Tag Archives: American Cinema

Hell or High Water

Hell or High water 1

The 2016 feature by David Mackenzie tells the story of 2 brothers who will stop at nothing to save the land of their deceased mother, the last link to their childhood, and the riches that the oil under her land will promise. Marcus (Jeff Bridges) is a Texas lawman weeks before a forced retirement, training Alberto (Gil Birmingham) to be able to take his place. Just when it seems like it will be a quiet couple of weeks before his retirement, a rash of bank robberies occur and Marcus and Alberto take the responsibility to solve the case.  After their mother passed away, Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine) were faced with the realization that the land on which she lived was being seized by the bank. Toby has a former wife and a child to think about while Tanner is constantly on the run, in and out of jail. All of the performers in this film, right down to the bit players, are quite good, but Bridges shows yet again that he is one of the finest actors in America.
Bridges takes over the film every time he’s on screen. He doesn’t want to give up his job because, we feel, he wants to hold on to a West that no longer exists. . Pine, who usually chooses action hero type roles, makes us question whether he might not be a better character actor. He’s excellent here in part because the weight of the movie isn’t resting on his back.  Ben Foster does a pretty mean impression of a man who looks like he’s spent a week living in a gutter.  One character, a half-Comanche, puts it in perspective when he matter-of-fact observes that, 150 years ago, all this land belonged to his people. Hell or High Water is more of a drama than a thriller, although there are “thriller-type” elements in place. Mackenzie  prefers extended takes and tracking shots which lift the film to great cinematic heights. Mackenzie takes great pains to provide a compelling, credible motive for Toby and Tanner and to illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of the men pursuing them. In the superbly tense Hell or High Water, New Mexico stands in for Texas and the heist film stands in for a bleak present-day western.

Body Double

Body Double

“Body Double” is an exhilarating exercise in pure filmmaking, a thriller in the                  Hitchcock tradition in which there’s no particular point except that the hero is flawed and we identify with him completely.  The film gives more emphasis on visual storytelling rather than dialogue. Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) is a struggling actor who has lost his role as a vampire in a low-budget horror film.  At a method acting class he meets Sam (Gregg Henry) who offers Scully a place to stay.  Sam points out all the sights including a shapely neighbor (Deborah Shelton) who does a nightly striptease dance in front of her open window.  For two nights, he uses a telescope to watch the striptease.  He also begins to suspect that the woman may be in danger. Since the plot is so important in “Body Double,” i won’t reveal very much more of the story. It is a genuinely terrifying thriller. De Palma is at home in this genre. We see some fairly mild porno scenes in this film.  The film opens with a satire on vampire movies, includes a Hitchcockian cat-and-mouse sequence, and even borrows some of the clichés of 1940s film-noirs.   Technically, it’s a marvel of film technique.  Wasson’s claustrophobic attacks are effectively conveyed to the viewer. The infamous drill murder is a terrific setpiece.  Criag Wasson is good as the confused and creepy Scully and Deborah Shelton has a remoteness which fits in well with the dreaminess of some of her scenes.



Shakespeare wrote the 3 hour long original but Welles cut and pasted it together to create a 90-minute pastiche that is barbed, claustrophobic, and hallucinatory. Film was shot in bits and pieces between 1948 and 1951, with the actors sometimes languishing on location while Welles went to raise more money.   In his last completed feature, “Filming Othello,” from 1978, Welles unravels the strange story of the shoot, which involved an actor, say, entering a doorway filmed in Morocco in 1949 and emerging in the same scene from a doorway filmed in Italy in 1951.   The fragmentation of the shoot is reflected in the fragmentation of the images, which is no mere convenient but an aesthetic, a fragmentation as complex as that of a expeditious montage by Eisenstein.  In the course of his production he employed five cinematographers, but few films sustain such uncanny visual consistency.  If by “auteur” we mean a director who takes not just the filmmaking process but all the alternations of fate and finances as his medium, then Welles easily qualifies.  From the opening scene the sublime strangeness takes over; it is like entering a Cubist painting. The dead Othello’s face, upside down, fills the screen, with strange chanting on the soundtrack.  Beginning with the ending, the narrative then follows that of the original, but so curtailed and suddenly pieced together that it takes on an alien quality.  His “Othello” (Orson Welles) boils down to the title character, his wife( Suzanne Cloutier), Iago(Micheál MacLiammóir) and bit players (and impressive numbers of extras). Welles the actor gives an impassioned performance as the titular character, while MacLiammoir is equally stunning as his jealous adversary.

The Killers


Adapted from the Ernest Hemingway short story, The Killers is the tale of two hitmen who pull a job that’s just a tad bit too easy. Their curiosity gets the best of them and they go searching for the truth in this Don Siegel directed gritty crime drama. The killers this time around are Lee Marvin and Clu Gallagher. John Cassavetes  plays the victim, a former race-car driver fallen on hard times since a bad accident. In the past he crossed tracks with the femme  fatale of the film, Angie Dickinson. But Dickinson’s heart belongs to daddy (Ronald Reagan). The strength of The Killers is the all-star cast led by Lee Marvin. Every time Lee and Clu Gulager are on the screen they shine as the hitmen searching for the truth. This film was released only two years before Ronald Reagan became the first of two actors to be elected governor of California as a Republican. He brings a natural air of authority and unspoken menace to every scene he has. Dickinson is a good femme fatale and does it in such a way that she doesn’t wear it on her sleeve. Overall this is an effective film. It lacks it’s own sense of style but is tough and enjoyable and it’s hard edge is still evident today.

The Big Steal


The Big Steal is an action-packed crime film starring Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer. Directed by Don Siegel, The Big Steal defies easy categorization. It’s not so much a film-noir as it is a hard-boiled crime film, loaded with crisp dialogue, witty and sarcastic banter between the leads.Duke Halliday (Mitchum) arrives in Mexico in search of army payroll cash that he alleges was stolen by Jim Fiske (Patric Knowles). He runs into Joan Graham (Greer), who is after the money she gave to her boyfriend, Fiske. The two attempt to track down Fiske, all the while being pursued by the U.S. Army Captain Vincent Blake (William Bendix). It may not be one of Mitchum’s iconic roles, but he’s really quite good here. As for Greer, she’s no femme fatale in this. She’s just a strong woman along for the ride. It was shot on location around Mexico City, which helps give it a more exotic look. This film is sort of like a mixture of film noir, and adventure film, a comedy and it’s all set in Mexico. Don Siegel masterfully directs this fast-paced, well-constructed and highly enjoyable road chase film noir that stretches the genre’s conventions.

Rebel Without A Cause


Directed by Nicholas Ray, it offers both social commentary and an alternative to previous films showing wrongdoers in urban rural locations. The title was taken from Robert M. Lindner’s  1944 book, Rebel Without a Cause: The Hypnoanalysis of a Criminal Psychopath. The film itself, however, does not reference  Lindner’s  book in any way.  Rebel Without a Cause is a look into the life of Jim Stark (James Dean) and his attempt to try and figure out what he wants to do with his life. After being taken to the police station his parents are brought in to help find out what he did. . His parents (Jim Backus and Ann Doran) are unsure what to do with him. Also at the station is Judy (Natalie Wood) and John “Plato” Crawford (Sal Mineo). Jim offers his coat to Plato but he refuses.  The next day is Jim’s first day at his high school. It is hear where he encounters Buzz, the leader of the “cool” crowd. Buzz and his gang slash the tires of Jim’s cars and a fight starts. The boys decide to settle their differences by having a ‘chicken run.’  During it, Buzz is killed when he is unable to escape from his car in time. Jim’s parents are kindly and liberal, but are too indulgent. Judy starts off as a member of the ‘ cool crowd’, as she is Buzz’s girlfriend, but after Buzz’s death a romance develops between Jim and herself.

The main theme of the film is the choice between the desire to conform to accepted values and the desire to rebel by finding one’s own individual ones, a choice that  seems legitimate in one’s teenage years. The film suggests that this choice is more complex than might be thought. Throughout the film there is an atmosphere of heightened emotion. It is a film that needs fine acting, both to convey this emotional atmosphere and to do justice to its ambitious theme. Sal Mineo as Plato and Natalie Wood as Judy are both good, but James Dean is better than good, making the tormented figure of Jim come vividly alive.

Invasion of the body snatchers



Invasion of the body snatchers is a 1978 science fiction horror film directed by Philip Kaufman. Released on December 1978, it is a remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), which is based on the novel The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney. The film follows many of the same plot points as the original, save for it is two  decades later, and set in the big city of San Francisco, rather than a small town.  The film follows Matthew (Donald Sutherland) a San Francisco health inspector who soon finds out, along with his co-worker Elizabeth (Brooke Adams), that an alien plague of pods has descended, and that people are being replaced by duplicates grown from them. As the pods grow, they replace their victims as they sleep, and suck out their memories and bodily fluids, leaving the original person a dried shell. The first person, in the film, to be podded is Elizabeth’s boyfriend Dr. Howell, a dentist. When he seems distant, it leads Elizabeth to the conspiracy, and into the arms of Matthew, who is secretly in love with her. He suggests she see his friend, David Kibner (Leonard Nimoy), a famous psychiatrist with best selling helpful books.

This film works because of a constant sense of paranoia. This paranoia begins to spread like wildfire as several citizens notice a bit of the same. Where the protagonists in Siegel’s film  were well-to-do and crisply dressed, the characters in the 78 version are engagingly odd.  Unlike the original, the film’s memorable for its use of outlandish special effects. In one startling scene, Brooke Adams is menaced by a dog with the head of a man. The 1978 Body Snatchers is most memorable, however, for the pod people’s habit of pointing and screaming at human escapees. It’s a trait that wasn’t exhibited by the eerily calm invaders of the earlier film, and its use here is absolutely terrifying. The typical unusual ’70’s cinematography is from Michael Chapman. There are some really exciting chase scenes at the end of the film. One of the greatest aspects of this film is its socio-political resonance. It can be interpreted as a state of minority versus majority, us versus them and individualism versus social conformity. The film has a dark brooding atmosphere throughout and there is a sense of realism in this film.