Tag Archives: Edgar G. Ulmer

Scorecard: July-October 2012

Four months at a whack here, but really, I haven’t been watching all that much, thanks to sleeping almost all of the time and lacking the attention span for more than 30-minute TV shows when I AM awake (see why here). Interestingly, all of my “loved” films this time around are 2012 films. That’s strange and weird to me, especially since I watched a few “unassailable” classics, but I’m being honest about how I felt about them at the time I watched them. Also, there’s a preponderance of new releases anyway since going to the theatre tends to keep me awake and engaged a bit more right now than watching films at home, so I’ve watched fewer films at home than usual.

What I Loved

Cloud Atlas

I’d heard everything from “mind-blowing masterpiece” to “vapid, messy drivel” about this film coming out of TIFF, so I had no idea what to expect when I went into it. As you may have guessed, I’m far closer to the “mind-blowing masterpiece” side of the scale; in fact, as of right now, it’s sitting atop my Top 2012 Films list. I read the book a couple of months ago in preparation, and I’m sure that affected how I received the film – I didn’t actually love the book, largely because I felt like it was more of an exercise in pastiche, more interested in proving David Mitchell’s chops at imitating different styles of writing and less interested in actually making meaningful connections between the different stories. The movie still has the different styles, but less pronounced (because it’s difficult to get such things as “19th century journal” and “epistolary novel” to translate to film stylistically), and the stories are all intercut with each other, a brilliant way to strengthen and highlight the thematic tissue connecting the stories. Putting the music of the Cloud Atlas Sextet front and center lends the film a symphonic quality heightened by the editing to create something that as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts, which is exactly what I was missing from the book. It’s rare to say, even for a non-book-purist like me, but in this case, the movie is easily better than the book – quite a statement especially for a book that many people have long considered unfilmable. Well done.

2012 USA. Directors: Andy & Lana Wachowski & Tom Tykwer. Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Doona Bae, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, James D’Arcy, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon.
Seen October 27 at AMC Burbank 16.

The Master

I came into The Master with some trepidation, since I’m just about the only person on earth who really disliked There Will Be Blood, and I wasn’t sure if PT Anderson could get back on my good side or not. Thankfully, he did, and while I would say I only “really liked” The Master when first leaving the theatre, thinking back on it and talking about it has raised it my estimation a LOT. I might still like Magnolia (see below) a bit better of PTA’s films, but it’s close, and so far The Master is probably the best movie of the year for me. The interplay between Phoenix and Hoffman is incredible – two actors at the top of their game, playing off their very different styles (and very different characters) against each other. Amy Adams holds her own as well, which I didn’t expect. And the jittery camerawork/focus underscores the story – really, the character study – perfectly. Images, lines, contrasts, outbursts, quiet moments – they’ve all come flooding back to me without warning over the weeks since I saw the movie, and that’s what I call a sign of a great film. Great enough I might be willing to give TWBB another chance. We’ll see.

2012 USA. Director: Paul Thomas Anderson. Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams.
Seen September 15 at Arclight Hollywood.

Argo

With Argo, Ben Affleck cements his career as a director even further, proving that while many of us have lost faith with him as an actor, when he’s behind the camera, he can do little wrong. This time he’s in front of the camera as well, which worried me a little (I didn’t see The Town, which also had him as actor-director), but he comes through in both roles. Taking a side story from the Iran Hostage Crisis of six Americans who managed to escape the embassy and hide out in the Canadian ambassador’s house, Affleck plays an extraction expert whose crazy plan to get them out involves a fake movie for which they will be the fake scouting crew in Tehran. The film’s seemingly unwieldy combination of real-life political thriller (which is highly tense and dramatic) and Hollywood show biz story (which has a good deal of comedy) comes together perfectly, while Affleck and Co’s eye for period ’70s detail puts him right up there with Soderbergh. An old-fashioned thrill ride with a great cast.

2012 USA. Director: Ben Affleck. Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea Duvall, Scoot McNairy.
Seen October 13 at AMC Burbank 16.

Looper

This has been my most-anticipated film ever since I first heard about it more than a year ago, thanks to my abiding love for Rian Johnson films (I loved Brick more than The Brothers Bloom, but they’re both really good), Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and time travel. I successfully avoided almost all the marketing for it, so I went in pretty cold, and I’m glad I did. The story is more about Gordon-Levitt’s character development (thanks to the incursion of his future self in the form of Bruce Willis) than time travel itself – in fact, Johnson actually wisely refrains from getting into the nitty-gritty of the time travel, which keeps the focus squarely on the characters, and I liked that. There are a few plot holes if you analyze the time travel too deeply, but I don’t think they ultimately matter in terms of the character-focused story, and the combination of character drama and action flick with just a touch of sci-fi works really well.

2012 USA. Director: Rian Johnson. Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, Paul Dano, Piper Perabo.
Seen September 29 at AMC Burbank.

Premium Rush

Bike messenger Joseph Gordon-Levitt rides his bike around NYC at breakneck speeds, trying to deliver a life-or-death package, avoid the dirty cop trying to catch him, the real bicycle cop he pissed off, and fight a rival bike messenger for the affections of his girlfriend. And it’s pretty much non-stop adrenaline from start to finish. That’s about all you need to know. This is an old-fashioned B-level genre movie, and it hits every note right. Sure, it’s got nothing deep going on, but it doesn’t try to be any more than it is and for 85 minutes of pure fun, this kind of thing is hard to beat for me. And Michael Shannon is awesome in this kind of no-holds-barred role (he’s always awesome, but he’s all kinds of fun when he really lets loose).

2012 USA. Director: David Koepp. Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Sean Kennedy.
Seen August 8 at AMC Burbank.

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Scorecard: April 2012

[At the end of every month I post a rundown of the movies I saw that month, tallying them according to how much I did or didn’t like them. You can always see my recent watches here and my ongoing list of bests for the whole year here.]

AKA, the TCM Classic Film Festival edition. There are a few others mixed in, but the majority of these are from that Fest. Which means it was a damn good month of moviewatching. Oh, and apparently my two favorite new-to-me films were both silent. I honestly do not try to do this, people. It just happens that way, I swear.

What I Loved

Girl Shy

I wouldn’t say Harold Lloyd is a recent discovery for me as I continue my odyssey through silent film; I saw Safety Last quite a while ago and always included him as one of the great silent comedians. But beyond that obligatory name-checking, I hadn’t had a lot of exposure to his work. I was very grateful to put that to rights this month with not one but THREE Lloyd films seen at the TCM Fest and at Cinefamily, and the presentation of Girl Shy at the Egyptian Theatre will definitely go down as a lifetime filmgoing highlight. This film is awesome, taking the nerdy, girl-shy Harold through a series of misadventures whereupon he meets a girl and overcomes his stuttering shyness as he tells her about his book – which is about how to get all kinds of women to fall in love with you. It’s extremely charming and quite funny, and all capped off with one of the most incredible chase stunt sequences I’ve ever seen, and yes, I’m including Keaton’s motorcycle chase in Sherlock Jr. in that assessment. Just when you think Lloyd has done about all he can do with this gag, he tops himself and does something even more gasp-worthy. Insta-favorite. Full review on Row Three.

1924 USA. Director: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor. Starring: Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston, Richard Daniels, Carleton Griffith.
Seen April 14 at the TCM Film Fest, Egyptian Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 372 out of 2930

For Heaven’s Sake

My other Lloyd experience was a double feature (the other one is a bit lower on the list) Cinefamily and the Silent Treatment showed in honor of Lloyd’s April birthday. These were actually before Girl Shy, and were already enough to solidify my Lloyd fandom, I liked them so much. Particularly this one. Thoughtless millionaire Lloyd accidentally funds an inner-city mission, but his apathy turns to extreme interest when he meets the preacher’s lovely daughter. I really enjoyed this film, which has two fantastic extended chase/action sequences – one with Lloyd provoking all the street thugs he can find into chasing him right into the mission (where he wins their loyalty by nonchalantly passing the collection plate to rid them of stolen jewelry before a police search), the other with Lloyd trying to corral a group of five drunk friends and get back to the mission for his wedding. Both are filled with physical gags and insane stunts, all done with a charm and physicality that belies Lloyd’s milquetoast first impression.

1926 USA. Director: Sam Taylor. Starring: Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston, Noah Young.
Seen April 4 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 512 out of 2930

Cabin in the Woods

I’ve been looking forward to this Joss Whedon-penned horror film for literally years now, as it went through distributor hell along with everything else MGM owned as they fought bankruptcy. In fact, I’ve been watching its progress so long that I remember being disappointed that I was going to have to watch a horror film to keep up with Whedon, because I wasn’t into horror films yet. Thankfully by the time it came out, I had overcome that hurdle and managed to see and enjoy most of the films Cabin in the Woods references, plus this film isn’t really going for scares as much as laughs and meta in-jokes, which are precisely up my alley. I had a great time with this film, which is extremely clever in the way it plays with expectations, horror tropes, and manipulation. I won’t go as far as some in saying that revolutionizes the horror genre – it doesn’t do that so much as celebrate it, poke loving fun at it, and layer a great workplace comedy in on top of it. It’s a lark, not a deep satire, and that’s fine. I laughed a lot, gasped some, and had a ginormous smile plastered on my face the whole time.

2012 USA. Director: Drew Goddard. Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz, Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams, Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, Amy Acker.
Seen April 21 at AMC Burbank 16.
Flickchart ranking: 534 out of 2930

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Film Classics: Detour (1945)

Detour_(poster).jpg
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Screenplay: Martin Goldsmith
Producers: Leon Fromkiss, Martin Mooney
Starring: Tom Neal, Anne Savage, Claudia Drake, Edmund MacDonald
Year: 1945
Country: United States
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Running time: 67min.

[Rating:4.5/5]

There are spoilers in this post, but if you’re familiar with noir, you won’t really expect it to end differently, and there’s a lot more to the ending than what I give away.

You couldn’t make a more quintessential noir film than Edgar G. Ulmer’s low-budget Detour if you’d known all the rules and tropes ahead of time. And he didn’t, because film noir wasn’t defined until the mid-1950s. Yet, just about all the elements that would eventually be considered definitively film noir are here: high-contrast lighting with lots of shadows, a defeated narrator telling the story of how fate continued to pile terrible circumstances on him no matter what he did, and a femme fatale who only makes things worse for him at every turn.

al.jpg

Our main character arrives at a diner, obviously rundown and weary – a fellow diner strikes up conversation, wondering where he’s headed (“east”) and where he’s come from (“west”), but soon our man snaps at him. He’s not out to make friends. The other diner puts a coin in the jukebox, but the song that comes on angers our traveler, who jumps up wild-eyed, screaming not to play that song. Why, we wonder? What has happened to this man that causes him to be so standoffish and crazed by a song on a jukebox? Don’t worry, he’s going to tell us.

club.jpgFlashback to the same man, Al Roberts, looking much less unkempt, jamming away on a piano in a club as a pretty girl sings the song from the jukebox. As Al continues narrating, we learn that he and the girl, Sue, are a couple, but they’re soon to be separated as Sue leaves for Los Angeles to pursue her singing career while he stays in New York, lacking the confidence to go with her immediately. Already Al is a revealed to be far from a hero – heroes do something with their lives, act to get what they want, and become the catalyst for change and movement in a story. But Al is simultaneously frustrated with his position in life and reluctant to do anything to change it, though he’s dating the most beautiful girl around and his talent as a pianist is undeniable and appreciated more than he realizes (or can accept). His piano solo soon after Sue leaves suggests that he could be a great classical pianist or maybe even a composer if he had the determination to go for it. But instead he seems to belittle his talent and think of himself as a loser. Perhaps he is right – for when he does decide to do something, head west to join Sue in LA, everything goes horribly wrong.