Sunday, January 10, 2016

Noir 2.0: Against All Odds & D.O.A. '88

There's a good chance that this winds up the only night of the Brattle's third series celebrating noir's seventy-fifth anniversary (this one focusing on the 1980s/1990s revival of the genre) that I get to as I'm spending a lot of this week out of town, partly for fun reasons (my brother's 40th birthday party which saw him playing with his old high-school band again) and partly for work obligations (meeting in Texas where almost everybody is traveling from the east coast). That's a real shame, because not only was this a fun night, but the rest of the schedule includes both favorites and things I've been meaning to see for some time, most presented on 35mm. Ah, well.

This was a fun night, though - even if I didn't love Against All Odds all the way through, it's a really fun thing to see for the first time with expectations so different: The Phil Collins song always suggested a completely different genre of movie, even if the featured songs in the noirs of the forties and fifties weren't exactly moody but the equivalent of pop hits. I know intellectually that Jeff Bridges (and his brother Beau, for that matter) were considered heartthrobs back in the 1980s, but Bridges's iconic role in The Big Lebowski sort of reset his image. James Woods was always James Woods, though.

Funny thing about D.O.A. - I think it's the first movie I ever had spoiled. I remember reading a review of it during its original release that revealed the killer's motive, though not the identity. It is, admittedly, kind of weird that this detail has managed to persist in my head for twenty-five years. Still, even knowing that, it was surprisingly fun. The Brattle mentioning that the creators of Max Headroom being the folks who made it certainly piqued my interest. Now, seeing how short their career together was, I am terribly curious to see Super Mario Brothers, which seems to have kept them from dong much more for a decade, when they resurfaced as solo acts.

Both of them were remakes of things I'd seen a while ago but apparently never wrote up. The first is pretty clearly a step down, and the second a step up.

Against All Odds

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 7 January 2016 in the Brattle Theatre (75 Years of Noir, 35mm)

Show of hands: How many people under the age of, say, forty-five know that there was a movie called "Against All Odds" in the mid-1980s in large part because of the ubiquitous Phil Collins power ballad and this assumed it was more about a relationship triumphing over an adverse environment than a thriller? It's okay, my hand is up too. There are good reasons for that - first, the suspense takes a fair amount of time to surface; second, the song is a heck of a lot catchier than the movie.

The film centers on Terry Brogan (Jeff Bridges), a receiver for the L.A. Outlaws coming off shoulder surgery cut from the team without pay because football contacts are notoriously one-sided. Having saved very little of what he's earned and had his lawyer (Saul Rubinek) move up in the world enough to be representing the team's owner (Jane Greer) in her real estate dealings, he winds up taking a job from Jake Wise (James Woods), a nightclub owner and bookie of his acquaintance: Find Jessie Wyler (Rachel Ward), the girlfriend who stabbed Jake and made off to Mexico with fifty thousand dollars of his money, and also happens to be the son of the team's owner. Of course, when he does, it's not exactly surprising that he likes her a heck of a lot more than them.

This film is described as being based upon noir classic Out of the Past, although screenwriter Eric Hughes and director Taylor Hackford have updated and altered the story enough to make this film is own thing. In some cases, they might have been better off paying it back down to something simpler; the plot is a mess of sports betting, real estate development, and force jealousy that seldom seems to move in the same direction or give Terry and Jessie a strong antagonist to fight against. Its also noteworthy that the film opens with Terry asking around as to whether the people in this Mexican town have seen Jessie, because that's what the movie's hook is, and then it takes an awful long time to circle back there.

Full review on EFC.

D.O.A. '88

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 7 January 2016 in the Brattle Theatre (75 Years of Noir, 35mm)

D.O.A. is the sort of movie that actually should be remade once a generation or so, because it's one of the best hooks in the history of crime fiction - man dong from a slow-acting poison has hours to find his killer. You can tell a lot of stories with that but they're always going to be variations on D.O.A.. This one is actually pretty great, both retro and ahead of its time in style, embracing its pulp nature in delightful fashion.

Our victim/sleuth is Dexter Cornell (Dennis Quaid), a tenured English professor who was once a Great Young Author but hasn't written anything in ten years. His students include Sydney Fuller (Meg Ryan), a cheerful freshman fan; Nicholas Lang (Robert Knepper), at the school on a scholarship provided by the widow (Charlotte Rampling) of the man his father killed in a robbery attempt who was also shot in the struggle; and Cookie Fitzwaring (Robin Johnson), the widow's daughter. He and wife Gail (Jane Kaczmarek) are divorcing, but amicably enough, and while one colleague (Jay Patterson) resents him, another (Daniel Stern) is grateful to his help on his first novel. He's a jerk, but seemingly not worth murdering.

Indeed, the very unreasonableness of it gives screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue a lot of room to play, and he gives Dex plenty of red herrings and odd detours along the way, but seldom in a manner that wastes time: The ultimate solution may not be directly connected to other parts of the story, but there's nothing that feels like it could be entirely lifted out without the story feeling lesser for it. Some of the twists the movie takes are pretty wild, from Dex actually gluing himself to Sydney because he's sure she has something to do with it to characters making abrupt, violent, and blackly comic exits. There's a moment or two to wink at the film's status as a remake and how originality is hard to come by, but not so much as to overwhelm the actual story.

Full review on EFC.

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