Tag Archives: American Cinema

Carrie (1976)

Carrie 4
Telekinesis means the ability to move objects at a distance by mental power, or by other non-physical means. When high school girl Carrie white (Sissy Spacek)  experiences her first period in the gym at school, the other girls make fun of the young woman’s fear and ridicule her.  She lives in a gloomy ruinous house where she is dominated by her mother (Piper Laurie), a sexually repressed religious fanatic.  She has the power to move objects.  Her mother has left Carrie unprepared for a harsh world constantly being pelted with religious fanatical teachings. When Sue (Amy Irving) convinces her boyfriend Tommy Ross to take Carrie to the prom to make up for her part in the showers, disgraced popular girl Chris (Nancy Allen) and her abusive boyfriend Billy (John Travolta) take it upon themselves to teach Carrie a lesson. Sissy Spacek’s  performance is easily a standout in the cast rivaled only by Piper Laurie, but the entire cast seems eerily aware that they are in a horror film masquerading as a dark fairy tale – and it works. In this film, De Palma discovered that his destructive sense of humor could be synthesized with his graceful visual sensibilities in a manner that would highlight both. She is not allowed to go outside of the house other than to go to school, she is not allowed to date boys, and she certainly is not allowed to question anything that has to do with her coming maturation into womanhood. As is the case in most De Palma films, the technical credits are superb. The cinematography (by Mario Tosi) is extremely effective; colors and shadows have been shot effectively here. Carrie was also very creepy. The scenes with her mother was really scary.

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The man who knew too much (1956)

The man who knew too much 1956

The original “The Man Who Knew Too Much” brought Alfred Hitchcock acclaim for the first time outside of the United Kingdom.  Of course part of the reason for the acclaim was that people marveled how Hitchcock on such a medium budget as compared to lavish Hollywood products was able to provide so much on the screen.  The original film was shot inside a studio. Hitchcock now with an international reputation and a big Hollywood studio behind him (Paramount) decided to see what The Man Who Knew Too Much would be like with a lavish budget. This is shot on location in Marrakesh and London and has two big international names for box office. This was James Stewart’s third of four Hitchcock films and his only teaming with Doris Day. Day and Stewart are on vacation with their son Christopher Olsen in Morocco and they make the acquaintance of Frenchman Daniel Gelin and the aforementioned English couple, Bernard Miles and Brenda DaBanzie. Gelin is stabbed in the back at a market place and just before dying he whispers some words to Stewart about an assassination to take place in Albert Hall in London.
The original film had Peter Lorre playing the villain. This film doesn’t benefit from his presence, unfortunately, but that is made up for by performances from the amazing James Stewart, and Doris Day.  Stewart conveys all the courage, conviction and heartbreak of a man that has lost his child and would do anything to get him back brilliantly. Doris Day was as good as Jimmy Stewart.  I’m enthralled by the enthusiasm and the energy that she puts behind her performance. Hitch mounted an elaborate remake which lacks the original’s crisp pace, but makes up for it with star value, sumptuous colour and sustained suspense.

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.

Othello

OTHELLO

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

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

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.