Category Archives: Classic Movies

Broken City

Quite frankly, Broken City is a broken movie. With a reasonably capable cast (Mark Wahlberg, Russel Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones), the film is one of those that gets lost along the way. Let’s face it. Hollywood these days is not what it was a few short years ago. Professionalism and dedication have flown the coop, replaced by bean counters and, unfortunately, directors who don’t know how to direct.

It’s not just the direction in Broken City, it’s the script, too. Let’s see if we can figure out who’s to blame for this mishmash of a film.

Billy Taggert (Wahlberg) is an ex-cop, kicked off the NYPD for the murder of an acquitted but supposedly guilty rapist/murderer.  Taggert is certainly guilty but the Mayor of New York (Crowe), keeps the evidence that will convict him hidden for use later on. The Police Commissioner, played by Carl Fairbanks, seems to be in on all of this and accepts Taggert’s dismissal in lieu of charging him with the murder.

Fast forward seven years. Taggert is working as a private dick, Mayor Hostetler is in the midst of a re-election campaign and his wife (Zeta-Jones) seems to be having an affair with someone. Hostetler hires Taggert to find out who she’s sleeping with. End of the plot to this point. Watch the film and the rest of the story works out as expected.

The action, the acting, the direction is all fine, no arguments there. Crowe’s New York/Boston-ish accent is merely OK, however. Couldn’t they have hired an American for this part? Is Crowe’s name a big draw in theatres these days? Wahlberg is Wahlberg and Zeta-Jones has a few moments of intensity that are not bad. The script is the weak point, though.

Taggert’s girlfriend Natalie Barrow (Natalie Martinez) is an actress. She sticks with Billy through thick and thin and their relationship is developed as a sideline to the main plot. Maybe it was originally meant to actually go somewhere but the director,  Alan Hughes,  leaves us hanging after a messy bar scene where a drunk Taggert accosts Barrow over her scandalous role in an Indie film. We never see her again after that. The isolated scene where Taggert goes back to their now-empty apartment is the only mention of the relationship past that point.

Taggert’s loyal and gorgeous assistant, Katy played by Alona Tal, is the subject of many lingering shots but her role is definitely secondary until the end. Inexplicably, Katy figures prominently in the final scene as if, unbeknownst to the audience, she has suddenly replaced Natalie in Taggert’s life. She promises to be there when he gets back, assuming he ever does get back from prison and that he is even convicted of his crime.

The main source of intrigue, an apartment complex that is being sold out from under its residents, is the MacGuffin here. It’s the same old story of the simple detective getting involved in something much bigger than he initially thinks it is. We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again, hopefully in the hands of a better director and/or script writer. The problem with Broken City may lie on the cutting room floor. As 109 minutes, the story is plenty long enough and certainly could have been shorter without the aimless and unnecessary Billy/Natalie sub-story. It doesn’t go anywhere anyway so why not leave it out? (Maybe because Martinez is drop-dead sexy in the scene where she’s getting pumped from behind by the director of the Indie film.)

Broken City is not a complete waste of time, don’t get me wrong. The film is broken, for sure, but could be saved by a few cuts here and there. Take out the stuff that doesn’t go anywhere or enhance the story, develop the Katy/Billy relationship a bit more and you’d have a decent action piece. As it is, it’s almost dead in the water but still worth watching, as long as you don’t expect too much. Whatever you do, don’t spend money on it. It’s OK to waste a bit of time with but not to spend a penny on.

Photo of Broken City poster
A film about crooked politicians who are exposed by a crooked cop.

Session 9

Photo from Session 9
Dark, brooding and oh so claustrophobic.

I’m not a fan of slash films at all but I do enjoy…sometimes…a psychological thriller. Session 9 is one of the best that I’ve ever seen. When someone asks about ‘scary’ movies, I tell them to try Session 9. Then I challenge them to watch it by themselves.

This review doesn’t contain any spoilers, don’t worry. Even if I did describe what goes on it the movie, it would still be terrifying. What actually happen, as in the plot of who did what, doesn’t have anything to do with the punch it packs. The setting, the pace, the acting and the direction combine to create a memorable and terrifying horror film.

The movie was made in 2001, back when its star, David Caruso, could act. Whatever you do, don’t pooh-pooh this film just because Caruso is in it. You’ll be making a big mistake. Coincidentally, Paul Guilfoyle, another CSI alumnus, is in the movie as well. Brad Anderson directs, you can see his bio here at the IMDB .

The Danvers State Hospital in Danvers, Massachusetts serves as the setting. Here’s how it looked at one time:

Photo of Danvers State Hospital in 1893
Danvers State Hospital in 1893

The film’s pace is never too fast, never too plodding. Days go by and incidents happen, there isn’t a low moment in it but there are many times when you wish things would pick up, just to allay the terror that builds and builds and get it over with, to release you from the hold that immobilizes you.

I’m a bit surprised that Anderson didn’t stick to this genre, simply because he’d done such a fine job here. The film has had mixed reviews and didn’t do well at the box office but it has become a cult classic, and for good reason. I would describe it as a taut thriller that grabs your nerves and never releases them until the end. You’ll never hear the question, “What are you doing here?” without thinking of Session 9.

I should mention that this movie is similar in some ways to Don’t Look Now with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. The Wiki on this movie suggests that the two are similar but there are some differences. The story or plot is certainly stronger in Don’t Look Now but the tension and handling of suspense is certainly better in Session 9. Don’t Look Now depends on surprise at the end, unfortunately, while Session 9 never stoops for a cheap shock.

 

Thanks for reading!

Photo of Session 9 Sountrack
Session 9 

Soundtrack

Trafic – Jacques Tati

Jacques Tati only directed six feature films but is listed at number forty-six in Entertainment Weekly’s top directors of all-time. Trafic, made in 1971, is one of the reasons for this. In terms of sight jokes and off-beat comedy, Trafic is at the top of my list.

Photo of the movie poster for Trafic
Even the title is a bit of a joke. Trafic translates as ‘exchange of goods’ but also describes the congestion seen in this film.

Don’t expect dialogue to save the day here. Tati expects you to simply watch the film and pick out as many of the funny moments as possible. Some are in plain sight, some are gags that only a few viewers will get. No worries, you can watch the film several times without being bored and, I bet, each time you will see jokes that you missed before.

At the time that Trafic was made, auto shows were huge in Europe. Car racing, as a matter of fact, was huge too. Making a film that is car-centric wouldn’t make much sense today but back in 1971, it made all kinds of sense. Europe’s love affair with the automobile has faded somewhat but car lovers will have fun looking back on the various models shown here. With names like Citroen, Peugeot, etc., France had a booming industry in the ’70s, as did many European countries. In this single Youtube scene from the movie, see how many classic models you can pick out:

A short scene from Trafic on Youtube.

 

Cinematically, Trafic is quite stunning by times. The snippet shown on Youtube gives you some sense of that. Notice the close-ups that convey the congestion on the highway and in the parking lot. Cinematographer Eduard van der Enden is to be complimented for his work here. Sections of the film would work very nicely as a stand-alone experimental film. If you’ve ever seen Castro Street by Bruce Baillie, you’ll get the gist of what I’m talking about. Close-ups, abstract views of cars and highway lines, they’re all here.

For me, the opening sequence in the great hall is reflective of the type of humor in the film. In a long shot, we see people moving around in a wide open space, stopping every few feet to lift their legs. Only when we get closer do we see that they are actually stepping over the strings that divide each display spot from the one next to it. Over thirty-five years have passed since I saw it first and that scene is still fresh in my mind.

There is a bit of a story that links the film’s funny bits together. If there was to be a star of the movie, Mr. Hulot would most likely be it. Hulot is a relic from the early ’50s when Tati was making films such as Mr. Hulot’s Holiday. In some of the works, Tati played the character of Mr. Hulot himself.

Photo of Jacques Tati as Mr. Hulot
The director shown in character as Mr. Hulot.

If you get a chance to see Trafic in a rep theatre or online, you’ll enjoy it. Look for little sight gags here and there but don’t lose track of the theme, that of the modern world’s congestion and confusion which, unfortunately, has only gotten worse.

Thanks for reading!  If you’ve seen a good film recently, let me know what it is. If it’s good, I’ll write about it.

 

Blade Runner

Scenes from Blade Runner
Scenes showing some sets from Blade Runner

It’s hard for me to believe that Blade Runner is 29 years old already. I think it’s aged well, I do, I do!

If you’re a fan of Philip K. Dick (original novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) or Ridley Scott (director Alien, Gladiator and, as producer, The Good Wife for TV), then you certainly know Blade Runner. I’m adding this movie simply because it’s one of my very favorites. Everything about it is achingly well done. Harrison Ford’s laconic acting style seems constantly at odds with the incredible busyness of the setting, Los Angeles of the future.

Sean Young, before she went a bit wacko over James Woods, is perfect as the real/robotic female lead. It’s silly but the moment that still makes me emotional is when she finds out that she isn’t a real person. Her memories have been implanted, of course, and Ford doesn’t really seem to give a shit one way or the other. In the end, however, he whisks her off to safety, away from the city.

As I’ve grown older (OK, OLD!), I’ve experienced certain dreams that have definite memories in them that I know aren’t real. What I mean is that during the dream, I have very  vivid memories that whole dreams are based upon. When I wake up, the memories linger for a while then fade but in the period of the dream, they are very real. From that, I’ve come to question what a memory really is. If my brain can implant and act upon a memory while I am asleep, a memory that can completely fool me, then what is real? Other than this moment now, what else is real? From that, I’ve been able to sense a little bit of what Dick was writing about. Once robots evolve, if they every do, then we’ll be faced with the very same questions that are raised in the movie.

The other moment that struck me was near the end when Rutger Hauer is describing what  he has seen,

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe…
Attack Ships on fire off the shores of Orion.
I’ve watched C-beams glitter in the dark off of Tanhauser Gate.
All those moments will be lost in time…like tears, in rain.
Time to die.”

You have to admit that it’s a powerful moment. This killer has suddenly revealed that he has feelings and, perhaps, a soul too. At the moment he says ‘Time to die’, a white dove flies up, representing his soul heading up to robot heaven, I suppose.

The sets are the best I think I’ve ever seen. From the exterior shots of a very crowded, rainy and dismal L.A. to the dripping wet apartment lobby with the wrought iron railings, to the interiors of Decker’s and Sebastian’s apartments and finally to the smoky, beautifully lit Tyrell offices, each shot is perfect, in my opinion. It’s truly an escape, maybe not to a world that you’d want to live in but an OK place to visit for a couple of hours.

There are light moments, disgustingly violent moments, sad moments and points where you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Decker’s apartment is a futuristic man-cave, complete with the coolest scotch glasses I’ve seen anywhere.

There are various versions of the movie so don’t think that if you’ve seen one that you’ve seen them all. I suppose the famous (and overused) ‘director’s cut’ might be the place to start. This movie won’t set you back much in terms of money but it will reinforce your opinion of some early American films. Sure, American films suck now but they didn’t always suck. I’ll highlight some of my favourites now and then.

Thanks for reading! Comments (nice ones) are welcome.

The sun sets over Los Angeles seen from the Tyrell office.
The smoky, sepia Tyrell office as the sun sets over L.A.

Le Voyage en Douce

Poster for Le Voyage en Douce
Dominique Sanda and Geraldine Chaplin

I don’t think you’ll see this film in too many places but it’s one of my favorites. Starring Dominique Sanda and Geraldine Chaplin, Le Voyage en Douce is one of those soft, erotic French films that no other country seems to be able to emulate. I first saw the movie in the ’80s and then again in the early ’90s. It’s been stuck in my memory since the start.

Based on 15 separate stories, the movie seems to move seamlessly  from one erotic episode to another. Dominique Sanda seems to be the initiator while Geraldine Chaplin is the naive apprentice. Chaplin, however, seems very eager to learn from Sanda. The interaction is delightful, funny and tender.

Le Voyage en Douce was directed by Michel Deville, director of La Lectrice, another classic. If you aren’t familiar with European films, specially French films, you will notice the lack of a ‘sound track’. American films can’t seem to shut up sometimes. There is always music etc. to fill the spaces but in this film (and many others) the director gives us silence when there is no dialogue, allowing only ambient noises to creep in. When Sanda is in the dark summer house, we hear the crickets and the summer sounds. Sure they were probably cranked up a bit but the effect is very beautiful. French films, for the most part, are simply more mature than most American movies, assuming that the viewer is intelligent and discerning enough to figure things out on their own.

Trivia: In some French films you will not hear music until the actor turns on a radio. Otherwise, the directors thought, the audience wouldn’t know where the music is coming from. American movies seem to continually have a full orchestra, even in the middle of a battlefield or out in the empty prairie.

Although there is some nudity in the movie, there is nothing hard or coarse. Anything sexual or erotic is innocent, deftly handled and sweet. Having two female leads adds to the overall effect. Not that men can’t be tender and sweet but in this film we get the feeling that men just aren’t needed, at least not during the period shown during the movie.

The film has been described as being ‘aimless’ (Janet Maslin of the New York Times). I suppose it is but is that any different from having cops chasing a McGuffin endlessly through a film? The aimlessness is a vital part of the feeling in the movie, part of the endless summer feeling that pervades this classic.

If you can, check this movie out. I’m not sure where you’ll find it but take some time to look. Maybe you won’t agree with my assessment but you’ll have a relaxing 98 minutes regardless.

Thanks for reading!

Sitting in a Cafe
Look for the golden glow in this movie.

 

Something about Netflix

Netflix.com  Main Page
Lots of movies here for 8 bucks a month.

I’m not associated with Netflix in any way. Let’s clear that up right away. However, I’m here to tell you what a great frickin’ deal it is. If you love films and have a highspeed, or even a moderate speed connection, get it. At eight bucks a month for all the films you can watch, the value is unbelievable.

Some may argue that there isn’t a lot of choice as far as big name films is concerned. I guess that depends on what your definition of a big name film is. If it’s American blockbusters, then you’re out of luck. If it’s films that make you think and feel, then there are thousands of choices.

Volver, for instance. A Spanish film that stars Penelope Cruz, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in it, is an example. Full of humor, witty dialogue and emotion, this is a film that is equal to anything I’ve seen in the last twenty years. Jar City, a dark, Icelandic film, is equally as good. There are hundreds of top notch films that you can watch, think about and discuss with your friends. There is nowhere else that you’ll be able to see these films unless you head down to your local specialty cinema. They might show some of them. With Netflix you get to see this kind of movie every day of the month for eight bucks.

Over the next little while I’ll be highlighting some of the films that I’ve seen on Netflix. While some of these aren’t classic movies yet, at some point in the future I’m sure they will be. Almost all of them have sub-titles, by the way. If you don’t like to read while you watch a movie, then you’re missing some pretty cool films.

Thanks for reading!

Bed and Board

I always thought the title of this movie was ‘Bed and Bored’. Bored seemed to make more sense than board. Check it out and see what you think.

Bed and Board is part of the continuing story of Antoine Doinel, the very charismatic hero of several of Francois Truffaut’s films. Starting with the 400 Blows and ending with Love on the Run, Truffaut follows Doinel over about twenty years of his life. Bed and Board is my favourite part of the series. It’s cute, achingly naive and superbly acted. Only see it with sub-titles, of course. This rule is for any foreign film that is mentioned here.

The movie stars Jean-Pierre Léaud and Claude Jade as husband and wife. The story unfolds very slowly, part of the discovered narrative style that is evident in many European films. A discovered narrative is simply a movie in which the plot evolves over time, sometimes not until halfway through the film. Unlike the in-your-face American style of film, made for less cultured audiences, these movies seem initially slow moving, perhaps even a bit boring. In this particular movie, Léaud keeps things moving, constantly begging the audience to look at him while he goes about his tasks as a flower seller. Basically, just sit and watch and the story or plot will become evident. Don’t expect car chases and lost microfilm, however. These films are all about life and love, sometimes even the pursuit of happiness. As a shining example of classic European cinema, Bed and Board stands up to scrutiny, even forty years after its release.

Claude Jade is very easy to look at and her interaction with Léaud is quite unique in film. It’s almost as if they are a real couple, The bedroom scenes are very amusing and quite touching. Everyone in this film is very good, as a matter of fact. Different themes run through the story and Truffaut uses repetition to amuse his audience.

The story isn’t going to be explained here, look up the wiki if you want to know about it. Basically, you should rent it or catch it on Netflix. Any film that I review is guaranteed to be thought provoking and well made. You can use this site as a resource for those times when you can’t seem to find anything to watch.

As always, thanks for reading!

Star Dressed in Kimono with Sticks in Hair
Claude Jade looks for revenge!

 

Domicile Conjugal
Original French Poster