Category Archives: Featured

He Says, She Says: In a Lonely Place


This series started a couple of years ago when my husband Jonathan and I started taking turns choosing movies we care about a lot to share with each other. We abandoned the series as our lives got busy, but now we’re ready to give it another go, except now the subject isn’t quite as restrictive. We only have time for one or two movies a week now, so we’re still alternating choosing them, but not necessarily from those lists of personally meaningful films. We won’t write up everything we see, but whenever we see something that strikes us both, we will.

The Movie: In a Lonely Place

in_a_lonely_place-posterDirector: Nicholas Ray
Screenplay: Andrew Solt
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame
Info: 1950 USA, produced by Santana Pictures, released by Columbia Pictures
Chooser: Jandy
Date and Method Watched: 12 January 2014, recorded off TCM (why don’t I own this?!)

She Says…

Jandy-avatarNo sooner do I say we’re changing the parameters of this series when we watch a film that completely fits the old parameters. In a Lonely Place has been among my favorites for years – I still remember how leveled I felt the first time I saw it.

It’s a noir, yes, with a self-defeating main character (Dixon Steele, one of Bogart’s very best performances), but it’s also a melodrama, and a Hollywood Gothic, and a romance, and a tragedy. Sounds like a mess, and Steele is a mess, but the film is anything but. His struggling screenwriter hasn’t had a hit since before the war, but he’s still reluctant to go to the bother of adapting a sure-fire hit bestseller. He has a history of violence, which puts him under instant suspicion when a girl he was the last to see turns up murdered. He’s capable of great kindness, but rages at the merest slight. His future looks bright with the support of new girlfriend Laurel (a great role for Gloria Grahame), but even his expressions of love are colored by possessiveness.

Everything about the film is more complex than you expect – every time you think it’s going one way, it goes somewhere different, usually somewhere far darker even than other noirs of the time period. There’s no pat resolution for Dixon or Laurel, and by the end, you desperately want there to be. It packs one of the biggest emotional punches to the gut of any film I’ve ever seen.

I could go on listing all my favorite things or scenes in the film but then we’d be here all day. Seriously. I’ll make an itemized list available upon request.

He Says…

Jon-avatarThere’s the Humphrey Bogart you know, and then there’s the Humphrey Bogart in this. His Dixon Steele is harsh, unrelenting, and absolutely amazing. I went into this film thinking that I would get something akin to his turn in Casablanca, but was pleasantly surprised when he went in a much more complex direction. In one moment he gives his washed out actor-friend the attention he craves, and in the next he nearly beats a stranger to death. We never really get to wrap our head around this tragic character, which is what makes him so damn interesting.

I loved all the story touches as well. Can’t say I’ve seen a noir before that featured a screenwriter as the lead. It was interesting to see him wrestle (however briefly) with adapting a trashy bestseller into a film, something I hope to one day cross off my screenwriting bucket list. The ending was a huge bummer too, which means I dug the hell out of it. My wife sure knows me well, and I am grateful she picked this one out.

I seriously need to get cracking on the rest of Bogart’s filmography.

Blind Spots: Looking Back and Looking Ahead

This year I attempted to watch twelve films off my extensive Blind Spots list. I didn’t manage to watch them all, but you know what, that’s okay. I still watched several that I might otherwise not have gotten around to, so I’m ahead.

There’s been some debate in the past couple of months over whether the whole Blind Spot project is worthwhile or not, stemming from Matt Brown’s post “Film is Not a Mission” and tumbling into a really great Mamo episode featuring Ryan McNeil, who has been a big proponent of the Blind Spots series. I think Matt’s point that becoming too beholden to “canon” is fair, but I obviously still think it’s worthwhile to identify holes in your viewing you’d like to fill and make a concerted effort to do so, and that’s really what this is for me.

That said, I did actually turn over part of my Blind Spot listmaking for 2014 to others, selecting a set of about 50 films that I consider Blind Spots and asking people to vote on which of those films they thought I should watch. But that’s really just crowdsourcing priority; I intend to watch all of the 50 films at some point.

Anyway, since I blogged about even fewer of my 2013 selections than I watched, I’m going to run down the results of my 2013 viewing, then list what I’m planning to watch in 2014.

What I Watched in 2013

My original watchlist is as follows:

  • Our Hospitality / The Navigator
  • Pandora’s Box
  • Vampyr
  • Island of Lost Souls
  • Zero de Conduite / L’Atalante
  • The Stranger
  • Wild Strawberries
  • Sanjuro
  • El Dorado
  • Cool Hand Luke
  • Serpico
  • Days of Heaven

And here’s what I thought of the six I managed to watch.

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The Roundup: December 7

My top flips into my Flipboard magazines this week, whether the articles are new or old. Read more of my magazines at my Flipboard profile. This one’s been several weeks coming, so I apologize, as usual, that some of the articles are a few weeks old. Hopefully there are some that have slipped your radar.

Contemporary Cinema

Destroy All Monsters: The Awkward Moment When a Movie Star Stops Being One by Matt Brown at Twitch

Whenever a celebrity dies, people take to social media to express shock, sadness, indifference, etc. – but it affects us, even though we don’t actually know the person at all. Matt Brown examines this phenomenon and the phenomenon of stardom itself. See also: Hitfix’s Drew McWeeny takes on the tendency to snark at celebrity death.

A movie star is a person in name only, because their entire role in our culture is to be something else: a brand, an archetype, a projection (literally). An incarnation of Us Up There, where “Up There” is the silver screen and the myriad worlds beyond it. A million iterations of, again, the universe where we won and everything’s great.

And this, of course, is why the absolute worst thing a movie star can do to us is die.

An unexpected celebrity death is the greatest single betrayal of the entire system upon which movie stardom is based. This isn’t the movie star’s fault. The flaw is in various parts of the system; in the glittering fantasy that movie stardom rests upon in the first place, and in the essential fact that as a culture, we’re just really, really, really bad at dealing with the fact that every single one of us really is going to really die. (Really.)

Gravity Part 1: Two Characters Adrift in an Experimental Film by Kristin Thompson at Bordwell on Film Art

Kristin Thompson looks at Gravity as an experimental film with an effective bare-bones story, just enough narrative to make audiences comfortable with it. She situates her analysis within the approach she and David Bordwell have made about classical narrative structures in most of their books (both together and individually), which is an analytic approach I like a lot and I think works well for this film. See also Part 2.

David [Bordwell] and I have often claimed that Hollywood cinema has a certain tolerance for novelty, innovation, and even experiment, but that such departures from convention are usually accompanied by a strong classical story to motivate the strangeness for popular audiences. Gravity has such a story, though Cuarón is remarkably successful at minimizing its prominence. The film’s construction privileges excitement, suspense, rapid action, and the universally remarked-upon sense of immersion alongside the character in a situation of disorienting weightlessness and constant change.

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The Story of Film on TCM: Chapter 13

This is the story of the end of an era. For 100 years, movies had been shot on this – celluloid. Paper-thin, shiny, perforated. A medium so sensitive it could capture the subtle colors in snow. But in the ’90s, the digital image and Terminator 2 came and reality got less real. In these last days before that happened, as if to stave off the moment when the link between reality and movies would finally be broken, filmmakers around the world made passionate movies about emotions not spaceships or other worlds.

In this first of two episodes devoted to the 1990s, Cousins highlights the humanist dramas and insistence on realism that characterize a lot of non-American film in the 1990s. According to Cousins’ interview with Robert Osborne, the ’20s and the ’90s are his two favorite eras, because of the great diversity and innovation found there. Of course, he’s talking about anything but mainstream Hollywood cinema in the ’90s, which were, as Robert pointed out, full of remakes and formula films. Instead, this episode will take us to Iran, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Denmark, and France, while Episode 14 will focus on the American independents like Tarantino and the Coen Brothers.

Chapter 13 is more polemical than most of the episodes in its fierce defense of filmmakers using film (the actual medium) to capture human themes, which Cousins continually contrasts to the digital revolution on the horizon. He is so tied to this theme that it makes for some really weird comparisons, including a repeated offhanded vitriol toward The Lord of the Rings movies. Even though I appreciate the films he’s talking about here and am really interested in seeing many of them, his apparent hatred of hobbits and the fantasy cinema they stand in for makes this episode a little repellant to those of us who rather like some fantasy films mixed in with our human dramas.

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Stream It!: Robin Hood (1973)

[Showcasing the best and highlighting the newest additions to the various streaming services, including but not limited to Netflix Instant, HuluPlus, and Amazon Prime.]

New on Netflix: Robin Hood

Growing up, I saw many of the classic Disney films – Pinocchio, Bambi, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Lady and the Tramp, etc. – but as a child my favorite one was without a doubt the 1973 version of Robin Hood, with a foxy Robin Hood and Maid Marian, a petulant shorn lion as Prince John, and various other characters given appropriate animal form. I didn’t know it at the time, but Disney was in recycle mode here, not even bothering to disguise the re-use of Baloo the Bear from The Jungle Book as Little John, or the King of the Animals from Bedknobs and Broomsticks as the ineffective Prince John. Sometimes there’s something to be said for ignorance, and my childhood glee at watching and rewatching this film is something that will never escape me. I’ve heard others who saw this film first as adults say that they didn’t like it much at all, but I’ll never be able to watch it without nostalgia glasses, I guess. Thankfully, Jonathan feels the same way about it, so at least I have one very important person on my side. If you do have kids who are into adventure but may not quite be ready for the 1938 Errol Flynn The Adventures of Robin Hood quite yet, give the Disney version a try. It’s a good stepping stone, and they won’t know that it falls into Disney’s “lazy” period.

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