Archive for May 2014

Starred Up (2013)   Leave a comment

starred brutal

Brutal, violent, and relentless, Starred Up tells the story of Eric Love (Jack O’Connell), a nineteen year old serving a lengthy sentence in an adult jail. Eric was starred up or moved out of juvenile detention to adult prison due to his penchant for extreme violence. After savagely attacking a fellow inmate and a handful of guards who try to subdue him, Eric meets Oliver (Rupert Friend) and gets a chance at therapy. Oliver moderates a group of inmates trying to talk about their problems instead of acting out violently. Resistant at first, Eric slowly begins to trust the men in his group. He learns to think before acting and to take things in stride. His progress toward non-violence nearly stops though when his father Neville (Ben Mendelsohn), a powerful lifer in the same prison interferes and jeopardizes both their lives and any hope Eric has for rehabilitation.

friend oconnell

Director David Mackenzie uses a spare, no-frills approach which shows the brutal day to day existence of men who have been cast out of society and have formed a rudimentary one of their own. They live from moment to moment and even the most sophisticated of them reacts viciously when a new man or idea threatens his place in that society. The film moves fast. Conflicts begin and end in minutes or even seconds, but their consequences often last a lifetime. The inmates’ hair trigger tempers blast away any semblance of civilization leaving these men in a hellish existence of their own making.

neville water

Oliver represents another aspect of the story as a man volunteering his time to help the inmates and battling the prison establishment and the inmate hierarchy at every turn. He has a way with even the most violent offenders and his no nonsense methods and calm, honest manner allows them to trust and confide in him. This angers the prison governor, (Sam Spruell) who takes Oliver’s rapport with the prisoners as a threat to his power. All these forces come to a head when Eric enters the picture and his presence incites all sides to make rash decisions.
The swift pacing and powerful performances had me on the edge of my seat. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen for a moment and I had no idea what would happen next. Jack O’Connell gave a jarring, physical performance. He’s in every scene and your eye naturally follows him. The entire cast had me believing their every word and the setting, Crumlin Road Gaol, Belfast and Maze Long Kesh, Lisburn lent the proper atmosphere to this harrowing tale of life behind bars and one boy’s attempt to become human.

cigs

Miller’s Crossing (1990)   2 comments

miller

Never has the expression honor among thieves played a larger part in a modern film than in this Coen brothers’ Prohibition era gangster film. Gabriel Byrne stars as Tom Reagan, right hand man to Albert Finney’s crime boss, Leo. Tom, a brilliant strategist in the crime world’s chess game has long had Leo’s ear and his back. He also has Leo’s girl, Verna (Marcia Gay Harden) and this Lancelot/Guinevere affair threatens to undermine King Leo’s reign.

finney gat

The story begins in a Godfather-like scene with mobster Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito) asking Leo to rub out John Turturro’s Bernie Bernbaum, a bookie with a knack for angering the wrong people. Leo refuses because although Bernie is a thorn in his side, he’s also Verna’s brother. Tom advises Leo to give up Bernie and when he won’t a mob war starts. Tom ends up on Leo’s bad side and despite his loyalty, Tom is cut loose. Caspar snaps him up and Tom seems to have switched sides. Caspar takes over Leo’s businesses and prospers as Tom plants seeds of distrust about Caspar’s main henchmen Eddie Dane (J.E. Freeman) thus eroding Caspar’s gang from within and proving his loyalty to Leo.
Based on the Dashiell Hammett novels Red Harvest and The Glass Key, Miller’s Crossing is a love letter to 1940s film noir and the snappy dialogue prevalent in novels by Hammett, Chandler, Thompson, and Cain. At one point Tom is asked if he knows the mayor. He says, “I oughta. I voted for him six times last May.” The costumes by Richard Hornung, sets by Nancy Haigh and cinematography by Barry Sonnenfeld along with Carter Burwell’s spare and perfect score give the film a 1940s feel. Supporting roles by Steve Buscemi, Mike Starr, Frances McDormand, Michael Jeter, and Olek Krupa add depth to the already stellar cast and the direction by Joel and Ethan Coen just works. The scene with hit men approaching Leo to the strains of Danny Boy is as beautiful as grand opera and as violent as anything Peckinpah ever directed. Poetry. I liked Miller’s Crossing a lot. It has a flawed hero devoted to an equally flawed father figure and crime. Combine that with the Coens usual gang of quirky characters and great dialogue and you have an entertaining and almost Shakespearean story. I cheered for Tom and Leo. I booed for Bernie and Caspar. I hung on every word of dialogue and after watching the film for just under two hours, I wondered where the time went. Here’s another example of the sharp dialogue.
“Come on Tommy, wake up.”
“I am awake.”
“Your eyes are closed.”
“Who you gonna believe?”

How can you not love this film?

I watched this as part of a year-long project created by @007hertzrumble. A bunch of people get to watch and write about films which for some reason eluded them. Check out @cinemashame and cinemashame.wordpress.com to read others’ discoveries.

byrne

Un Chien Andalou (1929)   2 comments

un chien

ant hand

Luis Buñuel directed 34 films and made surrealism fun! People consider his film style and concepts groundbreaking and inspirational. He made Belle de Jour and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, which I really like. I watched Un Chien Andalou today. I’m not sure how much absinthe he and Salvador Dali did, but they clearly saw things others don’t. Often that characteristic makes art that transcends time. In this case, it made an incomprehensible combination of odd images that combined to make fifteen minutes I’ll never get back. Ants crawl out of the hole in a man’s hand. A beautiful, androgynous woman in the street pokes a severed hand with a stick. A man watches as the woman, who has put the hand in a locked box around her neck, stands still as cars whiz by her. The last car has better aim and runs her over. That makes him want to fondle the breasts of the woman next to him who takes issue with that and tries to evade him. After a while he begins to drag two grand pianos each filled with half a dead horse across the room. Soon pilgrims appear. It goes on from there. I have no idea what the film symbolized or if it symbolized anything other than Buñuel’s desire to film some weird ass stuff. The sequence everyone knows with the razor and the eye serves as the jumping off point for one of the strangest films I’ve seen. I’m not exactly sorry I saw it because now I can cross it off my list. That’s about it. Thanks for coming. Please enjoy a hot towel.

I watched this for Cinema Shame project. cinemashame.wordpress.com

eye

This guy.

anteater dali

Martin Milner: More Than Pete Malloy   4 comments

handsome milner

Officer Pete Malloy steps from his cruiser. Calm and self-assured, he approaches the harried shop owner, the speeder, the lost child with authority and understanding. You know that whatever problem arises, Malloy can solve it. His even, reassuring manner even puts me at ease and I’m watching a rerun on television. Behind the beloved Adam-12 patrol officer and a host of other characters, Martin Milner built a career in both film and television. Though the paparazzi may not have camped outside his door, he worked as an actor for fifty years precisely because he could play someone trustworthy and wholesome.

milner life

Martin Milner began his film career working with William Powell, Elizabeth Taylor, and Irene Dunne in Life with Father (1947) playing a boy younger than himself. His youthful face and wholesome good looks would serve him well. A bout with polio confined him to bed for nearly a year, but Milner recovered and won parts in The Sands of Iwo Jima, The Halls of Montezuma, Operation Pacific, and Fighting Coast Guard. Soon life imitated art, and after attending USC for a year, Milner spent two years in the Army at Fort Ord, California directing training films and emceeing shows for the troops stationed there. While at Fort Ord, Milner met David Janssen and Clint Eastwood. Different versions of this story exist, but the likeliest one is that Milner and Janssen talked Eastwood into pursuing a career in the movies. If they hadn’t, Eastwood might have remained the squintiest swimming instructor ever.

milner success

After the Army, Milner continued working in film, television, and radio. He made a number of A-list films in the 1950s. He played an Earp brother in Gunfight at the OK Corral and a small, but funny role as a southern shore patrol officer in Mister Roberts. Two of his bigger roles followed. As Steve Dallas in Sweet Smell of Success, we get to see Milner as a musician with strong morals pitted against slimy, underhanded J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster). Lancaster and Tony Curtis own the film, but Milner’s good man in a bad position shows he can convey integrity without coming off as self-righteous.

compulsion milner

Compulsion, Meyer Levin and Richard Fleischer’s take on the Leopold and Loeb thrill killer case found Milner playing Sid Brooks, a poor journalism student and reporter who finds the key piece of evidence in the case. We see Sid, a member of the killers’ circle of friends, come to realize his spoiled rich kid friends, Bradford Dillman and Dean Stockwell, may have murdered a child. Sid is smart and idealistic, but not naïve. He never has an “I can’t believe it” moment. His expressions change subtly as the story progresses. It’s not a big performance, but that’s precisely why it works. William Castle’s fun 3-D spookfest 13 Ghosts allowed Milner to take advantage of his sincere boy next door looks and play a character with a hidden agenda.

66 milner

All during the 1950s Milner appeared as a guest star in many of the most popular television shows including Dragnet, Rawhide, The Rat Patrol, Combat, and The Twilight Zone. He also provided the voices for a few radio shows during that era including the Jack Webb series Dragnet. Milner and Webb met during production of The Halls of Montezuma and Webb later hired Milner for his radio show. The 1960s brought more success with the series Route 66. In that series Milner’s character Tod Stiles roams the country first with George Maharis, then with Glenn Corbett. The duo travel from town to town in their Corvette entangling themselves in the lives of the people there. The series’ jazzy score and romantic vision of the unfettered bachelor made the show a big hit. Milner even produced a film in 1960. Sex Kittens Go To College stars Mamie Van Doren as a professor. It also has a monkey that plays piano and Conway Twitty…and a robot. I haven’t seen it yet, but with all that going for it, I’m in.

pete hat

Next came the role that people associate the most with Martin Milner. Jack Webb based the television series Dragnet on what he learned about police work in He Walked by Night (1948). His love of police procedurals led him to produce the Dragnet series for radio, film, and television and Martin Milner performed on both the radio and 1951 television show in a variety of roles. In 1967, Officer Pete Malloy appeared on an episode of Dragnet and the following year, the Jack Webb produced Adam-12 brought the character and actor back. From 1968-1975, Milner played the veteran officer on Adam-12, The D.A., and Emergency. His partner, Officer Jim Reed (Kent McCord) also appeared in all four series. Milner’s portrayal of Malloy, the confirmed bachelor with the experience to move up in rank but the desire to stay on the streets appealed to me a great deal. I have to admit, I had a crush on the guy. His positive and enlightened portrayal of a police officer contrasted starkly with the general anti police mood of the era and made his character even more appealing.

columbo milner

After Adam-12 ended, Milner appeared in a number of guest starring roles in series like Fantasy Island, MacGyver, Life Goes On, Murder She Wrote and as patriarch Karl Robinson in the Swiss Family Robinson television series. Milner can also brag about being the first victim in the Columbo TV series. He even gets killed by Jack Cassidy! His last role was on the Dick Van Dyke series Diagnosis Murder in 1997.

milner fish

An avid fisherman, Milner started a talk radio show in 1993 called Let’s Talk Hook-Up about fishing. He hosted the radio show until 2004 when his eldest daughter became seriously ill. His friend and TV partner Kent McCord appeared with Milner at various drives for bone marrow donors. Apparently Martin Milner, the man inspired the same loyalty as his most famous character did. I don’t know about you, but that makes me smile. Martin Milner lives with his family, happily out of the spotlight. Sometimes nice guys do finish first.

Rest in peace, Officer Malloy. 

1931-2015

young milner

I wrote this piece for the Big Stars on the Small Screen Blogathon hosted by Aurora of aurorasginjoint.com fame. Please check out her site for articles about loads of other actors and actresses who made the jump from movies to TV or vice-versa.

big stars

Detour (1945)   2 comments

detour

happy detour

Piano player Al Roberts (Tom Neal) loves singer Sue Harvey (Claudia Drake) but they’ve both grown tired of their thankless gig in a small New York nightclub. Sue gets a chance to go west and make it big in Hollywood. Roberts soon follows, hitch-hiking across the country to see her. The trip drags along until he meets Charles Haskell, Jr., a rich man in a big car who’s tired of doing all the driving. Roberts’ happiness turns to dread when Haskell dies accidentally. He fears the police will accuse him of murder so he hides the body and drives on. Later, he picks up hitch-hiker Vera, played by Ann Savage, and assumes the dead man’s name. Vera, who had met the man earlier, knows Roberts is lying and blackmails him into continuing on to Los Angeles and stealing his identity permanently in order to gain a large inheritance. Meanwhile, all Roberts wants is to get to L.A. to see his girl. As Roberts and Vera get closer to her ignominious goal, their mutual hatred rises to the surface and she, too dies accidentally. Now Roberts roams the country aimlessly, shut off forever from decent society and the woman he loves.

detour car

Detour captures perfectly the noir belief that nice guys do finish last. Despite Al Roberts implied goodness and his sincere love for Sue, the gods conspire to foil him at every turn. Just taking a ride from a stranger has sealed his fate. The performances by Tom Neal and Ann Savage illustrate the fatalistic view of the film. Resolved to his dismal future his voice-over narrates. ”That’s life. Whichever way you turn, Fate sticks out a foot to trip you.”
Filmed by Edgar G. Ulmer on a budget of only $30,000, Detour has attained a cult following thanks to its stark viewpoint and spare acting. The movie became the first Hollywood noir inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1992

sad detour

Posted May 13, 2014 by Kerry Fristoe in Reviews

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The Bees (1978)   2 comments

the bees

A man and his young son break into the compound of apiologist (bee guy) Dr. Miller to steal the valuable honeycombs. Ignoring the danger signs, they open a particularly nasty hive of killer bees which overtake them. The next day, the man returns with some friends and his dead son. He blames the scientist for his son’s death because he brought things to the area worth stealing. Despite this flawless logic, Dr. Miller (Claudio Brook) asks the men to leave. The angry mob refuses and, as angry mobs often do, they wreck the place. In the riot that follows the villagers release the bees, die violently, and catch fire. In an effort to retrieve his notes, Dr. Miller dies, but manages to save his wife Sandra (Angel Tompkins) by locking her in a walk-in fridge.
Cut to Sandra in the elevator in John Norman’s (John Saxon) California apartment building. Two muggers attack Sandra in the elevator and immediately open her cosmetic bag. Standard behavior so far. Sandra, a natural beauty, has no need for make-up so in her bag she carries bees. The killer bees run amok and kill the muggers. Sandra emerges from the elevator unscathed since she coos sweetly and bees like that. She arrives at John’s apartment with her bag half full of bees and never mentions the mugging or the two dead guys in the hall. John and Sandra hit it off right away and make plans to go to John’s lab to look at bees and flirt a lot.
Meanwhile, massive clouds of killer bees form all over the country and leave destruction and death in their wakes. Behind all the mayhem, a large cave of bees hums with activity. It reminds me of scenes in The Haunting in which Robert Wise shows us an event, then cuts to a shot of Hill House to let you know the house sees all…only with bees.
John, Sandra, and Sandra’s uncle Ziggy (John Carradine with an atrocious accent) start working on methods of taming the bees or preventing them from reproducing. It helps that Ziggy (the Bee Whisperer) believes bees use a more sophisticated form of communication than most people think. There’s a cool scene in which Ziggy translates bee dancing. It may have been a bit embellished, but it was still fun.

bees carra

Fighting the scientists, “Big Business” wants killer bees to thrive so they can add them to their huge corporate hive. This would create superbees and a more refined and expensive type of royal jelly. The corporate baddies want to replace the sugar in most consumer products with honey thus becoming honey sheiks and ruling the world and getting all the hot chicks. To that end, “Big Business” has a politician in its pocket who helps them with the copious bee legislation which crosses his desk. At a hearing before several pols, John outlines his plan to treat the killer bees with a pheromone which will make the drones mate with each other rather than the queen which breaks up the panel because they have a mental age of seven. They crack a lot of bad gay jokes and say things like “adding incest to injury” and make plans to go get popsicles. While John speaks in Washington, the bad guys send a couple of guys to off Ziggy. They try to escape after their crime, but the bees have other plans and John returns home to a blood bath in the lab. Worn out from cleaning corpses out of their office, John and Sandra go to bed. John wakes in the middle of the night and begins to make love to Sandra only to find she and he and their bed covered in bees. The lovers manage to extricate themselves from the bedroom though because they speak bee. This was the last straw. John, determined to inform the world about the plight of the bees and the reach of their power and avoid bee-us interruptus again, goes back to Washington to testify before Congress. As he speaks, a cloud of bees enters the room and begins to air their grievances through John.
Alfred Zacharias (The Pearl, Crime of Crimes) wrote and directed The Bees and while it’s not the best B-movie I’ve seen, it is the best bee movie I’ve seen involving John Saxon, hit men, and terrorists wielding jars full of bees. I enjoyed The Bees and it even won an award. Dan Genis won the award for Best Special Effects at the Catalonian International Film Festival. Besides, it was fun. John Saxon always entertains, John Carradine played a fun, quirky character, and I never knew what would happen next. Bzzzzz!

bees bed

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)   6 comments

rosemary title

Location Location Location.

A young, upwardly mobile couple move into an apartment building with a reputation. Over the years, the Bramford has hosted child killers, Dr. Mengele wannabes, and devil worshippers. That history does not dissuade Guy and Rosemary Woodhouse from taking the apartment, of course. They’re modern and immune to local folklore. Guy (John Cassavetes), a self-centered actor, waits for that one part to lift him out of supporting roles and commercials. Rosemary (Mia Farrow), a midwestern housewife, longs for children and a happy family life. Moving into the über fashionable Bramford (New York City’s Dakota) is step one for both of them. While Rosemary changes shelf paper and orders furniture, Guy auditions unsuccessfully for a part that could jumpstart his career. Feeling low and put upon, Guy gets an offer he can’t refuse. That offer and its source make up the central plot point of Rosemary’s Baby. The audience learns of the offer and its maker early on. We have a feeling about where we’re headed. The fun in Rosemary’s Baby is the journey and the characters we meet along the way.
Great character actors Maurice Evans, Sidney Blackmer, Ralph Bellamy, Patsy Kelly, Elisha Cook, Jr., and Charles Grodin elevate Rosemary’s Baby above B-horror movie status, but it’s Ruth Gordon who hits it out of the park. Nosy and gauche, with her bangles and charm bracelets clanking with every movement, Gordon steals every scene. Whether she’s asking the price of their furniture or bringing the couple her specialty dessert, the comically mispronounced chocolate mouse, Gordon commands your attention. The tacky old lady next door lacks the social graces of the up and coming Woodhouses so it’s easy for them to underestimate her. That’s a big mistake as both Rosemary and the audience come to find out.

gordon rosemary

Rosemary’s Baby, along with Shadow of a Doubt, Blue Velvet, and The Stepford Wives helps make up the ‘seamy underbelly’ category of film. These films show that under the veneer of small town innocence or big city sophistication lurks something sinister. As Hamlet put it “the devil hath power t’ assume a pleasing shape.”
Paranoia and misogyny play a big part in the film as well. Rosemary’s pregnancy makes her more easily victimized and more protective of her unborn child. Is her fear and suspicion justified or is she another silly, hormone crazed mother-to-be? Will she discover the threats against her and her child in time or will her claims be dismissed by outsiders as the ramblings of an unhinged woman? Writer Ira Levin and director Roman Polanski ramp up the suspense throughout Rosemary’s Baby. We know who the baddies are and root for Rosemary as she slowly comes to understand the danger she faces. The real mystery is the true nature of that danger. Polanski infuses the film with religious imagery, modern cynicism, and Catholic guilt
Filled with quirky characters, wonderful performances, and a frightening concept, Rosemary’s Baby entertains and alarms. The haunting score by Krzysztof Komeda and sung by Mia Farrow sets the tone for this atmospheric film even as the beginning credits roll. I love this film. It’s a horror film made, not in a dark dungeon, but in a chic Manhattan apartment building in broad daylight. That makes it all the more chilling.

Look and listen for cameos by producer William Castle and Tony Curtis.

I watched this on the Criterion DVD which looked phenomenal. It’s worth every penny.

guyrosemary

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