Saturday, June 11, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 2.20

When a gun law activist and political hopeful is murdered by gunfire, suspects on both side of the initiative appear.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Weekend TV: Justified 2.13

Now that Dickie's out of jail, the Bennetts plan their revenge on Boyd and his gang, but things don't turn out as they planned. Meanwhile, Loretta is missing from her foster home, and Mags wants her found.

I think I liked last season's ender better, but I like that this one has a lot of questions left to answer: What about Dickie? How's Ava? Will Winona still be there? I, for one, will definitely be there to find out.

Weekend TV: Life 2.19

An exsanguinated ME leads to the murder of a chef, but the answer might lie much closer to home. Meanwhile, Reese makes a decision about the FBI.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Weekend TV: Justified 2.12

Raylan continues to walk the line between light and dark after Helen's murder. Everyone's after Dickie, either to kill him or protect him, but Raylan's not the kind for losing...

This episode seems like it could have actually been the season finale, but I guess they're going to wrap things up as neatly as they did last season. Either way, I'm excited for whatever new episodes I can get in the future. This following clip just about sums up what JUSTIFIED is about, that no matter where they are now, these characters all came from violence, and they are steeped in it even now...

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 2.18

Crews gets a new partner in the form of the lovely Gabrielle Union, and they investigate the death of a woman who spent years writing to a convict in prison. But she may have not been the only one.

In this episode, Charlie's past as a convict is a tool he uses to understand the mentality of some of the suspects, as they are ex-cons. But his past seems to no longer affect him as deeply as it did in the opening episodes. It is a part of his past, but not a part of his present.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Weekend TV: Justified 2.11

After the failed hit on Raylan, he and Winona are under Marshall protection, but that won't stop Raylan from figuring out who was behind it. Meanwhile, the struggle for Harlan's criminal ownership heats up between Boyd and Dickie, resulting in a tragic loss.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 2.17

Crews and Bobby investigate the murder of a decorated soldier on the LA beachfront. There isn't much in the way of noir in this episode, as the over-arching mythology in this episode is focused on the conspiracy.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Weekend TV, Weekday Edition: Justified 2.10

The seeds are being sown (so to speak) for the season finale. In the wake of Coover's death and the Black Pike deal, Mags is giving up her business, much to Dickie's disgust. Meanwhile, Boyd makes his move on Harlan County and Raylan and Winona make plans for the future.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Delayed Justification, Part Deux

This time I'm north of Toronto, on Lake Simcoe, but I will post about 2.10 when I see it. I promise!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 2.16

When Reese starts what may or may not be a special assignment with the FBI, Crews teams with Bobby for a murder that may or may not be a crime of passion.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bad TV Noir News

According to, FOX has already announced some changes to its TV lineup for the fall, ahead of the network upfronts that are due next week. Among the shows that have been cancelled are HUMAN TARGET. Less than a year old, and with two short seasons under its belt, I was bemoaning the demise of this show when a revamped version came back in November. The first season was a nice 80's adventure show throwback, with a Chandler-inspired "man of mystery" at its heart. Also cancelled, with two episodes yet to air, is THE CHICAGO CODE. While not a noir, this show was developed by Shawn Ryan, the man behind the best TV noir of all time, THE SHIELD. I'll watch whatever Shawn does, including his producing efforts on the criminally under-seen TERRIERS. CODE had started to find its stride, emphasizing the duality of the undercover work in the series, so it's sad to see it go. It's very possible I may not pick up any new (non FX) shows this year. I find it may be easier to go back and watch them on DVD...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Weekend TV: Justified 2.9

All interested parties show up at Mags' "whoop-de-doo": the coal company, the Bennetts, Boyd and Ava, and Raylan Givens. What goes down from there sets up the rest of the season, as allegiances shift, power changes hands and someone has to fall...

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 2.15

Crews and Reese investigate a shady roofer's murder.

There's nothing really transgressive about Charlie's actions this episode, unless you count commandeering Mickey Rayborn's car temporarily. But Rayborn does disappear later and Crews appears to be the scapegoat, setting up another situation where he has been accused for something he hasn't done...

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Weekend TV, Weekday Edition: Justified 2.8

Raylan is assigned protection duty of a coal mine representative amidst suspicions that Art knows about Winona's deception. Meanwhile, Boyd is hired as a gun thug for the coal company and starts to question the Bennetts' motives in terms of protecting the two counties.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Delayed Justification

As you read this, I am in California at the TCM Classic Film Festival. I have not yet watched the latest episode of JUSTIFIED on, but will get it to you as soon as I can. But be patient. I understand jetlag's a bitch.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 2.14

When the lead singer of an 80s cover band is found dead, Crews and Reese must dig through a pool of posers to find the killer.

I haven't quite come to terms with what the zen subtext means to the noir character in this series, but there's a nice scene here with Charlie thinking about his own personal mystery while listening to a zen tape about taking life. There's a certain awareness here about the nature of transgression and the responsibility that comes with it. Certainly a note about self-determination within the noir landscape.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Weekend TV: Justified 2.7

Boyd is hired by the mine to act as security while a trial against them begins. Winona has to put the stolen money back in the evidence locker, but she's going to need Raylan's help to get it there.

But at its heart, this episode is about bonding through crime. Now that Raylan is complicit in Winona's crime, it has brought them closer together, while Raylan is espousing noir philosophy in this scene:

And here, Raylan synopsizes his relationship with Boyd and how, even though their paths normally collide instead of align, there is significant history. Pay attention to that last line:

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 2.13

Recovering from his shooting, Crews (and Reese) investigate the death of an astronaut that was somehow shot but still manages to land his plane. Meanwhile, Tidwell is interested in who shot Charlie and doesn't believe that Charlie doesn't remember...

This episode introduces an actual legal transgression for Charlie, which grows out of his investigation, which was a result of his being framed for three murders he didn't commit. This suggests a repeating cycle, where transgression begets retribution, which begets transgression. If noir is the exploration of the psychology of criminals, if it is a detailing of what pushes specific people to commit crimes, this is a very important scene. It at once becomes the event to which everything has been leading as well as the fulfillment of the role everyone has been expecting him to play based on the fact that he used to be in prison.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

And, of course, we had Sean Chercover provide an introduction for the film, and his insights were invaluable. Please enjoy...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Interview with Sean Chercover

We kicked off The Noir Series 2011 with a spectacular program featuring THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) and an interview with Shamus- and Anthony-winning author Sean Chercover. Sean's Ray Dudgeon PI novels BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD and TRIGGER CITY are classic tarnished knight tales in the tradition of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Here he talks about his previous life as a PI, his books, and what the movies get right. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mildred Pierce (1945)

While Shannon was here, our audience here at the Dryden Theatre was treated to his introduction to the film playing that night, MILDRED PIERCE. Here he talks about its basis in hard-boiled fiction and a surprising theory about what the best performance in the film might be...

Monday, April 18, 2011

Interview with Shannon Clute

This Winter, I was lucky enough to have four great guests visit for The Noir Series 2011: Sean Chercover, Shannon Clute, Megan Abbott and Charles Benoit. I've finally gotten around to posting the video for these talks, and I hope that you'll check them out, both here and on YouTube at

Today, I'm featuring my talk with Shannon Clute, TCM employee, film noir scholar, and co-author of the upcoming tome THE MALTESE TOUCH OF EVIL: POTENTIAL CRITICISM AND FILM NOIR.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Weekend TV: Justified 2.6

While Boyd is brought in to answer for the mine theft, Winona is caught in a bank robbery by an emphysemac and two bullies.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 2.12

Crews and Reese investigate the murders of three Russian mobsters, which brings them back in contact with Roman Nevikov (the awesome Garrett Dillahunt).

Anytime I hear the words "dark" or "darkness," my ears prick up. In this case, Ted is being interviewed about Charlie and Rachel. It doesn't necessarily illuminate the noir in Charlie's character, but it does deepen the understanding of his loyalty to Rachel (or hers to him for that matter) and gives Charlie a possible means of climbing out of the darkness.

Another thing that caught my ear was a brief exchange that is similar to something I've heard before, but it does show the demonstrate the kind of person that might be more susceptible to falling into the abyss of noir. In this scene, Reese has fallen off the wagon and is getting her marching orders from her Captain/boyfriend Kevin Tidwell (the also awesome Donal Logue).

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Weekend TV: Justified 2.5

Boyd falls off the wagon of legality and participates in a payroll heist. Meanwhile, Raylan "kicks up a hornet's nest," as he calls it, when he investigates the cashing of a missing man's checks.

There's a lot to love about this series, from the writing to the performances, to the direction and originality of the work. But from a noir perspective, what I'm seeing now is that there are multiple archetypes of noir protagonists embedded in the series. Our main protagonist is Raylan Givens, the wounded anti-hero; the man who walks the line between light and dark, ostensibly on the side of the law, but attracted to the darkness, despite what "the words" on his badge might say (See Sam Spade, Mike Hammer). Then there's Boyd Crowder, a villain by profession and association, but not necessarily by soul. He is the bad man who realizes he is a bad man and is conflicted about how to make it right (See Victor Mature in KISS OF DEATH). Then there's the Bennett family (or the Crowders from Season 1). This dysfunctional criminal enterprise is the 21st-Century version of the back-stabbing crews of the 1950s (See THE ASPHALT JUNGLE and THE KILLING). With so much noir to go around, this series truly weaves a thick tapestry of doomed narrative. And the thing they all have in common is that they grew from a culture of criminality that pervaded their upbringing.

Hmm...So is it nature or nurture? Sociology or psychology? Or does one, perhaps, become the other...

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 2.11

Crews and Reese investigate a tribute murder to a Manson-esque murderer. It was fun to go back and see guest star Michael Raymond-James and regular Donal Logue a year before they were cast together in TERRIERS.

Meanwhile, Charlie is still investigating Mickey Rayborn (William Atherton) and has this interesting exchange with him:

Mickey implies that "the dark" still haunts Charlie and that he'll never be clear of it, despite all "the words" Charlie might speak to the contrary.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Weekend TV: Justified 2.4

Okay, okay, so it's not exactly the weekend anymore. I admit it, I spent a lot of time watching and listening to baseball over the weekend. So shoot me.

But here is the next episode of JUSTIFIED, only a day later than normal. It features a guest appearance from RESCUE ME's Larenz Tate and is directed by John Dahl, who helmed films such as THE LAST SEDUCTION, RED ROCK WEST, UNFORGETTABLE and ROUNDERS before turning to TV and directing episodes of some of my favorite shows: LIFE, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, BREAKING BAD, THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, CAPRICA, TERRIERS, DEXTER and, of course, JUSTIFIED. This dedication by FX to bring cinematic directors, particularly of crime dramas, to their series is something that should be applauded and a factor that goes into making their shows so good.

In this episode, Rachel has to track down here parolee brother-in-law who has just beaten his P.O. Meanwhile, Raylan visits representatives from both the Bennett family and the Dixie Mafia, and Boyd is courted by criminals with a plan.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Got Justified?

Only halfway into its second season, FX's JUSTIFIED has been picked up for a third season. The more Raylan we can get, the better. And I think anyone that knows me and reads this column knows that I hope we can keep Walt Goggins on a weekly basis as well...

Read the story here.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Weekend TV: Justified 2.3

Raylan is put on the case when an illegal bus of oxycontin gets hit. Meanwhile, Raylan confronts Ava about Boyd and a face from the past makes a big mistake when he impersonates Raylan.

Look, this is just a warning, but the longer you people in Kentucky make Boyd Crowder stew, the bigger he's gonna blow. I'm just sayin'.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 2.10

Crews and Reese act as neutral parties while investigating the murder of a Sheriff's deputy on an Indian reservation.

Probably the funniest episode of the run, several pieces of information get revealed in awkward ways, and we get a lot of really nice moments from the actors.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Weekend TV: Justified 2.2

Raylan and Tim track down a pregnant prisoner, after losing her at the doctor's office. Raylan visits Boyd.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 2.9

Crews and Reese investigate the shootings of a drug dealer and an elementary teacher, who also happens to be a cop groupie.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Weekend TV: Justified 2.1

Raylan's back!

Picking up where last season ended, in the aftermath of the shootout at Bulletville, Boyd is still on the run and the Miami cartel is still in play. Meanwhile, when Raylan returns to work, he and Deputy Brooks chase down an anonymous tip on a released sex offender.

It looks like this episode sets up a long arc that we'll follow throughout the season, with a lot of likeable actors, including Jeremy Davies and Brad William Henke. It also displays the laid-back attitude and patient story-telling that made the first season such a stand-out. I'm looking forward to the next 12 weeks.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 2.8

Crews and Reese investigate a murder in a mall on the busiest shopping day of the year. Then the body disappears.

Nothing noir in this episode, unless you want to count the advice Charlie gives a suspect near the end, about lying to the police. And even that was presented as a greater good, so between that and the fact that it provided spoilers, I decided not to include it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

My Movie Day

Back in 2003, I came up with what I thought was a cool concept. I'd take a day for myself every year and dedicate that day to films. And, to make it more interesting, for every additional year I did this, I would commit myself to watching an additional film on that day. So, on my half-birthday in 2003, I watched CASABLANCA. In 2004 I watched CONTACT and THE CONTENDER. In 2005, I went up to three films: JAWS, HIGH AND LOW and PULP FICTION. In 2006, it turned out that I couldn't take that day off, so I put it off a year. In 2007 I moved to a day "around" my half-birthday and watched RHAPSODY IN AUGUST, BATMAN BEGINS, 'TIL THERE WAS YOU and RUSHMORE.

In the intervening years, it has been increasingly difficult to take a day off in early September, as school is starting up at George Eastman House and my own kids have started going to school. So for three years I've waited to continue my solitary tradition. And finally the time has come. I asked myself why I was waiting for a day near my half-birthday. If I wasn't going to do it on a day of significance, I'd rather do it near my real birthday. And now that day has come. Today, March 10, 2011, I will watch five films. It won't be a record for me. Some day I'll tell you about that long April day at Loew's Webster back in 1990. But it will be the continuation of a tradition I like.

I don't know exactly what the titles will be. I like it that way. I've got several possibilities in front of me. There are some movies I need to catch back up with. There are some movies that are borrowed. There are some that are expiring soon. And there's always the possibility I'll go out and see a movie. You never know. But I'll try to keep you updated.

And wish me luck.

Robin Hood (2010)

Why: Oh, come on, it's Ridley Scott, right? And I borrowed it from my brother-in-law.


I decided on the longer director's cut. I dunno. Maybe it was a bad choice. I think what they were going for here was the behind-the-castle-keep kind of political intrigue that worked in A Song of Ice and Fire (or the upcoming HBO series A Game of Thrones). There were several characters we were following in the first half-hour, to the point that I was wondering if Robin Hood was actually the main character, and if not, if the country of England was the main character, as seen through the eyes of several different characters in different positions. But that wasn't the case, either.

The concept was to explore the origins of the Robin Hood character. Unfortunately, the origins provided much of the backstory for the Robin Hood we know and love. So, as the film begins, we get a cypher of a man, the generic war veteran, ashamed of what he's done and only wants to get home, if only he knew where home was and where he belonged, other than in England. In the course of getting home, several things happen to him that push him in several directions away from his goal of running away. But they actually push him toward his real home, you see? Is that fate? Or convenient storytelling?

I liked some of the actors in the film. I've never been a big Russell Crowe guy, but I like Cate Blanchett. And I'd never seen Marc Strong before, but I see why people talk about him. And it was good to see William Hurt, Kevin Durand (this generation's Adam Baldwin), Mark Addy, Scott Grimes, and the lead singer of Great Big Sea, Alan Doyle. But ultimately I just didn't care. And that's death for a 2 1/2 hour film.

NetFlix rating: **

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tom Brown's Schooldays (1971)

Why: I became interested in TV miniseries throughout the years, and this was the first Emmy winner for this format back in 1973.


I'm no big anglophile. Oh, I've spent hours watching Doctor Who and Monty Python, and I've read a few Agatha Christies, but I couldn't tell you royal succession beyond Elizabeth II. So, why would I watch this? Well, I started to wonder about the TV miniseries after reading more about events like Roots and Rich Man, Poor Man. I went back to look at miniseries beginnings and decided to check out some that were nominated for Emmys back when they started to be recognized. This was the first winner.

So, I went into this DVD set not knowing a thing about Thomas Hughes or Tom Brown's Schoodays. Apparently, it was a poorly-disguised memoir about Hughes' time at the famous Rugby public (read: private) school in England. He was the son of a judge who sent him to Rugby when Tom's previous school is shut down due to an outbreak. The main tension in the story comes from Tom's struggles with a bully at school, the son of a lord whom Tom caught abusing a servant girl at his house.

I actually quite liked this film. The acting is uneven, but the narrative is compelling, as a young man tries to find his way, struggling with his taught morality in the real world as he matures, finding his way as he becomes a man. The bully character, Flashman is sufficiently evil, and yet somehow realistic in his position and actions. Coincidentally, Charles Benoit tells me the character was adopted by author George MacDonald Fraser for a series of 19th Century adventure novels.

NetFlix rating: ***

Moon (2009)

Why: Filmspotting's 2009 Golden Brick winner/ expiring from my NetFlix instant queue. Plus it's a drama on the moon that has some science basis to it. I mean, come on!

On: NetFlix streaming.

David Bowie's son, Duncan Jones, is the writer and director of this neat little sci-fi psychological thriller. Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is the sole employee at a moonbase that oversees the harvesting, conversion and export of a new energy source contained in the rocks of the moon. He is nearing the end of his three-year contract when things start to happen. Hallucinations and medical problems are compounded when another version of himself appears, calling his sanity and his existence into question.

Oh, man, do I have a problem. I love film. I love the whole experience. I love re-creating the experience and sharing it with people I care about. But I don't get to do it as much as I used to. I'm not pointing any fingers, it's just a fact. I still like to keep plugged in, though. And therein lies my problem.

This "plugging in" features the upside of remaining current on things cinematic, but the downside is that sometimes things will build in my imagination further than they're meant to go. And I found that this year, catching up on some of the Oscar nominees that had made it to DVD. ANIMAL KINGDOM, WINTER'S BONE, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT were all fine, good even. But by the time they had been nominated, I was expecting much more than they could deliver. And maybe that's the case with all such things. Once a certain amount of praise gets heaped on a work, the expectation of its quality goes up, creating a greater opportunity for disappointment, whereas a film with no approbation from respected critics might have lower expectations and a greater chance for a surprisingly pleasant experience. Or maybe my reaction wouldn't have been any different, but it makes you think.

In correlation, the films that were my favorite from last year - INCEPTION, THE SOCIAL NETWORK, TOY STORY 3, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON - I got to see them all in the theater. Now, were the experiences enhanced by the theatrical atmosphere? Or were they films that I was attracted to in the first place, and thus films I was more likely to enjoy, and made the extra effort to see them in their best possible light?

Well, the same is true for MOON, which has been much-talked-about on Filmspotting, one of my favorite podcasts. It even won the sole award they give out, a self-congratulatory title they bestow on a film people went to see based on their recommendation. And while it was good - I think the set design and photography are beautiful, and Sam Rockwell gives a really nice performance (or two), and I really dig the concept - it didn't quite live up to the build-up of the last 18 months. The film is short at 97 minutes, but there were still sections that seemed long. And I get that it underscores Sam's isolation, I do, but I don't think it's that difficult a concept to get. Perhaps this review should stop before it gets too far along, as everything I feel like saying will simply have a "but" attached. The fact is the film is good. I would recommend it, depending on the audience. It's just that that's all there is.

NetFlix rating: ***

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Death at a Funeral (2010)

Why: It was on my wife's queue.


A farce based on a British film released just 3 years earlier, this film reached a decent audience when it was released last Spring. It opened fourth in a tight race behind KICK-ASS, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, and DATE NIGHT, at least two of which were better films, DATE NIGHT by a little, DRAGON by a lot. (I haven't seen KICK-ASS.) A farce in the classic vein, the action takes place in a single day when Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence's father's funeral is being held at home. The relationships in a family are always complex, which makes perfect fodder for farce. Rock and his wife Regina Hall are trying to get pregnant, but it's not quick enough for Rock's mother, Loretta Devine. Rock is an unpublished writer, while his 9-month-younger brother Lawrence is successful at publishing tripe. Cousin Zoe Saldana is engaged to James Marsden, who isn't good enough for father Ron Glass, who prefers Luke Wilson. Marsden accidentally ingests some hallucinogens created by Saldana's brother Columbus Short (from Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip). And so on and so forth. Add in the standard stranger with a secret and the friction heats to the boiling point.

It was a fun time. I laughed out loud more than once. I won't watch it again, but it was worth the 90 minutes it ran. What I really appreciated about the film is that, despite the mostly-black cast, it didn't rely on racial stereotypes and broad humor for effect. The humor came out of situation and execution from the very likeable cast.

NetFlix rating: ***

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

Why: My son is into superheroes right now.


We've been catching up on Superman movies since I took the 7-year-old to see the first one on the big screen last June. I love that movie. I was seven when it came out originally, and I'm sure the nostalgia is a factor. When we went back and watched the second one, I was disappointed. You could clearly pick out the parts that Richard Donner had nothing to do with, and the series was already going to camp. By the third film, I was angry. I remembered liking it when I was a kid, laughing at it a lot, with Richard Pryor and Robert Vaughn. But the movie was really bad, I mean really bad, and by the time it was done, I was disappointed I had put myself through it again.

But I had never seen the fourth film. I knew that it was generally considered to be a real piece of crap. Maybe it was the atmosphere, sitting on the living room floor with my two boys, munching popcorn, but I didn't think it was as bad as the third film. But, maybe it was just that the film was so ridiculous that I couldn't take it seriously enough to hate it. I mean, there was just nothing to hold this film together, from plot holes to gigantic gaps in logic to a complete lack of character development. But, for all of that, it was kind of fun to sit and say "What?"

Like, "Why did Lex need the arms dealers in the first place?"

Or, "How can Muriel Hemingway breathe in space?"

Or, "If you're fighting a guy who is powered by the sun, and bother to take him to the moon, Superman, why not take him to the dark side of the moon, where the sun never shines? It's not that much further, dude, let's not be lazy."

Netflix rating: **

Weekend TV: Life 2.7

When a lottery winner ends up dead, all the suspects seem to come from a Lottery Winners Anonymous support group.

Just one little note in this episode, again about perception and how it paints reality:

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 2.6

After an earthquake, an old friend from Charlie's past breaks out of jail and puts into play a complex plan of revenge, robbery and escape.

There are a couple of nice scenes in this episode, starting with this one where Crews has to bust Marc Rawls because of what he might do, and a realization comes to both of them. "I guess you really are a cop, aren't you?" Rawls asks. "I guess so." Charlie replies.

Of course, the cops aren't really who they appear to be, at least temporarily. Then there's this scene where Tidwell is the mouth for another generalization about convicts, compounding society's perception. And as we've discussed before, sometimes external perception can become internal reality.

At this point, Charlie seems to have overcome those perceptions, but Life isn't done with him yet.

Friday, March 4, 2011

35 Days of Me

It's been over a week now since The Noir Series 2011 came to a close. I had a great time, as evidenced by these photos:

But now that it's over, I'm trying to give myself a little space to breathe, a time to refresh and re-center. And I plan to do it watching a boatload of movies. I'll take about five weeks of time and catch up on TV shows and movies that I've borrowed, or that are expiring on NetFlix or Hulu, or knocking off a few notches on my queue or even catching up on things I've bought but haven't watched. And that doesn't take into account going to the movies. I'll try to keep you updated on what I'm watching, give you little reviews. The goal is 50 movies before April 1, but I'm already really behind. We'll see how I do. Meanwhile, watch the bar on the right to see what I've been seeing.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 2.5

Crews and Reese discover a body in the trunk of a car that has been crushed. The investigation leads to online relationships that hide secret identities. Meanwhile, Rachel begins to talk again...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I Walk Alone (1948) - Notes

The Noir Series 2011 is coming to a close tomorrow with a bang: Special Guest Charles Benoit and John Huston's heist thriller THE ASPHALT JUNGLE. Make sure you show up for that. It's been a great time through the whole series, and I can't wait to do it again.

In the meantime, here are the notes I prepared for last week's film I WALK ALONE, which featured the first teaming of Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. I hope you enjoy:

Born about three years apart, and both in New York State, Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster shared remarkably similar paths to stardom and shared the screen on several occasions. Lancaster was born in 1913 Harlem and Douglas in 1916 Amsterdam, NY, and both were exposed to the entertainment industry before they enlisted in the Armed Forces during World War II. After the war, they individually went back to the theater and were introduced to producer Hal Wallis by friends (Harold Hecht for Lancaster and Lauren Bacall for Douglas), who “discovered” them and took them to Hollywood.

Lancaster’s film debut was in the 1946 film noir classic The Killers, directed by Robert Siodmak. Douglas’s film debut was also in 1946 and also in a film noir, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, with Barbara Stanwyck. They went on to act in additional films noir. Lancaster was the star of Jules Dassin’s Brute Force, and Douglas supported Robert Mitchum in one of the finest noirs of all time, Out of the Past. And in 1948, the pair collaborated for the first time on an additional noir, I Walk Alone, for Byron Haskin, a former cinematographer. It was Douglas’s fourth film and Lancaster’s fifth, but they had already established themselves as Hollywood stars of the first order. The story about two bootleggers separated by a long prison sentence brought them together, but they didn’t become friends on the set.

The two men went on to their own careers, working in all kinds of films, including film noir. Lancaster, especially was drawn to this kind of role. Later in 1948 he starred in Kiss the Blood Off My Hands as an American on the run from an accidental homicide. 1948 also brought Sorry, Wrong Number with Lancaster as an unwitting conspirator in a plot to kill his wife, played by Barbara Stanwyck. In 1949, Lancaster starred in Criss Cross, one of his most under-rated films, as loser Steve Thompson, a man whose terrible decisions always bring him back to the woman he can’t forget, and a fate he can’t escape. Lancaster also went on to roles in films such as Jim Thorpe – All American, Trapeze, and The Kentuckian. In 1953, he earned his first Academy Award nomination as Sergeant Warden in From Here to Eternity.

Meanwhile, Douglas made his own way. 1951 saw the release of two films noir: Ace in the Hole (aka The Big Carnival) and Detective Story. In the first film, Douglas starred as the unscrupulous reporter Chuck Tatum; in the second he is James McLeod, a cop with a vicious streak and a hidden agenda. Douglas also distinguished himself with roles in Young Man With a Horn, The Glass Menagerie, Ulysses, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It was also in this period that he received all three of his Oscar nominations: for Champion (1950), The Bad and the Beautiful (1953) and Lust For Life (1956) as the great Vincent van Gogh.

Lancaster and Douglas re-teamed for Gunfight at the OK Corral, with Lancaster taking the Wyatt Earp role and Douglas at his side as Doc Holliday. It was on this film that their friendship really took off. They would stay up talking well into the night, on subjects of all kinds. It was only two years later that they were together again in the Revolutionary War film The Devil’s Disciple, opposite Laurence Olivier. And in 1963, Douglas played multiple roles in The List of Adrian Messenger, while Lancaster had a cameo.

Meanwhile, they continued to foster their own careers. In this time, Lancaster won an Oscar for Elmer Gantry and got another nomination for The Birdman of Alcatraz. His other films included The Sweet Smell of Success, Run Silent, Run Deep, The Unforgiven, Judgment at Nuremberg, and Visconti’s The Leopard. Douglas had his own string of hits with Paths of Glory, The Vikings, Spartacus, and Lonely Are the Brave.

The two actors’ next collaboration was the Rod Serling-scripted Seven Days in May. A taut political thriller about a potential military coup in the United States played on Cold War fears and the threat of a “military-industrial complex” at work behind the scenes. This was the actors’ last collaboration for more than twenty years, but they continued to be movie stars. Lancaster made The Train, The Professionals, The Swimmer, Airport, Local Hero, and got one last Oscar nomination for Atlantic City. Douglas went on to make In Harm’s Way, Cast a Giant Shadow, Is Paris Burning?, The Villain, and The Man From Snowy River.

The two actors teamed one last time in 1986 for Tough Guys, the tale of two aging gangsters who no longer fit in the world after being released from prison. Burt Lancaster died in 1994 at the age of 81, but Kirk Douglas, despite suffering a stroke in 1995, celebrated his 94th birthday in December.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 2.4

Crews and Reese investigate a murder that took place in a recreation of the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment. Meanwhile, Captains past and present meet when Davis's new partner discharges his weapon and is brought to Tidwell for questioning.

This is one of the most important episodes in the series, as it explicitly underlines Charlie's situation, and his noir standing. There is a certain subset of noir that explores heroes who are forced to act like criminals, and the darkness they find within themselves as a result. DEAD RECKONING and DESPERATE, both 1947, are probably the best examples, but there are others. Some of the "bad cop" noirs of the 50s might be included. LIFE takes this concept and merges it with the ideas behind the Stanford Prison Experiment and a conspiracy storyline to create its meta-narrative

There are several scenes I want to point out in this episode. It starts out with this conversation between Charlie and Ted explicitly stating that despite his standing as a policeman, there are things Charlie does that are not legal:

This next clip not only demonstrates the mind-set of someone fully invested in the experiment, which mirrors Charlie's real-life experience, but it also shows the violence Charlie is still capable of:

This next line reflects what Kyle Hollis said in the first episode of the season:

So, if the perception is that all people who are in jail must have done something, whether or not it was the thing they were convicted for, how does one adapt to this new perception? They become the other:

And when one has successfully become the other, is there any road back? If you are offered a life-line, will you take it? This scene that immediately precedes the last suggests that the transition to becoming yourself is not so easy.

There is a lot of very noir-ish doubling in this episode, as students become guards and prisoners, and as the guards themselves become prisoners of the system:

Charlie, of course, is the ultimate double, as a cop who becomes a con who becomes a cop. And in this analogy, the professor becomes the warden, whether he likes it or not. This scene shows Charlie confronting him with the idea, as well as giving insight not only into what Charlie's worst fear is, but reflecting, through the entire episode, what his worst fear was, as a cop going into prison, and how he managed to survive for 14 years, not to mention another look at the violence that lives within him.

This last scene provides us with not only a glimpse into the lengths Charlie had to go to survive in prison (or was it just intimidation tactics he and Ted learned there) as well as giving us a final doubling, as the warden becomes the prisoner in his own jail.

And here's the philosophical coda:

In the end, the student became a killer because he "accepted that he was a convict," according to Reese, and killing was within his definition of a convict, in order to survive. Here, we see Charlie passing on advice, another clue to how he survived and, through his own doubling, a ray of hope that he may ultimately be able to find his way back to who he was.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 2.3

Crews and Reese investigate a "stiff" frozen solid in a medical lab. Meanwhile, Crews continues his surveillance and Dani finally confronts her father.

We spend a lot of time with Charlie, and think we know him pretty well. But we never really get inside him enough to know what his true intentions are, including his idea of justice after having spent 12 years in prison. In this scene, the silence speaks more than the words:

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 2.2

Crews and Reese track a murder from the gangs of LA to its highest echelons.

The show-runners may have moved away a bit from Charlie's noir leanings in the second season, but they still allow him to be comfortable in situations other policemen wouldn't:

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Weekend TV: Sons of Anarchy 3.13

Wow. I'm so glad to have these kinds of shows around. And to have FX to give them to me. I literally had chills at the end of this episode. I know it's chilly here in Rochester, but I'm inside. This one was good.

Jax has Abel back. Jax has Tara back. Now the club needs Jimmy, and Jax is at the crux, needing to find a way to please Stahl, the IRA, and his club, while getting them all off for their illegal activity. Needless to say, things are not what they seem...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Return of #16, #6 and #2

Tonight marks the second season premiere of FX's Justified, a show I like a lot and that provided three of my favorite TV characters from last year: Nick Searcy as Art Mullen, Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens, and the fantastic Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder. They're all back this year and ready for more Kentucky-based Elmore Leonard action. I, for one, can't wait.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 2.1

The second season premiere introduces Donal Logue as the detectives' new captain, as Crews and Reese chase down a serial killer that puts their victims in trunks.

Even when Charlie isn't doing something to cross over legal and ethical lines, there is always the smell of criminality about him, from being in prison, as seen in this clip:

And it's not just that criminals that think so, either. It's the police, his comrades in arms. And since perception often forms reality, how is Charlie supposed to resist being what they see?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Weekend TV: Sons of Anarchy 3.12

Just back from Ireland, Jax and the crew need to track down the missing Tara, while maintaining the deal Jax struck with Stahl, and getting the dirt on Hale to disparage him in the upcoming mayoral race, which will keep Charming PD from being disbanded in favor of a county sheriff's office. Sound complicated? It is.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 1.11

Crews tracks down Kyle Hollis, the man who killed the Sebolds, while Reese and Bobby have to track down a missing murder weapon.

The idea behind a noir protagonist is to understand how someone can choose to transgress generally accepted legal, moral or ethical boundaries. One of the types of noir protagonists is the hero forced to act like a criminal who finds the darkness in himself, much like our Charlie Crews. Charlie has seen most of the darkness within himself and is in a type of recovery, using buddhism as a tool. But every once in a while, the darkness appears again, as these posts have attempted to illustrate.

In this final episode of the first season, as Crews moves deeper into the mystery of the Bank of LA, there is, as you might expect, greater drama, and thus, integral as it is to Charlie's character, more gazing into the darkness. I may not get all the appropriate clips from this episode, but these are representative of what we're talking about:

Charlie rejects buddhism

Charlie kidnaps and tortures Hollis

Charlie defends himself with deadly force

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Weekend TV: Sons of Anarchy 3.11

Jax finds Abel, but his father's legacy makes the transition difficult. Meanwhile, Jimmy has one more trick up his sleeve, and Tara makes an escape attempt. Charming votes to have the County Sheriff take over for Charming PD, and Lumpy's death clears the way for Hale to develop Main Street.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Weekend TV: Sons of Anarchy 3.10

The SamBell betrayal is revealed, even as more betrayal is uncovered. Meanwhile, Charming finds out about the kidnapping, but Salazar's demands are unreasonable.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mildred Pierce - Notes

Notes more about Joan Crawford and her noir roles, so make sure to show up for yours truly and Shannon Clute Thursday at 6:30 pm!

Joan Crawford was named through a contest put forth in Movie Weekly magazine. She had been born Lucille LeSueur, but that name didn’t impress MGM publicity head Pete Smith. He arranged the contest and the new name was chosen. Lucille hated it, but learned to love the security that came with it. Prior to being Joan Crawford, Lucille was born in Texas and raised in Oklahoma, where her aspirations as a dancer led her to spots in travelling revues, and eventually to a chorus line on Broadway. From there, she did a screen test that was seen and liked by producer Harry Rapf, who offered her a contract. By New Year’s Eve 1924, she was in Hollywood, and by New Year’s Eve 1925, she had a new name and a new career, with three films to her credit.

Through the last half of the ‘20s, Crawford elevated herself to star status with the image of a flapper. Her silent films reflect this persona. But when sound arrived, MGM started to cultivate her into a more sophisticated character, often playing hardworking young women who find romance and success. She became one of the highest-paid stars of the ‘30s, starring often with Clark Gable in films like Possessed, Dancing Lady, Chained and Strange Cargo. By the end of the ‘30s, however, her popularity had waned, and parts became fewer and smaller. She split with MGM in 1943 after 18 years. It was two years before she was seen on-screen again. Warner Bros. signed her to a three-picture deal, the first of which happened to be Mildred Pierce.

When Bette Davis balked at playing the mother of a seventeen-year-old, Joan Crawford was given the opportunity, but not before pleasing director Michael Curtiz with a screen test, because the Casablanca director didn’t want to “waste my time directing a has-been.” The screen test passed muster, Crawford got the part, Curtiz directed the film, and it went on to receive six Academy Award nominations, including a win for Crawford. It also started Crawford off on a string of darker roles, or at least roles in darker films, some of them now considered noir.

The next in this line was the last of the three-picture deal with Warners, 1947’s Possessed. Strangely, Crawford had already made a film called Possessed with MGM in 1931. In that film, part of her social-climbing romantic drama phase, she starred with Clark Gable in the story of small-town girl enamored of a divorcee attorney. They tango around their relationship, both spurning the other until Gable faces political ruin and their relationship comes to light. This Possessed, much different in tone, chronicles the mental collapse of Louise Howell (Crawford), a live-in nurse who may or may not have killed her patient to marry her husband (in shades of Double Indemnity). Her real affections lie with Van Heflin, but when she can’t have him, it drives her mad and into the arms of the widower. The film has some very nice touches including a homicidal fever-dream and a room buzzer that intones Louise’s name. The film also garnered Crawford her second Oscar nomination.

Then in 1950, Crawford starred in The Damned Don’t Cry for Vincent Sherman. Crawford plays another small-town girl, this time trapped in a loveless marriage. When her only son is struck down on the bicycle she bought for him on credit, it gives her an excuse to leave home for the big city. But the big city is cruel, and as a model, she ends up going on dates for tips. Once she’s learned the ropes, she meets meek CPA Martin Blackford (Kent Smith of Nora Prentiss), whom she cajoles into cooking the books for an organized crime outfit. She climbs the ladder to escort for the head of the outfit, but she learns that she hasn’t come very far at all when he wants her to ingratiate herself with a rival gangster. Interesting as much for being a forward-thinking gangster film as a film noir or Crawford vehicle, it unfortunately did not earn Crawford any accolades.

Crawford asked out of her Warner Bros. contract in 1952 and moved to RKO. Her first film there was the thriller Sudden Fear, the screen debut of Jack Palance. She is playwright Myra Hudson who fires Palance from her current play, as he doesn’t come across as a romantic lead. The two happen to meet on a train back to San Francisco and strike up a romance that leads to marriage. But Palance is still in love with Irene Neves (film noir veteran Gloria Grahame), and his feelings for Crawford may not be genuine. A taut suspense film, Crawford earned her third and final Oscar nomination for the role.

Crawford only made about a dozen more films after this, but she both played on and played against the character she had created since leaving MGM, in films like Torch Song, Johnny Guitar and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Her film legacy, however, remains her glorious period of noir, beginning with Mildred Pierce.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 1.10

Crews and Reese investigate the death of a zen master when his body is found 10 years after he disappeared. Meanwhile, Crews gets new answers about the Bank of LA shootout and the killer of the Sebold family.

Note: I love the strangely incestual casting process that goes on in several of the shows I like. For instance, Robin Weigert, Adam Arkin and Titus Welliver, who all show up in this episode have been featured on SONS OF ANARCHY and Donal Logue joins the cast in Season 2, prior to being so great in TERRIERS last year. But when I heard that the two computer nerds in this episode were named Sean and Ryan, I couldn't help but think of Shawn Ryan, the creator of THE SHIELD and THE CHICAGO CODE, as well as Executive Producer of TERRIERS. Incestual indeed.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Weekend TV: Sons of Anarchy 3.9

On the boys' second day in Belfast they go on a protection run that ends explosively while trying to walk the line between the IRA and Jimmy, but Jimmy has other things on his mind, specifically his adopted family. Meanwhile, the real estate situation in Charming untangles and ties into other knots.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Don Siegel Double Feature

Just a reminder that the Don Siegel Double Feature at the Dryden Theatre starts tonight at 8:00, with THE LINEUP featuring Eli Wallach, Robert Keith and Richard Jaeckel and continues at 9:45 with THE BIG STEAL, re-teaming Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer from OUT OF THE PAST, along with William Bendix and Ramon Novarro. Come see why Eli Wallach was honored with the Oscar last year and delve into some noir with the director of DIRTY HARRY and THE SHOOTIST!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Best Episode of the Year?

One of my favorite television sites, The Futon Critic, has released its annual list of the 50 best episodes of 2010. Of no surprise to readers of this blog, TERRIERS holds the top spot. Actually, the opening quote from the entry is "One could make a case for virtually any of these last 10 episodes as being the best episode of 2010." My personal choice would have been episode 12, "Quid Pro Quo," but they chose episode 3, "Change Partners." Either way, way to go Futon Critic! Read the whole article here.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Don Siegel - Notes

Here are the prepared notes for the Don Siegel double feature taking place at the Dryden Theatre this Thursday, January 13. Enjoy!

Don Siegel, who served as a mentor to both Sam Peckinpah and Clint Eastwood, started his Hollywood career in the Warner Bros. film library, sussing out possible stock shots from millions of feet of film. He steadily conned and cajoled himself into jobs as an assistant cutter, head of the insert department, and eventually into creating montages for such Warners classics as The Roaring Twenties, Knute Rockne – All American, Meet John Doe, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Now, Voyager and Casablanca. He moved from this to directing second unit sequences, or action that takes place away from the main actors or at a distance. His work on Saratoga Trunk, The Conspirators and To Have and Have Not got him a chance to direct shorts at Warners. Star in the Night was a modern re-telling of the Nativity, and Hitler Lives explored the lasting impact of the Nazi Party.

Despite his work behind the camera and in editing rooms getting him noticed around the Warners lot, his brazen attitude rubbed Jack Warner the wrong way, and once he started getting feature assignments, the material was often challenging. His first film, The Verdict, re-teamed Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet for the last time in a convoluted story of innocent men sentenced to death and the lawyers who represent them. He directed another film at Warners, Night Unto Night, before he was laid off. He struggled to find work from there, picking up a second unit gig on All the King’s Men, and eventually landing at the Howard Hughes-controlled RKO for The Big Steal and No Time for Flowers. As a relatively inexperienced director in the early ‘50s, it was difficult for Siegel to get a long-term contract and picked up additional work at Universal and Columbia.

His first big break came from Walter Wanger at Allied Artists, who hired him to direct the prison drama Riot in Cell Block 11. The film was well-received and assured Siegel of work in film and TV for years to come. He distinguished himself throughout the ‘50s with the film noir Private Hell 36, the sci-fi classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers, gangster film Baby Face Nelson, as well as the pilot episode and feature adaptation of The Lineup. Siegel’s style grew and refined in the early ‘60s as he directed Elvis Presley in Flaming Star and Steve McQueen in Hell Is for Heroes. He turned exclusively to television for a time, producing and directing several episodes as well as the film The Killers with Lee Marvin and Ronald Reagan, originally destined for TV, but ultimately deemed too violent. When he returned to features in the late ‘60s, he was a seasoned veteran with a definitive style.

1968’s Madigan, with Henry Fonda and Richard Widmark, was a glimpse into the films to come. It was at this point that he met Clint Eastwood, and the two collaborated on his next four films: Coogan’s Bluff, Two Mules for Sister Sara, The Beguiled and the seminal Dirty Harry. He continued to work with big stars throughout the ‘70s: Walter Matthau in Charly Varrick, Michael Caine in The Black Windmill, Charles Bronson in Telefon, John Wayne in his last film role as The Shootist, and re-teaming with Eastwood on Escape from Alcatraz. His last film was 1982’s noir-inspired farce Jinxed!, with Bette Midler, Ken Wahl and Rip Torn.

Siegel’s legacy is as a director of violence, but a closer look reveals a career-long interest in the outsider, whether he be criminal, prisoner or cop working outside the law. The existential question of the outsider, and how he comes to transgress criminal, moral or ethical boundaries is a central tenet of the construct that we now call noir.