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.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Weekend TV: Sons of Anarchy 3.8

In this extra-large episode, Jax and the MC get into loads of trouble their first day in Belfast, while Tig and Kozik rough each other up back in Charming. The wheels are turning behind the scenes in both America and Ireland, and by the end, Jax has a new charge.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Sean Chercover and The Maltese Falcon - Tonight!

A last minute reminder to all of you out there that award-winning author Sean Chercover will be discussing THE MALTESE FALCON, Dashiell Hammett and his own work tonight at 6:30, followed by a book-signing and a screening of the film.

Make sure you're here!

Also, there's a nice blog at the George Eastman House website right here:

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Sean Chercover and The Maltese Falcon (1941) - Notes

Just like last year, I'll be posting notes about the films from The Noir Series prior to their actual screenings. The series starts out with a bang this first week as we present THE MALTESE FALCON, and prototypical film noir and PI film from 1941. Joining us to discuss the film, his former profession, his writing and why Dashiell Hammett is so good will be Shamus-winning author Sean Chercover. His two Chicago-based novels feature private investigator Ray Dudgeon, himself a former reporter whose commitment to taking down the bad guys sometimes disrupts his ability to compromise. The whole shebang starts at 6:30pm on Thursday, January 6 with Sean's discussion. He'll sign copies of his novels Big City, Bad Blood and Trigger City prior to the film, which he will introduce.

Here's a brief history of the film history of THE MALTESE FALCON:

One of the first hard-boiled novels to grow out of the pulp magazine tradition, The Maltese Falcon was serialized in Black Mask from September, 1929 to January, 1930 and published in proper book form by Alfred A. Knopf on Valentine’s Day, 1930. It was an instant success and went through seven printings in its first year alone. It didn’t take long for Hollywood’s newly-minted “talking pictures” to come calling. Hammett sold the rights to Warner Bros. in June of that year for $8500, and the film was in production by January, with a release date on June, 1931.

Warners turned to first-time screenwriter Brown Holmes, who later went on to pen the classic I Was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang. This first film adaptation was headlined by silent film stars Bebe Daniels as Ruth Wonderly and Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade. Although it was generally well-received, the script truncated the book down to 75 minutes of quick-paced pre-code fun. Cortez was uneven as Spade, alternately laughing at his own lines and grimacing menacingly. The character of Wilmer Cook was severely limited and Wonderly’s alternate identities (including Brigid O’Shaugnessy) were eliminated completely. The script’s major addition was the final scene, with Wonderly behind bars, where Spade pulls his last card. Surprisingly, Dashiell Hammett’s main criticism of the film (at least according to Marguerite Tazelaar in the November 12, 1933 New York Times) was that the film hewed too closely to the book. “’You need to simplify a story as much as possible when you’re going to make a picture of it,’ he said. ‘If you don’t you’ll have too many lines and so lose your full effect.’”

In 1934, producer Hal B. Wallis sent a memo to part of his production team, recommending a remake: “We made a picture from this several years ago, which was very successful, but in the picture version we only touched on the story contained in the book. I think we can get another screen play out of it by actually making the book.” What emerged, instead, was the film version furthest removed from the original tome. The script was again written by Brown Holmes, but character names were widely changed (Sam Spade to Ted Shane, Effie Perrine to Miss Murgatroyd), and actions and even genders were altered (Caspar Gutman became Madame Barabbas). The film could not, in fact, have been titled The Maltese Falcon, because the prize worth pursuing was Roland’s Trumpet.

The tone of the film was much lighter than even that of the 1931 version, possibly hoping to capitalize on the success of 1934’s The Thin Man, also based on a Dashiell Hammett novel, which was a piece that was naturally light in tone. But this effort didn’t work as it was lambasted by critics. The New York Times called it “a cynical farce of elaborate and sustained cheapness,” while Variety pints out that the film “endeavors to replace mystery with comedy, but the comedy isn’t strong enough to fill the bill.”

John Huston was already the successful screenwriter of Jezebel, Juarez, Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet, High Sierra and Sergeant York when he convinced Warner Bros. to give him a shot at directing. Howard Hawks suggested Huston take on The Maltese Falcon, as the property was currently owned by Warners and had previously been made, making it low-risk. Huston read the book and agreed. Legend has it that Huston gave the novel to his secretary and asked her to type it into screenplay form, as a sort of first draft. Jack Warner, eager to find out what Huston was doing, found the script on Huston’s desk while he was away and approved it, with very few changes from the book.

This, of course, was a large part of the success of the 1941 version, as well as its darker tone and the inimitable eye of director John Huston. The film launched the directorial career of Huston and took Humphrey Bogart to new heights, and introduced them both as forces of film noir, as Bogart went on to star in at least five other films noir before his death in 1957, and Huston directed Key Largo and The Asphalt Jungle, also films in the genre.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Movies of 2010

Well, the amount of movie watching has increased again. The tally for last year was 158 movies, and I'm pretty sure there were even more repeat viewings again as well. Maybe I should just shoot for 183 in 2011 and make sure I watch one every other day. I'm sure I'll get a great headstart in January as I prepare for The Noir Series, starting this Thursday, January 6, with THE MALTESE FALCON, introduced by special guest Sean Chercover. Check this blog and for details.

25th Hour (2002)
99 River Street (1953) - 2X
2012 (2009)
Across the Bridge (1957)
Alphabet Killer (2008)
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (2009)
American Grindhouse (2010)
Angel Face (1952)
Arctic Tale (2007)
Asphalt Jungle (1950)
Avatar (2009)
Back to the Future (1985)
Batman: The Movie (1966)
Because I Said So (2007)
Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Big Fan (2009)
Big House, USA (1955)
Big Steal (1949) - 2X
Black Narcissus (1947)
Blind Side (2009)
Boys Are Back (2009)
Brooklyn Bridge (1981)
Brooklyn's Finest (2010)
Buck Privates (1941)
Burglar, The (1957)
Caught (1949)
Chad Hanna (1940)
Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness (192
Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (1939)
Closer (2004)
Coogan's Bluff (1968)
Cop Hater (1958)
Cop Out (2010)
Corvette Summer (1978)
Counterplot (1959)
Crazy Heart (2009)
Crime Against Joe (1956)
Crossfire (1947) - 2X
Daisy Kenyon (1947)
Dance With Me, Henry (1956)
Dark Crystal (1982)
Dark Mirror (1946)
David Goodis...To a Pulp (2010) - 4X
Day the Earth Stood Still (2009)
Dead Zone (1983)
Despicable Me (2010)
Devil Makes Three (1952)
Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947)
Dodesukaden (1970)
Double Indemnity (1944)
Down These Mean Streets a Man Must Go (1969)
Due Date (2010)
Duel at Silver Creek (1952)
Duplicity (2009)
Earthworm Tractors (1936)
Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Escape from Alcatraz (1979)
Everybody's Fine (2009)
Expendables (2010)
Finding Neverland (2004) - 2X
Flaming Star (1960)
Girl Who Played with Fire (2009)
Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009) - 2X
Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)
Goonies (1985)
Gun Crazy (1950) - 2X
Gun Runners (1958)
Hamlet (1996)
Hangover (2009)
Harlan County, USA (1976)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)
Hell is for Heroes (1962)
Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)
Huckleberry Finn (1920)
Hurt Locker (2009)
I Wake Up Screaming (1941)
Inception (2010)
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Julie and Julia (2009)
Karate Kid (2010)
Killers (1946)
Killers (1964)
Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
Kiss of Death (1947) - 3X
Knight & Day (2010)
Last Airbender (2010)
Laura (1944) - 3X
Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)
Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (1998)
Lifeboat (1944)
Lineup (1958)
Lonesome (1928)
Macao (1952)
MacGruber (2010)
Madadayo (1993)
Madigan (1968)
Maltese Falcon (1931) - 2X
Maltese Falcon (1941)
Matter of Life and Death (1946)
Margie (1946)
Metropolis (1927)
Mister 880 (1950)
My Name is Julia Ross (1945)
New Frontier (1939)
Night Moves (1975)
No Country for Old Men (2007) - 2X
Nora Prentiss (1947)
Peeping Tom (1960)
Planet 51 (2009)
Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) - 2X
Private Hell 36 (1954)
Proposal, The (2009)
Ray (2004)
Reckless Moment (1949)
Red Shoes (1948)
Return of the Jedi (1983)
Riff-Raff (1936)
Rocketeer (1991)
Rogue Cop (1954)
Scarlet Street (1945)
Shadowing the Third Man (2004)
Shooter (2007)
Shootist (1976)
Shutter Island (2010)
So Dark the Night (1946)
Somewhere in the Night (1946)
State of Play (2010)
Stone (2010)
Street of Chance (1942)
Sunrise (1927)
Superman: The Movie (1978)
Superman 2 (1980)
Superman III (1983)
Tale of Two Worlds (1921)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Third Man (1949)
This is Spinal Tap (1984)
Throne of Blood (1957)
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974)
Thunderheart (1992)
To Have and Have Not (1944)
Toy Story 3 (2010)
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
Try and Get Me! (1950)
Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970)
Up in the Air (2009)
Valentine's Day (2010)
Vicki (1953)
When the Clock Strikes (1961) - 2X
Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) - 3X
Whtie Christmas (1954)
White Desert (1925)
White Heat (1949) - 3X
White Lightning (1973)
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 1.9

Crews and Reece investigate the murder of a transient young woman and run afoul of IAD, a suspicious man and his son, and a delivery man that loves cats.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Weekend TV: Sons of Anarchy 3.7

Happy New Year!
The MC starts making their way to Belfast, but they have to deal with a little problem with the Mayans first, and Gemma complicates matters, as usual.