Friday, June 14, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 3 June 2019 - 9 June 2019

Nothing better than living in Noir City for the weekend.

Well, sort of. An actual noir city would be a dangerous place where you can't trust anyone and life is cheap, but the Brattle when they're showing noirs all weekend is pretty nice.

This Week in Tickets

The week started well with me finally catching up to Booksmart, which is absolutely as funny as advertised. By the way, did you know MoviePass is still a thing? I've probably gone a couple months without using it, but the $11 ticket covered membership this month. After that, work and weird start times kept me at home and watching baseball and catching up on a year's worth of Elementary (sneakily the best part of the twenty-first century Sherlock Holmes revival), and when I got out to the theater on Thursday, it was to catch Dark Phoenix, which… Wasn't very good. At all. But, I've seen all the other X-Movies on the big screen, and if this is the last (depending on whether or not New Mutants ever sees the light of day), I might as well complete the set, and I would be busy for the next few days.

Why? Because it was crime time at the Brattle, with Noir Alley host Eddie Mueller and his Film Noir Foundation crew there for the second annual Noir City weekend, this one devoted to film noir of the 1950s and cleverly programmed so that, after an initial 1948 movie, the next would be from 1952 and then we would advance a year after that before arriving in 1960 late Sunday night. The lineup contained more that I'd seen before than last year, but most were well worth checking in on again, with the full ten-film slate (organized into double features) consisting of Trapped, Turning Point, City That Never Sleeps, Pushover, Kiss Me Deadly, A Kiss Before Dying, The Burglar, Murder By Contract, Odds Against Tomorrow, and Blast of Silence. Looks like I screwed up my scrapbooking up there, but it happens.

Much of it was on film, and the presentation accidentally gave a demonstration of something interesting: Apparently, the Brattle had just replaced one part of one of the two projectors in their setup, and as they switched from one to the other, the look of the film would change just enough to require a couple seconds of acclimatization. Ned commented that they would probably have to replace the reflector on the other projector to get them to match.

That would be enough crime for most, but am I going to miss a cops & robbers import from Hong Kong? Of course not, even if Chasing the Dragon II: Wild Wild Bunch wasn't very good. Had to get out of the apartment early for that, because the MBTA has not been reliable lately.

Hopefully, a ton to go up on my Letterboxd page with the big movie weekend coming up..

Dark Phoenix

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 6 June 2019 in AMC Boston Common #18 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

This likely isn't the worst of the X-Men movies, if only because Apocalypse was bad enough to completely flee one's memory, while this at least has the pretty decent shuttle rescue sequence. One good scene is better than nothing.

Otherwise, though, it's pretty rough. The story it loosely adapts is grandiose and epic in a way this film can't manage, and writer/director Simon Kinberg never really comes up with a more human-scale point of entry that doesn't feel half-baked. Neither Sophie Turner nor an utterly wasted Jessica Chastain makes either woman aiming to control this Phoenix Force the least bit interesting, and there's not a single returning cast member that seems to have anything more to give these characters. Kinberg just really doesn't seem to get action at all, from the motivation to the staging to the cutting of it.

The movie is kind of interesting as an example of the strain put on superhero universes, though: On the one hand, it's an amusing introduction to how 30+ years of continuity will always be forced into a 10-year window no matter how absurd it is; on the other, it's an example of creators retelling an important story after a reboot. It never works, whether in comics or any other medium.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 7 June 2019 in the BrattleTheatre (Noir City, 35mm)

Trapped is a fair enough "crime does not pay" flick that certainly has its moments even as it kind of plods its way through a basic plot about cops and counterfeiters using each other to track down a set of excellent twenties, back when getting passed a counterfeit of that denomination could really mess your business up. Richard Fleischer can shoot the heck out of a crook being cornered like a rat in a trolley yard, for instance, despite the fact that Lloyd Bridges was allegedly ill, meaning the film had to be rejiggered to make its schedule. Bridges himself is a great hard-bitten crook, so well-suited to the role of a working-class villain that it's a shame he's less well know for those.

It's bland, though. Once the story runs out of switch-ups, the lack of a really great central caper shows, characters plodding on toward an underwhelming finale. Striking leading lady Barbara Payton doesn't have much to do, which is a shame; she had a mess of a career and life, but the camera loved her, and she made a better moll than most.

The Turning Point

N/A (out of four)
Seen 7 June 2019 in the BrattleTheatre (Noir City, DCP)

Apparently I was just not up for this as the back end of a double feature, nodding off several times. It's a nice-enough looking movie, but very dry and possessed of the sort of idealism that feels awfully grim without offering up much in the way of hope.

City That Never Sleeps

* * * (out of four)
Seen 8 June 2019 in the BrattleTheatre (Noir City, DCP)

Here's a neat little noir that has a bunch of little betrayals add up to a big mess - cops cheating on their wives, girlfriends having someone on the side, a small-time crook looking to get something over the big boss. It all happens over the course of a night, with things having been a certain way for a while and not coming to a boil so much as moving forward. It's small potatoes but involving.

That smallness is what makes it work; the film is built out of what seems like what would be another movie's minor characters, and zooms in nicely. Meanwhile, it has a nifty conceit with narration by the city itself, a hint of the supernatural, and a somewhat unexpectedly hard edge to its last act as an actor reduced to playing a mechanical man finds his survival dependent on whether or not he's even recognized as human. It's harsh for a movie where the city itself seems to be looking out for some of its citizens, but life's hardly fair in Noir City.

(Less cool: A bit of a "bow to your husband's male fragility, ladies" resolution is implied, and this guy doesn't seem worth it in the slightest.)


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 8 June 2019 in the BrattleTheatre (Noir City, 35mm)

Pushover has as good a last act as a movie has ever had, the whole thing a finely-tuned machine that never seems too perfectly set up but whose mechanics are so flawless that they're a delight to watch even though one likely has no sympathy by the time they're playing out. By then, it's completed its corruption of Fred MacMurray's cop and successfully sidelined what seemed like the main plot, and it's just a matter of watching Richard Quine push pieces around the board all but perfectly.

Plus, there's the absolute delight of a knows-she's-perfect Kim Novak in her first role seeming to relish playing this temptress. She may be up to no good, but it's delicious watching her dispense with an obnoxious guy at a bar or blow off the cops.

What I wrote back in 2006

Kiss Me Deadly

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 8 June 2019 in the BrattleTheatre (Noir City, DCP)

The absurd ham-handedness of this is part of what makes it a classic, more so than if it had been played slick or grimier. It's the logical endpoint of a small-time private eye getting in over his head, in this case so far over that what will likely destroy him and everyone he knows is practically abstract It's messy and violent and crass, and that's just the perfect sort of cynicism for this movie to have.

It's also tremendously entertaining; Ralph Meeker makes Mike Hammer a crude blunt object of a P.I., and he's weirdly charming even as he properly registers as despicable at times. Maybe it's that Velda likes him; Maxine Cooper is a stealth MVP as Hammer's secretary and partner in crime, making her self-aware but also something of a romantic, and her knowledge that no good will come from her love for Hammer is heartbreaking even when the rest of the movie is looking to make the audience snicker.

A Kiss Before Dying

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 8 June 2019 in the BrattleTheatre (Noir City, 35mm)

I'm not sure this truly qualifies as noir even without considering it's widescreen and color; its universe doesn't seem lacking in morality, but rather to have one horrible exception in Robert Wagner's Bud Corliss. It's very much what Eddie Mueller called a "murder drama" at last year's Noir City Boston, and a pure sort that hasn't evolved into noir yet. In a way, it's almost inverted, with the cruelly cynical first half giving way to a back end that never seems to have the same sort of fatalism, in part because Virginia Leith's Ellen Kingship is just a more capable heroine than the sister played by Joanne Woodward.

It's a fun little thriller, though, with a cast willing to play big but not broad, with Jeffrey Hunter a fine addition to the list of people who would have made good Clark Kents if they'd been making big-budget superhero movies at the time. It's a bit goofy in its final scene, but manages to be 85-odd minutes of pulpy fun before that, using its split story and short run-time to make sure it never bogs down.

The Burglar

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 9 June 2019 in the BrattleTheatre (Noir City, 35mm)

It's only been a few years since I last saw this one, and I didn't quite love it as much this time, but it's solid as heck crime and kind of fun for how its leads are playing not so much against type as a little off from where you'd expect: Dan Duryea is in the lead, and Jayne Mansfield hasn't slotted into the flirty comedies she'd become known for. Still sexy as heck, but messed up and tending toward the dramatic. It's easy to see why studios would move her to lighter fare, but she makes the whole thing feel torn up and tragic.

What I wrote back in 2015

Murder by Contract

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 9 June 2019 in the BrattleTheatre (Noir City, 35mm)

A stylish indie thriller that anticipates the talky hitman movies that would flood the multiplexes thirty-five years later, Murder by Contract feels like it should loom larger in film history than it does; you can almost watch it constructing an archetype even as it builds hitman Claude's character from its origins. Unfortunately, it's kind of dull; Claude isn't really injected into a particularly interesting story and spends much of the movie killing time rather than people, and there's not a real payoff for what's going on.

It's a bummer, because there's fun stuff to be found here, with the odd couple backing Claude up a great pair to play against his sociopathy. There's also a late thread about the targeted witness going stir-crazy, but it never feels truly important, much like the rest of the film.

Odds Against Tomorrow

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 9 June 2019 in the BrattleTheatre (Noir City, 35mm)

As part of a generation that mostly knows Harry Belafonte from "The Banana Boat Song", it always takes me aback just how cool he is, especially in his prime. Belafonte is an effortlessly charming actor who can give his nightclub singer an edge without making him completely unsympathetic. On top of that, he's the producer and driving force behind the film getting made in the first place.

(And, yes, that's "is", not "was"; he's kind of great when he pops up in BlacKkKlansman)

And it's just generally a terrific little noir, able to manage both its slow burn and explosive finale very well indeed. It's a simple heist but in some ways that simplicity is almost charming, because only some of the folks involved really have the stomach for hurting people. It's what makes the harsher moments so painful, because it puts the ugliness of another character's racism in sharper relief.

Blast of Silence

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 9 June 2019 in the BrattleTheatre (Noir City, 35mm)

There's something about Blast of Silence that seems a lot more genuinely misanthropic than most movies of its genre but still oddly enjoyable. The second-person narration is a constant hammering at how subhuman its antihero feels, there's a specific unappealing sort of grime, and no pleasure taken in the work of a gun for hire. It's mean and pathetic and you can see how miserable people are exploited.

It's also lean and self-aware in its darkness, though, which gives the audience something to work with, and that the audience knows that any sort of hope being offered is almost certainly forlorn doesn't make it less genuine. The movie also winds up benefiting from the director stepping in to star after Peter Falk dropped out; his uncertainty and seeming inexperience plays as genuine asocial behavior rather than something constructed (and sixty years on, it's kind of hard to imagine Falk not being Falk in the role).

Dark Phoenix
Chasing The Dragon II: Wild Wild Bunch
Trapped & The Turning Point
City That Never Sleeps & Pushover
Kiss Me Deadly & A Kiss Before Dying
Odds Against Tomorrow & Blast of Silence
The Burglar & Murder by Contract

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