Posts Tagged ‘chas andrews



03
Dec
16

#40 Key Largo

#40: Key Largo

keylargo

Starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson, Lionel Barrymore, and Claire Trevor

Directed by John Huston

The Short, Short Version:

Bogey plays Major Frank McCloud, a soldier-turned-drifter whose conscience leads him to the Keys, specifically Key Largo to the Hotel Largo which is ran by the father (Barrymore) and wife (Bacall) of fallen comrade George Temple. Upon entering the Hotel Largo he’s eyed by several of the guests there whose reasons for staying are above suspicion until he, the owner and daughter-in-law, and a cop are all held hostage by Al Capone-inspired gangster Johnny Rocco (Robinson). Rocco, surrounded by his gang and former singer/moll Gaye Dawn (Trevor), has other plans: getting the dough for his counterfeit money and heading back to Cuba where he was deported to. Add to the mix an impending hurricane, a sheriff, and Seminole brothers on the run, and you have a taught, tense thriller.

Why this made the 40:

The Forty for 40 list has four categories. This came from the Top Ten Influential Directors category for being directed by John Huston. Huston is the noted director of such classics as “The Maltese Falcon,” “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” “The Asphalt Jungle,” “The African Queen,” and “The Man Who Would Be King,” among others. While “Key Largo,” is also a Bogey movie, it has a sensibility that “Maltese Falcon,” does not that makes for it to be an underrated film. What makes this film, more than the others, are the characters. From the thug “Angel” to the moll to the coward soldier McCloud having to confront his internal demons and summoning everything he can to take on underworld emperor Rocco, “Key Largo,” rides the line between noir crime drama and thriller. The interactions between Bogey and Robinson alone are worth watching – Bogart’s downtrodden “wiseguy” versus Robinson’s “larger than life” Napoleonic- Al Capone really makes the film.

Other important notes: the music. It was used for effect as much as the silence and the sound effects. Moments of empathy/sympathy would be underscored by a small musical piece. Silence swelled the dry awkwardness of the divergent characters all being in one room. The sound effects of the hurricane hitting the hotel amplified Rocco’s paranoia and lack of total control.

And, the photography. Based on a play (loosely, I’ve read) the film only alternates in what room(s) the characters gather in. Almost all interactions happen when most of the characters are all assembled in one place and as such they all have to be/seem/feel separate from one-another. The lighting does well-enough to give that three-dimensional feel when you see the various angles shot within the room they’re in. Every now-and-then you can also get that noir feel by the shadows from staircases, faces half-hidden in the shadows, etc. Working within noir sensibilities there are the mirror shots whereby a character is looking at the mirror and we see not only them but everyone behind them; a kind-of action/reaction tit for tat. Innovative stuff. I also recommend the final scene between Bogart and Robinson; it’s one of the best shot.

Aside from these things I think that I really enjoy “Key Largo” because it feels like the movie you watch to enjoy as opposed to the one you watch just to have seen it. Sure, I enjoyed the other Huston movies and in some ways they are superior. Maybe it’s like the band Steely Dan – yeah, they made good music and people like them but not everyone lists them as their “go to” band. While it’s not the “go to” for Bogart, Robinson, or Huston it does deserve mention and appreciation.

Here’s the trailer:

And also this little ditty from the Eighties…

16
Nov
15

Did ‘Spectre’ Stand a Ghost of a Chance?

spectre

Starring Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Lea Seydoux, and Andrew Scottt.

Directed by Sam Mendes

ME: “Dad, what do you think of the new ‘Bond’ movies?”

DAD: “Well, the stories kinda suck.”

ME: “What do you think of Daniel Craig as Bond?”

DAD: “He’s good but I wished they had retired the character after he [Albert Broccoli] died.”

True conversation.

Not too far from the premiere weekend crowd I watched “Spectre,” the much-anticipated sequel/next-installment of the James Bond franchise, last Tuesday. Oh, boy. Is it entirely disappointing? Is it worth the price? Read on.

I can honestly say that I’ve grown up watching Bond but from the viewpoint of a different side of Bond: the post-Dalton/Pierce Brosnan Bond. While Timothy Dalton played a grittier, more “real” side of James Bond (far from the suave Roger Moore Bond) Brosnan’s Bond was one now having to compete with the feminist 90s giving him smart female counterparts that were either Bond girls or even M herself (Judi Dench took over the traditionally male role of ‘M’ in “GoldenEye”). Famke Janssen, Michelle Yeoh, Sophie Marceau, Halle Berry were all strong, independent female characters to the counteract James Bond and while the latter two Brosnan movies left a lot to be desired (namely a decent story) the actors and characters they played stood out and above the source material. However, “Die Another Day” was the death-knell for Brosnan’s Bond.

His successor, as you now know, was Daniel Craig. With the reboot/remake/origin movies being the way Hollywood was going it was only fitting that Craig start BEFORE “00” status as Bond “rough around the edges” Craig’s portrayal was a breath of fresh air for the franchise and washed out the bad taste in our mouth left from the fourth Brosnan feature. Here was a new Bond before being suave, using gadgets, guns, cars, women… this was the indoctrination of a character with over 20 films of history and we were more than glad to have him. While “Casino Royale” shifted the direction of the wind being blown to keep Bond sailing, “Quantum of Solace” was a dead calm of a “sequel.” The director and producers failed to learn the lessons of “License to Kill” in that James Bond is NOT a character out for vengeance but the “savior” of queen and country. Trying for a different wind director Sam Mendes was brought in for the third venture, “Skyfall,” which proved to be even better than “Casino Royale” and made us almost forget about “Quantum…” With the audience and critical acclaim of “Skyfall” Mendes returned for the latest venture, “Spectre,” and unfortunately succumbed to tripping the trope fantastic.

Warning. Spoilers ahead.

“The dead are alive…” are the first words greeting us as we pan into a crowd in Mexico City on Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). James Bond (Craig) and a companion are masked and moving through the crowded celebration. Once behind closed doors Bond goes on “personal assignment” which ends in a building being demolished and an overly long fight inside a helicopter over the crowd. Back in England Bond answers to M’s (Fiennes) interrogation saying that he was on “holiday.” M is furious and puts Bond on suspension before having to face James Bond Trope #1: The not-so-secret spy agency is in imminent threat of being dissolved. Ever since “GoldenEye” someone working for the British government keeps asking “Why is Bond even out there? Isn’t the Cold War over? Do we even need spies?” etc. It never fails. The best response given was Judi Dench as M saying, “He’s doing his job!” Again, this has been going on for 20 years only this time M is finding that a new security agency, CNS, is bringing together all technology to be the eyes and ears of the intelligence agency without having to leave home and Bond’s vacation may have caused their time to be cut even more.

Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) are secretly being utilized by Bond to uncover a massive, secret organization. His reasoning? Cinematic Trope #2: a character leaves the main protagonist information saying, “If something happens to me, then, this…” M (Dench) left such a message for Bond to hunt down and kill one Marco Sciarra (Allesandro Cremona). Bond sneaks out of England, finds Mrs. Sciarra (Bellucci), hooks up for the night (Bond Trope #3), and infiltrates a Spectre town-hall meeting before barely getting out alive. Realizing that he recognized the guy running the meeting we’re now taken to…

The residence of Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), the most common thread of all of the Craig Bond films. Apparently Mr. White is on the outs with Spectre (unclear if it was a matter or conscience or being behind with dues) and gives up info on his daughter before “checking out.” Continuing the quest for vengeance we go to…

An upscale office building somewhere in/around the Alps were estranged daughter Madeleine Swann (Seydoux) works. Bond introduces himself, she gets captured (Trope #4) and even though she’s lived her life being the daughter of a spy/assassin she does little more than keep herself from being drugged via syringe. Wait, she saves Bond’s life a little later (Trope #5: Being knocked down doesn’t necessarily mean knocked-out) and they fall in love with as little chemistry as possible (Trope #6?)

Meanwhile, back in England…

The all-seeing, all-knowing new privately-funded security network is about to go live. The “00” program has been disbanded. Bond is now rogue and M refuses to help as CNS can here/see/read everything transmitted. Bond is rogue. And now we go back to the middle of the desert in North Africa were Bond and Swann encounter…

The villain’s secret lair (feel free to pronounce that a la Dr. Evil). Standing outside giant circle in the middle of the desert Bond and Swann are greeted and taken into the head of Spectre, one Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Waltz). James’s history is exposed as we find that when his parents died a man adopted him and he became the step-brother. The step-brother purportedly died in an avalanche as well as his father only to come back as Blofeld (mom’s last name). The avalanche was no accident; Blofeld killed his dad in retaliation for getting a step-brother. Rough.

That’s as far as I’m going with the story. You know James Bond is going to survive/win; nothing new under the sun there. My complaints are: checking off the tropes just to advance the story, action sequences that just ran too long, under use of Monica Bellucci, a boring story, and a lackluster movie theme, Sam Smith’s “Writing’s On the Wall.” On the plus side when the humor works it works and Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw get to do more stuff. The opening segment is reminiscent of “Touch of Evil” and is one of the coolest Bond openings for Craig and company, if not overall. The beginning is good, the middle struggles and is drawn out, but the end was really good.

My grade: C

 

25
Sep
15

With Bond, the ‘Writing’s On the Wall’

sam-smithGrammy Award-winning artist Sam Smith has now tackled his 2-year dream – making a Bond theme. Released today on Spotify is his theme, “Writing’s On the Wall,” for the new Daniel Craig James Bond film, “Spectre.” My thoughts? Well… while it keeps with the sweeping orchestration feel of more 70’s Roger Moore Bond movies it’s… okay. Not so much the “people out to kill you because you’re a spy”-theme or mentioning of guns, girls, and gadgets it’s okay. Take a listen for yourself via Spotify at:

And while I’m at it you can check out the latest trailer for “Spectre” here:

31
Aug
15

Not Everything Is In ‘Focus’

focus-2015-movie-poster

Starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro, Adrian Martinez, BD Wong and Gerald McRaney. Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.

Ah. The Art of the Con.

I would’ve said “The Con Is On” but that’s the tagline for a much better (and understated) movie, “Bowfinger (I need to pop that into my player again). Without delving too much into Hollywood History the older con artist with the younger con artist (regardless of sex) has been going on longer than I’ve been alive. According to my memory the last attempt at the male/female con artist rom-com (such as this is) was “Duplicity” starring Clive Owen, Julia Roberts, Paul Giamatti, and Tom Wilkinson and which was a better movie. The pinnacle in my opinion would be the John McTiernan remake of “The Thomas Crowne Affair” with Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo, and Denis Leary (although Russo was not a con artist in training so much as an insurance fraud investigator). Here’s the rundown:

Enter Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith), a smooth-as-silk master con/ sociological geek who’s past is dubious at best but be certain he’s been in the game longer than he knew it was a game. He’s the kind of guy who can look you straight in the eyes while he has someone steal your wallet, get your information, and return your wallet without you knowing. One night up-and-comer Jess (Robbie) tries luring him into the “significant other catching you in the act” scheme (see also: “Derailed”). Nicky calls her out on it and leaves. Jess hunts Nicky down in order to learn the ways of the con and proves that she is not just eye-candy but a worthy addition to his team. Their big con comes during a championship football game where we learn of Nicky’s fatal flaw: gambling. After losing a massive amount and winning it back (from BD Wong) they walk away with a few cool million. Nicky gives Jess $80,000 and sends her on her way, disappearing forever. Or so it seems…

Cut to 3 years later in Buenos Aires. Nicky is hired by the head of a racing team to sell a less-than-effective engine design that will give him half-second lead per lap. Suspicious of the con artist is his assistant (Gerald McRaney) who is keeping a close eye on Nicky. Thrown into the mix yet again is Jess who made her way to the track and is considered a “race skank.” Nicky tries to make amends with Jess while scheming against the team he’s selling the “defective” design to while dancing around McRaney and the guy who hired him. However, is it all just a con within a con?

There are things the movie does well and points where you feel someone interjected or just lost sight of the original idea entirely. What works for the film is Nicky detailing how the con is mastered in such a fluid fashion that it’s like watching a magic trick unfold before your eyes. He’s able to spit out psychological/sociological perspectives on nuance and mannerisms that makes you wonder if there’s a college course on this stuff (probably). Robbie proves that she can be smart and beautiful, transcending the source material in a way that almost begs for a spin-off starring her alone. They do work well together.

The letdown of the film is that it feels that the traits of the characters were ditched to rush into a rom-com to make a quick buck. After the setups and the tryout and the championship it becomes Will Smith emoting for an hour and trying to get Robbie back. There’s almost no scene in which Smith is crying, even when he’s supposedly happy being with Robbie. What?!? Did he feel like he was selling his soul to do this film? Does he have a soul left after “After Earth?” And there’s a Gerald McRaney reveal/plot twist that makes you scratch your head as to “Why?” but you’ll find that out should you choose to check it out.

In the end “Focus” is no better nor worse than most other movies. Robbie doesn’t disappoint but Smith does a little. It’s a rainy-day, “nothin’ better on cable”-type movie. For those interested in the male/female con dynamic I suggest the aforementioned “Duplicity” or “Thomas Crowne Affair” remake (or maybe even the original). For those just wanting a different con movie I also suggest “9 Queens,” a foreign film involving a con over some misprinted stamps.

My grade: B-

22
Aug
15

Movie Review: “Jupiter Ascending”

Jupiter-Ascending-poster

The Wachowski’s, Descending

“Jupiter Ascending”

Starring: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Tuppence Middleton

Directed by: The Wachowskis

“Hollywood will never let us direct a big-budget movie again…”

Such is and will be (for now) the plight of the Wachowski siblings Andy and Lana. Almost twenty years removed from their first movie “Bound,” the siblings haven’t had a money-making hit since “The Matrix: Revolutions.” While “Speed Racer” was a wild technicolor, hyper frenetic acid trip of a movie and “Cloud Atlas” (with “Run Lola Run” director Tom Tykwer) was wildly ambitious so is “Jupiter Ascending” and as such, like previous two, fails to deliver. Here’s the rundown:

Jupiter Jones (Kunis) is a Russian emigrant of sorts – born on a ship traversing the Atlantic following the death of her father by Russian mobsters. Now grown she lives with other members of her family in a house in Chicago making a living as a maid/janitor. She doesn’t have much of a life and doesn’t want to. Enter Caine (Tatum), a mutant half-human/half-wolf genetic hybrid manufactured to be a soldier who was sent to find her because he’s good at it AND she happens to be the key bargaining chip in a battle over the Earth. Hit ‘Pause’ and let me explain:

Kunis: I don’t know why I’m here.

Abrasax family member: You have the exact genetic sequence of our dead mother!

Kunis: What does this mean?

Abrasax family member: You control the fate of the Earth.

Kunis: I don’t trust you.

Abrasax family member: But you should!

Kunis: Okay, I guess I can trust you now. What do I have to do?

Jupiter meets all three members of the Abrasax family who have divied the galaxy into Monopoly properties (“You have ten planets but Earth is worth more than those combined.”) Earth is the Boardwalk of the universe (“Do not pass Jupiter, do no collect…”) and the Abrasax family have one goal in mind: longevity. Immortality being ludicrous the family “harvest” one-hundred humans to make one core sample of a blue substance that they use in order to be younger, healthier, more beautiful, etc. Never mind the fact they already have giant blue pyramids of these core samples or the fact they live for millenniums – one can ever have too much time, I guess. Jupiter (and us, the audience) gain this information watching her go through a story with more convoluted twists and turns than a Mike Hammer novel. With the help of Caine and Stigler (Bean) Jupiter just may make it out alive and maybe make sense of it all. Maybe.

“Jupiter Ascending” is a wildly beautiful, crazily chaotic, immersively entertaining film that lacked a story. Between the space ships, laser blasts, fight sequences, and techno gadgetry belies a movie of style over substance. Kunis has far removed herself from being Jackie in “That 70’s Show” and a film like this does her no justice – she has more in common with Sigourney Weaver’s ‘Ripley’ or Linda Hamilton’s ‘Sarah Connor’ than she does the stereotypical ‘I’m here to look beautiful, be confused, go along with what everyone is saying and hope everything turns alright in the end’ woman. I was waiting for her to kick ass. Didn’t happen. This film did her less justice than “Extract.”

Of note for those looking for inside jokes or gags there are a few to be had. In one scene Tatum, using his anti-gravity boots), grabs the back of a truck and hitches a ride a la “Back to the Future.” When Jupiter goes to prove she is the genetic descendant of the dead Abrasax mother she goes through multiple lines and always has the incorrect form much like “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” or even “Brazil” (note: Terry Gilliam has a cameo appearance in the film). Et cetera.

Should you watch this one? If you have a 50-inch or bigger TV check it out; you can even invite me over. This is a film MADE for a movie theater and such the detail is in the set pieces. If you’re less concerned about the CG then you may want to skip it altogether.

My grade: C-