The Marvelous Brie Larson — #6

Welcome back to another edition of my latest Actor Profile, The Marvelous Brie Larson, a monthly series revolving around the silver screen performances of one of my favorite actresses. If you are a newcomer to this series, the idea behind this feature is to bring attention to a specific performer and their skill sets and to see how they contribute to a story.

For the penultimate installment in my Brie Larson spotlight I’m focusing on a black comedy from British director Ben Wheatley. Considering I have seen only two of his seven films — High Rise and Free Fire — I am not what you would call a Ben Wheatley expert. But what I’ve seen of his work so far has been enough for me to consider him a pretty unique director. Again, it’s a small sample size but I’ve really enjoyed how distinctly different these two movies are. Pure, unbridled chaos and pitch-black comedy seem to be the only things these movies from the mid-twenty-teens have in common. Well, that and if getting a lot of high-profile actors to be in your movie is a talent, Wheatley is most definitely talented.

Free Fire is his first movie “set” in America, though the old print factory in Brighton, England makes for a perfect stand-in for a Boston warehouse. It’s an action-driven movie that plays out as if Guy Ritchie directed Reservoir Dogs, where the schadenfreude is in greater abundance than the bullets and the blood. Best of all, in a movie that features a ton of recognizable names, Brie Larson gets to play a significant role in it and she kills it — quite literally.

If you haven’t caught up with the dark pleasures of Free Fire, it’s streaming on Netflix right now.

Brie Larson as Justine in Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire

Role Type: Lead

Genre: Action/comedy/crime

Premise: Set in Boston in 1978, a meeting in a deserted warehouse between two gangs turns into a shoot-out and a game of survival.

Character Background: Justine, a kind of peacekeeper and one-woman coalition for reason and logic, was originally meant to be played by Olivia Wilde, but she ended up dropping out. I think Wilde is a really strong actor but I can’t see anyone else in this role. Larson’s eye-rolls and natural ability to deliver sarcastic quips are real treasures of this movie. Alongside her American, side-burned colleague Ord (Armie Hammer), she’s here to broker a black market arms deal between the IRA (represented primarily by Cillian Murphy) and a South African gun runner (played deliciously over-the-top by Sharlto Copley), one that goes hopelessly and hilariously awry thanks to an unforeseen event.

The screenplay (by Wheatley’s wife Amy Jump) provides her a really interesting arc. Justine is the lone woman amidst a pack of egotistical, volatile and fairly unsympathetic men. Early on she’s predictably dismissed as just a bit of scenery. When she’s not being referred to as “doll,” she’s being asked out to dinner in what has to be one of the least appropriate ask-someone-out-for-dinner situations ever. While her costars are by and large quick to demonstrate their instability and their sexism, Larson is keeping tallies, and her character’s own ulterior motives under wraps, waiting for the right moment to demonstrate her own penchant for opportunistic scheming.

Free Fire is a very simple movie, and that’s one of its great strengths. Larson describes it as “an action movie making fun of action movies.” The plot is easy to follow and while all the gunfire eventually becomes kind of white noise it’s the characters that make it worth sticking around for. They may be here for different reasons but the thing they will all have in common, sooner or later, are bullet wounds and injuries.

Marvel at this Scene: 

Rate the Performance (relative to her other work): 


All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

Dolemite is My Name

Release: Friday, October 4, 2019 (limited)

→Netflix

Written by: Scott Alexander; Larry Karaszewski

Directed by: Craig Brewer

The way Craig Brewer captures the response to Dolemite, the movie-within-his-movie and at least part of its raison d’être, is so warm and uplifting. Yet it’s also quaint if considering today’s cinematic landscape. Cynics like me are tempted to dismiss the ending as too pat and Hollywood but the movie was indeed met with a serenading of sorts from audiences. Dolemitea pulpy, outrageous story about a pimp who breaks out of prison to take revenge on those who set him up, made $12 million on a budget of $100k. It’s gone on to become a cult classic of blaxploitation.

Yet if this heartfelt tribute to pioneering showman Rudy Ray Moore (or Dolemite, if you like) were to be rolled out in a wide theatrical release you wouldn’t struggle to find a good seat today. You can thank superhero movies for your extra leg room and more than the usual choice of good seats. Superheroes (and villains) rule and everything else drools at the numbers they are putting up at the box office. There isn’t a damn thing Eddie Murphy can do about this, even if he is as good as he’s been in years — maybe ever — in Dolemite is My Name, a ridiculous(ly) entertaining ensemble comedy available almost exclusively through Netflix.

Ironically, and despite actually earning a limited run on the big screen (the likes of which won’t draw crowds like you see here, sadly), Dolemite is My Name has perhaps found its ideal stage on your TV screen. Streaming is the ultimate in consumer catering because it gives you a more intimate, “customizable” experience. Imagine sitting in a 200-seat auditorium where everyone has a remote control to rewind their favorite moments in a Peter Jackson epic. Or to back up to try and understand what in blue Hades Sylvester Stallone just mumbled.

I say all of this because this is the kind of movie you’re going to rewind and pause just to bask a little longer in the triumphant return to Delirious-era Murphy. I must have inflated the runtime to something close to two and a half hours as I rewatched his Rudy Ray Moore enthusiastically chop the air around him as he envisions himself not just a star, but a kung fu master in his own movie. The energy Murphy brings and the riffing he does as he becomes his character, a pioneering, wig-donning, cane-wielding motormouth and eventual big-screen star whose name bore the fruit of not one but four Dolemite-centric adventures, is something to behold. And behold again.

Set in 1970s Los Angeles Dolemite is My Name examines the rise of a self-made man as he goes from lowly record store assistant manager by day/MC by night, to the maker of three crass but hugely popular comedy albums, to, yes, “f-ing up motherf–ers” on the big screen. The film divides neatly into two equally intriguing halves. The first hour or so is devoted to the birth of his stand-up persona and his intelligent if profanity-laced sketches that would earn him a substantial fanbase. And credit where credit is due: the writers don’t turn a blind eye to “toastmaster” Rico, a vagrant played by Ron Cephas Jones, who periodically drifts in and out of the Dolphins of Hollywood record store, spitting rapid-fire rhymes about an urban legend named ‘Dolemite,’ an identity Moore assumes as his own alter ego.

The second half focuses on our increasingly spectacularly besuited hero’s ambitions growing beyond touring the Deep South along what was called the “Chitlin’ Circuit.” The narrative blends business and production reality with Moore’s insatiable appetite for nationwide recognition. He gains an entourage, establishes a production facility in the famous Dunbar Hotel and even convinces a big name to direct and co-star in his project-in-making in egotistical yet accomplished actor D’Urville Martin (a scene-stealing Wesley Snipes). Yet it’s not exactly smooth sailing as he attempts to get his ultimate dream realized. Walter Crane (Tip “T.I.” Harris), a film executive, denies Moore’s creative ambition (in appealing to the masses, black actors don’t do camp comedy; they do heart-warming dramas about overcoming their ghetto roots) while the business-savvy Bihari brothers warn him of the grave financial risks of failure.

The major developments unfold in a breezy if occasionally lackadaisical way. It’s a pretty familiar underdog story where obstacles are by and large steamrolled over. That’s in part by design, as an homage to the force of sheer will that was Rudy Ray Moore, but it’s also due to the script by Ed Wood writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, one that prioritizes entertainment over profundity. Their story tends to glide over the surface rather than dive into the depths of Moore’s unhappy and impoverished childhood, providing a line or two about his burning desire to be better than his father. Yet (and I’m just guessing here) this is a more fundamentally sound production about the making of a legend — the so-called “Godfather of Rap” — than its namesake movie was. And unlike its namesake, the performances, not big boobs and kung fu, define this one.

While Murphy is going to get much of the attention (and deservedly so) I have to single out Da’Vine Joy Randolph as well. She plays Lady Reed, a former backup singer who rediscovers her mojo when Moore drops into a night club in Mississippi. Her relationship with the former is integral to the story’s focus not just on confidence but identity in a time when Hollywood was not only overwhelmingly white but upheld that only one body type was “beautiful.” Randolph is never less than convincing and inspiring as she becomes not just a confidante to Moore in his lower moments, but entirely comfortable in her own skin — breaking past her fear of having her figure captured forever in celluloid and simply owning her identity in ways she previously thought impossible.

As stylish as it is raunchy, this 70s-throwback is mostly a testament to the indefatigable spirit that erected a movie star out of a stand-up comic. It’s also an amusing, even insightful look into the moviemaking process, compacting several scenes from the Dolemite franchise into a collage that goes to show what can be done with limited funds, some good friends and an abundance of self-confidence.

Pimp daddy deluxe

Recommendation: Safe in terms of its narrative structure but bold in dialogue (families take note: Dr. Dolittle isn’t catering to your kiddies here) Dolemite is My Name is never less than a pure joy ride to the top, especially alongside an endlessly entertaining Murphy, who comes flanked by a number of highly recognizable names, including but absolutely not limited to Craig Robinson, Mike Epps, Keegan-Michael Key, Titus Burgess and Kodi Smit-McPhee. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 117 mins.

Quoted: “Dolemite is my name; f-ing up motherf-ers is my game.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Marvelous Brie Larson — #5

Welcome back to another edition of my latest Actor Profile, The Marvelous Brie Larson, a monthly series revolving around the silver screen performances of one of my favorite actresses. If you are a newcomer to this series, the idea behind this feature is to bring attention to a specific performer and their skill sets and to see how they contribute to a story.

Okay, it’s probably not the best time to be bringing up a summer blockbuster, not for us in the northern hemisphere at least as we slip into the early autumn, but here goes this anyway.

We’ve all seen this one. Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ 2017 Monster-verse contribution came in the form of Kong: Skull Island. It immediately followed up Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla. It was a cotton candy blockbuster that put fun first and character and symbolism second. It’s not a storyline that reinvents monster mayhem in any significant way but the film does benefit from a distinct ’70s milieu and a stellar (and I mean STELLAR cast — including a memorably antagonistic Samuel L. Jackson, who actually makes this installment more appropriate as it was during this film shoot when Jackson campaigned hard for Larson to put him in her directorial debut Unicorn Store, the previous role I highlighted for this feature).

There’s no denying the movie delivers in its capacity as a crowd-pleasing, goofy throwback to creature features of the past. And while the characters certainly aren’t the main attraction here (sorry Brie, it’s true) she fits in to this crazy world with ease, fulfilling a role that’s arguably the closest to providing an audience proxy than any of the other famous faces along for the ride.

Brie Larson as Mason Weaver in Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island 

Role Type: Supporting

Genre: Action/adventure/fantasy

Premise: After the Vietnam war, a team of scientists explores an uncharted island in the Pacific, venturing into the domain of the mighty Kong, and must fight to escape a primal Eden.

Character Background: Just to start off, I’d like to say how relieved I was to learn this wasn’t going to be yet another Kong-goes-to-New-York story, which necessarily meant the fate of the lone woman in this big burly blockbuster wasn’t going to be anything like the classic Ann Darrow/damsel-in-distress arc made famous by Fay Wray and most recently inhabited by Naomi Watts in Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake. (And can I also just say how much I hated how excessively indulgent that movie’s running time was?)

Mason Weaver is a natural fit for Larson’s preference for playing strong, independent female characters. Self-described as an “anti-war photographer,” Mason is a woman of conviction and toughness who has leveraged her experience in capturing humanity at its worst into securing a coveted position on an “exploratory” mission to the mysterious Skull Island, an expedition Mason has strong suspicions is not what Monarch researcher Bill Randa (John Goodman) initially describes it as. Raised a pacifist, Mason’s biggest obstacle isn’t a 100-foot-tall gorilla who can fling helicopters for miles or slings 50-foot-tall trees like missiles, but rather the aggressive and war-crazed Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). Packard believes it’s hippie journalists like Mason who undermined the American presence in ‘Nam, and some of the best scenes in the movie result from the pair’s starkly opposed viewpoints on whether to kill Kong or . . . let him Rule.

Larson had appeared in some fairly high-profile movies prior to Skull Island (a supporting role alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt in his directorial debut Don Jon; with minor parts in popular comedies 21 Jump Street and Trainwreck) but as an action blockbuster this is decidedly new territory. Like her costars Larson had to base much of her performance around reactions to images she was provided of characters’ spacial relationships to Kong via an incredible augmented reality app provided by visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic (whose undeniably breathtaking work earned the film an Oscar nomination). That she was convincing and sympathetic in that capacity surely must have convinced someone at Marvel of the indie darling’s ability to play to a bigger crowd at the cineplex.

Marvel at this Scene: 

I can’t help but feel like this is meant to be a tribute to the Jurassic Park scene where Lex reaches out toward a brachiosaurus with a runny nose. The ultimate in human-giant creature diplomacy. Fortunately this one doesn’t end in someone getting covered in snot. This is quite literally a touching scene, Mason having the unique opportunity to show Kong not everyone here is all about killing and exploiting.

Rate the Performance (relative to her other work): 


All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

Janis: Little Girl Blue

'Janis - Little Girl Blue' movie poster

Release: Friday, November 27, 2015 (limited)

[Netflix]

Written by: Amy J. Berg

Directed by: Amy J. Berg

Janis: Little Girl Blue isn’t the whole puzzle but it offers up a lot of significant pieces in its exploration of the life of iconic blues rocker Janis Joplin. The account offers a celebration of a life cut tragically short, packing in as much fascinating archived footage and interviews with famous faces as a 100-minute treatment can afford. Driven by a narrative that entwines tour/concert/backstage footage with letters she wrote to her family about her experiences, the film earns an emotional heft that also makes an otherwise broad documentary feel more intimate.

It’s a travesty that Joplin’s story feels so familiar. Her succumbing to a powerful drug addiction becomes downright surreal when you consider the company she keeps. Jimi Hendrix. Jim Morrison. Alan Wilson — all gone at 27. And that was just the ’70s. You would think a sense of inevitability would actually ruin the experience, and at times the knowledge of the tragedy and that this has happened so many times before (and since) does indeed loom larger than what’s taking place in front of you. Perhaps it is better, then, to think of the overdose in the motel room not so much as a destination but as just another terrible thing that happened to her. (Lest we forget her being voted ‘Ugliest Man’ in a local college paper before Janis Joplin became Janis Joplin.) Of course, it would be callous to write off her death as a footnote. The point is that this life, as writer-director Amy J. Berg thankfully recognizes, represents much more than a statistic.

Because it doesn’t focus on her passing or use the documentary format as yet another platform for stigmatizing drug abuse (though it certainly doesn’t support it), Little Girl Blue is more often than not upbeat. The singer is larger than life both in personality and reputation, her presence exuberant and ubiquitous. People surround her, if not fellow musicians and bandmates then strangers hoping some of her rubs off on them. Whenever there’s a chance for her to mug for the camera, she does. In frame she’s alluring, a rebellious spark of energy that betrays her small-town-Texas upbringing. Out of frame of course, she’s an entirely different story. When reflected upon, she’s a character in a Shakespearian tragedy.

We start by walking through her high school days where she became a target of vicious bullying not only for her physical appearance — Joplin never was the poster child for femininity but the antithetical nature of her image is partly why the world fell in love with her in the first place — but for her advocacy for racial integration in schools as well. Interviews with younger siblings provide some color to her home life and what motivated the future industrial icon to break free of her Port Arthur roots.

From there it’s a jump into Joplin’s first experiences in San Francisco. We head to North Beach and then to the intersection of Haight and Ashbury Streets, a hippie hot spot, where she’d hook up with many likeminded individuals who took notice of her natural inclination to hang out with the guys rather than the pretty Californian women. Her first stint on the west coast wasn’t great. She became heavily involved with drugs and ended up on a bus back to Texas where she’d vow to overhaul her life and adopt a lifestyle more befitting of her parents’ expectations. As history would have it, that wasn’t meant to be either.

More anticipated chapters unfold soon hereafter. We chat with members of Big Brother and the Holding Company, a psychedelic rock group on the rise (at least as far as the local counterculture of the mid-60s was concerned) and to whom Joplin fully committed herself having gained recognition for the power in her voice and the pain with which she expressed herself having endured a tortured and confusing adolescence. The story then tackles head-on the turbulence of the following years with grace and dignity: the post-BBHC fall-out, the press surrounding her decision to form a new back-up band (who remembers the Kozmic Blues Band?), flirtations with Dick Cavett, the Woodstock gig and fleeting female lovers. The ebb and flow of an infatuation with drugs and alcohol becomes more flow than ebb as romantic prospects similarly come and go.

Away from her personal troubles, mounting pressure within the industry generated by speculation over what Joplin should do with her career continued to drive the nail deeper. What is a girl to do when she becomes bigger than the band she is a part of? One might naturally assume cultural evolution would eventually create an atmosphere of acceptance and comfort. Someone with talent of this magnitude should never have to feel alone but time and again we are reminded of Joplin’s sense of isolation and helplessness as she, as some interviewees put it, grew into a caricature of herself. How much imitation is considered flattery? Was she trying too hard to be the next Aretha Franklin? Should she have stayed with BBHC?

If Joplin were any less interesting an individual Little Girl Blue would suffer from its cookie-cutter design. Along with her spunky personality it’s the little things that help set it apart. Contemporary American singer-songwriter Cat Power gives voice to Joplin’s telegrams. A view from the back of a train as it winds through California hills becomes a motif. And of course the interviews are (mostly) unique to this production. In truth, it just wouldn’t be a bonafide rock-and-roll documentary without a few well-worn edges. Almost obligatorily we have to explore beyond what’s captured on camera. Misery as a motivator. The irony and general strangeness of fame and popularity. Like with a great many acts, Joplin had a serious problem with the post-show comedown. Walking onstage is a totally different experience than walking off of it.

Berg’s efforts shouldn’t be taken as the definitive account of such a pioneering woman, but she has created mandatory viewing for anyone looking for a way to get to know the person behind the music a little bit better. The regular rhythms of a documentary based on the life of a famous person are always present but here they are as powerful as the subject is empowering.

janis-joplin-gq-17jul14_rex_b

Recommendation: Documentary takes viewers on a tour of the many ups and downs of the life and career of one Janis Joplin. While doubtful there’s anything here that long standing fans of the blues/folk rock singer haven’t already been exposed to but the film will be a good crash course for anyone who doesn’t have much history of her. Highlights: loads of archived footage including concert performances and awkward talk-show appearances; great interviews. Lowlights: very little about the overarching narrative comes as a shock. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that this is a retrospective, not a fluff piece. Nor is it a hagiography.

Rated: NR

Running Time: 103 mins. 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.nerdgeist.com 

Decades Blogathon – Taxi Driver (1976)

 

Mark closes out the 2016 Decades Blogathon with a fantastically written piece on Martin Scorsese’s seminal 1976 crime drama Taxi Driver. Be sure you don’t miss it by visiting the link below! Thank you.

three rows back

Decades Blogathon Banner 20161976So this is the end; the final day of the Decades Blogathon – 6 edition. Thank you once again to everyone who made this such a great blogathon. My biggest thanks goes to my partner in crime on this enterprise – Tom from Digital Shortbread. We had a blast with this in 2015 and this year’s event has been just as much fun. The blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the sixth year of the decade and it’s my turn to focus on Martin Scorsese’s seminal 1976 classic Taxi Driver.

Looking to the Academy Awards as a critical barometer for the best films of a given year is, for the most part, as redundant an exercise as swimming through treacle.

The list of Oscar clunkers is long and ignominious and among the most glaring is the dearth of statuettes awarded to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. A…

View original post 911 more words

Decades Blogathon – The Tenant (1966)

 

Jordan has graciously contributed a review of Roman Polanski’s 1976 Parisian drama The Tenant. Head on over to Mark’s place to check out what he had to say! Thanks!

three rows back

Decades Blogathon Banner 20161976 2Hot diggity, it’s already day five of the Decades Blogathon – 6 edition – hosted by myself and the awesome Tom from Digital Shortbread. That means we’re already half way through! The blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the sixth year of the decade. Tom and I will run a different entry each day (we’ll also reblog the other’s post); and I’m delighted to welcome Jordan from Epileptic Moondancer to present his views on Roman Polanski’s unnerving psychological drama The Tenant.

Years ago, I introduced myself to film by rifling through the filmographies of Kubrick and Gilliam. Once that was done, I wanted to find another director whose films I could work through.

Through a Google search using the phrase ‘mind-f**k movies’ I came across Repulsion, perhaps Polanski’s best film. The atmosphere and the camerawork instantly hyptonised me and after watching the film the next…

View original post 370 more words

Decades Blogathon – The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

 

Don’t forget to check out Michael’s stunning piece on The Outlaw Josey Wales, featured over on Three Rows Back! Thanks everyone!

three rows back

Featured Image -- 58371976 2It’s day four of the Decades Blogathon – 6 edition – hosted by myself and the awesome Tom from Digital Shortbread. The blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the sixth year of the decade. Tom and I will run a different entry each day (we’ll also reblog the other’s post); and this typically first class review of Clint Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales is written by Michael’s It Rains… You Get Wet.

Senator: “The war’s over. Our side won the war. Now we must busy ourselves winning the peace. And Fletcher, there’s an old saying: To the victors belong the spoils.”
Fletcher: “There’s another old saying, Senator: Don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining.”

Words like “unexpected”, or at the very least, “unanticipated” could well have described actor Clint Eastwood’s sixth effort as a film director. Though the ‘western’ was what…

View original post 1,637 more words

Paul G — #1

Paul G logo

The spotlight turns to another actor I consider quite the chameleon. It’s Paul Giamatti, of course, a guy who could do pretty much anything. Hand him some oranges and he’d make some delicious apple juice out of it. The 48-year-old New Haven, Connecticut native has contributed his talents to an impressive range of films of both comedic and dramatic appeal. The guy has rarely plays someone who isn’t complicated on some level, and he’s just as good at the sleaze ball villain as he is the nice guy you kind of want to be neighbors with. It’s time now to talk about Paul G, the man, the myth, the legend. But more than anything else, he’s the man. 

Paul Giamatti as Kenny in 'Private Parts'

Paul Giamatti as Kenny “Pig Vomit” Rushton in Betty Thomas’ Private Parts

Role Type: Supporting

Genre: Comedy/biopic

Plot Synopsis: The autobiographical story of Howard Stern, the radio rebel who is now also a TV personality, an author and a movie star.

Character Profile: Kenny is the program director at WNBC in New York City, the very radio station the controversial disc jockey Howard Stern aspires to join. When Stern is hired by the station, upper management isn’t prepared for the shitstorm that is to come. Kenny voluntarily shoulders the burden of corralling Stern himself. There will be no bringing women to orgasm over the air like he did in Washington D.C. This is a serious station with standards to meet and Kenny threatens to fire him should anything get out of hand. Things soon get out of hand.

Why he’s the man: Giamatti plays up the corporate slime ball perfectly, assaying a role that’s as fun to root against as it is to root for Stern. Classic antagonistic relationship, despite its many embellishments, earns Private Parts much of its reputation. This may be a dramatization of the meteoric rise of a different kind of radio personality, but you simply cannot talk about Stern’s success without talking about his struggles, and Giamatti seems more than prepared to offer up himself as one of his great career hurdles. It’s too much fun watching how quickly and effectively the two drive each other to the breaking point.

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work):

 


All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.dawgshed.com 

TBT: Chinatown (1974)

Back for more blasts from the past? You’ve come to the right place. This Thursday we find ourselves straying into dangerous territory, going places we’ve been warned to stay away from. Parts of town that remain mysterious and off-limits for good reason. Of course, I’m not talking about your local ghetto, or the part of New Orleans that’s still submerged in water. I’m talking about that part of Los Angeles that, once you’ve been there, you’ll never stop being haunted by it, just like Jack Nicholson’s character in 

Today’s food for thought: Chinatown.

Stylishly escaping gunfire since: January 1, 1974

[Netflix]

When praising a film the word stylish tends to make an appearance. Physical attraction is one of our base drives and so it only makes sense we’re drawn more to films that look good rather than to ones that don’t. We shouldn’t feel guilty for doing so though, even if there are times we’re conscious of how obvious our decisions are being driven by our desire to see good-looking people in a good-looking movie (after all, Focus isn’t the only fashion magazine posing as a movie released this year). There is of course some difference between the guilty pleasure of Will Smith’s film career and appreciating the facelift Casino Royale gave to the James Bond franchise.

In the case of Roman Polanski’s 1974 noir crime thriller Chinatown ‘stylish’ just doesn’t feel adequate. What’s more is the film does not rest on that laurel. Aside from being visually iconic and brought to life with a swankiness only a duo like Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway could provide, Chinatown offers a complex and cerebral mystery involving romance, seduction and copious amounts of danger. Equal parts mesmeric and paranoiac, this fictional world set during a period of severe drought in 1937 California was inspired by the Californian Water Wars, a series of conflicts beginning at the turn of the 20th Century between the city of Los Angeles and farmers and ranchers of the Owens Valley over ownership of the local water supply and its subsequent distribution.

It’s against this backdrop of environmental-political tension Polanski establishes his last American film, achieving a production overflowing in style and substance, one that simultaneously romanticizes and reviles the greater Los Angeles area. J.J. “Jake” Gittes (Nicholson) is a dedicated private eye who specializes in matrimonial affairs. When a mysterious woman named Evelyn Mulwray (Dunaway) employs his services, asking that he find out about the affair she knows her husband is having, Gittes is pulled unwittingly into a labyrinthian web of lies, deceit and corruption that ultimately will send him all the way back to the place he thought he would never return to: Chinatown.

Gittes (a name I keep wanting to misspell) is particularly good at what he does. That might be because he has little in the way of a personal life, dedicating most (if not all) of his time to his work. His latest assignment all but ensures this will be an ongoing pattern, as the husband in question is none other than Hollis Mulwray (Darrell Zwerling), chief engineer of the L.A. Department of Water and Power. Naturally, Gittes has some questions for the man but before he can ask any of them, Mulwray’s body is being dragged out of a river, a river that has been bled dry thanks to the diversion of water behind a reservoir that’s being heavily guarded by the department’s security. Gittes turns to Mrs. Mulwray for some answers after he’s brutalized by said security (a cameo performance from Polanski himself as a henchman is somewhat amusing) and left with no substantial leads. He’s convinced she’s hiding some secret.

Her father, a powerful and dangerous man named Noah Cross (John Huston), holds sway over where the water is to be distributed. His plan is to incorporate the Owens Valley into the Los Angeles area as a way of controlling the resource and ultimately increasing his wealth. Gittes investigates Cross, who in turn requests Gittes’ help in finding the mistress of his daughter’s husband, claiming he will double the pay and even give him a bonus if he succeeds in retrieving her. It’s something of a leap of faith Gittes takes in his investigation. He leaves behind the simpler pleasures of solving mundane cases of infidelity for a much more challenging and personal case that will have serious implications for all involved; a case where the end game for Gittes isn’t made clear. What’s he getting out of all of this?

An easier question to answer: what does Nicholson get out of starring in this pervert’s film? If the pinstriped suit and fedora don’t make it obvious enough it’s an opportunity to demonstrate some sense of stability in a seductive and — at the risk of overusing the word — stylish cinematic environment in which he gradually loses said stability to the increasing pressures created by those around him. As a private investigator, the man is not someone we can afford to like at every turn, yet Nicholson imbues the guy with a personality that’s difficult to root against, even if his stubborn persistence ruffles more feathers than just those of the characters on screen. He has the trappings of a thoroughly unlikable individual — nosy, somewhat temperamental and unable to forego obsession for the sake of his own well-being — Gittes is somehow still deeply empathetic, while remaining vintage, enigmatic Jack Nicholson.

We need look no further than Dunaway’s eloquence and measured line delivery to find Chinatown‘s better half in terms of style and grace. Evelyn exudes beauty and desperation simultaneously, a combination which usually translates into ‘damsel in distress’ status for most leading females, yet Evelyn isn’t easily pushed over, despite the complicated circumstances of her personal affairs. Dunaway proves a sensational match for Nicholson, equaling him in terms of the intensity and strength of her own convictions. The pair make for a timeless cinematic couple, despite the atypical relationship. (Award another point to Chinatown for its blatant disregard for cinema’s blueprint for traditional romance.)

Chinatown‘s frequently mentioned in the classic cinema conversation and it’s not difficult to see why. Between John A. Alonzo’s stunning ability to bathe California in visual splendor while generating fear and anxiety from the same, and Polanski’s assured direction that slowly but surely entices viewers into the mystery, there’s little that the film does that proves otherwise. Running over two hours in length, time simply disappears and a new timeline emerges: where and when does Gittes get to the bottom of this investigation? What does he find? Was it all worth the effort? When it comes to conducting business around Chinatown, the answer isn’t likely to be what any of us are looking for.

“Forget it, Jack. It’s Hollywood.”

Recommendation: Despite my personal feelings towards Roman Polanski, I can’t deny his place in the grander cinematic picture. His work is distinctive, immersive and extraordinarily complex. Chinatown is one to go to if you’re looking for another legendary Jack Nicholson performance, but it’s also something to consider if you’re seeking out a quality crime noir. Robert Towne’s screenplay is frequently cited as one of the best ever created, and if that’s how you measure your enjoyment of movies, you might keep that in mind as well. In general though, I’ll call this one a must-see based on its effortless entertainment value. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 130 mins.

TBTrivia: You can take Jack Nicholson out of a basketball game but you can’t take the game out of Jack Nicholson. At one point, Roman Polanski and Nicholson got into such a heated argument that Polanski smashed Nicholson’s portable TV with a mop. Nicholson used the TV to watch L.A. Lakers basketball games and kept stalling shooting.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.adammcdaniel.com; http://www.imdb.com

Decades Blogathon – Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

1975

Hey all, second-to-last day in the Decades Blogathon! We can’t believe it’s already almost over, but time does fly when you’re having fun! To bring the guest reviews to a conclusion, I would like to feature Rob from the prolific MovieRob and his take on a comedy classic. Anyone who hasn’t given his site a look yet should do so after reading this great review. He’s got so much to offer. Take it away, Mr. Rob! 


Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 1.31.24 PM

“Please! This is supposed to be a happy occasion. Let’s not bicker and argue over who killed who.” – King of Swamp Castle

Number of Times Seen – At least 10 times (cable, DVD and 11 May 2015)

Brief Synopsis – King Arthur and his trusted knights of the round table are sent on a quest by God to find the Holy Grail

My Take on it – This is quite a difficult movie to review without spoilers because there are so many classic scenes and jokes in this movie that make sure that this movie works so well.

This movie is basically an amalgam of different skits making fun of life in medieval times strung together to make a hilarious tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

This is my favorite of all of Monty Python’s movie because it is so funny and quotable and can be watched over and over again and again and I’ll never tire of the jokes.

The theme music is short and sweet and is truly the perfect companion for this medieval journey.

The best way to show you how great this movie is, would be to show you some clips of the very very funny scenes in the movie.

If you haven’t seen this movie, be forewarned that these scenes are filled with spoilers.

If you have seen this, enjoy these scenes again!!

My favorites are the Witch and the Dennis scenes even though they are all spectacular

Bottom Line – Hilarious vignettes that properly make fun of the way medieval stories are told.  My favorite MP movie of all time because it is sooo quotable and gets me laughing hysterically every time I watch it. Very catchy theme music that works so well within the framework of a medieval quest. Highly Recommended!

MovieRob’s Favorite Trivia – During production, the troupe became increasing irritated by the press, who seemed to always ask the same questions, such as “What will your next project be?” One day, Eric Idle flippantly answered, “Jesus Christ’s Lust For Glory”. Having discovered that this answer quickly shut up reporters, the group adopted it as their stock answer. After production completed, they did some serious thinking about it, and realized that while satirizing Christ himself was out of the question, they could create a parody of first-century life, later realized in Life of Brian (1979). (From IMDB)

Rating – Oscar Worthy