Posts Tagged ‘thriller

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…

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26
Jun
09

In Passing… Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

michael_jackson

 

 

Singer, songwriter, and entertainer Michael Jackson passed away yesterday, June 25, 2009. Born Michael Joseph Jackson in Gary, Indiana he was the seventh in line with brothers Rebbie, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, and Randy and sisters La Toya and Janet. The Jackson siblings got into music and at the age of 5, Michael began showing his talent. He joined the band his brothers started and the group became known as the Jackson 5. In 1966 they won a local talent show with young Michael leading a cover of James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” and from there they toured the MidWest in a string of black clubs and venues, often opening for stripteases and other adult acts. The Jackson 5 signed with Motown Records in 1968 and their first four hits (two of which were “ABC” and “I’ll Be There’) went straight to number one. In 1978 Michael starred as Scarecrow in “The Wiz” where he met and teamed-up with Quincy Jones who agreed to produce his album, “Off the Wall.” The album was released in 1979 and gave Jackson his first two solo hits: ‘Rock with You,” and “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.” 1982 brought the release of “Thriller,” which is in the top five best-selling albums of all time. “Thriller” contained the hits “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” and the title track “Thriller” (which included the voice of Vincent Price). A video for “Thriller” was made by director John Landis who would go on to direct other Jackson videos. Jackson then became friends with Paul McCartney, singing duet on “Say, Say, Say” and “The Girl is Mine,” but the friendship dissolved once Jackson bought half of the Beatles catalog in an auction. In 1987 “Bad” was released, giving the singles “Bad,” “Man in the Mirror,” and “Dirty Diana.” He went to the White House, obtained several awards, and was proclaimed “The Artist of the Decade.”

Sadly while the 1980’s crowned him “The King of Pop,” his kingdom began slowly slipping away; his celebrity status quickly overshadowed his career in music. Charges of child abuse and molestation began plaguing him. His skin seemed to become whiter each year. He married Lisa Marie Presley and divorced her in less than two years. Following that he married his dermatologist’s nurse Deborah Rowe with whom he had a son and daughter. They married and divorced in 1999. Afterward there was the debacle with his label, child abuse charges, losing the Neverland ranch and leaving the United States. Jackson was poised for a comeback beginning in the UK this summer. He was 50 years of age at the time of death.

Thoughts and prayers for his family and friends.

For more information check out his IMDB page at:

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001391/

26
Feb
09

Movies on DVD Review: First Snow

first_snow

A taut little thriller.

Starring Guy Pearce, J.K. Simmons, Piper Perabo, and William Fichtner. Directed by Mark Fergus.

When New Mexican salesman Jimmy Starks (Pearce) breaks down in the middle of nowhere -and I can’t emphasize ‘nowhere’ enough- he dawdles around a quaint pit stop while his car is being repaired. After a beer and an attempt to sell a bartender on buying a Wurlitzer, he pokes around and finds Vacaro (Simmons), a man who makes his money telling fortunes. Giving him 15 bucks, Vacaro has a reading that scares himself. Starks is given his money back and sent on his way.

The small seed of Vacaro having a “seizure” while holding his hands is planted in Starks’ head, but he continues dismissing it. It’s all just salesmanship, right? Starks returns to his life with girlfriend Deidre (Perabo) and fellow salesman Ed Jacomoi. When a losing team wins a basketball game and a “predicted” windfall of money really is coming from Dallas, Starks begins to have second thoughts. What was it that Vacaro wasn’t telling him?

Piece by piece Starks begins to unravel. He receives phone calls with no one answering on the other end. An envelope comes in the mail and contains a target that has a few bullet holes in it. Digging through the skeletons in his closet he decides to check up on his old best friend Vincent McClure (Shea Whigham). Vincent was Jimmy’s former partner in a business that was raided by the Feds. Jimmy got free while Vincent went in for three years. Could it be Vincent calling, wanting revenge? Or was it Andy Lopez (Rick Gonzalez), a fellow salesman Jimmy had to fire?

Tension builds as Jimmy makes excuses for work, spying on Vincent and confronting Andy. He makes a special trip out to see Vacaro who tells him that everything will be okay until the ‘first snow.’ Not satisfied with the answer Starks leaves, but continues down his road of madness.

Overall, a good movie. Fergus makes the atmosphere of the film dark, brooding, and tense, and it works. This is a film more about the journey than the actual destination. Is Vacaro right? Or can Starks change the future? I’ll let you find out. While it is true that this does not really add anything to the thriller genre, it’s a worthwhile escape that may make you ask yourself the question, “What would you do if you found out your tomorrows were up?” Fergus may not be Brad Anderson, but at least he’s in good company.

I suggest this one for those interested in mystery/suspense, and for those who like Guy Peacre.

My grade: B

 

26
Jan
09

Movie Review: Frost/Nixon

10290A_UNI_FNX_DOM1sh_Spread_R4The movie based on the Broadway play based on the TV interviews.

 

Starring Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Sam Rockwell, Kevin Bacon, Toby Jones, and Oliver Platt. Directed by Ron Howard. Screenplay and play by Peter Morgan.

 

Nota bene: this review is based on the movie. I have not seen the original Broadway play, nor was I alive when this occurred on television.

 

With all that said, I enjoyed this movie.

 

The film takes place in two time periods: the days surrounding the Frost interviews of Nixon and some point in the “future” (sometime in the Eighties). The very beginning shows clips of footage from original news reports of when Nixon resigned from the Oval Office, as well as showing Gerald Ford pardoning Nixon for any transgressions. The American public was outraged and wanted a conviction; wanted Nixon to ‘fess up to allegations of wrongdoing.

 

Fast forward into the future of those involved with the interviews that took place. The characters reflect back upon what happened, how almost impossible it was, etc. But what did happen?

 

Flash back to the Seventies and as I said before, President Richard Nixon (Langella) resigns from office before he could be brought up by a Congressional committee to find out the truth behind Watergate. He has a stroke and lays in a hospital bed while Ford pardons him, which then puts him out of reach from any lawmaker or investigator.

 

Cut to Australia where British-born talk show host David Frost (Michael Sheen) has an idea: get an interview with ex-President Nixon. Frost is the definition of the “Swingin’ Sixties”: women, parties, celebrities, and personal jet planes. He had a show in the U.S. but it was canceled. Moving on to Britain he finally settled in Australia. When he proposes the idea to his producer, the producer has the kind of reaction we would have if in the same situation: why would an entertainment interviewer/performer want to interview Richard Nixon? What would he have to gain? How much would he have to lose?

 

Enter Swifty Lazar (Jones), media rep for Nixon. Swifty has already made book deals and a ’60 Minutes’ interview with Mike Wallace for Nixon. It doesn’t take long to figure out that Swifty is out for the money and coerces Nixon into accepting the interview and extorts $600k out of Frost for it. A meeting is setup with Frost, his producer, and female companion Caroline Cushing (Rebecca Hall). Everything goes well and the TV show is off and running.

 

Unfortunately he hits roadblocks. No American network wants to show an interview with the ex-Prez and a British talk show host and not have any control over it. He cuts deal after deal before finally getting one in which he pays everything up front. This puts him in debt with his friends.

 

To make matters worse people think that Frost is a “puff-piece” pushover. To solve this Frost hires Bob Zelnick (Platt) and author James Reston, Jr. (Rockwell). Reston pushes for Frost to take Nixon to the mat, pleading for him to give Nixon “the trial he never had.”

 

What follows is one of the best “chessmatch” films. Like Frederic March and Burt Lancaster in “Seven Days in May,” or Deniro and Pacino in “Heat,” we are given a bonafide “David v. Goliath” fight. Nixon is calm, cool, and collected, knowing Frost’s background and having a personal spin team and military officer Jack Brennan. He has nothing to prove but why he did what he did and doesn’t have to answer to anyone, much less an “easy going” journalist who is paying for the interview. Frost has everything to prove, not the least of which is the fact that he has to come up with actual hard-hitting questions if he wants to be taken seriously.

 

And therein lies the core of the movie: two guys sitting across from each other in a rented house verbally sparring until there can be only one victor. There are minor victories and setbacks and times when either could win. And in the end one walks away victorious while the other slumps into disgrace.

 

Ron Howard did an excellent job adapting from the original Broadway play, but he also hired the original actors from the Broadway play as well as the playwright. And all involved do a great job. The person to surprise me most was Sam Rockwell, who fit his character better than any other I’ve seen him play. From this movie alone he may get more offers.

 

The overall feeling from this film is light-hearted, somewhat like of “Charlie Wilson’s War.” There are a few somber moments, a good bit of humor, and the editing keeps it interesting. And I swear that for 5 minutes Langella WAS Nixon, if not channeling him from beyond.

 

My grade: A