Essential Viewing: The Big Sleep

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THOSE WHO ARE familiar with Humphrey Bogart will already know The Big Sleep.  Those who aren’t: this is one of the great old films noir, and beyond that an essential classic, and beyond that, a must-see for anyone who loves movies.  And it’s an excellent introduction to Bogie.

Much more discussion may be had on The Big Sleep, but I’ll hold that for another time.  I just wanted to throw my hat in regarding classic film.  Thanks to Haydee for steering me toward a post on an old-time classic sooner rather than later.

The trailer is a lot of fun in and of itself — hope you love it!

Should You Go East?

READERS OF MY blog know that I’m a fan of Brit Marling, and was looking forward to The East.  By the trailer, it seemed a natural extension of the last collaboration between Marling and director Zal Batmanglij, the brilliant little indie Sound of My Voice (see prior posts).  The basic story is of Marling’s character infiltrating a specialized The East posterterrorist group which targets executives of companies which commit wrongdoings.  This group, The East, likes to exact punishment in kind.

A great premise for a film, but this movie just didn’t jell with me.  The main problem is that it didn’t grip me hard and shake me, as I think the content had a right to do.  That’s about my most favorite thing a movie can do — grip me right from the get-go.  Sound of My Voice, No Country for Old Men, and Django Unchained all commanded my attention from the first scene.  Further, deep dark places that this movie might have explored it instead averted.  Think about the mastery of Martha Marcy May Marlene, the depth of that film.  Or what Gene Siskel said about Blue Velvet

…this did for me what Psycho did… which is, eyes open, and, oh my God, we’re really getting in over our heads

The East never quite plumbed those depths.

A related problem with The East was that I couldn’t get into the characters the way I wanted to.  In a way this was a very character-driven film, and the lack of conviction, depth and complexity with the characters transferred to the story — and this feeling infected the entire movie.   There was a certain superficiality to the whole production.

But infected is too harsh.  The East is still a good movie, with some very nice moments and a good story.  I’ll give it a marginal recommendation; 6/10.  Nothing will be lost waiting to see this on video.

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BONUS!  The classic Ebert & Siskel review of Blue Velvet.  Skip ahead to 3:50 for Siskel’s “getting in over our heads” comment.

Unsettling Films List

Sometimes I like a nice little comfort film like Bagdad Cafe, and sometimes I want a movie to get under my skin.  This is a user list on IMDb.  I’ve seen a few of these movies, and others I’m adding to my watchlist.  This is a link for informational purposes only; I cannot vouch for the quality of each item on the list —  take as an example Sinister [prior post], which was neither disturbing nor good.

There are a lot more unsettling films out there — Martyrs, The Skin I Live In, Vacancy, The Ring, Criminal Lovers, and of course the original Psycho — to name but a small handful.

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Take Me to the Bagdad Cafe

Bagdad Cafe - posterThere are some movies that I have a long-seeded personal connection with, and Bagdad Cafe (1987) is one of those movies.  To give you an idea what this movie’s about, I’ll hand off again to Roger Ebert:

The heavyset German lady, her body and soul tightly corseted, her hair sprayed into rocklike permanence, is having a fight with her husband, right there in the Mojave Desert. They are in the middle of some kind of miserable vacation, touring America as a version of hell.

She can take no more. She grabs her suitcase and stalks away from their Mercedes, he drives away into the red, dusty sky, and she walks to a miserable truck stop and asks for a room.

An opening like that makes you stop and think, doesn’t it, about how cut-and-dried most Hollywood movies are. There would seem to be no place in today’s entertainment industry for movies about fat German ladies and homesick truck stops, and yet “Bagdad Cafe” sets us free from the production line of Hollywood’s brain-damaged “high concepts” and walks its own strange and lovely path. There is poetic justice in the fact that this movie, shot in English in America by a German, is one of the biggest box office successes in recent European history.

He ends his review:

Percy Adlon, the director, maintains a certain bleak undercurrent of despair, of crying babies and unpaid bills and young people who have come to the ends of their ropes.

He is saying something in this movie about Europe and America, about the old and the new, about the edge of the desert as the edge of the American Dream. I am not sure exactly what it is, but that is comforting; if a director could assemble these strange characters and then know for sure what they were doing in the same movie together, he would be too confident to find the humor in their situation. The charm of “Bagdad Cafe” is that every character and every moment is unanticipated, obscurely motivated, of uncertain meaning and vibrating with life.

This is a nice, sweet little movie.  Its charm and immigrant theme are reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch movies — think Mystery Train — or as a more recent example (on the charm aspect, not immigrants), perhaps Sunshine Cleaning, or, as an example further along the evolutionary chain, a Wes Anderson film (see prior posts).  Don’t expect a monumental, earth-shattering high drama.  But sometimes it’s nice to feel the sun-baked warmth of a good little comfort film.

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A NOTE ON the Locale: Intending to visit the filming location, a small restaurant still in business off the main highway, I first stopped on my drive along I-40 toward Barstow to download “Bell Bottom Blues”, which perfectly set the mood.  Once there, I stepped inside to notice a suspect cleanliness level, with a number of the inhabitants, from an old geezer in the corner to an infant crawling about the floor — it’s as much a family home as a restaurant — looking like they hadn’t bathed in days.  The cafe interior also featured the requisite level of grit.  It was almost like a sun-bleached version of a scene from the movie that was shot there so long ago.  I was determined to eat lunch regardless of the conditions, so I ordered a hamburger and fries that, turns out, weren’t bad.  The Germans also seemed to be enjoying their lunch, as if for them this place were some landmark equivalent to Monument Valley or the Grand Canyon.

THE SOLAR COLLECTOR in the film also influenced my college days, but at last check had been decommissioned.  It used to be visible for miles around, just as depicted in the film.

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Jack Palance in Bagdad Cafe

Cinematic Greats: Miracle Mile

I was actually thinking of this movie before This Is the End was on my radar, but there is definitely some overlap — so a happy coincidence perhaps.  Miracle Mile (1988, Anthony Edwards & Mare Winningham) is one of the best movies ever made on the ever-popular apocalypse theme — and yet it’s a small production from long ago that most people will never be aware of.

In the midst of a sweet, burgeoning romance is thrust the panic and chaos of full nuclear annihilation.  Miracle Mile is a miracle of execution, a text-book example of how to develop a story on film.

Roger Ebert:

“Miracle Mile” has the logic of one of those nightmares in which you’re sure something is terrible, hopeless and dangerous, but you can’t get anyone to listen to you. Besides, you have a sneaking suspicion that you might be mistaken. The film begins as a low-key, boy-meets-girl story, and then a telephone is answered by the wrong person and everything goes horribly wrong. Much of the movie’s diabolical effectiveness comes from the fact that it never reveals, until the very end, whether the nightmare is real, or only some sort of tragic misunderstanding.

Miracle Mile is also a great L.A. story.  And to cap everything off it’s got a cool, very fitting soundtrack by Tangerine Dream.  Objectively, 9/10, but for me a 9+.  A sheer delight and one of my favorite movies.

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Miracle Mile has a clean, crisp, 80’s Los Angeles contemporary look to it that is badly served by the available trailers, so bear that in mind if you click below (this is the best video quality I could find).  It’s a shame that this movie is not available in HD, but it’s a strong enough movie that standard upscaled DVD quality will suffice.  Seek this one out.

This Is the End, But That’s OK

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James Franco, Seth Rogen, Christopher Mintz-Plasse

This Is the End is a lot of fun, assuming you’re a fan of this bunch of comic actors — Seth Rogen and company — the dweeb-pack if you will.  The movie cleverly keeps these characters as themselves, huddled together through the apocalypse.

It does become almost too banal — if that’s possible — and a little draggy in the midsection.  Certainly it falls short of Superbad or Knocked Up, but as a nice chunk of summer escapist fun it fits the bill.  Watch the trailer: if you think it looks like a good time, it is.  7/10

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Comparison Notes: Apatow & Rogen-related comedies, The Mist