s (my new she-ro) and her podcast, “You Must Remember This,” have become an essential  part of my podcasting life. Each episode begins with the haunting titular refrain taken from “As Time Goes By,” the song made famous (of course) by the 1942 classic Casablanca. The broadcast then proceeds to pass by in a brisk 45 minutes (more or less), as it explores “the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century.”

It is a heavy lift to be sure – considering there have been many, many tawdry stories chronicling Hollywood acts of ill repute. Scandals, intrigues and conspiracies abound in her reportage, which in some cases, she has conveniently grouped together by theme (e.g. “Charles Mason in Hollywood” or “MGM Stories”). Through thorough research, Ms. Longowrth  constructs a narrative as close to the truth as she can find and substantiate. I think this is my favorite part of the podcast – especially when it comes to deconstructing tales that have passed through the generations as fact – for instance, answering questions that I have had, including Was Errol Flynn really a Nazi spy? Listen to find out 🙂

Also really cool is that she is open to listener feedback about what subject to cover; if she chooses your listener suggestion you get a shout out! Not that this is an incentive or anything but since listening to her podcast, I have put together my own list of subjects I would like to find out more about.

Screen Shot 2015-11-07 at 1.32.38 PM

A screencap from the site for the podcast, “You Must Remember This.”

Give it a listen. I am sure you will be glad you did.