What Movie Have You Seen Today?

https://comicbook.com/movies/news/netflix-top-10-movies-the-flash-dc-streaming/

If only I could connect low cinema turn out and streaming together…

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The Guard, a 2011 film creating an unlikely buddy-cop pairing of Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle. Much more so than the deeply disturbing The Banshees of Inisherin, it reminded me of In Bruges thanks to the sardonic wit of Gleeson’s character. I loved the references to Criminal Minds directed at Cheadle’s FBI character, who disappointed everyone by being from narcotics, not the storied Behavioral Science Unit.

The movie works because the two lead actors work so well together, and also because through all of its characters it pokes fun at nearly every conventional trope of crime films and TV series.

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Kevin Costner-Festival: SWING VOTE / WATERWORLD (The Ulysses Cut)

Again, for me it has turned out completely different from what I thought a few weeks ago when I fell victim to all the badmouthing of Costner since the mid-90´s and not even watched his movies anymore.

Now that I did give those movies a chance I know: Costner always gives quality performances and allows the stories and his characters shades of grey other superstars never do. Yes, Costner seems to embody those traditional qualities which nowadays are sniggered at as “cringe” because they aren’t cool enough.

But I hope his qualities are what will endure.

As for “Swing Vote”, a comedy about how both political parties are eager to sell their ideals just to win, even if they are courting a voter (Costner) who is dumb, lazy and politically uninterested, the film seems to be ahead of its time. It still has a nice open ending with hope, and the two presidential candidates are basically decent and intelligent - the kind of America one still longs for.

And “Waterworld”, in the three hour “Ulysses Cut” (with deleted scenes inserted) - well, even if is clearly “Mad Max on the open sea”, it is hugely impressive, considering that CGI was not there yet and everything had to be done for real, on the open sea. There is one huge setpiece in the first half which must have been mind-blowingly complicated to film, with all these extras, big sets, stunts, explosions, and Costner doing things which seem on a Tom Cruise-level dangerous. I do prefer the tighter cinema version, but even with the padded running time of this cut, the film is terrific entertainment. And once again proof that the press was out to get him. Just as it is right now with “Horizon” (terrible articles in THR and Variety, really despicable hate-mongering there).

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West Side Story (Steven Spielberg)

I know. Stagey. Conventional. I was not kind to Spielberg‘s version after my first viewing.

For some reason I decided to give it another go. And while I still see the artifice, this time I knew what was coming and I could enjoy this film so much more. I still think it could have/should have been shortened (the „Gee, Officer Krupke“-number interrupts the flow for my taste), but now I could concentrate on and appreciate Spielberg‘s unparalleled ability to use the camera so elegantly and efficiently. There is no director who knows so well when to cut - he blocks scenes to perfection and moves the camera to convey a maximum of information until it is absolutely necessary to change the camera position. With him there never is a piecemeal of flashy images. He knows that the audience can only really be involved when the setting is clearly established and we know exactly where we are, where the characters are and where they are going.

I was wrong about the finale, by the way: it is staged absolutely correctly. And I love that he gives „Somewhere“ to the Rita Moreno character.

So… I like this film now.

Sugarland Express

Spielberg‘s first real movie („Duel“ was a tv movie padded out to be shown in European cinemas). I had seen it only once many years ago and remember being impressed, but it had faded from my memory.

This is a little bit of a „Bonnie and Clyde“ story, but with an intriguing mix of comedy and drama, and already Spielberg is in total command of his visual storytelling. The film cunningly portrays the craze of people reacting star struck to the naive couple trying to abduct their child from the foster parents, getting into trouble when they hold a cop hostage, and it also portrays those idiots who think they can just use their guns to shoot them - and today everything seems absolutely believable.

Goldie Hawn and William Atherton are wonderful as the young couple, unable to realize their increasingly dire situation, and Spielberg shows the right mix of satire and tragedy to keep the story engaging.

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Beverly Hills Cop 4: Axel F.

I loved the trailer. Unfortunately, it has the best moments. The film is basically repeating part one (and throwing in the hit songs from 1&2), but it also is saddled with the plot device so many late sequels overuse: the need to repair the relationship to a now grown up child of the protagonist, in this case Axel’s daughter. This is such a predictable arc, and together with the overcomplicatedly explained (but really simple) murder case it slows everything down and gives the film too many dialogue scenes with exposition. Unfortunately, the action scenes are not that spectacular, so whenever they come it’s more of a going through the motions, and when Axel always plows through streets with vehicles causing mayhem it is only interesting the first time.

Murphy is fine but does not get a lot of witty dialogue (only the first one in the ice hockey stadium about political correctness is great), and the difference between the young Axel in the first film (wild, untethered, hugely funny) and this one (tame, doing the usual things as if they were a burden) shows that franchises should stop when they can.

And by the way, this film so clearly is a Netflix film because it seems constructed from other parts without any original thought. Isn’t AI great?

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Collateral - Tom Cruise plays a villain so well, making his air of invincibility that he normally brings to Ethan Hunt and his other heroes into the constant threat. This is a villain that can’t be defeated. It’s a shame he doesn’t do it more.

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And his voice! When he first gets into the taxi it is unrecognizable. A true transformation.

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Here you go…

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Glad to hear the Rottys are back.

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THE BLUE ANGEL (1929) [German version]–on Blu-ray

A staple of my teenage cinephile years, would I fall in love again with THE BLUE ANGEL? The answer is yes. For an early sound film, it moves swiftly, and Sternberg blends sound sequences with silent sequences with aplomb (I had had my doubts, since a recent re-viewing of MOROCCO gave me the impression that Sternberg was still finding his way with sound, but here his hand is sure).

Marlene Dietrich is, well, Marlene Dietrich. She brings a knowingness, a self-awareness of who she is and what her powers are that still amazes, and must have been breathtaking to original audiences at this early stage of film-making. Her Lola Lola is not a heartless femme fatale (though she leans further that way in the English-language version), but but a complex woman who is amazed that a man would care for her, who then proceeds to care for him, even as he devolves over the course of their marriage. She brings an ambiguity to the role that seems strikingly contemporary for a film more than 90 years old.

Emil Jannings is superb in kind of the role he made his own: the humiliated male. The supporting performers are fine, and there is an almost complete absence of the early-sound tendency toward overacting.

The restoration by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung is excellent, and makes for the best possible viewing experience.

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THE CHASE (1946) on Blu-ray

Film noir may be the most elastic of film genres. There are the certified classics–DOUBLE INDEMNITY, OUT OF THE PAST, etc.–which proudly display their noir credentials, and take their place at the head of the parade.

But the back alleys and by-ways of noir are replete with variations on a theme: daylight noirs; Western noirs; amnesia noirs; melodrama noirs; noir-inflected films of all sorts, and today’s specimen–gothic noir.

THE CHASE boasts a B-picture noir pedigree of above average caliber–a production of Nero Films, which also produced Douglas Sirk’s SUMMER STORM, and was run by Seymour Nebenzal. Born in New York City, he made his name as a producer in Germany during the Weimar era. Some of his films: PEOPLE ON SUNDAY; THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE; WESTFRONT 1918; THE THREEPENNY OPERA; and that obscure trifle, M. Such grand successes were not be his lot after he left Germany, but he is to be honored for what he did manage to produce (including a remake of M, directed by Joseph Losey, and starring David Wayne).

Other fleeing-from-the-Nazis artists who contributed to THE CHASE are Franz Planer (credited as Frank. F. Planer), now working in B-pictures after making his Hollywood debut with HOLIDAY for George Cukor (but a film with Max Ophuls is just a year away).

Peter Lorre is around to provide creepy smooth menace, and Michele Morgan will make her last appearance in a Hollywood picture, and then return to France where she resumes her career (and wins the Cannes Film Festival’s first Best Actress award).

The script is an early effort of Blacklist-script-front extraordinaire Philip Yordan, and based on Cornell Woolrich’s novel, “The Black Path of Fear.”

How much more noir can we get?

The films director? Arthur Ripley. A gag writer alongside with Frank Capra, and director of shorts, including two with W.C. Fields, THE CHASE would be one of the few features he made. He was also UCLA’s first professor of Cinema Studies.

As for the film itself: eight-six minutes of delirious noir pleasure. Robert Cummings plays a WWII veteran with malaria and PTSD (a role usually inhabited by Dana Andrews). He is broke, finds a wallet at this feet, buys breakfast, sees a business card in the wallet with the owner’s name, goes to his house, gets hired as his chauffeur, …

Nevermind. The plot doesn’t matter–it makes no sense, and is completely coherent at the same time.

What matters is Cummings’ sweaty anguish, Michele Morgan’s abstracted desperation, Steven Cochran’s muscle-bound villainy, and a coup de cinema that rewinds the film, only to have it arrive back where it had once been–but is it the same place?

To say more would be to ruin one of the sublime treasures of noir filmmaking–a film so important and loved that despite its public domain status, it was restored by the Film Foundation and UCLA. Enjoy.

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