Collected Dailies 5

What’s missing most in movies today? Sharp dialog? I keep hearing about Mamet, perhaps because he’s fundamentally a dramatist, with dialog his stock in trade. Last night I just sat luxuriating in the interchanges betwixt Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller in Pygmalion (1938)… At one point in the movie, at the start of a grand ball, a diplomat strides into the hall and then pauses at the foot of the stairs with his hand to his ear. For a moment, I assumed he was taking a call that would affect the plot.

***

The House of the Devil (2009) – I don’t get it. How many times does the devil have to be born? Every time I turn around, another young woman has been impregnated in a satanic ritual. Wasn’t Rosemary’s little boy enough? Nursery schools are going to hell.

***

Paging through the Flick Nation yearbook, I’m reminded of how many movies I see and then forget forever. Movies from the past year like War, Inc., Severance, Flawless, Married Life, Smart People. If you average a movie a day, say, that’s 7,000 movies over 20 years. Even if you’re one of those who focuses on top-1000 lists and the like, you still need thousands of unsung flicks to fill your dance card. Thousands of movies watched, for what? Does writing about the experience help excuse the waste of time?

***

The Man from Earth (2007) – Netflix Instant. A little movie about a conversation between friends, one of whom mentions that he’s been alive since paleolithic times. In fact, back in the day, he was Jesus. His friends doubt this. The movie reminds me a little of the old Steve Allen TV show Meeting of Minds, in which Allen sits at a table with three historical figures and discusses their accomplishments and history from their perspective. Allen was a man of many parts. As for Man of Earth, let’s have a sequel and take the conversation to the next level.

***

Watching Just Friends (2005), I made a note: “Seven bags of rock salt.” If you have any idea why, please contact me… Ryan Reynolds in a fat suit and then out of the fat suit, strange sensation. He seemed, something, more real? in the suit… Some rainy day, I’d like to spill some ink about this movie. To me, it’s endearing and a mess. Reynolds – compare and contrast this outright channeling of Will Farrell with his subtle turn in Adventureland (2009). And props to him for making a whole movie in a coffin… Chemistry between Reynolds and Amy Smart in this rom com? When he’s goofing, which is most of the time, zero chemistry. In the moments when he drops that and exposes the actual dude that we know is there, there is as much chemistry as is possible with Ms Smart, who is (or was) engaged to 12-year boyfriend Branden Williams.

***

I went to see The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) at a tiny metroplex in Phoenix, just when multiple-screen cinemas were newly invented. Only, at the door I swerved and bought a ticket for something junky, against my better judgment. But finally, after hearing folks rave about the movie lately,  I moved Coyle up to the top of my Netflix queue. It’s never too late! Criterion. My main problem now, as I watch it, is that I remember the ending from the book. Nothing else, just the ending, but that’s enough, cause on one level I’m just waiting for the bad news here. George V. Higgins made a splash, at least in the Boston area, when he wrote the book. He was a what, I can’t remember, a  D.A. or defense lawyer or something like that. His books were almost 100% dialog. Every fourth scene, say, in the movie, one of the actors gets to spout a page or so. Best parts of the movie, by far…  I remember reading that Higgins died a while back, RIP… The movie has that strong 60s-70s flavor, which I think is mostly about hair, mostly sideburn hair. There’s a scene in the new-at-the-time and sterile Government Square, which replaced the lively, lowlife Scollay Square. The movie was made three years after I left but I’m sitting here with the locations, Sharon, Weymouth, waiting for Wakefield or other points north, or Somerville or Medford, as if the thing is a travel log. You can’t go home again, but you can watch old movies… Those cars – all American, all big – though I was driving a bug at the time. Boston, and I had no plans for the future and now it’s, what, 40 years later. Still, no plans, so I shouldn’t feel sorry for anybody in the movie who is stuck in their job… There is a guy in the movie, so familiar. I check IMDB but most of the cast, no head shots. This guy should have a head shot. Please, somebody in the movie, call him by name so I can look him up by his character’s name… Ok, it was Richard Jordan. Died much later of a brain tumor; Mitchum, lung cancer; Steven Keats, suicide; Boyle, I can’t remember; Bobby Orr, bad knees killed his career. Remind me to just watch the damn movie and let it go at that. Nah, I was there then and I’m not there now and neither is anybody else in the movie, so what the hell… Funny to watch this, the ultimate in movie realism, at the same time as Le Samurai, the ultimate in auteur, the two with such similar arcs.

***

Stir of Echoes (1999) – I took this one for the team, as she who must be obeyed sometimes wants a scary movie. Scary the genre, not scary the fact, though this one did make me jump a couple of times. And I like Kevin Bacon. He had to drink a lot of OJ and water and beer in this movie, and dig with a shovel and pick and no gloves on, and sometimes act all wild-eyed and stuff. Kathryn Erbe, whom I don’t know but who seemed familiar – would that be Ur-bee or Urbah or just plain old Urb? – has the thankless task of playing the wife and mother who time after time experiences something that would bring any normal person’s life to a standstill till she figured out and understood what the hell was going on, but who, to keep the plot moving forward, is constrained to continue with her normal housewifely chores, looking good!, getting naked at least once, whilst periodically also acting all wild-eyed and stuff, though not so much as her husband, the star of the movie.

***

I keep hearing about Le samourai (1967), so I finally started watching it. It has a great many moments in it where you (and by you I mean me, no I mean I) go “wait… what…?” I hope that this guy, Mr. Samourai, ***spoilers***, a premier hitman in Paris, has better luck on most of his jobs than he does on this one. He doesn’t exercise a lot of finesse, though, so maybe he gets what he deserves. Walks into a crowded club, shoots the boss in his office, and the next thing he knows, he’s in a lineup with six witnesses eyeballing him. Is this good hitman craft here? Or a recipe for hitman fail? This movie is #1 on many Hitman Top 5 lists. It’s got an IMDB 8.1 rating. I must keep watching, to discern what I’m missing or what is to come. Perhaps Delon and Melville and the vibe in the movie were taken as ultra cool in ’67; I mean, Peter Gunn was ultra cool in ’58 – at least, I thought he was – but that doesn’t mean he’s  cool now. When I finish the movie, I’ll read a bunch of reviews by respected cinema professionals. They’ll tell me what to think… Ok, I couldn’t wait. I checked out the first part of Ebert’s great-movie paean. Whoa. From the first scenes of the movie, we are in the hands of a master. The world is screwed up enough already; who am I to disagree with Ebert here? Still… Ebert writes that the master hit-man hot-wires a car. In fact, the hit-man steps into a 60s-vintage Citroen and pulls out a key ring with about a thousand keys on it, and starts trying them in the lock. Fortunately for him, and for us, he finds one that works after four or five tries. After decades of watching actors hot-wire cars, is it so strange that this might wring a smile from me. Wouldn’t Mr. Bean start the car this way? (Later, a cop with a similar key ring uses the same method to gain access to the hit-man’s apartment. It takes him longer to find the right key, so that his partner can do various bits of business while we’re waiting.)… Also worrisome in the movie are the shots of the hit-man’s pet bird acting upset in its cage. How did the director get the bird to act so upset? Could it be that the director in fact upset the bird before rolling the cameras? I’d hate to see bird abuse perpetrated solely for our amusement… One of the cops or one of the bad guys, can’t remember which, when asked something, replies (in French, not in the subtitles) “impossible.” I remember reading somewhere that this is a typical first response in France to various questions and requests… Paris is older than where I live now. The hallways, yikes, scabrous paint. Funky molding. Layers of plaster… Melville is known for the details, the scenes which show us somebody doing something. Bugging the hit-man’s apartment, for example. How they did it 40 years ago in Paris, that is. I don’t care… The hitman (I was using hit-man to avoid the red “incorrect spelling” marks, but I like hitman better. Ditto hotwire instead of hot-wire. I refuse to be ruled by the spelling Nazis.) returns to the woman who refused to identify him in the police lineup even though she recognized him. I thought perhaps we were going rom com here, weirdly, but no, there eventuated in their meeting a bunch of plot… There are a couple of jarring cuts that maybe made sense and maybe didn’t. One doesn’t expect any such in a masterpiece… But credit where due: the hitman seems to steal only Citroens for his jobs, so that ring of keys that he carries are probably only Citroen keys, right?… Some day, which is to say probably never, I’ll take the time to explain why this film has so many cross-resonances 43 years later; for now, let me just say that Point Blank with Lee Marvin that same year got right what Le Samourai got right, without the autuer, the Parisian bushido, and what to the non-Gaul can seem goofiness.

***

What to watch on TV with a three-year-old who doesn’t have a chance to watch at home, but would like to, although it’s probably a good thing that she doesn’t, but who does get a few minutes of viewing time during the week at the grandparents’ house? (And who does watch some video on Mama’s iPhone.) I can recommend the PBS Curious George DVDs (2006 – Present). Brief gentle stories narrated by William Macy, posing a problem for George to solve, followed by real-life kids doing something similar. Maybe George is a little too human for a little monkey, but it’s not like watching Splice (2010).

***

Get Him to the Greek (2010) – Back in the 50s and 60s, you had to scuffle to find and enjoy blue comedy. Rusty Warren’s “Knockers Up” came out in 1960, but it was hard to find. Redd Foxx albums, same thing. Now, you can just sit back and let it wash over you. I was listening to Comedy Death-Ray today and Aukerman had to rein in Nick Swardson and Jon Daly, who accelerated out of control into bluer than blue. Mix in lots of non-PC material and it’s even better.

***

She’s Out of My League (2010) – I’m going to do a viewer poll. Do Alice Eve and Jay Baruchel have onscreen chemistry?

***

Letters to Juliet (2010) – Amanda Seyfried, do your three moms know that you’re out making movies like this?…And what kind of movie is it? The kind where Amanda says to the guy, “Oh my, can you move?” and everybody watching shouts “Only my lips!” just before the guy does… This movie makes me worried about Vanessa Redgrave. Maybe she was just distracted, getting pulled into a shot here and there to read her lines while she actually had something else on her mind. The effect, though, is that she seems to be going prematurely senile.

***

***SPOILER***  Passengers (2008) and Lost, Season 6 (2010). Same plot. Who borrowed from whom, or did both borrow from someone else? Not worth researching, but it would be interesting to know. “Passengers” might have more kick for viewers who haven’t just watched the final episodes of Lost… And why watch a movie that received such poor reviews? In my case, because someone local liked it and my spouse wanted “something scary” and I was in a hurry at the library.

***

Why do Canadian geese insist on walking across busy streets in a flock? You can tell they don’t like it, that they’re nervous about it, that they stop and start as the cars and trucks whiz by, at the honking (of horns, not of each other). One good flap of the wings and they’d be over to the opposite grassy verge, but they don’t do it. Strange.

***

I’ve heard about Johnnie To, but I can’t remember if I’ve seen any of his movies. After listening to a discussion about him on a podcast, I Netflix’d Election (2005). Fast-paced, well-made, I didn’t know what was going on in a couple of the major set pieces, but with two chapters to go, I got the picture. Plus, my English has taken on that Cantonese ahhh  sound at the end of every sentence… Later: After the last two chapters, I’ve learned that it’s hard to kill somebody by hacking at him with a machete, kicking him, and breaking bottle after bottle over his head, but you can do it; also hard to kill a guy by bashing him repeatedly over the head with a rock, but again, it can be done. I also learned that I’m not going to say anything bad about Mr. To, as I don’t want him coming after me.