Category Archives: Movies

An Old (And Pretty Much Solved) Complaint

Going way back to the early days of the cinema there has been what is known as the widescreen format: A film with its image being wider than it is tall. This format is also called landscape, because it’s the best format for capturing the horizon in nature. And in those early days, there was also a more square format for movies. Both formats were fairly common until Hollywood (and the rest of the world) was plunged into the Great Depression and in the early 1930s movies went to the more square image. It was a move to help limit costs.

Then, in the early 1950s with the American economy booming, televisions became more and more common and Hollywood began to worry it would lose its movie-going audience. Theaters installed air conditioning and some movies experimented with 3D in hopes of pulling people away from their TV sets.

PCOFEb6

Another way Hollywood tried to entice movie-goers was to return to the widescreen format with VistaVision and CinemaScope. Using that wider screen, filmmakers made epics even more epic; filling the screens with luscious colors, vast landscapes, and thrilling action. And it worked. People went to see those magnificent spectacles.

ben-hur

Then a new problem arose. Audiences wanted to see those movies on TV and the networks wanted to show them, but how? Ben-Hur (1959) was certainly not going to fit on a more square-like screen. What could they do?

The solution was to have someone crop the image and move that crop from side to side to shift the focus. The process was called pan and scan. Most people wouldn’t notice, but filmmakers and movie lovers did.

Pan and scan made the images and characters feel too close to the camera. Many films felt claustrophobic. Action scenes became confusing and far less impactful. The use of pan and scan essentially was a re-directing or re-interpretation of the film. The technician doing the cropping had to decide which part of the image to show and which part to leave out. The process changed the films. And absolutely ruined them.

Of course, I didn’t realize this when I was a kid. But even then I would notice that, when one of those epic films would start on TV, the opening with the title and the actors’ names would have black bars across the top and bottom of the image. Once the opening credits were complete the image would then fill the TV screen. Eventually, I understood why. They needed those bars to change the aspect ratio of the screen in order to not have the title and the actors’ names cut off at the sides.

When home video became a thing, most movies, maybe even all, were released in the pan and scan or full screen format. Eventually, filmmakers and movie lovers began to demand widescreen or letterboxed videos and DVDs. They wanted the entire picture, which would give the full and intended vision of the filmmaker. That meant the black bars would stay for the entire movie.

Well, a couple weeks ago I watched the mess of a movie Mackenna’s Gold (1969) on DVD. It came into Nostalgia Zone and I borrowed this favorite from when I was a kid. It is a mess. The producers realized the movie was so confusing they had to rely heavily on a narrator to keep the audiences clued in on what the hell was going on.

It was also in full screen. Ugh.

I was able to grab an image from the internet that shows how this particular shot was supposed to look. I then cropped the image to look the way it appeared in the pan and scan.

47314346_2463007397048907_872981411768827904_n

This is how it was supposed to look.

ba033949cdf865039112a37b90af4375

This is pan and scan.

In a movie as lousy as Mackenna’s Gold it probably isn’t vitally important to see Telly Savalas in the same shot. But, let’s look at a shot from Tombstone (1993). A sometimes silly (I mean just how many bullets does Holliday have in his two six-shooters during the big OK Corral gunfight? 40?), but very rousing and entertaining Western telling the tale of the Earp Brothers’ and Doc Holliday’s battle with the lawless gang known as The Cowboys. The shot (sorry about the poor quality of the image) is from the scene in which Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn) and Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer) meet for the first time.

As you can see in the widescreen shot, the two gunman are intended to be on screen at the same time. This adds to the tension of the scene. We are supposed to see the two interact with each other and we are also meant to see the reactions of the surrounding characters – all at the same time.

Screen Shot 2018-12-27 at 11.43.20 AM

All the actors interacting in this scene is what makes this such a great shot.

A full screen version of this scene would be laughable. In the wide shot, it would have to pan back and forth between Ringo and Holliday. It would be distracting and would kill the impact of the scene.

Tombstone pan & scan Doc

Pan and scan would force the scene to…

 

Tombstone pan & scan Ringo

…cut back and forth between the two characters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think you get the idea.

As the headline of this blog suggests, I realize that we live in great times for film lovers, because our TVs have all gone widescreen. This also means that full screen videos and DVDs are old hat. No one does the pan and scan anymore, so why am I complaining?

Eh. It’s what I do.

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , ,

Horror Incorporated Didn’t Need A Host

maxresdefault

“Lurking among the corpses are the body-snatchers, plotting their next venture into the graveyard…”

Those were the first words that welcomed Twin Cities viewers to the weekly night of terror offered by the local TV station KSTP, back when I was a kid in the 1970s. The show was called Horror Incorporated.

There were many such creature feature offerings on local television stations all over America in those days. Our horror movie showcase was a little different than most. Ours had no host.

No Vampira. No Ghoulardi. No Mister Lobo. No Sir Graves Ghastly. No Doctor Creep. No Sharon Needles. No Grimsley.

No host.

But my research does show that Horror Incorporated did indeed, however briefly, have a couple of hosts. First was Dr. Paul Bearer (get it?) in the early 1970s. There also appears to have been a second host in the mid-70s, who went by the name Graves. Neither host lasted very long. For the majority of its run from the fall of 1969 until sometime in the later 1970s (I’m not certain when it ended) there was no host.

And having no host was good, because…

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 1.10.47 PM

Not a great Dracula.

In the 2000s, the show was revived with hosts. There were two attempts at a revival, in fact. I don’t know which came first, but one was hosted by Count Dracula, who stood in front of a green screen and did a not so great Bela Lugosi impression. He would make puns and tell a few facts related to the featured horror movie. He would then tell viewers to “OBEY!” and come back next week. Lame, but the actor did his best with what he had to work with.

hqdefault

Not the Addams Family.

The other attempt had a small cast of young actors doing sort of a take off on the Addams Family. In fact, the main character, Uncle Ghoulie (center in above photo. No, not the wolf!), was a cross between Gomez Addams (as played by the great John Astin on the ’60s TV show) and Svengoolie, a current and longtime horror show host. They did skits and tried their best to insert humor into the proceedings. They had varying degrees of success.

Neither incarnation lasted long.

I might have a bit of nostalgic bias here, but I prefer no host. That’s the way I saw the Friday night creature feature when I was a kid. There was no silliness, except what might have been in the movie. The way that version was presented was to absolutely creep you out. You were supposed to be scared. It set the tone for a scary movie. And if they had a good one to show, one with Lugosi or Karloff, perhaps, the viewer would be in the proper mood for a scare and not a giggle.

The show featured a simple open and close which often times were far more frightening than the featured film. They consisted of a sparse set: Black with only a coffin in a spotlight. And, of course, there was fog. The lighting would change from harsh white to yellow, blue, purple, green, red. There were sounds of creaking doors, shrieks, groans, and cries of anguish. And then the lid of the coffin would begin to open and two pale, claw-like, almost skeletal, hands would come into sight. The occupant was rising from his coffin to head into the night in search of blood… I’m guessing.

And there was the voice-over provided by Jim Wise, who was also working for KSTP radio. He sounded excellent as he welcomed viewers to that week’s “excursion through Horror Incorporated…” Chills! Good old-fashioned, blood-curdling chills, folks!

When the feature was complete, the scene returned to the coffin. This time its occupant was returning from a night of terrorizing innocents. And the voice-over told us…

“Next week, I will be back again with another venture into the chamber of horror. Come along for another experience through the unknown, into Horror Incorporated.”

Now just try to get some sleep, kids!

You can watch the opening and closing at this link. See if you don’t agree that it is very effective. Also, visit The Horror Incorporated Project. It’s a fun site that really helped me in my research.

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books.

Tagged , ,

A Pedant Watches Close Encounters of the Third Kind

41LL9o87IzL

Warning! Spoilers ahead.

On my podcast, Dimland Radio (available on iTunes & Podbean) I do a semi-regular segment I call the Dimland Radio Pedantic Moment. It’s a moment in which I’ll get all pedantic on some usually minor thing I’ve noticed. For example, in one of those life insurance TV ads Alex Trebek does he mentions the three P’s of life insurance offered by a particular company. They are Price, Price, and Price. A Price you can afford, a Price that cannot change, and a Price that fits your budget.

Um, Alex? A price that fits my budget is a price I can afford. So, it’s really only two P’s then, isn’t it?

See? Like that.

Sometimes my pedantic moments are rather lengthy. On last week’s show my moment was a long one. It covered much of what I didn’t understand about Steven Spielberg’s 1977 classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind. A listener to my podcast attempted to assist me in getting past my pedantry, but some of it is still mystifying to me. I thought I’d go over the problems I have with the film here, as well.

Don’t get me wrong! I really like the movie. It’s just that…

The plot.

A super-advanced, extraterrestrial species, which had been visiting our planet and kidnapping our people for decades (unless you believe they built the Egyptian pyramids – they didn’t, humans did – then they’ve been coming here for thousands of years), had decided to make themselves known by driving average people crazy by implanting an image of Devil’s Tower in their minds without any explanation as to why. The people are just compelled to figure it out and go there.

close-encounters-2

“Huh. Where have I seen that before?”

The aliens are kinda jerks.

They also steal a four year old boy right from his terrified mother’s arms. Because they needed just one more human, I guess.

maxresdefault

“It’s OK, lady. We’re just going to do a few experiments on him.”

No, the aliens aren’t kinda jerks. They are complete ——–!

(I prefer not to swear on this blog, but you know what I mean.)

They have also been leaving clues for the government to come meet them at Devil’s Tower. The government scares off the locals and builds a base which includes a landing strip, for some reason, and wait for our interplanetary neighbors to show up.

The pedantry.

Something the government people picked up on is a series of five musical notes coming from the spacemen that they think means something. They think it is important. This is where I get a little lost. There’s a meeting of the government people in Carnegie Hall or some similar facility, in which the head man demonstrates some hand signals matched up with the music. The hand signals come from a method of teaching music developed by a fellow named Zoltan Kodaly.

Screen Shot 2018-09-13 at 2.05.35 PM

“It’s been my life-long dream to play a reel-to-reel tape machine to a live audience.”

This is received with thunderous applause from the government people in attendance. It was met by me with a confused, “Huh?”

Screen Shot 2018-09-13 at 2.06.51 PM

“Hot crowd! Hot crowd!”

So, at the end of the movie, the alien mothership shows up and the humans and ET have a musical conversation. But, how do we earthlings know what to say in response to whatever it is that the little grey men are saying? Sure, some fellow says the aliens are teaching us a basic tonal language, whatever that means. Another says it’s the first day of school, but how do we know what the tones mean? How do we know what to play back?

On my first day of school, if my teacher had asked me to spell cat without first teaching me the alphabet, it would be pretty futile, wouldn’t it? If the aliens are trying to communicate with us using musical notes, we would need to know what the notes represent first, wouldn’t we? And yet the government men somehow know how to respond. One of them tells the musician what to play; at first, eventually a computer takes over. The musician is the only one who seems to understand my confusion. He even asks, “What are we saying to each other?”

hqdefault

The musician (in the middle) is thinking to himself, “Well, at least it’s a payin’ gig.”

Remember Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in which a massive space probe is destroying the earth trying to talk to extinct humpback whales? It was the Enterprise crew that figured that out, so Admiral Kirk suggests that they respond by reproducing humpback whale sounds. Mr. Spock correctly points out that though they could make the sounds, they don’t know the language. “We would be responding in gibberish.”

Isn’t that what the humans were doing in that scene in Close Encounters?

My pedantic moment continued with my discussion of the return of the hostages these heartless aliens had been picking up on their numerous visits. Out of the mothership pile several confused people, some of whom had been gone for decades. Just how thrilled will they be to learn their loved ones had moved on or even died. “Thanks a lot, alien buddy old pal.”

Screen Shot 2018-09-13 at 2.16.15 PM

“Welcome back. You’re wife has remarried and she’s in her 60s.”

They could comfort themselves by saying, “Well, at least, I haven’t aged.” Because the aliens must have been traveling at light speed the entire time they had held these people captive. And this led to a remark made by one of the government men when another said that Einstein was right about the whole the relativity thing and aging. The remark was, “Einstein was probably one of them.” Them being the aliens.

b0afb718-1b00-492d-a38b-22c47ee34fcb_screenshot

“Don’t look now, but isn’t that Ash from Aliens standing behind us?”

When I was a kid I thought that line was profound. Now I find it incredibly irksome. The suggestion that the human species can’t produce someone as intelligent as Einstein is profoundly insulting. Much the same way believing the ancient Egyptians weren’t capable of building the pyramids is profoundly insulting.

And here’s the pedantic thing: The government people were expecting these hostages to be returned. They had a checklist of names and a big board of photographs. How did they know? We hadn’t even learned to communicate yet! Remember? It’s the first day of school!

And just how do we know these people weren’t replicants as in Blade Runner or pod people as in The Invasion of the Body-Snatchers? They could have be sent here to take over the world! Look, the aliens have shown they don’t care about the loved ones left behind when they take prisoners. They pulled cute, innocent, trusting, little Barry right out of his mother’s arms. They didn’t give a damn.

I don’t trust them.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m thinking too much about it. It’s still a great movie.

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books.

Tagged , , , , ,

That’s Not How That Works

39570039_2304132032936445_4542365108830994432_n

There is a very real effect out there known as the CSI Effect. It’s what happens to lay people when it comes to their expectations of forensic science due to what they’ve seen on any of the numerous CSI TV series. For the purposes of artistic and dramatic license Hollywood has been exaggerating what forensic science can do for decades. And I just saw another example.

In 1948, 20th Century Fox released Call Northside 777, a film noir classic based on a true story. It stars James Stewart as the cynical newspaper reporter J.P. McNeal, who has been assigned to do a story on an ad offering $5000 (that’s more than $50,000 in today’s money) to anyone who can provide evidence that will free an innocent man from prison.

OK, stop right here and know that there are big spoilers ahead.

The innocent man is Frank Wiecek (Richard Conte) and it’s his mother (Kasia Orzazewski) who has worked as a janitor for eleven years to raise the money. Wiecek was convicted and sentenced to 99 years for killing a cop in 1932, the height of the Prohibition Era. He was essentially convicted by the testimony of one eyewitness.

northside-slide

James Stewart and Lee J. Cobb

McNeal thinks the story is a waste of time, but his editor (Lee J. Cobb) presses him to dig deeper. The initial story “Mac” wrote was getting good response, so the digging continued. Without me going through everything, the cynical reporter comes to believe Wiecek to be innocent. Despite the evidence uncovered by Mac being compelling, the newspaper’s lawyer speaks the hard truth that it isn’t the kind of evidence that will convince the coroner’s inquest to overturn the verdict.

index

“Sorry, boys. But the evidence isn’t good enough.”

McNeal needs to get the witness to recant her testimony or find new evidence. Or drop the story.

The witness refuses, even though it’s learned that she didn’t recognize Wiecek as the killer at first. It seemed the police worked with her a little bit, because it’s also learned that she and the accused had been together with the police the day before she finally picked him out of a line up. However, the court transcripts showed testimony that she hadn’t seen the accused the day before she identified him.

If Mac could only prove the accused and the witness had seen each other the day before, that would discredit her testimony and taint her identification of the accused. He just needed to find the evidence.

With time running out before the newspaper’s lawyer was to apologize to the coroner’s inquest and drop the case, MacNeal found an old photograph showing Wiecek and the witness together being escorted into police headquarters. The indications were that the photo was taken the day before the line up, but could Mac prove the timing?

39515090_2304132296269752_5283574007675748352_n

“Enlarge that newsie!”

Up to this point, the film was pretty good. Not the best film noir I’ve seen, but I was enjoying it. And then it happened. This pedant has been bugged by this dramatic device for years. Lots of old cop shows have done it, I can remember a specific episode of Columbo that did it, and Blade Runner (1982) does its variation of blowing up a photograph to get details that just aren’t there. It’s just not possible.

With Blade Runner, I’m a little more forgiving, because it’s set in the future (2019!) and there’s technology far advanced to what we have now. (Next year is going to be interesting. Replicants, flying cars, cool computer devices that can turn corners in photographs.) But, in 1943, when this picture is set? No way!

Here’s what happens. Mac has part of that photograph enlarged first to 100x, then to 140x, and finally “as big as possible.” The part he’s interested in shows a newsie way off in the background, across the street, holding a stack of newspapers. What the intrepid reporter is attempting to do is zero in on where the date would be on the newspaper the boy is holding.

39558172_2305767469439568_5103978240796524544_n

100x

39638374_2305767979439517_8735895589515952128_n

140x

39468028_2304132502936398_4111648410950434816_n

Oh, please!

And there it is! The date! Proving the photograph was taken the day before the eyewitness identified Wiecek in that line up. Proving that the witness was mistaken or lying about not seeing the accused since the crime until that line up. Proving that she may have been influenced by the police to identify Wiecek in that line up.

Wiecek was set free.

(Uh, it’s a good thing no one suggested the newsboy could have been holding a stack of newspapers from the day before the photograph was taken. Cough! Cough!)

So, for me, the movie ended with an, “Oh, that’s impossible!”

By the way, I said the film was based on a true story. It is, but, according to Wikipedia:

“In actuality, innocence was determined not as claimed in the film but when it was found out that the prosecution had suppressed the fact that the main witness had initially declared that she could not identify the two men involved in the police shooting.”

Not quite as sexy, I guess.

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

Images used under Fair Use.

Tagged , , , , ,

You know what’s a really good detective movie with a swell lot of thieves, a quick talking private eye, and a black bird? (And a not so good one?)

il_fullxfull.1415152579_3dz8

In a span of ten years, Hollywood had produced three versions of Dashiell Hammett’s detective novel The Maltese Falcon (1930). First in 1931, next in 1936, and finally in 1941. It’s the 1941 version that most people think of when this classic story is mentioned. And with good reason. It’s the best.

OK, full disclosure. I haven’t seen the 1936 version. That one is titled Satan Met A Lady which stars Bette Davis and, from what I can tell, it’s not very highly thought of. It’s also only very loosely based on the book. Hell, they even changed Sam Spade’s name! For shame!

The 1931 version is a bit slow and stagey. The actors deliver their lines rather like they aren’t sure they should be speaking. However, Una Merkel as Effie Perine, Sam Spade’s girl Friday, does add some nice sass to the picture. And the picture was made during the Pre-Code era of Hollywood, so it could be a little more blatant with its suggestions of sexual relations between characters.

The introduction of Spade, lecherously played by the handsome Ricardo Cortez, is quite eyebrow raising. He is seen bidding farewell to a woman, whose face we never see, at the door of his and his partner’s offices. The woman adjusts her stockings just as she takes her leave. Spade, after sexually harassing Effie for a quick couple of minutes, returns to his private office and straightens up the couch. Eyebrows raised.

Another Pre-Code aspect of this version comes when it more closely follows the book in the scene in which Spade needs to determine if Miss Wonderly (Bebe Daniels), his deceptive client and love interest, had stolen a thousand dollar bill. Spade demands that she disrobe in front of him so he can be sure she doesn’t have it. In the 1941 version, the detective takes her at her word that she hadn’t stolen it.

2864839373_eb990f56f7_z

Sam leching on Effie.

The main problem with this version is Cortez. He’s too handsome. Too much like Rudolph Valentino and too much of a dandy to be a hard-bitten gumshoe. And, I know the film intended to make certain the audience knows he’s a ladies’ man, but Cortez is way too creepy. The way he looks at virtually every woman in this movie isn’t merely to undress them with his eyes, it’s meant to give the message to the woman that, sooner or later, he’ll be having sex with her. It’s hard to imagine women of the 1931 movie-going public finding that attractive.

Perhaps, they didn’t, because the film did not do very well at the box office. That is probably why just five years later it was remade as that Bette Davis vehicle. However, that didn’t do very well either. And I didn’t see it, so I can’t say anymore about that film.

Then came the definitive version in 1941. Considered Hollywood’s first film noir, it was written and directed by first-time director John Huston and stars Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade. This one got it right. Bogart is fantastic as the confident, tough, smart, and ruggedly handsome private eye. He’s been around and seen a few things in his time. He’s a ladies’ man, all right, and subject to the sexist behavior of the day, but he’s no creep. I can understand his appeal to women. He’s the men want to be him and women want to be with him kind of character Hollywood produces from time to time.

cast-maltese-falcon

The tale is a bit hard to follow on first viewing, but that doesn’t take anything away from the enjoyment. The characters are so fascinating and the actors are all top-notch. This film is just crammed with great character actors. There’s Mary Astor as Miss Wonderly/Brigid O’Shaughnessy, Sidney Greenstreet as Kasper Gutman, and, of course, Peter Lorre and his amazing portrayal of Joel Cairo (more on that character in the upcoming aside). Even the secondary characters have terrific actors in the parts, which includes the good cop/bad cop team portrayed by Ward Bond and Barton MacLane, Lee Patrick as the ever-reliable Effine Perine, and Elisha Cook Jr as Wilmer, Gutman’s young, tough-talking bodyguard. If ever a movie had the perfect casting, this one is it.

And now a short aside…

In the book, Hammett makes it clear that Cairo is gay. In fact, there are strong suggestions that Gutman is also gay and Wilmer is his kept boy toy. This brings up an interesting difference between the 1931 Pre-Code era version and the 1941 Code era version. The 1931 picture barely hinted at the homosexuality of Cairo and doesn’t make any hint regarding Gutman’s and Wilmer’s (other than as a figurative father and son) relationship, while 1941’s version was filled with subtle and maybe not-so-subtle hints about Cairo’s sexuality as well as Gutman’s and Wilmer’s sexual relationship.

1ddb17c3f2741caaa8d069ce9415dd83

If you can’t see the phallic nature of that handle, you have a far less dirty mind than I.

Both versions make note of Cairo’s scented business card, but in Huston’s story it’s more emphasized. There’s also the moment of Cairo suggestively placing the phallic-looking handle of his umbrella to his lips as he attempts to find out if Spade has the Black Bird. Huston dropped other hints, including the very subtle gesture of Spade removing his hat as Cairo is led into his office. You see, in those days, a gentleman always removed his hat when a lady entered the room.

The hint about Gutman and Wilmer comes when Spade refers to the young tough as a gunsel. Sure, most everyone thought he meant the boy was a gunman, which is what the word came to mean. But when Hammett needed to replace the word catamite in the serialized version of his novel, he chose gunsel which, in the old days for even the 1930s, meant the same thing: A young man kept for homosexual purposes.

Short aside over, now back to the blog…

If the cast isn’t enough for you, there’s the crisp dialog. So well written by Huston, although his source material was pretty damn good. (Yes, I read it!) These characters just flow with such quotable lines as: “When you’re slapped you’ll take it and like it.” “A crippled newsie took ’em away from him. I made him give ’em back.” “You’re a good man, sister.” And that’s just Sam Spade! Then there’s the signature line from the film: “The… uh… stuff that dreams are made of.” Damn! So good!

And there’s the pacing, the cinematography, and the score. I tell ya, this is a damn near perfect movie. Maybe if the plot were easier to follow in the first viewing it would be perfect, but, come to think of it, maybe not. It might just be that the fact you can come back to the movie again and again and it gets better and better that makes it damn near perfect.

Over 1,140 words in and I haven’t even mentioned the plot!

Well, I’ll nutshell it for you: A “swell lot of thieves” will stop at nothing; not theft, not double-crossings, not secret alliances, not sexual favors, not even murder, to get their hands on the Black Bird, a small, black enamel statue of a falcon that could be worth millions. Caught up in the middle of it all is private detective Sam Spade, who, while under suspicion of murder, is determined to make sense of it and clear his name.

Maltese-Falcon-2

If you only watch one version of The Maltese Falcon, you’d better make it the 1941 version.

It is my all time favorite film!

Update 9-5-18: I have recently listened to the audiobook of The Maltese Falcon and noticed two things (other than it being excellent). 1) Virtually all that excellent dialogue in the film was taken right from the novel. There were some changes here and there, but for the most part it was Hammett’s words not Huston’s, except the film’s final line. That was Huston’s. 2) The book, at least to me, wasn’t as explicit about Cairo’s sexual preference as I remembered.

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

Images used under Fair Use.

Tagged , , , , ,

You Know What’s A Really Good Movie About British Criminals, A Heist Of Lots Of Money And Weed, And Two Old Shotguns?

lock_stock_and_two_smoking_barrels_ver3_xxlgFilmmaker Guy Ritchie was pretty hot there for a while in the late 1990s and into the 2000s. His first two feature length films got a lot of attention for their look, style, humor, and cleverness. Both films focus on the criminal element of UK society. Both films involve plenty of unsavory, yet still likeable, characters. Some of these fellows do some pretty horrible stuff, but somehow you can’t help but like them.

The second feature is Snatch (2000) and is, perhaps, a film for a future blog. This week I’ll be talking about the first one: 1998’s Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels. I just watched it again last night and found it as fresh and innovative as when I first saw it.

There may be some mild spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.

lock_primary

L to R: Product placement, Eddy, Bacon, Soap, and Tom.

It’s a complicated plot in that it involves so many characters, but it goes like this: There are four friends. Three of them Eddy (Nick Moran), Tom (Jason Flemyng), and Bacon (Jason Statham) are small time crooks and con men. The fourth, Soap (Dexter Fletcher), is mostly legit working as a restaurant man. The four of them cobble together £100,000 to get Eddy into a high stakes card game. Eddy is a bit of a card sharp and the four are confident he’ll win big.

Well, he doesn’t. In fact, he loses big. Very big. £500,000 big. And he loses to “Hatchet” Harry Lonsdale, a local porn impresario with a very bad temper and connections to some very bad people. Eddy and his friends are given a week to come up with the money or they start losing fingers for each day they are late. When they run out of fingers, there are other things that can be cut off. Eventually, the fellows will be killed. Eddy’s father, played by Sting, is also threatened with not only the loss of his son, but the loss of his bar. And he’s more fond of the bar.

large-screenshot3

Sting as Eddy’s father. He’s no Bill Bixby.

Living on the other side of the wall from Eddy’s flat (British for “apartment”) is a gang of very bad men who rob drug dealers for a living. Eddy overhears his neighbors planning their next heist. This gives Eddy an idea. He and his pals will wait for the very bad men to complete their heist, bust in, and take the weed and cash the bad men had just stolen. Then they’ll sell the “gear” and use the cash to pay back “Hatchet” Harry. Easy as cake!

You can probably guess the plan doesn’t quite go off that easily. There are plenty of complications along the way as more and more bad men get involved. This story has quite a few threads (including one involving two old shotguns) to weave together and Ritchie does it superbly. And with a strong amount of tension, violence, and humor throughout.

A word about the violence.

Ritchie does something very interesting with the violence in this movie. After my first viewing, I came away thinking how cool the movie was and how funny, but I also thought it was very violent. And it is, sort of. You see, for as violent as the story is, virtually every act of violence takes place off camera.

A character is beaten to death with a… um… sexual implement, except you never actually see him hit by the… uh… tool. It’s the same when an enforcer named Big Chris (Vinnie Jones) uses a car door, his foot, and his fist to beat a man to death. It both cases, we see the attacker being incredibly violent, but we never see a single blow hit the victim. In fact, during the attacks the victim is rarely seen at all. There’s even a scene in which a hapless traffic warden gets a good trashing, but he’s hidden behind the seat of a van when the beating starts. And when it goes into full force the scene cuts to black.

7e21b9288db707ca1254b7c44837fc15

Big Chris handing out some violence.

There are a number of shootouts in the film, but, as far as I can recall, we only ever see one person get shot. We do see the bloody aftermath, though.

It is rated R for the violence, sexual references, a bit of nudity (almost always worth one star in the ratings in my book), and the prolific use of foul language throughout. And you might want to have the subtitles on, because the accents can get a little thick. But, don’t let that spoil the scene in which the film uses subtitles to explain what a character speaking in Cockney Rhyming Slang is saying.

Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels is a very entertaining film. It’s smart (even if not all the characters are the brightest knives in the drawer), funny, and beautifully shot. It also has an excellent soundtrack.

This movie is a lot of fun.

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

Images used under Fair Use.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

You know what’s a really good movie about an elderly Englishman taking the law into his own hands?

harry-brown-movie-poster-2009-1020544031

Lionsgate UK

I realize it’s only been a couple weeks since my last movie retro-review, but I just watched this one and I wanted to write about it while it’s still fresh in my mind.

The movie is Harry Brown (2009) and it is like Death Wish (1974), however the protagonist doesn’t take overt pleasure from what he feels forced to do. In Death Wish, Charles Bronson’s character, Paul Kersey, kills with a smile. He enjoys killing the lawless who hold New York City in a grip of terror.

In Harry Brown, the title character, played brilliantly by Michael Caine, is scared and fed up with a toothless police department that doesn’t seem all that concerned with dealing with the young criminals, who terrorize the good people of a London housing estate. Brazen drug dealing, harassment, vandalism, and violence hang over this community.

Early in the film we see video taken by two lawless youths out on a lark riding recklessly on a motor scooter in broad daylight. They terrorize a young mother walking her baby through the park by shooting at her with a gun. Intending only to frighten, one of the bullets hits and kills her.

There is some instant retribution meted out to those two creeps, but the tone is set. This housing estate is not safe. Day or night.

Harry Brown is a quiet man. He’s elderly, which also differentiates him from Death Wish’s Paul Kersey. Caine was 76 when this movie was released, but I get the impression that his character is even older. He lost his only child in 1973 (we are not told how) and his wife is very ill and hospitalized, close to death. Harry has one friend, Len (David Bradley). Harry and Len meet each day at a local pub to play chess.

While Harry has somehow escaped the notice of the local hoodlums, Len, who is also elderly, has not. They have marked him for special attention, it seems. Vandalizing the outside of his apartment, pushing dog crap through his mail slot, physically accosting him, and they even sent some burning material through the mail slot causing a fair amount of smoke damage.

Len has had enough. He tells Harry he intends to fight back using a bayonet, which he has taken to carrying with him wherever he goes. “Go to the police,” pleads Harry, but Len has already done that and to no avail.

Days after Harry loses his wife, he also loses his friend. Len was not successful at fending off his harassers. In fact, he was killed with the very weapon with which he had intended to protect himself. Having nothing left to lose, Harry decides to take action.

Harrybrown

Harry Brown is a former marine with combat experience and decorations from his involvement in dealing with “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland. We learn that he was a good marine and that he had respect for his enemy back then. They fought for something. His current enemy fights for nothing. Their lives are worth almost nothing anyway, so why not lash out? Why not get high? Why not terrorize the neighborhood?

Caine does not play the vigilante with anger. He is angry, but he keeps it down. Harry has determination, but he also has fear. His military training has him familiar with weapons and tactics, however his age works against him. Despite possessing some skills, he’s no Laim Neeson in the Taken series. Harry is a fearful, old man trying to do something to stop those who killed his friend. The most anger he shows is in his reaction to learning that, because Len had a weapon, it could be argued the hoodlums acted in self-defense. So, at most, they would get manslaughter, not murder. If, that is, they could be indicted at all.

The critical reaction to this film was generally good. Some reviews found its social commentary unpleasant and thought it was a ludicrous action-thriller. But it’s not exactly an action-thriller. It is a revenge-thriller in which our hero is as lucky as he is skilled. When watching Death Wish or Taken audiences never doubt the hero will triumph. He might be a little worse for wear, but he’ll win. But, Harry often really seems to be in over his head.

Does Harry Brown triumph?

This film is rated R. The violence does get intense and the F-bombs are dropped often.

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

All images used under Fair Use.

Tagged , , , ,